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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:35:05 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26832 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:34:57 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121434.AA26832@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3306; Tue, 12 May 92 10:31:04 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:53 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 3 -=========================================================+|) 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 3, Issue 3 02/16/90 Cir 964 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Materia Medica I Max Khaytsus Ye. 3 - Yi 19, 1013 Sons of Gateway III: Death Jon Evans Yi. 7 - No. 2, 1013 When the War-God Weeps M. Wendy Hennequin 26 Deber, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Materia Medica Part 1 by Max Khaytsus Liriss looked out the window at the people rushing about the street. It was late afternoon and the traffic of midday shoppers and travellers filled Dargon's streets as always. He sipped at the wine from the glass in his hand, wondering how to deal with the problems that surround his life. Rebellious workers were becoming the norm, rather than exception and he worried greatly about how to get order reinstated in his ranks. Ever since Kera left without being brought back, it seemed that discipline had become lax and the activities of the men centered more and more around pleasure, instead of work. Liriss turned around at the sound of the door opening. "Kendall," he hurried to greet the man walking in. Kendall nodded in acknowledgement and pulling up a chair sat down, knowing full well that Liriss would consider it rude. "What do you want?" Kendall was quite right in his assumption and Liriss stood in the middle of the room, staring at him for a long moment, before returning to the window. He took another sip from the glass, wondering just how much he should try the assassin's patience, then sat down at his desk. "Do you remember Kera?" Liriss asked. "Quite well. She was popular among your men for a time." That time, a little over a year before, Kendall did another job for Liriss, one that forced Liriss to swear that he would never hire this man again, but as circumstances would have it, the town guard forgot the incident and the need for reliability once again exceeded cautious instincts. "A little under two months ago she joined forces with a man who has caused me much grief," Liriss said. "I'd like to arrange a termination." "My fee hasn't changed," Kendall hinted. Liriss pulled a pouch from a desk drawer and tossed it to Kendall. "Take a look at the coins. Kera stole these from the man before joining him." Kendall drew the strings on the pouch open and poured the coins into his hand. "Very old. Expensive. He could certainly buy her." "At least two centuries old," Liriss said, ignoring the remark. Kendall was a professional assassin and as such he could often get away with comments that would cost a mere worker a good flogging. Of course even Liriss believed that there was a limit of what a man in his employ, no matter how temporary, could get away with and this temporary hire was approaching it fast. "Kera stole fifty-seven from that fellow," Liriss continued. "I am sure these five will more than cover your fee..." "They are sufficient," Kendall answered, returning the coins to the pouch. "Give me a description of the man." Liriss nodded. "I got one from the survivor of a party of four I sent after them." His gaze became hard. Tilden was a reliable man, but a bad job forced him to snap. He hardly deserved the punishment, but failure should be discouraged in a business such as this. "The guy is about six foot, blond with grey eyes. Somewhat muscular." "That's all you know? Where?" Liriss honestly didn't know. "They were headed out of town, towards Tench, but that was almost two months ago." Kendall stood up. "I'll let you know." Liriss stood up as well. "Kill him, bring Kera back alive," he gave his final instruction and Kendall stopped. 1 "No. I am not a chaperon. Once the money is down, they're both dead." "Whatever," Liriss slumped back in his chair as the assassin left. It wasn't really that important to get Kera back alive, but for the sake of self indulgence, Liriss wanted to kill her himself. Maybe kill her, maybe not. There might still be a use for her... "...Maari's death does not trouble me," the old warlock Natay was saying. "I don't know anyone whom she could call a friend and I doubt she knew anyone well. What I see as a problem is that strangers may know our secrets." An old woman on his right whispered in his ear and he nodded. "My judgement," Natay continued, "is that the book must be located and returned and those who took it, killed." He stood up, casting one last glance around the table, challenging the members of the coven to comment, then, when the room remained silent long enough to assure that there would be no descent, disappeared through a doorway at the back of the room. Other members of the coven started getting up, quietly talking among themselves and leaving. "Mija, Alicia," the old woman, Tsazia, called. The two young witches approached. "I will instruct you on executing your job. Be prepared to go tomorrow morning." Mija and Alicia waited for the room to empty, then sat down at the table again. "So much for that job Maari had for us," Mija said. "My heart wasn't set on it anyhow," Alicia answered. "I could never stand the way she looked at me. Come tomorrow we'll be hunting people for her." "That's stupid," Mija said. "We're going to be killing people not for killing Maari and not for stealing, but because we suspect they may know something, which is down right stupid! Most people can't even read!" "Maari always wrote in Old Script," Alicia added. "I doubt too many people can read that. Maybe a few mages and scholars... Maybe we won't have to kill..." "We'll have to kill," Mija reassured her. "You know how it works." The two fell silent as Tsazia returned and placed a sack on the table. "What are you sitting around for?" she asked. "I told you we're leaving in the morning. Go get ready!" "Didn't I tell you not to come here?" Taishent demanded of Rien. "You did," Rien admitted, "but that does not lessen my necessity of speaking with you." Taishent stepped outside and closed the door behind him. "I don't want my granddaughter exposed to either your disease or the people looking for your friend. Go or I'll call the town guard." "Sir, I don't think that anything you or the town guard will do to me can be worse than what I've been through this past month." "Why are you so stubborn?" the old wizard shook his head. "What is it you want?" Rien looked about and although the street was almost deserted, said, "You might want to step inside for that." Taishent shook his head. "I don't think so." "Very well," Rien produced a thick black leather covered book and handed it over. The mage looked at the cover, then opened it to the first page. The book instantly snapped shut. "Where did you get this? Do you know what it is?" Rien nodded. "A shadow book," he said, not changing his tone. Taishent looked about. "Step inside for a minute." 1 Rien calmly followed the old man into the house. "Where did you get it?" "That old woman you sent me to find. She wasn't very friendly," Rien said. "So you killed her?" "No. Someone who had a much older conflict with her did that." "Do you know what this is worth?" "I can imagine," Rien said. "A cure most definately." "So you came back to me?" "I came to you," Rien said, "because it's written in Old Script, something my education did not provide. I want to trade the contents for a translation." Taishent thought for a while. "All right, it's worth the risks. Leave the book here, come back in a week." With a slight hesitation, Rien thanked the mage and left. It was somewhat of a risk to leave the book behind, but it was no more of a risk that he took with Terell and at this point promptness was of great importance. As he walked down the street, a small dark shape jumped off the roof and followed him in silent flight. "Rumor has it Liriss brought in an out of town sword for you and your friend," Ellis whispered to Kera. "He's been nosing around the market place, asking questions. Lot's of people are willing to sell you, if only they knew where you are. Most have no more to go on than a bad description." "I was hoping to learn more," Kera said. "Who is he? Where does he stay?" "Sorry," Ellis responded. "He asks a lot of questions, but keeps a low profile. I don't think anyone has really seen him. Each time it's a different person that asks." "What else's new in Dargon?" Ellis shrugged. "The Duke got married to some girl from Magnus just a few days ago. Luthias Connall was made Baron...have you heard about the war?" Kera shook her head. "There are rumors of a Bichuese invasion by the end of the year. Everyone's ready to panic. Everyone except Simon, that is. He said they'd be crazy to come this far. There's plenty of good pickings elsewhere." "An invasion..." Kera repeated. "Don't worry about it," Ellis hurried to say. "I don't think anyone's coming before winter." "Like