Chapter 5.5 <—- * —> Chapter 6.5
“The first thing every traveling mage should know is when not to use magic. Never cast a spell in Eberhard, unless you wish to commit suicide or you like watching very big explosions.” – Overheard in a school of magic
There was nothing useful for him in the Shadowfy inn. Amy had disappeared, leaving him with the fear that she wouldn’t show up again. It was alarming, terrifying even, but if it was not meant to be it wasn’t. He would just have to find a different way to keep the Duke alive, for the good of the indelfy, for the good of the world.
He ordered his gelding to be brought around, and collected the instruments he would need for his experiment. Coins for barter, his book regarding the secret ways of the indelfy, and a small slip of paper carefully folded around an uninvoked ward stone. He willed himself not to touch the magic as he carefully transferred it. He had everything, except for the gold fob Amy had admired so much, which seemed to have gone missing. Had she stolen it? He didn’t remember her being much of a thief. She was all that was good in the indelfy, a perfect representation of why he wanted them for more formidable tasks.
An indelfy could go where it was dangerous for the indel. They had more power in some ways due to their sheer lack of magic. After all, what could an Invoker do to them, they who could not have spells cast on them? Lokeli had taken almost all the indelfy, for there non-magical people were valued. Eberhard would whither away to nothing if they continued to leave Eberhard in pure, magical sterility.
He shouldered his bag with a sigh, and put the ideas from his mind. There were too many things to be done, and in the end Eberhard would remember him as a traitor. He had already thought through every possible action to save himself, and there was none. For him there was no hope, but for Eberhard and for Amy there was a sliver of it, if only he did everything right.
The creaking wood gave way to hard stone and silent snow as he pushed his way out the door where his gelding waited. Flecks of snow already rested on the animal’s rump, and he guessed from the red nosed ‘fy standing in a trampled circle near the beast he’d been waiting some time. He slipped the man a quarter piece of silver, and watched him light up with joy.
He took the reins and mounted the horse, grunting as the hairy animal began to walk off. One of these days he would hire a proper indel to carry him places rather than deal with the quirks of a reluctant animal, providing he wasn’t outlawed from the magic lands, of course.
He directed the horse down the street, out to the very edges of the city limit. It was slow progress, with the horse pausing either to pick at the grass near the road side, ignoring Bernard’s futile attempts to get his head up, or Bernard asking the horse to pause because his legs could no longer handle the effort it took to keep from bouncing in the saddle.
He stopped his horse when it gave a theatrical snort and plunged to one side, capering this way and that to avoid what looked like barely living coals. There was a faint, musky odor, like from the bomb Amy had dropped when he’d told her of his indel follower. He had no doubts it would get stronger, and eventually be too strong for an animal nose.
He dismounted and tied his horse to the branches of a tree, hoping it would still be there when he got back. The horse paid him no mind, and began to occupy itself by vigorously scratching itself on the tree it was attached to.
Bernard stepped through the ring of trees marking the entrance to the indelfy sanctuary, and paused when the crisp whiteness of the snow gave way to barren, rocky ground. Smoke curled from the ground, coming from underneath the rocks, as if hot coals lay just beneath the surface. He bent over and felt the heat coming from the ground, and understood. The embers were a barbaric, but effective barrier against the indel—fire. A wolf arriving with shoes tied around its neck would most likely be shot on sight. It was pure indelfy ingenuity, yet another example why Eberhard needed them.
He made his way gingerly across the stretch of ash and rock, all the way to the cavern in the rock blocked by a solid wooden door. He eyed the surface for an area unlikely to give him splinters, and knocked.
Nothing happened at first, and then the door was pushed into the rock, and a well-dressed man in shiny silver armor sized him up, a crossbow comfortably spaced between them. Bernard recoiled, and flushed when the man gave a polite smile.
“I—I thought you might be interested in a proposition?” Bernard asked, sweat beginning to prickle the back of the neck. If he was wrong, his trip might be shorter than he thought.
The lethal weapon never wavered from its cross-section with his heart. Bernard found himself reaching for the man’s magic, fumbling with aural fingers to grip what didn’t exist. The void where he normally had power just made him appreciate the potential of the indelfy even more.
“Spit it out,” the indelfy snapped.
There was no mercy in the man’s voice, nor any invitation either by tone or gesture to enter the caves behind him. He felt his heart begin to pound, not out of stress or fear, but from the sheer desire to take control of these people. There was something about their raw power, even without magic, that inspired him.
“We need your help,” Bernard confessed, eyeing the peg that kept the crossbows powerful spring from releasing its bolt. “There needs to be some—changes in how the government is run. We can’t do that without you.”
The crossbow eased to a less deadly position, and the man stepped forward to scan the trees around them for potential hazards. “Are you alone?”
He hesitated, and a look of understanding crossed the indelfy’s face. “You probably don’t want to come in and talk then. You tell me what it is you need help with, and I’ll pass it on.”
“I’ve got a plan to temporarily shut down the Stronghold…”
The man’s crossbow came up as if for a shot, then continued up onto his shoulder as the man stepped back into the caves. “Get out of here,” he snapped.
Bernard opened his mouth to protest, but the door had already slid shut.