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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part II: Imprisonment

Chapter Two: Revenge

Nathan Black
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Back in Honir’s room at The Dragon’s Claw Inn, Nilrid tried to stay relaxed. The adrenaline was still pumping through him from his ordeal that had ended just hours ago. While waiting for the four Esantans, he had placed his Black Staff in the same invisible box as he had the Ritual of Summoning, which made him feel a little less noticeable, but Ranyeb could still track him down in an instant.

They had left the Tanaverian Palace at two o’clock sharp, but with only about three minutes to spare before the various guards awakened and noticed that something had gone wrong. Now, it was almost three thirty. The five of them had spent over an hour running and ducking through the streets of Pakil, trying to cover their tracks as they made their way back to the inn.

Nilrid had just finished telling about his part of the infiltration, while Forat took careful notes. The papers had been stored away with several other sheets of parchment, that would be presented both to King Dysone of Esanta and the Council of the Arcane in Perisanta.

“Now, just for your information,” Honir said, “here’s a rough account of how our piece of the mission went. We moved very slowly at first, since Forat had to do his pressure-point trick on every human being we came across. It must have been a quarter to one before we finally worked our way through the dungeons and arrived at the fourth level.

“The King of Tanaveri closes court at one o’clock every day, so we were only able to see the last of his official business from a secret antechamber that Konys showed to us. It wasn’t anything very interesting; just some denied pardon requests and a briefing from his treasury advisor. Apparently, this war he’s planning is costing much more than he thought it would, because the Mustering is going to happen late. He has five hundred thousand troops camped out to the north of here doing nothing but squandering his food and money supplies.”

“When will the Mustering be?” the boy asked.

“Nobody knows, but your wizard friends certainly won’t get to see it. The King was guessing late September to early October at the earliest. Anyway, once everyone had left the throne room, Beynar walked down to his royal apartments, and we followed him through a ventilation tunnel in the wall. After all, it is difficult to get fresh air sixty feet underground.

“This is the juicy part. When he got to his room, he closed his eyes and started mumbling something in an old language. The only part Forat was able to pick out was Malthan Dinon Exela, which means ‘Almighty Queen Malthan.’ ”

“My Ancient Malthanian is a bit rusty,” Forat explained apologetically.

“Don’t worry about it,” Honir reassured him. “We were crouching there in a corner of the tunnel that bordered his room, watching through a hole and trying to translate when all of a sudden, the bedchamber went pitch black. Then a huge, very old-sounding voice started talking to the King.

“It said, ‘Ranyeb, there are intruders in the Palace.’ ”

“You have no idea how scared I was at that moment,” Yiratam put in, shaking his head.

“Quiet, Yiratam. Beynar—or Ranyeb, whichever you prefer—replied, ‘I detected him, Almighty Queen. But I trust that Pakil’s ghastly creations will take care of him long before the eighteenth level.’

“ ‘My faith is not as strong,’ the deep voice said. And then a bubble of light appeared in the room, and you were inside it! We saw your entire ordeal from about the eleventh level on. You handled that slime creature on the fourteenth floor quite well, by the way.”

“Thank you,” Nilrid murmured.

“When you got to the bottom level, the deep voice spoke to you, just as you said. And when you picked up the Black Staff, it admonished you, and then the bubble popped. Darkness filled the room again, and it was so deathly silent that we didn’t even dare to breathe.

“Finally, the King said, ‘I can stop him.’ But the deep voice replied, ‘Don’t bother. He chose of his own free will to take the Staff, and it’s his now. It does seem to like him more than it did Pakil. The real urgency here is to get the Ritual back. If we can do that, it won’t be hard to wipe out what it said from the boy’s memory, and then he’ll be powerless to do anything.’

“ ‘As my Queen commands,’ Beynar said, and then the darkness faded. I have no doubt in my mind that the voice he was speaking to belonged to the Goddess of Darkness herself. You’re playing a very dangerous game, Nilrid.”

“I had no idea that she would take a personal interest in me,” the boy answered, frowning deeply. Knowing that Malthan had noticed him was unsettling enough, but now that she had spoken to him... how long would it be before this evil and omnipotent being did more than talk?