there aren't enough problems as it is," Kera sighed. She glanced around to make sure no one was too close. "I don't know where I'll be in the mean time, but keep your ears open, huh? I'll try to stop by again soon." "No problem," Ellis answered. "There's plenty of talk on the streets." "Great," Kera smiled. "I really appreciate what you're doing. See ya." She turned away from the cart and quickly disappeared in the crowd. As a city of over ten thousand souls, Dargon had plenty of crowds to assist people in need with escaping the unwanted attention of others. As the crowd thined out towards the edge of the market place, Kera took a side street off Traders' Avenue and made her way down back alleys to the docks. She spied a crowd gathering as a large ship made its way into port and stopped to watch. The ship swung around wildly in the heavy current at the mouth of the Coldwell and to the cheers of the sailors on shore, neared the dock. In the moment of anticipation of watching the ship dock, Kera was 1startled by a hand landing on her shoulder and throwing her to the ground at the mouth of the alley. The hood of her cloak fell back, completely revealing her face. Above her stood a muscular sailor, smiling, holding up a belaying pin. "Don't reach for anything," he said, noticing the dagger in her belt. "Keep those arms spread out." He reached down to grab hold of the dagger and brought it up with a jerk, without releasing it from the belt. The blade cut completely through the belt and the sailor's smile became vicious. "So what would you be good for? Or should I just turn you over to someone?" The dagger went flying across the alley and Kera pushed herself back, a little closer to the wall. She still had a second dagger at her side, currently hidden by the folds of the cloak. "I think you've got the wrong person," Kera said, knowing full well this man knew she was bluffing. Even in Dargon accusations like this would not happen so casually. "No, I'm pretty sure it's you they're looking for, bitch. You think the town guard or Liriss would pay more for you?" the sailor continued asking. "Suppose someone offers more than either of them?" Rien's voice sounded from behind the sailor. Kera was grabbed by the waist band of her pants and remainder of the belt and shoved up against the wall. "I don't think you could afford it," the sailor eyed Rien. Rien flashed a few gold coins. "How much would it take to make you forget you ever saw her?" The grip on Kera increased as the sailor eyed the coins. She quickly pulled the second dagger from beneath the cloak and planted it squarely in his side. With a scream the sailor brought his staff around to strike at Kera, only to have it blocked by Rien's arm. With a twist of the staff, the sailor's arm was forced back down. Kera, in the meantime, pushed the dagger forward, cutting almost a quarter circle on the sailor's body, before pulling it out. Another strike at his arm convinced the man to let go of her as he sank to the ground. "How much do you think you're worth to the town guard?" Rien knelt before the sailor. "That's what I thought," he said, watching the man's face contort in pain. "Here," he tossed a coin. "Give this to the healer if you manage to make it to one." Rien got up and pushing Kera ahead of himself, hurried down the alley. "We're not splitting up in this town again." As they ran down the alley, a small black creature jumped down on the dying sailor and picked up the gold coin. The seaman stared in horror at the grotesque little man with wings standing before him, then fell to the ground, gasping from the loss of blood. "What do you think?" Kera spun about, showing off her new belt to Rien. "We're in more trouble than a few coins could take care of." "Relax! No one saw us!" "It's not that we may have been seen. We have a bigger problem. This town looks to have a bounty out on you." Both fell silent as they approached the store clerk to pay for the belt. The man eyed Kera suspiciously while making change, but said nothing. "I found out Liriss brought in an out of town assassin to kill me," Kera said as they left the counter. "He's been asking around about me. Bad strategy, I'd say." 1 "Is it?" Rien asked. "Looks like the whole town is on the lookout for you. If he is being paid to make sure the job is done, the best thing for him to do is spread the news, then lean back and wait for a return of the information on where you are." "There isn't anything we can do then," Kera said. "Sooner or later someone is going to recognize me again." "We have to keep you hidden," Rien agreed. "Perhaps there is also a way to lure the assassin out into the open..." "Pardon me," Taishent pushed his way between Thuna and an apparently potential costumer into Corambis' market place booth. "Hey! Wait your turn, geeb!" the girl shouted after him, but the door slammed shut before the girl could follow. "Old geezer...!" she started on a lengthy string of explicatives, making the customer retreat to the street. "You'll never believe what I have!" Taishent said to Corambis breathlessly inside the small casting room. "What?" Corambis stood up, surprised at the intrusion. "You didn't pick up another orb from that crazy old gypsy, did you?" "No, no! Look!" Taishent unwrapped a large cloth bundle, pulling out a thick leather tome. Corambis picked up the volume and carefully opened it to the first page. "Esch ed aur. Er ols, er kalt," he read. "Where did you get this?" His stern gaze focused on Taishent. "That young man who was bit by the wolfling I found brought it to me. Do you realize what we could learn?" Corambis thought for a moment, mumbling "the risk...the risk..." then, putting the book on the table, went to the door. "Thuna, make sure no one disturbs us. I'm closing shop for the day." "If we keep this up, I might as well wear a sack over my head," Kera complained to Rien. "Why don't we just go to the city guard and tell them there's an assassin after me?" "Announcing this to the guard would only disclose your location," Rien said. "If this assassin is as good as you said, he is waiting for us to seek outside help as well." Kera sighed, staring at the plate of food before her. "I'm not really hungry. Let's go do something." "Like what?" Rien asked. "You're not planning to spend a whole week at this inn, are you?" "Is there something else we need to do?" "I've done things more exiting than eat wrapped in a cloak." "Don't think I'm comfortable," Rien said. "And I haven't heard any better ideas. "We can go look for the assassin," Kera suggested. Rien shook his head. "That would only call more attention to us and alert him." "I don't want to spend another evening watching you stare out the window," Kera protested. "I was meditating," Rien explained. "The assassin is waiting for someone to announce that you have been caught. I could do it, but I expect he is looking for me as well." "Then why don't we go upstairs, relax, have some fun and forget about all this?" Kera asked. Rien smiled, but caught himself. "I already told you; not when someone is hunting us." Kera smiled too, remembering the episode in the forest. "We're in an inn that has locks on the doors," she laughed. "No," Rien said sternly. "I am not willing to take a risk like that." He turned to face the common room door and froze looking at a 1man who was looking at him. "Oh, not now..." The man, dressed in chain armor and carrying a sword at his side, started towards the table and Kera pulled out her dagger. "Put that away," Rien said as the man approached. The warrior was young, clean shaven and noticeably both excited and in a hurry. "My Lord," he saluted Rien and handed him a parchment. "The seal is broken," Rien noted, unrolling the paper and staring at the man sternly. "I am sorry, my Lord," the man answered. "It was to be delivered to you before the first of Melrin, but because I was unable to find you, I was forced to read it to see how urgent it was." Rien did not respond. He read the message, then returned it to the messenger. "Can you find someone else to take care of this? There is no indication of urgency." "I was told to deliver this to you specifically, sir." "You indicated you were willing to deliver this to someone else if you ran out of time," Rien said. "Take it to Sharks' Cove -- the trip should take about a month." "Are you sure, my Lord?" the courier asked. "Positive," Rien nodded. "I came here on vacation and haven't had much rest yet. I shall forward a message as soon as I am ready to resume my duties." The courier bowed and hastily departed. "You want to tell me what's going on?" Kera asked. "Not really," Rien said and Kera frowned. "My work caught up to me in an inopportune time." "What do you do?" Kera asked. "Even a lord makes a living somehow." Rien sighed, beginning to tell a story which would not reveal much. In the rafters above him the little black man with wings bent forward to hear better and somewhere across town three witches watched a pair of water filled cups displaying the common room of the inn. "See the cheek bones?" Tsazia asked. "The straight forehead? He is elven." "He looks normal to me," Alicia said. "I don't see the difference." "Neither do I," Mija said. "I think he looks as human as anyone." The old witch shook