Bellatrix swords of chao.., p.1
THE SWORDS OF CHAOS
Copyright Alex Cannon 2011
The new supplier made Range nervous.
The sun glinted off the supply caravan as it arrived, the wagons and wains creaking and tinking along. Minwabi, the normal supplier was gone. A new man came with a new crew. The wagons had Minwabi’s mark on them, but these were not Minwabi’s men. The leader announced himself as Oxma.
“Where’s Minwabi?” Range asked.
Range stood over six feet, thickly built, with an open face, and raven-colored hair. But Oxma loomed even taller and moved like predator. A gray hood covered his head, connecting to the robes that dusted the ground at his feet. His face was obscured even in the afternoon sun.
“I purchased his caravan.” The man’s voice was like a snake slithering through the grass.
Minwabi was not one to lightly sell his caravan.
“How much for these bags of marjin spice?” Range lifted a canvas sack.He stood next to the largest wain, scratching his chin. It was packed with the typical goods Minwabi brought; spices, utensils, tools, and dry goods.Other Spadix merchants gathered around the caravan too. The sun reflected off tally sheets and bags of coin jingled on hips.
Range nodded and glanced around. The price was about right. No one else seemed disturbed by the stranger. The other townspeople of Spadix lifted items from the wagons, inspecting them, talking to the crew.That was something else that bothered Range. The entire caravan’s wardrobe was the same gray robes the leader wore. Range saw the telltale bumps of swords and armor they wore under their robes. These men weren’t merchants.
Range shook his head. He was being ridiculous. Merchant caravans had to have men to protect their wares. Having an armed contingent was prudent for any merchant. The roads between towns were woefully unprotected. Spadix itself only had two men stationed by the local baron.
Range tugged a bag of marjin, when he did, the rest of the bags started falling. Range panicked and reached for the other bags. Oxma moved like a cat, sliding by Range, intercepting the bags’ descent. Range hopped back as the man snatched them and placed them back in the wagon.
“My apologies,” Range said. The sharp smell of marjin whipped about in the air.
“It is nothing,” Oxma replied. He patted the spice bags back onto the wain.
Range tugged his tunic straight and swallowed.
The thought crossed his mind again…this man was no merchant.He must not let Oxma see his anxiety.
Oxma pulled one bag off and handed it to Range. As Range reached for it, Oxma appeared to sniff him.Or was he just sniffing the spice in the air?Range put the bag next to his knee and opened his purse. He forced his hands to calm. He was being ridiculous. This man might be a retired warrior who decided to become a merchant.As a matter of fact, this man could be many things that offered no danger to Range or his family. He grew weary being constantly vigilant.
Range paid the man and turned to look for Nicodemus.”Nicky!”
A wiry, weasel-faced man came around one of the wagons. He had thick blonde hair and a ready smile. Nicodemus and Range had known each other since childhood and had moved here to Spadix together many years before.The smaller man now worked for Range on a part time basis and was more family than friend.“Aye!”
“Can you take this bag to Miriam?” Range asked.
“Did you see the elm wood they have on the back wagon? Cune would pay well for the wood if we could cut it manageable chunks for him.”
“I’ll take a look,” Range said.
Nicodemus lifted the bag onto his shoulder and looked about for a moment before leaning toward Range.”What do you think about the new man?”
Range looked about, then leaned forward.”He makes my hackles rise.”
Nicodemus nodded.”Mine too. There’s something queer about him.”
Nicky raised an eyebrow at is longtime friend.”Like you have to tell me!”
Range nodded and slapped Nicky on the shoulder.”Get that bag to Miriam and get back here.”
Nicky took off at a run. Range turned back to the caravan and started inspecting the wares again.
Two kids scurried past him, laughing and chasing a dog.Range turned to watch them as they ran off into the town square.
Spadix was located just north of the coast, on a heavily traveled vein fishermen used to transport their catch up to the capital city of Rommel.It was positioned well south of the Argoth plains, in a small clutch of oak trees surrounding the diminutive Erve Creek.The trees hugged the shops and inns lining the side of the road, creating a welcome haven from the winds that plagued the area. Spadix had sprung up as a simple waypoint many years before, but now was a small bustling town all its own. Inns had emerged to accommodate the growing trade that moved from the coast. Millers, blacksmiths, and merchant shops, like the one Range owned, soon followed. A local baron quickly annexed the town and started levying taxes to the chagrin of the locals.
Range had relocated four years ago with his wife and two young children.Spadix was a growing town where he could get a foothold in and build a solid foundation for his family and their future.
He looked back toward the caravan. An icy shiver crept up his spine when he noticed Oxma looking at him from under his hood.Range tried to appear unperturbed and perused the area, attempting nonchalance.His eyes landed on Lucan, the local priest of the god, Ooln.Lucan was a year younger than Range and had been stationed out here in Spadix. They had become friends in the past four years.
