Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3) (8 page)

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
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“What?”

“Danner’s
memories are especially cloudy and blocked off during the time of the battle
after he’d asolved his wings,”
the denarae officer reported.
“From what
I glimpsed, I think he did go a little berserk, but I honestly can’t say for
sure.”
Brican hesitated.
“I definitely caught sight of two of the
paladins who died, as if Danner had seen them fairly close up, or paid extra
attention to them for some reason. They’re much clearer than anything else I
could see during that time. I’m sorry, Garnet, I wish I could tell you more, or
that I had better news, but for now, I don’t know if we can rule out Danner as
having killed those paladins in some sort of frenzy.”

Garnet closed
his eyes in despair and slumped in his seat. The chair creaked alarmingly
beneath him as Garnet shifted to cover his face with one expansive hand.

“Thanks,
Brican,”
he thought finally.
“Don’t tell the others just yet, please.
Let’s just keep this between you and me. I think they’re having a hard enough
time being normal around him as it is, and this wouldn’t help matters.”

“Your call,
Garnet,”
Brican acceded.

“Now get back
to your wife before she decides you’re neglecting her because she’s fat and
unattractive,”
Garnet added.
“Women worry about that sort of thing, I’m
told.”

“You have no
idea,”
Brican replied with a mental chuckle.

Garnet sighed
and dipped a chunk of bread in his stew as he pored over his thoughts. He tried
not to brood too much over it, knowing that some of the denarae around him
might pick up his thoughts even if they weren’t intentionally trying to read
his mind. Living in a company of mind-readers had its drawbacks, no matter how
overwhelming the advantages were.

A few tables
away, Danner and Alicia rose from their meal and walked off hand-in-hand to the
upstairs suite they shared. Garnet watched them until they turned the corner
and disappeared from sight.

A moment later
Moreen reappeared, and it suddenly seemed as though she had aged ten years in
as many minutes. Garnet quickly stood and offered her an arm, which she took
gratefully as he guided her to a seat. He motioned for one of the women to
bring her something to drink. Moreen noticed his request and murmured, “Wine.”
Garnet sat down across from her and stared at her in expectant concern.

“We just lost the
baby of one of the housemaids,” Moreen said in a hollow voice. “She showed no
signs of complications, and the midwife assured me everything would be fine,
but when… when the baby came out,” Moreen sucked in a deep breath, her voice
quavering slightly. “When the baby came out, he cried once and…”

Quiet tears
formed in her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

“He… cried out
once and just.. suddenly stopped… breathing,” she said brokenly. She took a
deep breath to steady herself. “And there was nothing we could do. He was gone
before anyone knew what was happening.”

Garnet reached
out one hand and Moreen clasped it tightly with one hand and wiped the tears
from her face with the other. As others in the common room became aware of the
recent tragedy, a crowd of women suddenly developed around Moreen, offering her
comfort. Other women were already leaving to be with the mother of the child.

Garnet let
himself be quietly excluded from the group around Moreen. The mood in the room
had quickly shifted from a quiet gladness of homecoming to a somber pall of
mourning, and he regretted the unfortunate timing of such a sad event almost as
much as he mourned the death of the newborn.

“This isn’t how
a homecoming should be,” he whispered to himself.

Chapter 4

I have been accused of being a hero. I can think of no
greater honor to myself, nor unfortunate insult to the rest of mankind.

- Birch de’Valderat,

“Memoirs” (1013 AM)

- 1 -

The next
morning, Garnet woke to find a summons from the Prismatic Council waiting for
him. The message on his bedside table stated he should come at his earliest
convenience, which Garnet translated, “As soon as you wake up.”

Garnet quickly
performed his morning toilet and scrubbed the worst of the dust and dirt from
his face in a basin of cold water. Last night he’d been suddenly overwhelmed by
exhaustion the moment he entered his room, and he’d barely had the energy to
strip his grimy traveling clothes from his body before collapsing in bed.

