Deep in the foothills of the High Reaches, within the Spire, the silent vault of obsidian that was its hidden seat of power, the red-rimmed eyes of the F'dor's human host broke open in the darkness.
The chain had snapped.
Slowly Tsoltan sat up on the smoothly polished catafalque where he customarily took his repose. He passed his hands through the darkness, grasping futilely for the invisible ends of the metaphysical restraint that had held his greatest trophy in servitude. Nothing; not even a frayed thread of his former absolute control.
The Brother had slipped his leash.
As his anger mounted, the air around the demon-priest grew suddenly dry and thin, on the verge of tangibly cracking. Tsoltan rose quickly and strode down the long hallways to the Deep Chamber.
Sparks ignited behind him, combusting tapestries, altarcloths, and the robes of a few unfortunate priests along the way. His minions gasped for breath in the smothering air and shivered in the black light of the flames, recognizing the fire for what it was-the prelude to the venting of the demon's wrath.
In fury he ascended the red-veined marble steps to the highest altar, his place of blood sacrifice. A solid block of obsidian, mined in the Second Age by the Nain of the Northern Mountains, it had once been the cornerstone of a temple to the All-God, the Deity of Life, built by the united races.
Now it rested at the top of the enormous staircase of concentric marble circles reaching to the unseen ceiling of the Spire, its leather limb restraints and metal collection vessels amusing testimony to how times had changed. It had seemed a fitting place tostore the true name of the Brother, the Dhracian whose birthright had bequeathed him a link to the life's blood of the populace of Serendair. The Child of Blood, as he was known in some circles.
Vast ceremonial braziers, standing cold and silent, roared to hideous life in a wide, screaming circle of black fire as he raged past. The smoky flames threw grisly shadows on the distant walls, twisting and writhing in grim anticipation.
Upon reaching the sacrificial altar, Tsoltan hesitated for a moment. He extended a shaking hand and gently caressed the symbols of hatred exquisitely carved into the polished surface, tracing the crusted black channels that laced the smooth top, curving downward into a brass well in the center.
Through this metal mouth he had fed the assassin's captive soul the blood of the Brother's own race, and, when the Dhracians were largely exterminated, that of other innocents, by way of keeping his unique blood bond alive even in slavery.
It had been especially effective in ensuring the Brother's cooperation in his master plan, though he had no illusions about the assassin's allegiance. It would have been a coup just to secure his services; the Brother had a reputation, prior to the capture of his true name, for taking only those assignments that he selected himself. His enslavement changed all that. It had made him Tsoltan's most effective weapon and his primary agent in the completion of the plan's final steps.
The F'dor's hands gripped the altar table more firmly now. He muttered the words of Opening in the ancient language of the Before-Time, perverse countersigns of power tied directly to the birth of Fire, the element from which all of his race had sprung. The black stone altar glimmered for a moment, then glowed red as the fire within the obsidian burned, liquefying the stone into molten glass. With a hissing snap, the altar split in two.
Tsoltan tore through the layers of aqueous stone inside and reached into the hollow reliquary within the belly of the altar where the Brother's name had been entombed. When the name had first been brought to the altar to be sealed in the coffer it had been the most singular moment of satisfaction the F'dor had ever experienced, at least in this lifetime.
It was the culmination of great search and great expense, first in obtaining the name, and then capturing it. Finally, the greatest Namer in all of Serendair had been persuaded, after months of torture so excruciating that it bordered on artistry, to write the name in musical script on a scroll of ancient silk. Tsoltan himself had taken the scroll from the man's lifeless hand and surrounded it lovingly with a whirling sphere of protective power, born of firelight and held in place by the spinning of the Earth itself. It had been a thing of great beauty, and securing it within the altar had left him strangely sad, almost bereft of the joy its capture had brought him.
Not, however, as bereft as he felt now. The reliquary held no radiant globe, no Namer's scroll, only the fragments and crumbs of silk left over from what seemed to have been a small explosion. Feverishly Tsoltan gathered the pieces, searching for the musical script, but what few shreds remained were blank.
A howl of fury echoed through the mammoth chamber, cracking many of the obsidian walls. Tsoltan's servants waited in dread to be called in, but heard no further sound. A moment later, their apprehension expanded into full-fledged horror. They could feel the darkness fall about them, palpable and cold as a mist on their shoulders.
Tsoltan was summoning the Shing.
