- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Altazar heard the whisper, a voice on the wind that invaded his youthful dreams of plunder. A woman's voice, but he still listened. This one didn't live among the northern tribes, where women whelped children and tended fires, never daring to voice their concerns about the ways of the world. No, this woman knew the ruling of people -- but not him. Altazar listened, but he made it plain that he held the power, not this women-thing that whispered to him.
The voice on the wind brought him luck and guided his plans. At sixteen, he already led a war band stolen from his unlamented late father. He dared not tell the warriors about the voice, of course. He kept her secret, his weapon. He used it well.
She guided him southward, watching battles through his eyes, helping him direct the forces. He reached the ripe age of thirty years, when most of the warriors of his generation were long since dead. And he ruled the northern lands, from the Snow Sea to the impassable Ice Mountains.
Then she led him through the barrier and down into the pretty lands of Eltabar.
The conquest proved too easy to satisfy Altazar's lust for glory. Mages who built glass castles and grew impossible flowers fled before hard iron and angry, insatiable men. Rarely, an army of fighters banded together, but they were not trained, and they were not ruthless -- well, not at first.
Villages that had been prosperous in the afternoon lay burnt and lifeless by moonrise. Altazar passed like a plague of desolation, and people wailed in their holy sanctuaries, asking even the gods to stop him.
He especially enjoyed destroying those temples.
She continued to whisperto him, louder now, as though they were closer.For reasons he couldn't even admit to himself, he shivered in the hot dry sun, so far from the snow.
And he kept heading southward...
On a moonless night, when the powers of magic ebbed to their weakest, Altazar listened to her call and slipped away from his encamped army and into the hills nearby. He stood looking down at his army and wondering if they would miss him if he never came back.
Come to me!
He didn't like to be ordered. He thought he might still turn back, even now. What more could she give him, after all? What use was this woman, now that he ruled the world?
I am power you cannot even imagine.
He climbed higher and stopped on the summit, looking down at a desolate valley where a black tower rose in the midst of wretched, mangled trees and ubiquitous weeds. This lifeless valley did not belong in Eltabar, which everywhere else had been green and alive. It looked -- felt -- like something darker than the moonless night.
Altazar went to the tower, too avaricious even still to turn away from anything that he might take. And it had occurred to him that he might take her, since she so unwisely called him.
He found a door sealed with a working in runes. He couldn't read, and despised these written words as warnings from cowards who would not face an enemy with sword in hand. He pried a large metal piece away and felt a cold spark travel up his spine. The rune-covered iron glowed fitfully for a moment before the magic died and the metal crumbled to dust. A wind moaned loud around him, and for a moment he thought he could hear other voices whispering to him.
Come to me...
The door swung inward and he tasted dust and smelled age, but he knew nothing living remained within these walls. The interior glowed with a light from somewhere up the central spiral staircase. He took the steps two at a time, anxious to learn what she had called him here for. All he found was an altar, and a wooden staff half-covered by a dusty cloth. Six feet long, its dark wood was inlaid with golden runes that moved as he stared.
And he craved that power, even anathematic as it was to his own people. What did he care if the northerners shunned that dark art? He ruled the world, and if she had brought him here to this gift he would not turn his back to it.
He reached out, battle scars illuminated by the fey light, like runes of his own. His followers could read legends in each scar and tell tales around the campfires of their leader's deeds. There would be more legends now. Different ones, of magic and power they could not yet imagine.
But he could. Altazar had heard her whisper of them in his mind for most of his life, and he was ready to take up that new battle.
"I am Altazar!" He spat out the words in a voice like rattling gravel and listened as the sound echoed around the dark tower. "I am the greatest warrior who ever lived. I claim this staff of power for my own!"
His scarred fingers curled around the wood and golden runes. Heavy. Warm. Something seemed to hold it down, but he wanted this prize and wouldn't surrender. He laughed when he yanked the staff free from the altar.
Power! Gods, the power! Agony raced through the nerves of his body and even his mind recoiled and went blank...and he opened his eyes again later to find that he still stood, the staff in his hand. He turned his head warily to find the cloth still covered the top half. The fabric moved gently, in and out, in and out. Something breathed beneath.
Altazar wanted to throw the staff aside and leave this evil pace. Instead, his left arm moved without his biding and reached for the silk. Ignoring what his own mind demanded, his fingers tore the cloth away.
A face lay beneath -- a woman's face, thin and small and prefect in its dark beauty. Ah, and very much alive. The lips curled back in a snarling smile filled with perfect tiny inlaid pearls. Bright ruby-red eyes with centers of obsidian blinked at him. He saw only mockery in her look.
Fool, he thought. Never trust a woman.
"I have called down through all the ages since man won me away from my former master," she said. Her voice whispered like... like the wind in the night. "Called until something evil enough to hear, and strong enough to win, could reach me. I am of the dark, my Altazar. I, the Kiya Chanda Andee, claim you for my own. And now I have your soul."
He felt her darkness upon his heart, and he knew he'd never be free again.
Copyright © 2003 by Lazette Gifford
Posted August 12, 2010
No text was provided for this review.