Silver Cat Black Fox, Book 2 of Cat's Tales, is available now from Amazon in print and from Smashwords for ebook!
Now that Cat is of age, Lindren decides to take her and Kelwyn to the Human city of Tezerain to search for prophecies regarding Sleepers. Cat is looking for more. What no one counts on is her unique ability to find trouble.
WARNING! - This book contains mature content, including sex and violence.
Delcarion scanned the endless grey of his master’s home-between-worlds; grey earth below a grey sky littered with clouds of a paler grey. No green grass or colourful flowers. Shouldn’t a god have more imagination than that? Such things said aloud in this place meant days of torture, if lucky. If not, death was the reward, slow and painful.
At least Balphegor couldn’t hear his thoughts and Delcarion found a small solace in that. In all other respects, Balphegor owned him, body and soul. His master had many names; Udath Kor, the Black Lord, the Destroyer, Lord of Evil. Lord of Grey is more like it.
He drummed his gloved fingers against his thigh, studying the massive tree Lindren had created with his augmented magic, the only splash of colour in Balphegor’s dismal home. The tree didn’t need its size to stand out, however; the green did quite a good job. The tremendous amount of power infusing it caused ripples and disruptions in the essence of the grey realm. Every now and then it pulsed a shimmering blue and his master screamed with the agony of the Elven and dragon magic it emitted.
Eventually, the unnatural enchantment would dissipate, reducing the tree to a normal size. His master couldn’t wait that long and Delcarion had been instructed to find a way to remove it; immediately, if not sooner.
The Elf had been a pain in the ass right from the moment his master had captured him. It wasn’t Lindren’s body Udath Kor briefly held, though, just his mind. That had been quite enough. Someone had augmented Lindren’s power. Delcarion’s master had been unable to discover who else had augmented Lindren’s power, enabling him to escape. All the mages at the battle at the Wall on Morata had been affected by his master’s working; Balphegor made sure of it. Another mage couldn’t have reached them for two months. There should have been no one near who could help.
The strange blue glows that had appeared on Lindren’s body, on the other hand, were immediately recognized as dragon magic. Easily identified, but just as puzzling; all the dragons had disappeared centuries before. Black Wing, the last, rested under Silverwood, dead for six hundred years.
Delcarion’s eyes strayed up the massive trunk. The topmost branches of the oak scraped the artificial sky, generating blue and white sparks where the Elven-dragon magic touched that of his master and prevented Balphegor from creating his beloved lightning storms―which put him in an even more foul mood than usual. Delcarion dropped his gaze, a dull ache forming at the base of his skull. He still suffered from headaches caused by the contact with Lindren’s augmented power. The Elf had only been there in his mind; Delcarion had been there in body. If his master hadn’t pulled him out, Delcarion would likely be dead; or wishing for it.
The whole experience on Morata had been fraught with problems. Getting those stupid creatures into the Wall took far longer than planned. Creating an entry point nearby proved difficult due to the warding the Elf mages had put on the tunnels two hundred years before. That gave the Humans time to set up a siege, effectively putting a stop to the vauroks’ raids for food. More time was lost bringing in supplies. The doors themselves had come down far too quickly. The Elves should never have been able to remove them.
The power his master expended to capture Lindren had weakened him considerably and, due to the twisted time in this place, Balphegor had been unable to do much about the power-soaked vines until the last day of the battle―too late. The sorcerer his master put in charge of the Wall hadn’t had a clue what to do in a siege situation. Just as well he hadn’t survived the battle―although it would have been enjoyable to watch him suffer before Balphegor killed him.
Then there’s this stupid tree. Delcarion reached out a hand to touch the oak. He jerked it back as heat penetrated and smoke rose from his glove, blackening the edges of the dark grey leather.
The power here is incredible. This bark must be at least two feet thick, probably more. Trying to…
“Come to me.” His master’s seductive voice slid through his mind like an eel.
Delcarion turned his heel to head back to the fortress. He walked for several minutes to get away from the damnable tree. A wave of his hand caused a rent in the air. Stepping through the magic barrier, he waved his hand again and the rent, now behind him, disappeared. Before him stood his master’s castle.
Lindren would have wandered the endless plain for eternity if he hadn’t grown the tree and forced Balphegor to release him. The Elf didn’t know the way out; Delcarion did. His master had rewarded Delcarion’s obedience with powers far greater than he could ever have dreamed of, including the ability to move around this place at will. Though not to leave it. It still left a bitter taste in his mouth. One day.
Even though Balphegor’s home lay between the worlds the Elves loved so much, it still needed to be grounded in the reality of one of those worlds to have any substance, which was why Balphegor needed the world of Fornoss.
The master struck, swift and merciless, millennia ago, devastating the unsuspecting, and unprepared, Elves. Thousands died, thousands more were taken to the master’s dungeons to provide endless hours of entertainment. An involuntary shudder ran through Delcarion at the memory of those dungeons and the centuries he’d spent there in ‛training’.
Lindren must have discovered the link; it remained the only explanation as to how he could have grown the tree―that and the borrowed power he’d used. Now Delcarion had to remove the thing. He carried too much dark power to touch it; he’d proven it. He’d commanded vauroks and goblins to chop it down. The tree reduced every one of them to smoking ash. There had to be another way.
Delcarion approached the huge gates of the fortress. He waved his hand again and the gates lifted, then, after he passed through, lowered. His long legs swallowed up the distance from gate to tower. He didn’t know if his master had given the idea of castles to the Humans or the other way around. His fortress was patterned after some the Humans constructed, although far larger than any found on Arvanion’s worlds. Four stone walls, each one a full mile long and seventy-five feet high, complete with corner towers, crenellations, gates and portcullis, surrounded an almost empty courtyard. No barracks, smithies or stables littered the grounds, no storage houses, temple or training area marred its bare surface; those were on Fornoss. Vaurok guards patrolled the battlements, although Delcarion had no idea what could possibly attack them here.
The Central Castle rose like a stone forest out of the center of the huge compound. A series of six towers circled one large tower, his master’s. The smaller towers stood ninety feet tall, the master’s fully one hundred and fifty feet. Delcarion climbed the numerous steps to the doors of the Central Castle and waved his hand again. They opened and, when he’d gone through, closed silently behind him.
Goblins and vauroks thronged the hallways. The vauroks bared their teeth while the goblins turned their heads away, moved to the other side of the corridor or ran back the way they’d come. None of them wanted to risk a glance at his face. His master had ordered him to keep his cowl up and the concealing spell in place since the time he’d almost caused a riot. The foolish creatures would get nothing done if he didn’t.
You’d think they’d be used to me by now. Idiots.
Inside, the Castle appeared as bleak as the outside. Monochrome. No carpets on the floor, no tapestries hung on the walls, no decorative objects made to fill a space; only what was needed to make the rooms functional.
His path ran straight through to the center of the tallest tower until he arrived at an ordinary wooden door. Delcarion opened it and climbed up the winding stairs to Balphegor’s throne room two at a time. Barely winded by the time he arrived at the top, he rapped on a door as plain as the one at the bottom of the long staircase. Balphegor knew who knocked, but he often killed those who didn’t announce themselves thus.
Delcarion opened the door. His natural instincts cried ‛Kill!’, but his training took over and Delcarion strode to the front of the blue-veined marble throne at the far end of the room, studying the figure before him as he walked. An enigma, that one. Balphegor could make himself appear as almost anything: a powerful warrior, Elf, Tiranen or Human. He could be a dragon, beautiful and terrible in its shimmering glory, or any of a number of horrible demons haunting the nine hells.
Instead, he chose the form of a human child. A small boy, perhaps seven or eight years old, sweet and innocent―until you looked into those horrendous eyes. One, completely black, dragged a person into a dark pool of hate, corruption and malice before sucking the soul from his body. The other shone milky white, dead since Thelaru’s sword pierced it. Delcarion reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the throne and prostrated himself.
“Master, you summoned me,” he said to the cold stone.