* * *
Rhapsody was already in the throes of a nightmare when the enormous leathery hand cupped her mouth, snapping her eyes open. Her heart, thrown into feverish racing, pounded so loudly she feared it would rip forth from her chest, but like the scream Grunthor's hand had stifled, it remained in place for the moment, unable to escape, careening off her ribs in panic.
"Sshhh, Miss. Don't move. Stay 'ere, Darlin', and don't make any noise, eh?" The giant's voice was soft. Rhapsody nodded slightly. Grunthor removed his hand and moved away.
Beneath her back she could feel the ground rumble. She strained to hear over the whine of the night wind, and after a moment thought she could make out the sound of distant horses, many of them, galloping hard.
With great effort she twisted onto her side, taking care not to rise above the grassy scrub where she had fallen into her troubled sleep. The fire was gone without a trace.
Grunthor knelt beside her in a shaft of moonlight, his enormous shape obliterating any other view she might have had. He was gleefully pulling weapons from his back and boot scabbards, fondly examining each blade in the muted light, humming softly to himself. Then, with surprising alacrity and silence, he was gone.
"You don't follow directions particularly well, Rhapsody." The silty voice came from directly over her. Rhapsody choked back a gasp and quickly lay flat again. Above her was nothing but darkness. "Grunthor told you not to move. It was for your own good."
Near her head she felt a slight movement of air, and the darkness twisted before her eyes. Achmed crouched beside her. "Of course, you're welcome to make yourself a target if you'd like. After all, these idiots coming momentarily are friends of yours."
"Michael?" Even in a whisper, the crack in her voice was clear.
From within the veiled hood, mismatched eyes stared down at her thoughtfully for a long moment, then looked up in the direction Grunthor had gone. She was aware of a faint hum, an almost-insectlike buzzing, then Achmed looked down at her again. When he spoke his voice was soft and sandy.
"His men. He's not with them."
"How can you know that?"
A low, distinct sound of irritation came from above her. "You're right. Why don't you stand up, wave your arms and call out to him? I'm sure he'll be glad to see you if he's there."
"I'm-I'm sorry," she whispered, swallowing the choking knot of fear that had risen in her throat. There was no response. She waited a moment longer, then squinted. She could no longer see him. "Achmed?"
The warm night wind blew over her, whipping loose tendrils of golden hair and a few dried blades of long grass over her face. Rhapsody closed her eyes as the rumbling in the ground grew louder; the horsemen were coming nearer. She tried to keep them shut, but found herself involuntarily searching for stars in the sky above her, its blackness muted in the blistering light of the full moon. There was nothing she could do now but wait and listen.
* * *
Karvolt, Michael's lieutenant, reined his horse to a slow walk, signaling the others to caution. The scorched meadowgrass was high in the peak of summer and undulated gently in the night wind; otherwise, there was nothing in sight for miles around, nor had there been since they left Easton.
Nonetheless he had sensed a hesitancy in his mount, an unwillingness in the gelding that usually signaled danger, although it might just as easily be the animal's exhaustion instead. They had been riding at a ridiculous pace, inspired by the ferocity of their leader's reaction to the discovery that his quarry had escaped. Each of the nineteen other men in the hunting party reined his mount to a stop in response.
Karvolt's black eyes scanned the dips and swales of the Wide Meadows again, listening to the clamor of the overheated horses coming to halt over the labored breathing and muttering of his men. The night wind blew through his matted hair, caressing his neck, but instead of drying the pouring sweat it only served to throw a chill through him. He shook it off; there was nothing in sight, just the waving highgrass and the billowing shadows cast by the moon.
Absently he wedged his forefinger into the collar of his mail to ease the chafed welt that was rising there. His glance shifted to the men, some wearily leaning against the necks of their mounts, others uncapping their waterskins and drinking gratefully. He patted the gelding and felt it trembling still. Karvolt looked around once again at the wide panorama of darkness. Nothing.
"Careful," he instructed in a low, clipped tone; Karvolt was a man for whom words came at great mental expense. "My horse's actin' afright. Anybody else's?"
As if in response, from the ground in their midst came an ear-splitting, heart-exploding roar, a war-scream that was equal parts anger and mirth, triumph and savagery. Ascending with it, equally fast, came its source.
The flickering shadows of the midsummer moon only illuminated part of the man-monster, a hideous mountain of snarling claws, tusks and muscle wrapped in hide-like armor, both worn on his body and, worse, an intrinsic part of it. The beast was whetting two gleaming blades, one against the other. As it reached its full height it threw back its head and laughed uproariously, a sound even more gruesome than its initial roar.
