party had been waiting for some time, was quietly
opened. Two by two, moving now as quickly and
silently as possible, the raiders launched themselves
out of the tunnel into shallow water, and up and out
into the open night.
Mark, with Coinspinner in his hands, was the
second or third fighter to emerge. Now there could be
no mistake about it. The Sword of Chance was
directing him, ordering the whole attack, straight to
Vilkata’s pavilion. The huge tent stood plain in the
light of several watchfires near it, its black-gold fabric
wrinkling in a chiaroscuro wrought by the night
The first few of the Dark King’s soldiers to blunder
innocently into the way of the advancing column were
cut down in savage silence. For those few endless-
seeming moments, the advantage of surprise held.
Then the alarm went up, in a dozen voices at once.
The thin column of raiders broke into a charge; still,
half or more of their total number had not yet come
out of the tunnel.
Now resistance began, weapon against weapon,
fierce and growing stronger. But it was still too
disorganized to stop the charge. Mark, near the front
of the attack, used Coinspinner as a physical weapon.
Troops were gathering to oppose the raiders; the
alarm was spreading. But now for a moment the
pavilion was within reach, the Sword of Chance could
touch its fabric. Fine cloth parted with a shriek before
Men who had been inside burst out with weapons in
their hands to bar the way. Already a counterattack
was taking form, against both sides of the column and
its front. The formation shattered, with
its front forced back by opposing swords and shields;
the fight became a great melee, a free-for-all.
A different and even deadlier resistance was
gathering too. Above the watchfires, over the huge
tent itself, the air roiled now with more than rising
heat. The demonic guardians of the Dark King and of
his chief magicians were readying themselves to
pounce upon intruders.
The Lord Mayor’s best sorceress, stumbling near
Mark’s side in the darkness, :stopped suddenly and
seized Mark by the arm. He could feel the woman’s
whole body quivering.
“Do what you can,” she demanded of him. “And
quickly! Else we are all lost. I had hoped they would
not be this strong . . .”
Mark himself with his experience had been grimly
certain that they would. Still the Sword had brought
him here. And he had another power of his own,
already tested once.
His faith in it was tested now. Suddenly the
Emperor was only one more man, and far away,
while the ravening airborne presences that lowered
themselves now toward Mark were the most
overwhelmingly real things in all the universe.
Mark had rehearsed no incantations beforehand. If
he meant to trust the Emperor, he would trust him in
that as well, that no special words were needed. The
words that came to him now were those of Ariane,
uttered in the Blue Temple cave four years ago:
“In the Emperor’s name, forsake this game, and let
Vilkata, awakened by the sounds of the attack,
had just rolled groggily out of bed. The demon that
served as his eyes, recalled abruptly to duty, had just
begun to send sight-images to the Dark King’s brain.
Then in a moment the demon was catapulted into a
blank distance, and those images were blanked away
For a moment the Dark King did not grasp the full
import of his full and sudden blindness. Certainly some
emergency had arisen, and his first thought was for
the Mindsword. He groped for it, but his hands found
only a tangled fall of cloth; part of his pavilion was
collapsing around him. And the weapon was not
where he thought it ought to be. Could he possibly, in
last night’s drunkenness, have failed to keep the
Sword with him, beside his bed as always? He could
remember, at some time in the party, using it in sport,
trying to drive one of his women mad with devotion to
him. But after that…
Surrounded by the sounds of fighting, groans, oaths,
and the clash of arms, he groped frantically about him
on the floor, amid soft pillows and spilled wine.
Between the confusion of his awakening and his
sudden blindness he was disoriented. No, he had
brought the Mindsword with him to his bedchamber,
he remembered and was sure. But now he could not
find it. Where was it?
The clamor of the fighting continued very near him.
The fabric and the supports of the tent must have
been assaulted; the bodies of people running and
fighting had jostled into it, and more great sheets of
loosened cloth were falling, crumpling. They settled
and collapsed right on the groping blind man:
The Sword had to be right here, he knew that it
was here. But still he could not lay his hands on it.
Frantically, sightlessly, he burrowed into the heaps
of soft, fine fabric that were coming down and pil-
ing up like snow. But his searching fingers were baf-
fled by the cloth, as the eyes of a normally sighted
man would be in fog.
And Vilkata was aware by now that not only his
vision-demon but all the other demons as well were
gone, a great part of his defense dissolved. It was
unbelievable, but true. Somehow they had all been
hurled away. In-the middle distance he could hear
the voice of Burslem, screaming incantations, try-
ing to call other, non-demonic, forces of magic into
play. What success the magician might be having,
Vilkata could not tell. His ears assured him that the
physical fight still raged nearby, but the enemy
weapons had not yet found his skin. Perhaps, under
this baffling cloth, he was invisible as well as blind.
And still, in his confusion, he could not find the
Sword. He’d grope his way back to his bed, and
start over again from there. If only he knew which
way to crawl to find his bed.
Mark was wielding Coinspinner constantly now,
as a physical weapon in his own defense. The
demons had been satisfactorily expelled, at least for
the time being, but minute by minute the Dark
King’s other defenses were becoming better orga-
nized. Confusion still dominated, and because of
that fact the bulk of the attacking force still sur-
vived. Mark thought that, to the enemy, his
attacking force must have seemed to number in the
thousands; it would seem inconceivable to the Dark
King that any force much smaller than that would
dare to attack him in this fashion.
In the outer darkness around the periphery of the
struggle, the Dark King’s people must often have
been fighting one another. Closer to the pavilion, in
the light of the watchfires, they prospered better,
and began to assert some of the real advantage of
their numbers. Mark was wounded lightly in his
left arm, when even superb luck ran thin, by a blow
that doubtless would have killed him outright but
for his possession of the Sword of Chance.
He had lost sight of Ben, and of the sorceress. His
Tasavaltan guard were fighting near him. Coin-
spinner still pointed at the half-collapsed pavilion,
but Mark no longer saw how he could get there. The
whole invading party was being forced back now,
farther away from it.
Only Doomgiver, in the hands of one of Sir
Andrew’s officers, saved the attacking party from
complete annihilation at this point. It repelled
blows, missiles, and magic spells, making its holder
a center of invulnerable strength, turning each
weapon used against him back upon its user. Alone
it worked considerable destruction in the ranks of
the Dark King’s guardians. And, along with the
Sword of Chance that Mark still had in his grasp, it
allowed a tenacious survival for the attackers even
after their hopes of being able to seize the Mind-
sword had dwindled almost to the vanishing point.
“Back!” Whether Mark was the one who actually
voiced the word or not, it was in his throat. “We
must retreat. We can’t let our two Swords be cap-
So what had been a forced withdrawal became a
calculated one. Now Coinspinner, faithful as
always to its users’ wishes, also pointed the way
back. Mark fought, and moved, and fought again,
hampered by his wounded arm, swinging the
Sword of Chance as best he could. His Tasavaltan
bodyguard was trying to keep close around him,
and mbre than once they saved his life.
“By all the gods, what’s that?”
It was not all the gods, but only some of them. No
more than three or four, perhaps. They were out
near the horizon, kilometers from the walls of
Tashigang and the field of human combat. Several
large sparks, like burning brands, could be seen out
there in the distance, moving back and forth over
the earth erratically. Those sparks must be whole