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.A soldier toppled to the ground.By the time his head rolled free of his body, the Night Angel was gone.No one moved.It wasn’t possible.An apparition was the product of mass hysteria.It had no body.“Slaver!” This time, the sword appeared only as it jutted out of the soldier’s back.The man was lifted on the sword and flung headlong into the side of the iron cauldron.He jerked, his flesh sizzling on the coals, but he didn’t roll away.“Torturer!” The legion’s gentler’s stomach opened.“Unclean! Unclean!” The Night Angel screamed, its whole figure glowing, burning blue.It killed left and right.“Kill it!” the underlord screamed.Wreathed in blue flames that whipped and crackled in long streams behind him, Kylar was already flipping clear of the circle.Staying visible and burning, he ran straight north, as if heading back to the “Khalidoran” camp.Men dove out of his path.Then Kylar extinguished the flames, went invisible, and came back to see if his trap had worked.“Form up!” the underlord shouted, his face purple with rage.“We march to the forest! It’s time to kill some wytches, men! Let’s go! Now!”6Eunuchs to the left,” Rugger the Khalidoran guard, said.He was so muscular he looked like a sack full of nuts, but the most noticeable lump was the wen bulging grotesquely from his forehead.“Hey, Halfman! That means you!”Dorian shuffled into the line on the left, tearing his eyes away from the guard.He knew the man: a bastard who’d been whelped on some slave girl by one of Dorian’s older brothers.The aethelings, the throne-worthy sons, had tormented Rugger unrelentingly.Dorian’s tutor, Neph Dada, encouraged it.There was just one rule: they couldn’t do harm to any slave that would keep him from performing his duties.Rugger’s wen had been little Dorian’s work.“You staring at something?” Rugger demanded, poking Dorian with his spear.Dorian looked resolutely at the floor and shook his head.He’d altered his appearance as much as he dared before coming to the Citadel to ask for work, but he couldn’t take any illusion too far.He would be beaten regularly.A guard or noble or aetheling would notice if a blow didn’t hit the proper resistance or if Dorian didn’t flinch appropriately.He’d experimented with altering the balance of his humors so that he might stop growing a man’s hair, too, but the results had been horrifying.He touched his chest—now mercifully back to male proportions—just thinking about it.Instead, he’d practiced until he could sweep his body with fire and air so as to be hairless.With the speed his beard came in, it would be a weave he would have to use twice a day.A slave’s life included little privacy, so speed was essential.Mercifully, slaves were beneath notice—as long as they didn’t draw attention to themselves by staring at guards as if they were freaks.Slouch or die, Dorian.Rugger smacked him again, but Dorian didn’t move, so Rugger moved down the line to harass others.They were standing outside the Bridge Keep.Two hundred men and women were at the keep’s west gate.Winter was coming, and even those who’d had good harvests had been beggared by the Godking’s armies.For the smallfolk, it hardly mattered if the army passing through was enemy or friend.One looted, the other scavenged, but each took what it wanted and killed anyone who resisted.With the Godking emptying the Citadel to send armies both south into Cenaria and north into the Freeze, the coming winter would be brutal.All the people in the line were hoping to sell themselves into slavery before winter arrived and the lines quadrupled.It was an icy clear autumn morning in the city of Khaliras, two hours before dawn.Dorian had forgotten the glory of the northern stars.In the city, few lamps burned—oil was too precious, so few terrestrial fires tried to compete with the ethereal flames burning like holes in the cloak of heaven.Despite himself, Dorian couldn’t help but feel a stirring of pride as he looked over the city that could have been his.Khaliras was laid out in an enormous ring around the chasm that surrounded Mount Thrall.Succeeding generations of Ursuul Godkings had walled in semicircles of the city to protect their slaves and artisans and merchants until all the semicircles of different stone had connected to shield the whole of the city.There was only one hill, a narrow granite ridge up which the main road snaked in switchbacks designed to encumber siege weapons.At the top of the ridge the Gate Keep sat like a toad on a stump.And just on the other side of the rusty iron portcullis’s teeth lay Dorian’s first great challenge.“You four, go,” Rugger said.Dorian was third of four eunuchs, and all shivered as they approached the precipice.Luxbridge was one of the wonders of the world, and in all his travels, Dorian had never seen magic to rival it.Without arches, without pillars, the bridge hung like a spider’s anchor line for four hundred paces between the Gate Keep and the Citadel of Mount Thrall.The last time he’d crossed Luxbridge, Dorian had only noticed the brilliance of the magic, sparkling, springy underfoot, coruscating in a thousand colors at every step.Now, he saw nothing but the building blocks to which the magic was anchored.Luxbridge’s mundane materials were not stone, metal, or wood; it was paved with human skulls in a path wide enough for three horses to pass abreast.New heads had been added to whatever holes had formed over the years.Any Vürdmeister, as masters of the vir were called after they passed the tenth shu’ra, could dispel the entire bridge with a word.Dorian even knew the spell, for all the good it did him.What made his stomach knot was that the magic of Luxbridge had been crafted so that magi, who used the Talent rather than the foul vir that meisters and Vürdmeisters used, would automatically be dropped.As perhaps the only person in Midcyru who had been trained as both meister and magus, Dorian thought he had a better chance of making the crossing than any other magus.He’d bought new shoes last night and fitted a lead plate inside each sole.He thought he’d eliminated all traces of southern magic that might cling to him.Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out.Heart thudding, Dorian followed the eunuchs onto Luxbridge.At his first step, the bridge flared weirdly green and Dorian felt his feet tingling as vir reached up around his shoes.An instant later it stopped, and no one had seen it.Dorian had done it.Luxbridge felt that he was Talented, but Dorian’s ancestors had been smart enough to know that not every Talented person was a mage.The rest of Dorian’s steps, shuffling like the other nervous eunuchs’, brought sparks out of the magic that made the embedded skulls seem to yawn and shift as they stared hatefully at those who passed overhead.But they didn’t give way.If Dorian felt some pride at the genius of Luxbridge, the sight of Mount Thrall brought only dread [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]