Tales of Chance the Mage

Book One: From Here

Chapter 12 - The Second Mage

Chance woke after sleeping well, though images of crashing walls played through his dreams. He could see an overcast sky outside his window. This day looked dim and was cooler than before.

Hungry, he went downstairs soon after dressing. He was a bit early, but Xsel's daughter brought out a plate of bread, sliced meat and cheeses. He told her that was enough for him, and he would not have a full breakfast when it was ready.

Xsel was in a crowd of messengers; the new cabinet had several slots open. The couriers squabbled over bids which Xsel often cut short. He simply took a box's messages, tied them together and handed that to a man.

Chance watched as he ate and figured Xsel and messengers were yet to work out the process. A mail rider came into the room during this and handed over a stack of envelopes to Xsel.

The innkeeper finally finished passing out messages and now began to sort the newly arrived package. He grinned at one and handed it down to Chance saying: "It's for you."

Chance looked up and was intrigued. He pulled it open and spread it to read as he continued eating. His face softened when he saw it was from Rixt.

Before he could read it, Xsel cut in, pushing another packet toward Chance, and said: "And one more - you will make me a rich man if only by the mail you receive."

Two messages; Chance paid Xsel the fee and opened the second one. Xsel left the bar after closing and locking the messenger cabinet. Chance finished eating his breakfast and began to read, saving Rixt's for afterward.

This one was from Vind. The upper portion of the note stated it was written by 'Vind from Pusha, in Service to Linnet'. On reflection, Chance supposed Ido's rider was in service, in a manner. The arrangement was actually only pending and could not be easily explained.

He postponed what to think about Vind, someone he met in violence, did not know for very long, and whose past was more than likely to have been unsavory, by any measure.

Professional thug he might have been, but Vind wrote well, used exact words to describe the state of projects and ordered his thoughts logically. Chance was impressed.

Glancing down the page from item to item, he noted how far activities progressed over a short time. He thought favorably of Vind already, and this confirmed his estimation.

There were two pages attached to the cover letter. The first was a drawing of the island, marsh and mainland shore. It was detailed, as was the second. Chance could see where Vind planned to add a gate, a drawbridge and barracks.

Five new riders were hired; he thanked Chance for the tribesmen's horses, which caused a smile to come to Chance's mouth. His army now numbered fifteen riders.

Chance folded Vind's note, tucking it into his vest, and looked forward to reading Rixt's. He opened the one he saved for last and saw the upper portion stated her name, occupation and place: Rixt the Herbalist, from Egenlar of Linnet.

He read that she was well, busy and happy with the work done so far. There were now about twenty families who wished to farm the territory her surveys marked off. That pleased her.

Rixt wrote that the nights were becoming colder, and she missed his warmth beside her. She added below that a request from Dette for more gold. Would he bring a few sacks of coins when he returned? There was yet a good supply to her knowledge, but Dette was the type who preferred obligations to be reliably financed.

She closed saying that the land around the river off the lake appealed to her. The whole team of surveyors made a trip there one day, and while it was not much for growing crops, it was beautiful to see. At the bottom, she added that his barrier was working well.

Chance was now away most of a ten-day work period. Before much longer, a Full Moon market would open. During the meantime, he waited.

The next move must come from his enemies; he made his dramatically. He did not want to return to Linnet only to have to come back to Onne to fight someone answering his challenge.

* * *

He glanced at the day and figured it a good one to do for what Dette wanted. He told Xsel he would be back that afternoon. Now more used to his coming and going, Xsel merely nodded, his mind was on other matters to do with business.

Chance left the inn a short while later and headed toward the lake. After passing Brad, he lifted and glided into the hills then turned to go down the eastern shore.

The region between Onne and Brad was hilly and quickly became mountainous on the southeastern side of the towns. Chance was sure he could find gold in the streams that fed into lake Rayen.

The mountains did indeed come right down to the water. There was enough level ground for a road but not much more. Forest covered the lower slopes but above a certain level, that thinned to bare rock and brush.

One narrow valley he saw was cut sharply. The stream that flung itself down the mountain side created a narrow ravine. Chance's Seeker spells identified plenty of gold there, so he descended to explore on foot.

