The clock in the city struck two. Across the courtyard, an open window squeaked in the light breeze. The man who stood there was hidden in the darkness, but Lankin knew he was still there, still watching, as he had been when darkness had fallen so many hours before. When the sorcerer king came, Darius would be waiting for him. When the enemy came…
"Maybe he isn't going to come after all," Captain Gresham whispered.
"Of course he is," Lankin snapped. "He was in the city yesterday. Of course he'll come here."
"I know," Gresham said, "but…" He gestured at the citadel, so silent and expectant. " I know Darius claims to understand the enemy's mind and know how best to catch him, but... Well, maybe he's wrong this time. Maybe we should have taken our chance yesterday, and not waited until today."
Lankin bit his lip, and fought the urge to nod in agreement. "Lord Darius is never wrong," he declared. Gresham was his superior officer, but Lankin was more favoured of Darius, and Gresham knew it. He would never dare report Lankin's lack of respect.
"I know," Gresham said, with a nervous glance up at Darius's window. "I just… I wish he'd come soon."
Lankin sighed. "I do, too."
He walked a few steps away, careful not to leave the shadows, more for the sake of keeping his face hidden from Gresham than of hiding from the enemy who still did not come. He did not dare look up at Darius. It all suddenly seemed so risky, this elaborate trap that Darius had woven. It almost seemed like the plan of someone who cared more about the manner of his victory, than about the victory itself. Darius wanted to toy with his enemy, let him raise his hopes, then crush them in a series of shattering blows. When Lankin had first heard the plan, it had sounded glorious and thrilling. Now it only sounded… flawed.
Lankin had indulged in hundreds of beautiful dreams of how he would single-handedly capture the sorcerer, but they were only that, only dreams. The most important thing was just that he was captured, not who captured him, or how they did it. There was no room for pride, not when the safety of the duchy was at stake. But Darius could have tried to capture the enemy the day before, but had chosen not to. If the enemy slipped through their fingers again, whose fault then would it be?
Gresham strode past Lankin, making his way to the middle of the courtyard, where six guardsmen were chained to bloody posts. They had been flogged at twilight, punished for casual remarks that could be taken as sedition, and would stay there until dawn. Perhaps they would die. If they did, it would be a shame, for they were none of them traitors, and the doubts they had expressed had been tiny ones, such as any man might feel in a time of such danger and change.
Gresham stormed to a halt beside one of the men, and unfastened the sword at his belt. Without a word, he started the strike the man across the ruined back with the sheathed weapon. The man was still gagged, dried blood staining both sides of his mouth, but he threw back his head and screamed, a choked sound of torment. Lankin turned his head away and tried not to watch, but he could still hear. When the man's cries had faded to quiet sobs, he walked to Gresham's side. "You'll kill him if you carry on," he said. "He's been punished enough."
His sword trailing blood, Gresham whirled away. Lankin touched the limp man and found him still alive, but barely. He brushed his fingers over his cheek, and looked at his bonds. So easy to let him free. There was a bowl of water not far away, deliberately placed to torment the prisoners. He could bring him a drink, but Darius was watching, and Gresham, too. Darius was unpredictable. He might shout at Gresham for giving in to his frustration, striking out at the nearest target, but he might applaud it, and raise Gresham higher in his favour, and frown a little at Lankin for stopping him.
"I just wish he'd come," Gresham rasped, as he buckled his sword back on his belt. Across the courtyard, Darius's window closed with a faint click.
Lankin turned his back on the prisoner, leaving him groaning. He would be dead by the morning, he thought, but he had expressed doubts, and doubts were often the first step to outright treachery, so maybe it was only right and good. Besides, if he died, his death would have served a greater cause. There was a deeper purpose behind his suffering tonight that he would never know.
"Darius has gone," Lankin whispered aloud. "I wonder if he's heard something."
Of course they would catch the sorcerer king tonight, he told himself. Darius had said it would happen, so it would happen. Darius had only laid his elaborate plans because he knew beyond a doubt that they could not fail. Everything he had predicted would come true. The sorcerer would enter from the city gate, trusting in his illusion to save him, but the Soldiers of Light would be waiting for him, and they were wise to his tricks. They would not let him escape them, not this time. He would be captured, and then he would die.
"We're running out of time," Reynard told him, when they stopped beneath the walls. "The moon is nearly out. We have to hurry."
Ranulf and Joscelin laid down the heavy ropes on the ground, then straightened up, stretching painful muscles. Julien crouched down, and attached the grappling hooks to the end of both coils. Elias peered up, seeing the faint outline of the battlements above. Beside him, Thurstan was doing the same thing. "They're so tall," he breathed. "How can we climb them?"
Elias touched the stone, brushing his fingers along its surface. They had been built long ago by the Kindred, under the guidance of a long-dead king, sworn to protect his people. An echo of that enchantment still remained, like the faint warmth from a very old fire. We will not fail, they whispered beneath his fingers. Anything that we protect, we will keep safe. But the Kindred who had lived inside these walls had been massacred long ago, and now the citadel was the home of Darius's soldiers, who trusted in its high walls to keep the Kindred out.
Reynard stood beside him. "Do it, then."
Elias let his hand fall away from the stone. There would be times when Reynard or one of the others would bear the responsibility for their safety, but this test was his own. He was the only one who could get them up the walls. They could have thrown the grappling hook, but it would have been too noisy, alerting anyone inside. They had to climb the walls in utter silence, entering the citadel at a place that even Darius would think impossible. There were many guards on the low walls that faced the city, but few guards here, where the walls were deemed impossible to scale.
He knelt beside the innocent coils of knotted rope, running his fingers over their rough surface. He wondered if Reynard realised that he was going to use a power he had been blind to since last winter. The Shadow seemed so far away as to be impossible to reach, but he had to. Everything depended on it, and he could not fail.
Closing his eyes, he tried to still his fears. "Thurstan," he whispered, without opening his eyes. "Stay close. I want you to see this."
Thurstan knelt beside him, shivering audibly. It was too dark for Elias to smile and reassure him. He tried to do it anyway, but could not.
"Hurry," Reynard urged.
Elias's palms were moist. He wiped them on his clothes, but they were wet, too. The soothing beach with the white tower was close, but he could not find the way. Once, it had come so easily, without him even needing to think. Now the gateway to his Garden was rusted shut and sealed. He was trapped too deeply in the white tower, and couldn't find the way out.
