. -Earth's Dreamlands- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGN

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.: -----=====Earth's Dreamlands=====----- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGNet GM File Archive Site .:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:. From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:33:34 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26753 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:33:20 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121433.AA26753@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3300; Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:08 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:29:59 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 3 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 2, Issue 3 09/22/89 Cir 850 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ DAG Dafydd Editorial Sons of Gateway 1: Ne'on Jon "Grimjack" Evans Vibr. 17-Fir. 7, '13 Unwelcome Encounter Carlo Samson Melrin 5, 1013 Fortunes Max Khaytsus 1 Yule, 1013 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Dafydd's Amber Glow This will be very short. First, I will apologize to you loyal (and brand new) readers for the long wait between Issue 2 and Issue 3 of the second volume of DargonZine. The fault is purely mine, not our writers: my job has been rather hectic of late and I just couldn't find the time to put out an issue. Second, this is a second call and a confirmation for the DargonZine T-Shirts, which feature an artist's rendition of the Title figure of the 'Zine. All of those readers who ordered a shirt many moons ago, please get in contact with Rish again. Anyone wishing to order a shirt, please also contact Rish, who is the instigator and coordinator of this aspect of the Project. They cost $8 at last estimate, and final plans will be set two weeks after the date on this issue: if there aren't enough orders by then, he may have to scrap the idea as unfeasible at this time. Rish can be contacted at . Thank you, and good reading. Dafydd, Editor DargonZine (b.c.k.a. White@BUVM.bitnet) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sons of Gateway Part 1: Ne'on by Jon "Grimjack" Evans (b.c.k.a ) Kald hung his head low. He had been travelling for days in the cold of Baranur in Vibril. He didn't like the cold. He liked it even less when he discovered his trip was all for nothing. "Is there nothing you can do? This means more to him than anything else. If he can just have a chance . . ." "Kald, he failed." Marek's eyes were sympathetic. He knew how Kald felt. He had felt the same way when his son Jordan had failed. But Jordan had more than failed. Jordan was Drained. "There is nothing more I can do. He has great potential-" "Then let him try!" Kald's desperation worked loose of his morals. He placed both hands on the table and leaned forward. "You owe me . . ." The Leaf lowered his gaze. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but he should have known better. Kald always got his way. "Alright, but after this I can't help you again. IF you decide to take the offer I'm about to make." "Anything, I'll do it." Kald sensed he was rushing into this, but it was too important. His son was too important. "Hold on. Let me explain something first." Marek was very nervous; even thinking about the Draining made him flinch. "Chances are, your son will fail again. If that happens, his potential power will be drained from him. He will never work magic again. Not even the most simple magic skills will work for him. In addition, he'll be instructed by a higher mage, another Leaf most likely, and every thing he does will have to be perfect when he takes his Branch. Do you understand what that means?" "I do; and so does he." His voice trembled at the next thought. "Let him decide." Kald rose from his seat, his tired bones creaking loudly. As he strode out the door he turned, "Thank you, Marek." Ne'on couldn't believe it was happening. Sitting cross legged in the testing rooms, he contemplated the past two hours. He had arrived out of the cold Baranurian winter just in time to take the test. His father, eyes shining, was proud to have a son tested for apprenticeship. It was the first time he could ever remember his father being proud of him. "Ne'on, of Gateway Keep," the testing mage jarred him back to the present, "you have been accepted into the Nar-Enthruen, guild of apprentice mages. Congratulations, son of Kald." Ne'on was irritated by the way he was addressed. "Son of Kald," he muttered to himself. His mind filtered back to one of the myriad times in his life he wished he wasn't Kald's son. "Ne'on!" Kald's voice bellowed through the manor. His son did not join in the hunt today, and he wanted to know why. "Ne'on! Come here, you worthless sack of goat's meal!" Ne'on stumbled into the main hall of his father's home. Brushing back his long, snow-white hair and wiping the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, he stepped forward. "I am here, father," he gasped. Having run all the way from his study to the main hall in the short time Kald had been calling him was more exertion than he was accustomed to. Slightly light-headed with the effort, he wondered how he would withstand the daily oral barrage from his father. "You weren't at the hunt, today, boy. What were you doing? 1Studying?" Kald was seldom happy. He took no pleasure in being Keeper of Gateway - it was more politics than he considered necessary. The little pleasure he did get was from his weekly hunt; and today's excursion proved fruitless. Coming down hard on his sons had become second nature. 'Besides,' he thought, 'it's for their own good.' "Yes, father, I was studying." Ne'on's one pride was his familiarity with as many of the books in Gateway Keep as he could get his hands on. Cydrian had blessed him with more intelligence than his father, but an equally proportionate lack of strength. He had learned at an early age the power to be found in knowledge. "Knowledge is nothing without the strength to back your ideas!" Kald saw no use for education beyond learning to read and write. 'A sword can solve any problem' was his motto. "Strength you've been doing very little to build. When I was sixteen, I had the strength of your whole body in my right arm!" As if to prove this, he thrust his massive arm out in a fist, muscles bulging. "You've barely the strength to wield a blade, and hardly the skill to use it! Marcus says you haven't trained in days, let alone touch a quiver an-" Ne'on had had enough. "Bloodshed and barbarism are not my ways!! If you wish to kill like an animal, then do so. I prefer intelligence over strength!" Ne'on looked at himself in awe. Never before had he spoken out so blatantly against his father. Kald, however, was not quite so intrigued. "You prefer . . ." A low rumble, like an oncoming storm, was building inside Kald. "YOU prefer?! I don't care what YOU prefer!! YOU are not Keeper, here. And you shall not be. Goren is heir apparent at Gateway. YOU are to be First Warder. That means leading the men in any and all battle situations, as well as fortifying the Keep in times of war. Why should the men listen to you when they don't know they can trust you?! Why should they listen to you when they don't even know you? If it weren't for your ghost-like appearance, they wouldn't even recognize you at all!" Kald had had a long, tiring, and fruitless day. Obviously, this 'discussion' with his youngest son was proving just as rewarding. He gave up, and left his son standing alone in the large hall. 'Ghost-like,' thought Ne'on. His albino-pale skin did leave that impression, he supposed. 'The ghost of my mother, I'm told. If you had spent more time with her, and less time with this damn Keep, she might still be alive today. I wish she had died instead of you.' "Ne'on, would-be mage of the Guild!" Again, the Leaf's voice pulled him back from the past. "To be accepted into the Nar-Enthruen, you must succeed as apprentice to Qord, Leaf of the Guild. Is it your wish to do so?" "It is so." "Do you know what it means to fail the Nar-Enthruen?" The Leaf's voice was cold and foreboding. Ne'on knew he spoke about the Draining, the inevitable fate of all unfortunate apprentices. "I do." A hint of fear touched Ne'on's voice. "And do you still wish the knowledge?" A last chance to back out. Marek hoped the boy would take it. If Ne'on were to fail, Kald might become 'unreasonable', to say the least. 'More than anything', he thought. "I do!" All fear escaping in his final words, Ne'on stood firmly in his position, a great grin encompassing his face. "Welcome to the Guild, apprentice. Let's hope you survive the experience." A grim frown on his face, the mage shook Ne'on's hand and turned away. As his family congratulated him, he noticed a troubled look on his father's face. 