Moira didn’t know how far they had come. The flagged corridors twisted andturned in a way that made her head spin. The floor was uneven and the tunnelsthat led off usually sloped up or down.n.
The trickle of water down the center of the tunnel made footingtreacherous, but she stayed to the middle nonetheless. To step out of the trailof slime was to risk ramming into a rough stone or dirt wall.l.
Worst of all, she cold not see. There was no light and her magic senseswere blocked everywhere by the coarse, suffocating pressure of counter-spells.The magic was almost as nauseating as the stink of her goblin guards.s.
The dark was no hinderance to the goblins. They took crude amusement fromher plight, forcing her along at a pace that kept her on the verge ofstumbling. Finally, after she had fallen or run into the walls too often, theygrabbed her arms and half-pushed, half-dragged her along.ng.
By the time the goblins threw her in a small, mean cell and slammed thedoor, Moira was bruised, filthy and scraped and bleeding in a dozen places. Herpalms were raw from falling and there was a cut on her head which turned herhair damp with blood. Her knees and shins ached.ed.
She pulled herself into a sitting position and dabbed at the cut on herhead with the least-dirty part of the hem of her skirt. She tried to ignore thesmall skittering sounds in the dark around her and refused to think about thefuture.re.
“Well, Sparrow?” Shiara asked as she ducked to enter the low doorof Wiz’s workroom..
“I think we’re about there, Lady.” For the first time in days thecrude plank table was clear. The rough wooden tablets which had been piled onit to toppling were now stacked more or less neatly in the corners of the room.The table had been pushed away from the small window and a bench had been drawnunderneath it. A brazier in the center of the room made a feeble attempt totake the late-winter chill out of the air but neither Wiz nor Shiara doffedtheir cloaks. The door was open to let in more light.light.
“Are you sure you want to be here?” Wiz asked. “I mean itisn’t necessary and it may be dangerous.””
The blind woman shrugged. “It is dangerous everywhere and I wouldrather be at the center of events.””
Shiara came into the hut and almost bumped into the table in its new andunfamiliar position. With a quick apology, Wiz took her hand and guided her tothe bench.h.
“When do you begin?”
“I’ll let you know in a minute. Emac!”
“Yes, master?” A small brown creature scuttled out of theshadows. It was man-like, perhaps three feet tall, with a huge bald head andsquare wire-rimmed glasses balanced on its great beak of a nose. A greeneyeshade was pushed back on its domed forehead and a quill pen was stuck behindone flap-like ear.ear.
“Are we ready?”
“I’ll check again, master.” The gnome-like being disappeared witha faint “pop.” Shiara winced involuntarily at the strong magic soclose to her.r.
“I’m sorry, my Lady. I’ll tell them to walk from now on.”
“What was that?” Shiara asked.
“An Emac. A kind of magic clerk. They help me organize things andtranslate simple commands into complex sets of instructions. I have several ofthem now.”.”
“Emacs,” Shiara said, wrinkling her nose. “I see—so tospeak.””
There was another “pop” and the Emac was back before Wiz.”We are all ready, Master.””
Wiz looked at Shiara, who sat with her head turned in his direction,beautiful and impassive. The pale, soft winter light caught her in profile,making her look more regal than ever.r.
Wiz took a deep, shuddering breath. “Very well,” he said andraised his hands above his head. “”backslash” he intoned.
“$” replied the Emac.
“class drone grep moira”
“$” said the Emac again.
“exe,” Wiz said and the Emac’s lips moved soundlessly ashe transmitted the order, expanding it into a series of commands to each of thedrones.s.
Far to the South, in a dozen places along the frozen shores of theFreshened Sea, stubby white shapes popped into existence, scanned theirsurroundings and disappeared again.n.
“running” said the Emac.
Wiz was silent for an instant.
It started as a tiny spark deep in the Sea of Scrying, a pinpoint of lighton the graven copper likeness of the World. The acolyte peered deeper into theSea and rubbed his eyes. Was there something… ? Yes, there it was again,stronger and sharper. And another, equally sharp and growing stronger. Heraised his hand to summon the black-robed Master. When he returned hisattention to the murky water there were four bright spots apparently scatteredat random through his sector. Then the four doubled and there were eight, andsixteen, and thirty-two.ty-two.
In the time it took the black-robed wizard to cross the room over athousand points of bright magic light had bloomed on the bottom of the bowl. Bythe time the word passed to Toth-Set-Ra, the Sea of Scrying glowed with auniform milky luminescence and all sight of things magic in the world had beenlost.ost.
With a small “pop” an apparition materialized in Moira’s cell.
She clenched her jaw until her teeth ached.
But her visitor was the most unlikely demon she had ever seen. It was asquat, white cylinder with a rounded, gray top and two stubby legs beneath..
The dome-shaped head rotated and Moira saw it had a single glowing blueeye. As the eye pointed at her, the thing emitted a series of squeaks andbeeps. Then it vanished, leaving Moira awake and wondering.g.
Deep beneath the bowels of the City of Night three demons guarded theportal to the Pits of Fire. The first of the demons bore the form of an immensedragon who coiled in front of the gate. The second demon was shaped as agigantic slug, whose skin oozed pungent acid and whose passage left smokinggrooves burned into the rock. The third and mightiest of the demons appeared asan enormously fat old man with three faces seated on the back of a great blacktoad.
Ceaseless, tirelessly and sleeplessly the three watched, holding the soleentrance to the lake of boiling incandescent lava and the well of earth magicthat was the League’s greatest resource.e.
Their vigil was broken by a “pop” and a tiny brown manniken stoodbefore the three awesome sentries. Three heads and four faces swiveled towardhim but the little man-thing made no move to approach the gate. Instead heopened his mouth and began to gabble in a voice so fast and high as to beinaudible to human ears. The three demons watched impassively until the littlebrown creature spoke a certain word. Then the dragon demon rose and crept awayfrom the door, the slug demon heaved its acid-slimed bulk to the side of thecorridor and the main demon spoke. spoke.
“Pass on,” it said in basso profundo three-part harmony.
Without another word the little creature skipped through the now unguardedgate..
Beyond the great iron portal other demons reached deep into the roilingwhite-hot lava to sift out the magic welling up from the center of the Worldand turn it to their masters’ uses. Feeding like hogs at a trough, they ignoredthe little brown creature who pranced in among their mighty legs. They paid noattention when the newcomer drew a pallid wriggling little grub from his pouchand cast it into the blazing pit. pit.
As soon as it touched the flow of magic the grub began to swell. It grewand grew until it was as large as the demons, soaking up magic like a drysponge soaks up water. The demons shifted and jostled as magic was divertedaway from them. They tried futilely to regain their share. But now there weretwo full-sized worms in the pit and a dozen more growing rapidly. Unable toshoulder the worms away, the demons milled about in frustration and the flow ofmagic from the Pit to the city above dwindled to nothing.thing.
