Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(6)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(6)
John Gwynne

‘I did what had to be done,’ Uthas snarled. ‘For our future. Yours, mine, all of the clans’. If Nemain had continued to do nothing all of the clans would have faded, become a tale to frighten wayward children.’

‘And instead we will slaughter ourselves to extinction.’

You fool, you do not see the long path, only the next step. His temper was fraying.

‘You would be better served by concentrating on the task set for you.’ Uthas shrugged, feeling the spite rise in him like bile after too much wine. ‘But you were unable to do that, as you could not even hold onto the starstone axe.’

‘Do not judge me, you that have betrayed your kin, your queen.’ Alcyon looked about the room, eyes resting on Nemain’s broken body. ‘And I lost the axe to Balur One-Eye. I feel no shame in that, when I can smell the fear in you at the mere mention of his name.’

Uthas felt the words like a blow across his face. ‘We have both served the same master here,’ he said.

‘Aye, but you out of choice,’ Alcyon glowered.

‘Enough,’ Calidus snapped. He glared at Alcyon until the giant looked away from Uthas. ‘Balur is a problem. I hoped that he would have been slain in the battle.’

As did I. ‘He will do all in his power to see me dead.’ Uthas felt a stab of shame at the tremor in his voice. He gripped his spear tighter, his shame shifting to anger. ‘He could be dead, slain by those that left in the night.’

There had been a disagreement after the battle; one of the Kadoshim had argued with Calidus. It had been unsettling, hearing a voice so alien issuing from the Jehar’s mouth – rasping and sibilant.

‘You have failed Asroth,’ the Kadoshim had accused Calidus, arms jerking. ‘We must regain the axe now, before it is too late, and reopen the pathway.’

Calidus had taken a long shuddering breath, mastering himself. ‘It is too great a risk, Danjal,’ Calidus had said. ‘Battles are still being fought. We must secure the fortress, make sure the cauldron is safe. Would you have us abandon it?’

‘Our great master must be allowed to cross over. For that we need the starstone axe.’

‘Seven Treasures are needed to open the way for Asroth, not just the axe. It will happen, but we must wait. I seized an opportunity, and over a thousand of our brothers are now clothed in flesh. Be content with that. Asroth waits to enter this world wrapped in his own form, not filling someone else’s, as you have done. And, besides, to pursue Meical now would be foolish; it would put the cauldron at risk, and many of you will lose your new skins.’

‘Your body of flesh and bone has made you craven,’ the Kadoshim had snarled. ‘Asroth will reward me when he knows it was I who secured the axe and made his passage possible.’

Calidus took a step back from the Kadoshim and unsheathed his sword, the rasp of it drawing all eyes. ‘Craven? I have just fought Meical, high captain of the Ben-Elim, and seen him flee. I have fought countless battles to reach this place and made a bridge between the Otherworld and the world of flesh, to bring your worthless spirit here. You will not call me craven. Or would you challenge me, reckless Danjal?’

Muscles clenched and unclenched in the Kadoshim, a spasming ripple. Eventually he lowered his eyes.

‘I seek our master’s glory,’ he growled.

‘As do I,’ Calidus said. ‘Go after Meical and you will be rejoining our master in the Otherworld before you know it.’ Calidus had turned his back and walked away. The once-Jehar looked about, called for help and then ran from the chamber, a dozen or so Kadoshim surging after him.

‘If you find them, try and kill Meical’s puppet, his Bright Star; you may actually achieve something useful with your death that way,’ Calidus called out after them.

Uthas had felt a glimmer of hope. To retrieve the starstone axe they would need to slay Balur.

He wished it was so, but as yet there had been no sign of the Kadoshim that had left during the night.

‘Your comrades that went after the axe, they may have killed Balur, retaken the axe.’

‘Maybe.’ Calidus shrugged. ‘But I doubt it. More likely is that the Kadoshim that went after the axe are slain, their spirits returned to the Otherworld. Meical may be foolish in some things, but he would have set a guard, and he knows how to fight.’

Uthas could not hide his disappointment as his hope flickered and died.

‘It is of no matter. Danjal has always been a fool; we are better off without his rebellious nature. Do not fear Balur. I will protect you. Your future is with me, now. Your loyalty to Asroth will not be forgotten. I have the cauldron because of you, and I am grateful.’ The old man paused a moment; Uthas took strength from his words.

‘How many are with Balur?’ Calidus asked him.

‘A score that cannot be accounted for, his dreaming bitch of a daughter Ethlinn amongst them. And none of our young have been found – they were hidden in a higher chamber. Around the same number again.’ He shook his head, a wave of regret sweeping him. ‘The Benothi are close to extinction, our numbers . . .’

‘Too late for remorse. You’ve made your choice. And a wise one – you have chosen the victorious side. The Kadoshim walk this world, and this is only the beginning.’ Calidus grinned a smile that didn’t reach his cold eyes

He is right. And added to that, what other road is there for me to follow? The Benothi’s fate is entwined with the Kadoshim now.

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