Range waved to the priest, who waved back with a smile. Lucan stood on the front porch of the small temple, more wood than stone. He stepped down to the stairs and pulled out his pipe.He lit it and watched the caravan. Range turned his view back to the task at hand and noticed Oxma watching the priest of Ooln.
There was something calculating in that hooded stare. Something that made Range want to step in front of Lucan to protect him. He shivered the feelings off and turned back to the task at hand. He had supplies he needed to get, and the caravan leader would just have be suspicious.
Nicodemus returned soon after running back to Range’s shop. The two of them carefully selected items they knew would sell.Oxma was pleasant and cheerful the entire time while dealing with all the people gathered around the caravan. He never once displayed anything untoward or overtly suspicious.What bothered Range the most was how the man continued to stare over where Lucan sat, smoking his pipe.
He overheard another merchant ask the caravan leader when he would be leaving town. Oxma informed him he would be here for a few days. He had to make some repairs to some of his wagons.
Range quickly gathered up his purchases and nodded for Nicky to get his.It was time to head back to the shop and get back to work.
He chanced a look over his shoulder and saw Oxma staring at him.
Sucking in another ragged breath, Lazerek crashed down on his opponent, who threw him back with a grunt.The length of the encounter was taking its toll on both men.
Although their movements were not practiced, their speed not great, serious grievances at Akilade had always been addressed this way, two magicians, battling only with swords. To the victor would be life, to the loser death.
“You know you won’t be able to keep it a secret, Lazerek,” the younger man managed through broken breaths.”Others will come after me.”
Lazerek stepped back momentarily and then engaged his opponent again, ignoring the ache in his old bones.”Yes, and their end will be the same as yours.”
Lazerek landed an ineffective blow against his opponent, who countered with an unsteady thrust to the midsection. Lazerek swung his hips back, barely missing evisceration. How Lazerek hated this fighting with swords. Why did he agree to settle this with steel?
“More people will find out, Lazerek,” the man said.His voice was tired. Neither mage was a swordsman, but once they had entered into the bond of steel only one could escape.
“Only you know, and I plan to keep it that way.” But was he the only one who knew? Lazerek would deal with that later.”It is mine and I’ll be damned if I share it with the others at this school.”
“We are not your enemy.” The younger man wheezed the words out.”You know any find of this magnitude has to be reported. You took the oaths just like I did when you entered Akilade. If you keep this a secret, you go against everything we stand for!”
They pulled back a moment, both swords dipped toward the ground.”This is my find, and I will kill any who dare get in my way,” Lazerek said. It was beneath him to share any more information with this cretin. The Sword was far beyond the petty rules of this ancient school. He would not lose the prize because of antiquated standards and oaths. This one person could keep him from claiming what was his.That was unacceptable.
As they stepped into the next engagement, Lazerek brought his hand up to the man’s chest.
The rules for serious grievances were simple: two mages would take up swords and do battle until only one was left standing. No magic was permitted. That kept it honest. Those were the rules.
Damn the rules, Lazerek thought. He flooded himself with the magic and then released it into his opponent’s heart.
Disbelief blossomed on his opponent’s face.”You...you… Magic is forbidden…Treachery!” he gasped, clutching his hand to his chest.The younger man fell to the floor, twisting the robes over his heart. His sword clattered away. He writhed while mucous bubbled and oozed from his mouth. His body convulsed unnaturally on the floor for a few moments and then stopped. His hand fell from his chest and slapped to the stone floor, his unblinking eyes stared blankly into the darkness.
Lazerek still had many uses for this school and could not afford to relinquish his position yet. He was too close. The death of his colleague must be hidden for the time being. Too many questions would be asked.
Lazerek tossed his sword onto the desk, scattering papers that drifted lazily to the floor. He squatted over the corpse and began to move his hands in a circular motion. In response to his gestures, a muted purple light crept from the ground and began to devour the body bit by bit. The magic obeyed him without hesitation, like it always did. He continued with his ministrations until there was no trace of the body, just a slight powdery substance that he blew away.
Lazerek stood and looked about. The doors at either end of the room were still bolted.
Good, he thought as he stroked his beard. He had made clean work of it.He turned to leave when he heard a soft sound echo through the room–the sound of a scratching boot or a shuffling robe.
Lazerek spun around. He saw nothing. It could possibly be a rat or other vermin, but he must be certain.He worked up an illumination orb to dispel the darkness.A yellow orb of light flared into existence above his head.
He spied everywhere, chasing stark shadows from the darkest corners with his summoned orb of light. He circled the huge desk.Nothing.He looked up at the rounded ceiling high above and saw only cobwebs and cracks. No one was here.
The shadows lurched back to fill the room as he banished the orb with a wave. Satisfied, he left the hall. When he pulled the door behind him, silence overtook the room once more.Only the candles continued to burn, their feeble light not nearly enough to battle the darkness.
In the ceiling high above, a pair of eyes returned to the very thin crack, glinting in the wan candlelight.
Bellatrix: Swords of Chaos, Book One by Alex Cannon / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes