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Jonathan Oliver

A call of Kerberos

Chapter One

Stealing a ship from the harbour at Turnitia would have been an audacious enough task in itself, but stealing a vessel belonging to the Final Faith was another matter entirely. When Dunsany had first suggested it to Kelos he had stared blankly at him for a moment and then said: 'Have you seen what they do to heretics? Have you seen the rather fetching collection of heretic skins Makennon keeps as mementos?'

Katherine Makennon was the flame-haired, hot-tempered, Anointed Lord; the leader of the Final Faith. A religious tyrant who kept a firm hand on her church and made sure that its message was heard by all, whether they wanted to listen or not.

'I may have no love for the Faith, Dunsany, but I rather value my fingernails.'

'But we're in a perfect position to do this.' Kelos said. 'We have my contacts on Sarcre and a hiding place that's virtually impossible to find. Besides, who's in a better position to pull this off than the Chief Engineer and the Head Mage on the project?'

The designs for the ship had been found almost a year before in an elvish ruin near Freiport, by an adventurer called Kali Hooper. Hooper had been forced to part with her find once Makennon's people had got wind of the importance of the artefact. Ancient texts had spoken of the elves' mastery of the rough Twilight seas and of how they had ventured far beyond the Storm Wall and the Sarcre Islands but, until now, no reference had been found as to the design of their ships.

And just as Kali Hooper had been forced to part with her find, so Dunsany and Kelos had been forced to work for the Final Faith.

Dunsany had been working as a shipping engineer in Turnitia for the last ten years, before that he had been the Captain of a merchant vessel plying its trade between Sarcre and Allantia. He was a master of the rough seas that surrounded the peninsula and the ships he sailed, and later designed, were considered to be some of the finest in existence. When the Anclas Territories fell to Vos and the Final Faith tightened its grip on the city, Dunsany was the first person corralled into working for the church's naval division.

The second was Kelos.

With the subjugation of Turnitia, Kelos had considered fleeing across the border to Andon, but before he could act on his decision booted feet had kicked down his door and he had been dragged into the night.

Makennon had heard rumours of this powerful mage who worked his magic at the Turnitia docks; of how his wards protected the ships against the ravages of the sea and how his mastery of the elements had guided home many a battered vessel. It was true that his magic was no match for the angry waters beyond the Storm Wall but, even so, it was reckoned that his power was one of the main reasons Turnitia thrived as a harbour town.

When Dunsany had looked up from his diagrams one night to see Kelos standing over him, he had grinned and said: 'What took you so long?'

So the two men applied themselves to whatever marine problem Makennon threw their way; Dunsany maintaining the fleet and mapping routes while Kelos empowered the ships with his charms and wards. The crossed circle of the Final Faith soon became a familiar sight at the docks, as it was painted onto the ships preparing to bring indoctrination to Twilight's coastal towns.

As the Faith's power had grown, so Kelos and Dunsany's resentment had increased. It was true that they were spiritual men, to a certain degree, but they resented being forced along one path of belief. 'All paths lead to Kerberos,' Kelos's mother had once said. But if either Dunsany or Kelos dared mention the old ways, the penalty would be severe indeed and they'd soon be joining their ancestors.

And so they strengthened their comradeship in the hatred they held for the church and, with the discovery of the designs for the ship, that hatred soon found purpose.

It was called the Llothriall and it was a song ship. As Dunsany and Kelos had been presented with the ancient scrolls, detailing the schematics for the vessel, their awe had been palpable. Both men had heard of the song ships but neither had ever imagined they'd see the plans for such a vessel. Dunsany had never thought that a ship could be so beautiful, or so difficult to build. As he and Kelos had worked through the list of materials required they realised that the actual construction of the vessel would be the least part of the project.

The hull was to be composed primarily of a wood found only in the Drakengrat mountains. Even with their enchanted armour and cadre of mages, the detachment of men sent there suffered massive losses when a pride of shnarls smelt the human meat entering their territory. The pitch required to coat the hull had also been somewhat difficult to source, having to come — as it did — from the veins of the many-spiked, semi-sentient and highly poisonous spiritine tree. Twenty-five men were sent into the Sardenne and only five made it out. The fate they suffered, however, was as nothing compared to the torment experienced by the young men and women sent to steal the silk for the sails from the X'lcotl. All forty sent on that mission to the World's Ridge mountains returned, but their minds did not. Their consciousnesses remained with the X'lcotl — now a part of their web — and, as those strange creatures traversed the strands, the vibrations echoed out, inducing visions and delirium in the souls captured there. The shells of humans who sat and muttered in the padded cells of Scholten cathedral would die in time, and their bodies would return to the earth, but their souls would always be caught in that terrible web.

The heart of the Llothriall — the great gem whose magic powered the ship — was, thankfully, already in the possession of the Faith. The iridescent mineral had sat in Katherine Makennon's private quarters and had been used, variously, over the years as a footstool, a table and a support for a bookshelf. It was only after the discovery of the designs for the song ship that Makennon realised the worth of the artefact. Originally a general had found it in a field during the last war between Vos and Pontaine, and it had been presented to Makennon as a tribute. When Kelos told her what she had, Makennon's estimation of the general was greatly raised. If he had still been alive she may even have made him an Eminence.

The power within the gem required a key to unlock it, and that was where Emuel had come into the picture.

Elf magic was based on song and no human could achieve the pitch required to sing their spells. No normal human, at least.

Emuel had been the priest of a small parish near Nurn. He was the youngest priest in the Faith, at only twelve years old, and was utterly devoted to the church. Even through the soft, lilting tones of his voice he managed to communicate his passion and devotion to his congregation. His parishioners had often speculated as to whether elf blood ran in Emuel's veins, for he was unnaturally tall, unusually pale and unquestionably feminine. So it was that his was one of the first names put forward for the role of ship's eunuch; a role that he accepted demurely and gratefully. Once the surgeon's knives had ensured that the youthful pitch of Emuel's voice would remain, and the elven runes and songlines had been needled into his flesh, Kelos wondered whether that gratitude endured.

The Llothriall's construction was brought through suffering and loss and there was no limit to the number of men and women Katherine Makennon was willing to spend in building the Faith's flagship vessel. Unfortunately, there also seemed to be no limit to the amount of the faithful who were willing to give their lives to the cause. Dunsany and Kelos wouldn't have given their time so freely had it not been for the threat of certain heresies and indiscretions suddenly being 'remembered'. Even through their resentment, however, both men couldn't deny the majesty of what was taking shape at the Turnitia docks.

And it was partly because of that, and partly because of their hatred of the Final Faith and all it stood for, that they planned to steal the Llothriall.

'Makennon cannot be allowed to keep it,' Dunsany said one evening when they were away from the ears of the Faithful. 'It's bad enough that they use the regular ships to enforce their beliefs on the coastal towns, but the Llothriall can go further than them. Make no mistake, Makennon isn't planning some altruistic voyage of discovery. She's on a mission of religious conquest.'

Kelos stared into the depths of his ale, behind him two sailors were beating a sea shanty into a broken piano.

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