In a short time, he was pulling gold nuggets from the stream bed. When four sacks were full, he estimated there was enough of the ore in them to satisfy even Dette.

Lifting with the sacks was not easy; he strained to rise and could only manage a small distance from the ground. His arms ached, and his magic was straining. Instead of returning to Onne, he went directly to Brad first then to the docks.

Luckily the boat on which he and Rixt sailed to Linnet was in the harbor. The captain waved at him as he glided to a stop on the pier.

Chance stood shakily and caught his breath. He resolved that in the future, he would stop at two sacks, perhaps he could manage three. Four was too many.

He greeted the captain and asked if she would ferry the sacks to Linnet. She grinned asking him if he trusted her with so much wealth; he answered he did, and she was flattered.

The captain hurried the offloading of fish and cleaned a place for his bags of gold. Dette asked for coins, but Chance decided he could make those later as needed. Until he was back at Linnet, there were other things to do.

Chance thanked her and paid. She was happy for the business and left the harbor soon afterward. He watched the boat move out into the lake then walked back to Onne. He was not challenged on the way which he thought a good sign.

Finding and pulling gold took Chance most of the morning and into afternoon. As he did not eat at midday, he went to the Mark where he was able to have a late lunch.

* * *

As he waited for that to be heated, Xsel called over to where he sat saying a message arrived for him. Chance was handed an envelope that he examined before opening.

The seals were of a design he did not recognize, but he never paid attention to such things. He was puzzling it when Xsel came to stand beside him, not shy at all about looking at this letter.

Curiosity was plain on the innkeeper's face as he said the message came by separate courier. The man did not speak at all and merely handed over the message before leaving.

Chance opened it while Xsel made a mock show of not watching. On the upper portion was written an unexpected name: the Abbot at Badi. The note was short but started alarms in Chance's mind.

It stated that a group of ten mages passed Badi recently. They were unusually secretive. The abbot found out they were Black Snake cult and were going down the road to Arlo in the Laatine.

That meant nothing to Chance; he asked Xsel if he knew of a Black Snake cult. The man never heard of them either but guessed, like Chance, that they were from the Black Order.

Since they traveled past Badi, they were unlikely to be from Beerron which was farther west than the order's monastery. Oddly, the abbot was warning him. The message was dated the day before, when Chance was busy tearing down South March.

He estimated there remained at most three days until they reached Onne. That changed his plans; how to respond became foremost in his mind.

Whatever he decided to do about them, he did not want to have a fight in Onne and especially not at the Mark. With a mental sigh of distaste but resignation, he accepted he must go out to them.

Chance needed to calm his mind so went round the inn to the yard in back, off the kitchen. It was not in use, so he began a set of Sojo postures.

After one complete round, he began another set but with his sword this time. The more he practised with it, the more he liked its feel.

He did not notice the workers in the kitchen watching him until he heard Ruby tell them work was in need of doing. He glanced over and saw her. She smiled, said there was spiced chicken tonight, and then headed back inside.

As evening came on, he finished his exercising and walked back to the front of the inn. Inside, he was in time to see several messengers with Xsel.

He sat where he always did and listened. Messengers seemed to be talkative, gossipy. As they chattered, Xsel distributed messages and sorted recent arrivals.

Seeing one, his face took on a somber expression; he held it up saying it was for Chance who looked up at that. Xsel handed him the message. Both examined the seals displayed on the tying. One was large, of the Schools, and covered much of the envelope.

Beside it was another, smaller, and of the Black Order. Xsel edged closer to where Chance sat as the envelope was opened.

The upper portion declared its writer's title: Hugon Guarder of Basso, Second Mage of the Black Order. Chance spread the letter flat, and Xsel leaned forward to read what he could upside down. He frowned more as he made out the sender' name and title.

Chance read that the Second invited him to meet at the Enclosed quarter in Onne on the following day at precisely one hour after midday. At that time, Chance was informed Hugon would accept the Opal from him and discuss consequences.

For that compliance, Hugon promised clemency for those who were bedazzled by Chance. He could not guarantee the outlaw a quick death as that was out of his hands.

