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From WHITEJL@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 09:07:48 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA25423 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 09:07:41 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121307.AA25423@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3203; Tue, 12 May 92 09:03:42 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 09:03:39 EDT From: "SilentElf" 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 4 -=========================================================+|) 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 4, Issue 3 06/06/91 Cir 1102 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ What are Little Girls...? Bryan Maloney Yuli 3-4, 1014 Pact Max Khaytsus Yuli 10-11, 1014 Fortunes 2 Max Khaytsus Yuli 15, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 What are Little Girls Made of? by Bryan Maloney (b.c.k.a. ) Aimee held her breath when she heard more crashing from outside. Were the Be-innyson soldiers coming again? She wished that she was in the castle with Daddy and Grandfather. She closed her eyes and wished harder, so hard that she could feel her fingernails digging into her hands. She opened her eyes and saw she was still in Grandfather's shop. Wishing never worked by itself-- you had to go and make it work for even the littlest things. She'd been here since yesterday, when the Be-innyson soldiers started throwing rocks at the city walls. She'd been taken to Old Town with the other children and put near the castle--but she had left something very important behind. When Grandfather picked her up and put her in the wagon to Old Town her puppy Karl had jumped out of her arms and run into Grandfather's home. Grandfather told her that he'd make sure to bring Karl if he had to go to Old Town too. Then she'd heard that the Be-innysons had made holes in the New Town wall and were coming in. She was smart enough to know that Grandfather would be too busy to find Karl, so she sneaked out--it was easy enough with so many children around--to find Karl. When she got to Grandfather's, Karl was there--but Grandfather wasn't. The puppy was upstairs in Grandfather's rooms. He had tipped over a jug of Grandfather's awful, bitter drink and was lapping at it. Aimee had to laugh at the way the puppy staggered and yelped--like Grandfather did during the Melrin festival. Aimee had gathered the puppy in her arms and was about to leave when she heard marching, clanking feet. She ran to a rope hanging over a table and pulled her feet up, dangling with one hand while the other held Karl. Slowly, the stairs to the attic came down, and Aimee climbed them. She sat on a projecting board she had fastened to the stairs (when Grandfather was away once) and pushed them closed. Then she pulled the rope up through its hole. She carefully made her way around the holes in the floor to the attic window. There she lay down to watch the street. Soldiers were coming from her left. They marched in straight rows, making a terrible noise. She could tell that they weren't Dargon's soldiers. They had square shields and carried an ugly banner with a big metal bird on top of it. They had to be Be-innysons! Aimee was nervous, but not really scared. She'd remembered hearing Grandfather tell Goodman Corambis that the attic had been made by smuggil-ers to hide in and see down below. (The next day she sneaked into the attic to see. Grandfather was right--she could see everything through the holes in the floor. Best of all, Grandfather couldn't see her. The ceiling was built very high with rough logs and painted to make the holes look like parts of a pattern.) Then she saw Thomas Redcap. He had been sleeping in a doorway. Thomas was always drunk and he smelled bad, so Aimee stayed away from him. But nobody ever did anything to him because he never hurt anyone. Two of the soldiers had picked him up and were shaking him awake. Thomas woke up and the head soldier--did Be-innysons have captains?--said something to him. Aimee suppressed a laugh--Be-innysons were stupid people! Everybody knew that Thomas couldn't say his own name just after he woke up. Thomas just stared at the soldier. When the soldier started to yell, Thomas tried to run. The soldier took his sword and stabbed Thomas in the back. Thomas kept trying to run, but the soldier kept stabbing him. Finally, Thomas fell down and the soldier stabbed him in the neck. Aimee started shaking--these were terrible men! They were demons like Mother Clariss the Priestess had told her about! She watched the men pick up Thomas and toss him in the gutter. Some of them actually laughed! Then the captain shouted something Aimee didn't understand and the men went into buildings. Aimee froze, clutching Karl. Three of them had come into Grandfather's place! If they would kill harmless old Thomas Redcap, what would they do to her? She inched over to a smaller peephole and looked into the rooms below. Karl squirmed and whimpered. "Be quiet, Karl!" she whispered. Karl tried to lick her face. He began to wriggle more, and Aimee was afraid that he would start to bark. She couldn't let him go--he might fall into one of the larger holes and start to yowl. What could she do? Karl then belched, softly. Aimee grimaced. he smelled just like Daddy and Grandfather did at the Melrin festival--of course! Grandfather kept some of his jugs up here in the winter so they would be cold when he drank them. Maybe he'd forgot to take some down this spring. Aimee looked around until she spied a pile of earthen jugs. "Will you be quiet if I give you a drink?" Aimee whispered as she crawled over to the jugs. The clay stopper was fastened with wax, and she had to dig at it with her fingernails. Karl, smelling the beverage, was whining in anticipation. Aimee pulled the stopper out and poured some of the brown contents into a depression on the floor. Karl lapped fast and furious. Aimee then went back to the peephole. The soldiers had come up the stairs from the public rooms and were searching Grandfather's rooms, turning over everything that could move. Aimee was glad that the table was heavy oak, or she would have to jump from the bottom of the stairs when she left. Finally, one of the soldiers found Grandfather's jugs he kept by the table. They laughed and stuffed them into their packs. Then they left. Aimee went back to the attic window and looked at the street. The soldiers were gathering together. The captain yelled something and they went back into lines and marched away. After they were out of sight, Aimee went to the board nailed to the stairs and lowered them. Then she scampered down and went immediately to a cupboard that had been ripped open. She ran her fingers on the top of the bottom shelf, along the outside rim, until she found a catch. She pulled the catch and a small door on the opposite wall swung ajar. This was another thing made by smuggil-ers, according to Grandfather. She ran to the secret cupboard and looked--it was there. Grandfather had once been a soldier, and he had kept a few souvineers. One was a big greatsword, too heavy for Aimee to lift. Another was a decorated crossbow that Grandfather had gotten as a gift for helping in some battle or another. The greatsword was gone--Grandfather took it with him probably, but the crossbow was still there, hidden with Grandfather's other treasures. She knew that she couldn't wield it, but she would still feel safer if she had it with her. She grabbed the weapon and a handful of silver-inlaid bolts and ran back into the attic, withdrawing the stairs behind her. "I know what I'll do." She thought, "I'll wait here until I see some Dargon soldiers march by, and then I'll come down and tell them I'm Aimee Taishent and they'll take me to the castle because Daddy's in the guard." She lay down by the attic window and watched the street. After a while, Karl staggered next to her and collapsed in a heap. "Did you have enough?" Aimee whispered. Karl emitted an enormous belch and went to sleep. "Karl, you smell worse than Thomas Redcap." Then she remembered--Thomas lay on the street, dead, holes