CHAPTER 2 The Turbatus Scourge "The cunt's gone mad. That's the truth of it." Rojam spat a chicken bone into the campfire. Embers leapt and painted shadows on his wrinkled face. "Happens to all Nocturnes. Eighty, ninety years pass and you've killed so many men and fucked so many woman that it loses meaning. The general's a pretty girl who can suck his cock, and ten thousand sons of Kaustir will go to their deaths for it." To his left, Labwons stoked the fire with his shepherd's crook. With night drawing in, the Anima's panther fur was near invisible. "It'll be rebellion." "You said that when the saffron ran out," Rojam snorted. "Korsh was a great leader. I served with him in the Galgesh Campaign." "Heiuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurgh!" "You've never lifted a sword in your life." "On the Sea Beneath I swear it. He kept the Drakens in line. Now Korsch is gone and the Czar's made an enemy of K'Jol. And not just him. Da'haka; Lut Sar. Everyone was in someone's pocket." The third man around the campfire, a weasely Nocturne by the name of Noelopan, squinted at a crude drawing of the new general. "I'd like to be in her pocket." "Heiuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurgh!" "She didn't even kill her opponent. She has not shed blood. She is not Kaustiri." Noelopan looked up and twitched. "We won't even need no rebellion. Once them Pegulians and Maradosi--" "Viridosi! Rojam corrected him. "Once they find out we got a wench in charge of the First Army, they'll march through the Chersonese and make us all slaves." "Heiuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurgh!" Rojam tossed the rest of the chicken carcass down. "SHUT THAT FUCKING CAMEL UP!" Behind them, the animal was bucking its head and pulling at the leash that bound it to a cactus bush. It was the only camel the trio had not sold in Dorgrad. Its milk was sour - that's what the Ipari quartermaster said. At the time the shepherds had laughed at this. Surely those pale-skinned mine-dwellers were being tight-assed - not giving their workers too much camel milk lest they got ideas above their station. But now... now the trio were starting to believe it too. Perhaps this particular camel was defective. The Anima, Labwons, took his shepherds crook and stalked towards the beast. "Quiet!" He struck it hard across the neck, but it only reared up more, padded feet kicking out to keep its master at bay. "Down, damn you!" A second whack was answered by a snap as the leash gave out, weathered through by cactus thorns. The camel broke lose, and with an anxious moan bolted fast into the desert. "Stupid bastard!" The three shepherds stood and watched their animal flee. Its direction was random, at times towards the smoke clouds over Dorgrad, at times towards the burning horizon of the magma slopes, and at times towards the Deep Sands were glass mesas glittered. It was blind with panic. Rojam broke the silence with a joke. "Looks like we'll have to sell Noelopan when we get to Avarath." "Yeah, yeah, very fu--" The ground beneath the cactus heaved. A hole tore open, sudden as a blinking eye. Labwons dropped three foot down, and with half his body in darkness gave a harrowing scream. He was wrenched to each side, and around his limbs came other shapes - lengths of ridged bone, slender and absurd. It was as if a carapace flower had closed upon him. The hole was repainted, blood red, and the outline of Labwons erased in mandibles and shadow. The other two shepherds fled with his cries in their ears. Like the camel they had no direction, only away, into the night. There was a pulse of magic as Rojam used his advent. His leg muscles swelled to lend him speed. "Rojam! No! Don't leave me!" Noelopan yelled as his older friend raced ahead of him, up the slope of a sand dune. For a moment the old man was silhouetted in the stars. Then something hit him from the side. There was a flash of wings, segmented darkness, and Rojam was lifted from the ground and out of sight. It happened in a heartbeat. Noelopan froze, halfway up the sand dune. The screams of his fellows had been replaced by deadening silence. As if they had never existed. He heard only his breath, racing and uncertain. His eyes were fixed on the sand dune, on the starlit ridge where Rojam had been snatched. But there was nothing. The Nocturne looked back to the campfire, which cast its light over a blood-soaked chasm. No sign of Labwons either. He glanced left and right. He realised the stars had been blocked out. He turned. He screamed.