Chance and Rixt spent most of the early afternoon being lazy. They talked about features that would make their Cairn House useful for both. Her, gardens; him, a room to practise magic.
When the sun was close to the horizon, they packed and returned to where Tess dozed in the shade of a scrub tree. Rixt woke her and replaced the saddle bags.
The return to Linnet was deliberately slow; both wanted to speak about what they observed. As well, Rixt thought the road needed some work; it was washed out in stretches.
They arrived at the bridge to Linnet island, and Chance saw two men waiting for him. Vind was sitting on Ido, and beside him Skor rode a lean tan. Both men acknowledged them but looked grim; something serious happened.
Rixt saw that too and said for Chance to go ahead. She would see to Tess and wait for him at their tent. Chance waved a greeting and went over to where they waited.
Vind's face was solemn in the fading light of the day; Skor's was anxious. Chance said they should talk in one of the towers and indicated the smaller one on the north side of the gate. Vind and Skor dismounted and followed Chance inside.
The man on duty built up the fire, set a kettle of water by it and left. He stood guard outside the door after closing it politely.
Chance wondered if Skor came to Linnet by way of the Rayen river and asked him if the ford gave him trouble. Skor shook his head and replied he did not try it. He took the coast road.
That caught Chance ignorant; he asked what coast way. Skor saw the kettle was ready and poured the steaming water into a tea pot. He explained there is a road, not more than a rough trail, that connected the shore communities from the Lodah delta to the Ram outlet. Again, Chance expressed ignorance.
Vind interrupted Skor before he could describe this heretofore unknown coast way. He asked if an army could go to the north, to the Ram river, on this road.
That question lay before them a moment; Skor was uncomfortable now. Chance filled in saying he was trying to hire an army from the Dui warriors. Skor looked surprised then wanted to know more: "You plan to confront the Master of Beerron in open combat - head-on?"
Chance nodded then added in other ways too. He changed the subject to why Skor came. The messenger appeared more uneasy and then spoke exactly.
He learned recently that the Second mage has disappeared; no one knew where he was right now. He was last seen going north after being in Onne and meeting with Chance.
There was more: the First mage left Baslaat and went to Rieurs. Skor did not know why or what they planned next. Last, he said there are many reports that the Master's army is preparing to march. They have stripped Baslaat for provisions.
An argument began outside the tower; it was persistent until the guard relented and opened the door. A messenger pushed by him and entered the room, going directly to Skor. He leaned down to whisper his news.
Chance saw the man was wet from sweat; he rode hard to get here. Vind was looking at the new messenger also then glanced at Chance. He said that he and Bos could handle the Dui if Chance needed to attend to mages.
Skor told the messenger to wait outside with the guard then turned to face Chance and Vind. He spoke carefully, beginning by stating that he was limited in what he could say.
He spoke cautiously and reported that the Third mage was in Onne. Skor paused to calm himself then said they occupy the Mark inn.
Chance sat quietly at first then poured tea for himself. He sipped it without any change in his expression nor did he make any statements.
Vind slipped down from his chair and went out. Chance could hear him issuing orders to the guard to fetch Bos. Vind returned to his place at the table and calmly refilled his tea cup.
The messenger realized they would wait for Bos to come and poured more tea, wishing it was something much stronger. Chance remained silent; Vind was plainly sorting strategy from the look on his face.
Skor was strung between those who paid him and Chance. He doubted if Chance wanted his plans revealed now as before. He stood to leave, but Chance told him to sit.
Bos entered when Skor was close to being unable to wait any longer. Relieved, he sat back and watched. Bos strolled over to the cupboard, selected a cup and came to the table. He poured tea into it then sat down. Bos nodded at Vind and then toward Chance but did not speak.
Chance turned to Skor and assessed what he could ask of the man. He took the path he first set out with the messenger. With a glance at Vind then Bos, he said to Skor: "If I have a Dui army, will you see them guided up the coast road to where they can best fight the Master's army?"
Skor was surprised but nodded; he could provide that and not compromise his commitments. He asked if that was secret, and Chance smiled while shaking his head to mean no.
