Read The City of Ravens Online

Authors: Richard Baker

The City of Ravens (6 page)

“Witness how the Dread Delgath masters time and space! I can be here—” he vanished, taking up a position on the other side of the hall— “or there!” — now standing on his head at the opposite end of the hall. He vanished again, appearing right before the young wizard. “Or anywhere, for that matter!”

The young wizard frowned. “I have seen spells such as that before, but I did not see how you cast it. Are you using some kind of magical device to accomplish your teleportations?”

“Faugh! The Dread Delgath needs no crutch to employ his magic!” Jack thundered. He dropped the iron rod to the floor and repeated his instantaneous vanishings again. “My magic is simply too advanced for one of your minuscule accomplishments to comprehend!”

Meritheus pulled a small notebook or ledger from the sleeve of his robe and readied a pen. “HI take your word for that,” he said dryly. He looked Jack up and down, and then started to write. “Name: Delgath—”

“The Dread Delgath!”

“The Dread Delgath, then. Specialty: None—” “Master of time and space!”

“Very well, then. Specialty: Master of time and space.” Meritheus narrowed his eyes and scratched angrily at his book. “Rank at entry… your spell of demonstration would seem to indicate full membership over neophyte or associate status, but I do not have the authority to vest you in a more advanced circle.”

“The Dread Delgath shall, of course, demand immediate attention to that matter,” Jack replied. “However, for the nonce, he recognizes that you are merely a powerless functionary incapable of making any bolder decision

without the express consent of your superiors. Fill in your book as you see fit.”

“Very good, then. Your application for membership will be considered in three days’ time, when the Guild council meets. If you are accepted, you will be required to pay a small entrance fee—”

“Insignificant,” Jack said with a wave of his hand.

“—of five thousand gold crowns,” Meritheus finished. “After which, of course, your monthly dues will be twenty-five gold crowns. Unless, of course, you convince the council to accept your immediate promotion into the inner circles, which would be somewhat more expensive than that.”

“Five thousand gold crowns?” Jack asked in a small voice.

“The Dread Delgath, master of time and space, surely does not balk at such a trivial sum?” Meritheus asked with an expressionless face.

“No, of course not!” Jack roared. He waved his arms in disgust and paced in a small circle. “But, for the sake of argument: if, perchance, for reasons unknown and unfathomable to mere mortals, the Dread Delgath elected not to advance such a pittance at this time, what other options might be open to him?”

“In that case, the Dread Delgath might be interested in our ‘affiliate’ membership. The cost is only fifty gold crowns.”

“Describe at once the privileges and responsibilities of such an arrangement,” Jack said.

“Affiliate members are entitled to attend any social events the Guild sponsors, such as our twice-a-tenday Fifthnight gatherings and our monthly Revels Arcane. You will receive a comprehensive briefing on the laws and obligations of practitioners of the magical arts within the city of Raven’s Bluff, and you will receive limited access to the Guild library.”

“Limited in what way?”

Meritheus consulted his book. “You may use the common areas of the library between the hours of sunrise and noon, on the third and eighth days of each tenday.”

Jack thought quickly. Today was the twenty-third day of Ches, and the third day of the week. “Including, I take it, the remainder of this morning?”

“Were you to deposit the affiliate membership fee now, then yes, I suppose for the rest of the morning.” Meritheus rolled his eyes.

“Then the Dread Delgath so agrees!” Jack cried. He immediately counted out ten five-crown pieces from the now-spent advance Elana had provided him with and pushed the gold coins into Meritheus’s hand. “Take me to the library, at once!”

The mage simply pointed. “The second door on the left. And please, remember to be quiet.”

Jack marched off at once to the indicated door. He hadn’t planned to spend the rest of the money that quickly, but a membership with the Wizards’ Guild might be useful. He’d never considered it before; he wasn’t a real wizard, and it was very expensive. He could pass for a mage at need, perhaps commanded more arcane powers than many who claimed full membership. And, if it was a mere fifty crowns standing between him and the clue he needed to locate the Sarkonagael, then he stood to come out ahead.

