Chapter Eighty-eight

Morget slammed Dawnbringer against the side of a dwarven tomb. The blade flared brilliantly, shedding daylight stronger even than the light of the false red sun behind him. The revenants threw up their arms to protect their eyeless faces and staggered backward, away from the barbarian.

A few of them had the strength of will to try to surge in low, under the sword’s glare. Croy smashed in their heads with Ghostcutter and sliced off their hands before they could grab Morget and quench his light. The revenants shook and their feet scrabbled on the cobblestones as they tried to escape. Yet they could not, for just behind them another wave of undead elves was rushing in, rushing to attack, to destroy, to avenge themselves.

Croy could sympathize, in a way. It didn’t stop him from slicing them to pieces.

One of them came straight at Croy, a bronze flail whirling around its head. Morget smashed through its rib cage with his axe, the bones splitting apart like dried wood, the bronze armor squealing as the steel axe tore through it like paper.

On Croy’s other side a revenant rushed at him with nothing but its bare hands. Croy got his shoulder down and leaned forward into the revenant’s charge. He caught his shoulder in the arch made by its rib cage and sternum and then stood up straight, lifting the dead thing up into the air. Its fingers grabbed for Croy’s hair, but Morget smashed the revenant away with his sword. Light blossomed over Croy’s head and the revenants drew back, arms flailing in horror.

“Quickly, dwarf,” Croy shouted. “We can’t keep this up much longer!”

Morget made his sword ring on the cobblestones again. Did the revenants fear the light because it reminded them of their failures in the world above? Did it remind them of battles lost, and hasty retreats? Or was it simply that they were unholy monstrosities, and the pure light of the Lady’s sun was enough to pain them?

It didn’t matter. The revenants attacked and were repulsed. The light drove them back, and the steel and iron blades hacked them apart.

The two warriors had been holding them off for nearly half an hour this way.

“Just a little longer,” Balint shouted back.

The revenants seemed far less aggressive when the red sun shone on them-or perhaps Croy had simply learned better how to fight them. Their attacks were nowhere near as fast or furious as the first time he’d faced them, back when he first came into the Vincularium.

Perhaps he was the one who’d changed. Perhaps the need for vengeance drove him now just as it propelled them. Back then he’d come here to slay a demon. Now he just wanted death, endless death. One could take strength from a drive like that, he knew. Patriotism, piety, vows sworn, and the hands of ladies fair, those things gave a man the spirit to fight. But hatred trumped them all.

“I just have to make a-what’s the word-a fuse,” Balint shouted back. She’d wrangled the five barrels around until they encircled the massive, arching support pillar. Now she took a hammer from her belt and knocked a hole in one of the barrels.

Morget struck the stones, and his light bought them a moment’s breathing room. Croy looked back and saw black dust spill from the hole Balint had made.

“No!” he cried. “You were wrong-it’s rotted away to dust over the centuries!”

“Don’t take me for a dizzy virgin. That’s what it’s supposed to look like,” Balint told him. “For fuck, it’s pretty. Now-if I’m right, I can fill this pipe with the powder, and it’ll burn steady as a candlewick. Just one touch of fire will be enough to bring this place down. And then no dwarf will ever be tempted to come back here.”

Morget’s sword rang. A revenant came in from the side and Croy cut it in half. “What? I thought you did this for revenge, like myself.”

Balint shook her head. “I didn’t care about Murin and Slurri that much. It’s not elves I hate, but this place. Its history-it holds my people back. How can they face a dismal future knowing what glory they once possessed?” She glanced up from her work to stare at him. “But why do you care what my reason is for doing this? You’ll still have your revenge, and the pillock will still slay his demons.”

Croy scowled. He didn’t like this. His own thirst for revenge had not receded, but he understood now that he’d been tricked into such fury. Still-she was right.

It didn’t matter.

Morget raised his sword to strike it off the stones again. As if anticipating the light it would shed, the revenants stumbled backward. The barbarian paused.

“What are you doing? We need that light,” Croy said, grabbing Morget’s arm.

The barbarian shrugged him off. He held Dawnbringer high, the blade still dark.

The revenants were retreating.

One by one they pulled away from the main group and ran for the shadows. They did not look back. They made no last attempt to kill the warriors. They simply turned and ran.

Then Croy heard a low chanting. In the distance he could just make out a human figure. It sat cross-legged on the cobblestones, hands pressed together as if in prayer.

“What do you make of this?” Croy asked Morget.

The barbarian shrugged.

When the last revenant had gone, the figure rose to its feet and walked slowly toward them. In the red light of the subterranean sun Croy could just see that it was a man-a human-wearing the undyed woolen habit of a priest.

“Be not alarmed,” the newcomer said. “I am a holy man, and I drove the fiends away with the blessing of my god. That is all. You are Sir Croy, are you not?” The man had come close enough that Croy could see his round, smiling face. His eyes were small and dark but they glinted in the red light. “My new friend Herward told me you had come inside the Vincularium.”

“Herward?” Croy frowned. “The old hermit sent you in here? Why, to aid us?”

“I came for my own reasons. You must be Morget, the man of the East,” the priest said. “You’re bigger than I expected.” He reached into one sleeve of his habit and twisted something Croy couldn’t see. “I was under the impression your dwarf was male as well. My new friends weren’t entirely clear. That may change things slightly.”

The knight shoved Ghostcutter into its scabbard. “If you’ve come to do the Lady’s work,” he sneered, “you’ve come too late. What’s your name?”

The priest laughed pleasantly. “I didn’t say I was a priest of your Lady.” He brought his hands down to his sides. “My name is Prestwicke.”

His left hand shot upward and something flickered across Croy’s vision. Balint screamed, and her knocker leapt down to the cobbles and ran off into the shadows. Croy stared in horror as he saw a dart sticking out of Balint’s neck. Her scream ended in a gurgling hiss and then she slumped against one of the barrels, her eyes fluttering closed.

Croy gasped in surprise and reached for Ghostcutter’s hilt. Before he could even reach it, the priest threw another dart that struck Morget right in the chest, just left of center.

“The elves had a very poor description of you. Never mind. The dosage may be too low for your weight, but applied directly to the heart, it should be effective,” Prestwicke said as Morget came storming toward him. Dawnbringer came up to slice the priest in half, but before the blow could connect, Morget stumbled and pitched face-first onto the cobbles.

“Not now,” Croy growled, and yanked Ghostcutter free of its sheath.

The priest flicked his wrist. Croy couldn’t see the dart coming-he only felt a sudden pinprick in his shoulder. He howled and lifted his weapon high, but before he took a step toward the priest, his blood slowed in his body and his head spun.

And then everything went black.