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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 56

Elric was crying openly, tears spilling down his face as he crouched over Katrina’s blackened form. “Aaren, please heal her, do something quickly. She dying!” His voice caught on the words.

Aaren climbed to his feet, anguish on his face. “I’m out of healing power,” he cried. “I can’t help her.”

“Wait!” Mira shouted. “The potions! The healing potions! I’ve got them in my backpack!” She started forward when a shrill scream split the air from the far side of the gargantuan chamber. “That was Illene!” she said. “They’re taking her!” She turned to give chase.

“The potions!” Elric screamed frantically.

“They’ll get away,” she cried.

“Katrina’s dying!”

She froze, torn between conflicting desires.

Aaren solved her problem for her. “Drop your pack!” he shouted. “I’ll get the potions out of it. Jon! Gronk! Go with her!” The half-ogre was busy cleaning his weapons and grinned with relish at the thought of more battle.

Grateful for an answer, Mira threw off her pack and plunged into the shadows, hot on the trail of Illene’s helpless scream, Jon and Gronk close behind.

Aaren grabbed her pack and ripped it open, digging quickly through it until he found the potions. He ran over to Elric’s side and dropped to his knees. He broke the seal on one of the potions and pried open Katrina’s mouth, moving with careful haste. He poured the sparkling liquid into her mouth, stroking her throat to help her swallow. Her flesh started to heal and he sighed in relief. “We got to her in time,” he told Elric. “Don’t worry, she’s going to be alright.”

Elric nodded, his eyes locked on her face. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Aaren poured the second potion down Katrina’s throat, then sat back to rest. He turned and surveyed the scene of the battle. It was a grim sight.

Blood and bodies were everywhere. Rubble from Elric and Blanrus’ magical duel was strewn around as well. Twisted weapons, some of them melted from the heat of the fireballs lay discarded across the floor.

“Quite a mess, isn’t it?” Horace grunted, easing himself down beside him.

“We survived, so I guess it’s not as bad as it could have been,” Aaren replied, trying to convince himself as well as Horace.

The fighter started to answer but a weak groan cut him off. Their heads snapped around.

“What was that?” Horace demanded.

“It came from over there,” Aaren said, getting to his feet and pointing to where Elric’s last fireball had gone off. He and Horace eased forward, weapons at the ready. They found a blackened body laying in the shadows. It groaned again and they exchanged a questioning look.

“What do you think?” Aaren whispered.

Horace shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to take a look. Whoever it is, I don’t think they’re in any condition to cause trouble.”

They inched forward and eased the body over onto it’s back. They leaned closer, squinting in the dark.


Footsteps echoed behind them. “What about him?” Mira asked, joining them.

Aaren looked at her. “Where’s Illene?”

“Gone,” she said flatly. “They grabbed her and used magic to vanish. Who knows where they might be by now.”

“I know,” a painful whisper answered her from the floor.

“Who’s that?” she frowned, leaning over to look.

Aaren and Horace turned back to the body on the floor. Red rimmed eyes were open and watching them carefully. “It’s Altman,” Aaren told her.


The fancy fop laughed painfully at her reaction. “So pleased to see you again, my dear,” he wheezed.

“What was that about knowing where they took Illene?” she said, ignoring his attempts at cordiality.

“It’s true,” he wheezed through blackened lips. “I know exactly where they’re taking her. I also know where Blanrus keeps enough healing potions to take care of all of us.”

“Where?” she demanded.

“The potions or Illene?”


“Not until you give me your word to give me some of the potions then let me go.”

Horace’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Big words from a man who’s at death’s door. We could just let you die and find the potions ourselves.”

“And Illene?” Altman coughed weakly. “The ceremony is in less than eight hours. Blanrus doesn’t have to do it here you know. He can perform the ceremony anywhere; distance doesn’t matter.”

Jon joined them in time to hear this. “Better do it guys,” he advised them. “Eight hours isn’t nearly enough time to search a city this size. Trading for information is the only way to get there in time.” He bent over and stared Altman in the eyes. “If we give you some potions and let you go, what do we get in return?”

“Directions to where they’ve taken the girl,” Altman replied.

“And answers to our questions,” Jon added.

“I’m not going to answer unlimited questions,” the fancy fop protested. “Three questions only, and you have to ask them in the next half hour.”

“Nine questions,” Jon countered, “for the rest of the day.”

Altman shook his head painfully. “That would drag me into your fight with Blanrus. I’ve already had enough of that.” He indicated his current condition. “How about six questions during the next hour?”

