The Night of the Swarm (Chathrand Voyage 4)

Lire ebook The Night of the Swarm (Chathrand Voyage 4)
The Night of the Swarm (Chathrand Voyage 4)
 
     
     
     
Prologue

     
     
     
     
    A battle is ending in the heart of a black wood. From the surrounding treetops it is all oddly peaceful: the late moonlight, the curve of the river, the grassy clearing on its
banks, the ruined tower like a broken bottleneck thrust against the sky. No shouts from the combatants, no clashing of steel. One can even hear the crows across the water, rejoicing in the
almost-dawn.
    But distance deceives. A little closer, and we find the grass is scorched, the river furious, the stairs of the ruined tower slick with blood. And at the foot of the stairs a dozen figures
crouch: all wounded, all contemplating death; in a minute’s time they will be slain by sorcery. They bend low, squeeze tightly together. They are surrounded by a ring-shaped pit, and the
inner edge of the pit is crumbling toward their feet.
    Above their heads shimmers a dull halo, resembling a mist or cloud of insects. It is neither; it is the whirling of enchanted blades. They have cut someone already; a fine haze of blood thickens
the air. The blades, as may be expected, are descending. The ring-shaped pit bristles with spikes.
    Crude horrors, these; but so is the confluence of powers that has willed them into being. High on the tower wall stands a mage: skeletal, staring, hideous at a glance. He is gripping the hair of
another, a ragged beast of a man, and gesturing at the unfortunates below. The ragged man is drooling, his gaze empty of all comprehension. Tight to his chest he holds a little sphere of darkness,
so black it devours the moonlight, so black it troubles the eye.
    Movement, suddenly: a third figure has crawled up from behind. A youth, dripping wet, bleeding, his look of fury rivaling the mage’s own. Unseen, he staggers closer, holding what can only
be a blackjack. With a spasm of regret he strikes down the ragged man. There is a crack of breaking bone.
    The whirling blades vanish, and the pit. The ragged man falls dead, and the sphere slips from his grasp. Among the crouching figures, a young woman closes her hand upon a sword hilt. Above, the
sphere of darkness is rolling towards the wall’s sheer edge. The mage lunges, catches the sphere at the last instant, and with it clutched in both hands, he falls. Before he is halfway to the
ground, the future of Alifros takes shape.
    The touch of the sphere is death, even to one as powerful as this. Death consumes him, hands to wrists to elbows. Thirty feet from the ground his arms are dead. And yet he smiles. He is speaking
an incantation. Beside the tower, the surface of the river convulses, and something thin and dark leaps out of it, skyward. The mage tries for a glimpse, but at that instant the young woman strikes
with rare perfection. Her blade sings. The body lands headless on the earth.
    The dark splinter, however, continues its ascent, like a fish that leaps and forgets to fall. Up through mist and cloud it stabs, above the paths of hawks and falcons, above the

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