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Behold the Cold General –
Mighty and dreadful was he in life.
And in death, more dreadful still.

from The Black Saga Of Culri Moal, viii, 4.

Across the flat roof of the great drum keep of Rauthaz, with ice underfoot and a chill morn wind, Byrnak walked with a spirit clothed in the flesh of Coireg Mazaret. The inhabiting spirit was known as Crevalcor. According to Thraelor, he was a powerful adept of the Wellsource who had lived at a time when steaming jungles covered much of the continent. That he went hooded and swathed in thick brown garments was no surprise to Byrnak who, scarcely noticing the biting chill, was attired in a long cloak of thin black cloth.

“Were you able to carry out the appointed tasks unobserved?”

“Unobserved, unhindered and uninterrupted, Great Lord.”

“And in your journeying?”

“Unseen, Great Lord. We followed fen-tracks and other little-used ways from our refuge in the Northern Rukangs to the hills around Besh-Darok. None saw us pass.”

Byrnak nodded, inhaling deeply, relishing the iciness in his throat and lungs. “How went the seedings themselves?”

Crevalcor shivered but his voice remained steady. “As instructed, we sought out an overgrown location on high ground in the hills north of Besh-Darok. Come the fall of dusk, I performed the first ritual without deviation, or difficulty. Then the yard-deep trench was dug and the bone and blood oblations were made therein before the laying down of the kernel stones…” He paused, recollection in his eyes. “As rough as stone to the touch they were, yet cold as winter’s heart and heavier than iron. Once they were laid in the trench, the soil was replaced in layers separated by additional offerings.”

“Keshada,” Byrnak murmured. “And Gorla?”

“In the hills west of Besh-Darok,” said Crevalcor. “I enacted the seeding and the rituals as before, then returned to our refuge in the Rukangs. From there we were able to make our way back to Yularia by way of the Arengia foothills.”

Byrnak said nothing as they walked on. The silence stretched till Crevalcor spoke again, a quiver of dread in his voice. “I did exactly as I was bid, lord. I omitted nothing, I swear it.”

They drew near the waist-high, crenellated battlement which encircled the crown of the massive keep. Byrnak stopped, staring out across the misted city and the sea beyond then turned to face his anxious servant. “Your progress was noted most carefully, and we were gratified to see that you completed the tasks without error. My brothers Thraelor and Grazaan assure me that the ensorcellments have taken vigorous root, and that the Wellgate will join Rauthaz to Gorla and Keshada in days rather than weeks.” He smiled faintly. “You are to be congratulated.”

Crevalcor relaxed, relief shining in his face. “It is an honour to serve the Shadowkings, Great Lord.”

Pity it had to be in such a hazardous manner, Byrnak thought. By the time he discovered that Coireg Mazaret had survived the confusion and failure of Trevada, the Hidden One had excised the spirit imposed on Mazaret by Ystregul, imbuing him with that of Crevalcor who was then set the tasks of seeding by Thraelor. It was Twilight’s fortune that Crevalcor returned unharmed; Byrnak could at last find out what was left of Coireg himself.

“Tell me, friend Crevalcor, have you been well-treated since your return?”

“Most certainly, great one.”

“Good, and what of this host – does it meet your needs?”

“Needs, Great Lord?” Crevalcor said thoughtfully. “It serves well enough. The previous occupant was not overburdened with a sense of caution, and taxed this frame to its limits. But during my expedition it proved sufficiently rugged and agile. And yet..” He slipped his hand free of voluminous sleeves, studying them. “I have never before been in possession of another’s body, and there is much to learn.”

“Not least of the original persona,” Byrnak said. “Does anything of him remain?”

“There is something,” the hooded Crevalcor said. “In the depths, something is tightly wound in on itself. It does nothing to announce its presence and has remained impervious to my infrequent and admittedly untutored scrutiny.”

“Interesting,” Byrnak said. “And do you think that your new form of existence has affected your command of the Wellsource?”

“My influence over living things seems much reduced, but my ability to make use of lifeless objects has never been so strong.” Crevalcor smiled. “Mayhap my own deathliness plays a part.”

“My brothers declared themselves more than satisfied with your talents, and I sense that their confidence is not misplaced.” Byrnak glanced down at the harbour where a four-masted battle-dromond was just leaving the wharf. “There is a fertile situation far to the south, in a land called Dalbar, one which could be turned to our favour if we plant the right seeds. Of course, this is a task that can only be entrusted to someone with resource and a keen judgement. One such as you, friend Crevalcor.”

The hooded adept bowed. “I am humbled, Great Lord. I shall not betray your mandate.”

