Extract / Preview: The Relic Guild by Edward Cox

CB - Jul - The Relic Guild PB
AN EPILOGUE

Doubt & Wonder

In the long game, defeat was only part of the strategy.
Alone and beaten, Fabian Moor strode across a narrow bridge of stone. Cold purpose drove each of his steps as his path arced over a chasm so deep that light itself was swallowed into an endless void. He looked up at the luminescent stalactites that hung from the ceiling of a vast cavern like the spires of an inverted cityscape, glowing with a violet radiance. With a surge of intolerance, Moor gritted his teeth as he glimpsed something moving among the shadows there. A silhouette, dark and sleek against the pale light, left the cover of a stalactite and sailed down towards him with the slow beating of huge wings.

Without breaking his gait, Moor thrust out a hand. A point of light, no bigger than a pebble, shot from his palm and streaked upward. It hit the silhouette with a flash of silver-blue that illuminated a creature three times the size of any man. The creature recoiled, great leathery wings folding forward, a bellow of pain coming from a gaping maw manifestly designed for rending flesh. As the light faded, a bitter wind moaned around the cavern, followed by the sound of dull creaking. In the gloom, the creature’s frozen body hit the bridge several paces ahead of Moor and shattered into a thousand glassy shards which glittered like jewels as they tumbled and spilled into the abyss.

Icy remnants crunched under Moor’s boots as he continued onward. The bridge ended at a promontory, where, before the rough and sheer cavern wall, a stone golem stood sentinel. A thick neck and broad shoulders supported its boulder-sized head. The wall of its chest tapered to a marginally thinner waist; massive fists dangled from powerful arms and hung down past the knees of tree-trunk legs. Hulking, easily twice Moor’s height, the stone golem didn’t move, but its eyeless sockets seemed to glare a challenge to the man standing before it.

Moor sneered up at its chipped and worn face. ‘Well?’ he said intolerantly. ‘Let me in, you fool!’

The golem shifted its bulk, its joints rasping with the grind of stone on stone as it turned to face the cavern wall. Raising both massive fists, it punched out at the rock. The hard surface accepted the blows, turning to liquid, as if cowering in the face of a greater might. It then solidified, fusing the golem’s arms to the wall at the wrists. The golem leaned back and heaved. With more grinding, the stony sentinel wrenched free a great section of the wall as easily as if it were pulling out a plug. Its footfalls were heavy as it bore the hunk of rock back a few paces to reveal a round opening.

Without a word, Moor stepped through the opening. A dull boom confirmed that the golem had resealed the way behind him.

Moor entered a circular chamber whose wall and floor were as smooth as if scooped out of the rock. Above, the domed ceiling was coated with a luminous substance that bathed the chamber in a warm, golden glow. A large round table of stone occupied the centre, around which four people sat. All of them stared at the new arrival, but not one uttered a word as he took his chair among them.

Only when he was seated did Moor acknowledge the pain from the injuries he had suffered to his ribs, and the deep fatigue overwhelming his body.

He felt eyes upon him. Each of these people was well-known to Moor, though he would hardly call them friends. They had all been summoned to this council chamber before, and always in secret, but never under such circumstances as these. Their dark cassocks were ripped and stained as Moor’s own, and all but one carried visible wounds.

To his right sat obese Viktor Gadreel; the old man held a bloodied cloth to his left eye, and shallow cuts and bruises decorated his bald head. To his left, Hagi Tabet’s glassy eyes stared off into some unknown distance, a thin line of blood running down the side of her face from a head wound partially hidden by her short, matted hair. Further along, Yves Harrow was shaking, gritting his teeth against the pain of raw facial burns.

The one person present who displayed no obvious injuries was Mo Asajad. She sat calmly opposite Moor. Her long, raven hair was straight and neat; her gaunt, porcelain face was blemished only by a patch of scarring on her forehead – the same ritual scarring each of them bore with pride.

‘Where is Lord Spiral?’ Moor demanded of her.

‘We do not know.’ Asajad’s thin, colourless lips gave him a cold smile. ‘How goes your part in the war?’

Meeting her dark eyes with a chilly gaze of his own, Moor remained silent.

‘Come now, Fabian,’ she said. ‘There’s no shame in defeat.’ Her smile grew thinner and colder. ‘Even my own troops were destroyed today at the Falls of Dust and Silver. I thought I was to die, too, but then I was manifested here.’

Viktor Gadreel grunted. ‘It is the same for us all, Fabian.’ He removed the cloth from his face and looked at the blood upon it. His left eye was nothing more than red pulp. ‘I lost over a thousand today, dead to a man at the Burrows of Underneath. I should have fallen with them.’

‘So many dead,’ Hagi Tabet whispered. With each passing moment, she seemed more and more lost. Whatever wound she had sustained, it had clearly addled her mind. ‘It all happened so quickly . . .’

‘We didn’t stand a chance,’ added Yves Harrow. He closed his burnt eyelids and continued to shiver.

‘So you see, Fabian,’ Asajad purred, ‘each of our armies suffered defeat in battle, and with synchronised precision, it would seem. But you didn’t lead an army, did you? Your part in the war was of a more clandestine nature.’ She gave him a pitying pout. ‘I am assuming, by your presence, your mission to the Great Labyrinth was not a success?’

