Home > Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(2)

Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(2)
Author: Ilona Andrews

“Yes.”

The man smiled. “Good. All things exist in balance, Hugh. Technology and Magic. This world was born to have both. The civilization your parents built strengthened and fed Technology until the imbalance became too great, and now Magic has returned to even the scales. It floods the world in great waves, crushing the technological marvels and spawning wondrous creatures. It ushers in a new age from the birth pangs of the apocalypse. Our age, Hugh, mine and yours. In this age, you will call me Roland.”

“Yes,” Hugh agreed. He knew the truth now. God had found him. God had saved him.

“The world is in chaos now,” Roland said. “But I will bring order to it. One day I will rule this world, and you will be my Warlord, leading armies in my name to restore peace and prosperity. Today is a special day because we met. Is there anything I can do for you on this special day? Anything at all? Ask me any favor.”

Hugh swallowed. “My friend. His name is Rene. He has dark hair and brown eyes. He was sold to a man.”

“Would you like him found?”

Hugh nodded.

Roland glanced over his head at the man with the dark eyes. “Find this Rene and bring him to me.”

The man with dark eyes bowed his head. “Yes, Sharrum.”

He walked away.

Roland smiled at Hugh. “Come, sit by me.”

Hugh sat by the man’s feet. The magic wrapped around him and he knew that from this moment on, everything would go right. Nothing would ever hurt him again.

1

God was dead.

No, that wasn’t quite it. Hugh was dead.

No, that wasn’t it either.

Voices tugged on him, refusing to let him sink back into the numbing darkness.

“Hugh?”

He was laying on something hard and wet. The stench of sour, alcohol-saturated vomit hit his nose.

He was drunk. Yes, that was it. He was drunk and getting more sober by the moment, which meant he had to find something to drink or pass out again before the void where God used to be swallowed him whole.

Cold liquid drenched him.

“Get up.” The male voice was familiar, but to identify the speaker, he would have to reach deep into his memory. Thinking brought the void closer.

“This is pointless.” Another voice he knew and decided to not remember. “Look at him.”

“Get up,” the first voice insisted, calm, deliberate. “Nez is winning. He’s killing us one by one.”

Something stirred in him. Something resembling loyalty and obligation and hate. He tried to sink deeper into the stupor. God didn’t want him anymore, but the darkness was happy to take him in.

“He doesn’t care,” the second voice said. “Don’t you get it? He’s lost. He might as well be dead and rotting for all the good he would do us.”

“O ye of little faith,” a third, deeper voice said.

“Get the fuck off this floor!”

Sharp pain punched his skull. Someone had kicked him. He briefly considered doing something about it, but staying on the floor seemed the better option.

“Hit him again, and I’ll split you sideways.” Fourth voice. Cold. He knew this one too. That one rarely spoke.

“Think.” The third voice. Collected, reasonable, dripping with contempt. “Right now, he’s drunk. Eventually he’ll be sober. Drunk we can fix. But if you kick him in the head, you’ll injure his brain. What good is he then? We already have one brain-damaged imbecile. We don’t need another.”

One… two… three… The count surfaced from the muddled depths of his mind. He used to count just like this to see how long the insult would take to burrow through the hard shell that was Bale’s brain.

Four…

“I’ll fucking kill you, Lamar!” Bale snarled.

“Shut up,” the first voice said.

Yes. All of them needed to shut up and leave him the hell alone. He was reasonably sure he hadn’t finished the jug of moonshine. It had to be somewhere within his reach.

“Get up, Preceptor,” the first voice insisted.

Stoyan, his memory supplied. Figured. Stoyan was always a persistent sonovabitch.

“We need you,” Stoyan said, his voice quiet and close. “The Dogs need you. Landon Nez is killing us. We’re being purged.”

Eventually they would go away.

“He doesn’t give a fuck,” Bale said.

“Pass me the bag,” Stoyan said.

Someone knelt next to him.

“It’s not gonna matter,” Bale growled. “He’s all fucked up. He’s laying here in his own piss and vomit. You heard that dickhead at the door. He’s been in this shithole for weeks.”

Hugh heard a zipper being pulled open. Something was put in front of him. He smelled the stench of rotting blood and decomposition.

Bale kept going. “Even if he sobers up, he’ll crawl right back into the bottle and get shit-faced.”

Hugh opened his eyes. A severed head stared back at him, the brown irises dulled by a milky patina.

Rene.

“He can’t even stand anymore. What are we going to do, tie him to a stick and prop him up?”

The world turned red.

“To hell with this.” Bale leaned back, readying for a kick.

Rage drove him up before Bale’s foot connected with the severed head. He locked his hand around Bale’s throat, jerked him off his feet, and slammed him down onto the nearest table. Bale’s back hit the wood with a loud thud.

“Hallelujah,” Lamar said.

Bale clawed at his arm, the muscles on his thick biceps bulging. Hugh squeezed.

Felix loomed on his right, reaching for him. Hugh hammered a cross punch into the big man’s nose with his left hand. Cartilage crunched. Felix stumbled back.

Bale’s face turned purple, his eyes glistening. His feet drummed the air.

Stoyan locked his arms on Hugh’s right bicep and went limp, adding his deadweight to the arm. Felix lunged from the left and locked himself onto Hugh’s left arm, trying to force an armbar.

The world was still red, and he kept squeezing.

Water drenched him in a cold cascade, washing away the red haze. He shook himself, growling, and saw Lamar holding a bucket.

“Welcome back,” Lamar said. “Let go of the man, Preceptor. If you kill him, there will be nobody to lead your vanguard.”

The void gnawed at him, the big raw hole where Roland’s presence used to be. Hugh gritted his teeth and forced himself to concentrate on the head on the table in front of him.

“When?” he asked.

“Six days ago,” Stoyan said.

“What did he do?”

“Nothing,” Stoyan said. “He did nothing.”

“Rene was out,” Lamar said. “He and Camilla walked off after you were forced out. Went civilian. Rene took a teaching job in Chattanooga, high school French.”

“He wasn’t a threat to anyone,” Stoyan said. “They killed him anyway. I came to convince him to meet with you and found his body. They left him on the floor of his kitchen.”

His throbbing head made it hard to think. “Camilla?”

Stoyan shook his head.

Rene’s wife didn’t make it. Pain stabbed at Hugh, fueling his rage. Rene hadn’t been a great soldier. His heart was never in it, but he’d tried. He’d always talked of something better. Of living life after he was done.

“He and Camilla aren’t the only ones,” Stoyan said.

“Caroline?”

“Dead,” Bale said.

“Purdue, Rockfort, Ivanova, all dead,” Stoyan added. “We’re it.”

Hugh surveyed the four men. Stoyan, dark-haired, gray-eyed, in his mid-thirties, looked haggard, like a worn-out sword. Felix, a hulking mountain of a Dominican, leaned back, trying to stop a nosebleed. The bridge of his nose skewed right. Broken. Bale sulked in the corner. About five-eight, five-nine, with dark red hair, Bale was almost as broad as he was tall, all his bulk made up of bone and slabs of thick, heavy muscle. Lamar perched on the edge of the table to the far right. Tall, black, with a body that looked twisted together from steel cables, Lamar was closing on fifty and the age only made him harder to kill. His hair was trimmed short. A neat beard traced his jaw. He’d been an intelligence officer once and never lost the bearing. A pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses rode his nose.

   
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