Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 22

Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 22

Chapter 21

Fionn had always been adept at using a mixture of magic, trickery, brute force and mechanical means to do his work. And his glib tongue of course, although he tried to avoid levering rocks around with that.

The road from the white city was as much of a problem as the vast collection of rubies — and the magical energy associated with them — that its treasury had accumulated. Of course all things are interlinked, something the First had been aware of. The road ran too straight, carried too many people with the energies they trafficked, quite unintentionally. They’d cut through several granite spurs and altered the course of the river to achieve that. Fionn had discovered, quite by accident many centuries ago, how to make magically activated detonators. It was simply a case of having too much power pass through any one point at any time, and he had several options here. The area was overdue for an earthquake . . . in fact, the longer it took before it happened the worse it would be — he could see the plates and tense-bound energies waiting for the slippage.

He’d laid his explosives carefully, wedging them into cracks, and laying them behind piles of precarious rock. Of course the spurs and the river had been his first choice. But any place where his explosions would cause some deep, low frequency vibration would work. That was partially the result of the explosions . . . and partially the rockfalls. The vibration caused the planes of rock to start their slippage and release their stored energy, which, compared to his puny explosives was a giant compared to an ant.

* * *

Leagues away across the wide and island-studded ocean, Myrcupa, self-styled high lord and defender of the tower, had been sulkily staring at the great edifice that had been magically constructed long ages back to guard the strand of here and elsewhere, that held the plane of Tasmarin. He was thinking of quitting this thankless task and seeing if he could ambush Zuamar of Yenfar. Yet he felt compelled to stay.

The death of his sycophant had hurt him. When the tower at Morscarg had fallen, seventeen years back, the talk had been that some nihilist had somehow managed to sabotage and destroy the foundation.

Dragons are nothing if not patient. He’d guarded this one faithfully in shifts since. But . . . well the Tower had repelled any life-form — including its guardians. That was what it was supposed to do, Myrcupa knew. But he had felt — a little resentfully, that it might have given its defenders some . . . well, respect. Not that it was alive . . . Knowing it was illogical had not stopped him feeling that way.

He was supremely unaware of an earthquake many leagues away.

But he did see a crack in the vast masonry, one of several they were monitoring, suddenly grow and spread and run with a long, thunderous tumult, up the wall.

He still could not reach it to do anything about it.

But although he took to the wing and searched, there was no-one visible attacking it, despite a strong scent of magic. It smelled . . . human.

Myrcupa despised humans.

***

The centaurs had always been the cusp between animal nature and civilization. Over the long history of their kind they’d swayed between the two. They believed that at last they’d reached some kind of balance, here on the high plains. Here philosophy and the noble arts of poetry and the sagas, the wild music and great dance had risen above the old scourges of conflict and war. Yes, the sheer, high cliffs of Thessalia, Laconia and Lapithidia limited the extent of the high tableland which they lived on. It had meant an end to the great migrations. But on the other hand it kept the Children of Chiron to themselves too. For centuries they had had limited contact with the other species. The plane of centaurs had always been one of poorly defined boundaries, in which conflict with humans, alvar and even the sprites had been a prominent part. Those years had honed the centaurs for combat. A man-horse could out-maneuver any horse-man. And they had become, perforce, great archers.

But the arts of war had been relegated to yesteryear, here. Until now. The dark glass of the seeing pool had caused old sabers to be sharpened and polished, and spare arrows — war arrows, with heavy heads for penetrating armor– to be made and fletched. Now the dust from great phalanxes of centaurs drilling and training hung over the high plains. The children of Chiron had never been at home at sea. But they had been slowly accumulating transports. And the magical arts and defenses were being practiced. The time was coming. If . . . when . . . the black dragon brought down the next tower, or even before that, the fatelines all led to war.

Or extinction.

Ixion paced the looping trail that looked down on Lapithidia’s only port, a good half a mile below. He looked down on the ships moving slowly toward the harbor. His companion Hylonome scanned the skies.

“Dragon,” she said pointing.

He would have seen it too, as it was closing in on two vessels out beyond the Lapith point.

“It’s green,” he said, “Not that that will help the sailors.”

They were too far off to see the crews — doubtless leaping into the water. But they could see the sails catch fire.

“It begins,” said Hylonome in a heavy voice.

Ixion said nothing. From here they could not to do anything to help either.

***

The stream that flowed down from the mountains had offered Hrodenynbrys little respite from having to get out and walk next to it. Land was just so awkward. He couldn’t merely swim over obstacles. He had to go around them. And slipping out of the water made merrows terribly vulnerable. He was very glad to reach the lake. Merrows had been this far before, of course. But the Angmarad had not been given into the keeping of alvar at a whim. The spells of warding set on it would, the merrow knew, protect it, and prevent him from getting any closer. The alvar had been their usual thorough selves about it, Hrodenynbrys had to admit, sourly. They’d protected it against the magics of all the species, calling in help, where need-be. Well, all species except alvar, and humans of course.

It had seemed a fine gesture at the time. And merrow and alvar had been on good terms.

It was supposed to be a temporary measure.

Hrodenynbrys had barely slipped into the quiet waters of the lake, where the reflected lights of their ‘burg gleamed, before they went out, and the earthquake began.

The water stirred and roiled and shook like a wild live thing.

It was nearly enough to frighten ‘Brys witless — and enough to send him swimming as fast as he could for deeper water.

In time the water was still again. It was all stirred up, belching methane bubbles, and other smelly and nasty things best left in the still depths. But calmer.

Hrodenynbrys looked at the following charm he carried. If he went now . . . in the darkness? Would that be best?

He wanted to stay in the water. He really did not want to go out in the dark and shaken chaos that would be happening over there. He could hear the yelling across the water.

But duty called. The Angmarad need the sea, and the sea desperately needed the Angmarad. And when would they find the hair of another human mage?

So he began swimming, slowly, toward the city, admittedly at a pace that would have made crippled flatfish seem like a harpooned marlin. Just how was he going to get to it?

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