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Salute the Dark

By Veronica Lawson,2014-11-04 16:52
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The vampiric sorcerer Uctebri has at last got his hands on the Shadow Box and can finally begin his dark ritual - a ritual that the Wasp-kinden Emperor believes will grant him immortality - but Uctebri has his own plans both for the Emperor and the Empire. The massed Wasp armies are on the march, and the spymaster Stenwold must see which of his allies will stand now that the war has finally arrived. This time the Empire will not stop until a black and gold flag waves over Stenwold's own home city of Collegium. Tisamon the Weaponsmaster is faced with a terrible choice: a path that could lead him to abandon his friends and his daughter, to face degradation and loss, but that might possibly bring him before the Wasp Emperor with a blade in his hand - but is he being driven by Mantis-kinden ho Published by Pan Macmillan on 2010/01/01

    Salute the Dark Shadows of the Apt Book 3 Adrian Tchaikovsky ? To my parents, who are wondering how they lost out on book 3 to a dead Frenchman ?

    Acknowledgements

    I cannot thank enough: Simon, my agent, for his constant inspiration and encouragement; PeterLavery, the master-draftsman of editors; Julie, Chloe and everyone else at Tor UK for theircontinuing support; Annie, my wife, for her help, and Alex, my son, for not playing up too muchwhen deadlines were looming.

    Beyond this: thanks to Hellfire and Horrors (Oxford), Storm Wolves (Reading), Wayne, Shane andMartin and everyone else who has been there to support me.

    Glossary

    People Stenwold Maker – Beetle-kinden spymaster and statesman Cheerwell ‘Che’ Maker – his niece Tisamon – Mantis-kinden Weaponsmaster Tynisa – his halfbreed daughter, Stenwold’s ward Achaeos – Moth-kinden magician, Che’s lover Atryssa – Tynisa’s mother and Tisamon’s former lover, deceased Thalric – renegade Wasp-kinden, former Rekef major Nero – Fly-kinden artist, old friend of Stenwold Felise Mienn – Dragonfly-kinden duellist Taki – Solarnese Fly-kinden aviatrix Lineo Thadspar – Beetle-kinden Speaker for the Collegium Assembly Balkus – renegade Sarnesh Ant-kinden, Stenwold’s agent Sperra – Fly-kinden, Stenwold’s agent Destrachis – Spider-kinden doctor, companion of Felise Mienn Parops – Tarkesh Ant-kinden, leader of the free Tarkesh Jons Allanbridge – Beetle-kinden aviator Plius – foreign Ant-kinden in Sarn, Stenwold’s agent Prince Minor Salme ‘Salma’ Dien – Dragonfly nobleman, leader of the Landsarmy Prized of Dragons – Butterfly-kinden, Salma’s lover Phalmes – Mynan Soldier Beetle-kinden, former brigand, Salma’s lieutenant Teornis of the Aldanrael – Spider-kinden Aristos and Lord-Martial Odyssa – Teornis’ chief agent in Solarno Cesta – Assassin Bug-kinden killer in Solarno Scobraan – Soldier Beetle-kinden aviator in Solarno Laetrimae – Mantis-kinden ghost from the Shadow Box Xaraea – Moth-kinden intelligencer in Tharn Tegrec – Wasp-kinden major and magician, governor of occupied Tharn Raeka – Wasp-kinden, Tegrec’s body-slave Kymene – Mynan Soldier Beetle-kinden, leader of the Mynan resistance Chyses – Mynan Soldier Beetle-kinden, Kymene’s lieutenant Hokiak – Scorpion-kinden black-marketeer in Myna Gryllis – Spider-kinden, Hokiak’s business partner Alvdan II – Emperor of the Wasps Seda – his sister Maxin – Wasp-kinden general, Rekef Reiner – Wasp-kinden general, Rekef Brugan – Wasp-kinden general, Rekef Malkan – Wasp-kinden general, Seventh Army Latvoc – Wasp-kinden colonel, Rekef, Reiner’s aide

    Gan – Wasp-kinden colonel, governor of Szar Ulther – Wasp-kinden colonel, former governor of Myna, deceased Axrad – Wasp-kinden lieutenant and aviator Uctebri the Sarcad – Mosquito-kinden slave and magician Gjegevey – Woodlouse-kinden slave and advisor Dariandrephos (‘Drephos’) – halfbreed auxillian-colonel and master artificer Totho – halfbreed artificer in Drephos’ cadre Kaszaat – Bee-kinden artificer, in Drephos’ cadre Big Greyv – Mole Cricket-kinden artificer, in Drephos’ cadre Places Capitas – the capital of the Empire Asta – Wasp staging post for the Lowlands Campaign Collegium – Beetle-kinden city, home of the Great College The Commonweal – Dragonfly-kinden state north of the Lowlands, partly occupied by the