'Why are you not proud, Father? Would that you 1could share my joy with me.' Ne'on began to feel sad for his father; but then, a voice spoke to him: "Do not trouble yourself with your father, Ne'on. He is jealous of the power you have which he can never attain! You should scorn him, for he begrudges you this moment." And Ne'on felt only bitterness toward Kald. "Ne'on," Qord's voice was soft with worry, "what do you think is the problem?" Qord was, of course, referring to Ne'on's past two months of study with the Leaf. Ne'on remembered these months well. Vibril, the month of his testing, had ended as well as its beginning. With the following Mertz, however, things had gotten much worse. He couldn't seem to concentrate correctly; and more than once he had started a fire while mixing potions, a potentially deadly mistake in the grass huts of the camp. His latest difficulty, last night's disaster involving a hog and a kitchen knife, turned out to be the worst yet. The hog was, supposedly, protected from the knife by Ne'on's spell. Instead, as Ne'on threw the knife near the hog, the hog dove straight into the knife's path, impaling itself in the head. Firil was not turning out to be a good month, starting with that catastrophe on the first. Qord thought it was a bad omen. "I do not know, Leaf Qord." The Guild mages of this section had a way of evaluating each other by tree parts. Ne'on was a Root, second lowest rank above apprentice. He had taken his "Grounding" - a test of the most simplistic skills - and passed easily. His Rooting, on the other hand, had not gone so well. He had burned more spell components for potions than any previous mage, and he might not pass his Bark at all! And failure there meant . . . "Do you know what . . . Draining is, Ne'on?" Qord's ancient visage trembled with the word. What was left of his hair shook in time with the chill running up his spine, and his eyes seemed almost to pop out. "Yes, O Leaf..." Ne'on tiredly replied. Qord had mentioned it time and time again since he fumbled his first potion. His familiarity with the word had lessened his fear of it a great deal. "No, young Root..." Qord's voice was cold and hard. He would teach this boy what the Draining was like. "You have only heard what it is . . . you do not know what it is. Let me show you. Close your eyes . . ." Ne'on closed his eyes. For a moment, he saw only blackness; then . . . He was in a large room, ornately decorated, with a large crystal on a pedestal. All around him, black-clad mages were chanting in a low, solemn voice. Up ahead, Qord lead him toward the crystal. "This is the Crystal of Strength, failed mage!" Qord's voice rang out strong and powerful in the hall. Ne'on was afraid. "Feel the Crystal, and know what it is to be Drained!!" The light of the hall grew dim as the Crystal began to glow a deep, dark purple. As Ne'on reached his hands toward the Crystal, a force pulled them closer. Instinctively, he tried to break away, but he couldn't! He was trapped! Slowly, his hands grew numb, and the Crystal began to pulse with the beat of his heart. "No.." Ne'on's voice was hoarse and stifled. The beating of his heart grew loud, and his arms were numb to his shoulders. Louder and louder, the Crystal and his heart pulsed faster and faster. He felt his head pounding - the numbness reached his chest, driving toward his heart. Desperately, he tried to pull away, each attempt useless. The noise beat louder, his pulse beat quicker - soon, it would have him! 1 "NO!!" he screamed, scrambling back against the wall. He was breathing very heavily and his heart was racing. The light of Qord's room filled his eyes as he recognized his teacher sitting across the room from him, frowning. "Your father was wrong, you were not ready for this. Damn Marek and his eternal debts! He should have known-" Qord caught himself in mid thought and hoped the boy was too frightened from the illusion to hear him. "What's that?" called Ne'on, half dazed from his experience, but still quick enough to understand. "What are you saying? My father got me in here? Not my ability?" Ne'on stared in disbelief. For the first time he could recall, his father had thought of Ne'on, and not himself. Ne'on did not hate his father, then; but, again, a voice spoke to him: "Ne'on, do not be proud of your father. Have you forgotten how he covets your talent? How he would destroy you and take your power for his own? He does not send you here for your benefit, but for his! He would consign you to this hell, rather than let you live your life in peace! But, do not be dismayed! You can overcome this obstacle and revenge yourself upon him yet! Him, and your bastard brother Goren who would rob you of your rightful fate!" And, as before, Ne'on was bitter. He hated his father, and silently swore to pass the upcoming tests, to become a powerful wizard, in order to bring about his revenge. "Your potential is great, Ne'on." Qord attempted to be soothing. He saw the hatred in Ne'on's face, the likes of which he hadn't seen in some great time. He attempted to sooth this part of Ne'on, turn it to good. "Imagine people are mountains, and magic is the wind," began Qord, his words all but bouncing off of Ne'on. He continued anyway, not knowing what else to do. "When the wind blows, it goes around the mountains. Now imagine a few mountains can let the wind pass through them, affecting it, and shaping it, as it goes through. Most of these mountains, we mages, can affect and shape magic only to a certain extent. You, however, can do more than most of us. You can shape and affect the magic to a greater extent - if only you would concentrate on what you are doing! Concentrate, Ne'on! You've got the ability! I'd hate to see it Drained..." With that, Qord stood up, brushed himself off, and retired for the evening. Ne'on was left to think alone once more. After a few minutes of bitter recollection, he left for his own room. In the morning, he would pack his horse and ride to Gateway. He promised Qord he would return, and he never went back on his word. The gentle Firil air fluttered over Ne'on, blowing his long, unkempt hair behind him. Sitting on his horse, Koros, he removed his cape so the guardsmen would recognize him. He nodded slightly as he entered, urged Koros into the main courtyard of the keep, and headed toward his father's home. In the dimming sunlight of the evening, he made out the sign to his second favorite dwelling, the River Snake's Den, where he sometimes attempted to outlast the tavern keeper's stock of ale. Sliding out of the saddle, he realized how much he wanted a flask, or two, before he met with his father. Besides, the class of people one met in the 'Den had more . . . "character" than those found in the Riverside Parlor. A class of people he would be needing in the future. Entering the main room, he signalled Mika and took his usual seat in the back of the room. After Mika delivered the ale, Luke "the acquirer" slid into the chair opposite him. Luke was one of those people Ne'on was hoping to meet here tonight; in fact, he was perfect for the job. He was looking a little less than wealthy at the moment; Ne'on decided to make the offer now. 1 "Must have been a slow winter," began Ne'on. He found insulting Luke's type of person was never profitable - intimidation was the key. Intimidation, and then an offer. "By the looks of it, you barely kept the meat on your bones. Didn't make it to Magnus, eh?" "And what of it?" Luke didn't particularly like the way the past winter had gone. He was a respectable thief; it wasn't his fault he got stuck in this rat hole for the season. If he had made it to Magnus, that would be different. Plenty of opportunities in Magnus, when you knew where to look for them, and he had connections. "What if I told you I had a permanent offer for you here? No need to go all the way to Magnus for funds..." Ne'on's voice shook a little - he tightened his grip on his mug and took a drink. He was hesitant. He knew an offer which sounded good and was eagerly offered would cost him a great deal. And yet, he wanted Luke, not a lesser mongrel. "An offer that paid well, and gave you status here at Gateway?" Luke looked around for a moment. 'Status', he thought. 