out from the shore. And now he had to slip out of his
partial armor, and drop his heavier weapons,
strong swimmer though he was, if he was going to
keep from drowning.
He swam downstream, missiles still pattering
like heavy hail upon the water’s surface round him.
He went under water for a while, still swimming,
and came up for air and swam again. The high
walls rose up before him swiftly; the river ran fast
here, and swept him down upon them. The gray-
brown of their hardened granite was brightening in
the new daylight. Now Ben could see that this
portion of the walls, along with the upstream
water-gates, was being manned in force by the
Watch in gray-green uniforms. More of the Watch
were down at water level, just inside the gate ahead
of him, admitting one at a time through a turnstile
arrangement the returning survivors of the sally.
There was already enough daylight to let them do
this with security.
Ben swam a few more strokes, and then could
pull himself up, first on rock and then on steel bars,
magically protected against rust. Around him a
steady trickle of other survivors were doing the
same thing; a bedraggled crew, he thought, but not
entirely defeated. He did not see Mark anywhere,
but that did not necessarily mean anything.
Once he had been let in through the turnstile,
Ben’s way led upward, into and behind the wall,
along a flight of narrow steps. His last glance at the
scene outside the city showed him that Vulcan and
some other god, a many-armed being Ben did not
recognize, were approaching, now no more than a
few hundred meters away.
Others soldiers were stopping on the stairs to
watch. Ben, for his part, had had more than enough
of confrontations and fighting for a time; he was
anxious to get home and see what was happening
Among the Watch officers who were seeing to the
admission of returning fighters, confusion reigned.
It was the situation more often than not in any mili-
tary, Ben had observed. Someone was announcing
that the survivors were to stand by for debriefing
and then reassignment on the walls. But someone
else, not an officer, passed on a rumor that the Blue
Temple was in revolt, and the House of Courtenay
under attack within the city. Ben on hearing this
ducked out and hurried through the streets toward
his home. In the confusion no one appeared to
notice his departure.
The streets of Tashigang were largely empty,
what stores and shops he passed were all of them
closed and shuttered. Once he observed, a few
streets away, a running group that looked like some
detached fragment of a mob. Ben stayed out of their
way, whatever they were about.
Tired and generally battered, though essentially
unhurt, he stumbled at last into the familiar street.
There was his house, at least it was still standing,
and his heart leaped up in preliminary joy; this was
followed in a moment by new anxiety, when he saw
how the building was scorched and still smoking
above ground level, and how the windows and
doors to the street were battered. Now he could see
part of what looked like a bucket brigade of his
faithful workers, stretching between the house and the
Ben ran panting through the broken front door, into –
the main room of the ground floor, and stopped.
Carnage was everywhere. Amid broken furniture and
weapons were piled hewed and mangled bodies, the
great majority of them wrapped in cloaks that had
once been blue and gold.
Barbara, elated, looking unhurt, came bounding
from somewhere to greet him.
“Townsaver,” she explained, succinctly, indicating
the condition and contents of the room. “They started
a fire, and broke in . . . but then some of them were
glad to get away.”
Then, in sudden new worry, she was looking behind
her husband, at the empty street. “Where’s Mark?”
“I don’t know. We were separated. He may be all
right.” And from the way the question had been
asked, Ben understood that she would have preferred
him to be the one still unaccounted for.
Vulcan, standing waist-deep in the swift Corgo, was
unhurriedly rending open one of the huge water-gates
of steel and iron bars. He might of course have
climbed the city wall, or flown over it somehow, but
this mode of entry struck him as more appropriate. He
had made the city his now, and he was going to enter
his city through a door.
Shiva, his recently acquired companion, was
squatting nearby on the riverbank and watching. The
rivets and other members of the gate were breaking
one at a time, parting with loud pops as Vulcan bent
his strength upon them, the fragments flying now and
then like crossbow bolts.
Vulcan was speaking, but, as often, his words were
addressed mainly to himself. “If I were capable of
mistakes, that would have been one . . . letting my
twelve Blades go so meekly, after I had them forged.
Giving them away to Hermes like that, to be dealt out
to the human vermin for the Game . . . a mistake, yes.
But now I’ll make no more.”
Now Shiva pitched into the river the smoldering
treetrunk that he had still been carrying. The huge
spar of wood went into the water with a steamy
As if in reply, there was a swirling in the water, and
the nebulous figure of Hades appeared just above its
surface. On the high city wall there were a few
human screams. The few human watchers who had
remained in the immediate area were quickly gone,
getting themselves out of sight of that god’s face, of
which it was said that no man or woman might look on
it, and live thereafter.
Hades said, in his formless voice, that he had come
to bring a warning to his old comrade Vulcan. It was
that anyone who used Farslayer could never triumph
thereby in the end.
Vulcan glared at him. “To a true god, there is no
end. Was that a warning, troglodyte, or a threat? If
you choose to deal in threats, Farslayer is here at my
side again, and as you say, I do not hesitate to use it.”
The almost shapeless words of Hades’ answer
came back to him: Death and darkness are no more than
portions of my domain, Fire-worker; such threats do not concern
And again there was a stirring of the river and the
earth, and Hades was gone.
Vulcan cast aside the remnants of the gate he had
now torn down, and waded through the stone arch it
had protected, and went on into the city. From the
inside, Tashigang looked about as he had expected; he
had heard that this was the largest city that the human
vermin had ever built. He noted with indifference that
the four-armed god Shiva was still following him.
There was a running human figure nearby, caped in
blue and gold, and Vulcan bent down and shot out a
hand and scooped the creature up, inflicting minimal
damage; he wanted some information from it.
“You, tell me-where is the place you call the House
of Courtenay? I hear that they are hiding some of my
Swords in there.”
He got his directions in a piping voice; the man
pointed with the arm that had not been broken by
The Smith let the creature fall, and limped away
briskly through the streets. But now Apollo’s head
loomed over a nearby rooftop.
“Beware, Smith. We must meet and think and try to
talk about all this. I am calling a council-”
“Beware yourself. We’ve met and talked enough,
for ages, and got nowhere. And think? Who among us
can do that? Maybe you. Who else wants to? I don’t.
I just want what is mine.”
He marched on, moving quickly in his uneven gait.
A street or two later, there was another interruption.
Atop an indented curve of the great city wall, which
was here only about as high as Vulcan’s head, a
human in green and gray was brandishing some
unknown Sword, as if daring the gods to
attack him. It must be a Sword in which the man had
Vulcan detoured to confront this man. Shiva,
interested, was staying right with him.
The tiny teeth of the man on the wall were
chattering. But he got out the words he was trying to
say: “This is Doomgiver! Stay back!”
“Doomgiver, hey?” That particular Sword had been,
in the back of Vulcan’s thoughts, a lingering concern.
Wishing to take no chances, lie aimed a hard swing
with the Sword of Force. Its thudding sound built in a
moment to explosive volume. There was a dazzling
flash, a thunderclap of sound, as the two Blades came
in contact, opposing each other directly.
Vulcan stood there, blinking at ruin and destruction.