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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:33:18 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26749 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:33:11 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121433.AA26749@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3299; Tue, 12 May 92 10:29:59 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:29:53 EDT From: "Avid Reader - Fledgling Writer" To: RITA@EFF.ORG Status: OR 1 / DDDDD ZZZZZZ // D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE || D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E ||Volume 2 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 2 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 2, Issue 2 05/06/89 Cir 801 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ DAG Dafydd Editorial Backtrail Michelle 17 Naia, 1013 Dragon Hunt, Part 1 Max Khaytsus 19-23 Naia, 1013 Dragon Hunt, Part 2 Max Khaytsus 20-23 Naia, 1013 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Dafydd's Amber Glow First, I would like to reassure those of you who might actually look at the subscription numbers on the masthead: we did not loose over 70 readers since last issue - I cannot add. Sorry. The present circulation number is correct. Second, as I have a little more time and space, I would like to explain the dates that appear next to each story in the Table of Contents. When I took over the Dargon Project, I thought it would be a good idea to try to give the stories some kind of common reference to help the reader understand what was happening when. (This should become very useful in a few months when some very interesting things will be happening in Baranur, and you will all want to keep the stories as straight as possible...) Of course, the best way to do this would be to have all of the stories cross-reference each other - but that takes a lot more time and coordination than we as a group of authors are capable of supplying at this time. So, I decided that it would be a good idea to date each story and to tell the readers what the date was. Hence the date column in the TOC. Now, to explain what the dates mean. In Baranur, there are 12 30 day months and a 5 day (or 6 in the case of leap years) spring festival stuck in the middle. The month names and their Earth equivalents are as follows: Janis - January Vibril - February Mertz - March Firil - April Naia - May Melrin - *Spring Festival Yule - June Yuli - July Sy - August Seber - September Ober - October Nober - November Deber - December Thus, for example, the three stories in this issue are occurring in mid-to-late May, in Earth terms (more or less...). Well, that's about it for this issue. Next time (with luck, no more than a month or so away), we will continue Ms Henniquin's Trial by Fire and begin a story by a new author to the project. Feel free to send me mail if you have any questions, or mail the authors or myself with comments about the stories. And until next time I remain, Dafydd, Editor DargonZine (b.c.k.a. White@BUVM.bitnet) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Backtrail by Michelle Brothers (b.c.k.a. brothers%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) The heavy rainstorm that had broken yesterday had begun to slack off by mid-morning a day later, spending its fury as it moved inland. A gentle rain continued to fall, however, and Teran muttered irritably as droplets splattered his face. Rain was his least favorite of Mother Natures manifestations; sun was never a problem and snow was at least easy to deal with. His horse, a large, heavyset bay, didn't seem to have the same problems with the weather that his rider did. He walked with his head held high, delicately stepping over the mud puddles in the road and prancing impatiently every time Teran stopped to dismount. Teran didn't know why he bothered trying to find Eliowy's trail anymore. Last night's rain had probably obliterated any track, always providing that she hadn't decided to take shelter along the way. If she had, he would have to go back along the road to Tench, find where Eliowy had taken refuge, and pick up her trail. Again. Eliowy had proven to be very elusive quarry, the blond man admitted grudgingly. Not at all as easy to track and capture as he had assumed at the start of the chase. She had managed to put additional time between herself and her pursuer after disembarking from Dolphins Anchor by buying a horse. Teran took a certain grim pleasure in the knowledge that the price of the beast had probably shocked the girl into a near faint. He, himself, had choked when the dealer quoted his price. Since leaving the coastal city of Foroni the chase had become almost a game; Eliowy trying to get lost enough that Teran couldn't find her and Teran trying to get close enough to Eliowy to catch her. Thus far, the 'game' had been a draw. Eliowy stayed just out of Teran's reach, but couldn't shake him off her tail. After well over six months of running after Eliowy, Teran had gained a great measure of respect f for the girl's resourcefulness. She was using tactics that he hadn't expected her to be able to come up with; like having someone leave a false trail for him while she left the city in another direction. Teran scowled at the memory. He had nearly lost Eliowy completely that time. If she hadn't gotten rid of her horse when she had...It was the one move that Teran thought was foolish on her part, although she'd probably sold the animal to pay the young man to leave her false trail. Teran thanked the gods that she hadn't paid him enough. The morning mist had cleared and the blonde man could see the battlements of a keep in the distance. Allowing his stallion to plod along without guidance, Teran pulled a carefully rolled map from one saddle bag. After a little searching, he was able to find Tench and from there he traced his path to the city he was headed for. "Dargon," said Teran wearily. "Well, I certainly hope that they have better accommodations than Tench." He stowed the map away again and slapped the horse's neck. "Let's go," and urged the animal into a cantor. A short hour later Teran found himself on the main street into Dargon. Rain had washed the streets clean and had finally slackened to a barely noticeable drizzle. He glanced around as he rode into the city, noting the people hurrying about their morning business. As was usual when presented with a new city to search, Teran was uncertain where to begin. Eliowy had become increasingly clever as to her hiding places and Teran knew he could no longer simply go to the most inexpensive inn around to get news of her. Finding an inn wouldn't be such a bad idea however, his stomach pointed out. The 1search could begin and breakfast gotten in the bargain. Trail rations did not a meal make. Teran agreed. This decided, Teran started searching for a respectable inn. Eliowy stared at the grey stone ceiling through slitted eyes and decided that this time she was in real trouble. Despite have a terrible headache, she still remembered being captured by the Lieutenant of the Guard and it didn't take much to guess that she was now in a guardhouse. Voices in the room prevented Eliowy from making an immediate escape, so she simply lay still and listened to the conversation. "I just don't understand why you brought her here, Kalen," a deep voice was saying tiredly. "Her reaction was odd, Captain," replied Kalen. Eliowy identified him as the guard she had literally run into earlier. "I didn't say much of anything to her and she took off running; like I'd caught her stealing or something." "Stolen something. Like the sword? Or the harp?" queried Kalen's captain. "Well, yes," said Kalen. "The thought had crossed my mind. I mean, the workmanship of the blade is excellent and the harp is nearly an antique. They'd be worth quite a bit on the black market." Eliowy tensed angrily, reminding herself that she was still supposed to be unconscious. The sword was one of her most treasured possessions; a gift from