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“Is this your Imperial City speech again? I like it here, Nn. It"s my home. We"ve known each other since we were hatchlings, yes, and if you didn"t already know. ALSO BY GREG KEYES THE KINGDOMS OF THORN AND BONE The Born Queen The Blood Knight The Charnel Prince The Briar King ST. Based on the award-winning The Elder Scrolls, The Infernal City is the first of two exhilarating novels following events that continue.

The story begins with Umbriel being summoned into the mortal plane. The An-Xileel escape from the destruction of the city, but the Lukiul, the assimilated Argonians , are controlled by the rogue Hist of Lilmoth. The Lukiul and non-Argonian races are slaughtered and reanimated as zombies. Mere-Glim, is sent to the sump, where he must take care of gathering the resources the sump provides and taking care of the Umbrielians that are being born. Attrebus is a hero to the people, so he proposes his father Titus Mede I to launch an attack on Umbriel.

His voice sounded strained. When he didn"t continue for a moment, she raised her hands. I"ve been thinking you ought to anyway. I went so far as to set aside money for the voyage, and there is a ship leaving at dawn. It sounds like you think something"s wrong. Then his forehead smoothed and he stood. I am called to the Organism this morning. I will see you tonight, and we can discuss this further. Why don"t you pack, in case you decide to take the trip?

I"ll have dinner brought from the Coquina, Thistle. No need to cook tonight. And we"ll talk about this. As soon as he was out of earshot, she leveled a finger at Mere-Glim. I"m going to Hecua"s. Slowly, reluctantly, he did so. I"m not going to give you a hard time.

But I"m going, Xhu? He wondered, which is to say that he gave his mind its way, let it slip away from speech into the obscure nimbus of pure thinking. Words hammered thought into shape, put it in cages, bound it in chains. He was four people, really. Mere-Glim the Argonian, when he spoke the language of the Empire, which cut his thoughts into human shapes.

When he spoke to his mother or siblings he was Wuthilul the Saxhleel. But even their shared language was far from true thought. True thought was close to the root. The Hist were many, and they were one.

Their roots burrowed deep beneath the black soil and soft white stone of Black Marsh, connecting them all, and thus connecting all Saxhleel, all Argonians. The Hist gave his people life, form, purpose.

It was the Hist who had seen through the shadows to the Oblivion crisis, who called all of the people back to the marsh, defeated the forces of Mehrunes Dagon, drove the Empire into the sea, and laid waste to their ancient enemies in Morrowind. The Hist were of one mind, but just as he was four beings, the mind of the Hist could sometimes escape itself.

It had happened before. It had happened in Lilmoth. If the city tree had separated itself, and the An-Xileel with it, what did that mean? But he was, wasn"t he? Now all that was visible of him was his lower snout up to his head. The rest of him was sunken, like most of ancient Lilmoth, into the soft, shifting soil the city had been built on. If one could swim through mud and earth, there were many Lilmoths to discover beneath one"s webbed feet.

An image arose behind his eyes; the great stepped pyramid of Ixtaxh-thtithil-meht. Only the topmost chamber still jutted above the silt, but the An-Xileel had excavated it, room by room, pumping it out and laying magicks to keep the water from returning. As if they wanted to go back, not forward. As if something were pulling them back to that ancient Lilmoth … He stopped, realizing he was still walking without knowing exactly where he was going, but then he knew.

The undertow of his thoughts had brought him here. To the tree. Or part of it. The city tree was said to be three hundred years old, and its roots and tendrils pushed and wound through most of lower Lilmoth, and here was a root the size of his thigh, twisting its way out of a stone wall. Everything else around him had become waterish, blurred, but as he laid his webbed hand on the rough surface, the colors sharpened and focused.

He stood there, no longer seeing the crumbling, rotted Imperial warehouses, but instead a city of monstrous stone ziggurats and statues pushing up to the sky, a place of glory and madness. He felt it tremor around him, smelled anise and burning cinnamon, and heard chanting in antique tongues. His heart thumped oddly as he watched the two moons heave themselves through the low mist of smoke and fog that rolled through the streets, and the waters surged beneath them, around them, beyond the sky.