“Excellent.” Byrnak turned as if to walk back the way they had come, then paused. “Ah, yes, there is something else I would ask of you, a small undertaking which would satisfy my curiosity.”

Crevalcor’s eyes were bright with devotion. “You need only name it, Great Lord.”

“Very well – I wish to speak with the original owner of that body of yours.”

Byrnak watched emotions struggle in the adept’s face, shock, duty and every degree of fear.

“Great Lord...master, I…” Hands tightened on folds of the man’s voluminous robe.

“I do not wish you dead, Crevalcor,” Byrnak said. “All you need do is relax your grip upon your host, yet without releasing it. While you sink into the nethermind, I shall simply call up this buried presence, question it to my satisfaction, then return the body to you.”

“It is an honour to serve,” Crevalcor said shakily, and made a visible effort to stand straighter before closing his eyes.

Byrnak smiled to himself. It was endlessly fascinating to see underlings eagerly submit to his will out of loyalty. Favours and rewards were useful shackles which led to a more efficient obedience than that depending on brute coercion. Byrnak almost preferred Crevalcor’s loyalty to that of Obax's – whose devotion was really to the Lord of Twilight – or that of Azurech, whose very mind Byrnak had remade months before.

Azurech was the only one of his Honjir warlords to escape the siege of Choraya. Several armies of hunger-maddened refugees and displaced townsfolk had poured into Honjir from the north and the west about three weeks ago, converging on Choraya, lured by tales of abundant stores of food. The tens of thousands of invaders easily overwhelmed the garrison of five hundred, and few of Byrnak’s men escaped. When Azurech arrived in Rauthaz at the head of a ragged band of fighters, Byrnak’s pride in the man’s intense, unwavering loyalty was undercut by a vague unease. It was almost as if that loyalty itself had come to represent some kind of threat.

Byrnak focussed his attention on Crevalcor. Eyes closed, the face had gone slack and the body was swaying a little in the stiffening breeze. With a minor thought Byrnak held him steady, then glided smoothly into the open mind.

The stone chill surroundings of the keep roof drained away into grey silence, the silence of abandonment and wretched sorrow. Byrnak could sense Crevalcor as a shifting, anxious presence off at the margins of this bleak hollowness. For a moment it seemed that there was nothing else, then he became aware of a twisted knot of darkness amid the gloom.

Coireg Mazaret, he whispered to it. Come forth into the body which is yours once more.

The knot relaxed slightly and a pale gleam showed. When nothing more occurred, Byrnak felt his patience slipping.

Come forth, Coireg Mazaret, he said. I command you.

The pale gleam trembled and flickered, as if an internal struggle was taking place. Seeing this, Byrnak sent claws of thought against the knotted murk to force it apart –

Abruptly, he was back on the cold and windy keep roof with a hooded figure sprawled and sobbing on the flagstone before him.

“Why, why, why, why….”

“Coireg, gather your senses,” Byrnak said, bending slightly. “We must speak of your brother!”

“Dreaming...I was dreaming a pure dream of birds, and the dream became me and I was flying…”

“Forget your dreams! Tell me about your brother!”

From his crouched position Coireg Mazaret looked up suddenly, face distorted with madness.

“I will fly!” he cried and sprang up with a wild abruptness that made Byrnak stagger backwards. Startled, he watched Coireg Mazaret’s lunge become an upward leap which carried him into the air. Ecstasy animated the man’s features and he rose skywards, outstretched arms flapping, loosened garments fluttering as he glided across the keep roof. Byrnak could sense the drain on the Wellsource caused by the man’s fancy-driven hysteria, and knew that Crevalcor and his predecessor had inadvertently brought this about. Reaching out with his mind he choked off the flow of that power.

From little more than head-height, Coireg fell with a shriek of terror and arms flailing, landed on his side and tumbled to a halt. Byrnak strode over to the moaning form, bent down to seize a fistful of cloth and hauled him upright by the neck. Fixing Coireg with a black glare, he drew back his other hand as if to strike but instead brought it round to clasp the side of the man’s head.

Wincing, lips quivering, Coireg said, “Who are you that I should fear you so?”

“The sun and the moon,” Byrnak said, moved by a dark lyricism. “The sea and the stars, the day and the night. For you I am death and life, breath itself.” He relaxed his grip. “Now tell me about your brother. Tell me what makes him weak.”

He had to know. The Lord Commander was crucial to the alliance which opposed the Shadowkings, the single pin which held all the strands together - which made him more important than Yasgur or those child-heirs. But reliable information about the man was hard to come by. Now that the Crystal Eye was in the hands of the mage Bardow, the only spies who could get into Besh-Darok were low hirelings too powerless or stupid to find out the necessary details.

“Weak?” Coireg uttered a broken laugh. “What he loves is what makes him weak. It also makes him strong.”

Byrnak shook him once, savagely. “No riddles.”

The words rushed out. “The invasion – it wrecked the Empire, which gave him purpose and rank, but his desire to rebuild it gives him strength. And his family… they all died, and that woman, the mage who banished the Daemonkind, she died too.” Coireg shook his head. “Death everywhere, and he survives, getting his armour a little thicker, a little stronger.” A sly look crept into his features. “Only a ghost could harm him, a ghost corrupted…”

“What do you know?” Byrnak said.

Coireg licked his lips. “Could I not be rewarded for what I know? Might I not receive back my own body?”

Byrnak locked his gaze with Coireg’s. “If you do not tell me what you know, all of it, I will gouge it from you.”

Eyes wide, sweating profusely, Coireg Mazaret jerkily shook his head. “Please, I could be a valuable servant…”

“I have many servants.” Byrnak cupped the back of Coireg’s head, holding it carefully, then leaned closer and said, “Now, a ghost corrupted…”

Coireg Mazaret trembled, his eyes staring, and choking sounds rose from his throat and turned into words. “...a ghost taken...from the mage woman...a white ghost, and a second… and a third…”

The Shadowking Byrnak smiled in recognition and understanding. Rivenshades – those Acolytes loyal to Ystregul had pared at least three rivenshades from the essence of Suviel Hantika before she died. Yes, a corrupted ghost could be both weapon and trap. He would send a messenger to Trevada at once, someone he could trust, Azurech perhaps. It would also serve to remind the Acolytes of the virtues of obedience.


There was a feverish light of dementia in Mazaret’s eyes, betraying a broken soul.

“...everywhere! Ghosts in the sky and the sea and the black chasm of the night...surrounded by ghosts, armies and nations of ghosts...”

Frowning, Byrnak said, “Be silent!”

Coireg flinched as if from inner pain but went on. “World full of ghosts, full to overspilling, hungry enough to eat the flesh of the sky and the bones of the land, leaving nothing, only shadows….”

A deranged energy seemed to pour through him, forcing neck muscles rigid. Byrnak was tempted to end this tirade with a lancing thought but held back, intrigued.

“...the world itself is a ghost!…” The man’s wandering eyes suddenly looked straight at Byrnak. “Believe, I beg you! Do you believe me?

“Of course.”

The eyes widened, filling with uncertainty. “Both of you?”

Byrnak felt a chill go though him. “What do you mean?” he said, tightening his grip.

“I can see...two of you,” Coireg gasped. “But the other one is saying nothing. Are you real or is he?...ah, now he is smiling at me!”

Byrnak felt a surge of rage. “I am real! Only me, you hear? Now drown in silence.”

An emerald aura brightened about him as he reached in and thrust Coireg Mazaret’s being down into a dark, unreasoning corner. But even as he began setting the bindings and fetters in place, sinuous shadows shifted at the back of his own thoughts –

Relax your grip, weakling. Sink into the nethermind and be consumed.

Silent for weeks, Byrnak’s fragment of the Lord of Twilight had at last spoken.

An image filled his mind’s eye, a view of himself drowning in a black, viscous sea, face and struggling hands being slowly pulled under. Byrnak ignored the threat and focussed his fury on completing Coireg’s imprisonment, refusing to frame a reply, certain that dialogue was futile.

Byrnak set his servant on his feet, steadying him as the spirit of Crevalcor returned. Eyelids fluttered, and a hand rose to massage an aching neck.

“Great Lord...” he said in a hoarse voice. “Have I slept?”

“You have been gone but moments,” Byrnak said. “Do you recall anything?”

Crevalcor furrowed his brow. “Naught but fragments...I recall stumbling through a vast hall, perhaps a cathedral…the light was like dark copper and there was all manner of debris scattered around….and, yes, there were voices roaring at each other in a tongue foreign to me.”

He shrugged apologetically. “That is all, Great Lord.”

“No matter,” Byrnak said. “What remains of your host provided me with an intriguing morsel before I returned him to his incarceration. Be assured that he will not trouble you.”

“I am grateful, Great Lord.”

“But now let us return to my map chamber. There is much to prepare for the task which lies ahead.”

Byrnak smiled as he led the way towards the portico entrance which covered the downward stairs. Crevalcor loyalty was assured now.

Find the exact punishment and the exact reward, he thought, and you could master anyone.

His smile widened as he considered the rivenshades of Suviel Hantika.

Even Ikarno Mazaret.

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