The Master of Kanthuri

Dorothy J. Heydt

Someone tittered---not the courtier in front of Valmai---and the Master whirled about to confront the man. But what stood there was no man. The first thing Valmai saw clearly was a thing like a seal's flipper, parting the air like a curtain and passing through it into the hall. At first it seemed to have no head; then it seemed to have several; and its body was like a thundercloud. Flashes of light flickered over it, like heat lightning before a storm, and the hall was growing very warm.

Those guests who were sorcerers muttered and gestured, raising shields for themselves; the others hid behind them, or tried to escape from the hall. Lightning was moving over the walls now, and the torches were going out. And the Master of Kanthuri grinned like a wolf and raised his hands, a faint golden light growing steadily between them.

The thing bent like a breaking wave, and threads of lightning danced between its body and the walls, and it raised its flippers to throw a great bolt at the Master. The glare fell away from him like waves from a pillar of rock, and he laughed. The golden light, glowing like a tiny sun in the hall, rose from his hands and hovered above his head. A second began to grow between his fingers.

The Tarkish princelet and the nervous courtier had gone to ground, and Valmai had found at least partial shelter behind a fast-chanting sorcerer squatting toadlike behind a shimmering green barricade. She gripped the hilts of her sword and remembered that she need only say something, anything, to drop the fat merchant's semblance like dirty linen. And part of her was saying, Well, now, this is more like it: rumbles, monsters, sorcery, maybe a need for a sword.

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