Read Heirs of the Fallen: Book 04 - Wrath of the Fallen Online

Authors: James A. West

Tags: #Epic Fantasy Adventure

Heirs of the Fallen: Book 04 - Wrath of the Fallen (2 page)

Sibilant laughter bubbled from the shapeless creature. There was something distinctly feminine in that voice. Leitos took another faltering step away, as the dark strands and bulges began to weave themselves together. He saw a dozen protuberant eyes, blind and staring, and also limbs long, black, and slender.

“There is no victory here,” an oily voice whispered from a malformed mouth. “You have done nothing, save to murder the empty skin that your kindred. And now, child of Valara, you have shown yourself to me.”

“Who are you!”

Laughter beat against the storm. “I am Peropis, Eater of the Damned.”

Peropis
? Shaken, Leitos tried to deny the truth, but recalled the inner struggle he had seen rippling his grandfather’s face while they had both still been in the Throat of Balaam. Leitos had not understood then, but did now. The demonic spirit before him, Peropis, the first of the Mahk’lar, had somehow taken Kian’s flesh for her own. What had remained of Kian’s spirit must have resisted, but in the end the demon-whore’s black soul had consumed him.

“You cannot kill me,” Leitos called above the wind, no longer sure if that was true.

A hundred eyes rolled, bulging black orbs within shifting black faces. Mouths gaped and tongues lolled through rows of slanted teeth. “It is not your death I seek. I want your blood, and I command those who are waiting nearby to take it. They will drain you slowly. You will live on, weak and wasted, until all that remains of the world of men dies.”

Peropis stretched skyward. One lopsided mouth, set in a bulging swirl of ethereal black flesh, gaped wide. A piercing wail erupted from that cavernous maw, overriding the shriek of the gale.

Leitos clutched a hand to his head to keep his skull from shattering. Her voice rose higher. Leitos screamed with it. Mad with pain, he chopped at the demon-whore. His sword slashed harmlessly through her inky mass. Her summoning grew louder.

Reeling, nose bleeding, ears ringing, Leitos spun away. Whirling snow cut across his vision in tattered white sheets. Beyond, he saw the tower.
Is it a trap, or a refuge?
There was only one way to be certain, and that meant trusting the word of an apparition.

He began fighting his way toward the tower. Far away, he heard the familiar keening of Alon’mahk’lar horns sounding the hunt.

Chapter 3

 

 

 

Leitos kept his eyes on the outline of the tower. Alon’mahk’lar horns wailed nearer, gouging a spike of terror through his heart. He clawed up the steep flanks of a snowdrift, then tumbled down the other side. Snow flew into his eyes, plugged his mouth and nose. He came to a halt where the wind had carved the snow, leaving it no more than a foot deep.

He clambered up and ran on in great lurching strides, thin robes flapping. Such garb had suited him on the isle of Yato, where warmth and lush forests prevailed. Here, he might as well have been naked.

Black and stark, the tower stabbed at the shifting white sky. No windows or arrow loops broke its surface, nor was there any ornamentation. The sheer walls were rough and pitted, like ancient iron.

As Leitos came closer, an opening materialized at the base of the tower, and beyond this was a deeply inset passageway four times the height of a man, and half again as wide. A faint blue glow pushed out into the bitter storm, much like the light that had lit the Throat of Balaam. The tower and the Throat might be connected. If so, perhaps there was a way he could return to Yato. If not, at least he had a place to defend against attack.

Closer he came, until the tower’s bulk blocked the worst of the wind. Here, patches of snow and rocky ground shared space with scattered bits of black iron. Despite his hasty flight, he saw deep etchings covering the largest pieces of metal, angular glyphs that brought to mind anger and misery. Doubtless, they were a creation of demon-born.

Leitos sprinted down the passage until reaching a massive doorway. All that was left of the doors were chunks of twisted iron hanging from great hinges still bolted to the walls. Without doors to bar, he had no means to keep the Alon’mahk’lar at bay.

