Feb 10 2014 5:00pm
Check out Working God’s Mischief, book four in Glenn Cook’s Instrumentalities of the Night series, available March 11th from Tor Books!
Arnhand, Castauriga, and Navaya lost their kings. The Grail Empire lost its empress. The Church lost its Patriarch, though he lives on as a fugitive. The Night lost Kharoulke the Windwalker, an emperor amongst the most primal and terrible gods. The Night goes on, in dread. The world goes on, in dread. The ice builds and slides southward.
New kings come. A new empress will rule. Another rump polishes the Patriarchal Throne. But there is something new under the sun. The oldest and fiercest of the Instrumentalities has been destroyed—by a mortal. There is no new Windwalker, nor will there ever be.
The world, battered by savage change, limps toward its destiny. And the ice is coming.
1. Antieux: The Stress of Peace
Brother Candle settled at the breakfast table, still sleep-groggy.
“Look at him being smug. All fruit and berries, there.”
A dozen people shared the table, Count Raymone Garete’s intimates. His spouse, the Countess Socia, had made the disparaging remark.
Count Raymone’s cousin Bernardin said, “Don’t mind her, Master. She’s looking for a fight again. Or still. Calm down, girl. Peace has broken out. Enjoy it.”
Brother Candle nodded. He agreed.
Socia knew it could not last.
The world would pull itself together and get back to the horrors soon.
Following a bite of melon, the old man observed, “The world has rolled over complete when Bernardin Amberchelle is the voice of reason.” To the Countess, so like a daughter after all they had suffered, he said, “Control your emotions. For the sake of the child.”
Socia was gravid in the extreme. That exacerbated her naturally abrasive character. The baby was overdue. It would be her first. She was plagued by all the first-time terrors. She refused to follow the custom of her station and go into seclusion.
Socia Garete was no ornament to her husband. She was a working partner, even a managing partner. She did not want to miss anything.
The Count, the Maysalean Perfect Brother Candle, and everyone else for whom she cared, and who cared for her, had abandoned hope of getting her to behave as a proper noblewoman.
Hell, she spent half her time with an equally injudicious commoner refugee heretic from Khaurene, Kedle Richeut. She idolized Kedle. Kedle Richeut had made a difference. Kedle had killed a king.
Brother Candle had known Socia since she was a bloody-minded teen living with three brothers in a small stronghold on the Connec’s northeast frontier. Never had she shown the least inclination to be a good girl, focused on embroidery and producing children.
As always, Count Raymone showed only amused indulgence. He loved Socia with the passion and depth sung by the Connec’s jongleurs, unusual in a time of negotiated marriages. But Raymone Garete had come into his patrimony young. Those who would have strapped him into a loveless political alliance had passed on before he could be fitted to harness.
Count Raymone had chosen Socia on brief exposure because he had recognized her instantly as a soul perfectly complementary to himself.
Count Raymone said, “At this point, my love, you should listen attentively when the Master speaks.”
Startled, Socia shut her mouth.
Raymone continued, “I understand. I have my own problems adjusting to an absence of enemies. The fact is, we aren’t likely to have any till Anselin gets home or Serenity makes a startling comeback.”
Bernardin said, “Anselin shouldn’t be a problem. He won’t let his mother bully him. I’ll bet a shilling now that he stuffs her into a convent.”
Socia made snarling noises to remind everyone that she was in a foul humor. Still.
Raymone ignored her. “I can’t even fritter time chasing Society brothers. The survivors are hidden so deep they’ve forgotten which way to swim to find the light.”
Brother Candle grumbled, “If they cared about the Light they wouldn’t be in the Society for the Suppression of Sacrilege and Heresy in the first place.”
Bernardin chuckled through a mouthful of salt pork. He professed the Maysalean creed but refused to observe its dietary whims. “Been a few weeks since I’ve nabbed one. But the rest aren’t buried as deep as they hope. The new bishop isn’t as clever as he thinks.”
“LaVelle?” Brother Candle asked.
“The very one. The latest. Dumber than a keg of rocks but the first honest one since way back before Serifs. I’m going to make sure he survives.”