To a one the horses reared, screaming, tossing and trampling their shocked riders in their fright. A maelstrom of panicking horseflesh swirled in the windy meadow, a few resorting to rolling on the ground or bucking the soldiers off like stinging flies, amid the shouts and cries of terror.
After a few initial seconds of snorting misdirection the animals broke free and dashed off, in a loose, frightened herd, to the west. One unlucky soldier, unable to disengage from his stirrups, was dragged along with them, his screams echoing for only a moment, choking off abruptly long before the horses were out of sight.
"I think that's a unanimous 'yes.'"
Karvolt, who had managed to rise to one knee after disengaging from his fleeing mount, turned slowly and looked behind him, panting.
Coming toward him was what appeared to be a moving slice of the night. As it got closer he could make out that it was a man, swathed in a cloak with a deep, veiled hood, whispering across the field like an ill wind, coming his way unhurriedly. Karvolt scrambled backward over the broken body of one of his men, grasping at the hilt of his weapon with a shaking, sweaty hand.
He glanced quickly over his shoulder and then ahead again, judging the distance of the fallen saddle and saddlebags behind him to be just a few paces too far to serve as cover. Off to his left he could hear the sickening ring of metal and the subsequent thudding of falling heads and bodies as the giant lopped away, still laughing aloud.
Karvolt backed away, trembling, struggling to hang on to his composure and balance. Around him, men who had lost the fight against panic were bolting, only to be decapitated or impaled with something thrown by the chuckling giant. In his darkest nightmares, and all his bloody campaigns with the Wind of Death, he could never have imagined this. He rose to a unsteady stance and drew.
The other soldiers, some motionless in injury, others in fear, were bringing forth their weapons as well. Karvolt limped slowly back, his eyes all the while on the moving shadow, its cloak dancing smoothly in the warm wind.
The man was coming rapidly, fluidly, stopping before each of the fallen soldiers, swiftly removing their weapons from their hands, deflecting their final charges, with a patient, almost professional air. Though he knew they were attacking to the best of their remaining ability, it seemed to Karvolt that the soldiers were almost handing over their weapons to him. The shadow-man moved faster than his strained eyes could follow, slitting a throat, inserting a dagger into an ear, respectfully, almost kindly.
He passed between each of the remaining soldiers on the ground, gliding from man to man like an angelic spirit, offering a hand to one as to a long-lost kinsman, then moving the blade from the soldier's grasp to his own and returning it, with one near-invisible motion, into the pit beneath the man's arm. With an air that was almost gentle he held down a hand to leave a neck exposed, dispensing death more swiftly and efficiently than Karvolt had ever seen, switching hands freely, never pausing, but never pushing. For all that Michael might call himself the Wind of Death, this truly was seeing the wind itself.
Time slowed for Karvolt as the realization came upon him, like a comforting mantle, of the imminence of his own death. Detachedly he was aware of the tightness of the skin around his eyes and across his brow. He knew his face was fixed in the skull-like expression of utter terror he had seen so often in the faces of his own victims, though he felt little of the actual fear it must be displaying.
As the hooded man finished with the last of his remaining comrades and started on the final approach toward him, Karvolt wondered with the last of his abilities of supposition how all the mothers he had put to the sword over the years had managed to fight until the end, as they invariably had. All his years of training and experience in murderous slaughter and the reactions that came with them had deserted him utterly in the face of death.
Summoning the last of his will, Karvolt swung the triatine that had been his father's before him, knowing that it was in vain, and fell back. The man stood over him now. Karvolt was sure he was being looked at from within the dark hood with sympathy. His weapon was gripped by a thin, iron-strong hand that closed over his own trembling one. The voice that spoke in his ear was courteous, almost courtly.
As even deeper darkness surrounded him, Karvolt was vaguely aware of the subtle twist that repositioned the triatine, then thrust the thin, triple-bladed sword through his chest.
In his last moment he noted the surprising lack of pain, and the absence of effort that the shadow before him expended on withdrawing the weapon; the weight of his own body falling away drew him off it quite cleanly. His vision closed in on him, starting at the outer edges of his eyes. He only heard fragments of the words the giant exchanged with his executioner.
"You certainly took your time gettin' to 'im, Sir."
"He had an interesting blade. Add it to your collection."
