*I truly do hate these miserable holes in the ground,* Walsharno said in the depths of Bahzell’s brain.

The starry night had wrapped itself in a thickening shroud of cloud, and the hradani smelled rapidly approaching rain on a strengthening wind out of the east. The disappearance of the stars and the orange sliver of moon which had floated among them had turned the night pitchy black, but Walsharno was a courser and Bahzell was a hradani, and both of them could see with remarkable clarity.

Not that either of them was very happy about what they could see.

“I’ve no doubt at all, at all, as how old Demon Breath would never dream of upsetting you if you’d only be telling him that,” Bahzell responded to Walsharno’s disgusted observation.

*Very funny. And I suppose you’ll still be laughing when we ride into that outsized drainpipe?*

“I’m not so very sure we’re going to be doing any riding down it,” Bahzell said rather more seriously.

*Going in there all by yourself wouldn’t be the brightest thing even a hradani has ever done,* Walsharno pointed out acidly.

“And are you after telling me that agreeing to be one of himself’s champions and all was after being a ‘bright’ thing for a hradani to be doing?”

*Don’t try to laugh it off. You and I both know there’s more than enough trouble for any two-or three-champions waiting in there.*

“Aye, that there may be. Still and all, Walsharno, I’m thinking it’s not so very likely as there’d be fighting room for you.”

The hradani turned to look at his companion. At just over seven feet, nine inches, no one-not even another Horse Stealer-would ever consider Bahzell a small man, but Walsharno stood twenty-four and a half hands. Bahzell’s head didn’t quite top the huge stallion’s shoulder.

*You’re not exactly a puny little fellow, yourself,* the courser pointed out.

“That’s as may be, but I’m better suited to be fighting in twisty little corners underground than you are,” Bahzell retorted, and felt Walsharno’s unwilling agreement.

Few creatures in all of Norfressa could match a Soth?ii courser stallion for lethality, but a “horse” Walsharno’s size needed fighting space. Needed to be able to rear and kick, needed the ability to dodge.

*That opening looks big enough for both of us,* Walsharno said after a moment.

“Aye. But who’s to say it stays that way? I’m thinking that if I were after setting a trap for the two of us, we’d find that ‘drainpipe’ of yours getting a mite tight just about the time we were running into one of Demon Breath’s wee little pets.”

*So you think that instead I should let you go down there all by yourself?* Walsharno snorted as emphatically as only a courser could. *I always knew Brandark was a smart man. Now I see why he never wanted to let you out without a keeper!*

“I’m not saying as how you should ‘let’ me be doing anything of the sort. It’s not as if we were having any real choice, is it now?”

Walsharno snaked his head around and lowered it to look Bahzell in the eye. Silence lingered for several seconds until, manifestly against his will, the stallion tossed his head in grudging agreement.

*Why do we always have to be the ones going into their miserable little burrows?* he said after a moment. *Why can’t they come riding openly up to our gates for a change?*

“Because we’re the good fellows, and they’re the bad fellows,” Bahzell said lightly. “Still and all,” he reached up, unhooked a case of oiled leather from his saddle, and extracted the deadly horsebow of a windrider, “I’m thinking as how it’s not so very likely we’ll be creeping into yonder ‘miserable little burrow’ without someone noticing.”

He strung the bow smoothly and easily. It had taken his fellow wind riders a long time to convince him to give up his steel-bowed arbalest, and he still wasn’t as good an archer as most of them were. They, after all, had literally grown up in the saddle, bows in hand. Bahzell had been doing other things-like raiding the Soth?ii himself-at a comparable point in his own life. Still, the horsebow’s rate of fire was far higher than even a Horse Stealer crossbowman could manage, and if Bahzell was a bit less accurate, he could pull a bow far heavier than any mere human. In the final analysis, the sheer, incredible power of his weapon made up for quite a lot.

*Do try to avoid shooting yourself-or me-in the foot with that thing, would you?*

“And aren’t you just the funniest thing on four feet?” Bahzell replied, attaching his quiver to the right side of his belt.

