Carnivores of Darkness and Light: Journeys of the Catechist, Book 1 by Alan Dean Foster

He tried not to stare. “I did not say that I was disappointed.”

“Gentlemanly put. You are … ?”

“Etjole Ehomba. A herdsman from the south.”

“Yes, I can tell that by your style of dress and your, um, bouquet.” She settled herself behind a desk that was piled high with open books and specimens of insects, plants, stuffed birds, stones polished and rough, and colored glass bottles containing unknown liquids. “What do you need from me, Ehomba? Have some of your cattle gone missing?”

“No.” She was teasing him now, he felt, and he determined to convey the gravity of his purpose to her in no uncertain terms. “It concerns an obligation put upon me by one who lay dying.”

“Ah.” Her mien grew serious and for the first time he saw, behind the unavoidable physical beauty and agile wit, a much deeper persona. “Tell me about it.”

As he spoke, the air in the room seemed to chill slightly and the light pouring through the windows to darken. When he had finished, she sat in silence, eyes closed, contemplating all that she had just heard. When at last she opened them and focused on her visitor again, he noticed that they had changed color, shifting noticeably from blue to black.

“This is a serious business you speak of, Etjole Ehomba.”

“Very much so, Rael.”

“As to your question, there are boats that call regularly at Kora Keri. They ply the trade routes along the Kohoboth, traveling west with the current and returning eastward with the wind. But none that I know of would think of daring the wild currents of the Semordria. There are delta-based merchants who do leave the safe confines of the river. You might travel to its mouth in hopes of meeting one of them, but even they trade only along the coast. The idea of actually crossing the ocean would horrify them. They are interested in making money, not in noble exploration.”

“I see,” he replied resignedly. “Then I will have to continue northward until I find a captain and crew whom the notion of undertaking such a journey does not fill with terror.”

She wagged a warning finger at him. “There is trouble in the north.”

“So I have been told.” Idly, he wondered if the gate guards had stopped running. At his feet, his spear stirred slightly, as if it were part of a cavernous mouth that was flexing in its sleep. “I do not fear trouble.”

She eyed him intently, and he wondered at her purpose. With an effort, he forced himself to think of his wife. “What do you fear, Etjole Ehomba?”

He formulated a reply. “Ignorance. Prejudice. Eromakadi.”

Her perfect eyebrows rose slightly. “So you are more than a mere herdsman.”

“No. Nothing more.” He waited silently.

After a moment, she grunted softly. “You are a tracker of certain things. I am a reader of certain things. I will give you instructions that will let you find the best route north, if you are determined to continue on. But first, for my interest, and because I like you, I will attempt to see what the future holds for you.” Her expression conveyed a professionalism that worked hard to conceal a seething, underlying sensuality.

From a cabinet behind the desk she withdrew a crystal. Not round, as was the norm, but perfectly square. It was filled with embedded bits of other minerals. Rutilated quartz, he decided, or something even more exotic. Without waiting to be asked, he drew his chair close.

Setting the crystalline cube down on the desk between them, she began to make passes over its surface with her hands, caressing the transparent material with the tips of her fingers. Unwillingly, he found himself envying the stone. Within, the embedded shards of darker material twitched, shuddered, and began to move, realigning themselves according to cryptic patterns that meant nothing to him, but whose very activity he found fascinating. As near as he could tell, the stone cube was solid. Yet the deeply rooted inner crystals were clearly shifting their position within the rock.

The quartz cube grew cloudy as it embarked on a sequence of color changes. One moment it was morion, the next citrine, then amethyst, a squared succession of gemstone properties. Through it all Rael sat almost motionless, wholly intent on her task. Ehomba could only look on, equally entranced by the doer and the doing.

At last she looked up, closed her eyes, sighed deeply, and seemed to slump in on herself. The cube became colorless again save for the rutile and other inclusions. Opening her eyes, she blinked at him. Expecting a smile, he was disappointed.

“Go home, Etjole Ehomba.”

He blinked. “What?”

“Go home.” She laid one fine hand atop the cube. “It is all here. I saw it. Disaster, complete and entire. You are doomed to unremitting misery, your quest to failure, the rest of your life to cold emptiness. Unless you end this now. Go home, back to your village and to your family. Before it is too late. Before you die.”


STUNNED, HE SAT BACK IN HIS CHAIR. OUTSIDE, THE cacophony of the bazaar continued to rage raucously, the piquant odors of frying food still drifted up to the upper floors of surrounding buildings. But within the room something was different. Something had changed.

Despite her fervor, she was as beautiful as ever. Briefly, he wondered how that intensity of intellect might translate into physical passion. The moment passed, as circumstances compelled him to concentrate on other matters.

“I do not understand.” He indicated the crystal cube. “What did you see in that thing to render so dire a warning?”

As she spoke, her eyes changed from black to green. “A woman of great—no, of supernal, beauty.”

He pursed his lips. “That is not a sighting I would call a prelude to disaster.”

“Then you know little of the real world, traveler.”

His head dipped in barely perceptible acquiescence. “I cannot argue that. I am but a poor herdsman.”

She eyed him shrewdly. “Are you, Etjole Ehomba? Looking at you, sitting here across from me, far from your animals and your village, I find myself wondering. A herdsman to be sure, and poor in the false coin of commerce perhaps, but there are other kinds of wealth, other means for measuring riches and the true worth of an individual. So, I wonder.”

As always, he was uncomfortable when the subject was him. He gestured anew at the cube. “If your intent is to turn me from my chosen path, you will have to come up with a threat greater than the sight of a beautiful woman.”

“My ‘intent’ is to do no such thing. I desire only to try and see what the future holds for you. The path you choose is your own, and only you can decide whether or not to walk it. Life is a noun, Etjole, and living it no more or less than a matter of adding adjectives.” Her petite, fine-skinned hand brushed over the top of the cube. “I am here only to show you what adjectives may be added.”

“The woman you saw is the Visioness Themaryl,” he told her.

Her eyes widened. “So you have seen a little of the future yourself.”

“Nothing of the sort.” He crossed his arms casually over his chest and leaned back in the chair, rocking it gently. “It is the name of the woman abducted against her will, and was confided to me by the dying soldier Tarin Beckwith. It comes from my past, not my future.”

“Well, it lies here in your future as well.” The sensuous seer bent forward over the cube. “She is being held captive by a small man who commands great evil.”

“Hymneth the Possessed.”

“Yes.” Rael frowned as she studied the rutilated innards of the crystal. “There swirls about him an air of great confusion. I cannot tell if he possesses this evil or is possessed by it.”

“I would think the two would go together,” Ehomba commented.

“As often they do, but the confusion and uncertainty here are profound beyond anything I have ever encountered before.” She glanced up from the cube, and her eyes were a pale yellow, like those of a cat. “I am a strong woman, Etjole. Confident in my abilities, secure in my knowledge. But I would never, never consider challenging a power like this that I see here. Because its body is hidden from me and impenetrable to my arts, I can discern only its effects. There are many methodologies of evil, and this one exceeds my comprehension. It frightens me even to apperceive it. I don’t think I want to look into it any deeper. I might come to understand how it works.

“If you continue onward and manage to confront this Hymneth person-creature, you will be utterly destroyed. Try as I might, I can foresee no other outcome.” She sat back from the cube and closed her eyes. With her sigh, the air in the room seemed to surge around him and then relax, like a wave rushing onshore only to lose all its substance and energy to the thirsty sand.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster