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Chapter Four

The heat of day had come again to Urik. Here and there, insect swarms raised raucous chorus. All other creatures, if they had the wit and freedom, sought shelter from the sun's brutal strength. Throughout Hamanu's domain, the din of commerce faded, and labor's pace slowed to a snore. Mindless mirage sprites danced across the burning pavement of the city's deserted market squares, while merchants of every variety dozed in the oppressive shade of their stalls.

Beyond the city walls, in the green fields and villages, workers set aside tools and napped beside their beasts. Farther away, in the gaping complex of mountain pits that was the Urikite obsidian mines, overseers drank cool, fruited tea beneath leather awnings and the wretched mass of slaves received a few hours' rest and unrestricted access to the water barrels.

No great mercy there, the king reminded himself as he, like the distant slaves, sipped water from a wooden ladle in the shadows of the peasant cloister, deep within his palace. While he'd lived, Borys, the Dragon of Tyr, had levied a thousand lives each year from each champion to maintain the spells around Rajaat's prison. The obsidian mines required even more livestoo many more livesto keep Urik secure.

Letting slaves rest each afternoon insured that they'd live to hack at the black veins for a few more days. The life span of a mine slave was rarely more than two seventy-five-day quinths of the three-hundred-seventy-five-day Athasian year. An obsidian sword didn't last much longer, chipping and flaking into uselessness. Maintaining the balance between able-bodied slaves and the baskets of sharp-edged ore Urik's defense required was one task Hamanu refused to delegate to his templars. It was his age-old decree that gave the wretches their daily rest and the threat of his intervention that kept the templar overseers obediently under their awning.

It certainly wasn't mercy.

Mercy was standing here, concealing his presence from Pavek, who'd fallen asleep in the shade of one of the dead fruit-trees. Waking the scar-faced man would have been as easy as breathing out, but Hamanu resisted the temptation that was, truly, no temptation at all. He could experience a mortal's abject terror anytime; the sweet-dreaming sleep of an exhausted man was precious and tare.

As soon as he'd returned to the city yesterday afternoon, Enver had sent a messenger to the palace, begging a full day's recovery before he resumed his duties. Faithful Pavek, however, had visited his Urik house only long enough to bathe and change his travel-stained clothes. He appeared at the palace gates as the sun was setting and passed a good part of the moonlit night reading the vellum sheets still spread across the worktable.

Naked tree stumps and neatly tied bales of twigs and straw testified to Pavek's diligent laborat least until exhaustion had claimed him. He sprawled across the fresh-cleared dirt, legs crooked and one arm tucked under his cheek, as careless as a child. Images, not unlike the heat mirages above the market squares, shimmered above Pavek's gently moving ribs, though unlike a true mirage, which any mortal could observe, only Hamanu could see the wispy substance of the templar's dreams.

They were a simple man's dreams: the shapes of Pavek's loved ones as they lived within him. There was a woman at his dream's shimmering center; Hamanu's human lips curved into an appreciative smile. She was blond and beautiful and, having met her one momentous night in Quraite, the Lion of Urik knew his ugly templar didn't embellish her features. Hamanu didn't know her name; there weren't enough mortal names to label all the faces in thirteen ages of memory. He recalled her by the texture of her spirit and through the uncompromising honesty of Pavek's dream.

The blond druid had fallen afoul of Hamanu's one-time favorite, Elabon Escrissar, during the zarneeka crisis that had first brought Pavek to Hamanu's attention. Scars of abuse, disgrace, and torment entwined beneath her loveliness. She'd healed somewhat in the years since Hamanu had last seen her, but she'd heal more if she'd accept the love, as well as the friendship, his high templar offered her. She might, in time; women often grew wise in the ways of mortal hearts, and she'd been raised by the archdruid, Telhami, who was among the wisest of women.

Or, she might not. Bitter scars might offer more consistency and security than any man's love.

