Dark Debts (Mage Knight 2)

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9780345459695: Dark Debts (Mage Knight 2)

Inspired by the popular game, the adventure continues as the mighty force of change rages across the Atlantean Empire—and exiles mount a sinister campaign of their own. . . .

MAGE KNIGHT: DARK DEBTS

As the dedicated members of the Black Powder Rebels make their move against the Atlantis Guild, chaos spreads throughout the Land. A group of Elves called the Necropolis Sect has devoted itself to mastering the dark arts and raising creatures from the grave. Driven from Atlantis years ago, they have established a hidden city of the dead in the distant Serpine Mountains.

An accomplished assassin from the Necropolis Sect, Kerraii is the mistress to Sarnen, an influential Death Speaker. Indebted to Sarnen for sparing her family, Kerraii belongs entirely to him body and soul. But after being sent into combat against Atlantis, Kerraii is imprisoned as a Magestone miner. While struggling to hide her true identity, she discovers a secret that could mean her freedom from Sarnen’s control. But will she be able to escape the clutches of slavery to plot her revenge?

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Includes an exciting new Mage Knight game scenario

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

After obtaining a degree in wildlife illustration and environmental education, Doranna Durgin spent a number of years deep in the Appalachian Mountains, riding the trails and writing SF and fantasy books (A Feral Darkness, Wolverine’s Daughter). She now lives in the Northern Arizona mountains, where she still writes and rides, focusing on classical dressage with her Lipizzan. There’s a mountain looming outside her office window, a pack of dogs romping in her house, and a laptop sitting on her deskæand that’s just the way she likes it.

Visit the author’s Web site at www.doranna.net.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

420 Tz

The dank odor of damp stone and old straw filled the room, familiar and stinging. Like all of Necropolis, this room held the stink of untold years of death magic, of power bought by the suffering of innocent and tortured souls, of blood spilled, life debased, and foul treachery revered and rewarded.

Kerraii stared impassively at the sorry collection of Elves and humans before her; they stared back with no apparent understanding of her control over their fates.

This lower room was one of many carved out of the rocky island that held Necropolis. It resided in Sarnen's tower, a building identical to the eleven others ringing the more impressive Prophet's tower. Twelve towers for the Deathspeaker Orders and another for the Dark Prophet, the bone avatar that contained the essence of the Grand Magus Tezla, father of them all. Thirteen towers, connected by complex tunnels--some of them public and some of them most decidedly not. Above ground, sky bridges connected the twelve Order buildings to one another and to the other major buildings of Necropolis; the rest of the city was a vast maze of edifices, streets, and secretive, walled courtyards that stank of blood and corruption. But here in the lower levels of Sarnen's Order, Kerraii faced this tightly packed chamber of used up slaves and contemplated their fate.

It was a fate already decided. These slaves were old, or simply too weak to be of any further use. From child to elder, they no longer served her Lord Sarnen as they should. And they offended her nose with their rank fear and unwashed bodies.

Not for much longer.

Those still showing a spark of intelligence and life regarded her with wary understanding. They knew what she was--a Nightblade, blooded and trained and battle proven, bearing blade and specialized strap harness, her sleek black hair pulled back into a tight, stern ponytail that merely served to emphasize her stunning, refined Elvish features. Nightblades. Assassins. The ultimate in cold death and beauty combined. If the Nightblade style also provided a subtle visual reminder of the stern and unquestioning loyalty expected of her and her sister Nightblades, such thoughts remained unspoken among those who served Sarnen.

As Kerraii served him. Kerraii, Deathspeaker Sarnen's own. His mistress, his most trusted Nightblade, an ex-Wylden Elf who'd moved on to new ways.

Those who resented her position and the relative security it lent her often looked for ways to annoy her, to debase her, like the Death Merchant Skulk, who'd found a way to assign her this menial duty. Skulk's vindictive hatred had been a part of Kerraii's life since her arrival in the dark city, when she'd supplanted him at Sarnen's side. Skulk had never been anything more than a momentary pet project to the Deathspeaker, a human in Dark Sect ranks . . . and he'd never been able to accept the temporary nature of that role. Instead he turned his hatred and revenge on Kerraii. She'd long ago learned to expect it.

Now she forced a bored note into her voice; her gaze skipped over the miserable slaves, never settling long in one place, or on one face. "You have served what purpose you can in your present state," she told them, using the Atlantean tongue she'd learned upon coming to this place eight years earlier. They all knew it; the humans had come here knowing it and the Elves learned it to survive, as had she. Even after all this time of interacting with humans on a daily basis, they still looked short to her--short and stout, though some much more than others. Now no one here carried enough flesh to be called stout.

Not anymore.

"It is time to move on. In this you have no choice, but you do have the ability to affect the nature of your continuing service."

