CITY OF LIGHT
358th Year of the Damascan Calendar
24th Year in the Reign of King Zakareth VI
3 Days Until Summer’s End
As the sun sank below the horizon, the Eldest Nye moved from shadow to shadow across the battlefield.
He felt weak, here in the outside world, and he would feel weaker the longer he stayed exposed. Sheltering in the shadows made him feel a little better, a little stronger, a little closer to his powers in the House. He still moved with the stealth and grace that were his birthright—none of the soldiers in red-and-gold caught so much as a glimpse of him as he glided in and around their camp. Or what was left of it. The field had once been an orderly tribute to Damascan military discipline: row upon row of white tents arranged according to some plan that the humans had no doubt thought wise at the time.
The order was broken now. The grass was slick with blood and littered with bodies. The tents lay in ruins, shattered and broken. Some of the camp had shifted, transformed and rearranged by the Valinhall Incarnation’s presence: here a barrel whose warped planks had turned into an armchair, there a patch of grass curled into a thin layer of green carpet, over there a pile of firewood grown into a rough-carved table. In the presence of his master, this world strove to imitate Valinhall.
In the Eldest’s opinion, it was a huge improvement. Valin should have spent more time here.
The survivors hobbled around, using sheathed swords and broken spears as makeshift crutches, hauling corpses from one place to another. They made a mockery of propriety, and the Eldest couldn’t see why they bothered. There were far too many dead to deal with each of them appropriately, so the survivors simply threw them in pits and covered them with dirt.
He approved of their attempts to clean up the mess, but why bury the bodies at all? Why mark the grave? In only a century or two, no one would remember anyone who died here today. A rock with a dead man’s name on it would not change that.
There was such a room in Valinhall, meant for honoring the memory of those who had died. His master had placed it there. Even the Wanderer was human, and the Eldest honored his human frailties, even when he didn’t understand them.
The Eldest corrected himself: the Wanderer had once been human. Then he had become something more.
And now he was something less.
The Nye slid around a patched-up tent, inside of which a young man was grieving over a discarded helmet. His back was to the tent entrance, and the Eldest’s hands itched to pull out his chain. This boy had left himself completely defenseless, which was a bad habit that would someday get him killed. Bad habits should be corrected.
But he restrained himself and kept moving, passing through the part of the camp where Travelers had come to blows. Here the devastation was more exotic, but no less total. Human corpses mingled with the inhuman: three-tailed orange lizards with smoke still drifting from their bodies, tall white-furred beast-men lying in inch-deep puddles of chill water, a flock of sparrows lying on top of one another in a bloody pile.
He didn’t spare a thought for the violence. He had seen far worse. He had caused worse.
The Eldest scanned the carnage, looking for one specific corpse among all the others. After only a few minutes of searching, he found it.
Something that looked like a man lay on a patch of bare grass, naked from the waist up. His skin was almost totally covered in tattoos like black chains. His head was bare, the chains covering him in place of hair.
His blank, staring eyes were black, with circles of silver in their center. Other humans had different colors there, and for some reason found the metallic gleam of these eyes especially disturbing. The Eldest wasn’t quite sure why. To him, the eyes were the color of steel and shadows. Beautiful.
Even though this body had taken many wounds when it was alive, only one showed now: a single ragged hole through the left side of the chest. Veins of red spidered out from the stab wound itself, worming their way through the corpse’s skin.
The poison of Ragnarus leaves its mark, the Eldest thought. He tried to summon up the old resentment toward Ragnarus, but he felt nothing. It had been a long time since his last encounter with the Crimson Vault, and most of his hatred he had acquired secondhand from Valin.
He had settled his own debts with Ragnarus long ago.
The anger didn’t come. Instead, he felt a sort of eagerness for the weapon that had struck this blow. A hunger for something that could make his Territory that much stronger.
The sword lay nearby, unsheathed, its blade blood red and gleaming. No one had looted it, despite its obvious value. Perhaps even humans could sense something of the nature of this body and this weapon, and they wanted nothing to do with it.
No, it was probably something else. In the Eldest’s experience, humans were rarely that wise.
The Eldest scooped up the sword, tucking it away inside his robe. Perhaps the humans Caius Agnos and Olissa Agnos could make something useful out of it. If not, well, he could surely find another use for an unbound Ragnarus weapon.
When the blade was secure, the Eldest stood looking down upon his master’s body.
“You made promises to me,” the Eldest said, in his raspy voice. Here he was, speaking to a corpse, just like an emotional human. But the dead body wasn’t his only audience. “You did not keep them. You have given me much, my friend, but in the end, you too failed to uphold our bargain.”
He leaned down, letting a bit of his essence flow out like a shaft of light from this world’s moon. The shadows grew soft, a rent in the world, and Valin sank down deep, running along his connection to Valinhall like a cart in a rut.
He would arrive soon, and the other Nye would take care of him as he deserved. He had insisted on adding a graveyard to the House of Blades, and now the room would be his new home.
The Eldest straightened, and the only remnant of the Wanderer’s presence was a patch of slightly bloody grass.
Simon, son of Kalman, had promised to bring the Ragnarus blade to Valinhall, and technically he had not done so. But he had created the circumstances that allowed the Eldest to retrieve it, so the Nye decided to give the boy some credit. He had great hopes for Simon.
“Do not worry, my old friend. We have another to fulfill our purposes now, and he will not slip away so easily.”
The Eldest Nye turned his hood to the second sword lying on the grass: an unusually long weapon, six feet from end to end, its blade slightly curved and sharp along only one edge. A long, smooth line of gold ran up the middle of the blade, beginning at the hilt and ending at its tip.
“Isn’t that right, Mithra?”
The Wanderer’s blade glimmered in answer.
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