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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:36:14 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26864 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:36:09 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121436.AA26864@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3313; Tue, 12 May 92 10:32:28 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:32:24 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 4 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 4 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 4, Issue 4 12/17/91 Cir 1215 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ The Changeling Never Known, Parts I and II Wendy Hennequin Yule 1, 1014 Pact II Max Khaytsus Yuli 12-13, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 The Changeling Never Known * Part I * by Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a ) Richard just Richard ducked into the Sword and Serpent Tavern, and, putting his back against the wall, he searched the dim room. Luckily, the dusky room matched the exterior twilight, and Richard needed no time for his eyes to adjust. He kept his hand on his cutlass all the same. Eel Harbor, on the shores of Duchy Northfield, was a dangerous place at night. "Richard!" a voice called out, and Richard cursed himself although the voice was a known and friendly one. The bowmaster hated to be seen before he himself had seen. "Richard, come over and have a drink. Dinner's on the way." After another moment's quick survey, Richard located Captain Gaoel Fynystere of the Eclipse sitting in a corner table--the one Richard would have chosen himself, in fact. It was hardly visible from the doorway. Satisfied, Richard approached, then paused hostilely as he saw the other man at the table. After a moment, Richard resumed his approach slowly, carefully observing the stranger as he came closer. The man was tall and elegantly slim in the dimness, and he held beside him a large, lumpy object which Richard could not identify at the distance. Another step and the object became a plump lute, and the glowing lamp on the table glittered suddenly on a metal chain hung with pendants. Two more paces showed the man's face in the lamplight: handsome, dark, perhaps Richard's age. Not taking his eyes off the stranger's dark, pleasant ones, Richard sat in the chair Fynystere kicked to him, and observed final details: the colors and cut of the stranger's clothes, the designs on the medallions, and the other side of his face. The clothes were well made of fairly expensive and comfortable silk--the cloth Richard preferred for his own clothes, but Richard's plain white blouse and close-cut breeches were not exquisitely embroidered with gold and silver threads. The stranger's taste was excellent; his suit was elegant, colorful but not gaudy, and would look at home here in a tavern or in a nobleman's hall. Still, Richard felt wary, as he did with all strangers, and so he looked at the medallions to see what they could tell him. The first, a badge denoting the second-highest rank in the Baranurian Bardic College surprised him; Richard doubted that the seedy port town of Eel's Harbor ever sheltered a bard of such high rank before. The second medallion, a gold coin depicting King Haralan's head, seemed inconsequential to Richard, for he was familiar with the practice of bards wearing their first coins as trophies. The third medallion, however, intrigued him: it was a gold executioner's hood. The stranger smiled at him, and then Richard saw, with wonder, the unusual jagged scar, perhaps a burn, perhaps a cut, on the stranger's face. Richard shook his head to clear sudden, disturbed feelings from it--there was no reason for them--and smiled back. "Richard," Fynystere began, and Richard could tell that the captain had already been in his cups, "this is Matteo." A bard with no other name? Richard wondered. "Matteo, my bowmaster, Richard just Richard." "Pleased to know you, Bowmaster," Matteo said, and Richard knew Matteo was from Magnus by his accent. Of course, Richard chided himself; the Bardic College was in Magnus, and many bards came from there. Praying that Matteo had never seen him in Magnus, Richard answered formally, "And I you, sir. Tell me, what does a bard of such high skill as yourself do in Eel Harbor in a dump like this?" "Ask no questions, Rich," Fynystere growled one of the most important rules of the Eclipse. "Do our rules apply off board, captain?" Richard wondered amiably. "Do you want me to start asking *you* questions?" Fynystere snapped pointedly, and Richard felt a chill in his heart. His secrets were deep and dangerous, and the bowmaster guarded them jealously as a dragon. If he were asked--if anyone knew-- But Matteo laughed, and his eyes were shrewd. "I'm a bard; I'll tell freely. I was at the battle of Oron's Crossroads, sir. The Beinisons weren't gentle with Lady Martis' army." Richard abruptly suspected two things: the man was no bard, and he was a liar. No bard of such high distinction would mistake a Royal Officer's rank and refer to a Knight Captain as merely "Lady." As for the scar-- "Damn well healed for two months," Richard muttered. Matteo laughed, "Yes, and I have a good mage-healer, Hrina, to thank for it. Trained by Marcellon Equiville himself--have you heard of him, sir? The High Mage and Royal Physician. Hrina has been attendant on Lady Martis and myself since we were together in Magnus--I an aspirant to the Bardic College, Lady Martis an aspirant to Knighthood, and Hrina a student of the High Mage." That explained the scar and the familiarity with Dame Captain Westbrook, but Richard still wondered about some things. "Is it true, as I hear," Richard began carefully, "that Dame Captain Westbrook may never fight again?" Matteo nodded sadly. "My poor lady," he rued, sighing. "A wound in the upper arm, Bowmaster, and a bad one. By the time my lady arrived back in Pyridain, Hrina could do but little for her." Richard found that odd, and odd too that such an old friend as Matteo claimed to be would leave Dame Captain Westbrook at such a time. "It's a long way from Pyridain," Richard commented. "Indeed," Matteo agreed, sipping from his goblet. "I work my way north to Magnus, but my business I cannot tell." Richard nodded, satisfied. The man probably bore some sort of message from Dame Martis to Magnus--probably to the Knight Commander or the King. Still, Richard felt unjustifiably uneasy. Something--Richard couldn't tell what--bothered him about the way the man spoke. "I hear you sing, Bowmaster," Matteo continued. "Your captain has told me you have even written songs." Something was wrong with his accent. Oh, it sounded like Magnus' voice, but something wasn't quite right about it. Perhaps he grew up somewhere else first, Richard reasoned. More to keep the bard talking than anything else, Richard replied casually, "Oh, Bron of Beggar's End writes the songs. I merely clean them up." "Clean them up," the captain grumbled, reaching for his grog. "Clean them up. Why should you clean them up, Rich? A song can never be too bawdy." "I meant fixing the rhythm," Richard explained, rolling his eyes in exasperation. He looked back at Matteo. "Bron has all the metrical skill of a blacksmith." "You would think," Matteo replied smiling, "that seamen would take to rhythm naturally, what with knowing the tides and the rocking of the ship and