'Status and money,' he thought greedily. When Ne'on said "paid well", he meant gold. "Whadda I haf ta do?" "Find me ten good swordsmen. Not common ruffians; not back-stabbing mongrels. I want men who know the blade." Ne'on didn't want to imagine the kind of men Luke would find if he hadn't added that last statement. Feigning curiosity, "Can you handle a sword?" "I can make do - killed more'n my share o' mugs." This was true. Before he had learned to steal quietly, he had killed more men than he had stolen from. "Whaddaya want wi' swordsmen? And how do I fit in th' picture? I mean, how do I benefit from it?" "These men must be loyal to their employer. They are to be my personal guard. Your part will be to lead them. I'll give you ten golds for each man you bring me. Their pay will be five golds a month. Yours will be ten a month. All I want you to do is enforce my will and guard me. Agreed?" Ne'on offered his hand a bit too quickly, and Luke knew he could get more. "I don't know...ten golds isn't very much for a personal body guard..." Luke was never one to settle for less, when he could get more. Ten gold coins a month would be comfortable living for him; but, if he could get more... "Ten, and not a copper more. There are a dozen others here I could have do this job for me." Ne'on was mildly annoyed, but he knew it was his own mistakes to which Luke was responding. "Yeah, well; maybe you could, and maybe you couldn'." Ne'on's point was well taken; unfortunately, Luke's downfall had always been his greed. "'Course, them what'll take ten don't know 'bout your previous business wi' me. Fifteen seems more 'propriate ta me . . ." "Fifteen!" Ne'on's eyes flared. Without realizing it, his hand glowed a hot red, blackening a small portion of the table. Instantly, subconsciously, Ne'on summoned the magic within him, fully intending to melt the maggot where he sat. And for a third time, the voice spoke to him: "No, Ne'on - hold your anger! Use him now. Kill him once his purpose is served!" As suddenly as he started, he stopped. This time with eyes sparkling, "I suppose my life is worth three times the amount a city guard makes. Fifteen it is, then! It's a deal." Extending his no-longer glowing hand, they sealed the deal. "Deal!" grabbed Luke, anxious for money and quite pleased with himself. "When do ya need these men?" he asked. "Four months," he said. "If I need more time, I'll let you know." Tossing a pouch of silver on the table, "Here's a downpayment. It should last you till then." He got up and left. As he walked out the door, he heard Luke call Mika for a tankard of ale. 1 Entering Winston Manor - the house of his father - he tossed his cloak to Horrace, the butler. "Send a meal and some wine up to my room," he barked. As an after thought, "And get a fire started; it's going to be cold tonight. Ignoring Horrace's humble reply, he walked through the main hall, making his way to his father's study. He knew his presence in Gateway had been reported. He would have to make a small show of affection toward his father, at least. Entering his father's chambers, he saw Kald at his desk, drinking his nightly flask of wine. 'A useful tool, that flask,' he noted with sudden inspiration. "Hello, father." As he crossed the room, Kald stood up to greet him. "Ne'on, my son! What brings you to Gateway?" Slapping his son on the shoulder, "Did you miss your old father? Come, sit by the fire. You look much older since I last saw you." Kald's eyes shone brightly, and Ne'on thought for a moment that he might not kill him after all. Then he remembered the Draining, and quickly dispelled his forgiveness. "I have recently discovered discipline in my life," was his response. Sitting down in front of the fire, he poured wine for the two of them, the red light of the fire flickering off the silver goblets. "Discipline . . . and purpose." He smiled. "Purpose, eh?" his father teased him, "what's her name? It's about time you became interested in a woman!" "It's not that, father." Seeing the disappointment in his father's eyes, "but it is something I think you'll like." Ne'on paused for a moment, letting a wry smile curl the corners of his mouth. "I want to have a keep of my own, some day. One very much like this one." "Well, tell me all about it! Perhaps I can help you!" Kald smiled, finally having something in common with his son. Ne'on laughed at the irony of it all. "Yes, father," he said. "Perhaps you can . . ." Ne'on strode toward his brother's chambers. He knew exactly how he would rid himself of both his brother and his father, and he determined to make it as painful as possible. The hallway echoed as a metal ring struck Goren's door. When Goren opened the door, he could hardly believe his eyes. "What are you doing here?" he snapped, as he returned to his seat. Taking a sip from his flask, he calmed himself. "You are supposed to be with your magical friends, not haunting this house. What's the matter, run out of stray cats to torture?" There was no love lost between the brothers. Goren had realized several years ago Ne'on's heart was filled with hatred and bitterness. He was surprised nothing had come of it, yet. "It is nice to see you, too, Goren," mocked Ne'on. "I see your wit has improved with your age." Ne'on had also come to a realization, several years ago. This was the fact Goren was everything their father loved, and everything Ne'on hated. Taller than the average man, Goren stood a full head over Ne'on. His shoulders were broader, and he rivalled even Kald in his skill with the bow. Goren also had the dark hair and eyes of their father. And, Goren was all that stood between himself and the keep. "Enough with the niceties, Ne'on. You are here for a reason. What is it?" Goren also had all the intelligence and tact of their father, as well as his stubborn attitude and hot-headed reactions. Ne'on knew this could only help him. "Why Goren!" Ne'on sarcastically feigned surprise. "What would ever possess you to think I was here for any other reason than to visit our poor, aging father?!" Ne'on took a seat next to his brother. 1"I wanted to sit and talk with him about my plans for the future. In fact, I just got back from telling him how I planned to have a keep of my own, some day." Ne'on paused for a moment, "just like this one!" "Wrong, Ne'on!" Goren flared with his realization. "You'll have to kill both father and me! Even you couldn't get away with that!" There was a moment of silence. Ne'on's visage became grim. "I don't think you understand," he spoke with a voice of ice. "I don't want you to die. I want you to live! Live to see me Keeper of Gateway, while you wallow away the days in misery knowing you could have prevented it." He drew a knife from within his robes. "Here, Goren," he offered, "take my blade. Kill me, and save our father." Goren reached for the knife, stopped, started again, and stopped again. Finally, the battle ended. "No, Ne'on." He turned away, not able to determine if he had made the right choice. "I couldn't do that, and you know it." With Goren's back to him, Ne'on took the flask from Goren's table. "Yes, brother," he sneered, hiding the flask in his robes, "I know it." "Then know this, Ne'on," warned Goren, softly, "I shall stop you from taking Gateway if I have to burn it down around you." Ne'on chuckled as he walked out of the room. "We shall see, brother. We shall see!" His laugh stayed in his brother's mind for a long time. Ne'on was about to cross a line Goren had seen drawn a long time ago. He would stop Ne'on, when the time came. Ne'on left early the next morning, riding toward the Nar-Enthruen. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Unwelcome Encounter by Carlo N. Samson Cydric Araesto stood at the rail of the trading ship _Vanguard Voyager_ and looked out over the deep green waters of the Laraka River. The mid-morning sun warmed his face, and a gentle breeze whispered through his short brown hair. For a while he watched a seagull wheel about in the clear spring sky; then a glint of something on the horizon caught his attention. Squinting and shading his eyes to get a better view, he made it out to be a small patch of shimmering haze. He stared at it for several minutes, then decided it must be a kind of mirage, similar to the illusions of water reported by desert travelers. "Cydric! There you are. Aren't you glad to be done with your chores? Brynna's been working me like a slave all morning! Pox, if I didn't know better I'd swear this was a prison ship. Sometimes I don't know why I ever became her cabin girl." The young man turned at the sound of the voice and smiled as Mandi Mercallion approached him, her mandolin slung across her back. A gust of wind disarrayed the curls of her tawny-auburn hair; with a look of annoyance, she smoothed her locks back into place. Her expression brightened as she came to stand next to Cydric. "I don't know if you should be speaking ill of the captain," he said, turning to face the girl. "Why not? She's only my cousin, and if she does anything to me I'll simply tell Uncle Quill. I'm his favorite niece, you know." "Not a very mature way to handle it, but effective." Mandi swatted him playfully. "Oh, you. Shall we get started? Where do you want to do it?" Cydric looked around the deck for a place where they would be out of the crew's way. He settled on a spot further up the starboard rail, near a stack of lashed-down crates. As they walked over to the space, Mandi asked him, "How's it going in the galley? Oddfoot didn't give you anything tiring to do this morning, did he?" "No, nothing besides the usual kitchen duty," Cydric replied. "Good," Mandi said. "I mean, if you're too tired to do it right now, we can always wait 'till we arrive home." "It's no problem. I've actually been looking forward to it all morning." They reached the place Cydric had selected. He took off his vest, while Mandi slipped the mandolin off her back. "Is there any particular position you want me in?" she asked. Cydric took out a charcoal stick and a piece of parchment from his vest. "Well, why don't you stand next to the rail, and hold the mandolin like this." Mandi moved to where he pointed, and copied the position of his arms. "This way?" "Yes, perfect. Now hold that pose." "What if I put my leg this way? Does that look better?" "That's