The Sanguine Scroll (Paperback)
The Sanguine Scroll (Paperback)
Book 7 in The Portal Wars Saga
With the Heart of Alchemy in place, The Immortality Engine is complete. Now all Otto needs is to learn how to use it.
The secret to immortality can be found in only one place, The Sanguine Scroll
Written by the first and greatest Arcane Lord, Amet Sur, the Scroll services as a manual for the Engine among other things.
But Otto isn’t the only one seeking the Scroll.
The race is on to see who will claim its secrets first.
Lord of the Dead sat in his hard chair of bone and glared at the other High Lords. The eight of them—Lord Dagon’s representative never left his watery realm outside the city and had no great interest in the goings-on of his earthbound cohorts—had gathered in the dark council chamber.
Since all of them could see in the dark, no one bothered to conjure a light. The entire room was decorated in black. The walls were charred by fire, onyx tile covered the floor, and the great round table was made of ebony. At each High Lord’s place, a special sigil had been carved into the table and filled with melted ruby. The red markings were the only color in the room.
The subject under discussion was what to do about his wayward underling. Lady White’s escape pleased no one, though he couldn’t deny a certain amount of pride at his former apprentice’s determination. She had always been a tough one. He very much regretted her loss, but someone had to answer for what happened in the Celestial Empire and it wasn’t going to be him.
Life would be so much easier for him if Lord Astaroth would simply deny power to those that didn’t follow his orders. But the demon lords didn’t work that way. As long as Lady White and Marius honored Astaroth and the bargain they made with him, their lord cared nothing for who they served in the mortal realm.
The others had been going on for hours about Lord of the Dead’s many supposed failings. He listened with the patience of the dead. They all acted as if this was his fault. Like Abaddon’s followers hadn’t been the ones to fail in their task to execute her. He hadn’t summoned the outsiders that saved her then destroyed Dagon’s guardian. Like the rest of them, he’d been watching the battle from a safe distance. And while the results surprised him, he certainly had no intention of taking the blame.
As he waited for a break in the litany of abuse, his glowing red gaze darted around the room to rest on Lord of Unholy Flames. Abaddon’s representative had gotten his fair share of criticism earlier. But he’d already lost seven Hellfire Warlocks in the attempt to take down Lady White, a price everyone agreed was enough to make up for his part in her escape.
At last, Lord of Broken Earth, Lord Baphomet’s representative, broke off his tirade and glared at Lord of the Dead. “What have you to say for yourself?”
His massive body dripped sweat and Lord of the Dead was once again reminded that lacking a sense of smell could be a blessing, especially given the company he often kept.
“What would you like me to say?” he asked. “I gave my blessing for her execution. We all agreed that it should be one of you that completed the task. That Lord of Unholy Flames’ warlocks weren’t up to the task is hardly my fault.”
Lord of Unholy Fames leapt to his feet, the blue flames burning in his eyes flaring with his anger. Emaciated to the point of being little more than a skeleton wrapped in flesh like leather, most believed his patron had burned away everything unnecessary when he took the man as his chosen.
“You’re not going to turn this back on me! My followers would have had her if the outsiders hadn’t shown up when they did.”
Lady of Lust, Lord Ardent Lilly’s chosen representative, stood and raised her perfectly formed arms in a request for silence. If there was a more beautiful woman in the world, Lord of the Dead couldn’t picture her. Shining black hair hung down to the woman’s slender waist. Large, high breasts strained the fasteners of her thin red robe. Unlike most of those that followed one of the nine, the lady’s glowing eyes were inviting rather than terrifying.
“My fellow lords, this bickering is pointless. The important thing now is figuring out what we’re going to do next. As I see it, our options are simple. Either we send hunters after her, or we let her go and move on with our work. How say you?”
Given that they were demon worshippers, it was a given that the vote would be to hunt Lady White down. Sometimes their desire for revenge got in the way of important work, but that couldn’t be helped. In the end, they were all slaves to their nature.
“We’re decided then,” Lady of Lust said. She turned her gaze on Lord of the Dead and for a moment the memory of a heartbeat ran through him. “Do you know where she is?”
He shook his head. “Lord Astaroth still favors her. My inquiries have gone unanswered. If we wish to find her, we’ll have to search via other means.”
Lord of Broken Earth snorted and shifted in his chair, causing the stout wood to creak.
Lady of Lust turned her attention to him. “Has Lord Baphomet provided some insight to you?”
“Not as yet.” He snarled and looked away.
If Lord of the Dead had still possessed lips, he would have smiled. “I will handle the search and execution of my former subordinate. As I should have done in the first place.”
“You require no aid?” Lady of Lust asked.
“No.” He stood and swept out of the council chamber. It was a grand, arrogant gesture, one the others wouldn’t let him forget should he fail.
His personal tower sat only a short walk from the council’s tower. The yellowish-white spire was made from the bones of people sacrificed to Astaroth. Far harder than stone, the demon lord’s magic made it an impregnable fortress.
He made the trip in silence, his mind racing as he considered the possibilities. Despite his confident assertions, finding Lady White would be no easy task. If Astaroth’s magic wouldn’t provide him with the information he needed, more mundane methods would be required. Luckily, he had contacts in the world outside the Land of the Demon Binders. One of whom specialized in the collection of information.
If she couldn’t get him the information he needed, then no one could.
* * *
Lord of the Dead entered his private casting chamber. Cold, austere stone walls devoid of decoration or lights enclosed a circle inscribed with runes. The touch of one of his familiars caressed his cheek. That slight contact would have left a black scar on an ordinary human, but he had long since moved beyond such mortal weakness. Now corruption only made him stronger.
