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He refocused on Blotto just as the smile faded from the man’s lips and his mouth drew tightly closed, as if he were desperately trying to stifle a belch. His eyes shown suddenly wide and intense, yet their expression had not changed so much as become frozen in stasis. His shapeless body jerked once, his flesh seemed to roll as does water in a boat’s wake, and then his fat lips were parted by what first seemed his tongue, but was revealed to be a budding red rose, which emerged into the fire-light and blossomed its pedals, spilling blood onto the gangplank and filling the air with scent. Glancing to the hand with which the man gripped Rosethorn, Dravidian saw that she’d sprouted thorn-studded rose stems, which had penetrated Blotto’s beefy wrist and chewed their way through his body.His heel lifted off the wood and his ankle seemed to lock with paralysis, and then his body listed to the right and he began to fall. The rose imploded as if growing in reverse, retracting into his mouth which fell shut with the clacking of teeth, and an instant later Rosethorn fell to the plank and Dravidian stooped to snatch her up. Blotto’s body fell into the void.
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To the End of Ursathrax
The Ferryman Pentalogy, Volume 5
Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Published by Wayne Kyle Spitzer, 2017.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
TO THE END OF URSATHRAX
First edition. November 13, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
Written by Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Prologue | Black Hole
I | Poised to Strike
II | The Calling of the Cloud of Witnesses
III | The Fire-eater
IV | Chantilly
V | The Man of Branigan
VI | The Children
VII | The Widow
VIII | Pepperlung
IX | The Ferrymen
X | Dravidian No More
XI | White Fountain
XII | Attack
XIII | Confusion
XIV | Trapped
XV | Rosethorn
XVI | Sihadi
XVII | Convergence
XVIII | Into the Depths
XIX | Betrothed to the Blade
XX | Synergique Amore
XXI | The Revolutionary
XXII | Different Paths
XXIII | The Boar Eels
XXIV | Wrapped Around Him
XXV | Epilogue
“... art thou listening?” the prefect was saying.
Dravidian straightened. “Very much so, Prefect,” he lied.
“Clearly thou wert not. I just told thee to meet me at your gondola in one quarter of an hour. Yet you have not taken a single step.”
“I would not presume to walk before you, Prefect.”
Asmodeus smiled. “Ah, very good.” He began moving in that direction. “I understand thou visited the cellblock ...”
Dravidian thought quickly. “I—yes. I had considered speaking to her in private ... in the hope of encouraging her to submit. But I changed my—”
“Therefore my promise has been rescinded.”
Dravidian looked up sharply—saw only the prefect’s hunched back. “The girl shall be put to torment. Therefore it’s possible she shall live, and it’s possible she shall not. That depends on the both of thee. Thou wilt be present for the excruciation, Master Dravidian.”
He had arrived slightly early, he knew, but was about to enter the brightly-illuminated tent anyway when he heard a pronounced and prolonged sniffing—and stopped dead just outside the open door-flap, after which he turned away slowly, delicately. He wasn’t sure what the sound had been; but he could see his master’s shadow far beyond his own on the deck before him, and Shekalane’s, too: she knelt between his gondola and the ignudi cage while the prefect again lingered by its door, and this time, Dravidian was quite certain that Asmodeus was reaching into it, at least until he moved away from it at last and appeared to circle Shekalane slowly.
“Fear not, dear woman,” he heard Asmodeus tell her. “We are not as harsh as we look.”
Dravidian stared forward as the River breathed around them like a giant.
“Such a beautiful creature,” the prefect went on. “What a pity thou should be ... wasted. We prefects can, of course, grant amnesty.”
It was a lie. No one could undermine the Lucitor’s authority, not even a prefect of the ferrymen.
Asmodeus stopped in front of her at length. “Surely, thou dost know what I mean, yes?”
She did not answer and Dravidian saw him pluck gently at her hair.
“Oh, come, such doors have been opened before thee before. Unless, of course, thou art too pure. Tell me, beautiful creature, art thou too pure?”
When still she did not answer the prefect continued, “Thou playest the enigma, and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But I tell thee clearly: a purity such as that would bear fruit somewhere in the record. And I have such a record right here.”
There was a rustling of pages as the prefect appeared to consult his ledger.
“Ah, yes, here it is. Shekalane Ravencraft ... tile number 232-77-7217 ... chosen in the autumn tumbling, notified by courier on ....” He trailed off abruptly. “Oh, now ... what is this?”
Dravidian’s pulse quickened as a flickering green-white light filled the tent. A hologram. The hologram.
“You have carried out a brilliant deception for the cause, my love,” he heard Valdus say. “But time is a luxury we are running out of fast. I ask that you wait here while I attend to something.”
Then, Shekalane’s voice, as smooth and vespertine as the twilight: “And I ask that you make time for me. This one time. Help me to help you.” —followed by the sound of trousers being unbuckled.
Asmodeus broke his silence. “Well now, isn’t this interesting?”
“And if I refuse?” Valdus again. “Will you have the stomach for what comes next?”
“Let me show you what I have the stomach for ...”
“Tell me, Shekalane,” Asmodeus whispered at last, appearing to watch intently. “What was going through thy mind as thou bestowed this great affection upon our mortal enemy?”
“Yes, Shekalane ... like that ...”
“Was it appreciation for the hundreds killed in random attacks across Ursathrax in the last year alone?”
“Oh, God, yes ...”
“Or was it for the love of the suffering and starvation caused by his relentless raids upon our barges and farmlands and supply ships?”
“Yes ...” Grunting and moaning. “Your skills as a courtesan ... remain unrivalled ...”
