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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Ten: In the Town

Nathan Black
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“Please, sir? Spare a copper?”

Almost sighing but managing to restrain himself, Honir drew himself, and knocked the beggar off his feet with a single blow, aimed at his wizened face. In any other country, it was customary to help the poor, but in Tanaveri, anyone who showed an iota of sympathy received suspicious looks from about fifty people. And in Pakil, the bustling capital of the rogue nation, the charitable soul usually got a knock on his or her door early the next morning, from ten or fifteen members of the Royal Guard. Being allowed to enter the Tanaverian Palace was a great honor, but the dungeons, Honir heard, were far from enjoyable.

The wizard Morgan had spent considerable time on the bottom level of the palace, of course. All spies were caught; that was the nature of the business. The better Morgan got, the better the King of Tanaveri became at safeguarding his records and treasury. Sometimes, Honir wondered when he himself would be captured, and what would happen. Maybe, by the time he was forty-five years old and starting to let his guard down, the ongoing tension with Tanaveri would have ended, and he would meet his match somewhere in Mallsey.

But there was no point in speculating about the future. He could die tomorrow, at the hands of a simple cut-purse, working for no one but himself. Snapping out of his thoughtful trance, and looking around to make sure his treatment of the beggar hadn’t drawn any attention (it never did, but one couldn’t be too careful in Pakil), he said to his party, “All right, let’s find an inn.”

“Praise Malthan,” Yiratam muttered. Honir tried not to chuckle; the man could be rowdy, but when he acted, he adopted his part into every portion of his life. He belonged on the stage, not the Esantan Spy Roster.

They wandered the streets for another half hour, carefully looking for an inn that appeared to be decent. At last, they settled on a small establishment on the eastern edge of town, called The Dragon’s Claw. The drawing of Pakil, the founder and spiritual leader of Tanaveri, was exaggerated and inaccurate. It was only amateur dragons who had red scales, and most of the senior ones avoided knights completely.

Shaking his head, Honir reminded himself that he was playing a fool here. Opening the door for his three companions, he followed them into the dark, sparsely-furnished main room.

“Want a room?” the innkeeper snapped. She was a short, broad woman with a stare that saw right through a man. “We’ve only got one left, but you can have it... for an adjusted price.”

“I’m not a pauper,” Honir said arrogantly, placing a pouch of gold on the table that Forat had stolen from under the nose of a seedy-looking merchant in Rogilia. It must have taken him days to notice; he might be counting his gold right now! The leader wondered who his companion had taken lessons from.

The innkeeper raised her eyebrows, but said nothing but, “Last door on the right. You four will have to share. If you want a drink, sit down.”

Looking around, Honir saw a pitiful mix of humanity, sitting around dejectedly at a single, worn table. The other table in the room was occupied by one man, looking more intelligent and watching the newcomers carefully. He was a dangerous man, obviously, but there was nowhere else to sit. Motioning for his party to follow, the leader took his seat across from the lone patron.

“Good afternoon,” Honir greeted.

“Not here,” the other man chuckled. “But it is a nice day, yes. My name is Synok.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Honir said, giving false names for the four of them. They all shook hands.

“So, what brings you to Pakil?” Synok asked.

“We are fortunetellers,” the leader replied. It seemed like a reasonable profession for his party—after all, they had no merchandise, but he was sure that the stranger recognized them to be very intelligent, as well. “Of course, we’ll gladly read your future, for...”

“Why would I need my future read, if I’m not done writing it?” the man said sharply, and then smiled. “Oh, I apologize. Too many years in the city have hardened me. I’m involved in a somewhat... ah, unscrupulous profession myself.”

“And what would that be?” Forat asked levelly.

“Alchemy,” Synok said, thumping the table. “I could turn this into gold, given enough time. At least, I could make it appear so.”

“It must be much more difficult than arranging the telling of fortunes,” Honir remarked. “How do you do it?”

The man laughed. “You must be new here, Galit,” he said to Honir (Galit was the name he had taken for his stay in Pakil). “If I tell you how I do my work, then you’ll have to share with me your secrets.”

Honir nodded. “I see. Well, I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“Oh, you don’t bother me at all. It’s been a long time since we’ve had respectable newcomers in the city. Plenty of thugs and numskulls from the countryside, but... if I didn’t know the Royal Guard better, I’d think the four of you crossed over from Esanta, or some such place. Maybe when Malthan has taken over the world, what’s left of the human population will be more civil.”

