- Tom, John, and Andy have a simple task: keep possessed King Rajahd'een locked up and under control while they smuggle him out of the country
- Benecala is on a ship, headed toward Balfour, where an American wizard--who was once a student of his, then an enemy--is faced with more than one black robed druid, each with a bad attitude and worse breath.
- Rorak and his merry band of bandits is in deep doo-doo in the capital of Crescens
- And the whereabouts of a talisman of great power, the Sexton version of a famous earth gem, is in the hands of the druids.
Nick’s bootheels clicked on the stone as he walked the corridor away from the chamber and headed back to the courtyard. The sound echoed off the walls until he passed the hole in the wall and glanced out at the bay. It was going to be a hot day; he was starting to regret the heavy denim shirt that was a good idea when he was still in Michigan. Only part of his attention was on where he was going. The rest of it was focused on sensing Benecala. Residual magic clouded his ability to find the wizard, and he wondered if the same applied to Benecala, until it occurred to him that there was a possibility, albeit slim, that the wizard might have taken him at his word he would stay in America.
He wanted to get outside before using magic to try to find Benecala. The walls of the fortress wouldn’t hamper his ability, but the stench of the place was starting to get to him and the idea of standing in the sun and fresh air was appealing. A breeze blew in and stirred up dust on the floor. He glanced at a swirl of it around a pile of rubble and saw a rat...with a red glow in its eyes. He didn’t break stride, pause, or slow his moving eyes.
The rat was a druid, a high priest in the order at the very least, and if it was there it wasn’t alone. He wondered if it would confront him, or just follow him. There was a chance, a very small chance, the druid didn’t know him for what he was. Odds were good the druid, even in rat form, would know he was looking at a man with significant abilities. Druids trusted none but their own, and that trust was far from absolute—a fact Nick had used to his advantage in the past.
He continued up the stairs, moving past the door from the courtyard he had entered. Three more rats skittered out of his way as he went. He made a light in the palm of his left hand and held it at his waist. The rats that had moved past him didn’t look at him. He felt magic and sensed greater than animal wariness from them. The feeling brought a tickle of anxiety to his neck. Three or four black-clad druids carried a lot of firepower.
The door at the top of the stairs wasn’t locked. He stepped through into brilliant sunshine on the outer wall of the abandoned fortress. Under more normal circumstances he would have closed his eyes and let the sunlight and fresh air wash the stench of death from his mind. These weren’t normal circumstances. He sensed thick malevolence from behind, and kept walking until he reached the wall. With his palms flat on the outer wall, he leaned forward and took a deep breath of the salty air. The water looked blue and peaceful, a stark contrast to the environment he just left.
There was a ship in the distance on his far right. He couldn’t tell by looking at it if it was coming his way or not, but he could sense one of the passengers was Benecala. He smiled. The old man knew he was there, and he expected no less. He would know if Benecala was to set foot anywhere near him on earth.
“Quis es?” a voice from behind asked.
Nick smiled without turning. That the question was in Latin told him the druid was familiar with earth, and knew Nick was as well. It wasn’t good news. The blackrobe wanted to know who he was. “Ego nihil ad vos. Sim peregrinus curiositate saluto. Simul relinquam.” He was a little rusty with Latin. He hoped it meant he was none of the druid’s concern, a traveler who would be leaving soon.
“You lie,” the druid said in Sextonese.
Nick turned around. “You’re right, of course.” He bowed his head slightly.
Standing in the doorway was a stocky man of dark complexion. He looked very old to Nick’s eyes. There were deep lines around his eyes—probably from too many days in the sun and too many nights peering at the moon for clues to the future. His beard was white and trimmed close to the face. His eyes glowed red under his heavy eyebrows. Black robes covered him from head to foot. His hands were clasped together just below his waist, but the seemingly harmless position of his hands didn’t fool Nick. He knew how quickly those hands would be able to direct magic against him.
“Where is the gem?” Nick asked mildly.
“That is none of your concern. You will leave this place now. Whether you leave this world or not is entirely up to you. It makes no difference to us. You make no difference to us.” He raised a finger and pointed it at Nick. “There are no gems here. There never have been gems here.”
He let his shoulders slump. “Then I shall go, and look elsewhere. Gems are exceedingly rare in my world, even more rare than they are here. Sometimes old places like these have them in forgotten places.” He turned and cast a look out over the water. Speaking without turning he said, “Is this not a beautiful view? I admire the beauty of this place.”
“Yes,” the blackrobe said. True admiration rang in his tone. “It is a beautiful world, and will be much more so when mankind is no longer here to taint it.”
Nick was ready. He pulled his hands away from the wall, closed his eyes, and summoned power—power that was much easier to tap in Sexton than it was anywhere in his world. He turned and brought his hands up, and paused only for a fraction of a second when he saw the blackrobe wasn’t alone.
...There were two more standing with him...