The soldiers of the Black Company don’t ask questions, they get paid. But being “The Lady’s favored” is attracting the wrong kind of attention and has put a target on their backs—the Company’s historian, Croaker, has the biggest target of all.
The one person who was taken into The Lady’s Tower and returned unchanged has earned the special interest of the court of sorcerers known as The Ten Who Were Taken. Now, he and the company are being asked to seek the aid of their newest member, Mischievous Rain, to break a rebel army. However, Croaker doesn’t trust any of the Taken, especially not ones that look so much like The Lady and her sister…
Glen Cook returns to the Chronicles of the Black Company with Port of Shadows, a military fantasy adventure available September 11th from Tor Books.
Long Ago and Far Away: Oblivion Fall
The Howler’s carpet rocked and staggered in the gust front of a truly savage storm. He raced the wind, dropped lower. A scraggly stick of an arm extended to point out the clearing where, now months ago, he had spotted a coach standing unattended on the night that Dorotea had vanished.
Tonight’s adventure was based on evidence no better than that and some wishful thinking.
This was the only lead developed since that night—and, probably, was not any lead at all. The Senjak girls were grasping at straws.
Howler orbited the clearing a hundred yards outside its bounds, saw nothing of obvious interest, though two massive dogs did come from somewhere to stand watching the carpet, their teeth bared. Howler had to use second sight to see them. They did the same right back. Howler said, “There might be sorcery here, Bathdek.”
“No might be about it. I smell it. It’s a dark, dark magic.”
The gust front caught up. Thunder and lightning galloped in close behind. Howler grounded his carpet under the canopy of a massive oak. From there he and Bathdek studied the setting, in particular the gap in the palisade surrounding the ramshackle house. Bathdek whined because the second sight became so damned painful when lightning flashed.
The mastiffs stood two yards behind the gap, teeth bared, focused on the carpet riders, indifferent to the rain, which brought a few hailstones along.
At ground level the sorceries saturating the hilltop were more obvious than they were from above. The warding spells were so finely wrought, so well woven together, that even an adept of the Ten failed to sense them until too late to deal with them without becoming catastrophically unsubtle.
Somebody was determined to be well protected while attracting no attention from casual passersby.
That somebody would be a rogue sorcerer of remarkable skill and talent, of that sort that the Dominator was determined to enslave or exterminate because they might someday challenge his mastery. This would be a bold one, too, to have remained so near Dusk.
Howler dragged his carpet into better shelter under an immense chestnut tree. The ground there would stay dry a long while. He sort of folded himself into a small package, like a spider wrapping itself in its legs, sleepily announced, “I will wait here.” Balled up like that he could not get much breath behind his screams.
Bathdek approached the palisade. The air raged around her, hurling leaves and twigs, yanking at her clothes like an impatient lover. Continued study showed her that any attempt to breach the barrier spells would trigger alarms.
The silent mastiffs watched her from behind the gap, daring her to mount an invasion.
The rain arrived, one drop, two drop, deliver me a hundred and a deluge. Bathdek hated the sudden cold wet but it did present an opportunity.
She carried a potent suite of ready spells impressed on what looked like fortune-telling cards. She selected one, caressed it, kissed it, whispered secrets to it. When the moment seemed ripe she flicked it through the palisade.
Lightning and thunder arrived together, violently. Bathdek staggered backward twenty feet, fell on her bottom in the wet, finding herself almost entirely deaf. She must be all right, though. Uncle Howler never uncurled. He would have if she was in any real danger.
She was a Senjak sister, just sixteen but already able to manipulate anything with a penis with no deliberate thought.
She got her feet under her and stumbled forward. The protective spells were gone. A dozen feet of palisade to either hand had vanished as well. A few shattered stakes still smoldered.
The mastiffs sprawled in blasted death, one broken open and spilled, the other burned to the bone and steaming. Newly sprouted vegetable and herb patches to either hand had suffered badly, too.
The rain recovered its earlier vigor.
