Authors: Christopher Stasheff
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fantasy - General, #Fantastic Fiction, #Wizards, #Fantasy - Series
It wouldn't twist.
I stuck the tiP of my knife in it and levered. Nothing, not even a chip.
" 'Tis enchanted," Frisson opined. "What luck with her straps?"
"None at all; the knife doesn't even scar the leather." I looked Up, frowning. "You mean .. ."
Doors slammed open, front and back, and guardsmen boiled in, hard hands reaching for us, pikes stabbing, and behind them, Suettay slammed the door closed, crowing, "Taken! Taken in my trap, like the rats they are! Slay them, slay them out of hand!/'
I grabbed up the boot and threw it at the nearest guardsman; he fell. The Rat Raiser snapped out of his horrified trance and caught up broken glassware off the lab table, hurling it at the soldiers. I fell into fighting stance with my knife, my stomach sinking, knowing I didn't have a chance, but Frisson was flipping through his anthology, pulling out a scrap, and chanting,
"Where are the friends to guard our backs, Coming strong, through wind and wrack?
Where are the hearts who know no peer?
Marching close! To us be near!
But where are the friends of yesteryear?"
"Right here!" a muffled voice shouted on the other side of the door, and the wood turned to powder. A dot of light shot in, so brilliant that it hurt my eyes, and a voice straight out of a synthesizer sang, "A rescue! A rescue, friend to friend!"
"Demon!" I cried in delight.
Behind it came Gilbert! And behind him, the Black Knight I'd seen from a low angle just after I'd turned into a rat. After him strode the knight with the long blonde hair and the golden circlet-I was shocked anew to realize she was a woman!-and the blue-robed knight who had been on the dragon. Outside, a roar filled the antechamber with flames.
The guardsmen inside cried out in fear.
"It cannot come in!" Suettay sawed the air frantically with her hands, chanting.
"We are in already!" the Blue Knight snapped, sword stabbing out at her midriff-but one of her guards snapped out of his funk and beat down the blade.
All about, the knights were taking on the footmen, chopping down halberds and smiting down enemies. Sure, there were only three of them and one squire, but they wore armor. And that confounded dot of light was swooping from one soldier to another, and each one it touched just fainted.
"Loose the corpse!" the Blue Knight shouted, and the spark swerved off to settle on Angelique's bonds.
The Blue Knight disposed of Suettay's bodyguard with a chop and a thrust, beat him off, and spun to Suettay again, chanting,
"They that have power to hurt but do help none, That do not the thing they most do show,
Who, hurting others, are themselves as stone, Unmoved, cold, and to remorse quite slow."
The Blue Knight spun to me. "That won't hold her for long, but just enough to-Paul!"
I knew the voice, and a second later, the visor snapped up, and I knew the face. "Matt! What the ... What are you doing here", "Saving your bacon, and just incidentally wiping out a depraved and vicious usurper! My queen had a vision telling her to go help the Witch Doctor, because he could cure Allustria of witchcraft!"
"Great! Can you find him? The cackling laugh of gloating triumph snapped me out of my sentimental reunion. I whirled, to see Suettay holding Angelique's freed corpse by the arm while she pulled a pink flask out of her robes.
"Fool! 'Twas a captive sprite in the bottle, not the girl's spirit! Her soul is here-and is now gone!"
"Max!" Matt yelled. "Stop her!"
"How?" the arc-spark sang, but Suettay was chanting something in that obscene arcane language, making lewd gestures and turning transparent.
So was Angelique's body.
Frisson shouted out,
"Five hundred feet of beaten ground With walls and towers are girdled 'round.
Within them, let this queen be bound!
In a tower will she be found!"
The witch queen disappeared.
Her soldiers cried out in despair, stepped back, and threw down their weapons. "Mercy! Quarter! Quarter!"
"I am sorry, sorry!" Frisson cried.
could think of at that moment!" "I had to act, and 'twas all I You did very well," Matt assured him. "There wasn't exactly time for a literature search; at least we know where she is."
"Do we?" The blonde woman stepped up, looking severe. Her voice was a rich alto. "There are four towers. How shall we know to which she has gone?"
"Bind them!" the Black Knight snapped to Gilbert, who set about lashing soldiers with a will. The Black Knight stepped over to us.
