Frej Wasastjerna


            The expedition struck camp at dawn.

            Two miles above and six miles west, the mountain peaks glowed pink in the rising sun. The hills where the camp lay were still in shadow, however.

            Radeyann shivered slightly in the night air, but he rather relished that, knowing that by noon he would be grateful for any coolness. His shivers weren't due only to the chill, however. Today the expedition was going to enter the narrow pass cutting through the mountains. He didn't really like the looks of that pass, but he hadn't seen any other way of crossing the mountain range. He didn't want to go north or south to try to find a better way, since that would have meant staying on the steppe that much longer, increasing the risk of another encounter with a nomad band like the one that had killed Kelevrin, the expedition's original leader.

            That death meant that command of the expedition had devolved on Radeyann, the second most senior wizard in the small expedition. "Senior"--hah! A journeyman wizard, a mere twenty-three years old, was really much too young for this responsibility. But the White Order had seen fit to include only one master wizard, in addition to one journeyman, two apprentices and twenty soldiers in this expedition. That was all the Order was willing to spare--or risk--on an expedition to find the civilized lands rumored to exist west of the Great Steppe.

            So here he was, in charge of the expedition. All he could do was to follow his best judgment, occasionally asking Medor, the veteran commander of the soldiers, for advice. Now both Medor and Radeyann felt that the best idea was to head for the pass.

            Still, it behooved them to be cautious. Making sure that the soldiers kept a sharp lookout was Medor's job, but watching out for sorcery was up to the wizards.

            Consequently Radeyann decided to try a Sense Magic spell. He stood on tiptoe, stretching his fingertips as far up as he could, then slowly swept them sideways and down, gradually crouching so that his fingertips touched the ground when he finished. There was plenty of uruop, magical energy, here, and he felt it flow into him. Then, with his eyes closed to make it easier to concentrate, he made the required passes with his hands and spoke the required words to shape the uruop into the spell he wanted.

            Gradually he began to perceive a distant, looming presence. There was magic abroad, but he couldn't identify it. Neither could he sense its exact location, but it was somewhere to the west. Exactly the direction in which the expedition was heading.

            He broke off the spell and opened his eyes. Should he turn away or go ahead?

            He told the other members of the expedition what he had sensed. After that he stood silent in thought for a moment, then he shook his head. He would rather face unknown magic than another band of nomads protected by a ward spell or talisman. "We ride west," he said, his voice harder and more decisive than he actually felt.


            Sitting astride Whitejaw in the scorching sunlight,  Radeyann wished for some shade. Should he cast a spell to give the expedition shade, maybe a weather control spell to raise a cloud?

            No. Bad idea. He couldn't afford to waste any strength on luxuries like that, he had to conserve it in case they really needed some magic.

            He looked hard at the pass they were about to enter. It was little more than a crack through the mountains. Unfortunately the walls weren't quite steep enough to provide any shade.

            One thing had caught his attention while they were approaching the pass. Though it was the only way through the mountains for as far as he could see to either side, there was no road leading up to it--no longer, actually. Occasionally the hooves of their horses had trod on ancient flagstones, presumably dating back to the Lespagan Empire, but there were no signs that anybody had passed this way recently.

            True, there wouldn't be much traffic through the mountains anyway, now that the land east of them had become the Great Steppe, inhabited only by nomads. Still, the nomads occasionally traded with settled peoples and sometimes raided them. One would have expected some indications that this route was used.

            This totally deserted appearance made him uneasy. Still, they had to go through here or try to find an alternate route.

            He scrutinized the slopes carefully to see if there was any danger of an ambush, but he could see nobody up there, neither were there any boulders ready to be rolled down into the pass.

            Then he tried a Sense Magic spell again in case somebody was using an invisibility spell. (There were rumors that such a spell was possible, though the White Order's wizards had failed to develop one.) All he found was the same magic he had detected at dawn, now much nearer. While he couldn't tell what it was, it somehow didn't feel the way he would have expected an invisibility spell to feel.

            Sending somebody to climb the slopes and check that nobody was waiting in ambush would have taken longer than Radeyann was willing to wait to get away from the steppe, so there was nothing to do but to enter the pass, with the expedition well spread out and staying alert.


            They were riding in single file. Radeyann was second, with Lakedor, a veteran soldier, riding first.

            The pass was so narrow where they were riding now that there would barely have been room for two mounted men abreast. It made a sharp turn right. As Lakedor passed the corner, his horse recoiled and neighed in fright. Lakedor himself didn't seem particularly frightened, though he held his sword ready. "Come look at this," he said.

Radeyann dismounted, since Whitejaw was beginning to get unruly, scared by the leading horse's fear. Holding the reins in his left hand, he cautiously stepped up to the corner and looked past it.

            Some ten yards beyond the corner lay a lizard-like beast. It was some twelve feet long and had sharp, carnivorous-looking teeth, but otherwise it didn't appear at all fearsome. Many of its green scales were missing and in many places it had bleeding sores.

            It was, however, plainly the locus of the magic Radeyann had sensed. Now he could feel it without any spell, though he still couldn't identify it.

            "Should I kill it?" Lakedor asked.

            What kind of beast was it, Radeyann wondered. With the pointed scales protruding from the elbows and knees of its splayed-out legs, it looked rather like a renya. However, it obviously wasn't one. Not only was it too small and the wrong color, no magic would work in the vicinity of a renya.

            "No, don't kill it unless it attacks," he said. "I'd like to learn what this is."

            As he said that, the beast heaved itself up with an obvious effort and began staggering towards Lakedor, its jaws gaping wide. Lakedor also dismounted, since his horse's fear was getting worse.

            Radeyann took the reins of that horse too and said, "All right, it seems to be attacking. Drive it off, kill it if you have to."

            Taking care to stay out of reach of the beast's jaws, Lakedor poked with his sword at a sore on the its left shoulder. The tip of the sword went in a little bit and stopped.

            The beast kept coming. Lakedor thrust harder. Nonetheless, the point of his sword came out of the beast's skin instead of going deeper. The sore didn't look so bad as Radeyann had first thought.

            Lakedor took a step backward to stay out of reach of the slowly advancing beast. He thrust hard at its left eye. The sword glanced off. The beast raised itself higher and began moving a little more briskly.

            Lakedor stepped backward again and hit the beast's neck a mighty blow. The sword failed to penetrate.

            The beast's sores were healing.

            Lakedor thrust the sword hard into the beast's mouth, trying to push the point upward. It just slid off the beast's palate, and he had to jump backward to avoid having his hand slide into the mouth.

            Hadn't there been a lot of places with scales missing, Radeyann wondered, or was his memory playing tricks on him? Now the beast was covered with scales almost everywhere.

            Lakedor thrust his sword into its scabbard. He stepped back to his horse, which Radeyann had moved backwards to stay away from the beast. Then he took a battleaxe that had been hanging by his saddle, stepped forward and hewed at the beast's head. The axe bounced back.

            There were definitely no scales missing anywhere. Now the beast was covered with gleaming green scales.

            "Lakedor, pull back," Radeyann said. "Take the horses."

            If weapons didn't have any effect, he had to try magic. Walking slowly backward to stay out of the beast's reach, he prepared a Firelance spell. Then he cast it, hitting squarely in the left shoulder so that the beam of fire should have gone into the chest of the beast and killed it.

            It wasn't dead. The charred hole that the firelance should have left wasn't there. The beast seemed to be in excellent health and was striding towards him with an air of unhurried confidence much like a renya. Its tongue flickered out in his direction as if impatiently awaiting the impending meal.

            Obviously the beast was protected by some spell. That had to be removed. He turned to face the other members of the expedition and shouted "Stay back!" Then he began to prepare a Dispell Magic spell while half-running to stay away from the beast. Fortunately uruop was plentiful enough here that he could gather enough of it even while running. He turned around and cast the spell.

            There was no effect, so far as he could sense. The aura of magic still hung over the beast. Scrutinizing it carefully while retreating, he found a small chink where a scale still seemed to be missing.

            "Lakedor, hand over our horses to the others. Then come here with your sword and thrust there," he said, pointing at the chink.

            Lakedor did that. The chink was gone, and the beast was approaching still faster.

            There was only one thing more that Radeyann could think of. Tired though he was after already casting four spells that day, he would have to try one more.

            Just as he had decided to do this, he stumbled in his exhaustion. Lakedor, who was running at his side, barely managed to snatch him out of reach of the beast's jaws.

            He decided to concentrate on running for a while so he could catch up with his horse, which Medor was now leading away from the beast. Having done that, he mounted Whitejaw. Only then, riding away from the beast, did he begin to prepare what would be the last spell he could cast that day.

            He took his time, since he had to make this spell as powerful as he could. Finally he dismounted again, to be able to stand steady while he cast the spell.

            He waited while the beast approached, preparing to wring every last drop of strength out of himself with the spell. Then, when the beast was so close he could feel its breath, he cast the spell. He saw the beast falter, then he lost consciousness himself.


            He woke up slowly. Had the spell had the desired effect? Presumably it had, since he was still alive.

            He opened his eyes. There, four feet from him, lay a moldering reptilian corpse. He had been right.

            He heard footsteps crunching on the sand behind him. He rolled over, too tired to stand up. There stood Beredan, the senior of the two apprentice wizards, looking hesitant.

            "That last spell you used," Beredan asked, "wasn't that..."

            "Yes," Radeyann answered. "It was a healing spell."

            "But why... how..."

            "Every time we hit that beast with a weapon or a combat spell, it just grew stronger. There had to be a spell on it, reversing the effects of any attack. I couldn't lift that spell, so the only thing I could do was to hope it worked both ways. It did."