"What are you doing, my lord?" Thurstan asked, and, "Quiet," Reynard commanded him, a sharp hiss.
They all depended on him, but fear blocked the Shadow. Fear of failure, that terrible rending feeling that he would let everyone down, made him blind to its power. Enchantment came easily when he was desperate, but the Shadow was a power for someone content and calm, like the king he tried to appear before the Kindred, not like the man he was inside, not at all. He couldn't do it. He couldn't do it, and they would have to retreat, and Gerhard would die.
"No," he breathed aloud. He raised his hands. Gerhard would not die. Elias had sacrificed everything for the Kindred, and he could sacrifice a little emotion, calm a little fear, silence the whimpering voice of desperation. He could wipe his face clean of emotion when talking to the Kindred, and he could wear the mask inside, too.
Very gradually, the darkness turned pale blue. Yellow sand stretched ahead of him, lapped by gentle waves. The tower was ahead of him, where it had always been, and its door was poised, about to open. If it opened, he knew, it would open fully, and the white light inside would flood the beach, and nothing would be the same again, but, "Not yet," he whispered, and turned his back on the tower.
The sand was cool and delicate, and the waves glittered. It was so good to be back, and oh how he had missed it! In his Garden, Elias spread his arms wide and rejoiced. On the ground at the foot of the walls, he spread his arms and the ropes rose with him. With sight that did not come from his eyes, Elias saw the gossamer strands that connected everything around him. He knew what to tug and what to gently push, and he knew how to make the ropes rise through the air, and how lay down the grappling hook without a sound in just the right place to bear their weight.
It was done. His arms sank down to his sides as he opened his eyes, letting the inner eyes that could see the Shadow slide shut. His Garden wisped away like the last glimmer of sunlight before nightfall, but he had done it, he had found the Shadow again. He had been incomplete for so long, denying half of his soul, and now he should be complete again, content and whole. It was over. He was healed.
Thurstan was beside him, bursting with awe. "What was that? It was... I felt... Oh, my lord, what was it?"
Elias turned a weary head towards him. He wasn't whole at all. He felt empty, his last chance of healing snatched away from him. "It's called the Shadow, and you have a gift for it." He smiled, hands limp in his lap. "You'll learn how to use your gift, I promise you."
"I'll be able to do things like that?" Thurstan's voice was muffled as he pressed his hands to his mouth.
He sounded so like Elias had sounded when Ciaran had first shown him the wonders of the Shadow. It had been like a door opening in his mind, showing a glimpse of something more wonderful than he had ever imagined. Ciaran had clapped him on the shoulder and given one of his rare smiles, for the wonders of the Shadow was something that even Ciaran had not been afraid to be moved by. Remembering it, Elias was hit with a wave of misery, missing Ciaran so intensely that he wanted to cry.
But Reynard was already testing the ropes, preparing to climb. Elias stood up wearily, and readied himself to enter Darius's stronghold. Last time he had been dragged inside in chains, and this time he was going willingly, but it seemed to make little difference. Here, beneath the walls, was the last place of safety. After this moment, there was no going back.
"You next, my lord," Ranulf told him, when the rope had stopped twitching, showing that Reynard had reached the top. No warning came down through their faint link, but if the enemy was waiting there with a quick knife to slice his throat, perhaps Reynard wouldn't have had time.
The moon was almost exposed, its light already filtering through the thin clouds. They had minutes, at most, before they would be caught in the full light, dark figures climbing the wall.
"Now," Ranulf hissed, and Elias did the only thing he could possibly do. Grasping the rope in both hands, he started to climb.
The Kindred had never forgotten. In the five hundred years since their exile, many bards had died before they could pass on their stories, and many things had been lost, but they had never forgotten their home.
The king had described it to them before they had set out. "I know what Oliver has told me," he had said, "and the things I've seen with my own eyes, both from outside the walls, and in."
He had drawn it in the dirt with a long stick, sketching the shape of the buildings. The great outer walls of the city were shaped roughly like an egg, and the citadel was nestled in the most pointed end. It had walls of its own, like a horseshoe pressed against the curved city walls. The citadel buildings took up most of the enclosed space, but there was a large paved courtyard at the front that had once been open to anyone in the kingdom, but was now locked behind a gate. Hidden at the back, the king had told them, was the jewel of it all, more beautiful than the great hall or any of the towers.
It was called the inner bailey, but it had never been used for defence. It had been the king's own garden, with fountains and statues and cascades of flowers. Twisting staircases led up to the walkway along the city walls, where the kings often used to lean and gaze out across the countryside, or stroll with their counsellors and friends. The garden was almost completely enclosed by the walls and two wings of the citadel itself, and the only way to enter it was by a narrow path from the front courtyard, or a few discreet doors from inside.
"I didn't have a chance to see if it's still there," the king had told them, "but I think it is. Certainly there are no new buildings, and most of the citadel lights are on the other side, facing the city. They've probably changed it, but I think it's still there. I can't think of anywhere better for us to enter."
But it might not be, Thurstan thought, as he hauled himself up the rope. His grip started to slide, scraping downwards until it caught on a knot, and one foot slipped. He swung round, shoulder smashing against the wall, and clung there with stinging palms, one leg flailing. The dust of old masonry skittered downwards, but no-one shouted up at him to be more careful. They were far below him, far far below. If he fell, he would die.
He scrabbled with his feet and managed to get them both placed firmly on the wall. Sweat was dripping down the side of his nose, and it itched horribly. He tried to wipe it off against his shoulder, then against the rope itself, but that only made it worse. He removed his hand from the rope, but he immediately had to grab it again, lunging for the next knot above his head, and he had no time to wipe his face. As he hauled himself up a few more feet, the muscles in his arms were screaming, but the itch on his nose hurt worse.
He was nearly at the top, able to see the greying sky not far above him. The moon was almost out, and Ranulf and Julien would be impatient for him to reach the stop so they could start. Joscelin was staying behind to guard their escape route. But the word escape made Thurstan think of desperation and running, cold-faced enemies chasing him, and the bodies of people he had known lying bleeding, left behind.
No-one would be waiting for him at the top. Reynard had decreed that they were not to remain on the walls for any longer than necessary. He had taken the second rope up with him, and would immediately lower it down the far side of the walls and drop into the garden. So Thurstan would have to reach the top, drag himself over the lip without any help, and descend into blackness, all by himself. He wouldn’t even know if it was safe, or whether Reynard and the king lay dead at the top.
