The desert location, where the encampment of Atticus' army was last known to be, meant a full day's ride through hill country.Starting at dawn, the next day, the assassins made their steady way through the rugged, rocky terrain; Buffy and Faith on horseback, Willow - a massive sword slung over her shoulder, and a bag of rubies (payment from King Rupert) tied to her side - astride an albino camel.
As the morning turned to afternoon, the rocks gave way to sand; from the crest of a dune, they saw Atticus' city of tents; whose numbers could rival even the stars it seemed. And yet the three assassins advanced, a tiny assault force against an army of thousands. They approached, noting the positions of the various sentries perched on their individual dunes; warriors surrounded by torches on staffs stuck in the sand.
'Poor strategy', Willow thought as she dismounted, 'sure the torches provide warmth and close-by light, but the flames would blind the guards of any advancing trespassers... like me...'
The three of them, all very light-skinned for Amazons, darkened their faces with black war paint, to better blend into the night.
The nearest sentry yawned... who'd want to attack the horde that had conquered all but a small corner of the world? Maybe that's why upon hearing a strange, whirring noise he merely frowned and turned curiously, just in time to meet the iron bola- flung by Faith - that came flying out of the darkness to wrap around his head; the iron ball at either end knocking him at either temple. Thwap! Thwap! (That was the sound it made.) The sentry tumbled to the sand, both eyes wide open, landing flat on his back, looking for all the world as if he were just lounging there, to consider the night sky.
Willow looked to the left, where - some distance away - a neighboring dune bore a single sentry; again a bored guard who stood at the center of torches speared into the sand, his vision bedimmed by the light of the flames. The assassin's low whistle might have been some exotic nocturnal bird...
...and not a signal which spurred Faith on to further action.
Again a bola whirred through the night air to wrap itself around the head of a guard, who flopped backwards onto the sand. And again, a low whistle pierced the quiet night: Faith signaling "all clear."
Willow slipped into the darkness, Buffy and Faith following slowly behind; eyes open for anything that might stumble out of the shadows, and if they did their job correctly, into their death. The trio stood and studied a corridor of sorts, between rows of tents.
"That one," Willow whispered, and pointed. Faith and Buffy nodded in agreement, seeing immediately why their leader had singled out this particular tent - this shelter was unlike any other in the camp, a dome-shaped good-sized tent, decorated with symbols of astrology and ideograms of the occult.
Clearly the home of a sorcerer...
They moved stealthily across the open area between tent rows, the only sound the soft snick as they drew their knives and closed in on the sorcerers' tent.
"Keep watch out here, I'll signal if I need your help." And with that Willow took her her knife and cut through the tent.
It was as if she'd stepped into another world, a strange, shadowy, yet golden tent-chamber where elaborate drapes and tapestries hung. Bending to a crouch, Willow unslung her sword, and cleared a hanging tapestry; realizing she was not alone. A figure with its back to her, in a long flowing hooded cape, began to swivel around to her, with an unnatural fluidity, as if floating.
Gripping the sword's handle the master swordsman took aim, as the figure turned fully to her...
...and the sorcerer, it seemed, was a sorceress...