all." "Not Bron. He's about as much a poet as Donegal," Richard replied, relaxing a little. "Your leech, I believe?" Matteo wondered. "The same," Fynystere belched. "Where is that whoreson, anyhow, Rich? Wasn't he to meet us here for dinner? And where is that damn cat of yours?" Richard smiled at the reference to the Red Tiger, Richard and Donegal's pet and the Eclipse's mascot. "Damn cat" was what Fynystere called her when in a good mood. "Donegal and Cedric--the mate--" he added for Matteo's benefit, "--are off somewhere getting wild, as usual. Kitty insisted on keeping an eye on them." "Kitty? Your lady?" Matteo wondered. "You could call her that, I guess." "A lady on a pirate ship," Matteo chuckled, pulling his lute out. The strap touched the medallions and moved them. Matteo plucked a string and adjusted its pin slightly. "I should put that into a song. Where did you find her, Bowmaster, this lady who dares sail with pirates?" "The Islands of the Sun," Richard answered, staring at the executioner's hood medal to shake his preoccupation with the man's accent. "She wouldn't let us leave her." "Tell me about her," Matteo said. "What does she look like?" "I'll tell," Richard promised, leaning closer for a better look at the pendants, "if you'll tell me where you got that medal." "What, the coin or the hood?" Matteo wondered. "Surely you know where I got the Bardic Medal." "Of course," Richard retorted, and his voice was sharper than he had intended. The man's not-quite Magnus accent grated on him inexplicably. "I meant the hood." "The hood was given to me by the Lord Executioner of Welspeare," Matteo explained as he tuned another string. "I've been thinking of melting it into a ring. It's rather gruesome." Richard couldn't argue with that. "And the coin I earned when singing for the Duchess of Narragan." Matteo reached for it with his right hand and held it out for Richard's inspection. "A gold sovereign, and my first performance before a noble, too." Richard knew that no bard whose singing was worth less than a sovereign even earned the right to perform before a noble. He said nothing, however, and stared at King Haralan's head, stamped rigidly into the gold. Matteo noticed Richard's gaze and picked up the sovereign. He looked down at the King's head, then at Richard. "Tell me, fellow-Magnan, does it look like the King? I've never seen him." He lived long enough in Magnus to go to the Bardic College and acquire the city's accent, but had never seen the King? Richard's stomach tightened. Something was wrong with this man, definitely. It didn't make sense: Matteo had lived in Magnus long enough to acquire--perhaps *learn*?--Magnus' accent, but had never seen the King, who appeared in parades and pageants and law courts? Richard carefully kept his eyes calm despite the sudden quake in his heart and replied, "I really don't know. I haven't been to Magnus in fourteen years. King Arneth was still alive then, and King Haralan was a young man." Matteo again turned to coin so he could view the face. "I always wondered if this is what he looked like," the bard mused. "I should like to know a King when I see him." The food came then, and Matteo returned to tuning the lute. The captain perked up slightly. "Where is that bloody Donegal?" Richard rose smoothly and stilled his nervousness sternly. "I'll go look for him, Captain." Suddenly, Matteo's eyes widened in horror, and Richard felt a hand on his shoulder. Before Richard could attack, Donegal's voice said, "Sit down." Richard nearly jumped despite the friendly voice. Why was he so edgy? "'Evenin', Captain," the leech greeted with his normal cheerful casualness. Suddenly, Donegal's voice changed. "Good evening, sir." Richard's hands tightened when Donegal's tone did. The Red Tiger nudged beneath Richard's palm but growled softly instead of purring. Suddenly, Richard wanted very badly to leave. "What *is* that--that--" Matteo gasped, and Richard's mood improved spitefully at the bard's fear. Let *him* be uncomfortable! "Damn cat," said Fynystere. "Hey, Rich," Donegal began, and Richard could tell without looking that Donegal's usual cheerfulness was now being feigned. "Hey, Rich, you've *got* to see this wench across the street. She's just the kind you like--big and--" "Let's go," Richard agreed quickly, and he left the tavern without turning. "See you later, Captain," Donegal ended the conversation, and Richard heard in the leech's voice that he was under strict control. "Something's wrong with that bard," Richard muttered when they had crossed the street. "Something's wrong." "You're damn right," Donegal breathed, and Richard, for the first time that evening, looked at his good friend. Donegal's white eyes were wide and wild in his dark face. "I don't know who the hell he's after, but I can't risk being in there with him. If he knew I was a slave--" Richard shook his head. "What are you babbling about? There's no slavery in Baranur." "He'd drag me back to Beinison--" "He's from Magnus," Richard corrected the leech, then, after a moment, he corrected himself: "He says he's from Magnus, but I don't believe it." After a moment of silence, Donegal asked quietly, "How did you know, Rich?" "Something about his accent isn't right." "He's not from Magnus, Rich." Richard rubbed his arms; the midsummer night had suddenly chilled. "How do you know?" "Did you see that scar on his cheek? The hood medal he wears?" "Aye." The bowmaster shivered, afraid of the answer to his next question. "What are they, Donegal?" "They're the signs of the Masked God, Rich. That so-called Magnus bard is a priest of Amante the Masked God. He's an assassin." * Part II * When Donegal na Valenfaer returned to the tavern with the skittish Red Tiger, he found only Captain Fynystere, more than half-drunk and half- asleep, at the corner table. Ignoring the astonished stares and frightened murmurs of the patrons, Donegal turned and searched the common room quickly. That so-called bard, thank Sanar, was gone. Heaving a grateful sigh, the leech slid into the corner beside the captain, and the Red Tiger settled peacefully at his feet. A pretty wench smiled at Donegal and motioned to an ale mug. Donegal nodded and began to feel much better. "Hey, Captain," he jostled Fynystere, "having fun, sir?" Fynystere groaned, lifted his dangling head, and gazed blearily at his leech. "Oh, Donegal," the captain slurred, "you're back. You missed dinner. Matteo sings like an angel." "Who?" "The Magnus bard. Richard really liked him," Fynystere continued, sliding forward to rest his head on his hands. "He took him back to the ship." "He *what*?" Donegal practically flew out of the chair and ran for the door. Kitty, the Red Tiger, sped at his heels. Richard took that bard back to the ship?! "He's an assassin," Donegal had told Richard when they stood outside the tavern two hours ago. "All the Masked God's priests are assassins, torturers, executioners, something. And he's important, Rich." "What the hell is a Beinison priest doing here?" Richard had wondered, his face pale and his breath short. "Going to kill someone, I suppose," Donegal had shrugged. The leech hadn't really cared; all Donegal wanted to do was get away from that "bard" as soon as possible. "Who?" Donegal had been surprised at the question. "How the hell should I know?" More surprising than the demand were the sudden, violent hands on Donegal's shoulders. Richard shook him once. "Think, damn you," the