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Skeptic Tank!

:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.: -----=====Earth's Dreamlands=====----- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGNet GM File Archive Site .:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:. 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 5 -=========================================================+|) 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 5, Issue 3 10/02/92 Cir 1130 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Pact V Max Khaytsus Yuli 15-17, 1014 To Be Continued Michelle Brothers ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Pact Part 5 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) Many hours passed before Aimee gathered herself and forced herself to look for a way out. Her father always taught her that she should never be afraid and running to hide in the darkness was the wrong thing to do. Of course neither did she want to let anyone here know she had seen them and Captain Koren and that she knew that they killed him. At first she ran back up the stairs to the heavy oak door and tried to get out, but the door was locked and banging on it did not help. Aimee then went back to the base of the second set of stairs, to hide in the maze of rooms and corridors, not far from the guards. She was afraid of them, but she was more afraid of the dark, far reaching tunnels. At least she would not get lost if she hid near the guards. Aimee wandered up and down the passages, looking into rooms, but never letting the lit corridor fall out of her sight. She heard the physician leave and cowered in the corner of a side corridor, afraid to breathe, while a pair of guards replaced the dying torches along the corridor. After they had all left, she again checked the corridor and her stash of stolen food, to make sure nothing had happened to it, but she was still afraid of going to look in the room where the guards watched Captain Koren's body. She was very tired now and, taking her food, Aimee retreated to one of the rooms in a dark corridor and fell asleep in a corner, wishing she had a blanket or a sheet to wrap herself in on the cold stone floor. Kalen closed the door to Captain Koren's office and took a seat in the chair before the desk. Across from him sat Ilona Milnor, surrounded by piles of paper. "It's my shift," he said when she looked up. She nodded. "We need to talk." They had not seen each other for almost a full day now, ever since the last shift change between them. There was a lot of work to be done, perhaps too much. In the last day alone there were two murders, one of a man suspected of being an employee of Liriss and another of a now dead merchant who ventured out a day before the rest of his caravan was due to leave. His two horses, wagon, goods and even clothes had disappeared and his body was simply left to lie in the road, not a quarter league from the guard gate. There was also the usual rash of fights and thefts and a priest who showed up early in the morning, saying he had found a dead rat floating in his pool of golden water. Above all, Aimee Taishent was still missing and after so much time, foul play was suspected. The guards, who were already on extra long shifts, were forced to spend more time looking for the girl. Jerid himself had not slept at all and did nothing but continue to question people who had seen her and dispatching guards to check all possible leads. Ilona brushed her hair back, looking through the papers on the desk. "It's been a busy day," she then got up and walked over to Kalen. "You look like you haven't slept." "I did," he answered, "a little. Sergeant Griebel and I searched the outside of the town wall earlier." "Kalen! That's a couple of leagues!" "I know," he agreed, "but Jerid will kill himself if we don't help. I also spoke with Dyann and he has an idea that he said he'll try tonight." Ilona sat down in Kalen's lap and put her arms around him. "I don't think Aimee was kidnapped." "What?" Kalen tried to look at her, but Ilona did not release the embrace. "I saw Liriss last night," she said, "right after I transferred the shift to Caisy. Liriss asked me to help him. He said he suspects one of his lieutenants of trying to ruin him, by setting him up. He claims he never gave the order to kill Koren, nor did he send the note or the gem." "Do you believe him?" Kalen asked, again putting his arms around Ilona. "I don't know...he was surprised when I mentioned the gem and the note. I think there might be something here." "But if that's true, all it means is that he didn't kidnap Aimee. Someone else could have." "I just have the gut feeling that she wasn't kidnapped," Ilona said. "Other things would have happened by now if she had been..." "Who would be setting Liriss up?" Kalen tried a different approach to the problem. "Just about any living being in Dargon. It's not like he's well liked." "I'd suspect there's someone on his side," Kalen said. "He can't be so desperate as to run to us!" "Well, a woman delivered the message to me," Ilona said. "I guess she's one of his whores, so Madam Tillipanary is probably still with him. I would guess Kesrin is also loyal, even though Liriss doesn't want to believe that." "You're probably right," Kalen