Teran when he finally decided that she had learned all he could teach her. And as for the harp, well. So far as Eliowy was concerned, the instrument was priceless, all that she had left of her mother. "Kalen, the instrument is too well cared for to have been stolen," said the captain patiently. "It's also not pretty enough to bring gold on the market. And as for the blade," The silky sound of a sword being drawn from a sheath rang through the room. "It is very finely crafted, I grant you, but feel how lightweight it is," Eliowy could invision her weapon being handed to Kalen. "It wouldn't be of much use for either of us, but I'll wager my next months bonus that it's perfect for her. A smith would make something like this on commission because it's useless except for the one that it was made for." "You've made your point, Captain," sighed Kalen, sliding the blade back into it's sheath. "She's not a thief and it was a mistake to bring her in." "Your thinking was good--" began the captain, only to be interrupted by the clash of steel and excited young voices clamoring outside. "What in the name of every god--" The captain swore, rushing out the door with Kalen hot on his heels. As soon as she heard the man shouting in the courtyard, Eliowy rolled off the wooden bench and hurried to the table. She pulled the baldric over her head like a sash so that the sheathed sword hung down her back and pulled her backpack closer. One swift thrust and the harp was stuffed into the bottom of the bag. Another grab and the her clothes followed in an untidy mass. She rushed the door without bothering to close the pack. And completely ignoring the silver piece laying in the middle of the table. Outside, the captain had two young men by the collars and was shaking them both vigorously while an impassive Kalen looked on. His angry voice easily reached Eliowy by the door. "You young fools can either explain to me why you drew steel on one another OR you can explain it to the Duke!" another vigorous shake 1punctuated his words. The threat had the desired effect as the two youths tried to talk over one another to make their case to the captain. Stifling a smile, Eliowy slipped around the rear of the guardhouse and paused in its shadow to close her pack and to get her bearings. The rain had slacked enough so that she was no longer worried about getting soaked, although the constant drizzle was proving to be annoying. Through the dim haze of rain Eliowy could see a small group of carts being unloaded by what seemed to be the back entrance to the Keep. There was not, however, any sign of a rear gate. The captain's voice could no longer be heard shouting and Eliowy decided that, where ever she went, moving might be a very good idea. "The fastest way out of here," thought Eliowy, eyes scanning the courtyard, "would be to go around the castle and out the front gate or over the wall. But that's the most obvious way too..." The sound of footsteps on the flagstones cut Eliowy's contemplation short. Without pausing to make a conscious decision, she headed for the group of wagons by the servants entrance. As she walked, Eliowy pulled her cloak and sword off of her back and arranged the cloth so that it hid both her weapons belt and the pack. Carrying the unwieldy mass like a box, held in front of her, the girl joined the end of the line of people entering the Keep. "Is that the last of it?" someone demanded in Eliowy's ear, the second she stepped through the doorway. "Uh, yes, ma'am!" Eliowy looked up at the speaker, a tall woman in a grey apron that looked very official. "Last load." "Well, what is it?" The woman asked the woman impatiently. "Linens." "Take them up to the sewing room, then," She looked over her shoulder at a pair of boys who were heading for a large cabinet by the fireplace. "And you two stay out of the pantry!" While the woman was occupied, Eliowy headed for the door at the far end of the room. "Girl!" Eliowy stopped dead in her tracks and turned slowly around, heart dropping to her boots. "Ma'am?" "You're new here?" "Yes, ma'am." A gentler expression covered the woman's tired face. "Get those up to the sewing room, first door on the second floor up the back staircase, and then come down and get your breakfast." "Yes, ma'am. Thank you!" Eliowy stifled her sigh of relief and hurried out of the kitchen. Once clear of the people hurrying in and out of the kitchens entrance, Eliowy slung her sword back over her shoulder and put her cloak on over it, arranging the hilt so that it stuck out under the hood. Hoping that she looked more like she belonged here, Eliowy went up the nearest staircase, so as to avoid as many people as possible. The second floor of the Keep was almost tomblike in it's silence compared to the bustle of the lower floor, additional noise being kept out by a heavy wooden door at the bottom and the top of the stairs. A long hall stretched to the left, right, and straight ahead and was hung with tapestries. Rich carpet ran down the center of each of the corridors and light let in by long, narrow windows with carved wooden shutters. Doors lined the hall directly forward. Cautiously Eliowy walked down the middle hall, knowing that it had to lead to the Keep's main entrance. Even though it was unlikely, she still did not want to risk running unawares into any of Kalen's soldiers. She stayed close to the wall, ready to dodge into a room, 1should the need arise. She came to an intersection that had small tables at each of the walls corners, all with full vases on them. Sweet perfume filled the small area and Eliowy paused to inhale the fresh fragrance. The sound of laughing voices coming towards her from the direction she was heading in broke off her reverie. Cursing herself for a fool, Eliowy ran down the left hand corridor looking for a place to hide. The sound of the voices drew closer and, panicked, Eliowy began trying doors to see if any were unlocked. Her second frantic turn of a door handle proved to be the lucky one and she breathed a prayer of thanks to the gods as she ducked inside. As quickly and as quietly as possible, she closed the door behind her and put her back to the door, only to nearly have a heart attack because the room she had chosen to hide in was occupied. She had interrupted someone in the middle of their breakfast. The man stared at her, fork poised halfway to his mouth, surprised, but not alarmed, as if he had unknown people bursting into his room all the time. Frantically, Eliowy put her finger to her lips and made shushing motions at the man as the voices she had heard out in the corridor sounded directly outside her chosen hiding place. The voices in the hall weren't clear enough for Eliowy to make out the conversation, but she kept one ear tuned to the murmuring outside and both both eyes fastened on the man at the table. He had finally put his fork down and was hiding a smile behind the act of wiping his mouth. "I don't think they'll find you in here, girl," the man said, finally able to keep a straight face, brown eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter. "I promise that I won't give you away." Eliowy's heart nearly stopped when the man spoke, but his last statement coupled the fact that he made no move to rise or shout, assured her that he would, indeed say nothing. In fact, she thought as the voices in the hall faded past her hearing, he seemed to be enjoying the entire episode immensely. "Sorry to disturb your repast," she said softly, deciding that the passage way had to be clear by now. She fumbled behind her for the door handle still keeping puzzled eyes on the man. She bobbed her head to him in thanks and slipped out the door. Clifton Dargon, Lord of Dargon Keep, leaned back in his chair and laughed, a little ruefully, at the freedom of youth. Eliowy hurried down the main staircase as fast as she could without attracting too much attention. She encountered no one on her way down but as she neared the bottom of the stairs, the everyday sounds of the Keep grew louder and people could be heard hurrying