Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

Beneath his hood the Dark Man’s smile broadened. Poor, troubled Timozel. His mind had been shadowed for so long that it was now an easy task to manipulate it.

“The rabbit smells good,” he said, taking Timozel’s arm. Surprisingly, all traces of Timozel’s headache faded completely at the man’s touch. “Shall we eat?”

An hour later Timozel sat before the fire, feeling more relaxed than he had in months. He no longer minded that his companion chose not to reveal his features. In these past months he had seen stranger creatures, like those feathered abominations that now crawled over the fouled palace of Carlon. His lip curled.

“You do not like what you have seen in Carlon, Timozel.”

“Disgusting,” Timozel said.

“Oh, absolutely.”

Timozel shifted, his loathing of the Icarii rippling through his body. “Borneheld tried to stop them, but he failed.”

The Dark Man shrugged. “Unfortunate.”

“Treachery undid him.”

“Of course.”

“He should have won!” Timozel clenched his fists and stared across the fire at the cloaked man. “He should have. I had a vision –”

He stopped. Why had he mentioned that vision? Would this strange man laugh at him?

“Really?” The Dark Man’s voice held no trace of derision; indeed, it held traces of awe. “You must be beloved of the immortals, Timozel, if you have been granted visions.”

“But I fear the vision misled me.”

“Well,” the cloaked man said slowly, as if reluctant to speak, “I have travelled widely, Timozel, and I have seen many bizarre sights and heard even stranger stories. One of the things I have learned is that visions can sometimes be misunderstood, misinterpreted. Would you,” his hands twisted nervously before him, “would you share your vision with me?”

Timozel considered the man through narrowed eyes. He had never shared the details of the vision with anyone – not even Borneheld, although Borneheld knew Artor had enabled Timozel to foresee his victory over Axis.

But Borneheld hadn’t won, had he? And Artor seemed powerless in the face of the Forbidden invasion; even the Brother-Leader had gibbered impotently before Axis. Timozel dropped his gaze and rubbed his eyes. Perhaps the vision was worthless. A phantasm, nothing more.

“Tell me of the vision,” the Dark Man whispered. Share.

Timozel hesitated.

“I want to hear of it.” Share.

“Perhaps I will tell you,” Timozel said. “It came time and time again. Always the same. I rode a great and noble beast – it cried with such a voice that all before it quailed.” As Timozel spoke he fell under the spell of the vision again, and his voice sped up, the words tumbling from his mouth. “I fought for a Great Lord, and in his name I commanded an army that undulated for leagues in every direction.”

“Goodness,” the Dark Man said. “A truly great vision.”

“Hundreds of thousands screamed my name.” Now Timozel leaned forward, his voice earnest. “They hurried to fulfil my every wish. The enemy quivered in terror; they could do nothing. Remarkable victories were mine for the taking … in the name of my Lord I was going to clear the filth that invaded Achar!”

“If you did that then your name would live in legend forever,” the Dark Man said, and Timozel could hear the admiration in his voice.

“Yes! Yes, it would. Millions would thank me. I saw more –”

“Tell me!”

“I saw myself seated before a fire with my Lord, and Faraday at our side. The battles were over. All was well. I … I had found my destiny. I had found my light.”

He dropped his face into his hands momentarily, and when he raised his eyes again the Dark Man could see they were reddened and lost. “But it was all a lie.”

“How so?”

“Borneheld lies dead – I saw Axis tear his heart out myself. His armies are dead or have betrayed his name and fled to Axis. In any case, Borneheld would never give me command.”

“He did not trust your vision. Perhaps that is why he lost,” the stranger said, and Timozel nodded slowly.

“Now Faraday lies with Axis and becomes his wife, and we are all lost. Lost. And now … now …”

“Now?” the Dark Man asked. “Do you experience other visions? Dreams, perhaps?”

Timozel’s eyes flared, his suspicions aroused. “How did you know?”

“Oh,” the Dark Man soothed. “You have the look about you. The look of a man troubled by visions.”

“It is not visions that wrap my thoughts now, but dark nightmares that ensorcel my soul!”

“Perhaps you have misinterpreted –”

“How can I misinterpret the fact that Gorgrael has his talons locked into my soul! It is over! Finished!”

He stopped, appalled. He had never, never, mentioned Gorgrael to another person before. How would Gorgrael punish him, now he had shared the secret?

The stranger did not seem overly perturbed by Timozel’s mention of Gorgrael. “Ah yes, Gorgrael is a good and dear friend of mine.”

Timozel recoiled in horror, almost falling backwards in his haste to put more distance between himself and the cloaked man.

“Your friend?”

“Ah,” the Dark Man said. “I fear you have fallen under the spell of the evil rumours about Gorgrael that sweep this land.”

Timozel stared at him.

“Timozel, my friend, how can Gorgrael be evil and dark when he fights the same things that you do?”

“What do you mean?” How could that appalling creature not be evil and dark?

“Consider this, Timozel. Gorgrael and Borneheld fight – fought – for the same thing.”

“What?” Perhaps he should slice this stranger’s head off and be done with it, Timozel thought.

“Listen to me,” the Dark Man said, his voice soothing, calming. “Gorgrael hates the Forbidden – the Icarii and the Avar – as Borneheld did. Gorgrael wants to see them destroyed as much as Borneheld did. Both shared the same purpose.”

Timozel struggled with the stranger’s words. Yes, it was true that Borneheld hated the Forbidden and ached for their destruction. And Gorgrael wants the same thing?