poked into his body by the Be-innysons. Softly, Aimee began to cry. The tears flowed smoothly down her cheeks until they dripped on the floor. Then she began to sob, trembling. Her throat started hurting, but still she cried. Her head started hurting--still she cried. Aimee wept until after sundown. Then she slept. She woke the next morning to the sounds of battle. She looked out the attic window to see a mob fleeing down the street. Behind them were more Be- innysons. They were hitting people, not even chasing them. Just running over them and killing them. Aimee suddenly felt terribly guilty. "I'll never knock over another anthill. I promise." She whispered. "Just please, Bright Cahleyna, don't let the soldiers come in here." The mob passed and the soldiers followed them, not stopping to look in any buildings. Aimee breathed a sigh of relief. How long would it be before the Dargon soldiers came by? Would they ever? There were so many Be-innysons, what if they won? Would they come and kill her like they did Thomas Redcap? She started to cry again. She stopped when she heard Karl whining. The puppy was lying on his belly, forepaws over his ears, eyes tightly shut. "It serves you right, Karl." Aimee whispered. "Now you'll remember how awful that stuff is to drink." Aimee then realized how terribly hungry and thirsty she was. She also needed to go outside--badly. But the Be-innysons were out there! She looked around until she saw some old junk in a corner. Maybe there was a chamber pot in the pile! Desperately, she climbed into the castoffs and began to dig. The pile was huge--Grandfather never threw anything out. She began to tunnel into the heap, which nearly touched the roof. "There's my toy cart!" Aimee stated. Karl stood at Aimee's exclamation and dragged himself to the pile. He whimpered at his mistress. "Karl, I was going to pull you around in this, but a wheel fell off. Grandfather said he would fix it, but I guess he just lost it in this mess. I'll make him put it together when he comes back." Aimee stopped digging. Would Grandfather come back? Would anyone? She started to cry, but her sobbing breaths reminded her of a lower call. She quested further into the heap. Finally, she caught at glimpse of glazed clay. Tossing small bits of junk aside, she found a cracked chamber pot. After she relieved herself, she had a terrible thought--"How do I get rid of this?" she asked herself. Aimee decided that she would have to leave it here until she could think of something. She was still thirsty, though. Aimee grit her teeth and picked up a jug. She pried it open and took a drink. Yak! It was even more awful than she remembered. But it helped her throat, so she drank more. She put the stopper on the jug and sat down next to the attic window, watching the street for Dargon soldiers. Karl wobbled over and lay down beside her. Aimee picked him up. "Karl, I wish you were a great knight like the old Duke Clifton, then you'd put me on your horse and we'd ride straight to the castle. And if any Be- innyson soldiers tried to stop us, you'd take your sword and kill them." Aimee thought about the Be-innysons; she thought about Thomas Redcap; she thought about the people running away, killed like ants; and a strange feeling started inside her. It was cold, but somehow comforting. The more she felt it, the better she felt. "I hate you, Be-innysons." she said, and for the first time in her life, she knew what that meant. Aimee watch the street until she had to relieve herself again. She went over to the chamber pot--it stank. Aimee sighed, there was no helping it. Grandfather would understand about the smell. She walked to the chimney and unlatched a metal door. Grandfather had put it in himself so he wouldn't have to hire a sweep to clean the flue and he wouldn't have to go on the roof to clean it himself. The special bendy brush Grandfather used was on the floor beside the chimney. She opened the door and poured the contents of the chamber pot down the chimney. Grandfather kept the flue closed unless he had a fire, so she knew it wouldn't splatter in the fireplace and give her away. She would have to remember to warn him before he opened the flue next time. Again she relieved herself and emptied the pot. That was when she heard the crash. She crept to a peephole and looked down. A Be-innyson soldier had chased an older girl into the building and up the stairs to the rooms below. He had a terrible grin on his face. He grabbed the girl and threw her onto the floor. Then he ripped her skirts and petticoats off and opened his codpiece. Aimee immediately knew that the man wanted to sex (or s-e-x, as Grandfather always said around her. She was six already--she'd heard what grownups did! Anyway, she'd seen Karl get born.), but the girl didn't want to--the soldier was going to hurt her! A flame started in Aimee's heart and crept up her throat. She was going to stop him! He was a Be-innyson, and all they ever did was hurt people. She didn't care how big he was or what weapons he had. Aimee Taishent was going to stop him! She scampered to the attic window--no one was on the street. At least it was only him. The girl had started screaming. Aimee went to a peephole and looked down. She saw the man forcing the girl onto the floor. Desperate, Aimee caught the crossbow on a nail jutting from a pillar and pulled back the string with both hands. "Please, Father Ol, keep the string from breaking." Aimee pulled, leaning away from the crossbow. The string dug into her fingers, feeling like a knife. Finally, the catch clicked--the bow was cocked. Her fingers hurt too much to move--there was already a purple line across them--but she forced herself to drop the bolt into its slot, like she had seen the guards do in practice. Then she started running toward the stairs. On her way, a flash caught her eye. The soldier was right under one of the larger holes in the floor--Grandfather called them murder holes. It was very big, Aimee had almost caught her foot in it. She looked down and saw the soldier's back, right below her. She carefully aimed into the hole and and gasped as the bolt slid out of the crossbow and through the hole below. You had to hold the bow straight! She'd heard Daddy tell that to his men, but had forgotten. She remembered now. Aimee heard the soldier shout and then a crash. What would he do? He couldn't get to the stairs, she knew that, but what would he do? She looked down through the hole. The soldier wasn't there, but the girl was. Her head bled and she lay in a ball, quaking. Where was the soldier? Aimee ran to another murder hole and looked down--no soldier! Had she scared him away? She ran to the stairs to lower them, but stopped dead as she saw them come down by themselves. Frozen with fear, she watched as the Be- innyson soldier came up the stairs, holding a pole-arm with a hook upon it. He smiled at Aimee and approached her, weapon held low. Aimee stared at the soldier as he walked toward her. He was talking, saying something she couldn't understand. When he had cleared half the distance between them, Karl charged the foreigner with a squeaking snarl. The soldier batted the pup aside with his polearm. As soon as Karl took to the air, yelping, Aimee awoke. The soldier wanted to hurt her! She ran around the soldier, trying to make for the stairs, but he just turned and swung his polearm in front of her. She tried to duck around the weapon, but the soldier just stepped and hit her with the haft. She fell over, bruised, and heard the soldier laugh. She looked up and saw him heft his weapon, then he swung it. The blade descended upon her like a foot upon a beetle. Aimee tensed herself for the blow, her last, when she heard a thump beside her. The soldier had missed! Was he too drunk to hit her? She looked at him and her hopes died as she heard him start to laugh. He aimed another blow at her, missing by inches. He was playing with her-- just like boys played with rats! Aimee scrambled backwards on all fours; the soldier advanced, smirking. He said something in his own tongue and laughed. Aimee still went back. The soldier stopped to watch her. Finally, Aimee hit