himing, ringing, a choir of lutes and a gentle cascade of strings resounded through the temple, deep vibratos and gentle notes reverberated off of dark cherrywood struts and rafters. The priestess walked slowly to the chantry at the center of the secure, octagonal room. Tendrils of black wispy hair had escaped her headdress and trailed about her pale face and neck. Dark, dulcet eyes peered up and scanned the faces of the closely-seated souls about the room.
She spoke. Kenja had told Tavis that she was going to speak in Delian, but it still took him aback when the priestess spoke. Tavis had become so used to hearing Kenja speaking Delian, that it was difficult to recognize the words when another voice spoke them. But he struggled with it, and after awhile he was able to put the phrases together in a way he could understand.
The beginning of Rone, the origin of the races, death and recovery. The priestess spoke of all these things together, gliding out of one topic and into another, weaving them all together with a beautiful simplicity and elegance. Astronomy was like this for him: the teacher spoke, and the words just flowed into his mind like music. He saw all the stars and the moons, and the great orange sun that held Rone in its orbit.
Great Anhur, she said, had put all races onto Rone, that we might grow and learn, and that Rone might be inhabited in every place with every glorious creation of Anhur, that His world might be beautiful and full of life. And, she continued, He gave strength, and wisdom, and speed and desire to the Elves and Orcs and Dwarves and all other races upon the face of Rone that they might all have the skills and passions they would require to be fruitful and happy.
In the afterlife, she said, we would all be the same, do the same things we do now, have the same families and friends. At first this disturbed Tavis, who all his life had heard about the glory of Anhur and the destiny of his followers who would praise him forever. But as the priestess went on, it began to make sense, began to sound beautiful to him: Father would keep working with his leathers; Mother would keep house and look after him; And Tavis could still play Tenkers with Kenja…
And then the eremites began chanting, deep voices and drum beats filling the still air.
Beautiful, the boy thought. Absolutely beautiful…
Each member of the group, save Brogan had communicated with the Lamya. All of them were weary with the night's interviews, and each of their faces were lined with a hard edge of weariness, and a disquieting appearance of aging.
Still standing by the Lamya, touching both the otherworldly specter and Rhoden, Zeyn stood resolute and unflinching. There was no evidence of weariness in any of the Yyyzyzyrn's hazy features. Slowly, Zeyn pulled his wispy fingers away from the Lamya's body. As he did, life and consciousness flooded into Rhoden like liquid filling a waterskin. The face which had become thin and gaunt filled with color and flesh seemed to grow again in the cheeks and chin. The hands also which had grown skeletal and pale thickened and turned red as blood flowed into them again. Limbs shook and straightened. Legs feebly braced for the solid ground which had become so unfamiliar in such a short time.
At the same time, Brogan, Gin and Tavis felt an uneasiness akin to falling off a great cliff. As Zeyn let go of the Lamya and Rhoden returned to awareness, the youth, the BeHemoth and the Elf-girl all felt propelled farther and farther down a dim and narrow cavern.
Zeyn released Rhoden, who fell to his knees immediately, and would've fallen onto his face had his still shaking hands not reflexively extended to catch him. The contact between this world and the nether-world fully broken, great heaves and sighs were had by all. The Lamya's inky form spilled down quickly back into the silt pool, and the queer purplish light was replaced by the first ruddy lights of dawn.
Tavis stared skyward in disbelief. Rosy fingers of clouds stretched lazily over the jutting peaks of the Angus Yorl ridge.
"Rhoden! Hey Rhoden!" Brogan's booming voice resounded over the foothills. The BeHemoth bolted over to the fallen conjurer, kicking up dust and gravel in his wake. Ignoring Zeyn's presence, Brogan put his huge meaty hands under Rhoden's arms and lifted him to his feet the way a child might lift a doll off the ground. Rhoden got an arm around the BeHemoth's stout waist as Brogan dusted off the conjurer's rune-enscribed robes.
"Buddy, you okay? I've seen you pull off some stunts before, pal, but this time you really scared me! Watch it, okay?" The others watched for long moments while Brogan dusted and Rhoden panted.