    Empire The Darakyon – forest, formerly a Mantis stronghold, now haunted Helleron – Beetle-kinden factory city, occupied Myna – Soldier Beetle city conquered by the Wasps Sarn – Ant-kinden city-state allied to Collegium Solarno – Spider-ruled city on the Exalsee, occupied Spiderlands – Spider-kinden cities south of the Lowlands, believed rich and endless Szar – Bee-kinden city, conquered by the Wasps Tark – Ant-kinden city-state, occupied Tharn – Moth-kinden hold, occupied Vek – Ant-kinden city-state, recently at war with Collegium Organizations and things The Ancient League – a Moth–Mantis alliance of Dorax, Nethyon and Etheryon Assembly – the elected ruling body of Collegium, meeting in the Amphiophos Buoyant Maiden – Jons Allanbridge’s airship Crystal Standard, Path of Jade, Satin Trail – Solarnese political parties Esca Volenti – Taki’s orthopter Great College in Collegium, the cultural heart of the Lowlands Landsarmy – force of refugees and irregulars led by Salma Mercers – Dragonfly-kinden order of knights errant Prowess Forum – duelling venue in Collegium Rekef – the Wasp Empire’s secret service Shadow Box – an artefact holding the heart of the Darakyon Skryres – the magician-leaders of the Moth-kinden Starnest – great Wasp airship used in the conquest of Solarno Winged Furies – name for the Wasp Seventh Army Summary Following his victory over the Sarnesh field army, General Malkan prepares to lead his army

    towards Sarn itself to destroy the military capability of the Lowlands. The alliance of powers

    that Stenwold brokered at Sarn is still gathering its strength, so it falls to Salma’s

    Landsarmy to hinder the Wasp advance while the Lowlanders prepare.

    Over the winter the Wasps have added the Spider city of Solarno to their Empire, and also theMoth hold of Tharn. However, careful manipulation by the Moth Skryres and their agent Xaraeahas ensured that Tegrec, the new governor of Tharn, is secretly sympathetic to their case,being a magician who has hidden his true nature from his kin.

    Meanwhile the maverick artificer Drephos has been ordered to take his secret weapons to thecity of Szar, whose Bee-kinden people are in open revolt after the death of their queen, whomthe Empire was holding as hostage for their continued servitude. However, amongst Drephos’cadre is Kaszaat, a former citizen of Szar, and the lover of Stenwold’s former student Totho.

    The mission to recover the Shadow Box has failed after Tynisa, under the control of theMosquito-kinden Uctebri, stabbed Achaeos, leaving him severely wounded. The box, meanwhile, hasfallen into Uctebri’s hands, and he has promised the Wasp Emperor that he will use theartefact to make Alvdan immortal. However, at the same time, Uctebri plots with the Emperor’ssister to dethrone her brother and make her into an undying Empress.

    One

    Why do these things always come to plague us?

    A fatuous thought for a man about to fight a war, but the war had not even begun and alreadyStenwold had seen too many people hurt – and hurt on his business too. The knot of horror hehad felt when they had brought Sperra out had not gone away. And now this.

    Achaeos this time. Oh poor Che, my poor Che, to have come home to this.

    And not just Che.

    ‘I am so very sorry,’ Stenwold said softly. He tried to put a hand on Tynisa’s shoulder, butshe flinched away from it and would not let him.

    ‘It isn’t me you should be sorry for,’ she said. He had never seen his ward like this –Tynisa had gone through life without fear, the face and grace of her Spider mother, the lethalskill of her Mantis father and a Collegium citizen’s implacable self-confidence. Now she wasstanding at the door of the College infirmary, afraid to go in, yet unwilling to leave. Thebeds were not short of patients still recovering from injuries sustained in the Vekken siege.On one bed lay Achaeos, his eyes closed, grey skin gone so pale it was almost white. He had yetto wake up, yet to speak. The College physicians would not commit themselves on whether he everwould.