said. "Maybe we can use this to our advantage." "How?" Ilona asked. "I'm in good with Liriss. I'd rather not have to start this over." "If we could only bring them all down..." Kalen thought out loud. Ilona hugged him tightly. "What if we help him now...?" "I knew I saw him here," the maid smiled, picking Karl up from where he slept in the alcove by the heavy oak door leading down into the castle dungeons. She brushed off the dust the puppy managed to pick up off the spotlessly clean floor and handed him to Dyann Taishent. "Thank you, my girl," the mage accepted the puppy. "I sure hope you find your granddaughter, sir," the maid bowed and left to resume her duties. Dyann looked Karl, who licked his nose, over and took him to the kitchen where Corambis and Thuna were preparing for the enchantment. It was late already, but Aimee had gone missing for well over a day and Dyann was not going to lose more time while the guards beat all the bushes around town. Although it was almost midnight, there were still people in the kitchen, cleaning up from the previous day, preparing things for the next. "Blast it, woman," Corambis snapped. "I know it's late and you just washed it, but I want that pot!" "Sage, I warn you," the elderly matron declared, "if I come down tomorrow and the pot is dirty, I'll have your hide!" "You will be more than welcome to try," Corambis said, taking the clay pot from the woman. "Thuna, get me those herbs and some water." Dyann submerged Karl in a prepared bath while looking at the exchange and smiled. "Goodness, what are you doing to that dog?" the cook exclaimed, having finished with Corambis. "We shall be cooking him, madam," the sage snapped and held the clay pot out for Thuna to fill with water. "You will do no such thing!" the woman declared. She looked around, then picked up a large roller and looked menacingly at the two men. "I will not have the two of you cooking dogs in my kitchen!" "Relax, madam," Dyann said firmly. "The dog will not be harmed. He is the subject of our enchantment to find my granddaughter." With those words he wrapped Karl in a towel to dry him off. The puppy struggled, but soon settled down to the rubbing and scratching he received and produced a yawn. "Here are the herbs," Thuna put a bag before Corambis. "Very good," the sage approved. "Dyann?" "Thuna, would you hold Karl?" the mage asked and as soon as she took the dog from him, stepped past the cook to help Corambis with the preparations. "Be careful not to let him leave the towel," he added as Thuna adjusted Karl in the bundle. The two elderly men carefully measured a batch of herbs, mixed them in a clay pot with some water, then filtered the brew into a shallow dish and offered it to Karl, who started lapping at the liquid. "Am I glad I'm not a dog!" Corambis sniffed the pot with the wet herbs. Dyann also took a sniff. "We made it a little strong." "So much the better," Corambis muttered. "It will make the dog more sensitive." The two men waited until Karl finished the brew and stopped licking the dish. Dyann took out a tunic Aimee had left lying on the floor of her room and let the puppy sniff it. Karl was already very familiar with Aimee's scent, but the tunic and the potion were used to reinforce the smell and make him more sensitive. Dyann took the dog from Thuna and went into the corridor. "Wash the equipment," Corambis instructed Thuna and followed his friend out. Dyann put Karl on the ground and the two men stood over him, looking down. "Karl, go find Aimee," Dyann finally said. The puppy looked up at him and yawned. "Karl!" Dyann warned. He rubbed the tunic in Karl's face again and gave him a push. "Go find Aimee!" Karl stood up, but did not budge. "He's not a bloodhound," Corambis sighed, "and he's too young to understand what we want." "He's stubborn just like Aimee," Dyann said, slapping the dog's behind. "Get going!" Karl let out a yelp and took off down the corridor, quickly outdistancing the two elderly men. "Well, now you've done it," Corambis sighed. "He'll find her and lose us." The two men hurried down the corridor after the puppy. After some twists and turns they reached the great hall and stood there, looking puzzled. "Which way?" the mage muttered to himself. Corambis pointed in the direction of the exit. "He might have ran out." "Or back to the kitchen," Dyann pointed down the great hall, where it forked. "Let's check with the guards first," Corambis suggested and the two men went to the castle entrance to question the men. The two sleepy soldiers on duty could do little more than shrug. If there was a puppy that ran out past them, they had not seen it. "...but the gates are closed," one of the men assured Dyann. "The dog won't be able to leave the castle." "Great," the mage worded and the two men went back inside. "We should have tagged him," Corambis said, "or at least found some rope to put him on." Dyann nodded. "Let's check the kitchen and if he's not there, we'll get some torches and look outside." "Let's do that," Corambis agreed. The two men walked up the steps leading out of the great hall when the maid who had helped Dyann find Karl earlier stopped them. "Sirs, did that lazy mutt help?" Dyann shook his head. "That lazy mutt ran off soon after you found him." "Oh, sir, I'm sorry," the woman apologized. "I