The final book of six that make up the Codex Alera, one of the best series ever written in fantasy/science fiction. Any real nerd will become enthralled with Varg and Kitai and Tavi, and the powerful furies that dictate the power structure. The Vord and their queen are fascinating, dangerous, sickening, evil first rate enemies.
The Vord Queen
The parasite on her torso reacted to the motion with an uncomfortable ripple of its own. Since its dozen awl-tipped legs were wrapped around her, their sharp tips sunk inches into her flesh, it caused pain. It was nothing compared to the agony she suffered as its head twisted, its eyeless face and branching mandibles sunken into the flesh between two of her ribs, burrowed invasively into her innards.
Invidia loathed the creature–but it was all that kept her alive. The poison upon the balest bolt that had nearly taken her life had spread all through her body. It had festered there, growing, devouring her from within, so swiftly and perniciously that even her own ability to restore her body via furycraft had been overwhelmed. She had fought it for days as she stumbled away from civilization, certain that she was being pursued, barely conscious as the struggle in her body raged. And when she had realized that the struggle could end in only one way, she found herself lying upon a wooded hillside and knew that she was going to die.
“You keep coming back here,” said a young woman at her elbow.
Invidia felt herself twitch in surprise, felt her heart suddenly race, and the parasite rippled, inflicting further torment. She closed her eyes and focused on the pain, let it fill her senses, until there was no semblance of fear remaining in her mind.
One never showed fear to the vord Queen.
Invidia turned to face the young woman and inclined her head politely. The young Queen looked almost like an Aleran. She was quite exotically lovely, with an aquiline nose and a wide mouth. She wore a simple, tattered gown of green silk that left her shoulders bare, displaying smooth muscle and smoother skin. Her hair was long, fine, and white, falling in a gently waving sheet to the backs of her thighs.
Only small details betrayed her true origins. Her long fingernails were green-black talons, made of the same steel-hard vord chitin that armored her warriors. Her skin had an odd, rigid appearance, and almost seemed to reflect the distant ambient light of the croach, showing the faint green tracings of veins beneath its surface.
Her eyes were what frightened Invidia, even after months in her presence. Her eyes were canted up slightly at the corners, like those of the Marat barbarians to the northeast, and they were completely black. They shone with thousands of faceted lenses, insectlike, and watched the world with calm, unblinking indifference.
Varg and Nausag
Varg, Warmaster of the fallen land of Narash, heard the familiar tread of his pup’s footsteps upon the deck of the Trueblood, flagship of the Narashan fleet. He peeled his lips back from his teeth in macabre amusement. Could it be the flagship of a Narashan fleet when Narash itself was no more? According to the codes, it was the last piece of sovereign Narashan territory upon the face of Carna.
Bitter fury burned inside him in a fire-flash instant, and the white clouds and blue sea he could view through the cabin’s windows abruptly turned red. The vord. The accursed vord. They had destroyed his home and murdered his people. Of millions of Narashans, fewer than a hundred thousand had survived–and the vord would answer to him for their actions.
Nasaug bared his throat and departed the cabin. A moment later, the door opened again, and Master Khral entered. He was nearly as tall as Varg, closer to nine feet than eight when fully upright, but unlike the warrior Cane, he was as thin as whipcord. His fur was a mottled red-brown, marked with streaks of white hairs born from scars inflicted by ritual and not by honest battle. He wore a demonskin mantle and hood, despite Varg’s repeated requests that he not parade about the fleet in a garment made from the skins of the creatures who were presently responsible for keeping them all alive. He wore a pair of pouches on cross-body belts, each containing a bladder of blood, which the ritualists needed to perform their sorcery. He smelled like unclean fur and rotten blood, and reeked of a confidence that he was too foolish to see had no basis in reality.
A furious snarl burst out of Khral’s throat, and one paw-hand flashed toward the hip bag at his side. Varg did not so much as rise from his crouch. His arms moved, shoulders twisting with sinewy power as he punched Khral in the throat. The impact knocked Khral’s shoulders back against the door to the cabin, and he rebounded from it to fall to the cabin’s deck, making gagging sounds.