For a decade Episcopal Chaldarean bishops had shown a remarkable inability to stay healthy in a bishopric the Church was determined to scourge and flense for tolerating heresy.
“Honest?” Brother Candle asked.
Bernardin offered a wobbling hand gesture. “Comparatively. He did bring along a clutch of deadbeat relatives. But he’s no holy bandit like Meryl Ponté or Mathe Richenau.”
Count Raymone interjected, “Darling, when was your last visit to Mistress Alecsinac?” Alecsinac was her senior attendant midwife.
Clever, in Brother Candle’s thinking. Stopping Bernardin from admitting he had an agent close to the new bishop, in case LaVelle or the Society had an agent close to the Count.
There was a point to Raymone’s question beyond that.
Socia did not deliver a definitive response.
“I thought so. Master. Once you finish, see my lady Socia to the midwife. Making no side trips and accepting no delays or excuses.”
“As you will.” Brother Candle allowed himself a satisfied smile.
Count Raymone seldom invoked a husband’s prerogative. When he did, he meant it. There was no appeal.
Brother Candle asked, “Does LaVelle have any support from Brothe?”
Amberchelle replied, “We’re trying to figure that out. Serenity appointed him, but only two days before they ran him off. Serenity didn’t know him. He was put up by one of Anne of Menand’s tame Principatés, Gorman Sleight. Sleight doesn’t know LaVelle, either. He nominated LaVelle on behalf of Valmur Joss, one of the Society chiefs in exile in Salpeno. Joss is Connecten. But even he doesn’t actually know LaVelle, whose name originally got dropped into the process by a cousin, Laci Lindop, another Connecten Society exile. LaVelle has no prior Church connection, except as a worshipper. So nobody knows what we’re getting.”
The Perfect stared. Bernardin Amberchelle was a short, wide, dusky, rumpled man who looked like a dimwit thug. And he played that role on Raymone’s behalf. In private, though, he betrayed surprising depth.
Refusing to be left out, Socia asked, “Do we know where Serenity went when he ran away from the Captain-General?”
“That would be the Commander of the Righteous, dear one. Piper Hecht. He used to be Captain-General, before Serenity. Pinkus Ghort is Captain-General now. Serenity’s man, bought and paid for.”
“Not so much anymore,” Bernardin said. “Ghort gets on fine with the man Hecht installed in Serenity’s place.”
“But where is Serenity?” Socia demanded. “And how big a pain is he likely to be?”
“Right now he’s on Little Pinoché in the Pinoché Islands, off the Firaldian coast two-thirds of the way up between the mouth of the Teragi and the mouth of the Sawn. He’d be a major pain if he could but he can’t communicate very well. Sonsa and Platadura are blockading him. Queen Isabeth intends to keep him fixed till she makes him pay for what happened to Peter.”
He meant Isabeth of Khaurene, sister of Duke Tormond IV, wife and queen of Peter of Navaya. After an outstanding career taming the enemies of the Church, Peter had fallen defending his wife’s home city from Arnhanders who had invaded with the blessing of the Church.
Serenity had an obsessive hatred of the Connec. He had suffered terribly when he was Patriarchal legate in Antieux. Before becoming Patriarch he had participated in several campaigns against Antieux.
“He’ll find ways to communicate,” Socia muttered. “There’ll be a reason he fled to those islands.”
“Yeah.” Bernardin laughed. “There is. That’s where the storm put him down.” He explained. Serenity’s convoy, hugging the coast, had been caught in a squall and driven off shore. Serenity’s vessel had gone aground on rocks off Little Pinoché. The deposed Patriarch was among the few survivors. “He was headed for Arnhand. Anne of Menand would have taken him in.” But ships from Navaya’s allies had set a blockade almost before Serenity had gotten himself dried out.
Brother Candle pushed back from the table. “I’ve begun to suffer an intellectual malaise. I’ve become too comfortable here.”
Bernardin observed, “Here he goes, fishing for compliments.”
Socia snapped, “Bernardin, you’re too cynical. He’s a Perfect. They’re never happy unless they’re barefoot in the snow, starving, and being hunted by people who want to burn them.”
