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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Seventeen: The Infiltration

Nathan Black
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Their captor was a tall, well-built Tanaverian by the name of Fylont. Though he kept the three wizards well-fed and looked after, his face was always set in a permanent scowl, and his discourteous manner made him a very unpleasant person to be around all day.

Fylont’s method of capturing the three of them had been extremely clever. He had gone to the extent of having his troll assistants dig a ditch, fill it with water, and erect a black wooden structure that, in the dark, couldn’t be told apart from the gatehouse. Apparently, he’d sent spies out to cover almost every mile of the road, so that they knew exactly when to erect the false guard-towers. Once they had overtaken and captured their targets, they crossed the real Rogilian border posing as a merchant party (the trolls had to crouch down quite a bit to resemble humans).

One advantage to being captured was that Fylont did, in fact, have horses. He had brought out three for Morgan, Wekain and Nilrid to ride on so that they could keep up with himself and the hardy trolls. The boy finished each day of travel aching in other places than his feet, and it was difficult to readjust to moving around in daylight again.

They passed North Rogilia without event, and crossed into Tanaveri at mid-morning on July 26. The border was unguarded, oddly, and they encountered no one as they passed through the military town of Salaver. Perhaps Fylont had made some sort of arrangement so that he wouldn’t run into any trouble.

After Salaver was the moderately-sized city of Osir, eighty miles from the border and completely unadorned by any hint of a surrounding village. Again, they went through quickly and without incident. Soon afterwards, they left the forest for which the city was named and returned to the familiar landscape of dull, rolling plains. These were at a much higher elevation than their western counterparts, however, so at least the weather was unpredictable.

At noon on the twenty-ninth, the three wizards and their captors arrived at the walled capital of Tanaveri. Situated in the middle of the famous but rather unexciting Dragon’s Pass (which lay between the Ilsonne Marsh in the north and the Tanaveri Mountains in the south), Pakil did not seem terribly different from Indimer. There had been no walls around the capital of Esanta, of course, but the royal compound of that city had been closed off for security, and the tall, shining granite barriers seemed to be exactly the same.

“Welcome to the City of the Great Dragon,” a guard intoned. “Please state your names and purpose.”

“Fylont of Alvirna, escorting three wizards to the Tanaverian Palace,” the leader of the Malthanian party replied loudly.

“Ah, yes—there have been orders for the past few days about special prisoners. You are to proceed to the Palace immediately, and give the sentry their names.” The guard leered down at Nilrid, Wekain and Asinai. “You fellows get to meet our King. It’s such a wonderful honor.” With a cruel laugh, he opened the iron gate, and allowed the party into the city.

Fylont led the way down the main highway, followed by a cluster of rider-less horses and, finally, the three prisoners. They were surrounded by a full circle of stiff trolls. Nilrid thought that he detected a hint of nervousness in their dimwitted eyes as they marched down the wide street. He supposed that they were very afraid of their King.

Suddenly, the circle broke, and three men dressed in black stepped inside. One of the trolls, trembling with anxiety, pushed Asinai, Wekain and Nilrid outside of their escort. Another black-cloaked man, with fiery eyes and hair as dark as his clothing, smiled, and then motioned the wizards to follow.

“We’re a little pressed for time,” he explained as he led them into a grimy back alley that abruptly ended at the tall city wall. “With any luck, Fylont won’t realize you’re gone until he reaches the Palace, but after that we’ll be hunted throughout the entire city.” The walls will be closed, and every street will be lined with members of the illustrious Royal Guard.”

“Why did the trolls let us go?” Wekain asked, sounding a bit rattled.

“They were paid to,” the man said, grinning smugly. “Trolls have desires as strong as any human, and those impulses can be played upon if one can avoid being impaled. Particularly, they have a passion for food, and, as it turned out, old Fylont wasn’t giving them enough.” He sighed mockingly. “There’s just no loyalty these days. All my agents had to do was slip them a few dozen legs of lamb and give them their orders.”

“And the three men who took our place?” Asinai asked. “Were they some of your agents?”

“Oh, no,” their rescuer laughed. “I would never put my men in that kind of situation. They’re three common criminals I borrowed from the Pakil Constabulary. They were all scheduled for execution tomorrow, so I offered to buy them a little time. Now they’re going to die anyway, but at least they had a little fun.”

Nilrid frowned. Sending three strangers to their deaths at the hands of the obscure Tanaverian King was far from admirable in his eyes.

