Tome of the Undergates

Page 19

‘Not a blessed lot.’

‘Were you thorough?’

‘Decidedly.’ Denaos raised his hands in a shrug. ‘I’ve a few names, a few theories, but precious little else, I’m afraid. Whatever else you want to know will come from someone other than Rashodd.’

‘Evenhands,’ the captain muttered. He’d been hoping the Lord Emissary’s name wouldn’t come up.

‘There doesn’t seem to be anyone else aboard who might know about such a thing, does there?’ Denaos stalked past him, offering a ginger pat on the shoulder. ‘If you’re intent on finding him, perhaps you can also ferret out a bottle of wine for me. Or rum, if you’ve got it. Bring out the expensive stuff, in any case, I feel like celebrating.’

Argaol lingered by the door as the tall man swaggered down the hall, disappearing around a corner, undoubtedly heading for the mess to join his fellows. Even after he had gone, however, the awkwardness of his presence lingered.

Quietly, Argaol glanced towards the door to his cabin, reaching for the knob.


He looked up with a start. Denaos was at the end of the hall, regarding the captain carefully.

‘Not yet, Captain,’ he warned quietly. ‘Look in there later, if you wish, but don’t do anything now.’

‘What . . .’ Argaol caught his breath. ‘What did you do in there?’

Denaos did not blink. ‘Not much.’

Lenk stared at his companion through one eye, the other tucked under a slab of raw meat. Denaos stared back, resisting the urge to look over the young man’s shoulder at the disaster in the ship’s mess.

The rogue saw smashed buckets in the periphery of his vision, dishes shattered, mops broken and even the occasional bandaged appendage reaching out as if begging to be spared from the raging carnage. Denaos did his best to ignore that.

The sight of Gariath was decidedly more difficult to ignore.

In one great hand he clutched Kataria by the heel, the shict snarling, raking claws at the dragonman’s thigh and twitching her ears menacingly. Beneath his foot, Asper grunted and strained to dislodge herself while Dreadaeleon slapped impotently at the long tail wrapped about his neck, cursing breathlessly. Whatever fight had occurred was obviously over and done with, the clear victor simply enjoying his triumph at his foes’ humiliation.

‘So, Rashodd doesn’t know anything?’ Lenk brought the rogue’s attention back to him.

‘No, he doesn’t.’ Denaos frowned at the scene. ‘Did . . . something fun happen while I was gone?’

‘It’s not important,’ Lenk replied. ‘Are you sure he wasn’t lying?’

‘Quite sure.’ Denaos looked at the glistening meat on his companion’s face, then grimaced at the sight of so many nearby corpses. ‘Where exactly did you get the meat?’

‘I found it.’

‘It’s . . . fresh meat,’ Denaos said, grimacing. Any flesh from an animal might have been fresh when they set out from Muraska’s harbour a month ago, but now . . . ‘And . . . you just put that meat . . . that fresh meat . . . that you found on the floor . . . on your face?’

‘I got hit in the eye. It’s not like I’m going to eat it.’ The young man scratched his chin, wincing as his fingers grazed a cut. ‘That can’t be the whole story. We should ask Argaol if he knows anything.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’ Kataria’s voice was quickly followed by Kataria’s elbow as she pushed herself in front of Lenk. Gariath seemed unconcerned with her escape. ‘Argaol doesn’t know his head from his foot. You need to talk to—’

‘Miron.’ Dreadaeleon staggered to join the assembly, coughing. ‘Obviously.’

‘No!’ Asper emerged last, followed by Gariath. ‘I’ll not have you go after the Lord Emissary with accusations and blasphemies.’

‘He’s the only one who would know anything,’ Kataria snapped back. ‘Are you such a moron that you’d trust him just because he wears a robe fancier than yours?’

‘I’m not a moron,’ Asper countered hotly, ‘and he’s not the kind of man who needs to be pestered by savages. We need to calm down and—’

‘Kill him.’ Gariath glanced at the incredulous expressions cast his way and shrugged. ‘As if no one else was thinking it. Let’s just hunt him down and get it over with.’

‘None of that will be necessary.’

