This is a sequel of a sort to the first Ioja story that can be found here. Reading that may aid with understanding what’s going on, but it’s not strictly necessary. Itanu is a servant of the goddess Etesi, and an assassin of some note.
She stood outside the door, watching the hallway. With a small, gloved hand, Itanu, priestess of Etesi, 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. Itanu smiled and pulled her hood back, revealing a swarthy 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 black hair was cut close to her scalp and two almost black eyes saw the world through knowing cynicism.
Her target was enjoying his bath, his feet suspended over the edge of the copper tub. Itanu 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. Itanu 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 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, 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. Dolvatam was his name, she told herself. Dolvatam, a 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 desecrater.
Perhaps he was a handsome man, Itanu 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. ‘Who are you? Why have you done this to me? ’
‘Your travels took you to the far south, am I right? To the island of Isura. What did you find in Isura?’
Dolvatam 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, and 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…’
‘Hmm, what else? Be truthful please.’
‘There was a book. A libram like none I’ve seen.’
‘I thank you for your co-operation,’ Itanu said silkily. ‘I’m happy you did not disturb Mistress Gilotica’s remains, otherwise our meeting today would have ended the worse for you. Now, as for why we’re having this conversation. Some months past, after your voyage to Isura, you met a wizard in Real Movier, and a very powerful wizard if my sources are true. The same wizard who commissioned you to go to Isura and fetch that book. What was his name?’
Itanu’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 Itanu and her hidden order had feared all along was correct. The leader of the Attuned Wind was after the secret of life and death.
Itanu sat back in the chair and bit down on a lip. This was a real quandary. Ioja was no rod-boggler. He was a mighty 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.
The book in his possession was a holy relic of Umberlust. This dupe before her, this Dolvatam, he knew nothing of the importance of the book. He had been paid to find it, not to understand what it was. That very ignorance kept him alive right now.
‘Did Ioja say where he was going next?’
‘Somewhere inside the Argence. He was going to resurrect a corpse, but he never told me whose.’
‘So he uses our most sacred work for necromancy. Was the corpse someone important in life?’ When Dolvatam didn’t answer, Itanu 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.
Itanu sat closer to Dolvatam and studied his sweating face. Reading people was her forte in situations such as these, along with many other situations. There was a deeper fright in Dolvatam’s eyes, something that transcended the simple fear of death. This was a man, after all, 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.
Itanu knew he was lying. Dolvatam was in fear of things far darker than death.
‘Dolvatam,’ Itanu 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,’ Dolvatam began hesitantly, ‘he told me things that put the fear of Hjoll into me. He said that if I breathed a word of his plans to any, I would be his for all time. He would find my body and reanimate me for his fell purposes.’
‘What things were these? My order can protect you against such threats. Speak openly.’
Dolvatam’s face paled and cold sweat ran freely. Itanu 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, Itanu said, ‘I asked you a question. Be nice and answer it, and you may yet be rewarded.’
Preternaturally enchanted by Itanu, Dolvatam’s dilated eyes scanned her face, and in spite of his incapacitation, a desire was certainly there. ‘Rolinna,’ he said. ‘He wanted to locate and revive the husk of Rolinna.’
‘Ioja dares!’ Itanu smacked the iron tub in anger. ‘Rolinna! The powers of Exa will destroy him for such an act.’ She sighed, and regarded the rapidly shuddering man before her. ‘Oh, if only I could’ve found you earlier. Dolvatam, 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,’ Dolvatam quailed. ‘Not until he had the book in hand.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Itanu rose and walked about the small bathroom, her mind thinking one thing after the other. ‘I’ll be but a moment. Fear not, I’m going nowhere.’
Itanu hurried out to the main room and stood staring at the night mists beyond the window. 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 arcane and aphotic. Her consciousness entered the darkling realm of Umberlust and in that indescribable place, she met the mind of her order’s leader, Gladei Merene.
‘I have found he who took our sacred work, mistress. It was Dolvatam, a tomb robber from Nae. But he was working for another, as you suspected. That person is Ioja of the Octagon.’
In the murky world of Umberlust, there were no visible signs of anger or surprise, but Itanu’s senses could detect both coming from Gladei’s mind.
‘Ioja of the Octagon must be brought low for this vile act. I charge you with this task, Itanu.’
‘But mistress, he is powerful…’
‘You will find a way. You are a mesmerist, and your masters in Myre 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,’ Itanu continued. ‘He intends to bring the Consort back to life, if he hasn’t already. I fear Ioja has not been idle.’
‘No, he has not, for now I know who performed the act of defiling the tomb of Alais Gera. Only with the Consort’s aid could Ioja have done this. Even more than ever you must hunt down the Octagon and destroy him, Itanu.’
Disembodied as it was, Itanu’s mind still reeled from this calamitous piece of news. The Questioner’s tomb was desecrated! Itanu was one of the few living who knew that Alais Gera had died a mortal man and was interred in Kuvasuda in the far north of the continent. It was a monstrously 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 does he want mastery of life and death?’
‘Why else do you think? For the Triocular, Itanu. Ioja thinks to undo the Questioner’s deeds and gain access to the Fabled Third World again. This tomb robber, where is he now?’
‘I have him at hand, mistress.’
‘Kill him, and commend his blood to our lady Etesi. It’s this man’s greed and disrespect that’s led to this. Show him no mercy, Itanu.’
‘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 iniquitous times.’
Itanu’s mind returned to her body and she opened her eyes. Once a few giddy moments had passed, she walked slowly into the bathroom, where the paralysed figure of Dolvatam laid in his bath.
‘You don’t know what you did bringing our sacred work to Ioja,’ she said regretfully. ‘Or what events have been set into motion with your simple theft. I told you I would protect you from Ioja’s vengeance and I’m sad to say this is the most I can do. Farewell Dolvatam.’ She leaned over and kissed his forehead softly, then pushed down on the man’s head until it was submerged. Itanu turned and quickly walked away, before she had to stare into those frantic, dying eyes.