Dark God, страница 1
T C Southwell
Published by T C Southwell at Smashwords
Copyright © 2010 T C Southwell
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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This book is dedicated to my brother.
Table of Contents
Chapter One – Dark Lord
Chapter Two – The New Kingdom
Chapter Three – The Lady's Temple
Chapter Four – The Goddess
Chapter Five – The Purge
Chapter Six – The Gather
Chapter Seven – First Blood
Chapter Eight – The White Fire
Chapter Nine – The Dark Army
Chapter Ten – Mercy
Chapter Eleven – The Final Conflict
Chapter Twelve – Intervention
Chapter Thirteen – Aftermath
Chapter Fourteen – A Young God
Chapter Fifteen – The Dark Power
Chapter Sixteen – Atonement
Chapter Seventeen – Judgement
Chapter Eighteen – Demon Lord
Chapter Nineteen – Father of the Curse
Chapter Twenty – The Rune
The young healer sighed as she dug in the dry ground, unearthing a pale tuber for her supper. She straightened with her booty, glancing at the huge, tumbled stones of the broken ward that dominated the plains where she had dwelt now for five days. When Bane, the Demon Lord, had broken this, the seventh and last ward, he had freed the Black Lord from the Underworld to conquer and ravage the Overworld. Bane had been raised in the Underworld, and had believed that the Black Lord was his father until his rising, when he had mocked Bane, told him the truth, and left him to die.
Mirra had saved him with herbs that gave him strength, and had nursed him since then, gradually restoring some of his health. She glanced at the leather tent where he rested. He had hardly ventured out of it since that day, spending most of his time in a deep, exhausted sleep. Running a dusty hand through her short flaxen hair, she walked back to the tent. The Underworld food Bane ate was almost gone, and what little food she could gather was barely enough to feed her. Their supply of water was also running low, and the wine was finished.
Tucking the jejune tuber into the pocket of her long white healer's robe, she pushed aside the flap and entered the tent's gloomy confines. Bane's eyes opened, and he stared at the roof while she poured a little water into a pot to wash her supper. The slight noise seemed to irritate him, and he frowned at her.
"Go and do that outside."
Mirra cast him a reproachful look as she sliced the tuber. "How are you feeling today?"
Mirra concentrated on her chore, wondering when the after effects of the dragonroot would take their toll. The herb granted temporary strength, but the penalty for its use was grave. So far he had only suffered from extreme exhaustion and the aftermath of using such colossal amounts of dark power, which was bad enough. He had been too weak to stand until yesterday, when he had walked unaided for the first time since breaking the ward. His weakness infuriated him, and she had kept quiet to avoid annoying him, for his mood was constantly sour and his temper short. The Gather he had performed while breaking the ward had filled him with the dark power, and she knew that its evil influence made him unpredictable and sadistic. She sliced the vegetables with deft strokes.
"We will have to leave soon. Your food is almost finished, and so is the water."
"Tomorrow," he muttered.
"If you are strong enough."
"You doubt me?"
"No, of course not. But I did not mean we had to leave straight away. You have been through a terrible ordeal..."
Bane sat up, his straight, steeply angled brows drawing together in a frown. Wings of jet hair fell from a deep widow's peak to frame the sculpted visage of an angelic demon - if such a thing was possible, she mused. He glared at her with vivid blue eyes that seemed to pierce her soul with their intensity, the nostrils of his narrow nose flaring. His alabaster skin had not seen the sun until he had come through the World Gate and entered the Land of Light. His aversion to sunlight had made him avoid it, and as a result of that, plus the effect the dark power had on it, his skin remained milk pale. The ravages of his ordeal showed in the lines of strain that bracketed his mouth, his bloodshot eyes and too-red lips.
"I know what I have been through. Had I been able to leave today, I would have."
She nodded as she put the sliced vegetables in a pot and added a little water. "Good, then we leave tomorrow."
The next day Bane was still terribly weak, and Mirra watched with deep concern as he emerged from the tent. A gust of wind made him stagger, and she bit her lip, expecting him to give up and return to his bed. Despite the lack of food and water, it would be better if he could rest for longer and grow stronger. Bane raised his head and scanned the horizon, and she turned at the sound of drumming hooves. The demon steed galloped towards them, and her heart chilled with fear, then she realised that he had summoned it. The grey warhorse that had carried her here grazed in the distance, content in the golden grass.
The demon steed stopped and reared, shaking its fiery head, cascades of bright yellow flame swirling about its neck. It looked like it was formed from lava, its glowing hide dappled with dark and brighter areas. Its eyes glowed white-hot, and fire formed its mane and tail. Bane had summoned the Underworld creature from a fire several weeks ago to serve him, and his summoning still bound it. He glared at it, a small, bitter smile twisting his lips. The demon steed bowed to him, lowering itself to its knees so he could climb onto its back. He started towards it, but she grabbed his arm.
