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- Peril's Gate

Peril's Gate (Book Excerpt)
         by Janny Wurts
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Chapter One

Delirium

Two hundred twenty-five leagues west of Jaelot as the crow flew, the Fellowship Sorcerer who served Athera as Althain's Warden lay stricken in his tower chamber. Stilled on his cot, tucked under the moth-frayed wool of the blankets he was always too harried to air, Sethvir lay like a wax effigy. His slack hands stayed crossed, his pixie-boned frame unmoved since the hour his colleague, Asandir, had laid him in repose before his pressured departure. Overtaken by crisis without precedent, Sethvir languished, his mind savaged by bursts of mental imagery, torn without order from the fragmented stream of his tie to the wounded earth.

While the magnetic lanes of the planet were skewed, the broadranging gift the departed Paravians had bestowed upon Althain's Warden remained whipped by the roiled flux. His earth-sense stayed deranged, a wildfire that raged and burned like loose rope snapped through his slackened grasp. Sethvir wrestled through sick, spinning senses to snatch the barrage of images back into cohesion.

Fleeting bursts showed him glimpses of Jaelot's armed guardsmen, riding head down against rising storm; in close haloes of candlelight, he saw Koriani seniors in purple robes and red-banded sleeves gathered in deep consultation. Lately given the news of the late Prime's succession, they would not yet know that Morriel's plot had upset the lane forces, a move aimed to cripple Fellowship resources and drive the first wedge through the compact.

Caught at the crux, while damaged wardspells came unraveled across Mirthlvain Swamp, and packs of venomous methspawn stirred in their roiling thousands, Sethvir fretted behind his sealed eyelids. Predatory fish and venomed serpents might prey upon innocent lives; yet worse perils threatened. The most troubling could not be seen or touched, but lurked beyond the airless void that hung between distant stars.

Racked by sharp worry, Sethvir forced his innermind through a swift survey of the barrier ward raised to warn against an invasion of free wraiths from the dead planet of Marak. Left unguarded, the grand interstices of the construct glowed soft blue in quiescence. Yet the calm bought him no reassurance. Sethvir had no source for his gnawing concern. The circling fear chafed him that the more evolved body of the Mistwraith left cut off beyond Southgate might move in and prey on the vulnerable world while Fellowship resources were engaged elsewhere.

Since Morriel Prime's insidious machinations to mask her irregular succession, his Warden's perception had been whirled like a moth in a downdraft amid the spiraling disarray of the lane flux. Sethvir did not dissociate from the event, though he could have; too many guardian ward rings stood vulnerable to the effects of a magnetic imbalance. The most dangerous of these he held bound in check by direct, personal intervention. The drain of such effort bled his faculties without mercy, until tactile awareness of his body thinned to cobwebs. Moment to moment, he existed as a spark of naked will adrift on a scattered stream of imagery.

If a colleague now stood in support at his bedside, Sethvir held only the vague recognition that he was no longer alone. Words whirled between the smashed links of identity, the sound of struck consonants like flurried sparks whose meaning touched him in snatches.

"... no, he's not sleeping, but drawn inward." The gusty, lecturing tone was Luhaine's, the discorporate colleague first to arrive when disaster broke the past evening. "His sighted vision made him the only one of our Fellowship with the resource at hand to map the full scope of the damage on the hour the lanes went unstable."

Again, Luhaine qualified with a stone's endless patience. "Yes, the lanes are retuned, now, except for the sixth, which sustains a remedial spell to guide it back to alignment. Since that stay should suffice, Sethvir's engaged elsewhere. He's bridging the seals that keep critical wards from unraveling. . ."


Copyright© 2002, HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt has been provided by HarperCollins and printed with their permission.

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