Delcarion rose to his knees, the voice in his head anything but that of a child. Neither male nor female, it slithered through a man's head like a snake, twining its sinuous seduction around his thoughts until it squeezed any idea of resistance right out of him. Balphegor could speak; he simply chose not to at this moment.
“Look into the pool.”
The child waved his hand as if bored and a dark hole appeared in the floor behind Delcarion, ten feet in diameter and two feet deep. A bubbling noise sounded from the bottom. Silver, viscous liquid bubbled forth to fill the space. Delcarion moved to the other side of the pool so he could face his master. Kneeling, he peered into its depths. Silver shattered into rainbow colours, then cleared, revealing a grassy plain, golden with the ripe grains of autumn.
A dozen riders appeared, first as dots, then more distinct as Balphegor’s magic brought the image closer. They rode tall and proud in their grey cloaks, the ones that could make them blend in with most terrain. Elves. All rode Hrulka, the pure black steeds originally bred for the much larger Tiranen. A sneer curled Delcarion’s lip. “Children riding daddy’s warhorses.”
The plains turned fields and the Hrulka shifted to a rough road, more a set of wagon ruts, leading to a Human farm; or what remained of it. Smoking ruins showed where buildings once sat. There would be no bodies; Delcarion didn’t have to look to know. Vauroks and goblins wouldn’t waste perfectly good food.
“Did the temporary portal work this time?” Delcarion sincerely hoped so; it had been his plan, his spell, and so far had produced miserable results.
“It did, though the vauroks only just made it through.”
Delcarion heaved a quiet sigh of relief. If it hadn’t worked, it could have meant him losing a body part or two.
The riders dismounted and lowered their hoods, one of them all too familiar.
“Lindren,” he said, hatred lending a snarl to his voice. “Your spell of finding remains functional I see.”
“It is. The fool still does not know he carries it and it has been there for forty-four years.”
Delcarion had been hanging from chains anchored in the ceiling of the dungeon for a minor transgression at the time and missed that particular event. No longer able to control his pride over tricking the Elf, his master eventually told him how he’d sent a band of five hundred vauroks into the Wasteland north of Silverwood.
A shadow of emotion had crept into Balphegor’s voice when he told Delcarion how he set up the illusion to lure the Elven border patrol to their deaths. The vauroks were then instructed to leave the bodies so they’d be found. The idiots had other plans, involving their stomachs, and the master had to kill two of them in a spectacular manner to convince the fools to drop them. They’d almost ruined the plan. Fortunately, Lindren came back out of Silverwood for another look and found the original location. The spell activated when the Elf used his magic to scan the ground.
Balphegor had used an illusion of Lindren under attack by vauroks to lure the border patrol out of the woods, which Delcarion found particularly humourous. He’d wanted to tell the Elf while he was prisoner here, but Balphegor had refused, spoiling what little amusement Delcarion might have gained from the situation. As usual, the master gave no reason.
“Be patient. We will have him again one day and it will be all of him, not just his mind.”
It wasn’t Lindren, then, that his master wanted him to see. Delcarion studied the others, most Elves he didn’t recognize. All in the party were males. Except one. “That one is no Elf. Not with hair that colour.” If she was Human, she was strange one and why would she be with the Elves?
The girl’s thick, silver-gold braid shone in the bright sun. She turned, staring straight in their direction, her head tilted to the right, a curious look on her face.
“She’s pretty.” Unusual, though. Delcarion’s brow furrowed as he tried to figure out her race. “What is she?”
“Impossible!” Delcarion cried. “She’s too small and no Tiranen ever had that colour hair.” Not to mention they’re all dead. The image moved closer until he could see her golden eyes. His heart pounded. Sweat coated his glove covered palms, formed beads on his forehead.
“Go to the fire pit and put a poker through your left hand,” his master said, as if telling him to pour tea.
Delcarion rose to do Balphegor’s bidding, relieved it was only his hand. The fire pit sat in the center of the room, a two foot wide hole in the floor filled with a black stone that burned continuously, never seeming to diminish, yet never warming the room. Two iron pokers rested with their tips in the coals.
Near it sat the only other object in the long, grey hall, a large stone table, seven feet long and three wide. Iron manacles rested at each corner. Rusty red stains decorated it. Delcarion’s blood lay on it somewhere.