had sincerely hopped you'd be able to find the girl. The puppy I just saw sleeping by the dungeon door, just like earlier. He probably just found a cool spot on the stone, where the draft is." "Who is it?" Ilona asked over the sound of the rapid knocking on the door of her apartment. "Ovink," a male voice coughed. "Lord Liriss wishes to see you." It was a voice familiar to Ilona -- she had brought him in for questioning a number of times -- but it was also the middle of the night. "Do you realize how late it is?" she asked. "Yes, but I was told not to return alone." "All right, then. Wait." Ilona quickly dressed, strapped on her belt and sword and left a note on her table for Kalen. It read: `Ovink came for me. I will return by mid-day.' She folded the note and left it on the desk, right under the ink bottle. "All right, let's go," Ilona opened the door. Instantly two men rushed in, knocking her off balance. They wrestled her down to the floor and tied her arms behind her. From the other room Ilona could hear sounds of a struggle and Tara yelling something at the men. "Let her go!" Ilona struggled against her attackers, forcing one man to lose his grip on her. She swung her legs, knocking him off balance and he crashed down to the floor. Ovink appeared above Ilona, holding a dagger. "I'd hate to have to cut you prematurely, Lieutenant," he smiled viciously in warning. Ovink was well known for his bad temper and sadistic streak, in contrast to Cissell's cool arrogance and Kesrin's politeness. She stopped struggling as he brought the knife a little closer to her neck and his smile deepened. "Good. Tie her legs." The dagger did not leave Ilona's neck. It slid slowly up to her jaw and then along it to the back of her head. The blade left behind a cold trail that Ilona could not identify -- was it blood or just her imagination? The men continued to fumble with the rope and Ilona did not dare breath so long as Ovink stood over her. "That's a good soldier," the brigand chuckled, getting up and hiding the dagger before Ilona could see if it was stained with blood. She could still feel the lingering chill on her jaw and neck. A drop ran down her throat and dripped off to the floor. Sweat or blood? She could not tell by Ovink's reaction, but guessed that it had to be sweat. If he drew blood, he would do more than just stand and watch the men tie her. "What do you want?" Ilona asked. "Why did Liriss send you?" "To be honest," Ovink's smile grew wider, "Liriss didn't send me. You see, Liriss needs your help. On the other hand, many of us want to see him hang...and you're a good device to get the wind blowing." Two more men brought out Tara, tied and wide eyed. "Let her go, Ovink," Ilona insisted. "She's just a girl." "Don't worry about her," the cutthroat fingered his dagger. "She won't be joining you. She's young enough to get a good price on the market. Perhaps even in Beinison, as soon as they win the war." Ilona kicked her tied legs at him, but did not have the reach to hit. "Take her to the blocks," Ovink ordered. "And take the girl to the pits." One of the men stuffed a rag into Ilona's mouth, managing to avoid getting bit. A bag was placed over her head and she was wrapped in a blanket. There was little Ilona could do in the way of struggling against two full grown men while tied and blind and for the time being had to accept her fate of being loaded onto a wagon. She was glad that she left the note for Kalen and that she directed it at Ovink, not Liriss. If need be, it would save a lot of time and perhaps her life. She hoped she would live through Ovink's plans, anyway. "Where's Aimee?" Dyann demanded of Karl. The puppy lay stretched out on the floor by the heavy oak door leading to the old castle dungeon, his black eyes looking up at the mage. "I know you know what I want!" Karl buried his face under his paw. "Oh, for Sevelin's sake!" Dyann stood up. "This will never work!" "We'll find her," Corambis assured Dyann. "We just have to use better methods." "What better methods?" the mage grumbled. "This was the best one!" "Well," Corambis thought, "you know, I did a casting yesterday while waiting for Madam Labin to come for her second casting and the future showed no change. I did the same casting on Clifton and again on Koren. I had Clifton on fire and Koren on water. And that's wrong!" "That could be interpreted either way," Dyann said. "It's easy going for Koren -- he's dead now -- and Clifton's in the middle of a war." "But that's now, not down the road!" Corambis protested. "For all we know the war will last years," Dyann retorted. "That's not a problem with castings." "But that's wrong," Corambis stressed. "You know how the table works." "It has a mind of its own, you said so yourself." "Through three castings?" "Well..." Dyann scratched his head. "It could be a minor mana shift." "In Dargon? Goodness, no," Corambis said. "There hasn't been one for ages, not since the Fretheod ruled!" "Then we're probably due for one." "That and Stevene's return," the sage grumbled. "I tell you there's nothing wrong with the casting. What's wrong is that something's going on that we don't know about." "Perhaps," Dyann agreed, "but what worries me now is that the potion didn't work. We made it together. It wasn't wrong." "Well, we had a