Her name was Julia, and I’d been damn certain she was dead back on April 30 when it all began. My finding her grisly remains and destroying the doglike creature which I’d thought had killed her were pretty much the way it started. And we had been lovers, which I suppose was how things had really commenced. Long before.
Perhaps I could have trusted her more. Perhaps I should never have taken hex on that shadow-walls which led to denials that took her away from me, down dark ways and into the studio of Victor Melman, a nasty occultist I later had to kill – the same Victor Melman who was himself the dupe of Luke and Jasra. But now, perhaps – just barely – I might have been in a position to forgive myself for what I’d thought I’d done, for it seemed that I hadn’t really done it after all. Almost.
That is to say, I learned that I hadn’t been responsible for it while I was in the act of doing it. It was when I drove my knife into the side of the mysterious sorcerer Mask, who had been on my case for some time, that I discovered that Mask was really Julia. My half brother Jurt, who’s been trying to kill me longer than anyone else in the business, snatched her away, and they vanished then, immediately following his transformation into a kind of living Trump.
As I fled the burning, crumbling Keep there at the Citadel of the Four Worlds, a falling timber caused me to dodge to my right, trapping me in a cul-de-sac of crashed masonry and burning beams. A dark metal ball flashed past me then, seeming to grow as it moved. It struck the wall and passed through it, leaving a hole one could dive through – a hint I was not slow in taking. Outside I jumped the moat, using my Logrus extensions to knock aside a section of fence and a score of troops, before I turned back and shouted, “Mandor!”
“Right here,” came his soft voice from behind my left shoulder.
I turned in time to see him catch a metal ball, which bounced once before us and dropped into his extended hand.
He brushed ashes from his black vest and ran a hand through his hair. Then he smiled and turned back toward the burning Keep.
“You’ve kept your promise to the Queen,” he remarked, “and I don’t believe there’s anything more for you here. Shall we go now?”
“Jasra’s still inside,” I answered, “having it out with Sharu.”
“I thought you were done with her.”
I shook my head.
“She still knows a lot of things I don’t. Things I’ll be needing.”
A tower of flame began to rear itself above the Keep, halted and hovered a moment, heaved itself higher.
“I didn’t realize,” he said. “She does seem to want control of that fountain fairly badly. If we were to snatch her away now, that fellow Sharu will claim it. Does that matter?”
“If we don’t snatch her away, he may kill her.”
“I’ve a feeling she’ll take him. Would you care to place a small wager?”
“Could be you’re right,” I said, watching the fountain continue its climb skyward, following another pause. I gestured toward it. “Thing looks like an oil gusher. I hope the winner knows how to cap it – if there is a winner. Neither one of them may last much longer, the way the place is coming apart.”
“You underestimate the forces they’ve generated to protect themselves,” he said. And you know it isn’t all that easy for one sorcerer to do in another by sorcerous means. However, you’ve a point there when it comes to the inertia of the mundane. With your permission…?”
With a quick underhand toss he cast the metal ball across the ditch toward the burning building.