When I leave the keep later in the day, I find Jes still looking happily at the leaden grey sky. I walk over intending to find out, this time, why he wants snow so much, but before I reach him, the Guild Master of the leather workers runs in the gate. I am surprised at seeing his portly form in a dead run.
“Sorcerer…demon…” he is panting for breath and just points.
Jes and I start running in the direction he indicates, of course ‘I’ includes my tail of guards. We hear the screams before we can see anything. We get there just as the demon leaves, sort of folding into itself. I see it but can’t describe it. The Sorcerer is dead. Heads begin poking cautiously out of windows and doors. I notice a man in a cream colored cloak, hood pushed back on his shoulders, watching from an alley. Since two guards watch him from farther down the alley, I note him as another Sorcerer.
I am distracted by the arrival of one of the Priests attached now to the guard. The mundane cleaners will be close behind. I look around for the guards who should have been watching the dead Sorcerer, but don’t see them.
One of the barred doors opens slowly, and a maid-servant scurries out and down the street. I almost stop her, but decide not to since the lady of the house also comes out and walks straight to me.
“Princess, two guards tried to stop him, and he threw them against the wall of my house. Threw them without touching them, just gestured. We dragged them into the house. I have sent my maid for a doctor.”
“Well done.” It took courage to open a door in the face of a Sorcerous sending to shelter our guards. I can see she is still shaken, so I have one of my guards take her back to her house to wait for the doctor.
I climb on top of one of the merchant’s tables.
“Everyone who saw anything, get in line here. I need to talk to you.” Our capital is not going to become the demon summoning center of the continent. For a moment I consider just killing all of the Sorcerers myself. It would be much less messy and no demon stench. Of course, it would be murder. And mother would disapprove.
I sigh and start talking to people. They all tell variations of the same story. The Sorcerer made a speech in the middle of the square, telling them how fortunate they were to witness the great beginning of his greatness—Abalemian was definitely not his native language.
Everyone just watched, or laughed, not expecting a demon—our native Sorcerers consider midnight the appropriate time for demon summoning. I get dozens of really bad descriptions of the demon’s arrival—pretty much the opposite of how it left. I ask three of the most sensible to come to the keep later to make formal statements.
The priest has a bag of some type—blood splattered—and Jes has a mercenary who looks as if he really doesn’t want to be here. I talk to the priest first.
“This appears,” he tells me, “To be a bag of ashes. I have never seen such at other summoning.”
“Some sort of herbs?” I guess, but can see he does not agree. “Make detailed notes before you destroy it.” We have learned generations ago that anything a Sorcerer cherished was likely to be deadly in some form or the other.
As the priest leaves, Jes pushes his captive forward. “This is Tmal. Several merchants have told me he traveled with the Sorcerer.”
I look at the fighter, saying nothing, a trick I learned from mother.
“I’m just a bodyguard,” he is sullen, clearly wishing he had slipped away sooner. “Against bandits and wild animals. I don’t fight demons.”
“Sensible,” I tell him. “Do you know what is in that bag?” I had seen him watching carefully as I talked to the priest, while pretending not to.
He shakes his head. “He paid a lot of money for it, and told me he wouldn’t need me after today.”
He just shakes his head again.
“Did he pay your fees?”
“In advance,” his tone is cynical. I’m starting to like him.
He agrees to take Jes and the Priest to their lodging so the rest of the Sorcerers paraphernalia can be disposed of. I hang around the square, waiting to see what the doctor has to say about the two guards. I’m still waiting when the Senior Capitan of the city guard arrives.
“How many more are there?” I demand.
He correctly interprets my ill will as pointing toward the Sorcerers.
“At least three. They keep poking around the lots where Falchen’s house and warehouse were.”
I remind myself yet again I can’t just kill them. Well, I could just kill them, but I shouldn’t.
We are interrupted by the doctor. The injured guards have several broken bones, and bruises, but will heal.
“Why?” I demand to the doctor’s back as he leaves to oversee transporting his patients to Sister Mays’ hospital.
