Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 28

Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 28

Chapter 27

As fortune would have it, Haborym was as close to Yenfar as he dared to go, without the slow leeching of his life-energies affecting him enough to kill. The rocky caves of the little islet a few miles off the coast were much used by smugglers, and Haborym did a great deal of business with them. Even here, he could feel the effect of the magical wards . . . and then, abruptly he could not.

“I need your ship,” he said to the smuggler-captain he’d been discussing the price of a shipment of untaxed tar with, moments before. “Now. I must go to Yenfar.”

The captain looked at him in puzzlement, possibly because he’d dealt with Haborym for some years, and this was the closest his business associate had ever come to the island. “But the cargo is still on board. It’ll take us a couple of hours to shift it, Beng.”

“Beng” was the name Haborym used when he assumed the illusory image of a human. It pleased him. He considered briefly. He could cross the ocean on his own. Not being a thing of mere flesh, he could drift above it, but his kind had an uneasy relationship with water. Instead he concentrated his will on the hapless captain. He did not care if the stinking tar-barrels were on board. He quite enjoyed the smell. A few minutes later the smuggling galley was nosing out to sea, heading for the coast of the larger landmass, her frightened crew pulling hard, driven by their still more frightened captain.

It was near moon-set when Haborym left them at a small beach hemmed with cliff. He did not need to find his way through the network of caves they used. He drifted up the steep rock walls instead. So: here he was — at last able to hunt their prey here in this, the one place on Tasmarin that had been denied to his kind. It was sweet. But first he had work to do. Lesser species might call it murder. But it was what augury required. Blood. Blood of her kind. He drifted on, coming soon enough to the walls of the town his smugglers hailed from. This was Yenfar: they were unprotected against the smokeless flame.

It did not take him long to find what he was looking for. She was getting old for the flesh-trade, which was probably why she was still out at this time. He performed the rite with practiced skill. It would fill the locals with horror. The results of the augury filled him with horror, although the deed did not.

She wasn’t on this island. And neither was the merrow treasure.

Haborym knew fear. He knew how the strict hierarchy of his kind apportioned blame. He looked at the blood and filth and the patterns of invoked power, and knew his own end would be worse, if the human mage was dead. He hissed with rage and fear. Couldn’t the sprites do anything right?

After a brief reconsideration of the augury he headed away, towards the mountains. He could, hopefully, at least work out if she had escaped the island — a faint hope — or if she was dead. Destroying the merrows’ treasure was a small task compared with the need to take her, alive. The hierarchy of flames had plans. Those involved the attempt to recreate this folly of a plane of dragons — with all the attendant effects that it would have on the rest of this interconnected ring of planes.

There were fewer limits on Haborym than on creatures of flesh. Walls were no impediment — at least walls without protections against the nonmaterial. Roads too were more directional indicators than surfaces upon which to walk. And he could move as fast as a running man, without tiring the way a man would. Of course moving used up energy, but not in the same way that using a cloak of illusion did, or did other magical exercises. But the darkness was an adequate shield, for now. By dawn he had traveled many leagues. He did not like daylight, but the fear drove him on . . . until he came to a landslip that had completely blocked the road, and indeed, the river. It would have stopped most men, and possibly anything except a dragon. But Haborym crossed the shifting, precarious loose rock and headed past the temporary dam it had created. There was a solitary sentry there. In the normal course of things there should have been a fair chance that he would have been aware of the fire-being and able to defend himself. But the Loftalvar blood ran thin in this one, and he did not expect Haborym, who overpowered him and put him to the question. Haborym knew that he would have to kill him afterwards and dispose of the body carefully. The alv knew it too, and resisted as best he could. It was a contest of will and of pain.

Finally the alv told him what he needed to know. “The last of the human thieves were driven into the high places. But the hunt was put to flight by the giant.”

It was enough to startle Haborym into a moment’s inattention. The little Huldralvar squirmed and broke free, and ran as only one of the alvar could, and donned a glamour among the wet trees.

Haborym did not try to catch him. He might have succeeded, and that would have been desirable, but he would probably fail. A sprite would have had the alv out of there in no time, but the dripping woods were no place for fire-beings. Not even to conflict with a badly injured alv. Instead he moved on with as much haste as he could muster, heading for the high peaks beyond their white city.

It was not somewhere you could follow a road to anymore. And soon, as he gained altitude, there was worse than the wetness. There was snow. Haborym kept going, although it took a great deal more energy than he liked.

If the alvar warrior lived, they’d be hunting his kind and barring them from entry into various places. He doubted that the alvar still had the strength or the allies to set a spell that would bar his kind from the whole island again. In the meanwhile . . . it was possible that the accursed little human quarry had fled from this plane entirely. His only satisfaction to that was that it would appear that somehow, the human magic worker had fallen in with his thieves, and they’d taken the merrow’s treasure with them. The merrows’ oceans would die without it. And with that would go this frozen wet stuff. The place would warm to a habitat suited to his kind.

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