“This one squeals like a pig whenever we ask him to do something where he might get his tootsies wet.”
Pressed, Brother Candle would have admitted as much. But he was sixty-eight years old. That slowed a man. It left him inclined to ease the strain on his bones. “I’ll be back on the road soon enough to beat the first snow.” Snow arrived earlier every winter.
All conversation died. All eyes turned to the Perfect. “What?”
“Why on earth would you… ?”
“At your age?”
“My age? My age wasn’t a factor when somebody wanted me hustling messages and tokens back and forth between Antieux and Khaurene.”
Socia said, “It’s a factor because you mean so much to us. We don’t want you to leave.”
The Count agreed. “That’s as plain as it can be said, Master.”
Socia added, “You keep up this nonsense, I’ll get Kedle to break your leg.”
“That seems harsh.”
“Tough love, old man. Tough love.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. It is an intimidating journey and these old bones do have too many miles on them already. Meantime, though, I have to deliver you to the mercies of Mistress Alecsinac.”
“I was hoping you’d forget.”
“Get going, Socia,” Raymone snapped.
“An’ it please Your Lordship.” Socia rose, offered a mock bow. It was none too deep. Her stomach got in the way. Leaving the room a step behind the Perfect, she said, “Mistress Alecsinac may know how to convince this beast that it’s time to leave.”
2. Realm of the Gods: Great Sky Fortress
A small world. Just a harbor town with a mountain behind. Suddenly, sharp as a hammer strike, all color vanished.
The small world went on, but in tones of gray.
“The Aelen Kofer are gone. The Realm is closed.”
Nothing and no one could escape.
The spike of a mountain reared into ill-defined clouds of a darker gray. A determined eye might discern a ghost of a rainbow outside the structure that crowned the mountain, the Great Sky Fortress of the Old Ones, the gods who once ruled the northern middle world.
Light leaked from one trio of windows high on the face of the fortress. The Aelen Kofer, the wondrous dwarves who had created the Great Sky Fortress and its rainbow bridge, had abandoned the Realm of the Gods to folk from the middle world, the world of men.
The room behind those windows was large but crowded by nine people, including sorcerers, soldiers, women, children, and two men deeply tainted by the Night. Of artifacts most notable were four falcons loaded with shot capable of slaying the very gods and four huge bottles dwarf-blown from silver alloyed glass, teardrop shaped, with stems that narrowed to the diameter of a finger after a right-angle turn into the wall opposite the windows. Tables groaned under an abundance of materials and instruments both mundane and magical.
The sorcerers and Night-touched were up amongst the silver glass alembics, preparing. The others waited at the falcons with smoldering slow matches in hand. The woman in the forward group turned. “Everyone ready? Vali? Lila?” Those two girls stood behind the falcons farthest left and right. They nodded nervously. “Piper? Anna?” The man and woman at the center pair of falcons nodded. “Pella? Set to jump in where you’re needed?” The surly boy behind everyone else also nodded.
“All right, then. Let’s conjure some gods.”
She was Heris, elder sister of the soldier, Piper Hecht, playing the role of sorceress here though she had no talent in that area. The men forward with her were Cloven Februaren, Ferris Renfrow, called the Bastard, and Asgrimmur Grimmsson. Februaren might be the great sorcerer of the age. Renfrow was the get of a human hero and minor goddess. Grimmsson carried shards of the souls of that goddess and her divine father within him.
Heris turned slowly, considering the hundred lanterns and scores of mirrors that would make certain there were no shadows in which a supernatural entity could hide.
“Well?” the Bastard demanded, though in a whisper, as he scratched at a bandage on his left wrist.
The woman raised a beaker containing an ounce of his blood. Only the blood of a descendent of the Old Ones had the power to complete the ritual of opening. It had taken a year to gather everything else.
Heris emptied the beaker into a tulip-shaped piece of glass on the end of a long glass stem. The blood was still warm.
A scarlet bar an eighth of an inch in diameter descended the hollow stem.
Heris blurted, “Shit! I think I overlooked…”
The chamber shuddered. Glass rattled. Sputtering slow matches moved nearer the touch holes of falcons.