Captain Maas interprets my question correctly. “I think each Sorcerer believes he is special, he alone will succeed. Of course, he isn’t, so the demon kills him.”
“You know the Sorcerer who wears a cream colored cloak?”
He nods, “Alan.”
I am momentarily sidetracked thinking his name unusual. Sorcerers usually call themselves something deadly like ‘Bane’ or ‘Slayer’. “Have him attend me at the keep mid-afternoon. Make it clear that it is an order, not an invitation.”
I go back to the castle and into my room in the keep. To the delight of my ladies, I tell them I need to look like a warrior princess for my interview.
I meet him in one of fathers’ formal rooms, flanked by all four of my sergeants and two of Mynar’s, myself at the head of the table, with three of them on each side. I have read all of the reports of the city guards watching him. They weren’t particularly useful. He is aloof, and appears to wander aimlessly about town. He spent time near where Falchen had lived but not as much as the other three, and incidentally, he is gorgeous. Gold hair, deep blue eyes, firm chin; the warrior prince straight out of every lore story I had ever read. What a waste on someone destined to be demon-kill.
I don’t introduce anyone. I assume he knows who I am, and it is obvious what my companions are.
“How much of Dire’s performance did you see, Sorcerer?”
“All of it,” he takes a chair at the end of the table uninvited. I ignore it.
“Not Sorcerer,” my Sword whispers. “Something different.”
I file that away for later consideration and continue with my pre-planned list of questions.
“What was he planning on doing?”
“Summoning a demon, controlling a demon, and then doing pretty much as he wanted—he was a very stupid man only interested in power and not knowledge.” His tone made ‘knowledge’ sound sacred.
“And you wouldn’t summon a demon?”
“Of course I would,” his eyes glowed with enthusiasm. “To be able to talk to a being of another realm, to trade knowledge.”
“While you are being torn apart?” I may have been a little sarcastic. “Did you see Dire holding a light green drawstring bag.” I force the conversation back to the questions I need answered.
“I saw the demon ashes. Well,” he amends, “It was the same type of bag as the one I was offered.”
“Someone offered to sell you demon ashes?” I nod at my senior sergeant and he leaves; this needs to be stopped now before we have even more idiot Sorcerers arriving. I don’t know if I want to be-head the seller for making a bad situation worse, of if I want to admire his ingenuity.
“I didn’t buy any.’ He misinterprets my silence. “You can search me if you want. I didn’t think they were real.”
“So you would have bought them if you believed they were real?”
“Of course, it might have been just the thing for me to make a major breakthrough.”
“You do know Sorcerous magic is unstable?” I ask him.
“For now. But just think of what we could accomplish when we overcome that.” I recognize the look in his eyes, I’ve seen it in Mynar’s eyes often enough; I’m going to receive a lecture. “Just think what a demon might be able to tell me, and me them.”
“While it eats you?” I point out again.
“They don’t eat people,” he sounds annoyed. “They merely protect themselves with their teeth. If you look carefully at the bodies, you will find almost all of the parts.”
I allow myself to roll my eyes at him. “Would you do me the courtesy of summoning your demon in some other country—I’m really tired of having blood and demon taint splattered about our city.”
“Oh, I’m nowhere near ready for that—the others have it backwards. Controlling a demon is not the way to stabilize Sorcery—It is necessary to determine a stabilizing method before you try to talk to a demon. Falchen must have made such a discovery, and you wantonly destroyed him.” He sounds bitter.
“Are you sure he isn’t a Sorcerer?” I mutter to the Sword under the cover of his tirade.
“Yes. But he still might cause disasters in the search for knowledge.”
“Actually he didn’t,” I add out loud for Alan’s benefit.
“Of course he did, you hanged him.”
“I killed the demon too, before Falchen could be eaten.” Well, that made a good story. Maybe I should spread it farther in the hopes of discouraging other Sorcerers. Or maybe not, Alan looks skeptical, and then speculative
“Very well. I promise not to summon a demon in the realm of Abalem without your permission. Is that good enough?”
Not really, but he has told me more than I had expected, so I let him