“I don’t have to listen to this any longer!”
Chairs crashed to the floor as the two mages leapt to their feet, faces suffused with anger. Sudden tension crackled in the air between them, heavy with menace. Startled shouts rang out in the room as those nearby strove to back away from the combatants.
Fingers moving like snakes, Klee Blanrus cast his spell an instant before his opponent did. Hissing bolts of power sprang from his hands and slammed into the unfortunate mage, hurling him back with a scream of agony. Not giving him a chance to recover, Blanrus quickly incanted again. An arrow of magical energy struck the enemy mage, dissolving into a flood of acid as it penetrated.
Pounding footsteps echoed the sounds of combat as Blanrus’ hired fighters ran out of the room, wanting no part of a magical duel.
The mage, withering on the stone floor, gurgled horribly. His eyes bulged and he struggled up, crooking his fingers. Lightning flared in the room, throwing stark shadows against the walls. Blanrus gritted his teeth in pain as the bolt struck him. His enemies’ casting was less than it could have been and he survived the blast.
Surviving another was out of the question though, he thought.
Grimly he fought to keep his feet, cudgeling his brain for another spell. Throwing caution to the winds he hurled a sheet of flame at the other man. The room was too small for the size of the spell and his fire rebounded off the walls striking him as well. He gasped at the searing pain and dropped to the ground, rolling to put out the fires burning on his robes.
Fearing an attack from behind he scuttled under the table, dignity forgotten in the drive to live. He lurched to his feet, head spinning. He groped for a chair to lean on and searched for his enemy. He found him and let out a trembling sigh of relief.
His knees gave out and he collapsed into the chair. Weakly he tugged at the special container on his belt. The catch gave, revealing a tiny compartment holding a stoppered vial. He pried the stopper out and drank the contents in a single swallow. Instantly he felt the soothing, tingling power rushing throughout his body, healing and repairing his wounds and burns. Within moments he was almost completely healed.
He surveyed himself. A single healing potion could take up to two days to prepare and enchant, but it was worth every minute of it. The potion had healed all but two of the worst burns, and even they were partially healed. One more potion would take care of that, he thought with grim satisfaction as he stood up. He walked over to the dead mage and knelt down, rummaging through the man’s robes.
“You should have listened to me, Jamison,” he told the corpse. “Now it’s too late, and I win anyway.” He found what he was looking for and stood up with a chuckle. He turned away to the door and jerked it open. The hall was carved out of the living rock, finished and polished by dozens, perhaps hundreds of pairs of hands over the years. Huddled at the other end of the short passageway were the men who’d bolted from the room when the battle started. They started violently when he opened the door, then laughed nervously.
“Way to go, Boss,” one of them called in uncertain tones. “You really thrashed him good.”
“And just what makes you think I thrashed him?” Blanrus asked in a silken, menacing voice. “Can you see through walls now?”
Fear leapt in the man’s eyes and the others tried to edge away from him. “No! No, I didn’t mean, I mean I was only, I, I. . .”
The man’s babbling stopped instantly. For a long moment, the only sound was his harsh breathing.
It was times like this he enjoyed the most, Blanrus thought to himself; when these worms crawled before him like whipped dogs, whining and placating, begging to be petted. The power was intoxicating! He let a slow smile surface on his face.
“As it turns out Roget, I did thrash him as you so quaintly put it. Now get up, and get that body out of there before it stinks the place up!”
“Yes Sir! Right away!”
Roget and the others scrambled to obey, rushing past him into the room, eager to be out of his sight. The sounds of busy activity floated out of the room. Blanrus turned away and walked further down the hall. He stopped at the end and reached up over his head. A faint ‘click’ sounded and a small panel slid silently aside. Reaching in he removed another vial identical to the one he’d had in his belt compartment. He quickly drained it and put the empty vial back. He slid the panel shut and leaned back against the wall as the potion completed the healing of his wounds. His steel-gray eyes regained their customary, flinty expression. He straightened up and ran a hand through his hair, then examined his robes.
He opened a door at the end of the hall into his bedroom and pawed through his clothes. He found a fresh robe and pulled it on. The old one could be used for rags or something. He never did pay much attention to what his servants did with his cast-off clothes. Probably sold them for the value of the gold thread. For some reason, the thought amused him and he chuckled lightly as he headed back for the scene of the battle, his disposition much improved.
His men had already removed Jamison’s body by the time he got there and the only sign of the battle was a blackened spot on the far wall where his flame had rebounded. A door next to it opened and a tall man in the red and black robes of a priest of Ashima entered the room. The man ran a casual hand over the sooty wall and smiled faintly.
Blanrus sat down and opened a bottle of wine that had somehow survived the battle and poured himself a drink. “What is it that you find amusing, Bashaak?”
“So much sound and fury just to kill one man.”
“There are better ways I suppose?”
Bottomless black eyes meet his gray ones. “There are.”
Blanrus drained his glass. “Don’t tell me, let me guess; you know all of them.”
Bashaak smiled sardonically, “Naturally.” The smile didn’t reach his eyes. They remained still and flat, like the eyes of a Gila monster. He clasped his hands together in front of him. “So, do we have a bargain?”
Blanrus opened his hand and the object he’d taken from Jamison’s body dropped onto the table. For the first time since he’d known the icily controlled priest, he saw a flicker of reaction in the depths of those smoldering, fathomless eyes. He smiled to himself. “But first our needs, then you get it.”
Bashaak’s lips compressed momentarily in anger, then the expression was gone as if it had never existed.
Blanrus pulled a sheaf of papers out of his robes and handed them to the priest. Bashaak took them and sat down absently, looking through them intently. Except for the occasional rustle of paper, silence reigned for a time in the battle-scarred room.
At last, Bashaak looked up. “It will be most difficult to find a woman who meets all these requirements. Are you sure it has to be a woman? Would a male sacrifice do instead?”
Blanrus made a show of considering the question then shook his head. “No, the sacrifice must be female.”
Bashaak nodded without expression.
Like negotiating with a moneylender, Blanrus thought sourly. He didn’t give anything away. He didn’t know whether to admire the priest for that or not.
Bashaak folded the papers and slid them into his own robes. He stood and opened the door then paused halfway through. “We will deliver the goods exactly as you require.” His eyes flickered to the object still on the table. “Make sure you do the same.” The door closed behind him with a soft click.
Blanrus relaxed with a sigh. He’d never been able to feel totally comfortable around Bashaak. The man was just too dangerous and unpredictable, especially since the assassination of the High Priest two months ago. But, he reached out and picked up the smooth, oval object on the table and smiled. With the right lever, anyone could be moved or bought.