*I try, at any rate. I promised Brandark I’d keep you from getting too full of yourself.*

“Remind me to be thanking him the next time I see him.”

*I imagine you’ll remember all on your own,* Walsharno reassured him.

Bahzell snorted, then turned to study the hillside above them.

Most people would never have realized there was anything there, but Bahzell and Walsharno weren’t most people. Both of them could sense the dark miasma hiding in the heart of the hill, and the cloaking power of Sharn? which should have hidden the tunnel opening was useless against the eyes of any champion of Toman?k.

Bahzell bared his teeth as he saw the loathsome image of Sharn?’s scorpion, carved into the keystone of the outer arch, and he remembered the first time he’d seen that same image. What he didn’t see was anything remotely like a sentry, and that worried him.

“I’m thinking as how they must know we’re out here,” he said.

*After what happened at the village?* Walsharno snorted yet again, this time in emphatic agreement.

“Then wouldn’t you think it’s just a mite overconfident they’re being with no one posted to be keeping an eye out for us?”

Walsharno nodded, and Bahzell’s frown deepened. Although Sharn? couldn’t hide the entrance from him or Walsharno by arcane means, things could still be physically concealed, and there was an uncomfortable crawling sensation between Bahzell’s shoulder blades.

“Well,” he sighed, “I’m thinking there’s only one way to be finding out what it is they’ve got in mind.”

* * *

It was remarkable how quiet something the size of a Soth?ii courser could be when it put its mind to it. Walsharno’s ability to move almost soundlessly, even through underbrush, had always impressed Bahzell. He himself had spent years honing his ability to do the same thing, and he was far smaller than the stallion, with only two feet, to boot. Despite that, Walsharno made little more noise than he would have made by himself, and what sounds they did make were lost in the sigh of the steadily strengthening night wind.

Thunder mutter-grumbled, and lightning flickered blue-white against the clouds far to the east. It was coming closer, and there was something almost soothing about the natural power of the oncoming storm.

No windrider would have dreamed of using reins, and no courser would have tolerated such an impertinence if he had. Nor was anything so crude required. Walsharno was linked with Bahzell, their thoughts flickering back and forth almost as if they were a single being. There was no need for Bahzell to tell Walsharno where to go, or for Walsharno to tell Bahzell where they were going.

Which, Bahzell reflected as he nocked an arrow, also left both of his hands free for other purposes.

Walsharno emerged from the last few feet of the undergrowth fringing the streambed and started up the slope just as quietly and cautiously. The sense of the evil flowing out of the tunnel opening spilled down the hillside like a viscous tide, black as tar and just as clinging. The stallion breasted its flow, forging upward against it, and Bahzell felt the two of them settling into even deeper fusion.

*Now, Brother?*

“Not quite,” Bahzell murmured back. “Let’s be getting as close as we can before-“

The night suddenly shattered as something even darker and blacker than it was, and almost as enormous, exploded from the tunnel mouth. Bahzell’s mind insisted that it couldn’t possibly have squeezed itself into an opening that small as huge, segmented spiderlike legs-blacker than black, yet glaring with sick green light for eyes that could see-and ribbed, bat-like wings unfolded themselves. A head that belonged on something from night-black depths where sunlight never shone opened its mouth to bare curving fangs half as long as Bahzell, and the demon shrieked its fury as it launched itself down the hillside towards them with all the impossible quickness of its hell-born kind.

Toman?k!” Bahzell bellowed in reply, and heard Walsharno’s defiant challenge echoing deep inside him. The clean blue corona of Toman?k snapped into sudden, glittering existence about them both, and Bahzell reached out. It was as if he stretched one hand to Toman?k and the other to Walsharno, and a stuttering electrical shock exploded through him as their hands reached back.

Toman?k!” he shouted once more, drawing that shared strength and support deep into him even as he called the Rage’s transcendent power to him.

His bow sang with a musical, chirping snap. A steel-headed war arrow howled from the string, and the azure power of Toman?k touched it. It flashed across the night like a blue meteor, and the demon shrieked again-this time in as much pain as fury-as the meteor slammed into its long, sinuous neck. It struck just below the head, and blinding light exploded from the point of impact.

The hideous creature flailed its head in obvious anguish, but its charge barely hesitated, and Walsharno wheeled on his haunches, then sprang into a full gallop with a speed only another courser could possibly have matched.

The days when Bahzell had sat the saddle like an abandoned sack of meal were long past. He and his courser were one being, and his right hand flashed down to the quiver at his belt. Another arrow fitted itself flawlessly, perfectly, to the string, and he sighted, drew, and released in one flowing motion.

Another blue-flaming arrow shrieked across the night, but this time the demon wasn’t taken by surprise. Mere arrows had never posed a threat to it in the past. They’d rattled uselessly, harmlessly, off its hard scales and thick carapace, but these arrows were a very different matter, indeed. Not only could they drill effortlessly through its armor, but they exploded deep within its unnatural flesh like lightning bolts when they did. Yet this was one of Sharn?’s greater demons. It was more than a mere appetite. It was capable of thought. It could learn from experience, and it realized that these arrows could hurt it and twisted aside with the lizard-fast quickness of its breed. It couldn’t completely evade the arrow-not one fired by Bahzell Bahnakson at a range of under fifty yards-yet the steel head which should have struck its throat almost on top of the original ichor-spurting wound struck it in the chest, instead.

The demon staggered, howling in fresh pain and fury, but it didn’t go down. Instead, it gathered its feet under it once again, wings beating for balance, and lunged. The wind from those flailing wings buffeted Bahzell and Walsharno like some foul-smelling hurricane, and there wasn’t time for another shot. Bahzell dropped his bow and raised his hands, summoning his blade, and five feet of burnished steel glared with the blue furnace-fury of the war god.


Walsharno charged to meet the demon, screaming the wordless whistle of his own war cry, and the glittering sword hissed as it descended in a two-handed blow like Toman?k’s own mace.

The demon twisted its head out of the way at the very last instant, and Bahzell’s sword slammed into one of its wings, instead. A fountain of blue light exploded upward, the demon shrieked, and Walsharno pivoted with lithe, impossible grace. He swerved to one side, and both rear hoofs lashed out, ablaze with the same blue glare as Bahzell’s sword. They caught the demon in the side with a gruesome, ear-shattering “CRACK!” of splintering carapace and a fresh eruption of blue lightning.

Not even a greater demon could shake off that impact. The creature lurched sideways, stumbling, almost falling, with a fresh shriek of pain. Walsharno snapped back around to face it, and it was slower as it gathered itself this time. It hesitated, crouching down, hissing and bubbling in mingled fury and anguish. Walsharno started towards it, and it actually backed away, sidling sideways, head cocked, watching its enemies.

*Something’s wrong.*

Bahzell and Walsharno were too deeply fused for the hradani to be positive which of them that thought came from, yet he knew it was accurate. He’d fought Sharn?’s demons before, and none of them had ever reacted the way this one was. He could literally feel its hatred, its need to attack, despite the agonizing wounds he and Walsharno had already inflicted, but still it continued to back away, instead. It shouldn’t have done that. Painful as its injuries might be, they were far from incapacitating and their torment only fueled the demon’s blazing rage and hatred. So why-?

And then reality twisted suddenly.

*Behind us!*

This time there was no doubt; the screamed mental warning came from Walsharno, not Bahzell, as the carefully prepared spell opened behind them. For all their experience, neither champion had been watching for Carnadosa and her worshipers. Their attention had been focused entirely on Sharn? and the menace of the demon directly in front of them, and the perfectly timed execution of the spell took them totally by surprise. The solid earth fell away as Tremala and Rethak opened a gate between the heart of Cherdahn’s buried temple and the hillside directly behind Walsharno and Bahzell. A noisome stench erupted from the opening, and a hurricane of fresh fangs, wings, and claws came with it as the second demon hurled itself straight at their backs.


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