‘What do you know of my mission, Asajad?’ Moor’s tone was guarded. ‘Enough to make an educated guess that the little magickers of the Relic Guild proved too strong for even Lord Spiral’s most trusted assassin.’

Moor rubbed a hand across his bruised ribs and averted his gaze.

‘Oh, poor Fabian.’ As Asajad’s unhelpful amusement deepened, she looked at each person seated around the table. ‘A sorry lot for sure,’ she sighed. ‘Yet, even in failure, our lord and master has seen fit to spare us from death, to bring us safely to this place. We must indeed be favoured.’

‘But are we few all that remain?’ Gadreel said. ‘Did Lord Spiral save others?’

Before any could speculate further, there was a deep click and a square section in the middle of the round table began to rise.

Moor watched as a glass tank was revealed, slowly rising with puffs of dust and steam. Within the tank stood a small and withered man, his body and limbs wrapped in strips of black cloth. He was bald and pale-skinned. His eyelids were sown together with twine and his lips were fused around a glass tube that connected to a box held in his thin-fingered hands. The box was diamond-shaped and dark, but the symbols carved into its surface glowed with a dull purple hue. A second glass tube ran from the box and disappeared into the withered man’s temple. Thick fluid travelled along both tubes.

A second click was followed by a long sigh, and the man in the tank spoke. ‘Greetings.’ His voice, stony and emotionless, came from all places at once.

Viktor Gadreel was the first to reply. ‘Where is Lord Spiral?’ he demanded.

The answer was matter-of-fact. ‘I am to instruct you in the Lord Spiral’s absence.’

Moor looked around the table. They all knew the abomination in the tank, and knew him well. His name was Voice of Known Things, and not one of them would dare refute him, for he had been created by Lord Spiral to speak the truth. Voice of Known Things was incapable of mistake or lie, and his word was the word of their absent master.

‘The war has reached its conclusion,’ the emotionless voice con-tinued. ‘The Timewatcher’s army has proved too strong, and Her Thaumaturgists have pressed their advantage. Our allies among the Houses of the Aelfir have been broken and scattered. Even as I speak, the Lord Spiral’s enemies are clinching the final victory.’

‘Then the war is lost,’ Tabet whimpered. Her eyelids fluttered, strug-gling to stay open. ‘Lost . . .’ Blood dripped from her earlobe onto the shoulder of her cassock.

Gadreel growled defiance. ‘No. I will not accept that.’ He jabbed the bloodied cloth towards Voice of Known Things. ‘The Great Labyrinth can still be ours – I refuse to sit idly by while our lord falls.’

Harrow, his facial burns weeping and ugly, hissed between chattering teeth, ‘Yes. Better to die in battle.’

Moor remained silent. Only he understood there was more to this situation than his comrades realised – or so he thought until he noticed Mo Asajad, smiling at him through the glass tank. The other three had not grasped the obvious: none of them would have been saved if it did not serve some greater purpose in the war.

‘You will do only as the Lord Spiral commands,’ Voice of Known Things said. It was simply a statement: the truth. ‘The war for the Great Labyrinth is lost, but your master does not lose hope in the face of defeat. Never again will he bow to the rule of the Timewatcher and Her Thaumaturgists, and nor will his generals.’

A moment of silence passed before Asajad said, ‘How then can we serve our lord in these times of despair?’

Fluid gurgled along the glass tubes, and Voice of Known Things replied, ‘No despair can last forever.’ He turned his head to Moor, as though those ruined eyes could see him. ‘History will record that each of you died during the final days of the war. That is as intended. That is as it should be.’

He allowed a further moment of silence to pass, and the glow of the symbols upon the diamond-shaped box in his bony hands intensified. ‘The plans of your master have not changed, and your orders remain the same.’ It seemed his words were directed at Moor alone. Then, ‘Your flesh is the sacrifice, but your souls are reserved for the Lord Spiral’s will. In this matter you have no choice.’

‘And never could we conceive of refusing him,’ Asajad said. Her voice had become whispery, excited.

‘Indeed,’ Moor added.

He felt a thrill that banished his pain and fatigue. Gadreel, Harrow and Tabet seemed perplexed as they stared at the abomination in the glass tank, but Moor understood where they were being led, as he had always known. For the first time, he returned Asajad’s mirthless smile through the glass tank.

Once again the stony, emotionless Voice of Known Things spoke from all places at once. ‘You are the vanguard of the future. You are the last of the Genii.’

*****

 

We’ve also got Ed’s Musical Inspirations for the Relic Guild on Carabas here and you can check out Book 2 The Cathedral of Known Things on our May 2016 New Book Recommends!

More links below…

 

CB - Jul - The Relic Guild PB

The Relic Guild

Edward Cox
Sep-14
9781473200296
HB
£20.00
Gollancz
Jul-15
9781473200319
PB
£8.99
It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. 
But when the Thaumaturgist overlords went to war the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind walls 100 feet high. Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. 
Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns, Clara learns that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh. The only people Clara can trust are a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth; but the Relic Guild are now too few. To save the Labyrinth – and the lives of one million humans – Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls. 
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