Regarding mortal frailty and apologies, Hamanu had seen almost everything in his life; very little surprised anymoreor intrigued him. Enver's father, who'd lived two hundred fifty-six years, had begun to see the world with immortal detachment shortly before he died. Pavek, though, was a young man, and the woman he loved was younger still. Men and women lived longer and in greater variety than flowers, but Hamanu had seen how fast they witheredespecially when he embraced them.

He gestured subtly with an index finger. Pavek sighed, and the woman's dream images collapsed into one another, then reformed. There was a boy above Pavek's shoulder, a sturdy black-haired boy who smiled too easily to have been raised in a templar orphanage, as Pavek had been. In the quirky way of memory, Hamanu remembered learning the boy's name, Zvain, in another part of this palace a little more than two years ago. He recalled the name because it was uncommon in Urik and because the taste of the boy's shame and misery had been as honey on his immortal tongue.

Zvain was another mortal who'd been scarred by Escrissar and by Telhami, too. He was an orphan through no fault of his own and a survivor because when he'd needed a hand, the hand he'd seized was Pavek's.

It was almost enough to make one of Rajaat's champions believe in justice and higher powers.

But for every Zvain who triumphed over his destiny, there were ten copper-hued Ruaris hovering behind him. The youthful half-elf of Pavek's dream was handsome, proud... brittle, and oh-so-appetizing

to a jaded king who craved the passions of his subjects. Just as well that Pavek had left his unforgettably vulnerable friend behind in Quraite. Even in another man's dream, Ruari's dark needs cried out, and copper eyes flashed green as the distant spirit responded to a champion's hunger-Then vanished with a yawn as Pavek levered himself up on his elbows.

"Great One!" the bleary-eyed templar muttered. Confusion reigned in his thoughts. He didn't know if he should stand and bow or remain where he was with his face pressed against the dirt.

"I disturbed your dreams," Hamanu admitted.

Pavek's eyes widened; he made his decision. His head dropped like a stone, and he prostrated himself in the dirt.

Which was a lie; honest men told lies to protect the truth.

Pavek didn't want to remember his dream, but Ruari's face floated on the surface of his thoughts and would not sink could not sinkuntil Hamanu released it, whereupon the burly human shivered despite the oppressive heat.

"When I asked you to set my garden in order," Hamanu began mildly, "I expected you to demonstrate your mastery of druid spellcraft. I didn't expect you to work yourself to exhaustion digging in the dirt with hand tools."

Hamanu told a lie of his own to balance Pavek's. He knew there was no magic save his own in Urik's palace and that his magic had doomed this cloister. He'd hoped, of course, that Pavek might waken his guardian to infuse this barren soil with new vigor, but, in truth, Hamanu would have been disappointed if Pavek had obeyed him with any force more potent than sweat or brawn.

"If you wanted an overnight forest, Great One, you should have summoned someone else." As always, Pavek's stubborn honesty won out over the combined might of his fear and good sense.

"Another druid?" Hamanu asked; teasing mortalstormenting themwas low treatment of those with no means to oppose him, but it did stave off his more dire cravings. "Your friends, perhaps? Ruari? That blond woman who means so much to youas you mean so little to her? Tell me her name, Pavek; I've forgotten."

"Akashia, Great One," Pavek admitted softly; a templar could not disobey his king's direct command. The man's shoulders shook as he pushed himself to his knees. "She'd sooner die than serve you, Great One, but even if you compelled her to come, she could do no more than what I've done. Nothing will grow here. The soil has been scorched."

And what, a champion might ask, had brought that particular word to Pavek's mind? "Do I compel you, Pavek?" Hamanu asked instead, less benignly than before.

"I don't know, Great One. To hear your voice, Great OneTo feel you in my mind" His chin sagged again.

"Do you feel compelled? Did you feel compelled when Enver brought you a plain ink message written on plainer vellum?"

"You know where Quraite is, Great One. They have no protection from your wrath, should you choose to punish them. How could I refuse?"

