Dan abnett — thorn wishes talon
THE PAST NEVER lets us go. It is persistent and unalterable.
The future, however, is aloof, a stranger. It stands with its back to us, mute and private, refusing to communicate what it knows or what it sees.
Except to some. On Nova Durma, deep in the leech-infested forests of the Eastern Telgs, there is a particular grotto into which the light of the rising daystar falls once every thirty-eight days. There, by means of some secret ministry and ritual craft that I have no ready wish to understand, the blistered seers of the Divine Fratery coax the reluctant future around until they can see its face in their silver mirrors, and hear its hushed, unwilling voice.
It is my fervent hope that what it has to say to them is a lie.
THAT NIGHT, THE waste-world called Malinter had six visitors. They left their transport, dark and hook-winged, on a marshy flood plain, slightly bowed over to starboard where the landing claws had sunk into the ooze. They proceeded west, on foot.
A storm was coming, and it was not entirely natural. They walked through streamers of white fog, crossing outcrops of green quartz, lakes of moss and dank watercourses choked with florid lichens. The sky shone like filthy, tinted glass. In the distance, a pustular range of hills began to vanish in the rain-blur of the encroaching elements. Lightning flashed, like sparks off flint or remote laser fire.
They had been on the surface for an hour, and had just sighted the tower, when the first attempt was made to kill them.
There was a rattle almost indistinguishable from the doom-roll of the approaching thunder, and bullets whipped up spray from the mud at the feet of the tallest visitor.
His name was Harlon Nayl. His tall, broad physique was wrapped in a black-mesh bodyglove. His head was shaved apart from a simple goatee. He raised the heavy Hecuter pistol he had been carrying in his right fist, and made a return of fire into the gathering dark.
In answer, several more unseen hostiles opened up. The visitors scattered for cover.
'Were you expecting this?' Nayl asked as he crouched behind a quartz boulder and snapped shots off over it.
+I didn't know what to expect+
The answer came telepathically from Nayl's master, and seemed far from reassuring.
'How many?' Nayl called out.
Twenty metres away from him, another big man called Zeph Mathuin shouted back from cover. 'Six!' echoed his estimation. Mathuin was as imposing as Nayl, but his skin was dark, the colour of varnished hardwood. His black hair was plaited into strands and beaded. Both men had been bounty hunters in their time. Neither followed that profession any longer.
'Make it seven,' contradicted Kara Swole as she wriggled up beside Nayl, keeping her head low. She was a short, compact woman with cropped red hair. Her voluptuous figure was currently concealed beneath a long black leather duster with a fringe of larisel fur around the neck. 'Seven?' queried Nayl, as whining hard-round smacked into the far side of the rock. 'Six!' Mathuin called again.
Kara Swole had been a dancer-acrobat before she'd joined the band, and ordinarily she would defer to the combat experience of the two ex-hunters. But she had an ear for these tilings. 'Listen!' she said. 'Three autorifles,' she identified, counting off on her fingers. 'Two lasguns, a pistol, and that…' she drew Nayl's attention to a distinctive plunk! plunk!
'That's a stubber.' Nayl nodded and smiled.
'Six!' Mathuin insisted.
+Kara is correct. There are seven. Now can we deal with them, please?+