He scrambled deeper into the tower, desperately searching for anything to use as a barrier. Leitos halted when he stepped over a row of squared notches set in the stone floor. A quick upward glance showed a matching row of thick metal spikes jutting from a slot in the ceiling. A portcullis.

Leitos looked over his shoulder. Beyond the passageway, a troupe of huge figures clad in furs and studded leather plunged toward the tower. Alon’mahk’lar. A dozen at least. Pairs of twisting horns jutted from each demon-born’s head, and below the upper horns, another set swept down to protect their thick necks. They called to one another in a harsh tongue. The voices of Mahk’lar and Alon’mahk’lar could bring stout men and unflinching women to their knees, leave them shivering in terror until shackles bound their limbs, or death found them. Sixteen years in the Faceless One’s mines had given Leitos some small resistance to that consuming dread. A very small resistance.

Holding tight to his wits, Leitos pushed deeper into the tower. The entry passage ended at a chamber hazed with blue light. On a wall nearby, he found a corroded bronze lever, and next to this a wooden wheel banded with iron, and with handgrips jutting from its outer edge.

Leitos tried to spin the wheel first. It clacked back and forth, but wouldn’t turn. He dropped his sword and scabbard, moved to the lever, and yanked it down. It inched down, then ground to a stop.

The bellowing demon-born sounded closer.

Leitos wrapped both hands around the lever and heaved. A rusty shriek reverberated deep within the wall. He yanked again, and there came a deep grinding noise of some mechanism. The lever dropped another inch, then stopped hard.

The heavy tread of approaching Alon’mahk’lar boots echoed loudly in the colossal chamber. Their calls grew eager. The hunt was nearly over.

Panting, Leitos hung all his weight on the end of the lever and began jerking it downward. Inch by inch, the metal arm creaked and groaned closer to the floor. The grinding sounded again, and then he heard a rattling clank.

The demon-born were closing fast, the jangle of their armor mixing with a cascade of growls and drumming boots.

At the halfway point, the lever bent under Leitos’s weight. Eyes bulging with fright, he let go and reached for the wheel. It moved a only little more than before.

A frantic peek showed the Alon’mahk’lar were now just a few strides beyond the portcullis. Cold sweat mingled with bloody snow on Leitos’s brow. It was too late to run. He flung himself onto the lever. With a jarring clang, the arm slammed down. He sprang for the wheel, twisted hard, but it refused to budge.

Not enough time!

Leitos twisted the wheel the other direction and it moved, hard at first, then easier. The mechanism hidden behind the wall screeched in protest.

Eager, guttural cries became furious roars.

Leitos spun the wheel faster, hands flying over the grips, arms and shoulders burning from the effort. The portcullis shuddered as it lurched downward, its metal edges screaming through the grooves cut into either side of the doorway. A dusty shower of rust filled the air. The taste of it was like blood on his tongue.

The Alon’mahk’lar howled, pounded closer ... closer.

With a resounding boom, the portcullis slammed against the floor. An instant later, the demon-born rammed against the heavy iron grating. Massive as the beasts were, not even they could so much as shiver those sturdy bars.

They glared with bulging black eyes cut through with golden slits. Throaty cries rang out, slaver flew from fangs and lips. More than one swung its sword against the barrier, striking off showers of sparks. Those ugly steel blades were thick and strong, made to crush an enemy’s bones rather than cut them, but they fared poorly against bars thick as a man’s wrist.

Leitos caught up his sword and scabbard, and backed away gulping breath. The thought to poke at the demon-born flickered through his mind, but he feared they would snatch away his blade. Alon’mahk’lar could die, much like any other living thing, but not easily.

With no other choice, he fled deeper into the tower.

Chapter 4

 

 

 

Diffuse blue radiance illuminated his path, its source seemingly the very air he breathed. Again, he was reminded of the Throat of Balaam. Every few strides, stone arches climbed high above, making it seem as though he were running through the rib bones of some great animal.

He turned once and again, following a maze of passageways. Behind him, the shouts of the Alon’mahk’lar diminished, as did the ringing blows they struck the portcullis.