Pavek spoke to the dirt. His eyes were closed. He expected to die in a thousand horrible ways, but nothing would keep him from telling the truth as he understood it. And yet, irony of ironies, of all those living under Athas's bloody sun, Pavek was among the very few who had nothing to fear from the Lion-King. He didn't need to fear for his precious Quraite; Telhami had secured the enclave's perpetual security long before Pavek's grandparents were born.

"I grant you the right to refuse to serve me, Pavek. Even now, I grant you that. Walk through that door. Leave, and know in your heart that I will never follow you. The decision is yours," Hamanu said, and within his illusion of human flesh and saffron-dyed linen, what remained of his own mortal heart beat faster.

Hamanu inhaled his Unseen influence: his power to bend a man's thoughts according to his own desire. The world grew quiet and dulled as his senses shrank to mortal dimensions. He truly didn't know what Pavek would choose to do. When Telhami left, he'd had the fortitude to keep his word; others hadn't been so lucky. Hamanu didn't know what he would do after Pavek made his choice. The stakes were high, but even after thirteen ages of dominion over his city, the thought that one puny mortal might deny him was acid goad between his ribs.

Pavek grasped a shovel's handle and used it to rise. "I've been a templar too long," he said as he thrust the shovel into the ground. Leaving it upright in the dirt, Pavek touched a golden chain barely visible beneath his shirt's neck. "Tell me to come, and I'll come. Tell me to leave, and I'll go. Ask me to choose, and I'll stay where I am because I am what I am."

Hamanu exhaled and resumed command of the world around him. Through the golden medallion hung on the golden chain Pavek wound between his fingers, Hamanu felt his templar's heart, the vibrations of his thoughts. Honesty had again prevailed.

His eyes met Pavek's. Despite the fear, distrust, and habit that permeated the templar's being, he didn't flinch. Perhaps that was all a champion could hope for: a man who could return his stare.

A stare would have to be sufficient for the moment. Pavek wasn't the only templar with a hold over Hamanu's attention. Someone else had wrapped a hand around a medallion. With lightning quickness, Hamaau identified the medallion's steel and gemstones and the confident hand that held it.

Commandant Javed.

A spark of recognition flowed through the netherworld to the war-bureau templar. When it bridged the gap to Javed's medallion, the two were joined in Hamanu's thoughts. He'd sent Windreaver off in search of the Shadow-Kingthe disembodied troll would learn things no mortal couldbut he'd sent his own champion to spy on the Shadow-King's army. He wasn't surprised that the commandant was returning to Urik first.

Recount! he demanded, because it was easier to listen than to rummage blindly through chaotic thoughts. Where is this host that the Shadow-King marches across our purview?

Gone to shadows, like their king, Great One, as soon as they saw our dust on the horizon, Javed recounted. The women and their mercenaries fled rather than face us.

Hamanu scowled. For ages, he and Gallard, Bane of Gnomes, had skirmished on the barren borders of their domains, tempering their troops and probing for a decisive advantage. Never before had the Nibenese fled the field. He raked the surface of the elf's mind, gathering up images of an abandoned camp: cooling hearths, empty trenches, empty kank pens.

But not one thing of value, Hamanu mused for his commandant's benefit. Not one overturned cook pot or bale of forage. They'd planned that withdrawal from the beginning.

So it would seem, Great OneJaved agreed, but not before Hamanu plunged deeper into his memories. I'm coming, Great One! The elf's thoughts exploded in the gray ether of the netherworld.

Urik's templars did not generally study the Unseen Path. Its secrets were rooted in powers that Hamanu couldn't control as he controlled the elemental magic he released through the medallions. He made exceptions for commandants and other high-ranking templars, whose thoughts might be subject to scrutiny from Urik's enemies. As a mind-bender, Javed could not prevail against his king, but he could sound an alarm, which Hamanu wisely heeded.

I'm coming, Great One, the commandant repeated, expanding his consciousness to include the thundering kank that he, an elf of the wilderness, rode out of deference to his kingbecause the bug could carry him faster than his own venerable legs.

