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The Dark Priory

By Joe Taylor,2014-11-04 17:03
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After winning free of the dream city of Brianston and defeating the titanic dragon, Gruon, Mage Questor Grimm Afelnor and his companions march towards Rendale Priory to confront the evil witch, Prioress Lizaveta. Unbeknownst to Grimm, who has now lived up to his Guild soubriquet of 'Dragonblaster', Lizaveta knows of the party's approach, and she has magically kidnapped the young mage's secret lover, Drexelica. When the Dragonblaster reaches Rendale, the evil Prioress will be ready for him. Published by Whiskey Creek Press on 2009/09/08

    Whiskey Creek Press www.whiskeycreekpress.com Copyright ?2009 by WHISKEY CREEK PRESS NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making

    copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including

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    constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe

    fines or imprisonment. CONTENTS Published by Other Books by Author Available at Whiskey Creek Press: Dedication Chapter 1: Betrayal Chapter 2: Despair Chapter 3: Success! Chapter 4: Arguments Chapter 5: Undead Or Alive Chapter 6: Dominance or Submission Chapter 7: Resistance Chapter 8: Traitors Chapter 9: ‘A Little Out Of Practice' Chapter 10: Sand of Time Chapter 11: ‘Laudable Aims' Chapter 12: Sickness Chapter 13: Contagion Chapter 14: Motivation Chapter 15: The Inner Light Chapter 16: Happy Ever After Chapter 17: Suspicion Chapter 18: ‘All Is In Your Hands' Chapter 19: Preparations for Departure Chapter 20: Blood!

Chapter 21: Collapse

    Chapter 22: Death and Rebirth

    Chapter 23: Hoping

    Chapter 24: Preparations for Extraction

    Chapter 25: An Angry Mob

    Chapter 26: Claustrophobia

    Chapter 27: Accusations

    Chapter 28: Behind the Scenes

    Chapter 29: Return to the World

    Chapter 30: Resolutions

    Chapter 31: Arguments

    Chapter 32: Accusations

    Chapter 33: An Indifferent Vintage

    Chapter 34: Horin's Ultimatum

    Chapter 35: Judgment

    Chapter 36: Travellers

    Chapter 37: Realisation

    Chapter 38: Travels

    About the Author

    For your reading pleasure, we invite you to visit our web bookstore

    * * * *

    THE DARK PRIORY:

    Book 6 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    by

    Alastair J. Archibald

    WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

    www.whiskeycreekpress.com

    Published by

    WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

    Whiskey Creek Press

    PO Box 51052

    Casper, WY 82605-1052

    www.whiskeycreekpress.com

    Copyright ? 2009 by Alastair J. Archibald

    Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigatedby the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author's imaginationor are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons,living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronicor mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrievalsystem, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-60313-522-1

    Credits:

    Editor: Melanie Billings

    Cover Artist: Jinger Heaston

    Printed in the United States of America

    [Back to Table of Contents]

    Other Books by Author Available at Whiskey Creek Press:

    www.whiskeycreekpress.com

    A Mage in the Making: Book 1 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    Grimm Afelnor becomes a student in Arnor House. Shocked to learn that his grandfather was oncea powerful mage. At the behest of his grandfather's betrayer, Grimm becomes a Mage Questor. Hevows to fight for his Guild and for the name of his disgraced family.

    Whiskey Shots Volume 4

    Two short stories. A man mistreats his wife and suffers the consequences. Another finds it hardto tell the difference between fantasy and reality—but is he truly mad, or does an ancient godhold the secret?

    Weapon of the Guild: Book 2 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    On his first Quest, Grimm is rewarded well after he helps to retrieve a magical gem. Now awealthy Baron and a Fifth Rank Mage Questor, Grimm feels confident when he is sent to tackle aGeneral who abducts Guild Mages. However, things do not go to plan.

    Questor: Book 3 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    Mage Questor Grimm Afelnor and his companions find themselves in Haven, a steel fortress in theforbidding Shest Mountains, as the unwilling guests of Armitage, the reborn avatar of a long-dead Technologist.

