The Rostikov Legacy
(Malykant Mysteries, Book 1)
Charlotte E. English
Copyright 2011 by Charlotte E. English.
Cover art copyright by Stephanie Mooney.
All rights reserved.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold.
The Bone Forest at night is a dangerous place to be. The ground is marshy, spread with silent pools of water waiting to catch the steps of the unwary. A permanent fog shrouds the air in the colder months; in winter little can be seen of the landscape save the twisted trees looming out of the dark, their branches reaching into the sky like stripped bones.
Once in a while, though, the moon shines briefly from between layers of heavy black cloud and the mists gleam bone-white in response. And even more rarely, a flicker of ghostly white near the black earthen ground begs to catch the eye: a glimpse of a marsh spectre, so easy to miss.
The marsh spectre is not, as might be inferred, a spirit but in fact a flower. It grows in only the wettest of marshes; were its delicate petals to dry out it would crumble and fade into the wind like a wraith.
It crouches low to the ground, its foliage ash-grey veined with silver. It is rare. The conditions for its growth are specific; a particular temperature, a significant degree of moisture, not too much light. Without these it will never thrive and its coveted blossoms - only one per plant - will never appear.
On one particular frosty night, few souls were abroad to witness the delicate white glow of the marsh spectre as it unfurled its petals. Coveted as it was, few could brave the dangers of the night-shrouded Bone Forest with impunity. Konrad Savast was one such, and as he navigated with care through the dripping fog a bright glow caught his eye, blazing briefly but powerfully in the grey forests that ringed the city of Ekamet. It was a light he recognised, for he had set out on this cold, wet night in search of this very blossom.
Swirling his long, dark coat out of the way of his legs, he was on his knees in an instant, heedless of the ice-touched, waterlogged mud staining the thick fabric of his trousers.
But he was not the first. He swore at finding himself too late; too late to prevent this most virulent of poisons from being harvested, processed, sold and above all, used. The centre of the flower was gone; only a few petals remained.
Konrad sat back on his heels, disturbed. Whoever had harvested this particular specimen was not a professional poison master; the drooping, bruised state of the few surviving petals spoke of the rough lack of care with which the valuable parts of the flower had been removed.
When amateurs played at poison craft, the results were never good.
He closed his eyes and let his consciousness shift into the spirit-world. In his mind’s eye the landscape drained further of colour, becoming a faded tableau in hazy white. He could see the wind streaming through the trees, feel the faint traces left by the passage of wraiths through the aether.
‘Eetapi,’ he murmured. ‘Ootapi.’
An answering whisper touched his thoughts, and then a second close behind. Twin phantoms twined through his senses like a persistent cold wind, making him shiver.
Yes, Malykant, they both said together.
Search the aether , he told them silently. Bring me news of the unquiet.
His companions caught the ribbons of the wind and sailed away. He opened his eyes and watched them go, their long serpentine bodies fading into the mist. They had been brightly coloured in life, their beaded hides advertising their venomous natures in vivid purple and red. In death they were moon-pale, insubstantial and cold as winter.
Abandoning the broken marsh spectre, Konrad straightened and continued on, picking his way expertly through the sluggish pools of water that saturated the forest. He threaded through the hillocks of drier land that dotted the landscape, ignoring the steady trickle of dampness that ran off the brim of his hat and flowed down the waxed cloth of his coat. After some minutes his workshop materialised out of the fog, a wooden structure raised on stilts high above the stagnant water. A rope ladder served as the only means of entrance; he climbed up it to his trapdoor entrance and let himself in.