He turned the letter so Xsel could read it and sat back thinking this note was not in response to South March. It was dated before Chance brought down the garrison and after Onne's Enclosed quarter emptied.

It was now close to time for dinner; the aroma from the kitchen drifted into the inn's main rooms and started mouths watering. Ruby was a better than average cook, so Chance was not surprised to see the messenger Skor stroll in right on time.

Others arrived as well and sat around the tables beyond the bar. The talk was of local things, but South March was the headline in their chatter.

Seeing the High Mage so calm, the others relaxed and began to speak plainly about what the Master of Beerron would do about South March. None of them knew anything of use but each was happy to give his opinion anyway.

Skor only glanced at the letter that Xsel was now rereading but smiled knowingly at Chance. Both of them sat at the bar, and Xsel poured two mugs of cider to drink with the meal that came out of the kitchen a short while later.

Chance sipped and then pointed at the letter, his eyebrows raised in a question. Skor did not have to look, and he took a drink first.

A plate was set before him; he thanked the girl. Then, he turned toward Chance and recited: the Second mage was in Flas when he wrote and was not aware of South Marsh or Onne's Enclosed quarter. He knew of both by now.

Skor continued that from there, he traveled towards here and is expected to arrive late this night. Chance was a little surprised and asked if the mage was traveling alone or with an escort of Battle mages.

The messenger took a bite of the spiced chicken. After chewing, he said 'alone'; Skor was sure no others lurked about behind him. In fact, he concluded, the Second mage is acting, in so far as any messengers could tell, on his own in writing and in coming to Onne.

The first thought to come to Chance was that the Second was intent on appearing confident. It seemed to Chance that the man wished to project no fear him and that he presumed success. Skor read the look of resolve on Chance's face and, before he took another bite, repeated that the man was alone.

The prospect of two High Mages in a slinging match would be hard on wherever they picked to fight. Xsel was looking nervously at Chance but did not voice his worry.

He wanted badly to advise his most valuable guest but held back. Chance would ask if he wanted Xsel's thoughts.

Chance did want to know about the Enclosed quarter. He assumed the layout was standard but asked both Skor and Xsel to describe it to him.

Xsel was able to give good detail on the approach and the open ground around it. Skor described the interior, where halls stood and how the quarter's wall could exclude or entrap.

As they ran out of information, Xsel switched and asked outright what Chance planned to do. That got him a grin, and he was told that Chance planned to meet Hugon, the Second Mage of the Black Mage Order, at the day and time in the letter. He remarked it would be rude to dismiss the invitation when the man was already this far.

Skor put his question as carefully as he could and asked if Chance preferred no one know of this. Chance shrugged: what difference would it make. He smiled and suggested Skor sell tickets for places along the city walls to watch it happen.

Skor laughed but was not sure that Chance was joking. Xsel pledged to be on the walls tomorrow. He said to Chance he would be the one waving a red banner.

Chance was interested and asked if red was the color people associated with him. Xsel nodded and said as Chance was from the West and red was the color for that direction, it was a banner in support of him.

The meal was done and Xsel's daughter came by collecting plates. Three thimble glasses for Ice Cider were set on the bar. Xsel exactly filled each one so that the liquid domed slightly above the glass's rim.

In unison, the three raised their cup, without spilling, and sipped off the top before clicking them together in a toast. As they enjoyed the drink, Skor remarked that he could not sell tickets to tomorrow's clash; otherwise, were he given the franchise, places would be sold out by dawn.

Chance joined in remarking in that case, perhaps Skor could make money selling cushions, adding that clashing does not always start off on time. Xsel ventured that he might pass out red banners along the wall. So as to show enthusiasm for Chance, he added.

Later that night in his room, Chance reviewed spells in the amber to be sure he knew them. His wards were stronger that night, and his Seeker spells more subtle. He cast, reeled in and then examined each hook.

The Second arrived late that night. The glow of mage light alone announced his approach. The man did not stumble along in the dark.

Chance could watch it from his window and dropped his Seeker spells. The illumination moved from the road then into the Enclosed quarter.

That glow began moving through the quarter, so Chance brought over a chair and sat so he could watch. He abruptly stood up and went hurriedly downstairs to ask if he could have a pot of tea.

