Read Issola Online

Authors: Steven Brust

Tags: #Fantasy - Epic, #Fantasy - General, #Epic, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character) - Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #General, #Fantasy, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character), #Historical, #Fiction, #Fantasy fiction - lcsh

Issola (10 page)

"They have two of them; why haven't they killed them?"

"You know how hard it is to kill the wielder of a Great Weapon."

"I remember a Jhereg who managed it, once."

"So Morrolan told me. Yes, it can be done, by a judicious combination of sorcery, surprise, and more sorcery. But even then, had Morrolan not been returned to life, Blackwand would have continued to guard his soul. And it might have done far more than that; the Jhereg assassin was a fool. By now, Vlad, you should begin to understand something about the Great Weapons."

That shut me up. I remembered some of the tricks those things can do. Once I had seen Aliera - but never mind.

"But can they continue to hold Morrolan and Aliera captive?"

"It seems they can. I hadn't thought so, and I still don't know how."

"Probably with help from the Serioli," I suggested.

She actually looked startled. At least, she sat back in her chair and stared at me. That was twice in the same conversation; I felt smug.

"Well, well," she said after a moment. "You know more than I should have thought." I shrugged.

"Yes, it may be the Serioli," she agreed. She frowned, and seemed lost in thought. It flashed through my mind that I had never before seen her lost in thought, and the idea of that powerful mind bending its energies in some direction made me feel more puny and pathetic than all the pyrotechnics she had displayed before. What was I doing here, anyway?

you remember, Boss? You're going to
kill her."

"Oh, right. That."

Verra finished her thought. "It is complex," she announced. "They are playing a deep game, and there is no way to understand all of it at this stage."

I stared at the ceiling, which was white, and very high over my head. I said, "Isn't it a pain when you have to come up with a plan based on incomplete information?" No one responded. I said, "Goddess, do you have a guess about what killing you has to do with it? I mean did they think I actually could, and would, or was it just a complex piece of subterfuge?"

She said, "Oh, anything they can do to make me uncomfortable is all to the good, as far as they're concerned; it may be nothing more than that. If it is part of something deeper, then I don't know what. Yes, it is very possible that they expected you to march in here and kill me. Or perhaps they hope merely to confuse me, and hinder my efficiency."

" 'The ways of the gods are mysterious,' " I quoted.


"Also annoying, capricious—"

Teldra gave my arm a squeeze, and I shut up.

"Goddess," said Teldra. "Can you tell us what we are to do?"

"What to do?" she said. "In order to accomplish what? In order to serve whom? Me? Aliera? Morrolan? Sethra?"

"I was thinking of the Serioli," I said. "At least, no Serioli has ever annoyed me. That makes them unique on the list."

Verra snapped her head toward me, and I couldn't keep myself from flinching. She noticed it and smiled, and I felt myself flushing.

"If you please, Goddess," said Teldra, "you were telling us what we ought to do."

"Yes," she said. "I was. The problem is not only that we do not know everything; it is also that we do not all have the same interests. This makes the problem complicated."

"Simple things are never problems," I told her. "Unfortunate, maybe, but if it isn't complicated, it isn't really a problem."

The Goddess nodded. "Very good, Vlad; I didn't expect such wisdom from you." I grunted and didn't tell her I was quoting my grandfather; I'd rather she stayed impressed.

"The Jenoine," said the Goddess, "have achieved access to your world on several occasions, most recently just a few years ago. We have beat off attacks on the Great Sea of Chaos, on the Halls of Judgment, on the Imperial Palace, and, lately, on Dzur Mountain. Their efforts have not been successful. I will share with you some of my thoughts." I almost said, "Thank you so much," but caught myself.

She continued, "I cannot think why they are making this effort so recently after their last failure. Two possibilities come to mind: the attack on Dzur Mountain was part of something larger, and this is another piece of it; or they have had a sudden and unexpected opportunity."

"If they were looking for an opportunity, why didn't they make their move during the Interregnum?"

"What makes you think they didn't?" said Verra.

"Oh," I said.

We fell silent, then, in the Halls of Verra; and for the first time I wondered where we were. Up in a mountain?

Beneath the ground? Floating in the air like Castle Black? On another world?

"First of all," said the Goddess suddenly, "you must free Morrolan and Aliera."

"No," I said. "That's just what they're expecting us to do."

"You are jesting," she said. "But are nevertheless correct." I shrugged. "All right. How?"

She frowned. "Describe for me how they are held."

I did so, and she said, "Very well. I am familiar with the substance. Here is what you must do," and she told me.

"Oh," I said. "And that will work?"

"I believe so."

"You believe so? What if you're wrong?"

"Then perhaps the Jenoine won't kill you for trying."

"Great. All right. Say it works. What then?"

"If Morrolan cannot reach through to his portal, then it is because the Jenoine are preventing him from doing so. You must force
them to stop."

"Force them?"


"And just how do I go about doing that, or are you going to
express confidence that I'll come up with something?"

"Come, my little Easterner. Have all your years in the Jhereg been
wasted? Do you not even know how to threaten and intimidate?"

Just then, I felt about as intimidating as a norska. I said, "Usually, Goddess, in order to make a threat, one requires the power
to carry it out. At least, one requires this in cases where the
threat won't be believed."

"Very good, little one. You search for the general law that applies to the specific case. You have become a philosopher."

I hadn't known it was that easy.

She said, "Once Morrolan and Aliera are free, Pathfinder and
Blackwand ought to prove a sufficiently intimidating threat, don't
you think?"

"Okay," I said. "I mean, they intimidate me."

"Well, there you have it," said the Goddess.

"But don't tell them I said so. What do we do then? I mean, after
I've released Morrolan and Aliera, threatened the Jenoine into
letting us go, and let Morrolan bring us home. I mean, that's just
enough to get us warmed up; you must have a whole plan after

"You will then return to Castle Black and await my orders."

I opened my mouth to object, and then shut it. Yes, if there was
one place I'd be safe, it was Castle Black - there are reasons for
that going back to ancient history, but I won't go into them now.

"All right," I said. "Sure. No problem. Except that the Jenoine will have anticipated this, won't they? And they'll have made
plans for it."

"Yes," said the Goddess.

"So you're saying that this will all be a trap."


"But we're not worried about the trap, because we'll have secret weapon prepared for them."

"What secret weapon is that, little one?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me."

"Your courage, wits, and skill at improvisation, little one. That is our secret weapon."

"Oh, good."

"And, my dear Easterner, do not make the mistake of thinking that I jest; I am quite serious."

"Oh, better."

"There is no question in my mind that you can do it."

"Oh, best."

"Do you doubt me, Taltos Vladimir?"

"Perpetually, Demon Goddess."

She gave a short barking laugh. "Go now. Make trouble for the Jenoine instead of for me, and I, I will do as I have been doing: watching over your family."

That was a low blow - there just wasn't anything I could say to it. I wanted to ask how my grandfather was doing, but I wouldn't give her the satisfaction.

"All right," I said.

"Lady Teldra," said the Goddess. "You may stay here, if you wish."

"Thank you, Goddess, but I will accompany my friend." There was something so matter-of-fact about the way she called me her friend that it caught me up short.

"As you wish," said Verra. Then she frowned. "Of course, I'm not entirely certain how to get back to Morrolan and Aliera."

I sighed. "I suppose you could return us to Castle Black, and we could do it all over again."

"What exactly did you do, little one?"

So I told her that, and her eyes narrowed. "Let me see this chain," she said, so I let it fall into my hand and held it out to her but instead of just lying there like it was supposed to, it twisted
and curled in my hand until it was hanging in midair, my
hand providing a base, coiled like a snake about to strike - in particular, about to strike Verra, who drew back with a sharp intake of breath. I almost let go of the chain, but didn't quite. It had never done that before.

"Goddess," I said. "I didn't—"

"I know," she said. She gritted her teeth and said, "You have no idea, do you?"

“I –“

"Never mind."

She reached out and made motions in the air with her forefinger, and where her finger had been there was a dark line in air, roughly the size and shape of a sword. It quickly filled and I was staring at the image of Pathfinder, hanging in the air in front of me.

