This is the second chapter of this story.

Taana gets her man

She stood outside the door, watching the hallway. With a small, gloved hand, Taana, priestess of Lhusk and mesmerist of the shadow, opened the door and stepped quietly within.

Inside, she saw her target’s clothes laid out haphazardly on the pallet. The sounds of someone bathing reached her ears. Taana smiled and pulled her hood back, revealing a young woman who at first glance, may have been mistaken for a particularly soft-featured boy. In fact, as a teenager, she had often impersonated boys for one purpose or another. Sometimes out of fun, other times out of necessity. Now as a woman of twenty-eight years, she still had that tomboyish light frame, a slight figure she normally kept hidden under deep ochre robes. Her short reddish-brown hair was cut or hacked haphazardly and her hazel eyes saw the world with a knowing gaze.

Her target was enjoying his bath, his feet suspended over the edge of the copper tub. Taana could feel the warmth coming off the water, which made her feel even better about what she had to do.

‘Hello there,’ she said in a sweet voice. Quickly she stepped into her target’s view and met his astounded eyes. With a word and gesture, she stilled the fellow, and his now-limp form began to slide under the water. Taana came forward and put a restraining hand under his chin.

‘I have complete power over you,’ she said to him. ‘Utterly complete. All I need to do is move my hand and you will sink into the water and drown.’ Coming around the back of the tub, she placed her arms under his shoulders and lifted him into a sitting position.

‘I don’t want you to die,’ she cooed into his ears. ‘Not at all. I don’t like killing people, and especially not when they haven’t harmed me in any real way. But some time ago, you ventured to somewhere you shouldn’t have and stole something that certainly doesn’t belong to you. I want to know about this. I want information from you.’

Pulling up a chair, she sat next to the bath and leaned over into the face of her target. Donermo was his name, she told herself. Donermo, tomb robber and archaeologist extraordinaire, who spent his life investigating and plundering the countless ruins and tombs of Fels for pay. A mercenary corrupter and desecrator.

Perhaps he was a handsome man, Taana thought, or might be if we was not incapacitated in his present state. For right now, two very frightened eyes and quivering lips were all she could see that moved on his face.

‘Speak,’ she commanded him. ‘Tell me you can speak.’

‘I can,’ he answered weakly. ‘Why have you done this to me? Who are you?’

‘Your travels took you to the far south, am I right? A desert continent far across the seas: Merhulneo. To the west of that land lies the island of Isume. What did you find on Isume?’

Donermo blinked and his mouth moved frenetically. ‘A palace or a temple. A large temple. I’m not sure which. It was a ruin.’

‘A temple it was. One of the greatest this world has ever seen. In that temple, what did you do?’

‘I found the tomb of a woman. She looked as fresh as a daffodil under that glass. So beautiful…’

‘What else? Be truthful please.’

‘A book. A libram like none I’ve seen.’

‘I thank you for your co-operation,’ Taana said silkily. ‘I’m happy you did not disturb Mistress Gladei’s remains, otherwise our meeting today would end much worse for you. Now to the true reason I have you. Some months ago, after your voyage to Isume, you met a wizard in Real Movier, a very powerful wizard if my sources are true. The same wizard who commissioned you to go to Isume and fetch that book. What was his name?’

‘Ioja.’

Taana’s eyes widened and her mouth became momentarily slack. So it was true. It was Ioja of the Octagon who had taken the secrets from the Temple. What Taana and her hidden order had feared all along was correct. The leader of the Attuned Wind was after the secret of life and death.

Taana sat back in the chair and bit down on a lip. This was a real quandary. Ioja was no rod-boggler. He was a powerful sorcerer in many, many ways, and she knew her own skill in mesmerism would be of little use if she ever confronted him. He would dismiss her with a gesture.

But confront him she must. The book in his possession was a relic of Darklove that none other should ever have touched or seen. This dupe before her, this Donermo…he knew nothing of the importance of the book. He was paid to find it, not to understand what it was and that very ignorance kept him alive right now.

‘Did Ioja say where he was going next?’

‘Somewhere inside the Argence. He was going to bind a spirit but he never told me whose.’

‘So he uses our most sacred work for simple necromancy. An outrage. Why would he use our sacred book if all he needed to do was bind a spirit? This is something any village idiot necromancer can do. Was the spirit someone important in life?’ When Donermo didn’t answer, Taana realised he may have thought she was speaking in rhetorical terms. ‘But you just told me you don’t know. You aren’t lying to me, are you?’

‘No,’ was the shaky reply.

Taana sat closer to Donermo and studied his sweating face. Reading people was her forte, in situations such as these, along with many other situations. There was a deeper fear in Donermo’s eyes, something that transcended the simple fear of death. He was a man who frequently trod on hallowed ground and despoiled it. A man inured to the traps and intricacies of ancient tombs and forgotten temples, of which Fels had in the thousands. He was a man who faced death frequently.