fine. Okay, now--" "How's my hair? It hasn't gone flat, has it?" "Mandi!" "Sorry. I'll be still now," she said with a slight giggle. Cydric sat down on a crate. Using a piece of polished wood one of the crew had given him earlier as a writing surface, he began to sketch on the parchment. He outlined Mandi's figure, then quickly filled in the background. As looked out at the horizon, he noticed that the patch of distant haze had gotten somewhat larger. He didn't realize that he'd been staring at it until Mandi spoke. "What is it? Do you see something out there?" she asked, starting 1to turn. "No, nothing. Just glare, I suppose." Cydric returned to his sketching. He drew in Mandi's loose tunic and tight leggings, then worked on her face: a small, pert nose, softly blushed cheeks, an impish smile. Just then a tall, sandy-haired man swaggered up to them. "Hey, dovey, what're you doing?" "Oh pox, not you Danner," said Mandi, dropping her pose. "Why don't you leave us alone?" Ignoring Cydric, the brawny youth stepped up close to Mandi and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Leave you alone, dovey? Not me. All through my duty shift all I could think about was you. How about us going below and--" "Excuse me," Cydric said, putting down the sketch and rising. "We were in the middle of something here." Mandi shoved Danner's hand away. "That's right. Cydric was making a nice drawing of me. Now we'd like to get on with it, so please just let us be." "Oh, so he's an artist, is he?" Danner turned to face Cydric. "He hasn't been doing naked drawings of you, has he? I'd hate to think that's why I haven't seen you all week." "Of course not, you swine! And besides, if he was it wouldn't be any of your business." "Look, Danner, maybe you should go visit with someone else," said Cydric. "Go draw a seagull, sissy boy," Danner sneered. "And if I catch you with Mandi again, the only thing you'll be able to draw is breath. And barely that." Mandi interposed herself between the two young men. "Don't you threaten him! What makes you think I want to be with you, anyway?" Danner grinned. "What about that night back in Dargon? You wanted to be with me then. I couldn't get you off me until you fell asleep." "You lying mouthful of fleas! You just wish it were true. We all know how you can't get a girl--not even a queenie!" "You want me and you know it." To Cydric's surprise, Danner grabbed Mandi and roughly kissed her on the lips. "Pox!" sputtered Mandi, shoving him away. Cydric swiftly went over and took hold of Danner's shirt. "See here! Who do you think you are?" Danner looked down at Cydric and slowly grinned. "I think I'm about to split your skull." Just then Cydric remembered that Danner had once punched a hole in a keg of ale when the cork had become stuck. Releasing his hold, Cydric said, "I see the light's better on the other side of the ship, Mandi. Let's go over there, shall we?" Danner gripped Cydric by the tunic and hoisted him upward. "Ever see the birds up close, sissy boy?" Cydric tried to back away, but found that his feet no longer touched the deck. Smiling frantically, he said, "Perhaps we could settle this another way?" "How about with swords?" said a voice from near Danner's shoulder. Cydric looked over and saw with relief that it was Tyrus Kayne, First Mate of the _Voyager_, who had spoken. Pressing the point of his cutlass against Danner's side, Kayne said, "Let's be civilized about this, what say?" Danner started and let Cydric go. "We were just having a bit of fun, sir. Nothing wrong with that." "He was about to mash Cydric into pudding!" Mandi exclaimed. "Spend your offshift with your bunkmates, Danner," said Kayne. "Or you'll be swallowing the anchor cold." 1 "Aye, sir," Danner mumbled. He cast a hostile glance at Cydric, then walked away. "Now, what was all that foaming about?" Kayne asked. Mandi quickly explained Danner's intrusion. "He's at it again, is he?" Kayne said when Mandi had finished. "Acting like a snupper so the Captain'll let him out of his contract. Well, I'll have a speak with him; but meanwhile, I caution you both keep him upwind until we make port. Think you can stay out of a wrinkle for a couple of hours?" "Yes sir," Cydric said. "And--thanks." Kayne nodded. "Don't mention it. Wouldn't want a new crewman to end up as pudding." He sheathed his sword and headed astern. "Maybe we should do this another time," Cydric said when Kayne had gone. "Why? Danner won't bother us again. And even if he does, you'll be able to handle him." "I probably would have been killed if Kayne hadn't come by." "I don't think so. You were very brave, to stand up for me like that." "Well, why wouldn't I? If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be with the ship at all--getting seasick, sweating in a hot galley, being threatened by possessive sailors...." Mandi giggled and patted him on the cheek. "Yes, and I'm glad you enjoy it so!" Cydric grinned. "Now, where were we?" Mandi started to resume her pose when a long-haired crewman came up to them. "Hey-o, Cydric! Captain wants to see you--in her cabin," he said. "We're never going to get this done," sighed Mandi. "We can continue this later. I'm almost finished, anyway." Cydric carefully folded the parchment and tucked it into his pocket. He thanked the crewman, and headed for the lower deck hatchway. "Hey, I'm coming too!" Mandi said, hurrying to catch up with him. "What do you think she wants you for?" "I don't know." He looked back, but the crewman who delivered the message was engaged in a dicing game with several others. "Should I have asked?" "Better not, now," said Mandi. "They take their gaming extremely seriously." They reached the hatchway and descended the stairs to the mess room. A short, stocky man in his late fifties was wiping off the long wooden tables with a multi-colored cloth. He appeared oblivious to the pair's approach. "Hi, Oddfoot!" Mandi called. The old ship's cook made no reply. The girl walked up to him and tapped his shoulder; Oddfoot turned and smiled broadly. Mandi repeated her greeting, making a hand gesture at the same time. The cook nodded and wordlessly gestured in response. He turned to Cydric and made the same sign. "Hello Oddfoot," said Cydric, making the appropriate motions in reply. "Does the, ah, Captain want to see me?" He signed his question as he spoke. The cook frowned and signed to Mandi, who broke into a laugh. "That wasn't exactly a joke," said Cydric, puzzled. "You just asked him, 'Does a capstan wet seaweed?'" she explained. "I really must practice more," Cydric replied, slightly embarrassed. Mandi signed the correct question to the deaf cook. He nodded, and pointed to the other door out of the room. She thanked him and left with Cydric. 1 "Don't worry, he knows you're still learning the hand-speak," said Mandi as the walked down the hallway. "Couldn't the Captain just have hired a hearing person?" Mandi stopped and turned to him, hands on her hips. "I'm surprised at you, Cydric! Don't you know Oddfoot is considered the best ship's cook this side of the Valenfaer? We're lucky to have him! Anyway, what does hearing have to do with making great food?" Cydric scratched the back of his head and smiled apologetically. "I don't know what I'm talking about, do I?" "In two languages, yet!" Mandi said, shoving him playfully. They continued on. Three doors from the captain's cabin Mandi stopped. "Let's check on Scarabin," she suggested. They entered the room of Brynna's Master-at-Arms. "Hi, Scar! How're you feeling?" Mandi said to the lean, dark- skinned figure occupying the single bed. "Ah, Mandi. Cydric. Good that you stopped by," Scarabin said, his Desert accent nearly obscuring his words. He raised his head slightly, grimacing as he did so. "Now, Scar! Remember what Oddfoot said. You've got to rest. Razorworms don't die overnight, you know." Mandi gently pushed the Lashkirian back down. "How everything is, above?" he asked Cydric. "Just fine. Nothing exciting to report." "These worms in my gut, how they feed!" Scarabin muttered. "A bed is no place for a warrior. If pirates attack, the Captain will need me for battle." "Brynna wants you to get better," said Mandi. "Besides, it's not your fault. Danner's the one who put the worms in your stew." "A dog-skin rug, he is, when I have my health back!" "We hope you recover soon," said Cydric. "Relax now, and I'll bring your medicine later," said Mandi. Scarabin smiled faintly as the two left the room. They came to Brynna's cabin. Cydric knocked on the door, but received no answer. Mandi went in anyway, motioning for Cydric to follow. A large map hung on the left wall of the room; directly beneath stood a long desk and a chair. Opposite the door was a bed and on the right wall hung various objects. "I suppose she stepped out for a moment," Mandi said, turning up the lantern that was mounted next to the door. Cydric went over to the map and located the Laraka River, on the northwestern edge of the continent called Cherisk. He put his finger on the town of Shark's Cove, on the Laraka's outlet to the Valenfaer Ocean, and traced the river's path inland to Port Sevlyn, their current destination. He