something--it was the junk heap. She started to climb into it and froze as the soldier yelled and charged toward her, weapon lowered. Desperate, she grabbed at the pile below her. Her hands came up with a piece of wood. It was the shaft from Grandfather's old cloak tree. She had broken it last year by swinging from it and knocking it over. Grandfather was so mad he didn't even spank her--he just told Daddy! She pulled up the piece of wood and held the end before her--the top with a pointed bit. It wasn't long enough! The soldier's weapon was easily twice as long. And she couldn't even pick it up besides, the other end was tightly wedged in the pile. "I'm sorry, Daddy." she whispered. At that moment, the soldier discovered one of the murder holes. His right foot came down exactly upon a larger one and went in. The bones of his ankle ground against each other and cracked. Yet the momentum of his charge was too great to be halted by this minor setback. Instead, his body flew the last few yards through the air and landed upon Aimee. His polearm entered the pile, headfirst, catching Aimee's skirts upon the hook. Aimee opened her eyes. Above her lay the soldier. Why wasn't he doing anything? Then she noticed that her hands were warm. She looked down to wher she had been holding up the end of the cloak tree and gasped when she saw it go into the soldier. She looked up at the young man. He was a youth, with a light mustache beginning to form. Aimee noticed that his hair was reddish and looked very soft. He was motionless, breath coming in ragged gasps. Tears poured from his eyes. Aimee watched the final spasm shake the soldier before he stopped breathing. Then she looked at his face. He had the same look that Thomas Redcap did when the soldiers cut him down. Aimee went limp on the pile, sobbing. She was as bad as the Be-innysons! She thought that killing the soldier would make her feel better, but it didn't. She felt awful, even worse than the time she had been throwing stones to knock down apples and accidentally hit a squirrel. She dragged herself out of the pile, tearing her skirt on the hook. Sobbing, she ran down the stairs. More than anything she had to get away--she'd killed somebody. That was the worst thing you could do! Grandfather had taught her that Ol and Cahleyna valued all life, and now she had killed someone. She had to hide--go where no one could find her. She ran for the stairs to the street level when she collided with a soft form. "Where did you come from?" Aimee heard someone say. Aimee looked up and saw the face of the girl. Unable to speak, Aimee pointed up. "You say you came from heaven?" The girl's eyes were wide. "Were you an angel sent by Cephas Stevene to rescue me?" "No." Aimee was finally able to say. "I came from the attic. I tried to shoot the bolt at him and he--" Aimee burst again into tears. "I killed him!" The girl held Aimee tighter. "It's all right, honey. He was going to hurt me, and you only wanted to stop him." Aimee felt a hand on her chin, lifting her face. "I am Marta, what's your name?" "Aimee, Aimee Taishent." Aimee said. "Are you related to the mage?" "He's my grandfather!" "No wonder you're so brave. Living around magic must be very exciting. I bet you can even read." Marta smiled and stroked Aimee's hair. "It's not all that exciting." Aimee said, "Usually he just sits and studies, except when he has a customer, but I can read." "Where is your Grandfather?" "He's in Old Town. He went there when the Be-innysons--when they--when--" Aimee began crying again. "It's all right, honey. One way or another, it will be over soon." Aimee and Marta embraced, each comforting the other. After a time, Aimee snuffed and said, "Go into the attic, it's not safe to be down here." "What about you?" Marta asked. "I'll be right behind you." Aimee said. Yesterday she had been so scared that she forgot Grandfather's secret stash. It was where he kept all the wonderful things he wasn't supposed to eat at his age. She crawled under the table and pushed a knothole--smuggil-ers had to be the most fun people. A small trapdoor pushed up and Aimee lifted it. Underneath were pickled sweetmeats and fish salted so heavy it crackled. There were also some pickled plums from Bichu. Aimee liked these, even if they burned on the way down and made her feel funny. She put it all on the table and closed the trap door. Then she climbed on the table and put the lot in her torn skirt. After she climbed into the attic she sat the food on the floor and raised the stairs. As she finished pulling up the stairs, she remembered--the soldier was up here! She couldn't turn around, she might see him. Aimee stood, trembling, and stared at the stairs. "It's all right, Aimee, I covered him." Aimee turned around. Marta had covered him with the blanket she had taken from Grandfather's bed to cover herself up. She was trying to pull her ruined skirts around her. "Wait, Marta." Aimee lowered the stairs and ran down. For once she was glad that Grandfather got cold. Sometimes she hated how he always had two blankets--it made sleeping with him too hot. She pulled the other blanked out from under the bed and brought it into the attic. When she returned, Marta had already started on the sweetmeats. "I haven't eaten since before yesterday." she said. "Neither did I." Aimee replied. "I'll get something to drink." She walked to the jugs and got one. The two began to feast, only pausing to drink the over-warm beer. When they had finished eating, Aimee went to the attic window. "What are you looking for?" Marta asked. "I'm waiting for Dargon soldiers." "Oh." Marta sat, quietly. After a time, Aimee looked back at Marta. The older girl was sitting, rocking back and forth. Tears flowed down her cheeks and throat. Her body shook with silent sobs. Aimee ran over to her. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" Aimee put her arms around Marta. "That man--he wanted to..." Marta put her head down. "I could see that, but I stopped him." Aimee was puzzled. He hadn't been able to hurt Marta, but Marta still seemed hurt. "I know you stopped him, and he didn't hurt my body, but he hurt my heart." Marta wiped her face. "He scared me and tried to do something terrible." Marta began sobbing. "He broke the Third Law of your Stevene, didn't he, Marta?" "What do you know about that, Aimee? They don't teach the Third Law to little girls." "I can read. Mother Clariss is a Priestess for Stevene and she used to come around and talk to me before Grandfather chased her away. One time I sneaked one of her books out of her pouch. I kept it up here until Grandfather found it. He was so mad--I don't know why." "Perhaps your Grandfather is pagan...mine was." "I don't know about that, but he made me pray all day to Ol for that." Marta looked Aimee in the eyes, "Then you worship Ol?..." "Of course I do. Grandfather tells me all about him." Marta took Aimee on her lap. "Despise not the pagan, for they may still be good of heart." she whispered. "What did you say?" asked Aimee. "Just a little prayer of thanks that you were here, Aimee--What were you saying about the Third Law?" Marta dried her eyes. "Well, I think it goes: 'The sexyoual act is a sacrament. It is a holy gift of pleasure...' that means good feeling, you know." "Yes, I know, Aimee." Marta smiled, faintly. "Go on." "...'a holy gift of pleasure from God. He who violates this gift shall burn, but she who is violated...' Why did Seefas Stevene say 'she' there, anyway?" Marta sighed, "I think he had some idea what things are like in the real world." "Okay, anyway: '...she who is violated is as pure as before, by My Holy Word. Let none gainsay...' That means disagree. '...this decree." "Thank you Aimee." Marta hugged the young girl. "Do you want to pray, Marta?" "I would like that." Marta recited the Plea to Stevene and the Creed of Mercy. Aimee listened to the alian phrases. Stevene people prayed strangely, all full of begging and pleading. Praying to Cahleyna and Ol was much easier. You just thanked them for the good things and asked them to help with the bad things. When Marta was done Aimee looked into her eyes. They were brown and dark, just like