Jon started to make another counter-offer but Aaren cut him off. “We haven’t got time to stand around haggling all day. Take it.”

Jon gave him a sorrowful look. “But we’ve got the advantage,” he said mournfully.

Aaren ignored him. “We accept your offer,” he said, addressing Altman directly. “Now where are the potions? And where did they take Illene?”

Altman pointed feebly at a large altar standing off to one side of their battlefield. “Under there. Turn the dragon head three turns to the left. I’ll tell you about Illene after I’ve been healed.”

They started to protest then realized that all of them needed some healing. They could find out Illene’s whereabouts soon enough. Jon trotted over to the altar and examined it briefly. He found a dragon’s head carved into the foot of the altar and turned it to the left three turns. A hidden drawer slid out of the middle of the altar with a grating noise. “All kinds of healing potions,” he told them after a brief look. He pulled out a double handful of potion bottles and began passing them out. In short order, everyone’s wounds were healed. They sat down around a guttering fire pit to quiz Altman.

“The Sword operates several fronts in the city. One of them is a weapons store behind Macazecaha’s Bar. The one owned and operated by a beholder named Macazecaha,” he added when he saw their looks of confusion. “Blanrus took over the second floor. He mainly uses it for a warehouse, but it’s got more than enough room to conduct the ceremony,” the fancy fop told them confidently. “Well, that’s two questions. What are the other four?”

“Two?!” Katrina yelped. “We haven’t asked any questions yet, you heartless monster!” Her friends had filled her in on the bargain they’d made with the strange man and she’d been none too thrilled. She still held a grudge against him for the pain she’d suffered from the sword he’d plunged through her jaw. Slow death by torture was the least of her plans for him.

“Wrong,” he said, unfazed. “Asking about the potions, asking about Illene,” he counted them off on his fingers. “That’s two questions. You’ve got four left.”

Even Aaren and Mira were hard put to conceal their indignation at Altman’s interpretation of their bargain. Before any of them could make any threats though, Jon intervened. “He’s right, that’s two questions.”

Horace glared at him. “Hey! Whose side are you on?”

“Ours,” Jon shot back, “but Aaren interrupted my negotiations and nothing was said about which questions would be counted. We agreed to six questions.” He shrugged. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we made a deal and now we’re stuck with it.”

“We could force him to make a new deal,” Horace grated dangerously.

Altman lifted one eyebrow. “Really?” he asked meaningfully, reminding them with his eyes what had happened the last time they’d tried to force an issue with him. The implications held them all suspended for a moment, remembering that fight. Katrina saw the anger draining out of the rest of them and knew that her cause was lost. She stiffened and crossed her arms defiantly. Elric put a hesitant arm around her shoulders. After a second she relaxed against him and accepted the situation.

“Alright,” she muttered resentfully, “two down, four to go.”

Aaren shrugged acceptance for the rest of them, although he clearly wasn’t happy with Jon assigning blame to him.

“In that case,” Elric said, “where is Blanrus’ spellbook, and what are you doing here helping him?”

“He has two,” the fancy fop answered firmly. “One in his bedroom, three levels up, and the other, in a bag of holding he keeps on his belt. I’m helping him,” he paused to glare at them, “to get back at you for being spoil sports and hurting me so bad. You had no reason to do that!”

Mira laughed harshly and looked away.

Aaren understood her feelings perfectly, but then something occurred to him. “Where are all the warriors? We made a lot of noise during the fight. Shouldn’t somebody have come to investigate by now? That’s only one question,” he added quickly.

Altman smiled sourly at him. “You’re learning. Kinda slow, but you’re learning.”

“Just answer the question.”

“It’s the same question asked two different ways,” the fancy fop continued. “Oh well, the answer is simple; no, no one is going to investigate anything that happens down here. Half of them are scared to death of Blanrus and the other half hope he kills himself messing around with his spells. Besides, those warriors you killed were getting ready to leave when you burst in; he’d ordered them to get out. It’ll be hours before anyone else gets around to coming down here.”

They absorbed that in silence.

“That gives us some breathing room,” Elric ventured absently, his thoughts preoccupied with how to find Blanrus’ bedroom. He was wondering how to phrase the question properly when an evil smile raced across Katrina’s face.

She roused herself to face Altman. “By the way,” she said, in a honey-smooth voice, “what did Rontoffer mean when he said, a ‘Fortune Feud’? We’ve never heard that term before.”

