Sparhawk nodded and looked around the darkening room. ‘Do you want some light?’ he asked her.
‘No. Let’s not be seen to be here. I’m certain that the street is being watched from the upper floor of the house.’ Then she leaned against him, filling his nostrils with the woody fragrance of her hair. ‘You can hold my hand, though,’ she offered. ‘For some reason, I’ve always been a little afraid of the dark.’
‘Of course,’ he said, taking her small hand in his big one. They sat together for perhaps another quarter of an hour as the street outside grew darker.
Suddenly Sephrenia gave an agonized little gasp.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked in alarm.
She did not immediately reply but rose to her feet instead, raising her hands, palm up, above her. A dim figure seemed to stand before her, a figure that was more shadow than substance, and a faint glow seemed to stretch between its widespread, gauntleted hands. Slowly it held forth that silvery nimbus. The glow grew momentarily brighter, then coalesced into solidity as the shadow before her vanished. She sank back into her chair, holding the long, slender object with a curious kind of sorrowful reverence.
‘What was that, Sephrenia?’ Sparhawk demanded.
‘Another of the twelve knights has fallen,’ she said in a voice that was almost a moan. ‘This is his sword, a part of my burden.’
‘Vanion?’ he asked, almost choking with a dreadful sense of fear.
Her finger sought the crest on the pommel of the sword she held, feeling the design in the darkness. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It was Lakus.’
Sparhawk felt a wrench of grief. Lakus was an elderly Pandion, a man with snowy hair and a grim visage whom all the knights of Sparhawk’s generation had revered as a teacher and a friend.
Sephrenia buried her face in Sparhawk’s armoured shoulder and began to weep. ‘I knew him as a boy, Sparhawk,’ she lamented.
‘Let’s go back to the chapterhouse,’ he suggested gently ‘We can do this another day.’
She lifted her head and wiped her eyes with her hand. ‘No, Sparhawk,’ she said firmly. ‘Something’s happening in that house tonight – something that may not happen again for a while.’
He started to say something, but then he felt an oppressive weight that seemed to be located just behind his ears. It was as if someone had just placed the heels of his hands at the back of his skull and pushed inward. Sephrenia leaned intently forward. ‘Azash!’ she hissed.
‘They’re summoning the spirit of Azash,’ she said with a terrible note of urgency in her voice.
‘That nails it down then, doesn’t it?’ he said, rising to his feet.
‘Sit down, Sparhawk. This isn’t played out yet.’
‘There can’t be that many’
‘And what will you learn if you go up the street and chop the house and everyone in it to pieces? Sit down. Watch and learn.’
‘I’m obliged, Sephrenia. It’s part of the oath. It has been for five centuries.’
‘Bother the oath,’ she snapped. ‘This is more important.’
He sank back into his chair, troubled and uncertain. ‘What are they doing?’ he asked.
‘I told you. They’re raising the spirit of Azash. That can only mean that they’re Zemochs.’
‘What are the Elenes doing in there, then? The Cammorian, the Lamork, and that Pelosian woman?’
‘Receiving instruction, I think. The Zemochs didn’t come here to learn, but to teach. This is serious, Sparhawk – more deadly serious than you could ever imagine.’
‘What do we do?’
‘For the moment, nothing. We sit here and watch.’
Again Sparhawk felt that oppressive weight at the base of his skull, and then a fiery tingling that seemed to run through all his veins.
‘Azash has answered the summons,’ Sephrenia said quietly ‘It’s very important to sit quietly now and for both of us to keep our thoughts neutral. Azash can sense hostility directed at him.’
‘Why would Elenes participate in the rites of Azash?’
‘Probably for the rewards he will give them for worshipping him. The Elder Gods have always been most lavish with their rewards when it suits them to be.’
‘What kind of reward could possibly pay for the loss of one’s soul?’
She shrugged, a barely perceptible motion in the growing darkness. ‘Longevity, perhaps. Wealth, power and in the case of the woman beauty. It could even be other things – things I don’t care to think about. Azash is twisted, and he soon twists those who worship him.’
In the street below, a workman with a handcart and a torch clattered along over the cobblestones. He took an unlighted torch from the cart, set it in an iron ring protruding from the shop-front below, and ignited it. Then he rattled on.
‘Good,’ Sephrenia murmured. ‘Now we’ll be able to see them when they come out.’
‘We’ve already seen them.’
‘They’ll be different, I’m afraid.’
The door to the Styric house opened, and the silkrobed Cammorian emerged. As he passed through the circle of torchlight below, Sparhawk saw that his face was very pale, and his eyes were wide with horror.
‘That one will not return,’ Sephrenia said quietly. ‘Most likely he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to atone for his venture into the darkness.’
A few minutes later, the booted Lamork came out into the street. His eyes burned, and his face was twisted into an expression of savage cruelty. His impassive crossbowmen marched along behind him.
‘Lost,’ Sephrenia sighed.
‘The Lamork is lost. Azash has him.’
Then the Pelosian lady emerged from the house. Her purple robe was carelessly open at the front, and beneath it she was naked. As she came into the torchlight, Sparhawk could see that her eyes were glazed and that her nude body was splattered with blood. Her hulking attendant made some effort to close the front of her robe, but she hissed at him, thrusting his hand away, and went off down the street shamelessly flaunting her body.
‘And that one is more than lost,’ Sephrenia said. ‘She will be dangerous now. Azash rewarded her with powers.’ She frowned. ‘I’m tempted to suggest that we follow her and kill her.’
‘I’m not sure that I could kill a woman, Sephrenia.’
‘She’s not even a woman any more, but we’d have to behead her, and that could cause some outrage in Chyrellos.’