They exchanged fearful glances at that. They understood perfectly that such choices were never between anything but the lesser of two evils. But they voiced no question or protest. That, too, they had learned. On this day, Zombie guards stood by both of the chamber's exits, filling the doorways with their bulk and their faint, pervasive odor. Their simple-minded efficiency and unquestioning loyalty made them frighteningly effective guards; in this case Kerraii used them mostly for show. Should this entire chamber full of pathetic slaves choose to revolt, she could easily handle them on her own. Geared up in her battle harness of strategically aligned leather strapping, she was ready for it.

She was Sarnen's chosen.

"From here," she told them, standing as lightly poised for action as she ever was, "you will go to the pits. And in the pits you will die." She paused to let it sink in, if there were any left who could even comprehend or care.

In the middle of them all, an Elvish head lifted. Dark brown hair, lank and dirty as was the norm. Eye color hidden by the shadows of the torch- and candle-lit room. Perhaps there was an unusual spark of awareness behind the old claw wounds scarring her face. She reminded Kerraii of . . . something. Of things she might once have known but had discarded along the way.

Kerraii met the Elf's gaze with a cold, black-eyed look and judged she'd given them all long enough. "It is your fate to serve as baiting partners for blood-pit trainees and champion warm-up exercises." Kerraii knew those pits. The blood, the screams, the stench of horrible, agonizing death. In those pits, the Dark Sect Elves earned their notoriety and clawed their way up the ranks of Necropolis. The pits held no mercy, no quarter, and the promise of gruesome demise for any who were not quick enough, clever enough . . . or cruel enough.

The slaves knew those pits as well. Many of them had hauled away the horribly mangled bodies it produced.

Kerraii watched her words sink through to them and added, "The choice you make is this. Fight well and provide a challenge for your opponent, and a Necromancer will immediately return you to life, essentially intact--including your spirit. Provide a poor showing, and several hours will pass before your body is brought back to be inhabited by a random spirit, turning your body into a dumb shell, a Zombie. Your existence will be an endless tragedy."

Kerraii paused then, glancing meaningfully over her shoulder where a shuffling female Zombie entered the room to attend her one and only chore: trimming candlewicks. She was one of several Zombies who made the endless rounds of Sarnen's tower rooms, snuffing out candles, pinching off the wicks so the candles would burn clean and long, and relighting them. Layers of wax covered her fingers, dripping down her hands and along her ragged sleeves; soot marked her hands and shift; and her bare feet walked cold stone floors, picking up stains and dirt. Her feet had gone unwashed for so long that the filth crept up her ankles and shins. This mindless chore would be hers until some accident befell her, or until she shuffled in front of the wrong person at the wrong time and earned a final death.

Her presence here was hardly a coincidence. Where Kerraii's words meant little to a wrung out batch of slaves accustomed to misery and threats, the sight of the Zombie woman caught their attention. They were used to Zombie guards, big and hulking and barely human; they barely truly looked at them anymore. But they could easily see what Kerraii saw in this Zombie woman--that she had been young and pretty and had a mouth meant for smiling. Kerraii gave her own little smile, but it had a dry and bitter edge.

She turned back to the slaves and found that same scarred Elvish woman watching her. While the others reacted with moans of fear and despair and useless expressions of determination--all things Kerraii was used to seeing, and all of which would do them no good whatsoever--this woman's face remained calm. Calm, and touched by . . .

Was that pity?

Startled, Kerraii looked back long enough to be sure. Yes. Pity. In an instant fury flashed through her. She was Kerraii of the Sect Elves, and she'd risen to her status in record time. She was favored of Sarnen, superbly trained and tutored, and had as much security as anyone in this city--enough to raise the envy that had spurred Skulk to maneuver her into this job. She needed no one's pity.

But through her fury--a fury she allowed to show nowhere but in her black eyes--she understood. The pity was for the very thing she was now forced to do, to send these miserable people from their sorry lot to a fate literally worse than death.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a scuff of sound in the corridor. The Elf woman heard it too; Kerraii saw it in her eyes as they broke contact, impressed despite herself that the woman was so alert. The others were as expected, far too immersed in their own fate to heed such subtle clues.

Kerraii turned an annoyed look toward the entrance as the Zombie guard moved aside. Not much to her surprise at all, Skulk came into view at the door, cloaked and cowled and shadowed to hide his features, as if his short stature weren't enough to reveal his human nature. Here within the Ring of Towers, he usually kept a modest pose--but as one of very few humans to have advanced so far in the Necropolis meritocracy, in the city and countryside he did not fail to present himself in the hard-earned bone helm and armor he'd earned.

Unless he was trying to bully Kerraii.

"Why are these slaves not processed yet?" he demanded, gesturing forward the Seething Knight who had escorted him here. The knight eyed Kerraii, assessing her. Skulk said, "Is there a reason for the delay?"

Kerraii was more interested in the third figure lurking behind him, the one attired in simpler robes and a respectful posture. She did not rise to Skulk's verbal prod. "Merely assuring they are properly motivated before they go to the pits," she said, using the language of the Sect Elves for privacy . . . and because she knew he preferred Atlantean.

"A waste of time," he said. &quo...

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