The green haze of Urik's irrigated farmland hugged the forward horizon in Javed's sight.

Great One, grant me swift passage through Modekan, to the gates of Urik, and beyond.

Templarseven exalted commandants, like Javed, or gold-wearers, like Pavekcould use their medallions to communicate directly with their king, but never with each other. If the commandant wanted to avoid a confrontation with the civil-bureau templars who stood watch over the wheel-spoke roads into Urik, much less if he wanted to ride a racing kank clear to the gates of Hamanu's palace itself, the Lion of Urik would have to make the arrangements.

There were laws that not even Javed was above, and foremost among them was Hamanu's injunction against beasts of burden on his city's immaculate streets. It was a wise law that did more than improve the sight and scent of Urik; it kept down the vermin and disease as well. But a man did not reign for thirteen ages without learning when to set his most cherished laws aside.

Granted, Hamanu said. He broke their Unseen connection. Hamanu summoned the distinctive rooftops of the Modekan barracks from his memory and made them real. Peering out of the netherworld, he watched a score of drowsy, yellow-robed templars clutch their medallions in shock. As one, they turned bloodless faces toward the sky where, by the Lion's whim, a pair of slitted, sulphurous eyes had opened above them.

Hamanu projected his voice from the palace to the village, where every templar heard it, and the rest of Modekan, too. Cheers went up, and the village gong began a frantic clanging. If he weren't absolutely confident of Javed's loyalty, Hamanu would have been greatly displeased by the elf's popularity. He had to shout his commands.

"The Champion is not to be challenged or impeded. Clear the road to Urik for his swift passage."

Discipline was lax in the village barracks: half the templars dropped to their knees; the rest thumped their breasts in salute. But Hamanu's will would be carried outhe caressed each and every templar's spirit with the razor edge of his wrath before he closed his eyes. The king made a similar appearance above Urik's southern gate before he blinked and brought his focus back to the cloister.

Pavek still stared at him. Though medallion conversation was inviolate, Pavek had heard the spoken commands and drawn his own conclusions.

"Commandant Javed, Great One?" he asked. "Is Urik in danger, Great One?" The other questions in Pavek's mindIs that why you summoned me? Do you expect me to try to summon the guardian?went unspoken, though not, of course, unheard.

"You may judge for yourself, Pavek," Hamanu suggested, both generous and demanding. He let the human glamour fade from his eyes and, at last, the templar looked away.

There was enough time for the palace slaves to bathe Pavek with scented soaps and clothe him in finery from the king's own wardrobe. The silks skimmed Pavek's shoulders and fell a fashionable length against his arms and legs. By measurement alone, Pavek cut a commanding figure, but he had no majesty. He followed Hamanu into an audience chamber looking exactly like what he was: a common man in borrowed clothes.

The sorcerer-kings, of which Hamanu was one, had built palaces with monumental throne halls meant to belittle the mortals who entered them. Hamanu's hall had a jewel-encrusted throne that made his back ache no matter how he disguised his body. Even so, circumstance occasionally demanded that he receive supplicants in his fullest panoply, and ache. He wondered, sometimes, how the others endured itif they knew some sleight of sorcery he'd overlooked or if they simply suffered less because they did not starve themselves and carried more flesh on their immortal bones.

Most likely, the others enjoyed their spectacles, as Hamanu did not. He'd had little enough in common with his peers in the beginning, and nothing had since brought them closer together. He'd seen less of them than he saw of the slaves who clipped his illusory toenails. In truth, Hamanu was a peer unto himself alone. His closest companions were his own thoughts, and the places where he actually dwelt reflected that isolation.

Hamanu preferred to conduct Urik's state affairs in an austere chamber where a pair of freestanding, ever-luminous torches, a marble bench, and a black boulder set in fine, gray sand were the only furnishings. Water rippled magically over the boulder and, as Hamanu entered the chamber, it began to flow down three of the four rough-hewn walls. The liquid murmur soothed Hamanu's nerves and awed the novice druid, who stifled his curiosity about the spells that made it flow. But the waterfalls had a simple purpose: conversations in this chamber couldn't be overheard by any means, physical or arcane.