Feeling
refreshed, if not entirely clean, Garnet started downstairs for a quick
breakfast. On the way, he checked in with the Shadow Company denarae on duty,
who was responsible for knowing who was awake and present at all times in the
inn and for relaying any important messages from the camp outside Nocka. Word
that Garnet was awake had already reached the kitchen, and the breakfast crew
had a bowl of oatmeal and a steaming cup of cahve waiting for him by the time
he reached the ground floor.

The heaviness
that had overtaken the common room the previous night had receded with the
coming of a new day.

“Who’s
awake?”
Garnet asked the duty man as he blew on his oatmeal to cool it down
to a tolerable temperature.

“Red is in
the camp, just finished a shift. Yellow, violet, and green captains are all
awake, sir, and blue is just starting to stir. Oh, orange has just checked in
as awake, sir,”
the denarae reported, then added,
“and hungry.”

“Let Guilian
sleep, but ask the rest to come down and join me,”
Garnet ordered.
“I’ve
been summoned to the Prismatic Council, and I’d like to take a couple of them
along with me.”

“Understood,
sir.”

A few minutes
later, Garnet was joined by Brican, Flasch, Marc, and a sleepy-eyed Danner.
Michael appeared directly from the kitchen, helping the morning waitress – who
couldn’t have been more than a dozen years old – to carry the load of food and
drinks. The young denarae girl blushed at his help and hurried back to the
kitchens as soon as the food was safely delivered.

“A little young
to be hanging around here, isn’t she?” Marc asked.

“Viela? Her
older brother Durin is in Flasch’s platoon,” Brican said, “and her father is
one of the smiths helping around the camp. Seemed like this was the best place
for her.”

Marc nodded and
promptly began spooning oatmeal down his throat as though he hadn’t eaten in
days. Danner blinked to clear the sleepiness from his eyes and nearly upended
the bowl of sugar he was trying to carefully pour onto his breakfast.

“Anybody have
problems with the stew from dinner last night?” Danner asked sleepily.

They all
silently shook their heads. After an expectant pause, Flasch poked Danner with
a spoon and asked, “Why?”

“Huh? Oh,
nothing much,” Danner said, still blinking sleep from his eyes as he tried to
focus on the sugar in his hands. “I just seem to remember Alicia getting up a
little while ago and being a bit ill. She didn’t look as well as usual, and she
said it must have been something she ate.”

“Maybe she had
something before we got here,” Flasch suggested.

“Maybe someone
gave her some of Flasch’s cooking,” Brican murmured behind his hand to Marc,
who snorted and sprayed half-chewed oatmeal back into his bowl. Marc stared
forlornly at his breakfast then – as the others watched with pained expressions
– shrugged and resumed eating.

“Well, since
we’re all here and so wide-eyed and eager,” Garnet said with a slight smile.

“What’s up?”
Michael said, sipping his cahve. He shuddered and snatched the sugar from
Danner’s hand as he hurried to pour a few spoonfuls in his drink.

“Summons from
the Council,” Garnet said by way of explanation. “Michael, Marc, Brican,
Danner, I want you four to come with me. I need you two to look into some
things for me while I see what the Council wants, and Danner, you’re on
translation duty in the library with Marc.”

Danner and
Michael nodded. Marc mumbled something to the effect of “Sure thing” through a
mouthful of oatmeal. Brican, who also was busy chewing his food, instead kythed
Garnet a mental affirmative.

“Flasch,” Garnet
continued, “I’d like you to keep an eye on things here. Guilian’s sleeping off
a shift, so while he’s out, set up duty rosters for picking up around the camp
and check with the supply team to see if they need any foodstuffs. I overheard
someone say we’re a little light on meat, so one of you look into that, please.”

“You got it,”
Flasch replied. “I hear there’s a whole herd of little kids who need to work on
their hunting skills. Two birds, one stone.”

 “Oh, and
apparently Moreen and Alicia need help moving a few things around here,” he
added. “It shouldn’t be too bad, so pick a few men and go volunteer your
services.”

“And
please
ask someone to take a look at the heater in my room,” Marc said after
swallowing a mouthful of food. “It’s the middle of Spring, but I damn near
roasted in my sheets last night.”