"You are still too weak. You should to rest a little longer."
"Do not tell me what to do," he snarled.
"You will kill yourself if you do not regain your strength."
"I have a score to settle, and I do not take orders from the likes of you. We are leaving now, whether you like it or not." He jerked his arm from her grip, staggering, and walked to the fiery stallion, climbing onto its back with some effort.
Mirra turned to call the grey horse, but Bane said, "Leave him be. I must travel fast. He cannot keep up."
Mirra gathered up their few possessions, packing away the stiff, heavy tent while he waited atop the demon steed. She passed the bundles up to him, and he placed them behind him, then held out his hand to her.
Mirra hesitated, repelled by the stallion's dark fire. Bane's eyes flicked to the beast, and its emanation of power vanished. She took his hand, and he helped her up before him. Her hands sank through the flames that writhed about the stallion's neck, finding purchase on its glowing surface. Its silken hide radiated no more warmth than a normal beast, despite the appearance of heat. It was like touching the smooth embers of a tepid fire, and the contradiction of her senses made her stomach squirm with unease. Bane sat stiffly behind her, radiating resentment at her presence, even though she was there at his behest. Then the demon steed sprang forward at his silent command, and she forgot all in the exhilaration of the ride.
The ground blurred beneath the stallion's drumming hooves as they shot across the grasslands at an incredible speed, the wind ruffling her hair. Within moments they passed the place where the army had camped, the ruins of the seventh ward already on
By evening, they had reached the foothills of the mountains, entering the coniferous forest that clothed the slopes. They had traversed in one day the same distance that had taken ten when the troll army had slowed them. The demon steed stopped, and Bane slid from its back and sank to his knees, utterly exhausted. Mirra dragged the bundle from Orriss' back and erected the stiff, heavy tent with some difficulty, for it resisted her efforts to bend it to her will.
Bane sat and watched her, making no effort to help, but she did not mind, for he was too weak anyway. When at last the tent was up, she made a fire to heat his food, then helped him inside and onto the folding bunk. She gave him the food and waited while he ate it, to ensure that he did.
Leaving him to rest, Mirra searched the forest for a pool, and found a tiny one amongst some rocks, fed by a trickle of water. She knelt beside it, studying her reflection. Short, dusty gold hair framed her delicate features, a ragged remnant of the long tresses that had been hacked off during her first encounter with Bane. Dust filmed her pale skin, and her blue-green eyes were filled with weariness now. The horrors she had witnessed as Bane's prisoner had banished the joy they had held in her childhood. Her face had lost its childish contours and grown gaunt from the hardships she had suffered, giving her a waifish air, she thought.
She leant forward and called, "Elder Mother!"
After a long moment, Ellese's face blossomed in the water, gazing at Mirra with sorrowful eyes. She had aged, and anxiety and dread had lined her elderly, careworn features. "Mirra. I am glad to see you, my child. You have done well, saving Bane."
"He is terribly weak, Mother. He cannot fight the Black Lord. It would kill him."
"I know. You must take him to the Goddess' Temple, child. We will meet you there. Bane must be cleansed and healed before he can wield the power again. And you must hurry. Already the Black Lord wreaks havoc in the land, and the clouds block out all the sunlight."
"That is far. We are still in the Old Kingdom. How will we manage it?"
"You have the demon steed."
Mirra nodded. "I will try, Mother."
"Good. Also, you must stop Bane from eating the Underworld food. It corrupts him. And do not let him use the dark power, Mirra. It could kill him now, and then we are all doomed."
"His food is almost finished, so he will have to eat normal food soon, but preventing him from using the power will be difficult."
"I know, but you can do it. He will listen to you now, as long as you are tactful. Hurry to the temple. I will be watching over you, my dear."
The seeress' face faded, and Mirra filled the water skins before going back to the tent, where Bane slept like the dead, not stirring at her entry. She checked his pulse and found it a little fast, but his forehead was cool.
The next day dawned dark and gloomy, with scudding black clouds hurrying across the sky on their mission to block out the sun. A sharp chill pervaded the air, making her breath steam and her nose numb. Bane was a little stronger, but sunk in a bitter gloom almost as black as the sky. He picked at the Underworld food she had prepared without appetite, and she settled opposite, chewing on a sweet root that was her meal.
"Bane, I spoke to my Elder Mother yesterday, after you fell asleep, and -"
He frowned. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, in a pool in the forest. She is a seeress, and so am I, it seems."
