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Iceblade: Chapter 23

I WATCH THE PASSING visions of the dark future that lies ahead. Somehow the sense of dread is muted by the relief at letting go the burden of fighting the terrible power I can feel growing inside. As the Blade’s shadowy wings fold around me I can feel the connection between us grow stronger, the intuitive rapport I so envied in the Eldrin instantly there without having to train for it. The blissful surge of confidence and strength this brings will probably degenerate into a deadly threat to everything I hold dear, just as it did with his initial gift of power. But for now I’m too exhausted to be anything but grateful for it. All I have to do is go along with what he demands. Our objectives are the same until both the Emperor and Nagal are dead.

Shadow sets me down in the clearing outside Corinium I used for the last foray into the city with Marin. Seems he has been watching us carefully in that scrying mirror of his.

“Wait here. I have to find out where the Emperor is today.”

Adrenaline is burning in my veins and I’m impatient to get this over with. “Use your mirror. Seems to have worked well for you so far.”

“Nagal shields the part of the city around the palace. The mirror is blind there.” His anger fills the space between us even as he disappears in a swirl of dark wings. He didn’t want to admit that. The long hours drag before he returns in the last dark before dawn.

“Come. I know where we have to go.”

Waiting has made me edgy. I snap at him more than I intended. “I’ve been ready to go since we arrived here. I thought you had everything under control.”

I can tell he is still angry as he carries me to the private balcony of the royal apartments high among the palace towers. The sheer walls make it inaccessible even to my climbing skills so I’m not surprised to find the inner doors open.

I follow him into the lavishly decorated apartment. The Emperor is standing at the far side, already fully equipped with his mail and weapons, as if we were expected. I can sense something is wrong even as he slowly turns to face me. He doesn’t look surprised or concerned when he sees me, reinforcing my feeling that this has all been too easy.

Don’t think about it. Just get this done.

I draw my blades and step forward, telling myself the sense of ease must be because I now have a powerful ally standing at my shoulder. Purmut draws his own heavy sword and I can see just from that simple movement he has no skill with it. He plants his feet apart with a stiff clumsiness that should be reassuring but every sense is now screaming at me to turn and run for my life and I still don’t understand why.

A rustle and a soft hiss from the shadows behind him. I can’t see anything within the darkness, yet the sound is so like a more sinister version of the Blade’s anger. This must be Nagal. Then the Emperor speaks, his voice so deep and compelling it takes over every thought in my head.

“Fool! You still fail to see how you have been tricked. You think you can save your friends by killing me when their destruction is already part of the Blade’s plan. He did not tell you he seeks revenge on the Knights of Eldaran by corrupting their leader Marin. Then his way is clear to reclaim Maratic for his own.”

It is so close to the doubts and fears already plaguing my thoughts. I turn furiously towards the Blade, certain his deceit has been revealed at last.

And in that instant of my paralysis and doubt, the Emperor strikes.

The blow is awkward and clumsy and I move just enough to deflect it and stay alive but it rips a crippling deep gash down my shoulder. The white-hot pain suddenly clouds with shadow and I’m dimly aware of being dragged out of the room and carried away.


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