* * *
When Grunthor returned he found Rhapsody exactly where he had left her, motionless, staring directly above her. He pushed aside the body of one of Michael's soldiers who had fallen within a hairbreadth of her, extended an enormous hand and dragged her gently to her feet.
"Ya all right, Miss?" The Bolg followed behind her, watching her expressionless face as she surveyed the carnage in the field. Rhapsody nodded slightly, continuing her examination. She shivered in the wind and ran her hands over her arms as if chilled, but otherwise betrayed no outward sign of emotion.
"Quite a testimony to your charms," Achmed said, a grim half-smile visible even under his veiled hood. "I guess they were just dying to see you again."
Rhapsody stopped before Karvolt's body. The men watched as her slender back went rigid. She crouched down and took the corpse by the shoulder, turning it slightly to better see the face. Then, like a rolling wave, hate swam visibly through her muscles.
She leapt to her feet and aimed an impressively savage kick squarely at the corpse's head, then another, and another, with growing intensity. Between shallow breaths she began to mutter a string of inspired curses more vile than either of the men remembered hearing, much to Grunthor's delight.
"Balls! Not bad for a little sparker! She could teach me an oath or two, eh, Sir? Figger she knows 'im?"
Achmed smiled. "What gave you such a notion? Give her another shot or two, then see if you can pull her off. We need to be heading on."
* * *
Smoke from the breakfast fire hung low in the heavy morning air, blending with the rising fog of dawn, as Achmed had intended. The girl was not back yet, having excused herself a few moments before and walked a short distance away, to the other side of a deep swale in the field, out of sight. He could feel her anyway, her heartbeat slow and steady, not as it would be had she been preparing to run. He stirred the fire and the clumping stew in the pot that hung over it.
Her words of courteous leaving were the first she had uttered all night, though she had not been given to speaking much before that, anyway. Grunthor had inquired several times in the course of their march if she was all right, and each time she had nodded politely, staring straight ahead as they walked. He knew that the giant felt her to be traumatized, but Achmed was more inclined to believe that she was traveling down old roads in her mind, roads much rougher than the rocky fields they were now crossing. It didn't matter to him in either case.
They would need to bring her along. It had been his belief and position from the first discussion with Grunthor after their exit from Easton, but he was even more sure of it now. Her safety was not of concern; her problems with the Waste of Breath were her own matter. Far more important was the insurance having her alive would provide until he could determine what exactly had happened with his name.
The collar of his servitude, the invisible chokehold that he had worn since the F'dor had come into possession of his identity was gone, broken from his neck as certainly as anything he had ever known. From the moment she had uttered her inane comment in the cool darkness of Easton's back alley he had been free of it, and more: he had actually become a different man. She had changed not only what he was called, but who he was, a dangerous power to be entrusted to one whose actions characterized her as idiotic. That power must be substantial, colossal, in fact, to subvert the will of the F'dor. A powerful idiot; marvelous. Achmed snorted in irritation.
The name change had not seemed to affect his birthright. He was still assailed by the pounding of the heartbeats of millions, drumming in his dreams and each waking moment as they had from the moment of his birth.
But the details of this new arrangement of identity remained to be seen. He would need to retain her, at least until they arrived at their destination, to ensure that there was no unfinished business, no detail in the situation that he had not accounted for. The Brother, before his enslavement, had been the master not only of his own destiny, but the destiny of anyone else he chose. This Namer's actions may have returned him to that state, or may not have; he now knew nothing about himself whatsoever. Another man might have been grateful for the salvation. Achmed was merely annoyed.
In the distance he could hear a soft, bright tone rising on the morning wind, a sound that eased the age-old pounding in his blood and cleared his mind; the girl was singing. An orange ray of dusty sunlight had pierced the blue gloom of morning, illuminating the smoky haze around them. He turned quickly to look at Grunthor, who had just awakened and was staring off in the direction she had gone as if entranced. The giant then shook his head, as if shaking off sleep, and turned to meet his glance.
The man now known as Achmed the Snake gave the pungent stew another stir.
He banged the metal spoon savagely against the side of the pot. "She's Liringlas, a Skysinger. The kind of Lirin that mark the rising and setting of the sun and stars with song."
The giant broke into a wide, pasty grin. "Lovely. And just 'ow do you know that lit'le bit o' fact?" Achmed shrugged but said nothing. Dhracians and Lirin had ancestral ties, but he deemed it a piece of information not worthy of explanation.
