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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Twelve: Missions

Nathan Black
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With a satisfied grin, Honir flipped through the seven pages of notes in his hands. They had talked with Konys for two hours, and learned more about the workings of the Tanaverian Palace than even Beynar himself knew. It was an ancient building, designed by Pakil in the year 598 and finished by the time Tanaveri became a nation in 601, and no one but the dragon herself knew all of its secrets.

“I pity the souls who had to work on the eighteenth level,” Yiratam laughed grimly. “Can you imagine being cooped up in stifling darkness, nearly three hundred feet underground, doing hard labor night and day?”

“And then being locked inside one of the rooms, to keep the secret from spreading?” Salintia added. “Whatever Pakil kept down there, she obviously didn’t want anyone finding out.”

“Perhaps we should take a look around, then,” Forat suggested, his finger gesturing coolly at the map. “One of the passages enters the castle at the seventh level, and we could move down from there. Only the first five floors are occupied, so we probably wouldn’t have much trouble with the guards.”

“Nilrid will infiltrate the Palace,” Honir replied simply. “Let him do his job, and we’ll do ours.”

“The only part of our job that’s left is waiting,” Salintia muttered. “Any word from our little naďve friend?”

“He’s apparently been found by the wizard in Ulist,” the leader answered. “He should be leaving for Indimer any day now, where he’ll be met by old Asinai himself! Naďve, perhaps, but very lucky to be receiving this kind of assistance.”

“Well, I’m happy for him,” Yiratam said. “If we’re not going to use these notes, then why don’t we just go to sleep?”

“Feel free,” Honir replied. “I’ll just look at them for a while anyway. After all, unless this Nilrid boy is much more resourceful than we think, he’s going to need all the help from us that he can get.”

The cell was dark, rancid, and uncomfortable. In reality, Morgan and Wekain had only been there for two days—it was the evening of the twenty-eighth of June—but it seemed like the horrid food, tortuous beatings and general misery had lasted for a thousand years.

Morgan moaned, and Wekain glanced over at him. “All you all right?” he asked, concerned. It was a ridiculous question.

“I’ll live,” the other wizard replied. “But that’s what they want, isn’t it? If we die, we can’t tell them anything.” He sighed. “Maybe we should just say where it is. Malthan already knows about the Temple of the Dawn, so what’s the use of trying to hide what’s in it?”

“We swore an oath, as you’ll recall,” the High Wizard of Querisia snapped. “And I don’t take that lightly. There has to be a way to get out of here without answering any questions, and I intend to find it.”

“Sounds wonderful, but where do we start?”

Wekain shrugged, and closed his eyes. An instant later, a white thread of light laced through Morgan’s and his chains, slicing them apart. “While we’ve got a spare moment, we might as well leave the cell and look for escape routes.”

The other wizard laughed suddenly. “Are you mad?” he cried. “We’ll get about thirty feet down the outside hall before somebody notices our severed chains, and sounds the alarm...”

“Quiet,” Wekain hissed, closing his eyes once more. There was a soft click, and the door to their cell swung open. “Now, just stay behind me and stop whining. Wouldn’t you rather be beaten for this than for obeying an oath?”

They edged their way down the cold, stone hall, not daring to peek into the other cells. Wekain and Morgan both had heard their share of pitiful screams from those rooms, mixed in with their own, and decided that no matter how curious or obligated they might feel, being sick in the middle of their escape would probably destroy its chances of success.

The first guard they saw was about a hundred feet from where they had left their cell; a tall, solemn troll with a vicious-looking spear. Holding his breath, Wekain drew himself up against the wall, and Morgan did the same. Suddenly, the beast gave a gasp, and fell dead.

Morgan smirked, and whispered, “For your information, trolls do have hearts. I just disconnected his from the rest of his body. And I’m sure it hurt,” he added, with a small fraction of pity in his voice.

Nodding anxiously, the High Wizard pressed his companion onward. He didn’t need to hear about magical techniques, especially from one of his former students. They continued down the corridor, and then up a flight of stairs, which at the top was marked with a small sign:

Dungeon Keeper
Special Barracks
Royal Antechamber
Queen’s Chamber

“That’s the way back to Malthan,” Morgan hissed. “If I might persuade you to head to the left...”

“Hello, my friends,” a soft voice suddenly said.

Turning to the left, the two wizards saw a young, blond-haired man standing before them. His blue eyes were kind, but glowed with an intelligence beyond either of theirs. Absently, Wekain noticed that the overpowering divine residue of Malthan was much stronger.