her head in disappointment at her students' blindness. "It may be a good idea to take him alive so you can examine him closely. You watch. I'll begin the preparations." Back at the inn Kera looked at Rien with a confused expression on her face. "You're a mercenary? Bounty hunter?" "Not really," Rien said after some thought. "I don't have the authority to transport criminals. I have to deal with them through other means." "Like what?" "Kill them, give them something new to worry about so they keep out of the way. Even set them up to be arrested. Any means to keep the peace." Kera still looked confused. "But that's what the town guard is for. Why would someone do something like that? Most people are just happy with their money and take care of problems when they affect them. I can't imagine anyone paying for something like this." "As you can see," Rien answered, "someone does invest money into it. To be more precise, my employer found it would cost him less in the long run to invest money in troubleshooters and practice preventative measures rather than wait for the problems to mature." "Who do you work for?" Kera asked. "I can't tell you, but you can easily eliminate all the people 1who would not be able to afford my services." Kera was, again, dissatisfied with the answer. "If you're done playing with your food," Rein prompted her, "I'm more than ready to go." Alicia tapped one of the cups to disturb the image of Rien and Kera walking upstairs in the inn. "Go find the two old mages," she instructed. The view in the two cups dropped down and concentrated on a partially open shutter high above the bar. The window quickly neared and bright blue sky and white clouds rapidly came into view. "Let's get the book back tonight," Mija said. "We can kill the mages and have only the elf left to worry about. I want to see just how different these creatures are." "What about the girl?" Alicia asked. "I don't know. Kill her, experiment on her. Whatever Tsazia says." "You know," Alicia said after some time of watching the running image in the cups, "I never killed anyone. I've watched it done, but I've never done it..." Mija looked away from the image in the water as well. "I did only once. Just don't think about it. Treat it like sacrificing an animal. As a matter of fact, it's just a sacrifice without a ceremony..." "I have problems sacrificing animals too. They all look so cute." "But you've done it." "I didn't like it." Mija thought for a moment. "If you start on a job and whoever you are going to kill knows you will kill them, they will retaliate and only one side will survive. Does that make it easier?" Alicia nodded, although deep down inside it still felt wrong. In the two cups an enclosed booth in the market place became an obvious destination as it rapidly grew in dimensions. The dark creature swooped over the wooden shingled roof and catching itself on the edge tried forcing itself inside through a narrow crack between the roof and the wall. "Bah! How do you expect to finish this in a week?" Corambis looked at Taishent. The old mage looked up from the book. "If we work quickly and..." "Fifty years and your handwriting hasn't gotten any better!" Corambis grumbled. "Do you want to read mine or Maari's?" Taishent asked. "Yours," Corambis answered after shuffling some notes before him. "I've been working on reading it for too many years to give up now." The two men returned to work in silence as their uninvited guest made his way along a fold in the cloth that protected the booth from rain and settled comfortably by the main beam. Another few minutes of silence and Corambis spoke "What's `laht'?" "I think it's seaweed," Taishent said. "Indeed," Corambis acknowledged. "Seaweed soup?" "What?" Taishent looked up. "You tell me. You copied it. Two quarts water, pinch of garlic, four carrots, laht, two live mice, pinch of ginsing..." Taishent madly flipped a few pages back as Corambis went on, "...birch bark, poplar leaves..." "Sorry," Corambis interrupted him. "Four carrots, half pound of potatoes, beet juice...that must be the soup." He turned the page. "Then here it talks about flying potions. Water parsnip, sweet root, cinquefoil, laht, two live mice, pinch of ginsing, poplar leaves and 1250 drams of cannabis Indica. Boil for half an hour and drink immediately." Corambis frowned. "The mice too?" "Doesn't say," Taishent answered. "This sounds pretty bad, you know." "It's bound to make one crawl before flying," Corambis noted. "If Thuna gets out of hand again, I may have her try it." Silence fell in the room again. The two men continued to work and their uninvited guest to watch. The view of his eyes still appeared in the two cups of water as the witches studied their targets. "They're learning far too much," Mija said. "Let's go dispatch them now." "No," Alicia stopped him. "Not in broad daylight in the middle of the market. It will keep." Secretly she hoped it would keep much longer. Kera lay horizontally across the bed, staring at Rien as he undressed. "You sure you won't change your mind?" she asked. "Positive," he answered, laying his tunic and pants across a chair. "Don't you have any will power?" "Sure," she said. "I can go all night long." Rien sat down on the bed. "That's fine. I intend to rest. I suggest you do the same." Kera got up and started removing her clothing. "Are you sure?" she asked again. "Positive," Rien repeated himself. "What's gotten into you, anyway?" "What if there is nothing in that book to help us? Maari said there was no cure..." "Then we'll have to work on an alternative. A little quicker and more to the point." "What about whoever you work for?" Kera asked. "Aren't you supposed to be a good investment?" "We don't have the time to reach Magnus," Rien said. "We never did. Besides, in Magnus solving this problem would be a lot easier due to the sheer number of doctors and sages." "But shouldn't your employer at least know?" "He is aware that I can die at any time because of the dangers involved in my job. My profession is filled with risks." With a sigh Kera finished undressing and got into bed. "At least you're warm," she said, blowing out the candle. Rien picked up a pillow and muffled his companion. "I don't want to hear it," his voice sounded in the dark. It was a little past midnight when the two young witches made their way to the market place. They observed a dim light from the cracks in Corambis' booth, indicating that work was still going on. "I was worried we'd be too late," Mija said. "Let's hurry and get this over with." He produced a pearl from a leather pouch on his belt. "This is one expensive spell. I hope it works." He started walking down the street, when Alicia grabbed his arm and pulled him into the bushes. "Wha...?" Mija begun to say as her hand clamped over his mouth. She pointed in the direction of the booth, not twenty yards away. Before it now stood a half dozen armored men. Lieutenant Kalen Darklen looked at the shimmering light dancing on the ground through a crack in the wall. "This is strange," he commented to the guard next to him. "Come along. You four wait here." Kalen and his men started their shift a short while before, and as usual, having taken the road from the main gate up Traders' Avenue, 1they were planning to check out the market place and proceed down to the docks. For the last few days, due to unrest in the local crime organization and an outpouring of bloody, sometimes viciously killed corpses, the patrols were raised from three or four people to a minimum of six. Kalen and his assistant made their way to the entrance of the booth and knocked. After a second, louder knock, the door was opened by Corambis. "Yes?" he looked at the Lieutenant of the Guard. "I regret to say, sir, I am unable to make a casting for you at this hour, but if you come back during the day..." A smile spread on Kalen's face. "I was checking to make sure everything was all right, sir," he explained. "It's very late." "Well, yes, yes," Corambis said. "We," he gestured to someone inside, "we're working late. Everything is just fine," and began closing the door. "May I offer you an escort home?" Kalen asked, stopping Corambis from shutting the door completely. "I'd prefer not to have people to worry about this close to the docks at night." "Dyann," Corambis called inside, "this young man wants me to close up the shop for the night." There was a shuffling of papers before the response. "Let's call it a night. I was beginning to fall asleep anyway." "I'll leave two men to escort you home," Kalen said. "I am sorry for the intrusion." Off in the bushes Mija released an aggravated growl. "Damn them!" "Be glad we came late," Alicia whispered. "We could have been caught." As Mija got up to return to their inn, she let out a sigh of relief -- there would be no blood spilled tonight. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sons of Gateway Part 3: Death by Jon "Grimjack" Evans (b.c.k.a. v047kfz7@ubvms) The summer sun shone brightly on the clearing in the woods. The four huts of the Nar-Enthruen, Qord's, Ne'on's, Jordan's, and the horses' stable, radiated the green of summer grass. Qord smiled. He always enjoyed the sight of new-weaved roofs in the summer. "Jordan's been keeping up with the chores," he said. "So I see," said Ne'on, frowning while he shaded his eyes from the sun. "I suppose it's time we returned to ours." Much happened in the following months. Ne'on's power and skill grew as the voice held more and more sway over him. It grew to the point where Ne'on almost could not distinguish his own thoughts from those of, he believed, his darker side. In Yuli, "Ne'on" decided poison was the best way to kill Kald. He chose oberum for its quick, yet painful, results. Also, he found it amusing to employ a drug of the same name as the month he intended to use it. Come Sy, Ne'on was tested for his "Branch". This time, it was an illusory battle between Qord and himself. The battle raged for an hour and Ne'on glimpsed several moments when he could have triumphed. However, these opportunities lacked a certain something Ne'on was looking for, a certain . . . malice. Finally, Ne'on found his victory. Qord conjured a halberd and flew it toward Ne'on to put him off guard for Qord's next attack. Instead , Ne'on increased the halberd's speed until it was just upon him. At the last instant, Ne'on teleported the polearm from directly in front of himself to directly behind Qord, striking him brutally in the spine. Qord collapsed into unconsciousness. By mid-Seber, the south-western winds began to blow, and the forest floor was covered with leaves, acorns, and twigs. Ne'on had collected the oberum, but he was unsure of its exact effects, or the time required for it to work. He decided to test it. Not on Qord, he rationalized, for Qord still had much to teach him. It would have to be Jordan, and it would have to look natural. It was, and it did. Late one night, Ne'on snuck into Jordan's room and "fed" him the root. For a few moments, Jordan experienced great pain, then shuddered and died. Ne'on thanked the gods Jordan was mute from his Draining, for no normal human could help but scream from the pain Jordan had evidently experienced, then "cleaned up" Jordan's quarters for Qord to discover the next morning. It is truly a crime, the way people can die of natural causes in the prime of their life... At sunrise, on the twentieth day of Ober, in the one thousand thirteenth Year of Baranur, two men awoke at exactly the same time. One was an ambitious young student of the arts arcane with visions of power and conquest; the other was a master of those same arts, having studied under the single most powerful mage since the Fretheod Empire. One of them was deeply troubled. He had just had a dream; a very disturbing dream. An old friend had been ferociously murdered by a being of pure evil. If this dream was another vision . . . His countenance changed from one of distress to one of strict concentration. He must remember the dream. Hurling the heavy blankets aside, he stepped out of the bed and 1onto the warm, carpeted floor. Sitting with his legs folded under him, he tried, once more, to recall the dream. Images flickered and flashed across his mind's eye: scenes of grass huts, fire, and death. "Qord," he murmured. "My crystal ball." Ne'on awoke quickly, feeling none of the morning drowsiness which usually accompanied the cold winter's dawn. Of course, the first snow had yet to fall, but it wouldn't be long before Lady Winter solved that problem. He looked about his meager hut and re-checked, mentally, everything which was packed. Today he would leave for Gateway. Gnawing on a slab of day-old bread, he pulled his robes about him and stepped out to the well for some water. After quenching his thirst, he filled the nearest bucket with the ice cold water and entered Qord's hut. 'Nothing like a cold wash to wake you up in the morning,' he thought, and dumped the contents of the bucket all over his slumbering instructor. "AAAHHHHH!!" Qord's scream echoed through the trees as the old mage leapt to his feet, eyes bulging, soaked to the gills. "Hppht! Wha- What in Rise'er's Feast was that for, boy? Do you realize it's winter? Hellfire! I could catch my death of cold! Fetch me a dry blanket before I freeze!" "No." Qord's eyes bulged even farther out of his head, if that was possible. With a thought and a gesture, Ne'on silenced the disbelief of the old mage. Surprized by the audacity of his pupil, Qord attempted to dispell the bond of silence only to find himself further bound by rings of force emanating from Ne'on's hands. "Master," Ne'on sneered, "I come seeking the answer to a question. If one wizard defeats another in mystical battle, the first is obviously more powerful than the second, yes?" Ne'on's face was a mask of bitterness and contempt. He had learned all Qord could teach him and more, and now it was time to be rid of the eccentric fool. At the moment, Qord could not speak, but he was not sure if it was from Ne'on's spell or his own fright. Before him stood Ne'on, more powerful, more evil, than Qord had ever dreamed, hell-bent on causing some nastiness to Qord's being. In answer to Ne'on's question, he nodded: yes. "So I supposed. Which means," continued Ne'on, his chest beginning to swell with power lust, "after I slaughter you, I'll have passed my Leaf!" Ne'on grinned. Red flames licked the edges of Ne'on's hands as he reached for Qord. "You're going to be much more fun than Jordan. Much more." The image faded with his disbelief. He slouched; his lips grew taught and his eyes closed tight. A lone tear wet the cheek of Marcellon Equiville. The hard ground crunched under Koros' hooves as he bore Ne'on home. The farmlands about the keep were stark and barren, pale grey with frosted flora. The first snow had yet to fall, but the cool, crisp air bit harshly with the wind at the river's edge. Where the Laraka turned west from its northward flow, joined by its tributary from the mountains to the east, stood Gateway, the stone manor of the Winstons. For the second time in only half a year, Ne'on entered the house of his father. This time, he would not be leaving so soon. "Welcome home, Lord Winston," one of the guards greeted Ne'on as he entered the first gate. "I'll take your horse from here, if you like." "No, I do not like!" Ne'on's reply caught the sentry off guard, and now he stood there, unsure of what to do next. "No one touches 1this horse besides me. Do you understand? No one." "I- I-I-I-I'm sorry, milord," stammered the shaking guard. "I- I didn't mean-" "Enough! Stop your quibbling, you over grown river weasel." The guard fell silent and lowered his head, fearful of his lord's anger; he had spent the last several months working hard trying to get off the night shift, and he wasn't looking forward to returning to it. A thought danced across Ne'on's mind. This time, he spoke gentler, more aloof. "Actually, there is one thing you could do for me." The guard raised his head, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. "Yes, milord. Anything! I-" "Do you know where Luke McLeod is stationed, at the moment?" "Sergeant McLeod? Yes, milord! He-" Again he was cut off by Ne'on. "Tell him to gather his men and join me in my study. I'll expect him before dinner." Ne'on spurred Koros on to the inner keep as the guard raced off with his assignment. His grey stone room was almost as large as his father's; but, with much less trappings, it looked more expansive. A desk, bed, closet, and a large bookcase on the west wall was all he needed. The rest of the room was bare, and easily accommodated the twelve men when they arrived. Luke stood in front, the other eleven behind him. Ne'on walked about the men, inspecting them while he thought. It was time to be rid of Luke. Bartholemew was ready to take his place, and he served only Ne'on. He had his guard; soon, he would have his title. Ne'on stood face to face with Luke, the men at Luke's back. "Turn about and look at the men, Luke." As he did so, Ne'on quietly drew his knife from its sheath. Speaking to the group, "take a good look at Luke, men. Do you desire his position?" Ne'on's hand raised the blade behind Luke's back, ready to strike. "Now, watch." Ne'on's hand fell, the setting sun glinting red off steel. Luke fell in a pool of red, struck just above the neckline of his chain armor. Ne'on shut his eyes and summoned the power within him. A black cloud emitted from his mouth and nostrils and settled over the corpse. As it absorbed the blood and flesh and bone of what used to be Luke, it turned from black, to maroon, to a deep red. Ne'on raised his arms and the cloud came to him, settling on him, and seeping into his skin. Then, it was gone. "Obey me," spoke Ne'on, his green eyes glinting with malice, "and you'll not share his fate." "My lord!" The page's cry rang through the empty stone corridor, easily reaching Goren as he stepped out of his room. Sprinting forward, Thomas reached his lord before Goren finished turning the key in the lock. "Lord Goren, Lord Keeper says to hurry or you'll be hunting for your dinner." Goren answered the boy's statement with a look of surprise. "My apologies, my lord. Such was I instructed to tell you." Goren smiled and looked down at the boy. Thomas was Marcus Ridgewater's son in every respect. Only thirteen, he knew enough to treat his elders with respect without fearing to speak on his own accord. Nor did he count on his father's influence to lighten his duties; he worked as