bowmaster hissed, murder in his voice. "Who could he be here to get? You said he's important. What did you mean?" Donegal struggled beneath Richard's large, hard hands. "Gold's the highest rank in their priesthood. That executioner's hood is their symbol, and it was gold." Richard was silent a moment, but his strong fingers dug into Donegal's flesh. "So he wouldn't be here to kill just anybody?" "I guess not, but Rich--" "My God," Richard abruptly breathed. "Oh, my God." Donegal had never seen the bowmaster so frightened, and they had faced death--and worse--together so many times that-- But Richard's blue eyes held terror, and his face was corpse-grey. Donegal couldn't swear to it, but he thought the strong archer was shaking. "What is it, Rich?" Richard didn't answer. Face stony, Richard turned slowly in the darkness and began to move away as if sleepwalking. "Don't worry, Donegal. We won't let him take you." "Wait, Rich--" "Bowmaster?" Donegal shrank into the darkness as soon as he heard the voice; he did not want that disguised priest to see him. Richard turned to the so-called bard. "Where is your friend? I've never seen his like, except among the Beinison slaves." The final word had sent Donegal fleeing into the night, and Donegal had not seen Richard since then. But he must have returned to the tavern; Captain Fynystere had said that Richard had taken the "bard" back to the Eclipse-- Donegal groaned internally and quickened his already-sprinting pace. Sanar guard him, Donegal prayed. Alanna, guard him on your ship. The Red Tiger rushed ahead impatiently, and Donegal increased his speed with great effort. What am I doing? he wondered at himself. That priest could haul me back to Beinison-- And hurl Richard into the grave. The Red Tiger leapt easily onto the gang plank, turned expectantly, and waited for Donegal. "Go!" he breathed, panting slightly. "Find him." The Red Tiger seemed to nod before she sped away. Donegal tried to breathe deeply enough to shout, "Watch!" The word came out less impressively than Donegal wished, but Morise of Equiville, the boatswain, heard. "Ev'nin', leech," Morise greeted him casually. "Th' law on yir back?" "Richard!" Donegal huffed, trying to slow and calm his breathing and his pounding heart. "Where is Richard?" "Th' bowmaster's b'low decks with a bard ir sech," Morise supplied readily. "'E sings richt purty--" Donegal dashed for the stairs and fell down them noisily in his haste. "Rich!" Donegal rasped, throwing open the door to the officers' shared cabin. Empty, dark space stared back at him. Donegal grabbed the lintels for support. "Whaire's th' fir', Donegal?" Donegal sprang into the air at Morise's words. "What's wrong wi' yir?" Donegal closed his eyes tightly. Richard could be in that dark room, dead on the floor. How would he know? How could he know without lighting the lamp--and giving that false bard time to leap out at him? Donegal took a deep breath and tried to think. How could he know where that false bard and Richard were? "Where's the bowmaster?" he panted again. "Morise--" "Cap'n's cab'n, I think," Morise obliged, staring at Donegal as if he were mad. "What's in yir, boy?" Donegal turned with all the energy he had left and stumbled down the hall to the captain's quarters. Impatiently swinging her tail, the Red Tiger waited at the captain's door. Donegal swallowed and attempted normal breathing. He failed miserably. "Has the bard left yet?" "No' yet." Thank Sanar. Maybe there was time left to save Richard. Donegal staggered the last few feet and collapsed beside the Red Tiger, who continued to scratch the captain's door impatiently. The bard's sudden, low laugh chilled Donegal's blood, and he shivered. "Am I?" he said with a voice pleasantly evil. "Do you think I don't know the marks of the Masked God's priests?" Richard challenged with even confidence, and Donegal released a momentous, grateful sigh. "I'm no stranger to Beinison. I've seen your like before." "Come, be logical," the pseudo-bard soothed, and Donegal shook. "Why would a Beinison priest be here in Northfield--in an enemy country, for Stevene's sake?" Donegal reached for the doorknob as Richard emitted a careful laugh. "Do you think using the Stevene's name will fool me? Or that it will distract me?" Richard returned, his voice suddenly filled with an inexplicable power which made Donegal shiver in responsive awe. "I know what you are, and I can guess why you're here." Donegal turned the doorknob silently. Locked. Damn you, Richard! Didn't the man have better sense? "Why am I here?" the bard demanded, his voice sinking into the frigid tones of the Masked God's priests. "Tell me, O bowmaster." "Where are the keys?" Donegal hissed to Morise, who drew closer. "We've got to unlock this door." "None but the cap'n has keys," Morise whispered loudly. Angry at his noise, Donegal chopped the air to silence him. "We can't get in." "There's got to be another set," Donegal argued. "Rich got in there somehow, and we've got to go in after him." "And what, pray, makes you think that?" the fake bard laughed coldly. "You revealed it through your carelessness," Richard answered, his voice still flowing with that new might. "It does not matter." The bard chuckled sinisterly. Before he could speak, Morise interrupted, "How're yir gonna get in thaire?" Donegal looked at Morise, and his mind raced. "Porthole. Isn't there a porthole?" "Ne'er go through it, Donegal," Morise objected. "T' small." Richard's voice raised suddenly without losing its control. "You will not kill the--" "Oooooh--" someone bellowed, and Donegal whirled to see the drunken captain sway into the hallway. Donegal motioned sharply for Fynystere's silence, but the captain ignored him. "Ooooh," he began again, then started to sing a drunken, bawdy ballad with deafening tunelessness. "Then you will die!" the bard shrieked. Something crashed. Donegal heard Richard cry out. The Red Tiger roared in angry helplessness. Donegal sprang to his feet and rushed at the captain. "Give me the keys!" Donegal screamed. "Give me the keys!" The captain staggered without hurry, singing his ditty merrily. "Ooooh," he started the refrain again. Glass shattered. Something thudded against the wall. The bard snarled. Richard howled in pain, his power gone. "Give me the keys!" Donegal shrieked, taking hold of Fynystere's shoulders and shaking him. Fynystere fumbled in both pockets. The Red Tiger pawed the door anxiously. Something crashed again. "Rich!" Donegal called desperately. The bard laughed. Another thud. Fynystere fished the iron key ring from somewhere. A heavy object slid across the floor in the room beyond. Donegal's shaking hands searched the keys. Above decks, men were running and calling. The world thundered in Donegal's ears. He shoved the key into the quivering lock and turned it. The Red Tiger lunged into the room, distracting the knife-wielding, gory bard who spun and smiled through the blood like a dragon. The blade rose. Donegal charged into the false bard's embrace and cried out as they both fell. Metal clattered on the floor. The Red Tiger leapt and roared at the bard who reached for the knife. The bard shouted a curse. Suddenly, without willing it, Donegal rolled onto his back. The bard cried out, and blood spurted by Donegal's eyes. Gleaming metal danced on the edge of Donegal's eyesight. He reached--it was warm and slid in his hand-- and when it hit home, Donegal's wrist wrenched