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Читать онлайн «Edge of Destiny»
Автор Дж. Роберт Кинг
J Robert King
CAT AND MOUSE
LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG PROJECTS
THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY
HEADS OF THE MILITARY
LAIR OF THE DRAGONSPAWN
IN THE COLD
IN SEARCH OF WARRIORS
EDGE OF STEEL
THE CALM BEFORE
INTO THE LAIR
THE NEW CHAMPIONS
FIGHTS AND FEASTS
BATTLE ON THE LAKE OF FIRE
THE DESTROYER OF LIFE
DRAWING THE POISON
SIEGE AND STORM
THE DESPERATE HOUR
THE CHARR VANGUARD
BATTLE OF THE CRYSTAL DESERT
J Robert King
Edge of Destiny
DREAM AND NIGHTMARE
The flames were beautiful. They looked like autumn leaves-red and gold, rattling as the wind tore through them, breaking free and whirling into the sky.
The village was flying away. Thatch and wattle and rafters all were going up in ash.
Caithe watched the village and the villagers burn.
She was too late. Everything was fire.
Still, it was beautiful.
Caithe, sylvari of the Firstborn, dropped down from the boulder where she had crouched and stalked slowly into the burning village. Like all of her people, Caithe was slender and lithe, the child of a great tree in a sacred grove. She was one with the natural world. Even her travel leathers bore the vine motifs of her homeland. Caithe pushed silvery hair back from wide eyes, watching for signs of life in the burning village. Only the flames lived. She listened for voices, but only the fire spoke.
Caithe didn't fear the fire. She was young and strong, voracious and indomitable and curious-just like fire. It had drawn her here. It was interesting.
Who had started it? How? Why? What had this village been called?
"I love a bonfire," came a voice-deep and dark, feminine and familiar.
Caithe turned to see a sylvari woman garbed in a black-orchid gown as if this were some fancy ball. Caithe's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here, Faolain?"
Faolain gave the suffering smile of an addict. "The fires drew me."
"A moth to a flame."
"Just like you."
In fact, Faolain and Caithe were nothing alike. Faolain's hair was jet-black, as were her nails and her eyes. They had been that way from the moment the two women emerged together from the Pale Tree. Faolain had been all about questions, and Caithe had been all about answers. They were dear to each other and set out together to explore the world. But Caithe's spirit had grown straight and true like a young tree while Faolain's had grown twisted like a poison-ivy vine.
"Did you set this fire?" Caithe asked.
Faolain threw back her shock of black hair and breathed smoke through flared nostrils. "A nice idea, but no. It was destroyers-magma monsters."
Caithe shook her head grimly. "They boil up everywhere."
"The Elder Dragon Primordus is taking back the world."
A loud moan came from a burning barn nearby. Caithe rushed to the door, hauled it open, and stared within. The hayloft boiled with black smoke, and the threshing floor was mantled in fire. Against the far wall lay a blackened figure that could hardly have been alive-except that it moaned.
Caithe wove among the flames to reach the man and dropped to her knees. His eyes were gone, his face, too-just cracked bark over oozy muscle. His lips were half-fused. "Burning beast… burning beast… burning…"
"I will help you," Caithe said.
"Such sweet words," Faolain whispered, kneeling on the other side of the man. "Hope is like oil on the fires of misery."
"Is my skin peeled off?" the man groaned. "Is it?"
"Yes," Caithe said gently.
Faolain laughed. "Oh, you're cruel."
"They came from underground," he muttered. "They scrambled up. Roaches. Black, with bodies of fire-"
"Destroyers," Faolain said.
"We'll get you to a chirurgeon."
"Chirurgeon?" Faolain gripped Caithe's arm and grinned. "You're doing this for me, aren't you?"
"What? No! It's for him."
"He's dead already. You're only tormenting him for my sake."
"No! I'm not."
Faolain's eyes blazed. "You want me to feel for him. You want me to feel empathy."
"No!" Caithe said. "I mean, yes, of course."
"Help me!" the man sputtered, his lip splitting.
"I will," Caithe said.
Faolain's eyes slid closed, and her jaw clenched. "You can't win me back."
"I'm not trying to win you back."
"Come with me, Caithe. Join the Nightmare Court."
"I'm saving him!" Caithe yelled, reaching beneath the blackened figure and hoisting him from the floor. Caithe strode toward the barn doors.
But Faolain rose in her path and set her hand on Caithe's chest. The touch of her palm blazed like fire. Then a different sort of heat bloomed across Caithe's chest. She pulled back to see the farmer's throat fountaining, severed by Faolain's dagger.
"What?" Caithe cried, staggering back and falling to her knees. "You killed him?"
"I released him. Come with me."
"I will never turn to Nightmare."
Faolain's eyes flashed. "My touch-and the sacrifice of this man-have awakened darkness in you." She turned away. "You will be mine again soon."
FOOLS AND FOLLOWERS
The huge wolf snapped his head upright, eyes blazing.
"Stay exactly like that."
No one else in the world could order Garm to sit still. He was, after all, a dire wolf-five feet tall at the shoulder and twenty stone, with jet-black hackles and fire-red eyes. He was made to lope and chase and drag down. Not to sit still. Not to listen. But he did.
For Eir Stegalkin, he did.
Garm flicked a glance toward the norn warrior. She was tall, too, her hand rising to the rafters twelve feet up and snagging a mallet that hung there and bringing the thing down in her brawny grip. Her eyes darted toward Garm, who glanced forward again and tried to look fierce.
It wasn't that he feared this woman and her big hammer, which she swung just then with terrific force, pounding a massive chisel and striking a wedge of granite from a huge block. Garm hazarded a look at that block, amorphous and pitted from chisel strokes. Soon, it would be a statue. A statue of him. But that wasn't why he sat still.
He sat still because she was the alpha.
The mallet fell again, the chisel bit, the block calved. More chunks of stone crashed to the floor, first in wedges and then shards and chips and finally a shower of grit.
Garm's figure was taking shape.
Eir stepped back from the sculpture and dragged an arm over her sweating brow. Her face was statuesque, her eyes moss green. She had drawn her mane of red hair back out of the way, bound by a leather thong. The leather work-apron she wore freed her arms but protected her chest and legs against stone shards. An intense look grew on her face, eyes etching out the shape in the stone. "This could be my masterpiece."
Garm looked around the log-hewn workshop at her other sculptures-a rearing ice-bear, a great elk with sixteen-foot antlers, a coiling snow serpent that stretched from floor to rafters, and of course her army of norn warriors captured in stone and wood. They hadn't started out as an army, but individuals who had come to be immortalized before going off to fight the Dragonspawn-the champion of the Elder Dragon Jormag.
Now only their statues remained.
"Hail, house of Stegalkin!" came a shout at the door. A norn warrior thrust his head in-long hair like a horse's tail and a face like what might be beneath. "By the Bear, the place is packed!"
Someone behind the man hissed, thumping his shoulder, "Them's statues!"
The warrior in the lead nodded, his hair flicking as if to shoo flies. "Course they are. Statues. That's why we're here." He paused to hiccup. "Soon, one of them will be me. I mean, I'll be one of them. I mean, I'll get my own. By the Raven, you brew it strong, Uri."
Eir stood there unmoving except for the vein that pulsed in her temple. "Patrons." With mallet and chisel in hand, she strode toward the door.
Garm broke from his pose to lope at her heels.
The man in the doorway nearly stumbled off the threshold.
Eir said, "You have come full of… courage, but it smells of hops."
"Yes!" the man enthused, glancing back at a group of twenty or so norn warriors swaying in the courtyard. "I am Sjord Frostfist."
"Sjord Foamfist?" she mispronounced, raising an eyebrow.
"Exactly. And I have come by Snow Leopard and Raven and Bear-by every living beast-to declare war on the Dragonspawn!"
Eir nodded. "You've come to the wrong place. I am not the Dragonspawn."
Sjord laughed. "Of course you aren't. You are norn, like me."
"Not quite like you."
"No! Of course not," Sjord said, suddenly earnest. "You're an artist. While I carve up monsters, you carve up rocks."
The warriors laughed.
Eir's fist flexed around the mallet handle as if she were about to carve Sjord himself.
"No offense meant, of course. Somebody has to make statues of us."
Garm looked to his master, wondering why she didn't just kill the man. She could. This man and all the others. Or Garm could. With just a word from her, he would tear the man's throat out, but Eir never gave the word.
"You want a statue in your image."
Sjord put his finger to his nose, indicating that she understood exactly.
"Pick any you wish," she said, gesturing to the statues behind her. "Brave young fools just like you, who gathered at the moot and ...