The leader’s heart slowly began to regulate itself. A very dangerous man, indeed. “How well do you know the Royal Guard?” he asked stupidly. His anxiety was beginning to affect his wits.

“Very well,” Synok whispered. “Very well.”

Standing up, he motioned the four of them to follow. “Why don’t you all come with me? If you’re interested, there’s much I can tell you.”

In the next instant, Nilrid was standing in the town square of the village he had teleported to, with a large crowd of people staring at him in awe. For a moment, panic welled up inside the boy, as he wondered what a throng of frightened peasants would do to a young magician.

But his fear of the townspeople was washed away as a shimmering aura suddenly appeared next to him. A tall, thin woman with dirty blonde hair stepped out of the gateway, and raised her eyebrows at the surprised boy.

“Tamaya!” one of the villagers cried. “Save us from this magic-working intruder!” A storm of voices followed, all crying for banishment, imprisonment, or execution.

“The issue will be dealt with!” a clear voice sounded above the din. The entire town fell silent, and looked expectantly at the wizard woman.

Taking a quick breath, she continued. “Do not assume that every idiot who comes here by way of teleportation is evil. After all, I’m not the only person on the Council of the Arcane.” Turning to Nilrid, she said, “Come on, boy. I’ll not see you lynched, but you still have quite a bit of explaining to do.”

Without a word, the boy followed Tamaya into a nearby cottage, where she pulled up a chair and had him sit at a small, wooden table. “Would you like something to drink?” she asked.

“No, thank you,” Nilrid replied meekly.

“You don’t have to act like a little child in here, you know,” she snapped. “Nilrid of Fyr’nay?”

“Yes,” the boy confirmed.

“Good. Wekain has been missing for several days, so we had no idea where you were. Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Tamaya, if you haven’t been told, and I’m the Village Wizard for the town of Tsatira.”

Nilrid frowned. That was an odd name. It probably meant something in an ancient language. He knew that they were near Ulist, but what was so important about this quaint little village?

“It means ‘Sun Town,’ if you’re wondering,” Tamaya answered knowingly. “For reasons that I’ll explain later. It has a great deal of importance to the Council of the Arcane, so I was stationed here. I’m a Querisian native, and I’ve spent most of my life as an innkeeper’s wife in Perisanta.” She sighed. “I miss the sea, but at least I’m reasonably near it. I go down to the northern coast every few weeks, to relax and do a little studying.”

“I’ve been at the Imp Palace. One named Iquen taught me pretty well; just about everything but teleportation.”

“And, seeing as I felt your gateway from twenty miles away, you’re not having much trouble with that, either,” the wizard remarked.

Nilrid frowned. “You felt it from that far away? Supposing a Malthanian spy was near you?”

“There’s no need to suppose, boy. I was in Ulist, where every tenth person is an agent, either for Tanaveri or for Malthan herself. And, no doubt, each and every one of them with an inkling of magical ability detected your spell. Did this Iquen character teach you how to shrink power, or are imps too pompous to make cuts?”

“He taught me,” the boy answered levelly. “And I shrunk it down to a very reasonable size—maybe a twentieth of my original power.”

Tamaya stared at him for a moment, and then asked, “A twentieth? That isn’t much. How powerful are you, boy?”

Nilrid shrugged. “I don’t know for certain. Iquen would put me in a room full of straw dummies, but even when I shrunk my power down to half-size, there was nothing left when I opened my eyes.”

“Hmm. How big was the room you tested in?”

“Probably a hundred square feet; ten by ten.”

The woman’s face went blank as she thought methodically through the math required to find out the boy’s total area of effect. She spoke quietly as she pondered. “So, if you cause total destruction within a five-foot radius—you were standing in the center of the room, weren’t you?”

“Actually, more towards the back. I would lean against the door and direct my power at the opposite wall.”

“All right, if you can obliterate everything within ten feet at half your total power, that means half your power would extend... oh, three hundred miles or so. That means that if you threw out your entire strength, you would destroy anything flammable for six hundred miles, or...” She studied the boy in amazement. “...or nearly 1,900 square miles.”

“How large of an area is that?” Nilrid asked.