painfully. The bard collapsed onto Donegal's chest. Magic hands appeared from nowhere to haul the bard off Donegal's body. The surgeon rolled toward the Red Tiger, who stood protectively between the bard's corpse and Richard's bloody body. "Rich!" Donegal croaked. The bowmaster was still. Despairing, Donegal staggered to his feet but crashed when he slipped on the blood. Feebly, the leech crawled to his friend and tried to rip away the gory shirt. Even with it obscuring Richard's chest, Donegal knew there were at least two wounds. By magic, Donegal's medical bag appeared on his lap, and voices buzzed around his head as he drew out his tools-- "--Did you see Kitty? She nearly bit his hand clean off!" "--Wonder what the bowmaster was doing?" "--Ain't no bard can fight like that!" One voice was Morise's. "Stow th' trash, and we'll heave it t'morrir when we set sail. Can't be lettin' 'm know we's killed a bard." "Water!" Donegal demanded. He was barely conscious of the gentle, thin hands of Luen Half-Elven, the youngest of the crew, setting a small cauldron and a pile of clean bandages near him. Richard's wounds were deep and dangerous, and Donegal could see nothing else. Luen's slender fingers sponged away the blood so Donegal could see, and the frantic surgeon groaned for his friend's life. Blood gushed from wounds. He tried to thread the needle with a quaking hand. Richard cried out when Luen touched him, and Donegal started, losing the needle completely. "My brother," the bowmaster moaned, thrashing. "My brother." "Hold him down!" Donegal shouted, and several disembodied arms appeared to hold Richard still. Luen handed Donegal a threaded needle, and Donegal stitched. Richard screamed his pain, but was held still. Horror-struck and numb, Donegal stitched. And then it was done. Richard lay still on the floor, breathing shallowly as his patched chest rose and fell. There was nothing Donegal could do but wait and pray and hope. Trembling, Donegal fell against a wall and finally allowed himself to think. "Rich, you're a stupid ass," he choked. "Attack a Masked God's priest." "Dead?" Richard gasped, and Donegal jumped. Sweat peppered the bowmaster's forehead and streaked his bloody hair, but he turned to Donegal. "Dead?" Donegal pulled himself to Richard's side. "He's dead," the surgeon answered, cradling his friend's head. Unexpectedly, tears spilled from Richard's blue eyes as they closed, relieved. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" "My brother," the bowmaster murmured, relaxing beneath Donegal's hands. Richard's eyes opened again. "His necklace...the King's head...his necklace..." "What's he talking about?" Luen asked, sliding toward them. Donegal wasn't too certain himself. "Go tell Morise I want the necklace that...bard was wearing. Now," Donegal snapped when the boy didn't move. As Luen left, Donegal looked back at Richard. "You're a god-damned fool, Rich." Richard shook his head weakly. "My brother..." "And you may die for it," Donegal finished, his voice rising. Balancing Richard's head on his leg, the leech scrambled for bandages and began to wrap the wounds. "I told you he was an assassin. Why--" "My brother," Richard croaked. "He said...something he said...he was going to kill my brother." Donegal laughed nervously and tucked the bandage to keep it fastened securely. "Your brother? You've got to be kidding. That priest was of the highest rank--" Donegal laughed again, frightened by the unthinkable, and asked thoughtlessly, "Is your brother so important?" Richard closed his eyes and nodded weakly. "Essential." Donegal shuddered. Who was Richard's brother, that a High Priest of the Masked God was sent to deal with him? Good Sanar, who was Richard then? "Promise me." Startled out of his fright, Donegal looked down into Richard's pained blue eyes. "Promise me." "Anything, Rich," Donegal vowed, watching blood seep through the bandages despite the fine stitching. "If I die--" "You won't die," Donegal asserted stubbornly, suddenly unwilling to face the fact. Before Richard could answer, Luen rushed in again, panting, and gave Donegal the necklace with the three pendants, which the surgeon gave immediately to Richard. "Go get me the healing potions," Donegal ordered sternly, "quick!" If Donegal could get enough healing potions into him--special healing that the old leech his master had taught him--he could avoid a fever, increase the healing, and give Richard a better chance at life. "And a sleeping potion?" Luen wondered, pausing at the door. Donegal nodded. Richard might need one, in his pain. But when Donegal looked down at his old friend, Richard was already asleep, the coin on the "bard"'s necklace clutched to his heart. In the hallway, Fynystere snored. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Pact part 2 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) "You did what?" Kalen demanded, shocked. Without waiting for a more complete explanation, he jumped out of bed and started dressing. He had had a bad feeling brewing in his stomach ever since his meeting with Kesrin. When Ilona told him the news of her evening trip, those fears came to life. Ilona stared at him from the bed, full of surprise. Where was the execution? Kalen had never reacted this way to her personal investigations before, but something was wrong now and there was genuine fear in his eyes. "What's wrong?" Ilona asked. Kalen looked at Ilona, jamming his tunic in his pants. Obviously his intentions did not include neatness. "Damn." But he did not look angry. He never really looked angry and Ilona could not recall any rumors to that effect. None the less, something was absolutely wrong. "Get dressed and go to the guard house," Kalen told her. "I want two men watching Koren at all times." "What? What does he have to do with this?" Kalen pulled Ilona out of bed and held her by her shoulders. His voice was low and a bit excited. "I didn't agree to work for Liriss because a part of the deal was to have me replace the Captain. The only way for me to achieve the position is to kill him. Liriss agreed to your proposal just because you're so close to me. If he puts me in charge now, the effect will be the same. Now get dressed!" His voice rose only at the end. Ilona started dressing, too concerned about what could happen to think about what she had done. Kalen strapped on his belt and grabbed his sword. "Where are you going?" "The castle. I need to be sure nothing's happened yet." He kissed her quickly, missing her lips, but not making a second try in his rush to leave. Ilona was dressed and ready only moments after Kalen had left. She grabbed her scabbard and made for the door, strapping the weapon on as she hurried out. Only now did she realize the consequences of the decision she had made, but now she was committed, as was everyone else. It was not the decision she would have made if Kalen had told her everything, but what was done was done. Hopefully they could turn this seeming mistake to their advantage. If they could dismantle just a small part of the underground, it would be worth the risk. Under normal circumstances if the Captain was killed or even hurt due to her actions, she would have resigned and faced any legal charges that would have been levied, but in this case she did not have the luxury of giving up. That made her even more determined to see everything through and to make the people responsible pay. Jerid Taishent tensely paced the office of Duke Clifton Dargon's leading general, Captain Lansing Bartol. The Duke was off leading King Haralan's fleet against the Beinison flotilla that, just a month before, had attacked the town of Dargon, hoping to secure the Coldwell as an access point deep into Baranurian lands, where it could easily resupply the army moving up the Laraka towards Gateway. Captain Bartol himself was currently off in the southern portion of the duchy raising troops for the King's army, now struggling against the invading forces on the Laraka. With Captain Bartol gone, and all the other Ducal lieutenants out in various parts of the Duchy helping with the recruiting, Jerid was in charge of the castle and all the troops that were within his reach. The office was one of the luxuries of carrying such a responsibility. There were certainly better things to do in the middle of the night than pace an office, but something had happened. A page woke him up not long ago, saying that a man was caught committing a crime in the keep itself. There was more, but Jerid was not in a condition to listen to long sentences and the boy did not look awake enough to be making them. All that was made clear was that the crime was serious and Jerid's presence was required. Now Jerid waited for the man to be brought to him to be questioned, and Jerid did not know what questions to ask. A knock sounded on the door and a second later three guards entered. It took Jerid a moment to realize that the hands of the one in the middle were tied. "Guralnik," he said to the only man he recognized. With the war on, the staff was mixed right and left and these days it was perfectly normal for him to not recognize a good half of the men. Guralnik stepped forward, his scabbard clanking against the metal greaves on his outer leg. "Sir, we caught this man trying to break into Captain Koren's room. He put up a fight when we first stopped him. And he had these on him," Guralnik offered Jerid items he confiscated from the prisoner. "Is he a member of the Guard?" Jerid asked. The last thing he needed now was a break in. Worse yet, all he needed was one of his own men trying to kill the town's war hero. "He was hired last week," Guralnik said, casting his eyes down. The man was a new recruit. Jerid accepted the lockpick and the vial filled with green liquid from Guralnik and examined them closely. "Thank you, Sergeant. When she wakes up, have Elizabeth examine the potion. Have her come see me...and send a message to Lieutenant Darklen or whoever is on duty." "Yes, Sir," Guralnik barked. "Have him sit down," Jerid motioned to the tied man. The two guards brought him to a chair and forced him into it. Jerid took the time to place the vial on the desk and returned to the prisoner. "What were you after?" he asked. The man did not respond, blankly staring at the wall. Jerid stepped between the man and the crack he was focusing on. "I asked you what you were doing." Again there was no answer. "Lock him up," Jerid ordered. He was not about to torture anybody, particularly with as little information as he had. He was not much for torture anyhow and the Duke had a set policy on dealing with prisoners anyway. Watching the guards lead the man out, Jerid retreated to the corner of the room and considered looking the man's name up in the file, but he neither had the name, nor any idea of where the file would be. Keeping files up to date was the least of his concerns these days and men and their records were hardly ever in the same place at the same time. There was another knock at the door. "Enter." It opened and Kalen Darklen walked in, a guard on his heels. "Am I to assume my man covered a league both ways in under ten minutes?" Jerid asked. He knew the answer. "Can we talk alone?" Kalen asked. "Leave us," Jerid told the guard. "Is the room secured?" Kalen asked when the man left. Whatever brought him here must have weighted heavily on his mind. Ordinarily this question was left for war councils and strategic planning sessions. "Better than the Duke's personal quarters," Jerid said. "All the spiders report in at midnight." Kalen's expression remained grim. "I just spoke with Sergeant Guralnik. He told me what happened. I don't want the prisoner to have contact with anybody. I'll have him picked up in the morning and interrogated by my men." "Hey, hey! Slow down. I've got him locked up. He's got the whole cell block to himself. Why are you here in the middle of the night?" Kalen paced nervously for a moment, than sat down in a chair. "Yesterda y...night before last, I received a proposition from Liriss to join the underworld. In exchange for my loyalty Captain Koren would be killed and I would get his position. Shevlin..." Kalen stopped, wondering if Jerid Taishent was on the take. Anyone, anywhere... "...Shevlin was working for them before he was killed." He was not going to say a word about Ilona's involvement just yet, in order to keep it safe. At least this way she would not be killed for telling him what she had done if Jerid was bringing in extra pay from Liriss. "I had a bad feeling they might try to give me some incentive to accept anyway." Jerid nodded and picked up the vial he placed on the table. "The man had this with him. I'll have the healer test it as soon as she's up." "What about security?" "The door's locked. There are guards making rounds in the corridors and there are bars on the window," Jerid did his best to relieve Kalen's fears. There really was no reason to be worried. No one was going to get to Captain Koren, particularly the man who already tried it once. "Who has the keys?" "I do, the castellan has one and Elizabeth has a spare." "Do you object if I put my own guards here?" "I'll be surprised if you can spare them, but I don't object," Jerid answered. "So be it. Can you hold that man in isolation until morning?" "Yes." "I'll be back then." Jerid watched Kalen leave, then closed the drawer with the files, never having found the right one. He picked up the confiscated vial and left the office, locking the door after himself. He could understand Kalen's fears. The mob was not something to be trifled with. Liriss was a criminal with little respect for law and life and could cover his tracks well. Having left the vial for the Duke's personal physician to examine, Jerid returned to his quarters, checking up on Aimee along the way -- she was no longer staying with his father -- and went back to bed. Ilona walked into the guard house and directly up to the guard at the desk. The station was almost deserted, the way it had been for some time. The casualties taken during the Beinison invasion reduced the available force by half and the recruiting efforts of a backward town out on the frontier were no match to what the Baranurian army was offering. "Yes, Ma'am?" the guard asked, surprised to see her at such a late -- or was it early -- hour. "I need two guards." The guard sputtered. "Everyone's on patrol, Lieutenant." Ilona looked around in disbelief. She knew they were short on staff, but not having anyone available at all... For an emergency, no less. This emergency in particular. The door to a back office opened and Sergeant Cepero came out, talking to a young woman in a guard uniform. "You!" Ilona pointed to the woman, "and you," to the guard at the desk. "You're going with me." Sergeant Cepero opened his mouth, apparently trying to say something and not managing. "Isn't it a little late?" he finally