clay pot," Corambis said. "If it was made of red clay..." "It wasn't," Dyann interrupted. "You yourself looked. It was brown as mud." "What then? What are we missing?" "We're becoming senile, my friend," Dyann laughed. "Indeed," Corambis said. Dyann shook his head, "and when looking for Aimee of all people!" "Come," Corambis pulled his friend away from the puppy. "Let's try something else. Let's try some real magic." Tara fought the ropes that bound her hands. If she could only free them, she could untie her feet and run. The window of this room was on the second floor, but it overlooked the docks and that meant that she could be helped by the sailors. She hoped she could be helped, anyway. The rope that bound her delicate hands was coarse and thick, good for holding a large man or an animal, but not enough to hold someone as small as she. At the same time, the rope was extremely tough, scratching her hands and making it hard for her to work herself free. She had no idea what she would do if she could get away from the men that kidnapped her. Run to Rish? Tara knew she could only trust him in this war between the mob and the town guard, but could she really safely stay in the castle? Obviously the mob's infiltration of the guard was great and one would have to believe that the inverse was true as well, but who could be trusted? More importantly, why had the mob turned on one of their own? When being transported, bound and gagged, Tara heard one of the men say that Ilona was no longer something that Liriss could afford to be gentle with and that she was a weight he should no longer have to carry, whatever that meant. It sounded like she did something he did not like and would now have to pay for it. Tara always liked Ilona, since that day she met her when she had finally found her uncle. It was she who would go shopping with Tara and talk to her about things Uncle Glenn tried to avoid. What did Ilona do to make Liriss so upset? Whatever it was, it had to be the right thing. She always said how much she wanted to rid Dargon of crime. Tara struggled with the rope more furiously than before. If Ilona were to die before she could go for help, it would be her fault. She did not want to see anything happen to the Lieutenant, no matter what she had done. Tara ground her teeth into the leather gag securely tied in her mouth as one coarse loop of rope slipped off her hand. `One more,' she thought, `one more loop and I'm free.' It was obvious to Tara why she was taken. She was a witness to Ilona's kidnapping, but having had a chance to sort things out in her head, Tara could not believe that Ilona had sold out to Liriss. Why then did she plead for Tara's release and did not once ask to be released herself? What good would it do her if Tara could identify her as a member of the mob? Perhaps Rish was right when he said not to trust anybody, but Tara could not bring herself to believe that such a good friend was responsible for the death of her uncle. With one last effort, Tara pulled her right hand out of the ropes and having brushed the lose coils off her left arm, proceeded to untie her legs. She still did not know where she would go. All she knew was that Rish was suspicious of everyone and that Ilona knew more than she let on, but there were others in town who might be able to help. Lieutenants Darklen and Taishent could be helpful, as could her uncle's neighbors, Doctor Savitt or Madam Labin. They were of noble birth and could not possibly be involved in any sort of crime. The rope on her legs was off and Tara was quick to remove the gag. It skipped across the room and hit the opposite wall with a wet squishing noise. The dirty window, covered with soot and tar on the edges where it was sealed against the elements, was very small, but not too small for Tara. She looked out through the torn waxed paper for the sailors she had seen before, when first brought into the room. She carefully tore away more of the paper covering the window and looked down. All that was in her line of sight was a sleeping drunk, up against the wall of the building. Tara hesitated, then tore the remaining paper off and started climbing through the window. Just then she heard the sound of a key being inserted into the lock. Leaning back in his chair, Kesrin set his jaw, listening to Ovink tell his story. He was contemplating his new plan, made when Liriss received the intercepted note from the chronicler to the Captain of the Ducal forces. Kesrin's ascent to the top had started, but it would have to be a slow process, one step at a time. Ovink was going to be today's step. "...so I thought we'd keep the girl for the next time Lord Isom is in town... If you don't mind, of course, my Lord," Ovink finished his report. "That will be fine," Kesrin approved. "Liriss will be happy with the extra profit." Ovink smiled. "Yes, Sir. I'll bet he will." Ovink appeared so happy with his success, that Kesrin had no doubt the man would not see the wool being pulled over his eyes. "You did the right thing by bringing the girl. I had hopped we could take the Lieutenant alone, but it's just as well. Her death will give us an entrance and we can put the girl to good use as well. Just be sure to have her out of here tomorrow. By tomorrow night this place will be filled with