One of the silver glass alembics rattled. Both the Bastard and the ascendant, Grimmsson, talked to the wall, neither in a modern language. The Bastard spoke a tongue he had used as a boy, centuries ago. The ascendant spoke both Andorayan of centuries past and a language garnered from the fragmentary souls inside him. Both men counseled patience and caution. Anything less would be rewarded with instant oblivion at the hands of mortals who had discovered the art of killing gods.
The Night knew the soldier, Piper Hecht, as the Godslayer. He had found the means. His sister Heris had ruthlessly extinguished Kharoulke the Windwalker, the most wicked of the deities who first plagued the middle world.
The mission here was to release gods of the generation that had overthrown Kharoulke and his kin. Gods who had been tricked into imprisonment by the ascendant.
Some doubted the need for a release effort. Kharoulke was no longer a threat to make himself supreme god of a world buried under ice. Heris had ended that threat with help from the Aelen Kofer.
Heris wanted divine allies. One evil had fallen but Kharoulke had kin who were growing stronger, too.
The Bastard and the ascendant talked fast and loud. The Old Ones had to understand that there had been changes. If they behaved with customary divine arrogance they would be exterminated before they could collect their wits.
Piper Hecht said, “Stay calm, ladies,” from behind his falcon, to his companion, Anna Mozilla, and their adopted daughters. “The jars will hold them long enough for them to grasp their situation.”
Heris said, “As long as we don’t get a really nasty one first.” The rattling alembic filled with sudden smoke.
“Well, shit!” Renfrow swore.
The ascendant rumbled, “You had to say it, woman! That’s Red Hammer.”
“Of course,” Hecht muttered. The ever-impulsive and never-bright god of thunder always handled a situation by smashing things.
The ascendant roared in the tongue of the gods, face inches from the rattling big bottle—avoiding getting into lines of fire.
The other alembics filled, less quickly.
The emotions of the escaping gods were potent. Hecht felt them clearly. They were not pleased.
A second Instrumentality now shared the alembic first filled by Red Hammer. Ghost faces glared through the silver glass. Hecht did not recall the god’s name but did sense his role in the pantheon of the Old Ones.
He was War. The thinker. The most dangerous in the long run.
That Instrumentality had a fierce hold on Red Hammer. War saw that the mortals were confident. War recognized the scent of god killers.
Other Instrumentalities bled into other silver glass vessels, most afraid to be hopeful. After an initial burst, they became calm and calculating. But they had been sealed into an inescapable pocket universe, with their dislikes for one another, for subjective ages.
They ought to be raving mad.
Heris said something to the Bastard. Renfrow eased over to the bottle farthest left. Meanwhile, the ascendant murmured what sounded like a roll call.
Each bottle contained multiple Instrumentalities. The pantheon of the Old Ones included numerous lesser deities, some of whom had been swept into Asgrimmur’s trap in his time of madness, following his unexpected ascension.
Heris said, “We’re short one. Where is the Trickster?”
Renfrow said, “He won’t come out. He thinks he’ll be blamed for everything.”
“That would be the history, wouldn’t it?” Whenever anything went wrong for this clutch of Instrumentalities, the Trickster was at the disaster’s root. “But he’s bullshitting this time. What’s he really up to?”
Asgrimmur opined, “He’s waiting for us to make a mistake. He’ll only need a second to get away.”
“Close the petcocks, Double Great.”
Chuckling, Cloven Februaren stepped to the farthest right bottle. He turned the handle of a silver valve in the tube connecting the alembic to the wall. He then wrapped the tube from the valve to the wall in silver foil. “One down.”
The Bastard and ascendant did the same to the alembics on the left while Februaren sealed off the bottle containing Red Hammer and War. Dark fog flooded the tube to that one an instant after Februaren shut the petcock. “He wants to play, now. Should I let him through?”
Asgrimmur rumbled, “Make him wait. The others will be more pliable if we keep him out of the way.”
Hecht volunteered, “That sounds good,” though he had no real say. This was his sister’s project, one hundred percent.
Heris said, “And that’s how we’ll proceed. Stay alert. This has gone the way it should, so far. Let’s not assume that it will keep on.”