“You would destroy everything from the northern edge of the world to the southern, from Perisanta to... about a hundred miles west of Pakil. In other words, don’t do it.”

“Of course not.”

“Even half of your power, if not contained the way it was in the Imp Palace, would level everything from here to Indimer, which, by the way, is where you’re going next. I’ve never even heard of potential that great, much less seen it, and I’m not sure how much I can teach you.”

“Iquen says that there isn’t much left. I’ve learned how to attack, defend, and create non-objects and gateways—though teleportation came just recently. He says that you would be more helpful teaching me lessons in spying.”

“Oh, for the sake of Gelz,” Tamaya muttered. “Those aren’t learned, but understood. The only way you can pick them up is by putting yourself in grave danger, and even I have too much heart to subject you to that. However, I ought to warn you about teleportation to places you’ve never been.”

“I’m terribly sorry, madam, for frightening...”

“Not that,” she snapped. “I don’t mind at all. People are stupid, and you might as well get used to it. I mean that there’s some considerable danger in creating a place that may not exist in the real world. You are aware of what you did, aren’t you? I expect you to have some understanding of your powers.”

“Yes, I am. I created a mirror image of Tsatira, and was drawn into it.”

“Right. But did you know it was Tsatira you were going to?”


“That’s my point. Your arriving here, especially when you were supposed to come here in the first place, was one of the most unreal chance happenings possible on Derenda. If you had changed even one building in your image, you would either have been sucked into some farming village in eastern Tanaveri, where you would be executed on sight, or whisked away to a community that you created on your own. The town would disconnect itself from the real world the moment you entered, and you would be trapped forever. Do you understand?”

“Yes, madam. I won’t do it again.” Nilrid had never believed that Iquen would let him practice something so dangerous! The next time he saw the sage-like imp, he would have to have a word with him.

“Good. Now, do you need to rest a while, or shall we take a walk and discuss this whole ’Sun Town’ business?”

“If you don’t mind, I’m feeling a little tired.”

“A usual symptom of teleportation. Follow me, and I’ll show you the room I’ve set aside for surprise guests.”

It wasn’t much of a room; the boy had a feeling that Tamaya resented surprises. Still, it was comfortable enough to be habitable, and that was all Nilrid cared about it. Moments after the wizard left him, he was asleep.

Smiling, Synok motioned for his guests to enter his room. It was dimly lit and grungy, as Honir was sure their own room would be. A single bed had been laid against the far wall, beside a tiny window that looked over the pitiful city.

“Um... sit on the bed, I suppose,” the intelligent man said, looking around. There was no other furniture in the room.

As the four spies sat gingerly on the bed, Synok smiled again, and suddenly brandished a long fighting knife. “Now, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill each and every one of you.”

Honir just smiled back; it wasn’t something he hadn’t expected. In the next instant, two more knives took the man in both shoulders and pinned him to the door. Forat nodded, satisfied, and crossed his legs at the ankles.

“Good,” Synok hissed, keeping his voice steady through what must have been a terrible pain. “I’m very impressed. Does Beynar teach you the mastery of knives now, or have you just picked up that skill yourself?”

“I was trained by the Chief of Intelligence of Esanta,” Forat replied.

“A defector, then? How interesting.”

Honir frowned. He pulled a small, folded sheet of paper from his pocket and read over it again for the millionth time. It was the official Spy List from Indimer, updated every month for deaths, resignations, and new recruits. Going through hundreds of names, written so that they were barely visible, one popped out at him.

“Konys?” he asked.

The man gave a start, and narrowed his eyes. “What did you say?” he asked quietly.

“I asked if your name was Konys. I’d have to say, though, that spelling your real name backwards isn’t much of a façade.”

“No, but you obviously didn’t think I was an Esantan spy, so I assume that no one else will, either. Let’s have your real names as well; you may be on my side, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you run around unidentified.”

“My name is Honir,” the leader said. “The man on your right is Yiratam, and the woman on the left Salintia. Forat is on the far left, and is the one who put two holes through you.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Forat said warmly.

“Obliged,” Konys muttered. “Now, would you mind unpinning me from this door? If you truly are from Esanta, then you probably haven’t been finding much here in recent days that would be of interest. And there really is a great wealth of information that I can give to you.”

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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationJanuary 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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