guardsmen." Ovink's smile changed to a laugh. "I like your idea." Kesrin chuckled as well. He told Ovink that a dead member of the town guard, and especially a high ranking member, would be a strong incentive for the authorities to take action -- her home was already filled with clues that would lead the guard to Liriss -- things like the gem and the note. What he neglected to mention was that Ovink would not have the time to leave town. "Everything is set now. Tomorrow take the girl and your men and take a trip to Tench to sell her. I shall abandon Liriss for a few days myself and soon we will all be a step closer to the top." "With your leave, Sir," Ovink stood up, "I will begin the preparations." "Just be sure to leave by way of the pier first thing tomorrow," Kesrin reminded him. "I don't want the guard to stop you if you go through the main gate." Ilona stirred as cold water licked at her side. She had been well aware of her unfavorable position, chained to a large rock sticking out of the water under a pier, with a gag in her mouth. She tried struggling against the chains, but they were far too strong for her to escape. At first she believed she was only being held here, but the incoming tide made her acutely aware of the danger of drowning. Now, as the water level slowly rose, a lot of things started to make sense. All those unexplained drownings, sometimes one or two every night, made sense. People whom everyone knew could swim well being fished out of the ocean early in the morning as sailors loaded and unloaded their ships along the docks. At times the dead men and women had unexplained bruises on their wrists and ankles. Now those could be explained as well. Ilona wondered if she would live long enough to tell others about this method of execution, or if she would die when the tide came in. She tried working on the gag, hoping that she would be able to call out for help, but she had little hope of that working. The gag was tied tightly around her head and refused to budge. Besides, she was probably right beneath Liriss' personal pier. No one would come, even if they heard. Perhaps if Liriss came down, Ilona mused, but she knew it was a slim chance. He had no reason to be here. When he killed people, he more than likely sent others to do it for him. No one at all would find her tonight and by tomorrow it would be far too late. As the door to the room she was in opened, Tara exerted the last bit of effort, knowing full well that once she is out through the window, her only path would be an uncontrolled downward plunge. "Stop!" she heard a male voice shout. She increased her efforts. A second later she was falling to the ground, not far from the sleeping drunk she saw previously. She wished it had been the drunk she had fallen on -- that way the landing would have been much softer. "You! Stop her!" Tara heard the same voice from above her and looked around. Except for the drunk, she was alone in the street. "Get up!" She looked at the man yelling down at the drunk. "Shut up and do it yourself, you bastard!" She slowly got up off the ground, holding on to her skinned arm. Blood dripped to the ground. To her surprise, the brigand started climbing out the window. Tara slowly backed away, watching him, then picked up a rock and threw it at the man. It hit the wall, but was close enough to make him take notice and give what he was doing a second thought. Tara turned and bolted. As Ovink left, Kesrin took out his dagger and balanced it on his desk, the tip of the blade cutting into the fine wood grain. Soon he would not need this desk anyway -- his fist came down hard on the hilt, making the blade sink into the wood -- he would soon be using Liriss' office. Kesrin stood up and walked over to the window. The view. It would also change. Instead of seeing the docks and the dirty sailors burning tar and frying fish, he would look out at the market place. One step at a time. Today Ovink, tomorrow Liriss. In a month he would be no less than the undisputed lord of the city. Lord of all that his window would let him see and finally, after so many years, his heart could finally rest for having kept the promise he made years ago. "Stop!" he suddenly heard Ovink's voice come through the window, followed by a dull thud of something falling onto the boardwalk outside. Kesrin stepped closer to the window and looked down. A teenage girl lay on the ground by the wall of the building, not far from a sleeping bum. She clutched her arm as if she had hurt it in a fall. "You! Stop her!" Ovink appeared in a window of the second floor. "Get up!" Kesrin chuckled sadly. This was a man Liriss trusted to do his work? "Shut up and do it yourself, you bastard!" the girl yelled back, getting up to her feet. Kesrin suspected she was Captain Koren's niece. She looked around, picked up a rock and threw it at the wall of the building, then, with another moment of hesitation, turned and ran down the boardwalk. Another moment passed and a crashing sound signified Ovink falling out the window. The man quickly got up and, limping, ran after the girl. With a soft chuckle Kesrin turned from the window and walked out of the room. The plan was slowly coming together. Now the last step needed to be set into motion. Ilona desperately fought the chain cuffs that held her arms