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Chapter 78

Some of the bottle throwers, those with the most distant posts, must be sent off that night in a protected band. Sea Cliffs would house them. The rest dowsed down in the Placehold for what remained of the night. The caravan would have to take care of itself. Whandall and Green Stone needed their sleep.

The sale at Peacegiven Square would have nearly emptied out the kinless

quarters. Lordkin who knew nothing of Morth's plan wouldn't be interfering with Morth's route. They'd be burgling empty houses while the kinless

were away, or trying to profit from the fair ... or so Whandall hoped.

Morth and Whandall boarded their chariots behind Sandry and Heroul.

Wanshig hadn't caught the hang of mapping, and at his age, no wonder. Two sisters' sons had. They rode Wanshig's chariot, placing bottle throwers from Dark Man's Cup southeast to the Black Pit.

Whandall moved west.

His chosen were not standing beside friends to hold them steady. Each could just see the next to either side, not too far for a voice to carry. Except... that yawning gap. Five of six boys gone, and Sadesp standing alone. Whandall slowed to space them more regularly.

Now Morth was far ahead. His chariot slashed through the weeds that lined Dark Man's Cup, while Whandall and Heroul followed him along the ridge. Whandall couldn't see deep enough into the chaparral to pick I, out kinless houses or the warrens of the hemp growers. They'd been warned. They'd got out, or they hadn't.

The beach was in sight. Sandry stopped his chariot on the ridge above Dead Seal Flats, and Morth got out and went on.

The last runner, a woman of Sea Cliffs, had slowed to a walk and was checking her map to find her place. Her man had already taken his. Whandall had Heroul pull up between them. He walked to the edge.

He would have driven on to the bluff above Sea Cliffs Beach. He'd see it all from there. From here, Morth was already out of sight. But Whandall's chariot would need the head start, if what he remembered was no hallucination.

A wave rose up and rolled forward, crested in white, climbing as it came. Where was Morth? Already gone?

There, a green and gold dot, unmistakable-look at that man move! The wave came after him too slowly, losing ground, but higher every second. Throw, Whandall thought, but he wouldn't speak. This was how he would know his own, if they threw or if they didn't.

Whandall jumped aboard. "Go. Go!"

Heroul used the reins. Horse, then chariot lurched into motion.

Delirious laughter rose above the wave's roar, and Whandall wondered why the sound was so delayed when Morth was halfway to the first rise.

The woman threw. Her man threw too. Bottles arced down and shattered, and a mountain of water rolled past, raising thunder and spume just below Whandall's whirling wheels.

The big horse looked terrified. Heroul was elated. The wave so far down was no threat to them. Morth was nearly out of sight, disappearing in chaparral, where Dead Seal Flats rose uphill.

Morth stopped as if he'd hit a wall.

The wave rolled on. Whandall rolled past an elderly kinless man curled up with his hands over his ears, crying, bottle abandoned. Wrinin of Flower Market hurled her bottle; it bounced unbroken and rolled but left a trail of yellow gold. Sapphire Carpenter waited until she was in his full view, then threw beautifully; the bottle smashed just under the wave.

Morth was in a tottering run, and the wave was closing. Bald scalp, thin white fringe. Teeth showed in a snarl of effort as he turned back, just for an instant, and grinned at the showers of gold and glass splinters. And the wave rose to hide him, but Sandry was waiting with the chariot and was helping Morth to board.

Now the wave was moving uphill, losing water, losing mass. Whandall's chariot was pulling ahead of it. Below, the wizard and Sandry came back into view. The Lord's son drove like While Lightning twisting a gob of molten glass, carefully, aware of danger, not hurrying, doing his job.

Swabott's mother was first lady of Flower Market. They'd needed truce with Flower Market to post their bottle throwers. Whandall had prepped him. Swabott knelt with bottle in hand, the stopper already out, as the wave came toward him.

Even from far away, Whandall could see him shaking with terror. When he stood to throw, the bottle jittered in his hand and gold showered all about him. The wave was ahead of Whandall here ... and now it was passing Swabott, and he hadn't thrown.

He turned toward Whandall, and a serene joy was in his face. He wasn't shaking at all. He took it all in; his smile widened to a manic grin. ...

Before Whandall could twitch, Swabott was running alongside Whandall's horse! The horse was running full out, but when Swabott swung onto its back the horse screamed and surged faster. Swabott dug his heels into its sides and yelled. Whandall was ready to jab a spear into him when he threw.