Almost there. He had reached the last knot. The only thing left to grab was the top of the wall itself. He grasped with one hand, struggled, and managed the other. He had to twist his body to avoid the grappling hook, and for a moment his legs stuck out, dangling over the enormous drop. Desperate, he threw himself forward, falling and rolling, and hit the floor of the walkway hard, sprawling limp and panting.
There was no-one there. Behind him, the grappling hook started to make tiny noises as someone else started to climb. Julien would be fast, Thurstan thought, and would find him here and despise him for not following orders and getting off the wall as fast as he could. Thurstan's arms didn't want to bear his weight, but he dragged himself to the inner edge of the walkway and peered down, but he couldn't see a thing He wanted to call out in a whisper for the king, but did not dare.
On the outer edge, the walls rose to chest height above the walkway, but there was hardly any wall at all on the inside edge. It would be easy to fall in the dark. There were small braziers along the wall, but so far apart that they were only narrow circles of light, with far greater expanses of darkness between them. A soldier on patrol would have to keep one hand on the wall at all times, or else would have to carry a torch. But it was very dark, and none of the lights he could see were moving. No-one would find him here, lying face down in the dark. Better to wait for Julien, after all. Julien disliked him, and would dislike him whatever he did. Better to descend into that darkness with someone else, than to go alone.
The clouds shivered, and the moon was exposed, brighter than Thurstan would have thought possible. They'll see me! he gasped. But the moonlight showed the grappling hook, holding the second rope in place only an arm's reach from where he was lying. He had to lower himself onto that rope and climb down. It would be a shorter climb, the king had told him, for the ground inside the citadel was higher than the ground outside. It would be an easier climb, and the king and Reynard would be there at the bottom, somewhere safe. Of course they'd be there.
His arms were trembling as he turned round and began to lower himself over the edge. He let himself drop, dangling from his hands, then dared let go and grab hold of the rope. The other hand followed, and his feet found the wall.
Was that the sound of someone walking, slow footfalls getting nearer and nearer? He froze, hanging there just below the edge, where a soldier's feet would pass just above his face, so close that he could peer up and see him.
If it was a patrol, he was supposed to call out a warning to Julien, telling him not to climb over the top until the soldier was gone. He wasn't allowed to shout it aloud, but had to do it in his mind. "It will happen without you thinking about it, when you really need to do it," the king had told him, but what did the king really know about normal people? Thurstan didn't know how to cry a warning, and he didn't know how to hear one. The king could be down there screaming warnings to him, telling him not to come any further, that it was a trap, and he didn't know how to hear them.
Thurstan hung there, heartbeat racing in his ears, terror clutching at his stomach. His arms hurt so badly that he wanted just to let go and fall. But no-one came. There was no patrol, only fear fuelling his imagination. Letting out a shuddering breath, he started to climb, lowering himself steadily into the garden that was no longer a garden, where anything could be waiting for him.
Someone was screaming, and no-one else could hear it. Ranulf was on his knees, thrusting the second rope deep into a prickly bush beneath the walls. Julien had slithered off to scout out to the right, and Reynard to the left. Thurstan was very nervous, showing it by the quiver in his breathing, but was obeying Reynard's orders by standing still. Joscelin had been left outside the walls, to wait all alone and guard the place where they would leave the citadel, when everything was over.
Someone was screaming. Elias leant towards it, straining in its direction, though his other hand was curled round a branch, pulling him back. The leaves rustled as the whole shrub shook, and Elias snatched his hand away. Still concealed behind the bushes, he took a few steps towards the screaming, and no-one stopped him. With a quick glance round, he walked a little further, until he was too far away to hear Thurstan's breathing or the quiet sounds of Ranulf at work.
There was more than one person, he thought, and they were all in terrible pain. Their screaming was silent, and Elias was the only one who could hear it, the only one who knew how desperate they were.
Innocent, they were sobbing. I didn't do anything. I only said a few things. It was a joke. And my friends all watched. I thought they'd come and cut me down as soon as it was dark, but no-one did. They're going to leave me here all night. What will happen in the morning? More things? Worse things? I'm scared. It hurts.
Elias crept forward, drawn by their pain. Their screaming grew louder with each step, each voice overlapping the others, filling his head with a cacophony of need. I have to help them, he thought. How could he do anything else? Can't leave them.
He came to the end of the shrubs, and his next step would take him past the entrance to one of the spiral staircases up the walls. Kneeling, he listened, but heard no footsteps. On hands and knees he scurried forward, feeling the ground turn harder beneath his knees, then soft again. He had crossed a well-used path that led to the staircase. The grass on either side was long, not often walked. They had been right about the garden. It was overgrown and empty, and a perfect place to hide.
Pressed against the wall, he edged forward. A large hall with a rounded end protruded from the main block of the citadel, forming one of the edges of the garden. It seemed darker beneath the hall, so Elias left the concealment of the outer wall and crossed the open grass to reach it. As soon as he was there, it seemed darker back where he had just come from. From where he was standing, he would see the walkway round the walls. Anyone looking down could see him.
Called by the screaming, he hurried on. The hall was made of smooth stone, and it seemed to tingle beneath his fingers, calling out a message that was drowned out by the screaming. He had left the garden now, and there were more lights on the outer walls. As he moved closer to the front of the citadel, new voices joined in the clamour in his mind. He felt hatred like a silver blade, and a dark bitterness that came from frustration and impatience. The only happiness came from someone who was fiercely thinking, At last!
I'm coming! Elias called, though he knew no-one could hear him. He crouched in the shadow of a buttress and leaned forward, peering round the corner of the main citadel buildings. Ahead of him, to the left, was the gateway that led into the palace grounds. Opposite that gateway, low in the main block of the citadel, was the door that led to a staircase that went down into the dark. The prison cells were there. Gerhard was there. Darius was there, forever there in Elias's dreams.
He had to help them! He had to help them, but... He pressed his hand to his mouth, as though pushing back screams of his own. If he went forward, he would soon be in full view of the heavily-guarded front gate, the gate he had resolved not to approach the night before. He couldn't go ahead and leave Thurstan and the others alone, not without an explanation. Sometimes, or so he had told himself, he had to accept that he couldn't help someone, even if he wanted to more than anything. That had been his resolution, and how could he let himself fail at the first test?