    Truth and Deception: Book 4 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    After saving Lord Dominie Horin from the attentions of the evil and powerful witch, PrioressLizaveta, Mage Questor Grimm Afelnor finds himself elevated to the Seventh Rank and the head ofa secret Quest to eliminate the influence of her pernicious cult. The mission becomes difficultas Grimm finds his magical aides are a sarcastic dandy (who happens to be Lizaveta's resentfulgrandson) and a cowardly Necromancer (who would prefer to sing than cast magic). Thedifficulties compound themselves as Grimm finds himself in an unwitting mental struggle forsupremacy with the man he trusts above all others. After being freed by a mutiny about which heknows nothing, all Grimm has to do is destroy a gladiatorial slavemaster and a ruthlessbusinessman after battling hundreds of mindless fighting drones trained to the peak of physicalperfection. And the Quest has only just begun.

    Dragonblaster: Book 5 of The Chronicles of Grimm Dragonblaster

    As Mage Questor Grimm Afelnor continues his Quest to destroy the pernicious influence of thewitch-nun, Lizaveta, he has no idea that the evil Prioress’ inner coterie has abducted hissecret lover, Drexelica.

    While Drex fights to retain her individuality in the face of relentless, savage torment, Grimmhas to face troubles of his own, including the sullen opposition of the unpredictable Questor,Guy Great Flame. When the members of Grimm's party find themselves marked for sacrifice andimprisoned in a fortress immune to even Questor magic, the young mage has to consider highlyunorthodox tactics in order to survive.

    Meanwhile, Lizaveta is training a new recruit: a human weapon of her own with which to beguileand vanquish the young Weapon of the Guild.

    [Back to Table of Contents]

Dedication

    To the one thing as fun as writing that you can do in public: to Mike, Graeme, Colin, Foz, DM,Peter, Donny, Mick, Dave, Richard, Kirk, Spider, Graham, Mark, Kevin, Jo, Bob, Alastair, Guy,Geoff, Sam, Carrick, Steve, Julia, and anyone I've forgotten from a previous band ... and tothe late Leo Fender for bringing true beauty to the six-string in the form of the Stratocaster.Music is just like writing: the day after you swear to give it up, you find you can't livewithout it.

    [Back to Table of Contents]

    Chapter 1: Betrayal

    Grimm Afelnor, Mage Questor of the Seventh Rank, called the Dragonblaster, waited in the woodsbeside Merrydeath Road, deep in worry.

    At the tender age of seven, soon after being sent to the forbidding Arnor House to be trainedin the ways of magic, Grimm learned that his blacksmith grandfather, Loras, had once been apowerful Mage Questor, too, but he had been stripped of his powers. He was exiled from theGuild of Magic-users, Sorcerers and Thaumaturges four decades before, for the attempted murderof the ailing Prelate Geral. He thought he had come to terms with his grandfather's disgrace;however, recent information he had obtained indicated that Loras had been betrayed by one closeto him in the Guild. Grimm now burned with desire to exonerate his grandfather in addition toproving his own worth as a mage. Another worry was his current Quest to destroy the influenceof the powerful witch, Prioress Lizaveta. After she had attempted to seduce Dominie Horin, theruler of the Guild, by her magic, Grimm had felt overjoyed at persuading Horin to give himcommand of the Quest, instead of to his rival, the overbearing, sarcastic QuestorGuy—Lizaveta's embittered grandson. However, the enterprise's beguiling glamour soon faded,after desperate struggles in the town of Yoren and the bizarre dream-city of Brianston. Victoryover Brianston's dragon-god, Gruon, came only at great cost: the swordsman, Harvel, was dead;the half-elven thief, Crest, had quit the party in grief for his fallen friend; and the giantalbino, Tordun, had been all but blinded by the dragon's fiery demise.

    Before destroying Yoren's Mansion House, Grimm learned that Lizaveta's magic was behind Loras’

    sudden downfall, reinforcing his determination. His grandfather was no traitor, and Grimm woulddo anything to prove that.

    His paramount concern was for his lover, Drexelica. He had already transgressed the Guild'sstrict rules of celibacy by coupling with her, but he wanted far more than a casual, furtiverelationship. However, to declare his love for her might see him stripped of his rank andcondemned to menial service in Arnor House for an unspecified period. Added to this, he knewthat Drexelica had gone missing, and he believed she was in Lizaveta's clutches; this gave himadditional determination to attack as soon as possible.

