It Takes a Thief: Part Eight
Kanrik considered himself to be a fairly good tracker. But on a desert night when the wind was blowing, he was thankful that Mirzah and Jazan were there – without them, they would have had less chance of finding Norheim than they did of catching a Snowbunny in a blizzard. The other mage, Zann, had gone to fetch more reinforcements who would follow their trail and meet them at the tomb.
Brynn asked Jazan, "Sir, what are the chances of there being trouble at the tomb?"
Paselle snorted, flinging back a short lock of purple hair. "Certain, Miss Knight."
Mortman hissed, "Keep it to yourself, Paselle! We're outnumbered here!"
Hannah sighed. "Why did we bring the children, Kanrik?"
Kanrik couldn't help but smile. It was always amusing to him to watch Hannah chide the rangy Cybunny and the heavily-muscled Kougra as though they were smaller than the little Qasalan Ixi twins.
Jazan cleared his throat. Thankfully, Paselle had come to the same conclusion Kanrik had – that messing with the Kyrii king was a good way to get yourself hurt. "Physical trouble is certain. But magical trouble is what worries me. Udiza is young, or we would have heard of her before now. I assume that the artifacts of Vanithad, in addition to the charms she wears, are an attempt to make up for her youth and lack of experience. But even Faeries have limits, and I believe she is perilously close to hers."
Nabile winced first. "And with all the fire involved..."
Jazan nodded once, even as he continued at a quick pace that was causing Hannah to half-jog. "Cataclysmic could be applied with some justice."
It was all Kanrik to do to keep from visibly cringing. He was a mountain boy born and raised, and while no one liked blizzards, if he were offered a choice between a hundred blizzards and a single firestorm, he'd take the snow with a smile.
Mortman said, "So the faerie's insane."
Mirzah interrupted, "Up the dune! And Nabile, do you have a spare scarf? It feels like the sand is scouring my face off."
Sambar nodded. "Completely insane."
Paselle shrugged. "Well, the whole Sway's insane, so it's a flock of fools in a basket."
Sambar – an Elephante general big enough for two or three people – continued, "So have you seen their leader? The Duchess?"
Paselle nodded. "Tall, skinny, librarian-looking Lenny. I'm not actually sure what she's the duchess of, but I think it's probably hidden knives, deadly jewelry, and poisons slipped into places where you wouldn't look for 'em. Sneak-tricks. Masila always liked tricks like that. I was glad when we saw the back of that woman."
Mortman said gloomily, "If we've seen the back of her. She escaped clean after that stunt in Altador a few years ago."
"Where she got her pretty little head served up on a platter, and had to cut her losses and run for it."
They went down another dune, and Jazan said from the front of the group, "Masila, the Duchess, any of them... if they think Qasala is open to their schemes, I will encourage them to reconsider."
Kanrik rather wished that that backstabbing Acara or that supercilious Lenny would try something, anything. And he wanted to be there to watch when they did. He knew Masila had some spies in his Guild still – she hadn't been called the Mistress of the Double-Cross for nothing. Perhaps if he managed to slip a few clues to one of them, hint at treasure for the taking, he could somehow cause Masila to run afoul of Jazan and let the Kyrii king take care of her. Then he could stop wondering when some nasty little vengeful plot of hers would show its Cobrall's head – and most likely get him or Hannah hurt before he could do anything to cut it short.
Sambar said, "Our orders, milord?"
Jazan responded, "Mirzah and I will take the Faerie. Everyone else needs to keep the other fighters busy, but keep them out of the tomb. I don't know what magic is in that tomb. I can assure you that none of us wish to find out, and not least because Vanithad's power could be the final straw that causes Udiza to lose control of her gathered strength."
Kanrik only shivered because the desert night winds were somehow even more insidious than the cold of Terror Mountain. Then Jazan asked – somewhat grudgingly, to Kanrik's ear – "Kanrik, what else do you know about the capabilities of the Sway? What strategies might they use?"
Paselle cut in, "They don't have their regulars here – they've got hired muscle. They won't have the quality of gear the Sway normally has. Not as many fancy charms."
Kanrik said, "They'll have enough, though. They aren't big on face-to-face... they'll do it, but they'd far rather stab you in the back or slip poison into your tea."
Hanso said, "So they may have laid traps around the tomb. Which you could have told us earlier."
Kanrik bared his teeth slightly at the Ixi to let him know it was time to shut up. He hadn't maliciously withheld anything – he'd just thought of it himself! And he didn't particularly appreciate the loudmouth making it look as though Kanrik were being dishonest or, worse, traitorous. They couldn't afford to fight between themselves, and not least because Kanrik, Hannah, Paselle, and Mortman would most likely lose. Once Hanso had shrank back, Kanrik said calmly, "I just now made the connection." He couldn't resist adding, "Now keep your smart comments to yourself before I find a hungry Cobrall for you."
