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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Nine: Audiences

Nathan Black
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Wekain watched irritably as Nyranne stepped out of the portal. She looked very pleased with herself.

“I’ve just spoken with some workers in the palace,” the woman announced. “They’re quite busy at the moment, so when we reach our destination, my superior will take over your questioning, unless, of course...”

“No,” the High Wizard snapped. It had been three days ago, in the middle of the Esanta Desert, that Nyranne had first asked if either of the two humans she had captured knew anything about the Firedisc. Of course, he had a great deal reading material about it, but he replied that neither he nor Morgan had any information.

And, of course, the woman didn’t believe them. Both wizards had been subject to cruel beatings until they could barely walk, as their captors tried vigorously to worm the knowledge out of them. But, thankfully, the humans had swallowed their pain and refused to speak.

“You underestimate us, I think, Master Wekain,” Nyranne said smoothly. “Thousands of wretches like you have gotten the fist of a troll in their mouth over the past few centuries. But if you don’t speak now, your names will go down in Malthanian history as those who went through the most suffering since the Indimer War.”

Looking at Morgan, Wekain gave a slight grimace. But neither of them said a word. So long as they didn’t back down, the sadistic woman might just believe their story.

She shook her head. “Idiots, both of you. You Gelzans and your cursed ‘honor.’ Well, if you want to die honorably, I’m not going to stop you, but remember: you’re still dead in the end.”

Turning to her troll brigade, she shouted, “All right, move! I want to be in the palace by noon.”

Fortunately for the party, they arrived at a set of black, foreboding gates at a little past eleven o’clock. The woman looked pleased with herself; while the prisoners and trolls had walked at an exhausting pace, she had been carried on an exquisite litter. Looking around at the tall, dark towers and grotesque engravings, she addressed Wekain and Morgan and said mockingly, “Welcome, my honored guests, to the Palace of Darkness.”

“We’re elated,” Morgan growled.

“Shut up,” Nyranne replied pleasantly, and then cried to an obscure figure on the top of the rampart, “Open the gate, minion, if you value your life! I am Nyranne, and I bring prisoners!”

Wekain had never seen a mortal being move more quickly. It zipped over to a spot on the wall, and within an instant, the huge doors had opened. A troll grabbed both of the wizards as they followed the woman into a huge courtyard.

Trolls were mustered here by the thousands, accompanied by a few old men and women in black robes—most certainly Necromancers. There was also another creature towards the center of the rabble: a fourteen or fifteen-foot high mass of yellowish dust. What use could a living sandstorm be to Malthan?

“Ignore them,” the woman ordered, looking reproachfully at the storm. The High Wizard heard her mutter, “Infernal Zienar” under her breath. “We’re going into the keep.”

The prisoners were escorted to an immense building in the center of the courtyard. Two stern troll guards bowed to the procession as it passed into a maze of narrow corridors. As they marched down at least ten flights of stairs, Wekain observed that the air was getting more and more stale.

“Nyranne, to see the Queen,” she said finally, stopping to face yet another muscular guard. “And would you escort the two humans in with me, please? I’ll be leaving the rest of my party here.”

Wekain had never seen color leave a troll’s face before, but the poor creature was ghostly-white in an instant. “Yes, milady,” it said softly, motioning for them to follow. Wekain and Morgan alone went after Nyranne down another, more narrow corridor. Bizarre paintings of long-dead animals fighting badly wounded humans adorned the walls, giving the hallway an ancient and arcane feel.

Turning a corner, the foursome came across a final hallway, with a simple, metal door at the end. The High Wizard observed that they hadn’t seen a guard for nearly five minutes. His sixth, magical sense writhed with a feeling of overpowering evil, with enough potency to make his stomach turn upside down. Who was this Queen, anyway? He had a feeling that the answer was unpleasant.

Glancing back, and apparently reading the expression on Wekain’s face, the woman snapped, “Now, this is no time to be sick. I’ve walked down this hallway at least fifty times, and I still feel queasy, but do you see me turning green? Control yourself—you’re a wizard, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” the High Wizard groaned. “Milady,” he added as the troll looked sullenly back at him, but the poor creature was hardly threatening in its present condition. If anyone was likely to lose their breakfast, it was that terrified beast.