Next Chance asked if anyone at the Mark was hurt; Skor answered honestly that he did not know; no one entered or left.
Chance stood and addressed Vind and Bos. He instructed them to do what was necessary, what was possible. Some number of Dui would show; he felt strongly certain Tzesnos would come and likely Ce as well. Between them, he thought there were no less than several hundred warriors.
He wished Bos to remain at Linnet and protect it, unless Vind felt otherwise. Vind nodded his agreement as did Bos.
Skor was looking back and forth at the other three. He was obviously surprised to hear of a Dui force and trying to figure what Chance planned.
With a thin smile, Chance spoke directly to the messenger: "Return. Tell who you must that I am coming. Let it be known I have an army of tribesmen assembling - you do not know how many - nor do I - so that is only the truth."
Chance thanked Skor, and Vind and Bos too. He left without saying more and glided rapidly to Rixt's tent. Shortly afterward, he was streaking up the lake road then across the Rayen river.
* * *
Instead of continuing to Brad, he turned to the north and went up hills straight toward Onne. He circled to the postern near the Mark inn as evening cast everything into shadow. Chance paused outside the gate, out of sight of its guard, and considered what he might do.
Movement near him caused him to summon. Someone slipped from darkness to darkness until he crouched nearby: "Greetings Chance - pardon, High Mage - fine night for killing - clouds hide the moon enough for our purposes."
Chance almost laughed hearing a voice he knew well. He motioned with his hand to come closer and whispered 'tell me'. Alsen slid over and waited a moment. His eyes were on the postern.
In the faint light of a lantern, the guard was interrogating a group who wanted badly to leave Onne. The sound of their argument would cover any conversation whispered in bushes.
Alsen told Chance quickly and precisely that the Third mage arrived, went straight to the Mark and pushed his way inside. There were likely as many as twenty mages there now. There were others, near thirty, who were billeted around the square.
He did not see Xsel, or anyone else from the inn; he arrived from Linnet after the mages were already inside so remained away. Chance told him to distract the guard.
Alsen stood and walked toward the postern. The guard faced people wanting out and now another wanting in. Chance went to the wall and lifted over it, down to an alley that ran along its base.
He ran silently to the first household that a Seeker spell identified as containing mages. He found a back door and entered finding three mages sitting at a kitchen table being served by a young woman of the household.
She was being touched as she passed near them and could do nothing to stop them. Chance paused until all the men were gawking at her, then stepped into the room.
He drew his sword and cleanly hacked all three, one after the other, before they could so much as shout their astonishment. The girl fled into the main room with Chance right behind her.
As he came into it, he saw a man he knew to be the householder counting out coins for a mage who had eyes for nothing else. Chance swept past, cutting the mage in half.
He cast a Seeker spell and found no other mages in the house; he left through a window and crossed a garden to the next house. The winnowing of the Third's band went on as Chance methodically made his way round the square.
When he finished, he was near the inn's stable; he did not keep count of how many were slain. He started round the inn, but Alsen was there and beckoned him into the stable.
* * *
Alsen's eyes were bright; Chance stepped over three bodies on his way to the lad. He glanced at the cudgel in the youth's hand and nodded approval. It was a silent weapon that could break bone when used by someone skilled with it. Alsen seemingly was.
Chance told him to kill any mages that came out of the inn and then crossed the open space to the kitchen yard. As he entered, he shushed the people working there and went round them to stop by the curtain that separated it from the inn's main room and bar.
He could hear Xsel's voice raised in protest. Another was not believing the innkeeper's excuse that he was forced to lodge the heretic.
There was suddenly the sound of a hard slap and then of Xsel angry. Chance stepped through the curtain, sword first, and saw Xsel backing away from the Third who was summoning magic.
Chance cast a Thicken spell, hitting the other mage from the side and knocking him across the room. Xsel turned to Chance in surprise then ducked behind the bar.
Using martial Sojo, Chance vaulted the bar and hit two mages with his feet in a kick meant to break their backs. He did not slow, launching himself next at a table where four mages sat staring open-mouthed at him.
They scrambled to summon and draw their weapons, but Chance loosed Explode. Their table and chairs flew apart, and Chance drove his sword into each as he tried to untangle himself from the chair he was sitting on only a moment before.
Six mages who were by the hearth pulled their swords out and began shaping spells to hurl at Chance. Xsel rose from behind the bar, and expertly flung throwing knives at them. He ducked back behind the bar after that.
Xsel's aim was good: three crumbled to their knees, stunned by the hilt of a dagger sticking out of their chest. They toppled to the floor, and their comrades backed away. Chance closed on them and cut them down in a whirling series of slices with his sword.
One ran from the inn. Chance heard a thud, and the man's screaming stopped abruptly. Alsen poked his head in the door and looked around. A sound from outside made him turn, curse and run back into the square. Chance hurried to the door but then stopped there.
He saw the Third, terrified and running for his life, and Alsen at his heels. Xsel hurried over to the door, and both saw Alsen swing his cudgel and smash the Third's skull into gore and mush.
Alsen rolled away from his kill to crouch in the shadow of the fountain in the square, looking about for any other mages. Chance cast a Seeker spell then called to Alsen saying all are dead.
The youth stood, cautiously at first, and then sauntered over to where Chance and Xsel stood, still astonished. Alsen just killed a High Mage of the Black Order, with a cudgel.
Chance's face showed his admiration as did Xsel's. Ruby appeared from inside and asked if it was over. Xsel glanced at Chance who nodded then replied that Alsen killed the Third mage. He spoke his amazement: "Chased the sack of toad shit down - chased him! Then wham and that was the end of that pissant."
Ruby looked around the square and asked about the others; there were more of them. Chance said they too were dead, then he apologized for making a mess in the inn. Ruby hugged him, thanking him for coming. They were very frightened when the Black mages showed up.
Alsen came over to where they stood and asked if he might have a cider. Ruby smiled at him and hugged him too. She remarked that killing was a thirsty business; she would pour his cider herself.
They entered the main room then went to the bar. Xsel sat on the customer side while Ruby drew mugs of cider and handed them out. Xsel glanced at the damage done to the main room, the bodies, but was relieved to be alive.
Chance touched his mug to Alsen and Xsel's then all drank. Ruby beamed at them, but Chance could see she was shaken. Her hands began to tremble, and she said she needed to sit.
Xsel put down his drink and hurried round the bar to her side. Their daughter Shana stuck her head out from the curtain and, seeing her mother, rushed over to help her.
Ruby steadied and recovered from her dizziness. After being sure she was better, Chance finished his cider asking which way was Rieurs. Xsel looked up confused by the question but said to go out the postern and then take the left-most road at the north gate.
Chance again apologized for putting them in danger and thanked them for helping with the Third's gang. Xsel was told to send the cost for repair to him. That was protested briefly but Chance insisted. All agreed, he left the inn and went out the postern.
The guard started to object then thought better of it. Chance continued along the wall until he reached the north-facing gate. With only a short pause to look at the Enclosed quarter, he began to trot down the road Xsel described.
* * *
That night was spent in a steady run towards the town of Rieurs. By dawn, he arrived and picked a hedge by a field, sat and looked over the land. He knew from the geographer that it was the center of the region called the Communes.
He knew of it only as a red dot on a map. The city was fair sized and was walled. The quarters he would expect to see in any normal city seemed different in Rieurs. There was a standard Enclosed quarter but no Hier-like building.
Seeker spells informed him that the First and his mages were in the Enclosed quarter. He was not certain how many were with the man but more than his spell could make out individually.
It was sure that tactics successful in Onne would not be in Rieurs. All the Black mages were in the Enclosure; picking them off as he did just the night before was not possible here.
Near mid-morning, Chance saw a rider coming fast from the direction of Onne. Not long after the man entered the town, Black mages appeared and reinforced the guards at all the gates. The town was being sealed.
Chance decided he would let them stew and settled himself to sleep under the hedge. When he woke, it was getting dark. He pulled out the Opal and amber, asking for any suggestions.
Both stones stated adamantly that Chance should begin with fear. The Opal was not as critical this time, not as sarcastic as before with the Library's ideas. It offered a variety of spells for convincing illusions and showed them.
Chance read one that caught his attention: it was to create the image of a demon. He was reluctant to use it.
It reminded him of the dream which he thought of as the War vision. However, fine points and sensitivities could be discussed at leisure, and he tried it.
He read the spell and cast. A shape rose from the field beside him and then expanded to fill the sky. It was luminous, lightning flashed from what was forming as a hideous, multi-horned head.
The illusion drifted toward Rieurs. Magic began to spurt from the city walls but did not affect the image. While mages were directing magic at the demon in the sky, Chance ran for the walls of the town. He lifted and was quickly inside. From where he landed, he went instantly into shadow.
Once sure no one saw him, he took a moment to check his spell. The demon roared, it shot blood at the defenders. Chance thought it a fine spell and vowed to learn more about it when there was time.
Chance let the spell fade on its own and began to work his way through the alleys of the town toward the Enclosed quarter. Horns sounded from that direction, and Chance saw mages racing towards it from the gates.
He lifted to the roof tops and continued along by that route until he was just beyond the quarter's perimeter wall. The view from where he sat let him see into the Intersection. The quarter was not very large and looked busy.
He could make out the courtyards that were on the town side, but the ones beyond the junction were obscured by buildings. The Opal drifted out of his pocket and hovered by his shoulder.
The Opal said he should shake it down; Chance said he should not. Asked why, he answered that there are far more than just Black mages inside. Killing people for no other reason than they were near a target did not sit right with him. He would not do that and asked the Opal for ideas that were less arrogant. The stone regarded him coolly.
The Opal observed that he was squeamish about lives that matter little. He put it back in his pocket saying doing that would come back to bite him. He wanted Rieurs to have no reason to hate him.
This exchange was not helping: he was inside the town and sitting on a roof top. The quarter was lighted by Mage Light everywhere. Chance observed without difficulty the frantic dashing back and forth.
As the night went on, the activity slackened. Men were all along the quarter's walls and a High Mage, who Chance assumed was the First, sat under a magic shield at the Intersection.
* * *
Like a spider in a square web, thought Chance. That gave him an idea. The quarter was designed along traditional lines; Chance knew what was likely to be where.
He moved over several roofs until he was at the south-east corner of the Enclosed quarter's wall. That portion did not connect to the town's defenses; there was a narrow alley between the two. Chance knew it was wide enough to prevent jumping from one to the other.
He concentrated on the corner not far from where he hunkered. He held out his sword and cast a mild version of what he used against South March, his Shaker spell.
Chance was confident and left the roof before the corner of the quarter's wall began to make a noise. That increased as men began to shout. A scrap of stone sliding along stone began to growl in the night. When a section collapsed, it added its own crashing to the roar.
From his next position, near the north-eastern corner of the quarter's wall, Chance could see the first corner sagging. Men were scrambling away from the crumbling structure.
Turning his attention to the Intersection, Chance could almost sense the First powering up. The spider is awake. He prodded him more by repeating his spell on the northeast corner.
As soon as the cast was complete, Chance left the roof and dropped to the alley below. He ran into the town away from the Enclosed quarter.
Seeker spells chased him, but he slapped them aside until they could no longer find him. He continued through the city until he came to a section of the main wall and readied to lift.
He jumped Rieurs wall after summoning then casting enough Fade to assure he would not be seen. He went fast across the gardens around the city and into a wood. The trees were thinned, as one would expect this near a big town.
Chance came out of them and continued round until he came to a shed by a harvested field. From it, he could see the north-west corner of the Enclosure. He released several spells in rapid sequence: Expectations, Nimbus and Fade spread out and cloaked him.
Anyone seeing him would only see what was familiar to them. Fade dimmed light that otherwise would reflect from him. The First's Seeker spells hunted him without success.
Ready, he drew his sword and began breaking up the north-west corner of the Enclosure. The result was the same as before except the First's magic was stronger, aggressive. However, it found no target. Chance took a nap before hitting the last of the corners.
It was still dark when Chance woke. He slept dreamless again which was a relief. After checking what was near him and finding nothing but night, he left the shed and hopped hedges until he was at the south-west corner of the quarter.
He set out the same spells as before and hurled magic at the fourth corner. He did not wait to watch what the 'spider' did next.
Chance bolted from where he cast and ran away from Rieurs toward the west. He did not slow or turn to look when all behind him blew into a fireball of lethal incandescence.
He was racing now, changing direction randomly, pumping magic into his legs and lungs. Fade, Nimbus and Expectations enveloped him. The First could not find him anywhere and tore apart the countryside looking.
* * *
Bending his direction until he was on the south-west side of Rieurs, he saw that this area was more farms and orchards. He changed direction more and dashed for the city.
Injecting magic into every muscle, he leapt the wall and dropped running on to a rooftop. He was able to stop only after being pulled across two others from the momentum.
He settled on this roof and held still. The First was raging; magic was being thrown about in powerful volleys. It was all hurled at locations outside the town. The spider could not find the fly.
Chance dropped to the ground and joined the traffic on the streets. He was relieved there was enough to conceal him.
He guessed they realized the battle was ending as magic coming from the Enclosed quarter faded then was still. Those in the city were cautious but went about some of their business.
An east-west street split at the Enclosed quarter. A portion of it continued through a massive gate. Stone work in the symbols of Schools and Guilds decorated it all over.
A patrol of mages stood at the gate. Chance walked casually towards it and, with the amber and Opal's help, formed and cast the largest Explode he had ever used. Then he was part of the mob that ran away, back the way he just came so innocently.
Chance was able to move to the side of the pack and finally step out. He was near a craft street so turned down it. With pleasure, he noted a person could buy a bow and arrows from shops on this street. He picked a long bow this time as he did not want to be close to his target.
The First sent mages out into the town, as Chance expected. The rogue must be somewhere in the city to have destroyed the quarter's gate. They spread out along deserted streets.
Chance spent the day picking his prey. He shot arrows from roof tops, from alleys, from porches. By nightfall, there were no Black mages on the streets of Rieurs, except those dead.
There was considerable commotion in the Enclosed quarter that night. Chance watched it from a roof top, as invisible as his magic and Opal's could make him.
What he could see was only men, like pieces on a board, moving about. The High Mage among them was evident, in his aura as well as in the concentration of the magic shield around him. They were loud; Chance wondered if they were not in agreement. Mage Light illuminated the whole quarter until dawn.
He was incredulous at first when he saw men go to the stables in numbers. The First moved that way and then mounted a horse brought to him. He immediately led his remaining mages out of the quarter, quickly down Rieurs' main street and out the eastern gate at a gallop.
Chance slung the bow on to his back, dropped to the street and stopped to buy fruit and bread at a grocery just opening. He munched on apples as he walked from Rieurs on country roads in the direction of the coast.
It was near full daylight now, and Chance noted the Communes folk kept their houses and farms tidy. He wondered how they would react when they heard what happened in Rieurs.
* * *
If the Dui agreed, if Vind and the Dui agreed, if they were coming - then they would be along the coast road somewhere. He walked in the direction of the sea with no more idea than that where he was going.
No map could tell him what he needed to know about where to fight a head-on, open-field battle. After he knew how much of an army he had, he planned to scout the road and land between Baslaat and Onne.
He knew the road somewhat and that there was open land along it. Importantly, it was where Beerron's army would be on their way to Onne.
Skor said the army in Baslaat was on the march and heading to the south; Chance pondered the possible advantage and consequences of putting the Dui between that army and Baslaat. Tzesnos and Vind would have an opinion on that.
The Beerron army would be expecting him to come from the direction of Onne, from ahead. If he came along from the rear, at the least they would be facing the wrong way to fight.
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