He received a small, sharp elbow to the side – Hannah shot him a warning look. Apparently he wasn't supposed to bicker, either, even if Fyora's little pet thief was starting matters. Mirzah, Jazan, and Nabile started murmuring to each other – Kanrik was about to strain to listen, but then the call of some hunting Petpet echoed over the dunes.
He looked around – he had heard the desert sand compared to snow in the moonlight, but he didn't see it. Even in the silver light, the sand was still warmly colored, and while the desert sky was glorious it lacked the particular ice-crystal clarity of a rare cloudless Terror Mountain night. Then he looked down – the sand had been sculpted like snow by the wind, but there was a particular wiggling trail that looked a little too much like the mark of a Cobrall or Wadjet for Kanrik's comfort. He hadn't been here since the debacle with the Bringer of Night, and had forgotten that he much preferred the northern regions. He extended a hand to Hannah. "You can handle any traps they throw at us, right?"
She took his hand and squeezed it, the stars reflecting in her night-blue eyes. "Of course," she said to the group as a whole. "Could the mages see if there have been any magical traps set? I know how to look for wires, levers, and the like."
Mirzah called, "Come up here, then, will you? I think those of us in front might like to know that, too."
Mortman whispered in Kanrik's ear as Hannah jogged to catch up with the frontrunners, "Any instructions for us, Kanrik?"
He whispered back, "Steal anything you can fit in your pockets. Non-magical."
Paselle pouted slightly. Kanrik rolled his eyes. "Non-magical doesn't get us hunted down by Jazan or Fyora. Save stealing magic trinkets for places with a little less law and order."
Mortman said, "Pick the Sway's pockets."
Kanrik nodded. "Every last one of them."
He noticed a light on the horizon – he could see his companions looking at it as well. Kanrik paced up next to Jazan to get a closer look, and asked, "Is there normally an encampment there?"
Jazan shook his head. "Maspal's Rock. It's the southern edge of the borderlands. The desert traders consider it to be bad luck to spend the night there."
Little Mirzah – she was even smaller than Hannah, which took effort – mused, "Could Farseer have laid magic in his tomb to keep those who would pry away?"
Hanso asked, "So, Jaz, you going to make yourself some nice magically-guarded tomb?"
Brynneth scolded, "Not the time, Hanso!"
Jazan didn't answer Hanso, which Kanrik approved of – though he would honestly also have approved of someone turning that jumped-up street rat into a Scamander. Instead, he said, "We slow down. Go in quietly. Aim for stealth – Udiza would feel an invisibility veil, like she felt the glamours. Faeries sense magic better than any mortal mage ever could. Hannah, keep an eye out for any traps. Tell us if you see anything."
Hannah nodded, face set stubborn. She never did anything halfway – once she accepted a job, she'd do it or die trying. Kanrik knew she'd do it well. She was a better person then him, and wouldn't even be slightly tempted by the idea of watching Hanso fall into a pit trap. A non-lethal one, of course.
The light grew closer – Kanrik could see the tracks now. Even the desert sands couldn't cover a whole group of people – the nine others with Kanrik were likely enough to leave some signs that the winds couldn't erase.
Hannah pointed out a tripwire laying on the sand, and another place where the corner of a board had been exposed and revealed a pit trap. Jazan had to disable a magical alarm that would have shrieked the sky down. Kanrik kept his long ears alert, using every sense a thief had to warn of any approach. There was no telling how long Zann and their reinforcements would take to follow. They had to take full advantage of the element of surprise in order to last long enough for their backup to make a difference.
They came over a rise, and they had a view of the scene.
Maspal's Rock was a tall, thin monolith, a slightly rough natural obelisk. Beneath it, however, was a digging and several tents, with lamps and torches shedding light even at this late hour. The site reminded Kanrik of the Obelisk.
Oh, Fyora blast it. A half-grown, scrawny sentry dressed in black had been hidden from view by a rock. Jazan pointed at him, and in an instant there was a Scamander where the boy had been. Jazan said quickly, "It won't hurt him, and he'll turn back in a day or so."
Kanrik wouldn't have expected Jazan to care about some Sway wannabe. But there was no harm in disabling the sentries that way. No one else seemed to have noticed his brief cry.
They started picking their way down the steep dune toward where the Sway's dig site was at the base of Maspal's Rock.
Kanrik barely threw himself to the side in time to avoid General Sambar sliding down and losing his footing – the Elephante accidentally swiped Mirzah with a flailing arm as he tried to slow himself, knocking her to the ground. Then he lost his own balance and fell – the Elephante caused a fairly impressive shower of sand to shoot up when he hit the ground. Immediately there was a screaming sound in the night, coupled with flashes of purple light. Kanrik shouted, "They know we're here – to the tomb!"
He broke into a run, hoping the others would follow – Hannah would, he knew, but it would be better if they all found a more defensible position.
Hannah caught up to him, little legs churning up sand behind them. "Plan! Is there a plan?"
Kanrik drew his sword for the second time that night. "Yes. We win."
To be continued...