Karl's fur--Karl! Where was he? She looked around the attic and then, to her horror heard, at the same time, Karl barking from below and a roar, like the parade at Melrin Festival, coming down the street. "I've got to get Karl!" Aimee cried as she ran to the stairs. "No, Aimee, the battle's come this way." Marta grabbed Aimee and held her tight. "Anyway, you've already proven that the Stevene looks after brave little girls and foolish puppies very well." "Are you sure?" "Yes." Marta lied. The two sat by the attic window to watch, fearfully. "They're coming." Marta whispered. Around the corner came a Beinison legion, banner torn, shields broken, ranks ragged. Behind them was a veritable mob of an army. Here a soldier in fine armor hacked at a Beinison shield; there three street toughs pelted a lone Beinison with cudgels. Old men threw rocks; young men wielded spears. It was a rabble, but it drove the foreigners back. Behind this line were ranks of ill-matched soldiery. Dargon personal guard mixing with town militia. Noblemen marching alongside common thugs. The two girls watched the foreigners get pushed down the street, almost as if the stones of the city had risen against them. Then there was quiet. "Do you think we should go out?" Aimee asked. "We ought to wait for our soldiers to look for us. Things could change." Aimee nodded, and the two waited, breathlessly. Hours later, after sundown, the girls heard noise from below. "She's got to be here!" They heard a man yell, "It's the only place she'd go!" Aimee ran to the stairs and lowered them as fast as she could. "Aimee, stop, it could be a trick!" Marta called. Aimee, heedless, ran down the stairs, one word on her lips. "Daddy!" She ran into her father's arms. "I guess we found her, Lieutenant." a soldier in sergeant's livery said. "Anything else you want?" "No, thank you sergeant." Jerid Taishent replied. "You can go now." "Right!" The sergeant saluted. "All right, you crowmeat, we've got Beinison cowards to mop up! Move yer asses!" The soldiers left at a trot. Marta walked down the stairs, blanket wrapped around her. Jerid looked up at the sound of her. The first thing he saw were her eyes. Somehow he couldn't look away. "Who is this, Aimee?" Taishent asked. Marta blushed and pulled at the blanket. "That's Marta, Daddy." Aimee said. "Some man tried to hurt her so I killed him." Jerid winced at his daughter's words. "Beggin' yer pardon, sir," the Sergeant had returned, "but we'll be needin' ye to help wi' the moppin' up." "I'll be right there," Jerid said. He put Aimee down. "You stay here until Grandfather or I come for you. Will you do that? Don't come out of the attic unless you actually see one of us." "I'll wait right here." Aimee said, seriously. "Karl!" Aimee dived under the bed and retrieved the wriggling puppy. "You'd better stay with me, or some Be-innyson will come along and cut you into gloves." As Jerid left the shop, his sergeant approached him. "Me 'n the men," he said, "would like to say that we're sore happy that ye lost none o' yer family." "Sergeant," Jerid replied, "Thank you--and the men--for that, but you're wrong." Tears frosted his eyes. "My little girl died today." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Pact by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) Kalen stood on a wharf at the north end of the town of Dargon, looking into the darkening ocean. The sun, setting to the west, was a red disc half engulfed by the water. Menacing red shadows fell across the port and the city walls as a fresh reminder of the Beinisonian invasion only a month ago. He paced, looking at the havoc raised by the fighting. The piers were ruined, torn apart so that the Baranurian fleet had no place to dock after the battle was won. A large, hundred foot, merchant ship was almost completely submerged in the water not far away. It had been in port when the Beinison ships arrived and minutes later it was deck deep in the water. Now the hull was half buried in the sand and the tides were slowly dismantling the ship. There was nothing to salvage. The city walls were battered as well. The solid stone was cracked and chipped and in one place the stone wall had all but crumbled to dust. A creaking of the wooden walk alerted Kalen to turn. He noted a dark shape walking towards him from the eastern end of the docks, almost completely hidden by the dark. Two days ago Kalen received an anonymous note asking him to meet the sender here. The missive was brief and cryptic and could not be traced, but the lieutenant felt that it was something important. Ilona insisted that he not go or to at least bring guards, but the note explicitly told him to come alone, so he did. The shadow approached and Kalen recognized it for one of Liriss' henchmen. He wondered again if it was a trap or a set-up, but the man he was meeting was not armed. Kalen likewise had not brought his sword, but his eating dagger could always be used as a last resort weapon, as it has done a few times in the past. Kesrin Mardos stopped a few feet from Lieutenant Kalen Darklen, carefully studying the acting Captain of the Guard. He was carrying a heavy proposition, ready to create a life-long associate or a life-long foe. "What did you want?" Kalen asked. "What my Lord wanted," Kesrin answered without emotion. "What did the rat send you for now?" Kesrin suppressed a smile. He would have to use that line later. He often thought of Liriss as a rat, himself -- the same moustache, grown recently, unkempt hair ever since the Beinison invasion, and a growing need to be the master of all he could, whether it served a purpose or not. Like a dog on a stack of hay, will not eat it and won't let a horse near. "The rat," Kesrin spoke in a dry voice, it was all he could do to contain his amusement, "asked me to deliver you a proposition." "Which is?" Kalen was just as dry. There was nothing pleasant about being propositioned by a gangster in the middle of the night on a dark pier with no weapons or guards in sight. It would be like making a deal with the death god, J'Mirg, or Amante, or Nehru, or Balen-Ruk, or whatever all those religions called him, and hoping to come out ahead. Kalen was not sure where he got all that religion, but these were all one and the same. In this case Liriss. "He wishes to hire you." "For what?!" Kalen exclaimed, realizing he had begun to drift. Working on both sides of the fence was just what he needed. "For information! Control!" "No," Kalen shook his head, the grim darkness agreeing with him. "That's absurd. That's against the law." "Hear me out," Kesrin said calmly. What was Kalen expecting? Information about a whore-house to close down? "We are ready to do things for you. We can make you the Captain of the Guard..." "You're not the only one," Kalen interrupted. "But we can do it now! We know you want it." "I'll wait until Captain Koren retires," Kalen said. He knew he was the logical choice for the position as soon a the present captain would become tired of the job, something he did not expect to happen for years. During the Beinisonian invasion of Dargon, Captain Koren was severely wounded and for the last month had been in the care of Duke Dargon's personal physician, Elizabeth of the Pass. He was not expected to be up and about for at least another month more and Kalen held his job by default, pending Adrunian Koren's improvements under the care of the physician. "I'll wait until he is ready to step down on his own," Kalen repeated. "You will naturally be provided with inside information on our competition, to aid you in their apprehension," Kesrin continued. "You don't understand..." Kalen started, but Kesrin did not yield. "We will also pay you the exact same salary as the Duke. Think about it! Double the money for one job!" "What would you want from me in return?" Kalen asked cautiously. "Nothing that you'd have to work hard for. Just ignore what Lord Liriss does and make sure his competition stays out of the way..." A rather simple job, Kalen thought to himself, but still not worth doing. Money is not everything. There was also a certain part of living that's involved in life and to live well morality must be upheld. "I can't say I'm interested," he answered. "There are others..." Kesrin let the threat trail off. "Not others that can make captain," Kalen returned. "Not if you're alive," Kesrin agreed. "If I had my sword, I'd take you in," Kalen said through his teeth. Kesrin smiled. "What for? Being outside the city gates after dark? Curfew was lifted a fortnight ago. Or are you upset over being threatened? It's only your word against mine...and you're the acting Captain of the Guard." It was not certain if that last was being used in a mocking way. "If I had my sword," Kalen corrected himself, "I'd run you through." He turned, walking away from Liriss' right hand man. There was nothing to talk about and nothing to fight with...or for. If not Kesrin, then another. It never stopped. It was better to keep known criminals where they were, in order to track them with ease. Kesrin grabbed Kalen's shoulder and spun him around. The Lieutenant cringed from the pain that shot down his arm. "If we don't hear from you by tomorrow night, we will assume you made up your mind. We'll make the same deal with someone else. You are neither the first, nor the last." Kalen grabbed Kesrin's collar, violently yanking him up, but not being able to lift him off the ground in this manner. His shoulder screamed out in pain again. "Who else, you bastard? Who are you paying off?" Kesrin broke the grasp on his tunic. "Lieutenant Shevlin was working for us. He died an honorable death. Make sure you don't wind up just another body on the street! You have until tomorrow!" Lieutenant Kalen Darklen watched Kesrin return into the darkness. He wanted to follow, but the danger of that was hundreds of times greater than the meeting itself. He watched the man disappear into the darkness, then slowly walked back through the hole in the fortification to return home. Although the darkness had only settled, the streets of the city were all ready empty and quiet. The winding street that Kalen chose took him to the deserted market place. He stood at the opening to the alley, studying the square, wondering about the proposition Kesrin presented. Kalen could not imagine that Lieutenant Shevlin, a man he worked so closely with for a number of years, could be a turn-coat, but he had no evidence either way. Shevlin always did his job and did it well -- he was Kalen's main competition for the position of Captain of the Guard -- he was one of the most efficient officers in the guard, being offered twice to switch to the Duke's personal guard. Yet, Kalen had wondered in the past about how Shevlin could afford to buy some of the things he had on a lieutenant's pay. Either way, he died in the invasion. No answers would come from him. Kalen wondered if he should accept the offer extended to him, to go in under cover, to watch the criminal underworld and then strike when least expected, but then he remembered the price he would have to pay -- Adrunian Koren's life -- and eventually his own. It was too steep. A pair of lanterns appeared on the other side of the square. They were carried by six men -- a patrol. With a sigh Kalen decided to return home. * * * Ilona Milnor paced back and forth in her small rented apartment. She had warned Kalen not to go to the meeting, but he stubbornly insisted. When she said she was going to go with him, he made her swear that she would wait for him to return. Now she was angry she made that promise. It could have been a trap and she just let him walk off. She walked over to the table on which she had placed her sword and belt and started putting them on, but then unstrapped the buckle and returned the belt and weapon to the table. She had lost count of the number of times she went through this procedure this evening. Kalen was an ambitious officer. He became a lieutenant after only five years of service and at the age of twenty-nine was all ready, the best candidate for the position of Captain of the Guard. He almost got that that job, not to long ago. Captain Koren was gravely wounded in the invasion and there was some doubt as to weather or not the Captain would make it. Kalen was one of the few who said he would. He confided in Ilona that he was afraid of taking the Captain's place, that there was still so much he needed to learn and do before he could admit to himself that he could take care of the town. For now, while Captain Koren was still recovering from his injuries, Kalen was getting some of the experience he claimed he lacked and in the last month he had done an amazing job of running the city on his own. Ilona once again went over to the table, contemplating the sword. If Kalen was not back in a few more minutes, she would go after him. The thought of this made her chuckle. She had been thinking about going all evening and accumulated two or three hours worth of these "few more minutes" intervals. This was it. She put the sword-belt on, got the sword and went out. The air outside was cooler, though it was very humid. Ilona looked up and down the street. The way the street was situated, Kalen could return from either direction. She hesitated, not wanting to miss him because of lack of patience and an over active imagination. Kalen always complained that she was not patient enough. As she stood there, contemplating what to do, someone appeared up the street, walking towards her. Ilona immediately recognized the person as Kalen. She hurried towards him, meeting him half way. She immediately spotted the red stain on his left shoulder. "What happened to you?" "It was Kesrin. He wanted to talk," Kalen answered, not quite grasping the question. Ilona gently touched Kalen's bloody shoulder. "You fought?" Kalen shook his head. "Kesrin grabbed me to prevent me from leaving. It's not his fault -- he didn't know." "Let's go inside," Ilona suggested, taking Kalen's right arm. "I'll take a look at it." They slowly walked back to her apartment, with Ilona thinking of a good way to get her message, perhaps plea, across to her lover. His shoulder was injured during the Beinison invasion in Yule and he stubbornly refused to let anyone know about it until they wound up in bed a few days later. It was not a life threatening injury, but it would not heal without the proper care and rest. Instead, Kalen felt the absolute need -- that misplaced loyalty of his -- to coordinate and supervise guard activities until Captain Koren was ready to resume his duties, ignoring his own needs in the process. Inside Ilona sat Kalen down on the bed and helped him remove his tunic. The scab on his shoulder was freshly torn and a trickle of blood ran down his chest. She soaked a clean rag in a basin of water and began cleaning the wound. "This is the second time this week," she noted. Kalen grunted in agreement. It was hard to tell if he was being sarcastic or not. "I want you to make me a promise..." "I'm very bad with commitments." He tried to smile, but only gritted his teeth as Ilona ran the rag directly across the wound. "It won't heal unless you rest," she said as Kalen jerked back. Kalen took Ilona's hands into his. "This town won't stop running just because I'm sick." Ilona looked into his eyes with a pleading expression. "It does not have to. I can do the job. So can Lieutenant Azyn." "You don't understand," Kalen sighed. "Before the invasion there were four of us to help Koren. You telling me two people and less than half the regular staff can do the job?" Ilona picked up the rag, washed out the blood and returned to Kalen. "We don't have a choice, do we?" "We do. I'm here. I can do the work." "Kalen, everything is returning to normal. The people are beginning to rebuild. The looting has stopped. The Duke's personal forces are out on the streets along side the town guard..." "...a ship was stolen three days ago," Kalen interrupted her, "a warehouse was burned to cover a robbery, we have dozens of urchins holding citizens up in the night and I was propositioned by the mob. We need people now more than ever!" "Kalen! You're making it worse. That wound is turning into an ulcer!" Kalen lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "I wish I could say there was a choice, but now there's a new