and legs to the stone block now submerged in the water. In the course of the last hour the level of the ocean had risen high enough to cover the rock completely and the water continued to rise. She knew it would cover her soon as well. The shackles on her refused to come off as they had for countless other people who must have died here in the last few years. They were too well made and too strong to even think about tearing them free. Ilona looked up at the wooden walk of the pier above her, where occasionally a person or two would walk by. She wanted to yell for help, but the gag in her mouth would only make her choke on her own spit. Nothing. There was nothing she could do, but at the same time she refused to wait to let death come and take her. She had always fought and this time would be no exception. Uneven splashing of water alerted Ilona. The noises sounded like someone walking towards her, disturbing the rhythmic motion of the waves. She tried to raise her head to look, but a strong wave forced her back down, making her swallow the salty ocean water. A shadow paused over her, looking. Waiting. Ilona blinked to clear the ocean water from her eyes. Kesrin. He looked somber and tired, as a man ten years his senior. "You know, it's strange what twists fate puts on our lives," he sighed. "Just yesterday I wanted you dead, out of my way. I would've killed you with my own bare hands, if necessary, because you were bad for my business, but now I have to come to you for help." Ilona continued to look at him, listening, unable to speak and well aware of the quickly rising level of the tide. Another wave passed over her head and lifted Kesrin off his feet. "Something changed last night," he sighed. "I realized my life was in danger and I could do little to help myself. What I want..." he paced to the other side of the rock in the stomach deep water, "...what I need is for you to help me. In exchange I will let you go and give you evidence against Liriss. Is that fair?" Ilona had little choice now. She was willing to promise almost anything, including this. She nodded. "Good," Kesrin said. "You already know it was Liriss who ordered Koren's death. It was Ovink who kidnapped you on his orders. Ovink will be heading out of town early tomorrow by the East Gate, taking some men and Koren's niece to sell to slave traders in Tench. If you capture him, he'll sell his own mother, not just Liriss." With those words Kesrin took a chain with a key from around his neck and placed it in Ilona's hand, leaving her to fend for herself. "Don't forget I did this for you when the day of reckoning comes." He disappeared from sight, leaving behind the sound of splashing water as he waded towards the stairs. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 "Can you see anything ahead?" the merchant called up to the lanky guard in the lead. His voice fell dead amid the damp moss and still water. "Do you see the castle? Ragan?" "No, Burgamy, I can't see the castle yet," Ragan replied with exaggerated patience. It wouldn't do to aggravate the man who was paying him, no matter what he thought of the heavy-set fool. "Be careful," he warned after a minute. "There's a fallen tree in the path. Goddam swamp." The sound of dull splashing in the thin veneer of water fell dead amid the dangling vines and moss. The usual tenants of the marshy area were silent as the intruders noisily made their way through. Ragan led his horse around the green and brown obstacle, leather armor creaking softly over his cursing. Behind him, rich vermillion cloak dragging in the scummy water, paced Burgamy. He paused briefly and glanced over his shoulder at his companions. "Are you all right, Sister Moya?" he asked solicitiously as a woman, clad in what surely used to be a white robe, appeared out of the ragged mist. He offered a plump fingered hand to assist her forward. "I am well, thank you, Burgamy," replied Moya, avoiding the merchant's grasp. She paused to allow her mount, also white, to steady its footing, then continued around the tree. Burgamy made a disappointed sound deep in his throat and turned to follow. "She won't have you, merchant," laughed a voice from behind him. A rakish figure in gaudy red and blue appeared beside him, a globe of bright green trailing along like a puppy behind. "You know how those *devout* Stevenic women are. You won't see her outside of chapel, let alone out of her robes." "Silence, juggler. I didn't ask your opinion." "That's High Mage Tagir to you," admonished the mage cheerfully. "Coming, oh great Sir Knight?" he called over his shoulder as the merchant moved off after Moya. "Coming, High Mage," a voice, followed by a large man clad in a remarkably shiny breast plate and a green surcoat. He was the only traveller not leading a horse. He paused beside Tagir. "Move it, boy." Bringing up the rear was a fourteen or fifteen year old boy, leading a heavy horse, a pony, and two mules. His worn tunic bore the same crest that blazoned the shield slung over the knight's back. "Yes, Sir Ceneham." Gindar, the squire, picked his sodden feet up a little faster. The motly party had been tracking around this swamp for days in search of a lost keep that Burgamy claimed was filled with treasure. The merchant had hired his companions for half of whatever