    Although he was a mighty Guild Questor, Grimm was still only an eighteen-year-old youth, andhis worries weighed as heavy on him as it would on any adolescent.

    Grimm started from his morose reverie as he heard a faint rustle from the bushes behind him.Straining his ears, he heard the unmistakable crunch of a human footstep on fallen leaves. Hejumped to his feet and shouted, “Who goes there? Show yourself!" His two Technology-wieldingsoldiers, General Quelgrum and Sergeant Erik, ran towards him from the camp-fire, their metalweapons at the ready as a small, dishevelled, dirty figure burst from the undergrowth, straightinto the Questor's arms.

    "Grimm! It is you!” The shabby creature sobbed into his right shoulder and Grimm's heart leaptin his chest.

    "Drex! Thank the Names! I was so worried about you!"

    "I escaped,” the girl said, her voice steadying. “It was horrible! Prioress Lizaveta's witch-nuns kidnapped me from Crar. They beat me and tormented me, but I wouldn't submit."

    "It's good to see you alive, Miss Drexelica,” Quelgrum said, “but I'm a little surprised thatthey were so lax in their attentions they let you escape—"

    "Are you implying something, General?” Grimm interrupted, feeling a hot rush of blood floodinginto his face.

    "Of course not, Lord Baron. I just thought it a little odd." Drex disengaged herself from themage and confronted the warrior. “I grew up in a tough town, General. I learned to defendmyself at a very young age. I tried to fight them, but it got me nowhere. After a while, Ipretended they'd broken me. I acted all demure and submissive, the way they wanted, ‘til Ifound a way out. That's all."

    Quelgrum's brow furrowed, and Drex's face contorted into an expression of rage. “If you reallywant to know, I was trained by an utter cow called Sister Melana. She took her eyes off me fora moment while she ate. I punched her in the back of her neck. She fell to the ground, and Ibrained her with her plate. She stopped moving. I hope I killed the little slut. I kept to theshadows ‘til I found my way down to the coal store. There was nobody there—there almost neveris—and I escaped through the delivery chute." The intensity of her scowl stunned Grimm, and hefelt his heart swelling with pride at his beloved's fortitude and resourcefulness. “You see,General? There's no conspiracy here. This is Drex, for goodness’ sake!"

    Guy Great Flame sauntered into view, twirling his Mage Staff in the manor of a bandmaster.“Hullo!” he said, his mouth crinkling in a half-smile. “What do we have here, a drowned rat?Be careful you don't catch anything off it!"

    Grimm felt his dislike of the proud Questor fulminating into sheer, scarlet hatred. “Don't youdare talk about Drex like that!"

    He realised his protesting squeak sounded more callow adolescent than Seventh Rank Mage, but hedid not care.

    Guy raised a sardonic eyebrow. “So, this is your vaunted housekeeper? I must say,Dragonblaster, I insist on a stricter dress code for the hired help in my house."

    The younger mage took his own Mage Staff, Redeemer, in a two-handed grip and stepped forward,his face contorted in rage.

    "Think you can handle it, youngster? If so, feel free; I'd love you to try." Grimm felt Guy'scool, self-assured manner fanning the fires of wrath within him to such intensity that theythreatened to consume him.

    I'll kill him! he raged inside his mind. Guy is just a primping peacock and no true mage! I'llsquash him once and for all, like the bug he is!

    As the older Questor braced himself and lowered his staff, War-maker, still smirking, Grimmbegan to gather the golden tendrils of thaumaturgic energy into a tight, ordered knot, ready tounleash them against his hated adversary. He knew Guy must be doing the same, but he felt morethan capable of overcoming the foppish mage. In the instant he drew in his breath, ready to letforth a stream of patterned power, Drex stepped between the two would-be combatants.

    "What's the matter with you?” she screamed, stamping and raising a small fist to Guy's face.“Fighting like silly schoolboys; you should be ashamed of yourselves!"

    Grimm felt his anger dissipate like a puff of smoke in a strong wind, and he stepped back fromGuy, realising how idiotic this confrontation was.

