When the Heavens Fall

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Authors: Marc Turner
wish to speak with him.”
    â€œRegrettably, the high priest is away from the temple at present.”
    Of course he is, you fool. Why do you think I am here today of all days? “Where is he?”
    â€œA ceremony at the Tebala Shrine in Kontynan. He will return by nightfall tomorrow.”
    â€œBy which time I will have left Xavel.”
    â€œPerhaps when you next visit the city…” The priest’s voice trailed off.
    Parolla left a pause for uncomfortable thoughts. “How do you suppose your mekra will react when he hears what happened here? When he hears that you insulted me, then dismissed me as if I were no more than a thief come to steal from your collection plate? For he will be told.”
    â€œHe will not condemn me for obeying his instructions.”
    â€œWould you stake your life on that?”
    As if seeking support, the old man shifted his milky gaze to the silent figures clustered round. No one stirred. The swirling darkness closed in on Parolla again, and this time when her power rose she made no effort to hold it back. A shadow settled on her vision.
    The priest took a step back.
    â€œMy patience is wearing thin, sirrah .”
    He hesitated an instant longer before nodding to Parolla’s right. When he spoke his voice was gruff. “The entrance to the crypt is protected by the high priest’s wards.”
    â€œI can deal with those.”
    â€œNo doubt. Just be sure to replace them when you have passed through. The defenses were created as much to prevent something getting out as to stop someone getting in.”
    â€œMeaning?”
    â€œTo enter the crypt you must relinquish the protections afforded by this temple.” The priest gave a thin smile. “I fear I cannot guarantee your safety.”
    *   *   *
    Majack steamed in the evening heat. Ebon rode with head bowed as he followed the Merchant’s Road through the Low Quarter. Just another traveler arrived from the wastelands. The city rang to the sound of hammers as people boarded up doors and windows in readiness for the Day of Red Tides, less than a week hence, when thousands of stoneback scorpions would sweep in from the east. As the prince passed, a dour-faced merchant paused in his hammering to nudge his wife, and the two of them stared at Ebon, their expressions wary. Probably just noticing the blood and the dust, he told himself. He’d never commanded the same affection as his father, even before the spirits took him, and after his years of isolation the townsfolk were as likely to recognize Vale as they were their future king.
    Ebon rubbed a hand across his eyes. During the ride from the forest the babbling of the spirits had been unrelenting, and two bells in the saddle had left him yearning for even a moment’s respite. Like a chorus of the damned. What was it that tormented them so? Were they trying to communicate with him? At times when he listened he thought he could make out individual words, yet how could that be when he did not know the language? Why did it always seem as if comprehension hovered just a hairbreadth beyond his grasp?
    Vale must have sensed his disquiet, for a strained silence had fallen between them. He fears, as I do, where this will lead—a return to the days of darkness. Ebon had no words of reassurance to give. When the spirits last possessed him, they had stayed for almost three years, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to go through that again. It would be harder this time too, he suspected. The spirits seemed … closer … somehow, as if whatever barriers existed in Ebon’s mind between him and them were already being whittled away. He could feel their madness seeping into him. Were they what he was destined to become?
    Gods, I must find a way to halt this downward spiral.
    Vale had moved ahead, cursing as he tried to clear a path through the crowds, and Ebon kicked his horse forward to join him.

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