“Well, all right then,” said Arkmar as they got up, after waiting a decent amount of time to be absolutely sure they had not already been killed or worse. “Here we are. Where are we?”
“We’re in the hair, I suppose,” said Ryel. “Down slope is the forehead, and then those brows.”
“What? What? We’re way up—really?” He looked up and around. “No wonder the Moon seems kind of close. We are above the face?”
“We are above the face.”
“And that thing below with the cave in it, that was the ear, am I right?”
“That was the ear. Complete with a bush for ear hair.”
“Comparatively,” said Arkmar, “I have a lot more ear hair than that. Okay, so what is this we’re on? The scalp? Is this guy bald?”
“Arkmar, I have never been here before. I know nothing except what I’ve guessed, and that map, and uh, a few hints. And things.”
“Hints? Wait. Hints?”
Ryel looked around impatiently. “Arkmar,” she said, “we don’t have time for this. Okay?”
“Just one hint then? Okay?”
“All right. Well. This guy I slept with in oh, Ulthar I think, or maybe it was Nir, said that the Gods had carven the image of one of their faces on some mountain somewhere. He wouldn’t tell me where. He said it wasn’t good to know such things, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t know, humans are weird. Gods are weird.”
“Really. Really.” Arkmar tiptoed toward the sloping forehead: it was slanted downward at perhaps forty-five degrees, and it looked like it was approximately a mile long. “So if one is a God,” said Arkmar, “one gets drunk of an evening and one carves one’s face on a fucking mountain. Is that it?” Ryel shrugged. “Well,” said Arkmar, “it sounds pretty believable to me. Why aren’t you supposed to know such things? Heck, dwarves do that, just not on the same scale.”
“Because,” said Ryel, as if the title stupid were superfluous in the context, “one might gaze upon the visage of the Gods and know them later when one saw them in some other context. And one might get in trouble.”
“What, interrupting them fucking your daughter? I’d think that’d be dangerous even if you didn’t know what they were.”
“No, Arkmar. I mean if—!”
There was a sharp crack from down slope, and a moment later there was a rumble in the stone. Arkmar fell back on his butt, then had to hurry to catch up with Ryel as she was running, somehow, down the forty-five degree slope of the forehead. Lightning flew up into the sky. Words of power were spoken, a little way below. Ryel and Arkmar, neither of them a wizard or anything, both of them with at least a few spells in their repertoire, muttered Vas eur. Dispell magic. Healthy just in case.
But the spells weren’t being thrown at them.
The three had caught up with the two just as the two, a lithe brunette and a greasy little blond guy, were sizing up the climb up to the chin. The three would have had surprise except for their panting, and the greasy blond kicked things off with a good dose of earthquake, hoping perhaps to throw the newcomers clean off the mountain. The brunette tried her own favorite, a giant fist that was good on people who didn’t throw spells themselves.
But the three below were not such people, and the spell battle was joined. A monk chick of some Tantric sect tried Feelings; her black-robed ascetic priest pal laid in with as much Lightning as he could manage. Neither had much effect. But their leader, a red-haired woman of some standing in the wizarding community of some universe or other, took on the brunette in what became rather the war of the titans. She threw a death spell, the feared trt kar ho nin goth, the brunette reversed it with her handy kno eur reverse spell, the redhead did the same, and so it went until the ascetic managed to use his lightning to bring a tumble of rocks down on the brunette and her greasy pal, perhaps flakes of stony snot from inside the nostrils. The brunette went down under the welter, failed her resistance and promptly gave up the ghost, and the three below charged up to collect their prize.
With a laugh the greasy blond guy rose from the rubble and waved his wand in a flat arc. He was speaking words—more words than they would have thought he knew. The tantric chick, then the ascetic, took the sparks flying off the wand right in the gut and flew backwards, and by the time they hit the mountainside far below, they were dead in Dream World and waking up from nightmares in some Real World somewhere, possibly as their alarms went off and they had to get up and get breakfast and head off to their jobs in the retail sector.
But the woman with red hair was ready. The wand came around to point at her, and her own wand was already pointing. The spell washed over her. “No, Bartholomew,” she said, “you are not my equal, not just yet.”
Bartholomew laughed nervously. “Mandrashka,” he said, but he couldn’t think of anything to add.
Mandrashka, for that was her name, threw her own spell: kar trt fos mng ku goth zin. And with a flick of her lovely little black wand, Bartholomew fell back, his hands on fire, then his gut, then his eyes, until with a painful little poof he went up completely. Mandrashka finally smiled, pocketed her wand and began the ascent of the cheeks.
It took her quite some time to maneuver herself around, with a hold here and a grab there, to the point that the left eye was just twenty feet above her. Twenty feet—it was that far across, at least, and ten top to bottom. Mandrashka could see the opening where the pupil would be. She smiled again.
It took all her considerable cleverness to get up onto that sector of a sphere. Then she was reaching up, splaying herself over it, grasping for that hole. There was something dark above her.
“Crap,” she said. “Fucking nightgaunts.”
“Guess again,” said Ryel, as she hung from a rope dangling down from the forehead. Mandrashka had time to swing her wand around, but she was already losing her grip anyway when Ryel’s arrow hit her in the forehead.