At his command, darkness flooded the runes, pure corruption summoned straight from Astaroth’s hell. In addition to binding demons, his circle served a number of other uses. Like instantaneous communication.
He snatched the familiar out of the air and ripped it in half. Its psychic scream of pain gave him a thrill of pleasure along with a burst of extra power. Corruption fed on pain along with other negative emotions and so did he. Not to the degree that the tortured freak of a Golmol worshipper Lord of Pain did, but any power was to be savored.
His mind focused on Melisandre Raven. He’d met her a decade ago when one of her merchant ships had sailed into their harbor. Sponsoring her visit had seemed risky at the time, but unlike their most recent visitors, he had profited many times over from the association.
When the woman’s cold, calculating features were clear in his mind, Lord of the Dead hurled half his familiar into the circle.
Traveling through corrupt ether halfway around the world, his familiar quickly arrived at Melisandre’s mansion in Port Settle. Unlike when he contacted his servants, Lord of the Dead didn’t expect an instant response. To his surprise, he felt the connection only seconds later.
He threw the second half of the familiar into the circle, completing the connection. The darkness warped into the form of an oval. In the center of it a woman’s face appeared. Melisandre had high cheekbones, pale skin, dark, cold eyes, and black hair pulled back in a severe bun. No one would call her beautiful and he doubted she’d care if they did.
“Lord of the Dead,” she said. “This is a welcome surprise. Can I be of some service?”
“Hopefully. One of my agents has gone rogue and I require assistance locating her.”
“Of course. Good help is so hard to find. Can you tell me a little more? An indication of where she was headed perhaps?”
“She fled west on a ship bound for the new empire. The name escapes me. They should have arrived by now I think.”
Melisandre nodded. “I believe I know the ship you’re thinking of. It arrived in the port of Lux a few days ago. The only woman my agents saw was in her late twenties, dark hair, likely hailing from the Celestial Empire. There was also a girl in her late teens. Are either of those your wayward agent?”
Lord of the Dead raged inwardly. “No. Lady White has a very distinct appearance. And that isn’t it. The ship, however, is likely the same one, as they were on their way home from the Celestial Empire. If she wasn’t on board, then where is she?”
Melisandre’s slender hand appeared in the image as she touched her chin. “Their course would have brought them west, along the coast of the Dead Lands. Might they have dropped her off somewhere? A member of your cult would be right at home in the Dead Lands. There is certainly something going on there.”
The Dead Lands would be a perfect place for Lady White to hide. But the continent was huge. Locating one person on such a vast landmass would be nearly impossible. “What do you mean something is going on there?”
“One of my agents in the City of Coins reported that Eddred of Markane has returned and is looking to hire mercenaries to investigate the interior. He claims to have magic from Lord Valtan himself capable of protecting the group from the undead roaming the area. Despite that, he’s had trouble securing a party.”
That didn’t surprise Lord of the Dead in the least. Though Amet Sur had vanished before Lord of the Dead rose to his current position as High Lord, he’d read everything he could find about the Arcane Lord. His ability to create undead rivaled even Astaroth’s cult. Perhaps Lady White sought some secret that would allow her to take his place.
Lord of the Dead couldn’t allow that. “I believe you may be right. My agent will travel to the City of Coins today. Thank you for your assistance. When next your traders arrive, they will find a warm welcome.”
“Thank you, Lord of the Dead. If I may make a suggestion, I’m preparing an expedition of my own to the Dead Lands. Perhaps our agents can work together for our mutual benefit.”
Lord of the Dead’s suspicion perked up. “What is your interest there?”
“Eddred is searching for Amet Sur’s capital. The wealth hidden there must be beyond comprehension. I want it. Or as much of it as I can get home.”
Lord of the Dead considered for a moment then nodded. “Very well, my agent will meet yours in the City of Coins. He wears a ring with the symbol of Astaroth.”
“Have him come to Raven Trading’s warehouse on the dock. My people will be waiting to meet him.”
Lord of the Dead severed the connection, destroying his familiar in the process. A minor cost for such a useful spell. Even better, he now knew where to begin the hunt. And if there was one thing the Hound of Astaroth was good at, it was hunting.
Lord of the Dead sent his thoughts ahead of him as he strode down the tower steps toward the main gate. All was silent, as it should be. No human servants meant no light spoiled the perfect darkness of his tower. Darkness was his true home and he needed no help to see through it.
At the bottom of the stairs, an inky black shape waited. Jackal, the Hound of Astaroth, took a knee and bowed his head. “Command me, Master.”
“Lady White has fled our nation and taken refuge in the Dead Lands. By the will of the council and her own failure, she was to be destroyed. Abaddon’s cult failed in their task, so it has fallen to us to clean up their mess. You will find her and end her. Allies will meet you in the City of Coins. Usually, I would send you on your own, but they have access to useful information that should speed your course. Should they interfere in any way, feel free to kill them.”
Jackal stood and raised his head. Handsome human features peeked out from the folds of his hood. As long as he suppressed his demonic aura, no one would guess Jackal was anything more than an especially attractive man. That’s what made him such a useful servant.
“I will bring you her head, Master.”
“As long as you remove it from her neck, I don’t care what else you do with it. Your transport is waiting at the dock. You will find your allies at a warehouse owned by Raven Trading on the City of Coins’ dock. Show them your ring, so they’ll know you.”
“I will not fail you, Master.”
“I know you won’t. There is no one else I would trust with this mission.”
Jackal bowed and strode out the tower gate.
Lord of the Dead had full confidence in his hound, but Lady White was no pushover. Losing two of his most powerful subordinates would be a heavy blow to the cult. No doubt his peers hoped for exactly that.
Well, he’d be happy to disappoint them.