“And you must be Nilrid,” he said, noticing the boy’s expression. “My name is Konys, though here in the city most know me as Synok. I’m sorry that our morals collide, but try to forget about it. We’re going to be together quite a bit in the next few days.”

“Pleased to meet you, Konys,” the High Wizard of Querisia said. “I am Wekain, the...”

“I know who you are,” Konys interrupted. “I’m sorry to come across as a rude and heartless infidel, but we really are running out of time. Will you all follow me, please?”

They left the alley and returned to the highway, but the black-cloaked man was nervous and soon turned off onto another street. Moving quickly and inconspicuously, they passed by a number of buildings: the recruiting office for Palace troops, a large, open market, the ominous and spacious execution grounds, and the small, rundown National Museum before returning to the Pakil Highway once more. Finally, they arrived at a small inn with an inaccurate drawing of a dragon and a sign that identified it as The Dragon’s Claw Inn. Looking especially nervous, Konys opened the door and hurried them in.

They were taken quickly up a flight of wooden, rickety stairs and to a grimy, single-bed room.

“We have guests,” the black-cloaked man said to no one in particular.

Nilrid gave a little jerk of surprise as three men and a well-groomed woman crawled out from under the bed. “Welcome to Pakil, Nilrid of Fyr’nay and friends,” one of the men said. He was a tall, bright character with a soft face, bright blond hair and penetrating blue eyes. “My name is Honir. You did get my message to you in Indimer, I trust?”

“Yes,” Nilrid replied. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Yiratam,” another of the men said. He was fairly short, a little smaller than Nilrid, but his roughened face and scraggly brown beard made him look very experienced and capable. There was a mischievous twinkle in his brown eyes. “I’ll be providing the entertainment during your stay.”

“He’s too young to drink, Yiratam,” the woman said, “and too smart to laugh at your jokes. My name is Salintia, Nilrid. It’s nice to finally meet you.” She was quite beautiful, with shiny brown hair to her shoulders and a calm, relaxed complexion. “How proficient are you in magic?”

“I get by,” the boy replied modestly.

“He’s the best in centuries,” the High Wizard of Esanta contradicted. “There was a little sidetrack at the Querisia-Wystarin border, and he had the opportunity to be trained by imps. Now, I’ve heard that he has a power rivaling a middle-aged dragon. He still hasn’t had time to learn any complicated spells—if he tried to cast Whitefire he would probably lose control and lay everything from here to Yansor to waste—but the simple ones serve him well enough.”

“A valuable asset,” the third man murmured. “My name’s Forat.” He was even taller than Honir, with a drawn face and a quiet voice. Nilrid guessed that he wasn’t a talkative type.

“It is a great honor to meet you again, Wekain,” Honir said politely, “and also to meet you for the first time, Asinai. Your presence will surely be both helpful to us and intimidating to Beynar.” He paused. “However, we will ask you to stay in this room and avoid using magic while Nilrid and my group are carrying out our mission. Our task is complicated enough by the fact that Nilrid is an ordained wizard. We certainly don’t need three!”

“We thought that we could help you with the Mustering,” the High Wizard of Querisia explained. “You are planning on monitoring the dragons, aren’t you? None of the western nations are ready for war, and we need to let them know when something happens.”

“Is it really so soon?” Honir asked. “We weren’t planning on heading south, but if you think Pakil is about to awaken...”

“We do,” Asinai finished. “Is the infiltration tomorrow?”

“Yes. July 30 is Tanaveri Day, and we’re hoping that the celebrations will create a distraction.”

“Then we’ll leave with Konys early in the morning,” the High Wizard of Esanta decided. “That way, not only will we have something to do, but there won’t be any way for the Royal Guard to ambush us in this room.”

“All right,” Honir agreed. “Just be careful not to make yourselves noticeable. Wizards are unnaturally good at being seen.”

“I used to be a sailor, Honir,” Wekain said levelly. “I know how to take care of myself.”

Wekain, Asinai and Konys left before dawn the next morning. Mount Pakil, the traditional location for the Mustering, was 65 miles to the south of the city, and there were no roads along the way. It would take the men three or four days to get there, as long as the good weather held.

Nilrid woke around eight o’clock, and the extra hour and a half of sleep was more than welcome. He ate breakfast with his four companions as they discussed matters in the west. Salintia, especially, was interested in the Council of the Arcane—she had been a student at the University in Perisanta.

“Did you get to meet the Chancellor, then?” she asked, as he was telling about his time in Indimer.