“Or was it just ... base carnality ... perhaps even pure ignorance ...”
“Ahhh ... Ahhhh ...”
Asmodeus closed the book slowly.
Dravidian’s head ached as the prefect paced around her once again.
“And thus we return to the heart of the matter. For if it was the former, I dare say thou knowest what comes next. He, our Lucitor, will feed thee to thyself bit by bloody bit—only to resurrect thee and do it again. But if, say, it was the latter ... Surely thou dost knowest—a beauty such as yours could not help but knowest—that there are ... options. Options which bear with them an official writ of amnesty and freedom from the Lottery forever.”
Dravidian could listen to no more. Asmodeus had grown drunk on the dust and sought to rape her! His mind reeled from the realization; it all made sense now: the prefect’s passion and grandiosity during the bulk of their conversation in his cabin ... his gradual mellowing as the dust released its hold—a prefect of the ferryman had become a common addict!
And now Shekalane was in danger not just of torment and death but of the ultimate violation—indeed, of the very thing she feared the most, the very thing which had made service to the Lucitor so repugnant to her. The notion filled him with despair: Was there nothing in Ursathrax that was not decaying? Must the integrity of the ferrymen wane also?
“I would rather open my legs to a snake,” he heard Shekalane hiss, and it sounded as though she spat at him.
He saw the prefect’s outline backhand her, heard Shekalane crumple to the deck. He could see their shadows clearly now: a bent, witch-like figure with its arm held out and its fingers dangling ... and the subtle curves of a woman, writhing near the floor. The two outlines lay parallel along the boards like creeping shades as he glared at them in disbelief.
It appeared she grabbed his ankle—and bit it. He swiped the back of his hand across her face again. “Rebellious Whore!”
Dravidian’s heart knocked against his chest. He saw her shadow crawling toward the gondola but tried not to watch, choosing instead to focus on the silhouettes of the ignudi, who careened about their cage furiously, frightened by the proximity of the violence.
She cried out and he nearly burst into the tent; instead he again looked to the shadow-play in front of him: the prefect had grabbed her by the arm and was wrestling her from the boat. She resisted vigorously and he threw her to the deck; it looked as though he stepped on her throat.
“What a sweet beast thou art,” he said, and added, “I’m sorry, did I say ‘beast?’ I meant, of course, bitch ... Dravidian? Is that thee loitering outside the flap?”
He froze. “I—yes, my lord. I heard a commotion ... and didn’t think it my place to—”
“Stop your speaking and enter.”
He entered the tent ... and could only stare at her, for she was bleeding from lacerations to her forehead and right temple.
Asmodeus said: “Behold how frightened your charge is, ferryman. Didst thou terrorize thy poor thing? If so it has made her ... willful.” He studied him carefully before shifting his eyes to Shekalane and back. “Easy, ferryman. That is none of thy concern. I tried to offer this striking young woman her life. But instead she resisted ... and now we shall proceed with the excruciation as planned.” He held out a set of keys. “Go to the cage and bring me an elfemale.”
Dravidian noticed that his pale lips bore hints of golden glitter. It was quite obviously ignudi dust. Staring into his eyes, he could tell the prefect had been corrupted by it. He hesitated even as Asmodeus rattled the keys impatiently.
For he knew now what the prefect intended, and did not know if he could stand by while such an abomination unfolded. Indeed, he knew nothing save that he loved Shekalane and had betrayed her beyond any hope of redemption; that no matter what he did now it was far too late, and that the darkness, the sub umbra, the shadow behind, would win out at last. And that this total annihilation, this consuming of all light and sound and thought, was precisely what he deserved, although it was not what Shekalane deserved, not what Chantilly had deserved, not what the boy or his father from so many years hence had deserved—not what anyone born of any time and place did. And yet surely that was the way of things, it had been since the beginning of time, and he knew also that any salvific action on his part or any other’s would have to wait until the next life, the next age, when the all-consuming dark might once again explode into a new age, a new epoch—a once and final chance to set things right.
Black hole, white fountain.
It had all come down to this; everything which had come before was preamble. And now, standing at the vanguard of an army numbering in the thousands, Valdus was ready. In a sense, he had the ferryman’s raven to thank for it: the creature had led them on a jolly good goose chase to the end of Cuniculum Amoris, but they had used that detour to extract conscripts from every village, town and city along the way. And while the quality of recruits was not always what he would have liked, their numbers alone would prove valuable beyond measure; for the Revolution would not be won by the tip of the spear alone—that is, his original army—but also by a sturdy shaft with which to drive it. And now that he had that, he knew the Revolution might yet prevail.
Even now he found their reversal of fortune after the debacle in Flax almost too amazing to believe. Who among them could have imagined that they would more than quadruple their numbers so soon after? Or that a spy once thought lost should suddenly reestablish contact and alert him to the fact that a turncoat ferryman and a beautiful woman in green had been apprehended on the River Dire—by Asmodeus himself? And while he had no idea why Shekalane and her ferryman should return to Styx Flumen, the fact that they had had allowed him to salvage most of his original plan.
And yet many uncertainties remained, foremost among them: Would Shekalane detonate the ring? For if she did not, they would have no choice but to storm the dragger while its shields remained intact, which meant their archers would be useless (for the fast-moving bolts would merely bounce off the fields). More importantly, it meant Asmodeus would still be alive and thus coordinating a response to their attack—and that, Valdus knew, could be the difference between success and failure. Nor was it merely the success or failure of a single battle which concerned him; for Hirth was correct in asserting that they would never get a second chance at such an operation.
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