Lowellin hissed in frustration and pulled back into his body. Around him was blank rock. He was in a hidden chamber in the rock underneath the Tower, the place he went to when he needed to be unseen. It was not far from Quyloc’s own secret chambers, reached through a concealed door at the end of a dead end passage, one that Quyloc had only explored once, his first time down here.
So far his plan was working. Quyloc’s guilt and fear was everywhere he looked, magnified by Lowellin’s touch. Lowellin knew that only desperation would keep Quyloc returning to the Pente Akka, and he made sure it grew and grew. He needed the power that lay in the heart of that realm, needed it to destroy Melekath. Because this time he would make sure his old rival was utterly destroyed, regardless of the cost. This time there would be no Xochitl to show Melekath mercy. This time would be the end.
But he feared Melekath. Alone of the First Ring of the Nipashanti–those immortal beings the humans worshipped as gods, no longer remembering what they were in truth–Lowellin feared Melekath. The power growing in the Tenders might be enough, but he needed to be sure, and for that he needed the heart of the realm beyond.
If only he could go there himself and retrieve it. But the traps there were too great for even one as powerful as he, doubtless too great even for Melekath, although he wasn’t sure of that. The very shadow realm itself would rise up against Lowellin the moment he ventured there. Which was why he needed Quyloc, though he loathed the man for his fear.
It had gone well at first, when he showed the Pente Akka to Quyloc those months ago. The vital piece of his plan had seemed so close.
Then the shadowy figure on the dune had appeared.
Since the figure had first appeared, Lowellin had spent a great deal of effort on discovering its identity. Most likely it was one of the Eight who together called the Banishment and sank Durag’otal, Melekath, and his Children under the sands of the Gur al Krin: Xochitl, Gorim, Sententu, Tu Sinar, Bereth, Protaxes, Golgath, Khanewal. The whereabouts of only two were unknown to Lowellin.
Tu Sinar’s remains lay buried beneath the Landsend Plateau. Not dead, but destroyed so utterly that he would never reform. Lowellin still did not know what those things were the Guardian Kasai had unleashed on Tu Sinar, but they made him nervous. A creature that could drain a Shaper of the First Ring was something to be feared.
Sententu was at the prison that held Melekath, in a very real way was the prison. He had sacrificed himself to seal Melekath in after the Banishment. Always the loyal general for Xochitl. Lowellin had always hated the self-righteous prig.
Gorim had perished at Veragin, destroyed by Melekath’s vengeance.
Bereth was north, hiding behind the Sertithians, who turned to him as their protector. Melekath would find him next.
Protaxes cowered in the catacombs far beneath Qarath, worshipped only by the silly nobles above. Golgath was beneath the sea.
That left only Xochitl and Khanewal. Centuries of searching had not revealed either of them. But Xochitl would return. He was sure of that. She loved her humans, and especially her Tenders, too much to stay hidden when the real blood started spilling. Lowellin was counting on that.
Could Khanewal be the shadowy figure? It would be like her. She had always hidden in the shadows. He knew Quyloc believed the shadowy figure on the dunes to be a man, but Khanewal could appear as anything she liked. Khanewal had always made him nervous. When he planted the traitor in the wall of Melekath’s prison none had suspected. Except, perhaps, Khanewal. She had a way of looking at him, as if she knew far more than she was letting on and was amused by it.
The figure could, of course, be Melekath himself. But that was impossible. The prison was cracked, but it was far from broken. Lowellin was sure of that. Melekath could not reach so far through the crack and would doubtless be unwilling to venture so close to the realm that all the Nipashanti feared. Not until he was in his full power.
Still lost in thought, Lowellin left his hidden chamber and made his way up to the Tower overhead. He was walking by the seawall behind the Tower when a sudden breeze kicked up. When it died away he saw T’sim pacing along beside him. The small man was carefully groomed as always, his long brown coat brushed to a sheen, the silver buttons brightly polished.
“It is frustrating, isn’t it, Ela’the?” T’sim observed. “Games within games. So much that is not clear.”
Lowellin stopped and loomed over the smaller man. “You know about the figure on the dunes, don’t you?”
Hands folded across his stomach, T’sim nodded slightly. “Indeed.”
“Who is it? Is it Khanewal?”
T’sim gave him a sad look. “You know I am only an observer. It is the way of my kind. We move above and beyond. We do not involve.”
Lowellin raised his staff half-threateningly. “But you’re no longer really your kind are you? You’re not one of them. You’re not one of anything.” With a sharp jerk of his head he indicated the sea wall nearby. Only waist high, on the other side it plunged hundreds of spans down to the water. “If I threw you over that, would you fly, like one of your kind? Or would you fall, like a stone? And how would the shlikti react? They have never been fond of your kind.”
T’sim’s eyes opened wider, but he made no move to step back.
Lowellin lowered his staff. “Even the aranti are afraid these days. Their cries are ceaseless.”
“Much is coming together. Much will end, and my people have always been nervous,” T’sim agreed. “Ever have we seen the hatred you hold for Melekath. Is it jealousy, I wonder? Could all this be from something so petty? He is First Ring, and you are of the Second Ring. He took from the Sphere and created the Circle. While you–”
“Enough,” Lowellin interrupted, turning away. “Stay away from me, or I will have my Tenders try their new weapons on you. They need something more challenging for target practice.”