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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Five: Journeys

Nathan Black
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Morgan sipped tentatively at a boiling cup of tea. Though he insisted on having it hot, even he had to wait a few minutes, or else the liquid would burn his taste buds right out of his mouth.

It was all right, now. Drinking tea had always been a characteristic of the old wizard, even before his retirement to this old shack in Querisia. Sometimes, as he reflected on his previous life, he wondered which he had liked better: traveling around the world, fighting Malthanians and making his own unique contribution to the history of Derenda, or sitting in his cottage, researching new spells and holding great respect with the leadership in Yansor. There were distinct advantages and disadvantages to both; after all, as much of a contrast that his new lifestyle was to his old, he was much less likely to die here.

When he saw Nilrid walk off two days ago—it was the evening of the seventeenth—he had been surprised to feel concern. Two years in the Tanaverian city of Alvirna had hardened him, he thought.

How many times had he embarked on a quest that was more likely than not to get him killed? As a young man, he’d spent more time heading towards the borders of Tanaveri than at the University of the Arcane in Perisanta, the famous port city on the northern tip of Querisia. But somehow, seeing that poor, incompetent boy take his place as Royal Spy made his heart sink. There was no way that he could be really taught magic, not unless Wekain sent him off to the University for a three-year period of study. They hardly had the time for that.

At the meeting with King Jizir on the fourteenth, there had been some question as to what Nilrid actually had to do. Infiltrate the King of Tanaveri? That was about as easy as walking into Malthan’s secret fortress and demanding an audience with the Goddess herself. It had finally been decided, at another meeting two days later, that other, dispensable spies would be sent to the capital of Pakil ahead of time, and relay instructions to other wizards and the boy within a few weeks.

So, as far as he was concerned, Nilrid was taken care of. There were more pressing matters currently on Morgan’s mind.

Such as: if Malthan truly was beginning to intervene in Tanaverian policy, did humanity have any option but to call on Gelz? The God of Daylight had remained silent through the nine, agonizing years of the Indimer War, but since the Goddess of Night herself hadn’t walked into Ulist (which at that time was the capital of the human world) and killed everyone where they stood, the King of Wystarin and his wizard advisors had seen little need to call upon the deity.

But the secret Temple of the Dawn was still standing, and well-maintained by the Wystarinian government. Nilrid would probably pass right by it on his travels, because it was magically shielded with such precision that it looked like just another wide, open space in the plains of the Yansor River valley. If a serious problem arose, one that couldn’t be investigated and solved by a handful of agents, the wizards of Querisia, Wystarin, Esanta, Rogilia, and even tiny Mallsey would meet in a significant city and vote on whether or not to dig up the Ritual of Summoning. Even then, it would be difficult to convince the most intelligent Gelz-followers in the world that their master was absolutely necessary to beat the Goddess of Night back to her dark realm.

Thinking for a moment, Morgan decided that in case of any urgency, he should probably write his speech to the Council of the Arcane (as the wizards were collectively called) right now. Setting his tea down, he reached for a piece of parchment, quill pen and ink. A gifted and spontaneous writer, he always kept those three items close by.

First, he would have to make himself sound intelligent by going through a page or two of introductions. A welcome to the Council of the Arcane, gathered here in... where would they be? Not Ulist, because that city was no longer a national capital. Sumiton, probably, the tiny political center of Wystarin. ...Sumiton, in the Empire of Wystarin. I recognize the presence of King... who was it? Ah, yes. ...Alimond IV, who was gracious enough to allow us to his capital to discuss this matter. I also recognize King Jizir XI of the Realm of Querisia, King Dysone of the Kingdom of Esanta, Queen Gevira II of the Kingdom of Rogilia, and Grand Duchess Tonalise of the Grand Duchy of Mallsey. Had he gotten everybody? Yes. Now it was time to go through the various wizards, those who had reached the Council of the Arcane through intelligence and dedication, not birthright. I honor our esteemed leader, Chancellor... he left a blank space. Elections were coming up, and it was unlikely that the ineffective, Rogilian wizard named Hovampt would keep his position for long.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Frowning, the old wizard stood on his rickety legs and shuffled toward the entrance. The knocking continued. What in the world could anyone be so frantic about?

Morgan opened the door, and found himself face-to-face with a tall, black-haired woman. Her green eyes seemed to burn a hole right through him.

Unsettled, the man was almost overcome by an urge to slam the door on her face and hide under his bed. But he was a wizard; he had resisted temptation and emotion before. “May I help you?” he asked coolly.

“Yes, please,” she answered in a smooth voice. “I seek the wizard Morgan.”

“You have found him, milady.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. “And what is your name?”

“I am forgotten by the world of humanity, Morgan. But those that are blessed by my closeness know me as Nyranne.”

The wizard’s eyes widened. Nyranne! Even if the name hadn’t meant “Death Kitten” in the strange, Malthanian dialect, he would have trembled with fear. During his prison stay in Alvirna, he’d heard a number of unpleasant-sounding names, but Nyranne had carried the most respect among his grim troll wardens. Her exact title was unclear, but she was one of the few souls who answered to Malthan directly, and survived the experience.