He threw open the library door with complete confidence and stepped inside. It was a surprisingly small, cluttered space, a series of four or five small vaulted chambers illuminated by high, narrow windows spaced evenly along the wall. Heavy bookshelves stood an arm’s length apart in a dozen serried rows, jutting out into the room like the piers along the Fire River. Several mages

glanced up in annoyance at Jack’s entry; he took no notice of their presence and strode over to the librarian’s desk, where an angry-looking woman of indeterminate years worked furiously to catalog several stacks of books. She ignored him as long as possible, until Jack cleared his throat so forcefully he immediately started a coughing fit.

“Yes?” she snapped when he finished.

“The Dread Delgath requires your assistance,” Jack intoned.

“Who’s that?”

“I am the Dread Delgath!” Jack declared.

“Does the Dread Delgath refer to himself in the third person because of some disorder of the mind, or is it simply a puerile attempt to invest a measure of imaginary confidence in an otherwise inadequate personality?” the librarian asked. She waited a moment, watching Jack choke in rage, and then shrugged. “Never mind, I suppose it doesn’t matter. What is the Dread Delgath looking for?”

“Records of old memberships,” said Jack. “From about six to ten years ago.”

“The last bookshelf on the right holds Guild records. You’ll find membership rolls and the minutes of Guild council meetings on the second and third shelves. Try not to damage any of them, if you please.”

“Damage them! The Dread Delgath—”

“—Would be much more welcome here as the Silent Delgath,” the librarian said, cutting him off. She frowned and returned to her work, shaking her head.

Jack sniffed and abandoned the field. He went to the shelf the librarian had indicated and began to pull volumes at random, looking over the material to determine what was available. It was not very well organized at all; few people seemed to have any real interest in Guild business that was several years out of date, not when the

other shelves held insights into the working of magic, the treasures and hoards of wizards long dead, and all manner of dark and dire secrets of power and wealth. “To work, then,” he said with a smile.

Jack had expected to find some immediate clue regarding the fate of Gerard and the disposition of his tomes and grimoires, but he soon discovered that serious research was not a matter of pulling one lucky record from the shelf on the first try. He spent the better part of an hour rummaging through the records and made no progress at all until he struck upon the strategy of examining the records of Guild dues paid and unpaid. Leafing backward a year at a time, he found Gerard’s missed Guild dues listed among the dozens of other wizards who’d failed to keep up with their monthly membership fees. Then it was simply a matter of checking through consecutive records to determine when Gerard’s account had gone into arrears and when it was closed altogether.

In a few minutes he had his information: Gerard had made his last Guild payment in the month of Eleasias, Year of the Sword. For twelve months the Guild had recorded his failure to pay, closing out his membership in Eleint of the Year of the Staff. On a hunch, Jack examined the minutes of that month’s Guild Council meeting… and there he found that the Council had ordered the wizard Durezil Nightcloak to attend to Gerard’s tower and dispose of the missing wizard’s affairs in order to recover the missing dues.

“How very generous of them,” Jack said with a smile.

Suffused with the delightful taste of success, he replaced the old record and helped himself to the most recent, searching for a record of Durezil’s listed address or Guild status. He flipped quickly through the pages, whistling merrily.

Until he found the entry reading: Durezil Nightcloak, Initiate of the First Circle. Deceased as of the Fourth day of Alturiak, Year of the Unstrung Harp. Reported mauled to death by hungry trolls and subsequently devoured. Membership account closed by order of Meritheus, Assistant Secretary for Rolls of Membership, on the Ninth day of Mirtul, Year of the Unstrung Harp.

“Dead? How inconsiderate of him!” Jack muttered. “How spiteful to live five full years from the day he dealt with Gerard’s effects, only to die a year before I had need of his services! What kind of a man would do such a thing?”

None of the other wizards on hand deigned to answer, although Jack received a few black looks. He replaced the book on the shelf and stood there a moment, thinking hard about his next move. He might have to look into where Durezil had gone off to before getting killed, perhaps he’d kept the Sarkonagael when he handled Gerard’s final arrangements. He tugged on his finger-thin edging of beard, studying the shelves in front of him with a blank look.

“Oh, no! Not you!”

Jack blinked and looked up. There, not a yard away, stood Zandria, her arms full of heavy scrolls. The beautiful mage scowled, fury descending over her features in a mere moment.

