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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Four: Hunter and Hunted

Nathan Black
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Flipping her black hair over her shoulder, the woman strode gracefully through the corridors of the secret palace. People flattened themselves against walls as she walked by, afraid even to let her brush by them. The touch of Nyranne often meant death, under any circumstances.

She was headed for a room that she visited rarely: the bedchamber of Zienat, Malthan’s new military commander. In the old days, it had been Pakil the Dragon that she called on, but despite the new awakening in the Tanaveri Mountains, that great general still slept in the silence of the bowels of the world. Even when she did report to the Palace, ready to go into the Chamber of Darkness and receive orders from the goddess herself, she would instead fall under the command of the new elite.

Troll and human guards bowed to her as she passed, though she hardly noticed them. Insignificant humans were different, for a human can change his or her situation, but these brutes were on Derenda for the sole purpose of taking the orders of a superior. Reaching an ornate brass door, she knocked swiftly.

“Come in,” a wind-like voice replied.

Nyranne entered. Zienat was the most powerful member of the Zienar race, also new. In short, he was an intelligent sandstorm, but the bounds of that intelligence surpassed that of any benevolent human genius, and rivaled hers. That was one of the many reasons she didn’t like him. Another reason was the bedchamber he had been given; even for a fourteen foot-high essence, the gigantic and beautifully-decorated walls and bed couldn’t be necessary!

“Ah, Nyranne. I was just about to send for you. Please have a seat.”

Putting a warm look on her face, the woman sat on a piece of plain, wooden furniture that the Captain of Mortal Forces used for his guests. “I would just like to apologize, Zienat, for sending seven of your forest trolls to their deaths near Yansor, Querisia. I’m usually able to use your forces effectively and without your permission, but...”

“No need for apologies,” Zienat interrupted. “You must feel free to use small numbers of my regiments whenever you please—after all, we must learn to work together, if we are both to sit by Malthan when she rules the world from this Palace. But I am curious: what were you using them for?”

You’re always curious, you overly-bright snob, the woman thought, but not a hint of it showed on her face. “I was pursuing an agent of the King of Querisia. They had him trapped on the Yansor Bridge, but the High Wizard of the nation came along and incinerated each and every one of them.”

“Incinerated, hmm?” the Captain of Mortal Forces mused. “Well, that’s a fast enough way to die. Have you apprehended the agent yet?”

“No, but I have spies in Yansor and the surrounding countryside. We’ve got a leak in Querisia, remember?”

“That groveling fellow?” Zienat asked incredulously.

“He does not grovel without reason. But I’m straying from the point. I also came to ask you about how your job is going.”

“Magnificently, Nyranne, and thank you for asking.” Malthan, growing tired of self-centered, insolent dragons, had fashioned a race capable of both incredible evil and sickening tact. “The dragons are almost fully awakened, and there have been rumors of my predecessor, Pakil, active in the most remote parts of the mountains. All the trolls whose ancestors scattered at the end of the Indimer War have been brought to one of three command centers: here in the palace, a large cave seven miles north of Pakil City, and to a very secret area in the Wysia Forest.”

Very secret, apparently,” Nyranne commented. “It took days for my human agents to reach a few of them.”

“Well, the command centers are designed to be completely obscured, even from you. No hard feelings, of course.”

“Of course. What of the Necromancers?”

“I have put humans in charge of the trolls, for now, and all of the Necromancers except for the Chosen One are in this very fortress. Our own race rarely lives here, unless there’s a routine combat drill or leadership training.”

Leadership training, the woman scoffed. Malthan had never needed to train her! But there was no point in complaining, because the Goddess of Night had never been happier with one of her races. “Wonderful, Zienat. I’ll take my leave now.”

“It was a pleasure to speak with you, as always,” the Zienar replied. Nyranne hardly listened as she slammed the door, and rolled her eyes all the way back into her head.

“Well, Nilrid, you wanted to learn some magic, didn’t you?” Wekain muttered irritably. “Have a seat, then, and I’ll see what I can teach you in the little time we have. Most apprentice magicians start out with simple spells, like how to open a door that’s stuck, but obviously, with your first battle coming up in a few minutes, we’ll have to move a little faster.”

