by Rob Steiner
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to create new harrowers?” Ladak asked Taran.
Taran still knelt before Ladak, shaking from the impact of hitting the ground from twenty paces in the air. He could take breath into his lungs now, but each one was like a knife thrust to his side.
“Very hard,” Ladak continued, while walking around Taran. “I have to kill someone, and then raise his body in a long ritual that takes too much time and energy. I won’t bore you with the details.”
Ladak bent to one knee, his face inches from Taran’s. “Now I would prefer not to do that with you. I would prefer that you help me because it’s in your best interest, not because I force you.”
In a rasping voice, Taran said, “I killed you.”
“Yes and no,” Ladak said. “You killed one of my harrowers, which I molded to look like me. Quite a good likeness if I say so myself.”
“Why?” Taran asked. Better to listen to his arrogance than try to fight off his Wields.
“Because I needed you good and mad to Wield Angra. And who better to get you good and mad than a former friend raping your daughter. Anger mixed with betrayal can be quite powerful. And judging by what you did to my harrower, I was right. Now I know you are a Zervakan, one who can Wield both Angra and Ahura. Someone who will return the Fomorians to their rightful place in this world.”
Ladak sighed. “You know what it’s like in the Compact these days. Pathism dominates every institution with a belief in nothing higher than itself. But Pathists have chosen to blind themselves to the wider realities in the world. That’s why I need your help to excise the Pathist infection that dominates this continent, an infection that seeks to destroy anything that challenges it.”
Taran eased himself backward—enduring terrible stabs of pain in his ribs—so that he sat rather than knelt. “Unlike you.”
“Right,” Ladak said. “Unlike me. I want to open the Compact’s eyes to the real world. You see me as some evil madman. I am not. I have a purpose, one that the First Cause Itself preordained when It created the universe. The Tuathans believe that Angra is evil, but they have forgotten that Angra and Ahura serve the same purpose. Renewal. Progress.”
“Stop lecturing me and tell me what you want,” Taran said.
Ladak smiled. “But I thought you were a scientist, Dr. Abraeu. Aren’t you the least bit curious about me? You’ve spent the last six years trying to prove that the ‘Mystics’ exist. Don’t you want to know why we exist?”
“Of course. I just don’t think you’ll tell me the truth.”
Ladak laughed. “You are a bundle of contradictions, Doctor. You believe in something that everyone tells you is a fairy tale, yet you turn into a skeptic when you encounter the very thing you believe in.”
“I trusted you, Ladak, and you lied to me. Why should I believe you?”
“Because I will show you how to heal your daughter’s illness.”
Taran stared at the man for a moment before what he said registered in his mind.
He fears you, the dark voice said. That is why he hasn’t killed you yet, why he’s stalling for time. Kill him before he finds a way to kill you.
“How?” Taran asked.
Ladak shook his head, grinning. “Now, now. Information as valuable as that comes with a price. You must first do something for me.”
“Kill every last Tuathan on that beach.”
Yes! Let’s kill them all! We’ll start with Ladak, and then wipe out the whole lot of them on the beach. Then we’ll move on to—
“How do I know you can heal Mara?” Taran asked. “Again, why should I believe you?”
Four harrowers emerged from the woods behind Ladak. Three men and one woman, and all looked to be Tuathan. Or rather, used to be Tuathan. Their skin was a sickly gray, and their eyes had a milky haze. Their clothes were ragged and torn, and one of the men had an open chest wound that seeped dark gray fluid. When they saw Taran, they encircled him, each with an upraised hand ready to Wield Angra.
Ladak smiled at his creations, and then said to Taran, “Can you afford not to believe me? Can you let slip away what might be your daughter’s one chance to escape the barbaric Mercy?”
Do it, the voice said. We’ll kill every one of them.
“Fine,” Taran said. “I’ll do what you ask. But you have to show me how to heal Mara before I destroy the Tuathans.”
“Right,” Ladak said, “I show you how to heal Mara, and then you try to kill me and save the Tuathans. I know you Taran, you are not as filled with the spirit of Angra as I am. Not yet, anyway.”
Taran stood, and the four harrowers took an involuntary step backward. They fear you, the voice said. Kill them now, and then we’ll kill all the Tuathans. Do it!
“It’s five against one,” Taran said. “And I have less experience at this than all of you.”
“Maybe,” Ladak said, “but you seem to be a quick learner.”
“Mara first, then I kill the Tuathans. If you don’t like it, kill me now.”
The confidence in Ladak’s eyes wavered a bit, and Taran knew he had him. Ladak smiled. “You are a stubborn man, Dr. Abraeu. Alright. I will show you how to heal your daughter. But keep in mind, doctor, that while I believe you’re a man of your word, I do know where your family lives in Calaman. And I am not the only Fomorian living there…”
Taran glared at Ladak. “Save your threats. I will kill the Tuathans.”