continued on past Gateway Keep, and stopped at the city of Magnus. He shook his head at the memory of his home there, and the events that had caused him to leave. Pushing the thoughts out of his head, he turned and examined the Captain's desk. A piece of dragon's horn scrimshaw weighted down a loose stack of papers; next to them was a large leatherbound book. Cydric tried to make out the gold-scripted title, but the words were in an unfamiliar language. "Look at this, Cydric," Mandi said, tapping him on the shoulder. He looked up to see a demon's face laughing at him through twisted, gaping jaws. "Yaah!" he said, nearly jumping out of his skin. Mandi removed the mask and giggled. "Scared you!" "Ah, no you didn't," Cydric replied, trying not to breath fast. "It's only a Melrin mask from Comarr. If we arrive early enough today we may be able to catch the festival dance." She went over and replaced the mask on the other wall. "Here's something that won't 1scare you," she said, taking down a large intricately carved wooden bow. "One of Brynna's most favorite things." "Should you be touching it, then?" Cydric said as he joined her. "She doesn't mind," Mandi replied, holding it out to him. Cydric took the bow and examined it. Lines of gold and silver traced complex patterns on the back and face. "Very nice workmanship--probably made for a prince or a king," he remarked. "Are you any good at archery?" "A little. I do better with swords." A voice from the doorway said, "That's quite all right. I'm not such a crack shot myself." Cydric and Mandi turned to see Captain Brynna Thorne enter the room. She tucked the last bite of a dried fig into her mouth and wiped her lips with a handkerchief. "You wanted to see us, Brynna?" Mandi asked as Cydric replaced the bow onto its peg. "I only asked for Cydric," she replied. "Haven't you anything else to keep you occupied?" "I won't be in your way. Really! Let me just stay." Brynna sighed and ran a hand through her slightly curled shoulder-length hair, black except for a streak of blue running down the left side, by her forehead. "Oh very well. Just don't start playing that mandolin, straight?" "Straight! I mean, right," Mandi said, laying the instrument on the bed and plopping herself beside it. Brynna sat down behind the desk and motioned for Cydric to come forward. "Pull up that stool over there and have a seat." When he had done so, she said, "We'll be docking before midday, so there won't be much more for you to do until then. I've been watching you all week, and have made my decision on whether to keep you on or not." Cydric thought back to the night in Shark's Cove when Brynna had signed him on. Noting his inexperience, she had accepted him on the condition that he could be discharged if she found his performance to be unsatisfactory. Mandi leaped up. "Yes? Well? What?" she asked excitedly. Brynna gave her a quiet-down look, then said to Cydric, "You've done tolerably well, for a landling. I think you could make it as a shipman, if that was your bent. So I'm going to let you decide your fate--I'd be glad to have you, but you may have changed your mind." Before Cydric could reply, Mandi danced over to him and put her arms around his shoulders. "Stay on with us, please! If you do it'll be most fun--Brynna's planning a voyage AROUND THE WORLD! Isn't that the most exciting thing you're ever heard in your life?" The Captain made a sound of irritation and twisted the blue streak in her hair. "Gods' breath, girl, I can't tell you anything!" "Oh!" Mandi exclaimed, putting her hand over her mouth. "Forget I said that, Cydric. It's not supposed to be known just now. Pretend you never heard it. Sorry, Bryn." "It's Captain, when we're on the ship," answered Brynna. "Sit down and be quiet, all right?" Mandi went back to the bed. "Anyway, Cydric, did you have an answer for me?" The young man paused before replying. He had been considering leaving the ship and finding other employment, but Mandi's revelation now changed his mind--a voyage around the world was exactly the kind of adventure he had been yearning for ever since he abandoned his royal heritage. He decided not to ask Brynna for details about the trip; she would no doubt tell him were he to become a regular member of the crew. "Yes," he finally said. "I've been thinking about it for some time. I want to stay." 1 "Oh goodie!" Mandi said, springing up once again and hugging Cydric. "I was hoping you would." "Very well," said Brynna, a faint smile on her lips. "Now all that remains is the standard articles of agreement--" Just then a crewman burst into the room. "Captain! Beggin' your pardon, but you'd better come on deck quick! There's somethin' you have to see." "What is it?" Brynna asked, rising from her chair. "I don't know, rightly, but master Kayne says it's real strange." Brynna, Cydric, and Mandi followed the crewman up onto the deck. "Captain! Over here," Kayne called from the starboard rail. The three made their way over to him. "What's the trouble, Kayne?" Brynna asked. "See for yourself, Captain," he replied, motioning outward. Cydric looked to where the first mate pointed. At first he saw nothing, then became aware of a large rippling air mass drifting over the surface of the water about two leagues distant. He surmised that it was the same shimmering haze he had noticed earlier. "What do you make of it?" queried Brynna. "Fog or sea-mist it isn't," the first mate replied. "But stiffed if I can say what it is. I was watching a flock of barjee birds when they just went blurry for a second. Thought I was losing my sight, but then the lookout spotted the same thing." Brynna frowned. "Peculiar. Mandi, fetch the spyglass please." The young girl hurried off, and returned a few minutes later with the requested item. Brynna studied the strange transparent rippling through the ocular for a few moments, then shook her head. "You fathom what it is, Captain? " asked Kayne. "I'm not sure. But whatever it's birth, it appears to be moving towards us." "Moving towards us?" echoed the first mate. Brynna handed him the spyglass. "Do you think it's dangerous?" Mandi asked. "Perhaps not, but I don't want to go petting the sharks," said Brynna. She strode back to the quarterdeck and ordered the helmsman to steer well clear of the shimmering mass. Cydric felt the ship lurch slightly as it came about onto its new heading. Moments later, Kayne shouted, "I think it's still with us, Captain! Looks like it's getting larger, too." Brynna dashed to the rail. The rippling entity had apparently altered it's direction to match the ship's; it was now on a direct collision course. "Damn peculiar," said Brynna. She ordered another course change, but the shimmering mass still stayed with them. "Still think it might not be dangerous?" asked Kayne. Brynna bit her lip. "Sorcerous, more likely," she murmured. She took Kayne aside and spoke to him in a low voice. Cydric tried to listen but was unable to hear what they said. A moment later, Kayne's eyebrows shot up and a look of understanding came over his face. "You fathom that's what it is?" he said aloud. "I hope I'm wrong," Brynna replied. "But we have to be ready in case I'm not. Alert the crew, then--battle readiness. Prepare the scorpion for firing." "Aye, Captain." Kayne left to carry out the orders. Cydric looked over at Mandi, who had been staring at the mass and apparently missed the exchange. He started to tell her about it when she turned and said, "You know what it looks like, Cydric? Heat waves. What if it's just a ball of heat coming towards us?" "Ball of heat, indeed," said Brynna, approaching them. "Mandi, I want you to go below and secure the cabin, then stay there. Straight?" 1 "Me?" Mandi said, eyes wide. "But Brynna--" The klaxon bell sounded, followed by Kayne's call to action stations. "You'll just be in the way up here. Cydric, take her down, would you? Go now, please." She abruptly turned on her heel and left to oversee the preparations. The deck came alive with crewmen hustling back and forth, preparing to defend the ship against its possible danger. "She must think I'm a child or something," Mandi said indignantly as they headed for the entrance to the lower deck. "She's just concerned about your safety," Cydric replied. "We don't even know what's out there, and she's acting if it was a fleet of pirates or something! It could be just a trick of the eye, you know. I've heard stories about people being lost at sea for months who've thought they saw the All Creator riding a horse backwards while eating a chunk of smoked meat." "I doubt that's what it is. In any case, you'd be safest down below." Mandi stopped and put her hands on her hips. "And what about you? You've been at sea barely a week. You ought to be down there as well." "Cydric! Come with me!" Kayne called as he dashed past. "Hellblaze, Mandi--just go, please? For my sake, if nothing else?" Cydric gently squeezed her arm. "But--oh, since you asked nice, I'll go." She started toward the lower deck hatchway, then stopped and turned. "But only until it gets exciting." Cydric waited until she had disappeared below, then hurried to join