“No,” Nilrid replied. “But I’ve heard he’s an idiot.”

“Hovampt is very bright,” Honir contradicted. “He worked for the Rogilian Spy Network for two decades, and was one of the very best. Unfortunately, he hasn’t the skills to lead a group of old, stubborn men and women—each with an ego the size of a large, male elephant.”

“By the way,” Yiratam broke in, “this is elephant country. It gets warmer here than most places in the south, and they enjoy the plains. If we happen to run across one in our escape, just stay calm and don’t excite them. Villagers die every year from stampedes.”

“Oh, don’t scare him,” Salintia snapped. “Elephants are just big cows, Nilrid, so don’t let our Master Storyteller bother you.”

“You’ve never even seen an elephant!” Yiratam countered.

“Stop bickering,” Honir said, and that ended it. “We all have to be dressed and in the Pakil Market by nine o’clock. As I told you last night, this is Tanaveri Day, and everyone in the city is expected to attend at least the first hour of the celebrations. It won’t be very taxing—all we have to do is listen to the King make a speech, and then jump and cheer at ten.”

“No ale?” Yiratam asked, sounding disappointed. His leader gave him a withering glare.

“So we get to see the King?” the boy asked. As afraid as he was of infiltrating the Tanaverian Palace, he felt a tinge of anticipation when he thought about seeing the most powerful human in the Malthanian world.

“I hope so,” Honir replied. “So far, his daughter Sirinta has been making all of his speeches, but it is customary for the King to speak to the masses on Tanaveri Day. It would be nice to meet our enemy. Nilrid, please go get dressed. I’d like to be early to the ceremony, if possible.”

At a quarter to nine, the five of them arrived at the Pakil Market. Unlike the day before, all of the shops and stands had been cleared out, and the three squares were now filled to the brim with people. They all looked to be in a good mood, chatting mindlessly about this or that. On the northern edge of the marketplace, where the high walls of the Royal Barracks cut off the Palace from the rest of the city, a shaded stage had been set up, with a golden throne in the center.

It was hot already, and the mass of people all gathered in one place didn’t help to improve the situation. Nilrid wiped the sweat from his brow, and hoped that the ceremony began soon.

Five minutes after nine, a fanfare of trumpets suddenly began playing. The crowd fell silent, listening to the proud, patriotic music and waiting to see the King they had never met.

The trumpets hit a particularly high note (Nilrid, having some experience with that instrument, winced when he heard the pitch), and suddenly a long line of old, black-clad men stepped out onto the stage. Most of the national leaders arranged themselves precariously on the edge of the stage, so that only one man remained standing: King Beynar of Tanaveri.

Nilrid squinted, and took a closer look at the ruler of the world’s only Malthanian nation. Then, he gasped. It was the man who had attacked them in the Osir Forest—the Necromancer who had tried to suffocate the three wizards in boulders!

“Citizens of Tanaveri, welcome!” he began. It was the same smooth, calm voice that had spoken to the boy and his companions back in Esanta. “I am Beynar of Alvirna, your King for the past month and a half.”

There was quite a bit of cheering at that, and shouts of “All hail the King!” and “Malthan bless her servant!” With a modest smile, Ranyeb the Vinatira held up his hand and quieted the crowd.

“I am sorry to tell you that as yet, we have had no clue as to who assassinated my esteemed predecessor, King Corlais. Despite this, I have refused to let up the investigation in any capacity. We will find the killer.”

Another round of cheering. The five spies joined in this time, beaming widely as they praised the man—or something close to a man, anyway—who had almost certainly been behind the assassination.

“But now, let us attend to more pressing issues. I am not able to discuss, specifically, the progress of our war preparations. For though I love all true Tanaverians, I would be foolish to assume that there are no spies and traitors among us. Be at ease, my people, with the knowledge that under the watchful eyes and empowering embrace of Malthan, our nation will have victory.

“If you wish to join the war effort and serve your country to the fullest extent, stop by the National Recruiting Building at Dragon Avenue and Osir Lane for details. Any help is greatly appreciated.”

Ranyeb continued for almost an hour, moving from military patriotism to road reparation, and then back to another matter of national pride: the Temples of Malthan. He praised their tradition of service to the Malthanian people, and encouraged people to donate money for the renovation of the buildings. Never once did he mention donating to help the poor; in Tanaveri, charity was socially unacceptable.

