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LUNATICA LOST BOOK
By TED DEKkER KACI HILL
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Ted Dekker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlmost a day had passed. Twilight now fell over the horizon. Curling smoke still wafted heavenward, blocking the stars. A cool breeze drove the lingering stench of burning debris away from them.
Darsal sat across from Silvie, knees to her chest. Before her were the seven books, neatly lined up in a row between the girls. Two black ones were stacked on top of each other. Beside them, the green. Next, purple. Red. And then the blue and brown stacked together.
The seven Books of History. Recovered at last.
Her face was still damp, tears mixing with soot.
"Are you ready?" Johnis's soft voice came from behind Darsal. Then his hand touched her shoulder, and he crouched between her and Silvie.
He pocketed two books, placed a third in front of him, and drew his knife. "Darsal, it's time to go home. To Middle." He smiled. "It's over. You'll see. No more books. We won."
The last time he'd asked her to slit her finger, they'd been stolen away by seven accursed bundles of paper and leather, bound with twine. Sucked through time into a world of cars and airplanes and vampires and terrible betrayal.
Of nightmare and sorrow.
Of misery and cruel sacrifice.
"It feels more a reckoning than triumph."
"Wesaved the world, Darsal," Johnis said. "We did it. You did it."
"Mission accomplished." Darsal tried to scoff but couldn't. She couldn't help staring at the books. "Back. Back to what?" Johnis and Silvie kept quiet. Let her talk.
"It's been a long time for me," she said, aware of the tension in her voice. "A bit unnerving."
They both watched her. Waiting. For hours. Johnis refused to touch the books until she was ready. And they'd been far beyond patient.
It was long past time.
"We'll be with you, Darsal," Silvie said. "We'll return heroes."
Darsal nodded. She picked up one of the books, eased it into her waistband, and set another in front of her. Silvie did the same.
Now all three knelt with a single book before them.
Darsal slit her index finger with her blade. Johnis and Silvie cut theirs in unison. Johnis drew a loud breath. Grinned.
"You'll come to the wedding, Darsal, won't you?"
A forced smile. "I wouldn't miss it."
He winked at her and traded an amused look with Silvie, then held his finger a fraction of an inch off the leathery cover of his book. Silvie's hand snaked over his a second behind.
"For Elyon," he said.
Darsal's hand shot out and pressed against the cover of her book. "For Elyon."
Chapter TwoI'm growing weary of your incompetence, Marak." Qurong stormed around the perimeter of the conference room, gray eyes ablaze. Long dreadlocks and black and red robes flapped about the supreme commander's tall, powerful frame. Morst-a white paste meant to soothe the painful burning, mute the stench, and conceal the lesions covering his skin-was beginning to crack with his temper.
"With respect, my lord, this situation was unceremoniously dumped in my lap. It's taken eighteen months to undo the mistakes of my predecessor with regards to Eram, and in the meantime I've spent eight months putting together plans to annihilate the albinos, plans that merely await my final transcription and your approval."
Marak stood with his hands at the small of his back, impatient for his commander to complete his tirade. He wanted out of the conference room, with its pungent mix of morst, sweat, and curling smoke.
"Tell me something: what would General Martyn have thought of your pitiful excuses?" Qurong demanded. Martyn had been a longtime general under Qurong, a turncoat from among the albinos years ago. He'd been cunning enough to put Thomas Hunter's skills to the test.
But that was five years and five generals ago.
"Respectfully, sir, General Martyn would not have approved the complete elimination of the albinos at all."
"His only vice. Regardless, your inefficiency would have met with his severe displeasure. My generals remain on the downslide. Unfortunately for you, my patience is thin. So enough of these pathetic, cowardly attempts to dodge responsibility. I highly doubt the escape of fifty albinos was the result of a dead man. Perhaps I will require another torch."
Marak momentarily froze. The last general Qurong had "demoted" had burned. Marak eyed the two lit torches mounted on six-foot poles and tried not to think too long about what might have taken place. Nor what the priest Sucrow had done before dragging the corpse to his thrall to use for his black arts. Marak had never cared to ask for any of the details.
"What do you think, General?"
He looked past Qurong, past the two narrow steps leading to a small landing that contained Qurong's chair, past the dark wood and thick purple cushion, and through the open window that overlooked Middle Lake, toward Sucrow's thrall.
"I don't think that will be necessary, my lord."
"Just as you've not found it necessary to execute the vermin when I tell you to?"
Marak balked. Two weeks ago they had rounded up fifty albinos, among them his sister-in-law and his grandfather. His captain had suggested setting up a trap to catch Jordan of Southern, who happened to be Marak's brother.
Jordan had come running for his wife. Most of the prisoners had escaped. Marak's family had been recaptured.
"With respect, sir, they may have informa-"
"You've had more than enough time to interrogate and execute the mongrels. Sucrow, tell me, how difficult is it to kill an albino, his wench, and an old man?"