treasure was found, to be divided among the five as they chose. Following a few obscure references in a an old diary he'd found, they made their way into the marshy tracts upriver of Quiron Keep. Each had their own reasons for coming, be they honor, adventure, or holy quest. Burgamy didn't much care why they were there, only that they followed his orders and abided by their half of the agreement. There hadn't been any difficulties as yet. "I've hit solid ground," declared Ragan out of the mist. "And the fog clears up once you get here." "About damned time," Burgamy muttered. "Can you see the keep?" He laboriously climbed the little rise that elevated him a few feet above the water line to stand beside the thin man. Behind them, the rest of the party straggled up. Ragan pointed to a large, shadowy lump in the growing dusk. "That looks to be it." Burgamy's hungry eyes devoured every curve in the indicated direction before turning reluctantly back to his companions. "Since it will soon be too dark to investigate, we'll camp here for the night." The squire promptly dropped the reins of the animals he was leading and stared pulling dry fire wood out of the oiled canvas pack on one of the mules. Ragan's muttered "First intellegent order he's given all week," was lost in the general bustle to set up camp before sunset. Following traditions set from the first day of their journey, the squire laid out the fire, and went to tend the horses. The fire was always lit by Tagir, as the wood was too damp to respond easily to normal flames. Ragan staked out a perimeter while Burgamy and Sir Ceneham rested by the dancing fire. Sister Moya had taken care of providing fresh drinking water, since their own stores ran out a few days ago. She carried an iron pot down to the edge of the swamp and collected as much water as she could. Bringing it back to camp, she knelt beside the fire, leaning over the pot. "We have drinking water yet, Sister?" demanded Sir Ceneham a few minutes later, coming closer and looming over the woman. "In God's time, Sir Knight," replied Moya placidly, not stopping her prayers. "I just wish God would hurry," muttered the man, pacing away, around the fire and back behind the priestess. Realizing that his glaring was having no effect, Ceneham went over to harass his squire. This too was a ritual, and no one bothered to take notice any more. The boy took the berating in stoic silence. When you're finished with this, do that. When you finish with that, polish my armor, and make sure there's not a single speck of rust on it. Since coming into the swamp, rust was Ceneham's biggest concern. By the time he'd finished his list of orders, the water was already being made into soup. The ruins were silent. A coat of dampened dust layered everything and tainted sunlight crept down the holes in the ceiling through the remains of the second floor. The musty scent of wet stones mingled with the smell of rotting plants. Torchlight caused the shadows to dance against the worn stone floor and unsteady walls. "This way," said Sir Ceneham, voice rolling out from beneath the heavy torch. The sound of cascading chainmail echoed slightly in the crumbling hall. He'd decided that since there might be wild creatures holed up in the keep's remains, that he should be better armored, so he could better protect the party. He cut an impressive figure in the full armor; it was the first time he was able to wear the entire suit on this little expedition without the fear of sinking into the muck and was enjoying preening in front of the group. No one paid him much attention. "Are you certain, Sir Ceneham?" was the return query from behind the light. Burgamy, with Tagir at his side, moved up next to the knight. "Quite certain," was the sharp reply. Because his back was to the merchant, Burgamy couldn't see the look of contempt on his face. "I've walked through many hallways in many keeps. This one is no different." "Unless they changed the floor plans from the last time you were here," teased Tagir, his magelight making him look faintly sinister. "If you get lost, call. I'll be happy to help you out." "Thank you, magician," said Sir Ceneham through clentched teeth. He had to force himself to be polite to the cocksure mage. Considering the man could kill him with a single spell or two, it was well worth the effort. "Can we get on with this?" Burgamy demanded peevishly. "Where's the rest of the party?" "Listening to you argue," said Ragan bitingly. "If there's anything around, it's sure to know where we are." "We haven't seen a living creature since we crossed the drawbridge," scoffed Ceneham. "And that includes the gods cursed insects." "Except that squirrel Gindar tossed rocks at," observed Tagir. "Don't swear, Sir Knight," said Moya softly. She held her robe a few inches off the keep floor out of habit, despite the fact that the hem was nearly black with mud. "Taking the Lord's name in vain isn't necessary." "I'll decide what's necessary, Sister. Where's my damned squire?" While Gindar rejoined the party from gathering more rocks, Ragan and Tagir started investigating deeper down the corridor. They found a door which Ragan was busily investigating when the rest of the party joined them. "There seems to have been a trap set on the lock," he observed