said. "What are you doing?" "Lieutenant Darklen needs two people immediately. He'll explain when he gets here," Ilona said. She realized that she was pulling the last of the staff when regulations required that a minimum of four people be on duty at the guard house at all times. But that regulation was made for desperate situations just like this and when it came down to worrying about other emergencies and the Captain's life, it was obvious which would take presidence. Both the young woman -- Ilona guessed that she was not much older than eighteen -- and the other guard watched her in confusion, torn between which of their superiors to follow: the one trying to obey regulations or the one with the rank to ignore them. Cepero challenged Ilona. "This is highly unusual. Coming here in the middle of the night, pulling guards, and neither you, nor Darklen on duty." Ilona took a piece of parchment off the table the guard sat at and scribbled on it. It was some document, but she did not care. "Here. The highest priority I can authorize," she handed the paper to Cepero. He could not disobey. He whispered something to the young woman, too quiet for Ilona to hear and she announced she was ready to go. "My sister's youngest," Cepero explained. "Don't get her into any trouble." "Let's go," Ilona said and the two guards followed her out from under the Sergeant's reluctant stare. Kalen met Ilona and the two guards at the castle gate and gave them their orders. He realized they were young and inexperienced, but they were all that was currently available and due to their age, more than likely not asso ciated with Liriss. He would select additional people he could trust during the night and have them posted by morning. On the way home neither Kalen, nor Ilona said anything, each thinking their own thoughts, planning out what they were to do next. The die had been cast and it was obvious to Kalen that he was committed to seeing this business through. He wanted, desperately, to do something about Kesrin's offer when it was first made, but the threat to Captain Koren's life held him back. He was glad that someone made the difficult decision for him, permitting him to challenge the crime that was running rampant in the city. He wished it had not been Ilona who forced his hand, but in a way it was his own fault; he had not told her all that happened, so she acted on what little she knew, just as he would have. His task now was to keep the Captain alive and with a shortage of manpower it would perhaps be the hardest of all jobs. Ilona, next to him, could not help but feel a little worried over what she had done. It was her duty to find out what was going on, not to act on information impulsively. She had not thought about the consequences. None the less, it was done and she felt she had only herself to blame. She considered returning to Liriss and telling him to forget it, but that was bound to do little more than aggravate him and perhaps make matters worse. She glanced at Kalen, but he was oblivious to the world, a thoughtful expression spread on his face. This was not the time to bother him with questions. "It's still dark," Kalen said suddenly. "Yes," Ilona agreed. "It's just been a few hours..." "Kalen, are you all right?" she grabbed hold of his arm, but then remembering his wound, released him. He did not react to what she knew was painful. "Get Taishent. Bring him to Captain Koren's room. I have an idea." Ilona watched him run off, back towards the castle, then shook her head and followed him in. Kalen was almost out of breath by the time he made it to the room where his Captain was recovering from his wounds. There were four guards present; the two members of the town guard that Ilona brought with her and two castle guards. They stopped talking and turned to face him, his own subordinates at attention, the other two, in the middle of their rounds, simply watching. "You," he called the young woman wearing the insignia of the town guard, "find the physician and bring her here. Wake her up if you have to. The rest of you, bring the assassin and make sure no one knows that you're doing so." They all rushed off. Kalen felt his shoulder, realizing that the wound had once again come open and started bleeding. He held his hand over it for a moment, thankful that there was no pain yet and then took out his dagger and a long thin metal bar. Using the two he bent at the door and attempted to pick the lock. It required some doing in the darkened corridor, but he finally succeeded. It took Kalen some determination to push the door open, but when he did, he had made up his mind to go through with his plan, no matter how dangerous. He hoped that the things he would now do could be justified by a satisfactory resolution in the days to come. "What the hell are you doing?" he heard Jerid's voice behind him. "Can't I even get some sleep around here without trouble cropping up?" "Step inside," Kalen said and let Jerid and Ilona walk past him. His behavior was strange, but not as strange as it was going to get. Captain Adrunian Koren lay in the large bed, faintly illuminated by the dim torch light coming in from the corridor. His chest moved rhythmically up and down, but there was no sign of him being awake. In fact, Kalen did not expect him to be alert for at least a few more days, as the healer's treatment required the use of some drugs that would concentrate all his bodily energies on regenerating his health. Kalen lit a candle and closed the door. "I'm going to give Liriss exactly what he wants," he said, placing the candle into a tray on the table. "What? You can't be serious!" Kalen had come to the decision to trust Jerid. Jerid, the son of the mage Dyann Taishent, had to be trustworthy based on the fact who his father was. There was simply no way that affiliation with Dargon's crime lord would go unnoticed by the mage and knowing Dyann as well as he did, Kalen had no doubt that Jerid could be trusted. There was no way he could be involved. "Liriss wants to kill Captain Koren to put me in charge," Kalen said. "Then he can use Ilona to manipulate me. He extended her the same offer he did to me and I thought it might be worth while to have her play along. I had the guards get the assassin. When they bring him in here, play along with what I do and let me do all the talking. I'm going to try to convince him we already work for Liriss." "He'll never fall for it," Ilona protested. "We'll see. We're not losing anything for trying." Kalen started pacing back and forth. "Jerid, you'll have to make me the Acting Captain of the Guard because both the Duke and Captain Bartol are out. Ilona will have to play along with Liriss and maybe we'll get him this time. Him and all his men." "You're already the Acting Captain," Jerid protested. "Yes, but that's in light of the real Captain's pending recovery. I need..." Footsteps in the corridor made Kalen stop speaking. There was a knock at the door. Jerid, closest to it, opened it, letting two castle guards bring the assassin in. "Leave us," Jerid said and the two men left the room. "That was stupid of you," Kalen walked up to the assassin. "Look at him," he gestured to the Captain lying on the bed. "He's as good as dead. I have the city and Taishent commands the Ducal lands. What the hell are you people doing?" Kalen emphasized his words by giving the man a push with his good arm. The assassin's eyes grew wide with surprise. "Where the hell did