The Price of Magic – Chapter 20 Excerpt

The city-state of Xiatooq was unlike anything that Senta had ever seen, and under the light of the full moon, it seemed truly to be of another world.  It was, she imagined, unlike anything that any human being had ever laid eyes upon.  It’s great walls, built of copper colored stone, and standing a hundred feet or more tall, faced the empty plain that surrounded the city on its northern side, while its other southern side climbed up the slope of a great mountain, higher and higher, built upon terraces carved into the rock.  The buildings were designed with a completely different esthetic than any other lizzie city.  There were no huge square palaces like there were in Tsahloose, and there were no great pyramids like those that had decorated mighty Suusthek.  Xiatooq was filled with round structures, large and small, that tapered near the top so that they resembled giant hornets’ nests. That they were dotted with windows out of which lizzie heads appeared and disappeared, did nothing to diminish their resemblance to insect hives.  The higher one looked up the slope of the mountain, the grander these structures were, and the view was all the more impressive because this was not just any mountain.  This was a massive volcano with an open caldera at the top, out of which belched a constant stream of black smoke and white steam.  Occasionally, blobs of red lava were tossed up into the air, lighting up the night.

“General,” the sorceress commanded.  “Prepare your troops for attack.  This will be the largest battle ever fought on this continent.”

Arrayed out on either side of her was a vast army.  Thousands of lizzie warriors with spears and atlatls, hundreds of lizzie cavalry, riding in howdahs on the backs of great sauraposeidons, and lizzie siege weapons pulled by teams of triceratops.  That none of these soldiers or their animals were born of nature was unimportant. They had been conjured by magic and to an enemy, they seemed as real as any flesh and blood.

The lizzie general, who was so much shadow stuff gathered together, waved his hand and the siege weapons rolled forward, screened by the infantry.  The cavalry moved to the flanks.

At that moment, three huge double gates in the wall opened and another army moved out.  In front of each unit, teams of twelve lizzies carried great braziers filled with flame.  There were no siege engines or cavalry, but there were thousands of lizzies brightly painted with feathers and carrying spears and atlatls.  Then there was something that Senta had never seen before. Wave after wave of lizzie warriors marched out the gate, armed not with throwing spears, but with pikes, twelve feet long, with huge metal tips.  And these lizzies were wearing armor.

Senta stood up on the great beast she was riding and held out her hand.  A large pair of binoculars materialized within her grasp, and she brought them to her eyes.  She was no metallurgist, but the armor and the tips of the pikes both appeared to be iron.  All the reptilians that she or other humans had come into contact with up until this point had been limited to copper-smelting technology.

Wave after wave of soldiers came out and formed into giant square units, until they were as large and impressive looking as Senta’s own army.  Then one more group of lizzies exited the center gate and took positions directly across the plain from the sorceress.  She raised the binoculars once again.  A group of a hundred lizzies, wearing armor like the other warriors, but with skin painted white and wearing white capes completely encircled another group, this one wearing no armor but with black painted bodies. Senta looked carefully at the latter group.  They were very far away and dark, but she could swear that they had their eyes stitched closed.

The Sisterhood of Pain—her book had revealed a passage about them, she thought by mistake.  But there were no mistakes.  The Sisterhood of Pain was made up of two parts.  There were the white sisters: a group of female warriors who cut out their own tongues, and then there were the dark sisters: magic wielders who gouged out their own eyes, but gained supernatural perception, in addition to the powerful spells. But they had lived a thousand years ago, and they had been human.  But they worshipped a dragon, and all lizzies did that, so it wasn’t much of a leap.

Tossing the binoculars aside, Senta conjured a magical megaphone and brought it to her mouth.  “I call upon the people and leaders of Xiatooq to return my dragon, or to face prompt and utter destruction!  There will be no deviation!  There is no alternative!  I will brook no delay!”

There was a moment of silence.  Then she heard it—chanting.  The dark sisters were too far away for her to hear, but she could hear them nevertheless. She could hear their magic.

Senta looked to her far right.  The cavalry at the far end of her army began to evaporate.  The smoky forms of their dinosaur mounts puffed away on the breeze. She looked in the other direction to see the same thing happening at the far left.  Faster and faster her army disappeared, the infantry and then the great siege weapons, and at last the giant beast upon which Senta stood.  As it vanished in a cloud of smoke, the sorceress fell down through it, collapsing in a heap on the dried mud of the ground.

She could hear hissing from far side of the field.  She was sure it was the lizzie version of laughter.  She jumped to her feet.

“You chant your seven syllables to dispel my army and you think you’ve won?” she yelled.  Then she screamed at the top of her lungs.  “You think I need an army?  I will bring down the sky on you!”

She grabbed a glamour floating around her head, the stored energy of a spell cast weeks earlier—energy that was released when she crushed the gem-like object.  Then she plucked another from the air and crushed it as well, and then another.  They were spells to increase the power and intensity of other spells.  As she released the magic from the red glamours and the blue, the hissing slowly died away.  As she released the energy from the green glamours and the clear ones, she felt fear coming from the blind lizzies who could sense the power.   And as their fear increased, it radiated out to the warriors who stood around them.

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