"I suppose she spies on us just as my - the Black Lord did."
"She watches us, yes. She is very concerned about you. She wants me to take you to the Goddess' Temple in the New Kingdom, so she can heal you."
His eyes flicked over her face. "Are you mad? After what I have done, she will want to strike me down."
"No, she understands. You are our salvation now."
"I destroyed the wards. Now you want me to save you?"
He snorted. "Why should I?"
"Because the Black Lord left you to die, and we saved you. Because he used you, betrayed you, abused your trust. Because you are human, and this is your world."
"I have no liking for it."
She smiled at his sullen tone. "Because I asked you to?"
Bane's eyes narrowed, then he shrugged. "I do not much care. If she strikes me down, I will go to the Land of the Dead, as my... as the Black Lord intended."
"Then he will have truly won. We will have to be careful." She hesitated. "You must not use the power."
"Telling me what to do again?"
She sighed. "It almost killed you last time. Next time, it will. Use the demon steed, and if demons attack, banish them. That uses no power, right?"
"Can the demon steed look like an ordinary horse?"
Bane smiled in a way that wrung her heart. "Now that the wards are broken, it can do many things."
"We must use caution. Many would like to kill you if they recognise you. Tell it to look like a normal horse when we return to the New Kingdom."
He gazed at her. "What use am I to you, if I cannot wield the power?"
"You must be cleansed and healed, then you will be able to use it again. For this, we must go to the Lady's Temple."
"You make it sound like I am dirty."
She shook her head, pitying him, but striving not to show it. He would only be insulted. "You have been corrupted, and you have an illness that the Black Lord intended to kill you. The healers can cure it, but first you must be purged of the dark power, or the healing cannot work."
Bane eyed her, and she thought he was going to ask a question, but then he put aside his empty bowl and stood, stretching. He walked to the demon steed, and it bowed for him to mount. Mirra's soft call stopped him, and he turned.
"You are stronger now," she said. "Help me pack up the camp, please."
Bane looked startled, as if her request was outlandish, and she realised that servants had waited on the Demon Lord all his life. He opened his mouth to protest, or perhaps refuse, then closed it, frowning at the camp. Walking back to the tent, he dismantled the bed and packed it away, then the tent. All the while, he frowned with displeasure. The Black Lord might have made him perform laborious tasks to build his strength, but to him, this was servant's work, and he clearly resented it.
Mirra cleaned and packed away the cups and bowls, rolling up the blankets. When everything was packed, Bane issued a silent order to the demon steed, which looked as startled by his command as he had been by Mirra's earlier request. Orriss tossed its head and pranced to show its displeasure, but could not disobey. The fiery stallion transformed into an ordinary looking horse, a sorrel, with a red hide and flaxen mane and tail. They lifted the heavy bundle containing the tent, bed, pots and food onto Orriss' rump, where the demon steed's will held it in place, Mirra assumed, since they had no ropes to tie it on with, yet it did not slide off.
The New Kingdom
In a day, they crossed the river above the waterfall where the sixth ward had been. The demon steed's flying hooves ate up the land, for despite its mundane appearance, it retained its powers. Bane was withdrawn and morose, and sat behind her in silence. He tired easily, exhausted by the end of the day, and after the third day of travel, he suffered the after effects of the dragonroot. Mirra had it too, slightly, but he had consumed far more, and lay supine on the bed, racked by cramps and nausea, his head pounding. She brewed potion for the pain, but he kept vomiting it up again.
Despite her illness, Mirra tended Bane all day, fighting him at every turn. He pushed her hand away when she tried to put a damp cloth on his brow and jerked aside when she wiped the sweat from his skin. Clearly he hated her touch and resented her gentle ministrations, and she wondered why. The fever brought a delirium, and he muttered in a strange, guttural tongue that sent shivers through her. A
The next day he was strong enough to mount the demon steed without ordering it to bow down for him, and they continued, avoiding Agden's city. They came across a few burnt or bludgeoned corpses, and these, Bane told her, were the Black Lord's victims, whom demons had hunted for sport. After they had passed the city, they found no more bodies.
Bane's deep voice spoke in her ear. "The Black Lord rests in Agden's city. He will be celebrating, enjoying the pleasures of the Overworld."
Mirra shivered at his closeness and the warmth of his breath on her ear. She muttered a reply, trying to concentrate on the passing scenery.
The Old Kingdom passed swiftly, and they avoided Orran's village. When at last they came to the huge river that divided the lands, Mirra was exhausted and ravenous. She had lived on fruit and nuts in the forest, but the pickings were meagre, and she longed for good food. Bane's Underworld food was almost finished, and she rationed him, but he did not seem to mind.