The crowd around the entryway parted at the sound of the voice, all figures clearing the way, all eyes settling on the tall, white-garbed figure standing therein. Their eyes flashed with a legion of emotions: defensive reverence, suspicious glares, barely restrained murderous intent. And yet, behind each unblinking stare a confused caution pervaded, forcing them to back away and allow him entry into the mess.

The usual gentle mirth Miron had always worn had vanished from his face, replaced by a baleful frown. He seemed to have grown from the quiet, unassuming priest to a towering, white-clad spectre as he stared out over the companions, his gaze settling on them one by one.

‘You . . . have questions.’

‘Brilliant.’ Denaos chuckled. ‘Did you learn all that by overhearing us or did you ask Talanas for guidance on the subject?’

‘Shut up,’ Asper snarled, scowling at the rogue.

‘Mirth is a fine coping mechanism,’ the priest said, offering the faintest trace of a smile that quickly vanished back into his frown. ‘But the answers I have for you are nothing to jest about.’

‘The questions we have for you don’t amuse us in the slightest, either,’ Lenk hissed.

‘Though I had hoped to reveal more to you when we arrived at Toha, in peace, all questions will be answered.’ The priest held a hand up for silence. ‘But before all that, I must . . . ready myself.’ He cast a glance towards Lenk. ‘I advise you to, as well. What I have to tell you is not easily comprehended.’

‘Lord Evenhands,’ Asper spoke with reverence, ‘you need not explain yourself to us. We know that you have no collaboration with that thing.’

‘Thank you, child,’ Miron said with a shake of his head, ‘but you must hear me.’ He cast a glance about the room. ‘All of you must hear me.’

‘Enough.’ Lenk was the first to take a challenging step forwards. ‘I’m sure to you, all this cryptic musing is quite dramatic, but I’ve had enough of it. Before anyone prepares anything, you will tell us: how did you drive the thing away?’

‘If it will calm you, then I will tell you,’ Miron said with a reluctant sigh.

He reached under his robe and produced a symbol. Beside the brilliant silver of his pendant depicting Talanas’s phoenix, it seemed dull and ominous, little more than a crudely carved chunk of iron. As the companions peered closer, however, they saw a shape within the metal: a heavy, grey gauntlet clenching thirteen obsidian arrows within its cold digits.

‘This is a symbol of my station. That is, of the station that is not that of the Lord Emissary of the Muraskan Church of Talanas.’

‘What?’ Kataria asked, screwing up her face in confusion. ‘Didn’t Lenk just ask you not to speak in riddles?’

‘You mean you’re not the Lord Emissary?’ Asper asked breathlessly, as though she had just been punched in the belly.

‘I am,’ Miron replied calmly, oblivious to the shock coursing through the room. ‘But I have a station and duties above that of being Lord Emissary. To you, I am Miron Evenhands: Lord Emissary of the Muraskan Church of Talanas.’

He held the symbol aloft, letting its cold iron drink in the lantern light as all eyes stared up, some aghast, some shocked and some select few full of more suspicion than ever.

‘To Talanas, I am Miron Evenhands: Agent of the House of the Vanquishing Trinity.’



‘To begin with,’ Miron said, settling in a chair at the head of the long table, ‘allow me to thank you for your patience.’ He poured a cup of steaming brown liquid from an ornately decorated teapot. ‘I would hope that the brief time I have spent in preparation has given you opportunity to reflect on the events you witnessed.’

‘Reflection isn’t the word for it,’ Lenk snapped with un-hidden hostility as he pulled up his own chair at the table. ‘What we witnessed was . . .’ He looked to his companions as, one by one, they took their seats. ‘Well, what would you call it?’

‘Horrifying,’ Kataria replied.

‘Disgusting,’ Asper agreed.

‘Ominous,’ Dreadaeleon uttered.

‘Odd.’ Denaos coughed. ‘From what I saw.’

‘Terrifying,’ Argaol said as he took his seat at the other end.

A moment of expectant silence descended upon the table. Eyes looked up to Gariath, who spurned a seat in favour of crouching in a nearby corner, cramped as it might have been. He met their stares and snorted.

‘Yeah,’ Lenk said, nodding.