"Was it really that late when we got here?" It was Tavis who spoke. Gin looked up to see him looking skyward.
"Maybe talking with the Lamya lasted all night?" Gin offered in return.
Tavis looked down, closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "Whatever it was, I need some sleep."
"Me too," Gin responded, pulling on Tavis' arm and leaning against him. Tavis didn't seem to mind quite as much.
"Before we go," Rhoden spoke through halting breaths, "I want to get something." Rhoden expelled a few more forced breaths as the company patiently waited. "The Lamya's pool contains some very potent magic. Zeyn says it will be all right if I take a small sample."
Rhoden found his footing then, and released his grip on Brogan. With some effort, the conjurer located a tinted glass vial hanging from a leather strap at his belt and knelt by the Lamya's pool. Dangling the vial by the strap, Rhoden dipped it cautiously in the pool, allowing the dark sediment to seep into its narrow neck. After a long moment, Rhoden withdrew and wiped off the vial with a rag which he had also produced from his voluminous robes. Rhoden quickly discarded the rag into a shallow hole in the ground and kicked dirt over it. He then inserted a tiny cork in the opening and replaced it at his belt.
Gin sauntered over to the pool while Rhoden was tying the vial to his belt and squatted down by the glistening pitch. "What's so special about this goop?" she inquired, reaching a tiny hand out to touch it.
Rhoden spotted her. Immediately, he shot out a hand and clutched her fiercely by the wrist.
"It would be very, very bad for you to touch the pool, Ginny."
"Ow, ow!" Ginny squeaked at Rhoden's harsh grip. Then she looked up into his wide, glowering eyes and a timid face replaced her pained one. "I… I'm sorry… I didn't know."
"Step back, Ginny."
Rhoden released his iron grip, and the Elf-girl did as she was told, sauntering back to Tavis' side.
Zeyn approached Rhoden and placed threadlike fingers on cheek and temple in his familiar fashion. Rhoden's eyes met Zeyn's piercing scarlet orbs as the two communicated. It lasted only a moment, and then they stepped apart.
Tavis looked back and forth at the two hesitantly. At length his eyes fixed on the conjurer. "What did he say?"
"Zeyn says that the fluid from the Lamya's pool won't be useful unless we can use the Omoz elder's stone."
"I hope he knows we're not going back!" Brogan boomed.
"He knows," Rhoden replied, quickly, defensively. "He just wanted me to be aware."
Brogan closed his eyes, tilted his head down, grunted, and ran a huge hand over his head. He muttered something and turned away. Tavis wasn't sure what he said, but it sounded something like: "One of these days…"
Silently, the group collected their belongings from where they lay. Tavis retrieved the lance from where he had stood it against a nearby boulder, testing its weight and recalling the visions the Lamya had given him of magic and sparks coursing along the shaft.
"You figured out what to do with that thing?" Brogan asked Tavis, noting how the youth hefted the lance and studied it carefully.
"Maybe. I don't know." Tavis replied, not taking his eyes from the silvery shaft.
Brogan snorted. "We going back to Temacus?"
"Everybody goes back to Temacus." Tavis replied absently, repeating the old cliché.
Tavis turned and looked at the Big Red. "Yeah, we're going back."
Brogan turned and looked at Rhoden. The conjurer met his gaze and spoke after a moment.
"We need to get out of the foothills, then head west. The General's Highway will take us along the Angus Yorl to a Wyvern stable about a days journey from here. In the space of an afternoon, they can fly us up to Rhanjiir."
"Rhanjiir?" Gin piped. "What's that?"
"City in the mountain peaks." Tavis replied.
"Is that Roke?"
"Delian?" Brogan interjected. "I thought that was one of Kraig's old outposts back when they thought the southerners were the bad guys."
"No, actually it was established as an abbey by some priests of Anhur. They built a little religious community up there. It kind of evolved I guess."
"How'd you learn all this stuff?" Gin asked, her little Elven-girl voice chirping up like a bird -like it always did.
"Some I learned at school," Tavis answered, and some I learned from my uncle Wiljes. He knew a lot about history."
"Huh," Gin replied.
Brogan looked down the trail and sighed. "Come on, kids. Let's get outta here so we can get some rest."
"Hold it between your thumb and your forefinger, son. -Don't force it there, just let it rest against your hand. There you go, just get used to the feel of it for a moment."
Tavis liked uncle Wiljes well enough, but he wasn't sure about this 'writing' thing. He'd already spilled a bunch of ink and this stylus was far to big for him to hold comfortably.
"Right then," Wiljes said, stepping behind the boy and wrapping his huge, weathered hand around Tavis' tight little fist. "Press down -Not too hard now, and just drag the tip down the parchment. There you go, now another stroke right next to it, angle it a bit, then three dots…" Wiljes lifted up the little fist three times, bringing it and the stylus down with a tap, tap, tap on the parchment. "There you go, son, you've done the letter 'Khey'!"
"Khey, huh," Tavis replied. "So how many letters are there all together?"
Tavis sighed. "That's a lot"
"You'll learn them all in time."
Tavis fidgeted with the stylus a moment, turning around the large stick in his fingers. "Why is it so important to learn how to write, anyway?"
"The Enteroh knows how to write."
"Yeah but…I'm not the Enteroh. And who's going to read something if I write it anyway?"
"Ah," Wiljes replied, "Now that all depends on what you write."
"Has anyone ever read anything you've written."
"No. At least, not yet."
Tavis threw the stylus down on the table and heaved out a great sigh. "You're not helping."
"Here," Wiljes said, turning and walking quickly to a nearby bookshelf. He pulled out a thick old book and brought it quickly over to Tavis, blowing dust off the red cover as he went. "Here…" he said, plopping the book on the table and turning a few yellow pages, "Here is the history of Rone."
"Wow…" Tavis said, looking intently at the old tome. Slowly the boy fingered the warped yellow parchment. "You wrote this?"
"No," Wiljes replied, "someone else did."
Tavis screwed up his face and glared at Wiljes.
"Well some fellow wrote this and I read it, didn't I!"
Tavis looked down at the book again and began turning pages. Mostly he saw a lot of scribbles that he didn't understand, but occasionally he saw some pictures. One especially brightly-colored image leapt out at him: It was a man wearing robes and holding a glowing ball of bluish light in his hands. "Who's that?" Tavis asked, pointing at the picture.
"Ah, lad," Wiljes said, "Now you're into Rone's history of magic. That fellow is Vonnamon. He's the father of modern day magic use. He was a genius in the same class as Saldiari."
"He was a mathematician and a designer of machines. He lived long back in the glory days of the Southern Kingdom, long before anyone had ever even heard of the Roke Empire."
"Wow indeed. As I was saying, the fellow was an absolute genius. He spoke half a dozen languages, was an expert in physical sciences and had total recall of everything he ever heard, saw or read. Before Vonnamon, people only conjured up magic spells by using some kind of fetish or focus derived from Olnidar herbs or metals."
"Right, now Vonnamon was the first to engineer the idea of a person using his own mana-nimbus as a focus and directing magical energy directly through himself. A whole new culture and obsession with magic came about because of his discovery!"
"You lost me, Wiljes."
"Think of it this way," the old uncle said, putting a finger to his lips in thought. "Rone gets its heat from the sun, correct? It relies on the sun for heat."
"Right," Tavis replied. Now Wiljes was speaking in terms he could understand.
"Vonnamon decided he would be the sun."
"He was a genius." Wiljes paused for effect. "And, he knew how to read and write. Now, grab that stylus and let's get practicing!"
Tavis grumbled and picked up the writing instrument.
Rhoden sat unmoving on a narrow strip of gold-threaded carpet, listening intently to the tak-tak-tak of Gin's wooden staff on Tavis' metal lance as the two practiced sparring again. Relaxed and smiling, he soaked up the warmth of the afternoon sun, pleased with himself that he had found such a nice place for them to rest from the previous night's activities. Slowly he closed his eyes letting rhythmic breaths in and out.
