Magic Graves Page 23

Kaldar frowned. The Hand was bad, the Mirror was dangerous, but the Claws of Bast were in a league of their own. There was a reason why their patron goddess was called the Devouring Lady.

"Can you handle a wyvern?" Lady Virai asked.

"Of course, my lady." Not much difference between an enormous flying reptile and a horse, really.

"Good. You will be issued one, together with funds, equipment and other things you may require. I want you to use it to fly to the south, find this device, and bring it to me. Find the object, Kaldar. I don't care if you have to chase it to the moon, I want it in my hands and I want it yesterday. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes. One question?"

Lady Virai raised her eyebrows a quarter of an inch.

"Why me?"

"Because the West Egyptians tells me the thieves are Edgers," she said.

"How do they know?"

Her eyes flashed with annoyance. "They didn't specify. But it's hardly in their best interests to lie. The Hand hired the Edgers to do their dirty work and now they have vanished into the Broken. They think they are beyond my reach. Your job is to prove them wrong. You may go now. Erwin will brief you and see to the details."

Kaldar ducked his head and headed for the door. Fate finally smiled at him.


He turned and looked at her.

"I'm taking a gamble," she said. "I'm gambling that you are smart as well as pretty, and those smarts will keep you following my orders. Don't disappoint me, Kaldar. If you fail because of lack of ability, I will simply discard you. But if you betray me, I will retire you. Permanently."

He grinned at her. "Understood, my lady."

*** *** ***

The briefing room lay just a short walk from the conference room. Kaldar rapped his knuckles on the door and swung it open. Erwin rose from a chair with a neutral smile.

Lady Virai's pet flash sniper had a pleasant face, neither handsome, nor unattractive. His short hair, halfway between dark blond and light brown, didn't attract the eye. Of average height, he was trim but not overly muscular. His manner was unassuming, but at the same time he always appeared as if he belonged wherever he was. Never uncomfortable, never nervous, Erwin also never laughed. During meetings, people tended to forget he was in the room. He would blend right into a crowd of strangers, and once you passed him, his flash would take your head clean off. Erwin could hit a coin thrown in the air with a concentrated blast of magic from fifty paces away.

"Master Mar." Erwin held out his hand.

"Master Erwin." They shook.

Inconspicuous Erwin. When Kaldar first met him, he'd taken the time to replicate the look and the mannerisms. The results proved shocking. He'd walked right past the security into the Ducal palace twice before he decided to stop tempting the fate.

"Would you care for a drink?" the sniper asked.


"Very well. On with the briefing then." Erwin turned to the large round table and tapped the console. The surface of the table ignited with pale yellow. The glow surged up and snapped into a three dimensional image of a large pyramid, with pure white wall topped with a tip of pure gold. "The Pyramid of Ptah. The Egyptian pyramids started as tombs and slowly progressed into houses of worship and learning. This particular pyramid, the second largest in West Egypt, is devoted to Ptah, God of Architects and Skilled Craftsmen, Of all creation gods of West Egypt, he is particularly venerated because of his intellectual approach. In essence, if Ptah thinks of it, it comes into being."

"A useful power," Kaldar said.

"Very. Ptah's pyramid is the center of research for many magic disciplines. It's the place where discoveries are made and cutting edge technology is produced. That's why Egyptians guard it like the apple of their eye."

Erwin touched the console and the walls of the pyramid vanished, revealing inner structure - a complex maze of passageways.

"This is just what we know about," Erwin said. "The defenses of the pyramid are constantly evolving. It is seeded with traps, puzzles, impossible doors, and other delightful things designed to separate intruders from the burden of their lives. The Egyptians informed us that the thieves entered here, at two in the morning." Erwin picked a narrow metal tube and pointed at the passageway shooting off from the main entrance. The hallway lit up with bright shade of yellow. "It's a service hallway. It's typically locked at night and the lock is considered to be tamper-proof."

"Until now."

"A fair observation. The Egyptians estimate that a talented lock pick could open this lock in ten to fifteen minutes. The entrance is extensively patrolled. The thieves had a window of eight seconds, during which they opened the door, slipped inside the passageway, and closed and locked it behind them."

"They locked it?"

Erwin nodded.

Four seconds to open, four seconds to lock. That was crazy. To break into the pyramid of Ptah would take incredible talent. Kaldar had looked into it when he was younger and the family was desperate. If someone had asked him this morning if it could be done, he would've said no.

"Then they proceeded down this hallway, leaving three distinct sets of footprints, two large and one small."

"Two for muscle and the cat burglar," Kaldar guessed.

"Probably." Erwin swept the length of the hallway with his pointer, causing sections of the image light up. "They opened impossible locks in record time. They avoided all of the traps. They escaped detection and ended up here, bypassing both treasury here and armory here." The pointer fixed on a small room and then lit up rooms to the right and left of it. "They took a wooden box containing the device and walked out of the pyramid the way they came. In and out under twenty minutes.

"That's impossible."

"Our Egyptian colleagues are of the same opinion. Unfortunately, the facts have no regard for their collective sanity."

Kaldar frowned at the pyramid. "Was this the shortest route they could've taken to the room?"


An enterprising thief would've done the research and broke into the treasury. A terrorist would've gone for the armory and the weapons within. But these three went directly to the room, took their prize, and escaped. Someone had hired them to do this job and provided them with the plans of the pyramid. Only a heavy hitter would have access to this sort of intelligence. The Mirror. Or the Hand. That would explain why a thief with a talent of this caliber took a job for hire. The Hand's methods of persuasion rarely involved money. Mostly they showed you your child or your lover strapped to a chair and promised to send you a piece of her every hour until you agreed to do whatever they wanted.

There it was, finally, his chance of a direct confrontation. He would make them pay.

Erwin was watching him.

"What happened after the thieves left the pyramid?" Kaldar asked.

"They disappeared off the face of the world." Erwin fiddled with the console and the pyramid vanished, replaced by an aerial image of a small town. "This is the town of Adriana, population forty thousand. Two hundred and twenty leagues north, across the border, in our territory. A small, quaint settlement, famous for being the first place Adrian's fleet disembarked after crossing the ocean. It's a popular destination for school tours. Six hours and ten minutes after the thieves left the pyramid, Adriana's prized fountain exploded. The city crew, first on the scene, became violently sick. They reported catching ghost insects on their skin, hot flashes, freezes, temporary blindness, and vomiting."

The reaction to Hand's magic. Kaldar grimaced. The Mirror relied on gadgets to supplement their agents' natural talents, while the Hand employed magic modification. Officially all countries of the West Continent abided by an agreement that limited how far the human body could be twisted by magic. Louisiana made all the right noises and quietly manufactured freaks by the dozen. Men with foot long needles on their backs, women who shot acid from the hands, things that used to be human and now were just a tangled mess of fangs and claws.

Magic augmentation came with a price. Some agents lost their humanity completely, some held on to it, but all emanated their own particular brand of unnatural magic. If you were sensitive to magic, the first exposure made you violently sick. He'd experienced it first hand, and he didn't care to repeat it.

Erwin straightened. "The Egyptians believe the Hand hired the thieves to steal the object and scheduled the trade in Adriana, where things went badly for both parties. Your wyvern is on stand-by. With luck and good wind, you should be in Adriana in an hour. After you review the scene, I'd imagine you will have a better idea of the supplies you'll need. Please stop at the Home Office and we'll provide you everything you require. This assignment is rated first priority. Should you be captured, Adrianglia will disavow any knowledge of you and your mission."

"But you'll miss me?"

Erwin permitted himself a small smile. "Kaldar, I never miss."

Ha! "What's the nature of the stolen device?" Kaldar asked.

Erwin raised his eyebrows. "That's the best part."

*** *** ***

Kaldar surveyed the sea of rubble, enclosed by a line of fluorescent paint and guarded by a dozen undersheriffs. Before him stretched what had once been the Center Plaza: a circle of clear ground, which until this morning had been paved with large square blocks. The blocks had radiated like the spokes of a wheel from the tall round fountain in the shape of a pair of dolphins leaping out from the water basin. He'd picked up a tourist brochure on his way to the scene of the crime. It showed a lovely picture of the fountain.

Now the fountain lay in ruins. It wasn't simply knocked down, it was shattered, as if the dolphins had exploded from the inside out. Not satisfied with destroying the fountain, the perpetrator had wrenched the stone blocks around it out of the ground and hurled them across the plaza. The brochure stated that each block weighed upward of fifty pounds. Looking at the giant chunks of stone, Kaldar didn't doubt it. A small tea vendor's wagon must've gotten in the way of the barrage, because it lay in shambles, blue-green boards poking out sadly from under the stones.

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