hard, if not harder, than the rest of the young servants in the keep. Soon, he would begin training as a guardsman in hopes of one day assuming the responsibilities of Castellan, like his father before him. "Hunt for my own dinner? I hunted for THIS one. Inform my father my arrival shall be swift. I have only just discovered where the flask he gave me for my fourteenth birthday was hiding all these months, and 1I intend to drink from it this evening." With a quick "Yes, milord.", Thomas was off and running. Down the hall and to the right, through the iron reinforced doors, into the main hall, and narrowly missing Sylvia, the serving woman. He informed Kald of Goren's reply, but was not himself dismissed. Tonight, Lord Keeper Winston had a surprise for him. "Thomas, my boy," Kald began, his huge grin forcing its way out from behind his thick black beard, "I want you to sit down and eat with us, tonight. Your father and I have been talking, and we're not entirely satisfied with the quality of the work you've been doing. We think you might be slacking off, a bit - maybe relying on your father's position to help you through the ranks?" Thomas looked up at the Keeper of Gateway in utter disbelief. "Oh, no, my lord! I would never- I didn't- what do you mean?" This time it was Marcus, Thomas' father, who spoke to Thomas from his seat at the hall table. "We mean, Thomas, you haven't been accepting enough responsibility around here. Personally, I thought you should be sent to one of the farms in the area to work for a few months. That would teach you discipline and build a few muscles on those arms of yours, as well! However, my Lord Winston has other ideas." "Aye! I've always believed fighting was the best way to build strength, and there's nothing like a few years in the town guard to build discipline! Seeing as you're fourteen, now, I can recommend you for a position in the guard. Starting tomorrow, you'll be eating, sleeping, and training with your sword." Thomas had been very excited when he heard he would begin his training. Then it occurred to him he wasn't fourteen, and his tone changed from one of excitement to one of disappointment. He lowered his eyes. "But my lord, - father - I'm only thirteen!" A heavy sigh escaped his chest as he lowered his head. "I can't believe..." "Only thirteen!" Kald's voice raged through the hall. "Marcus! You said he was fourteen! No one - absolutely no one! - begins training as a guard before their fourteenth birthday! Now what are we going to do?!" Kald's smile began to show through his mock anger; he quickly pulled his flask to his mouth to hide his amusement. After he regained his composure, he looked squarely at the boy. "Ah, the trouble you put me in. Gateway is going to need more officers in its town guard, and I can't wait another year. Unfortunately, there's no other boys good enough to begin training, now. What do you think, Marcus? Shall we make an exception?" Thomas' eyes pleaded with his father, but Marcus played his part better than Kald. "I don't know, Kald... I couldn't be responsible for the boy, at his age... on the other hand, Gateway does need him... well, alright! Just don't come yelling to me when he arrests his own captain!" Thomas let out a shriek of joy as the two men laughed. Calling Sylvia to them, they had a place set for Thomas at Marcus' side. Marcus sat two seats to the right of Kald, and Goren arrived to sit between the two. Ne'on sat at Kald's left, lost in his own thoughts. As Goren performed the ritual to Osiniana, Thomas looked from his father, to Goren, to Kald, and settled his gaze on Ne'on. There was something different about Ne'on; but, whether it was his longer white hair or his wisened green eyes, Thomas could not tell. His father called for a toast, then, and everyone reached for their flasks. Goren sat at the dinner table and stared at the food on his plate. It was good meat, taken off an eight point buck he had spent half of yesterday tracking. He hated to kill the aelofin, but his father had decreed there would be fresh meat tonight, so Goren found 1himself trudging through yesterday morning's grass with his bow and quiver. It wasn't easy. This late in the winter, it was difficult even to stumble across old tracks, let alone fresh ones. But Goren knew how and where to look, and it was no accident he spotted the small pack of wolves following the trail of a large dinner. The difficult part came when he had to convince the wolves to search for other prey. He was not unkind, however, and had brought along the carcasses of several small animals he had picked up along the way. Unfortunately, he soon discovered the wolves thought him an easier target than the deer, and he was forced to kill the three of them. He hoped their fresh meat would serve the purpose of some other hungry hunters. Looking up from his plate, he watched Sylvia pour red wine into his old flask. Nine years he had drunk from that flask, excluding the past few months where it lay hidden beneath... what? He couldn't remember. He had just found it today, after all these months, and now he couldn't remember. Well, no matter. Tonight was a night for celebration, for his father and for Thomas, if not for his mischievous brother who sat opposite Goren, lost in his own world. Ne'on seemed to sense Goren's eyes on him and slowly raised his own. There was something different about them, now; something fascinating. Goren lost his awareness of the people around him, something inside him screamed but he couldn't hear. He heard someone call for a toast - was that Marcus? - but he didn't move; he just looked deeper and deeper into Ne'on's eyes... "Welcome, Goren Winston," spoke a deep voice, "I have waited some small time for this moment." Goren blinked and looked about himself. He was stunned; not by the blank, frozen faces of his father and friends, nor the ghastly red shade which flushed his brother's cheeks, giving him color for the first time in his life, but by his new environment. The table was standing - how? - on a monstrous slab of black rock, darker than the deepest woods, which floated impossibly on a sea of flames, the heat licking at the edges, crumbling the stone away piece by piece, the stone somehow reconstructing itself where the flames retreated. "What the- where?" "Home, my lord," the voice sneered, and Goren saw that it came from Ne'on. "This is Cintralu. Or rather, it was, until I was born. I have brought you here to show you the fate of your world because it please me to do so. It pleases me also to inform you of your father's impending death." A smile broke out on Ne'on's face - it was unlike any human smile Goren had ever seen, more as the smiles of the hungry wolves he had slain while tracking the deer. Goren looked at Kald's frozen form and studied him, noting his father's extended arm, hand reaching toward its destiny. "Yes, young fool. You have seen the way. I once vowed to slay Kald Winston while you stood helplessly by- aargh!" Ne'on twitched violently, his head bowing to the table. Gasps of breath escaped his lungs; he looked up at Goren, pitifully. "Goren," spoke Ne'on, his voice no longer deep and thunderous, but painful, faint. "Goren, you must stop him... stop me, befo- no." Again, a violent jerk racked Ne'on's body. His jaws clenched tight, his teeth ground. A dribble of blood touched the corner of Ne'on's mouth; and when he spoke again, it was the first voice which addressed him. "No, Goren Winston. I do not believe I shall give you the opportunity." The world swirled around him again, his disorientation lasting only long enough to find him back at the dining hall, his father 1reaching for the flask. Goren knew what he must do. "Wait!" Everyone stopped reaching and stared at Goren, looking slightly confused and unsure of himself. He was breathing very quickly and his usually dark skin had turned pale beneath his two day beard. He glanced around for a moment to make sure of his surroundings and then he spoke, "Father, I have a proposition to make - one only for our family. I mean you no discourtesy, Castellan, but I would like this toast to apply strictly to my family. May I, father?" Kald stared expressionlessly at Goren. Goren knew he need not make such a scene simply for a common dinner toast, and Kald could not fathom the reason Goren placed such importance on its immediate action. Indeed, the entire group viewed Goren with an air of uncertainty. However, this was Kald's eldest son, and heir, and no matter how extraordinarily he behaved, Goren would get his wish. "If you wish it, Goren, then do so," he replied. Goren continued, a weight visibly lifted from his shoulders. "Thank you, my lord." Raising his cup, he smiled pleasantly at his father, then nervously over his brother. "Father, brother, for the first time in many moons we are together, again." The words came sluggishly from his mouth, stumbling out like a newborn pony attempting to stand for the first time. "Let us remain together always, no matter how far apart we may be." He reached out and traded cups first with Kald, then with Ne'on, so that each might have given their cups to the the person on their left. "To make show of our unity, let us drink from one another's cups; I from Ne'on's, Ne'on from father's, and