    By his bed sat Che, holding the ailing Moth-kinden’s hand. The sight of her clearly tore intoTynisa with a raw pain, yet she could not take her eyes away. Her sword had put Achaeos wherehe was, though Stenwold had not needed her father’s protestations of magic to know that shecould not have meant the man any harm. That itself was a tragedy, but Stenwold knew that it wasthe injury to Tynisa’s foster-sister that cut deepest: the grief inflicted on Che, that marvelof innocence and foolishness, who would never again be quite the same.

    Tynisa shuddered, and Stenwold as much as saw her think, I have now severed her from me for

    always.

    ‘This war is not finished with its casualties,’ Stenwold murmured. He was thinking aboutSperra again, his thoughts returning and returning to the moment when the Sarnesh soldiers hadbrought out the little Fly-kinden’s tortured form. Sperra, who was walking now, even flying alittle, but who would never forget what had been done to her. And by her allies! We do not even

    need the Wasps to maim us when we can harm ourselves.

    ‘Tynisa . . .’ he began.

    ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t care what you want, Sten. I can’t go out there again. I’m notsafe now. I don’t want to do it any more.’

    ‘Tisamon has explained to me what happened—’

    ‘My father has simply invented something to make himself feel better.’ She glared round athim. ‘Don’t tell me you believe it?’

    ‘I believe that he truly believes it, and he knows more about such things than I.’ Stenwoldshrugged. ‘Tynisa, you’ve been to the shrine on Parosyal.’

    ‘That was different. They drugged me, and I saw . . . visions, hallucinations.’

    He stared down at his hands. ‘I used to think the way you do, but I’ve now seen so much . . .There is more to life than just the things we can see. Achaeos would say the same, of course.’

    ‘Much good it did him.’

    ‘Tynisa . . . will you come with me to the council?’

    ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry, Sten, but I can’t. I can’t trust myself any more. You’llhave to find someone else.’

    He nodded slowly. I can’t force her, for all that I need her. Perhaps Tisamon would have more

    luck in persuading her. He spared one more look for his niece, Che, and then turned to go.

    So the ranks diminish, he reflected sadly, yet the Lowlands was readying itself for battle.Sarn and Collegium and the Ancient League were summoning their allies. Stenwold needed everyagent he could get, and he was still short, but he could not make the numbers add up. Sperrawas now lost to him, as was Achaeos, who could have proved so useful amongst his own people.Tynisa would not fight, and he had not even asked Che to help him. His resources were growingfewer even as the Wasp armies massed.

    He arrived at the council chamber early. Today was another war council and people were stillcalling him War Master since the siege. He was expecting to see old Lineo Thadspar turn up, anda score or so of other Assemblers, each with their own schemes and advice. There would beTisamon as well, standing at the back and saying nothing, with a look of disdain on his face .. . and probably the Spider, Teornis . . .

    Even as he thought the name the man himself came striding into the chamber, rubbing his handsbriskly. He had chosen to wear a bone and leather cuirass over a red silk robe, while a cap ofchitin, adorned with the feathery fronds of moth antennae, made him look like some ancientwarrior-mystic. Behind him came the diminutive form of the Fly-kinden pilot known as Taki, whohad brought Che home from her birthplace of Solarno, fleeing in the face of yet another Waspconquest.

    ‘Master Maker,’ the Spider said, ‘times move faster than we do, I’m afraid.’

    ‘In what way?’

    ‘I’ve had news that calls me home, as swiftly as I can make the journey. I’ve arranged foran airship to take me and my retinue to Seldis.’

    ‘The Wasps?’

    ‘Camped outside our borders again, but this time it doesn’t look as though the Mantis-kindenwill do our dirty work for us.’

    ‘You’ll fight, then? The Spider-kinden will fight?’

    ‘Impossible to say.’ Teornis smiled. ‘However, retinues and mercenaries are mustering atSeldis and Everis, and once they’re gathered there I can make use of them. What’s the use ofmy being a Lord-Martial if I can’t lord it? Meanwhile, there’s more business afoot atMavralis on the Exalsee, which is why I’m taking Taki here with me. I fancy the Wasps could dowith being jabbed in the rear.’

    Stenwold nodded. ‘My reports seem to suggest that, with their occupation of Solarno, theEmpire is becoming over-extended.’

    Behind Teornis’ smile, something slipped aside to reveal for a moment the genuine tensionwithin him. ‘My friend, we had better hope so, because if they aren’t, then there’ll soon be

    a great deal of black and yellow all the way down the southern coast. It may all come down tothe abilities of some Wasp clerk filing supply requisitions in Asta, Master Maker. As you know,wars are fought by soldiers but won by logistics.’

    ‘And you’re happy to go with Teornis?’ Stenwold asked Taki.

    ‘Sieur Maker, remember I’ve served Spider-kinden all my life. I want to free my city, and theSpiders want my city free.’

    ‘There is another travelling companion that I shall be taking from your side, Master Maker. Itrust you will have no objections,’ Teornis said.

    Stenwold looked at him blankly. For some reason he thought, Tynisa? – perhaps because the girl

    so clearly wanted to go somewhere and find some purpose to take her away from her guilt.

    Teornis’ smile twitched. ‘I believe Master Nero wishes a return to Solarno. I had notrealized that the city had so exercised its . . . charms on him.’

    With that, Stenwold could not help glancing down at Taki and thinking, at first, The old lecher

    , and then, I am in no position to judge!

    ‘What use he’ll be, I don’t know,’ Taki remarked. ‘I just hope he can keep up with me, isall. But, anyway, we’ve got him, so we’ll just have to make some use of him.’

    The other members of the war council now were filing in and taking their places, so Stenwoldclasped hands with Teornis and then with the Fly girl.

    ‘Good fortune to you,’ he said.

    ‘Good fortune to all of us,’ Taki corrected him.

    * * *

    His stance was perfect for his blade: crouched a little, knees bent and balanced to move himforwards or back at the speed of his reflexes, not of his thoughts. His arm was not straightlike the arrow of a rapier duellist’s stance, but crooked in so that the claw blade ran almostdown the line of his forearm, looking deceptively passive but ready to lash out and draw backjust like the killing arms of his people’s insect namesake. His offhand was held out, pointingforwards, spines flexing all down his arm to the elbow, ready to beat aside an attack and thuscreate a gap into which his claw would strike.

    He looked down the crooked line of his arm and claw. He looked at her.

    Her stance was different in almost every particular, yet identical in its perfect poise, in itspatience. She stood with one leg forwards and almost fully extended, the other bent beneathher; her back straight. The sword, with its long hilt gripped in both hands, she held low andalmost vertical: her entire being and energy focused on its leading edge, its diamond point.

    They had not moved, either of them, for what must have been ten minutes, barely even a blink.

    He wore his arming jacket of course, dark green padded cloth with his gold brooch, theWeaponsmaster pin, on the left breast. She had eschewed her armour, instead wearing the closestshe could find to Dragonfly garb: loose clothes of Spider silk pulled in tight at the waist,the forearms, the calves. She wore shimmering turquoise and gold, with a black sash for a belt.

    Tisamon and Felise Mienn watched each other narrowly and waited for the other’s move.

    His soul was focused on the razor edge of her sword. They could only spar with real blades. Topropose otherwise would be an insult to their skill.

    Somewhere in the back of his mind was a memory of when they had fought each other on thestreets of Collegium. She had thought him a Wasp agent, and for the first time in many yearsTisamon had been truly fighting for his life in single combat. For ten years previously he hadmade a name for himself in Helleron, hiring his blade to whoever could meet his fees. The moneywas nothing; the fights were all. He had thought that he was taking pride in his skills,displayed in all those brawls and formal duels, but now he discovered that he had been waitingto meet the one who could properly challenge him. In Collegium she had found him.

    After they had fought, after she had stepped out of the fight so abruptly, she had left him so

    alive, that he had even spared Stenwold’s Spider traitress. In thatinflamed, so fiercely

    moment it had not mattered, because only she signified – only this woman who had walked in and

    out of his world in those brief minutes, to scar it forever.

    Somewhere deep inside, he was now out of balance, as though he had been struck, back then, andwas still reeling. Seventeen years of penance he had endured, in Helleron and other places:penance for betraying his race by consorting with the Spider Atryssa; penance for trusting inher false heart; and, at the last, penance for mistrusting her, who had died while being trueto him. And I loved her, and she did not betray me after all. It was the most jagged wound of

    them all that it had been he who abandoned her, in the end. How she would have hated me, had

    she lived.

    His eyes were now fixed on Felise’s – her eyes that were almond-shaped, and shifted from blueto green even as he watched and waited for her to move.

     His kind bore some of their scars forever, but it had been so long. It has been so long.And I

     Felise’s face remained impassive. He could read nothing in it.have broken the rules before.

    He sensed no tension there, could foretell no gathering strike.

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