His thoughts melted together. He wasn"t sure how long it was before his mind complicated itself again, but his hand was still on the root. He lifted it and backed away, and after a few long breaths he began walking, and in the thick night around him, the massive structures softened, thinned, and went mostly away, until he was once again in the Lilmoth where his body was born. Mostly away. But he felt it now, the call the An-Xileel felt, and he realized that a part of him had already known it.

He knew something else, too. The tree had cut him off from the vision before it had run its course. That was troubling. Gulls swarmed the streets like rats near the waterfront, most of them too greedy or stupid to even move out of his way as he picked his way through fish offal, shattered crabs, jellyfish, and seaweed.

Barnacles went halfway up the buildings here. This part of town had sunk so low that when a double tide came, it flooded deep. The docks themselves floated, attached to a massive long stone quay whose foundations were as ancient as time and whose upper layer of limestone had been added last year. He made his way up the central ramp to the top of it. Here was a city in itself; since the An-Xileel forbade all but licensed foreigners in the city, the markets had all crowded themselves here.

Here, a fishmonger held a flounder up by the tail, selling from a single crate of silver-skinned harvest. There, a long line of sheds with the Colovian Traders banner hawked trinkets of silver and brass, cooking pots, cutlery, wine, cloth. He had worked here, for a while. A group of his matriline cousins had set up a business selling Theilul, a liquor made of distilled sugarcane.

They"d originally sold the cane, but since their fields were twenty miles from town, they"d found it easier to transport a few cases of bottles than many wagonloads of cane—and far more profitable.

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He knew where to find Urvwen; right in the thick of it all, where the great stone cross that was the waterfront joined. The Psijic wasn"t yelling, as usual. He was just sitting there, looking through the crowd and past the colorful masts of the ships to the south, toward where the bay came to the sea. His bone-colored skin seemed paler than usual, but when the silvery eyes found Mere-Glim approaching, they were full of life.

For a moment Mere-Glim had trouble responding, the experience with the tree had been so powerful. But he let words shape his thoughts again. It"s nearly here.

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We don"t teach our beliefs to outsiders. We counsel, we help. But it is not to be unguided. And their guide brings change, but not the sort that ought to be encouraged.

But they do not listen to me. Truth be told, no one here listens to me, but I try. Every day I come here and try to have some effect. Did you know that? And it has come here. But I think it will be very bad. Mundus—the world—is a very delicate thing, you know. They pull in the wrong directions.

And that is never good. I thought we can"t be invaded by Oblivion anymore. But nothing is so simple. There are always loopholes, you see. I can"t explain. I can"t—go away. Just go away. He didn"t need to be told twice, although technically he had been. He wandered off to find his cousins and procure a bottle of Theilul. Her wrinkled dark brow knotted in a little frown. But I"ve never heard of any formula that can make a person fly—not from anywhere. And this list— this just looks like a mess waiting to happen.

And maybe if there was a Synod conclave within four hundred miles of here, you might have a chance of learning that, after a few years paying their dues. But that"s a spell, not a synthesis. A badly put-together spell likely won"t work at all—alchemy gone wrong can be poison. It didn"t hurt him. She knew she didn"t have everything she needed. It was like cooking; there was one more taste needed to pull everything together. She just didn"t have any idea what it was.

Hecua"s place was huge. It had once been the local Mages" Guild hall, and there were still three or four doddering practitioners who were in and out of the rooms upstairs. Hecua honored their memberships, even though there was no such organization as the Mages" Guild anymore. No one much cared; the An-Xileel didn"t care, and neither the College of Whispers nor the Synod—the two Imperially recognized institutions of magic—had representatives in Lilmoth, so they hadn"t anything to say about it either.

She opened bottles and sniffed the powders, distillations, and essences, but nothing spoke to her. Nothing, that is, until she lifted a small, fat bottle wrapped tightly in black paper. Touching it sent a faint tingle traveling up her arm, across her clavicle, and up into the back of her throat.

She held the container up. The old woman came and peered down her nose at it. It"s been there for ages. He was sick with something and needed some things, but he didn"t have money to pay.

But he had that.

The Infernal city

He claimed he"d taken it from a fortress in Oblivion itself. There was a lot of that back then; we had a big influx of daedra hearts and void salts and the like. I imagine it"s not much of anything. It was tight, but a good twist brought it out. The feeling in the back of her throat intensified and became a taste, a smell, bright as sunlight but cold, like eucalyptus or mint.

You know what it is? But I want some. I"ll run some virtue tests on it. They miss things.

The house, as usual, was empty, so she went to the small attic room where she had all of her alchemical gear and went to work. She did the virtue tests and found the primary virtue was restorative and the secondary was—more promisingly—one of alteration. The tertiary and quaternary virtues didn"t reveal themselves even so vaguely. But she knew, knew right to her bones, that this was right. And so she passed hours with her calcinator, and in the end she was turning a flask containing a pale amber fluid that bent light oddly, as if it were a half a mile of liquid instead of a few inches.

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Then she sighed. It felt right, smelled right—but Hecua"s warning was not to be taken lightly. This could be poison as easily as anything. Maybe if she just tasted a little … At that moment she heard a sound on the stairs. She stayed still, listening for it to repeat itself. It was only her father. She remembered he had been bringing food home, and a glance out her small window proved it was near dinnertime.

She started up, then paused. Where was Glim? He"d been gone an awfully long time. She went to a polished cypress cabinet and withdrew two small objects wrapped in soft gecko skin. She unwrapped them carefully, revealing a locket on a chain and a life-sized likeness of a sparrow constructed of a fine metal the color of brass but as light as paper.

Each individual feather had been fashioned exquisitely and separately, and its eyes were garnets set in ovals of some darker metal. As her fingers touched it, it stirred, ruffling its metal wings. She hesitated then. Coo was the only thing of value her mother had left her that hadn"t been stolen or sold. Sending her out was a risk she didn"t often take. But Glim had had more than enough time to get to the waterfront and back, hours and hours more.

It was probably nothing—maybe he was drinking with his cousins or something—but she was eager to find out what the Psijic priest had to say. She went out, closing the door behind her. She met him near the top of the winding flight. He was red in the face from wine or exertion or probably both. The stair came to a landing, and then continued down. I know that. I"ve got no complaints. You pine to leave here, this place.

You dream of the Imperial City, of studying there. But I"ve sold some things. He rested his hand on her shoulder. Your aunt will see you get to the Imperial City. She has friends there. What do you know? It was as if it had pulled itself outside of her and become a thing of its own. The orc stepped in her way. She was only halfway there when hard, callused hands clamped on her arm. Her father leaned in and kissed her forehead. He stank of black rice wine.

That in the end I did right by you. Anyway, it wasn"t much fun watching her concoct her smelly compounds, which is what she had surely been doing all afternoon. If he had, he might have known he wasn"t alone in feeling a bit cut off from the tree, that only the An-Xileel and other, even wilder people from the deep swamps seemed to enjoy complete rapport with it.

That was bothersome in a lot of ways, and perhaps most bothersome was that his mind—like many of his people— had a hard time believing in coincidence. If the tree was doing something strange at the same time a flying city appeared from nowhere, it seemed impossible that there wasn"t some connection.

Maybe it was time to go, away from Lilmoth and its rogue tree. If it was rogue. If all the Hist weren"t involved. Because if they were, he would have to get out of Black Marsh entirely. A light rain began splattering the mud-covered path as he passed beneath the pocked, eroded limestone arch that had once marked the boundary of the Imperial quarter.

He whirl- jumped as a fluttering motion at the edge of his vision opened ancient templates—but what he saw there wasn"t a venin-bat or blood-moth. She must really be irritated, he thought. She rarely used Coo for anything. He blew out some of the water that had collected in his nose and flipped open the little hatch that covered the mirror. It was dark, which meant the locket was closed. But it was emitting faint sounds. He pressed the bird nearer his ear.

At first he didn"t hear much—breathing, the muffled voices of two men. But then suddenly a man was shouting, and a woman shrieked.

An Elder Scrolls Novel: The Infernal City

So on the boat you go. With a grunt he turned around and started back down toward the docks. Well, that was great. Now he felt worse about everything. He began to run. She and her things were placed in a small stateroom—about the size of a closet, actually—and that was bolted from the outside, with the promise that she would be free to wander the ship once they were a few leagues from land. That didn"t stop her from trying to find a way out, of course.

The small window was no help, since she couldn"t shapeshift into a cat or ferret. She tried screaming for help, but they were facing away from the docks, so there was no one to hear her above the general din. She couldn"t find a way through the door, and as it turned out, if someone had built any sort of secret doors or panels into the bulkhead, they were far too clever for her. That left crying, which she actually started before completing her search.

Her tears were thoroughly mixed—anger, grief, and terror.

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Her father would never think of treating her like this unless he was certain that remaining meant death. So why had he decided to stay and die? Why did he get that choice and not her? Once she got past the noisy stage of crying and settled into more dignified, ladylike sniffling, she realized someone was saying her name.

She looked at the door and window, but the sound was funny, very small … And then she remembered, and felt really stupid. She took off the locket and opened it up and there was Glim"s familiar face. His mouth was slightly open and his teeth were showing, indicating his agitation. Trying to get me out of here—you"ll only get caught. Get out of Lilmoth, as far and as fast as you can. She felt tired, hungry, worn-out.

Glim was coming, wasn"t he? The first hour, she waited anxiously, preparing herself to spring into action. But then she felt the boat moving on the water. She looked out the window and saw the lanterns on the quay receding.

She opened the locket, but no image greeted her. She held it up to her ear, but she didn"t hear anything, either. Had he heeded her advice, or had he been caught, injured, murdered? In her whirling thoughts he was all of them. Glim, missing an arm; Glim, headless; Glim bound in chains and about to be thrown overboard … Something rattled at her door, and her heart actually skipped a beat. She"d always thought that was just an expression.

She stood, fingers knotted in fists she didn"t really know how to use, waiting. The door opened, a snout appeared, and large reptilian eyes that sagged deep in their wrinkled sockets. You"ll not make it, not with the sea-drakes hereabouts. It"s law. Kidnapping is against the law! So best resign. She loosened her fingers. I"m free to move about the ship? Here"s me moving, then. Above her, sails billowed and snapped in the plentiful wind that always drove off the coast early in the night, and the bow cut a furrow through a sea lacquered in silver and bronze by the two great moons above.

For a moment her fear and dismay were overcome by an unexpected rush of joy at the beauty of it, the adventure it seemed to promise. Across the sea to the Empire, and everything she"d always wanted. Her father"s last, best—almost only—gift to her. She went and stood with her hands braced on the bulward and looked out across the waters.

They were sailing south, out of the bay, and then they would go west, along the mangroved coast of Black Marsh, until they reached the Topal Sea, and then they would turn north. Or she could throw herself in the water and swim what she guessed to be west, brave the sea-drakes, and with more luck than she deserved reach land.

But by the time she made it back to Lil-moth, it would be too late. The city—or whatever it was—was supposed to arrive in the morning. She gasped for air and clawed at her captor, trying to climb up on his head, but a strong hand clamped over her nose and mouth before she could so much as scream, and suddenly she was beneath, enclosed by the sea, moving though it in powerful pulses.

She knew she shouldn"t breathe, but after a few moments she had to try, to suck in something, anything, to make the need stop. But she couldn"t do it, even when she wanted to. She woke with air whistling in and a voice behind her. You hang tight to my shoulders. Don"t kick or try to help—let me swim for both of us.

Try to keep your head under if you can, but I"ll be shallow enough so you can lift it out for a few breaths when you need to. On land, Glim was strong, but here he seemed really powerful—a crocodile, a dolphin. After a few panicked moments, she had her head bobbing in and out of the water in rhythm with him and was actually beginning to enjoy the ride. She had never been a good swimmer, and the sea always seemed somehow deeply unfriendly, but now she felt almost a part of it.

It was just then, as the last of her fears melted away, that Glim rolled and turned so quickly that she nearly lost her grip. The cadence broken, she gulped water, only barely managing not to inhale. Then the water itself seemed to slap at them.

The Infernal City (The Elder Scrolls, #1)

Glim was going even faster now, weaving and rolling, not giving her any chance to breathe at all. Again, a vortex seemed to jerk at them, and as they spun she caught a glimpse of an immense dark shape against the moonlight glowing down through the water—something like a crocodile, but with paddles instead of legs. And much, much bigger. Glim dove deeper, and her lungs began to scream again, but just as suddenly, he turned back up and in an instant they broke free of the sea"s grasp, hurling into the air, where the black gas in her chest found its way out and one sweet sip of the good stuff got in before they struck once more down through the silvery surface.

Agony ripped along her leg, and then Glim was doing his crazy dance again, and something scraped at her arm and she screamed bubbles into the water as her fingers began to lose their grip.

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