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Authors: Jonathan Moeller

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Jonathan Moeller - The Ghosts 08 - Ghost in the Mask

BOOK: Jonathan Moeller - The Ghosts 08 - Ghost in the Mask
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Jonathan Moeller - The Ghosts 08 - Ghost in the Mask
The Ghosts [8]
Jonathan Moeller
Azure Flame Media, LLC (2013)
Tags:
Fantasy - Female Assassin
Fantasy - Female Assassinttt
Caina Amalas is a nightfighter of the Ghosts, the spies and assassins of the Emperor of Nighmar, and through cunning and valor she has cast down both proud lords and mighty sorcerers. But a power darker than any she has ever faced is awakening.
When a mad assassin armed with a sorcerous blade rampages through the Emperor's capital, Caina must track the weapon to its origin, a ruined city blighted by the folly of sorcerers, a city that holds weapons far more potent than mere blades—weapons that can resurrect an ancient empire of dark sorcery to enslave the world anew.

 GHOST IN THE MASK

Jonathan Moeller

Description

Caina Amalas is a nightfighter of the Ghosts, the spies and assassins of the Emperor of Nighmar, and through cunning and valor she has cast down both proud lords and mighty sorcerers.

But a power darker than any she has ever faced is awakening. 

When a mad assassin armed with a sorcerous blade rampages through the Emperor’s capital, Caina must track the weapon to its origin, a ruined city blighted by the folly of sorcerers, a city that holds weapons far more potent than mere blades. 

Weapons that can resurrect an ancient empire of dark sorcery to enslave the world anew… 

 

 

Ghost in the Mask

Copyright 2013 by Jonathan Moeller.

Published by Azure Flame Media, LLC.

Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.

Ebook edition published October 2013.

All Rights Reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law. 

 

Chapter 1 - Dust and Ashes

Caina didn’t think she had to kill anyone at dinner, but she came armed anyway.

She sat on one side of the long table, her blond hair piled in an elaborate crown. For clothing she had chosen a rich gold-colored gown with black trim, the waist tight and the bodice low. Jewels glittered on her fingers, ears, and throat, and she had spent the better part of an hour applying slightly too much makeup. The net effect made her look like a merchant’s concubine, a peasant woman come into more money that she knew how to handle.

Which was exactly what Caina wanted. 

When the powerful men looked at her, she wanted them to see Sonya Tornesti, the flighty mistress of the coffee merchant Anton Kularus. She did not want them to see Caina Amalas, a nightfighter of the Ghosts, the spies and assassins of the Emperor of Nighmar.

She especially did not want the magi to see the nightfighter of the Ghosts. 

Given that the magi surrounded her. 

She sat with Corvalis Aberon in the grand hall of the Magisterium’s Malarae chapterhouse. Just as Caina masqueraded as Sonya Tornesti, so too did Corvalis wear the black coat and white shirt and gleaming boots of Anton Kularus, master merchant. Kularus was rich, but not noble. In the Empire’s social hierarchy, that meant he had received an invitation to the new preceptor’s banquet, but he sat among the merchants and the lower-ranking members of the Magisterium.

“I must say,” said Corvalis, gesturing with his wine cup. He had grown a mustache and a short goatee, making his face look thinner and sharper. Caina did not care for it, but it helped disguise him, just as her dyed blond hair helped maintain her disguise. “Your new preceptor looks rather like an overfed owl.” 

The magus sitting across from them, an emaciated-looking man in his middle twenties, blinked in surprise. Caina detested the magi, but Vanius was so timid that she only felt pity for him. 

“Master Kularus,” said Vanius. “Septimus Rhazion is the new preceptor of the Malarae chapter, and deserves our respect.”

“I didn’t deny that,” said Corvalis, flashing a smile beneath his blond beard. “Is not the owl the wisest of all birds?”

“This is so,” said Caina, making sure to mask her formal High Nighmarian with a heavy Szaldic accent. Sonya Tornesti was Szaldic, even if Caina was not. “In the stories of the Szalds, the owl is often a bearer of wisdom.” 

“Precisely, my dear,” said Corvalis. “I am sure the preceptor is most wise. Like an owl. Though he simply looks like an owl that has been overfed.” 

Vanius blinked. “Ah…you may have a point.”

Caina looked across the dining hall of the Magisterium’s chapterhouse. Like the rest of the chapterhouse, it had been built of dark stone, enspelled glass globes throwing light over the walls and vaulted ceiling. Long tables ran the hall’s length, holding food and drink, and lords and merchants and magi and priests talked and ate. A dais with a high table rose at the end of the hall. The chapter’s master magi and the more prominent nobles sat there. 

Septimus Rhazion, the new preceptor of the Malarae chapter, sat at the center of the high table. Halfdan, the circlemaster of the Ghosts, had secured invitations to the preceptor’s inaugural banquet, and sent Caina and Corvalis to discern whether Rhazion presented any threat to the Ghosts in Malarae. Rhazion had a formidable reputation within the Magisterium, had written several books dealing with the defeat and banishment of creatures from the netherworld.

Though Caina had to admit that he did indeed look like a balding, overweight owl. 

And she suspected he was even less dangerous.

Caina listened with half an ear as Corvalis bantered with Vanius, her eyes on the high table. Rhazion had not stopped talking for nearly an hour, and even from a distance Caina heard his voice droning on about theories of arcane science. The eyes of the lords near him had grown glassy, and the master magi ignored their preceptor as they spoke with each other in low voices. 

Their disdain for the man was palpable, as was Rhazion’s obliviousness to it.

Clearly, the man was no threat to the Ghosts of Malarae. 

Of course, that sword was two-edged. Had Rhazion been a more capable leader, he could have forged the Malarae chapter into a formidable force, one capable of hounding the Ghosts. But a stronger preceptor would have kept the magi under tight control…and under Rhazion some magi might feel free to pursue the forbidden arcane sciences of necromancy and pyromancy…

The doors swung open with a massive boom.

Caina looked up, saw the man standing in the doors…and her right hand strayed to the throwing knives concealed in her left sleeve. Corvalis looked away from Vanius and frowned, hand falling to his sword hilt.

A silence fell over the hall. 

The man was barefoot, clad in a ragged black magus’s robe with a soiled red sash. His graying hair stood up in an unruly shock, and several days’ worth of stubble shaded his jaw. He looked even more emaciated than Vanius, and his eyes glittered with something like madness.

His hand grasped the hilt of a sheathed dagger at his sash.

“Septimus Rhazion!” roared the magus, striding into the hall. He stopped between two of the long tables, twenty paces from Caina.

The dagger at his belt drew her eyes. The hilt was black, and she saw the gleam of a crystal in the blade. Caina sensed sorcerous power gathered within the weapon. A necromancer had wounded her as a child, and ever since, she had the ability to detect the presence of sorcery. The many minor spells employed by the magi had grated on her during the banquet.

But those were only pinpricks compared to the power within the dagger.

“Corvalis,” whispered Caina.

He nodded, eyes on the ragged man. 

Rhazion rose with affronted dignity. “And who might you be?”

The ragged man spat. “You do not remember me, Rhazion? Have the years made your wits as feeble as your limbs?”

Rhazion’s brow furrowed in annoyance. “Your impudent tongue is…wait. I remember you. Jurius?”

“So you do recall me,” said Jurius. He took a step closer to the dais. A dozen master magi sat at the high table, and between them they had enough sorcerous power to crush Jurius to bloody paste. All the lords carried swords, and Magisterial Guards in their black armor lined the hall. If Jurius tried anything, either the magi would rip him apart, or the swordsmen would cut him down.

Yet she still felt the power radiating from his dagger. Power that felt disturbingly familiar…

“Indeed,” said Rhazion. “You should count yourself fortunate that I remember so minor a malefactor.”