"Right, there you go. Do you see how I'm open at this point, Gin?" Tavis asked between grunts and jabs. "You block me to the side…" <tak> "So I go high, you block again…" <tak> "And then I'm open all along the side. You have two options at this point. You can come in for my ribs, or just go for my arm."
"Couldn't I sweep down behind your leg and try to trip you?"
"Never work. Too much distance and I'm way too fast."
Gin cocked her head to the side, smiling with her eyes.
"Honest. Now let's try it again from the top." The two stood back a pace and brought their respective staves up to the ready. "Right, here I come."
Tavis came at her quickly from the side, the heavy steel whistling in the air. Gin countered with a resounding clack which made her fingers sting. No time to recover, Gin pulled up quickly to catch Tavis' blow coming down on her head. She deliberately aimed low, making contact down by Tavis' hands, not up near the top of the strike. It gave her all the time in the world. Deftly she brought the low end down and behind his calf and then jerked back quickly.
Tavis went down flat on the ground with a pleasing thud.
Gin stood back and smiled.
Tavis blinked until he got his vision back and then looked up at the mighty force that had subdued him; a little Elf girl half his size.
"Ginny," the fallen youth began, a hint of a chuckle entering his voice, "I already told you I was too fast for you to do that."
Lovely peals of laughter streamed out from the Elf girl as she instantly dropped her staff and fell on the sedge by Tavis who also erupted with booming laughter.
"Rhoden!" Tavis shouted. "Rhoden did you see that?" The youth turned to look at the conjurer, but he was gone. His little carpet was still laid on the ground, and still showed the indents where he had been sitting. "S'funny, he was just sitting right there..."
"Do you two want to keep it down!" Brogan's voice boomed out from under the tree where he rested. He lifted up the huge leaf he had placed over his head and glared out at the two. "All night long and you two aren't tired at all!?"
"We couldn't sleep," Tavis defended hastily.
"That's why we were sparring," Gin added, "to wear ourselves out."
"Only thing wearing out is my patience!" The BeHemoth growled menacingly. "Now lie down and try to get some sleep."
The two looked at each other, giggled quietly under their breaths, and then ambled off to the little shelter they had made by stringing their foul-weather cloaks up among some low-hanging tree limbs. They crawled underneath their respective shelters and began breathing in slower, deeper tones, eyes open, staring upward.
"You still thinking about last night?" Tavis inquired.
"You want to tell me what you saw?" Gin asked.
"No." Tavis replied curtly.
Another pause ensued, and then Tavis continued. "Why, do you want to tell me about what you saw?"
Gin breathed in deep, still staring up at her cloak. "I saw all three of Rone's moons spinning around in the sky."
Tavis' ears perked up at that.
"And then I saw a river of blood." A sadness crept into Gin's voice.
Crooking his neck to look over, Tavis saw her still staring at her cloak.
"I'm going to sleep now." She said flatly and shut her eyes.
Tavis let it go and un-crooked his neck, letting his head relax. At least Rhoden was back, Tavis noted, looking out across the knoll and seeing that the conjurer sat, once again, on his narrow strip of carpet.
Dizziness like buzzing wasps filled Tavis' head. He deigned to open his eyes and saw pools of color swirl and collapse. At once he had a sense of falling and of a sudden found himself in a doorway at the end of a long, dark hallway. Wooden panels lined the walls and a strip of purple carpet ran down the length, up a short flight of stairs, and under a pair of decorated, wooden, double-doors at the end. Cautiously, Tavis began walking studying the details of the hall as he went. At length he approached the small staircase, went up them, and gently swung the doors open.
The first thing to catch his eye was a large throne in the center of the room placed on a raised platform with steps leading to it. The walls were covered with bookshelves and filled with rows and rows of books. Off in the corner, a middle-aged man was perched upon a fine sofa. The fellow had tannish skin, like himself, a native of Temacus, was wearing a splendid-looking silk robe, and sipping from an octagonal wineglass.
