Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)
Mark Lawrence

PROLOGUE

Two men in a room of many doors. One tall in his robes, stern, marked with cruelty and intelligence, the other shorter, very lean, his hair a shock of surprise, his garb a changing motley confusing the eye.

The short man laughs, a many-angled sound as likely to kill birds in flight as to bring blossom to the bough.

“I have summoned you!” The tall man, teeth gritted as if still straining to hold the other in place, though his hands are at his side.

“A fine trick, Kelem.”

“You know me?”

“I know everyone.” A sharp grin. “You’re the door-mage.”

“And you are?”

“Ikol.” His clothes change, tattered yellow checks on blue where before it was scarlet fleur de lis on grey. “Olik.” He smiles a smile that dazzles and cuts. “Loki, if you likey.”

“Are you a god, Loki?” No humour in Kelem, only command. Command and a great and terrible concentration in stone-grey eyes.

“No.” Loki spins, regarding the doors. “But I’ve been known to lie.”

“I called on the most powerful—”

“You don’t always get what you want.” Almost sing-song. “But sometimes you get what you need. You got me.”

“You are a god?”

“Gods are dull. I’ve stood before the throne. Wodin sits there, old one-eye, with his ravens whispering into each ear.” Loki smiles. “Always the ravens. Funny how that goes.”

“I need—”

“Men don’t know what they need. They barely know what they want. Wodin, father of storms, god of gods, stern and wise. But mostly stern. You’d like him. And watching—always watching—oh the things that he has seen!” Loki spins to take in the room. “Me, I’m just a jester in the hall where the world was made. I caper, I joke, I cut a jig. I’m of little importance. Imagine though . . . if it were I that pulled the strings and made the gods dance. What if at the core, if you dug deep enough, uncovered every truth . . . what if at the heart of it all . . . there was a lie, like a worm at the centre of the apple, coiled like Oroborus, just as the secret of men hides coiled at the centre of each piece of you, no matter how fine you slice? Wouldn’t that be a fine joke now?”

Kelem frowns at this nonsense, then with a quick shake of his head returns to his purpose. “I made this place. From my failures.” He gestures at the doors. Thirteen, lined side by side on each wall of an otherwise bare room. “These are doors I can’t open. You can leave here, but no door will open until every door is unlocked. I made it so.” A single candle lights the chamber, dancing as the occupants move, their shadows leaping to its tune.

“Why would I want to leave?” A goblet appears in Loki’s hand, silver and overflowing with wine as dark and red as blood. He takes a sip.

“I command you by the twelve arch-angels of—”

“Yes, yes.” Loki waves away the conjuring. The wine darkens until it’s a black that draws the eye and blinds it. So black that the silver tarnishes and corrupts. So black it is nothing but the absence of light. And suddenly it’s a key. A black glass key.

“Is that . . . ?” There’s a hunger in the door-mage’s voice. “Will it open them?”

“I should hope so.” Loki spins the key around his fingers.

“What key is that? Not Acheron’s? Taken from heaven when—”

“It’s mine. I made it. Just now.”

“How do you know it will open them?” Kelem’s gaze sweeps the room.

“It’s a good key.” Loki meets the mage’s eyes. “It’s every key. Every key that was and is, every key that will be, every key that could be.”

“Give it to—”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Loki walks to the nearest door and sets his fingers to it. “This one.” Each door is plain and wooden but when he touches it this door becomes a sheet of black glass, unblemished and gleaming. “This is the tricky one.” Loki sets his palm to the door and a wheel appears. An eight-spoked wheel of the same black glass, standing proud of the surface, as if by turning it one might unlock and open the door. Loki doesn’t touch it. Instead he taps his key to the wall beside it and the whole room changes. Now it is a high vault, clean lines, walls of poured stone, a huge and circular silver-steel door in the ceiling. The light comes from panels set into the walls. A corridor leads off, stretching further than the eye can see. Thirteen silver-steel arches stand around the margins of the vault, each a foot from the wall, each filled with a shimmering light, as if moonbeams dance across water. Save for the one before Loki, which is black, a crystal surface fracturing the light then swallowing it. “Open this door and the world ends.”

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