Despite the admonition Hecht did relax. The time of highest risk had passed. The Old Ones had chosen to listen. Hard to stay intensely alert when there was no obvious threat.
No obvious threat? When these beings were what they were? And the plan was to compel them to serve, as though they were sprites or ifrits?
Hecht stared at Asgrimmur’s back, wondering. The man was the most alien of his experience, because of what he carried inside him. Yet amongst the personalities gathered here Grimmsson was only slightly outside normal.
Asgrimmur stepped to the leftmost alembic, flashed a smile at Vali, who kept getting more nervous as everything went well. “These are the gentle ones.” Sweet young female faces formed on the inside of the glass, drifted, distorting. “Eavijne is, anyway. Hourli, so-so. Not so much, Fastthal and Sprenghul.” He set his left hand on the glass. The only hand he had. He had lost the other to a fat old lord of the Grail Empire during an ill-conceived attack back in the time of his madness. Streaks of color, like a network of veins, spread through the nearby glass.
Hecht called across, “Asgrimmur, get out of Vali’s line of fire.” He hoped Vali would fire regardless. He was not sure she had what that would take. He had no doubts about Lila, though. Lila was hard. Lila would do what needed doing.
“No call to concern yourself, Commander. These four grasp the situation. They accept our terms.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. They are of the Night. They make decisions without agonizing.” A shot at the Commander of the Righteous of the Grail Empire. Hecht sent men into dire peril all the time but never without soul-searching beforehand and agonizing afterward.
Heris said, “Can it, Piper. My operation. Be quiet. Do your job.”
Hecht exchanged looks with his mistress. Anna could not restrain a grin. She enjoyed seeing him be one of the spear-carriers. Or match men.
Heris asked, “Can we trust them, Asgrimmur?”
“You understand that your ass is on the line here, too?”
“I do, sweetheart. I’ll be the first to feel the pain if I’m wrong. But something down deep tells me the Trickster is the only one whose word can be suspect.”
“Then release them when you have their oaths. Once you’re absolutely sure. Understand?”
Piper Hecht stared at Heris. Was there more going on than just the business of the moment? He squinted at the ascendant.
“Piper, for heaven’s sake. Pay attention.” Anna, with a gentle reprimand because he was not watching his targeted alembic.
“Huh? Oh. Right.” Just the right time to get distracted by something stupid.
Trying to save face, he grumbled, “Asgrimmur, comfortable or not, you need to stay out of the lines of fire.”
The ascendant eased to the side of the silver glass teardrop. He disconnected it from its petcock, then spun the bottle so its stem pointed between Vali and Anna.
A puff of dense smoke shot out. It stretched into a vertical bar. The bar dispersed into a bipedal shape, translucent, gained color and solidity, became a well-preserved graying blonde in her forties, five feet tall and naked, who stepped to the side of the alembic opposite Asgrimmur.
Another puff. This was an Instrumentality with a sense of humor. The puff emerged as a smoke ring, then followed the precedent already set, producing a similar naked form, but darker. Hecht thought she must be aspected to night. He felt creepy, looking at her.
The first out acquired clothing in a style centuries out of date.
Third to arrive was a woman with hair a washed-out ginger.
The second out was fashion-conscious. The clothing she assumed mimicked Vali’s.
Last out was a tall, thin blonde who seemed terribly worried. Her aspect was younger than the others.
None of the four projected any strong sense of the supernatural.
Dressed appropriately none would have turned heads on a Brothen street. None seemed driven to cloak in a glamour. The last was the most attractive, but in a nonthreatening way.
The ascendant made introductions. “Fastthal. Sprenghul. Hourli. And Eavijne.”
The tall woman said, “Eavijne, who must tend her orchard immediately or your work here will have been wasted.”
Eavijne spoke a dead language but the Commander of the Righteous understood. Meaning reached his mind without troubling his ears.
Her pantheon depended on her golden apples. They had been away from the fruit for an age.
Her orchard was in a state so sad it might never produce again.
Hecht eyed the ascendant. What was his opinion? Heris did the same, and asked, “Asgrimmur?”
