Ghostwater Page 1

Author: Will Wight

Series: Cradle #5

Genres: Fantasy


Mu Enkai had been nothing before the egg.

He was born a servant, following just enough of a fire Path to allow him to operate a furnace for a low-ranked refinery. He’d spent his days shoveling coals and choking in smoke, making barely enough scales to live on.

Then the sky had turned red. He and his fellow servants had taken shelter in the cold furnace, huddling together for days before the earth stopped shaking and the air was no longer flooded with blood aura. When they emerged from hiding, shaking but alive, it had been waiting for him.

The egg was a glossy, polished orb the size of a man’s head, waiting among the debris of the refiner’s shop. Unlike the building, it was unharmed. Spotless. Beautiful.

He could feel its promise in his soul; the blood aura that had drowned the world for days was concentrated here. Enkai had never considered himself an ambitious man, but in the egg’s sleek shell, he’d seen his future.

His reflection was not a servant. Not someone who followed a half-remembered, incomplete Path that wasn’t considered good enough for the sects and schools. He’d seen a king, crowned and baptized in blood, and that promise seized something dark in his soul and pulled it forward.

When he’d stepped forward, the others had too. He looked to his left and to his right and saw that he was surrounded by thieves.

It had been a brief, ugly fight, not a showdown between honorable sacred artists. The egg had gloried in the blood spilled, and when he stood victorious, he didn’t think about his wounds or his fallen friends.

The egg was all his.

He’d drawn it inside him without quite knowing how. It nestled inside his soul even now, warm and safe beside his core, and its power blazed in him like a bonfire.

Enkai had been nothing but a Lowgold, and not an especially powerful one at that. But now, what did advancement mean to him? Highgold was nothing compared to the power of the egg.

Now, he sat in the highest floor of the top-ranked restaurant in town. The strongest sacred artists in the region now knelt before him, trembling, daring not even to look him in the eye. Now, they were the servants.

Before the egg, Mu Enkai would never have dared speak up in the presence of the three Highgolds who now bowed before him, each with a different Goldsign and a different set of robes. They all represented different Paths, but none of theirs could stand against his.

The egg changed his body as much as his spirit. Before, he had been small and hunched; as a boy, he had often been compared to a rat. Now, he was lean and sharp, like a hungry wolf. His Goldsign—a shifting flame pattern on the back of his hand—had been stained red as blood. Veins of crimson stretched from his hand and up his arm as the egg’s power radiated out, infusing more of him.

He gestured to one of his Highgold servants, and the young woman flinched as she raised a slice of rare spirit-fruit to his lips. Even younger than him, she was already a Highgold. No wonder she’d had such a high opinion of herself. She had required a number of demonstrations of his new power before she understood his strength, but now she respected him. He could read that respect in her trembling fingers and the veil she kept around her spirit.

Enkai bit into the fruit and savored its icy flavor. It carried a soothing power into his madra channels, though little of it went into his core. Most of it went to nourish the egg.

That was even better. The egg had begun to show cracks, and once it hatched, he could barely imagine the power he’d control.

He opened his mouth for another bite, but his servant’s hand was frozen. She stared off into the distance, eyes growing wider.

She could still ignore him?

Weak sparks of fire kindled in the air around his head, formed by his irritation. The egg echoed him, releasing fist-sized balls of blood-red fire. The egg’s copies were stronger than his own, but that only excited him. The egg’s power was his.

Before he could pull the young woman’s attention back by force, he noticed that the other two Highgolds—an old man with a trio of horns on his head and a motherly woman with iron-gray skin—were staring off in the same direction.

He extended his balls of fire to the backs of their necks. All three of his servants fell to their knees with cries of pain as his power scorched their skin.

“Tell me what it is,” he demanded. He may have had power beyond any Highgold, but he was still only Lowgold. Their spiritual perception was beyond his.

They looked at each other, which only stoked his rage further. The balls of fire trembled, ready to drive through their bodies. Blood aura affected flesh, so the flames of the egg burned men more easily than wood.

“We feel someone,” the young woman said. She glanced at the ceiling and licked her lips.

That was all she said.

He wanted to slap her—the egg’s power could boost his basic Enforcer technique into a blow that would crush her skull. Instead, he stood and gripped her by the chin. Her face paled, and her eyes slid to the side so she didn’t have to stare into his eyes.

“When I ask a question, do you think I want half an answer? Tell me—”

“It’s the Skysworn,” the older woman blurted from the floor. She bowed more deeply. “They must be here to recover the town after the great battle.”

The old man had also not dared to stand after Enkai forced him to kneel. “They will be pleased to know that you have already restored order.”

Despite their reassurance, or perhaps because of it, alarm spiked in Enkai’s heart. The Skysworn were more than just a police force; they were wandering judges, empowered by the Empire to punish criminals. He had been raised on stories of independent sacred artists being inducted into the Skysworn and going on to become some of the Blackflame Empire’s greatest heroes. Even the current Emperor had served as a Skysworn for years.

They could take away everything he’d earned for himself. They might even sense the egg in his spirit, and they would surely kill him and take it from his Remnant.

The thought of losing the egg made him sweat more than the thought of his death.

Enkai released the Highgold’s chin and began stalking away, his fireballs blinking out of existence. He had created a room reinforced with scripts just for an occasion like this. He would hide until they went away. “Keep them away from me,” he commanded. “Tell them nothing.”

Someone rapped on the window.

As one, all four pairs of eyes snapped toward the sound. A man stood outside on a dark green cloud, arms crossed, in robes of deep blue. It looked almost like an Arelius uniform, but there was no way he was there to clean the windows. Broad-shouldered and powerfully built, he loomed over the room, glaring like an executioner about to pass judgment. His right arm was a Remnant prosthetic, a skeletally thin limb of white light. Despite his young age, he gave off an oppressive feeling, as though he were deciding which of them to destroy first.

Enkai shivered at the sight of him, afraid to extend his spiritual perception lest he be punished. Though the egg had made him a conqueror, now he felt like a servant once again, flinching whenever an expert passed.

Without waiting for instruction, the old man hurried over to the window and pushed it open. Only then did Enkai notice the pin on the stranger’s chest: a green cloud. That was the emblem of the Skysworn, though a full member would be wearing a suit of jade armor. Perhaps a disciple? Or a subordinate, deputized to help deal with the emergency?