Bal-Simba paced the great stone hall like a restless bear. Now and again hepaused to peer over the shoulder of one of the Watchers..
“Anything?” he asked the head of the Watch for the dozenth timethat morning..
“Nothing, Lord. No sign of anything out of the ordinary.”
“Thank you.” The wizard resumed pacing. The watcher stared intothe crystal again and then frowned..
“Wait, Lord! There is something now.” Bal-Simba whirled andrushed to his side..
“It’s faint. Very faint, but there is something around the edges…No, now it’s getting stronger.” The Watcher looked up at Bal-Simba, awed.”Lord, there are indications of new magic in the city of Nightitself!”f!”
“What is it?”
“I do not know, Lord. Considering the distance and the masking spellsit’s a wonder that we can pick up anything at all. Whatever is happening theremust be extremely strong.”.”
“Hai Sparrow!” Bal-Simba roared. “You spread your wings, eh?Well fly, Sparrow, fly. And we will do some flying of our own.” Hemotioned to Arianne who was sitting nearby. “Sound the alert. We will makewhat use we can of the opportunity our Sparrow gives us.”s.”
Again the dragons rose from their roosts in the Capital, formed intoechelons and climbed away to the south. Again the Dragon Leader reviewed hisinstructions. A reconnaissance in force over the Freshened Sea, they told him.Scout to the South until you meet resistance. e.
In their dark towers above the City of Night, the magicians of the Leagueflew to arms. Spells pushed upon them from a hundred directions, elemental andrelentless. In the harbor ships stirred uneasily as the waters tossed them.m.
“Get underway immediately,” the Shadow Captain ordered, scowlingat the sky. Most of the crew was still aboard the
Under the lash of the captain’s voice the crew rushed to their stations.Hawsers were quickly cast off and two hands scrambled for the rigging. The oarswere broken out and fitted into the locks. The crew hastily arranged themselveswith an even number on each side. The captain saw the result and scowled again.Half the benches were empty, but it would have to do. With the mate beatingtime and the Shadow Warriors pulling for all they were worth, the the
High in the watchtower overlooking the sea gate, a brown-robed mage threwback his arms and began his incantation. As the spell took shape in the plenumbeyond human senses, a certain configuration of forces appeared. It was only asmall part of the spell, but a lurking worm sensed it and battened onto thatconfiguration. The worm’s own spell twisted the conjuration out of its intendedshape and the wizard screamed as he felt the spell writhe away from him andinto a new and dangerous direction. The last thing he saw was a blinding,searing flash as the room exploded around him. His fellows, those who were nottoo close, saw the top of a black tower disappear in an incandescent blast.t blast.
The rest of the tower slumped like a child’s sand castle built over-highand toppled into the bay. A huge block of hewed basalt crashed through the
Impelled by the force of the block the
The worm fed on the new power and spawned several copies of itself to lurkin the unimaginable spaces of magic and feed in turn when the opportunityarose.e.
“Master, our spells weaken!” the sweating wizard cried. With acurse Toth-Set-Ra strode to the lectern where the man had been conjuring and shovedhim roughly aside. Quickly he scanned the grimore’s page, creating the spellanew, and scowled at the result. What should have been bright and shining waswan and gray. Angrily he reached out for more power, but instead of theexpected strong, steady flow he found only a wavering rivulet.ulet.
“To the Pit!” he roared at the shaking wizard. “Somethinginterferes with the flow.””
As wizards and acolytes alike hurried to do his bidding, Toth-Set-Ra staredunseeing at the awful runes inscribed on human parchment before him..
Was the Council attacking in retaliation for the raid on the North? Hedismissed the idea even as the thought formed. He knew Northern magic and therewas none of it here. The Council might have a new spell or two, but everythingthe League faced was new. Besides, he knew the work of every one of the Mightyand this was unlike any of them.hem.
An attack from within, aimed at himself? He considered that somewhatlonger. It would explain how someone had gotten into the Pit to interfere withthe flow of magic. Had he given Atros too much power? That too he discarded. IfAtros or any of the others had half this much power they would have struck longbefore. And again, he knew the magics of the League even better than he knewthose of the Council.ncil.
Then who? As the City of Night shook and towers toppled Toth-Set-Ra rackedhis brains trying to find the source of the attack..
The alien wizard! The stranger from beyond the world. This mass of army-antspells pressing in on them must be his work..
It was well for the Shadow Captain that he was already dead, for thewizard’s next oath would have blasted him where he stood.
And he had fallen for it. By all the demons in the nine netherhells, he hadbeen duped!!
For a moment chill panic shook Toth-Set-Ra. Then he stopped short andlaughed aloud. The other wizards in the chantry paused involuntarily at thesound. The Master of the Dark League seldom laughed and when he did it bodedsomething truly horrible for someone. They turned back to their spells andincantations with renewed vigor.gor.
Toth-Set-Ra was still chuckling when he reached the door of the chantry.Fool me, will you? We shall see who is the fool in the end. For I tell you Wiz,or Sparrow, or whatever your true name is, you are as much in my power as if itwere you and not that red-haired bitch I hold fast.st.
Far to the north on a crag above the shores of the Freshened Sea threegargoyles stared forever South, testing the wind, sifting the whispers borne tothem and sending on what they heard.d.
“It goes well, Sparrow.” It was not a question. Shiara sat on thebench, pale and calm as a winter’s dawn while Wiz paced the room, muttering ina way that had nothing to do with magic. He paused to glance once more into thebowl of water on the rude table between them.em.
“We’re shaking them good and proper,” he confirmed. “I can’tinterpret everything, but there are fires and earthquakes all over the area.Part of the City of Night’s wall is down and a couple of towers have alreadyslid into the harbor.” He smiled. “We’ve just about ruined theirwhole day. Now if only…”…”
Shiara nodded. “I know Sparrow. Fortuna grant us this one finalboon.””
The crystal contrivance atop the ruined tower sparkled and flashed with themagical force of the messages arriving from the south..
Deep in her cell, Moira didn’t know what was going on, but she wasincreasingly certain it wasn’t being done to frighten her. Even this far underthe earth she could hear occasional explosions, faint and muffled but audiblenonetheless. Twice, groups of goblin soldiers tore by her cell in clattering,shouting masses. Once something huge and foul and slithering whuffled up thecorridor while she pressed against the slimy rock wall and prayed to the depthsof her soul that the thing would not notice her. Even the vermin seemed to havegone into hiding in the crannies and under the piles of rotting straw. straw.
First the demon with the glowing blue eye and now this. What could itpossibly mean??
Moira didn’t hope, for hope had long since burned out of her. But she felta stirring. Whatever was going on couldn’t be good for her captors andmisfortune to them was as much as she dared wish for.r.