When it seemed he might be running in circles, Leitos slowed to a walk. He had yet to find any way out of the labyrinth. Only the chill radiance, getting stronger the farther he went, kept him placing one foot in front of the other.

As he plodded onward, he ran his fingers over the rough dark surface of one wall, recoiled from the damp warmth under his fingertips. Whether it was made of stone or some aged metal, he could not say.

On and on, turn after turn, he moved deeper into the tower. Instinct told him the structure was far more vast on the inside than it had looked outside.

He paused at another junction of empty corridors, unsure which way the light shone brightest. He made to turn left, but a voice on the right froze him.

“Not that way.”

Leitos ducked behind a wall.
That was Zera’s voice
. He had convinced himself that she had been a vision. Yet here she was again. As best he could tell, his wits were intact.

“Drop your weapons and show yourself,” he ordered.

“The dead have no need of weapons,” she said, a hint of sardonic laughter in her voice. Zera stepped into view, looking as real as the sword he leveled at her chest.

Seeing edged steel aimed at her heart gave him a jolt, but he refused to lower the blade. She was dead by his hand. He could hardly kill her again.

She stepped closer, and Leitos scrubbed his eyes with the back of his free hand. Zera remained, her lips turned in a wry grin.

“Who are you?” he asked, suspicious.

She shrugged. “The lover you refused to take. The woman you killed. I forgive you, by the way. In your place, I would have killed me.”

“This cannot be real.” He concentrated on the leather-wrapped hilt in his hand. It was damp from melted snow. The stones underfoot were solid. The air in his chest was stale but genuine.

She stepped closer until the point of his sword dimpled the dark leather sheathing her left breast. “An inch more, and we start again where we left off. Is that what you want?” Her eyes flared brighter, and he read in them the same cutting amusement he had grown used to when traveling at her side on the road to Zuladah, and later into the Mountains of Fire. Used to it or not, now there was a sharper edge to her tone.

“What do
you
want?”

Using a finger, she eased the sword aside. Leitos was helpless to resist. “Only to help.”

“How are you here—how are you
alive
?” Leitos had a thousand questions, but they came so fast, tumbling one over the other, that he had trouble sorting them out.

“There are places where the veil between the Thousand Hells, your living world, and the blessed Paradise ruled by Pa’amadin, all come together. After the Well of Creation was destroyed, the number of such places increased.” She came nearer, and he could feel her warmth. “Here, and other places like it, you are as near to death as I am to life.”

“And what about my dreams?” Leitos asked. “Was that you I saw?”

She slid a languid fingertip along his jaw. “There were times that you passed close to places like this, and I came to you. On other occasions, I expect your mind resurrected me. Perhaps you’ll share what we did in these
dreams
of yours?”

Heat flamed Leitos’s cheeks, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He did not move away, and did not want to. Her scent, that of leather and blossoming flowers, was too welcome to shun. She leaned in and kissed him, and for a moment he almost forgot she was dead.

Almost, but not quite.

He caught her waist, holding her at bay. “I trust that you didn’t lure me into the tower to seduce me.” Much as he could have wished for an eternity with Zera, he knew it would never happen. The living loving the dead made for a poor romance.

“I suppose not,” Zera said. Echoing his thoughts, she added, “I suppose there will never be a time for us.”

“What matters now,” Leitos said, “are the Alon’mahk’lar I locked out of the tower, who are even now working on a way to breach the gate.”

“That is truer than you know,” Zera said, turning. “Come with me.”

Leitos held fast. “Where are we going?”

“This was once the realm of your ancestors,” Zera said, looking over her shoulder. “But no longer. Izutar has fallen, along with Aradan, Falseth, Tureece.
Everything
north of the Sea of Drakarra is lost. Geldain, Yato, and a few other lands are all that remain where some humans still survive. As I’m sure you know, their numbers are growing smaller by the day. Inside of a few months humanity, as it was created by the Three, will be forgotten, replaced by the Fallen and their heirs. You must leave here and prepare for a war you can scarcely hope to win, but a war that must be fought. But before you go, there is someone you need to speak with.”

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