Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(7)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(7)
John Gwynne

Uthas took a shuddering breath. ‘And what now?’ he asked Calidus. ‘You have the cauldron. What would you do with it?’

‘Make it safe.’

‘It is safe enough here.’

‘Clearly not. We took it. No, it must be taken to Tenebral. There it will be at the centre of a web that has taken me many years to build. I will have Lykos and his Vin Thalun, and Nathair’s eagleguard to protect it, along with your Benothi and my Kadoshim.’

Uthas frowned. ‘A long journey. Much could happen.’

‘Aye, but it will have an honour guard this world has never seen before. You Benothi and over a thousand Kadoshim.’

‘And once it is in Tenebral?’

‘One thing at a time. First, to journey there with the cauldron. I would have you and your Benothi build a wain for the cauldron to travel upon, sturdy and strong.’

‘We shall do it. To Tenebral, you say. For that you will need Nathair.’

Calidus looked thoughtful and frowned. ‘Yes. The time has come for me to speak with our disillusioned King.’

Calidus had tasked Uthas with keeping a watch over Nathair. During the battle he had sat on the dais steps before the cauldron, the truth of his actions unfolding before him, settling upon him like a shroud. After having believed himself to be the Seren Disglair for so long, witnessing the events he’d set in action had only left him questioning his true position. After the battle he had attempted to confront Calidus, who had just ignored him. It seemed that was the last straw for Nathair. He had flown into a rage and attacked Calidus, spraying spittle as he spat curses, denounced him as a traitor, but Uthas had grabbed Nathair, held him, and Calidus had struck him unconscious. He had then cut a lock of hair from Nathair’s head.

‘Where is Nathair?’ Calidus asked him.

‘Out there,’ Uthas waved at the gates.

‘Accompany me. I need Nathair’s cooperation. Some persuasion will be necessary, and your example may be helpful.’

‘And if he does not agree?’

‘There is always this,’ Calidus said. He opened his cloak to show a crude clay figure, strands of dark hair embedded within it.

Does he have strands of my hair bound within an effigy of clay? Uthas felt a shiver of fear at that thought.

‘But I’d rather it didn’t come to that,’ Calidus said, dropping his cloak.

‘Compassion?’

‘Don’t be an idiot,’ Calidus said with a sneer. ‘It would be one more thing that I have to maintain – it is hard work, conquering a world.’

As they strode towards the gate one of the Kadoshim called Calidus’ name. Uthas recognized its body as Sumur, the leader of the Jehar who had followed Nathair. ‘This body,’ the Kadoshim said, its voice a serpentine growl. ‘It is weakening, not responding as it did.’

‘Men of flesh must eat, to restore their energy,’ Calidus said. ‘Ideally every day.’

‘Eat?’

‘You must consume sustenance: fruit, meat, many things.’ Calidus waved a hand.

As Uthas watched, ripples of movement ran across once-Sumur’s face. The black eyes bulged, lips pulling back in a rictus of pain as a scream burst from its lips. For a moment the flesh of the face writhed, fingers trying to gouge their way out. With a twist of the neck and a groan the features became smooth again, calm, expressionless.

‘This human objects to my presence,’ the serpentine voice said. Something passing for a smile twisted its face, a tongue licking its lips. ‘It gives good sport.’

Uthas was horrified. He had assumed the souls of the hosts had been displaced, were not still residing trapped within their own bodies, struggling to evict those who possessed them. He shuddered – such a thing would be a living death.

‘He was a master swordsman, all of your new hosts were,’ Calidus said, raising his voice to all the Kadoshim in the great hall. ‘Examine their souls, pick them apart, absorb their skills. Learn the ways of your new bodies. And eat.’

Sibilant laughter echoed about the chamber as Calidus walked away. Uthas saw one Kadoshim drop to the ground, burying its face in the belly of a dead horse, the wet sound of flesh tearing.

‘They are like children,’ Calidus sighed. ‘I have much to teach them in little time, which is why I need Nathair to cooperate.’

They found the King of Tenebral a short way along the road that approached Murias, the tattered bodies of Jehar warriors and their horses scattered around him, shredded to a bloody mess by the raven storm that Queen Nemain had set upon them. He was stood with his great draig, holding its reins loosely in one hand while it feasted on the corpse of a horse. It pulled its snout from a smashed ribcage to regard them with small black eyes, gore dripping from its jaws. As they drew nearer to Nathair, Uthas glimpsed amongst the fern and gorse one of his kin whom he had set to watch the King of Tenebral.

Nathair heard their approach and looked up. He whispered something to the draig, which went back to devouring the horse’s innards. Nathair turned his back to them, looking out over the bleak landscape of moorland, gentle hills undulating into the horizon.

‘He is out there,’ Nathair said quietly.

‘Who do you speak of?’ Calidus asked.

‘The Bright Star. For so long I have believed that title was mine.’ He turned, calm now, Uthas saw, his rage from the cauldron’s chamber gone, spent. His eyes were dark-rimmed and red. A bruise mottled his jaw.

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