Chapter 7

Leon needed to leave Leknaat’s tower. He had overstayed his welcome there, by his estimation if not by hers. It simply wouldn’t do to be out of touch with his allies for too long. They might get ideas that he wasn’t keeping an eye on them.

He stepped out onto a balcony and looked out over the land below. The tower’s great height allowed him a commanding view. Had he been more given to metaphor, he might have considered it appropriate that he have such command. As it was, he just wanted to be on his way.

But Leknaat did not seem to want him to be on his way. Did she suspect something, perhaps?

A raven landed on the tower.

Leon turned to shoo it away, but then caught sight of its eye. “What are you doing here?” he asked quietly.

The raven cocked its head at him and opened its beak as though it were laughing.

“I cannot speak with you now,” Leon said.

“We are becoming concerned, Lord Silverburg,” said the raven. Its voice was impossibly deep for a creature its size - but not for its true form. “You are spending entirely too much time doing the bidding of the seeress, and entirely too little on our... project.”

“Be off,” Leon said. He met the raven’s eyes. “I’ll keep my part of the bargain, so long as you keep yours.”

The raven again laughed, silently.

An instant later, the bird was gone, and a gauntleted hand was closed around Leon’s neck. “We are not pleased with your progress, Silverburg,” Yuber said. “My master wants you to move now, to stop Atreides and the Player before they get more. Why should we not bargain with them, he wonders? And I concur.”

“Take your hand off me,” Leon said calmly.

Yuber’s eyes, as black as the raven whose form he had taken, narrowed. After a moment, he released his hold.

Leon brushed an imaginary speck of dust from his coat. “Your master is lucky that I agreed to help him. And you are lucky that you’ve been useful to me in the past.”

“Perhaps you would not be so calm if one of the others had this conversation with you?” Yuber asked.

Leon’s expression did not change, but he had to fight to keep from shuddering at the thought. Some of Yuber’s people were far less easy to control. Their powers were not so much greater, as more frightening. Leon could still feel the mental fingers of the one called Wreksoul in his mind.

No. It didn’t matter.

Whatever their claims, they could be killed. Anything which could be killed could be dealt with, one way or another.

And, after all, he, Leon Silverburg, was the Bearer.

“You won’t drive me mad as you did that fool, Windy,” he said. “You know who I am as well as I do.”

Yuber shrugged. “If it were up to me, Silverburg, I would have killed you and that arrogant seeress. Your kind deserve no better. I will get my wish if you do not cooperate with us.”

“Your idea of cooperation is mine of slavery,” Leon said. He met Yuber’s eyes. “Now leave this place.”

“What’s the matter?” Yuber’s unnaturally pallid features twisted into a mockery of a smile that made his raven-form’s laugh seem pleasant. “Afraid that you’ll have a falling out with dear little Leknaat? I thought you humans were supposed to think with your heads by your fiftieth year, and that must have been some time ago.”

“Afraid I will have a more difficult time accomplishing our mutual aims,” Leon said, matching Yuber’s smile with one of his own. “I’m certain your master can appreciate that.”

Touché, Silverburg, touché.” Yuber’s gaze shifted to the doorway. His smile disappeared, replaced with a half-contained snarl that suited him even less than his previous expression.

Leon looked to the doorway, and his smile too faded.

“What art thou doing?” Leknaat asked, looking back and forth between Leon and his guest.

He might have outwitted her, convinced her that nothing was wrong. After all, persuasion was among his greatest talents. Surely, there would have been some way for them to continue to work together. Her resources were simply irreplaceable.

But there was no time. “Banisher,” Yuber snarled. He drew his sword.

Leknaat gasped. “You are an... esper!”

Leon put his hand on Yuber’s arm. “Stand down,” he said. “And leave!”

Yuber’s body shook with fury, and he seemed ready to lunge at Leknaat. But he turned to Leon. “Kill her,” he whispered.

“What?” Leon shook his head. “She’s a valuable ally, you imbecile. We wouldn’t have even one Rune if it weren’t for her aid, and you want to-”

“Kill her! Prove your loyalty!”

“Lord Silverburg, what hath thou done?” Leknaat asked. “What is this... this demon doing here?”

“I, a demon!” Yuber said. He took a step toward her. “This from one who saw my people cast into a living hell? Your kind are the demons, Banisher.”

One moment, Yuber was facing her, sword raised.

The next, he was gone.

The Rune of the Gate on Leknaat’s forehead pulsed one last time, then was still. She turned to Leon. “My friend, what means this?” she asked. “That demon bespoke of loyalty.”

He sighed. Beneath his coat, he pulled the glove from his left hand. “That one spoke madness, Lady Leknaat.”

She took a step closer. “He spoke to thee as an ally.”

“Yes.” He met her gaze. “He spoke truly. I am an ally of his kind. For eight years I have been allied with his kind.”

Leknaat took another step forward, then fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands. “I... trusted thee.”

Leon looked down at her. So hopelessly naive. Idealists always were, though, and she was very much an idealist. For a moment, he almost felt a pang of guilt. But idealism always led to destruction - hers had just been delayed over long.

He pulled back his coat and held his bare hand out.

“Thou hast the Soul Eater,” she said, her voice hollow. She looked up. “It seems I... hath not foreseen all that I ought to have.”

“You looked too far and did not see what was in front of your face, Lady Leknaat.” Leon shook his head. “You looked too far for the Bearer, and this is the price for it.”

She hadn’t changed her expression in the least. No runic flash betrayed her action. Leon was nearly thrown from the balcony by the force of her magical assault. “Thou shalt pay the greater price, my friend,” she said sadly. She stood and extended her hand toward him. “I shall miss thee, Leon Silverburg, though thine friendship was false.”

“I pity your confidence,” Leon said. The Soul Eater blazed on his palm. Leknaat’s magical barrier held against its assault, but she was no longer attacking. He grasped her bare hand with his.

Leknaat’s eye’s widened. She tried to pull away, but he held her tightly.

The Gate Rune on her forehead faded. Leon could feel its power branding its shape into his own. “I am the Bearer, Leknaat,” he said. “You cannot stand against me.”

“Thou art a false Bearer,” she said. “But... thou art correct - I cannot stand against thee.”

She lowered her head. A broken sob escaped from her lips. “Finish... me.”

Leon looked down at her in surprise. “You don’t really think I’m going to kill you? You can explain much of this tower’s functions.”

“P... please.” She shuddered and looked up at him. Her skin was turning grey, like paper set next to a flame. “If... thou wert e’er... my friend... then... finish me.”

“What’s happening?” he demanded. This was unexpected. Unfortunate.

“Fail.. safe...” she croaked.

He put his hand on her shoulder. She was burning up - more than any fever, certainly. Leon’s hand clasped around the dagger he wore at his belt. He closed his eyes and plunged it into her heart.

She slumped onto his arm. By the time he opened his eyes, all that was left of her was ash.

“It was bound to happen someday,” he said, rising to his feet. “Things couldn’t have continued along their present course. She was a fool to trust me so. Deserved what she got.”

He let the dagger fall from his hand. “Fool,” he whispered hoarsely.

He took a deep breath. He was a fool, as well, for developing a sentimental attachment to a mere pawn. Such weakness was atypical. Unacceptable.

He looked up at the sky. “Yuber,” he called.

The dark one who appeared was not Yuber, but another that Leon had never seen before, with mottled green skin, rich robes, and a purple-tinted beard sharp enough to be a weapon. “Lord Silverburg, I presume. Yuber is... unavailable at the moment. The Rune of the Gate can banish us for some time.”

“It doesn’t matter who you are, so long as you can accomplish the task,” Leon said. “I’ll need more than one of you, in any case. I want you to find Leknaat’s apprentice, Luc. Bring him to me immediately. He’s more a familiar than an apprentice - if he doesn’t know of his mistress’ death, I’d be surprised.”

“What of..?” asked the dark one, prodding the ashes with his foot.

Leon looked down at Leknaat’s mortal remains. “Have some one sweep that dust up,” he said.