Kayne. The first mate was waiting for him at the scorpion. The large crossbowlike weapon was swivel-mounted amidships, a little forward of the main cargo hatch. "Finally getting a little action, eh Cydric?" Kayne said. "Yes, sir," the young man replied. "But shouldn't we try to understand what's out there first?" "The Captain's got a notion, and if she's right we'll all be hard up in a clinch." "Oh. Sorry sir, I didn't mean to be questioning orders." "Ah, I won't tell. But, it's better to be safe than flotsam, right? Righto. Well, let me show you how this old girl works." He turned to the three men manning the scorpion. "Line to bow, forty-five up, and hold." Two of them turned separate cranks that aligned the weapon with the bowsprit, and tilted the barrel upward. The third took a large, heavy spear from a nearby long box, dipped the head into a pot of tar, then loaded the projectile into the groove along the top of the barrel of the scorpion. "When I give the signal, all you have to do is set the spear head on fire. Then we pull back the bowstring and let her fly! And pray that it hits, of course." "I understand, sir," Cydric said. "Good. Now take these." Kayne handed him an unlit torch and a piece of flint & steel. "Be ready when the Captain gives the word." "Aye, sir," acknowledged Cydric. Kayne clapped him on the shoulder and proceed astern to join Brynna. The two crank operators started chatting amongst themselves. "So, what do you think it is?" Cydric asked the spear loader. The large bearded man shrugged and began chanting a prayer against evil. "Ah, I see. You could be very well be right," Cydric said as the man lifted his arms to the sky and begged for deliverance. Edging away, Cydric looked out again at the mysterious rippling mass. As he watched, it appeared to lose speed slightly, but continued moving 1toward the ship. A frantic shout jolted him out of his thoughts. "The wind's dying, Captain!" The crewman who had made the observation gestured up at the rigging. Cydric saw that the sails, previously full and billowing, were now flapping idly. He realized that the ship was slowing in its forward motion. The crew began muttering in consternation. The spear loader stopped his frantic praying just long enough to advise Cydric to light his torch. "Hard a-port, while we've still got headway!" called Brynna. "All hands clear for action. Stinger crew stand ready." The ship began turning in a slow arc, and soon came to drift with its port side facing the shimmering mass. Cydric got the torch lit just as Kayne returned to the scorpion. "What do you make the target distance, Flix?" the First Mate asked. "Hard to say, sir," replied the spear loader. "It's like looking for a black cat in the dark. I'd say about a league, though." "Fine," Kayne said. He took a sighting on the nearly invisible mass using an astrolabe-like device. "Okay, lads-- thirty-five marks port, down five, and hold." As the men brought the weapon to bear on the mass, Kayne turned in Brynna's direction and called, "Stinger clear and steady, Captain! Just give the word." "Very well, Kayne. Steady on." Brynna raised the spyglass to her eye. Cydric shifted the torch from hand to hand as he watched the mass of rippling waves draw closer to the ship. As it drifted nearer, the area of distortion it caused became larger and easier to see. The sky behind it appeared to writhe and undulate like a heap of restless snakes. "Close enough, I think," said Brynna, snapping the spyglass away from her face. "Fire when ready, Kayne!" The First Mate quickly took another sighting. "Port plus three, up two, and pull," he said. The men made the corrections and cranked back the bowstring. "Light up!" Cydric set the spear head afire. "And let her fly!" The spear shot away into the sky. Cydric watched as the projectile gracefully sailed through the air, curved off into the distance and shattered in a burst of flame against the shimmering mass. The crew's cheers became shouts of dismay. "Cirrangill's blood!" exclaimed Kayne. A dark patch appeared at the center of the shimmering. From it emerged a bright green globe which darted with amazing speed straight toward the _Vanguard Voyager_. Cydric quickly predicted the impact point and flung himself away from the scorpion a second before the globe struck the weapon and caused it to explode amid a shower of green flames. Bits of wood and metal rained down on the deck. Cydric lay flat on his stomach, sheltering his head from the shrapnel. When no more fell, he looked up and saw Mandi crouching before him. "Cydric! Are you all right? Did you get any splinters in you?" "What are you doing up here?" hissed Cydric, glancing quickly around. Most of the crew were still covering their faces against the blast. "The Captain will have my head if she sees you!" "Is anyone hurt?" Brynna called, brushing debris from her hair. Flix the spear loader and one of the crank operators reported injuries. She instructed them to report to Oddfoot for treatment. 1 "Better go," Cydric said. Mandi nodded and started back. She was halfway to the hatch when Brynna caught sight of her. "I thought I told you to stay below, Amanda!" the Captain said, striding toward the girl. "I heard the noise--just wanted to see what it was," Mandi hastily explained. Brynna gestured for her to be silent. "Cydric, take Mandi down again. And this time stay with her!" "Right, Captain," Cydric said. He took Mandi by the hand and led her to the lower deck hatchway. As they started to descend the stairs, Cydric looked once more at the rippling mass, now less that half a league from the ship. Suddenly the shimmering became translucent, then opaque, and finally resolved itself into the shape of a large black ship--a war galleon. Brynna smacked her palm. "I knew it! Damn him." "A ship!" gasped Mandi. "I never would've guessed. That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life!" The men of the _Vanguard Voyager_ babbled in amazement and fear as the galleon drew closer. Cydric saw the name "Black Swan" on the prow, and that the figurehead was the namesake bird. Long oars on either side of the ship propelled it silently through the water. "You were right, Captain," said Kayne. "It's him, by Cirrangill." Mandi tugged at Cydric's sleeve. "We'd better hide before Brynna sends us below." She pointed to some barrels near the hatchway. Cydric nodded and they both crouched down behind the casks. Peering over the barrel tops, they watched as the black ship slowly pulled up alongside the _Voyager_. On the deck of the _Black Swan_ were assembled the crew, all armed with steel. By the rail stood four men: one balding and bearded; the next, large and wearing a rusty breastplate; the third, a grey-haired gentleman wearing long black robes and holding a large crescent-shaped crystal object; the last, somewhat younger that the third man and dressed in green robes. As the _Swan_ drew alongside the _Voyager_, the black-robed man put a hand to his forehead and collapsed to the deck. Several crewman rushed to his aid and took him below. The green-garbed man smiled and retrieved the dropped crystal object, tucking it into the folds of his robe. "All hands, prepare to repel boarders!" commanded Brynna. "Ho there, Captain Thorne!" the armor-clad man called out in a deep, resonating voice. "What kind of a greeting is that, hey? What makes you think I wish violence upon you?" "Ho yourself, Commander Challion," Brynna answered, striding to the rail. "I suspected you were behind this. And why the freezing hell did you fire on my ship?" "Indeed, you fired upon me first. But I only wished to disable your weapon. I hope no one was hurt." "As if you actually cared. Now tell me straight, Challion-- what gives you the right to stop a peaceful vessel in Baranurian waters? Is piracy your profession now?"" "As you no doubt saw, Captain, I have regained the Cavarnon Shield; I was merely testing its effectiveness. And judging from your early reaction, I think it would be better used under cover of darkness." "You haven't answered my question. Is this a raid? If not, I'd very much like to get under way. Tell your mage--the conscious one, that is--to give us the wind back." Challion leaned over the rail. "I have one other objective, and I think you know what I mean." Brynna shrugged. "Do elaborate." 