Bathdek figured she looked a disaster herself. She would make use of that. She stumbled to the house, tried the latch. The door opened. She stepped inside. A savage gust slammed her in the back, drove her forward while throwing sheets of water in behind her. “Help me,” she whimpered as she went down.
The place was dimly lighted by two spirit lamps. It smelled of putrefaction and chemicals. Bathdek gagged as she tried to push herself off the filthy floor. She added to the filth as feet in tattered slippers approached.
She let herself collapse. She moaned, “Help…” She rolled onto her left side.
The man was nondescript, not worth a second glance in public. He wore a plain, threadbare brown robe. His expression betrayed both confusion and fear. His mouth moved but either no sound came out or her hearing had not yet begun to recover.
The man gave up trying to communicate. He went to the open door, leaned into the weather. A volley of hail bounced in past him. Gripping the doorframes with either hand he leaned out farther, peered around, still mightily confused. Apparently he saw nothing that troubled him more than he already was.
Bathdek made another effort to prize herself off the floor. She discovered that she truly did not have the strength.
She thought about just sliding into sleep, to buy sympathy, but that would leave her at the mercy of a complete unknown. She could not withstand a physical search. But for those cards she could be some stupid girl who had gotten lost in the woods just in time to get beaten up by a furious storm.
The man must be a master sorcerer. He could not help but recognize the nature of her deck, though the level of sorcery required for their creation and manipulation would be well beyond him.
The sorcerer closed the door thoughtfully, latched and barred it. There would be no more surprise intrusions. Bathdek felt some leakage as he deployed previously prepared spells to reinforce his privacy. Those were robust but Uncle Howler would be able to break past them—if he was able to see past them and recognize that she needed rescuing.
The sorcerer stood with his back to the door, shoulders slumped. He frowned unhappily. He was looking her way but did not appear to be looking at her.
He was trying to decide what to do.
Bathdek whimpered. That was not all drama.
She became aware of dirty bare feet a yard away. A girl’s feet. A girl who dropped down onto her hams and stared at Bathdek as though she had seen nothing of the like before. She was dirty all over. She wore rags that might have been the sorcerer’s castoffs. She was quite pretty, for all that. A bath and a smile would leave her striking.
Bathdek croaked, “Dor … Dor.” She tried to reach out.
She had found her missing sister. Or maybe her missing sister’s ghost. Or fetch. Something that was Dorotea’s body in peasant filth and rags that might not have Dorotea inside.
She should hide the fact that she knew Dorotea.
Dorotea seemed entirely astounded by the discovery that there were people in this world other than herself and the man with whom she lived.
Bathdek had lost every ounce of the confident drive that had brought her out here. Partly that was because she realized that there was something badly wrong happening now. She should not be this weak. She should be able to jump up and deal with the renegade sorcerer, then hustle Dorotea off to Howler and the carpet. Worse, she ought to be able, in the ugliest circumstances, to touch her great-uncle with a plea for help.
She could do none of those things.
The sorcerer reached a decision. He came toward her, saying something. Dorotea, with hair longer than before and tangled, looked slightly disappointed. She rose and shuffled away.
The sorcerer pulled a rickety stool over, settled, stared at Bathdek, clearly troubled but more composed than he had been just minutes earlier. He spoke, probably asking a question. Bathdek had just enough strength to brush her ear and shake her head.
She was beginning to be afraid. She had jumped without knowing where she was going to land, which was in an epic tangle of subtle sorcery, spells camouflaged by or as other spells, spells that were only there to misdirect … The totality had to be the creation of a mad genius driven by paranoia, an artist who had had countless lonely years to perfect his treacherous protections.
She could not summon her uncle. She could not warn him.…
The sorcerer considered her for a moment more, then nodded. He set his right palm on her forehead. His hand was hot. Oblivion claimed Bathdek. It fell so suddenly and gently that she was gone before she understood that there might be something to resist.
Excerpted from Port of Shadows, copyright © 2018 by Glen Cook.