    We have a job to do, he thought. We can't afford to have stupid arguments like this; either orboth of us could have been injured, incapacitated or killed!

    Drexelica withdrew, frowning.

    Grimm drew a deep breath. “I apologise humbly for my outburst, Brother Mage,” he said atlast, extending his right hand. “No, I don't want to fight you."

    Guy looked at the proffered member as if he feared it might be diseased. “Thought better ofit, eh? I'm not surprised you backed down."

    Grimm felt blood rush anew into his face and fought to suppress his emotions. Don't sayanything to inflame the situation further, he thought, his entrails churning and his handstrembling from the effort of his inner battle. Whatever I think of him, we—I—need Guy.

    "You're right, Great Flame.” The words felt like ashes on his tongue. “I ... I acted rashlywhen I turned on you, and I've apologised for it. Please take my hand in the spirit ofcomradeship in which I offer it." Guy snorted. “The spirit of cowardice sounds nearer themark. Perhaps, instead, I should—" Quelgrum stepped in front of the foppish mage. “QuestorGuy, Lord Grimm was man enough to apologise. Are you? You seem to be going out of your way toprovoke him."

    "I might have known you'd side with him, Technology-lover!” Guy spat. “Take the hand of thatmisbegotten waif? I'd rather—"

    "Oh, Questor Guy,” Drex cried, her eyes moistening. “Can't you make peace withGrimm—please?" Grimm felt entranced by his beloved's blue eyes; they seemed so large and deepthat he felt as if he were about to fall into them. How could any man of flesh and blood remainunmoved by such an entreaty?

    It seemed that even the sarcastic, acerbic Guy was mortal at heart. He shrugged and tookGrimm's hand in his own, pumping it once before releasing it.

    "I suppose I was a little hard on you, Dragonblaster,” the Great Flame muttered. “Let's justget on with the damn Quest, shall we?"

    The older Questor had not even used his favourite perversion of Grimm's title:‘Dragonbluster'. Grimm guessed that was the nearest thing to an apology he was ever likely tohear from Guy.

    "Well met, Great Flame,” he said, nodding. “There's a difficult task ahead of us, and I'd farrather we were allies than enemies."

    Guy, looking a little dazed, shrugged. “I agree. Let's do it."

    Quelgrum nodded. “I'll call the others. We'll be ready to move by morning."

    "I don't think we should wait that long, General,” Drex said, biting her lower lip. “Nobodyknows I'm gone yet, but they will in a short while, when I'm missed at Evening Devotions.There's no telling what that evil bitch, Lizaveta will do then.

    "I don't think I could smuggle all of you into the Priory; a small party would be better. I'llgo with Grimm—he's a Questor, after all."

    "What's the matter with me?” Guy's voice became a plaintive whine. “I'm the senior Questorhere."

    "We should stand by, at least, in case of trouble,” Quelgrum declared.

    "There are witch guards all around, and they know you're coming,” Drex said. “Believe me, myway is better. A small group can cling to the shadows more easily than a large one. You and theother warriors should get some rest, so you can be ready in the morning."

    She locked those lovely, blue eyes on the soldier's, and Grimm suffered a momentary pang ofjealousy, which he soon quashed.

    "Perhaps you're right, lass,” the General said at last. “It's a reasonable battle plan."Grimm felt a warm rush of admiration at Drex's calm, intelligent assessment of the situation.After all she's been through, he thought, I wouldn't have blamed her if she'd been a catatonicwreck, but her mind's still clear.

    "Well, if that's settled,” he said, “I'm going with Drex."

    "Me, too,” Guy declared. “If you remember, Dragonblaster, I have a score to settle with theold bitch, too. I can take care of myself."

    "I can take care of myself, too, Great Flame,” Grimm snapped, determined not to lose anyground to the pompous thaumaturge. He would rather not have Guy around at all, but, in view ofhis earlier effort at conciliation, he felt he could not easily deny the older mage. “Don't

you worry about me; let's go."

    * * * *

    "Be careful,” Drex muttered, as she and the two mages hugged the lengthening shadows.“Lizaveta's look-outs are all around. They're called the Anointed Score, and they're the mostvicious sluts around. It's best to avoid them."