father from mine." He held aloft his brother's flask and smiled a sad smile. "To Life!" he cried, and they drank. Kald bolted upright out of his chair, his face red and bulging. He grasped desperately for his throat, seeking to confine some inner pain with the strength of his hands. He stared confusedly, pitifully, at Goren and gasped, "Why?" His breath gone, he collapsed face down upon the table; Goren's flask dropped loosely from his hand. Goren stood by, shocked with the others, watching the quick, yet obviously painful expiration of his father. For a moment no one moved, then everyone reacted at once. Sylvia screamed, dropping the tray she was serving, as Goren, Ne'on, Marcus, and Thomas pushed each other out of the way to reach Kald. Several guards burst into the room: ten men and their captain. "Haven't you done enough already?" Ne'on, who had reached Kald first, shoved Goren away. "Keep away from him. I may yet be able to save him." As Ne'on began conjuring a spell, Goren stood behind him, stammering. "No, don't touch him," Goren cried, lunging forward just as Ne'on finished. Marcus grabbed Goren, restraining him. Ne'on looked down with eyes full of sadness. "Too late," he murmured. Looking up at Goren, the true hatred in his eyes struck deep. "Your poisoned cup killed him. And your interference has just betrayed you, murderer." Marcus released Goren and stepped back. "Thomas, go to your room," he said, his voice think and heavy. "None of your lip now, boy... go." When Thomas had left, Marcus stared at Goren. "Goren... what reason...?" But there was no reply, only the cold, hard face of the man he had loved for so many years staring back at him. Goren stared at Ne'on, still unable to believe his father's death. His vision began to close in, to cloud with water, but he refused to cry. His mind went numb. He stared at Ne'on's cold, pale face, his triumphant green eyes, and never resisted when he heard Ne'on's command: "Guards, take him away." Goren didn't even notice the long blonde 1hair of the captain as they removed him from the hall. Ne'on's eyes stayed with him all the way to the cell, and when he finally spoke, several hours later, his words were unheard: "They're green." "My Lord Keeper Winston," began Bartholemew, and Ne'on smiled again at the minor pleasure it gave him to hear the phrase. Only three days had he been ruling Gateway, and with protests from no one. His brother still stared at the four corners of his dungeon cell; and Marcus, having lost his oldest, best friend at the hands of one whom he considered his son, stood behind Ne'on simply because he knew not what else to do. It was bound to stop sometime, however, and Ne'on knew it. "My Lord Keeper," Bart repeated, fully aware of his lord's ability to lose himself in thought. This time, Ne'on replied by raising his head and barely glancing in Bart's direction. Bartholemew handed Ne'on a long dry parchment, rolled up and sealed with wax. "A message from Lord Equiville, of Magnus," he informed Ne'on. Ne'on took the scroll, unsealed it, and read it. It read thus: "My Lord Keeper Winston, of Gateway Keep, greetings from Lord Marcellon Equiville. It is with heavy heart I must inform you of your son Ne'on's treachery - the murder of Qord, Leaf of the Nar-Enthruen - and request your immediate assistance in confining Ne'on Winston until a trial of his peers can be arranged. In light of recent circumstances at court, of which no doubt you have become aware, it may be some time before the royal duchy can send forth its tribunal. It is the will of His Royal Majesty that you respond promptly to this request, and fulfill His wishes with all your ability. Respectfully, Lord Marcellon Equiville" Below his name was the symbol of a cup, horizontally crossed with a single line. It was identical to the seal which had held the parchment together. Ne'on stared blankly at the stiff, rolled sheet in his hands. "And who is this lord Equiville? What might he have to do with me?" These were more personal thoughts than questions, but Marcus offered up an answer that would be sufficient for public curiosity. "Marcellon Equiville is the King's High Magician, or Wizard, or whatever you call yourselves. If he's askin' ya ta come study under him, forget it. You've got responsibilities here." Marcus folded his arms under his chest resolutely, adding, "Squirmin' waste of time, if ya ask me." Ne'on stared at the wall with deep concentration. "I think you are right, Castellan. Captain Clay, summon the scribe." Bart repeated the command to a younger guard, who then left in a hurry. "I don't see why you just don't write your own reply, Ne'on. Your mother taught you how to read and write, didn't she?" Marcus' expression was quizzical, but soon turned to embarrassment when Ne'on stared back at him, painfully remembering his mother's death in a boating accident when he was just a few years old. "Castellan," Ne'on replied in his most haughty voice, "need I remind you to whom you are speaking? In this hall, I am Lord Keeper Winston; not your best friend's son, but your superior. And it was Goren," he added, "the treacherous dog who poisoned my father, your 1aforementioned best friend, whom my mother taught to read and write, not I." "Kald's Scribe, my lord." The guard's voice rang out. The scribe stumbled forward, quills, inks, waxes, parchments, and scroll cases filling his arms, and bowed before Ne'on. When Ne'on nodded his head, the scribe stood and took a seat next to Ne'on. Ne'on studied the scribe carefully, as he did all people. "'Kald's Scribe?'" The small, thin man nodded his agreement. "Why hasn't your name been changed? Captain, why hasn't his name been changed?" Bartholemew merely shrugged his shoulders, and Marcus answered Ne'on's question. "My lord," Marcus struggled with the phrase. "his title shall always be 'Kald's Scribe.' Your father decreed it so when he founded Gateway. All the best scribes who live in our domain shall be addressed so for years to come, as will Kald's Healer, Kald's Blacksmith, Kald's-" "Enough, Castellan." I believe I understand." Ne'on looked hard at the scribe. "Your first duty then, after I compose my reply to this Equiville person, shall be to formally rename each of the employees who's title begins with 'Kald's-'. I wish them to be named 'The Ruler's... whatever.'" Ne'on looked through the scribe for a moment, then continued. "As far as that letter is concerned, take this down. 'My Lord Equiville, of Magnus, Lord Keeper Winston sends greetings. Thank you for your message. We are already aware of the situation, and Kald's son is now sitting in our deepest dungeon, preventing him from harming anyone further.'" At this, Marcus turned away. He still had great trouble believing Goren was guilty, but there was only proof against him. "'Unfortunately, my father was murdered brutally before we could stop him. Please notify milord Cameron Winston, my uncle, of Kald's death. His ashes have been scattered to the wind, as per his request. Sincerely, Lord Keeper Winston.'" Marcus excused himself and left the room, leaving Ne'on and Bartholemew laughing to themselves. The scribe, once finished, excused himself to send out the message. Ne'on's smile grew broader, his eyes a little greener. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 When the War-God Weeps by M. Wendy Hennequin Prologue "Where's the Duke?" Myrande demanded, her face ashen. The blue ball room of Dargon Keep was in chaos; the body of Roisart Connall lay in state across the room, where dancers would have rather stepped. Next to Roisart's corpse was a golden box inlaid with jewels. The Countess of Connall felt tears on her cheeks. That box contained Luthias' head. Myrande was tired; she had ridden in haste from Connall when she heard the news that the twin lords of Connall had been murdered at the Melrin Ball. She would see Roisart and Luthias--oh, God, Luthias dead!--buried this before the next sunset. "Here, Sable," said Clifton, Duke of Dargon. He reached out to hold her. His wife, Lauren, stood by his side. She put a hand on Myrande's shoulder in an effort to comfort her. "How did it happen?" she asked incoherently, clinging to Clifton as if he were her only link to life. "I don't know. When we looked, Luthias' head was cut clean off." "Myrande, quickly!" the Countess of Connall heard someone call her. Suddenly, it became Marcellon's voice. "Your husband still lives!" Myrande hastily severed Clifton's embrace and followed the voice of the High Mage, Marcellon. She found herself in a white-washed room. She was seated next to a large, four-poster bed. Sir Edward, the Knight Commander of the Royal Armies, stood at the foot of the bed, looking gravely concerned. The shocked Duke of Pyridain, whom she had met once or twice at the war council, stood across from her. In her bed lay her husband, as she had never before seen him: haggard, bearded, and pale as death. But he was breathing, shallow noisy breaths. He was breathing! "But the Count of Connall--" the Duke of Pyridain began, his voice incredulous at the miricle. "Is he going to be all right, Marcellon?" she heard Sir Edward say, as if he were quite a distance from her and as if he had spoken underwater. "Will he live?" Myrande awoke. She stared into the darkness of the room in her townhouse in Magnus where she had been sleeping, then abruptly sobbed. Her husband, she knew, was dead, and the only chance of her seeing him alive again was in her dreams. I spread the maps before the Duke of Pyridain and Marcellon. "These are the fortifications, your excellency," the Duke explained to me, pointing. "Beyond them are farms, a few villages." "They'll be in danger once Beinison invades," Marcellon murmered, running his finger along the lines of the fortifications. "We should do something about that." "I have some of my men out training the militia," I assured the High Mage. "I've set every blacksmith for miles to making swords and armor. We'll see if we can't get some better defenses, however. This Duchy will be the first attacked." "Indeed, your excellency," Pyridain agreed sadly. I felt for him, that his home would be the first place ravaged by this war. No, second: Connall was the first, losing father and sons, making orphans and widows before the war even started. "My castle shall of course be difficult to take, but the countryside..." 