The Magicians of Night - By Barbara Hambly


“I THINK HE’S coming around.”

The words reached Rhion of Sligo as he hung in darkness, suspended above cold screaming infinities of lightless chaos, slipping back... slipping back...

He tried to cry out, tried to fight, unconsciousness dragging at his limbs like the darkness that lay between Universes, the darkness of the Void through which he had come. Jaldis, help me... But his numb lips and mouth would not form the syllables of his master’s name. Don’t let me die...

Burnt vinegar kicked his brain. He gasped as the darkness of unconsciousness stripped away like a rag; strong fingers closed around his flailing wrist. The dagger of amber light that stabbed his eyes faded to the glow of candles, a constellation of six small flames in an iron holder opposite the bed where he lay. The light of them still hurt, and he closed his eyes again. The hideous leaching of the Void’s remembered cold eased. A voice asked, “Are you all right?” in a harsh, guttural alien language, and Rhion thought, with what little strength was left in him, At least the Spell of Tongues works here. His master Jaldis had warned him that in this strange universe magic no longer existed—he had been afraid the spell that allowed a wizard to understand speech mind to mind would no longer be effective.

“I—I don’t know.”

He opened his eyes. The candle flame seemed warm now, comforting in its familiarity. Around him, the room was dim, and they’d taken away his spectacles. Without them, the face of the young man seated beside him on the narrow bed was, even at this distance, blurred, but Rhion’s eyesight was good enough to show him a face pale and beautiful, the pitiless beauty of a god carved in ivory, beardless, with short-cropped fair hair and a sword scar crossing one high cheekbone like the careless slip of a sculptor’s chisel. Beyond that he could see only umbrous shapes, glints of silver on close-fitting black garments, and the shadow of exhaustion, strain, and some dreadful grief that informed every line of the face and the set of those wide shoulders.

“Rest easy,” the beautiful young man said. “You’re quite safe.”

A shadow stirred in the darkness; candlelight flashed across spectacle lenses and a boy of eighteen or so, unhealthily fat, pallid, sweaty, and likewise clothed in close-fitting—in his case ill-fitting—garments of gray and black loomed beyond the young god’s shoulder. “Should I tell the others, P-Paul?”

“In a moment, Baldur.” The kindness in his voice, the infinite control, spoke worlds about the young mage’s relationship with this boy, whoever he was, who stared at him with such eager adoration in his eyes.

Paul, Rhion thought, turning the alien name over in his mind. The two wizards whom Jaldis had contacted through the Dark Well, the two wizards who had begged him to cross the Void and help them restore magic to this magicless universe, had been called Eric and Paul.

He whispered, “Eric...” and the wizard Paul’s control cracked, infinitesimally, his lips pressing taut and his eyes flinching away.

But a moment later his glance returned to Rhion, and he said, quite steadily, “Eric is dead. The Dark Well...” He hesitated, then went on as if repeating something he had memorized, his gray eyes focused resolutely on the pillow next to Rhion’s head. “He said, ‘We are losing him...’ He cried out.” His fingers, which still held Rhion’s wrist, began to shake and he released his grasp quickly, pressing his hands together to still them. The boy Baldur lurched forward, reaching toward those square, dark shoulders, but after all he did not quite have the courage to touch.

Like a nightmare ghost of pain, Rhion remembered the terror of feeling his own life slide away. Those eternal seconds in the Void whispered where he had tried to blot them from his consciousness—the howling abysses of all the colors of blackness, the horror of realizing that though the tiny gold emblem of the burning sun-cross flickered somewhere in the darkness to guide them, there was no magic to bring them through.

He remembered Jaldis’ soul, his strength that was so much greater than the twisted fragile shell of his body, surrounding the failing core of his own being and holding him up.

Then the marshfire flicker of a sudden spurt of light, the thread of magic that had come through to bring them across at last.

“He... he stepped into the Dark Well, into the Void.” Paul stared beyond Rhion as if he could still see into the Well that had