Chapter Thirty-three

"Ready?" Pharaun asked, looking up from the circle he'd been draw-ing on the floor of the tunnel.

Only a pinch of powdered amber remained in the pouch he was holding - just enough to complete the circle in which Quenthel and Jeggred stood. The two were crowded close together, Quenthel strok-ing Jeggred's tangled mane in a calming gesture.

Valas and Danifae stood outside the circle, back where the water dripping from their soakedpiwafwis wouldn't mar the pattern. With-out levitation magic, they had no way to land safely on the storm-tossed ship, so they would remain in the tunnel.

"Get on with it," Quenthel said, forcing his mind back to the task at hand. "Cast the spell."

Pharaun stepped into the circle beside her, taking care the hem of hispiwafwididn't disturb the powder, then he crouched to sprinkle the last pinch of amber that would complete the pattern on the floor.

Standing again, he stared our through the ice wall at the ship of chaos, locking the position of its upper deck in his mind.

"Faer z'hind!"he cried.

As his spell took effect, the stone floor vanished from under his feet. An instant later he, Quenthel, and Jeggred were falling through the air toward the deck of the rapidly moving ship. The wizard checked his descent by levitating, but the water stinging his eyes made it difficult to see. He'd aimed for a pace or two above the deck - the only sane option, with the ship rising and falling so violently and listing at such a sharp angle - but without anything solid under his feet he was in danger of being hurled into the eye of the storm. He floundered about, trying to find the deck with his feet assprays of water lashed him and the wind tore at the hood of hispiwafwi, nearly strangling him. A gust of wind caught him, slamming him into the main mast and knock-ing the air from his lungs, Desperately, Pharaun grabbed at the closest thing to hand: one of the lines that formed the ship's rigging.

The line compressed as his hands tightened around it. Inside the line was something soft and wet - and warm. An instant later, as something pulsed through it, Pharaun realized that the line was made not of rope but of a strand of intestine. He curled his lip, hop-ing the line wouldn't rupture. Pharaun didn't relish the thought of being spattered by its contents.

He wedged one foot against the base of the mast, the other against the tilted deck, and he glanced up. Jeggred and Quenthel had halted their fall a pace or two above him. The draegloth had grabbed the mast and was hugging it with his fighting arms. Rigid as a statue, muscles bulging, he easily held himself in place against the wind that tore at his mane. Quenthel clung to his back, supported by the draegloth's smaller arms.

Quenthel stared down at Pharaun, her hair writhing in the wind like the vipers that thrashed furiously in her whip. She shouted some-thing, jerking her head up at the demon that floated at the eye of the storm, far above the mast to which they clung.

Pharaun had no idea what Quenthel was saying, but the need for urgency was certainly clear.

With his feet securely braced, he released the line with his left hand and reached into his pocket for the twig he'd used to collect a spiderweb, so many days before. Pointing it at the deck of the ship, he chanted a spell.

A spray of web filaments erupted from the twig and struck the deck. Several twisted away in the howling wind, but the majority of them stuck. They formed a sticky smear across the bone-white deck??- a smear that gradually built in thickness as yet more web pulsed out of the twig. By the time the spell was spent, the mass of spiderweb was nearly half a pace deep, mounded in an oval that re-sembled a cocoon.

Letting the twig go - it was instantly snatched away by the wind - Pharaun fished a wad of bitumen out of a pocket and popped it into his mouth. Heswallowed the gummy mass down, gagging slightly as the spider hairs embedded in the bitumen scratched the back of his throat, then he curled his fingers into the shape of a spider and tapped fingertips lightly against his chest. Immediately his hand grew sticky - gummy enough to pluck at his soddenpiwafwi when he pulled it away.

Tentatively, still holding the line of intestine, Pharaun moved one foot away from the mast and felt his boot stick to the deck. Then, walking slowly and with one hand touching the tilting deck, he worked his way over to the patch of web.

Standing erect was impossible - the ship was canted at an acute angle, sailing in crazy circles around the inside of the whirlpool with its hull half in and half out of the water and its masts pointing at the eye of the storm. The deck shuddered under Pharaun's feet like a live thing as the ship twisted around and around in the whirlpool, its planks groaning like a chorus of undead. The wizard heard what sounded like a weight shifting in a space under his feet, but there was something more to the sound that he couldn't quite put his fin-ger on.

Forced to stand at an angle that made his knees and ankles ache, Pharaun fought to keep his balance. To fall then would ruin every-thing. Meanwhile, the wind howling through the lines above added a ghastly harmony, and theflap-flap . . .flap-flap . . .flap-flap of the tattered sails pounded like an off-kilter heartbeat.

