Billy shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Drake. Kratia’s no fool; she’ll realize something’s up.” He regarded Drake warily. The spell that had held the mercenary in thrall was clearly gone, but that didn’t mean Kratia was finished with him. It was quite likely that she would try to reestablish her hold on Drake.
“Not if we fake my death. She’ll stop looking for me, and I can get to Icon for help.” Drake was eager for revenge and was irritated at the reluctance of the ninja.
“She has ways of checking the validity of your death. I doubt that we could fake it.”
“Maybe you don’t have the skills, but you’re close with the Rauder chief. That guy’s a crafty old bastard. He could help us pull it off.”
Billy’s dark brown eyes stared into Drake’s steel blue. Each saw the depth of resolve mirrored in the other. “Okay, Drake. Let’s go ask him.”
The deep wrinkles in Rangee’s brow grew deeper as he pondered the situation posed by Drake and Billy. “I understand what you want, Billy, but you do not realize the trade-offs involved. There is skill, energy, and the level of the spell. Each to some extent can offset the others. But there are limits, and there are ways to trace a major spell.”
Drake shifted uncomfortably. “What’s so goddamn difficult about turning a hunk of rock into a likeness of my corpse? Seems like a straightforward spell to me.”
The chief sighed. “Try thinking of magic as a deviation from expected reality. Your corpse represents our goal. Now, if you really are dead, there is no deviation between our goal and reality. The magic/energy constant is zero.
“Now, in the next case, imagine that we have a corpse, but it isn’t yours. We apply magic spells to alter its appearance, but we don’t need to worry about internal organs, skeletal and musculature development, and the like. There is a minimum amount of energy needed to power that transformation, and a variety of spells that could be applied to accomplish it. A skilled wizard could minimize the energy needed by careful selection and application of the spells.
“Now, in the third case, imagine that you don’t have a body to use, so you want to transform a boulder into the corpse. But now you have to worry about the internal organic structure, because just making the rock into a realistic statue isn’t going to fool anybody. So the energy needed is much higher because there’s more to do. The number of spells and the attention to details is also much higher. The spells in this case are going to take hours, and many Gigs.”
Rangee paused, peering at Drake and Billy to see if they understood the limitations under which they must work. “Obviously, it is easier to detect the spells that last longer and consume more energy. Unfortunately, there are no fresh corpses for you to transform.” The chief looked weary.
“Then we must risk the longer spells,” said Billy.
The chief shook his head slowly. “No. The risk of detection is too great; in fact, with Kratia it is virtually a certainty.”
“Then you’re saying we can’t do it!” shouted Drake. “Damn!”
The chief continued to shake his head. “I did not say that, Drake.”
“Then what in blazes are you saying?” he muttered.
Rangee, Chief of the Snow Wind tribe, stared deeply into the eyes of Billy Takashema. “I believe that you are the Taka Shema. We will do what must be done,” the old man answered slowly.
Billy felt a spell of telepathy form around Rangee, but could not make out the message that he sent out to the tribe. Nevertheless, Billy felt the resignation and sadness of the chieftain, and it filled him with foreboding. In a few seconds Billy felt a subtle spell permeating the village; it was barely detectable, and aptly so, as its primary nature was concealment.
The chief smiled thinly. “Best to get on with it quickly. We start with Drake.”
The chief handed Drake some JuJu berries, which he chewed as the chief began a spell that enveloped Drake in a glowing field. This will feel strange, but will not hurt or damage you.” In a few minutes Drake’s features had been transformed.
“You look exactly like Mandus,” Billy said.
“Let us go,” said the chief gruffly, as he led them out his hut.
“Drake,” Billy said in low tones as they followed the chief. “You have to get to Icon. We have to stop Kratia before she kills anyone else. Don’t fail!”
“Hey, this is Michael Drake, remember? I’m the meanest son‑of‑a‑bitch in this god forsaken world, and that includes Kratia.” Drake smiled. “Just stall her a bit, so the cavalry can get back in the nick of time.”
“This isn’t a game, Drake.”
“‘Course it is! A game I don’t intend to lose.”
A Rauder with blood running from puffed, bruised lips came up to them, and saluted to the chief. Beyond him, Billy noted a small group, gathered in a circle like a football huddle.
“My chief,” said the man.
“Speak, Orac,” Rangee responded.
“I ask appointment to Lieutenant. I am the best of the contenders, acknowledged by all.”
“A parting gift from Mandus. I challenged him for the right. But he was stronger, and more deserving.”
“I agree. Henceforth you are lieutenant Oracus.” Oracus saluted again, then turned and led them to the huddle. The crowd parted for the chief, giving him, Billy and Drake a view of the Rauder lying on the ground.
Mandus had taken his dagger and pushed it into his own heart. Both hands were still on the hilt, and he was smiling, even in death.
Billy again caught the barest hint of the concealment spell; it was almost as though he could see a double image, in which the dead Rauder had Drake’s features. Rangee applied spells of the same nature as used on Drake to transform the features of the dead lieutenant. Billy noted the reality gradually approached and merged with the false image, which quickly faded away.
Drake was angry about the cost to Mandus, but was convinced by the chief and the other Rauders of its necessity. He stared down at what appeared to be Drake’s body lying on the bloody ground.
Billy, exhausted from following the details of the spells, slumped to the ground next to the chief. “When Kratia calls, I’ll tell her that Drake got drunk and that I had to kill him in self defense.”
“The she‑witch will not believe you. You are skilled, Billy. But you can’t lie worth shit. If you kill, it is because you want your enemy dead. A drunken Drake would not have posed much of a threat. Kratia would think that you killed him deliberately.”
“Okay, then I killed him deliberately.”
“She will attribute ulterior motives to your act and be extremely suspicious of some trap on your part. With her guard up, the chance of Drake’s success is greatly diminished.” The chief gazed up at the clear sky. “Better to say that I killed him. That he insulted our belief in the Taka Shema and was challenged to a battle of honor over it, and lost.”
“What makes you think that she’ll believe that any more than my story?”
“Because she will have a way to verify it,” answered the chief. “I will have Oracus alter my memories. Kratia will eventually get into my mind and will find no lies there, for I myself will believe that Drake is dead and that I killed him. No one will tell me differently until after Kratia is finished with me.”
He rose and left Billy sitting on the ground, the feeling of foreboding waxing strong.