1 "I shall do all I can," I promised. "The army under my command here should suffice until spring. We don't expect an attack until then." Marcellon laughed at me, the wisdom of a teacher in his tones. "We did not expect many things that Beinison has already done. Expect everything, Edward. It is better to be disappointed than suprised." "As you say, old man," I replied, and Marcellon laughed again. Although old enough to have been my father, the High Mage appeared close to my own age. "A winter attack? It would be extremely difficult, but it is possible," I conceded. "I shall send out scouts when they arrive next week." One of my younger squires burst into the room without so much as a knock. "Courtesy!" I shouted at him angrily. "Knock on a closed door, sirrah. Knights do not burst into closed rooms." "Your pardon, Sir Edward," the boy apologized. "A sick man has just arrived at the castle--" "In this storm?" I challenged, motioning to a window shaking with wind and sprayed with driven snow. "Aye, Sir Edward. He's very ill, and we need the High Mage. He's half-frozen and speaks like a madman." "Bring him to the guest room," Pyridain ordered. "The High Mage will see him there." "I shall go fetch my things," Marcellon promised, rising. "And start water heating. He'll be cold," the Royal Physician surmised dryly, listening to the high winds of the blizzard. "Who is he?" I asked my squire as the High Mage rushed from the room. "I do not know him, my lord. But even in his madness, he speaks as an educated man." "Our language?" "Yes, my lord." "A noble?" Pyridain speculated. "He would have to be one of your barons, then," I replied. "One of my barons?" echoed the Duke. "In such a blizzard?" He looked toward a window, where snow whirled as if caught in some mad dance. "It would be terrible news, then, to warrant sending a nobleman out on this day." Terrible news, indeed. I thought about what Marcellon had just said about winter attacks. "We'd best go see him, your grace." I followed Pyridain through the chilly halls of his castle. The corridors twisted like heat-crazed snakes; no enemy would find his way easily in this keep! Finally, I caught sight of Marcellon slipping into a room. Pyridain motioned me toward the heavy door. I was greeted by a mumbling voice, hauntingly familiar, and I saw Marcellon slowly set his leather bag on a bedside table. He looked at me, and in his eyes was a rare thing: absolute suprise. The High Mage glanced at the servants and my squires, who had brought the water. "Send them away," he ordered me. I am first and most a soldier; I know a command when I hear one. Marcellon's voice had forbidden arguement or question. I jerked my head toward the door, and my squires bowed and removed themselves. After a gesture from Pyridain, the servants did the same. "Edward," Marcellon called me, his voice odd as he sat slowly next to the patient, "come here and see him." The Duke of Pyridian and I approached the bed. At the foot, I caught glimpse of the man. He seemed tall, though it was difficult to tell with the blankets, and thin, although he could have been quite muscular if he hadn't been underweight. His face was gaunt and bearded, his skin grey, and his hair dark with a hint of red racing through it. Abruptly, he opened his eyes and stared, unseeing, at me. 1 I gasped and took a step backwards. I knew this man; I knew his face. I had last seen it lifeless and disembodied. "Luthias?" I breathed, staring at first at the man who would have been my squire, then at my friend the High Mage. It was impossible that he could be alive! Impossible that he could be alive like this! But then, the gods granted miricles, and I was glad to see him. Luthias was a brilliant fighter--a good strategist. When I first saw Luthias, so long ago when I visited Lucan Shipbrook, I knew Luthias was going to be invaluable to the army. For that--and for what he could have been--I regretted his death--or what I thought was his death. But he was here, alive, and I needed brilliant fighters. Pyridain went around the other side of the bed. "I recognize him," he muttered at Marcellon, who was, like me, gazing at the man. "Did I meet him at the War Council?" "I believe you met him at Duke Dargon's trail," Marcellon confirmed. "He is the Count of Connall." "The Count Connall?" Pyridain denied incredulously. Marcellon was staring at young Luthias. He held up his hand, as if to quiet the Duke. "But the Count Connall--" I knew what he was thinking; the Count Connall's head had been sent back to the King in a golden box. I knew, for Marcellon had told me, that head was false, but I had never suspected that Luthias somehow had lived. Still, alive he was, and I needed him. "Is he going to be all right, Marcellon? Will he live?" "Damn it! I cannot reach her!" Marcellon exploded abruptly. "Who?" Pyridain demanded. "Myrande." At Duke Pyridain's confusion, the High Mage explained, "The Countess. She surely has a right to know that her husband is still alive." "How?" Pyridain made his second demand. "I saw that head." "Yes, and I knew it to be a fake," Marcellon revealed to him. The High Mage reached out and felt the Count's sweaty forehead. "This is Luthias, the Count of Connall, and he is alive." He reached for Luthias' thin hand and searched for his pulse. "Quick and thready. Not good." Marcellon continued his examination, looked up, and asked me, "What's that in the corner?" "His clothes, I suspect," I answered, looking myself at the haphazard pile that I supposed my squires had created. "Search them. Perhaps--" I nodded and began. "There is no reason for this," Marcellon was muttering. "He has no fever. There are no chills. He does not have the Plague or the ague or..." "Could it be something rare?" the Duke suggested. "I have only eliminated the Red Plague," Marcellon told him. Then suddenly: "Good God!" I turned from the ragged pile to look. In order to listen to Luthias' breathing, I suppose, Marcellon had pulled the blankets from his chest. A den of serpents, burn scars, squirmed on Luthias' chest. I grimaced, but shrugged. "If you think they didn't torture him, you're an old fool." Marcellon frowned, but nodded and continued his examination. "Yes," the mage muttered. "I should have known. I had hoped...but then, I know that Empire. They are not a gentle people." I returned to the clothes, dirty and frozen with snow. "Look," I said, holding up the cloak. "It's a Beinison soldier's." "He had to escape somehow," Marcellon returned briskly, without pausing in his examination. "I do not like this. It looks to be a reaction, but I can find no reason for it. He isn't injured--" A heavy pouch dropped onto my feet as I held Luthias' too small tunic high. From it seeped some blue powder. "Marcellon," I spat 1angrily, "perhaps I have found your reason." The High Mage whirled; I lifted the bag. "Could this be ardon?" Marcellon ripped the leather pouch from me and opened it. "It is ardon!" he cried. "He's withdrawing." I scowled and marched toward the fireplace. I hadn't known Luthias Connall long, but I thought I had known him better than that. Ardon robbed one of control over mind and body. Luthias surely knew this. Why a warrior of his calibur and his sense of honor would indulge in taking ardon I didn't know, nor could I comprehend if I knew it. I needed him. And yet he does this! I heard Marcellon mutter something, and my hair stood on end. As if he had heard my thoughts--and sometimes, Marcellon could--the High Mage said, "Don't hold him responsible, Edward. Luthias would never take ardon of his own will. And this," he indicated the bulging bag, "is magicked. There is no way he can cease taking this and live." Marcellon frowned, but his face seemed more confused than displeased. "There is only one living being besides me who has the power and the knowledge to do this." "Styles?" Duke Pyridain asked, naming Marcellon's teacher. "Styles is long dead," Marcellon corrected. "It was he who taught me..." The High Mage sighed heavily. "It was he who taught my fellow apprentice, Mon-Taerleor." "The Beinisonian High Mage," I accused. Marcellon put a little of the ardon on his finger. "The same. My friend, Alexander Mon-Taerleor." Gently, he put his finger in Luthias' mouth. "Easy," he soothed the Count quietly. "Easy. You will live." The Duke of Pyridian was shaking his head. "What is happening to our young men?" he asked sorrowfully. "First, my son and Princess Lysanda. Now, the young Count." I clenched my jaw. I agreed with Marcellon: Luthias Connall would never take ardon--magicked ardon at that!