Then, near ten o’clock, he thanked the audience, and, amid cheers, sat down on the golden throne. Another of the men on stage, covered from head to toe in black, stood up and announced, “In a few moments, the Malthanian Realm of Tanaveri will celebrate its 527th year of existence. At ten o’clock in the morning on July 30, 601, the dragon Pakil officially established Tanaveri as a challenge to the western nations, that they might know and fear the Almighty Queen in a very real and official way. So let us celebrate the majesty of our nation, its first Queen, and the present King.”

Just as the official finished, the clock inside the Palace struck the hour, and a great cry of joy swept the marketplace. Nilrid yelled and screamed as loud as any of them, but he couldn’t hear himself.

After a few minutes, the crowd began to break up, as the real celebrations began. Honir grabbed the boy’s arm and led him away from the festivities. The five of them met on Palace Road, just south of the Royal Barracks’ walls.

“Exciting, wasn’t it?” Yiratam asked sardonically.

“Purely inspiring!” Salintia cried. “I especially liked the part about finding Corlais’s killer.”

“I don’t think heading back to the inn would be a good idea,” Honir remarked. “The innkeeper will still be there, and he’ll want to know why we aren’t out celebrating. But we’re well within earshot of the Royal Guards here too, anytime they decide to patrol this section of the wall. Let’s go somewhere obscure.”

They headed south, and finally settled on an alley behind a pottery shop. The leader of the group checked carefully to make sure no one had followed them, and then began to speak in a quiet, calm voice.

“We’ll be going into the Tanaverian Palace through a secret passage across from the Temple of Malthan. It was originally meant as an escape route for the King if the Palace fell, because Gelzan military custom prevents attacking temples of any kind. Since no one has ever dreamed of attacking Pakil, I doubt the passage has ever been used, so we’re hoping that we won’t be noticed. The Temple is closed today, so we shouldn’t encounter any fanatic priests.”

“That makes it easier than Mallsey,” Yiratam muttered.

“Shut up,” Salintia hissed. “We’ve got a Mallseyan right here.”

“What?” Nilrid asked suspiciously.

“It’s nothing that concerns you,” Honir answered briskly. “You’re an agent of King Jizir XI now, so you might as well forget national devotions. Now, as I was saying, we shouldn’t have any trouble getting into the passage. The problems arise once we’re in the Palace.

“We should come out on the seventh level, which we hope Beynar hasn’t discovered yet. From there, Nilrid, your job is fairly simple. Do you have anything to fight with?”

The boy shook his head.

“Well, that’s all the more encouragement to stay out of trouble!” the leader said brightly. “But you won’t get much. Those lower levels haven’t been used in at least four hundred years—they may have been deserted since they were built. If you do run into anything, though, it will be straight from Pakil and several centuries old, so please be sensible and run if you have to.

“The rest of us will move upward, into the inhabited parts of the Palace. The fifth level is just like the sixth and seventh—dungeons, except that these ones are used. Above that, on the fourth level, is where we’ll be working. It contains the throne room, all its various antechambers, and the royal apartments. I’d rather not have to go to the top three levels, since anyone is allowed on them.

“I plan to begin the infiltration at noon. That way, nobody will be inside sleeping, and we won’t cast any shadows as we open the passageway. Forat, what’s your estimate of time?”

The tall, quiet man frowned. “I would say two hours for us, if you want a thorough job.”

“I’ve never wanted it more thorough. What about Nilrid?”

“I don’t know. If all he’s got to do is go down eleven flights of stairs, then I’d give him a half an hour at the most. But like you said, there could be plenty of nasty little creatures waiting for an intruder down there. You should probably give two hours for both missions.”

“All right. We’ll meet back on the seventh level, where we came in, at two o’clock. After that, it depends on the circumstances. I’d like to wait around for Konys and the two High Wizards, but our options may be pretty limited if we’ve got half the Royal Guard on our heels. In a bad situation, we’ll escape to the south of the city, and make our way to Mount Pakil.”

“Reasonable enough,” Salintia mused. “Unless, of course, one of us is late and has to wait around.”

“I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” Honir countered. He ducked his head behind a corner, and squinted at the city’s clock tower. “A quarter to eleven. We’ve got a wait.”

“Thank Gelz,” Yiratam muttered sarcastically. “Some precious time to get nervous.”

“Don’t get nervous,” the leader suggested. “And don’t say Gelz’s name. Just because we think we’re alone doesn’t mean we are. Sit down, relax, and keep your daggers ready, Forat. I don’t want surprises.”

