Dragon Magic(2)

By: Megan Derr

The jester chuckled, but it wasn't a nice sound. "We are both royal fools. I simply make people misbehave, and you make them behave."

"I am not in a patient mood tonight, fool," Sule said. "Do not test me."

"You should not have knocked me over," the jester replied, eyes glowing silver.

Just what he needed. A fool with mind magic. Sule summoned fire in one hand, the other reaching for his sword.

They both froze at the sound of footsteps right before a priest came into view and—

—Cemal tamped down on his panic. "What have we here?" No one was supposed to be out so late. No one ever took this street at this hour. He had chosen his path with care, Dragon eat them. At least the light of the street lamp they stood beneath did not penetrate as far as where he stood. He had come too far to fail now.

He almost murmured one of the prayers that had been drilled into him over the years, but he always felt ashamed of himself for clinging to such things, given the pretenses under which he had become a priest.

If these two saw the bloodstains on his robes, the traces on his hands that he could not seem to scrub away no matter how hard he tried—well, he had little reason to continue living now, but he did not want to die. "Peace, brothers." He eyed the two men critically, and noted the one was lost in mist-leaf and the other exceedingly drunk.

Sighing because he could not risk taking them to a temple or poorhouse the way he should, Cemal tried to think of what he could do to both fulfill his priestly obligations and get away with no one the wiser of the murder he had just committed. "What troubles you, my brothers?"

"Him!" they both snarled, then glared at each other.

"Children!" Cemal barked, shaking his robes, only then remembering he had removed the bells that should have adorned the bottom so that he would not make any noise traveling through the city after curfew.

The drunk—a royal soldier with the badge of one who worked in the castle—sneered and shoved away from the other man. "I am wanting to hit someone tonight, priest. You will do as well as the fool."

"You will not find me an easy man to strike," Cemal said softly. He could feel the knife in his hand all over again, see the flash of metal in candlelight right before he killed the bastard. Could feel the blood, hot and sticky as it sprayed him. He had not expected the sounds a dying man made. Had forgotten how horrible the stench of death could be.

The soldier drew closer, and Cemal braced himself, calling up his magic. After murder, a fight was nothing. He started to lunge at the same time as the soldier, then realized he could not move.

Movement caught the corner of his eye, and he shivered with genuine fear as he saw—

—Binhadi looked over the three men as he moved slowly into the light of a nearby street lamp, his steps loud in the sudden silence. When the three men tried to struggle, he strengthened the grip of his shadows, amazed at how easily the shadows obeyed, as though eager to hold fast to the three men.

Shaking off the strange, moon-induced impression, he said, "All of you are out after curfew, and I doubt you have permission. Not a one of you is fit to be around other people. When I release my shadows, you will each return to where you should be. I will accept no protests. Am I understood?"

"Yes, my lord," the men all said.

Binhadi released them slowly, watching for mischief. When they'd gone, he reached up to touch the pendant resting in the hollow of his throat. It glowed as he engraved the memory, not certain why he did, but trusting his instinct.

Alone again, he walked on, searching for the exhaustion that would banish all else for a time.


One year later

Mahzan loved the city when it was overcrowded, full to the point of bursting, as though people would break through the walls and spill out into the Great Lake. He had watched them arriving earlier that morning from high above in the main watch tower with a couple of the guards, who'd been happy to accept and share his mist-leaf bribe.

All four of the great Compass Bridges had been crammed with people—visitors, residents, guards striving to keep order, peddlers, and food vendors. He had heard talk that more than a few people had gone into the lake when arguments had turned physical.