Sarral approached Kratia’s chambers and the two ex-Rauder guards snapped to attention. Sarral noted with approval that neither was armed with pneumatic weapons. Their potential to result in a quick and final death was altogether to high a risk for Kratia to allow within the castle. But there were more pressing matters that needed immediate evaluation, and Sarral focused his powerful intellect on the analysis of the latest developments as he rapped firmly on the door. The door opened and Sarral entered. Kratia lay on her bed, the outline of her body clear beneath the satin sheet.
“This had better be important, Sarral. It’s the middle of the night,” said Kratia.
“I have lost sensiball contact with my agents in Cumao and in Epigash,” Sarral replied. “Though that is certainly a common problem for most of the world since the fall of the Guild. But your staff magicians have been successful in establishing and maintaining links to most of our key contacts. I have spoken with your wizards, and they assure my that the problem does not lie at this end. Therefore, something is disrupting the communication spells along the northern borders.”
“The disruption could be world wide,” said Kratia, yawning. “The general level of anxiety is high enough for a systemic breakdown.”
Sarral shook his head. “I tested that possibility. I contacted Messick, who is now in Tolan. The sensiball linked quite easily. My agent in Retil also responded to my call. That means no systemic breakdown. Clearly, the disruption has some local cause at the far end.”
Kratia frowned. “A disruption stretching from Cumao to Epigash is too large to be the result of a spell,” said Kratia. “I would have sensed that much energy being expended over that large an area. That leaves only fear or pain as causes. But the intensity of such feelings would have to be very high to block a sensiball spell; and many hundreds of people would have to be experiencing a high degree of terror or great pain to account for city or region wide disruption.”
“To this point you have paralleled my analysis,” Sarral agreed. “To continue, there are very few possible sources that could produce this effect. In fact only two plausible causes come to mind. A massive Rep attack could produce the required level of widespread fear, but it is certain that any remaining hives of undomesticated Reps could not act in the necessary coordinated manner without your oversight. That leaves only one source that might produce sufficient fear and or pain.”
Kratia’s eyes widened. “The Rauders,” she cursed. “Shit!”
Kratia sat up, her naked breasts highlighted by the moonlight that streamed in through the open balcony doors. She rose and glowballs sprang into radiance as she moved to her desk. She grabbed a wand and stared into the sensiball on the desk top. Sarral felt the spell take shape, beautiful and intricate and powerful. How he envied her, to command the power of nature, to make it bend to your will!
The sensiball remained dark. Still clutching the wand, Kratia turned from the desk and walked to the open balcony. She closed her eyes, and Sarral felt the stirrings of an entirely different spell. A calling, an awakening, perhaps a summons. But the beings summoned were not human; Sarral recognized the pattern of the Reps, but could not decipher the alien language that Kratia employed to command them. He waited and in a few minutes the spell faded and Kratia walked weakly back to her bed.
“They will spy out the northern plains,” she said to Sarral. “In two hours they will have covered most of the region, and I will know what games the Rauders seek to play.”
The two hours passed quickly and Kratia reestablished contact. Through the eyes of one Rep, in shades of reds and infrareds that had evolved to detect the presence of warm blooded prey, she saw grasses swaying in waves on an vast empty plain, stretching on and on into the distance. For dozens of miles, nothing moved. She moved to another Rep’s mind. This one had skirted by Cumao; there were fires burning in the city and a body on the ground outside the city. The body was barely recognizable, for it was cold, nearly black in the eyes of the Rep. It had been smashed and torn apart as well. There was nothing else of note and Kratia moved on to still another Rep. Like the first, this one saw nothing. But the Rep smelled life, smelled blood, and it followed the trail. Through the Rep’s mind Kratia smelled it, too. It seemed to call out to her, a great thirst for the slurry of living organs. Suddenly a vision of endless horses with mounted riders appeared; they were moving swiftly, but the Rep could easily have overtaken them and feasted on the last rider. But her commands had been specific, and the Rep banked and turned away. A turn of the head showed only empty plain again; the Rep was confused, and it welcomed the chance to return to the hive.
Kratia quickly called for any other Reps that had patrolled in that general area. One other was found, and with it she found further evidence of the Rauder passage: a swath of flattened grasses a hundred yards wide that stretched in an direct line from Cumao to Epigash.
Kratia had no hives within scouting range of Epigash, but some Rep patrols had passed southwest of it. Hopefully, the Rauders had raided the two cities and returned north, but Kratia had a sickening feeling that there was more to behind this attack than a simple raid.
The Reps brought no more visions of actual mounted Rauders, but she noted that one Rep had failed to return to the hive and was presumed dead. It was on a course that lay directly between Epigash and Hornblower.
Kratia ordered Sarral to contact Messick and have the troops prepare to move north immediately. Sarral raised an eyebrow, realizing the implications immediately. He hurried to comply. Kratia clutched her wand tightly and stared at the sensiball. She spelled for her roving eye, and sent it skimming across the plains, hurling at a two hundred miles an hour towards Epigash. She paid particular attention to the terrain, her mind easily noting every detail as it flashed by. At a distance of two hundred eighty miles the image blurred just for an instant, then cleared to reveal the same type of familiar terrain. But the detail was too similar. The extent of variation in the details suddenly decreased, and Kratia knew she was seeing only an image. And not a very good one, compared to the quality of her own concealment spells. Then suddenly the eye went dark and the spell evaporated.
Two hundred eighty miles away and approaching very fast. A Rauder army, perhaps even some united tribes. Perhaps six or seven hours away at their current speed. Dangerous, very dangerous. Messick would have to hurry.
She called Sarral in her mind, and felt his thoughts respond to her. Messick had been contacted, and would need at least twenty hours to redeploy the troops in a defensive perimeter north of Hornblower.
“Tell Messick he has ten!” she responded, the anger carrying through with her thoughts. “I can delay them that long, at least.”
Kratia reached out her mind again, back to the every Rep hive she knew, and slipped carefully into their minds again. The Reps were tired now, and sullen, making them difficult to command. She convinced them that great danger threatened the hives; danger that rode on horseback and carried weapons of destruction. Only a full and immediate attack by every available Rep might be able to save the hives. She stirred up their instincts to protect the hive; instincts that were permanently etched into their genes and overrode all other considerations. The Reps poured out of the caves yet again, though many had not yet rested from long distance flights, and some had not yet eaten. Some were in the skies already seeking prey, but they too heard the danger to the hive and veered off to intercept the intruders.
The attack commenced in the darkest time of the night, for the moon had just set and the dawn was still three hours away. The Reps followed their sense of smell and of body heat. Kratia had warned them not to trust their eyes. It was easy to track the scent, to feel the warmth, to sense the disturbance in the air currents at the passing of the enemy riders. The darkness hid the Reps well; like a black cloud of death they descended upon the Rauders.