about their business. Pausing at the bottom of the stairs and trying to be invisible, Eliowy waited until there was a break in the stream of people, before slipping across the main hallway and out the door into the main yard. The wide, open courtyard spread out in front of the auburn haired girl, as she stepped out into the slowly clearing day. It was just as busy with hurrying people as the kitchen entrance and the main keep. From where she stood, Eliowy could see the main gates, heavy looking wood and iron affairs, wide open. A pair of guards stood at post, seeming to ignore the occasional cart that came through. Taking a deep breath, Eliowy started out across the courtyard. None of the people she passed payed much attention to her and she made it to the gates with no difficulties. "I'm going to make it," she thought confidently. "Just walk past 1the guards and I'm free...just a few feet more..." "Here, girl. Where do you think you're going?" Eliowy halted, heart pounding, and turned reluctantly to face the younger of the two gate guards. "Cook needs some herbs from the market," she lied hastily, trying to sound disgusted. "Decided, all of a sudden, to make something special for the evening meal." "But why are you leaving by the main gate?" pressed the guard, stepping closer. Eliowy thought frantically for a reply as the young man added, "The secondary gate is much close to the market." "I'm new here," began Eliowy, looking up at him, amber eyes guileless and a little confused. "I get my bearings better from the main gate." "But--" "Let up, Jaron," advised the other guard, coming to stand behind Eliowy. Let the poor girl get on with her errand so the cook doesn't get angry with her. Someone can show her a faster route later." "Thank you, sir," said Eliowy on the heels of his words. She ducked out of the main gate before any more protests could be raised, and ignored the younger man's command to wait. Teran leaned back in his seat and calmly surveyed the common room of Belisandra's. Late morning breakfasters lingered comfortably around scarred wooden tables and sunlight, poking abound ragged clouds brightened the room. A stout woman stood behind the bar, carefully wiping glasses while chatting amiably with the serving girl. A faint smile flickered across Teran's lips. He quietly enjoyed the wine and his few hours rest. Renewing his chase could come later, after his spirit had been refreshed. He drained his glass of its fruity wine and signalled the bar-maid for another. The inn's main door was pushed open with a breath of fresh, rain washed air and Teran's eyes were automatically drawn to the intrusion, wariness not relaxed even in such a safe seeming environment. Seeing the person framed in the doorway, Teran was glad for his ever alert vigilance, even as surprise nearly made him drop his empty wine glass. Eliowy's eyes flickered over the room, noting, Teran assumed, how many people were present, wether or not any of them might be dangerous, and where the alternate exits were in the room. It was not a skill he had taught her, but he still felt a glow of pride that she had learned it. Their eyes locked as Eliowy's gaze slid to the corner Teran had seated himself in, and the wariness in Eliowy's face melted into horror. She took a hesitant step backwards, shaking her head in denial. Teran rose slowly as she took another backwards step. "Eliowy," he said softly, all plans of grabbing her and telling her that she hadn't a chance of escaping him, fading away at the pained look in her face. The fear in Eliowy's amber eyes hardened to defiance. Her third backwards step was confidently taken and she was out the door and running, even as Teran shouted for her to wait. Eliowy ran straight down the street, trying to lose herself in the crowd, not bothering to use the dark, inviting recesses of nearby alleys to secret herself in. Lythly she dodged around people and horses and listened intently for the sounds of pursuit. Teran's pleas for her to wait faded in the distance as the voices of the people drowned him out. Certain, now, that she would again lose him, Eliowy ducked into the nearest open shop, to put herself completely out of Teran's sight. 1 The smell of dye and cloth surrounded her and the three men in front of the counter turned from their observation of a bolt of cloth held by a fourth man to stare at Eliowy as she stood in the portal. "Well," said the dark haired man at the center of the group. Sharp brown eyes studied the girl in the doorway. "It appears that you have another customer, Kelmin. Perhaps you should see to her needs first." "No need," said Eliowy hastily, as the slender man behind the counter set down the bolt of cloth and started to move out towards her. "I, uh, just stepped into the wrong shop." She glanced over her shoulder. No sign of Teran. She hadn't heard his shout going by so he either took another path or... "Are you having difficulties, my dear?" inquired the dark haired man, leaning casually against the counter. The taller of the two men at his side jerked in surprise. "Ah--" "I'll be glad to help you out of your trouble," the man continued, before she could come up with a plausible lie. "Mentis," The fourth man stepped forward briskly. "Why don't you take the young lady to my office so that we can discuss her problems at our leisure in a little more private surroundings." "Of course, my lord." He gave Eliowy the slightest of bows. "Lady, this way." He grasped her upper arm and led her outside. Completely at a loss, Eliowy didn't even thing to struggle or protest. As they disappeared down the street, the brown haired man chuckled deep in his throat. "You're going to use her to replace Kera, aren't you, Lord Liriss," said the tall man matter of factly. "Yes," The smile deepened around the corners of Liriss's lips. "She'll do nicely, don't you think, Kesrin?" "I think you're moving prematurely," retorted Kesrin. "Cril might just manage to bring Kera back. And," he added quickly, before Liriss could comment on that. "You caught the girl by surprise. She might not want to cooperate. She might not even have any skills worth utilizing." Liriss shrugged. "Every woman has skills, Kesrin. And if she doesn't accept my extremely generous offer, I'll kill her, just as I plan to kill that bitch Kera if Cril manages to bring her back to me alive. What's Dargon with one less street urchin? No one will even notice that she's gone." "Except whoever she's running from," muttered Kesrin too softly to be heard while Liriss ordered a new summer cloak from the rich red material he had been fingering. "What was that, Kesrin?" "Nothing, my lord. Shall we go talk to your new recruit?" "By all means, let's." Liriss's laughter was drowned out by the crowd as he followed the path his bodyguard and most recent captive had taken. Less than twenty feet away, a tall, blond man desperately questioned passersby as to whether or not they had seen a young red haired girl come running this way. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dragon Hunt Part 1 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a kaytsus%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) The young mage released his most powerful spell, but it did little good. The glowing sphere engulfed the old woman and just as quickly faded. The witch hesitated a moment, recovering from the attack. The mage started backing across the clearing, looking for an escape. "No farther," the witch said, drawing a symbol on air. A tree behind the mage shook and and with a splintering sound bent, its branches gripping him, raising him into the air. "Tell them to leave my work alone!" the witch hissed and the tree threw its captive up. "Alone!" Moments passed before the witch approached the unmoving body, nudging it with her foot. There was no motion. From a pouch on her red belt she produced a handful of white powder. "Go home," she said, sprinkling it over the mage. The body disappeared from sight. Gerim glanced at the three men before him. "I am not an assassin. I refuse to kill for you." "But she has to die. You know that as well as we," one of the sitting elders answered. "We can force you," another man said. "...but we would rather not have to." "Gentlemen, I am no longer a rookie mage. I can opt for one of your positions, if I so chose," Gerim responded to the threat. "Please, don't ask me to do this." "Gerim, understand," the first wizard spoke again. "Maari has been responsible for the deaths of three dragons in the last year alone. Two others died the year before. At this rate there will be none left within the decade. It's our duty to stop her. Your duty." A negative shake of the head was the only answer. "Don't you understand?" the wizard insisted. "An inexperienced mage just can not do it. We already lost two." "No," Gerim stated again. "I refuse to kill." "You're leaving us no choice," the third man warned. "Either you go or we will order your daughter to do it instead," Nagje', the second wizard finished the threat. Gerim clenched his fists in defeat. "I never expected this of you. I will go, but I shall challenge your post when I return. Be ready." "You're one of the few strong enough to stop her," the first wizard spoke up. "Don't leave us as an enemy; do it to save Makdiar's past. Good luck, my friend." Gerim walked out of the great chamber in disgust. A cloud of dust appeared on a deserted road, quickly molding itself into a man and a horse. Swinging into the saddle, the man surveyed the region, to be certain that no one had seen him appear. Not a soul was around. "Come on," he slapped the horse's neck, "let's find Tench," and the steed obediently broke into a trot. Gerim entered the mostly empty inn lobby and approached the desk. "I'd like two adjoining rooms," he told the bald man on the other side of the desk. The man shuffled through a drawer, pulling out two keys. "One will have to be large," Gerim hurried to add. The man again shuffled through the desk again and put two new keys before him. "It costs double," he said. 1 Gerim picked up the second set of keys. "I'll take it. Put my horse in the stables. I will bring my bags in later." Gerim looked out from the window of the larger room. It was located on the corner of the inn's second story, overlooking the backs of a few houses on the north and the lightly forested fields to the east. "This'll never do," the mage considered the bright rays of the morning sun. The power of his magic always seemed inversely proportional to the brightness of the light. He spent the next few hours setting up his work space in the larger room. A table for enchantment in the far corner, a crystal ball in the other. The rest of the equipment spread here and there and a couple of black sheets on the windows. Gerim was from the old school of wizards; the days when "black and white" was not "punk and punker". He practiced a unique style of magic, wrote in a self designed script and unlike the new generation of mages, knew magic theory and its rivals. He was proud of his art and angry that some used it for fun and profit. He recalled overhearing one young mage, talking to a friend, bragging that now he can "amaze and startle his friends". Gerim's eyes burned with anger. In the days before...his days, individuality was the focus of all mages and whether working for purposes (considered) good or bad, one thing remained true - the quest for knowledge. He remembered that his own generation was also considered renegade. Could it be that magic was dying out? Weaker and looser as time went on. He let the crystal ball roll from his hand and unscientifically stop in the middle of the table, almost making a statement. The glass clouded and displayed the street outside the inn. Two armored men could be seen, dragging a third, quite possibly unconscious, across the road. "Lovely neighborhood," Gerim scowled, watching the two individuals make their deposit in the alley and leave. The crystal ball still focused on the body. "No, no! The other way!" Gerim instructed, but the image stubbornly remained on the closeup of the man. "So he's not just unconscious. He's dead." The image did not move. "So what do you want me to do? Stop them?" No response. "All right, all right," Gerim gave in. "Where did they go?" The picture changed to the two men entering a different alley. Gerim watched for a moment, then stood up. "Find me something interesting to look at by the time I get back," he instructed. The crystal ball, though efficient in all its other jobs, had one kink: every so often it would require the user to preform a task of some sort. Whether as a required duty or as a part of the magical link, Gerim did not know. The crystal ball had been a gift from his old master, a puzzle he had yet to solve before passing it down to one of his own students. He walked out into the street. Sunset was in full swing, throwing murky shadows into the street. Gerim found the proper alley and cautiously entered. Dark shadows hid the walls of buildings. He cast a spell, coating the inside of his cloak with a dim red glow and carefully stepped deeper in. "...not enough," he heard a voice about half way down the alley. "This place is crawling with vagabonds," a second voice responded. "Let's find another." 'Cutthroats? Highwaymen?' Gerim cautiously moved forward. "I think three in one night is plenty, even in a town like this," the first voice said. "I don't want to attract attention." "I've seen no evidence of guards," the second man answered. "There's a damned army camp just over the hill!" 1 Gerim smiled. An army would definitely be too much for a job like this. He stepped out into the dim light of the fire the thieves were sitting at. The two men, noticing him, eyed him, wondering how long he has been standing there and listening. Then one got up, drawing his sword. "Tonight it be four." Gerim did not move a muscle and his assailant paused before swinging. Why was this man, in view of certain death, not making a defensive stand? The sword made contact with the cloak, stopping abruptly, as if hitting solid steel. The man was so stunned, he didn't even resist Gerim taking his sword from him. The second man got up and slowly approached, drawing his weapon. "It won't be any different," Gerim warned. The man swung, making solid contact with Gerim. Again the sword stopped dead against the cloak. Gerim patiently waited as the man swung a second time, with identical results, then raised his hand. A glow of light surrounded his assailants and they disappeared. "I hope this taught you something," the wizard's voice followed the fading figures into a dark forest, echoing like the wind in the trees. Gerim bent down over a body lying in the tall grass. He recognized the young man as a guild apprentice. Removing a ring and a pendant from the body, he placed these symbols of rank and guild in his pocket. Deciding that the body, already damaged by animals and the elements need not be retrieved, got up to leave. Before him was a path, leading to the home of the witch he had been sent to challenge. He took a deep breath and continued down the pathway. He and Maari met before on a number of occasions, sometimes as friends, but more often as enemies. One particular meeting stood out in his mind, when five years past he ran into Maari in Conca, in Duurom. She was after a mystical herb that was rumored to bring youth to the aged and was more than prepared to take on a village of over a hundred, all of whom willingly died to protect their treasure. Maari got the herb and a number of subjects to use in her magic and Gerim felt pain for the scorched country side left behind. That was the first time Gerim's guild took a real interest in the old witch. It was a battle in which he lost two close friends. Sometimes Gerim believed he could strangle Maari with his bare hands, given the opportunity, but each time he remembered his old master's dying words, urging him to respect life above all other possessions. It was the turn of events and not the direct action that was to decide fate. He wondered how the two thieves he dispatched the previous evening were doing. He sent them off to the region up north, near a frontier town he heard off; a city by the name of Dargon. The thieves were sent there to die. Gerim felt that the punishment offered was enough. Perhaps the two men would change their ways after meeting a wizard, or perhaps they would be caught at their own game. Justice was usually harsh in frontier towns, even when administrated by the local law. If they died, it certainly would not be by his hand and he felt as if he definitely gave them an opportunity to change their lives in a new place. Hopefully new to them, anyway. It would be new to Gerim if he ever chose to go that far north on Cherisk. Gerim glanced at the morning sun and judging by its position, turned sharply east. His crystal ball had given him solid directions earlier in the morning and Gerim was confident he was on the right path. His confidence, however, lasted only so far as finding Maari's home. He had no idea of what to do once he got there. He stopped in mid stride and with a sigh leaned on a tree, trying to reason out his 1plans. He wasn't going to kill Maari. He knew that. Perhaps he could make a deal or trick her into a compromise. Then he remembered Conca and sadly shook his head. Maari did not listen to reason. There's no hope that she would start now. Gerim stomped around the tree, observing an unnatural bend in the trunk. He noticed a hard crack in the bark, with sap hardening in it, nature providing its own cure. He touched it, wondering what catastrophe would cause this damage to a tree easily three times his waist span around and at least five times his age. Seeing that the tree would soon die from the loss of sap it was sustaining, he cast a spell, pulling the splintered bark together. The wound lessened, hopefully giving the ancient tree a chance to survive. An animal cry not far away attracted his attention and Gerim looked up from his work. A laska stood a hundred feet away, watching him hungrily. Gerim wondered why the animal bothered to give him a warning, but wasted no time casting a ward around himself. The animal paused, still looking at him with hunger, but dared not to come any closer to the unnatural light. These large cat-like creatures were never known to be free roaming and Gerim assumed he was getting closer to Maari. No one but a witch would keep a laska around, roaming free. He confidently turned his back on the beast and continued his journey. A brown roof soon appeared through the dense cover of the leaves and moments later he came out in a small clearing, facing a mud colored hut. It took Gerim a few seconds to size up the area. The hut was weather-worn, as if it has gone unattended for months on end. The clearing was somewhat more hospitable. It was filled end to end with short green grass, still sparkling with the morning dew. A few well worn trails appeared to cross the clearing, leading to and from the woods. A large black cauldron stood supported on a structure of bricks, on the left side of the house. On the other corner of the house he saw a table with grasses and herbs laid out for drying. It took him a little longer, but Gerim finally spotted a plainly dressed old woman standing before the hut, almost blending into the background. Her hair was grey and face wrinkled. Her right arm quivered with the twitching of old age. Could this be Maari? She should have been younger after her attack on Conca. The old woman in turn eyed the newcomer with suspicion. He was tall, conservatively dressed and for some reason made her feel uneasy. "What is your business?" she finally demanded. Gerim eyed the surroundings again. This had to be Maari. Everything was her. He took the risk, drawing himself up to his full height. "I am here to give you an ultimatum, Maari. Your magic is damaging this world. It must stop." Maari's lip twitched. "Who are you?" her senile voice asked him. She still did not recognize her old enemy, although the man looked familiar. "Who are you to tell me what to do?" Gerim stepped closer to Maari. His footsteps fell sure in the moist spring grass. "I was sent..." "Marat!" the witch exclaimed, recognizing him at last. "So they finally sent a man to fight me. Well, let me tell you, I killed two sucklings and if I have to, I'll kill you." Gerim did not back down. "I was sent here to warn you. Let the dragons be and the Guild will overlook you." Maari's grey skin turned red. "You haven't learned, have you? I don't fear your Guild. I can take all of you on!" "Maari," Gerim continued calmly, "I am not here to question your talents. I am telling you to stop killing the dragons. You are upsetting the balance of nature." "Go tell your masters the answer is no!" "That answer is not acceptable," he stated again. "By killing the 1dragons you are undermining your own efforts. If not for Makdiar, then for yourself, don't kill them. At this rate they won't last a decade. Then what will you do?" "I won't need them after that," she insisted. Gerim paused. Something, somewhere clicked and it all suddenly made sense. The herb, the dragons. Maari was on a quest herself! "You're after immortality!" he accused her, taking a bold step forward. "You're after dra..." Maari's hands came up. "Let me be!" she hissed. "Let my research be!" Gerim smiled, though lacking the confidence he felt he needed. "I'll let you be. But I won't let you ruin the world I live in." He quickly turned and walked to the glen he came from, stopping a little short of the tree line. "That legend is only a myth, Maari," he hesitated before entering the cover of the trees, "and if it's true, I won't let you prove it." He entered the forest, hurrying to leave the crazy old woman behind. It wasn't only youth she wanted. The old witch was after immortality itself and she was slowly putting the magical puzzle together. Gerim rushed blindly into the forest, turning over plans in his mind, trying to think of a way to insure a swift victory, but nothing stood out as a miracle solution. Yet, he could not let the witch live; he knew that now. He stopped in a small grassy clearing, taking in the environment. His mind relaxed. He had a laboratory set up in Tench. That was enough. Maari would not do much harm in the next few days. He'd find a method to stop her soon enough. Gerim prepared to cast a spell, when from deep in the trees he heard voices. "Where are you going?" a female voice asked. Then the same voice called out. "Hey!" Gerim quickly moved through the brush to see what was up. "There!" he finally saw an armored man pointing into the knee deep grass. Stepping behind a tree, he observed a young woman, also clad in armor, following the man. Gerim was about to step out of his cover, when a muffled hiss made his hair stand on end. He glanced up, only to see the laska he encountered on the trail not long ago. The laska sat on a branch, some twenty feet above the wizard, hungrily looking down. Gerim quickly produced his pendant, stepping away from the tree. A barely audible incantation coated the ground and lower trunk with a musty green glow. The laska quickly jerked back. "If not for the trail ending, we'd miss this all together," the man's voice sounded from beyond the trees again. The wizard smiled. 'I hope you appreciate what I just did for you.' "Why does the trail keep going past here, if it leads nowhere?" the girl wondered aloud, looking in the direction from which she had come. "Perhaps Maari is a recluse," the man shrugged in response and Gerim's smile deepened. 'How will you pay me?' "Not knowing to find anything, most people would probably turn back," the man added. He was carefully studying what began seeming like a path to Gerim. "You think this leads to the place?" the girl asked. "It leads somewhere," her companion answered, finally deciding to try the path. Gerim stepped behind the tree, making a shushing noise to the laska above him, as the two travelers passed not ten yards away. 