“Well, now that she has, I would feel much safer if we got out of Pakil as soon as possible, and joined the others at the mountain. There, we’ll have a quick meeting about what happened and then head for Indimer. King Dysone isn’t going to be pleased by our report, but at least we’ve put a few holes in Malthan’s scheme. Not only is the Black Staff more or less out of her reach, but we have conclusive evidence that Beynar is, in fact, Ranyeb the Necromancer.”

“I could have told you that,” Nilrid muttered.

“And you will tell the King of Esanta in his court when we get to Indimer,” Honir replied soothingly. “But for now, try not to think about all of this and pack your bags. It’s several days’ travel to Mount Pakil.”

They gathered their belongings quickly, paid the bill to the obstinate innkeeper, and left The Dragon’s Claw in great haste. By four o’clock, they had left the city and were heading south.

Asinai and Konys spotted them from a distance, and met them about three miles north of the mountain as the sun rose on the second of August. They looked tired, dirty, and extremely glum.

“Good morning!” Honir said cheerfully. He hadn’t enjoyed the trek across the rough terrain of central Tanaveri more than anyone else, but a leader had to keep everyone’s spirits up. “The infiltration was a great success. We have pages and pages of notes to share with you. For one, we learned that the Mustering probably won’t happen until late September, so we hope you didn’t get too bored out here.”

“Not at all,” Asinai replied. There was a distant look in his usually bright, aware eyes.

“Where’s Wekain?” Nilrid asked. The two of them looked out of place without the old High Wizard of Querisia accompanying them, with a lifetime’s worth of arguments and complaints.

“Wekain found Pakil,” Konys said quietly. “And he has found the Exalted Gelz as well.”

Nilrid was so shocked that he forgot to bow his head, until Honir put an arm around him and whispered, “I’m sorry, Nilrid. Wekain’s game was just as dangerous as yours, and even the cleverest eighty-year old man can’t hide from his destiny for very long.”

“Nor can the cleverest eleven hundred year old goddess,” the boy hissed. Before, as he traveled through Derenda facing peril after peril, he had been an agent of the King of Querisia, doing his job and trying to stay alive. He hadn’t really had a reason, he realized, to fight Malthan, except that she was the Goddess of Darkness and was trying to overrun the Gelzan world. But killing the old, kindly (under his exterior) wizard who had been Nilrid’s first teacher was like killing one of his own parents. It was a personal battle now.

But where did he start? A fifteen-year old boy couldn’t just march into the Palace of Darkness and demand to duel the Queen. Nor could he go around murdering trolls for the rest of his life and call it revenge. He would have to begin with someone major, someone needed, one of Malthan’s top commanders. Such as Pakil, he thought, smiling grimly. Wekain’s death would be avenged by the subsequent death of the beast that struck him down.

“Life is a journey, not a destination, and at the end of that journey is the divine sleep,” Honir intoned. “As we grieve for our fellow man Wekain, let us not question the decisions that could have been made or dwell upon the implications of his passing; instead let us mourn, remember, and then move on.”

“Let us do so,” the party of seven murmured in unison.

“Please be seated,” Honir said.

There was a collective, silent sigh of relief as the mood changed. It was customary not to speak of the dead after the traditional prayer had been said, and everyone tried to get their minds off of their deceased comrade. Except, of course, for the plotting Nilrid.

He was so caught up in planning Pakil’s demise that he hardly listened to Asinai’s account of the events the day before. The two Esantans had both reached dead ends in their own tunnels, and were about to turn back when they heard Pakil’s roaring voice somewhere in the distance. The High Wizard of Esanta had detected a huge surge of magic, and felt Wekain’s own life source wink out. Immediately, he and Konys had fled the mountain, and hadn’t gone back in since.

“Now that we know where Pakil is,” Yiratam said, “I think we have enough information to report to King Dysone. There’s no need to go back in there and get all of us killed.”

There was a murmur of agreement.

“We’ll make camp here,” Honir decided. “And we’ll spend the day in silence, in honor of our brave friend, one of the greatest wizards and national leaders who ever lived. Tomorrow at dawn, we’ll head due west for Rogilia.”

