Renz knew his invisibility spell wouldn't hold should he encounter a Council sorcerer, but he was cursed hungry. Under the cover of the same fog spell that had gotten Wilda and Petra safely away from the tower, he'd found sanctuary in a woods cave he'd scouted out long before. Here, the illusion of a dire bear at the entrance kept searchers from finding him. But now, three days later, his provisions gone, he needed food. He knew he'd be safely invisible to the people of Mizpa as he stocked up on enough supplies to leave the area for good. Unless fate led another sorcerer to cross his path.
Curse the Council and their Tribunal. He may have made a few daring experiments, but he was no dark sorcerer. Possibly the last experiment had been unwise, but was it his fault that Kak, the demon he'd conjured up, had gotten out of control? Had escaped the tower and killed a few harthers before Renz had been able to find and send the monster back to the dark realm?
Of course not. The Council members were made up of murgog cowards, that was the problem. Plus they were jealous of his daring. Unfortunately they had the power to use the King's Guards to enforce their shamefully wrong decision against him, to hunt him like a mongrel hound. Hunt him, Renz, the greatest sorcerer on Tonapa.
Wrapping his invisibility spell like a shield around him, he emerged from the cave and set off for the city, on the alert for any Council member.
He reached the provision booths north of the city without any problem and shopped, carefully, stealing a meat pie here, a bottle of ale there, then downing them quickly before anyone noticed the strangeness of food apparently floating in the air. As it was, a toddler saw the phenomenon, but was too young to be able to tell anyone. Collecting supplies while remaining invisible would be more difficult than he'd anticipated. While he pondered this problem, he listened to the chatter around him.
"...shaved the witch's head, they did, and tossed her into the Temple of Time."
"I heard she ran in there her own self."
"Nah, who'd do that? But she's in there for good, 'cause they set a guard to make sure she don't try to come back out while she can."
Who'd go into the Temple willingly? Not Renz. They must mean Wilda because Petra hadn't the telltale white witch streaks in her hair. Renz sighed. Poor Wilda. Now inside that Temple of no return, her power shorn with her hair. How could she possibly survive? Eventually she'd be hungry or thirsty enough to eat or drink in there--and then she was trapped forever. Providing there was any food or drink. No one came back to say one way or the other. Still, he'd given her an amethyst, the one that grew warm in his pocket whenever she was near. A gem clearly meant for her.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. No Temple Of Time for him. Sorcerers were always in demand in the country towns. He'd be welcome once he got safely away from the city.
"They ain't caught the dark one, yet. Got a problem if they do."
"You never heard what happens when you kill a dark sorcerer? They don't stay dead, not them. You get a Blood Taker for your trouble, that's what."
"Eee, don't never want to meet up with the likes o' them."
Was it true? Renz wondered. He'd never seen it proven, but he certainly didn't intend to hang around to find out. Not that they'd deliberately kill him. But he didn't fancy the torture he knew the Council intended, either. Perhaps he should look for Petra. He knew she was fond of him and would help him by buying supplies for his escape journey. On the other hand, the Council might be having her watched for just that possibility. Or not. She wasn't a witch--why would they watch her?
Another solution occurred to him. If he waited until it got dark enough, he could find some concealment close to the booths and then use his power to move what he needed from the various booths to where he hid. People were less likely to notice floating objects in the dark. He'd steal a carrying pouch first to stow everything away. Yes, he'd try that first, and save Petra for a last chance solution.
Walking among the booths as dusk descended, Petra suddenly held, feeling the zing in her blood that only happened when she was near Renz. It couldn't be! He wouldn't be crazy enough to appear in public when he knew the Guards were after him. Since they hadn't caught him yet, he must be long gone. At least she hoped so. She still mourned Wilda after hearing what had happened to her. Temple of Time? She shuddered.
Yet the tingly feeling persisted. Looking about, she saw no sign of him. But then, would she? As she started to go on, her gaze was drawn to a pouch sliding slowly off a display in a leather booth, then slithering along the ground toward a stand of trees. As she stared at it, she heard a man shout, "There, you idiots!"
As he raced toward the trees, followed by four Guards, she recognized him as one of the Council, a sorcerer named Jorge.
Petra bit back her warning cry. If Renz were hidden in those trees, it was far too late to warn him. She'd only call attention to herself, which she could ill afford.
Others were drifting toward the trees, eager to see what was going on. She mixed in with them. The closer she came to the trees, the stronger the tingling in her blood. Jorge chanted words she didn't know. An undoing spell, she suspected. And suddenly Renz appeared, fleeing. One of the four Guards threw a tangler. A tentacle touched the back of Renz's neck, then wound quickly around him. Petra drew in her breath as, helpless, he slammed to the ground.
The watching crowd edged forward and she forced her way to the forefront and saw Jorge on his knees beside Renz, motionless in the tangler. The crowd gasped as Jorge looked up at the Guards and uttered a powerful blasphemy.
"Look what you've done," he shouted, getting to his feet and confronting the man who'd thrown the tangler. "You'd best hope the God of Fools takes pity on you, for I have none. Nor will the king."
"What's he yelling about?" The man beside her asked. "Tangler got that dark one, didn't it?"
The man next to him gave him a withering stare. "You ever heard what tanglers can do? You get one around yer neck and yer hound meat. Got him too good, it did. He's a deader."
Muttering fearfully, the crowd began drifting away. Everyone, Petra included, feared what might happen. She slipped into the shadows and waited, heart in her throat. He couldn't be dead. Not Renz.
"Don't just stand there and gape," Jorge told the Guards. "We must work fast to get the twisted one out of Mizpa before he turns. You and you..." he pointed," ... pick him up. Move it!"
From where she stood, Petra saw one Guard spray tangler remover over Renz. Then two of them reached down, one taking Renz by the shoulders, the other by the legs. His limp body sagged between them.
One of the Guards must have asked Jorge where to take him, because she heard the Council sorcerer snarl, "The Temple of Time, where else? He won't come out. Not after the Council sets a ward on the Temple curtain."
As Petra followed them, she blinked back tears. This was no time to weep. What if Renz was still alive? She had to find out. But she dare not show herself, lest she be arrested. She'd need to go into the Temple itself to find out. But how? Once they tossed Renz through the curtain, Guards would be posted. Then the Council members would arrive and the ward put in place. Though she shuddered at the thought of entering the Temple, she had to. Somehow.
find out if Renz was alive, and then get them both out. All before the ward was set.
She watched them as they lay Renz's body across the back of a harther, then mount their own beasts and trot away. She'd never make it in time. Unless.... Spotting several harthers tethered in front of an ale house, she hesitated. Thieving was unnatural to her, but need prevailed. She untied two, whispering softly to them in the way her father had always done. She hiked up her skirts and, after mounting one, she set off after the Guards, leading the other.
On a harther, she could dash up the steps and through the curtain before any Guard could stop her. At least she hoped so. Assuring herself Renz had to be alive--such a powerful sorcerer could fake death, couldn't he?--she pictured his surprise when she arrived with the harthers. Pray to Litha it'd be in time for him to escape from the Temple before the ward was set. Her plan would be successful--she refused to think otherwise.
If only her foreseeing worked when she wanted it to, rather than at random, she might have been able to prevent all of this and help Renz get out of Mizpa. As it was, she hadn't had any idea where he'd hid.
Hurrying the harthers along, she took all the shortcuts she'd learned from her years of living in the city, coming near the Temple of Time before there was any sign of the Guards. Tethering the harthers a block away, she crept between two buildings where she had a view of the Temple.
Jangling metal warned her she'd cut it close.
How brutally they yanked poor Renz off the mount. They assumed he was dead, but had they no respect for those who had passed over? She winced as two of the Guards dragged him up the Temple's many steps. Swinging the limp body back and forth between them, they tossed him through the dark curtain at the entrance, then hurried back down and remounted, riding off with Jorge. The other two Guards took up positions to either side at the bottom of the stairs.
Time to act. Petra slipped away, keeping to the night shadows until she came to her tethered harthers. Once mounted, the other on lead, a sinister thought slithered unbidden into her mind.
What if Renz was dead? Did dark sorcerers actually change to Blood Takers after death? Was she risking her life by going after him?
No! Whether or not they did change, she didn't believe Renz was dead. Couldn't. He had to be alive.
Taking a deep breath, she urged on her mount, the other following close behind. When she came into view of the Guards, she quickened the pace and drove straight for the steps. The harther didn't hesitate, clopping up them as though it climbed stairs every day. Ignoring the Guards' surprised yells to halt, Petra plunged the harther through the dark curtain. When the other one came in as well, she turned and looked back. To her surprise she could see through the curtain from this side. She eased out her held breath. The Guards had rushed up behind her, but stopped a good distance away from the curtain. As she'd thought--they wouldn't dare enter.
Then she turned and stared about. A meadow? Daylight? She'd expected halls and rooms. Instead she saw countryside. There was no sign of Renz. None at all.
Of course not, she admonished herself. Being alive, and aware he couldn't escape capture if he tried to leave the temple, he was exploring these new surroundings. She'd have to look for him, and be quick about it.
On her harther, the other still on lead, Petra set off across the meadow, keeping a sharp lookout so no strange beast surprised them. All she saw seemed benign--hoppers, flutter-bys, and a white ahver flying low in front of her. Almost as though it were marking a path for her to follow. Finally it veered to the left, perched at the very top of a small bush and cocked its head, watching her.
She didn't actually hear anything nor feel a calling in her mind, yet somehow she knew the ahver was trying to communicate with her. Impossible. But, again, maybe not. This was no longer Mizpa--or even Tonapa. Who knew what the rules might be inside the Temple of Time? Petra turned to the left, heading for the ahver.
As she neared, the sun reflected a glint of metal from the bush. The ahver flew off. She saw something hanging from a low branch of the bush and turned the harther that way. Two buzzards startled both her and the harthers by launching themselves into the air from the other side of the bush, rising to circle overhead. A moment later she slid off and picked up a bronze medallion attached to a thong. Though she had no idea what the raised letters on it spelled out, the last time she'd seen this medallion had been around Renz's neck. Had the ahver led her to it? She slipped the thong over her head and clutched the metal in her hand. Only then did she think to find out what the buzzards had been feasting on. Fearful at what she might see, she looked. What was left of a dead rostine lay a few yards away on the other side of the bush. Not Renz, thank Litha.
Grimacing, leading both harthers now, Petra hurried past it, wondering what predators she might have to worry about. Grass-eating rostines were big enough so it took a fair-sized beast to kill one. Where was Renz?
Ahead lay an arched bridge crossing a small river. The white ahver perched high in a tree on the far side of the river. Could it possibly be leading her to Renz?
Sitting in the shade, his back propped against the bole of a tree, Renz cursed the Council. He hated the transformation, hated what he was. When he woke--Renz shook his head. No, wrong, dead men don't wake. Once he became aware again, he'd been seized by such a violent blood hunger that he'd torn off his protective medallion, then killed and eaten the raw and bloody meat of a rostine before he fully understood what had happened. That he'd been killed and thrust through the back curtain into the Temple of Time.
Those blasted folk-tales were true. He'd become a Blood Taker. Compounding the problem, he'd eaten, so he could never leave this cursed Temple of Time. Could never slip back to Tonapa and revenge himself on those who'd wronged him. By the cruel heart of Dagon-The-Untouchable, he'd rather have stayed dead.
Brooding, he watched a white ahver fly toward his tree and settle in the branches high above his head. He blinked, startled by the tickle of sorcery. A magic ahver? That meant a sorcerer. Who knew what else might be abroad in this unnatural land. Were there other Blood Takers? River water had washed the rostine's blood from his face and hands, but he still felt unclean.
What was that he heard? Sounded like harther hoofs crossing the wooden bridge. Two harthers. Renz rose. Guards coming after him? His fists clenched, his feral smile anticipatory. They'd be sorry. Wait. Unlikely, since they'd tossed him in here, not wanting what he'd become loose in Tonapa. Who then? He eased behind the tree trunk and watched through the greenery separating him from the path.
A human woman, leading the harthers. Blood lust rose, simmering in him. He fought in vain to bring it under control. Slowly, cautiously, he eased through the greenery, stalking her. He hated what he was doing, but couldn't stop, his mind refusing to focus on anything but the taste of her luscious blood.