“It’s unavoidable. And we have her word. Release her. Though I can’t imagine where she’ll find the magic she needs.”
Heris decided. “Go, Eavijne. The rest of you, get out of the way. Back where the floor is painted green.”
Eavijne left. The Old Ones, tight of lip, moved to the green. Hecht suspected they had tasted the world and had found it unable to deliver any magic. They had no choice but to abide by their word.
The connection to the alembic in front of Hecht rattled. The silver foil wrapping curled back slightly, revealing a tube gone dark as night. The Trickster’s panic could be felt, faintly.
Hecht’s son Pella joined his sister Vali. They shifted the aim of her falcon to the rattling bottle.
The Instrumentality settled down. It could not break the tubing.
Heris asked, “Asgrimmur, who’s next?” The ascendant was helping the Bastard watch Cloven Februaren reconnect the first bottle to its feed.
“Hammer and Zyr.”
“Sounds risky. Why?”
“Red Hammer is risky. He’s emotionally juvenile. But War is the opposite. He’s the most thoughtful Shining One. The others respect his wisdom. He’s the one most likely to adapt.”
“Double Great, you done with that? Good. Asgrimmur, make it happen.”
Cloven Februaren joined the ascendant. He disconnected the bottle from its petcock while Asgrimmur laid hand on and talked fast.
Voice choking, Anna said, “Asgrimmur, get out of my line of fire!”
The ascendant stepped aside. “There isn’t a problem that…”
Anna’s face went white. She stabbed her slow match into the touch hole of her falcon.
A shadow burst out of the silver glass bottle’s opening.
Enriched godshot shredded the Instrumentality called Red Hammer. It shattered the bottle and the entity still inside it, too, along with everything else between Anna and the wall. It ripped the clay pad there. The blast shifted tables and broke small glassware. The roar deafened everyone.
It stunned or rendered unconscious those who had been in front of the falcon’s mouth.
Seeing no one else fit, Hecht took charge. By means of signs he got his family to drag the others back behind the falcons. Some hearing returned by the time they finished. Hecht told Pella, “Help your mother reload and shift her aim. I’ll take care of these folks.”
There was little he could do now. Time would bring them back.
His own hearing returned quickly. First voice he heard was Anna wanting to know if she had done the right thing.
“Absolutely, darling. The demon meant to attack Asgrimmur.”
“You did the right thing.” That was what she needed to hear.
The lesson was not lost on the watching goddesses. They looked stricken.
Massaging his ears, the ascendant stood. “They’ve just fully realized that they’re in the presence of the Godslayer. Ironically, their fear of him triggered the cascade of events that brought them to this.”
“Godslayers,” Hecht mumbled. Grimmsson looked like a man with a biting ulcer. “What’s the matter?”
“There isn’t much Gray Walker left but what remains is distraught. Red Hammer was his son. Zyr was his only real friend.”
Hecht eyed the ascendant’s stump. That lost god-friend, Zyr, had been a one-hander, too. “What about Arlensul?”
“I get nothing.”
“Wasn’t Red Hammer her brother?”
“Half brother. Like most of the early gods, the Walker got around.”
“Didn’t call him All-Father for nothing, eh?”
“No. Also, Arlensul didn’t like Red Hammer.”
“Where do we stand now?”
“Heris will now get all the cooperation she wants. Extinction means more to immortals with no expectation of an afterlife. Mortals arrive in the world under sentence of death. We know it, we don’t like it, but we accept the fact that we can’t do anything about it.”
“Let’s hope she does get what she wants.” He was not sure what that was, though.
She did, for sure, have her entire self wrapped up in it, though.
Four hours fled before everyone recovered enough to continue. Some ate. Old soldier Piper Hecht napped.
Ferris Renfrow tried communicating with the freed goddesses. They were not gracious. Had they not been at a disadvantage they would have had nothing to do with Arlensul’s half-breed get.
When awake Hecht kept an eye on Cloven Februaren. The old boy’s mad, adolescent sense of humor might cause him to do something absurd.
Heris and the ascendant cleared the mess left by the falcon blast. They tossed the wreckage out the windows.
Pella helped. Though afraid of heights he liked watching stuff fall.
