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Infinity Blade: Redemption (Page 8)

The cell now open, Raidriar stepped inside.

DEVIATION

THE SIXTH

URIEL ENTERED his house, laughing to himself. The storm would probably cover his entrance, wouldn’t it? Perhaps he should be more quiet.

He laughed anyway. Of course. He moved up the stairs, leaving wet steps. He pushed open the door to the bedroom. Mary screamed, reaching for blankets. Adram scrambled out of the bed in shock, falling to the floor.

Uriel took off his jacket, shaking the rain free. “You know, this makes sense,” he said, chuckling. “The world makes sense for once. I could actually have guessed this would happen!”

Adram—a look of sheer panic on his face—barreled out of the room, carrying his trousers. Mary was weeping. Why should she cry? She hadn’t been hurt.

Uriel sat down on the bed. “I stayed late too many times, I see. That’s a number. I can add that in a column and see what it creates. If it had been another person in the office talking about his wife, I probably would have noticed immediately what was happening.” He looked toward her. “But it wasn’t another man’s wife. It was you. The flaw was never in the numbers. It’s in me. I can’t see them when you are involved.”

“Uriel . . .” she said, reaching a trembling hand toward him. Below, Adram’s monster of a car roared to life.

“Now, now, don’t worry about me. I don’t have emotions, you see. Adram explained it all. I . . . I don’t . . .” That wetness on his cheeks. Rainwater, obviously. He took a deep breath. “Jori?”

She glanced wildly at the clock. “Jori!”

“I’ll go for him,” Uriel said, standing. “I hope he’s not riding home in this. And then, weren’t we going to have Thai? Something special. For me . . .”

Uriel walked toward the door.

“Uriel . . .” Mary said. “I’m sor—”

“Stop. You don’t get to say that.”

He walked out. Where had his smile gone? The situation really was amazing. Perfect, even. That he should be so oblivious. He—

Tires screeched outside.

CHAPTER NINE

TWO FIGURES—dirtied, blinking against the sudden light—huddled inside the cell that Raidriar entered. A stout, bald man stood up on trembling legs, raising a hand toward Raidriar. Then, the man fell to his knees and bowed himself.

“My God,” Eves breathed, “you have returned.”

Excellent. Eves, Raidriar’s High Devoted, head of his priesthood. “Ever known the truth,” Raidriar said, repeating a passcode set up between him and Eves should there ever be a question of Raidriar’s authenticity. Because of the possibility of Soulless copies, it seemed wise to have such a protocol in place.

Eves’s shoulders relaxed and he looked up. “It is you. Oh, great master. I have failed.”

“I noticed.” Raidriar waved for Eves and his companion, a younger man, to rise. “How complete is the impostor’s domination?”

“I do not know, great master. I was not suspicious of the creature at first. It wasn’t until the second day that I demanded the sign from him. When he could not produce it, I tried to raise the Devoted and Seringal against him. Great master, my rival among the Devoted—Macrom—was ready, and he turned them all against me.”

“Curious,” the God King said. “So he was informed of the plot ahead of time.”

“It seems that way.”

The Worker had found a way to communicate while imprisoned. Had he led Ausar to search him out there in the first place?

The answer was obvious. Of course he had.

“Macrom had been whispering poison to the others for some time,” Eves said. “We who remained loyal fought them, but most of the Seringal sided with the impostor. All that remain of your true Devoted are myself and young Douze. We have been imprisoned here for months upon months, great master. Perhaps years . . .”

Raidriar grunted. He had hoped that Eves would at least have some information for him.

“Great master?” Eves asked as the other Devoted bowed and gave obeisance. “Macrom . . . Did you slaughter him in a particularly painful way?” Eves sounded hopeful.

“Thin fellow?” Raidriar asked. “Upturned nose?”

“That’s him, great master.”

“Hmmm. I may have actually left that one alive. I don’t fully remember.”

“That is . . . somewhat uncharacteristic of you, great master.”

“I haven’t entirely been myself, lately,” Raidriar said, stepping through the mangled remains of the door back into the dungeon corridor. The two Devoted followed, Eves limping noticeably. His robe was stained from old blood and ripped on the left side—the sign of a wound that had long since healed. That was good to see. Raidriar would have been annoyed to find his High Devoted unwounded. Eves should not have been taken alive without a fight.

“Great master,” Eves said, barely keeping pace. “We two are weak, for it has been very long since you vanished, at least by the reckoning of mortals. You deserve much better servants than myself and this one. That stated, great master, I offer my most sincere prayer of thankfulness to you for our rescue. I did not give up hope during the long, dark days, for your triumph was assured. I did, however, worry that I would not be worthy to be released, following my failure.”

Raidriar waved an indifferent hand as they walked the quiet hallways. “You have proven useful in the past, Eves.”

“Thank you, great master.”

