When the great hero of the city of Idriss is murdered, Vidar, the Lord of Silence, must take his place as chief defender against the mysterious terrors lurking in the dense forest beyond the city’s walls. But Vidar is a man tormented – by a lost memory and a vampire jewel that demands the life energy of others. Now, with a killer loose within Idriss, and the threat from without mounting, Vidar must solve a three thousand year-old religious mystery to unlock the terrifying secrets of his own past.
Published by Solaris (2009)
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“You can torture me all you want, but I will never tell.” After so long in his cell in the dark depths of the Palace of Justice, the filthy, wild-haired man shielded his eyes from the glare of the torchlight.
“Torture you? You tease me with possibilities. However, on this occasion I am fated to be disappointed, for you have another role to fulfil.” Flamboyant and urbane, Cheyne prodded the prisoner with his rapier until he stepped into the chamber. Cheyne was red-haired, with a close-clipped beard and moustache and carried himself with the air of an aesthete, though a dark shadow of damage and corruption lay just beneath the surface.
“Where is this?” the prisoner said as he suspiciously looked around the luxurious interior. Though the furnishings were elegant and expensive and far beyond the dreams of most residents of Idriss, the quantity and haphazard placement made the chamber resemble a cave of spoils.
“The quarters I share with my brave comrades-in-arms.” Cheyne sniffed. “And quite befitting our status in the Crimson Hunt.”
“Who do we have here, Cheyne?”
The prisoner jumped at the growling voice emanating from the shadows in one corner of the chamber. A figure leaped by him, lithe and low like a wolf, muscles hardened by a childhood in the desolate northern mountains, the wild hair and beard adding to the bestial appearance; two fingers were missing from his left hand. A deep joy appeared to be permanently on the brink of bursting out of him.
“A traitor, or somesuch.” Cheyne sighed and waved the question away with a flourish. “The gaolers found him in the depths of that foul place.”
The prisoner eyed them. “I will never tell. I am loyal to my city.”
“Yes, yes,” Cheyne said dismissively. “Asgrim, will you show him through? I fear I cannot stomach the smell any longer.” With mounting horror, Cheyne noticed a black smudge on his shirtsleeve. “Damn him. That will never come out. Do you know how much this garment cost me on Cantolet Street?”
“Cheyne, you would sell your mother for a pair of Feegrum boots or a silk kerchief.” Asgrim swept his arm to invite the prisoner towards a door at the rear of the chamber.
The prisoner hesitated. “What is this trickery?”
“Trickery?” Asgrim said with mock-affront. “We invite you into our home, and you accuse us of deception?”
Cheyne sighed. “If you attempt to escape through the window in the adjoining room, we shall be forced to come after you. Of course, the chance of locating you among the swarming populace of this great city is slim, to say the least. But be warned, nonetheless.”
The prisoner’s eyes gleamed. Still unsure, he shuffled towards the door, and with a backward glance stepped through it.
It took a second for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Only a thin sliver of light leaked through the heavy covering at the window, but he saw it was a bedroom. In the centre stood a four-poster bed, its curtains drawn tightly. As he padded eagerly towards the window, a low moan rolled out from the bed. The prisoner hesitated, but his curiosity got the better of him and he gingerly pulled back one of the curtains to see what was within.
On the bed lay a man so frail he must have been only a breath away from death. His parchment skin was dry, and his bones showed through here and there like bruises. Though barely thirty, whatever illness afflicted him made him look twice his age. His long, black hair hung lankly on the pillow and his eyelids flickered half-shut.
As the prisoner made to turn away, he noticed a faint glimmer. Curious, he gradually eased back the sick man’s shirt to reveal an amber jewel as large as a child’s fist embedded in his chest. Deep within it, the faintest flame danced, and seemed to flicker eagerly as the prisoner’s hand hovered over it.
Movement on the edge of his vision distracted him. In the shaft of light breaking through the gap at the window, twists of mist appeared and faded, becoming more substantial with each passing second. He was mesmerised by the movement, until suddenly the mist billowed out into the room, separating to form shapes.
Shrieking loudly, spectral figures materialised, bathed in a pearly lustre, five, more, swirling like rags blown in a gale. “Kill him!” they cried. “Kill him now, while he is weak!”
Terrified, the prisoner scrambled back, half on to the bed, as the fearful apparitions loomed around, tearing at their hair and faces in their anguish.
“Strike now!” the ghosts cried. “Save us from our misery! Save yourself!”
Rooted, the prisoner returned his attention to the bed. The sick man’s eyes were now open and what the prisoner saw in their dark depths chilled him. A slight smile, hard, triumphant. The knife lanced up in a blur from where it had been hidden beneath the covers. Arterial spray gushed across the white sheets as the prisoner made a futile grab for his neck.
On the bed, the man arched his spine with a shimmer of pleasure. Head thrown back, a faint sigh escaped his dry lips. The spectres wailed and moaned, and slowly faded back into the shaft of light; too late.
Vitality flooded the bedridden man’s frame as quickly as it drained from the prisoner. His skin grew taught across strong muscles and bloomed with life. His breathing became deep, the dark hair lustrous. Retrieving his sword from beneath the covers, the man swung himself from the bed and landed athletically on the balls of his feet. “All praise Idriss, the Strong, the Great,” he said wryly, as the prisoner fell backwards on to the floor. “I am Vidar, Ghost Warrior, Lord of Silence, Stealth, and Vengeance, and I thank you for your gift.”
The prisoner tried to speak, but no words would come.
“Hush now,” Vidar said. “Enjoy this moment of repose. You are about to join the ranks of my ghosts, and from now on there will be no rest.”
As the prisoner gasped his last, Asgrim bounded in. “Lord of Silence, Stealth, and Vengeance,” he mocked. “I only gifted you the name of one of my gods as a joke. I did not expect you to try to live up to it.”
“It’s a nice fit. I’m comfortable with it. Cheyne… ?”
“Is attempting to scrub a speck of dirt off his fine shirt. Best not to talk to him for a while. His mood is less than perfect.”
Eyes closed, Vidar enjoyed the rush of vitality, and then said, “The alarm bells?”
“Ah, yes. Death and terror have been let loose across our fair city. A crisis looms. Your time has come, Vidar. You are needed.”
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