“Can you teach me... um...”

“What I used at the Yansor Bridge? The Whitefire Spell?”


“Not if we had twenty years to sit here and practice. Nor can I teach you Blood Drain, or Coldblast, or even Poison. The only thing that we have time for is a spell called Dagger Storm.”

“Dagger Storm?” the boy asked confusedly. The Poison Spell sounded easier.

“Right.” The High Wizard leaned over to his dresser, and pulled out a short hunting knife. “This is the easiest combat spell you can learn, because there’s really no combat magic involved. All you have to do is visualize the weapon, and shoot it out in front of you. Not killing your instructor,” Wekain finished nervously. He obviously didn’t trust Nilrid as much as he’d like to.

“I’ll be careful,” Nilrid said. “But is that really all I have to do? Just make a picture of the knife, and...”

“Well, you could ask a thousand other wizards and magic teachers about how the phenomenon, actually works, because there are just as many theories. You’ll just have to trust my judgment that I’m explaining it as simply as I can.”

Nodding, the boy closed his eyes.

“Not so fast, boy,” Wekain snapped. “I refuse to believe that you memorized every last speck of that knife in twenty seconds. Look at it for a long time, and concentrate. Commit the entire thing to your mind, without missing a single dull spot on the blade. Then close your eyes and try to cast the spell.”

There was an awkward silence while Nilrid tried to focus on the dagger. After perhaps three minutes, he closed his eyes and directed his face towards a blank wall. Forming a perfect copy of the knife, he took a deep breath and pushed with his mind, exerting all of his mental energy. A roar like a waterfall crashed in his ears, and the energy left.

Opening his eyes, the boy gasped. Not a single spot on the wall was not covered by knives!

Turning around, he saw that the expression on Wekain’s face was similar.

“Is that how it’s supposed to work?” he asked meekly.

“No, Nilrid,” the High Wizard replied. “It works like this.” Closing his eyes, Wekain sent eight daggers into the door in an octagonal formation. “The average magician can only throw three, and most wizards six.”

Glancing at the wall, the boy counted the knives quickly. There were twenty-four of them!

“Should I do it again?” he said. “Just to see if it isn’t just a fluke?”

“No,” Wekain shook his head. “There’s only a certain amount of magical energy you can expend in one sitting. A good rule of thumb is a minute of rest for every spell you cast, but since this is your first time, I suggest you take a five-minute breather. Do you feel tired?”

“Not at all.”

“Hmm. You’re quite a unique boy—it’s a shame that we’re sending you off to Tanaveri. Well, take a few minutes anyway.”

“Yes, sir. If I do get tired, will I be able to feel myself recovering?”

“Of course. Did you hear a rush of power through your ears?”

“Oh, was that what it was?”

“I’ll take that for a yes. What you heard was the energy leaving you, and once your body adjusts to the initial shock, you’ll hear a... a trickle, I suppose. That’s the power flowing back into you.” Wekain frowned. “But you should hear it by now. Do you?”

“No, sir.”

“By Gelz! That means that not all of the energy you directed outward has been expelled, and your body is waiting for you to do something with the rest of it. I changed my mind. Why don’t you cast another Dagger Storm?”

Closing his eyes and turning to the other blank wall, Nilrid found it easier to go through the steps this time. The roar in his ears was even greater, perhaps because he had pushed harder. The wall was also coated with daggers a few moments later—twenty-seven this time.

“Wait a moment,” the High Wizard commanded. The boy did, but he felt no trickling. “All right, Nilrid, one more time. But aim at a wall you’ve already used, if you don’t mind.”

Feeling a bit sheepish about having ruined Wekain’s little room, Nilrid cast the spell for the third time. After about five seconds, the rush of power abruptly stopped. Opening his eyes with a feeling of emptiness, the boy lay back on the bed.

“Well, at least we know your capabilities aren’t infinite,” Wekain remarked, sounding relieved. “Just rest for a little while.”

