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There were suddenly three minds within her head. Valea felt Sharissa's confusion. The latter's invasion faltered as she confronted two wills, not one.
"Hold!" Ephraim immediately shouted. "Something is wrong!" He strode up to Valea, waving one hand across her form. Immediately it halted where the stone hung.
The necromancer hissed and tore at her garment, revealing the source of his frustration. Valea could do nothing as he seized the piece and pulled it free.
But as he did, a sense of total displacement enveloped her. A tremendous force pulled her from her own body and into an eternal whiteness. Valea looked around, found nothing. She put a hand to her face . . .
And discovered she had neither fingers nor face to touch.
Somehow . . . somehow her spirit had become ensnared in the Wyr Stone.
GERROD WAITED. HE knew that Shade would come to him. Like a fly drawn to honey, the other piece of him could not stay away from that for which it had ever searched.
Gerrod stood in the courtyard, where Ephraim had told him to make the encounter. The ghost waited, head down, knowing that the meeting was imminent.
He sensed Shade before he heard him.
"So . . . there you are."
The specter looked up. He felt no fear, no anxiety, when he stared into that blur that was all the visage that Shade could ever have. No, Gerrod only felt sadness . . . and not just for the two parts of him. He felt sadness for what was taking place and what the Lords would do when they had what they wanted.
But he had no choice but to obey if he wanted to live.
"I admit . . . I was startled when I knew that it would be you," Shade went on. "I expected more from you."
"You know me as well as yourself," Gerrod chided. "You know what I want."
"And I'm supposed to give it to you?"
"You've no choice." The ghost stamped the floor. As with his cell, it reacted to him as if he was as solid as the figure before him.
The crash of his boot echoed in their otherwise silent surroundings. Immediately, a huge pattern covering the entire courtyard flashed bright crimson.
Shade sought to react, but it was already too late. He had no hope of leaving now. He could barely even move. His arms, his legs, everything acted in slow motion. Gerrod had a tw.a.n.g of guilt, seeing how his sh.e.l.l struggled in the face of the inevitable. Almost he could imagine the torment on the unseen countenance.
"You shouldn't battle so," the ghost said, closing on him. "I'll be giving you peace. You could've never had what you wanted . . ."
"Neither . . . can . . . you . . ."
The warlock struggled futilely. "At what . . . cost? As . . . Ephraim's p-puppet? What . . . what is life . . . when the Lords . . . take over . . . the living?"
Gerrod drew back in bitterness. "Be silent! What would you know about life? A sh.e.l.l seeking to be real? You were doomed from the start because you weren't even our true self!" He beat his chest twice. "I am Gerrod Tezerenee! You are nothing but a walking mockery of my existence! When I've taken over, I will be whole again!"
"And the Lords . . . will have . . . won. And the . . . Land . . . will have won . . ."
"What do you mean?"
The murky features almost came into focus. "The Lords' rule . . . will be short . . . in the scheme of things. In the end . . . the Land . . . will do with them . . . as it has . . . the Seekers . . . the Quel . . . and others. Only this time . . . the humans . . . the hope . . . will go with them . . ."
"You're stalling," Gerrod decided. He started toward the warlock again. "Stalling the inevitable."
"And when you . . . are me . . . the Land . . . will have its greatest . . . triumph," Shade went on despite his approaching doom. "Gerrod Tezerenee. Not Shade. You will live . . . you will change . . . the Land will finally alter you as it did our people . . ."
"No . . . I will live! I will be me! I will have all I wanted!"
"All you wanted?" The warlock's head dipped low as his battle against the spell failed. "Any care . . . Sharissa had for one lowly . . . Gerrod Tezerenee . . . will die as surely as she."
"Sharissa will live, too!" the ghost declared, his hand almost upon the captive's chest. They both knew what would happen when he touched the warlock. "She will live! I give her the greatest gift-"
"As Ephraim's. Cursing life . . . cursing you." Shade shrugged, then leaned forward. "Do what you must. I look forward to missing the world you will help shape."
With a frustrated roar, Gerrod thrust his hand into Shade's ribs. It sank in without hesitation. The warlock roared in agony. The ghost pressed forward.
And as he did, he sensed the tumultuous emotions and thoughts racing through Shade's mind-his mind.
Gerrod gasped, almost pulled his hand back in horror. He had never expected to find such a rich trove of sensations-of life-within.
Then his eyes hardened. "No . . . I will do it!"
He entered the screaming captive.
"THE WYR STONE . . ." Ephraim's ghoulish countenance darkened. "Or, rather, a pathetic fragment of it . . . the Zeree cunning has not been watered down either by endless generations or incarnations . . ."
"Has it disrupted our work?" asked Zorane anxiously.
"A hesitation, nothing more." The lead necromancer thrust the chain through his rotting belt. "It will be remedied-"
"Ephraim . . ." the imprisoned female suddenly uttered. "This is madness."
The Lord performed a mock bow. "My Lady Sharissa . . . so good of you to join us . . . in the flesh."
"I am the only one here in any sort of flesh," the voice from Valea Bedlam's body snapped back. "If you could see what your obsession's made of all of you . . ."
"Spoken like the daughter of the self-righteous Master Zeree," smirked Zorane. "Ever the voice of temperance among those with no need to be . . ."
"And the result of not listening was the devastation of Nimth."
"But leaving Nimth brought us to power undreamed," returned Ephraim. "Enabled us to become G.o.ds."
"Demons, perhaps, but never G.o.ds . . ."
The towering necromancer waved away her comments. "This conversation is superfluous. You are bound to our will. You will do as we demand. Now there is only one other we await." Ephraim looked to his right. "And he comes now."
As one, the other sorcerers looked to the far end of the chamber, where what seemed black light flashed briefly.
In its wake, a bent, hooded form unfolded the voluminous cloak that surrounded him.
"Our dear cousin, Gerrod. How appropriate a moment. Come. Let the two of you gaze upon one another alive again. Look upon one another's sweet faces . . ."
"Yes, Ephraim." But as he straightened, he revealed that he had no face upon which any of them could look.
Zorane shifted out of position. "That's not possible! Gerrod taking over should-"
Sharissa's pleased laughter erupted from Valea's mouth.
"Gerrod Tezerenee loved you, my lady," Shade murmured.
The captive's expression became sad but proud. "I know."
The warlock struck.
A shimmering, red field surrounded the Lords of the Dead, a protective spell cast at the last moment by them. Yet, the chamber still shook violently and several of the necromancers teetered from their chosen places. The field flickered on and off and on again.
But in the end, it held.
"Whether he took you or you took him does not matter!" hissed Ephraim. "You will find us more than before! You will bow to us this time and fulfill the role we have arranged for you, cousin!"
The Lords of the Dead stared at Shade . . . and with them stared Cabe, Darkhorse, and Sharissa.
The warlock drew his cloak around him.
From the walls, from the floors, erupted monstrous, winged fiends of yellow energy. They immediately clawed at Shade, ravaging his garments, ripping through the protected cloak. Some scored cuts on his arms and torso, but he never once cried out.
He opened his palm and a wind scattered to pieces the nearest. Shade spun about and the wind followed, whipping across his tormentors and decimating them.
But no sooner had he deflected the first horrendous a.s.sault when a new and more horrific sight surrounded him. They were ghosts, pained spirits-and all were victims of his past darkness. Worse . . . they had all been friends, close friends, whom he had betrayed.
"They haunt you every waking moment . . . and you never sleep, do you, cousin?" mocked Ephraim. "Now see their true sorrow, their true anguish . . . and know that it is all your doing!"
Although his hood lay in tatters from the first a.s.sault, nothing of Shade's head or face could yet be made out with any definition. His voice, though, spoke well of the emotions boiling within. "No! They are not my doing! I would never have willingly done such evil!"
"But you did, time and time over! You would happily do so again! Your own miscast spell ensures that!"
They crowded around Shade, pressed him close. "No! It's the Land that ensured it! The Land that twisted my work!"
Several of the necromancers laughed.
Xarakee bellowed, "Are you still on that? 'The land is alive! The land is out to change us into monsters!' Ha!"
"As it did the rest! You know how the drakes came to be! Their kings were my brothers!"
"Those were fools who used the dragon-based golems," Ghan returned. "The inherent traits of the flesh and blood taken from the beasts simply demanded their natural design! It was poor sorcery, not some malevolent plot by a thinking world!"
"If the land was such a horrific foe," Ephraim concluded, "we would not be as we are . . . masters of it, not its p.a.w.ns . . ."
Despite the horrible memories surrounding him, Shade straightened. He no longer stared at the ghosts around him, only the eleven figures standing so confidently. "No? Perhaps you should see yourselves as others do, then, cousin! Perhaps you should see the truth!"
Grunting from agony and effort, he cast.
It flared like a silver beacon, spreading across the chamber. Its presence was so tremendous that the ghosts haunting the warlock fled from what it revealed to them. Shade ignored them, although the pain of their faces remained with him. He only cared that he make the Lords of the Dead see.
It was a mirror like no other. Perfect in reflecting in brilliance what the dank, still lands and the minds of the necromancers sought to hide. The chamber where the Lords worked their foul deeds was not the glittering, elegant room that they imagined. Instead it was a crumbling, dust-enshrouded tomb barely lit, with unimaginable shapes rotting in the corners or dangling from the cracked ceiling.
But none of that registered for long upon the necromancers-for they now stared at their individual forms. Each saw only him or herself in that mirror, saw revealed by Shade the truth.
"No . . ." gasped Zorane. "That can't be-that can't be-"
"'Tis a trick!" shouted Delio. He broke from his position with the intention of charging the mirror and smashing it, but the moment he saw his reflection move in turn, he froze again.
"My-my face!" Kadaria cried. "Serkadian Manee! My face!"
"This is your glory?" countered Shade. "This is your G.o.dhood? The Land has made of you the greatest jest of all! There is nothing deader in your realm than you yourselves!"
"Not possible . . ." Zorane insisted weakly. "Not possible . . ."
But among them, there was one untouched by the revelation. Ephraim gestured-and the mirror exploded.
"It changes nothing! My plan will go on!"
The warlock might have frowned. "You . . . knew."
"I know everything! I am-"
A shape fell upon him and two hands clasped tight against the sides of his helmet. A bright flash from each enveloped the necromancer's head.
Ephraim cried out-first in agony, then in anger. He swung with one gauntleted hand at his attacker, sending the figure flying across the ma.s.sive chamber.
Valea's body crashed hard against the ancient stone.
"Sharissa!" Shade involuntarily called.
"As dead to you as we are," Ephraim said with loathing. He raised his hand into a fist and the other necromancers suddenly straightened as if they were puppets whose strings had been tightened. "But not nearly so dead as you'll be . . . cousin."
But instead of Shade, it was again the lead sorcerer who was attacked, this time nearly crushed to the floor by a powerful, invisible force.