Varg stood by for a moment, as Khral’s gagging gradually transformed to labored breathing. He hadn’t quite crushed the ritualist’s windpipe, which was disappointing. Now he’d have to suffer the fool again tomorrow. After surviving today’s conflict, Khral would be unlikely to allow Varg another such opportunity to remove him.
“Nasaug,” Varg called.
The pup opened the door and considered the prostrate form on the floor. “Warmaster?”
“Master Khral is ready to return to his boat.”
Nasaug bared his throat, not quite hiding his amusement. “Immediately, Warmaster.” He leaned down, seized Khral by his ankle, and simply dragged him out of the cabin. Varg gave Nasaug a few minutes to get Khral back into his boat, then strode out onto the Trueblood‘s deck.
The ship was painted black, as most Narashan vessels were. It offered a stealth advantage when moving at night, and during the day it collected enough heat to enable the adhesive sealing the hull to remain flexible and watertight. It also lent them an air of menace, particularly to the Aleran demons. They were nearly blind at night and painted their own ships white so that they could see a little more clearly during darkness. The very idea of a black ship was alien to them, and darkness was a primal fear for the species. While their blindness and fear might not stop them from attacking, especially with their sorcery at hand, it did prevent any independent individual or small group from attempting to board a Narashan vessel for whatever mad reason it might concoct.
The Alerans were many things, but not stupid. None of them liked the idea of stumbling around in the darkness while the night-wise Canim came for them.
Tavi tried to shake some of the ringing out of his ears and looked up at his tutor. Alera appeared to be a tall young woman. Despite the cold of the cavern, she wore only a light dress of what at first seemed to be gray silk. A closer look would show that the dress was made from cloudy mist as dark as a thunderhead. Her eyes constantly swirled with bands of color, endlessly cycling through every imaginable hue. Her hair was the color of ripe wheat and long, her feet were bare, and she was inhumanly beautiful.
Which was appropriate, Tavi supposed, since Alera wasn’t human at all. She was the embodiment of a fury, perhaps the greatest fury upon the face of Carna. Tavi didn’t know how old she was, but she spoke of the original Gaius Primus, the half-legendary founder of the Realm, as though she had been having a conversation with him just the other day. She had never displayed what sort of power she might have–but under the circumstances, Tavi had decided that treating her with courtesy and polite respect was probably a wiser action than trying to elicit some sort of display from her.
“Give me a second,” Tavi said. “Flying is hard.”
“On the contrary, flight is quite simple,” Alera said. Her mouth had curved into an amused smile. “Surviving the landing is less so.”
Tavi stopped himself from glaring at her after a second or so. Then he sighed, closed his eyes, and focused on his windcrafting. Gathering the numbers of ambient furies necessary for flight was a tedious process. Tavi began to picture the furies in his mind, visualizing them as motes of light that swirled through the air like a cloud of fireflies. Then he began to picture each individual mote being guided toward him by a featherlight breath of wind, one by one at first, then two at a time, then three, and so on, until every single one of them had gathered in the air around him.
He knew when he was ready. The very air around him crawled eerily against his skin, pressing and caressing. Then he opened his eyes, called to the furies in his thoughts, and gathered them into a windstream that swirled and spun, then lifted him gently from the cavern’s snowy floor. He guided the furies into lifting him until the soles of his boots were about three feet from the floor, and hovered there, frowning in concentration.For a second, he thought it was going to work, and he began to press ahead with more force, to move into speedier flight. But seconds later, his concentration faltered, the wind furies flew apart like so much dandelion fluff, and he plunged down–directly into the center of the thirty-foot pool.
The shock of the cold of near-freezing water sucked the breath out of his lungs, and he flailed wildly for a second, until he forced himself to use his mind rather than his limbs. He reached out to the furies in the water, gathering them to him in less than a quarter of a minute–he was more adept with watercrafting–and willed them into lifting him from the water and depositing him on the snowy floor of the ice cavern. It did not particularly lessen the bitter, biting pain of the cold, and he lay there shuddering.