An hour later, Honir decided they had waited long enough, and began to walk north along a street called Kallison Lane (named, of course, for the first human King of Tanaveri) until they reached the wall of the Royal Barracks. There, they made their way to the Road of Malthan, and went up it to the steps of the national temple. Immediately, Forat stepped over to the wall on the western side of the street and beginning to prod it. He seemed to be looking for a loose brick.

“Not a very clever place to hide an escape route,” Salintia remarked. “I would have had it open up inside the Temple.”

“And supposing we broke our custom and burned it to the ground?” Yiratam asked, studying Forat carefully as he searched the wall. “Pakil could have been more devious, I admit, but she had to think of everything.”

“Forat, do you need help?” Honir asked, looking nervously at the celebrations going on a few hundred yards away. If anyone important so much as glanced in their general direction...

“Wait a moment,” the quiet Esantan agent murmured. There was a muffled click, and part of the bottom of the wall swung open. It was a wooden door, painted to look exactly like the rest of the barrier.

“How brilliant,” Honir said, ducking into the darkness beyond. “Come on in,” his voice echoed from the inside. “And be sure that somebody closes the door when everyone’s through.”

They followed their leader into the passageway, which was narrowly lit by an overly-spaced series of flickering torches. Nilrid detected the magic in them even before he had finished closing the door; they were obviously under a strong enchantment to have burned for more than five hundred years.

“Now, we should go right under the Royal Barracks and the moat, and wind up below the Palace,” Honir said as he led them along through the damp, musty tunnel. “But Beynar may have discovered this place after all, and decided to reroute it straight into a guards’ sleeping room. Be prepared for anything.”

“You didn’t have to tell us that,” Yiratam replied. They walked along in silence.

After what seemed like a mile or more, the tunnel suddenly dipped, and the air gradually grew more stifling. By the time they reached another small wooden door, the passageway was almost a vertical drop downwards.

Honir reached for the door, and then turned to the boy. “Make a slow count to three hundred, and then follow us in. Good luck.” Opening the door, he led three of his charges out of the tunnel and into the Tanaverian Palace. There was a dim, green light coming from the room beyond, but Nilrid didn’t dare to disobey the orders he’d been given.

One... two... three... he began. Every number seemed like an eternity. After five agonizing minutes, he took a deep breath and stepped inside the door.

The eerie green light came from a luminescent fungus growing on the walls, covering them like a blanket. Obviously, no one had found this place yet. There was a dark, spiral staircase leading upwards to his immediate right, and another long passage to his left.

He walked down the hall, looking nervously around him. There were large, spacious cells on either side—some were larger than the cottage he’d been supplied by the Royal News Service in Fyr’nay! After all he’d heard about the dungeons of the Tanaverian Palace, this didn’t make any sense.

Maybe they had been meant for political prisoners, he mused. Being a dragon, Pakil was probably an elitist, who believed that nobility deserved some degree of luxury even under imprisonment. Of course, since these hallways hadn’t been walked in hundreds of years, anyone of the upper class who made it to this building in chains stayed with everyone else on the fifth level—and it wasn’t pleasant. Ranyeb tortured with magic, but the staff of the Tanaverian Dungeon didn’t have to.

At the end of the hall was a third door, and another flight of stairs. Nilrid descended quickly, his footsteps echoing a little too loudly on the stone steps. The eighth level of the Palace looked much like the seventh, with more oversized cells. How big did Pakil make her dungeon? She must have been expecting a great deal of prisoners (and was right).

He found the stairway to the ninth level quickly, since the layout of this floor was the same as the one above. A dark room nearly a hundred and fifty feet underground seemed an odd place to put a library, but the documents were of a secretive nature. The boy noticed The Complete History of the Indimer War (527-36), which certainly wasn’t a piece of literature that Malthanians were meant to get their hands on. Pakil was a very resourceful dragon.

As he entered the tenth level, he heard a low, rumbling growl. Before he could react, a huge dog-like shape stepped out of the shadows. It was about six feet tall, yet it stood on all fours, had a pointy face and eyes that burned fire. Baring its vicious-looking teeth, it only waited a moment before springing on Nilrid.

The suddenness of the attack threw the boy off guard, and the only thing he could do was jump out of the way. Snarling as it crashed into the wooden door, the monster quickly recovered, and began to back Nilrid into a small, musty corner.

Forcing himself to stay calm, he quickly wove a wall of fire, and drew it up around himself. His adversary ignored the barrier, and stepped right into it. In the next instant, its furry skin vanished into oblivion, and a giant creature of flame rose above the rest of the blaze.

