Tome of the Undergates

Page 59

‘Sh-Sheraptus,’ Greenhair whimpered from the earth.

‘Master Sheraptus,’ the tall longface replied. ‘Xhai is enthusiastic, but not mistaken in this case.’ He laughed again, a gentle, resonant sound. ‘But we can discuss titles later. Let me hear you.’

‘Scream the way you do,’ Xhai warned in a low snarl from behind, ‘and I carve you open.’

‘I . . .’ Greenhair tried to speak with the threat lingering in her ears. ‘I know where the tome is, Master Sheraptus.’

‘And you waited until now to tell us?’ Yldus leaned forwards in his throne, scowling. ‘We could have had a ship brimming with warriors and ready to take it ages ago.’

‘I am sure she had a good reason,’ Vashnear suggested.

‘I do!’ The siren rose slightly, resting upon her haunches. ‘I . . . was conflicted. The demons, too, seek the tome. It would have been folly of me to put my faith in those who could not defeat them.’

‘You dare to insinuate—’ Xhai began to snarl, silenced by Sheraptus’s raised hand.

The tall longface merely smiled, raised a finger to the sky, and spoke a word. Fire erupted from the purple tip in a great blaze, illuminating his black seat. Greenhair’s voice caught in her throat.

It was still recognisable as an Abysmyth, but barely. Its arms had been twisted, crushed to resemble armrests. Its ribcage had been turned into a headboard and its skull decorated the top of the throne, eyes glassy and vacant in death as its toothy jaw hung slack over Sheraptus’s head. Then the longface spoke another word, doused the flame and rested his hand in his lap.

‘I trust that will prove sufficient evidence for your faith.’

‘It . . . it does!’ Greenhair stammered. ‘But I have seen your power displayed on the blackened sands of Ktamgi, Master Sheraptus. I do not doubt your strength.’

‘Oh.’ Sheraptus’s eyes went wide, then narrow. ‘Well, then why do we even have this gaudy thing?’ He thumped a hand-turned-armrest. ‘I despise it.’

‘She betrayed us once already, Master Sheraptus,’ Xhai growled. ‘She was not there when we struck against the demons, as she said she would be. We did not know about the . . . complications because she was not there.’

‘Complications?’ Sheraptus raised a brow.

‘Overscum,’ Vashnear answered. ‘Five of them, all told. Two of them lived, three of them died, likely.’ He cast a smug smile toward Xhai. ‘One of them gave the First Carnassial her lovely little scratches.’

‘There are six of them,’ Greenhair spoke before Xhai could, ‘and none of them are dead. They have the tome . . . and weapons.’

‘Six weapons are nothing against two hundred,’ Vashnear replied, sighing.

‘One of them uses magic,’ the siren said.

‘Nethra?’ Yldus blanched. ‘Are they even capable of that?’

‘Not nearly to our mastery, I am sure.’ Vashnear smiled, tapping the shining red sphere about his neck. ‘Whatever little users they have will be ash when we find them.’

‘Which begs the question,’ Yldus muttered, leaning forwards, ‘why tell us this? Do you overscum loathe each other so much?’

‘I think only of duty. The humans . . . they are incapable. ’ Greenhair’s face felt heavy, pulled to the ground. ‘They cannot protect the tome and I cannot see it fall to the Deepshriek again.’ She forced her gaze up to the tall longface, her expression pained. ‘But you are—’

‘I am,’ Sheraptus said, his nod slow and deliberate. ‘And you are most perceptive.’ His eyes lit up with hunger. ‘As well as . . .’

Sheraptus tapped a finger to his cheek thoughtfully, his gaze lingering on Greenhair with what appeared to be only a partial concern for what she had to say. His gaze drifted over her, observing her curves, sliding over her body. She swallowed hard and eyed the female kneeling beside him, her eyes wide and dead, her breath shallow.

For a moment, she saw herself there, her eyes so dead, her voice so silent. Quickly, she coughed.

‘Six of them,’ she reiterated, ‘four men, two women.’

Sheraptus’s brow raised. Xhai’s face twisted into a snarl as Yldus sighed.

‘Intriguing,’ the tall longface said. ‘And you can find them for us?’

‘If you swear to take the tome from them.’ Greenhair nodded. ‘If you swear to protect it.’

‘Let us go for the tome, yes,’ Yldus said. ‘But you don’t need more women, Sheraptus. You had two and you already lost one of them.’

‘As well as the boat she escaped in,’ Vashnear muttered, glowering at Xhai. ‘Another of the First Carnassial’s triumphs.’

‘That was an internal issue due to our unpreparedness when we first arrived on this world,’ Sheraptus retorted before Xhai could. ‘Our security is much improved now.’

‘Still,’ Yldus said, ‘it’s hardly necessary—’

‘I don’t need,’ Sheraptus growled, ‘I want. I am saharkk of Arkklan Kaharn, Yldus. Mine is the right to take.’ He cast a glance down to the female kneeling beside him, stroked her hair thoughtfully. ‘Besides . . .’

He muttered a word. Blue electricity danced along her head, coursed through her body. It shuddered once, then went still, collapsing to the side as smoke hissed from her mouth and ears. Her stare did not change, even as she lay dead.

‘This one is broken.’ He smiled, languid and easy, as he leaned forwards in his throne of flesh and rested his chin on his hands. ‘And you can guarantee that the tome will be ours once the overscum are dead?’

‘There’s no need to kill them,’ Greenhair replied quickly. ‘Display your force, show them your might, and they will flee. It is their nature.’

‘Indeed ...’

Sheraptus regarded the collapsed woman, her eyes reaching out into the darkness as the last light faded from them. His smile was as long as his face.

‘The nature . . . of a human . . .’

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