Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

“I will do it,” cried one of the Charonites, prepared to leave her life of contemplation for the service of the Prophecy.

“And I!”

“Both of us would serve,” cried the brothers in unison.

“And I, too, would serve this Prophecy,” said the last gravely, and the Prophet nodded.

“It was the power of the Prophecy that led me here this night to meet with you. You will be my Sentinels, and to you will I entrust the Prophecy over the coming ages.”

The five never returned to their UnderWorld home. They stayed with the Prophet and accepted the secrets he entrusted to them and the transformations he wrought in them. They lost their previous identities and forms and became the Sentinels, and they became closer to each other than they had ever been before.

The other Charonites mourned them, but, with the other mystical races of Tencendor, they came to know of the Prophecy and understood the cause to which their brothers and sisters had been lost. They contemplated the mysteries that the Prophecy had created and prayed that the garden would survive the storm that would eventually engulf it.

Now the five Sentinels sat in their circle, hands tightly held, needing the contact and warmth and love. For three thousand years they had waited. Over the past two years they had guided and watched and waited for the Prophecy to work itself through. There had been times of warmth and laughter and there had been times of deep sadness and loss, but the Sentinels had been content, knowing that they did their best for the Prophet and the Prophecy.

“The Prophecy moves apace,” Jack said into the silence.

“It slides to its conclusion,” Yr responded, her voice sad. Of them all, perhaps Yr would lose the most in the coming months. She had been the freest, and she had enjoyed her freedom.

“And we slide to our –”

“Enough, Ogden!” Jack cautioned. “We all knew what our service to the Prophecy would entail and there is no need to voice our fate now. But the fact remains that, as soon as Axis moves north towards his confrontation with Gorgrael, we will have to begin our final duties.”

There, the words were said.

Yr nodded jerkily, and a moment later the other three nodded.

“Faraday moves east,” she said. “Axis prepares to move north, and Azhure … well, who knows what she will do.”

The others thought silently on Azhure. Even Jack, who knew many things, had been stunned by the appearance of the Enchantress’ ring and its choice of Azhure. He had originally believed the Wolven and the Alaunt had gravitated to Azhure because of her parentage … but now that he’d seen the ring on her finger Jack knew differently.

As the original Enchantress had acted only as custodian for the ring, so WolfStar had acted only as custodian for the Wolven and the Alaunt.

Now all had come home.

Had the Prophet known of this? The Prophecy itself gave no clues … did it?

The appearance of the ring had vastly increased the Sentinels’ respect for Azhure – and for Axis. It would only have reappeared when the Circle was complete, and it marked both Axis and Azhure.

“Who knows what part she will play in the final act,” Veremund said. “But whatever happens, let us hope Gorgrael never learns her true identity.”

Again all were silent for some moments, then Yr spoke, realigning the subject back to their circle.

“As we are currently in Carlon, then I must go first.”

Jack, his face unusually soft, nodded. “Yes, Yr. You will be first.”

Yr’s eyes filled with tears. “And now that the moment is here, I find my heart is full of regrets.”

None of the others begrudged Yr her words. Regrets filled every one of them and they would not hesitate to voice them. But they would not let regrets stop them in their final service to the Prophecy and to Axis. Not when they had come this far.

“Many regrets.”

4 Ice Fortress (#ulink_6f5aca8f-3480-52f1-b759-9d523a8cdb56)

For hours (or was it days?) Timozel sat knee to knee with Friend in the tiny boat, gliding smoothly and effortlessly over choppy grey waves and still, icy green waters alike. Friend kept up the pretence of rowing, but Timozel was sure some enchantment was being wielded. Who could row for hour after hour (day after day?) without tiring?

Friend had not said a word since he rowed out from the beach at Murkle Bay. But Timozel felt certain that within the shadows of the close hood Friend grinned maniacally at him. Timozel spent most of his time staring anywhere but at the darkness behind the man’s black and gloomy hood.

After an unknowable time Timozel perceived that their boat glided through green and glassy waters so icy that great icebergs, only three or four to start with, jutted skyward. Soon Friend was manoeuvring their tiny craft through a veritable forest of the ice mountains. To the south lay a grating ice pack, and beyond that a still and silent beach. Timozel twisted on his bench, anxiously peering this way and that, jumping every time a deep roll of thunder rumbled through the icy canyons towards them.

“Friend?” he asked, unable to keep his silence any longer. “Friend, what is that noise?”

Friend rowed in silence for a few more strokes, then spoke, startling Timozel, who had not expected a reply.

“The sound you hear is that of the great glacier of Talon Spike calving her icebergs into the ocean.”

Timozel tried to remember the few rudimentary maps he had seen of the northern wastes. “We are in the Iskruel Ocean?”

“Assuredly, Timozel, assuredly. See, the icebears gambol, and to the south beyond the ice you can see the Icebear Coast.”

Timozel twisted to where Friend had inclined his head. On the nearest berg a massive icebear stood watching them, her fur yellowed with age and the elements. One ear had been lost in a past dispute with another icebear over the carcass of a seal, and the loss gave her head a curiously lop-sided charm. The bear’s black eyes were uncomfortably all-knowing.

“We are almost there,” the Dark Man said, his own eyes briefly meeting those of the icebear. “An hour or two, perhaps more, perhaps less. Gorgrael is close.”

Timozel shivered and forgot the bear. “Gorgrael is close,” he whispered. “Gorgrael is close.”

He hoped Gorgrael would be all that his new friend had promised. He hoped Gorgrael would indeed prove to be the Great Lord of his visions. He hoped that in Gorgrael he would find the saviour who would drive the Forbidden from Achar’s fields and rescue Faraday from her fate at Axis’ hands. If these hopes proved false, then Timozel knew he would go mad.

Gorgrael was keen to make a good first impression. Apart from the Dear Man, Timozel would be Gorgrael’s first real visitor, and the arch-fiend of the Prophecy of the Destroyer was determined that Timozel should find his new master worthy of his service.

He stood in front of his (for once) brightly glowing fire, every sharp plane and angle in his warped furniture waxed and polished. The crystal – what was left of it – that Gorgrael had retrieved from Gorkenfort sat on the single flat surface of the sideboard. Wine glinted richly in the depths of the decanter. All Skraelings within his Ice Fortress had been banished to unseen rooms, and SkraeFear, representing the SkraeBolds, waited nervously in an anteroom to meet his new superior.

Gorgrael twisted his clawed hands as he watched with his mind’s eye the Dear Man pilot his boat towards the Ice Fortress. So much depended on Timozel, and the Dear Man had recently convinced Gorgrael that gentle persuasion and seductive lies would more likely win Timozel’s total support than the outright terror Gorgrael had been subjecting Timozel to in his dreams.

“After all,” the Dear Man had said, “Timozel is an intelligent man. He deserves better than what you mete out to your SkraeBolds. Much better. Besides, better he work his heart out willingly for you than under duress.”

Of course, Gorgrael reflected, Timozel would still need to have the ties that bound him to Gorgrael confirmed, and for that there would need to be a little pain. Just a little.

Friend had been rowing steadily north-east for some time when he suddenly shipped his oars and nodded to a spot behind Timozel.

“We walk from here,” he said.

Timozel turned and stared. The little boat was drifting towards an ice-bound beach; he could see round pebbles and small rocks beneath a thin and treacherous layer of ice. Briefly he cast his eyes beyond the beach to the towering cliffs of ice that hid the land beyond, then looked back to Friend.

“We’ll break our ankles within five steps on that footing, Friend. Do you know where you lead me?”

“Assuredly, sweet boy,” Friend said. “I always know where I’m going.”