Sixty miles north of Indimer, Malkeia was the last place one could stay in before reaching the beautiful capital of Esanta. For Wekain and Morgan, nothing could be more welcome to them than seeing a town for the first time in weeks. More than two hundred miles to the northwest, Nilrid was bouncing along on Asinai’s swift horse, trying to beat the noonday sun to Mountown.
It was a fairly large town, with perhaps two thousand people. The residents moved about quickly, all of them seeming to have a purpose or at least a general direction to travel in. The wizards found the local inn almost immediately; it was off the main road and had about twenty rough-looking characters loitering by the worn, wooden door. A rickety sign near the second floor identified it as King Dysone’s Resting. Wekain guessed that the inn must be new, if it boasted the attendance of the current King of Esanta, but looking at the sign carefully he saw that “Dysone” had been tacked on over some other name. How clever.
“Stop,” an unsteady voice shouted as the wizards approached the door. A middle-aged man, obviously drunk, swaggered in front of them. “I must demand a... a toll for your pass... uh, passage.”
The entire group of loiterers broke out into uncontrollable, drunken laughter.
“Of course,” Morgan said, smiling pleasantly at the grinning, considerably taller men. He closed his eyes for a moment as he fumbled around in his pouch, and then threw a shiny, gold coin up in the air. As it landed, the drunks yawned, rubbed their eyes, and fell into a deep sleep.
“People like that shouldn’t be allowed to walk Derenda,” the old wizard grumbled. “And these people won’t—at least, not until they’re sober again.” Opening the door, he led Wekain in.
“Want a room?” the innkeeper asked.
“Yes, please,” the High Wizard replied, laying a few ordinary coins on the table. “We’ll only be here a night.”
“Last door at the top of the stairs,” the innkeeper said simply, taking the money and giving Wekain a dull key. “Enjoy your stay.”
In their room, Morgan was silent for a long while, staring out the window thoughtfully. “Are you still on Derenda, Morgan?” Wekain asked, trying to light the old and stumpy candle.
“Hmm? Oh, I was just wondering about Nilrid. Do you think he’s left Tamaya by now?”
“I don’t even know if he got there,” the High Wizard muttered glumly.
“Oh, stop blaming yourself. But he’ll have to come along this way at some point, if he’s going to Asinai in Indimer, so don’t you think we should leave him a message? Tell him that we’ll be waiting for him in the capital, with something very important?” He paused. “Of course, we’d only need to if we plan on giving him the Ritual of Summoning...”
“We do,” Wekain answered. “There’s no point in us having it, if he’s the one going into Tanaveri. I’m willing to bet my medallion that most or all of the ritual items are in the country, and Malthan’s temple as well.”
“The Temple of Darkness should be in roughly the same spot that bogfiends appeared in the year 157,” Morgan reasoned. “Which is somewhere in the Ilsonne Marsh—either in Tanaveri or Esanta. I assume Pakil knew the location when she drew the borders of her country, and was sure to include it. Anyway, I’ll write a note and leave it for Nilrid when he passes through.” Finding a piece of parchment in one of the room’s drawers, he began the message.
Nilrid—, he wrote, Welcome to Malkeia! We’re awaiting your arrival in Indimer, and will find you at Asinai’s house in the city. May Gelz give you safety and speed on the last leg of your journey. —Morgan of Proseym and Wekain of Ilsonne, July 12, 1128.
“There,” he said. “I’ll take this down to the...”
“Morgan,” Wekain murmured, “look.”
Glancing out the window, the wizard gasped. He had looked just in time to see a huge, golden-scaled dragon sail by on wings the size of a small cottage. It was heading northeast, probably to the Esanta Desert.
“By Gelz!” the High Wizard said. “They’re getting bold, aren’t they?”
“Well, maybe the dragon took a wrong turn, but seeing one in open is never a good sign, under any circumstances. I think we ought to head onto Indimer and talk with Asinai as soon as possible.”
“Agreed,” Wekain said, standing up.
“Now?” Morgan asked, sounding disappointed. “I was just starting to get comfortable.”
The High Wizard sighed, and gave his companion a hard glare. Without another word, the two of them exited the room, left the innkeeper their note, and got out of the town.
Indimer was a positively huge city. Though it followed Ulist, Ilsonne, and Perisanta in population, its inland status had allowed it to become the most sprawling community on the face of Derenda. Buildings stretched out as far as the eye could see, and then a little further.
Nilrid and Asinai had teleported a half mile to the north of the city, to avoid being conspicuous. The wizard made his way briskly down the main, southbound road, and the boy was hard-pressed to keep up. But finally, as the buildings were beginning to thin out, they reached a moderately-sized house on the Indimer River. The older man stopped, and said, “Well, here it is. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed, but High Wizards are lucky to get better quarters than the court jester.”
“You’re the High Wizard of Esanta?” the boy asked, surprised. The man was awfully young to have that kind of position.