With a faint “pop” an Emac appeared in front of Wiz, so close healmost stumbled over the demon in his pacing..
“We have found her, Master! RDsquaresquare has found her.”
“Thank God! Where?”
“Underground master, far and deep underground. The coordinates are . ..””
Wiz waved the small brown demon to silence. “Show me in thebowl!””
The demon removed the quill from behind his ear and dipped the point in thewater. Ink flowed from the pen, turning the clear water black and thenshimmering as the image formed. Wiz looked intently at it and breathed a sighof relief.ef.
“Have we got a good enough fix?”
The Emac cocked his bald brown head and his huge ears quivered as helistened to something unhearable. “Yes, Master. We can come within a fewcubits of the place.”.”
“Then come with me.” Wiz strode to the door, grabbing his oakstaff and wrapping his cloak tighter as he stepped into the outdoor chill..
Wiz turned and saw Donal and Kenneth arrayed for battle. Their mailhauberks hung to their knees and their greaves and vambraces were secure totheir limbs. Donal’s great sword was over his shoulder and Kenneth’s bow wasslung across his back. Both wore their open-faced helms and their mail coifswere laced tight.ght.
“You’re not going,” Kenneth said. “Not alone.”
“I have to.” Wiz told him.
“Bal-Simba told us to guard you and guard you we shall,” saidDonal..
Wiz shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. Look, I appreciate the idea,but you can’t come.””
“Stubborn,” said Donal.
“Too stubborn,” said Kenneth. “You look, Sparrow. Someonehas to keep your back while you’re making magic.””
“My magic can do that for me.”
“Unlikely,” said Kenneth.
“Take them, Sparrow,” Shiara put in from the hut’s door.”You may need them.””
“It’s dangerous,” Wiz warned again. “You might get . ..” He cast his eyes over their well-used armor and weapons and trailedoff. Both men looked at him in grim amusement. “Uh… right.”.”
“It is Bal-Simba’s wish,” said Kenneth simply.
Wiz sighed. “Very well. Stand close to me and I’ll see if I can makethis thing work.””
Donal and Kenneth pressed in against his back and he shifted his grip onthe staff..
Wiz drew a deep, shuddering breath, filling his lungs with the cold, sweetair of Heart’s Ease. He looked around slowly at the place he had come to callhome. Then he tightened his grip on the staff and began.n.
“backslash” he said to the Emac. “$” theEmac responded, now ready and waiting for orders. “ttransport“he said and the Emac began to gabble silently translating the predefined macrospell into the words of power. ” “arg moira” He raised the staffhigh over his head as the air began to waver and twist around him. “”EXE“he shouted..
And the world went dark.
He pointed with his staff. “backslash light exe” he said,and a blue glow lit the world around him. All three blinked and looked about..
They were in a tunnel so narrow they could not pass abreast. The roughflagged floor was slippery with condensation and the air was close and foulwith the odors of earth and decay. About ten yards in either direction thetunnel twisted away, hiding what was beyond. Wiz could see four or five lowwooden doors bound strongly with iron set into the walls along this section ofthe corridor.idor.
“Moira!” Wiz called “Moira!” But ringing echoes and thedistant sound of dripping water were the only replies. Donal and Kennethquickly moved up and down the corridor, checking the cells.s.
“They are empty, Lord,” Donal said, as they returned to where Wizstood fidgeting. He forbore to mention that some of the cells were merely emptyof life.e.
“Damn! She’s got to be here someplace. The Emac said they had herlocated to within cubits.””
The two guardsmen exchanged looks. They knew how unreliable magic could be,how susceptible to counterspells or the blurring effects of other magics, andhow magicians could use the magic to trap other magicians. What better placefor a threat to the League than the dungeons under the League’s own stronghold?As unobstrusively as they could they shifted their stances and loosened theirweapons.pons.
Unheeding, Wiz reached into his pouch and pulled out a shiny silver sphere.He cupped it in his palm. “”backslash cd slash grep moira” hesaid to the marble. It pulsed with a golden glow, flashing brighter and fainterto acknowledge the order. ” “exe” Wiz said and the light fromthe sphere steadied into a warm yellow illumination that highlighted his face.The marble grew into a ball of light the size of his fist and floated to thetop of the tunnel.el.
“She’s above us,” Wiz told the other two. “We’ll have to goup to the next level.””
“Carefully, Lord,” Donal said in a near whisper. “Thesetunnels are chancy at best and there are enemies about.””
Wiz nodded and stepped under the glowing ball bobbing against the ceiling.””backslash” he said softly. “in here Moira” Againthe warm light pulsated. “”exe” Wiz whispered and the balldrifted off to the left, glowing steadily as it traveled up the tunnel. Wizmoved to follow it and Donal stepped in front of him, his great sword at theready. Kenneth fell in behind with his bow in hand and the flap open on hisbelt quiver.ver.
There was no need to renew the light spell. The golden ball suffused thetunnel with an even glow, warmer and more natural than the weird blue light ofthe staff.f.
Donal and Kenneth were not comforted. The light would be a beacon to anyoneor anything guarding the tunnels. Wiz didn’t notice. His eyes were fixed on theglowing ball.l.
They saw no one as they moved up the tunnel, but twice they heard movementbehind one of the stout, low doors set in the wall at irregular intervals. Inneither case was the sound the sort that made them want to stop and investigateeven if they had the time. Once there was an explosion that shook dirt down onthem. Donal and Kenneth looked apprehensive, as if the passage might collapse,but Wiz only smiled and pressed forward.ward.
The tunnel twisted and turned, it wandered and wobbled, it branched andjoined, it doubled back and redoubled on itself and it dipped and it rose. Butit rose more than it dipped and always the sphere of light led them on.n.
Kenneth and Donal kept swivelling their heads, their eyes scanningeverywhere for signs of danger. Wiz kept his attention on the sphere, with justenough on his surroundings so he didn’t trip on the miserable footing. Thuswhen Donal stopped dead at a corner, Wiz walked into him.im.
“Oh shit,” Donal breathed silently.
“Oh shit!” Wiz whispered, peering over his shoulder.
“Oh shit?” mouthed Kenneth, bringing up the rear.
Around the corner the tunnel widened into a room, its stone floor wornsmoother and more even than the corridor. The seeking ball was not the mainsource of light, for on one side of the room logs burned brightly in acavernous fireplace. Along the other walls rush torches flared in wrought ironholders. Sturdy tables and benches were scattered about. And in the center,clustered around the glowing golden intruder, were twenty goblins, all armored,armed and very much on the alert.alert.
They were staring up at the light and muttering among themselves in theircoarse goblin speech. A very large goblin poked at the seeker with a halberd..