problem..." "They propositioned you?" Ilona asked, Kalen's words finally catching up with her. She expected anything from the mob, but a blatant offer from the them to pay off a public official was too much. Kalen's expression was as grim as ever. "Kesrin told me they will match what I am getting paid if I help them out now and again." "Help them out?" Ilona picked up the strips of bandages and started wrapping them around Kalen's shoulder. "In addition to the money, they will insure my standing in the guard, provide leads on other criminal dealings and the like...all they want is free run of the city." Ilona shuddered. "They can't be serious. What did you say?" "I said `no'. What else could I tell them?" Ilona put her arm around Kalen and pulled him to his side, to face her. "Please stop trying to be a hero. Let the wound heal." Kalen put his arms around her, pulling her closer and hiding his face in her long light brown hair. "I wish I could..." * * * The following morning Ilona left for work at sunrise, leaving Kalen asleep. It was late when they finished talking last night and he spent the night with her. She hoped that he would sleep well into his shift, but knew it to be an impossibility. The day went normally; at least as normal as any this week. Shortly before lunch she took a patrol on a quick tour of the market place. This was the area of town that suffered the most damage during the invasion. What could be easily carried off was and over half of what remained was burned to the ground. Then, a week after the Beinisonian forces were fought off, a mob of people raided the merchants restoring their businesses and destroyed what was left. The town guard, all ready reduced to half strength, was helpless to do anything and the looting extended into the rest of the city. It was not until a week later, when the remainder of the Duke's forces were able to place a greater effort into restoring the Ducal Capital, that peace was restored to the city. Duke Clifton Dargon, who was placed in charge of King Haralan's navy, left for Sharks' Cove where the Beinison invasion was in full swing. Most of his troops either went with him or were sent on to other areas of the duchy. Only fifty or sixty men remained in the town, in addition to the sixty-two members of the guard. Dargon no longer needed to be defended against invasions. Any damage that could be done to the city was all ready inflicted. Besides, Duke Dargon's flotilla was to engage the ships that posed the greatest danger to the city. Any infantry troop would have to first take two other duchies and then most of Dargon, in order to reach the city. A temporary guard station was set up in the middle of the market place. In spite of the damage inflicted on the market, it was the first part of town to be almost completely rebuilt and return to normal. Ilona spotted Lieutenant Jerid Taishent of the Duke's personal guard and after telling her troop to spread out and look around, proceeded towards him. Jerid was the only man of any rank from the Duke's troops still in the city. The rest, together with Bartol, their chief, had either left with the Duke or with the troops distributed to keep peace in the duchy. "Are the natives restless today?" Ilona called out to Jerid. He turned to her from watching the mobs pass by. "They are well behaved. We arrested three or four since sunrise. What about your side of town?" Sometimes all sides seemed like here. "All right for now. Someone threw a dead rat through the Guard House window, but little more." "No trouble?" Rats were common these days. "None that I heard off yet." "Are you planning on staying here?" "In town or the market place?" Ilona smiled. "The market place," Jerid grinned back. Ilona shook her head. "Just looking around to see that everything is all right. You're not here because of those arrests, are you?" "I stopped by to pick up a present for my daughter," Jerid said. "This war business is a little much for her." "You go on, then. I intended to stay here through lunch." Jerid saluted Ilona and called over to one of the men at the guard post, "Ryal, get that package and let's go!" One of the men picked up a sizable package and followed his commander. Ilona returned the salute as Jerid left. She looked at the market place, studying the people and their wares. Merchants and shoppers alike looked tired and worn out, much as they had the first days after the invasion, but the bruises and injuries they wore a month ago were now mostly gone. The merchandise also looked better and better every day. New merchants came daily from the villages in the south, unaffected by the war, and a few caravans from Tench have also delivered their wares. Yet, in spite of all this progress, Ilona knew that all was not as well as it would seem. The economy was dragging along and the prices were very high. The local merchants could not compete with those who travelled to Dargon. Many lost their homes, capital and stock. All had lost family and friends. Ilona sighed, knowing how lucky she was that Kalen was merely wounded. During the invasion she, herself, was put in charge of the castle defense -- the last line of defense. Someone, somewhere decided that since she was the only female lieutenant in the duchy, she should be as far away from the fighting as possible, behind the castle walls, waiting, just in case she was needed. And she was needed indeed. Needed to tend the wounded when they were brought in. Ilona was angry at the way she was treated, simply because she was a woman. She was trained as well as any in the guard and quite likely, better than most. But then, being behind the castle walls, she was safe, not injured, not violated. It was something Kalen did not have to worry about and there were plenty of things to worry him where he was. Looking around the market place she noticed the old sage, Corambis, talking to a few people on the corner. His was one of the few local businesses that did not suffer the after effects of the invasion. As soon as his booth was rebuilt, he started seeing customers, all seeking advice for what to do next. Ilona hesitated a moment, then, seeing the people leaving, hurried to Corambis. The sage waited for her to approach, then smiled. "Good day, Miss." "Good day, Sage," Ilona returned the greeting. "Is there a reading I can do for you?" Cormabis asked. "I..." Ilona shuddered. She should have thought first. "There is something I need advice on, but I can not discuss it." The sage smiled. "State secrets are the most fleeting ones of all. Come with me. I will only ask what I must." Ilona obediently followed the old sage into his booth. `I must be crazy!' she thought. `If he doesn't sell me out, I'll get killed pulling this stunt!' The sage absentmindedly held the door to the casting room open for Ilona to come in. "My assistant is out helping a friend of mine, a doctor, so I have to make do on my own. Please, be seated." Ilona took a seat at the table sporting the wheel of life. It was so new that it reflected what little light there was in the darkened room. "From my daughter," Corambis said proudly, taking a seat across from Ilona. "She had a wood-crafter make it as soon as she heard I lost the old one." "A good gesture," Ilona muttered. "You're a lucky man to have a daughter like that." "Lucky, yes," the sage agreed, "but she had it made of pure oak. Now I fear it favors the Valonus, but never mind that," Corambis smiled, pride still on his face. He gave her the velvet pouch with the casting chips inside. "Hold this while you tell me your woes." Ilona accepted the bag. "I don't know where to begin. Some new information has reached us in the Guard and I want to act on it. Lieutenant Darklen may missunderstand...and if Captain Koren were around, he would tell me to keep out of it as well, but I think I can do a lot of good by acting on it." "Give me that," Corambis took the bag from Ilona. "You don't need a fortune told. You need to do some soul searching. It's a good thing I do both." Ilona smiled, in spite of herself. "Now," the sage continued, "don't think yours is a one of a kind problem. We all have to make hard decisions. You must do what you