The Grand Ellipse
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Paula Volsky, author of The White Tribunal, returns with a spectacular saga of adventure and intrigue, romance and rebellion—beginning with a wondrous discovery that could forever alter the fate of the free world…
In the modern, civilized republic of Vonahr, the need for magic seems a thing of the past. But soon the Vonahrish will find that magic is their only hope—for an imperialistic race of fanatics, intent on conquering the world, now masses on Vonahr’s borders.
Vonahr’s slim chance for salvation lies in a nearby neutral kingdom, where a brilliant savant has conjured up the ultimate weapon: Sentient Fire, a miraculous flame that responds to the command of its maker.
Low Hetz’s mad, flamboyant king refuses to relinquish the secret—so the desperate government of Vonahr sends the exquisitely beautiful adventurer Luzelle Devaire to turn his head and change his mind. But to gain an audience, Luzelle must win the Grand Ellipse, a test of endurance, ingenuity, and valor…
Climbing in, she shut the door, and the hansom clattered off into the night. Aeshno went by her, street by lamplit street. When she reached Old Knightly Crescent, the affluence and extreme modernity of the neighborhood proclaimed itself in the glow of the gaslights flanking the portals of certain morning-new mansions designed to resemble the castles and temples of old. Incongruous, she thought. Her goal was easy to spot. New brick mansion the color of raw meat in Old Knightly Crescent, her picketer informant had told her, and there it was, a turreted architectural offense, ridiculously equipped with crenellations and machicolations worthy of a medieval stronghold.
She liked Mesq’r Zavune, but was relieved when the linguistically toilsome conversation concluded. Turning to her right, she quickly discovered that the Lanthian merchant Porb Jil Liskjil spoke perfect Vonahrish, and that he was willing to demonstrate his proficiency. Too willing. In his own relentlessly sociable way he was almost as tiresome as the Festinette boys. Apparently he knew everyone there was to know in his home city of Lanthi Ume. His intimate friends numbered in the hundreds or thousands, and he seemed determined to recite the entire list.
Setting Little Hilfi aside with care, he opened the capsule, extracted the message, unfolded it, and read swiftly. When he had done, he pushed the paper scrap across the table to his companion, who also read. The two men traded glances, and Papa remarked, “Seven-fifteen. ” AT EIGHT O’CLOCK the big cargo vessel Rhelish Mercenary steamed into the Lanthian harbor, only forty-five minutes behind schedule—an exceptionally fine run. There was a moderate delay as the Grewzian inspectors at the waterfront came aboard to check over the relevant documents, but the Mercenary’s paperwork was in order, and official approval quickly granted.
The animal shifted restlessly, sensing strangeness. “Easy,” Luzelle muttered, to the horse and to herself. “Easy. ” Her own deftness in attaching the girth almost surprised her. No time to fool with the stirrups, they would have to do for now. She turned the mare gently toward the stall door, and led her through without difficulty. The sight of her valise on the floor beside the door recalled her to certain unpleasant realities. Most of her money reposed within the bag, and she remembered that she had vowed to leave a fair price in exchange for the horse she was stealing—purchasing—not to mention the property she had destroyed.
You know sweetspitter carriage? ” “Who doesn’t? That flashy eyesore belongs to Madame Phingria Tastriune, wife of none other than Gleftus Tastriune himself. ” He eyed her expectantly, as if awaiting a reaction. “That’s the Gleftus Tastriune, otherwise known as Mr. Moneybags, chief stockholder and president of the Feyenne-Aeshno Railroad. If the Moneybags could only bring himself to loosen those purse strings just a trifle, let me tell you, this strike would be over before nightfall. ” It would only be another hour or so before nightfall, Luzelle realized.