Pharaun opened the pouch he'd hung around his neck. The stat-uette inside it had held up well under the buffeting the storm had given the pouch. The only damage was that its tail had been bent slightly. The length of chain Valas had provided was still fastened securely around one ankle, and the pin was still in place at the end of the chain.

Working quickly, Pharaun reached down - nearly falling into the web as the ship bucked on a wave and only recovering his balance at the last moment - and mired the statue's feet in the outer edge of the web, sticking it to the deck, Then, carefully, he pushed the pin into the deck. It slid home into the bone-white boards as easily as if it was piercing a stick of wet chalk.

Pharaun began the binding. Staring up at the demon that hung far above the mast, he chanted the words of his spell, hands raised above his head with thumbs and forefingers forming interlocking cir-cles. Slowly, he drew his hands down toward the deck - and chuckled with delight as he saw the demon begin to descend toward the ship. Compelled by the spell, it was pulled down past the top of themast, down past where Quenthel and Jeggred clung, down toward the spot where Pharaun stood. Still twisting in the fierce wind, the demon seemed to grow larger and more fearsome as it descended, but that was just a product of the unholy aura that surrounded it. In fact the demon was only a little larger than Pharaun himself. It was, however, powerfully muscled, with claws like yellowed daggers on hands and feet and a tail that looked powerful enough to smash a stalagmite in two. Its face resembled a rat's, and its skin was a mottled, dead-look-ing gray. As it descended to Pharaun's eye level, guided by his hands toward the statue on the deck, Pharaun noted that one of the demon's ears had a half-circlebitten out of it. The wound had festered, and a maggot protruded, unmoving, from the rotten flesh - another victim of the spell that had frozen the demon in time.

Squatting, Pharaun touched the statuette, then ripped the finger-and-thumb links apart. As the symbolic chain parted, a flash of multi-colored magical energy exploded from the opal, melting the statuette.

For a moment Pharaun was blinded - but the sweet tang of melt-ed beeswax told him his spell had succeeded. Blinking away the spots of light that dazzled his vision, he peered at the demon that stood be-fore him, its ankle secured to the deck by a thin length of lead chain. The demon was still frozen in time, but its red eyes blazed with fury. Despite the stasis spell that held it, the demon seemed to know it had been bound.

Pharaun waved at Jeggred and Quenthel to join him on the deck. At a nod from Quenthel, who was still clinging to his back, the drae-gloth obeyed. He leaped down from the mast and anchored himselfon the steeply sloping deck by thrusting his hands into the sticky mass of web. Pharaun immediately cast another spell, tossing a pinch of ground diamond into the air. A dome of force shut out the storm, enclosing the three of them, together with the demon, in welcome silence. Sprays of water crashed onto the invisible barrier and ran down it in streams, but inside, all was quiet.

Quenthel clambered off Jeggred's back, but she continued to hold onto his mane, steadying herself against the rise and fall of the deck. She stared at the demon, the serpents in her whip tast-ing the air next to it with flickering tongues, and shewrinkled her nose. Even with its body held in stasis, the demon stank of sulfur and rot.

"It's small," she noted derisively. "Not even a match for Jeggred."

The draegloth, mired in the web up to his elbows, grunted his agreement.

"Don't let its size fool you," Pharaun cautioned, wrinkling his nose at Jeggred's panting breath, which was almost as bad as the stench from the demon. "One bite from those needle teeth, and you'd be paralyzed."

Quenthel tried to back up a step but a lurch of the ship caused her foot to land squarely inside the sticky web. She fell sideways, arms flailing. She landed in an undignified sprawl in a thicker patch of web and immediately erupted into muffled cursing.

"Dispel this!" she spat, struggling to rise from the tilting deck and only getting herself further mired. "Dispel it at once."

Her serpents, too, were stuck in the web and spat violently at each other in frustration. Jeggred tried to help, but was unable to free his hands from the web. Frustrated, the draegloth turned to growl at Pharaun, instead.

With an effort, Pharaun fought down his mirth. It wouldn't do to laugh, not with Jeggred's hackles raised??- even though the sight of a priestess of the Queen of Spiders being caught in a web was too good to be true. Instead he inclined his head in a bow.

"As you wish, Mistress. But you're going to need something else to anchor yourself to the deck, or you'll slide right off the ship. Allow me, if you will, to provide an alternative."