“I will allow you to scream,” the small, imperious figure on the throne told him, the tone of voice not changing one whit. “I think I will enjoy it today.”
“Yes, Master.” Allowed to scream. Balphegor’s way of showing tolerance to a favourite.
Delcarion picked up a glowing poker, steeling his nerves. He turned his left palm up and placed the back of his fingers on the edge of the table. Lifting the red-hot iron high, he plunged it clear through his palm, glove and all, until it hit the floor beneath. Fire blazed through his hand and up his arm. His vision blurred and he fell to his knees. Long and painful, his scream echoed all the years of torture and torment he’d suffered at his master’s hand.
Long moments passed before Delcarion could see. His entire arm throbbed in agony. He struggled to his feet and looked at his master, waiting for permission. Five minutes he stood, then ten, willing the pain to diminish.
“Yes, Master,” Delcarion replied, his voice rougher than usual. He yanked the poker out of his ruined hand; he’d learned long ago to do it fast. It hurt less. His vision wavered again with new agony. He didn’t scream this time; the boy on the throne hadn’t given him permission. The inside of his cheeks bled as he bit them to keep from crying out. Though blurred, light from the fire flickered through the hole in his hand. No blood dripped from the wound, the hot poker had cauterized it.
“Very good, Delcarion. Next time it will be your genitals. Shall we continue?”
His blood ran cold. “Yes, Master.”
Delcarion replaced the poker and, ignoring the pain and still blurry vision, hurried to kneel before the pool once more, cradling his injured hand against his chest. In moments, the pain eased and Delcarion’s eyes cleared.
The Elves in the pool spread out, exploring the entire farm. Delcarion searched for the Tiranen girl. She stood, holding the reins of her Hrulka, a puzzled expression on her pretty face as she scanned the area in their direction. Delcarion swore she could see them.
“She senses us,” the boy on the throne confirmed.
“How, Master? None have ever detected you before.” He knew there was no ‛us’; the magic was all Balphegor’s.
“She is special, this one. She bears the mark of Arvanion, that weak simpleton. This one can do things no Tiranen, no Elf and certainly no Human has been capable of before.”
“The mark of Arvanion,” Delcarion mused. “Her hair?”
Delcarion’s brow furrowed. “How could Arvanion do it if he’s locked in your prison?”
“There is no way. She had to have been born before I imprisoned him.”
Delcarion bit back the retort sitting on the end of his tongue. Impossible! I would have known. No matter. She was alive and that was enough. After a moment he said, “This means we can put your plan into motion.”
“Will she be suitable, Master? She is small.” Too small!
“She will be or she will die. The plan will work or it will not. That remains to be seen.”
“How did she escape the fate of the others?”
“Probably banished from Tiralan due to her weaknesses. I first spotted her twenty-five years ago, their time, at the same battle where we captured Lindren. After you were…indisposed.”
After Lindren almost killed me, you mean. Twenty-five years since he grew that damn tree. It was no more than several days to him. Time not only passed differently here, it often didn’t pass at the same rate.
“She used arrows to make a Tiranen rune on the doors of the Wall, then had Lindren burn them so they marked the doors deep. The second day of the battle, my suspicions were confirmed.”
“She is intriguing, Master.” How could one so small, so obviously weak, escape the fate others far stronger and better than she couldn’t? He discounted Balphegor’s idea of banishment. Small and weak, yet so very beautiful. She moved closer to the Elves, still glancing back from time to time. The girl had an intriguing way of walking. So graceful, so…female.
“You want her, do you not, Delcarion?”
“Yes, Master.” His heart picked up speed. He savoured the sensations stirring in his groin, feelings his master hadn’t permitted him to experience in long, long years. Bittersweet memories tried to surface, ones he thought buried ages ago. He forced them back into hiding.
“You have served me well. She shall be yours.”
Deep in the folds of his cowl, Delcarion smiled.
“It may take time, they are cautious with her.”
“I will wait. Thank you, my master, you are most generous.”
“I know. Now get rid of that tree.”