“I have been ever since the last one got assassinated five years ago,” Asinai replied indifferently, unlocking the front door and leading his guest in. It looked much smaller on the inside than it did on the outside, but everything had been arranged with an impressive sense of order. “It’s a fairly dangerous job in Esanta, but apart from the occasional death threat, it’s not very exciting. Please, have a seat. There’s some news I need to give you.”
Nilrid went into a small sitting room, and took a comfortable-looking chair. Asinai disappeared for a moment, and then returned with two folded letters. “These were both smuggled over the Tanaverian border and brought to me last week,” he said, handing one of the letters to the boy. “This one has your name on it, and the other one is made out to me.”
Frowning, Nilrid broke the seal, and read:
Nilrid of Fyr’nay
Home of Asinai, High Wizard of Esanta
July 7, 1128
Greetings from your correspondents in Pakil, Tanaveri. We are eagerly awaiting your arrival in the city, and hope you will be able to get there before month’s end. Before you come, however, we felt that we should detail exactly what you will be doing in conjunction with us to infiltrate the new King of Tanaveri.
From meetings with another Esantan agent, we have learned that the Tanaverian Palace, generally thought to have five levels, may actually have as many as eighteen. It is assumed that the she-dragon Pakil has something down on the lowest levels that she wanted to conceal. Instead of interfering with King Beynar and running a much higher risk of execution, we would like you to investigate these lower and forgotten levels of the palace, that even the current King may not know about. We will take it upon ourselves to pose as members of Beynar’s court and look into his personal life and possible identity as a Necromancer.
Please make haste to Pakil. There is talk in the city of waging war against the western nations, and already the armies of Beynar are being secretly mobilized. We will be waiting for you at the western gates of the capital, with final and more specific instructions.—Honir of Indimer
Nilrid nodded, glad that he’d finally gotten any orders about what he was supposed to do in Tanaveri. Asinai seemed equally pleased with his note, but the boy wasn’t nosy and didn’t ask what it was about.
“Well,” the High Wizard said finally, “I heard from King Jizir XI—pardon my formality, but I don’t want to confuse him with...”
“Yes, I know,” Nilrid cut him off, not meaning to be rude but a little irritated that everyone kept clarifying between the ancient hero-king and the present-day politician. “Did he tell you that I’d already learned most of the magic I’m capable of in the Imp Palace?”
“Yes, and that you were recognized by Gelz in Tsatira.”
Nervous, the boy glanced around him.
“There’s nothing to worry about in here. I’ve set magical wards all around the house that make it impossible for anyone to listen into our conversations. Under different circumstances, however, the Council of the Arcane is very strict about revealing the location of the Temple of the Dawn, so your concern comforts me. Anyway, if you don’t need my help learning magic, then perhaps you can help me around the Esantan National Palace, or Luvo Esanta in an older language. I’m running for Chancellor of the Council of the Arcane, you see, and I always need someone to sort through all the campaign material.”
“You certainly have ambition for a young man mixed in with a mass of ninety-year-olds,” Nilrid remarked. “Don’t they ever say that you’re too inexperienced for the jobs you’ve been given?”
“Oh, I hear it, believe me,” Asinai laughed. “The current chancellor, Hovampt of Rogilia, is almost a hundred and twenty, and you wouldn’t believe the trouble he gives me! But most of the Esantans leave me alone; they know that I was the Chief of Espionage Operations here for seven years. A very disreputable job, but the Council of the Arcane respects it greatly.” He motioned to the door. “There’s not much to see here. Shall we be moving along?”
“Certainly,” the boy said, standing up and walking back out into the streets of Indimer.
On the evening of the third day in Indimer, the fifteenth of July, Nilrid and Asinai’s dinner was interrupted by knocking at the door. “Stay here,” the High Wizard of Esanta ordered as he got up from the table.
Cautiously, he opened the door. Nilrid watched his host’s expression turn from suspicion to surprise. “Hurry, come in!” he hissed, hustling the two exhausted-looking men into the house.
Nilrid, too, gave a start of surprise when he saw them. “What are you two doing here?” he asked.
“Ah, Nilrid,” Morgan said. “You’re ahead of schedule. Does this mean you teleported somewhere, and spelled your name out in big glowing letters for any Necromancer who cares to notice?”
“Asinai seemed to think it was a good idea,” the boy answered. “But enough about us. What happened to you? You look as though you just had a run-in with Malthan herself.”
Wekain chuckled, and wiped the sweat off his dusty brow. “You have no idea how right you are. May we sit down? It’s a long story to tell.”
“Of course,” Asinai said, hastily pulling up two more chairs. “Let me get you some food, too.”
“That won’t be necessary,” the High Wizard of Querisia replied. “We’ve already eaten at the wonderful establishment of the Esanta Inn—though I wish I’d saved some room. Ah well, most of it will probably come up in the night, and then I’ll be ready for some of your fine cooking, my friend.”
