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Chapter 77



The bottles had been given out the previous evening. This day was given to more knifeplay and mapmaking. After dinner all gathered to be given their final instructions.

Morth wore robes in blazing green patched with huge golden stars. Whandall stared. The cursed robe was perfect, just perfect. From a mountaintop on a cloudy day. He'd said that. It would be bad to laugh, but... "Morth, you really look like a wizard, Morth."

"Oh, shut up!" Morth hurled the pointed cap at the floor. "How was that supposed to stay on? Did you think-"

"This is Morth!" Whandall bellowed, and waved grandly. "Look at him! Know him when you see him again!" There was laughter, none of it muffled. These were Lordkin. "Good. Morth, now I need you to ferret out every bottle that has been opened."

Laughter died as Morth moved among the giggling horde and pointed, pointed. Wanshig's musclemen moved after him and saw to it that certain men and women went away.

"I only had it open for an instant!"

Morth took the stopper off. "Nothing. Refined. Keep it, but go."

Another complained. Morth pulled the stopper out and back fast. "Still some power left. How long did you have this open?"

"Long enough for Tarcress to finish cooking sand dabs. Just time to pour a bit out, to think that that was gold and ... put it back."

"Keep your place." Morth opened another bottle. "No gold. Fool! Keep the bottle and gel out."

"Gathered by my brother!"

"Fool!"

Wanshig asked above the noise, "You're sure? They keep the bottles?"

"If they go quietly. Fifteen of my heroes are clean missing, bottle and all, but these came," Whandall said.

"I count eleven missing."

Morth tapped five in a clump of six. The sixth boy watched them depart. Whandall asked him, "What happened?"

"We all live in a room at the Placehold. Last night Flaide opened his bottle and poured out a handful of gold. He told the rest of us."

"Why didn't you open yours?"

Silence.

"Good. Your name? Sadesp, were you all six stationed next to each other? Curse. Whandall, all of these other bottles stayed closed."

"Hold up, Morth. I don't know some of these people." Fifteen gone but four replaced by strangers. The woman was looking at him. "Did I give you that bottle?"

Pride and terror. "No, Feathersnake. I'm taking Leathersmith Miller's place."

"Where is he?"

"Smitty slept beside me last night. I'm Sapphire Carpenter, and I know more about love than any woman in the inner city."

Wanshig said, "She speaks the truth. Sapphire, you're leaving?"

"Morth, look her over."

"She's clean. No diseases, no curses. A few fleas. She's left the bottle

stopped. Sapphire, can you throw?"

"Yes. Smitty showed me his place. I have his map."

She'd kept the bottle unopened for several hours.

"Take your place," Morth said. "And, Sapphire, if you think you know every pleasure that may pass between a man and a woman, we should talk."

Three more carried black bottles Whandall hadn't given them. Three men had backed out, or gotten high or drunk, or-face it-been killed for their places. Too late to tell. Whandall sent one away, with a gold nugget and no bottle, because he didn't like his look. He would risk the others.

He nodded to Wanshig. Wanshig unbarred a door and they trooped in. "Watch your step," Whandall called, then followed with Green Stone.

They had been all day working on this map, using charcoal and props.

Whandall said, "Green Stone, take over." The boy had been familiar with the general plan for months. He believed, where Whandall didn't

quite. And- Whandall should not fully concern himself. A curious fire god might still look into Whandall's mind.

Traders were trained to project their voices above rushing rivers, storms, bandit raids. Green Stone used his caravan voice. "You're the chosen. In your lives you have seen just enough magic to know that it's real. You are going to witness and be part of the most powerful wizardry this city has ever seen. Those who stay behind will never see the like again. Play your part and you will leave Tep's Town and see sights you've not yet had the wit to dream.

"Those of you who understand maps will recognize what's going on here. This," Wanshig's gold saltbox, gathered long ago, long emptied, "is the Placehold. Here, the Black Pit"-a dark pool on the floor, ancient blood. They'd started their map there. "Here, the Lordshills. Forest. Deer-piss and the Wedge, and the Toronexti here"-a brass coin.

"These jagged lines way out here are shoreline, here at Sea Cliffs, here at Good Hand Harbor. We got some help on these from a Water Devil. We don't know what's between them. More shore.

"Off beyond Sea Cliffs is ocean and a water elemental. Morth of Atlantis can tell you more about it. It's been trying to kill Morth since Atlantis sank.

"Morth intends to kill it. That has never been done before.

"The elemental will show itself as a mountain of water. It will chase Morth. Morth-see these paired lines? One red, one green, all the way across the map? Morth will follow the green line from Sea Cliffs across Dead Seal Flats, uphill here, down along Long Avenue to Dark Man's Cup-see? And on inland. The wave will follow the lowlands. We'll be strung out all along the red line, above it all, watching.

"We want to throw bottles ahead of the wave. When Morth is past, take the stopper out and throw the black bottle. Throw it at something hard, like a rock! It has to break!" Take the stopper out or break it-both would work-but these were Lordkin; they might forget.

"Yangin-Atep takes the magic, all in an instant, if they break too soon. You-Sintothok?-you opened your bottle, but not long enough for Yangin-Atep to gather all the manna in the gold. But break it just in front of the wave, the elemental will take it.

"And that's the point of all this. The wave will sink and flow back to the ocean if we don't give it the power to go on. The wild magic will keep it moving until it gets here. Here at the Black Pit is where Morth will trap it, with no manna to move it and no way to get more, and here Morth will kill it.

"Afterward, gather at Peacegiven Square... . Questions?"

Lordkin don't raise their hands and wait. They bellow. Green Stone pointed and said, "Hey! Hey! You."

"I've seen waves. They're fast. Your wizard is nuts."

"Morth can outrun lightning. I've seen it. You will too. If you miss it

you'll regret it the rest of your life. You-"

"You want to move the wave uphill?"

"Here and here we'll have the wave going uphill, yes. I'll bunch you up a little there, because we'll really need the gold."

And because some of these won't throw, Whandall thought, but you can't tell them that some of them can't be trusted. "Corntham? What?"

"How do you kill a water elemental?"

Morth said, "That's the tricky part."

Green Stone said, "Morth has made gifts to us for our part in this. Our gifts to you will be freedom from Tep's Town, just as you've been promised. You'll have a place in the caravans on the Hemp Road, or you may find better lives than that. Whandall Placehold was one of you. What he is now brought him back as greater than a Lord. My father." Green Stone watched them flinch at that word, and he grinned.










Chapter 76 | The Burning City | Chapter 78



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