“Continue on,” Nyranne ordered. Reluctantly, the troll obeyed.

At the end of the hall, the woman opened the metal door and swung it open with a grace that made it look like it was made of paper. She waited before everyone was inside the small, silver-walled chamber before closing the exit. On the far side of the room was a transparent curtain, and beyond that, pure blackness.

“You are to use the utmost of politeness and etiquette beyond that barrier,” she commanded. “I will go in first, followed by Morgan, then Wekain, and finally our troll friend.” She directed a withering glare at her single guard. “Just try to escape, you filthy lummox, and you’ll find out just what the Death Kitten can do to you. I can assure you that relief will come much more slowly than it will where you are going. Do you understand?”

“Yes, milady,” the creature moaned.

“Follow, Morgan.” Without another word, Nyranne stepped right through the curtain, and vanished. Morgan grimaced nervously and did the same.

Looking at the beast piteously, Wekain hesitated and said, “You can leave, if you want. Nyranne might not notice you until it’s too late.”

“My duty is to serve, to any capacity that my superiors command,” the troll replied, in the longest sentence he had ever heard out of one of its kind. “Even unto death, I walk beside my master and do as he or she commands.”

Shaking his head, the High Wizard decided that his burly companion’s speech must have come from a book of doctrines that had been dictated to it. Stepping through the curtain, he was surrounded immediately by a void that couldn’t have been pierced with the light of the sun. Only by his magical sense did he know that three other people were in the room: Nyranne, Morgan... and someone else.

He felt the troll enter the chamber, and immediately there was a blinding flash of light. A large skeleton was illuminated briefly, and then the darkness returned. Shuddering, Wekain realized the cause of his guard’s anxiety.

Suddenly, a booming voice broke through the nothingness. It was definitely female, but as ancient as the mountains and cruel as Malthan herself. “I DO NOT APPRECIATE INTRUDERS,” she said simply.

“Almighty Queen, I apologize,” Nyranne replied, sounding meek for the first time. “I wanted to make an example for the two prisoners I brought.”

“YOU BROUGHT PRISONERS TO ME?” the entity boomed in what seemed to be false naiveté. “YOU HAVE MADE MANY DEVIATIONS, NYRANNE, AND NONE ARE ACCEPTABLE.

“If you please, Almighty Queen...”

“SILENCE!” the voice boomed. “WHILE YOU HAVE THE HUMANS HERE, I MIGHT AS WELL CONVERSE WITH THEM. GREETINGS, MORTALS. YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT ACCUSTOMED TO CALLING ME THE ALMIGHTY QUEEN, SO PLAIN MALTHAN WILL SUFFICE.

Wekain gasped. The Goddess of Night!

“OR THE GODDESS OF NIGHT, WEKAIN, IF YOU PREFER. I AM FULLY AWARE THAT MY POPULARITY AMONGST YOU IS MIDDLING. IN THE FUTURE, I TRULY WOULD LIKE TO CHANGE THAT, BUT MY PRIORITIES DO NOT ALLOW IT.

“What are your priorities?” asked Morgan.

“Speak when spoken to,” Nyranne hissed.

“I AM DIVINE, MORGAN. I WOULD RATHER KNOW THAT YOU HAVE HEARD MY VOICE THAN HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOURS.

“Now, apologize,” the woman ordered.

“NO, HE DOES NOT HAVE TO. MEETING WITH A DEITY IS ALWAYS A BIT OF A SHOCK, EVEN MORE SO FOR GELZANS. I AM VERY BUSY, NYRANNE. SAY WHAT YOU CAME TO SAY, AND THEN LEAVE.

“Almighty Queen, I have reason to believe that one, or both, of these humans has information about Project Thunderclap.”

“THUNDERCLAP? AH, YES. THE UNDERTAKING YOU HAD RANYEB LOOK INTO. AS I RECALL, THE... METHOD YOU ORDERED HIM TO USE PROVED FATAL INSTEAD OF EFFECTIVE. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE, NYRANNE, THOUGH YOU OFTEN FORGET.