As soon as it had appeared, it was gone. Nilrid had caused several dozen gallons of cold water to fall on it from above, and the horrific beast hadn’t stood a chance. Putting out his own fire and stepping gingerly around the now murky water, the boy scurried to the next level as fast as he could.

The next three floors were for storage. Nilrid saw a number of bizarre, oddly shaped objects, but none of them seemed to have a definite purpose. Perhaps they were dragon toys.

When he arrived at the fourteenth level, he was stopped by a strange dripping sound. As he looked on, a gray-green slime took shape on the floor, and began advancing toward him.

Thinking a little more clearly than he was during his last encounter, the boy quickly tried both to burn and freeze his brainless attacker. But both spells simply bounced off of it. Nilrid gasped, remembering what Iquen had told him about some Malthanian beasts. This thing was immune to magic!

It was getting closer. Realizing he only had one option left, the boy created an upward current and carried himself up to the ceiling, more than fifteen feet above the floor (these secret chambers weren’t modest). Then, with a speed that surprised him, he carried himself through the room, and gently dropped himself down the staircase to the fifteenth level.

The slime creature didn’t follow. Either it couldn’t go downstairs, or Nilrid had taken it so completely by surprise that it was unable to reason where in the Palace he had escaped to.

A table sat in the center of this one-room level, and even after five hundred years the boy could still see most of the varnish remaining. It was coated with a very fine layer of dust, as if it had been built to resist such decay. Looking closely at the places, he saw positions such as “Governor of Alvirna,” “Captain of Border Patrol,” and, of course, “King of Tanaveri” engraved in gold. This was obviously a meeting room, probably for national emergencies when the only place to go was underground.

The air was quite uncomfortable as Nilrid passed through the sixteenth and seventeenth levels, which were bunkers for the King and his bodyguard. It wasn’t difficult to tell which bed would be used by the ruler of Tanaveri; it was bigger than all of the other cots by three times.

Stopping at the door of the King’s chamber, the boy counted carefully how many flights of stairs he had gone down. Yes, he confirmed, this is the door to the eighteenth level. What in Gelz’s name could be down there? Well, he decided, there’s only one way to find out.

Every step he took seemed to bounce off of every wall in the Palace. Nilrid winced with anxiety as he made his way downward.

The bottom level of the Tanaverian Palace consisted of a short hallway and two doors. Each was labeled in elegant, flowing script. The door on the left said, “BUILDER’S TOMB.” Nilrid knew just what that meant, and shuddered violently at the thought. On the right, there was a door marked, “SECURE AREA: ENTER UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES!

As the boy reached for the knob on the right door, a voice suddenly whispered in his head, “Nilrid, don’t go in there.”

There was a flash of uncertainty, and then Nilrid laughed. He had come this far, and no voice was going to keep him from finding out what was behind that door! With a deliberate twist of his hand, he threw the door back, and stepped into a small, almost empty room.

Nilrid, this is a dangerous place. Leave right now.”

Though it was quite a bit darker in here, the heat was almost unbearable. Trying to ignore the sweat running down his entire body, the boy let his eyes adjust and then looked around the room. Besides a less thorough coating of luminescent fungus, the only thing of interest was a long, black staff lying in the middle of the floor. It had been carved perfectly of treated ebony, and seemed to radiate a magical energy of its own. Shaking his head, Nilrid told himself that such a thing was impossible. He was probably detecting himself, and was too tired and miserable to know the difference.

With a stiff resolve, he walked forward and bent down to pick up the staff. The voice suddenly spoke, much louder than before, “Nilrid, listen to me. That staff is an evil, evil thing. If you pick it up, your life will be endangered.”

That sounded much more convincing than it should have. For a moment, the boy drew his hand back, ready to turn around and scurry back up to the seventh level. But his curiosity and determination overcame his doubts. Bending down again, he took the staff and held it in both hands. It felt a great deal heavier than it looked, he thought absently to himself.

Suddenly, he felt a surge of power rushing into him, probing him. Then, it retreated back inside the rod, but it wasn’t gone. The energy was accessible to him now, anytime he held the staff and summoned it out.

You are foolish, young Nilrid. In time you will learn to regret your rash decision.” With that, the voice was gone.

Nilrid was frowning as he walked back up the eleven flights of stairs to where he had came in. He had no idea what time it was, nor could he see the secret door that he’d come in. But that didn’t matter. There was another, impossible question that sat on his mind like a huge, indomitable elephant.

Who was the voice?

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