Mage's Blood Online - David Hair

PROLOGUE

The Web of Souls

The Fate of the Dead

What happens when the soul leaves the body? Paradise or Damnation? Rebirth? Oneness with God? Or Oblivion? The faiths of mankind have made a case for each and many other variants. But we of the Ordo Costruo teach this: that when the soul detaches from the body it remains here on Urte for a time, a disembodied ghost. Whether it eventually dissipates or passes to some other place, we can only speculate. But what we do know is that a mage may commune with such ghosts and gain access to all that those spirits perceive. There are millions of such spirits wandering the lands. By communing with them, it is theoretically possible to be aware of almost everything that is happening on Urte.

ORDO COSTRUO COLLEGIATE, PONTUS

Nimtaya Mountains, Antiopia

Julsept 927

1 Year until the Moontide

As the sun stabbed through a cleft in the eastern mountains, a thin wail lifted from a midden. The refuse heap lay downwind of a ramshackle cluster of mud-brick hovels. The quavering cry hung in the air, an invitation to predators. A lurking jackal soon appeared, sniffing warily. In the distance others of his kind yowled and yapped, but this close to prey, he moved in silence.

There: a bundle of swaddled clothing amidst the waste and filth, jerking spasmodically, tiny brown limbs kicking free. The jackal looked around then trotted forward cautiously. The helpless newborn went still as the beast loomed over it. It did not yet understand that the warm embracing being that had held it would not return. It was thirsty and the cold was beginning to bite.

The beast did not see a child; it saw food. Its jaws opened.

An instant later the jackal was hurled through the air, its hindquarters smashing against a boulder. It writhed agonisingly and tried to run, sliding down the slope it had so gracefully ascended, its eyes flashing about, seeking the danger it had never even sensed. One hind leg was shattered; it didn’t get far.

A ragged bulk wrapped in cloth rose and glided towards the beast, which snapped and snarled as an arm holding a rock emerged and rose and fell. There was a muffled crunch and blood splattered. From amidst the filthy cloth a face emerged, a leathery-faced old woman with wiry iron hair. She bent until her lips were almost touching the jackal’s muzzle.

She inhaled.

Later that day, the old woman sat cross-legged in a cave high above an arid valley. The land below was stark and jagged, layers of shadow and light playing amongst rocky outcroppings. She lived alone, with none to wrinkle their nose in distaste at her unwashed stench, nor to avert their eyes from her wizened face. Her skin was dark and dry, her tangled hair grey, but she moved with grace as she built up the fire. Smoke was cleverly funnelled up a cleft in the rock and out – one of her many great-nephews had carved the chimney, and though she didn’t remember his name, a face floated to mind.

Methodically she spooned water into the tiny puckered mouth of the newborn baby, one of dozens abandoned each year by the villagers, unwanted and doomed from their first breath. All they asked of her was that she saw them on their way to paradise. The villagers revered her as a holy woman and often sought her aid; the Scriptualists tolerated her, turning a blind eye – for they too had needs, their own dead to placate. From time to time a zealot tried to drive away the ‘jadugara’ – the witch – but they seldom lasted long – condemning her tended to prove unlucky. And if they came in force she was very hard to find.

The villagers wanted her intercessions with the ancestors. She told them what they needed to hear and in return she was given food and drink, clothes and fuel – and their unwanted children. They never asked what became of them – life was harsh here and death came easy. There was never enough for all.

The child in her lap squalled, its mouth questing for sustenance as she looked down at it without emotion. She too was a jackal, of another sort, and great-grandmother of her own pack. When she was younger, she’d had lovers, and conceived once; a girl who became a woman and bred many more. The jadugara still watched over her ancestors, pieces in her unseen game. She had dwelt here longer than any realised, pretending to age, die and