One of the goblins turned from the light to look back the way it had come.His piggy little eyes widened at the sight of the three human heads peekingaround the corner and he opened his tusked mouth to yell to his comrades.s.
“Fortuna!” Donal said under his breath, making the word a curse.Then he brandished his great sword and leaped into the open shouting a war cry.Kenneth was instantly at his back and Wiz stumbled in behind them.m.
Now goblins are powerful creatures, crafty, patient and fierce. But theyare also also excitable and given to panic if things go wrong. Goblin attacksare legendary, but so are goblin routs.s.
These goblins were already in a bad way. Their citadel was besieged bypowerful magic. Their last orders were to stay on guard, but those had comehours ago and they had had no word from their officers or the wizards theyserved since. They were on edge from hours of waiting and when three screaminghumans burst into their guardroom in the wake of a mysterious light, they didwhat came naturally to their goblin natures. They panicked and ran. ran.
“Son of a bitch,” Wiz breathed as the clatter and shouting of thedeparting goblins died away..
“I told you you would need us, Lord,” Donal said as he looked upthe tunnel after the goblins..
Kenneth merely scowled. “They will be back soon enough. And otherswith them. Let us not be here when they return.””
“Right,” Wiz said. Already the golden ball was disappearing outthe door the goblins had taken. “Come on then.””
If the tunnel had been convoluted before, now it became positively mazy.Every few yards there was another branching and never were there fewer thanfour ways to go. At times even the seeker hesitated before plunging off downone or the other of the passages. Wiz’s sense of direction, never his strongpoint, was completely befuddled. It seemed they had walked for a mile at least,all of it over rough, slippery ground that always sloped up, down or to theside, and sometimes several ways together.ether.
Finally they came to a place where a fresh fall of dirt and rocks blockedmost of the passage. The ball did not hesitate. It floated to the top of thetunnel and vanished in the crevice between the debris and the ceiling. Thatleft Wiz and his companions in darkness except for the faint glow comingthrough the crack.ack.
“It doesn’t look very big,” Donal said, eyeing the crack doubtfully.
“The spell does know enough not to go where a man may notfollow?” Kenneth asked..
“Well, ah…” Wiz realized he hadn’t thought of that.”Come on, let’s see if we can get through.””
He scrambled up the mound of loose earth and tried to wedge his bodythrough. His arms and head went in easily enough, but his torso went onlyhalfway. He tried to back out but with his arms extended in front, he couldn’tget any purchase. He kicked his legs and tried to writhe his body from side toside, but only succeeded in getting a mouthful of the fetid dirt.irt.
“Help me out of here,” he called as he twisted his head to oneside and spat out the foul-tasting earth..
Donal and Kenneth each grabbed a leg and tugged strongly. Wiz slid out,still spitting dirt..
“Gah!” He wiped his tongue on the inside of his tunic. “Nogood. We’ll have to dig.””
Kenneth muttered a comment about half-something spells. Wiz ignored him andpicked up his staff. “”backslash light exe” hecommanded, pointing the staff down the corridor. At once everything let up witheerie blue light. Then Wiz turned to work on the blockage.e.
They had no shovel, so at first Wiz threw dirt back between his legs like adog. Then Kenneth took off his helm and passed it up to use as a scoop. Whenthey came to rocks too large for Wiz to move by himself, Donal squeezed intothe tunnel beside him to help. All the while Kenneth stood guard with his bowat the ready, looking nervously down the way they had come.ome.
“I think it’s big enough,” Wiz said at last, panting from the exercise.”Let me check.””
As he moved to climb back up the dirt pile, Donal caught his arm and shookhis head. “Bal-Simba said to take care of you, Lord. I’ll go first.””
“I wish you’d remembered that while I was digging,” Wiz said asKenneth knocked the dirt out of his helm and laced it tight to his mail coif..
“Bal-Simba did not say to do your work for you,” Donal replied.Then he scrambled up the dirt pile and squeezed into the crack, dragging hisgreat sword behind him.m.
“All clear,” he called after a moment from the other side and Wizslithered through after him with Kenneth close behind..
Amazingly, the seeker’s golden light was still visible, reflected off thewall at the end of the corridor. Wiz and his companions hurried on, turned acorner and there, about twenty-five yards in front of them, was the seeker,bobbing up and down gently in front of a stout oaken door.or.
“Moira? Moira?” Wiz called as they came down the corridor.
A pale tear-stained face appeared in the tiny barred window set in thedoor..
“Wiz? Oh, Wiz!”
Wiz rushed ahead of his companions and pressed against the door. “Ohmy God! Darling, are you all right?””
“Oh Wiz, Wiz. I’ve been so… Oh Wiz!” and Moira started tocry..
“Come on, we’ll get you out of there. Stand away from the door,now.””
Moira backed from the window, as if reluctant to lose sight of him.
“Get as far away as you can and cover yourself,” Wiz instructedher. “Tell me when you’re ready.””
“I’m… I’m ready.” Moira called tentatively from within thecell..
Wiz raised his staff.
“What was that?” Atros growled.
“Vig noiss. Egplhossion.” The goblin commander’s human speech wasslurred by his great tusks..
“I know that, idiot! But what caused it?”
The goblin merely shrugged, which only increased the wizard’s ire. For overtwo hours Atros had been searching the dungeons based on the report of a troopof goblins who had been attacked in their guardroom by a strong force of humanwarriors and wizards. At least that was as
“Well, where did it come from?” he snapped.
“That way, Master. Where special prisoner is.” Atros ears prickedup. What was the old crow hiding down here? “Well, let’s check.Quickly.”.”
With nearly fifty heavily armed and armored goblins behind them Atros andthe goblin commander set off down the tunnel at a trot..
The dungeons were a difficult labyrinth in the best of times, but with theincredible attack going on above, the maze of twisty little passages was almostimpenetrable. The magic which usually guided the knowledgeable wasn’t workingand Atros was forced to rely on the memory and navigating skill of the goblins.He had a sneaking suspicion they had spent most of their time down here lostand wandering in circles—if a circle wasn’t too regular a figure to describetheir movments.ments.
But something had obviously happened to those guards and Atros wasencouraged by the report of humans in the dungeons—apparently Northernguardsmen at that. What was going on over their heads was unbelievably powerful,but it was also strange. None of the familiar magic or non-magical forces ofthe North had been encountered. Atros had perforce learned a grudging respectfor the Northerners, not only for developing so many mighty new spells but forkeeping everything so secret that the League’s spies had gotten only thevaguest of hints. hints.
However that left the League’s more conventional resources uncommitted andAtros had a shrewd suspicion that they would be thrown in at a critical point.When that happened, he vowed as he jogged along grimly, he would be there andthere would be such a duel of wizards as the World had never seen.en.