1 "The Codex Araltakonia, Captain Thorne. I wish to purchase it from you." Cydric turned to Mandi. "The what?" he whispered. "That book you were looking at in the cabin," she replied in hushed tones. "The one on her desk--it's supposed to be as old as the Mystics!" "Sorry. I don't have what you're looking for," Brynna replied, folding her arms. "No lies, no games, Captain! I know you acquired it back in Dargon. But I'm prepared to offer twice what you paid for it." "In truth, Commander, I never thought our paths would cross again--the dragon whale seemed rather attached to you, as I recall." "I got the better of the creature, in the end," Challion answered. Hitching his trousers up around his ample waist, he said, "Well, three times your purchase price, then. You'll be making quite a profit." "The knowledge in the Codex is beyond price. In any case, what do you want with it? You're by no means a scholar--neither are your mages." Challion rubbed his fleshy face and exhaled loudly. "My final offer--quadruple the amount you paid to acquire it! A fine trader such as yourself cannot fail to recognize a wonderful bargain such as this." "True, but I also recognize barjee squat when I hear it. And I've heard enough," said Brynna. "Spear detail, forward!" Several crewmen went over to the remains of the scorpion and picked up spears from the storage box. After dipping the points into the tar pot, they lined up alongside Brynna at the rail. Kayne lit up a torch and stood behind them. "It always comes to violence, hey Skoranji?" Challion said to the balding man. To Brynna he said, "Very well. If you do not wish to sell the book, then I am afraid I will just have to take it." "You and what battle fleet? Your men won't set foot upon this ship," Brynna shot back. The balding man spoke. "Truly now, m' dear? Be you willin' to test your pups 'gainst me bloodseekers?" "Would you be willing to bet on it, Captain Skoranji?" Brynna asked, smirking. The _Voyager_ crew laughed. Even from his vantage point Cydric could see Skoranji turn red. "Please, please, let's not bring my friend's fondness for gambling into this," said Challion. "I appeal to your reason, Captain Thorne. Give the Codex over peacefully, and we'll part on friendly terms." Brynna shook her head. "You raffenraker, do you seriously think you intimidate me?" Challion motioned to the green-robed man, who lifted his arms and spoke a short phrase. An intense green glow limned his hands, then a ball of light the same color formed and shot toward the _Vanguard Voyager_. It came to hover over Kayne, then sped downward to strike him full in the chest and knock him backwards. It then ringed his neck, and slowly the First Mate rose into the air. "Certainly not, Captain. I know better than to threaten you. But a threat to your friend is another matter," Challion said, smiling. "True men do not hide behind magic," Brynna returned coldly, gripping the rail so hard her knuckles turned white. "Let him down, Commander Challion. Now." "We are going to board your ship. If you or any of your men resists, mister Kayne will no longer have the use of his head." "First let him down, damn you. Then I'll give you the Codex." "The book first, in exchange for his life. That is your only 1option." Brynna chewed on her lower lip, then finally agreed. "I think we deserve a little more for our trouble. We'll also be taking whatever cargo you have." Behind the barrels, Mandi wrinkled her nose. "Don't sneeze!" whispered Cydric. "I..I.." Mandi closed her eyes and clamped her hand over her mouth. "Choo!" Brynna's head jerked at the sound, but she did not turn. "Now, tell your men to lay down their weapons and move as far astern as possible. It will only take a few moments for us to maneuver into boarding position," said Challion. Brynna glanced up at Kayne. The First Mate twisted slowly in the air, struggling feebly to remove the ring of magic from his neck. Sighing heavily, she ordered the crew to obey Challion's instructions. "Who is this Commander person, anyway?" Cydric whispered to Mandi. "He looks like an old, fat knight to me. And if Skoranji is the captain, why is Challion giving the orders?" "They're not high up on the list of Brynna's favorite people," Mandi replied. "Back in--" She looked up as someone sat down on the barrels. "It's the Captain," said Cydric, recognizing the silver-blue of her tunic. Mandi tapped Brynna's slim posterior. The Captain put her hands behind her back and made signs with her fingers. "She's going too fast," said Cydric as he tried to follow the gestures. " 'Cydric, shoot the mage,' " Mandi translated. " 'Use my bow and arrows. Tap twice, understand.' " "She wants me to shoot their sorcerer?" Cydric said, astonished. "I said I wasn't much good at archery. There's a good chance I might miss. What if--" Mandi tapped twice. "He understands, all right." Brynna continued signing. " 'Wait for my word,' " said Mandi. " 'Stand up to fire. Get bow now. Be ready.' " "What if I miss?" said Cydric, gripping Mandi's arm. "He'll kill Kayne! I don't know if I can do this." "You won't miss," Mandi reassured him. She tapped Brynna twice; the Captain rose and strode away. "I'll go and get everything," Mandi said. "Stay here and watch out." She quietly edged backwards toward the hatchway and carefully made her way down to the lower deck. Cydric peeped out over the barrels again. The _Black Swan_ had dropped behind the _Vanguard Voyager_ a little, and was now angling in closer. Brynna went over and tried to grab Kayne out of the air, but the mage raised his arms higher, and the First Mate floated up just beyond her reach. "Kayne will be returned to you, after we have what we came for," Challion boomed out. Mandi silently returned with the bow and a quiver of arrows. "Here. Now get ready when Brynna says." Cydric nocked an arrow and sighted on the mage. "I'm not sure if I can hit him at this range. Maybe a little closer. How far do you think she'll let them come?" Mandi did not reply. Cydric relaxed the bowstring and looked around--the girl was nowhere to be seen. "Hellblaze!" he muttered. The _Black Swan_ shipped her oars and drifted on a parallel course with the _Voyager_. "One more thing, Challion," Brynna said. 1"You have to agree to just take the cargo and leave my ship as it is. I've heard of how Skoranji's men like to torch the wrecks they scavenge." "Your position is highly unsuitable for bargaining," Challion replied, "but I will respect that. Let it not be said that I, Commander Artemus Challion, was ever ungracious to a lady." "As if a lady would ever have you!" a young voice chimed in. Cydric groaned inwardly. Mandi stood by the bowsprit, waving her arms. "Yes, you who looks like a pregnant toad. Why don't you just go home!" "Who is that?" Challion asked sharply. "My--former--cabin girl," Brynna said through clenched teeth. "Look, milord Scullion, we told you we don't want you on this ship. So make like the wind and blow!" Mandi said, making an obscene gesture. "We're all fish food," Cydric sighed. Brynna walked to the foredeck, giving Cydric a clear line of fire. "Amanda Lynn, please come over here. Now." "Now?" echoed Mandi. "NOW?" "Yes. Now!" Cydric drew back on the bowstring and prepared to stand. Just then Mandi screamed. Looking up, he saw Danner standing behind her, holding her arms back. "Hey, let me go, you pox-ridden gutter rat!" Mandi shouted, struggling. "Commander Challion! I want to make a bargain. Let me join your crew, and you can have this girl," Danner called to the other ship. "What do you think you're doing, Danner? Release her this instant," demanded Brynna. "It appears, Captain Thorne, that one of your crew is dissatisfied with his lot," Challion said. "Perhaps your reputation for running a fair ship is a trifle exaggerated?" "Let Mandi go, Danner. Immediately." Brynna ordered. "Why the freezing hell are you doing this?" "Sorry, Captain. I've told you I want out of my contract. I see this as my chance." "Ho, son! Wait until we board. Then we will talk about this, hey?" Challion turned to Skoranji. "Whenever you are ready, Captain." "Ayah, Commander," said Skoranji. He turned to his crew. "Right then, me bloodseekers! Prepare to grapple!" Cydric tensed, torn between waiting for Brynna's command to fire on the mage, and trying to save Mandi by firing on Danner instead. "Don't try to stop them, Captain Thorne," Danner warned. "Or I'll have to get a little rough with Mandi here." "Toss lines!" called Skoranji. A moment later, three rope- attached grappling hooks sailed across and anchored themselves around the _Voyager's_ rail. "You're a god-cursed disgrace, Danner," Brynna said. "I ought to shoot you right now. Do you hear me?" She spun around and shouted in Cydric's direction, "SHOOT YOU RIGHT NOW!" Gulping a quick breath of air, Cydric leaped up, drew a bead on the _Black Swan's_ magic-maker, and let the arrow fly. It sped through the air in a flash of silver, and smacked deep into the sorcerer's left eye. The man screamed, clutched at his face with both hands, staggered forward, and pitched over the rail into the river. Kayne fell to the deck as the green ring vanished from around his neck. "Battle positions!" shouted Brynna. The _Voyager_ crew surged forward, scooping up their weapons and whooping in defiance. Mandi slammed her heel hard against Danner's shin. He grunted in 1pain and loosened his grip, allowing the girl to wrench free. "Codless traitor!" she said, ramming her knee into his groin. Danner yelped and pushed her away. Cydric ran over to check on Kayne. Challion cursed as Brynna severed the grappling lines. "Are you all right, sir?" Cydric asked, helping Kayne to sit up. "Never did like wizards," the First Mate replied, rubbing his throat. Danner staggered to the rail. "Little slut!" he spat. He reached into his boot and pulled out a stiletto. Mandi's eyes widened; she turned and ran. Brynna instructed two crewmen to take Kayne below, then ordered the spear detail forward