"Sit," Hamanu told Pavek as he, himself, began to pace around the glistening boulder with martial precision. "Javed has passed beneath the gates. He'll be here soon."

Pavek obeyed. He focused his mind on the water flowing over the boulder, and his thoughts grew quiet. Then Pavek's thoughts vanished into the sand. Hamanu ceased his pacing. He could see the man with his eyes, hear his breathing, and the steady beat of his heart, but the Unseen presence by which the Lion-King observed his templars and any living creature that captured his attention was suddenly and completely missing.

Not even Telhami had mastered that feat. The guardian, Hamanu told himself, the druidic essence of Urik that shunned an unnatural creature forged of Rajaat's sorcery, but heeded the call of a very ordinary man. The Lion of Urik cast an imperceptible sphere around his druid-templar and let it expand, hoping to detect some perturbation in the netherworld that would illuminate the guardian's disposition.

The elf was tall for his kind. He stood head and shoulders above Pavek, above Hamanu, himself, in his human glamour. His skin and hair were as black as the boulder in the middle of the chamberor they would have been if he hadn't ridden hard and come directly to his king. Road dust streaked the commandant from head to foot; he almost looked his age. Pavek, who was, by rank, Javed's superior, offered his seat on the marble bench.

Javed bent his leg to Hamanu, then turned to Pavek. "I've sat too long already, my lord. It does an old elf good to stand on his own feet awhile."

Which was true, as far as it went. Hamanu could feel the aches of Javed's old bones and travel-battered wounds. He could have ignored them, as he ignored his own aches, but accorded the commandant an empathic honor Javed would never suspect.

"May I hold this for you?" Pavekever the third-rank regulatorasked, reaching for the leather-wrapped parcel Javed carried under one arm.

But the parcel was the reason Javed had raced across the barrens and risked his king's wrath with a mind-bender's shield. The commandant had a paternal affection for the scar-faced Pavek; but he wouldn't entrust this parcel to anyone but his king.

"What did you find, Javed? Scrolls? Maps?" Hamanu asked, fighting to contain his curiosity, which could kill any man who stood too long between him and satisfaction.

Javed had seen that happen. He hastily laid the parcel on the bench and sliced the thongs that bound it, lest the knots resist and get him killed. Beneath the leather were layers of silkseveral of the drab-dyed, densely woven shirts Javed insisted were a mortal's best defense against a poisoned arrow or blade.

Hamanu clenched his fists as the commandant gingerly peeled back sleeve after sleeve. He knew already there was nothing so ordinary as a sorcerer's scroll or cartographer's map at the heart of Javed's parcel. Though neither mortal had noticed, the chamber had become quiet as the minor magic that circulated the water was subsumed by the malevolence emerging from the silk. The Lion of Urik steadied himself until his commandant had stepped back.

The last layer of silk, which Javed refused to touch, appeared as if it had been exposed to the harsh Athasian sun for a full seventy-seven year age. Its dyes had faded to the color of moldering bones. The cloth itself was rotting at the creases.

"Great One, two good men died wrapping it up so I could carry it," Javed explained. "If it's your will, I'll lay down my own life, but if you've still got a use for an old, tired elf, Great One, I think you'd best unwrap the rest yourself."

"Where?" Hamanu asked in a breathless whisper, no more eager to touch the silk or what it contained than either Javed or Pavek. "How? Was there anything with it?"

Javed shook his head. "A piece of parchment, Great One. A message, I imagine. But the thing had bleached and aged it like this silk. We didn't so much find it as one of our men stumbled across it and died...." The elf paused and met Hamanu's eyes, waiting for a reaction Hamanu wasn't ready to reveal. He coughed nervously and continued, "I can't say for certain that the Nibenese left anything behind deliberately"

"You may be certain it was deliberate," Hamanu assured him with a weary sigh.