Wiz charged through the smoldering ruins of the door and swept Moira intohis arms. She was dazed and weeping. She was filthy and her long red hair wasmatted with dirt, but she was still the most beautiful woman Wiz had ever seen.n.
“Oh my God, Moira, I thought I had lost you forever.”
“Wiz, oh Wiz,” Moira sobbed into his chest. Then he reached down,lifted her chin and kissed her..
“Now what?” Atros demanded of his hulking companion as they camearound the bend. Ahead of them was a faint golden glow, the likes of whichAtros had never seen down here.e.
The head goblin only shrugged and signalled his men to advance cautiously.As they moved down the tunnel cautiously the light grew brighter and steadier.They came around another bend and there, at the end of the tunnel was ashattered door with a golden light emanating from it and the sound of voices.Human voices. Atros stepped aside as the goblin captain and his soldiersadvanced.nced.
At the cell door, Kenneth stared down the corridor and fretted. It was badenough that the Sparrow hadn’t turned off his seeker ball now that they hadfound the hedge-witch. Worse he was clinched with her and he wasn’t making anyeffort to get them away. Kenneth’s well-developed sense of danger had beennagging ever since they entered the dungeons and now the nagging had grown to afull scream. If they stayed here much longer they were going to run intosomething they could not handle. Kenneth had no doubt at all these passageswere full of things like that.e that.
He frowned and squinted down the way they had come, careful not to exposehis body with the light behind him. Was it his imagination or had he just hearda scuffling sound, like something heavy trying to move quietly?y?
He was rewarded with a shout and the sound of running feet.
“Lord, light the corridor and douse that globe!”
Wiz jerked his head up at Kenneth’s cry. “Right,” he said andsnatched up his staff. “”backslash light exe” he yelled,pointing the staff down the corridor. Moira gaped at him. Instantly the wholecorridor lit up blue, revealing a packed mass of goblins thundering down onthem.em.
“For-tuna,” Donal breathed and grasped his sword more tightly.
Kenneth’s bowstring thrummed twice more and two more goblins fell. The lastone to go down was the goblin commander who dropped kicking and writhing withan arow in his eye. His momentum carried him nearly two paces further.r.
The combination of the light and the loss of their commander was too muchfor the goblins. They broke and fled back down the tunnel. Kenneth got one moreas they rounded the bend.d.
“Magic, Master! We must have magic!” The goblin soldier wasbreathing hard and foam slavered down his chin as he knelt before Atros..
“Fools! Buffoons!” roared Atros. “Must I do your work foryou? There is no magic here. Only two humans. Finish them. Now.””
“Magic, Master!” the goblin soldier begged.
“Idiot!” Atros kicked the creature in the face, sending himsprawling. The other goblins shifted and muttered. Atros realized he wasdangerously close to overplaying his hand with these servants.s.
“Attack again,” he ordered. “Attack now. If they use magic
The goblins muttered more but they began to sort themselves out for anattack..
Atros watched, frowning. He still wasn’t sure the alien wizard was withthis group and he didn’t want to use his magic unnecessarily. Whatever wasgoing on in the City of Night was nullifying or weakening spells. Demons werenot responding reliably to his call, so he could not learn the identity of hisadversary. He did not know his strengths or weaknesses and the feel of themagic was maddeningly unfamiliar. Worse, he could not establish contact withhis fellow wizards. He was on his own and deprived of his most reliableweapons.eapons.
If the wizard was in that room, then he would crush him. But there was nosign of great power and if the wizard was not there, Atros would rathersacrifice this band of goblins than reveal and weaken himself.f.
He stood aside as the goblins formed up, ignoring their sidelong glancesand their mutterings. One more attack and he would have those humans. Then hewould know.w.
“Lord, we have to get out of here,” Kenneth said over hisshoulder. “They’re reforming just around the bend.””
“Uh? Oh, right. Let’s get going. Gather round close everybody.”He put an arm around Moira’s waist and drew her to him. Donal stepped in closebehind and at the last second Kenneth spun away from the door and raced tothem. Wiz lifted his staff. f. backslash transport… he began and thenstopped..
“Damn,” Wiz said under his braeth.
“What is it?” Moira asked.
“I don’t have enough power to make the transport. I can’t make thespell work with all those worms active.””
“I would suggest, Lord, that you come up with an alternative,”said Kenneth quietly, nocking an arrow, “and do so quickly.” Hereturned to the door and stared down the weirdly lit corridor.r.
“I’ll have to shut down the worms. It’ll just take a fewminutes.””
“We may not have them,” Kenneth replied, drawing his bow andstepping quickly into the corridor to loose a shaft. There was a roar of painand then other roars and yells as the attackers charged.d.
Again, Kenneth brought down two more before they closed. By the time helaid his bow aside and drew his sword, Donal’s two-handed sword was cleaving aglittering arc of death in the air before them. The leading goblin chargedunheeding and died twitching and flopping at the guardsman’s feet, his arm andshoulder nearly shorn from his body.ody.
The other goblins hesitated for a fraction. Experienced fighters all, theyknew that their situation was not as favorable as it looked to Moira gapingfrom the doorway. True, they had the humans outnumbered 20 to 1, but the tunnelwas so narrow they could only come on three abreast, and a tightly packed threeabreast at that. Their armor was good, but their weapons were for guard work,not a battle with armored men at close quarters. They had no archers, only afew pole arms and no shields.ields.
Still, they were seasoned warriors and if the effects of the magicalassault on the City of Night had unnerved them, they had no doubt they couldwin n
Donal skipped forward, beating the pole arms aside and down with anoverhead sweep of his blade. The goblins to his right were tied up by thetangle of weapons but the one to his left raised his sword for a killingstroke.ke.
Before the blow could land Kenneth thrust home into the creature’s exposedarmpit. The light mail under the arm popped and snapped and the goblin wentdown shrieking. Donal gave ground, parrying with his great sword as the weaponsof the back ranks thrust at him. Donal took advantage of the gap created by thefalling goblin to slash the face of his rank mate and then leapt away so thatthe swords of the goblins cut empty air. air.
The goblins pressed forward as the humans retreated, the ones on the leftstumbling on the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kenneth reached to his beltand drew a small war axe with his left hand. Donal parried a spear thrust fromthe rear ranks and riposted with a quick thrust to the head of the right-mostgoblin. The blade slid off the creature’s knobbed helmet, but the force of theblow jarred the goblin and made him break step. The middle goblin aimed awhistling low cut at Kenneth’s leg and gave Donal the opening he had been waitingfor.ng
Kenneth stepped in and thrust to the goblin’s neck. At the same time hebrought the hatchet up and caught the left-most goblin’s sword stroke betweenthe haft and bit. A twist of his wrist and the sword was levered out of itsowner’s grasp and flying across the tunnel. The creature gaped in tuskedamazement and then his eyes glazed in death as Kenneth’s sword found hisvitals.tals.