Nilrid awoke well before the sun came up the next morning; he had gone to sleep early enough to assure that. Looking around quickly, he made certain that everyone was still asleep, and then took off for the looming Mount Pakil. Once he was far enough away from Asinai and Salintia (who had a minor magical ability), he summoned his Black Staff, but didn’t cast any spells. He didn’t want Pakil noticing him before he showed up on her doorstep.

It was so dark inside the tunnel that the boy had to do an old trick that Iquen had taught him: making a glowing ball of light to send in front of him. Reaching the fork, he went to the right—he’d been listening well enough to Konys to remember which way the Queen of the Dragons was.

Nilrid was younger and not as wise as Wekain had been, but his reflexes were faster; as soon as he realized that he wasn’t going to recover from his fall at the steep end section of the passageway, he threw a gigantic cushion of air in front of himself, and was stopped several feet in front of the wall.

“Come on in,” a deep voice invited, and the wall opened.

Taking a deep breath, the boy stepped into a huge, dome-like chamber. There was none of the usual gold and treasure that he associated with a dragon’s lair; just a marble table in the center of the room, with a glass flask of clear liquid sitting on it. Nilrid guessed that it was Deathdrop.

“Welcome,” Pakil said. She was even more gargantuan than the boy had imagined; close to seventy feet from nose to tail. Her black scales seemed to radiate a huge amount of magical energy. For the first time, Nilrid realized, he was facing someone more powerful than himself.

“This is your last day, Dragon Pakil,” the boy snarled.

“Is it, now? If I’d known you were going to try to kill me, I’d have taken care of you before you got to the mountain. You leave quite a residue, Nilrid of Mallsey, and that Staff you summoned could be felt from here to Ilsonne, no doubt. I suppose it comes with being so powerful—you don’t know how to conceal it. But I am superior to any human, as you will soon discover.”

“Why did you kill Wekain?” Nilrid demanded, ignoring the dragon’s threat. “What advantage could you possibly have gotten out of incinerating an eighty-two year old man?”

“He was insolent, and I am short of temper. Besides, his abilities make him as formidable as any middle-aged Dragon-Slayer. Let’s not think of him as an incompetent, senile old windbag.”

“It doesn’t matter how competent he was. He still couldn’t have possibly stood a chance against dragon fire.”

Pakil sighed. “Look, boy, it may never have occurred to you that life is unfair. Wekain made me very, very angry, so I killed him. That’s the way the world works—and all of it will be that way when the Almighty Queen takes her proper place as the ruler of Derenda.”

“What exactly did Wekain do to make you so enraged?”

“He gave the Ritual of Summoning to you,” the dragon growled. “We’ve been trying to get it back for over a month now, ever since the Archgod Tyrdonne gave it away as a threat to Malthan. And just when I thought that Wekain understood the situation, thought that he was going to hand it over, he tells me that he doesn’t have it! Malthan will beat me senseless when she learns of this!

“Incidentally, if you’d like to abandon this petty revenge idea and give me a little present, I’d be happy to...”

“Never!” the boy cried, unleashing a storm of fire that he’d prepared on his way down. That was the main point of his revenge: to kill Pakil in the same fashion that she had killed Wekain.

The fire burned out instantly, leaving an unscathed and infuriated Queen of the Dragons.

“Idiot,” she snarled. “I am a creature of fire! Do you really think that I would be the least bit affected by your pitiful spell? You’re so hopeless that I could almost spare you.” She paused, as if considering, but Nilrid knew she wasn’t. “But you are insolent as well, and I have no need of an insubordinate!”

As she was raving, Nilrid raised a shield of fire deflection, and it was a good thing he had. Orange flames covered the entire chamber was a colossal boom, but neither wizard was touched.

Thinking quickly, the boy cast a spell of cold, trying to wrap his opponent in ice. But Pakil was too large, and he only managed to encase her head. With a muffled roar, the dragon melted the ice with another huge blast of flame, and prepared to cast a spell of her own.

It was like nothing Nilrid had ever seen before. Black tar filled the room to its brim, leaving only a space at the top where Pakil could poke her head out and breathe. Trapped in suffocating darkness, it took all the willpower the boy could muster not to panic, and instead create a bubble of air. His magical supply was half gone after three spells, he discovered as he sucked in the sweet air, and his adversary seemed to have hardly dented her own.