“I realized my mistake long ago, but thank you for reminding me, Almighty Queen.” Was there a tinge of sarcasm in her voice? Wekain doubted that even a woman as crafty as she could hide anything from an omnipotent, mind-reading goddess. The evil that throbbed through his mind every time Malthan spoke nearly made him pass out, but somehow he was still alive, and conscious. “But I told these prisoners that if they didn’t tell me, you would...”

“YOU WILL ADJUST YOUR ACTIONS ACCORDING TO ME, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. YOU HAVE POWER BEYOND THAT OF PAKIL, AND MOST ZIENAR AS WELL, BUT NOTHING IS ABOVE ME.

Morgan coughed slightly.

“NOT EVEN GELZ, MORGAN. AFTER ALL, YOUR PRECIOUS LORD OF DAYLIGHT IS CURRENTLY TWIDDLING HIS HOLY THUMBS IN A LIMBO STATE OUTSIDE OF DERENDA. THAT IS WHY YOU WILL ULTIMATELY LOSE—THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN, BUT BECAUSE THERE WILL BE NO GOD TO SAVE YOU.

Gritting his teeth, Wekain tried to suppress thoughts of the Temple of the Dawn. If the Goddess of Night found out about that...

“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DECEIVE ME, WEKAIN. I MYSELF HAD TO BE SUMMONED FROM A SEPARATE TEMPLE. BUT UNLIKE MY SERVANTS, I AM NOT EVIL, JUST AMBITIOUS. YOU HAVE MY WORD AS A DIVINE ENTITY THAT I WILL NEVER REVEAL THE LOCATION OF THE TEMPLE OF THE DAWN TO MY COMMANDERS, OR INTERFERE WITH YOU SHOULD YOU FEEL IT NECESSARY TO SUMMON MY COUNTERPART. THAT WOULD BE THE SAME AS RUNNING FROM HIM, AND I WOULD RATHER BE ENCASED IN A MORTAL BODY THAN DO THAT.

“AT ANY RATE, I WILL KEEP YOUR VISIT FROM BEING IN VAIN, NYRANNE. HUMANS, ANSWER ME TRULY: DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT PROJECT THUNDERCLAP?”

Wekain answered first, trying to keep his voice steady. “Of course, Malthan.” He heard a slight gasp from Nyranne.

“HE MAY CALL ME ANYTHING HE WANTS, NYRANNE. I DO NOT TROUBLE MYSELF WITH PETTY TITLES. CONTINUE, WEKAIN.

“As the High Wizard of Querisia, it would be impossible for me not to know something about the project. But...” he drew a deep breath. The lie was coming. “I was given no sensitive information when I was elected to my position. The royal family may know something...”

“HE LIES!” Malthan boomed. The wizard’s heart nearly froze with blind, unthinking terror.

“I... I...” he stammered.

“I HAVE NO TIME FOR IDIOTS SUCH AS THESE. ALL OF YOU, OUT OF MY SIGHT! NYRANNE, YOU WILL DEAL WITH THEM AS YOU LIKE. THEY ARE MUCH OLDER THAN THAT STUBBORN NOBLE YOU HAD RANYEB DEAL WITH.

“Yes, Almighty Queen,” the woman said softly. “As you command.”

“Nilrid of Fyr’nay, you are welcome in the presence of the Archmage Palaran VI, eighth in the line from the Archmage Ranyeb, now shunned forever from these halls. Please, step forward,” a stone-faced guard intoned.

As the boy walked forward, he frowned slightly. Ranyeb... wasn’t he the wizard who was stripped of his wizardship for torturing a Rogilian noble? And wasn’t he also the man—or imp—that Wekain thought was on the Tanaverian throne? The fact that he had been a leader here, and knew where the palace was, unsettled him. Still, he kept a straight face as he approached the marble throne. Seated on it was a wizened imp, almost invisible in his oversized robe. But however diminutive, there was a light in his eyes that showed he was not someone to trifle with.

Bowing deeply, Nilrid said, “I humbly greet you, Archmage, and thank you for your hospitality.”

“How gracious of you,” the Archmage replied lightly, and snapped his tiny fingers. Immediately, two attendants set up a small table and chair before the boy. “Please, have a seat, and a cold drink.”

Surprised, Nilrid sat down, and was given a tall glass of pink liquid. Taking a diplomatic sip, he found it was extremely refreshing, but remembered where it was, set it down, and addressed his host.

“I came to make you aware of the task that I am working on, Archmage,” he said.

“To become a wizard?”

The boy shook his head. “No, though I may look into that when my job is finished. I’ve been hired by King Jizir of Querisia...”

“Jizir XI,” Palaran corrected. “He’s a politician, and the other was a true king. Don’t get the two confused—especially because Malthanians will lop your head off if you so much as whisper Jizir I’s name!”

“Of course, Archmage. As I was saying, the King of Querisia, or politician, if you prefer...”

The Archmage chuckled. “Very intuitive, boy, very intuitive. Go on.”

Nilrid drew a breath, and tried one last time to say his piece. “The leader of Querisia hired me to infiltrate the life and court of the King Beynar of Tavimira, in his own palace.”

Palaran frowned. “You know who he really is, don’t you?”

“I’m getting an idea.”

“You’d be running back to your mother if you had any more than that. His real name is Ranyeb, and he was the first King in this palace.”

“I’ve heard, yes. And about the torturing of the Rogilian noble.”

“Well, you’re wiser than I thought. And more foolish, of course. Why are you still agreeing to do this?” the imp shouted.

“Boy dreams,” Nilrid muttered. “Didn’t you ever have them?” He was getting to be more and more casual with this uniquely informal ruler.

“I dreamed of being Archmage,” Palaran replied. “And here I am. I suppose I’m not discouraging you much. All right, if you want to be turned into dust by the most dangerous humanoid alive, feel free.” He cocked his head. “Of course, I hear that you’re not completely harmless yourself.”

“I’ve learned the most magic that I can in a week,” Nilrid said modestly. “Right now, I’m trying to teleport myself to somewhere near Ulist, to meet a wizard named...” he trailed off. Wekain had given him a name when they first met, but what was it? He hoped he would remember.

“Tamaya?” the Archmage asked.

“Yes!” the boy paused. “But how did you know?”

“It seemed logical. She’s a very powerful, intelligent woman, with or without magic. There’s little more she can teach you that we haven’t, but you could use a few lessons in spying, as well. For example, when you were washed aside the Wystarin River, you should have gotten up and walked somewhere, instead of lying there like a drowned rat.”

“I was injured, Archmage.”

“And will be again, at this rate. You must learn to ignore pain, and even the fact that you’re not able to stand, and stand anyway. It takes incredible determination and self-control, which Tamaya has.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

The imp nodded. “Then go back to your room, and keep practicing the teleportation. Good luck.”

Nilrid nodded. “Thank you, Archmage,” he said politely, and was escorted from the throne room.

Back in his own chamber, he sat on the bed and concentrated on his problem. He obviously wasn’t going to get anywhere by removing something, so perhaps he needed to create. But what to make?

Closing his eyes, he made a door, and imagined that the town of Ulist was behind it. The difficulty was that he had never been to Ulist, and had no idea what it looked like, so he simply fashioned a pleasant-looking array of cottages and buildings. But when he opened the door that was sitting in the middle of the room, there was nothing behind it. Magic could be so frustrating!

Sighing, he decided to leave out the doorway. This time, he was going to simply create a town, if such a thing was possible.

After shrinking down his energy, he once again made the community, though smaller this time. As he put the final, thatched-roof house in its place by an unpaved road, he suddenly felt a tugging sensation. It pulled at him with an inhuman force, dragging him into the picture he had created. Squeezing his eyes open, Nilrid saw that there was a perfect copy of the image inside the room, and that he was being sucked into it.

By Gelz, I hope this is supposed to happen, he thought to himself as he disappeared from the Imp Palace.

9/23
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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at Badosa.com
Date of publicationJanuary 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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