“You cast me out of the Magisterium,” said Jurius, “because my knowledge frightened you, because my power terrified…”

Rhazion laughed. “That is not how I remember it. I cast you out of the Magisterium because you abused your arcane sciences to help the smugglers of the Inner Sea evade Imperial tax collectors. And you turned quite a pretty profit, as I recall. You were banished from the Empire for ten years…so I suppose you are within your rights to return. Though I will not accept you back into the Magisterium.” 

“I did not come here to grovel,” said Jurius, “for I have grown far, far beyond your petty Magisterium.” The master magi chuckled among themselves. “Instead, I came to deliver a message.”

The magi laughed, as did the lords and merchants. Yet Caina and Corvalis remained silent. 

She noticed how Jurius’s knuckles tightened against the dagger’s hilt. 

“You should be grateful you did not try this foolishness in front of Decius Aberon,” said Rhazion. “He would have had you killed on the spot. But I do not wish to mar my first week as preceptor with bloodshed. So. Speak your message, and then remove yourself from the presence of your betters.” 

Jurius laughed. “Very well. I come to herald a new age! For you shall all see the glory of Anubankh!” 

Again the magi laughed. 

“Ridiculous!” one shouted. “You have taken in with a foreign cult? Go sacrifice a sheep and trouble us no more.”

Caina expected Jurius to take offense at the mockery, but the outcast magus only smiled. She searched her memory, trying to remember where she had heard the name Anubankh.

Because she was sure she had heard it before.

“You will see his glory,” said Jurius. “For his power is certain, and his prophet has spoken! The Empire shall fall, and a new power will supplant it. The Kingdom of the Rising Sun shall rise anew!”

And that made Caina sit bolt upright. 

She knew what the Kingdom of the Rising Sun was, or what it had been. The Maatish nation had been ruled by god-pharaohs and necromancer-priests, sorcerers without equal. The Kingdom of the Rising Sun had fallen long ago, but its relics remained. 

The necromantic knowledge contained in one scroll of ancient Maat, just one, had cost her father his life…and had almost killed every last man, woman, and child in Malarae. 

“Anton,” she hissed under her breath, and Corvalis look at her. “We’ve got to kill him. That dagger. It’s a weapon of ancient Maat. Something of old necromancy.” 

“Madam?” said Vanius. 

“Vanius,” said Caina. “Warn the preceptor. The master magi. Anyone who will listen. That weapon is enspelled, and he’s going to attack.”

Vanius gave her a smile that tried for condescending, but only managed to make him look more nervous. “Madam, fear not. The master magi of our chapter are potent, and…”

“The spell to sense sorcery,” said Caina. A woman like Sonya Tornesti would not speak forcefully to a brother of the Imperial Magisterium, but they were in deadly danger. “Cast it at the dagger. Right now.” Vanius opened his mouth to answer again. “Do it now and I’ll pay you a thousand denarii.”

The young magus’s eyes widened.

“Make it two thousand,” said Corvalis, his face grim. 

Vanius nodded and turned to face Jurius, his fingers moving in the beginnings of a spell. Caina felt the crawling tingle of sorcery as Vanius summoned power. 

Meanwhile the gale of laughter that answered Jurius’s pronouncement had finally faded away.

“The Kingdom of the Rising Sun?” said Rhazion with a scoff of derision. “Had you bothered to pay attention to your studies in history, Jurius, you would know Maat fell two thousand years ago. Provincial brigands pose more of a threat to the Empire than do the Great Necromancers of ancient Maat. And the Empire has never been stronger. The Emperor has taken the desert of Argamaz from the Padishah of Istarinmul, and soon Lord Corbould will utterly crush New Kyre!”

A cheer greeted his words. 

“No,” said Jurius. “Istarinmul will be laid waste. New Kyre will fall into the sea. And the Empire shall burn, and you all shall be slaves of Anubankh.”

Vanius finished his spell, and Caina felt the faint whisper of power.

His eyes got even wider, and the young magus surged to his feet. 

BOOK: Jonathan Moeller - The Ghosts 08 - Ghost in the Mask
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