He sank back into the darkness. "I can't," he breathed. He closed his eyes, but made no move to retreat. A noise alerted him and he opened his eyes wearily, but it was too late. Frozen like a rabbit beneath a hawk's stare, he could only crouch there and look up as the guard walked slowly along the walls, heading for the place where they had climbed.
Someone grabbed Elias by the shoulder, and a hand clapped over his mouth, stifling his gasp. Someone was breathing hotly on the side of his neck, but the person didn't speak, not until the guard had passed and the light of his torch had faded. "What are you doing here?" Reynard hissed.
"Someone was hurting..."
Reynard hauled him back bodily. "No!" He slammed Elias into the wall. "There are flogged men on posts. But there are guards watching them. Well-hidden, but there. There's nothing you can do. Do you want to get us all killed?"
Elias shook his head. "I'd already decided to come back." But why should Reynard believe him? The Elias he had always known would have gone forward, heedlessly embracing danger no matter what the cost. It felt sad not to be that Elias any more. He was walking away from someone who needed help, and he felt sullied by doing it, because it was wrong.
"They weren't ours," Reynard said. "Soldiers. No-one for us to bother about."
Which doesn't make any difference at all, Elias thought, but he followed Reynard back into the garden. It was so easy for Reynard, who could walk away from them without a moment's guilt. Elias had resolved to change how he acted, but nothing could change how he felt.
"We can't go in that way," Reynard said, when they were back in the garden and safe. "Too many guards."
"I saw the door," Elias murmured. "The door into the prison."
"There will be other doors."
Then they were back with the others, waiting for Julien to return and give his report. But the men were still screaming, begging him to come and save them, and that would never stop. Perhaps Elias had faced his first test and passed, but it felt more like a failure.
"He's been away for too long," Reynard was saying, anxious about Julien.
Ranulf was pointing out the place he had chosen for his hiding place. He had was going to stay here in the garden, performing the same duty as Joscelin was doing on the outside. Between them, they would make sure that the escape route was safe. Only four of them were going on from here, while seven of them had started. One by one, they were being left behind.
"A guard went past," Thurstan breathed, "but he didn't see us."
Elias wanted to clap his hands over his ears and shut out the screaming, but it would make no difference at all. It was hard to concentrate and think. Normally nothing else existed but the person in need, and that carried on until they had been saved, but this time he had to think about Thurstan and Reynard and the others. If he was inattentive, they would die.
He ran his fingers over a leaf, and tried to hear Oliver's voice, telling him about the garden. Elias, brought up in an ugly city, had been swept away by the tale. "If the Kindred ever return to Eidengard," he had promised, "I'll make sure the garden is as beautiful as ever." He had described how it wanted it to be, and then had looked at Oliver, expecting to find him laughing, but Oliver had said very earnestly that he hoped it came true just as Elias had said. "I hope you get your garden," were the words he had said.
Elias wandered away from the others, and let himself dream. The fountain would go just there, its crystal water sparkling in a place where there was no screaming. The flowers would bloom there, beneath the windows of rooms that would be open to guests and ordinary people alike. The rounded hall on the far side would be ablaze with light, and couples would stroll the walls arm in arm. There would be torches everywhere, but dark places, too, so people could see the stars or walk hand in hand, or just sit and think.
It would be beautiful and joyful, but it wouldn't ever happen. Elias sighed, and paused in a doorway in the crumbling wing to the right of the garden. Whenever he had dreamed of a happy future and painted pictures of his hopes, they had been no more than the naďve wishes of a fool. The duchy's hatred of enchantment was too entrenched. Even if the Kindred successfully fought the enemy who was threatening the world, they would never return to Eidengard. It was foolish to dream.
Like a whisper fading into silence, the pictures of a future that would never happen disappeared. Elias leant back against the door, and his hand closed around the ring-like handle. It was rusty and stiff, but on impulse he tried to turn it. The door strained against bolts on the inside, and did not open. He was about to let the handle go, when he heard the unmistakable sound of the bolt being slipped open from the inside. Someone was there.
Elias froze, afraid even to move, in case the rusty handle made a noise or his feet scraped on the stone threshold. Illusion, he thought. Hide. But illusion wouldn't work, not if someone came through the door and walked right into him. Illusions could have touch and sound as well as sight, but it the hardest illusion of all, to hide something that was there. And they can see through illusion. Reynard thought they couldn't, but how could he risk it? What if they could really see through it, or, worse, were called by it, as loud as a shout?
Neither Shadow nor enchantment could help him. He couldn't fly away, because greater works of enchantment left him too exhausted to carry on. He couldn't hold the door shut with Shadow, because the person on the other side would know someone was there and raise the alarm. Reynard would be able to slip away silently. Julien would be able to hide. Elias, who had spent a year closer to the enchantment than to the world of normal men, could do nothing but stand still and be captured.
The person on the other side was fighting the bolt, easing it along gradually and quietly, but finally it gave. Elias felt the door handle move in his moist palm as the person took hold of it from the other side, and began to turn it.
Now! he thought. As his attacker turned the handle, Elias did not fight it, but very gently let go. Then, as the door opened a menacing crack, he stepped backwards, then another step, creeping back across the garden to the cover of the bushes.
He was almost there when the door opened fully, and the man walked through, face hidden by the night.
"No sign?" a low voice said behind him.
It was an effort not to cry out, but Lankin managed it. A good soldier, he should have been alert to every sound, but Lord Darius had caught him dreaming, killing the sorcerer king again and again in his imagination.
"He will come," Darius said, and walked away as silently as he had approached.
He will come, Lankin thought. Of course he would, because Darius had said so. Lord Darius claimed to understand the enemy he had once possessed for a night and a day. That was why they had kept the leader of the mountain bandits alive, using him as bait. That was why they had strung up the dead ones, so he would see their bodies and become careless through grief. That was why they had flogged the outspoken soldiers tonight, so he would see their tortured bodies and… and what? Help them?
Lankin pressed his hand against the wall behind him. Why would a heartless sorcerer care about other people's suffering? Why did Darius think he would waste a moment's thought on such men? He would walk right past them, laughing, wanting only to rescue his henchman from the cells.
But why did he even want to do that? From the start, Darius had been certain that the sorcerer king would voluntarily leave his hiding place and come to them, if he knew that one his men was in danger. Lankin had just nodded when Darius has told him the plan, gleeful at the prospect of capturing the enemy, and had never stopped to question it, but nothing seemed so certain on this endless night of waiting. Silence brought doubts that he would have killed another man for expressing.