    The walls of the Priory loomed overhead, seeming almost to disappear into the inky evening sky.Grimm suppressed a shiver as the distant, eerie bark of a fox slashed through the air.

    "Not much further now,” Drex whispered, as the trio rounded the north corner of the toweringedifice.

    “Just keep quiet, and we should be all right."

    This Anointed Score can't be that good, Grimm thought. I haven't seen a single one yet. They'dhave been better off forming a line in front of the Priory, if they suspected any incursion.This is just too damned—

    "Here we are."

    Grimm looked down at a dark, unfathomable, rectangular opening, and he felt a frisson ofdisquiet. Was he expected to plunge into this murky unknown, with no idea what might lie on theother side?

    "I'll go first,” Drex muttered. “Wait until I give you the all-clear." Before Grimm couldprotest, his lover flung herself feet-first into the dark chute. Guy stepped forward, but Grimmput an admonitory hand on the older man's chest. “You heard Drex, Guy. We'll wait here." Grimmcould almost hear the upsurge of the other Questor's emotions at this affront, but he hardlycared; all he cared about was that his lover was safe.

    "It's all right!"

    Hearing Drex's welcome voice from inside the bowels of the Priory, Grimm felt as if a greatweight had been lifted from his shoulders.

    "There's nobody here, Grimm; come on in. The dirt won't hurt you, Guy, I promise." Even in thedim light, Grimm saw Guy's brows lowering at this slight, and he smiled.

    "You aren't scared, are you, Great Flame?"

    "Not on your life, Dragonblaster. There's still time for you to back out, you know."

    "Not on your life, Brother Mage. I'm going first."

    Grimm squatted and launched himself down the chute, clutching Redeemer to his chest. Thedarkness and the brief sensation of falling awoke a primordial fear in him, and he feltrelieved when he came to a sudden halt. He stood and stepped away from the chute, and his eyescould just discern Drex's shadowy figure, black against deeper black.

    A faint bump greeted Guy's arrival, and Grimm, his eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness,ran to his lover, embracing her. Drex seemed a little awkward in her response to hisenthusiastic embrace, but he guessed she was nervous to be back in the Priory so soon after herescape, so he released her.

    "Where do we go from here, Drex?” he whispered. “Just point us in the right direction, andwe'll take it from there."

    "You don't get away from me that easily, Grimm Afelnor,” she muttered. “There's a reckoningdue, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.” There was no mistaking the fervour in her loweredvoice. Speaking a little louder, she said, “Follow me."

    "Do you really think this is a good idea, Drex?” Grimm laid a hand on his lover's shoulder.Drexelica stiffened at his touch, but her voice was soft. “Don't worry about me, Grimm." Witha determined air, she strode to the inner door and opened it just a crack, allowing yellowlight to spill into the dark chamber. Putting her face to the narrow opening, she nodded.

    "It's all right. Nobody's there. Let's go."

"You're in charge,” Grimm said, and then he frowned.

    Drex is no shrinking violet, he thought. I guess that's one of the reasons I fell so in lovewith her; but she seems so different now, as if she's angry with me.

    Oh, well; she has been through a lot...

    "Come on, Grimm! Devotions can't be more than ten minutes away now. We've got to move, now!"Grimm stepped through the narrow opening into a small, well-lit vestibule with stairs at eitherside. Squinting in the bright illumination, he saw Drexelica standing with her arms crossedover her chest, her lips compressed into a tight line.

    Why's Drex so uneasy with me? Does she blame me for taking so long to get here?

    "We don't have all day, you know, Grimm! Up here."

    She started up the left-hand flight of stairs, and the two mages followed her into one narrowcorridor after another. Her movements were confident and decisive; Grimm felt glad she wasthere to lead them through the confusing labyrinth of passageways.

    At last, the small party reached a doorway, and Drex stopped. She turned to Grimm, her wholebody trembling, and the mage knew she must be fighting powerful, conflicting emotions. Hisheart went out to her.

    Such bravery! Even after all Drex has undergone, her first thought is still for the task aheadof us.

    "This is Prioress Lizaveta's private chamber,” Drex whispered. “We'll catch her when shereturns to put on her devotional robes."