Chance went quickly back to his chair and settled comfortably. He noted that no Seeker spells came from the Enclosed quarter; he thought that spoke more of an assumption of superiority than of anyone road weary.

The glow moved like a ball of moonlight through the quarter then stopped. Chance assumed the man picked a hall for the night. Tea came and he enjoyed the first cup; he guessed the Second ate a late meal.

A while later, wards rose above a portion of the enclosure, and the glow vanished. Chance thought it sensible of the Second to rest well before meeting him.

He did the same. After checking his own wards, he put out his light and went to bed. The Ice Cider was still in him, so sleep came easily.

* * *

When Chance came downstairs the next morning, Xsel greeted him adding it did not look like a good day for a clash of High Mages.

The sound of rain started as if it was only waiting to hear Xsel's go-ahead. Chance went over and sat on his stool; a young girl brought out breakfast and shyly placed it on the bar for him.

Ruby appeared from the back and set a mug of milk beside his plate. She remarked that busy days needed a good breakfast and a light lunch.

Chance intended to use the morning to a purpose; he did not plan to spend it thinking about the Second mage. Instead, he was going to find a geographer's shop.

He wanted to know how places and cities fit together. He could draw a map of Kehdy in a moment, but he did not know the eastern side of the Schools' world order.

As the rain passed, Xsel set him off in the direction of where he would find shops that specialized in what the innkeeper referred to as 'knowledge'. Chance followed directions and took his time, looking about as he went.

He was as interesting to the people he passed as they were to him. He saw clothing that appeared worn, even thin in parts, but meticulously mended. The colors dyed into the cloth were softer than the brightness of garments worn in Kehdy.

The people he saw that day tended to be thin in his view. They were leaner than the typical man or woman of Kehdy. Their heads were not broad, like his, and their eyes were closer set than his. They wore no jewelry, none visible anyway.

Chance arrived at the Street of Knowledge, which was barely wide enough to be called that. The place he was looking for turned out to be a sunny, long alley off it. The orientation was open to the south for the best year-round light.

Shops featured stoops so that more sunlight reached the ground. Chance strolled along and was reminded of the old quarter in Kehdyport.

He almost stopped at several bookshops but did not have the whole day to spend here. He found the geographer's place and entered.

An old man greeted him from the back and came forward. Chance saw short white hair and a white beard round a face well lined by life. He very politely introduced himself and said he wished to know the geography of this region.

The old man beamed; he could not be more excited. With a light step, he worked about the room, setting out first a map on a table he cleared with a sweep of his hand.

Next he went off to find an atlas. He brought that and another map on his way back to the table. The first map lay open, and Chance looked at it closely. He glanced up and smiled at the shop owner; pointing to a place on the map, he asked: "Is this Linnet island?"

The old man nodded. He respectfully asked if Chance would like him to explain the map and was told yes, very much - please.

The shop owner took a deep, preparatory breath and then guided Chance into the world according to geography. At midday, the owner invited Chance to dine with him. He accepted but insisted on only tea and something light.

Chance wished to be at the Enclosed quarter before much longer. He explained his appointment and gave the owner a handful of gold coins. He requested that the man select maps and books he thought Chance would benefit from knowing.

The man agreed at once and promised to send it all to the Mark of the Hand. Chance thanked him, went out of the shop and cast a spell to glide.

* * *

He crossed Onne and its wall quickly. The grounds surrounding the Enclosed quarter were not far from where he landed, and he walked over to a large, closed gate. He knocked at the postern saying he was there for an appointment inside.

There was no answer, so he pushed lightly; the door swung open. Beyond, he saw very few people. Chance was sure he could find his way and walked into the first courtyard.

There was hardly anyone else around in what would normally be the Day market area. He cast a small Seeker spell then went off in the direction it showed a concentration of magic. Those still in the Enclosure looked at him with fearful but calculating expressions as he passed.

He went through the Intersection and into a court with a hall on one side. Emblems, shields of Schools and Guilds, covered the building's facade, making it appear like a small Hier.

