Authors: Roger Zelazny
He raised it—it seemed that it might be some sort of magical battery, or transformer—and, with a rapid twisting motion, he twined an orange strand about it. Nora, who had been about to speak, realized from his gesture and his intent expression that he was conjuring and she remained silent, eyes fixed upon the shaft.
Suddenly, the distance seemed telescoped, and he found himself working with the far end of the strand, weaving, looping, turning it into a wide net before a diving flier. To affect something of that mass and velocity, at that distance, he realized that an enormous amount of power would have to flow upward. He felt it go out of him as he willed it, and the rod jerked within his grip.
The flier sped into the trap he had attempted to lay, and it did not seem impeded by it. It rushed on toward Moonbird’s flank, as Pol felt weak from willing energy into his snare.
Then, all at once, it veered crazily—one wing held high, the other low. It seemed frozen in that position, spinning ahead, slowing in a dropping, drooping trajectory that bore it beneath the dragon, turning until it was headed downward. It rotated all the way to the ground, where it stopped. Even before it struck, another followed it, blazing, target of Moonbird’s fiery regurgitations.
Pol turned his attention to the final flier, which suddenly seemed bent upon a suicide attack on the lazily turning skybeast. He knew that no time remained for the slow knottings of another spell, and he doubted that from this distance he could release an effective blast such as that which had felled the guardian in the pyramid. And even as he raised the rod for the attempt, he saw the small white puff and moments later heard the report.
Moonbird showed no sign of having been hit, however, and as the bird-thing plunged toward him, he moved to meet it, twisting in a serpentine fashion, acquiring more speed than the moment seemed to offer. As they met, he clasped the flier to him and began his descent.
Nora and Pol watched him spiral downward in a leisurely fashion, coming to rest near the rim of a nearby crater, turning so as to land directly atop the captive flier with a series of crunching noises which ceased only when he moved away from the broken device, which a final nudge sent toppling and sliding into the hole.
Well-fought, great one,
he said. You
were injured . . . ?
Hardly at all.
And dragons heal quickly. You have the thing you sought?
Yes. This is it.
He displayed the piece.
I have seen it before, joined with the others. Gather your things, come mount me and let us be on our way to wherever you would go now.
You should rest after such a struggle.
A dragon rests on the wing. Let us leave this place if we are finished here.
Pol turned to Nora.
“He is able to go on now. How about you?”
“I’d like to get out of here myself.”
He looked at her for the first time in a long while. Dishevelled and moist with perspiration, she still clutched the blade in her right hand. But he saw no signs of injury.
Noting his regard, she relaxed her grip on the weapon and sheathed it. She smiled.
“All right. Yourself?”
“Then let’s get our stuff together and move on. Have you any idea how he knew we’d be here?”
“No,” she said. “You say that the things he does are not really magic—but they do seem that way to me. It’s just that he has a different style.”
“I hope you like my style better.”
“So far,” she said.
As Moonbird lifted them above the desert and bent his course northward, the skies were clear and the sun had already begun its western plunge.
Land where you would to forage,
Pol told him.
Once we hit the northern sea, we’ll be island-hopping
and the maps are not all that good on distances.
I have been this way before,
Moonbird told him.
I will feed in time. Now, will you make some music to warm my cold reptilian heart?
Pol unearthed his guitar, tuned it and struck a chord. The wind whistled accompaniment as the land unrolled like a dry and mottled parchment beneath them.
That night, as they lay listening to the sound of waves and breathing the smell of the sea on a small island far from the mainland, Moonbird sought sustenance for afield and Nora studied the rod from the pyramid.
“It does have a magical look, a magical feel to it,” she said, turning it in the moonlight.
“It is that,” Pol replied, stroking her shoulder, “and the other two pieces should do more than just add to its potency. Each should multiply the power of those which precede, several times.”
She put it aside and reached out to touch his wrist.
“Your birthmark,” she said. “They weren’t really wrong—the villagers. You
of that tribe with your feet in hell and your head in heaven.”
“No reason to throw rocks,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything to them.”
“They’d feared your father—once he got involved in blood sacrifices and the treating with unnatural beings who had to be paid in human lives.”
“ . . . And they took his life to balance accounts. Also, my mother’s. And they wrecked the place. Didn’t that pretty much square things?”
“At the time, yes—as I understand it. But you stirred up fears as well as leftover hatred. Supposing you’d come home to avenge their deaths? You did have that in mind, too, didn’t you? That’s what that Mouseglove person said.”
“Not at the time, though. I hadn’t even realized who I was when they attacked me. But it made it easier for me to hate them when I did learn.”
“So, in a way they were right.”