    Drex opened the door to reveal an empty room decked with glorious, tasteful brocades andtapestries.

    "Come in, boys,” she said. “Don't be frightened of an old lady's boudoir." Grimm and Guy didas they were bidden.

    Grimm gazed in wonder at the room's splendour; not at all what he had expected of a nun'sprivate apartments.

    "I'll wait to the right of the door, Guy,” he declared. “You take the left." Drex shook herhead. “Not a good idea, Grimm; Lizaveta always sends at least two of the Score ahead of herbefore she enters, and they always check behind the door first. Let's hide in her innersanctum; nobody dares enter there without her express permission.” She indicated the door witha grubby hand.

    “In there."

    Grimm's hand was on the door handle almost before his rational brain had time to react;something about Drex's tone brooked no argument, and he felt almost helpless to resist her.Grimm's suspicious, well-trained, Questor's mind shot a hot, warning message into hisconsciousness: Something's wrong here. I don't like this—

    This is Drex! the emotional, uncontrolled portion of his brain snapped back. I'd trust her withmy life—

    He spun around, startled, as he heard the door close with a bang behind him. In the doorwaystood Drex, wearing a cool smile, and flanked by two grey-garbed nuns bearing staves. Behindthem stood the unmistakable figure of Prioress Lizaveta, whose expression suggested a cat whohad cornered a particularly tasty morsel.

    Grimm felt a cold, jagged spear of horror lance through his body. His mouth moved, but he foundhimself incapable of speech or movement.

    "Welcome to Rendale, gentlemen,” the Prioress purred. “Sister Weranda played her part well,did she not?"

    Guy raised War-maker and hissed. “I don't care how many ensorcelled sluts you command, oldhag. Now, you're going to get what you deserve!"

    "Ah, there you are, my dear bastard grandson! You didn't really think I'd let any kin of minegrow up to be a Guild Questor without taking a few precautions, did you?

    "Quondam febrifuge!"

    Guy snarled and lowered his brows, but he stopped short of decisive action. His lips moved, butno sound emerged. Guy shut his eyes, baring his clenched teeth, and beads of sweat began togarland his face. After a few further moments, he groaned and sank to the floor, dropping War-maker and clutching his stomach.

    "Oh, dear,” Lizaveta said, smiling. “Dear Guy's developed a nasty tummy-ache. It's his ownfault; he's such a naughty boy for trying to cast horrible spells on his devoted grandmother."

    "Your little game's over, Prioress,” Grimm growled, regaining his power of speech. “If wedon't return to our camp by dawn, our companions will attack the Priory with all theTechnological power at their disposal. It's over: your little family code-phrases won't work onme, I fancy." He began to gather his power, intending to cast a spell of paralysis over thewomen.

    "Ah, you are so right, dear Grimm,” Lizaveta replied. “I have no direct hold on you ... yet.However, Sister Weranda, here, does, and she doesn't want you to attack me, do you, my dear?"She's trying to confuse me, Grimm thought, trying to concentrate on his spell. However, nomatter how he tried, he could not seem to focus on his magic.

    "You wouldn't cast a spell on me, would you, darling?” Drexelica said, and Grimm could notresist the urge to look into those innocent eyes.

    "What's the matter with you, Drex?” he gasped, abandoning the struggle to control his waywardpowers.

    “You're a fighter—so fight her!"

    "My name is Weranda, Guild scum,” Drex declared. “I really can't tell what I ever saw in you.Mother Lizaveta has shown me how you tried to enslave me. All I feel now for you is uttercontempt, you damned rapist!"

    She spat at him, and Grimm, feeling confused and weak, shook his head in disbelief as thespittle ran down his face.

    "Oh, and don't hold out too much hope for that bunch of misfits you call friends,” she said.“They'll soon have their own problems to deal with. They'll be much too busy to worry aboutyou." Lizaveta said, “Sisters, you may begin.” The two nuns stepped forward and acted inunison, slamming their staves into his stomach. As Grimm groaned and collapsed onto his knees,the true beating began, each blow causing pain beyond his imagining. He held on for as long ashe could, trying to protect his head, his entrails and his manhood, but the blows came in quicksuccession, too quickly for him to react. At last, a solid blow contacted his right temple andhe fell into the welcoming arms of Morpheus.

