They'd reached the rain belt three days ago. Conley had picked
up a waxed riding cape from a tinker heading south, eight clicks and a
smile. It fitted well enough, kept the saddlebags dry. She'd managed to
waterproof her hair, but had to wear it straight and down to keep it from
holding drips and dribbling them through to her scalp. Roween had a
leather cap with a detachable skirt, which she'd arranged so as to direct the
unending flow as a stream down her back.
Neither had spoken for several hours, the constant pitter-patter precluding any conversation except that held in raised voices. They were high in the mountains now, following the old herding route into Davia. These days, most travellers took the eastern road instead - longer in terms of distance, but level, and passing through the coastal climate-control zone.
Roween pointed to the right, a large cave. They walked their horses up the grassy approach, dismounted inside. It was empty, but the ash-filled circle of rocks and the graffiti-covered walls were evidence of its popularity as a stopover.
"How much farther?" asked Conley, unbuckling her saddle.
"Can't say, we won't be out the wet until we cross the Rodya. Maybe another day?" She took both horses and led them outside to graze.
Conley surveyed the stone-strewn interior. It extended some way back, but the ceiling dropped dramatically a short way in. Large boulders had been placed to block whatever passageways fanned out at the low end. Safer that way, she supposed.
When Roween returned, Conley had started a fire. They had little tinder left, but wrap-pouch food tasted a lot better hot. Conley noted how gingerly Ro took them out of her saddlebags, like they were alive or something. Maybe to her they were?
"So do you think The King will have taken Vothland by now?" asked Conley, skewering a kidney on the end of a dagger, Roween-style, poking it into the flames.
"I expect so, yes, the Voths don't have anything to counter an army the size of ours. Was probably all over in a day, we'll buy a KNews update when we reach Vadessa."
"Well couldn't we have waited a week or so and then taken the east road?" She sighed. "This rain, it's depressing."
"We're on a tight schedule as it is, you took longer to find me than I'd planned for, and I wasn't expecting you to sleep for twelve days out of Cala Bay Town." She frowned, irritated, as her horsesteak fell into the embers.
Conley hid a smile, watching Roween's lunch ably resisting her attempts to spike it back. "You say you have some kind of plan, Ro."
Roween froze. Then, hooking the meat out of the fire, she spoke, not altogether natural-sounding. "Depends what you mean by a plan..."
Conley sensed her unease, moved to defuse it. "Well, you say we're on a tight schedule - I was wondering what it is, that's all."
Roween nodded. "Might as well tell you now as leave it." She returned her steak to the heat. "You want to know how I kill magic, so you can do it yourself: correct? Well, there's more to it than that - lots more. First, you have to learn the way magic works."
"I know how magic works!"
Roween paused, patient. "Sorry, Con, but you know damn all about it. What's more, you're going to stay ignorant until I'm sure you won't trash things up. Me, all I can do is poop spells, but you, you'd have unlimited powers. And I do mean unlimited."
Conley was silent. Roween's kidding, right?
"So before I can explain, you'll need to accept a few unpalatable facts about magic. You have to see for yourself the frightening things it can do, how it can oppress, control, impose tyranny."
"But it can be used for good, too. It can - "
"No. No, Con, it's too powerful. If it were just cures, art, dinky spells to clean teeth, that would be fine. It's not, though, is it? It's domination, pain, power. Remember Cala Bay Town?"
"That's not fair, CBT is almost a one-off, there aren't many places like that. Birgue, maybe Zrenin..."
"They'll all be like that in the end, just one giant territory. That's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, there won't be anything at all."
Conley was worried, now. She's serious. She bit into the kidney. Hell. What am I doing here? Following around a doom-struck cynic, trying to find out how she blasts magic - only she won't tell, in case I do it myself. Maybe paranoia was a prerequisite?
Roween brushed her hair back off her face. "I'm sorry, Con, I just get so bothered by the whole thing sometimes." She smiled at the mage, apologetic. "Look, I don't expect you to believe any of this yet, but please hear me out. You see, I've discovered something very, very disturbing about magic: anyone can use it, any time, and do whatever they want. Anything. You understand that? If you want the rain to stop, it'll stop - it'll fall upwards if you like. People will do whatever you say, if you choose to have them exist at all. Complete power over life, death, creation, destruction. Control of minds, their thoughts and ideas, of personalities. Anyone can have it, anyone can be a god. Anyone except me."
Conley was staring at her like she'd just broken free of a straitjacket.
"I know you don't believe me, but you must give me a chance. I'm the first to figure this all out, but I won't be the last. Soon as anyone else does, we're all good as naught - it'll be the end of everything worthwhile. All there'll be is the product of someone else's will. We have to stop it."
"`We' do, do `we'?"
"It's the only way, Con. You have to be the next person to know. When you get the power, you have to use it against itself. If you decree that it's not to work, it won't, ever again. Magic will be gone forever, but everything else will still exist, still be bounded by the limitations that make existence meaningful. We'll be free, just people again."
Conley stared into the flames. These were the ramblings of a mad woman. Roween had some grudge against magic, tried to rationalise it, and come to believe some half-baked nonsense that it threatened the Entire Universe As We Know It. She couldn't possibly be right. Could she?
"Well that's it, I'm finished. What do you think?"
Conley looked back at her. "I think you're crazy."
Roween withdrew her horsemeat from the flames. "You'll come to wish I was..."
21st January 1999: isif10.htm