Pol took the rod into his hands and stared at it.
“I can’t deny it,” he said, finally. “But I didn’t follow through on it. I’ve harmed none of them.”
“Yet,” she said.
He turned onto his side and glared at her, the covers slipping from his shoulder.
“What do you mean ‘yet’? If I’d been that serious about it, it would have been my first order of business.”
“But you still dislike them.”
“Wouldn’t you, in my position? So for as I’m concerned, they’re not very likable people. And if they’d handled Mark a little differently, they probably wouldn’t have him on their backs.”
“They are quick to react to the unknown. Theirs is a settled way of life—traditional, slow to change. They saw both of you as threats to it and acted immediately to preserve it.”
“Okay. I can see that. But I can understand something without liking it. I’ve called off the feud I almost declared on them. That should be enough.”
“Only because you’ve got a bigger one on your hands. You know that if you don’t destroy Mark he’s going to destroy you.”
“I have to operate under that assumption. He’s given me every indication. The time is past for trying to talk with him.”
She was silent for a long while.
“So why aren’t you like the others?” he asked. “You were a friend of his and now you’re hanging around with a dark sorcerer—helping me, in fact.”
She remained silent. Then he realized that she was crying softly.
“What is it?” he said.
“I’m a pawn,” she answered in a low voice. “I’m the reason you got involved—you were trying to help me.”
“Well—yes. But sooner or later Mark and I would have met, and the results would probably have been the same.”
“I’m not so sure,” she said. “He might have been more inclined to listen to you if it hadn’t been for me. But he was jealous. You might have become friends—you have much in common. If you had—think what an alliance that might have been—a sorcerer and a master of the old science arts—both out for revenge on my homeland. Now that cannot be, and the wheels are turning to bring you into a struggle to the death. Supposing I really hated you both? It wouldn’t make a bit of difference—now.”
“Do you?” he asked.
“ . . . And I’d be damned if I’d tell you.”
“You wouldn’t have to sleep with me. Once those wheels are in motion a roll in the hay wouldn’t alter them.”
“It might make the winner more disposed to leave us alone, out of a certain fondness.”
“And telling him about it might have just the opposite effect.”
“It’s a good thing I’m talking principles and not cases,” she replied, touching his shoulder again. “As I said, I do feel like a pawn, though, and you wanted to know why. As for your last question, I was answering it as things could be, not informing you. It was the wrong question, anyhow.”
“You’re too tough to be a pawn,” he said, “and you know who the only woman on the board is. And we can sleep with a sword between us if you want.”
“It is not cold steel that I want,” she said, moving nearer.
He saw a pale blue strand drifting by, but he ignored it.
Everything shouldn’t be gimmicked,
* * *
He heard the voices again, in that place where he drifted between sleep and wakefulness.
“Mouseglove, Mouseglove, Mouseglove . . . ”
Yes. It was not the first time he had heard them—weak yet insistent, calling to him—and on awakening he always forgot the small chorus. But this time there seemed more strength to the calls, almost as if he might come away with the memory, this time . . .
He began to remember his circumstances, sprawled in the secret apartment atop Anvil Mountain, unwilling guest of Mark Marakson, a.k.a. Dan Chain, taboo-breaking engineer from the east village. He was trying to find a way out, past the man’s gnome-like legions and electronic spies, trying to learn to fly one of the small craft—small, yes, not like the battle-wagons with the six-man crews, two cannons and a rack of bombs he had seen take off earlier, sailing in every which direction across the sky, rotors whirling, wings tilting all about them—small, just right for himself and the jewelled figurines which would make him his fortune . . .
He was moved a jot and two tittles nearer awakening yet still the chirping cries came to him. It was almost as if . . .
He tried. Suddenly, somewhere inside himself, he answered.
“We bring warning.”
“Who are you?”
Immediately, his dreamsight began to function. He seemed to stand at the center of a low-ceilinged room, illuminated by seven enormous candles. A figure, human in outline, stood behind each of them. The flames obscured the faces, and no matter how he turned or stared, nothing more of them was revealed to him.
“You sleep with the figures beneath your head,” said the one at the extreme left—a woman’s voice—and immediately he knew.
Four men, two women and one of uncertain gender, out of red metal, studded in peculiar places with jewels of many colors . . . Somehow, they addressed him now:
“We gained power when the Triangle of Int was unbalanced by the heir of Rondoval,” said the second figure—a man.
“We are the spirits of sorcerers vanquished by Det and bound to his statuettes,” said the third—a tall man.
“We exist now mainly to serve him or his successor,” said the fourth—a woman with a beautiful soprano voice.
“We see futures and their likelihoods,” said the fifth—a gruff-voiced man.