Dinin Do’Urden rolled out from under the swirling cloud of conjured wretchedness, his vision blurry, eyes burning, throat thick with bile and mucus. He realized immediately as he executed his second roll, putting him clear of the conjured cloud, and started to stand that he had chosen the wrong exit angle.
Magical webbing grabbed at him as he began to rise, clinging and holding fast.
Nalfein had thrown this second dweomer to the left of the cloud, while Dinin had expected it on the right.
He tried to pull free, half turned and slashed with his drow blades—except these were blunted practice swords and not the fine-edged magical weapons the drow warrior usually carried.
Dinin turned to face his adversary and tugged hard against the stubborn webs, and indeed, he felt as if he was making progress and expected to break free.
Not in time, he realized, as Nalfein’s waggling fingers completed the next spell, a bolt of lightning leaping out to slam against poor Dinin, throwing him backward. The webs behind him burned in the blast, so he wasn’t trapped, at least.
But he was surely stung by the lightning bolt, and he tried to keep his muscles behaving and following his commands, but they—some of them, at least—seemed to have developed minds of their own. His legs trembled and a step forward became a slide to the side, and poor Dinin was down on the ground again, gyrating uncontrollably for a few moments, doing all he could to simply hold on to his twin swords.
He gradually regained control, tasting blood in his mouth from the damage caused by chattering teeth, and threw himself to his feet.
And there stood Nalfein, his next spell ready to launch.
“Yield!” Zaknafein ordered from the side. “The battle is ended.”
Nalfein flashed that awful grin, one that bit into the heart of the proud Dinin. He hadn’t wanted this fight but had been goaded here by his most powerful Do’Urden sister, Briza. She had taunted him to the point where any refusal on his part would have been more embarrassing even than his defeat.
“So we have a winner,” said Zaknafein, and Nalfein crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture of condescension and superiority.
“This time,” Zaknafein added, “and I will add, by the flip of a coin.”
Nalfein’s grin became a frown. “I struck him three times before he got near to me. Had him choking and caught and helpless, and the last strike, the lightning bolt, could have been fatal had this been a true fight and not a sparring match.”
“You guessed correctly on the location of the web,” said Zaknafein. “Had Dinin come out the other side of your magical cloud of stench . . .”
“He still would have faced the lightning,” Nalfein argued.
“Unhindered by the web, though, and so he might have avoided its bite, and where would Nalfein then be?”
“If you think all of my tricks had played out, weapon master, then you are mistaken.”
Zaknafein shrugged and let it go, but Dinin did not.
“It is a ridiculous challenge in the first place,” he argued. “A wizard strikes from range, a fighter up close. How can a fighter succeed when the wizard knows the battlefield and can strike from afar?”
“You chose to accept the match,” Zaknafein reminded him. “It was not one I arranged, nor one I advised you to take.”
“My brother is correct,” Nalfein said. “In a fair fight, a mere warrior has no chance against a wizard.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the timbre of the very air seemed to change. Nalfein bit off the last word, and Dinin fell perfectly silent, his eyes going wide as he looked from Zaknafein to Nalfein.
For many heartbeats, Zaknafein just smiled. Then he waved Dinin off to the side, walked to the weapon rack across from Nalfein, and took up a pair of swords, waving them easily to test their balance.
“What is this?” Nalfein demanded.
“It is a challenge for you to back up your last proclamation, of course.”
“I have already used my spells.”
“You are a noble son of a powerful family, a graduate of Sorcere, and one also trained in the arts martial. You have plenty of spells left, of course.”
“I . . . I do not wish another challenge this day.”
“But you have found one, Nalfein. For now I am curious. I am a mere warrior, after all, and you a wizard. If your assertion proves correct, perhaps I will toss aside my swords and go study in Sorcere.”
At the side of the room, near the dissipating web and stinking cloud, Dinin snickered.
“Are you ready?” Zaknafein asked.
“No,” said Nalfein.
“Yes,” said Zaknafein. “Prepare. You may strike first.”
Nalfein glanced all around, then closed his eyes only briefly, obviously formulating a series of spells to rain over this more formidable enemy. He exploded into motion, arms waving, chanting his arcane words.
Zaknafein, true to his word, didn’t move, standing easily some forty feet away.
A pea of flame appeared in Nalfein’s hand. He threw it across the room, then immediately launched into his second spell.
Dinin gasped in shock. A fireball! In a room in House Do’Urden, Nalfein had thrown a fireball!