He pulled out a second wad of bitumen and broke the gummy mass in half. He passed a piece each to Quenthel and Jeggred, and when they had swallowed them, cast the spell that would allow them to cling like spiders to anything - even a spray-sodden deck. He then dispelled the web.

Clambering to her feet, purple-faced with suppressed rage, Quen-thel looked around the ship.

"I see no mouth," she spat. "Belshazu lied."

"That wouldn't surprise me in the least," Pharaun said dryly.

Indeed, having had a chance to look around, he could see that Quenthel seemed to be right. The deck of the ship was a flat expanse of bone-white board, devoid of a cabin or any raised structure. There were rails at the edges of its deck to prevent crew from falling over-board, but the only other thing rising above the desolate flatness of the deck, besides the three masts with their tattered, patchwork sails, was a tiller at the stern of the ship. Seeing no hatches, he wondered if the ship had a hold - or if its hull was solid bone. He'd heard a faint noise, a moment before, that might have been cargo shifting, but it was probably just the sound of the storm.

"We'll have to ask the uridezu where the mouth is," he said. "Let'sjust hope I can dispel the stasis."

That said, he set to work. Dispellings were among the first spells wizards learned at Sorcere, and a quick incantation and a brief ges-ture were enough to dispel simple spells. But a temporal stasis was tricky. Only the most powerful mages could cast it. That the demon was indeed held by such a spell was readily apparent. Peering into its open, snarling mouth, Pharaun could see red, blue, and green glitters on its tongue - a dusting of the powdered gems that had triggered the spell.

A greater dispelling was certainly needed - one that was tightly focused, so it wouldn't negate the binding spell. Taking a deep breath, Pharaun began his incantation.

Quenthel must have seen the unease in his eyes, for she drew her whip. Beside her, Jeggred absently picked at the deck's caulking with a claw, scratching out chunks of black, congealed blood.

Extending the finger on which he wore his magical signet ring, Pharaun touched the demon between the eyes. The ring flashed a bright silver as the symbol of Sorcere activated, lending its power to the spell.

As the dispelling took effect, a shudder ran through the de-mon's body. Pharaun jerked his hand back. Quenthel and Jeggred also tensed, but for several long moments, nothing happened. The only sounds were the muted splash of water against the dome that still held the elements at bay and the faint, curious hissing of the whip vipers.

Sighing, Pharaun shook his head. The dispelling had failed.

"Try again," Quenthel ordered.

"Repeating the spell won't help," Pharaun told her as he stepped forward to inspect the demon more closely. "The mage who froze the demon in time must have been an extremely powerful - "

He'd half turned as he answered Quenthel, but out of the cor-ner of his eye he saw the demon blink??- and that was what saved him. With a shriek of centuries of pent-up rage, the demon leaped forward, claws lashing at Pharaun's throat. Pharaun threw himself backward, but his boots were still stuck to the deck. He crashed onto his back, banging his head. Blinking away stars, he managed to focus his eyes just in time to see the demon at the apex of a full-out leap. Still confused from the blow to his head, Pharaun wondered why he was moving away from the demon, then realized that his fall hadjerked his feet our of his boots; he was sliding rapidly down the slop-ing deck. In that same instant, the demon jerked to a stop in mid-air, then crashed facefirst into the deck on the spot where Pharaun had just been lying.

Groggily, Pharaun realized that the chain around its ankle had tripped it.

He also realized that he was still sliding down the tilting deck. He slapped sticky hands down onto the boards, jerking himself to a halt just before he hit the edge of his dome of force. Meanwhile the demon leaped to its feet and fell upon the slender chain that held its ankle, gnashing at it with yellowed teeth.

Quenthel backed up a pace, her whip held at the ready and an undecided look on her face. Then she gave a grim chuckle.

The demon gave up gnawing on the chain to glare at her.

"You dare laugh?" it said in a voice that squeaked like twisting chains, its tiny red eyes bulging. "I will feed you to the maw."

Pharaun sat up, rubbing a tender spot on the back of his head.

"That's just what we'd like to talk to you about," he told the de-mon. "The ship's mouth. Tell us where??- "

He never got the chance to finish. Jeggred, hackles raised by the insult to his mistress, chose that moment to leap forward. Howling with rage, he raked the demon with his fighting hands, tearing deep slashes in its chest and thighs.

Pharaun sprang to his bare feet - which, thankfully, were still sticky from his earlier spell.

"Jeggred, stop!" he shouted. "That's what it wants!"

Already he could see what the demon was doing - it fell back under Jeggred's attack in a move that left its bound leg exposed. The demon could neither harm nor remove the chain that bound its ankle itself, but if a careless swipe of Jeggred's claws did the job. . . .