‘Undoubtedly, you have questions,’ Miron replied.

‘Understandably, Lord Emissary,’ Argaol offered, ‘my crew is terrified. They wonder what the hell it was we saw.’

‘And what if it comes back?’ Lenk added, narrowing a scowl upon the priest. ‘And how, exactly, did you get rid of it?’

‘To begin,’ Miron said slowly, finishing a sip of his tea, ‘the Abysmyth will not return. It knows my presence, it has heard the words of Talanas. It will not be back as long as I remain on this ship.’ His features melted into a frown. ‘Beyond that, it already has what it wants.’

‘What did you call it?’ Kataria asked, grimacing. ‘The Abysmyth?’

‘Perhaps it would have been more correct to say an Abysmyth,’ Miron replied with a nod, ‘for there are undoubtedly more where that one came from.’ He held up a hand before any questions could be asked. ‘I do not know their number, nor who leads them, but I know what they crave and who they serve.’

‘That’s not the explanation I was hoping for,’ Lenk muttered.

‘The explanation you seek is a lengthy one,’ the priest said.

Slowly, he slid a hand within the folds of his robe. The symbol he had produced before, the gauntlet clenching thirteen black arrows, announced its arrival with a sound far heavier than an object its size should have made as he set it upon the table.

‘It begins and ends with this,’ he gestured to the pendant, ‘the symbol of the House of the Vanquishing Trinity.’ He rose up in his seat, clearing his throat as he did so. ‘Eras untold ago—’

‘Wait!’ Denaos held up a hand suddenly. ‘If you’re going to begin with that particular phrase, would now be a good time to take a piss?’

‘Shut up,’ Asper growled, jabbing the rogue in his ribs.

‘It’s a valid question,’ Denaos protested, swatting her arm away. ‘I know enough about the clergy to be aware that they’re prone to long, dramatic speeches and, frankly, I’m not sure my bladder is up to the challenge.’

‘Then invest in some new pants later,’ Lenk spat. He turned back to the priest. ‘Go on.’

‘As you like,’ Miron said with a gracious nod to the young man. ‘It may shock some of you to know that once, this land was purer than its current incarnation. Ages ago, before any peoples thought to scribe their histories, the Gods were closer to us than we would ever realise.

‘Though no text grants us the privilege to know whether they actually set heavenly foot upon mortal soil, our prayers were heard and answered with great frequency. Though heaven and earth were divided by sky and storm, the Gods bade their servants descend from on high and turn sympathetic ears to the plights of mortals below.

‘Not quite deific themselves, but leagues beyond mortal, these servants were charged with providing the link between God and man. They heard the woes and prayers of the people and returned them to their heavenly masters. In those ages, the earliest days of creation, miseries were minimal and prosperity of that magnitude would never be known again.’

The priest paused to sip his tea. Eyes held to his gaze by invisible chains went wider. Lenk cleared his throat impatiently, folding his arms over his chest.

‘But—’ he said.

‘Of course,’ Miron replied, ‘there is always a “but”. Being not quite Gods, their servants were not quite perfect. They were the combination of divine power and mortal feeling, and as such, they were susceptible to envy, desire, hatred,’ he paused, staring into the steaming cup, ‘corruption.

‘They saw their duties as beneath them, observing praises heaped upon the names of Gods while they served as mere messengers and errand runners. Within their heavenly bodies, their contempt festered, twisted, grew. The day came when they finally cast off the yoke of duty and rebelled against heaven.

‘Unable to touch their godly masters, though, they turned their contempt on the mortal creations below. They scarred the land beneath them and wrought misery and suffering upon the mortal races. Slaves, chattel, sustenance: such were mortals to these servants of the divine. They carved vast empires of death and decay, their own bodies twisting to reflect their hatreds. In the wake of their carnage, they left creations, beasts as vicious and decrepit as themselves.

‘The Abysmyth you saw today was one such creation, a twisted mockery of the ability privileged only to the Gods. The Abysmyth is but the servant of another servant.’ He let out a breathless whisper. ‘And those first servants were the Aeons.’

‘Aeons,’ Asper whispered breathlessly, her eyes brimming with a realisation she could not bring herself to voice.

‘The very same whose gate we seek,’ Miron said with a nod.

‘You son of a whore,’ Lenk growled. ‘You’ve had us seeking a gate that will let more of those things out?’

‘Please, allow me to finish—’

‘Why?’ Gariath rumbled from the corner. He approached the table, the furniture trembling with each thunderous step. ‘I smelled that thing. I know that it is nothing good. And you’re looking for the gate to let whatever created it out.’ He levelled a clawed finger at Miron. ‘We’d be better off crushing his head right now.’ He turned to Lenk and snorted. ‘Say the word and I’ll paint the wood with his face.’

‘How dare you!’ Asper roared, pushing her chair back as she leapt to her feet. ‘Even to utter such a threat is—’

‘And I’ll use your scalp to paint it!’ Gariath’s roar silenced hers as he unfurled his wings. ‘Stupid humans,’ he growled. ‘Only you would defend a man who seeks such a—’

‘There is no evidence that he seeks such a creature,’ Dreadaeleon protested, rising up to stand beside Asper. ‘He’s simply informing us of past events and, were you not so allergic to knowledge, you would know that—’

‘That what?’ Denaos interjected. ‘That he’s the one who brought it onto the ship in the first place? Don’t be stupid. If that thing serves other things called Aeons, then it only stands to reason that—’

‘To hear you calling for an end to stupidity is nearly hysterical.’ Kataria forced a laugh to emphasise the point. ‘I say “nearly” because it’s far more annoying than funny. Now, why don’t you just shut up and let him finish and we’ll—’

The sound of wood cracking interrupted her as Gariath brought his fists down hard upon the table.

‘I will not sit here and let another creature like that come and do what it did again!’

‘So that’s it?’ Asper snapped. ‘You’re just upset that you couldn’t kill that thing?’

‘Anything that Gariath can’t kill is reason enough to worry,’ Lenk countered hotly. ‘Need I add that neither he nor I nor a spear to its gut was enough to kill it? So why don’t you just—’


A voice not his own burst from a mouth that seemed to stretch too widely. The howl was heard throughout the ship and the waters beyond. The fish swarming the floating dead departed, all thoughts of food forgotten at the sound. Men fell to the deck in fear and even the moon seemed to grow a little dimmer.

Below, Miron regained his composure with a deep inhalation, as all eyes widened and all mouths shut.

‘I shall hear no accusations,’ he said calmly. ‘Not until I have said my piece.’ He took a sip of tea, looking over the edge of his cup. ‘Any further objections?’

No one dared offer any.

‘Delightful.’ He smiled. ‘As I said, by the time the Aeons had wrought the height of their woe upon mortalkind, they could no longer be called servants of the Gods. As such, a new name was crafted for them.

‘Demons,’ he said quietly. Slowly, he swept his gaze about the table, challenging anyone to enquire.

Lenk answered it.

‘I find myself wondering whether you’re madder than I thought you were, Evenhands,’ he said coldly. ‘Demons . . . do not exist.’

‘There’s no evidence for it,’ Dreadaeleon agreed.

‘Mossud might beg to differ,’ Argaol muttered.

‘There’s no reason for it,’ the wizard countered. ‘Demons are, theoretically, creatures of distilled evil.’

‘And?’ the captain pressed.

‘And evil as we know it,’ the boy replied with condescending smugness, ‘or rather, as we like to think we know it, doesn’t exist. There is instinct, there is law, there is religion. These define action and the intent behind them cannot be classified by subjective definitions. And, above all, things cannot be made out of evil.’

‘Moral objections aside,’ Asper said, casting the boy a sideways glare, ‘even the high priests deny the existence of demons, Lord Evenhands.’

‘As well they should,’ Miron said, nodding. ‘It has been ages since anyone has even thought the name, much less seen one. They are too horrible to contemplate and too long forgotten to mention. I assure you, though, they do exist and you have seen one.’

‘I believe it.’

Eyes turned towards Kataria with a mixture of horror and suspicion.

‘We have legends about them,’ she continued. ‘Some of the oldest of my tribe claim that their greater ancestors were still alive when demons roamed the world.’

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