'Perhaps we'll meet again one day, so you can repay me,' the 1wizard's thoughts trailed the couple, as they disappeared in the trees. He turned to the tree and looked up at the laska. "And you... a few hours up there and you'll love ground like you never have before!" The wizards merry laughter echoed through the forest, even after he disappeared in a flash of light, leaving the bewildered animal staring at the glowing ground below. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dragon Hunt Part 2 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a kaytsus%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) Rien paced the dark forest clearing, being careful not to make too much noise. The first three days through the forest went quietly with the exception of an encounter with a bear that the spooked horses tried to make as short as possible. Looking for a nameless witch amidst a dense forest was not the easiest affair to undertake, but it seemed much safer than facing the unknown dangers Dargon had to offer. The last time Rien had both the town guard and the town mob after him was because each thought he was a member of the other. Naturally, being alone and a lot healthier at the time, the problem was a lot easier to solve. Circling the clearing one more time, Rien made his way to the center and gently shook Kera. "Go away." Her sleepy voice sounded with a certain finality. Rien shook her again. "It will be light soon. We need to go." Kera moaned and sat up. Her hands crept up to her face and she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "It's too dark. I can't see a thing." "You don't have to," Rien answered. "Get up." Kera's hands paused at her face. "Grow new body hair?" he smirked, pulling Kera to her feet. "Why don't you check?" she asked and with one hand unstrung the front of her tunic. Rien resisted looking down. "I think I'd better not." "I don't," Kera pulled herself to him and instantly pushed away from the cold steel armor. Rien hesitated for a moment, then turned away. "If you're not ready by the time it's light enough to travel, I am leaving without you," and with those words left to prepare the horses. A few moments later Kera approached him. "I need some help with my armor," she said solemnly. Rien assisted her with the task and they were ready to go before the sun broke the horizon. They travelled the forest path until late morning, the way they had for the last three days, then ate a late breakfast and while Rien rested in the shade of a great oak, a few hundred feet from the trail, Kera stood watch. This monotonous routine continued day after day, with Rien and Kera traveling morning and evening, when the light was passable and the heat would not burn them in their armor. Kera found Rien's habit of sleeping propped up against a tree and his uncanny timing of when to get up a bit strange, but attributed it to his being a trained warrior. This afternoon when he opened his eyes, she was sitting across from him. A fresh rabbit hung on a spit over a smoking fire, distorting the air between them. "Explain your actions this morning," Rien said. "It seemed like the thing to do," Kera answered. "Why?" Rien demanded. "Because it's a lot better than this iron trap!" Kera hit the breast plate of her armor. "I think you're confused," Rien shook his head. "And would it really be that unpleasant?" "Would it?" "No!" Kera exclaimed, instantly realizing that she was too loud. "It seemed so last night and even more so this morning," she added in 1half voice. "Look, perhaps I am confused, but I certainly know the difference between a human body and steel plating." "Give it another day," Rien said. "If you feel the same way tomorrow, we'll discuss it further." After dinner they mounted their horses and continued their search through the forest. "Tilden?" The man looked up at Cril. "Two people, two horses. Camped here maybe a day ago." "Was it them?" Tilden walked around the remains of a half covered campfire. "They were very heavy. Either large men or armored individuals." "They went pretty far off the trail to eat," Falgien, the third man, noted. "I'd guess they camped here over night," Tilden corrected his companion. "There's nothing more here," Cril said, walking across the clearing. "Let's go before that bear shows up again." Wearily the three men recalled that the bear they encountered while breaking camp two nights ago, shredded the fourth member of the group and had been stalking them ever since; day and night. They quickly returned to the trail, mounted their horses and looking back, continued their journey. "Tilden?" Cril called back a few minutes later. "Could they have been stupid enough to travel the woods instead of the trail?" "I doubt it," the man answered. "It's too dense for the horses. They wouldn't get far." "The camps are too close together," Cril said. "They are making frequent stops...or perhaps even taking two breaks a day." "If they are still in that armor, they'd have to," Falgien said. "It traps heat like an oven." "Those who made that camp fire were heavy..." Tilden reminded everyone. "Then more than likely we're gaining on them," Cril whispered almost to himself. Rien and Kera came across the old hermit Tristin and his hunting dogs mid morning, the next day. While surprised by the intrusion, the old man invited them in for breakfast and to satisfy his own curiosity. The horses, apprehensive of the four barking dogs went less willingly than they were commanded. "What brings you so deep into the forest?" Tristin asked, waiting for Rien and Kera to secure their horses to a tree. "A quest," Rien answered simply. "Young people are so brash," said the hermit. "What sort of quest?" "Perhaps you could help us," Rien said, as the hermit showed them into his cabin. "Sit, sit down," Tristin waved his arm. "I have some stew somewhere here." He momentarily left the room. "Somewhere?" Kera looked at Rien. "I'm getting the feeling he hasn't seen it himself for a month or two." Rien only smiled, saying nothing, as the hermit returned with a pot. "So what is it you want to ask me?" the old man questioned. "We're searching for an old woman, said to be a witch, who lives in these parts," Rien answered. A large grin spread on the hermit's face as he filled two bowls with stew. "A knight on a quest to kill an old hag," he laughed. "You 1are a knight?" "I am," Rien hesitated in answering, slightly displeased with the title. "But I am in search of the woman to ask her for help." The hermit placed the bowls before his guests. "Eat up, it's otter. Very fresh." Kera threw a paranoid glance from her bowl to Rien, but followed his example and picked up her spoon. "And you? A knight too?" Tristin asked Kera. "You say very little." "Only a squire," she smiled, swallowing the stew and was surprised at the taste - it wasn't bad at all. When the old man turned away, she glared at Rien. "Just a squire," she repeated. "Well, so what is it you dare come all this way to ask old Maari?" Tristin asked, missing Kera's remark. "Old Maari," Rien repeated the name, "we are told, has knowledge of how to cure a certain disease, but I'm afraid this is all I can tell you." "I quite understand," the hermit said. "She lives a ways from here, down the trail you were on. Follow it to where a second trail intersects your path and turn west, then a two day walk to a fork in the road, take the right one. Two more days will bring you to where you are headed. Perhaps only half the time on horse back." "Is there a particular mode of etiquette you recommend we practice?" "No, no, nothing special. Just be ready for anything. Being a witch, she possesses magic and some of it is black. Be sure you know her price before she assists you." Rien finished with his stew and stood up. "Thank you for your assistance, sir. We should be going now. Our time is very limited." "I wish you could stay, but I quite understand," Tristin smiled. "A pleasant change it is to see someone all the way out here. I feel bad about having to cast you out like this. Perhaps you can stop by on your return trip, if it takes you past here." "If it takes us past here," Rien promised. After another 'thank you' and 'goodbye', he and Kera took their leave. After a few minutes, Kera pulled her horse up to Rien's. "You're a real knight?" she asked. "Worse than that," Rien answered. "A landed knight." "You are?" Kera's eyes sparkled with excitement. "Where? Are you...nobility...?" "No," Rien said. "I'm not nobility. Both nobility and knighthood are status symbols I do not find of great importance. They require giving respect to people who often do not deserve it." "You'd make a hard follower for any lord." "I have no master. I do not follow a banner. What in my land is considered land ownership is treated as lordship here. When I first crossed the mountains, I had no real knowledge or understanding of the society I faced and in due time realized that here survival depends a lot more on the ability to fight and win. Naturally I apprenticed in the craft, was knighted in the field and in due time got where I am. The combination of these two make me a minor lord - a foreign dignitary. I am neither." "Your title is still 'Lord'," Kera said. "Why didn't you tell me?" "I wish you would ignore it, now that you do know," Rien said. "I prefer not attracting too much attention. It holds no value to me." "Yes, my Lord," Kera laughed. "And where did you learn to pick pockets?" she reminded him of a past event. "Same place as the real nobles?" "That I learned where I was born." "Not only are you a knight, but you used to be..." Kera started. 1 "A practical joker," Rien interrupted her. "Nothing more." "Of course," Kera said, somewhat mockingly. "And listen, it's well past your bed time." Rien looked up at the sun, higher in the sky than he has seen in the last few days of travel and turned his horse off the trail. Kera followed him until the forest path they were on was out of sight. There, in a small clearing, they made camp. "I take it you have a castle," Kera asked Rien after he secured the horses. "A small keep," he answered. "Why?" "And a lady waiting for you?" she continued. "No," Rien said. "My wife and I learned a long time ago that our life styles are too conflicting. She doesn't wait for me any longer. I haven't seen her in quite some time." Kera cast her eyes down. "I'm sorry. I thought that's what was holding you back." "It's a decision both she and I agreed on," Rien said. "You've done no harm by asking." "That still doesn't tell me why those plates are so much more comfortable for you," Kera looked up. "Perhaps I'm afraid to admit you're right." "You know I am," she answered, removing the plates of her armor. Astonished, Rien simply watched. Cril and his companions dismounted their horses at a small wooden cottage. Four dogs on long leashes barked wildly as they approached the door. Cril swung it open, startling the old man who was about to open it from the inside. "Can I help you, sir?" Tristin asked, wary of Cril's drawn sword and his two companions. Cril placed the tip of his weapon against the base of the hermit's neck and backed him into a wall. "I will give you only one chance to answer my question. I have reason to believe that two travelers, male and female, dressed in field armor, passed by here. How long ago was it and which way did they head from the crossroads up the trail?" Tristin stammered, unable to confront the danger he was in. "Now!" Cril yelled, applying pressure on his weapon. "They were here late this morning!" Tristin panicked. "They took the west path!" "Very good, old man," Cril said with a sneer, "but that was a chance too late." With a quick thrust, he shoved the sword through the hermit's throat. "The west trail!" Cril commanded his companions. "We're less than half a day behind." Rien turned over to the touch of something cold on his shoulder. Standing above him was a man with a sword, dressed in heavy leather. Behind and next to him, stood two more. "I doubt you could have caught us at a worse time," Rien said. Next to him Kera stirred and tried sitting up. "It's very nice of you to wait for us, Kera," one of the men, whom she recognized as Cril, said. "Liriss wants to see you...DEAD." Just then Rien thrust his feet out, causing the man standing over him to fall backwards and drop his sword. Grabbing the weapon, Rien rolled over, just in time to parry the second man's swing. He struck back with the sword, blade bouncing off his opponent's weapon and digging into his lower arm. The brigand jumped back, his weapon arm obviously useless. Parrying Cril's blow, Rien backed up to a tree, trying to gain a 1perspective on the field of combat. Kera, with her stiletto, was taking on the wounded man, who still tried to lead an offensive, using his off hand to wield his weapon. On the far side of the clearing was the man Rien tripped. He seemed indecisive without a weapon, torn between running and helping his friends. Instinctively Rien blocked a glint of steel aimed at his torso and counter struck. His sword broke the surface of Cril's armor, but did no real damage. In turn, Cril thrust his sword forward, leaving a scratch in Rien's side and getting the blade stuck in the tree. Rien swung his sword down, smashing it across the blade of his opponent and breaking Cril's grip on the hilt. Cril dodged a follow-up swing by moving back and fumbled with a dagger on his belt. Rien attempted another strike, but stopped when he saw Cril sinking down. Behind him stood Kera, holding her blood covered knife. A quick glance about the clearing indicated that she had won her fight and the third man had fled the battlefield. Wearily Rien dropped the sword and embraced Kera. The grey in his eyes slowly reverted to blue. "This is what I was afraid of," Rien finally said, casting Kera away. "Get dressed. We have no time to waste." Obediently Kera walked over to her bundle of clothes. "One man got away," she pointed out. "Without a weapon I doubt he will try anything. He's probably a long way from here by now." "You think there will be any more coming after us?" Rien looked up at Kera and noticing the blood on her arm, grabbed it. The wound was only superficial and he let her go. "You know Liriss better than I. Will there be more?" "Yes," Kera answered after a moment of thought. "He hates losing." "So do I," Rien said. "I am glad we took this break," Kera told Rien. "And only luck kept us alive," he answered. "It was negligence. Don't expect it to happen again soon." "Not soon?" Kera asked. "Then it will later?" Too many things had been happening for Rien to consider that. "I need to give it some thought." Kera stopped him with her bloody arm. "What's wrong? What do you need to think about? Three hours ago you looked like you were enjoying yourself." "This is wrong!" Rien said, holding Kera's bloody arm before her face. "That is wrong!" he thrust his arm out, pointing to the two dead bodies. "I see I'm the root of all your troubles!" Kera pulled her arm free. "Should I find my own way home?" "No," Rien said. "Too much has been done already. No matter where you are, there will be people after you and me. There's safety in numbers." Kera put her tunic on and started on the armor. "I honestly think you're more confused than I am." "Could very well be," Rien answered. When the two were ready, they set their assailants' horses free and mounting their own, took to the west path at the crossroads. They travelled five miles before it became too dark to go on and then stopped to make camp. As at all other night stops, no fire was lit, so not to attract unwanted attention. Rien restlessly paced the clearing, desperately hoping that for the time being, no one else was following them. The surprise he and Kera had received that afternoon was very sobering, considering that 1Dargon was a long way away. It would be wise to assume that the man who got away headed back to Dargon. With the horses no longer in his possession, the trip would take more than two weeks. If this was the only group Liriss sent, the next few days would not bring trouble. Of greatest importance now was finding the old witch, Maari, who hopefully was the same individual Taishent had mentioned. Was she going to