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Home > First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(3)

First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(3)
Author: Jim Butcher

The vord Queen took the child and held him in front of her. She let him kick and wail for a moment, watching him with her alien eyes. Then, quite calmly, she held the boy close to her body with one arm and twisted his head sharply to one side. His wails ceased.

Invidia found herself about to lose control of her stomach, but then she saw that the child still lived. His neck was twisted to the breaking point, his breaths coming in small, labored gasps - but he lived.

The vord Queen stared at the sobbing mother for a moment. Then she said, "She feels pain. I have not harmed her, yet she feels pain."

"The child is hers," Invidia said. "She loves him."

The Queen tilted her head. "And he loves her in return?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because it is the nature of love to be answered in kind. Especially by children."

The Queen tilted her head to the other side. Then she stared down at the child. Then at the young mother. Then at the man seated beside her. She leaned down and touched her lips to the child's hair and paused for a moment, as if considering the sensation.

Then, moving slowly and carefully, she released the child from her hold and passed him back to the weeping mother. The young woman broke down into shuddering sobs, holding the child close.

The vord Queen turned and left the cottage. Invidia followed.

The young Queen walked up a nearby hillside and, once they had crested the hill and moved into sight of a vord landscape stretching out before them, stood with her back to the little steadholt for a time. "Love is not always returned among your kind."

"No," Invidia said simply.

"When it is not," she said, "it is a kind of pain to the one who has loved."

"Yes."

"It is irrational," the vord Queen said - and to Invidia's shock, there was a quiet heat to the words. An anger. The vord Queen was angry.

Invidia felt her mouth go dry.

"Irrational," the Queen said. Her fingers flexed, the nails lengthening and contracting. "Wasteful. Inefficient."

Invidia said nothing.

The vord Queen spun abruptly, the motion so swift that Invidia could barely track it. She stared at Invidia with unreadable, alien eyes. Invidia could see a thousand tiny reflections of herself in them, a pale, half-starved woman with dark hair, clad only in a suit of vord-chitin carapace that fit her as closely as her own skin.

"Tomorrow," the vord Queen said, smoldering anger filling the normally empty tones of her voice, "you and I will have dinner. Together."

Then she turned and vanished in a blur of green silk into the endless rolling waves of croach.

Invidia fought the sense of terror spreading through her stomach. She stared back down at the collection of cottages. From her place on the hillside, the steadholt looked lovely, furylamps glowing in its little town square and inside the cottages. A horse nickered in a nearby pasture. A dog barked several times. The trees, the houses, they all looked so perfect. Like dollhouses.

Invidia found herself suppressing a laugh that rose up through the madness of the past several months, for fear that she would never be able to stop.

Dollhouses.

After all, the vord Queen was not quite nine years old. Perhaps that was exactly what they were.

Varg, Warmaster of the fallen land of Narash, heard the familiar tread of his pup's footsteps upon the deck of the Trueblood, flagship of the Narashan fleet. He peeled his lips back from his teeth in macabre amusement. Could it be the flagship of a Narashan fleet when Narash itself was no more? According to the codes, it was the last piece of sovereign Narashan territory upon the face of Carna.

But could the code of law of Narash be truly considered its law without a territory for it to govern? If not, then the Trueblood was nothing more than wood and rope and sailcloth, belonging to no nation, empty of meaning as anything but a means of conveyance.

Just as Varg himself would be empty of meaning - a Warmaster with no range to protect.

Bitter fury burned inside him in a fire-flash instant, and the white clouds and blue sea he could view through the cabin's windows abruptly turned red. The vord. The accursed vord. They had destroyed his home and murdered his people. Of millions of Narashans, fewer than a hundred thousand had survived - and the vord would answer to him for their actions.

He got hold of his temper before it could goad him into a blood-rage, breathing deeply until the normal colors of daylight returned. The vord would pay. There would be a time and a place to exact vengeance, but it was neither here nor now.

He touched a claw tip to the page of the book and carefully turned it to the next. It was a delicate creation, this Aleran tome, a gift from Tavar. Like the young Aleran demon, it was tiny, fragile - and contained a great deal more than its exterior suggested. If only the print wasn't of such a diminutive size. It was a constant strain on Varg's eyesight. One had to read the thing by daylight. With a proper, dim red lamp, he couldn't make it out at all.

There was a polite scratch at the door.

"Enter," Varg rumbled, and his pup, Nasaug, entered the cabin. The younger Cane bared his throat in respect, and Varg returned the gesture with slightly less emphasis.

Pup, Varg thought, as he looked fondly upon his get. He's four centuries old, and by every reasonable standard should be a Warmaster in his own right. He fought the accursed Aleran demons on their own ground for two years and made good his escape despite all of their power. But I suppose a sire never forgets how small his pups were once.

"Report," he rumbled.

"Master Khral has come aboard," Nasaug rumbled. "He requests an audience."

Varg bared his teeth. He carefully placed a thin bit of colored cloth into the pages of the book and gently closed it. "Again."

"Shall I throw him back into his boat?" Nasaug asked. There was a somewhat wistful note to his voice.

"I find myself tempted," Varg said. "But no. It is his right under the codes to seek redress for grievances. Bring him."

Nasaug bared his throat again and departed the cabin. A moment later, the door opened again, and Master Khral entered. He was nearly as tall as Varg, closer to nine feet than eight when fully upright, but unlike the warrior Cane, he was as thin as whipcord. His fur was a mottled red-brown, marked with streaks of white hairs born from scars inflicted by ritual and not by honest battle. He wore a demonskin mantle and hood, despite Varg's repeated requests that he not parade about the fleet in a garment made from the skins of the creatures who were presently responsible for keeping them all alive. He wore a pair of pouches on cross-body belts, each containing a bladder of blood, which the ritualists needed to perform their sorcery. He smelled like unclean fur and rotten blood, and reeked of a confidence that he was too foolish to see had no basis in reality.

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