"There are four towers, and four of us. Do we each seek out one turret! Matthew, take the east-your Majesty, the west, and I'll take the south." He turned to me. "To you lies the north. Farewell!"
"Right!" Matt charged out the door, with the other two right be hind him.
"Hey, wait a minute!" I yelled after them. "We can get there muc faster if ... nerts!" I was talking to an empty door frame. I turned back to Frisson. "Quick! A new verse!"
"An old one!" Frisson flipped, pulled, and handed it to me.
chez la femme!"
I took the parchment and read the verse.
"Even from her bondage, my lady's voice cries; Even from the gaol's jaws my frantic heart replies!
I ask, and have-I seek, and find The golden lass who fills my mind!
I seek, and find-I've sought, and found!
Take me where my true love's bound!"
For some reason, the words held my attention more strongly than they ever had-this in spite of the frantic crawling fear I had for Angelique. Somehow, I knew she was in greater peril now than she had been since the day she had died-but my gaze was riveted to the paper, holding each word as I read it in a savage contrast of blackest black and whitest white. I couldn't have torn my gaze away until I finished chanting it. Then I could, and I did.
Frisson was beside me. We were in a very large room with curving walls-another laboratory, one far more elaborate than the first-and there was Angelique's corpse, stretched out on a table, with the little pink flask beside her rib cage and Suettay bending low over her, hands outspread and moving in strange patterns as she chanted slowly in a deep, heavy tone.
Her real laboratory! in a flash, I understood. The other one had only been stage dressing, a trap to catch me-and I had walked right into it!
Fortunately, so had Matt and his friends.
Suettay's mumblings were making the air dark with gathering magical force. I could feel tremendous power brewing all about me; it made my hair stand on end in more ways than one. It didn't take much
thinking to figure out what she was doing-pushing
Angelique's soul back into her body, but this time, without any chance of escaping. The instruments of torture stood ready at hand, along with a long, curving knife.
She was going to sacrifice Angelique all over again!
I snapped out of my daze. If ever I'd needed help, it was now!
But Frisson had beaten me to it. He was already chanting.
"Come away, come away, Hark to the alarm!
Come in your war array, Wizard-at-arms!
Come with companions of magic and might!
Come with the queen, and your friend the Black Knight!" just as he finished, so did Suettay.
The magic field seemed to implode with a soundless concussion that staggered both Frisson and me-and the bottle turned clear, the corpse's eyes fluttered!
"Why!" I shouted at Suettay. "With a battle raging about you and a kingdom falling-why stop to torment this one poor girl?"
"Because only thus may I snatch victory from the jaws of disaster!" Suettay glared at me, a finger spearing out toward my heartfortunately, ten feet away. "Even now, when I complete the ceremony, he will grant me power sufficient to hurl you all to perdition! Beware! " She raised the knife. I shouted, and would have leapt at her-but just then, Angelique sat up as far as her bonds would allow, blinking about her, bemused-and I caught my breath. Even battered and bruised, her face was so lovely that it held me spellbound. Oh, it was the same face that I'd been seeing all along-but it was real now, made of flesh and bone, and vivid in a way her ghost never had been, even in the darkest night.
Suettay screamed with triumph, snapping the knife up high in her right hand, the left pressing Angelique back down as her scream turned into a stream of syllables that I couldn't understand, and the knife swept down ...
Behind me, a voice snapped, "Max! Destroy that knife with a sudden case of metal fatigue!"
The dot of arc light shot over to the knife, touched it-and as it slammed into Angelique's ribs, it turned to dust!
Suettay screamed in rage and frustration. She swatted at the arc light, catching it in a fist-and screamed as the spark tore through the flesh, shooting out to hover in front of her, spitting,
"Foolish mortal! " Beside me, Frisson was chanting,
"Come as the winds come, when Forests are rended!
Come as the waves come, when Navies are stranded!
Come in your wisdom, scholar audacious!
Come now to triumph, Friar Ignatius!"
Suettay screamed in rage and frustration.
The air glittered; then Friar Ignatius was there, stumbling and reaching out to brace himself against the lab table.
Suettay took one look at him and screamed again.