“Your name has preceded you, milady,” Morgan answered fearfully. This woman could kill him in the next blink of an eye. “Perhaps you are here to discuss my tenure as a prisoner in Tanaveri? I assure you, my oath of secrecy has been kept to the word. We Gelzans may disagree with you, but our morals...”

“Shut up,” Nyranne snapped. “I’m sure you have kept silent—after all, you’re an intelligent and influential man. You know what would happen to you if you spoke of your experience. But I am here to discuss another matter with you. It is well-known that you are acquainted with a boy named Nilrid.”

“I do not deny it.”

“Good. But would you deny me information about him? His whereabouts, purpose, and company? Surely you wouldn’t?”

Despite an almost uncontrollable, subconscious fear of the woman on his doorstep, Morgan didn’t hesitate. “I’m afraid, my lady, that I cannot release information pertaining to Querisian intelligence.”

“Querisian stupidity, more like,” Nyranne growled. “Now Morgan, you seem to have a good idea of who I am. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“I do what I must,” the wizard answered levelly.

No less than eighteen trolls stepped out of the nearby underbrush. Morgan’s heart began pounding, and there was a sick feeling in his stomach. “Well then,” the woman said, “I suppose it’s about time I showed you what you must and mustn’t do. Dogs of Malthan, seize him!”

There was no struggle to speak of. Within minutes, the ancient warrior and scholar was on the leash of the most powerful woman in the entire world.

A full moon provided more than enough light for Wekain and Nilrid to walk by. Leaving around midnight, they crept quietly through the dense foliage. The High Wizard was nervous walking near the road, but they didn’t want to get lost. In the morning, the two of them decided, they would deviate to the northeast at Yansor. If everything went as planned, they wouldn’t join up with the road again until they reached the village of Wysia, on the other side of the Wystarin-Querisia border.

Only the occasional hoot of an owl was there to remind the travelers that they walked in the middle of the forest. Otherwise, Malthan herself might have passed through the area. The silence was unnerving, and made Nilrid feel as if their enemies were waiting behind the next bush.

“Getting tired?” Wekain asked suddenly, making the boy jump.

“No,” Nilrid said honestly. They had only set out about an hour and a half before, at about the same time Morgan heard the fateful knock on his door.

“Well, I am. This body isn’t what it used to be.”

“Should we sit down?” the boy asked, somewhat concerned about his companion’s health. By the looks of him, the poor wizard should have collapsed half an hour ago.

“I would appreciate it.” The old man found a comfortable rock, and planted himself on it. “Thank you, boy. I know we’re hurried.”

“So, after we leave the road,” Nilrid said, sitting down himself, “and get to Wysia, where do we go?”

“After Wysia is a five-mile stretch of road, which we can probably afford to walk down. It takes us to an even smaller village called Bunkerton, one of the two places the King of Wystarin can hide out during an attack. A poorly-maintained path connects Bunkerton to the main Wystarinian road and another hideout, so if we think it’s safe, we can stay on human trails as soon as we’re out of Querisia.”

The boy looked around the underbrush they were going to have to fight through in a few minutes. “To be honest with you, I think I’ll go insane if I walk off-road for much longer.”

“I agree,” the wizard muttered. “Shall we move on?”

“We probably should,” Nilrid grunted, rising to his feet.

The squalor in the city of North Rogilia was absolutely amazing. From the looks of it, Honir thought, they were already over the Tanaverian border and walking in Malthan’s foul territory. In reality, they were 47 miles to the west of the boundary, in a thin, disputed area of Rogilia. No one had very much influence here—not Queen Gevira in Riverside, or King Beynar in Pakil, or either of the gods.

It was the Osir Forest that ruled this miserable package of humanity. A thousand times as dangerous as the Wysia Forest (400 miles to the west), trolls and their masters had walked these woods for centuries. While the King of Tanaveri respected his boundaries, Malthan cared nothing for nations or their edges. A country was there to be destroyed, she seemed to think.

Stepping away from the window of The Woodcutter Inn, Honir sat back down with his comrades. There were three of them besides himself: quiet Forat, rowdy Yiratam, and the party’s only woman, shrewd Salintia. Honir was the leader, with traits from all three of his charges. On June 15, at two in the morning, they had been roused from their beds in the country of Esanta, and ordered to infiltrate Tanaveri for what seemed like the hundredth time. Now it was just after dawn on the eighteenth, and they had gone over 60 miles.

“At this rate, we should reach the Salaver River on the morning of the twentieth, maybe late tomorrow if we push,” the leader said.

“And how far away is this boy of Jizir’s?” Salintia asked.

“Nobody seems to know,” Honir replied. “I’ve been talking to agents in every village since we left town, while the rest of you were carousing with the likes of these.” He gestured carefully at the rough, alcoholic crowd surrounding them.

“All you had to do was ask us to come along,” Yiratam said, sounding embarrassed. He was the major cause for the party’s freedom with liquor.

“I’m not blaming a soul,” the leader returned soothingly. It was a very accommodating thing for him to say—something he would expect out his mentor, a crafty magician named Morgan. Now, instead of packing his bags and taking lessons from him every morning, he was taking orders, delivered on the fastest horses from the capital of Esanta. It amazed Honir that a man could rise so swiftly in the world, as long as he kept his wits about him. “Anyway, the Querisian government and its wizard advisors have kept him well hidden. We’re not even sure that he isn’t in Wystarin by now, receiving an escort from old Alimond himself!”

“Could he have been teleported?” Forat asked, speaking for the first time that morning.

“Supposedly, yes. That’s why we need to move as fast as we can. But in reality, Morgan and Wekain and their like are probably too afraid of detection to send him anywhere, except on foot.”

“Are they really going to try to teach him magic on the way?” Yiratam snorted. “Does Jizir have that little faith in his agents?”

“Nilrid is not an agent,” Salintia put in, instantly realizing her mistake and looking around carefully.

“Nobody heard,” Honir said quietly. “But watch yourself, madam. I’m in no mood to run from an army of Malthanian street thieves, no matter how much I need the exercise.”

“All apologies,” the woman mumbled. “As I was saying, the boy isn’t one of us. He can’t steal a warrior’s sword belt and leave the sword where it is. Magic is the wizards’ idea of a crash course in competency.”

The leader shrugged. “I’m not the King of Querisia, am I? All I do is receive orders, and pass them along to you. And keep certain people from being arrested,” he added, casting a sharp glance at Yiratam.

“Well, then, shall we set out?” Yiratam shot back, trying to ignore his commander.

“Yes,” Honir replied, standing up. “We’ll be leaving now,” he cried to the innkeeper, throwing him an extra pouch of gold. In a civilized town, it was wise to keep the locals happy. In a town like this, a shrewd agent kept the locals ecstatic.

“Thank you again, milord,” the innkeeper cried. Of course, seeing the elaborate, velvet clothing, he assumed his guests were from the aristocracy. “And if there’s anything else I can provide for you...”

“You won’t hesitate to ask,” Salintia finished smoothly, barely finishing before the leader elbowed her sharply in the ribs. She grunted, and meekly followed her group out into the streets of North Rogilia.

A light drizzle in the forests of Querisia changed quickly to a pouring rain by the time Nilrid and Wekain reached the Wystarinian border. It was, without a doubt, one of the worst times to cross over—the actual boundary was the roaring, swollen Wystarin River.

“How are we supposed to cross this?” Nilrid asked uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” the High Wizard murmured, trying to shield himself from the downpour. “Even this close to the confluence between the Wystarin and the Yansor, it’s usually only about five feet deep.”

Eyeing the swirling water, the boy estimated the actual depth at around eight feet. It was not something you could walk in by any means.

“Should we wait here until the rain lets up?” Nilrid asked.

“I’d like to, but I don’t think we have the time. Those brutes that broke into my house can’t be avoided forever, after all. There’s one other thing we can try, but it’s extremely risky.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, using a Fashion Land spell, I can bridge the entire border temporarily in about five minutes.”

“And why is that so risky?” the boy inquired skeptically. It sounded like the perfect solution to him.

“For the same reason that we’ve had to walk this far. Making land isn’t nearly as energy-consuming as teleporting, but a trained Malthanian will notice the expenditure of power in the blink of an eye.”

“And will they know where it’s from, or who?”

“Not immediately, unless one of Malthan’s commanders is in the area. They’ll have to pinpoint the exact location, and the particular style of magic used. For the average Necromancer or human wizard, it will take two to three days to figure out what it was. But once they did... I’m not sure we could run fast enough.”

Glancing again at the river, Nilrid tried to imagine what would happen if he put both feet in. They would probably never reach the bottom, he realized with a cold shudder.

“Um... I think you can risk it,” the boy said quietly.

Wekain shrugged. “You’re the one who’s being chased after, not me.” Raising his hands, the High Wizard closed his eyes and was silent.

For a long while, Nilrid might as well have been alone, shivering in the rain. Finally, a small piece of rock rose up from the depths of river, and then another. As the High Wizard sighed and opened his eyes, the pieces grew together, creating a solid bridge. The water seemed to flow right under it.

“Come,” Wekain ordered. “It won’t hold for very long.”

The High Wizard started out on the pathway, with the boy following as closely as he dared. He had barely stepped onto the bridge when the first part of it suddenly vanished, and was replaced by roaring water.

“Hurry!” the old man cried, as he arrived at the halfway point of his stone creation.

Nilrid picked up his pace, but the rock was disappearing much faster than he could walk. His heart lunged in his throat as he edged along. The High Wizard was three-quarters of the way across, and the boy not far behind.

It happened in a flash. One moment, Nilrid was pressing frantically across the pathway, and the next, the world turned into a freezing cosmos of cascading water. Distantly, the boy could hear his companion calling out to him from the other side of the border, but he ignored it. Forcing himself upward, he gasped in enough air to play his trumpet for two hours straight.

When he was finally able to emit a strangled “Help!,” the High Wizard was nowhere in sight. Nilrid was alone, and at the mercy of one of the most ferocious waterways in the world.

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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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