PART THREE: THE EDGE OF THE BLADE
"Do you understand this? When the time comes, when the moment of action is at hand, there is no room for interpretation, and if you fail me, recognize what that means for you. I will make you wish this incarnation of your life spark had come as a maggot."
"I know what you expect of me. And I never fail."
What might have been a smile, but looked more like a hideous grimace, passed across Grundig's features. Another piece of the puzzle was in place. He was one step closer to victory - a win he had painstakingly planned, with each new twist mapped out by either his present self or the ever-present voice in his mind of his previous identity. Much of what he had discovered about magic, and was still learning, came directly from Vas, whose experiments had been both dangerous and extensive.
The human standing before Grundig appeared uneasy, but he did not break eye contact. The man had a weak mind but a disproportionate amount of courage. It was a common trait in his species, and it would lead to their undoing. In cases like this, simple mental manipulation could be accomplished without the subject realizing what was happening. Vas had learned the trick long ago; Grundig was putting it to use - and his victim was no ordinary person, but the head of Fels' Apaths' school. Grundig had some faith in the man – at least insofar as he could be said to have faith in any of his kind. This man's visit as "an ambassador pleading the human cause" to the lands of the elves, where he had proceeded to dole out compulsions while in the guise of a "friend", were paying dividends.
"Go then," said Grundig, barking the words like a command. Silently, the Apath turned, drew his dark robes closely about him, and disappeared into the foggy evening. Soon, he would be back in the city, and the next phase of the quatics' plan would be underway.
Having tasted battle and blood, Grundig craved more, and he knew his followers felt the same. Many had been uncertain about leaving their marshy dens, but the first taste of victory had given them confidence and courage. Now, he knew few longed for "home" as much as they craved the sight of Devforth awash in human blood. Age-old wrongs were about to be redressed. Bitter vengeance had a sweet flavor.
Be wary of Vorti's Chancellor, admonished Vas' voice, echoing deep within Grundig's mind. It was an often repeated warning. Vas had been alive when Wil had first made himself known at Vorti's court. And, while Vas didn't exactly fear the other Apath, he respected him, and Grundig knew not to take such reluctant admiration lightly. He would treat Wil as the most dangerous of enemies. Nothing would be left to chance, nothing taken for granted.
The quatic forces were moving eastward, but slowly, deliberately changing course every few miles to confuse those few of Vorti's scouts that Grundig let escape. This was all part of the plan. It didn't really matter whether Queen Lea had determined that his destination was Vorti or whether she thought he had foolishly divided his forces for a two-pronged attack on several westward cities. Grundig had reasons for moving slowly. Timing was everything. All things considered, this would not be an easy battle, and he wanted every advantage possible. After all, when this phase of the conquest was over, the campaign wasn't done. He couldn't afford to limp away from Vorti victorious but decimated.
Of course, a slow advance was excellent psychological warfare. Let the men and women of Vorti wait and worry. The longer until the attack came, the more on edge they would be. Sleep would not come easily over the next days and nights, and many would be at the point of exhaustion when Grundig made his move. Every advantage possible. No matter how small.
"Make camp," shouted Grundig at one of the many chieftains who always seemed to be around him, awaiting orders. "And send a runner to the other force commanding them to do the same. We wait until morning to move further."
Tomorrow would bring more slow, deliberate movement. Another camp at dusk within sight of Vorti, followed by a swift, unexpected midnight attack. The moment of truth was scarcely more than a day away, and Grundig could already taste the thrill in his mouth, as warm and salty as the blood that would be spilled.
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