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"We're ready," Brandark said, and Bahzell looked up from where he knelt beside Kaeritha's sled. She looked a bit better, and she seemed to know who he was, at least, yet he wished he had the time to heal her properly. But that would have to wait, and he nodded to his friend and rose.

"I understand you and Chalghaz were after having a little disagreement," he rumbled quietly.

"I suppose you could say we had a pointed discussion," Brandark agreed with a crooked smile, and nodded to the ominously stained cloth sack lashed to one of the equipment sleds. "I'm afraid I had to chop a little logic there at the end, but I don't think he'll be raising any more objections to my reasoning. Or anything else, come to that."

"Such a nasty temper for such a wee little fellow as yourself," Bahzell said mournfully, and Brandark laughed. Then he sobered.

"We've poured out every flammable liquid we could find, just as you told us to," he said. "I don't doubt it'll make an impressive bonfire, but that's an awful big-and solid-complex in there, Bahzell. I'm afraid we won't do much more than singe it a bit, and I'll be honest with you. For all I've thrown in with your lot, I'm still a Bloody Sword, and I'm downright afraid of what has to be lingering on in there. I wouldn't want any of my kinsmen-or anyone else, for that matter-to wander into it unawares."

"Don't you be worrying your head about it, little man," Bahzell told him softly, and turned away. He left the sleds and his companions behind him, walking back out of the woods into the narrow valley, and faced the opening. No one had told him what to do or how to do it, yet he felt only absolute assurance as he stopped before it. He didn't draw his sword this time. He only stared into that black bore, feeling the sewer stench of its evil eddying about him, and raised his hands. He held them out at shoulder height, like a priest delivering a blessing, and closed his eyes.

"All right, Tomanak ," he murmured. "You've been with me this far. Now let's be going that one last league together, you and I."

He reopened his eyes and glared up at the carved scorpion above the archway.

"Burn!" he commanded, and the single soft word soared up into the heavens like a storm. He didn't raise his voice, but every person watching heard him, and the terrible power of that quiet command echoed in their bones like thunder.

For just one instant, nothing happened at all, and then a gout of smoke and flame and an eye-tearing blue radiance blasted from the arch like a volcano vomiting its guts into the sky. The stormfront of light and heat rolled right over Bahzell, swallowing him up in an instant, and his companions cried out in horror as he vanished within it. Half a dozen ran forward, as if they thought they could somehow dash into that seething inferno and pull him out, but the heat beat them back, and they stopped helplessly.

And then Bahzell Bahnakson walked out of the firestorm, his expression calm, almost tranquil. He nodded to the would-be rescuers who crouched where the heat had stopped them, and they fell in behind him with huge eyes. They followed him back to the others, while the flames beating out of the hillside behind them roared like a huge forge-or like one of Silver Cavern's blast furnaces. There was no possible way for Bahzell to have set off such a holocaust. There was insufficient fuel to feed that seething fury, and even if there had been, there was too little draft to sustain it. But that didn't matter, and more than one Horse Stealer jumped as the stone above the arch cracked in the dreadful heat. The scorpion broke loose and plunged into the column of fire to shatter into a thousand pieces, and Bahzell strapped on his skis without speaking. Then he gathered up his ski poles and looked calmly at Hurthang and Gharnal.

"Let's be going home, Sword Brothers," he said quietly.


Chapter Twenty-four | The War God's Own | Chapter Twenty-Five



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