“This is the private library of the High House of Magic,” she hissed. “How dare you creep in here to paw through these tomes! The unmitigated gall of it!”

“My dear lady Zandria,” Jack said, raising one hand to forestall her tirade, “I have just this morning become a member of this esteemed Guild. I am a scholar and a practitioner of the Art, just as you are. We are peers and professionals; your outburst is unseemly.”

“You are no peer of mine!” Zandria said angrily. “You are here with some larcenous scheme in mind, I am certain of it! When I get to the bottom of it, I promise you, you’ll wish you had never crossed my path!”

Jack smiled and plucked the topmost scroll from Zandria’s arms. “What have you got here? Maybe I can be of some assistance.” He studied it with some interest.

“Get your hands off that!” Zandria snapped. She dropped her armful of books and scrolls on the nearest table and wheeled on Jack, snatching the scroll out of his hands. “Your juvenile stunts don’t amuse me in the least. I will see to your removal at once!” She replaced the scroll on top of the pile and marched off to the librarian. She began to harangue the woman in an angry whisper, frequently pointing at Jack.

Jack watched in idle interest for a few moments. Zandria apparently managed to convince the librarian that his presence deserved some further investigation, and with a scowl in his direction, the woman rose from her desk and led Zandria out into the hall. He gloated privately, imagining Zandria’s delicious frustration when she discovered that he had every right to be in the Guild library—and then his eyes fell on the stack of research Zandria had left on the table. “Ah, I might be able to help you after all.” He laughed to himself.

With a confident air he sat down at the desk and efficiently rifled through the titles and texts the adventuring mage had left behind. “What have we here?” Dwarf Runes and Marks. A Survey of Crypts and Sarcophagi. Ciphers and Codes. A Study of Tombs. Winemaking and Vintners. Eralme’s Encyclopedia of Eastern Vintages. A few dozen letters. A handful of mercantile books recording hundreds of transactions. “Quite a little mystery,” Jack observed, “apparently involving a dead dwarf or wine maker—that Cedrizarun fellow she questioned Ontrodes about, I suspect.”

Jack leaned back and set his slippered feet on the table, doffing his fez and staring into it absently as he considered the riddle. He knew Zandria’s kind; the city of Raven’s Bluff was full of them, bold and certain adventurers searching for monsters to slay, wrongs to be put right, and treasures to be found. A Red Wizard of Thay, utterly confident in her abilities, desperately interested in seemingly random topics linked only by the name of Cedrizarun, a deceased dwarven master distiller. Either Zandria was a liquor aficionado of epic proportions, or she was on the trail of some wonderful and richly rewarding adventure.

What Jack didn’t know about the pursuit of wealth wasn’t worth knowing. “She’ll need my assistance, no doubt of it,” he concluded. He returned his attention to Zandria’s stack of books and uncapped one of the scroll tubes, emptying its contents onto the table. It was a piece of new parchment smeared with a carefully rendered charcoal rubbing, sandwiched between pieces of waxed paper. He rolled it out on the table and studied it.

The rubbing showed a detailed carving or relief from some unknown source. A smiling sun-face looked down on a vineyard, bordered by an elaborate scrollwork of curling leaves. In the center was stamped a dwarven mark that Jack didn’t recognize. And, in a banner across the bottom, a string of impenetrable dwarven runes was carved. Fortunately, someone had taken the time to record a translation in a different hand beneath the dwarven writing:

“Other hands must take up my work Other eyes my works behold At the center of all the thirty-seventh Girdled by the leaves of autumn Mark carefully the summer staircase

and climb it clockwise thrice Order emerges from chaos; the answer made clear.”

“What an obtuse riddle,” Jack muttered. He found a piece of blank parchment and set it over the top of the charcoal rubbing; then he worked an old spell he knew. Under the soft chaotic energies of Jack’s sorcery, the blank parchment began to darken and smudge, taking on every detail of the rubbing exactly as it appeared in Zandria’s parchment. Whistling under his breath, Jack folded the new copy and stuffed it into his robe. Then he picked up the scroll tube and started to replace the mage’s rubbing.

“Put that down at once!”

Zandria stood in the doorway, Meritheus and the librarian at her side. She raised her hands to work some spell of great destructive potential, but the two Guild wizards restrained her in a panic.

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