The Chamber of Eternity (Paperback)
The Chamber of Eternity (Paperback)
The Portal Wars Saga Book 5
The road to immortality is a long one.
With the empire secure, Otto turns his focus west. The first piece of The Immortality Engine lies across the ocean in Lord Colt’s Workshop.
Complicating Otto’s mission, Eddred of Markane is already in Colt’s Land trying to persuade them to help him defeat the empire.
Can Otto navigate a web of politics and intrigue unlike anything he’s ever encountered?
Or will his mission fail before he even reaches Colt’s Workshop?
After setting sail from Markane City, Eddred and his companions had set a southerly course. The journey to the City of Coins took only a week and saw them rounding the coast of Rolan before crossing the strait that separated Etheria from the Dead Lands. A hundred miles of water kept the monsters that called the Dead Lands home from traveling north and bringing their endless hunger to another continent.
Now that the city was at hand, he needed to focus. Wallowing in sadness would do no one any good. He took several deep breaths and led the way down the gangplank and into the city.
Except for a few hours before and after noon, the City of Coins existed in perpetual shadows cast by the titanic walls that protected it from the undead horrors plaguing the rest of the continent. It seemed to Eddred that the shadows would quickly become oppressive. Of course, given the heat, maybe having constant shade was a blessing.
All around him, hundreds of people shouted and haggled over everything imaginable. From food and clothes to slaves and drugs, you could buy anything here. Assuming you had the coin.
Lucky for him, the gold Lord Valtan provided would purchase everything they needed with plenty to spare. After sailing away from Markane and the city’s thousands of dead, a deep melancholy had settled over the crew—understandable given that most of them had lost every member of their family. Eddred was no exception to this. The evil magic unleashed on Markane’s capital had claimed his queen’s life as surely as it did the poorest urchin.
Only the immortal Arcane Lord Valtan had survived. Eddred actually pitied the man, forced to live surrounded by the dead. Since his magic bound him to the city, Valtan had no choice but to remain behind. The task of avenging his people and retaking the continent from Garenland fell to Eddred. Deep down he doubted he was up to the task, but there was no one else to carry it out.
“Where, exactly, are we going?” Prince Uther asked.
The son of the former king of Straken stalked along beside Eddred, his gaze darting around the busy market like he expected to be attacked at any moment. Given how many times Uther had escaped near death at the hands of those hunting him, Eddred didn’t blame the man for being anxious. He still wore the same battered and dirty tunic and trousers he had on when they picked him up at South Barrier Island.
“Nowhere exact. After being cooped up on the ship for weeks, I decided to have a look around the city. It’s going to take at least a week to resupply and I wanted to give the men a few days of shore leave before we began the long journey across the ocean.”
Uther grunted. Clearly sightseeing wasn’t his cup of tea. “Are we certain this fabled continent is even there? Maybe we’ll sail for six months and end up in the Celestial Empire.”
“Oh, it’s there. Valtan assured me he’s visited Colt’s Land many times. I even found nautical charts among the coins he gave us to guide us right to one of their cities on the eastern coast. Whether we can convince the people there to help us defeat Garenland is another matter altogether.”
Uther glanced at him. “Surely once you tell them of the threat Garenland represents, any right-minded person will want to defeat them.”
“Don’t know. There was a time I would have believed Markane lay beyond the concerns of the continent and we are far closer to Garenland than the people of Colt’s Land.” It pained Eddred to remember how naive he’d once been. “Time will tell.”
A few minutes of walking brought them to the edge of the city’s bazaar. The tents gave way to multistory buildings made of light-tan stone. Instead of windows, most of the buildings had only curtains.
They passed businesses of all sorts: inns, taverns, and cafes where people lounged in their flowing robes, drank coffee and tea, and smoked from hookahs. They rounded a corner and practically slammed into a gaggle of nearly naked women. The nature of the sprawling, three-story building behind them needed no explanation.
After their initial surprise at the men’s arrival, the prostitutes immediately went to work. Touching and smiling and generally doing whatever they could to convince Uther and Eddred to join them inside.
For Eddred’s part, the death of his wife remained too fresh to even consider sampling the wares on display. Uther had no such qualms.