But before Kenneth could skip out of range, a halberd licked out from amongthe goblin’s legs. With a vicious jerk the hook on the back of the blade sankinto the unprotected rear of Kenneth’s calf. The guardsman hissed in pain anddropped. Donal slashed mightily with his great sword to cover his fallencompanion, but the goblins pressed forward inexorably. Goblin blades flashedout, three and four at once. Rings popped on Donal’s mail and a bright red gashopened in his side. side.
Wiz turned from his half-built spell at Moira’s gasp in time to see Donalreel backward from the blows..
“cancel!” he shouted and pointed his staff at the packedmass. “”for 1 to 10 flash do” he shouted. “exe!”
Instantly the corridor went from a bluish gloom to a light more brilliantthan the brightest summer noon. Then it went pitch dark and then the lightagain and again and again. The goblins howled in pain from the blasts of light.In the strobe of the bolts Wiz could see them weirdly frozen, trying to shieldtheir eyes and ignoring the two helpless men on the floor.oor.
Wiz pointed his staff at the goblins and muttered another command. “Bibbityboppity boo!!“
A ravening lance of flame shot from the end of the staff and struck theforemost goblin squarely. The creature shrieked, a high, almost womanish sound,as the fire took it. Another bolt shot from Wiz’s staff and another goblinturned into a living torch. Again and again Wiz’s staff shot fire and moregoblins burned.ned.
That was too much. The goblins broke and fled, the ones in the foretrampling their fellows behind them in their haste to escape..
Wiz closed his eyes and breathed a silent prayer. Moira dashed out into thecorridor to the wounded men..
Kenneth had an ugly wound in his calf but he could limp back with only alittle assistance. Donal was in a worse way, conscious but groggy and bleedingheavily from the wound in his side. Moira and Wiz got the two inside and laidthem on the dirty straw.aw.
“My bow,” Kenneth commanded and Wiz rushed back to get it. Whenhe returned he found the guardsman had dragged himself to the door and wasstanding propped against the jamb.b.
“Thank you, Lord,” he said as Wiz handed him the bow. “Iwill keep watch from here. But we need to be gone quickly.””
“I’m trying,” Wiz told him, “but this is more complicatedthan I bargained for. I don’t think those damned worms were such a hot ideaafter all.”.”
“Make haste Lord,” Kenneth panted. “They have not gone farand they will come again soon.””
“Likely with others who are not so flighty,” said Donal, who camelimping up in spite of Moira’s efforts to keep him lying down..
Wiz took a deep breath and returned to the job of shutting down a worm.
It was an intricate process. The worms were under the control of the Emacsback at Heart’s Ease and Wiz had no direct communication with them. He couldnot simply neutralize the worms, he had to shut at least some of them offcompletely. The entities had been busy reproducing themselves since they firstappeared, so that was difficult.ult.
“backslash, class worm suspend…” He shook his head.No, that wouldn’t work! “cancel” He tried again. “”backslash…””
“Lord, you’d better get out of here quickly,” Kenneth saidquietly. “We have a new problem.””
* * *
The dragons rose from their shaking caverns as their riders fought to keepthem under control. They formed into a group of ragged Vs as they swept oncearound the peak and then turned toward the sea. There was no attack warning, nobattle plan, not even any orders. It was simply better to sortie blindly thanto wait.ait.
High above, the Dragon Leader watched them come. He had barely twosquadrons behind him and the entire dragon cavalry of the City of Night was onthe wing below. But he had height and position and the climbing ranks wereconfused and hesitant. He raised his hand over his head and pointed down. Thenhe nudged his mount and the entire force hurtled earthward in formation.ion.
In the midst of a hurricane of sorcery there was no magic to aid eitherside. Magic detectors screamed constantly, useless in the boil of spells. Eventhe psychic link between dragon and rider weakened and wavered in the maelstromof magics that enveloped the City of Night.ht.
Freed from close control, the dragons fought by instinct. Formationsdissolved into whirling, flaming chaos as the two groups collided. Great wingedbodies hurtled into each other, ripping and tearing and unseating riders.Dragon fire flew in all directions without discipline or guidance.ce.
The Dragon Leader got one good pass out of his mount and saw his target godown smoking. Then he was through the League formation and the dragon wasclimbing on powerful beats of leathery wings. He tried to pull clear of themilling swarm to get altitude for another pass, but his dragon had other ideas.Still climbing, they charged into the thick of the fight.ght.
The dragon caught one opponent by climbing underneath him and blasting himbefore the hapless beast even knew they were there. But now they were in thethick of the fight with hostile dragons on all sides.s.
True to its instinct the dragon raised her head and bellowed out achallenge. Answering roars came from all around them. The Dragon Leader gave uptrying to control his mount. Instead, he drew his bow and swiveled, looking forthe nearest opponent.nt.
The attack came from behind. A League dragon swooped down on them beforeeither dragon or rider knew he was there. The dragon must have exhausted itsfire because it made no attempt to flame them as it went past. Instead theDragon Leader had a glimpse of the figure on its back drawing his bow andtwisting to track them as he swept by. The swarthy face, slitted eyes andscalplock of the enemy rider burned themselves into his brain.rain.
There was no room to maneuver and no time to turn. The League rider firedand the iron shaft buried itself in his dragon’s neck..
But the dragon barely noticed. She dropped one wing and flicked her tail toturn more tightly on her tormentor. Almost as an afterthought she reached upwith a forelimb and plucked the shaft free.e.
The Dragon Leader fitted an iron arrow to his own bow, but there was notingle of recognition from the seeker head. The spells on death arrows werebeing overwhelmed by the competing magics. Swearing, he shifted his aim andfired. If magic would not work, perhaps skill would.ld.
It did. The shaft flew straight and true and pierced the rider through theback. The man threw up his arms and crumpled into his saddle. The dragon turnedto take on another opponent, still bearing the dead man on its back.k.
The Dragon Leader looked around and urged his mount forward for anotherfoe..
Eventually it was all too much. The League dragons, outfought, disorganizedand only under rudimentary control, broke and fled south in a confused gaggle.Some dove and dashed for safety scant feet off the earth. Others concentratedon making the best possible speed no matter what their altitude. A few fell tothe flames of their attackers as they ran.ran.
As soon as they were well clear of the City of Night, the Dragon Leadersignaled his men to break off and re-form. The squadrons were tattered andseveral of the dragons were riderless, but his force was intact. There was noquestion who had won this day.ay.
Counting his men, the Dragon Leader ordered one more sweep over the City ofNight before they turned to the North and home..
With shaking hands, Toth-Set-Ra removed the globe from the cabinet and setit in the middle of the floor. There was a muffled roar and the palace shook,showering a sprinkle of mortar on the wizard’s dark robe. He paid no attention.n.
Quickly but carefully he checked the pentagram, brushing away dust ordebris that might breach it. Bale-Zur was not to be invoked lightly nor withoutscrupulous attention to the proper precautions. He could be counted upon to takeadvantage of any loophole in the bargain.in.
Toth-Set-Ra shook back the sleeves of his robe, picked up the silver wandoff the lectern and began his chant..
A cloud of stinking, reeking sulphurous smoke billowed up, hiding the wallsof the chamber and making Toth-Set-Ra’s eyes water and his lungs burn. He paidno notice but continued chanting as a dull red glow coalesced and grew in theheart of the smoke cloud.ud.
“Bale-Zur. Bale-Zur. Bale-Zur. By the power of your true name and theforce of our bargain I call you, I summon you, I command you to make yourselfmanifest.”.”
As the wizard gestured, the smoke billowed even thicker and the glow grewfiercer and larger. And then the smoke wafted away as though on a breeze,leaving the mightiest of demons revealed.d.
The huge black creature squatted toadlike in the chamber, nearly fillingthe pentagram and almost brushing the stone vaulting of the ceiling. His hornedand warty head swivelled slowly and continually from side to side, as ifseeking prey. The great claws clenched and relaxed against the stone.ne.
“My due,” the demon’s voice boomed out, so low that theundertones made the wizard’s bones quiver. “I will have my due.””
“I give you one,” hissed Toth-Set-Ra. “I give you the oneknown to men as Sparrow, called Wiz. By the power of his true name I give himto you.”.”
The monster paused and considered. The huge mouth opened, showing rows ofteeth like daggers, and the beast ran a surprisingly pink tongue over its blackscaly lips.s.
“Sparrow is not his true name,” the creature rumbled. “Noris Wiz.””
“By the power of his true name I give him to you!” Toth-Set-Rarepeated, more shrilly..
Again the demon Bale-Zur considered. At last the massive head stoppedmoving and the glowing red eyes focused on the wizard..
“This one’s true name is not written upon the wind,” the demonsaid at last..
Toth-Set-Ra licked his lips, suddenly gone dry. “But he has a truename,” he insisted desperately. “All men have a true name.””
“Then it has never been spoken within the World,” said the demon,hopping cumbersomely forward. “Our bargain is broken and I will have mydue.”.”
Toth-Set-Ra screamed and backed away as the demon crossed the now-uselesspentagram. He scuttled toward the door, but the great creature was too quickfor him. A huge clawed foot caught him squarely in the back as his hand touchedthe door handle.le.
In the riot and confusion of the shuddering palace no one noticed thescreams. But they went on for a long, long time..
Blinded, burned and screeching, the goblins fell back around the bend inthe tunnel. Atros paid them no heed..
The auspices were not ideal, but Atros meant to have this wizard and if hisgoblin soldiers could not take him, then he would do so himself. He flippedback his great fur cloak, baring his thickly muscled arms, and muttered aprotective incantation before he stepped around the corner.er.
“What is it?” Wiz asked as the hulking skin-clad figure strodedown the tunnel toward them..
“A wizard,” Kenneth told him. “I’m sorry, Lord, but wecannot help you now. You must meet magic with magic in a duel of wizards.””
Wiz licked his lips and took a deep, shuddering breath. Then he steppedinto the blue-lit corridor, staff in hand..
Atros did not check his stride as Wiz came through the broken door.Stepping around the broken burned bodies of his goblin bodyguard he boredstraight toward the slight dark-haired figure holding his oak staff as if itwere a baseball bat.at.
As Atros came on Wiz pointed his staff at him. “bippity boppityboo,”” he said and again the roaring lance of flame shot from thestaff’s tip. But the big wizard made a dismissing gesture with a flip of hiswrist and the flame veered to one side, splashing off the wall and dissipatingharmlessly.ly.
Atros raised his hand and balls of fire flew from his fingertips; one afterthe other they caroomed down the hall at Wiz. Wiz reached into his pouch andthrew a tiny, pallid grub at his attacker. Grub and fireballs met in mid-tunneland the flames were sucked away, leaving only a medium-sized worm behind.nd.
Quickly Wiz muttered another spell. Suddenly Atros found his progressslowed, as if he were walking through molasses. The more he pushed, the slowerhe moved until by exerting all his mighty strength he was barely able to moveat all.ll.
Atros paused for a second, examining the spell, tasting it. Experimentallyhe tried moving a hand slowly and found it moved normally. The resistance builthigher the faster he tried to move. The southern wizard smiled slightly andspoke a counter-incantation. Then he strode on unhindered.ed.
His next step was nearly his last. His foot landed on a patch of somethingas slippery as the slickest ice over polished marble. He could get no purchaseand his feet shot out from under him. Instinctively Atros used a spell to stayupright. Again a pause while he analyzed the magic and again Wiz’s best effortwas nullified by a counterspell.ell.
Atros assayed a transformation spell. But Wiz just stood there, unchangedand unharmed. A disorientation spell, a sleep spell and an earthquake spellfollowed in quick succession. Still his slender opponent stood unscathed.d.
Atros was baffled. He had never seen its like before. Normally a barrage ofspells had some effect, but this was as if they weren’t even reaching theirtarget. A bit tentatively, Atros hurled a bolt of lightning down the corridor.It reached the worm and vanished.ed.
The Southern wizard raised his staff, an inky blob of darkness formed onthe end of it and wobbled down the corridor. It was black beyond black, blackerthan night and it floated toward Wiz like a balloon wafted on a breeze.e.
Wiz watched as the sphere of darkness passed over the now-fattened worm.The worm reached out greedily for the magic just as the sphere bobbed to thefloor of the corridor to meet it, bending toward the worm like a lover bendingtoward a kiss.ss.
The pair touched. Suddenly the worm faded and shrunk as the black sphere ofnegation drained the magic it had hoarded. As the worm grew smaller so did thesphere, until at last there was again a tiny writhing grub and the sphereclosed in on itself and vanished.ed.
Atros ground the worm under his heel as he stepped forward to confront Wiz.
Wiz hit Atros with everything but the kitchen sink. A hundred lightningbolts flashed toward him so fast the corridor was lit by a constant blindingglare and the air reeked of ozone. The tunnel roof caved in with a roar and ahuge cloud of dust. Thirty sharp knives flew at Atros from all directions. Hisbearskin tried to crawl off his back. A hurricane swept down the corridorblowing with a force no man could withstand.tand.
Still Atros came on. The lightning struck all about him but never touchedhim. The falling rocks bounced off an invisible shield over his head. His skingarment convulsed and lay still. The wind did not move a hair on his head.d.
Wiz’s spells had raw power, but they lacked the carefully crafted subtletyof a truly great wizard. And Atros, for all his braggadocio, was one of thegreat wizards of the World. More, he had the hard-won experience that comesfrom fighting and winning a score of magical duels. But most of all, Atros wasa killer. Wiz simply was not.not.
Now Atros raised his staff and it was Wiz’s turn to endure.
“New magic in the City of Night, Lord. Strong and strange.”
Bal-Simba rushed to the Watcher’s side. “Is it Sparrow? Can you locatehim?””
“It appears to be and, yes Lord, we have it very precisely. He is inthe dungeons beneath the city.” The Watcher peered deeply into the crystalagain. “There is other magic close by, Lord. Very strong and… Atros!Lord, your Sparrow is locked in a magical duel with Atros!”s!”
“Fortuna!” Bal-Simba swore. “How is the Sparrow doing?”
“I can’t tell, Lord. His spells are so peculiar. But there is a lot ofmagic loose in those tunnels.” Another pause and the Watcher tore his eyesfrom the crystal to face Bal-Simba. “He seems to be holding his own, but Idon’t think he is winning, Lord.”d.”
“A Sparrow against a bear. That is not an even match.
“I fear not, Lord.”
Bal-Simba bowed his mighty head and frowned into the crystal. Then hesnapped his head up and slapped his palm on his thigh with a crack like apistol shot.t.
“A circle!” he bellowed to the assembled Mighty. “Quickly tome! I must have a circle!””
Magic constricted around Wiz like a vise. As quickly as he erected abarrier against the onrushing spells, it was torn away and magic wound evertighter around him. Again and again Atros thrust with his staff and Wiz wasdriven back toward the door of the cell where Moira and the two woundedguardsmen cowered, blinded and deafened by the effects of the duel and chokedby the dust and magic thick in the air. air.
Suddenly Atros took his staff in both hands, raised it high over his headand brought it down with a vicious chopping motion. Wiz raised his staff toward it off, but he was driven to his knees by the force of the blow. Blindlyhe raised his staff and gestured again. But the stroke was weak and ill-judgedand Atros thrust it aside contemptuously. He stepped forward again and raisedhis staff for a final, killing spell.pell.
From the cell door a blazing ball flew over Wiz’s head and straight atAtros’s face. The wizard dropped his staff and flinched aside from the burningsphere. He gestured and it swerved off to splatter in a flaming gout on thetunnel wall behind him.im.
Atros looked over Wiz and saw Moira standing in the door with her eyesblazing and her hands extended clawlike..
“Witch!” he said contemptuously and made a shooing motion withboth hands. Moira screamed and flew back into the cell as if pushed by anunseen hand. Then the skin-clad giant stooped to pick up his staff. Inside thecell an explosion blasted out. A choking cloud of dirt billowed from the shattereddoor and a reddish light like a new-kindled fire burned within. Atros frownedand made a warding move with his staff. Wiz shook his head and climbed half tohis feet. feet.
Within the cell, obscured by the dust and lighted by the fire behind, ahuge misshapen thing moved. Atros took a step back and a firmer grasp on hisstaff. What new sort of demon was this?s?
The light grew brighter as the fire took hold of the straw. Through thesmoke and reddish backlight the thing resolved itself into a vaguely man-likefigure. It groped through the smoke and dust, narrowing and resolving as itmoved toward the door as though coalescing into something solid. Atros shifteduneasily. There was something familiar about that figure…e…
Then it came through the door and out of the smoke. “So,” itrumbled in a familiar voice. “A bear chasing a sparrow, eh? Not veryedifying Atros. Not very edifying at all.”.”
“Bal-Simba!” Atros spat the name like a curse.
“Bal-Simba indeed,” the great wizard agreed. He was disheveledand his hair and skin were powdered gray with dirt and dust, but his teethshowed white as milk and sharp as daggers as he smiled. “A worthieropponent than yon sparrow, mayhap?ap?
“Sparrow,” Bal-Simba said without taking his eyes off thesouthern wizard, “please put out the fire in the cell. Atros and I havewizards’ business to discuss.”.”
“We discuss it on my ground, Northerner,” Atros said with an evilsmile..
“Oh, I think no one’s ground.” Bal-Simba’s smile was no lessevil. “Your protective spells are neutralized, your brother wizards are,ah, occupied elsewhere and Toth-Set-Ra is dead.” He raised his eyebrows.”What? You did not know? Demon trouble I believe. Troublesome things,demons. Almost as much trouble as sparrows.”ws.”
Their eyes locked and neither moved while Wiz scrambled on his hands andknees behind Bal-Simba’s trunk-like legs and through the cell door. Moira waswaiting and they clung together like frightened children, heedless of thesmoldering straw.aw.
Finally Atros snarled and thrust his staff at the black giant. Wiz saw theair between them twist and contort into a half-sensed shape that flew straightat Bal-Simba’s chest. Bal-Simba turned his staff sideways and the thingdisappeared in a shimmer of air.ir.
He took a step forward. Atros gestured again and the bloody green slime inthe center of the corridor massed and grew and rose up in a foul dripping wavein front of Bal-Simba.a.
Again Bal-simba gestured and the slime hung back. It recoiled, gathereditself and thrust forward like a striking snake. With an easy grace Bal-simbapirouetted to one side. The slime thing missed and fell into the center of thecorridor with a hollow “splat.” Before it could gather itself againthe Northerner pressed his staff into the slime’s “back.” It quiveredfor a moment and then lay still.till.
The giant turned to face his giant assailant. Atros’s lips were working ashe prepared another spell. But Bal-simba didn’t give him the chance to use it..
“And now.” Bal-simba tapped his staff on the flagging and steppedforward. Atros gave ground, pawing the air frantically with his staff..
“And now.” Bial-Simba stepped and struck the pavement with aringing blow as Atros blanched and flinched..
The black giant sagged and put a hand on the tunnel wall to stay upright.”Whoo,” he gasped and shook his head. “Whoo.””
“Lord, am I glad to see you!” Wiz stepped out of the cell,leaning on Moira for support..
“Sparrow,” Bal-Simba rumbled, “you are a great deal of trouble.”
Wiz just laughed and hugged him.
“Lord,” Moira hugged him from the other side. “Lord, I hadlost hope.””
“Always unwise, Lady,” said Bal-Simba. He frowned. “My twoguardsmen? Donal and Kenneth?””
“Here, Lord,” croaked Kenneth, pulling himself erect on the frameof the cell door. “Donal is with me, but he is in a sore way.””
“Then I suggest we take him someplace more comfortable,”Bal-Simba said. “Sparrow, will you do the honors? I’m not sure I am up towalking the Wizard’s Way just yet.”.”
“With pleasure,” Wiz grinned. “Uh, it may take me four orfive tries to get the spell right.””
It actually took six.