There were two soldiers in the shadow of a bush, watching the gate. One of them was shifting his weight from foot to foot, feeling the agonising impatience of the wait. Darius had always promised them swift victories and merciless strikes. A Soldier of Light, with his burning devotion to the cause, was not made for just standing still and doing nothing.
Lankin watched them for a little while. They were new recruits, not yet favoured by Darius. They went where they were told. They had no way of knowing that Darius could have chosen another way to take the enemy, not this trap that seemed more frail by every second. They had no cause to feel doubts.
He's coming because he wants to stop his minion from talking and betraying his hide-out, he told himself. But wouldn't it be safer for the sorcerer just to move his base, rather than come alone to the stronghold of his enemies? He’ll want to release the flogged men so he can bind them to his cause through gratitude, and create traitors to destroy us from within. But why had Darius been so careful to ensure that the prisoners were in agony, screaming their pain for the sorcerer to hear?
It made no sense. The never-ending night made it make no sense. The darkness made terrible things whisper in his mind, and made him forget that Lord Darius knew best, and there was probably some explanation that Lankin was too slow to understand. Of course the sorcerer was evil. If he entered the citadel, it would be for his own cunning reasons, and all Lankin had to do was hate him.
Lankin pushed himself away from the wall. I need to be doing something. I can't just stand here any more. He saw Gresham in the distance, his uniform faint grey in the moonlight, concealed less well than the new recruits he had been watching a moment before, and hurried up to him.
"Maybe he's coming in another way," he said. "A way we thought was impossible. There are too many of us here, anyway. I want to take a few men and scout outside the walls." He barely framed it as a request.
"Do it, then." Gresham tried for a little pride, a little concession to the pretence that Lankin needed his permission.
Without another word, Lankin strode over to the two recruits in the bushes. "Come with me," he commanded them. "We've got a job to do."
At least when he was doing something, the treacherous doubts would stop whispering in his mind. And, perhaps, he would come face to face with the evil one himself, and then he would never feel any doubts ever again.
The man walked forward, lit from behind by a faint flickering light. Reynard pushed past Thurstan to creep forward, very slowly drawing his dagger. It would take a while for the man's eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness, and the cluster of Kindred in the bushes would be invisible to him. He was alone, no other men following him through the door. Stalked by Reynard, outnumbered by the Kindred, he would die. They wouldn't be betrayed. They wouldn't die here, before they had done a thing. Everything would be all right.
Without turning his back to Reynard's drawn dagger, the man pulled the door shut behind him, closing it without a sound. Although he surely couldn't see the hidden men, he walked confidently towards them, as if he knew exactly where they were hiding. Reynard hurled himself at the man, wrapping his arms around him and dragging him back into the bushes, but he didn't kill him first, or even disarm him.
"Is it safe?" Reynard hissed, when they were hidden.
The captured man's voice was muffled by Reynard's hand at his throat. "Soldiers over there, outside." It was Julien. Thurstan let out a shuddering breath of relief. "There's a stable courtyard on the other side of the wing, like the mirror of this one, but busy. Can't go that way in. But they're around the back gate, on the far side. Too far away to hear us."
Reynard tightened his grip. "How did you get inside?"
"I climbed. There was a window open upstairs. Lots of gaps between the stones. Empty rooms at the top, just used for storage. I found stairs down, and I found the door. I knew it had to open into the garden."
Reynard pushed him away. "You shouldn't have done it." The fury in the whisper was tangible. "You should have reported back. It was too risky."
"I saw the chance. I took it." Julien sounded surly, like a child being told off. "At least I found a way in. I thought you'd be pleased."
"You shouldn't have done it," Reynard snapped. "This is too important for foolish heroics. If they'd caught you, they'd have turned the place upside-down until they found your accomplices. You could have killed your king."
Thurstan could hear footsteps, he realised, slow, close. A guard was walking the walls in darkness. Without a torch, he would see more clearly, for torchlight would leave him blind to anything outside the small area that the flame illuminated. How close had he come? Had he heard them arguing?
"Reynard." Thurstan tried to touch Reynard's arm, but he couldn't find him. "Someone's coming."
"We know," the king whispered. "Stay still."
Cowering into the ground, Thurstan waited, not even daring to breathe, as the slow footsteps passed overhead, then faded.
"You shouldn't have done it," Reynard murmured, when it was safe again, "but it's done now, and no harm has come from it." But his tone clearly said that Julien was not forgiven, and had fallen far in the estimation of his captain. Thurstan felt sorry for Julien. He knew what it felt like to disappoint your lord.
"The rooms on this side are deserted," Julien said in a flat voice, as he led them towards the door. "Store rooms, mostly. A few torches in the corridors, but dust on the floor, and only one set of footsteps, walking the same path again and again, lighting the torches every day."
They huddled close as Julien opened the door. Thurstan peered back up at the walls, then at the dark shapes of the bushes. Ranulf was there, staying with the ropes and waiting for them. They'd forgotten to say goodbye. Thurstan wanted to raise his hand in farewell, but Ranulf wouldn't see him, not unless Thurstan stood in the open doorway, framed by the light, and then anyone could see him.
"Now!" Reynard hissed. The king darted forward, his shape outlined briefly in the doorway, and then he was gone. "Hurry, boy," Reynard urged, and Thurstan took a deep breath and followed the king inside. Then Reynard joined them, and the door was shut behind him. They were inside. They were safe.
He must have breathed it aloud, for Reynard gave him a dismissive look. "Of course we're not safe, boy. The hardest part's still to come. If you relax now, you could get us all killed."
The king tried to smile at him reassuringly, but even he looked distracted and scared to be inside the enemy's stronghold. This time, not even the king could reassure him. Reynard's words echoed in his head. Of course we're not safe, as his feet sounded too loud on the stone floor. Of course we're not safe, as he saw the figure of a motionless man watching him, only to realise that it was a discarded statue, dumped in this room to decay. Of course we're not safe, as they left the storeroom and entered the corridor, where torches blazed and anyone who walked there made footprints in the dust that cried out, "I am here!" Of course we're not safe.
They were never far away from people. Sometimes they even heard voices, drifting up from the stable courtyard on the far side. If any of the guards chose to open a door that was not often opened, and enter the dusty storerooms, they would be lost.
Reynard scouted out every room before he allowed Elias to enter. When the corridor ended, Elias drifted up behind him, and pressed his hands to the large arched door that was their destination. He could feel nobody on the other side, but would he really know? Despite the link he had planted, Julien had been invisible to him when he had been unbolting the door, his thoughts and feelings carefully controlled.
With an angry grimace, Reynard pushed him away. Sword in hand, he opened the door, one hand thrust behind him in a gesture commanding the others to stay back. A few minutes later he returned, beckoning with his whole arm. They hurried through, and yet another door was closed behind them.
"Upstairs," Reynard whispered, pointing the dark opening of a spiral staircase on the right. "Rooms downstairs are used. Upstairs isn't."
They entered the darkness, feeling their way up with their hands. The staircase was cold and musty, but the rooms they emerged into were worse. A door had fallen off its hinges, letting them see the chamber beyond. The storage rooms had been deserted, but at least they had been used. These rooms had been abandoned for years. They felt lonely and sad, and Elias wished he could make them happy again.
Elias walked over to the window and looked out cautiously, keeping himself hidden. They had rounded the corner and were now in the main citadel buildings, in the upstairs rooms overlooking the garden. A guard was walking the walls from right to left, passing into the light of one torch, then disappearing into the darkness, before appearing in the light of the next one, but Elias could not see Ranulf.
"They were the guest rooms," he said, as Reynard tugged him away. "That's what Oliver says. But one of them was the seneschal's, and one was the king's. His room wasn't any bigger than the others. I wonder if we'll be able to tell."
Reynard did not tell him that it didn't matter, that they had to hurry. Reynard was as deeply affected by the Kindred's loss as anyone else. He would be finding it as moving as Elias was, if not more so, to be walking through the halls where his ancestors had once lived, the first of the Kindred to revisit them in five hundred years.
The next room was the same, and so was the next. In none of them did he see a vision, showing him how things once had been. There were no whispered messages from those who had gone before. Perhaps he was standing even now where kings had slept for a thousand years, but they could not reach over the centuries and talk to him, the last of their line. All that was left of them was an empty room, thick with dust and dank with decay. They were gone and forgotten.
Broken, something whispered. Waiting. Elias stopped walking. Oblivious to him, Reynard was about to open the next door, but a thin line of yellow showed at the bottom. Please come.
"No," Elias gasped, hurrying forward. Reynard had already opened the door, revealing a small anteroom with two other doors off it. Reynard tried the one to the right, and it opened into a corridor that stretched away towards the front of the building. At the far end of the corridor, Elias could see tapestries on the walls and a carpet on the floor. Reynard shut the door quickly, swearing under his breath, and tried the other one.
Come, the voice cried. Something grabbed Elias by the throat, making him gasp. Hurry. He felt dizzy and had to lunge for the wall to stop himself from swaying.
The door opened, and light flooded in. Reynard dropped to the ground and crawled in, but Elias just walked in after him, unable to stop himself.
"Back," Reynard urged, flapping his hand. "Back!"
They were on a gallery, edged with carved wood, that overlooked a great hall. It was the curved hall he had seen from the outside, Elias realised, but its tall windows were draped with heavy crimson velvet, thick enough to stop the glorious torchlight from seeping out. The roof was high and vaulted with vast stone arches, and the floor shone like dark gold, the colour of flame.
"I saw it," Thurstan whispered from behind him. "It was in my vision. You were there, under that arch. Oliver was... Oliver's not here. So it can't be about to come true, not yet."
And it never would be. Ciaran had been in Thurstan's vision, but he would never set foot in this hall or anywhere near it, for he was a world away and was never coming back.
"There's no-one here," Reynard said, grudgingly.
But there were so many torches, and the velvet curtains looked new. At the far end there was a throne. "On a low pedestal of grey stone," Oliver had said, "full of fossils. It was a simple wooden chair, but the seat was covered with dark blue cloth, the colour of the night sky in summer." The king had sat there during ceremonies where he had to preside, but surely it had never been like this, with gold brocade on the crimson cushions, and a drapery of fur-lined fabric arranged like a canopy above it.
In the middle of the room there was a metal cage. Elias clutched the wooden railing and leant over so far that he was almost falling. Reynard cried out, but he did not grab Elias back. Instead, he climbed over the railing, lowered himself down so he was dangling, and dropped to the floor below. He landed in a crouch, then was lurching forward, legs skidding on the shiny floor, his movements clumsy in his desperation. As he ran, he pulled out his sword.
"No!" Elias cried. He threw himself from the gallery, landed painfully, but dragged himself to his feet. But Reynard was already there, in front the cage. His momentum had run out, and he was just standing there, shoulders slumped, sword limp. As Elias stood silently beside him, he raised his left hand and pressed it to the bars, his face naked and yearning.
"I know," Elias murmured. The yearning was in his mind, too, screaming at him, impossible to resist. He brought his hand up beside Reynard's, not quite close enough to touch, and the two of them stood together for a moment, utterly silent.
"What is it?" Thurstan landed behind them with a crash, but was on his feet again, unhurt. "Oh," he breathed, as he stood beside them and saw the contents of the cage.
It was Albacrist, the crystal sword, laid out unsheathed on a red cushion, displayed like a spoil of war behind a wire mesh too small for a man to reach through. Around it were arrayed all manner of jewels and trappings of kingship, but Elias barely saw them. All he saw was Albacrist, its beauty muted as it lay captured and caged.
"They're beautiful," Thurstan breathed. "Are they...?"
"No!" Reynard whirled on him, snarling so ferociously that Thurstan recoiled. "They're not ours. We never had jewels like that. They're gaudy pieces of metal. Don't you ever suggest that our king should wear them."
Thurstan was twisting his hands painfully. "Then why...?"
His hand still on the bars, Elias wrenched his eyes away from the sword. "Darius had them made," he explained. "Or one of the dukes before him. Maybe to help spread lies about the old kings, by showing the people how decadent they were. Or maybe Darius hopes to make himself king one day, and he's made these for himself."
Thurstan lowered his eyes. "I wanted..." he began, but then he clapped his mouth shut and didn't say what it was that he had wanted.
"But the sword is ours," Reynard growled, "and it's coming back with us." He raised his sword and started to smash at the metal bars. The noise was shocking, and the bars were barely dented. With an inhuman growl, Reynard tried again, swinging the sword in both hands. The jolt when it hit the unyielding metal made him cry out in pain, but he kept his grip, pulling the sword back for another attack.
Thurstan was pleading. "No, it's so loud, they'll hear, stop him, please." He tried to grab Reynard's arm but Reynard shook him off, sending him flying backwards to land heavily on the ground.
"Reynard." Elias touched Reynard's hand, his own hand closing round the white fists on the sword. "Stop it. Please."
Reynard dropped the sword, his shoulders slumping as it clattered to the ground. "I can't." His head was lowered, but Elias thought there might be tears in his eyes.
"I think I can get it out," Elias told him, but Reynard pulled away from his touch and trudged away.
"Guard the door," Reynard commanded Julien. There was a large door beneath the overhanging gallery, and a smaller one in the corner. "See what's on the other side. See if anyone heard." His voice was weary, and he said nothing about how he had been the one to make such a noise. Everybody knew it, and Reynard didn't believe in wasting time on pointless apologies, when more important things needed to be done.
Julien opened the larger door and walked through it, closing it behind him. Hurry, the sword begged Elias. Please.
"I think I can get it out," Elias said, pressing one hand to the dented metal. Albacrist called to him, and the power inside him arced towards it, just as it always had. With Albacrist in his hand, it had once seemed to Elias as if there was nothing he could not do.
"Then do it," Reynard rasped.
Elias's fingertips curled round the bars. "It won't be easy. I think it'll be easier because it's Albacrist than it would be for anything else, but it's... It will need pure enchantment, the deeper powers. I can't do it without it hurting. I might be..." He took a deep breath. "I might be too weak to carry on."
Reynard was rubbing his thumb over the scar on his forearm. "I swore to keep you safe. Never to stand by and let you get hurt."
Hurry, the sword urged. Incomplete. Broken. Lost. Elias bit back a sob. "But it's Albacrist."
"Yes," Reynard echoed. "It's Albacrist."
Oliver had assured Elias that the Kindred could live without it, as long as they had their king, but Elias has never really believed him. He only had to look at Reynard's face to know how far from the truth Oliver's words had been. It was only a symbol, and they could live without it, but it was a symbol of hope, and no-one could live without hope. Elias had to get it back.
"Will it hurt you badly?" Reynard was asking. "If you can't walk, we can carry you. We'll still be able to get out. But if it hurts you..." He twisted his hands.
"It won't hurt too badly," Elias lied.
Reynard stalked up to the cage, pressed his fist against the bars, then walked away. "Do it, then," he snapped, without turning round.
Elias placed his other hand on the glass, and closed his eyes.
There was nothing quiet about it, nothing slow and silent and reverent. One moment the king was standing against the cage, sinking yearningly towards the bars. The next moment, there was white light everywhere, so bright that Thurstan had to shield his eyes.
The bars simply melted away, burning away to nothing beneath the king's palms. The king cried out and sank to his knees. He plunged his hand through the hole, but the sword was too far away. Moaning, he groped above him and managed to grasp hold of the bars and drag himself upright again, all the while reaching. White light flared again, and the king screamed.
"I can't watch this," Reynard rasped. He glared at the king as if he hated him, and walked out of the room, to join Julien outside.
Thurstan was left alone. The king moaned again, but then Thurstan felt something deep inside, like a flickering of light, like hope and beauty in the darkness. It was the Shadow. That's what the king had called it beneath the walls. But the king was enveloped in white light, and that meant enchantment, not Shadow, so maybe Thurstan was wrong and it wasn't the Shadow at all.
He started forward, but the king was standing a little more easily now, reaching through the hole towards the sword. He hesitated before touching it, but only for a moment. As soon as his hand closed round the hilt, he let out a long breath, and slumped to the floor.
Should I help him? Thurstan wondered. What if I distract him by touching him? The white sword was glowing now, pulsing deep inside with a whiteness that seemed to contain hints of every colour that existed. Could a normal man even touch that blade, or would he die? Was the light of the sword hurting the king, or easing his pain?
Very slowly, the king drew his arm back through the bars, bringing the sword with him. Still on his knees, he pressed it to his chest. His hair fell forward, hiding his face, but Thurstan thought he could see tears dripping from his chin.
Just as Thurstan was about to move towards him, something stabbed in his mind, loud and clashing and urgent. There were no words in it, but his head snapped up, and he cried out. "Reynard!" It stabbed again, and this time it was screaming out danger.
"My lord!" He wanted to grab the king's arm, but didn't dare touch him, not when he was lost like this. As his hands floated over the king's sleeve, the king stood up, hauling himself up by the edge of the cage. He staggered and slumped back against the metal, but didn't fall. He brought the sword up, radiating white light, and smiled the smile of someone completely lost, not even aware of Thurstan's existence.
Overcoming his fear, Thurstan took hold of his arm and shook it, his hand passing into the cloud of white light and feeling no pain. He could hear them now, outside the door. Someone was shouting and swords were clashing. With his magic sword in his hand, the king could stride out and save Reynard and Julien, but only if Thurstan awakened him to the danger.
"It's Reynard," he begged him. "They're fighting. The enemy's here. The door's not even locked. They'll be hear any minute."
Thurstan! Reynard was screaming in his mind, desperation giving his thoughts words. Is he safe yet?
Safe? Thurstan thought, but it was only an ordinary thought, and he didn't know how to let Reynard hear it. Nowhere's safe. He said so. And the king was still lost in his white light, smiling but so sad, and he'd still be there when the enemy came through the door, and all Thurstan had to defend him with was a sword he'd never been good at using, and his own body.
But he would do it, he swore. He might not be anybody much, but he could defend his king, or die trying. There was no-one else left. If he died, at least he was doing his duty, like a true member of the Kindred. He would make Gerhard proud of him.
Something crashed against the door, and Thurstan spread his arms, readying himself to die.
They slipped out through the postern gate, Lankin and his two men. "Not a sound outside," the guards assured him, but Lankin held his breath as he stooped through the dark arch, knowing that the enemy could be waiting on the other side, as silent and patient as the Soldiers of Light, ready to kill anyone who came through.
No attack came. Through the gate, Lankin straightened up, ready to defend himself, but there was no-one there. His two men, Owen and Francis, took up their places on either side of him, and the gate closed behind them. The hinges were too noisy and the bolt was stiff, and Lankin cringed at the noise, before deciding he was glad of it. No enemy could sneak through this gate without the guards knowing.
"Follow me," he told his men, beginning to lead them around the curve of the walls. He wasn't quite sure what he was looking for, only that it felt good to be doing the looking. They hugged the wall, alert for the glimmerings of impossible illusions, or armies ranged in the darkness. He looked for doorways blasted in the walls by sorcery, or ropes that dangled from the battlements.
What they found was a man.
Lankin's arm shot out, commanding his men to stop, but they had already seen the man, and were shrinking deeper into the shadow of the walls, readying their weapons. They were well trained and did not even whisper. If Lankin gave the sign, they would attack without asking questions. All the new recruits were like that, blindly obedient in a way that Lankin sometimes found a little sad, though he was grateful for it now.
The man had his back to them. He was standing idle, his hands at his side, sometimes glancing in the direction of the bridge. He was hidden in the shadow of the walls, but the moonlight was bright enough that they could see him, even to his dark hair and the broad sword that hung by his side. That meant that they were just as obvious, if he chose to turn round. Lankin brought the flat of him palm down, sharply signalling his men to drop to the ground, and they obeyed him.
Who was he? Perhaps he was an innocent citizen, but what innocent man would be skulking around the walls in the middle of the night, armed with a sword far broader than the elegant weapons the city gentlemen wore?
There was no time to hesitate. Lankin made his decision. They would kill him. If he turned out to be an innocent, then it was regrettable, but the man would be a casualty of war, a martyr to the cause. When men as evil as the sorcerer king stalked to earth, it was wrong to take chances. Lankin had no desire to harm the people under his care, but it would be the height of negligence to let an evil man escape, just because of the faint possibility that he could be someone else.
Lankin drew his sword, as silent as a whisper. Owen had a light crossbow, but Lankin shook his head at him, telling him to wait. He pressed his mouth to Francis's ear. "Keep low. Stay close to the walls. Take him down. Kill him if you have to," he added, realising that they had a very good reason not to rush into a killing. "Hurt him how you like, but it's better if he's alive for questioning."
With a nod, Francis wriggled forward. Grass rustled and clothing scraped, and Lankin tensed at each sound, but the wind was in their favour, and the man they were planning to kill was oblivious to the danger. Within seconds, Francis was invisible, his location shown only by the quivering long grass that could have been the wind. After a while, Lankin had had lost any indication of where Francis was. But if he couldn't see him, he reminded himself, the man couldn't, either.
Then Francis was there, rising out of the grass, sword flashing in the moonlight, but the man wasn't looking, so it didn't matter at all. The sword came sweeping down, but the man nimbly stepped sideways and avoided the blow, and all without turning round. It was casual, elegant. It was sheer luck, Lankin thought. He still doesn't know.
Francis halted his downward swing without losing his balance. This time he brought the sword up in both hands, planning to impale the man between the shoulder blades, but the man whirled round, and suddenly there was a sword in his hand. Francis fell, slashed across the stomach, hideously wounded, screaming. His murderer flashed a quick smile in Lankin's direction, moonlight silver on his teeth, then sheathed his sword with a casual disdain, turning his back once again.
He's playing with us, Lankin thought, and a fierce and burning anger began to fill him. Francis had been so young and devoted, and this man had killed him as if he was nothing, without even seeming to try. Lankin gestured sharply with his hand, giving his command to Owen. "Now. Don't hold back. Make him pay."
The crossbow twanged, and a bolt shot out, aimed directly at the man's back. The man turned round, but too late. The bolt hit him. It had to have hit him. Right in the chest, and there was no way he could have dodged it, not this time. But he didn't stagger, he didn't falter. With a cold smile, he drew his sword and raised it straight in front of his face like a salute, and that was all.
"Again." Owen loosed a second bolt, and the man twisted sideways, but who could dodge a crossbow bolt in the dark? It had to have hit him, and then the third one, and the fourth. Owen was unbeaten on the practice ranges, and the man wasn't even far away. There was no way he could have missed. The man was badly wounded, so why was he still standing, why was he sauntering forward with a predatory sway to his gait? Why?
It was illusion, Lankin thought. It had to be. Darius had told them all about it. Maybe the sorcerer king had greater powers, but his minions knew only illusion. "I... encountered them," Darius had told Lankin, "when I was young, before I came to the duchy. I have always made it my business to know the enemy. It is my duty, is it not?" Illusion, Darius said, only had power over those weak-minded enough to believe what they were seeing. A Soldier of Light could not see through a sorcerer's tricks, but he had the strength of mind not be misled by the impossible things he was seeing. In the mountains, Lankin had stood still while his eyes had told him that a man was about to impale him with a spear. "Not real," he had whispered, as every muscle had screamed at him to throw himself out of its path. "Not real," as he saw the spear enter his chest, and even felt a phantom of pain. It had been terrifying, but going through the cliff had been worse, when every sense had told him that he was encased in solid rock.
"It's not true," Lankin breathed, as the man still approached them, even though he must have been mortally wounded. The man had fallen, he told himself. He was even now slumped dying on the ground, but he had created this illusion of an unwounded man, who just kept on walking forward, even as the bolts struck him. It was the only explanation. No man could be so nimble as to dodge crossbow bolts in the dark. No man could be so strong as to keep on walking tall, even when wounded.
Well, Lankin would show the man what was it was like to meet a Soldier of Light in battle. He would charge at the illusionary man, and laugh as his pretended sword pierced his stomach. Then, as he had done in the mountains, he would fall on the real enemy who lurked behind the illusion. He would show him. He would kill him. He would kill the man who had murdered Francis. Every little treacherous doubt would be avenged on the body of this minion of the enemy.
"Forward!" he cried, and threw himself on the false sword, the deadly weapon that wasn't really there. But it hurt, it hurt horrendously. He smashed into a body, and the body felt real. As he slumped to the ground, the man wrenched the weapon out, and Lankin screamed.
Not real! he thought. It can't be real! His mind was weak, believing the pain, tricked into thinking the wound was real, but it wasn't. If only he could stand... He scrabbled with his hands, trying to get up, trying to find the real enemy that lay beyond. But there was blood on the man's face, and a metal bolt was protruding from his shoulder, and the muscles round his eyes were tight with pain. He looked like a real man, a badly wounded man, who had not even flinched when he had been shot. This shouldn't be happening, he thought. How could one man be so strong?
The last thing Lankin saw was the man looking down on him, blood trickling from his mouth. But he was smiling. "You're not real," Lankin whispered, but the man was still smiling. He was still smiling as he stepped over Lankin's body, and still smiling, Lankin thought, when he killed Owen. "We've lost," Lankin breathed, as the pain surged to fill the whole world, and the terrible smile of his murderer chased him into the gibbering darkness.