    [Back to Table of Contents]

    Chapter 2: Despair

    Grimm awoke to the cold shock of a jet of water in his face. He gasped at the icy impact andforced his crusted eyelids open. Drexelica stood before him, holding an empty bucket. In placeof her grubby street clothes, she wore a simple, white habit and a wimple.

    Prioress Lizaveta stood behind her, and Grimm tried to leap to his feet, but he could not.Looking down, he saw the strong ropes binding him to a sturdy chair bolted to the stone floor.He tested his bonds and found them quite unyielding. His injuries were painful, but none seemedincapacitating.

    "Now, you may imagine that a simple Questor spell will have those ropes off you in a trice,”Lizaveta said. “However, while you have been lounging there at your ease, Sister Weranda hasused her link with you to impose a few little ground rules for you to follow during your stayhere.

    "Rule One: you can cast no magic without express permission. Rule Two: you will obey SisterWeranda in all things, at all times. Rule Three: you cannot cast mind-changing, offensive orincapacitating magic on either of us. This final condition overrides the other two."

    Grimm felt an upsurge of hope; his mind seemed unimpaired. He remembered the euphoric sense ofintoxication he had felt while under Madeleine's spell at High Lodge, and he felt no suchdisorientation now.

    If Lizaveta felt that confident, he thought, she'd have ordered Drex to make me obey her,instead. Still, I'd better play along with her.

    "So what happens now?” he croaked through dry, cracked lips, putting as much resigned despairas he could into his voice. “Why don't you just kill me?"

    "I may do so in time, Questor Grimm, but I have a job for you first. You're going to kill LordHorin for me.” She smiled, revealing a set of small, yellowed teeth.

    She's insane, Grimm thought. I know a little of how Geomantic magic works, and I know it can'tforce someone to do something he hasn't at least half a mind to do. She can't make me killHorin—she can't!

    "He doesn't believe you, Reverend Mother,” Drex said. “May I give Grimm a demonstration?"Lizaveta nodded. “Of course, Sister Weranda, please continue."

    Drex leaned towards Grimm with her face inches away from his. “How pathetic you look, Grimm.”She laughed, but the sound was a harsh, hollow imitation of her normal laugh.

    "I want you to cast a spell of light,” she said, “just a harmless little glowing ball,nothing more. I've seen you do that a few times now."

    Grimm nodded. They'll never know if I cast a Light spell or not, he thought. Still, perhapsI'll play along a little longer, to make them think they really have me cowed.

    He had no need of his personal spell-language for such a basic spell; all he needed was asimple effort of will.

    In a moment, the glowing, blue sphere appeared, hovering over his head like a guardian angel.

    "Very good,” Drex said, clapping her hands in a parody of congratulations. “Perhaps youthought of using a different spell; a more potent one?"

    Grimm's heart leapt, but he kept his expression impassive.

    Is Drex reading my mind? Surely not; if she wanted to convince me of that, she'd have told mebefore now.

    "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't,” he said aloud. “But what's the point? You seem to haveevery advantage over me."

    "I thought you'd say that,” the girl said. “Well; perhaps we could take things a littlefurther. Reverend Mother, may I show Master Afelnor the full extent of our control over him?"Lizaveta nodded. “Please do, Sister."

    "Now, Grimm,” Drex said, “I order you to put Mother Lizaveta and me to sleep with yourmagic." Grimm hesitated. “You might hurt yourself when you fall, Drex,” he said. “I wouldn'twant that."

    "We will sit during the exercise.” Lizaveta fetched a pair of stools from the corner of thechamber. The two women sat opposite Grimm.

    "Well, go ahead, Grimm,” Drex said. “Do as I told you. We can't hurt ourselves now." Theyreally think I'm ensorcelled!

    The mage considered the characteristics of impending sleep: heavy eyelids, wandering thoughtsand lassitude. Now visualising the effect he wanted, he let the energies within him build andconcentrate, confident that his Questor language would pattern it in the correct fashion. Hehad no direct control over what he shouted when casting, but it always achieved the desiredeffect. Just a pinch of power; I don't want to put Drex in a coma, he thought, readying himselfto release his spell.

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