"Something to drink?" the man offered.
Tavis' head bobbed up, the vertigo still not completely gone from his senses. His sight blurred, he saw a figure sitting off in the distance. "I was asleep," Tavis said dumbly.
"Yes, well you're quite on top of things now, aren't you?"
Tavis blinked several times and rubbed his eyes fiercely against the bright lamps in the room.. At length they came into focus.
"Who are you?" Tavis inquired.
"Free tours of the Hall are available every Solven's day. Haven't you come yet?"
"Hall…?" Then Tavis looked again and was suddenly aware of the ornate in the center of the room. "Whoa!" he yelped, lurching upright, and instantly regretted it as his head began to swim with dizziness again. He clutched his head and lunged about, searching for something to grab onto.
The fellow took another sip.
"You're the Enteroh, aren't you?" Tavis asked, finally coming to.
"Not all that scary in real life, am I? Honestly, by listening to the dissidents and nay-sayers, you'd think I was an absolute troll! A far cry from reality, you can plainly see."
Tavis leaned with one arm on the throne, casting about the room to see where he was and what he had available to him. Books, statues, carpets, a map perched by the large, nearby windows. All the things he'd expect.
"What's my game? What am I up to?" the Enteroh offered. "That's what's going through your head, no? I'm prepared to be quite straightforward with you."
Tavis paused, rocked back and forth, getting sure of his footing. Where is my lance? He thought.
Slowly the Enteroh arose and walked over to the windows. Arriving there, he set his wineglass down and crossed his arms behind his back. "Do you know how Rone was made? Do you know what's happened to it? Do you?"
"I've heard a couple of things," Tavis ventured lamely.
"I've devoted quite a good deal of time to studying it myself." Turning, the Enteroh looked down now at the map on the sill. "Come," he said, beckoning toward the map, "I'll be happy to show you."
Tavis walked over, cautiously, guardedly, and came to stand several paces away from the Enteroh.
"Oh do come on. I don't bite."
Tavis walked closer to the map. While from the distance it appeared to be like any other land map, closer inspection revealed something quite different. Squinting, Tavis stared at it intently. It appeared to be a design of all the primal planes connected together. Endae had once shown him such a drawing in an arcane book of magic studies.
"You and I," the Enteroh began, "The Dwarves, the Elves… Gnomes, what have you," he pointed to the upper left-hand corner of the map, "emerged from the Homid plane. Now, whether you believe the going claim that Anhur sent us all here, or the more radical claim that the strong ones began to emerge on their own and bring others with them, is really immaterial as far as this discussion is concerned. The fact is, the Homids emerged."
Tavis looked from the map to the Enteroh, trying to take this all in.
"Now, the more diverse -shall we say, for lack of a better word- the more diverse races emerged from their respective planes. The Orcs, BeHemoths, and so forth emerged from the Troglodyte plain, of course -Don't frown at the word. It has taken on a rather vulgar connotation, I'm afraid, but in the annals of science and theology it's quite explicit."
Tavis looked on at the Enteroh, eyes frowning.
"Now we could go on," the Enteroh continued, "and delineate all the other planes, Saurian, Animus, et cetera, but it suffices me to simply illustrate that diverse races came from diverse planes. -It might also interest you to know that most of them believe to have been placed by a Supreme Being as well, although they don't all call him Anhur."
Tavis looked on.
"Are you following me? Have you been taught this before?"
"Yes, I've heard of it." Tavis said, folding his arms.
"Good, now another point worth mentioning, is that numerous of the races have had to adapt over time to survive in the world."
In the back of his head, Tavis heard his father's voice from many years earlier.
"To put it another way, the strong and the smart survive. Now, tell me something, lad: How many planes do you know of?"
"I don't know, four or five maybe."
"Yes, five is generally the going rate. But what if I was to tell you…" the Enteroh turned the page of the map over the top of the little easel it was set upon. "What if I was to tell you that there were six!"
"Six? How do you figure?" Tavis studied the new map on the next page for a moment.
"Well, there's another plane we've recently discovered, unlike any that's been seen before. Although some studies have been compiled…" The Enteroh made a grand sweeping motion at a nearby bookcase and Tavis began to look more closely at the titles.
"Stars and Heavens… You're studying demonolatry!"
"This," the Enteroh stated emphatically, making a stabbing motion in the air with his finger, "-The way you're acting right now- This is what we have to overcome. For countless centuries since Rone emerged from the cosmos and the races began to inhabit it they have struggled against each other, made an enemy of their neighbor at a glance! This thinking, This judgmental thinking is what we must overcome! The inhabitants of this plane we've discovered have just as much right and privilege to inhabit Rone as you, or I, or Elves, or Dwarves, or Orcs."
"You want to bring Hell to Rone."
"They don't call it that there."
"You want to bring Hell to Rone."
"Lad, if you cannot overcome your preconceived notions, think on this: What if we are already in Hell."
"Think on it: The wicked prosper and the innocent are left to starve, what kind of world are we living in?"
Tavis heard the Enteroh. He remembered feeling this way himself when he had to move to Rhendale; when the roving gangs would break windows and terrorize buildings; when his father…
"Think on it, lad. Even if I am, as you say, bringing 'Hell' to Rone, could it be made any worse? And the creatures there are so bright and strong and beautiful… To think of what they could teach us all about survival, and not just survival, but life at it's prime!"
A howling wind grew in Tavis' ears.
"Think on it lad!"
The sense of vertigo returned and Tavis felt as though he was falling again.
"Tavis! Get up! Please!" Tavis awoke groggily to see the familiar face of Ginny perched over him, tendrils of hair outlined with moonlight and face dark within moonshadow. Wind howled in his ears and distantly, almost like a dream, he heard the sound of voices and shouting.
"What is it, Ginny?"
"Tavis! Mjorda's men! They've come!"
A creak of the door and a thumping of footsteps on the worn stairs brought mother away from the stove and out to the front room. Her darling boy came bursting through the door all smiles and motion from, no doubt, another exciting day.
"Mom! Mom! I had a great day! You've just gotta hear all about it!"
"I'd love to, just after I hear about why my little boy is late for dinner." Mother stood, arms crossed, staring icily down at her little man.
"Well, uh, we -that is uncle Wiljes and I were having a really good time-"
"Did he teach you about writing like he promised?"
"Of course he did -Uncle Wiljes always keeps his promises."
"He promised me you'd be home on time."
"But… But mom, he did more than just teach me about writing, he taught me about history, too."
"Yeah! He taught me about this guy that totally changed the way magic is done! See, he had this great idea: He was going to be like the sun, and-"
"What in Heaven!" Mother interjected, turning an excited Tavis to silence. "I am going to have to talk with him… Putting foolish ideas into your head like that. You tell him I said not to ever tell you about magic again! Do you hear?"
"Yes, mom," Tavis replied sheepishly, looking down at his feet.
"Now then," mother continued, strolling over to the table and untying her apron, "What did you and Kenja do today?"
"Oh, mom, that was the other great thing! She took me to a temple today and I learned all about how all the races got to Rone, and I learned that when we die, you're still going to be around, and dad can keep working with his leathers, and Kenja and I can still play-"
"What in all the Land!" Mother cried in disbelief. She startled Tavis into silence again. "I can't let you out of my sight, can I?"
"But… But, mom… I mean, it's going to be great. You and dad are going to be there and everything… It's…"
"Nonsense, son. If you're good you go to live with Anhur and if your bad you go to Belza. Didn't I raise you any better?"
"But, mom…They talked about Anhur and everything…" Tavis began again, a trace of sadness creeping into his voice.
"Oh but you're not my little boy anymore, are you?" She continued, putting on her sad eyes now and clenching her hands in front of her in that worried way of hers. "You're growing up and you're outgrowing the things your mom and dad have tried so hard to teach you."
"But that's just it, mom…" Tavis attempted, his voice cracking and wetness creeping into the corners of his eyes. "That's just it, I'll be with you still…"
Mother paused and looked on at her son with wounded eyes. "Go wash your face for supper dear. It's time to eat."
"Yes, mom," Tavis replied hastily as he hurried into the bathroom.
Over Ginny's screeching voice, Tavis heard the familiar sound of Brogan grunting and screaming, and the unnerving discharge of magic from Rhoden and Zeyn.
He fumbled with his lance and the still disconnected spearhead nearby. He had forgotten to reassemble it after sparring with Ginny in the afternoon. Blackness of night and grogginess from sleep hindered his task, but after much effort, he had it screwed back on properly. None too soon either, as an ominous, hulking set of footsteps lumbered up the knoll before them.
"Tavis!" Gin shrieked.
"Get your staff, Ginny!"
"No! Tavis I-"
"I'm not telling you to hide behind me, now get your staff, Ginny!"
Quavering, shaking, a leaf in a surging storm, Gin fingered around the ground and eventually came to rest on her small, wooden staff.
"Get up, Gin."
"Aren't you coming up!" Gin pleaded, the fall of the hulking footsteps growing louder accompanied now by a distinct grunting.
"I'm right there, now Up!"
Reluctantly, Gin's legs formed up under her, obeying Tavis, because they sure weren't obeying her.
Think first, boy. Always think first! Tavis could hear the voice of his master again in his head. Tavis poked upward with the tip of the lance, spearing the cloak that hung in the branches above him. A wide, thick head bobbed up over the knoll, accompanied by a set of shoulders, and then a pair of arms wielding a wicked-looking battle ax.
The barbarian saw Gin and came right for her.
"Just a minute longer Gin."
The Elf girl's throat constricted, giving noise to the shallow fast pants that raced out of her lungs.
The barbarian charged, screaming, Gin shrieked. Tavis swung hard on the lance and let the cloak fly.
It hit the barbarian and wrapped right around his head.
The assailant turned and swung madly at thin air, hacking and heaving impotent strokes into the night air. Tavis rose next to the stiff and frigid form of Gin and crept forward slowly. Down. Up. Yes. Wait till he's open, and now! Tavis swung hard, bringing the staff of the lance down on the barbarian's shoulder by his head. A reassuringly dull thud sounded from under the cloak and Tavis knew he'd broken the fellow's collar bone. Taking no time to revel in it, Tavis brought the backswing of the butt end into the elbow of the barbarian's fighting arm. Another thud, not quite as piercing, and Tavis knew he'd hit muscle and not bone. It did the trick though, the assailant's right side went limp. The next strike was across the knees, this time with the blade. Tavis heard the pop and snap like a Strok being rent for meat preparation, and the barbarian collapsed on useless limbs.
Tavis had to take another two steps before he was on top of him. Whistling in the night air, Tavis brought the tip up high above his head like the statue of the jouster and knew he would have to make this count, and brought it down hard, not just through flesh and gut, but down into spine and backbone as well. The barbarian convulsed once, went stiff, and then all the life rustled out of him.
Tavis thought on all his practices and knew that he had only learn the moves; Never, he thought, never had he thought what to feel or think or do once all the moves were done and there was nothing but well-dressed meat lying before you.
Tavis realized now that he was shaking, too, quivering almost like the body before him had just done. Whether it was terror or the surge of drawing blood, he couldn't tell. As he leaned on the lance, still implanted firmly in the body at his feet, he felt that it too shook, and moreover was the source of his shaking. Had it hit a rock or got lodged in the bone? Tavis thought. He stepped on the body's hip an pulled. Hard. Even out of the body it was shaking, and the tip was undamaged, so it couldn't have been a stone.
Figuring it out would have to wait, he thought. He turned instantly and faced Gin. "You can't freeze, Ginny. Do you hear me? You can't freeze up! Our friends are down there and they're in trouble, and they need us, do you hear me Ginny? You've taken me down twice now. You can do it. You can't freeze, Ginny?"
Ginny stared at him with a look of wonder and terror. A long breath hissed out through her teeth. He took her hand and they bolted down the knoll.