As he walked up the steps to the double doors of the hall, they opened. He stopped as a man stepped out into the sunlight. Chance saw a mage of perhaps fifty years of age, gray showing at the temples. The man's features were sharp, nose thin, cheekbones high.

The man was physically not impressive, but he was higher so looked down on Chance. The Second spoke coldly: "How wise. You have come on time. I have no patience for petty defiance."

Chance summoned when he first entered the quarter and now continued up the stairs, his magic primed, to stand directly in front of the Second mage, who did not back off.

He said nothing and wondered why the man began with insulting him. There seemed to be no one here but the two of them. He guessed it was just rhetoric to trigger emotions.

The Second regarded the rogue who was so brazen. Looking at him, he thought the outlaw appeared too young to be a serious threat, even if successful so far. However, Chance was wearing a sword which the Second did not know what to make of. Even with it sheathed, he was aware of its power and strange mix of magic.

The Second broke their silence by inviting Chance inside. He went on, casually, to say that there were barely any servants but for their purposes, it would do until things returned to normal.

Chance followed the Second into a passage that opened to a high hall. As he entered, he looked about. It was lighted by tall, stained glass windows. The tint was golden, subtle. The brass cames holding each piece were in a style fashionable in Kehdy about fifty years ago.

He thought the effect gentle and liked it. The walls drew his attention. Polished marble columns reached upward and held aloft a ceiling with intricately carved, wood beams. Corners were smoothed and joins made invisible.

The stone work contributed to the sense of height, a feeling of being lifted upwards, that Chance felt physically and emotionally. Unaffected, the Second walked to a table with chairs set in the middle of the space.

He sat and invited Chance to sit in the chair opposite. Chance paused then went over to the table but did not sit.

* * *

Chance drew his sword which caused the Second to summon his magic. The Opal drifted up out of his vest pocket and formed a fist-sized ball of colors which flashed in the light of the hall. Chance told the Second he was only showing his weapon and his mentor.

The Second answered immediately: "You have never fought a true High Mage, such as I am - only assassins. Do not overplay your hand and do not bluff with me."

The Opal spoke which startled the Second. It said the room was lovely and moved upward a moment before returning to hover beside Chance.

Chance kept his eyes on the Second and held the sword so that it pointed at the other mage. His expression was bland as he said flatly: "The Reading Opal created the sword. What does your magic tell you of it? I will not use it against you now - not here; however, the Reading Opal might kill you if it decides to."

The Second hesitated then extended a Seeker spell but quickly withdrew it. He looked up at the Opal and asked bluntly: "'If it decides' - It is aware? It does not serve you? Impossible."

The opposite was obvious, so Chance ignored that. About the sword, he said it was yet to be used against a person, but it did enable the destruction of South March.

A faint humming, bass-toned and menacing, began. It was coming from the sword whose point moved in a tight range, back and forth, directed at the Second.

He leaned away and stared at it. Chance was quiet as the effect extended into the stillness. After a moment's thought, the Second pledged there would be no fight. That meant, he clarified, that he certainly would not start one. He glanced at the Opal as if to see if it agreed.

The Second said his name was Hugon. Did the other mind if he called him Chance. Titles were lengthy at a certain level. Chance agreed but did not re-sheath his sword.

Looking at the table, he thought Hugon traveled well without servants. He sat now and began to speak of the geographer.

Hugon listened but, in his mind, he speculated about the power the High Mage possessed and how much of this remote region he intended to take. In the rogue's place, he would seize as much as he could. Maps would be useful.

Without thinking, Hugon poured wine for himself and drank half of it. Then he simply sat and listened while Chance talked about what he learned that morning. As he spoke, he reached and poured wine for himself.

Hugon asked how much territory was Chance coveting. He added it will be seen as an illegal seizure. Chance said that was unavoidable.

However, he answered honestly saying that, at this time, his demesne was below the Rayen river and his hold was from the river north of the ruin at South March down to lake Rayen. He omitted drawing a line for an eastern border.

Hugon was thoughtful before remarking that did not seem very ambitious. Chance thought a moment then said his army was small.

* * *

He asked if Hugon wished to know of Vind. That brought a frank laugh from the man; there was a use for Vind at one time but no longer. Chance enjoyed saying that Vind rode now and was in all ways Linnet's Rider.