Hecht came out of his nap to find the Old Ones gone. He started to demand an explanation, stifled himself. He was not used to not being in charge. Nor did it matter where they had gone. They could not leave the Realm of the Gods.
“How are you holding up?” he asked Anna.
“I’m all right. I napped some, too. Not as enthusiastically as the Snore King, though.”
This was good. She could joke. “How about… ?”
“I worked it out. I had no choice. And Vali would have taken the shot if I hadn’t, anyway.”
Hecht glanced at Vali. She nodded.
Heris said, “Stop fussing, little brother. She’s good. We’re all good. We can hear again. No harm done, and nobody is hungry. Let’s get to work.”
“All right. But I’m wondering where we’re going, Heris. You killed the Windwalker. He was the reason this all got started.”
“Kharoulke had a family. Vrislakis. Zambakli Souleater. Djordjevice the Foul.”
“And they are all spawn of the primal Night, freed by the ice and going unchallenged because Asgrimmur imprisoned the Old Ones. They’re starting to recover,” said Heris.
“Kharoulke couldn’t fight you off.”
“He was alone. I wasn’t. And other old evils are wakening, too, Instrumentalities who think in millennial terms. They can wait for help from wicked people.”
“Rudenes Schneidel? People doing what we are but with bloody evil intent?”
Hecht gaped, startled by her passion.
“You know er-Rashal al-Dhulquarnen, Piper. How many resurrections has he been tied to? He won’t stop till he succeeds. You thwarted him in the Connec and at Arn Bedu but he’ll be up to some other villainy by now.”
Hecht stared. Heris said, “You know where destiny is taking you. You’ll need all the help you can get on the way.” She gestured at the remaining alembics. “If our clumsiness hasn’t turned them against us.”
“I suspect clumsiness doesn’t account for much.”
Heris nodded. Her expression turned grim. Then she winked. “Onward, little brother. To the next step.”
“Did anybody check for blast damage to the connector tubes?”
“Double Great did. They’re sound at the wall. He rigged the bowl for the soul egg feed to the one that connected to the bottle Anna shot.”
“But that one didn’t have the double petcock.”
“No. The one in front of you did. The tube had a bigger diameter and bent down behind, to the second petcock, but it got cut by shrapnel.”
Hecht eyed the head-high bowl Februaren had rigged. “That’s too precarious. You put weight in there, it’ll tip over. Why not wait and see what you can do with the right feed once we let those things out?”
Heris restrained her stubborn determination to be in charge. “Double Great. What do you think?”
“That this time Piper’s head is working right. We need the double valve to manage the Trickster.”
“All right. Let’s do that.”
The next release brought forth three Old Ones, all female. Of those Hecht already knew one, Wife. That was a name, not a title, though Wife was the spouse of the Gray Walker.
Hecht watched them swear oaths that bound them to good behavior. Asgrimmur leaned closer as the second goddess swore. “Sheaf. Aspected to grain and crop fertility.” As though that ought to mean something. “She’ll need watching. She was Red Hammer’s number-one wife. And these Instrumentalities can be big on revenge. And the pretty one is Aldi.”
Cloven Februaren joined them. “One more bottle. And one unhappy Trickster still in storage.”
The ascendant missed his tone. He nodded. “The last two. One god, one goddess. But she’s Red Hammer’s mother.”
Februaren said, “I’m thinking we have more trouble than you’ve let on, friend Asgrimmur.”
“What do you mean?”
“That this can’t be on the up-and-up. You supposedly trapped all of the Old Gods here, except Ordnan and Arlensul. Right?”
Silence overran the chamber, the Great Sky Fortress, the Realm of the Gods. Cloven Februaren had used a name never to be spoken by mortal men.
Asgrimmur started shaking. “Aaron’s Balls, old man! Have a care!”
“Why? He’s gone. Less than the whisper of a ghost. Right?”
“Names have vast power.”
“A root theorem of magic. So. How about you share some names that we might not find on the roster of Instrumentalities we’re bringing back here,” said Februaren.
“I don’t understand.”
“I doubt that. This old man didn’t spend all his time with Iron Eyes swapping tall tales and seeing who could drink the most dwarf beer.”
Heris was behind Asgrimmur now, and distinctly unhappy. “What’s the story, Double Great?”
“An old one, maybe. But I’m not quite ready to say we’ve been hornswoggled.”
“All right! There are problems with our situation. Anomalies.”
“Such as?” Heris asked.
“I got Iron Eyes to tell me what he could about the Old Ones.
Now I’m raising questions. There are whole platoons of gods and goddesses who didn’t get stuck inside Asgrimmur’s pocket reality. Assuming twelve really is how many were trapped here. Which is what the Aelen Kofer claim.”
Asgrimmur slumped. “It’s true. I should’ve seen it. But it’s also true that these twelve are all who were here when I locked them up. I’m thinking now, maybe, thanks to Korban’s father. He was here, I think. My memories aren’t very clear.”
Februaren said, “I’ve studied this mythology, Asgrimmur. There are problems with your story.”
“There are inconsistencies in every faith, old man. We blind ourselves willfully. What’s your particular problem?” The ascendant grew more disturbed as the old sorcerer prodded.
“The tale of the Old Ones is a long one. It’s convoluted and filled with the aforementioned inconsistencies. They defeated the primal Instrumentalities, Kharoulke, Vrislakis, and their kin. But the Gray Walker wasn’t top Shining One back then. He had a father and a grandfather. He had some brothers. It took them all to make the middle world and create people. Zyr was around before most of the Old Ones. He may have been a friend of Ordnan’s grandfather. The dwarves say he was a more important god, way back.
“Then there was the War Between the Gods. The Old Gods against the Raneul. The Shining Ones won but the Raneul weren’t destroyed. Some moved in here and became Shining Ones themselves. The rest are around somewhere. Likewise, a whole raft of missing original Old Ones. And, after that, there’s still the Trickster matter.”
Asgrimmur drew a long, deep breath, released it in a long, loud sigh.
“Knowing all that, then, you no doubt know that the missing Instrumentalities are to be found in Eucereme.”
“I don’t know that name. It isn’t one Iron Eyes ever used.”
“We talk about the Nine Worlds but the only ones we’ve dealt with are this one, the middle world, and that of the Aelen Kofer. Your missing gods and goddesses are probably hiding in the world of the Raneul, where they won’t have to deal with Godslayers.”
That was an answer, of a sort, but not one that satisfied, there being a normal human inclination to expect secret meanings, motives, and movers.
Heris said, “Double Great, this is all interesting as hell but how about we finish the job we’ve got?”
“Good idea. But first let’s make sure it doesn’t finish us. Asgrimmur. About the Trickster.”
“What about him?”
“He is in there, right?”
“How does that work? I thought he’d been thrown out of the Realm of the Gods because of tricks he played on the other Old Ones.”
“I don’t know. He probably talked his way back in once the All-Father went down.”
“Double Great. However he got here, he’s here. Deal with that.”
“I’m trying. I think it might be useful to know why he came back.”
“He came back because he thought he could score with the Gray Walker out of the way. You want to poke and pry and figure things out, see if the Trickster didn’t set Ordnan up somehow. But do it on your own time.”
Cloven Februaren looked at Hecht. “I think the success with Kharoulke has gone to her head.”
Hecht did not smile. He was tired and worried and wanted out of this suburb of the Pit. “Let’s finish up so we can get out and go home.”
“You, too? All right. I blame it on Grade Drocker, her father. But don’t worry about outside. Time goes slower out there. They aren’t missing you, yet.”
So now the old man was poking him with a stick.
Hecht refused to play.
Still arguing, Heris and Februaren, with Ferris Renfrow behind, made another round of everything up front, looking for possible problems.
“Asgrimmur?” Heris called. “You ready?”
“Sorry. Woolgathering, I guess.”
He had gone thoughtful the moment Heris suggested that the Trickster might have had something to do with the Gray Walker’s misfortunes.
Hecht watched closely as the ascendant established a dialog with the last two Old Ones. He wished there were a way to gauge how potent the ghosts within the man really were.
Working God’s Mischief © Glen Cook, 2014