“Besides, I’m fond of you. You remind me of your grandfather.”

“Toornik? Great master . . . didn’t you execute him?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Sword through the gut after he tried to embezzle tax monies, if I recall. But if I hadn’t liked him, I’d have hanged him by his ankles in the sun and let him starve.”

“Ah, of course.”

The catacombs had grown suspiciously silent. Raidriar frowned, expecting more daerils—or even several Seringals—to appear and challenge him. No further enemies appeared. Surely he hadn’t yet slain everyone in the temple.

No challengers presented themselves as he and his Devoted approached the stone-walled core at the center of the temple. Here, a burnished wall of reflective steel was inlaid with an etched mural depicting Raidriar’s glory.

The God King stopped before it. When had this etching been made again? Two, three thousand years back?

That’s right, he thought, dredging the depths of his organic memory. That blind sculptor who etched by touch. He had taken seventeen years to create this etching. It was exquisite. I really should have visited this more often, he thought as he tore a hole through it with the Incarnate Dark.

Beyond lay silvered surfaces. Like the old days—metal everywhere. He entered, his Devoted following with heads bowed in reverence. Spiderlike machines scuttled along the walls and the draping cords—those tiny machines were the caretakers of this place, this throwback to another time. A far worse time, when men lacked direction and gods were things only found in books. A time that had proven that mankind was incapable of self-rule.

Raidriar approached a mirror that was hooked to a central hub of wires and steel. It was dust-free, thanks to the caretakers, and the mirror . . . the monitor, as they used to be called . . . turned on when he touched it. He tapped slowly at first. How long had it been since he had been forced to use a touch interface for longer than a few taps?

Fortunately, those memories were secure and pristine. He reversed the Worker’s lockout, at least for this one facility. He couldn’t expand his influence farther, unfortunately. The same fail-safes that allowed him to physically take control here prevented him from doing so remotely for his other palaces, rebirthing chambers, barracks, and castles.

Still, it was something. Now that he had full control of this facility, a quick survey of the place showed him that many of the traitorous Devoted and soldiers had gathered in the rebirthing chamber, where he had left their leader. That man slumped in a chair, conscious again, as the others ministered to him. A dozen or two daerils guarded the approach to the room.

Raidriar shook his head. Cowards. A flick of the screen locked them in that room. Another locked the daerils in, preventing them from escaping their hallway. For good measure, he locked all of the other doors in the temple, trapping the rest of the Devoted and the soldiers in their quarters.

These, he gassed to death. There was no such option for the rebirthing chamber, unfortunately.

“Wait,” a voice asked from behind. The Devoted who had been imprisoned with Eves. “Great master? There are ways to release poisonous gas into the chambers of the Devoted? Why would you need something like that?”

“To kill them, obviously.” Raidriar inspected the fellow. Young and narrow-faced, he had very large ears and a malnourished build.

“But,” the Devoted continued, “I mean . . .” He paled, realizing that Raidriar’s jackal-eyed gaze was still on him. He gulped audibly and retreated to the other side of the room.

Nearby, Eves sighed audibly. “I’m sorry about Douze, great master. He’s my sister’s son. I’m not entirely certain he’s suited to your priesthood, but what can one do?”

Raidriar turned back to the terminal, inspecting the state of his empire. It was not encouraging. Since he’d been gone, the Worker had assumed thorough and complete control. Key Devoted and other officials had been replaced and protocols had been set up, subtly, to prevent Raidriar from retaking power. The prophecies were one method, but he found others. His castles and governmental offices had enforced orders for communication silence. Even with control of this facility, he wouldn’t be able to contact others to reestablish his authority. Information could go out from the false God King, and it could go back to him, but the various substations could not contact one another.

But why? Raidriar thought as he searched this station’s records for what little information he could find about the rest of the empire. The other members of the Pantheon . . . wait, what was this? Insults and offenses. The Worker had systematically used Raidriar’s Soulless to alienate all his former allies.

The Worker had gone too far. His empire was crumbling. The policy of isolation mixed with over-insistent demands by the Soulless, and the result was chaos. Raidriar’s lands fracturing, despotic worms—lesser Deathless—seizing territory and grabbing what they could. Villages starving, bandits running wild, untamed daerils raiding government officials . . .

Why would the Worker do this? Why seize the empire, only to abandon it to chaos? The Pantheon could have been a great resource to him, but instead the Worker threw them aside. Isolating the different stations made it difficult for Raidriar to take control, but it also made running the empire practically impossible.

He throws away so much just to hinder me, Raidriar thought. I should be flattered.

He was not. The move did not make sense; the Worker couldn’t have known Raidriar would escape. What was happening here . . . it was insanity.

But the Worker was not insane. He was clever, subtle, and brilliant. Raidriar’s confusion meant that the Worker’s plots were beyond him. Raidriar was too far behind to even grasp what his enemy was doing.

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