The Whitefire Spell illuminated the room, searing the walls and making the metal banisters of the stairway glow bright red. Wekain caught his breath, opened his eyes... and nearly died of surprise when he saw that the man was still standing there, smiling calmly.

“By Gelz, that was impressive!” he cried. “You must teach me how to do that sometime. I’m studying to be a wizard, you see, and I was worried that this assignment would delay my...”

“You worship Gelz?” Morgan whispered.

The man looked around carefully, and then replied, “Of course. I left Tsatira a month ago, and just reached this miserable hovel of death and darkness. And you, my friends? What brings two wise old sages like you here?”

“Thank you for proving yourself a true follower,” Wekain said slowly, “and now, promise me that you will never even think of Tsatira within these walls. Malthan is a goddess, if you’ve forgotten, and she is perceptive beyond our understanding. As to your question, I was captured in southern Wystarin, and Morgan at his home near Fyr’nay, Querisia. We have information about a certain project, that, um, we are unwilling to disclose.”

“Ah, some more Thunderclap insiders,” the man smiled. “I’ll not prod you, and I promise I’ll keep my mind as blank as I can. I assume you’re trying to leave? You don’t look like you’re enjoying yourselves here.”

Wekain nodded. “Yes, we are. Can you help us?”

The man thought for a moment. “There’s a secret way out of the Palace, the way I came in. I’d be perfectly willing to tell you, if—if you’re willing to do me a little favor in return.”

“Name it,” Morgan said, trying to keep his voice low.

With a satisfied nod, the Gelzan follower pulled a yellowed, ancient sheet of parchment from a pocket inside his tunic. Handing it to Wekain, he said hurriedly, “This is the ritual to release—or imprison—Malthan from her original home, the Temple of Darkness. I got sidetracked from my mission and stumbled on it by mistake, and frankly, I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to keep it safe. Would you take it, and keep it with you until I can retrieve it?”

“Of course,” Wekain consented, taking the paper. Creating an invisible box, he placed the ritual in it, and then stored the box in the confines of his mind (one of the most useful techniques his old master had taught him). “It is now beyond anyone’s reach but mine. Supposing you are, ah, unable to come back?”

“Then the ritual is yours, to guard and pass along at your own death. Now, about the secret door...” Leaning over, the man whispered in the High Wizard’s ear, speaking slowly and carefully. “Do you have it?” he finally asked.

“Yes,” Wekain replied, breathing quickly with the hope of escape. “I... we... thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.” Grabbing Morgan by his shoulder, he led him off to the left. “We must be going. Thank you again!”

The man stood still and watched until the two wizards were out of sight. Then, he gave a genuine smile, and turned to the right.

On the morning of June 29, Nilrid stepped out of Tamaya’s house and back into the world of empty fields and lonely travelers. The wizard woman had given him a substantial amount of money and food to last him a month, knowing that the tedious journey to Indimer would probably take that long.

He saw few other people on the road; most of the merchants and traders going into Ulist came from Querisia. However, he was able to meet a traveling court jester, going from Sumiton to Perisanta in search of employment. After seeing his rather solemn act, the boy was moved to pity and gave him a few coins.

Just after his noonday meal, he also came across an aged town crier. He still had a full head of gray hair, but his skin was as weathered as the rusting trumpet he clutched. A friendly man, he stopped to greet Nilrid in a raspy but articulate voice.

“Hello, traveler,” he said. “Any news from Ulist?”

The boy shrugged. “I never entered the city. But it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir; I myself am in your profession.”

His eyes lit up. “Always nice to meet one of my own. Are you working for the Wystarinian Informants?”

“No, the Royal News Service in Querisia,” Nilrid replied. “I’m headed for Sumiton, to report the latest on the new King in Tanaveri.” As harmless as the old man looked, he wasn’t known well enough to trust, so the boy pieced together a perfectly believable lie.

“Well, the capital is hardly more than a village. I don’t suppose you’d need a trumpet to be heard anyway.” Nilrid almost kicked himself; that was the hole in his story. No crier went anywhere without his trumpet!

“Oh, the trumpet,” he laughed pleasantly. “I left that in Tsatira, so I can return and get it. Even in these days, I doubt anyone would dare steal from a messenger of news.”

The crier nodded. “Well, I’ll let you be on your way. It was nice meeting you, boy.” With that, they parted.