A moment later the sweet music ended, taking with it the fragile sense of well-being it had brought a moment before. By the time Rhapsody returned to camp, Achmed's hidden face was wrapped in a scowl again. By contrast, the grim expression that had beset her features the night before was gone, replaced by a placid, almost cheerful mien
"Good morning," she said. She smiled, and the giant smiled in return.
"Mornin', Miss. Ya feelin' better?"
"Yes, thank you. Good morning, Achmed." She didn't wait for a reply, but sat down next to her gear and began tightening the leather bindings on her pack. "Thank you for your-assistance last night."
The sun cracked the horizon behind her, bathing her in a shaft of rosy golden light, causing her hair to gleam brightly. She pulled a crust of bread out of the pocket of her vest, then brushed the crumbs from the long sleeves of her white muslin shirt, stained with grass and dirt. She held out the bread, offering to share. When the men ignored her, she took a bite, wiping her mud-brown wool trousers free of debris.
"Eat quickly," Achmed said, ladling the stew into two battered steel mugs. "We have a lot of distance to cover today."
Rhapsody stopped in mid-chew, then swallowed painfully. "We? Today? What do you mean?" The Dhracian handed Grunthor a mug, then raised one to his own lips, saying nothing. "I thought-Michael's men are dead."
Achmed lowered his mug. "Are all Namers given to such rash leaps of assumption? He has many men. That was only one contingent. Do you really think it was the only one he sent?" He ignored Grunthor's glance and raised the mug to his lips once more.
Rhapsody's face went white for a moment, then hardened into a considered, calm expression. "How far to the Tree?"
"Less than a fortnight, if the weather holds and field conditions don't worsen."
The Singer nodded again. "And are you still willing to let me come with you?"
Achmed finished his stew, wiped the remaining droplets out of the depths of the mug with his forefinger and shook it out, upside down, over the fire. He tossed grass into the other utensils, spun them out as well, and stowed them away, her question hanging heavy in the air. Finally, when the equipment was packed he shouldered his weapon and gear, slipping both beneath the black cloak.
"If you can keep up, and keep your mouth shut, I'll consider it."
* * *
They made their way at a brutal overland speed, traveling in long stretches, for a dozen nightmarish days, stopping rarely, barely pausing before moving on. Traveling time was not limited to either day or night, but rather to Achmed's scouting. It seemed to Rhapsody that he had some sense of inner warning about the presence of other beings, man or animal, that stood between them and the wood.
They might hide for hours, waiting for a group of unknowing travelers to move out of their path. When this would happen, she would take the opportunity to doze, not knowing when it would come again. Or they might go for an entire day at a forced march clip if the way was clear. The men were used to the pace, and she could keep up fairly well, only needing to stop when she found the sun in the same place it had been once more without a rest break. After a week she was able to match their pace, and they traveled quickly, and in silence.
Finally, at noon on the twelfth day, Achmed pointed directly south and stopped. The two exchanged soft words in a language Rhapsody had never heard except between them, then Grunthor turned to her.
"Well, Miss, you up for a good ten mile run?"
"Run? We haven't stopped for the night yet. I don't think I can do it."
"Oi was afraid you might say that. 'Ere, then." He crouched down and patted his shoulder. Rhapsody stared at him, exhaustion making her confused, then realized foggily that he wanted to carry her on his back, a prospect she particularly loathed. She shuddered at the sight of the many hilts and blade handles protruding from various moorings and bandoliers that crossed his shoulders. It would be like lying down in a field of swords.
"No. I'm sorry, I can't."
The cloaked figure turned to her, and beneath the hood she could see the irritation in his eyes.
"We're almost there. Choose now: shall we abandon you here, or are you going to be gracious about Grunthor's offer of help? The woods are in sight; those that defend them are not. These are bad days; they take no risks with wanderers strolling near their outposts."
Rhapsody looked around. She had no idea where she was, nor could she see the forest. As she had several times since beginning the journey, she considered staying put, hoping that whatever she encountered after the two moved on would be safer company. But, also as she had decided before, her traveling companions rescued her, had not tried to harm her, and looked out for her in their own way. So she swallowed her displeasure and agreed.
"Very well, I'll walk as long as I can first, all right?"
"Fine, Miss, just let me know when you're tired."
She rolled her eyes. "I've been tired for days. I'll let you know when I can't go on."
"Fair enough," said the giant.