again. She retrieved the torch and re-lit it. Challion ordered the _Swan's_ oars back into the water, then directed Skoranji to prepare the ballista for a counterattack. Cydric was about to report to Brynna when Mandi came rushing over and hugged him tightly. "Thank the gods you're safe!" Cydric said, holding her close. "How'd you get away from him?" Mandi looked up. "Well, let's just say, he wasn't codless after all." Brynna handed the torch to the first spearman, who lit up his weapon and passed the flame to the next man. After the torch made it down the line and all the spears had been lit, Brynna gave the order to let fly. Several of the burning spears struck the side of the _Black Swan_. A few of them landed on the deck, and one managed to hit a sail. The fire spread quickly, forcing Challion to abandon his plans for a retaliatory strike in favor of saving his ship from the flames. Cydric and Mandi watched the action from the rail. As Skoranji dashed madly about the deck of the _Swan_ calling out orders, a breeze rippled across Cydric's cheek. At the same time the helmsman cried, "We've got the wind back, Captain!" Cydric looked up and saw the ship's sails billowing proudly once more. "Get us under way immediately!" called Brynna. As the _Vanguard Voyager_ slowly pulled away from the enkindled _Black Swan_, Cydric could see Commander Challion standing motionless at the rail, flames licking at his back. Suddenly he shouted out across the widening gap between the ships. "I will not forget this, Brynna Thorne! I cannot be defeated so easily--revenge will be mine, in the end!" Brynna came over and took the bow and arrows from Cydric. "Wrong, Challion. It ends now!" she said. She nocked an arrow and fired. It struck the Commander square in the chest, penetrating his breastplate. Challion gasped and fell back into the fire. Soon the _Vanguard Voyager_ had left the doomed _Black Swan_ behind and was sailing clear on the river. "Excellent work, everyone!" Brynna said to the crew, assembled on deck. "When we dock, there'll be a bonus in your pay. Right now, though, I think a double ration of spice ale is in order. You've all earned it!" The men cheered her, and began filing below into the mess room. "I've never had to serve the whole crew at once," Cydric said to Mandi as they joined the line. "You won't have to," Brynna said, coming over to them. "You helped save the ship. Mandi will fill in for you." "Me?" Mandi said, a look of incredulity on her face. "That's right. You almost ruined everything with your antics." "I was just trying to help," Mandi protested. "Commander Challion 1might have figured out what you were planning. I was just helping distract him. And before you say it, I had no idea Danner was there. Oh, and besides, wasn't I the one who got your message about having Cydric shoot the wizard?" "You were supposed to be in your cabin," Brynna reminded her. "I'm afraid that was my fault," Cydric admitted. Brynna sighed. "Well, since everything turned out in our favor anyway, I suppose I can overlook these things. But next time, I expect _all_ my orders to be followed. Straight?" Cydric and Mandi exchanged glances. "Straight!" they said in unison. (to be continued) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Fortunes by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a khaytsus%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) Taishent walked quickly through the market place, prodling his young granddaughter along. "Come along, come on. I'll be late because of you." The girl ran after him, looking right and left, distracted by the multitude of vendors and people rushing about. "Aimee! Would you please move faster!" She ran to catch up to her grandfather and trailed him to an enclosed booth a half block away. A young woman met them at the door and asked them to sit down, while she announced their arrival. Taishent lowered himself in a chair, while Aimee lingered by the door, looking at people pass by. "Why is it you act like you've never been to the market?" the mage complained. "Each time I bring you here, it's the same story." The girl sat down in a chair by the door, restlessly kicking her feet, a short distance off the floor. "Dyann!" Corambis appeared at the door through which the young woman disappeared. "I was wondering if you were going to come." Taishent rose to his feet and greeted the sage. "Aimee made me late again," he complained. "I can't wait for her father to return!" "Again," Corambis smiled. "Did you enjoy the holidays?" he asked, bending down next to the girl. The girl nodded shyly and looked down at her dangling feet. "Would you like Thuna to show you around the market?" Corambis asked. Aimee nodded, still looking at her feet. "Good, good. Thuna!" he called for his assistant, getting back to his feet. The young woman entered and stopped by Corambis. "Take Aimee to the market for a few hours. Taishent and I have some business to see to..." Thuna nodded in agreement. "...and if she pick's up any more of your bad habits..." he warned in half voice. How I fear what an influence Thuna might be on Aimee," Corambis told Taishent when his assistant left with her charge. "She's such a quiet girl." "She's only quiet in public," Taishent said. "At home she's only an angel when asleep in a locked room." The two men laughed for a moment, then Corambis suggested they get to business and they entered his office. "I'm very sorry that Roisart Connall died. You've been predicting a holiday disaster for a while now," Taishent mentioned. "You know, the Connall twins stopped here for advice just a few days ago, right before the murder," Corambis said with some irony in his voice. "I read it on the Wheel and considered our last casting and warned them lightly and dismissed it all as soon as they left. I thought Fionn Connall's death was it." "I hope Luthias recovers," Taishent sighed. "The two were almost inseperable. I've never seen a place love its nobility as much." "Quite a tragedy," Corambis agreed, preparing ten wooden discs for a new casting. "Have you heard that someone killed Terell?" "Bah! Heard it and didn't feel a bit of remorse," Taishent snapped. "The only thing we had in common with him were two years in the same school. I never did like his style. I'd bet he got killed after striking a bad deal." "Don't be so negative. I'm sure some people out there consider us to be eccentric." Taishent grunted in disbelief. "Let's do the casting." "Let's," Corambis agreed. 1 After a short ceremony, the ten wooden discs were dropped on the Wheel of Life. Most of them landed on the symbols of Fox, Torch and Mistweaver. Corambis shook his head. "If the last one was bad..." The discs of Heart, Spirit and Body lay in the center, together with the red disc representing Dargon. "In the Mistweaver's grasp..." The ally lay in the clutches of the Fox and the adversary in the flames of the Torch. "Too symbolic," Taishent said. "Trouble. Trouble," Corambis verified. "Our allies won't be our allies for long and adversaries may crush us. It's very uncommon to have most land on so few symbols." "What's the bottom line?" "Do your casting first," Corambis said. The two men moved to a small makeshift table and sat down. Taishent produced a deck of cards, placed a Fate card on the table, then shuffling the deck, placed an unknown card on it. He reshuffled the deck and lay out a pattern around the two cards. Both he and Corambis bent down to scrutinize the pattern. "Look here," Taishent pointed. "Good present, tense future." Knight, Wizard and Sorrow decorated the top row. Beneath them lay Tranquility, Eagle, Water and a hidden card. "The past doesn't tell much," Taishent ignored the bottom three cards. The card covering fate was turned over to reveal the ugly face of the Jester. "Incredible," Corambis said. "I'll skip the dramatics," Taishent hurried. "I predict a conflict in Dargon sometime soon." Corambis stood up and walked over to the Wheel of Life, contemplating the challenge. "I say an external conflict, but in due time." Taishent came back to the larger table, to look at the pattern again. "I see no resolution." "The Wheel hardly ever shows the means to an end. Your casting wasn't conclusive either." Taishent recast the future row, using the method for far future. Fire, Air, Griffin. "Nothing," he said. "Conflict." Silence ruled the room for some time, while the men considered the fortunes they had cast. "You know," Corambis finally broke the silence, "we've been doing this after every equinox for for more time than I wish to account for and to what results?" "We've been right most of the time." "I hope we're wrong now," Corambis sighed. "I couldn't wish a fortune like this on anyone." "I feel guilty for making predictions like this too," Taishent said. "Let's get some air," Corambis said, sweeping all the wooden discs with his arm to the side of the table. Taishent reshuffled the cards. "May Dargon get through this with its skin intact..." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright September, 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.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank