I'm putting up a short chapter from the upcoming 'The Ways of Wizardry' for the amusement of anyone who might drop by. This is somewhere near the middle of the tale. 'Ways' will have a January 6 release date.
“There’s not much at Arlak-Port,” reported Borob. “Ships stop there to take on loads of lumber or turpentine. That sort of thing. The ports further east see more commerce.”
“Like the one the dwarfs were headed toward,” said Im.
“They need not have gone all the way to the sea,” Xido felt. “I’m sure there are trade centers inland.” He looked about. “Temple towns like this serve that purpose to some degree.”
“So it is,” agreed the priest. “The road east is well marked and much traveled. You should have no trouble finding your way.”
Na gave up. “Very well. To this shrine we will go. Or at least a different port!”
“To the shrine of Banat itself I can not give you accurate directions. I know it lies somewhat north of the road, in the hills above the Lantabee River.”
“Which takes us away from the sea. Ah, well.” Xido rose from his place by the fire. “There will be those who can direct us further as we draw near. In the morning?”
Both Na and Im nodded agreement. Borob let his eyes linger on the woman for only a moment before deciding to rise as well. “I think I shall not see you again before you go. I sleep with my fellow priests tonight, and with the memories of a festival well worth attending. Farewell.” With that he plunged into the throng of revelers celebrating the eve of the Festival of First Fruits. This apparently involved much fire and much dancing and a fair amount of wine.
“We’ll miss the festival tomorrow,” observed Na, once Borob disappeared.
“It’s all religious stuff then,” Im told her, having quizzed a priest earlier. “The celebration is tonight.”
“We’re not going to sleep with all this racket,” decided Na. “We might as well celebrate too.”
“Don’t get separated from me, Im,” Xido warned.
The boy nodded. He knew well there was still danger. Part of him wanted to go find Qu’orthseth and start the next leg of their journey right then. He wouldn’t ask that of his companions.
“What is that stench?” asked Na, as they joined the crowd.
“Someone is burning sulfur,” was Xido’s answer. “I’ve no idea why. A ritual maybe.”
“You need to be all-knowing like your cousin Banat,” said Na.
“All-seeing,” corrected Xido. “And to see is not to understand.”
Im had to ask, “You’re not really cousins, are you? That’s like what you were saying about ancient gods visiting different worlds.”
“Exactly. Perhaps very distantly, we are related. Maybe all life everywhere is.” Xido stopped to survey the happy throng all around them. “Life is the important thing. Banat was saying something along those lines. Existence. Whether one believes that Being is an ultimate god or not.”
“Not all those here believe in life,” said Im.
“That is so everywhere. These followers of Asak, or of Dekata or the other gods of the Void, are just more straightforward about it.”
“Dekata?” asked Na. “Is that a goddess?”
“Goddess of darkness and hatred. Some call her the daughter of Asak.” He looked about. “I don’t see any of her priests here. Or priestesses, more commonly.”
“But anyone here could be a follower,” mused Na. “Not really different from any crowd, anywhere.”
“That is so.” A great blaze of a bonfire lay ahead, and musicians played for those who cavorted in clumsy, drunken dance, played on flute and drum and bells. Na and Im gaped; dance in Hirstel had been very formal, exact movements passed down from their ancestors.
Xido, however, jumped right into the moving mass, writhing and jumping with the others. Im did not think he could do so, even with the aid of much wine. Na, however, looked like she was considering joining in.
Someone slipped between the two of them, an Ildin man, nondescript save for being somewhat fat. A knife appeared in his hand and drove into Im’s side. Screams. People fell back, as Im slumped to his knees. That may have saved him from a second, fatal thrust.
Na careened into the would-be assassin’s back, throwing him off balance, sending him staggering forward a couple steps. The man recovered and turned back, intending to finish his work. Too late! Xido bounded forward and grasped the assailant by his neck. With one arm, he lifted the fat Ildin from the ground and shook him.
“Who sent you? Speak!” he ordered. His muscles were tensioned rawhide ropes beneath the glistening black skin.
“I serve Dekata!” the man choked out. “An assassin of the temple.”
There were gasps from the crowd. It was widely believed that Dekata’s priests could be hired for murders and vendettas.
Xido regarded the man dangling from his outstretched arm, gasping for breath. Then, with a twist of his wrist, he broke his neck and dropped the body to the ground.
“We leave now,” he said. “How bad is the boy’s wound?”
Na was kneeling beside her young companion. “I do not know. I am trying to stem the flow of blood.” She was holding her own skirt against the wound.
Xido looked at that flow. “At least the color is good. Ah, his arm caught the worst of the blow.”
“And then the knife glanced along the ribs,” finished Na. “We’ll not lose Im tonight.”
“That is good to hear,” spoke the young sorcerer, before passing out.