The battle continued for several minutes, each trying unsuccessfully to kill the other with gruesome and taxing incantations. The boy used his Staff brilliantly and efficiently, but it simply wasn’t enough. Finally, Pakil reared herself up and cried, “Die, Nilrid of Mallsey!”

Nilrid saw the Whitefire Spell immediately, and was barely able to throw up a shield of freezing cold before the flash came. The Queen of the Dragons saw he was still alive, and howled with rage. The next Whitefire was no more powerful than the first, but the boy’s shield was weakening.

As he watched the white, dazzling surges of light and energy, an idea began to take shape in his mind. If he were to die by Whitefire, there would be absolutely nothing left of his body. So when he disappeared, how would Pakil be able to tell for sure that he was really gone? With potencies of heat this high, there probably wouldn’t even be a smell.

The next attack would probably have been the last that Nilrid would have survived, but as the room was illuminated in blinding whiteness, he cast a spell of his own. Wrapping a cloak of invisibility around himself, he crept along the wall of the chamber, making his way for the flask of Deathdrop.

Naturally, Pakil thought she had won. Her laugh of victory boomed and echoed across the entire inside of the mountain; it was dissonant and obnoxious enough to make the boy go mad. Blocking out her howls of glee, he finally reached the marble table, and after making sure she wasn’t looking in his direction, took the bottle of the ancient, deadly poison.

It looks just like water, he thought to himself as he approached the dragon from behind. His next move would be extremely dangerous, and he would only get one chance. If he faltered, or made a mistake, the Queen of the Dragons would realize he was still alive and finish him off in an instant.

Gelz protect me, he intoned in his mind, and then, with an agile leap, he sprung onto the dragon’s tail and began scurrying up her back. Pakil noticed immediately, and twitched with irritation. He was halfway across her body when she finally understood the situation.

“Trickster!” she roared, swiping a claw at her back as she tried to find her invisible foe. “You Gelzans have no honor!”

Nilrid stumbled as he ran by her enormous left ear, but instead of falling seventy feet to the ground, he almost fell into her ear-hole. My, that would be an unpleasant death, he thought to himself as he darted across her face.

She was getting desperate know, drawing black blood as she clawed and scratched at her nose. The boy’s hands trembled when he thought how little time he had left—the swipes were missing by less than a foot now—but he was able to open the Deathdrop and pour half the bottle in the dragon’s eye.

The scream of agony that Pakil emitted threw him from her face, and had he not made another cushion of air on the ground he would have broken his neck into innumerable pieces. She beat and pressed her eye, trying to squeeze out the poison, but she should have known that it was too late. In less than a minute, her screams had stopped, and with a low groan she fell to the ground. The entire world seemed to shake as her body landed.

Silence fell over the mountain. Nilrid collected his scattered senses, and saw his right hand was clenched around the intact, half-full bottle of Deathdrop. Putting both the Black Staff and the poison in his invisible box, he smiled.

Congratulations, Nilrid,” a voice said. It wasn’t Malthan, though he had panicked for a split second—instead, it was a human, aged voice that he’d known ever since that day on the bridge as he was being pursued by trolls. Wekain, or the ghost of Wekain, was speaking to him.

“I avenged you, Wekain!” he called, his voice echoing in the huge, empty chamber.

Yes, and you rid the world of a terrible beast in the process. But now that you have killed my killer, I ask you to think of revenge no longer.”

“But there is still evil in the world,” Nilrid protested, “and I must fight Pakil’s master, and...”

And you will do it without personal motivation. If you make your struggle with Malthan an emotional struggle, then she will win—the Goddess of Darkness can play on emotions. You haven’t been allowed to see or speak with your parents for the same reason.”

The boy nodded, understanding. “I’ll forget revenge, Wekain. If you say I should, then I will.”

You’re too strong to be following my orders, boy. But I’m sure you can see the reasoning yourself. Goodbye, Nilrid.”

“Wekain, can’t you stay and...”

I’m dead, boy. I can’t ever come back. Just remember what I said, and keep what happened to me from happening to every other Gelz-follower in the world. May Gelz look down upon you.”

“And may he nurture you,” Nilrid replied quietly. Then, his teacher and mentor was gone forever.

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