--of his own volition. But what had happened to Cydric Ariosto was Cydric's--and Lysanda's--own doing. They did not deserve to be compared. Marcellon glanced at the Duke. "The Count Connall will need hot food, broth if we have it, and quickly. Would you see to it, your grace?" The Duke looked confused, but nodded and left the room. Marcellon watched the Duke leave, then he answered my questioning face. "I do not want strangers here when Luthias awakes." "There is nothing we can do to free Luthias from the ardon? Marcellon," I coaxed, squatting next to him, "I need him. I need him to be a Knight. The war--" The High Mage looked at me sadly. "Edward, there is nothing." I snorted with contempt. "You cannot make me think that the great wizard Styles would teach you how to make this poison and not teach you to cure it!" "That is exactly what he did," Marcellon returned curtly. He grinned with a trace of bitterness. "I suspect he was keeping the cure to himself, in case he ever needed to use it on me or Mon-Taerleor." "There must be a way." "If there is, I do not know it." The bed shook as Luthias coughed. I stood. Marcellon turned to his patient. The Count Connall slowly opened his eyes and stared into the face of the High Mage. "Marcellon?" I knew that Marcellon smiled at him, although I couldn't see it. Luthias looked at me. "Sir Edward." "I am here," I replied, although that much was obvious. "Where are we? Magnus?" the Count Connall asked weakly, closing his eyes. "No, Pyridain," I told him. "You are in the Duke's castle." "Thank God," he groaned. "I'd die if Sable saw me like this, with 1the--" He abruptly turned to Marcellon, and his eyes were angry and accusing. "You gave it to me, didn't you!" he screamed. "You bastard!" And the young Count began coughing again. "I saved your life," Marcellon snapped. "I would be better off dead!" "Don't say that!" I admonished him quickly. "Never say that." "It's true," Luthias argued bitterly. "Do you know what they have done to me? Do you know what I have done? Do you know what they did to me in Beinison?" "That's a good place to begin," placid Marcellon tried to calm him. "Tell us. What happened when you arrived in Cabildo?" "They threw me into prison. They took Sable's portrait." Marcellon shot a concerned glance at me. I had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. A man with the power of Mon- Taerleor, a man who would torture another with a magicked drug, in possesion of a portrait of Lady Myrande? Marcellon composed his face instantly and quipped, "What a novel way to receive an ambassador. How long did they torture you?" Luthias looked away. "You're so certain they did?" "I saw the scars," Marcellon answered, his voice level. "How long did they torture you before giving you the ardon?" "Ardon?" Luthias asked mildly, looking the High Mage in the eye. "So that's what it is. I had wondered." The Count of Connall sighed deeply. "They tortured me a few weeks, perhaps...I'm not sure. I lost the time in the prison." A shadow filled his eyes. "And then they put the blue spice in my food. It drove me mad, and I knew I would die without it." "Unfortunate," Marcellon muttered. Luthias looked sad and scared and stunned, then he abruptly stared at me. "Sir Edward," he began urgently, "They were questioning me about the fortifications along the Laraka River. I didn't break under the torture. Of that I can give you my word. But the blue spice--the ardon--I was going mad--I don't remember what I told them, whether it was fact or fiction, but I told them anything to get the blue spice." The Laraka? Damn! That means-- And Luthias finished my thoughts: "They're probably planning to come down the river into Magnus." "I'll send Sir Ailean," I promised, swallowing. Beinison would attack Shark's Cove and send ships down the Laraka! The High Mage had been right: expect the unexpected. Now we would have two lines to fight: one in Quinnat, one here in Pyridain. Luthias turned his face from me. "I am sorry, Sir Edward." "There was nothing you could have done, Luthias," I tried to comfort him. Something in his eyes made me think that nothing, no one, could console the young Count. "I don't know how I managed to get out of there," Luthias continued, shaking his head. "I don't remember very much at all." His jaw twitched, and he dully held out his hands. "There was a man...I murdered him...for his gold...and the ardon." He stared blankly at his hands, hands that had murdered. "My wedding ring is gone," he noted without feeling. "I wonder what happened." "Luthias," I choked. This man was to have been a Knight! In its truest sense, Luthias Connall would have been a Knight. And now this! Marcellon closed his eyes. "And there was a woman, later," the Count of Connall continued. "I don't remember her name, nor her face. But if I didn't--she kept the ardon away until I did, until I couldn't help it." The High Mage's eyes snapped opened angrily. "There's a name for that, you know," he snarled, fury in his voice. 1 Luthias didn't face him. "I know: adultery," he supplied, his voice hollow and devoid of interest. "No," Marcellon corrected crisply, "I'd call it rape." The young, sick Count looked at the wizard with shock in his eyes, and then he continued. "I don't remember what happened after I managed to leave her." Connall sighed. "I remember running." "You're safe now," I assured him, taking a step closer. "We'll take you back to the King, back to Myrande--" "What? Sable? No!" he cried out. "Go back to her? Go back?" He stared at me, bewildered and pained. "My God, Edward! I've betrayed my country, betrayed my wife--Oh, God--oh, God-- why didn't I die?" Luthias screamed finally, burying his head in his hands. "Why didn't I die?" I could stay no longer. I am a warrior, bred and raised, and I have seen death more times than I can remember. I know death; I have watched my friends butchered and bleeding in battle, and when they finally expired, there has been rejoicing in the heavens to receive their valiant spirits. But when a man such as Luthias, a man young and brave and honorable, is trapped in a living death such as this, even the war-god would weep. Epilogue Marcellon watched Sir Edward quietly leave, then he reached out to young Connall. "Easy," whispered the High Mage. "All is not yet lost." Luthias slowly lifted his head. He coldly demanded, "How can you say that?" "I can enchant the ardon. I can keep you alive." Luthias leaned back on the bed. "I need it, then, to stay alive?" Marcellon looked at the bare white wall. "That woman told me if I stopped taking the blue spice I would die. I hoped that she was lying." It was several moments before the High Mage returned his gaze to Luthias. "She spoke truth," Marcellon admitted heavily. "There is no cure?" Luthias asked. "None that I know. But I will search for one." Luthias sighed once, then looked in the wizard's eyes. "Then promise me something, Marcellon." "What do you want?" the physician inquired compassionately. The young Count took a deep breath. "If after a fortnight you cannot find a cure for me, I want..." Luthias closed his eyes, unable to face the High Mage, and took a deep breath. "I want you to give me poison." "Poison?" Marcellon leapt from the bed. "You wish to kill yourself? What about the war? What about Myrande?" "How can I face Sable after what I've done?" Luthias countered. "How could I ever face the King? God only knows what I've told the Beinisonians! No, Marcellon, I'd rather die than live like this. And Sable deserves much better than me." Luthias stared into space. "If you only knew what it was like, Marcellon, to be like this. I don't know when my mind will leave me, when I'll do something I would never even consider doing when I'm sane. I'll murder...I'll..." Connall faced the High Mage. "I'm not...I'll never be a Knight now. How could Sir Edward ever knight me? How can I be a decent husband for Sable? I can't even control myself anymore, Marcellon." The High Mage took a deep breath and exhaled it through his nose. "All right," he conceded. "I do not believe in keeping people in pain. No more can I let you live in hell." 1 "A fortnight, then." "A fortnight," Marcellon confirmed. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 QQQQQ tt QQ QQ tttttt QQ QQ uu uu aaaa nnnn tt aaaa QQ QQ uu uu aa aa nn nn tt aa aa QQ QQ uu uu aa aa nn nn tt aa aa QQQQQQ uuu aaaaa nn nn tt aaaaa QQQ ______________________________________ A Journal of Fact, Fiction and Opinion ______________________________________ Quanta is an electronically distributed magazine of science fiction. Published monthly, each issue contains short fiction, articles and editorials by authors around the world and across the net. Quanta publishes in two formats: straight ascii and PostScript* for PostScript compatible printers. 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