help? More importantly, could she? Rien remembered Tristin's warning about the price. What would a witch want? Money would do no good in the forest... Rien continued pacing, wishing it were light, so he could relax his mind through hunting. Finally giving up, he sat down under a tree, sword across his lap and sat out the rest of the night with the impression of being the only one awake in the entire forest. The next day passed quietly, with Rien and Kera making their way to the fork in the road and starting on the last leg of their journey. They made good progress before darkness finally forced them to stop for the night, but excited about the nearing end of their quest, they resumed the journey well before sunrise. Halfway into the morning, the trail abruptly came to an end. It was well worn only up to a patch of grass that looked as if it had never been walked on. Rien and Kera exchanged bewildered glances and dismounted. "Maybe we took a wrong turn," Kera offered. Rien did not answer. "Maybe we went too far..." she tried again. Tying his horse to a tree, Rien walked back down the trail, examining the grass and shrubs on both sides. "There!" he finally pointed to a barely visible trail in the spring grass. "If not for the trail ending, we'd have missed this all together." "Why does the trail keep going past here, if it leads to nothing?" Kera wondered. "Perhaps Maari is a recluse," Rien suggested. "Not knowing to find anything here, most people would probably turn back." "You think this leads to the place?" Rien solidly put his foot on the fresh grass. "It leads somewhere." After a few hundred feet, the light trail once again turned to a well worn path, indicating that security was indeed the reason for the confusing trails. A while longer and a small cottage appeared in a clearing. It looked lived in, but not overly used. Rien and Kera approached the hut with caution, pausing at a wooden stand next to a wall. A large collection of herbs and dried roots were spread on it. "Look," Kera picked up a pair of gloves. "This doesn't look like leather." Rien took one of the gloves from Kera to examine it. Soft texture, much softer than leather, covered the outside and the inside consisted of short white fur. "This used to be a cat," he finally said, tossing the glove down. Kera almost dropped the glove she was holding. "Cat?" "What's so surprising?" Rien asked. "They make gloves of cow hide." "Cow hide, fine, but not cat," Kera insisted, laying down the other glove. "Cats are usually associated with daemons," Rien explained. "Thus, their coat can be assumed to be the power of a particular daemon. In this case, probably an old familiar." "Doesn't white represent purity?" Kera asked. 1 "Sometimes," Rien nodded. "That's why virgins are so often portrayed wearing white. It can also represent power, such as a bolt of lightning. Purple is another common display of strength, though it is not a common color for cats." He smiled. "Almost any attribute can be assigned to any color, if you do enough research." "What'cha two doing?" a female voice stopped Rien's explanation. Both he and Kera turned to face an old woman. "We are searching for a woman named Maari," Rien said innocently enough. "You won't find her on the table," the woman grunted. "What do you want?" "We came in search of help." "Did you now?" "Are you Maari?" Kera asked cautiously. "I am!" the old woman declared and moved to the other side of the table. She approached suspiciously, squinting. "Lift up your hair," she told Rien. He shifted uncomfortably. "Is there something wrong?" "Lift it up or leave," Maari insisted. Unwillingly Rien lifted his longer than average hair, revealing a pair of pointed ears. "Just like I thought!" Maari snapped. "An elf!" "Ljosalfar." Rien corrected with anger in his voice. "Ljosalfar, Dopkalfar. All elf to me," Maari said, pacing on the other side of the table with herbs. "If you are so knowlegable, then you should know that for me it does make a difference," Rien answered. "What sort of help do you need, Elf?" Maari ignored his statement. "A cure for lycanthropy." Maari paced the length of the table again. "That I can do." "In exchange for what?" Rien remembered Tristin's warning. "Go!" the witch looked at Kera. "Wait for me by those trees," Rien pointed to the edge of the clearing. "This won't take long." "I'm not..." Kera started to protest, but Rien's grim expression suggested for her to leave. She turned to go and Maari studied Rien until Kera was out of hearing range. "You're an elf. You have nothing of value for my type of magic, but she does." Rien glanced in Kera's direction. It was obvious what was coming. "She has a soul," the witch stressed. "I can use her life force to channel my magic!" "Her soul is not mine to give you," Rien said. "You will have to name a different price." "Any young life!" Rien set his jaw. "Don't look that way at me!" Maari warned. "I am offering you a cure. You will die without it! Only pure humans can survive lycanthropy!" "A young life..." Rien hesitated. To Maari, it might be just so easy, but he did not approve of magic such as hers. Perhaps she could be tricked. If nothing else, there was still time to stall for. "That may take time," he finally said. The old woman smiled and picked up a chalice from the table. "To seal the deal," she offered it to him. Accepting the drinking horn, Rien spilled its contents on the ground. "I seal deals with people, not daemons." Placing the chalice on the table, he extended his hand and the witch reluctantly shook it. "Now leave and bring me a dragon egg, to make you a cure. Don't come back without it!" "Dragon egg?" Rien cocked his head. 1 "Big lizards, with wings. They lay eggs." "I thought they were all dead," Rien said. "I'm sure you'll find one," Maari answered. "Your life depends on it." Gathering up some of the herbs on the table, Maari returned to the house. Rien watched her go, then picking up some blue flowers, rejoined Kera. "What's that?" she asked him. "Wolfsbane, Monkshood, Friar's Cap...depends on stem, leaf or flower. A poison, in any case." "What will you do with it?" "Fight a dragon." Kera's jaw dropped open. "Is that what she was telling you?" "She told me a lot," Rien said. "I'll tell you on the way back to the horses." Kera looked back to the cottage once more and accepted Rien's hand for the trip back. "Your ears are pointed," she suddenly reminded herself and him. "They are in most of my species." "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. "I assumed you knew that about elves." "Rien!" He stopped, pulling his arm back. "My mother was Ljosalfar. My father human. Are you going to judge me?" "You can't help where or who you are born. No one has the right to hold that against you." Kera took his hands in hers. "I suspected something two days ago - it was hard not to notice, but...you're flesh and blood, like the rest of us." Reluctantly Rien permitted Kera to keep hold of him. "Yours isn't a typical human reaction." "I never considered myself typical," Kera said. "Did Maari agree to help us?" "She agreed," Rien answered, "but as payment she wants a subject to cast spells through. Necromancy, I assume." "Are you going to get her one?" Kera asked. "No. Life belongs to the person living it. Neither I, nor Maari, nor anyone else has the right to take another's life, except in self defence." "So she asked you for a dragon?" "That's a different story," Rien said. "She still expects a donation of life, but to cure us she wants a dragon egg. What do you know about dragons?" "They're large, breath fire and live in caves," Kera said. "Sounds like we know about the same," Rien sighed. "I wonder if Bistra wrote anything about it in his book." "We can check when we get back to the horses," Kera suggested. Rien nodded thoughtfully. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright May, 1989, DargonZine. All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution without the express permission of the author involved.

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