In Siege of Daylight Online - Gregory S Close

PRELUDE

The old man navigated the maze of tables in small, practiced steps. His arms were pressed close to his sides, hands clasped before him, avoiding the precarious array of hand-blown glass vessels that he’d spent his lifetime arranging. He passed them without a glance, ignoring the bubbling multicolored contents, his watery blue eyes focused on the small open window at the other end of the room. The pale, pure light of Illuné shone in through the weathered stone opening, while the Dead Moon, Ghaest, secreted itself in her flowing cloak of clouds. He stepped into the moonlight, the brisk breath of winter on his face, and looked down from his high tower toward the frost-dusted ground below.

They were there, just as he’d seen in his vision, gathering about his door with broadswords and short curved bows. Their eyes burned yellow in the night, their breath hot wisps of steam between sharpened teeth and narrow lips.

Dirty beasts, the hrumm, he thought. Brutish creatures.

It had been decades since he’d seen their kind at his doorstep. But the old man’s eyes passed over them without interest or fear. They could not harm him in any way that mattered. The Pale Man was with them, at the front, his dark cloak snapping in the wind and the ashen blade of his vile sword bare and hungry in his hand. As it was in the dream, so the Pale Man spoke.

“Gai! Open the door. You know why we come.”

The lines of the wizened face in the window wrinkled into a grimace. Gai knew the sword-bearer from a time long past and a life already lived and buried. Esmaedi Elidiaeol. Exile. Oath-breaker. And a wizard of the Tenth Order, at the very least – even without the bonesword.

Gaious Altuorus was not short on titles and honors himself, though such accolades lay under the grave dirt of his previous life. Still, he had seen worse in his day.

“Open it thyself, Esmaedi,” he growled. “Or have your pets beat it down for you.”

The pallid face of the man at the door looked up toward Gai. The smile crossing his delicate features almost concealed the intent in his almond-shaped eyes. “Ah, there you are.” The voice was measured and polite, if a bit dismissive. “You locked in a tower, and me beating down the door? How times change, Gaious.”

“How indeed,” answered Gai. “Once, you warred with legions under your care, Esmaedi. Now, you hold the leashes of filthy animals, and are but held on a leash yourself.”

The Pale Man laughed. It was nothing more than a conversational chuckle, as if two friends were bantering to and fro over morning sweetmeats. “I am called Dieavaul now – Esmaedi is as dead as the Empire we served. There is such power in a name, don’t you think, Gaious? Or is it simply Gai…” His voice lilted over the words playfully. “No matter. I hold a new leash, over new filthy beasts, but I see little difference. One must have means to one’s ends, yes?”

“If you mean to have my end, I welcome it. Don’t think fear of death will serve you here.”

Dieavaul shrugged. “You have made your life irrelevant, Gai. I seek your end no more than I would seek that of a toothless old lion hiding in the back of his cave. Spare your life, if you wish, or forsake your oath and make your grand last stand. Either way, I tire of this discourse. Open the door.” The Pale Man gestured, and without pause, his hrummish soldiers hefted a felled pine trunk and heaved it on their shoulders. “I’ve not built a reputation as a patient man.”

“Indeed,” responded Gai, “and I’m not known as an accommodating man. If you are intent on murdering me, I will not help the dagger along on its course. Good night.”

With that, Gai slammed the shutters on the night and his unwanted guests. He turned and sighed, placing a trembling hand to his chest to alleviate the dreadful weight gathering there. He stumbled to his high-backed oaken chair and sat down on the threadbare cushion even as the relentless pounding began below. Agrylon had strengthened the timbers with a Word of Binding when last he visited, but it would not delay their entrance long.

Gai had not recognized the Pale Man’s current incarnation in his dream, when first it came upon him. But in the flesh, those mocking black eyes stared up at him and sparked his memory. Once, he had known Esmaedi as a War