* * *
The moon was on the wane. It hung low in the sky, trimmed with blood-red mist, a silent observer of the answer to the F'dor's summons.
From deep within the dark temple the call had come, channeled out through the massive stone steeple above, standing black against the night sky.
The towering obelisk was an architectural marvel, a joint masterpiece of man and of nature. Thousands of tons of basalt base and obsidian shaft reached up into the darkness that surrounded its well-hidden cavern in the High Reaches, Serendair's forbidding northern mountain range. The actual spire of the mammoth fortress a mile below the ground, the shadowy monolith pierced the racing clouds, thrusting skyward proudly, almost insolently, tapering to a point in which was carved the image of a single eye. As the chant began, the scraps of vaporous mist that hovered in the humid air around the Spire dissipated instantly; the eye was clearing, readying itself.
The ancient words of summoning, spoken by the dark priest at the altar of blood sacrifice, were not known in the language of this Age, or even the two Ages previous to it. They came from the Before-Time, the primordial era when the elements of the universe were being born, and symbolized the most ancient and essential of all ties: the link between the element of fire and the race that sprang from it, the F'dor.
Twisted, avaricious beings with a deceptive, jealous nature, the few surviving F'dor shared a common longing to consume the world around them, much like the fire from which they came. Also like fire, F'dor had no corporeal form, but rather fed off a more solid host, the way fire grows by consuming fuel, destroying it in the process.
The demon-spirit that clung to Tsoltan, high-priest to the Goddess of Void in the world of men, had made its way to power slowly, patiently, over time. From the moment of its birth in the earth's fiery belly it had taken a long world view, planning its steps carefully, willingly attaching itself to hosts who were weak or inconsequential in order to give itself the time to grow into the fullness of its potential.
Even as it passed, through death or conquest, to increasingly powerful hosts, it held back, reserved the time of its revelation, to ensure that nothing compromised its ultimate goal. The possession of Tsoltan had been an inspired one, achieved willingly, early in his priesthood. The duality of his nature served to make him doubly strong, leant a strategic composure to his innate desire to devour. Living at one moment in the world of men, the next in the dark domain of black fire, Tsoltan existed on two levels, both as man and as demon.
And neither of them had the power he needed over the Brother.
From the ground around the Spire dew began to rise, steamy mist ascending into the scorching air of the summer night. Hot vapors twisted and danced, forming clouds that in the light of the just-past-full moon grew longer, taller, then began to hold a human shape.
First one, then several, then many, then a multitude of glistening figures formed beneath the unblinking eye of the obelisk, robed like the Brother himself, but with utter darkness within their hoods where a face would be. The bodily frames on which the mist-cloth hung began as thin and skeletal, but as the chant continued they took on the appearance of flesh, of a sinewy musculature, of fire-tipped claws, unseen indications of the demon's substantial investment of power expended in bringing them into being. The thousand eyes of the F'dor. The Shing.
In the great vault below, Tsoltan watched them assemble through the obelisk's eye, trembling with strain and joy. They lingered motionless in the air, absorbing more and more of the heat their master had committed to them, stripping it from himself, growing stronger as his power ebbed.
Within their empty hoods a glimmer could occasionally be seen, perhaps a moonbeam reflecting off the mist, but more likely the reflection of the lens of the immense eye which they now formed. In the world of living men one moment, in the spirit world the next, flitting back and forth between the two domains, much like their master himself, the Shing waited. They were as ephemeral as the wind, but not as fleeting: when sent forth to seek their quarry, they were as relentless as Time, as unforgiving as death.
Tsoltan clutched the altar, his strength waning like the moon on the fields above. In a moment his thousand eyes would set forth, resolutely combing each pocket of air, each step of the wide world, searching endlessly until they found their prey. When they finally came upon him, the results would be horrific.
The demon-priest trembled as weakness washed over him. The Shing would be taking virtually all of his life force with them, a heavy risk. As one knee, then the other, crumbled out from under him, Tsoltan wondered if the Brother would appreciate the compliment. His head struck the polished obsidian floor as he fell, splitting his brow and staining the stone with blood, an appropriate sign.
"The Brother. Find him," he whispered hollowly.
Tsoltan, high-priest, man and symbiotic demon-spirit, rolled onto his back and stared into the blackness overhead. A mile above, a thousand Shing turned and set forth on the wind, under the unblinking gaze of one solitary eye.
Excerpted from Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon. Copyright © 1999 by Elizabeth Haydon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.