Sunset came quickly, and by then Nilrid had traveled over thirty miles to the east. Exhausted but pleased with himself, the boy built himself a fire to the side of the road, ate a portion of his rations, and went to sleep.

The next day passed uneventfully. Then, as the sun was beginning its descent on the first of July, Nilrid came to a large clearing. He was still a mile from Romira, the first major city out of Ulist, and had long ago begin to feel the weariness of a determined but mortal traveler.

Looking around slowly, he was taken aback by the many signs hung all over various areas of the clearing. One prominent sign caught his attention:

Summit Green
Site of the 299th
Biannual Western Leaders Conference
July 1-3, 1128

Nilrid frowned. Why hadn’t the town crier said anything about this? It was on his way, and surely it was important news. There were other signs as well, each representing a country that was attending the conference. One of these banners read, in ornate letters:

Realm of Querisia
His Majesty King Jizir XI

With his hopes high, the boy attempted to look important as he sauntered over to the large complex of tents. Almost immediately, he was stopped by a guard who wouldn’t have smiled if his life had depended on it.

“Yes?” he snapped, making sure that Nilrid knew well who was the tallest of the pair.

“Nilrid of Fyr’nay, or Gastrin, if you prefer,” Nilrid began, remembering that Gelz had addressed him by his town of birth.

“Don’t fool around with me,” the guard hissed. “Which one is it—Fyr’nay, or Gastrin? Answer up, or your head will attend the festivities here without your body accompanying.”

“Gastrin, sir,” the boy confirmed, keeping his voice level. After confronting a deity, he could talk to anything with ease. Lowering his tone, he continued, “I’m an agent of the King, and wish to see him, please.”

“Oh, and you think you can just waltz in here and...” he suddenly stopped. “Nilrid, you said?”

The boy nodded. “I was hoping you hadn’t heard of me yet, but perhaps it was inevitable.”

“Well, the inevitable has happened.” The guard gestured with his spear. “The King is in the largest tent on your right. Be sure to identify yourself as you walk in, or his personal spy will become his personal pincushion.” Without another word, the stern man resumed his military walk around the camp.

Spotting the royal tent immediately, Nilrid approached, and stuck his head into the flap. The inside had been set up much like Jizir’s own bedchamber, with numerous paintings and a large bed. His servants and bodyguards were eating a bland dinner of dried meat and fruit on the dirt floor.

“May I help you?” a sharp voice asked. A tall man with black hair and black eyes was seated on the bed, picking the last scraps off a turkey bone, and wearing peasant clothes with his gem-studded crown.

“Ah, yes,” the boy answered, stumbling for only a moment. “My name is Nilrid of Gastrin. I was wondering if I could, um, discuss my business with you, while we’re both here.”

The King studied his subject for a moment, and then nodded. “Come on in, and have a seat on the floor.”

Walking into the tent, Nilrid bent on one knee before his leader.

“I didn’t say kneel!” Jizir snapped. “I get enough of that in the daytime. Now, get comfortable and we’ll talk, and save the bowing and scraping for tomorrow’s processional.”

Embarrassed, the boy got off his knees and sit on the floor. “First of all, I wanted to let you know that while I was out of the High Wizard’s, uh, escort, I was taken in by some imps, and taught the ways of magic. I was recognized three days ago in Tsatira, so there is no need to...”

“...say that name,” the King finished, sounding irritated. “The walls have ears, my boy, and you must never assume that anyone around you is worth trusting. You could have said, ‘I was recognized recently, so there is no need for further instruction.’ Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, my King,” Nilrid replied. “I apologize.”

“Good. Now, I would love to tell you that your knowledge will allow you to cut a hundred miles off your journey, but I’m afraid I can’t. The fastest route to Pakil is through Indimer, and since I still don’t trust a boy your age on your own in an inn, you’ll be staying with Asinai, your next contact. Anything else you would like to discuss?”

“Actually, yes. Just two days ago, I met a town crier on his way to Ulist. We spoke for a moment or two, yet he didn’t say anything about this conference. Why is it such a secret?”

Jizir laughed. “Look around you, boy. Could we possibly keep an event like this secret? You were, no doubt, talking to a spy for either King Beynar or Malthan herself, because both types were sniffed out by wizards and not allowed into the ceremonies. He obviously didn’t know who—what—you are, or you wouldn’t be here talking to me tonight.”

The boy nodded, and stood. “Thank you, my King, for welcoming me here. I’ll be on my way now.”

“May Gelz’s blessing fall upon you, young man,” the King returned. “And be careful; no one is what they seem!”

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