Hugon was more than skeptical that a man with no use of his legs was someone's Rider. Chance disagreed saying pointedly that even though Vind could not do magic, he was able in many ways.

The reference was plain, and Hugon responded quickly: "He should have been killed at once - while he was committing abominations. I wanted to use him to find you so managed to see his life spared. Losing his magic was the least of the price he might have paid."

To Hugon's surprise, Chance replied to that by saying it was a matter for the Black Order. Vind was a member, in a contract to assassinate, when he was injured.

Chance only wanted to say the man was well but could see that did not matter to Hugon. The Second confirmed it did not.

* * *

There was an issue defined in Chance's invitation to this meeting. It was the meat of this meeting. Hugon refilled his wine glass, a little surprised he finished the first so fast.

After sipping, he said Chance could decline his generous offer as outlined in his message, but no others would even offer one, if they deigned to contact him at all.

Hugon gave it a try: "Come now, young man. You've had a good run at this childish rogue business - it's the Reading Opal that is going to get you killed in Spring."

Chance smiled but kept his eyes on the Second. The Opal's colors began to shimmer slightly. Hugon added to his persuasion: "Give it to me now and keep your life - and maybe even be permitted to live in exile on your little island."

With a shake of his head, Chance answered he would keep the Reading Opal. He did not voice that was true so long as the Opal chose to remain with him. The Second did not believe him that the stone was aware and free acting.

Chance continued and mocked the Second's words: "Spring? No one will wait that long to come for the Reading Opal - the sword is a plus in the spoils. You shall not have it tonight regardless."

Hugon accepted that was true; the notion that he could take Chance in a fight was long discarded. His pride suggested he could if he really tried, but his prudence showed itself the stronger. His first effort failed, so he considered another.

He smiled mockingly and leaned towards Chance with a different approach: "The Master of Beerron has sent boatloads of troops south for the port at South March."

Hugon sat back after saying that. He took another sip and noticed how little was left. He drank that and then said: "The other two senior mages of my order have each rounded up a band of zealots and are not very far behind me."

Chance's glass was still over half full, but he noted Hugon's gulping. Pleasantly, he asked how is it that Hugon is here and not with his colleagues. It was surely safer with them. No end of accidents could happen to a person out on their own, even a High Mage.

Hugon responded that accidents do not happen to him, but Chance was surely speaking from his own experience. He glanced at the empty glass of wine and set it firmly on the table.

He was undecided what to try next, something the other might believe. Actually, it was more a matter of what he wanted the other to hear. There was always honesty, though the Second rarely used it.

He spoke the truth partly but convincingly: "My view is that heresy such as you have made is useful. Should it come to be that you kill the First and Third mages, I lead the order. That assumes I am not around when you kill them."

Chance smiled then laughed. He said he liked that: it sounded with a ring of human nature expressed in old-fashioned, in-the-family treachery. Hugon poured another glass of wine.

The two were eye-to-eye now; Chance spoke first: "Betrayal for gain is not rare, and you gain if I survive - long enough to slay your competition."

Hugon picked through what he could say and decided on weakness. He said as if reading a list: "Beerron's army is conscripts and soldiers who are afraid of you. The Black High Mages are not even near your level, even without your toys."

* * *

Chance said that was useful to know then asked to be told about the Black Snake cult. That caught Hugon by surprise.

He stated that the cult was abolished years ago. Chance shook his head to say that was not correct. Hugon was sure they no longer existed but willing to tell what he knew of them, if only to frighten this impudent young man.

He said they were secretive, which was obvious because he did not know they were active, but the cult should worry Chance.

Once his memory and thoughts were in order, Hugon spoke, but generally: "A cult within the order - assigned the most serious 'problems' that worry the seniors. They used Mage Death on their weapons to frighten their enemies - they were very successful. But that tactic is too dangerous for the user, why it was forbidden."

As he listened, Chance kept his face without expression, and he watched every move Hugon made. He was satisfied the man was not about to hit him with a spell, but did not trust him at all.

Chance asked how did they fight, especially with a poison like Mage Death on their weapons. Hugon smirked and answered 'carefully'.