Marc ignored a
few sniggers that followed his complaint, even though he distinctly heard
Janice’s name mentioned somewhere in a low voice. Instead, since his oatmeal
was now gone, he was eyeing Garnet’s practically untouched bowl. Garnet
wordlessly slid the bowl toward him.

“Also, you and
Guilian work up a new training roster for each platoon,” Garnet added. “I’d
like to get in some more work with ranged weapons. We got that load of bows and
crossbows in just before we left, so we can go ahead and start putting them to
good use. Marc, your platoon will be next.”

Marc looked up
from Garnet’s bowl of oatmeal and nodded.

“Your little pet
project?” Danner asked.

“We’re close to
perfecting it,” Garnet said, “and hopefully now with fresh supplies we can get
it down without further injury.”

“You’re one to
talk,” Flasch grumbled. “You stand in the back the whole time.”

Garnet waited
for everyone to finish their breakfast, reveling in the moment of silence
between them. For a few minutes, the tension of the past few days simply didn’t
exist. Danner made a show of trying to reclaim the sugar from Michael, who
defended it valiantly with his spoon until Brican suddenly joined in with a
surprise attack and snatched the bowl of sweetener from under his nose.

This is what
it’s all about,
Garnet thought to himself as they all laughed.
This is
how it should be. Right here. This is what’s important.

- 2 -

“You said you
have their welfare high in your priorities. You told me you have looked after
them since the beginning – before that even. You have told me many things, but
you have never explained any of them to me. How have
you
been a benefit
to them?”

“Everything
in their world that lives, my dear Kaelus, everything that EXISTS, does so
because of their God and because of Me. We looked toward the world We both knew
would be created in the Great Schism, and We saw something that had never
before been conceived of since the dawn of time. We saw the potential for what
is now called Life, but it required both Our forces working together, or rather
working against each other, to fulfill that potential.

“Finally,
when Heaven and Hell divided, Creation happened.

“Some of the
stuff of the world was not fit for life and was left as stone. Some of it was
not fit for intelligence and was left plant-like. Some was not fit for
sentience and was left animal. But a very few of those… those primordial bits…
a very few of them were fit for intelligent life, and they became men and
elves, dwarves and gnomes. They are the natural races of that world.

“But from the
most powerful and learned of men to the lowest speck of pond scum that is only
alive by the barest stretch of the definition, it was two hands, God’s and
Mine, that made their world what it is. God made the living things able to
grow, and I made the life cycle whereupon living things consume lesser forms of
life. He gave sentients creativity, I gave them competition. He brought them
the ability to procreate and bring life to another sentient being, I brought
the necessity of death to make them struggle to learn and accomplish something
in a limited span of time. He brought them sex, but I brought them passion and
ecstasy. While he merely wanted them to
have
life, I wanted them to
live
that life. I wanted the sentient species of the world to fulfill their
potential and realize the unique power of their souls.”

“Why?”

“So I can
make that power My own…”

- 3 -

Birch raised his
head from the table and rubbed his eyes, blinking past the weariness that had
settled in every muscle of his body.

“I must have
dozed off,” he muttered, irritated with his own lack of discipline.

The gnomish lamp
on the desk next to him still beamed with a steady, yellow light; a dozen
candles would have burned out in the time since he had started working, but
still the chemical lamp blazed steadily with light. The lamp was certainly
going to outlast Birch himself, who felt like he could fall over again at any
moment and sleep for a week.

Still, he had
more work to do, and Birch would only afford himself a few hours of rest before
he returned to the pages before him.

Birch had
promised one of his nephew’s friends, Marc Tanus, that he would record as much
of his journey through Hell as he could remember, as well as everything he had
gleaned through his contact with the demon Kaelus. He was also keeping a
separate set of memoirs for things that might be too dangerous to become common
knowledge, or that might get him branded a heretic. Not everything in the past
decade of his life could truly be considered in keeping with the teachings of
the Prism – if they knew the whole truth, many would no doubt try to have him
expelled from the Order.

BOOK: Satan's Gambit (The Barrier War Book 3)
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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