The bottle dropped neatly in front of the wave and smashed.

Whandall turned the spear around and rapped Swabott smartly on the back of his head. "Get off my chariot!" Swabott leaped from the horse, rolled, and was on his feet and running, laughing like a madman. Gold fever... and he'd earned his place.

The low path turned here and became Dark Man's Cup.

Padanchi the Lop still had one good arm. His bottle shattered ahead of the wave. Then the wave turned to follow Morth's chariot, and the foamy crest slapped Padanchi off the cliff.

Kencchi of the Long Avenue froze at the sight. He didn't hear his woman screaming at him to throw. Nor did Whandall; he only saw her wide mouth, straining throat. But when the time came, she threw. Kencchi didn't.

Decide later.

Morth's properly terrified horse was pulling him nicely through Dark Man's Cup, following its own trail of smashed vegetation. The wave rolled on, no less monstrous, feeding on the wild magic in the smashed bottles.

Here several of his chosen were missing... the wave began to slump ... and there was fighting ahead.

Four of Whandall's bottle throwers had managed to reach each other and were fighting back to back against six men of the North Quarter. North Quarter had broken truce! Whandall signaled Heroul, who pulled toward the ring of Lordkin around the four survivors.

They saw him coming. Running wouldn't help; his first target braced himself to duck aside. Whandall outguessed him and punched his blade deep into the man's torso. His grip on the long halt twisted the man halfway around, and then Whandall could pull the blade free, all in a background of screaming. The ring of gatherers was broken and running. Whandall reached out with the long shaft and stabbed another.

Heroul was looking for another target.

"Keep it moving," Whandall shouted. The wave was gaining on Morth. Its dark green face had crosscurrents in it, interference patterns.

The ground leveled off ahead. Whandall's advantage of altitude was dwindling. He had no reason to think that this mindless water elemental would take an interest in him, but... but. Whandall's path had grown rougher; the wave was past him; behind him he could see its wake of black wet ground. .'

Morth might die in this crazy project. Whandall would not mourn long. His promise bound him, but this was also his chance to choose whom he might rescue from the Burning City. If Whandall could survive. He might die rescuing the idiot wizard.

Morth was almost under the wave, already beyond rescue.

Morth opened a black bottle and showered gold all over himself. Sandry turned in surprise. Morth's hair flashed brick red and he was moving.

The chariot was left behind, horse and all, swallowed by foam in the next instant. But Morth was running on the vertical cliff with the charioteer held wriggling above his head. He dropped Sandry on the lip of the crest and veered back into the valley, leaving a wake of mad laughter.

The charioteer was on hands and knees, coughing, then vomiting. Whandall waved at Sandry but didn't slow. Then the horse stumbled and Heroul had to slow.

Horse and driver, he'd get no more out of either.

Whandall jumped out and ran, wobbling from the beating his sense of balance had taken. Heroul followed, shouting, "Where? Sir, where are we-?"

"Follow Morth!" He was passing the last bottle carrier-Reblay of Silly Rabbits, sitting spraddle-legged, his bottle thrown. Running on flat land now, past a broken chariot and three men on their backs gasping for air. Wanshig and his two nephews-

Those weren't the nephews he'd started with.

Whandall ran. If he lived, he'd hear the story. The Black Pit was ahead. Whandall could see its ripple and gleam: water covering black tar, a death trap shining in the sun.

Morth was slowing again, gray with fatigue. He looked back, and from the look in his eyes, what he saw was his death.

Manna in raw gold had energized the water sprite and driven it mad. The wave had followed Morth, and a trail of wild magic, deep into the heart of the Burning City. Now it was stranded in a place where the magic was gone; and now there was nothing behind it but refined gold. It still stood higher than any building of that age. White-crested, with weird ripples rolling across its green face, it rolled toward the staggering, gasping wizard.

Reblay was not the last bottle carrier. Here was where Freethspat's son should have been, where lay a black bottle no bigger than Whandall's fist. Whandall scooped it up and kept running. He neared Morth, pulled the stopper and threw.

Gold and glass sprayed around the wizard's feet. Morth whooped and ran, over the fence in a leap, across the dark water too fast to sink into it, to the far side of the Black Pit and over the far fence.

A mountain of water rolled into the Black Pit, absorbed the pond water, and grew.

The tar burst into flame.

Whandall barely felt his hair and eyebrows singed to ash. For an instant that seemed to last forever, he perceived what Yangin-Atep perceived....

Chapter 77 | The Burning City | Chapter 79