Quenthel, for once, thought quickly. She lashed out with her whip - not at the demon, which was probably immune to her ser-pents' poison - but at Jeggred, instead. Her vipers snapped a hand's breath over his bare back, splattering his mane with their venom.

"Jeggred!" she shouted. "Leave him."

The draegloth glanced back over his shoulder, suddenly aware that his mistress was angry. Instantly he cowered on the deck, ignor-ing the raking kick the demon gave him.

Foiled in its escape bid, the demon hunkered down, whiskers twitching.

Pharaun clambered up the steeply sloping deck.

"Now then, demon," the Master of Sorcere said, "to get back to my question about the ship's mouth. I want to know where it is and what we need to feed it to get this ship going. You're going to sail us out of this whirlpool and into the Plane of Shadow."

"And you will free me?" the demon asked, its watery eyes blinking.

"Yes," Pharaun lied. "As soon as we reach the Abyss."

The demon's whiskers twitched.

"The mouth is in the belly of the ship," it said.

"In the hold?" Pharaun asked.

The demon nodded.

"How do we reach it?"

"Use her wand," the demon said, flicking a finger at the forked wand in Quenthel's belt. "The hatch is hidden by magic, but the wand will show you its location."

Pharaun's eyes narrowed. He didn't like the sly smirk in the de-mon's eye. A wand of location was easy to recognize by its distinctive forked shape, but it was almost as if the demon wanted Quenthel to use it. Was there some additional property of the wand that Pharaun had missed - something the demon hoped to turn to its advantage?

"Just a moment, Quenthel," Pharaun told her. "We'll use my wand, instead."

Reaching into the slender case that hung from his belt, he drew one of his four wands and waved it in a slow pass in front of him, level with the deck of the ship. A hatch that had been previously hid-den by magic suddenly became visible, its edges limned with a faint purple glow. The ring-latch that would open it was recessed into the hatch itself, flush with the deck. Nodding, Pharaun tucked the wand back inside his case.

Quenthel chuckled and reached for the latch, then paused as her whip vipers hissed a warning. She glanced at Pharaun, parted her lips as if to speak, then decided against whatever order she'd been about to give.

Instead she turned to Jeggred and commanded, "Open it."

Obediently, the draegloth bent forward.

"Jeggred, wait," Pharaun barked.

He had no love for the draegloth, but Pharaun was still suspi-cious of the demon's motives. Waving Jeggred back, the wizard mo-tioned for the demon to open the hatch, instead. It was just within the demon's reach. By straining, the uridezu was able to hook its fingers into the latch.

Be ready,Pharaun signed to the others behind the demon's back, reaching for a different wand. Somethings going to come out.

He was right. As soon as the demon yanked open the hatch, a wave of rats scurried out, tittering and squeaking. And no ordinary rats but gaunt, half-rotted caricatures of life - a swarm of tiny undead.

With a speed born of long practice, Pharaun fired his wand. A lightning bolt exploded from it and careered along the deck, turning nearly a dozen of the creatures instantly to charred flesh and black-ened bone.

Quenthel and Jeggred were equally quick to react. Quenthel lashed at the rats with quick flicks of her whip, and Jeggred batted whole handfuls of them away with powerful sweeps of his fight-ing arms.

Pharaun chuckled as he blasted the last of the swarm with his wand. Was that the best the demon could do - summon up a few undead rats?

The laughter died in his throat. He'd been expecting a compli-cated trick worthy of asava master and had felt somewhat disap-pointed when the demon had done nothing more than send a swarm or undead rats against them. Then Pharaun realized the demons real plan - one so simple it had slipped under Pharaun's guard. The undead rats' attack on Pharaun, Quenthel, and Jeggred was just a diversion. All the demon needed was for a single rat to survive. Thatanimal's true target, as directed by the imperative telepathic com-mands of its demonic master, was the chain.

The soft lead chain.

An instant later the rat's sharp teethparted the chain, and the demon was free. Whirling in place, it lashed out with its tail once - knocking Jeggred headlong down the slanting deck, through the dome of force and out into the whirling sea - then again, sending Quenthel tumbling after him.

It turned to face Pharaun, whiskers quivering.

"Wizard," it squeaked. "You are mine."

Pharaun made no answer as his free hand plunged into his pocket, whipping out a glove. As the demon bared its fangs, then leaped for his throat, Pharaun was silently thankful it had chosen a simple fron-tal attack, rather than to use its magic - it would give him the instant he needed to cast his spell.

Demons reallywere predictable.


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