“I’ll meet you later at the ship.” With those parting words the prince of Straken was happily led off by a pair of bronze goddesses that would make any man weak in the knees.
Eddred quickly disengaged from the pouting whores and made himself scarce. Perhaps a drink at one of the cafes would soothe him. The whole point of this tour was to distract him from his troubles and so far he’d failed miserably at the task.
He settled on a small place a hundred yards or so from the whorehouse. The cafe only had six outdoor tables, two of which were already occupied. No servers waited to direct him so he selected a seat as far from the others as possible.
Eddred had barely settled down when a girl about thirteen dressed in a simple white robe hurried over and asked, “Something to drink, sir?” She had a different accent, but was still easily understandable. One of the advantages of a world once ruled by an interconnected empire: no language barriers.
“Yes, thank you. Whatever your most popular item is will be fine.”
The serving girl bowed and hurried away. Half a minute later she returned with a steaming cup of tea. “One copper coin, please.”
“My treat.” A slender woman, her face hidden by a veil and her body disguised by a flowing black robe, handed the girl a silver coin. “One for me as well. You can keep the rest.”
“Thank you, miss.” The girl bowed to the stranger and went to fetch her drink.
The woman settled into the seat across from Eddred. All he could see were her eyes, dark, mysterious orbs surrounded by shadows. If the rest of her matched her eyes, she was a beauty indeed, though not the sort of companion he wanted at the moment. Still, he had no desire to offend the woman and she’d done nothing to suggest she did the same sort of work as the earlier women. Perhaps it would be best to let her make the first move.
The serving girl returned with a second cup of tea then took her leave. When she’d gone his mysterious companion said, “I can see your curiosity, King Eddred.”
He nearly dropped the delicate cup in his hand. His eyes darted around, seeking a trap but finding nothing. He never should have ordered his guards to remain behind. Damn it! He’d wanted to give them a break and now this.
“Calm yourself,” the woman said. “I mean you no harm. I’ve simply come to make a business proposal.” She must have read his expression because she laughed, a luscious chuckle that shook her shoulders and gave a hint of the curves under her robe. “Not that sort of proposition. You have a problem. Or rather two problems, Wolfric, ruler of Garenland and his advisor, Otto Shenk. For the right price, my guild can remove them for you.”
Eddred took a moment to gather himself. This woman, whoever she was, knew far too much about him and his situation for comfort. He knew traders occasionally came from the city to trade with the kingdoms; he didn’t know they had an intelligence network.
“Your guild,” he said at last. “Assassins?”
“Indeed. And you needn’t look around so furtively when you say it. The Coiled Serpent has paid all its dues to the city council. As long as we conclude our business outside the city walls, everything we do here is legal.”
While he had no particular qualms about killing Wolfric and Otto, the idea of simply hiring murderers to do it seemed wrong. Still, it couldn’t hurt to learn more.
He took a sip of tea to wet his suddenly dry lips and asked, “How much?”
Her laugh was softer this time. “Right to the point. I appreciate your directness. Around here everything is always subtle, dancing around the real issue. An emperor and a powerful wizard are far from easy targets. We’d need two hundred pounds of gold up front and the same amount again when the job is done.”
He nearly choked on his tea. All the treasure Valtan had given him wouldn’t even cover the down payment. However, he could get the coin if he really had to. Plenty of wealth remained in Markane and the dead had no use for gold.
Again she read him like an open book. “No need to answer now. The guildmaster tasked me with making contact, nothing more.” She placed a bronze coin engraved with a coiled cobra on the table. “Take this. Should you at any time wish to further discuss the matter, show the coin to any merchant in the city. Word will reach us and I will make contact.”
She stood to go and Eddred asked, “What’s your name?”
“Naja. Goodbye, Eddred of Markane. May heaven watch over you on your journey.”
He watched her until she disappeared into the crowd. The coin felt cool in his hand and had more heft than he expected. Assassins. How had it come to this? Hopefully, with the help of the people of Colt’s Land, he wouldn’t have to resort to something so desperate.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. He’d contact Valtan when he returned to the ship and see if he would begin collecting the necessary payment.