feel is right." "But what if I'm doing something I shouldn't be?" "Like what? Taking advice from someone who knows nothing of the problem? What makes me more qualified than you? That I tell fortunes? Lieutenant, in true honesty, this is a case of the blind leading the blind." "But what if I'm wrong?" Corambis shook his head in dispair. "Do you know the problem?" "Of course!" "And you know how you want to solve it?" "Yes." "And you believe yourself to be on the right track?" "Yes!" "Then why are you here wasting my time and your money?" Ilona blushed lightly in the dim light. "Two years in this position and I still don't have the confidence I need," she sighed an offered the sage his fee. Corambis sternly pushed the money back. "If you're wrong, pay me later. If not, come back and tell me about it." "I will, sir," Ilona promised and left the sage in his booth. At least now she knew she was crazy. Corambis was right. She was wasting time. She was not assertive enough, not confident of her abilities -- she knew what she had to do. She should just do it and accept the results as they come. Ilona again scanned the market place, walking from one booth to another. The crowd had been steadily growing all morning, now being so thick, it was hard to see more than two booths away. Ilona fought her way through the crowd to an intersection in the rows, where the crowd was not as congested. "Simon!" She stopped across from the old sailor and his stew cart. The monkey jumped with a scream and pulled out a spoon. "Yes, Lieutenant Milnor?" "How about some stew?" "Which will it be?" he asked. "Sun-sweet," Ilona answered. "I'm in a particularly vile mood just now." She took the spoon from Skeebo and gave him the coins for the stew. "Here you are," Simon handed a steaming bowl to Ilona. "If you feel bad enough, then even this will taste good going down." "Is it true that only you and Guiseppi have been able to finish a bowl of this?" Ilona asked, carefully sipping the spicy stew. "What do you think?" Simon asked. "I think it's a tall tale." "Actually it is," Simon laughed. "I only poured myself half a bowl and Guiseppi never had taste." "Then I'll just have to be the first to do it," Ilona said. "I'll see you later." "Ah! But it won't be legitimate if I don't see you do it, Lieutenant," Simon said and Skeebo took hold of her belt. She petted the monkey until it let go. "I'm with the Guard, Simon. You know we don't lie," she told him and went back into the crowd. Behind her the old sailor sadly shook his head. Not all were pure and innocent and not all were as honest and reliable as one might expect. * * * Ilona felt a little better as she ate the burning stew. She was determined to finish the spicy concoction and then go through with her chosen assignment. If Kalen was not going to take the opportunity, she was ready to do it on her own. Looking about the market place, she noticed a young boy carefully crawling between the feet of the people gathered around a merchant's table. As soon as he was on his feet, he started running and she, dropping the bowl of Simon's finest, leapt after him. It was not long before the crowd got too thick to continue and after a bit of struggling and dodging, Ilona grabbed hold of the boy and pulled him up to his tip-toes by his ear. The boy was young, no older than eight, skinny and by the looks of him, homeless. "So what did you get?" she asked him, leading him out of the crowd. The boy did not answer. "Ten Bits for that ear!" somebody next to Ilona proclaimed. She looked over her shoulder to see a man in his twenties, looking anxiously at her. The boy jerked hard, but she still firmly held his ear and he cried out in pain. "If he does it again, I'll give it to you for free." "You're not going to arrest a child, are you?" "Are you planning to adopt him?" The young man reached into his purse. "Five Silver?" "Are you trying to buy a human being?" "I wish to take care of his fine." "So he can rob another merchant to pay you back," Ilona's eyes narrowed. "Tell your boss I wish to have a word with him about a deal he was making yesterday. I know someone who is looking for a job..." "I am not leaving without the boy," the man declared, seemingly missing what she said. Ilona pushed the child to him. "Tell Liriss he has until sunset." * * * Kalen stared at the ceiling, studying the crack that ran almost directly above him, dividing the ceiling of Captain Koren's office evenly in half. A sheet of parchment appeared in his line of vision, held by Ilona. "That's it." Kalen thumbed through the sheets. "A bit sketchy. There's more paper than report. You could fit it all on a page or two." "I've got a lot on my mind," she said. "Like what?" "Like you not getting enough rest." "That's not your problem," Kalen said. "I know my limits." "I won't argue with you," Ilona answered. "You all ready know what I think." "I know," Kalen nodded. "Just tolerate me, please." "I'd better go." Kalen got up. "I'll walk you out." Ilona put her arm around his waist and her head on his shoulder as they walked through the guard house. Kalen returned the gesture with his good arm. "Do you want an escort?" "I'll be fine," she said, hoping he would not insist. He did not. At the large double doors they exchanged one final embrace and Ilona hurried off into the darkness. She was worried about what she was going to do, but the thoughts of what it might produce in the long run helped relax her fears. More importantly, she believed that if Kalen was not involved, he would not be compromised as the acting Captain of the Guard. The darkness hid Ilona's figure, draped in a black cloak, as she made her way to the oldest part of town, just a few blocks from Dargon Keep and stopped in the shadows of a building. When her eyes adjusted to the added darkness of the alley, she spotted a tall muscular man, also robed in black, walking in her direction. Releasing the strap holding her sword, Ilona started towards the figure. The man stopped a few feet from her and she recognized him as Kesrin, Liriss' lieutenant. "What do you want?" he asked. "I wanted to meet with someone of authority," she answered, trying to provoke him on purpose. Kesrin did not appear to be affected by her statement. "Tell me first." Ilona did not like the sound of that, but if it was the only way she could get to see Liriss... She told him all she had to; perhaps a little more colorful than it really was, but it was plenty to convince him to get her a meeting with Liriss. Kesrin considered deeply if he should, but in the end decided it was better not to come back empty handed and took Ilona down the narrow winding streets of the old portion of the city. It was obvious he took the long way and Ilona was pretty sure she saw someone trailing them, probably to make sure that she was not being followed. Finally Kesrin stopped at what appeared to be a random door and opened it without knocking. Ilona followed him in. Inside, at the end of a long corridor, was a small room, furnished with a single table and two chairs. It was dirty, with a musty smell and plenty of dark stains, some appearing to be blood. The walls and the ceiling were rough and in bad shape. "Wait here," Kesrin said once she was inside and left her alone. Ilona sat in one of the chairs, looking at the single greasy candle burning in the middle of the table. It cast little light and there were no windows, not that having any would provide more light on a night as dark as this. There were some noises in the corridor and Ilona looked at the door, noticing deep cuts in its surface, as if it had been attacked with an axe. As she watched, the door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man in his forties walked in. His eyes looked tired and the hair at his temples was beginning to turn grey. The last year must have been a hard one for him. As Ilona studied Liriss, he took the opportunity to study her. This was not their first meeting. They last saw each other a little over a year ago, in the spring of 1013, at a celebration thrown by one of the local merchants on his daughter's wedding. Both were guests, on neutral ground, unable to confront each other, but this was different. Liriss tossed back his cloak, making sure that Ilona knew that he was armed. "It's been a long time, Lieutenant," he greeted her. Ilona rose from the chair, politely greeting the crime lord. "Not so very long, Liriss." "Please be seated," he indicated to her. Instead, Ilona moved away from the table. "I will be more comfortable standing up." Liriss nodded. "Up to you." Uneasy silence set in for a moment before he continued. "If you are here to let me know that Lieutenant Darklen is not interested in my offer, I all ready knew that at sunset." Ilona faced Liriss, her face a calm mask. There was no reason to stall. They both knew why she was here and there was no turning back. "I did not come here for him. I came here for myself. I want the job." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Fortunes 2 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. Corambis stood over the large table with the Wheel of Life, scratching his head. "Thuna! Thuna, bring me a pebble from the outside," he called out. Something crashed with a thud in the outer room, but he ignored it, pressing his hand down on the velvet table. It tilted. "By Kurin's beard! Expert craftsman my ..." Another loud crash outside drowned out the sage's words. "What's going on out there, Thuna?" he shouted. The door opened and Dyann Taishent stepped into the casting room, holding his hand in the air before him. "What is she doing?" Corambis demanded. "I'm not sure," Taishent looked back out the door, "but she told me to give you these," he dropped some pebbles on the table. Corambis shook his head. "...and she asked me to tell you to stuff them in your ..." Another loud crash in the other room cut him off and Thuna shrieked. "That does it!" Corambis snapped and went over to the door. "Thuna, what are you doing?" His assistant jumped into the casting room and slammed the door shut after herself. Her dark brown hair was a mess and in her hand she held a broken stick. "You have a mouse, Sir," she whispered, trying to maintain dignity. "A mouse," Corambis said flatly. "Well...a rat...maybe two..." "Then chase it out, girl! Get the broom and chase it out!" "I can't, Sir. It ate the broom." She handed him the stick she was holding. Sharp grooves of tooth marks marred it on one side and it was splintered from being hit on the other. "In the name of Ol!" Corambis cursed. "Three weeks and we all ready have rats! Here," he handed her some coins. "Go get me a cat." "I don't think a cat will solve it, Sir," Thuna muttered. "Get me something," Corambis ordered and opened the door. Thuna peeked out cautiously, then retrieved the remains of the broom from the sage and ran out. Corambis sat down holding his head. "Rats all ready. It was fine when I had the grain merchant next door..." Dyann Taishent sat down across from Corambis. "If you're too busy to do a casting today, maybe we can sip some cider and then chase the rats around..." Corambis let out a laugh. "Here, give me a hand." He scooped up the pebbles on the table and pointed to one of the corners. "Press down on that." Taishent put both of his hands on the edge and tilted the table, while the sage fumbled at the opposing leg, stuffing the pebbles beneath it. "There," Corambis finally got up. "Stable for now." "Rats?" "I wish. Trissa got some wood cutter to make me this. All the legs are of a different length. Twenty years bringing her up and she gets me a casting table made of oak." Taishent chuckled. "How does it cast?" Corambis shrugged. "Madam Labin asked me to cast for her pregnancy. According to my casting, she will have a puppy." Taishent's mouth dropped open. "What did you tell her?" "I said she will have a healthy baby...if a little on the hairy side. I will have to call her back for a second casting..." "Do you still want to do a casting with the table acting up like that?" "Of course," the sage said. "But we best do it under the influence." He got up and took a jug and two glasses from the corner. "At least the rats haven't gotten to this." "Jerid has been raiding my house every few days," Taishent sighed. "He took all the cider and just two days ago carried off a package of kavaliculi. Told me I was too old to eat all that." Corambis filled the two glasses and handed one to Taishent. "Live good while you live." "I've got a new hiding spot," Taishent winked. "I'll be picking up some pickled meats this evening." "Now," Corambis produced a bag of chips. "The casting." He chanted the incantation, naming Baranur as the recipient and let the nine blue and one red chips fall to the wheel carved in the table. The ally discs slipped to Pyrale, the torch. The adversary markers landed on Kafarn, the ship. The other discs landed in random areas, some rolling out to the outer rim of the wheel, where the major power elemental symbols took form. The red disc representing Baranur danced around the table for a time and finally came to rest on Aurus, the mistweaver. "Be better off chasing rats," Taishent muttered. "Allys in water, enemies in fire..." Corambis said. "That's a new one..." "Only the body is on Valonus," Taishent pointed to the oak symbol. "Usually all of them are there," Corambis sighed. Taishent quickly unwrapped his deck of cards and placed the Fate card on the table with the wheel. He shuffled the deck, said the incantation and placed another card on Fate, face down. After a second shuffling and casting, he laid a pattern on the surface. The top row held Sword, Wizard and Moon, the one below it contained Sorrow, Air and Fortress. "If I did not know any better, I'd say we're at war," Taishent smirked with sarcasm and turned over the hidden card on Fate. "The Jester again!" Corambis exclaimed. "That's the fourth time!" "Fifth," Taishent corrected. "I first cast him last summer." "Indeed you did," the sage agreed. "This makes it five times consecutively." "I guess we got it all right last summer," Taishent said, sitting back down. "The unrest of the mob, the actions of that coven, the Duke's trial...the war..." "Do the far future," Corambis prompted. Taishent recast the cards and laid out the last row -- Water, Knight and Fire. Corambis fumbled to refill their glasses with cider. "Why water and fire?" he wondered. "Both of us..." "Clifton Dargon's fleet?" Taishent guessed. "But why the fire?" ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 ** ****** **** ** ** ** **** ** ** ** **** **** ** ** ** ***** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ***** ** ** *** **** ** Quanta is the electronically distributed journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy. As such, each issue contains fiction by amateur authors as well as articles, reviews etc... Quanta is published in two formats, Ascii and PostScript* (for PostScript compatible laser-printers). Submissions should be sent to quanta@andrew.cmu.edu. Requests to be added to the distribution list should be sent to one of the following depending on which version of the magazine you'd like to receive. quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.cmu.edu quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.cmu.edu or quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.BITNET quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.BITNET Send mail only- no interactive messages or files please. Note that if you subscribe with a letter sent over BITNET, you will have the magazine sent to you as a file over BITNET, whereas if you subscribe with a letter sent over the Internet, the magazine will be sent to you by mail. Note that all issues are available from the anonymous FTP server fed.expres.cs.cmu.edu (128.2.209.58). If you can access this server and would therefore only want to be notified when a new issues has been released, please specify this in your request. Quanta now reaches an international audience of over 1000 subscribers. It is produced bi-monthly by Daniel Appelquist (da1n+@andrew.cmu.edu). * PostScript is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright June, 1991, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the express permission of the author involved.

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