Altman’s reaction was instantaneous. “A Fortune Feud?!” he cried, his eyes flying wide in shock. “Rontoffer said that? By all the gods!” Before anyone could stop him, he sprang to his feet and grabbed at a ring on his finger. There was a silent flash of light and he was gone.

Katrina exploded with laughter. “Did you see the look on his face?” she howled. “That was great!”

The rest joined in her merry laughter, glad for once to see the strange man so clearly discomforted. “You know,” Horace chuckled after the merriment started to die down, “we still don’t know a Fortune Feud is.”

“Whatever it is, it sure had Altman worried,” Jon chortled. “We’ll have to remember that from now on. We could use it again.”

Their laughter faded and they took stock of their situation. “You know,” Aaren said, looking around thoughtfully, “if Altman was telling the truth about no one coming down here, we could catch some sleep for a couple of hours. We could all use it, and it would give Elric a chance to regain some power for his spells.”

“Maybe he can even teach me some of them,” Katrina suggested.

Horace gave her a weird look. “You?”

“Sure. A lot of bards know some magic. I learned the basic disciplines and had the attunement spell cast on me a long time ago, but I never got around to learning any real magic. Maybe now is the time to start.”

“I’d be more than happy to teach you, Katrina,” Elric said warmly with a slight hitch in his voice. “Come on over here, it’s really not all that difficult if you’ve already learned the disciplines.”

Katrina got up and followed him, smirking over her shoulder at Horace as she did.

“Wake us up in two hours,” Aaren called after them.


The rest of them settled down as best they could on the stone floor. There had been some furniture in the chamber but all of it had been destroyed or damaged in the fight and was unusable. Bare stone made for a poor bed, cold and hard, but it seemed to Mira she’d barely laid her head down when Katrina was shaking her, telling her to get up.

“It can’t be two hours already,” Jon groaned, echoing her sentiments. “I didn’t even fall asleep.”

“You were snoring like an old bear,” Elric retorted.

“Yeah,” Katrina agreed, “besides, what are you complaining about anyway? At least you got some sleep. We didn’t!”

Aaren saw Elric’s face redden and suspected that they’d been studying more than one kind of magic while the rest of them slept. He got up and stretched slowly, getting the kinks out. “I’m hungry,” he announced. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Trail rations,” Horace grumbled.

“But we ate just before we started,” Jon protested.

“And now we’re eating again,” Aaren told him. “I’m starving.”

They used the embers in the fire pit to heat their food, ate quickly, even Jon, and cleaned up. Once their packs were slung on their shoulders and tightened down, they headed out. In deference to Elric’s desire to search Blanrus’ room for his spellbook, they headed out through the huge, main entrance. They’d decided to proceed as far as they could on stealth. If they made it to Blanrus’ room undetected, fine; they’d look for the book. But if they encountered anyone along the way, all bets were off.

The passageway beyond the great doors was a gently sloping spiral, confirming that wagons had once been used to carry goods back and forth to the mammoth chamber. Aaren once again cast Art on his hammer and used it in place of a torch to light their way. At regular intervals, they encountered doors set into the walls. A brief look through them revealed only dark, dusty tunnels, long unused. The third set of doors they came to was different.

The tunnels here were well lit, the floors swept clean, and the cobwebs cleared away. They closed the door and huddled outside it.

“Altman said that Blanrus’ room was three levels up,” Elric said. “This must be it.”

The others agreed. “Let’s make it fast,” Mira urged them. “Time is going to start running out on us pretty soon. We’ve still got to rescue Illene.”

On that note they eased the door open again and slipped through, Jon once again flying invisibly ahead. Aaren noted with amusement that Mira and Gronk(!) were the quietest of them all. The rest of them tended to squeak as they moved, courtesy of their battle-scarred armor. Still, for all the noise he felt they were making, no one appeared to challenge them or sound the alarm. The long passages were empty of anything other than an occasional rat.

“Where is everyone?” Horace wondered. “This is creepy.”

“They must have lost a lot of men during their raid on Urdan’s palace,” Elric mused. “This place is big enough for a whole army!” One of the many pieces of information Jon had garnered since they’d come to Harpel concerned the abortive coup The Sword had tried to stage. The details had been graphic.

“Trust Blanrus to have his quarters down here by himself,” Katrina sneered. “I guess he didn’t want anyone else around.”

“Didn’t trust them actually,” a high-pitched voice said from behind them.

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