The start of a brand-new epic fantasy series from fan favourite Ian Irvine, set in the world of his View from the Mirror series
The Evil Man Saw Me
“No!” the little girl sobbed. “Look out! Run, run!”
Karan threw herself out of her bed, a high box of black- stained timber that occupied half the bedroom. She landed awkwardly and pain splintered through the left leg she had broken ten years ago. She clung to the side of the bed, trying not to cry out, then dragged a cloak around herself and careered through the dark to her daughter’s room at the other end of the oval keep. Fear was an iron spike through her heart. What was the matter? Had someone broken in? What were they doing to her?
The wedge-shaped room, lit by a rectangle of moonlight coming through the narrow window, was empty apart from Sulien, who lay with her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, rocking from side to side.
Her eyes were tightly closed as if she could not bear to look, and she was moaning, “No, no, no!”
Karan touched Sulien on the shoulder and her eyes sprang open. She threw her arms around Karan’s waist, clinging desperately.
“Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!”
Karan let out her breath. Just a nightmare, though a bad one. She put her hands around Sulien’s head and, with a psychic wrench that she would pay for later, lifted the nightmare from her. But Sulien was safe; that was all that mattered. Karan’s knees shook and she slumped on the bed. It’s all right!
Sulien gave a little sigh and wriggled around under the covers. “Thanks, Mummy.”
Karan kissed her on the forehead. “Go to sleep now.”
“I can’t; my mind’s gone all squirmy. Can you tell me a story?”
“Why don’t you tell me one, for a change?”
“All right.” Sulien thought for a moment. “I’ll tell you my favourite – the story of Karan and Llian, and the Mirror of Aachan.”
“I hope it has a happy ending,” said Karan, going along with her. “You’ll have to wait and see,” Sulien said mock- sternly. “This is how it begins.” She began reciting: “Once there were three worlds, Aachan, Tallallame and Santhenar, each with its own human species: Aachim, Faellem and us, old humans. Then, fleeing out of the terrible void between the worlds came a fourth people, the Charon, led by the mightiest hero in all the Histories, Rulke. The Charon were just a handful, desperate and on the edge of extinction, but Rulke saw a weakness in the Aachim and took Aachan from them . . . and forever changed the balance between the Three Worlds.”
“I’m sure I’ve heard that before, somewhere,” said Karan, smiling at the memories it raised.
“Of course you have, silly. All the Great Tales begin that way.” Sulien continued: “In ancient times the genius goldsmith Shuthdar, a very wicked man, was paid by Rulke to make a gate-opening device in the form of a golden flute. Then Shuthdar stole the flute, opened a gate and fled to Santhenar . . . but he broke open the Way Between the Worlds, exposing the Three Worlds to the deadly void.
“This shocked Aachan, a strange world of sulphur- coloured snow, oily bogs and black, luminous flowers, to its core. Rulke raced after Shuthdar, taking with him a host of Aachim servants, including the mighty Tensor. “The rain- drenched world of Tallallame was also threatened by the opening. The Faellem, a small forest- dwelling people who were masters of illusion, sent a troop led by Faelamor to close the way again. But they failed too.
“They all hunted Shuthdar across Santhenar as he fled through gate after gate, but finally he was driven into a trap. Unable to give the flute up, he destroyed it – and brought down the Forbidding that sealed the Three Worlds off from each other . . . and trapped all his hunters here on Santhenar.”
“Until ten years ago,” said Karan.
“When you and Daddy helped to reopen the Way Between the Worlds . . . ” Sulien frowned. “How come Rulke was still alive after all that time?”
“The Aachim, Faellem and Charon aren’t like us. They can live for thousands of years.”
Sulien gave another little shiver, her eyelids fluttered, and she slept.
Karan pulled the covers up and stroked her daughter’s hair, which was as wild as her own, though a lighter shade of red. On the table next to the bed, moonbeams touched a vase of yellow and brown bumblebee blossoms and the half- done wall hanging of Sulien’s floppy-eared puppy, Piffle.
Karan stroked Sulien’s cheek and shed a tear, and sat there for a minute or two, gazing at her nine-year-old daughter, her small miracle, the only child she could ever have and the most perfect thing in her life.
She was limping back to bed when the import of Sulien’s words struck her. Mummy, the evil man saw me! What a disturbing thing to say. Should she wake Llian? No, he had enough to worry about.
Karan’s leg was really painful now. She went down the steep stairs of the old keep in the dark, holding on to the rail and wincing, but the pain grew with every step and so did her need for the one thing that could take it away – hrux.
She fought it. Hrux was for emergencies, for those times when the pain was utterly unbearable. In the round chamber she called her thinking room, lit only by five winking embers in the fireplace, she sat in a worn-out armchair, pulled a cloak tightly around herself and closed her eyes.
What had Sulien meant by the evil man saw me? And what had she seen?
Karan’s gift for mancery, the Secret Art, had been blocked when she was a girl but, being a sensitive, she still had some mind powers. She knew how to replay the nightmare, though she was reluctant to try; using her gift always came at a cost, the headaches and nausea of aftersickness. But she had to know what Sulien had seen. Very carefully she lifted the lid on the beginning of the nightmare . . .
A pair of moons, one small and yellow spattered with black, the other huge and jade green, lit a barren landscape. The green moon stood above a remarkable city, unlike any place Karan had ever seen – a crisp white metropolis where the buildings were shaped like dishes, arches, globes and tall spikes, and enclosed within a silvery dome. Where could it be? None of the Three Worlds had a green moon; the city must be on some little planet in the void.
In the darkness outside the dome, silhouetted against it, a great army had gathered. Goose pimples crept down her arms. A lean, angular man wearing spiked armour ran up a mound, raised his right fist and shook it at the city.
“Now!” he cried.
Crimson flames burst from the lower side of the dome and there came a cracking, a crashing and a shrieking whistle. A long ragged hole, the shape of a spiny caterpillar, had been blasted through the wall.
“Are . . . you . . . ready?” he roared.
“Yes!” yelled his captains.
It was too dark for Karan to see any faces, but there was a troubling familiarity about the way the soldiers stood and moved and spoke. What was it?
“Avenge our ancestors’ betrayal!” bellowed the man in the spiked armour. “Put every man, woman, child, dog and cat to the sword. Go!” Karan’s stomach churned. This seemed far too real to be a nightmare. The troops stormed towards the hole in the dome, all except a cohort of eleven led by a round- faced woman whose yellow plaits were knotted into a loop above her head.
“Lord Gergrig?” she said timidly. “I thought this attack was a dress rehearsal.”
“You need practice in killing,” he said chillingly.
“But the people of Cinnabar have done nothing to us.”
“Our betrayal was a stain on all humanity.” Gergrig’s voice vibrated with pain and torment. “All humanity must pay until the stain is gone.”
“Soon we will face the greatest battle of all time, against the greatest foe – that’s why we’ve practised war for the past ten millennia.”
“Then why do we—”
“To stay in practice, you fool! If fifteen thousand Merdrun can’t clean out this small city, how can we hope to escape the awful void?” His voice ached with longing. “How can we capture the jewel of worlds that is Santhenar?”
Karan clutched at her chest. This was no nightmare; it had to be a true seeing, but why had it come to Sulien? She was a gifted child, though Karan had never understood what Sulien’s gift was. And who were the Merdrun? She had never heard the name before.
Abruptly Gergrig swung round, staring. The left edge of his face, a series of hard angles, was outlined by light from a blazing tower. Like an echo, Karan heard Sulien’s cry, “Mummy, the evil man saw me. He saw me!”
Momentarily, Gergrig seemed afraid. He picked up a small green glass box and lights began to flicker inside it. His jaw hardened. “Uzzey,” he said to the blonde warrior, “we’ve been seen.”
He bent his shaven head for a few seconds, peering into the glass box, then made a swirling movement with his left hand. “A little red-haired girl. On Santhenar!”
Karan slid off the chair onto her knees, struggling to breathe. This was real; this bloodthirsty brute, whose troops need practice in killing, had seen her beautiful daughter. Ice crystallised all around her; there was no warmth left in the world. Her breath rushed in, in, in. She was going to scream. She fought to hold it back. Don’t make a sound; don’t do anything that could alert him.
“How can this be?” said Uzzey.
“I don’t know,” said Gergrig. “Where’s the magiz?”
“Setting another blasting charge.”
“Fetch her. She’s got to locate this girl, urgently.”
“What harm can a child do?”
“She can betray the invasion; she can reveal our plans and our numbers.”
Pain speared up Karan’s left leg and it was getting worse. Black fog swirled in her head. She rocked forwards and back, her teeth chattering.
“Who would listen to a kid?” said Uzzey.
“I can’t take the risk,” said Gergrig. “Run!”
Uzzey raced off, bounding high with each stride.
Karan’s heart was thundering but her blood did not seem to be circulating; she felt faint, freezing and so breathless that she was suffocating. She wanted to scoop Sulien up in her arms and run, but where could she go? How could Sulien see people on barren little Cinnabar, somewhere in the void, anyway? And how could Gergrig have seen her? Karan would not have thought it possible.
Shortly the magiz, who was tall and thin, with sparse white hair and colourless eyes bulging out of soot- black sockets, loped up. “What’s this about a girl seeing us?”
Gergrig explained, then said, “I’m bringing the invasion forward. I’ll have to wake the summon stone right away.”
Karan choked. What invasion? Her head spun and she began to tremble violently.
“So soon?” said the magiz. “The cost in power will be . . . extreme.”
“We’ll have to pay it. The stone must be ready by syzygy – the night the triple moons line up – or we’ll never be able to open the gate.”
The magiz licked her grey lips. “To get more power, I’ll need more deaths.”
“Then see to it!”
“Ah, to drink a life,” sighed the magiz. “Especially the powerful lives of the gifted. This child’s ending will be nectar.”
Gergrig took a step backwards. He looked repulsed.
Karan doubled over, gasping. In an flash of foreboding she saw three bloody bodies – Sulien, Llian and herself – flung like rubbish into a corner of her burning manor.
“What do you want me to do first?” said the magiz.
“Find the red-haired brat and put her down. And everyone in her household.”A murderous fury overwhelmed Karan. No one threatened her daughter! Whatever it took, she would do it to protect her own.
The magiz, evidently untroubled by Gergrig’s order, nodded. “I’ll look for the kid.”
Gergrig turned to Uzzey and her cohort, who were all staring at him. “What are you waiting for? Get to the killing field!”
Ah, to drink a life! It was the end of Sulien’s nightmare, and the beginning of Karan’s.