"Go ahead," said the Goddess. "Do it."

I hated to sound like an idiot, but, "Do what?" I said.

"Make contact between your toy and Aliera's."

I swallowed. I wasn't entirely happy with the way my "toy" behaving, but I couldn't think of any good way to get out of doing what she wanted. I started to take a step forward to bring the chain into contact with the image, but it was ahead of me - it reached out on its own, and seemed to grow longer. No, dammit, it did grow longer. The end of it wrapped around the image of Pathfinder's hilt. I braced myself for something to happen when they made contact, but I felt nothing. I concentrated most of my energy on trying to look as if I wasn't at all disturbed by any of this.

"All right," said the Demon Goddess. "I've found them."

Teldra came up next to me and put her hand on my right arm.

The Goddess gave an aimless gesture with her right hand, and a rectangular shape appeared to my left - like the frame of a door, glowing a sort of dull red, and just sitting in the middle of the room. The other side of it looked exactly like this side of it, just showing more of Verra's pasty-white hall.

"Step through," said the Goddess. "And good luck."

"Thank you so much," I said, and, Loiosh on my shoulder and Teldra at my side, walked through the doorway into nothing.



The worst part of that means of transportation was that nothing happened. When I teleport, even without the waves of nausea, there is still the time-delay, and the twisting sense of movement in some inexplicable direction. And then there's Morrolan's window - however that works: you may not feel anything, but you at least see that you are stepping through something, from one place to another, and if there is no reason for those places to be near each other, well, you can use the window to fool your mind. But with this there wasn't even that: one instant I was standing before the Demon Goddess, in her Halls, wherever they were, and then everything was different - I weighed more, the air smelled funny, and the walls were different - that much I approved of. It's damned lucky I didn't have to do anything as I arrived, because I was in no condition to defend myself from a playful kitten. And, on top of it, I had an instant of terror before I realized that I was, in fact, back in the same place I'd left Morrolan and Aliera, just in a different part of the room and facing a different direction; but turning around, I saw them, across the room and still attached to their wall. My heart rate returned to normal, leaving only the lingering question of what I'd have done if Verra had misplaced me.

Some questions demand answers; others one prefers to just put away and not think about. Aliera and Morrolan were looking at me. I gave them a jaunty salute from across the room, and walked up to them. Aliera said, "Well?"

"Well, what?"


"Oh. The Demon Goddess? I killed her, of course."

They both immediately glanced over my shoulder at Teldra, who must have given some sign, because Aliera gave me a disgusted look, while Morrolan said, "Your sense of humor, Vlad, leaves something—"

"Yeah, yeah," I said. "Save it. Have our hosts been back '"

"Not yet."

"Well, we should expect them any time."

Aliera gave Morrolan a glance that I interpreted as, "Look who's the strategist now?"

"And then we'll do what?" asked Morrolan.

"What happened with Verra?" asked Aliera.

I answered the second question. "The Goddess and I discussed politics," I said. "And, in fact, I failed to so much as draw this . . . thing."

It hung at my hip, that thing. I had avoided studying it, or really looking at it, but I did so now. It had a shiny black polished hilt, with a simple silver crosspiece, knobbed on the ends. The pommel was also silver: a round ball that would hurt like a bitch if I cracked it on someone's head. The hilt was a bit smaller than usual with Dragaeran weapons, but that was okay, because my hands are small, too. It was very smooth and cool to the touch, I remembered. The blade, which I hadn't yet seen would be of that ugly, dull, grey-black metal that Morganti blades always have, and might have a blood-groove in it; I didn't take it out to look. It was long for a knife and short for a sword. Impractical in every way, and was probably not even balanced all that well, most likely being a bit bladeheavy. This, of course, was useful for chopping away in battle - military-issue swords are often blade-heavy - but chopping away in battle was not something I did much of.

And it was very strong. I could feel it, even through the sheath - a sort of presence in the back of my mind, whispering its hunger. It wanted to kill, and couldn't care a copper penny who or what it killed; as vicious as a Dragon in the heat of rage, as heartless as a Dzur on a spree; as cold as an Orca closing a deal. I hated it.

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