With that remark, Wekain and Morgan began their story of the past few weeks, often stopping to argue over details. The quarrel over whether the dragon they fought was forty or fifty feet tall lasted several minutes, until the High Wizard of Esanta stepped in and irritably told his guests that he got the idea. When he was finished, Wekain closed his eyes. Nilrid felt his teacher open some sort of invisible box, and a piece of ancient parchment suddenly appeared in mid-air.
“Take it, Nilrid,” the High Wizard of Querisia instructed. The boy carefully lifted the paper out of its floating position. At a first glance, the words were illegible and in another language, but as he watched, they rearranged themselves into the Ulistan tongue and became crystal-clear. He read:
Ritual of Summoning for Malthan of Derenda
As dictated by the Archgod Tyrdonne of the Eighteenth Cluster.
Upon the altar of the Temple of Darkness, place the items in this order:
Black Staff of Malthan, Essence of the Moon, and a Flask of Deathdrop (to imprison, place in reverse order).
Then say: “Goddess Malthan, by the power of this Black Staff, the luminescence of the Moon, and the potency of this Deathdrop, I summon thee!” (to imprison, say the ritual objects in reverse and say “I imprison thee!”) in the Divine Tongue.
“By Gelz!” Nilrid murmured. “Does anyone know the Divine Tongue?”
“Not by heart, but it can be translated with the proper literature,” Asinai answered reassuringly.
“We thought that you should take it to Tanaveri, and see what you can find. Beynar won’t be much of a threat with Malthan imprisoned and the ritual to release her in Gelz’s keeping.”
“But I don’t even know where to start!” the boy protested. “Where am I supposed to find Essence of the Moon—do you expect me to fly up there some night with a flask and scoop up some moon-dirt?”
“Of course not,” Morgan chuckled. “These are all real, existing items. But since there’s only one Black Staff and Essence of the Moon, it may be a little difficult to get your hands on them.”
“What about Deathdrop?”
“Deathdrop was an ancient poison used by assassins a hundred years before the Indimer War,” the High Wizard of Querisia explained. “It’s extremely rare, but not unique. That’s the kind of thing you might find stored away in the deep parts of the Tanaverian Palace.”
“How lucky I’m going there,” Nilrid muttered sarcastically.
“I was thinking,” the High Wizard of Esanta said suddenly, “that maybe a few of us should go along as well. The Mustering will start soon south of Pakil, and this Honir is sure to need help.”
“The Mustering?” the boy asked.
“It’s a name used by the Council of the Arcane to describe the gathering of the dragons by Mount Pakil,” Morgan explained. “Dragons are starting to awaken already, but it isn’t until Pakil sits on her mountain and speaks to them that they’ll be considered mobilized. After that, we can expect nothing but open war from Tanaveri and the Esanta Desert.”
“I’ll go with Nilrid,” Wekain volunteered. “That is, of course, if Morgan doesn’t mind...”
“No, I don’t,” Morgan answered. “I’ve always wanted to be the High Wizard, anyway. Well, it will just be the two of you, I suppose, since Asinai doesn’t have a replacement lined up.”
“Quite the contrary,” Asinai contradicted. “This was my idea, remember—I’ve already arranged for Chancellor Hovampt to attend all the meetings for the next two months. I hope we’ll be back by then, but in Tanaveri one can never tell.” Looking around at the doubtful expressions on the wizards’ faces, he snapped, “Oh, stop it! He’s competent enough; he’s just a little full of himself.”
“A little?” the High Wizard of Querisia snorted. “He’s about to burst.”
“Well, it’s too late to call it off. Knowing Hovampt, he’ll spend most of the royal meetings contemplating the elegance of his clothing, so it’s doubtful he’s going to declare war on Mallsey or anything like that.”
“All right,” Wekain conceded, still skeptical. “Asinai, Nilrid and I will leave tomorrow morning, and you, Morgan, are probably safe to teleport back to your cottage. If Nyranne had any interest in us now, she would have found us a week ago.”
“I’ll safeguard my house all the same,” Nilrid’s old friend said cautiously. “Now, isn’t it time we all got some sleep?”
“It’s a quarter to eight,” the High Wizard of Esanta replied, frowning at a wall clock.
“And I plan to be up and ready to go at a quarter to five,” Morgan said firmly. “We want to be as inconspicuous as possible, don’t we? I myself saw the spies hovering around this house.”
“You warded the place, didn’t you?” Wekain asked, looking somewhat alarmed.
“Of course,” Asinai said soothingly. “They couldn’t hear us if a Necromancer came along and changed them into a flock of bats.” Looking around, the wizard looked as if he was thinking. “We’ll have to put Morgan and Wekain on the floor. Sorry, my friends, but the boy came first.”
“No respect for the elderly these days,” Morgan growled.
|Copyright ©||Nathan Black, 1998|
|By the same author||There are no more works at Badosa.com|
|Date of publication||March 2000|
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