"Killing them is swift and simple." Sucrow stood tall and thin in his black cowl and pointed hood. "It's keeping them alive that's the art form." Sucrow cackled. Narrow, piercing gray eyes drilled Marak with a malignant glower.
Marak's eyes narrowed. "Priest ..."
"Go on," Qurong prompted. He received twisted pleasure from stirring up the rivalry between his general and his priest.
"Perhaps there is something the general does not wish us to know."
"Enlighten me, Priest," Qurong said.
"The general can't seem to remember that a dead relative is a dead relative," Sucrow taunted.
Marak curled his fist.
"Though I am enjoying the exclusive use of them in our ceremonies," Sucrow finished. "And Teeleh is well pleased with the woman."
The priest's hatred of albinos ran deeper than any tie to kin. He would kill relatives who accumulated the disease. Slowly. And what he could do to an albino would make anyone's insides curdle.
"Is that so?" Qurong asked, leering.
Marak fought to keep control of his temper. He had no desire to execute his own blood. But even though Qurong himself had once hesitated on a matter of family, he didn't expect the supreme commander to consider this the same situation.
Hesitation never boded well.
And he had hesitated too long.
"It seems the priest is better suited for this than the general. Tell me something, Marak," Qurong continued. "Is it that you are incapable of catching albinos or that you are unwilling to catch albinos?"
"My lord, the Desecration will eliminate all of the albinos, including the prisoners wasting dungeon space." Marak cut himself off before he could add that ultimate loyalty to his supreme commander held his brother, sister-in-law, and grandfather in a dungeon.
Qurong waved him to silence. "Whatever you're doing blustering around in an office in Middle obviously isn't working. I don't understand the difficulty of a few diseased, smooth-skinned rats."
Marak bit his tongue. Thomas Hunter's Circle were diseased, not simpletons. Quite the opposite, in fact, they were a crafty lot who retained all the brilliance they'd possessed before the Horde had defeated them and pushed all who refused to join them into the desert. They were called "albinos" because of their smooth skin, not for any lack of intelligence.
"You said you trained under Martyn. Was that a lie?"
Marak refused to react to Qurong's baiting. "Certainly not, my lord."
"Did Martyn fail to teach you adequately? Was he too lenient on you? Or did he teach you to love albinos?" Qurong spat, lip curling into a sneer.
"General Martyn was more than adequate during my training with him, Commander."
"Then why are you wasting both my time and Sucrow's men? You've been using his serpent warriors for ten months and now you hesitate like a coward."
Serpent warriors. Sucrow's own private army, a religious faction with fangs. Most called them "throaters," a term incorporated almost two years ago that referred to warriors who kept tally of their kills and reveled in bloodlust and glory.
Eighteen months of penance for his predecessors' idiocy.
Eight months of working on a plan to systematically finish off the enemy.
Naught but accusations of treachery and cowardice for his reward.
Marak held his tongue. A lesser man than Qurong would find a blade in his gut. "I find albinos as distasteful as you do, sir."
"Then what exactly is your current strategy? As far as I can tell, it is nothing but throaters and warriors chasing shadows in the south desert, pretending to do their duties and making a mockery of you. Is it that, Marak? Can you not control your own men? Do the servants of a priest terrify you? Or do you plan on undermining me?"
Sucrow's serpent warriors were brutal.
Efficient and precise, though.
"The men are under my control, sir. I've spent months completing plans to bring to you for approval. Our plans for bringing Eram in without a fight have been tabled upon your request."
Qurong had no business pretending to know what went on in the field. The old man hadn't fought in battle in years and left men like Marak to do the grunt work.
"Well, then," Qurong taunted. "Let's hear your plan, General."
Marak bit back his proud smile. Shortly after Martyn's departure, Marak had come across his war journal. The details had proven fascinating. He'd devoted himself to study, and by the time he had been made general, he had learned enough to know a few new tricks to killing albinos more efficiently.
His brother had once said the Circle would never crack, nor be desecrated-his words verbatim. Marak had chosen the mission's name from his younger brother's declaration.
"There are two stages to Desecration, my lord. My men have studied their movements and place them in the northwest desert. I have hunters out there as we speak, searching out the vermin."
He'd followed his little brother closely enough to put them in the northwest desert. Knew they were somewhere in canyons or mountains. Knew as soon as he found a red lake, the albinos were only days from discovery. From annihilation.
Time. All he needed was time.
And if Jordan didn't break down and tell them where the Circle was, Marak would simply orchestrate his "escape" and let his little brother lead the scouts directly to them. Cruel, but necessary.
"Phase one is almost complete," Marak explained. "We've spent the last few months developing a poison that will only affect those with the disease. It causes open sores on their skins, an infection that spreads like fire over dried grass. The albinos have something in their skin that the poison attacks. We are immune to it. It's only a matter of days before we find the exact location of the Circle. We've also managed to make it available in several forms. Any exposure is lethal. I-"
"Enough." Qurong paced away from Marak, fist knotting around his sword. "I want results, Marak. You began with a thousand. And yet, despite your attempts, they keep taking our people and forcing them into these rites of theirs. Despite your assurances and your talk of victory, you have, in fact, only captured two hundred and some. Not even half of the estimated number."
"My lord-" Marak bit back a curse. Would Qurong ever let him finish?
"And this last incident alone should be enough to order your execution. Fifty albinos don't just waltz out of their cages and disappear. I'd love to hear how you managed that one. Or do you intend to blame the rebels?"
His brother had somehow set them free. Marak still wasn't sure how Jordan had pulled it off. The youth had knowingly walked into a trap, freed fifty men, women-including his own wife-and children, and been captured only because he wouldn't leave his wife behind, and their grandfather wouldn't leave Jordan behind.
Marak would never confess that, though.
"The culprit is being interrogated and dealt with as we speak, Commander. I assure you-"
"I will be assured of nothing, Marak!" Qurong spun around to face him, finger jabbing at him. "Martyn assured me he would kill the albinos, and his assurance was but hollow boasting! Woref assured me he would rout out the mongrels, and it amounted to nothing! When that failed, Rowen came, assuring me he would starve them out, and he was dead within two months! And now you think you and Sucrow's pack of throaters can round them up and systematically kill them when they're nowhere to be found?"
"Commander, it will take time, but I insist-"
Qurong struck Marak to the ground with the flat of his sword. Marak hit hard, landing on elbows and palms, surprised at the strength the much older man still possessed.
"I've lost one child to this devilish sorcery, Marak, and I will not lose another!"
Marak got up, fire rising in his chest. Still, he kept his voice even, considered his words before speaking. "Many have lost loved ones to the albinos, Commander, respectfully. But know that our best efforts are going into this. Mind, body, soul, our highest priority is Desecration."
Qurong closed the distance between them in two long strides, grabbed Marak by the collar, and pulled their faces close. "I want those albinos dead. All of them, no excuses. And since you can't seem to do the job yourself, not only will you be taking Sucrow's help, you will report to him."
Marak bit back something rash. Sucrow was listening with his silent gloating, his eternal sneer plastered on his face, and it drove Marak mad. Over his dead body would he take orders from a priest.
"My lord, there is no need-"
"Do you require further penalty, General?"
Marak braced himself, swallowed his pride. "No, my lord."
"You had better hope not, General."
Chapter ThreeDarsal's eyes flew open. She lay half on her back, half on her left shoulder. Silvie whispered to her, strong hand shaking her to consciousness.
"You hit your head." Silvie's voice was breathy, barely audible.
Right in Darsal's ear.
A crack of light penetrated through a hole in the floor and one window. Dim yellow beams revealed a low, slanted ceiling. Outside the window were spindly brown tree branches, filtering down to two large trunks.
Dust filled her nostrils. An attic.
The rank morning breath of someone's ragged, heavy breathing sounded in her ears. Johnis, his face only inches from hers, peered through a crack. He was shaking, face white and taut, lip firmly clenched between his teeth. The light shone across his straining brown eye, making it gleam like a fish's, huge and round.
Darsal smelled the familiar stench of rotting meat. She gasped and rolled into a crouch.
"Shh!" One of Silvie's hands clamped on her shoulder, the other over her mouth, trembling. The slender blonde pulled Darsal backward and forced her onto what felt like a wooden crate against her legs and beneath her rump.
Silvie was cold and stiff. With one hand she still clutched Darsal's shoulder. With the other she now covered her nose and mouth. "We're-we're here." She stifled a sneeze, red faced and looking somewhat sick, as if allergic to something in their little prison.
Darsal was glad she had not returned alone. But knowing that didn't alleviate the tension. Even ten years hadn't spoiled that smell. Horde. The Horde stench was making Silvie nauseated.
"Where is here?" Darsal tried to take in the attic space. She'd hoped they would arrive in Middle, where Johnis grew up. Where Thomas Hunter lived and where they were heroes among the Forest Guard, just like Silvie and Johnis promised.
Instead they were in an attic just above a pack of Scabs.
The space was only about eight feet wide, with an uneven ceiling possibly seven feet high at the zenith and as short as five feet at its lowest point. Dust particles drifted along in the light. Brooms, boxes, and rope littered the small workspace.
Johnis didn't budge from the hole in the floor. Half-panicked.
"Johnis," Darsal hissed. When he didn't move, she shoved him aside and peered through the hole.
She saw what looked like an odd-shaped war room. The top of an old Scab's head shone white and round beneath them. He was screaming at a young officer who wore tan and reddish yellow. Desert colors. The officer looked dirty, as if he'd just come from a fight, from what Darsal could see.
Excerpted from LUNATIC by TED DEKkER KACI HILL Copyright © 2009 by Ted Dekker. Excerpted by permission.
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