A quarter of a minute passed, and then Nilrid felt the trickling sensation in his ears. It filled with new strength, and lifted his spirits considerably. When he felt fully refreshed, he sat up, and saw that the High Wizard was staring at the clock on the wall with a thoughtful frown.

“Less than a minute? You truly are a wonder. But don’t get cocky, boy—just because you have talent doesn’t mean you have training. That will come with time, hopefully before you reach the Tanaverian border.”

Suddenly, the front door downstairs fell with a crash, and the voice of Daer’nay rang through the cottage, “This is a regiment of the Spy Corps of Malthan! Surrender yourselves at once!”

“Under the bed!” Wekain ordered, as the two scurried to hide themselves. If they were going to have to kill the intruders, they at least wanted a little information about them beforehand.

On the floor below, Nilrid heard the raspy-voiced man speak. “We heard no one when we came before, Master, but perhaps they were hiding.”

“Perhaps they are hiding,” a calm, smooth voice replied.

“I know that voice!” the High Wizard gasped. “It’s Enirin, that snob from northern Mallsey!”

“Is he a wizard?” the boy asked, as quietly as he could.

“Of course. How else would I know him? He was at our meeting, and knows everything we said about you. That explains why you’ve had Malthanians on your back since I met you at the bridge.”

Nilrid’s heart was beating rapidly, pounding in his ears almost as loud as the power had. It seemed that Malthan’s reach touched even the highest ranks of society. Before long, he would discover that the King himself met with the Goddess of Night in his bedchamber!

“Shall we search the house?” the woman asked.

“Of course,” Enirin said. His voice ran gracefully through each word, without the slightest tonal error. “Daer’nay, follow me—we’ll look upstairs. The two of you stay down here and check everything. Am I understood?”

The words, “Yes, sir” seemed to come out all at once from the three subjects of the Regional Master. As four feet came pounding up the steps, Wekain whispered, “When you hear the door upward, aim upward and fire your spell. It doesn’t really matter who you hit; a surprise attack kills a wizard as easily as a commoner.”

“What about the second man?” the boy asked, hardly daring to breathe. The footsteps were coming closer.

“Leave him to me.” Just then, the door opened. Trying to control his anxiety, Nilrid closed his eyes, shaped the dagger in his mind, and turned his head at almost a right angle as he released the energy. A strangled, pitiful scream rose above the torrent in his ears.

A moment later, there was a flash of orange light, and a sickening thud. Opening his eyes, the boy saw two bodies: a tall, rough-looking fellow who was horribly burned, and an ancient man with nearly thirty daggers in his chest.

“Beautiful,” Wekain muttered. “The other two should be easier.”

“What in the name of... uh, Nyranne was that?” the man downstairs croaked.

“A wizard has died,” the woman said ominously. “Let’s just hope that it was Wekain, and not the Master. But either way, we’re of little use now. I say we wait outside.”

“And abandon the Regional Master in his time of need?”

“Look,” the woman snapped. “If the High Wizard is dead, the boy is ours. He can’t possibly defend himself against the might of Enirin. We would be of little use, anyway. But if Wekain has prevailed, we are both in terrible danger. Do you understand? There is a difference between bravery and stupidity, Kanor.”

“Very well,” Kanor acknowledged. “We shall wait half an hour outside, and then leave our comrades to rest in peace.”

Half an hour later, Wekain and Nilrid crept out from under the bed. With another bright flash, the two unpleasant-looking bodies disappeared, along with the fifty or so knives stuck in the wall.

“Much easier than a cremation,” the High Wizard remarked. “Though that Daer’nay fellow had a fairly effective one anyway.”

Nilrid wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Do you think they’ll come back?”

“Not unless Malthan herself orders them to. Still, I don’t think we should stay here any longer. We’ll wait an hour, and then head to the north. I’ll teach you some defensive magic on the way. Do you realize, Nilrid, that you have eliminated a leak in the Querisian government that probably has plagued Jizir for years?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy replied modestly.

“You must continue to apply this power of yours. In the future, you may be much more than a spy.”

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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationDecember 1999
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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