Hugon said they practiced an outlawed martial art; he thought it was called Justan. He said he once looked into the practice but decided it inferior in too many ways to Sojo.

Chance ended the conversation. He stood and thanked Hugon for coming so far to meet him. He was serious when he next said the Second should leave now, for his safety.

Chance did not add what would happen if Hugon refused, but the Opal blazed once in warning. The sword hummed darkly, eagerly.

If Hugon planned to answer that, it would be to a back for Chance turned and walked away, followed slowly by the Opal. Once outside, he saw that there were even fewer people around.

Several scurried from the direction of stables, bringing the Second's horse and pack animals. That took a part of the afternoon and ended when Hugon rode out.

He did not look at Chance as he rode past, out the gate and then to the north. Chance paid him scant attention but did not ease his magic until the man was out of sight.

* * *

Chance walked along the wall back to the postern and then to the Mark. Xsel welcomed him, and Ruby appeared asking if he was hungry. He smiled at her and said yes, having only a light lunch.

He sat on what was by now his stool and thanked Xsel for the cider that came smoothly the next moment. Xsel said he went with his banner to the wall and waved it about.

Chance asked if the city was disappointed having no battle to the death between two High Mages. Xsel replied honestly: "Well yes, I guess so - a little entertainment - did you see my banner?"

Chance was suspicious but said he did not look for it and apologized. Xsel laughed, continuing by saying Chance seemed to be indoors. People with things to do left when nothing happened.

He went on saying the city was very disappointed that Chance and the High Mage did not have a fight. They anticipated fireworks all morning.

Chance smiled but Xsel could tell something was on his mind. He let his humor go and waited patiently. Chance finished his cider and said he would be gone tomorrow.

He considered what he was going out to do and added that perhaps the next day too. He asked Xsel to request a pack for him to eat from while he was away. The innkeeper assured him he would have it and then wished him a good night.

Chance went up the stairs to his room. He entered and set wards. Someone already lighted a fire in the hearth for which he was grateful. He was a little chilled so closed the window. Thoughts of Rixt and their bed came to his mind.

He did not feel like tea this evening so simply sat at the table. He removed the amber, setting it out, and then added the Opal beside it. He asked the library for spells against Mage Death.

Especially he wanted to know if it could be flung from a weapon. Finally, he wanted to know if Nessum recorded an antidote.

* * *

The room was quiet; there was barely any sound from the alley under his window. The amber, the stone itself, gnawed at him in the corners of his mind. Very few people knew what it was; people such as Waun. Zoot must have guessed, but she ran out of time. Otherwise, no one really.

About the Opal, there was no question. The Second now knew and most likely believed it some trick. He would not speak of it. Regardless, it demonstrated independent will today, again.

Chance's enemies likely worked on snares to keep it from vanishing; however, not even he was able to come up with a way to control it.

That was unclear with the amber. Was it simply a library or the Library? Chance thought this a good time to find out. He addressed the stone: "Library, did Nessum make recordings - a diary or perhaps written out reflections?"

There was an unexpectedly long silence which puzzled Chance. The Opal broke it saying: "Did he or did he not?"

The library replied simply, saying yes. Chance asked if Nessum placed such in his library when he sealed it and the palace. Again, the library answered yes, but without pausing first.

After a moment, the library's voice spoke clearly: "I read each, naturally, to index and catalog them. However, they are personal, unlike the books that he collected of magic and history."

Chance thought on that then asked: "Library, if I ask for advice - on something about which Nessum's notes are pertinent - are you willing to draw on them to aid me?"

The Reading Opal burst into laughter; it said snidely that Chance was never more devious than when he was sincere. Then, it snapped that the amber was already helping him.

Did the amber not, it began, provide Chance an explanation of the ruins at Linnet, Nessum's Barrier spell to halt the Dui and another to shake the walls and halls of South March?

Chance smiled at the rhyme and said he was grateful for what the Library gave him and for what it may be willing to give him in the future.

The Library spoke on its own behalf: "You are educated - personally reticent, reserved - and refreshingly polite."

Chance replied that he grew up with older sisters and brothers. And, his question was answered. Like Opal, the Library was aware.

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