you get the idea that you needed to kill him?" Kalen continued. "If he dies now, and by poison, no less, that'll point the finger of blame right at me. You're compromising the whole deal, not to mention my life!" "I..." "Who told you to do this?" "Uh..." Kalen grabbed the man by the neck and slammed him into the nearest wall. "Who?! Kesrin? Ovink? Cissell?" "Lord Liriss. He ordered the death!" "Liriss? That rat told me not to kill Koren until he's well and can be had by a mugger!" "It was him, I swear!" With lightning speed Kalen pulled his dagger and thrust it into the assassin's chest. Jerid grabbed Kalen's arm and spun him around as the assassin collapsed to the floor. "What the hell are you doing?" His own dagger was out, flat of the blade against Kalen's cheek. Ilona, who had bent down to check if the man was still alive, stood up, unsure whose side to take. "If he lives, they'll know he failed and I need him to succeed," Kalen let out a sigh. His shoulder wound started to throb and he knew he could not fight Jerid. "This way we can say he was successful and was himself killed by the guards." "He's dead," Ilona announced. "No need to discuss what we do if he's alive." "But Captain Koren is alive," Jerid argued. "Word will get out." "There are catacombs under the castle, aren't there?" Jerid replaced his dagger and stepped away from Kalen. "Of course, but they're sealed off. A few months ago that crazy mage Cefn and that guard that used to work for you broke in there..." "I remember her," Ilona said. "Je'lanthra'en. She came up from Magnus, trained with Sir Morion before joining the guard." "And then she and the mage disappeared after starting that big fire on the wharf," Jerid added. Kalen nodded grimly. "Of course!" Jerid exclaimed. "We can hide the Captain in the catacombs." "And there are only four guards who know the truth, so we can put them on duty there," Kalen added. "I've sent for Elizabeth. She'll also need to know." "I don't know about pulling that many guards," Jerid protested. "We'll need the guards now that the Guild is after the Captain and these four already know the situation, or at least part of it." "For now," Jerid agreed reluctantly. "And have the Captain moved before sunrise, so no one knows." "What are you going to do?" Kalen paused. Everything would have to be done to appear normal. "Ilona and I will spend the night together, just like we intended to in the first place." Kalen and Ilona left the castle soon after leaving the final instructions for the physician. The trap was set, now waiting to see its prey. "Should I contact Liriss again?" Ilona asked. "No need. He'll come to you. Just don't be surprised that the Captain was killed and agree to provide information in exchange for information from them." Kalen slid his arm around her waist. "And above all, be careful and no heroics. We're not losing anything by trying this. Let's keep it that way." "I'll check with you before all my heroics," Ilona smiled. "You do that. If we do this wrong, it could get worse than the war. In this one we won't know who's on which side." "It'll be all right," Ilona assured him. "I know," he agreed, but to himself he wondered how crazy his idea was and how many people would get killed if he went wrong. But at the same time he felt it was a risk that needed to be taken. Liriss had long been getting out of hand. Just before the war started, the mob became restless. The upper class started taking a beating from the criminals; known brigands and street thieves were found dead in groups; at least one body was fished out of the sea each morning; two or three shops burned every month. It was as if there was a territorial conflict and it was spilling out all over the city. If nothing else, Kalen was sure of one thing, this had to stop, or there would not be much of a city for the Duke to return to. Kalen again squeezed Ilona's waist tightly with his good arm. "Just be careful." "You already said that," she looked at him. "I meant it. You're the closest thing I have to a family." "And you still don't want to get married?" "If we get married, people will expect children and I'm not ready for that. Not during a war, of all times." The knocking at the door grew more insistent as Kalen hurriedly pulled his pants on. Ilona sat up in bed, arms folded, watching him stumble about, a faint smile on her face. Kalen grabbed her clothes off the chair and tossed them at her. "Get moving." He rushed to the front room, tunic in hands, and pulled open the door. "Yes?" It was still night outside and a town guard, breathing heavily and sweating hard from a long run, stood at the door. "Sir, Captain Koren has been killed!" "What?" The shocked reaction was easy. For just one horrible instant Kalen believed that he had made a mistake and another killer succeeded where the first had failed. He pulled himself together as the guard repeated the report. "Captain Koren was killed in his sleep by an assassin. Lieutenant Taishent sent word just minutes ago." Kalen started pulling the tunic he had in his hands over his head, careful of his shoulder wound. "Who did it?" "I don't know, Sir. The messenger didn't say." "Does Sergeant Cepero know?" "No, Sir. He's out on patrol at the south gate." Ilona appeared behind Kalen. "What's happened?" She did not need to pretend to be sleepy, tired as she was. "Something's happened to the Captain," Kalen said. "I have to go to the castle. You get to the guard house and keep everything quiet until we know for sure." Concern was all over Ilona's face. "Just do it," Kalen stepped around her. He picked up his belt and sword off the table. "Stay there until I come or send word." He paused long enough to sloppily kiss her on the cheek and rushed off. Ilona looked at the guard waiting for her and sighed. "I'll get my blade." Kalen took the castle stairs three and four at a time, rushing to Captain Bartol's office, which was currently being used by Jerid Taishent. He burst in, almost without knocking, practically running down the Duke's new physician. Elizabeth of the Pass was a tall blond woman in her late thirties. She folded her arms and glared at Kalen, not moving out of his way. "If you get hurt tonight, Lieutenant," she said in an icy tone, "it may just be by my hand." Obviously she did not approve of what he and Jerid were doing. Kalen side-stepped her, only to come face to face with Rish Vogel, who hurried out of his way. The old chronicler was a problem Kalen never considered, but now, if played right, Rish could become the only, and the most credible, witness he would ever need. "What's happened?" Kalen demanded, finally getting to see his castle counterpart. Jerid was calm. "A few hours ago an assassin made his way into Captain Koren's room and killed him. A passing guard caught the assassin and killed him in a struggle." "Wasn't the door locked? Where was the door guard?" Kalen demanded, hoping Jerid was ready for an improvised interrogation. Everything had to look and sound right. "The lock was picked and there was no guard. Just the one man assigned to the floor." "One man?" Kalen bellowed. "Adrunian Koren is the highest law we have in town and you put one man on the floor?!" "I know!" Jerid shouted back. "I know and I'll have to explain all of this to the Duke when he gets back. We're stretched so thin now that I couldn't even afford that one man." His voice dropped off as he finished. Kalen scowled. "Look, it happened! We just have to deal with it now, no matter how we feel about it. I'm ready to take the blame, but we have to solve this first." Something clanked and both men looked over at Rish who sat at the desk, busily scribbling away on a sheet of parchment, a tipped over bottle of ink by his hand, spilling dark liquid on the surface of the table and staining his arm and sleeve. Jerid took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "You're already the acting guard captain. We'll hold a ceremony to reaffirmed it this afternoon. Clifton will have to make a final ruling when he returns." Kalen sank down into a chair, rubbing his face as if trying to convince himself this was not a dream. He looked up at Elizabeth. "Is he...?" The physician was not much of an actress, but she nodded grimly. "He was poisoned. I couldn't save him. The assassin died from a stab wound to the chest." "I want to know who that man was working for," Kalen warned Jerid. "I already have men working on it," Jerid answered. Kalen sat in what officially used to be Captain Koren's office, studying the roster of guards and what what they admitted about their pasts. He was hoping to find some tell-tale event or slip-up that would indicate shady character, but half way through the stack he still had not found any real evidence of false documentation. Everything available was consistent and true, as far as he could determine. Tossing the latest file to be examined on the floor, Kalen leaned back in his chair. He had been at it all day, trying to find any problem people under his command, like the one that attempted to kill the Captain. Instead he was rewarded with eight hours of lost time and a splitting headache. Shortly after noon he was reaffirmed as the Captain of the Town Guard, in view of Captain Koren's untimely demise and pending Clifton Dargon's final appointment of him to the post. It was a small, semi-official gathering, since he was already the Acting Captain of the Town Guard due to his superior's war injuries. A few minor nobles and bureaucrats were invited to be witnesses. A priest helped Jerid, the highest ranking representative of the Duke's personal guard, to conduct the ceremony. By the time Kalen returned to the guard house, the city was buzzing with the news of Captain Koren's death. The plan was slowly coming together, but the trap was yet to be set off. For now he only hoped the secret could be kept and Ilona would not run into too much danger. Rish Vogel fumbled with the large key ring he had stolen from the castellan who had fallen asleep in a large chair in the great hall right after dinner. It was a simple matter to slip it off his belt. There were literally dozens of different keys on the ring and Rish hurried to open the door before the guard would pass this way again. It took a dozen or so attempts, but Rish was finally rewarded with the sound of the turning tumblers and the screech of the opening bolt. Pocketing the keys, Rish stepped into the room where just a day ago the now dead Captain of the Town Guard slept. He never knew the man personally, but had met once or twice in official capacity, with the large, powerfully built soldier with silver-grey hair and a bushy walrus mustache that made it seem as if he was always smiling, even in times of crisis. Adrunian Koren had been with the town guard for almost twenty-five years, in which time he progressed from a rookie guardsman to the Captain of the town militia and one of the closest aides to Lord Clifton Dargon. His death was a strong blow to the city, especially after his successful defense against the Beinison fleet. This was as large an event as the deaths of Fionn and Roisart Connall just a year ago and very bad for morale during the war. The chronicaller pushed the door shut behind himself and studied the room from where he was. It was large and bright from beams of the setting sun. The bed remained unmade, a chair lay overturned on the floor and in a corner was a pool of dried blood. Rish pretended he was the assassin. He walked from the door to the bed, poured the vial of poison into the sleeping man's mouth and made him swallow. The physician Elizabeth said it would require a few minutes to take effect. Would the assassin stay? Rish decided he would. So the assassin stayed. Rish took a few deep breaths to time himself, all the while looking around. The chair and the blood stain were at opposite ends of the room. Was there a struggle? Satisfied that his victim was dead, Rish walked to where the overturned chair lay by the window. Was this a way out? Had the assassin thought to use the window to leave unnoticed and tripped over the chair? The window opened to the courtyard. Not a way to escape during day or night, with guards and keep residents passing in and out. And there was no trace of a struggle. All other furniture and decorations seemed to be in their proper places. A ceramic vase stood peacefully on the window table right next to the chair. So why was the chair overturned? The old chronicler got down on the floor to look for drops of blood. None. Just the big puddle in the opposite corner. Rish scratched his head. Something was missing. He lit a candle to compensate for the settling darkness, although he knew Jerid ordered nothing to be disturbed, and pulling out his quill and a roll of parchment, sat down at the table in the room to record his findings. Ilona Milnor stood on the second floor balcony of the guard house, looking into the darkness of the street below. The night was cloudy and dark, dark enough that she could not see the ground below the balcony. The air was calm and heavy, just like before a violent summer thunderstorm. She pulled her cloak tightly around herself, trying to ward the chilly night air away. The night before she visited Liriss to make the deal and now had her doubts about it. Liriss acted promptly on his plans to put Kalen in charge and now her heart was heavy with even more doubts than before. Would the next attempt be made on Kalen? She saw a young boy walk down the street and was about to yell to him about violating the curfew, but seeing him head for the guard house door did not. She watched him until he disappeared below the balcony and then seeing the light from the opened door decided to go down. She met a guard half way down the stairs, on the landing between floors. "This was just delivered for you, Lieutenant," he offered her a fist sized box of plain wood. "By whom?" She took it. "A young boy." Ilona pushed past the guard down the stairs and ran to the door. The boy was gone and the street was empty in both directions. She waited until a flash of lightning illuminated the street, then walked back to the door, where the guardsman waited. "I can go look for him," the man offered. "Don't bother," she sighed. "The intent was obviously for him not to meet me. I'll be upstairs." Ilona did not open the box until she was in Captain Koren's office with the door firmly closed behind her. Only after sitting down did she permit herse lf to lift the case's lid. In it, settled in a velvet lined cradle, lay a sparkling g em, clear even in the dim candle light. As she took it out, a note fell to the floor. It read: 'You're well on your way. Liriss.' ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright November, 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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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank