During their escape from the Schahi, Kreg and Shillond discover that their companion, Kaila, has been bespelled and turned against them. Shillond’s magic was able to render Kaila unconscious and they were able to flee into the darkness, carrying her with them:
“Is everything ready?” Kreg asked Shillond as he pulled brush to block the entrance to the small cave. They had been fortunate in finding the cave. It offered a place to hide from the soldiers searching for them.
The cave mouth sat halfway up a large hill. It opened onto a small shelf of level ground above a steep slope of loose, broken rock.
“Ready enough,” Shillond said. “I’ll have to awaken Kaila in order to make the tests.” He had renewed the sleeping spell on her several times over the past two days. “Stand ready. She is likely to be violent and I am unsure whether her bonds will restrain her.”
“Cripes, if we had any more rope to use…”
“But we don’t.” Such as they had, they had stolen from farmyards in the moonless hours of the night. “Be alert. I will begin.”
Shillond began to chant. In a few seconds Kaila’s eyes flew open. They flashed with pure hatred, a look so grim as to make her usual expression seem positively cheerful. Her muscles bulged. The ropes creaked under the strain, but held. Barely. Kreg shuddered before Kaila’s stare as Shillond finished the spell.
“We are lucky.” Shillond turned to Kreg. “It is a compulsion rather than a possession. Unfortunately, it is a greater compulsion rather than a lesser.”
“I should be able to break it.” Shillond shook his head. “It will be difficult. Perhaps you should wait outside.”
“Not meant for the eyes of us mortal types, huh?” Kreg regretted the jest at the pain in Shillond’s eyes. He held up a hand. “Sorry. I’ll go.”
“Do not reenter the cave,” Shillond said. “That would break the wards and release forces you cannot imagine.”
Kreg thought about the weapons of his own world and thought he could imagine more than Shillond thought. He nodded and backed out of the cave’s small opening.
Outside, Kreg sat and waited. In the distance he could see the light of the army’s watchfires, pinpricks of light in the darkness. Shillond had said that such an army as had been encamped before the castle was not raised in a day, but two days had seen the apparent raising of an even larger army. Kreg did not doubt that the army was on its way to reinforce the forces attacking Aerioch.
Seeing the apparent size of the army, Kreg frowned. Shillond had explained that Schah was a small country, not in area but in population. Although the land area was similar to that of either Aerioch or Shendar the land of Schah was much drier. As a result, population was sparser.
The armies they had been fielding numbered hosts larger than Schah’s entire population and, judging by the army that was massing below, there did not seem to be any end to them. Those people had to come from somewhere, but where? Kreg had suggested Chanakra along with the wizards, but Shillond had said that Chanakra was an even smaller country than Schah.
So lost in thought was Kreg that he nearly missed noting that several of the watchfires were moving. They also flickered a bit much for watchfires seen at a distance.
Kreg jumped to his feet. Those were not watchfires. Those were torches, and they were moving closer.
“Shillond!” Kreg drew his sword. “We’ve got company!”
Kreg’s gaze flitted from shadow, to rock, to twisted bush hoping to find something with which to stave off the attack. He saw nothing. First, sticking his sword point first in the ground he gripped his bow, nocked an arrow, and estimated a target under one of the torches. He loosed and the arrow disappeared in the darkness. A moment later a cry of pain rewarded Kreg and the torch fell to the ground. He loosed another arrow after the first but this one missed.
Kreg sent arrow after arrow speeding into the approaching band. Twenty arrows he loosed. Seven men fell, dead or wounded. At least ten more were still approaching. They had reached the base of the slope and would have to scramble up it to reach Kreg.
Kreg plucked his sword from the ground and drew himself to his full height. “Come on, you bastards! I may die tonight, but I’ll take a few of you with me.”
He stood at the edge of the slope where he would have solid footing while the men approaching him would still be on the scree.
The first of the men arrived. Kreg thrust, catching the man through the throat as he scrambled for footing on the loose rocks. After parrying the next man’s attack, Kreg drove back with a riposte as the third began to clamber to the side in an effort to outflank Kreg. He sliced past the second’s guard and sidestepped to deal with the third. Numbers four and five split up, working Kreg between them.
Kreg managed to drop the third just as the larger of the two moons chose to peak from behind a cloud and bathe the scene in a ruddy glow. He turned to face four, unable to avoid leaving his back to five. While Kreg dealt with four, he heard a shout behind him. Something warm and wet thumped against his back, causing him to lose his balance. As he stumbled, he threw out his arms for balance. By chance rather than design, Kreg’s sword caught four in the ribs. Four dropped.
Kreg turned to deal with the others and saw only bodies. Over them stood Kaila, clad in buff tunic and high leather boots. She returned his gaze with a grim smile.
“Again, I owe you thanks,” she said.
At that moment Kreg thought her the most beautiful woman who ever lived. He smiled. “So who’s keeping score?” He gestured at the bodies at her feet. “As I see it, you just saved my life–again.”
Shillond crawled out of the cave. He stood and dusted himself.
“As you can see,” he said, “the spell worked.” He looked around at the carnage. “It also seems success could not have been better timed.”
“No argument on that one.” Kreg sank to the ground. Near his right leg rolled the object that had struck him in the back–the severed head of number five. With a sigh, he told himself that he was too tired to be bothered. He would take the time to be sick later.
Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.
Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!