He waved the mortals aside and shed the glamour surrounding his right hand. Neither man reacted to the skeletal fingers, with their menacing black talonsor, rather, each man strove to swallow his shock as Hamanu carefully slit the remaining silk. A black glass shard as long as an elf's arm came into view. Obsidian, but as different from the obsidian in Urik's mines as mortals were from Rajaat's champions.

A smoky pall rose from the shard, obscuring the ember from any eyes less keen than Hamanu's, which saw in it a familiar, blue-green eye. A foul odor, partly brimstone, partly the mold and decay of death, permeated the window-less chamber. Shedding his human glamour completely, Hamanu bared dripping fangs. The pall congealed in a heartbeat and, like a serpent, coiled up Hamanu's arm. It grew with lightning speed until it wound from his ankles to his neck.

"Damn Nibenay!" Javed shouted as he drew his sword, risking his life twice-over as he disobeyed his king's command and prepared to do battle with sorcery.

"Fool!" Hamanu replied, which froze the commandant where he stood, though it was neither the Shadow-King nor Javed who occupied the forefront of his thoughts. "I am no longer the man fate made of me," he warned the sooty serpent constricting his ribs and neck.

Working his hand through the serpent's sorcerous coils, Hamanu found the head and wrenched it into the light where he could see it. And it could see him.

"I am not the man you thought I was."

With a flicking gesture, Hamanu impaled the serpent's head on his thumb's talon, then he let the heat of his rage escape from his heart. The serpent writhed. Ignoring the talon piercing its skull, it opened its mouth and hissed. Glowing, molten blood flowed from its fangs, covering Hamanu's wrist. Hamanu hissed back and, reaching into the Gray, summoned a knife from the void.

He cut off the serpent's head. Its coils fell heavily to the floor around his feet, where they released noxious vapors as they dissolved.

The poison posed no threat to Hamanu, but Javed and Pavek fell to their knees. The Lion of Urik was in no mood for sacrifice, especially of his own men. Reversing his grip on the hilt of his knife, which was forged from the same black glass as the now-shrunken shard, Hamanu drew a line along his forearm.

His hot blood sizzled when it struck the ooze on the floor. Dark, oily smoke rose as it consumed the dregs of vanquished sorcery. The stench grew worse, but it was no longer deadly. When the ooze was gone, Hamanu inhaled the odor into himself. He looked down on his mortal companions, who were still on their knees and far beyond fear.

"Did you bring the message?"

Javed nodded, then produced a stiff, stained sheet of human parchment. "I knew you'd want it, Great One."

Hamanu seized the parchment with a movement too quick for mortal eyes to follow. The ink was gone, as Javed warned, but there were other ways to read a champion's message. He closed his eyes, and the Shadow-King's blurred features appeared in his mind.

You have seen our danger. This was sent to me. You can imagine who, imagine how. We've gone too long without a dragon. If we can't make one, he will. Mark me well, Hamanu: he'll find a way to shape that turd, Tithian, into a dragon, if we don't stop him. Long before he died, Borys confided in me that Rajaat had intended to shape you into the Dragon of Tyr until heBorys, that isdecided otherwise. It's not too late. The three of us can shape you before Rajaat tries again with Tithian. I've evolved a spell that will preserve your sanity. It won't be the way it was with Borys; we can't permit that, none of us can. Think about it, Hamanu. Think seriously about it.

The Shadow-King's image vanished in the heat of Hamanu's curse. The shard of Rajaat's sorcery was an unexpected, unpleasant proof of Gallard's claim. If Rajaat was making sorcery in the material world, then the Hollow was weakening; they'd gone too long without a dragon maintaining it. But if Gallard had found a spell that tempered the madness of dragon creation, Gallard wouldn't be offering it to him.

Reluctantly, Hamanu reconsidered Windreaver's recounting of the Gnome-Bane's strategy. There were three ways to transform a champion into a dragon: his peers pells to accelerate his metamorphosis, he could quicken so many sorcerous spells that he'd transform himself, orfollowing Kalak of Tyr's despicable examplehe could gorge himself on the death of his entire city. Most likely, Gallard hoped to implement all three.

"Who do we fight, Great One?" Javed asked, his voice cracked and weak from poison.

"Do as I command, Javed," Hamanu scolded his most-trusted officer. "Summon my levy."

Wisely, the elf nodded and bowed as he rose to his feet. "As you will, Great One. As you command."

He retreated to the bronze door, which Hamanu opened with a thought. Pavek followed.

"Not you. Not yet."

Pavek dropped again to his knees. "Your will, Great One."

"I need you here, in the palace, Pavek, but I need your druid friends as well. Send a message to Quraite. Send a message to Telhami, if you will. Tell her it's time, Pavek; the end of time."

"If Urik's danger is Quraite's danger, Great One, then I'm sure she already knows. She says there's only one guardian spirit for all of Athas, and she is part of it now," Pavek said, still on his knees with his head tightly bowed.

There were many tastes and textures swirling in the young man's thoughts, but loathing was not among them. Leaning forward, Hamanu hooked a talon under Pavek's chin, nudging gently until he could see the troubled face his templar strove to conceal. Then, with another talon, he traced the scar across Pavek's face.

"And if it's my danger, and only mine, what then, Pavek?"

Once again, Pavek's mind cleared, like still water on a windless day. Short of slaying the man, there was no way for Hamanu to extract an answer to his question from Pavek's thoughts. Murder was easy; lowering his hand, letting Pavek rise unsteadily to his feet and leave the chamber alivethat was the hardest thing Hamanu had done in a generation.

Windreaver! Hamanu cast the name into the netherworld along with Gallard's parchment. Windreaver! Now!

He sat down on the marble bench, which, like the stone bench in his cloister, was strong enough to support his true weight and proportions. Water flowed again over the boulder and down the walls. The Lion-King buried his grotesque face in his malformed hands and tried not to think, or plan, or dread until the air quickened, and the troll appeared.

"I hear, and I obey," Windreaver said. "I am the doomed servant of a doomed fool."

Hamanu didn't rise to the bait. "Did you search the Nibenese camp?"

"Of course. Four hundred ugly women surrounded by four thousand uglier men."

"Nothing more?" Hamanu betrayed nothing of his suspicions, his anger.

"Nothing, O Mighty One. Enlighten me, O Mighty One: What do you think I should have found?"

"This!" Hamanu brandished the remnant of the obsidian shard. It had shrunk to a fraction of its former size, and the glass was pitted with soot. The troll leapt back, as if he still had life and substance.

"It was not there," Windreaver insisted, no longer insolent. "I would have known"

"Nonsense!" Hamanu hurled the shard at his minion; it vanished at the top of its arc, swallowed by the Gray. "You've grown deaf and blind, Windreaverworse, you've grown careless."

"Never... not where he's concerned. I'd know the War-Bringer's scent anywhere."

Hamanu said nothing, merely waited for the troll to hear own his folly and self-deception. Windreaver's hatred for the War-Bringer was greater than his hatred for the Troll-Scorcher but he hadn't sensed the shard before Hamanu revealed it. He'd dreamed of watching the champions destroy each other, and his dreams had, indeed, left him careless.

"Is Rajaat free?" the troll asked. "The Dark Lensit's where the Tyrian sorceress put it five years ago, isn't it? No one's stolen it, have they? The templars? The medallions?" "Still work," Hamanu assured him. Without the Dark Lens, the champions could not channel magic to their templars. "That shard didn't come from the Dark Lens."

"I don't know, Windreaverbut you'll tell me, when you come back from Ur Draxa."

He expected an argument: Borys's demolished stronghold was a long way away and dangerous, even for a disembodied spirit. But Windreaver was gone before Hamanu finished speaking.


* * * | The Rise and Fall of a Dragon King | Chapter Five







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