Taana knew he was lying. Donermo was in fear of things far darker than death.

‘Donermo,’ Taana said, reaching down into the water and stroking his abdomen. ‘In the short time of our acquaintance, you have been open with me, and I with you. But now you sully our relationship with lies. Why?’

‘He told me,’ Donermo began hesitantly, ‘he told me things that put the fear of the powers of Exa into me. He said that if I breathed a word of his plans to any, my psyche would be his for all time.’

‘What things? My order can protect you against such threats. Speak openly.’

Donermo’s face paled and cold sweat ran freely down it. Taana cupped some water and dripped it over his head. He did have a pretty face. A face she would be happy to stare at while in the throes of lovemaking. The proceeds of his thefts had provided him the best unguents and balsams to keep him physically comely.

Running a finger around the edge of his lips, Taana said, ‘I asked you a question. Be nice and answer it, and you may yet be rewarded.’

Preternaturally enchanted by Taana, Donermo’s dilated eyes scanned her face, and in spite of his incapacitation, a desire was certainly there. ‘Rolinna,’ he said. ‘He wants to bind the spirit of Rolinna.’

‘Ioja dares!’ Taana smacked the iron tub in anger. ‘The fool. Rolinna! Exa will destroy him for such an act.’

‘He wanted the spirit of the Questioner, but he fears it will be out of reach.’

‘Oh, if only I could’ve found you earlier. Donermo, you hid from me. Hid! For months I wanted to find you, and learn who it was you took our sacred work for. And now this!’

‘I didn’t know what he intended,’ Donermo quailed. ‘Not until he had the book in hand.’

‘Yes, I know,’ Taana got up and walked about the small bathroom, her mind thinking one thing after the other. ‘I’ll be but a moment. Fear not, I’m not leaving you.’

Taana hurried out to the main room and stood staring into the fireplace. After a few moments, she came to a decision. From under her robe, she produced a small leather pouch and from it, took a posy of dry herbs. She crushed these in her hands and inhaled the vapour. Her eyes became unfocussed and she swayed drunkenly on her feet.

Her mind wandered to places out of the reach of most. Her consciousness entered the darkling realm of Darklove and in that indescribable place, she met the mind of her order’s leader, Galleia.

‘I have found he who took our sacred work, mistress. It was Donermo, a tomb robber of Nae. But he was working for another, as you suspected. That person is Ioja of the Octagon.’

In the murky world of Darklove, there were no visible signs of anger or surprise, but Taana’s senses could detect both coming from Galleia’s mind.

‘Ioja! You must hunt Ioja of the Octagon and bring him low for such a vile act. I charge you with this task, Taana.’

‘But mistress, he is powerful…’

‘You will find a way. You are a mesmerist. Your masters in Fenstre are mesmerists and we of the Field of Shadow always find a way. When you have Ioja under your thumb, crush him!’

‘He has our sacred work to perform awful necromancy, mistress,’ Taana continued. ‘He intends to ensnare the spirit of the Consort, if hasn’t already. I fear in these passing months, Ioja has not been idle.’

‘No, he has not. For now I know who performed the act of defiling the tomb of Aegyptus Juvens. Only with the Consort’s aid could Ioja have done this. Even more than ever you must hunt down Ioja and destroy him, Taana.’

Disembodied as it was, Taana’s mind still reeled from this calamitous piece of news. The Questioner’s tomb was desecrated! Taana was one of the few living who knew that Aegyptus Juvens had died a mortal man and was interred in Cabbersea. It was a hideously kept secret, but secrets were things those of the Shadow treated like currency.

‘Why did he do this? Why disturb the grave of the Questioner?’

‘Why else do you think? For the Triocular. Ioja thinks to become the next Questioner. And that is something you do not want to wish upon any person, enemy or friend. This tomb robber, where is he now?’

‘I have him at hand, mistress.’

‘Kill him. It’s his greed and disrespect that’s led to this. Show him no mercy, Taana.’

‘Yes mistress, though I promised him no harm if he told me all I needed to know.’

‘Foolish of you to make such a promise. Do as I require. These are wicked times.’

Taana’s mind returned to her body and she opened her eyes in time to catch herself falling. Once a few giddy moments had passed, she walked slowly into the bathroom, where the paralysed figure of Donermo laid in his bath.

‘You don’t know what you did bringing the sacred work to Ioja,’ she said regretfully. ‘Or what events have been set into motion. I told you I would protect you from Ioja’s vengeance and I’m sad to say this is as most as I can do. Farewell Donermo.’ She leaned over and kissed his forehead softly, then pushed down on the man’s head until it was submerged. Taana turned and quickly walked away, before she had to stare into those frantic, dying eyes any longer.

Continues here.

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