Sir Guy and Gilbert leapt from behind me to opposite sides of the table, grabbing Suettay by the arms and shoving her back against the wall. She shrieked in rage, then shouted a verse, and a million bits of steel appeared, hovering over her-darts, to hurl at both knight and squire!
But Matt stepped up beside me, chanting, ,What whetted vision mocks my waking sense?
Hence, sharp delusion! Enchanted points, hence!" The bright field split and started to swoop toward knight and squire-and disappeared.
Suettay shrieked another verse, hands twisting, fingers writhing, and Gilbert and Sir Guy cried out, letting go of her and frantically trying to loosen their armor, which began to glow with heat. Freed, ph, stretching her arms-but the tall the witch crowed with trium blonde knight stepped up, slamming her back against the wall and pinioning her wrists, as Frisson yelled, "You must stay the cooling charm, Or you may burn out quite!
Chilled be your metal, hot to warm, And cease to give out light!" Sir Guy and Gilbert groaned with relief and stepped up to help the blonde knight.
Suettay was on the ropes and she knew it. She screamed another verse, in anguish ...
And something exploded in the middle of the laboratory. The cloud of reeking smoke shrank in on itself, and a huge devil stood there, hurling hot coals at the knights, leveling a giant pitchfork, and bellowing, "As you have called, my master sends me! Get hence, feeble mortals! Do not impede this emissary of the King of Evil!
The knights turned as pale as Angelique's ghost and ducked flying coals, but they stood firm, the blonde crying, "You have no power over us, minion of evil! Get hence!"
Suettay screamed, thrashing in their hold.
The devil growled and advanced, lifting his pitchfork.
"Angel!" I cried. "If ever you wanted to interfere, now is the time!
Appear! Help! Please!"
" I thought you would never ask, man."
I stared. It was my angel, all right-I recognized the basic face, the glow, and the wings-but he was dressed in a chambray shirt, blue jeans, and boots. He had always had long hair, of course, but now he had a beard, too.
Matt darted a quick, incredulous look at me. I spread my hands and shrugged.
The hippie-angel grinned, holding up a palm. "Get back where you came from, pestiferous porter! Go back to Hellmouth, and don't ever come up here again!"
The devil bellowed in rage, turning its pitchfork toward the angel and hurling-but the points bounced off the angel's palm, and the devil convulsed in sudden agony, screaming incoherently as he faded away. Suettay cried out, loud and long, but it was a howl of despair.
"Even now, there is salvation for you." Friar Ignatius stepped up, reaching out to her.
The angel turned toward them, beaming-literally. His light spread out a ray toward the witch-queen, but she turned and hissed at him, and the ray hovered just short of her.
"The grace of God will not be imposed upon they who wish it not," Friar Ignatius assured her, his voice surprisingly gentle. "Yet be assured, even now God will forgive you, and save you from the fires of Hell."
"Save me? Fool!" Suettay spat. "I have been a queen of witches, and I shall be a queen in Hell, too! Kill me if you will, for my soul will not writhe in torment, but quiver in delight at the cruelties it imposes on those spirits too weak to do great evil!"
"Never believe such a lie!" Friar Ignatius' face turned severe.
"All human souls that go to Hell, go to eternal torment! Satan takes delight in torturing those he seduces to his realm-delight, though no joy, which he cannot feel!"
'Tis you who lie, pawn of Heaven I" she spat. "Do not seek to dissuade me-I shall remain true to my master! " "Turn away from him, I implore you!" Friar Ignatius reached out.
"Repent while you can!" He touched her arm. She screamed in rage and pain-he was so pure that his mere touch sent her into agony. Seeing this, he yanked his hand away, but Suettay shouted a verse and, with a titanic heave, shook off the knights. They fell back, but they caught themselves against the wall and scrambled to their feet, drawing their swords.
But Suett ay was growing, swelling, her form stretching upward, higher, even as we watched.
The blonde knight shouted and leapt in, sword thrusting-straight in under Suettay's breastbone, stabbing upward.
The witch screamed, twisting. Then the point must have burst the reins to her heart, for her eyes dulled, and her body deflated, shrinking back to its normal size, sagging down over the blade-but the scream went on and on and on as the body sagged to the floor, too heavy for the queen of Merovence to hold up. That screai-n turned into a shriek of triumph, then faded away, crying, "Master! Master!