Nemesis (Fourth Talisman, #4)
by Kat Ross
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: October 20th 2018
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Artemis climbed above the western peaks, a pale blue disc next to the warm yellow of Selene and the silver of Hecate. It was strange to see three moons, Nazafareen thought. When she’d first arrived in Nocturne, the Wanderer had been a tiny dot, hardly distinguishable from the surrounding stars.
But over the last months Artemis had drawn closer and now it dwarfed Selene, the second-biggest moon. When it reached its full glory in a few weeks’ time, Artemis would summon tides to cover the land for leagues.
A portent of the war to come? Or simply a celestial coincidence?
Nazafareen gripped the next outcropping of icy rock and hauled herself up. Even in a fur-lined glove, her fingers had gone numb. The thin air of the high passes made the moons look close enough to touch, but it also left her fighting for each breath.
At least the night was clear and calm. Despite her exhaustion, Nazafareen felt at peace in the mountains. She liked the clean smell of snow and the way it crunched beneath her boots. The sky spread out above, inky black and dense with stars. The Valkirin range had its own unforgiving beauty that seemed to suit the daēvas who lived there. Nazafareen had come to know both the Danai and the Marakai fairly well, but the Valkirins remained a mystery. The other clans considered them aggressive and bigoted. They’d tried to kill her several times, so she couldn’t really argue with this assessment. Still, she had to convince them to join forces against the Vatras—a task that Victor had made exceedingly difficult.
Behind her, the cloaked shapes of Herodotus, Megaera and Darius moved up the steep slope. After emerging from the gate, the four of them had roped themselves together for the climb over Langjökull glacier, with Nazafareen in the lead. Val Moraine should be close if Herodotus’s calculations were correct. She imagined Victor’s surprise when they turned up at the holdfast. She would be glad to see him, though Darius’s father was not the one she braved the mountains for.
She reached an icy ledge and stepped aside to make way for Darius. Like the rest of them, he wore a heavy cloak with a scarf wrapped around his face, leaving only his blue eyes visible. They waited together, breath steaming, for Megaera and Herodotus to inch their way up.
“I think Val Moraine is just over the ridge,” the scholar said through chattering teeth.
“I hope your father has sentries posted,” Megaera muttered to Darius, leaning heavily on her staff. “Because I’m not climbing another cursed mountain after this one. You say there’s tunnels?”
“Should be,” Darius replied, his voice muffled through the scarf. “That’s how Victor got inside.”
Megaera looked up with a grim expression. “Then let’s get this over with.”
The pass across the glacier lay a hundred paces above. Nazafareen studied the slope, finding a line of crevices, and started up again. They ascended the eastern face, which was exposed to the wind from the White Sea. It had scoured away most of the snow, but ice coated the rock beneath and she placed each step with care. More than once, the rope suddenly grew taut as someone below slipped. Darius took most of the weight—he seemed to have no trouble with his footing—and each time, Megaera or Herodotus was saved from plummeting back down the mountain.
At last she gained the saddle to the next valley. Moments later, Darius clambered over the rim and hauled their companions to relative safety. More peaks marched into the distance, jagged white teeth against the sky. Nazafareen searched for Val Moraine but saw only ice and snow. Surely such a mighty holdfast would be visible in the bright moonlight. Her heart sank. They had relied on Herodotus and the secret maps he studied before their departure, courtesy of the Emperor of Tjanjin, that showed the location of Gates in both the Dominion and the Valkirin range.
“It must be here,” Herodotus said faintly, scanning the mountains. “It must be.”
Nazafareen and Darius exchanged a look.
“Perhaps you misread the runes,” Megaera said. “Or chose the wrong gate.”
Herodotus gave her a level look. “Of course, it didn’t say Val Moraine, the markers of the Gates are far older than the holdfast, but I’m certain the one we came through corresponded to the maps. I have many faults, but my memory is not one of them!”
Megaera blinked. Herodotus was usually mild-mannered, but he looked nearly as angry as when Darius told him about the Oracle kidnapping daēvas.
“Then it must be close,” Nazafareen said soothingly. “Perhaps we should rest here for a few minutes and get our bearings.”
“Yes.” Herodotus sagged a bit. “I’m sorry. Let me think. Hecate always rises in the west, so I know we’ve been going in the right direction. How many leagues would you say we’ve covered?”
“Not as many as you might expect,” Darius answered wryly. “With the elevation gain—” He cut off, gaze lifting to the skies above the glacier. He held himself still for a long moment, like an animal sniffing the wind. Then his shoulders stiffened. “Get down,” he hissed.
Nazafareen sensed nothing but dropped to a crouch immediately, pressing into the shadowed recesses of the rock wall. Herodotus and Megaera were a beat slower to react and Darius launched himself across the narrow shelf, dragging them both flat just as four winged shapes soared overhead.
Nazafareen watched them pass, the dark silhouettes of hooded riders clear against the moons.
“What were they?” she whispered once the party had passed out of sight.
“Abbadax,” Darius replied in a sober voice.