professionally, pulling a bit of metal out of his pouch. "Opening the door sets the trigger off. Somebody was obviously paranoid about his privacy. It's a pretty good lock to have lasted all this time." "Just how old is it?" asked Tagir, curiously peering over his shoulder. "How should I know? It's not new, that much I can tell you. Now, if someone will push the door open, this should keep the mechanism from triggering." "Be careful. There might be something dangerous in there," whimpered Gindar. Moya put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Cautiously, torch held high, sword drawn in in his other hand, Ceneham kicked the door open. The worn wood crashed back on its green brass hinges. Silence rolled in after the echo and torchlight illuminated the damp, dusty bedroom. Off in a corner a pair of bright black eyes watched the group enter. "Well, there's your dangerous monster," laughed Tagir, pointing. The creature twitched its bushy tail and cocked its head to one side for a better view. "A gods be damned squirrel!" swore the knight angrily. He brandished his sword in the animal's general direction. The squirrel sat up on its hind legs and stuffed another seed into its mouth. "Oh, allow me to deal with it," Tagir said gleefully, making a few slight gestures. "Wouldn't want you to strain yourself on something so deadly." A thin jet of fire leapt out from the mage's finger towards the squirrel. With a surprised noise, the animal jumped and bolted for the door, past the kneeling Ragan. The mage laughed again, and beneath his half helm Ceneham smiled grimly. His squire giggled. Burgamy started to search the room while Sister Moya looked on disapprovingly. The merchant was soon joined by Ceneham and his squire in ransacking the remains of the room. Ever helpful, Tagir lit his light and centered himself so that he could illuminate every corner. Sister Moya waited patiently for them to finish. It didn't take long. Four pieces of tarnished jewelry and a pile of dead moths later they grouped back together by the white clad woman. "This was a bit of a disappointment," commented Tagir. "I wonder why the former occupant wasted so much time on a trap for such paltry remains." He glanced casually about the room as though trying to determine something of the former occupant from the wreackage. "Let's try and find the real treasure," Burgamy said, pocketing the dirty bits of gold. "We'll divide this later." "Yes, we will," growled Ceneham darkly as the merchant walked out past the still kneeling Ragan. "Come on, man," he added, slapping the mercenary on the shoulder as he went by. Ragan fell flat when Ceneham touched him. Moya stifled a surprised scream. "Oh, yuk," added the squire. A short, thick bolt protruded from the back of Ragan's neck. Quickly pulling herself together, Moya stepped up to the body. "High Mage Tagir, if you please." Obligingly the magician allowed his light to fall over the wound, turning the blood a sickly shade of purple. The rest of the party grouped around the priestess as she probed around the bolt with skillful fingers. "There is nothing I can do for him," she pronounced finally. "I assume that the trap he discovered was set off, as there was no indication of someone about to shoot him. The wound was poisoned as soon as he was hit. Even if I could have gotten to him immediately, I don't think I could have negated the poison." The party was silent while the nun prayed over the body, then Burgamy shrugged. "Means a larger share of the treasure for the rest of you. Let's go." Moya's head snapped around at the merchant's statement, real anger in her usually peaceful eyes. The rest of the group walked out of the room before she could say anything. Rather than be left alone in the darkness, she completed her prayers and rose to leave. "Oh, Lord, this is a difficult path You have set for me to follow. But follow it I shall, and bite my tongue about my companions, because I need them to complete Your holy task, to Your everlasting glory. Go in peace Ragan." Making a gesture of blessing and another of reverence, she followed the ragged company down the hall. Several hours later they grouped together in the crumbling main hall. Shafts of afternoon sunlight dribbled through the ceiling that used to be the second story floor. No sounds beyond that which the party made themselves could be heard. Pickings had been lean throughout the first floor. A few pieces of old fashioned jewelry in questionable condition and a small pile of coins were all they had found for many hours of searching. The second floor was in ruins and the likelyhood of finding anything of value there without a full salvage company was unlikely. Ragged bits of what might have once been tapestries were piled on the floor and the furniture, not particularly stable to begin with but salvageable as antiques, had been all but dismantled by the searchers. Burgamy was not happy. "If you're trying to find the main treasury," said Ceneham after the merchant finished his stream of complaints, "then it's probably down with the cellars and the dungeons. "Underground?" squeaked the squire. "Where else, you twit?" Ceneham cuffed the boy, sending him into a little heap on the moss covered flagstones. "What's the matter? You afraid of the dark?" "No, my lord," Gindar mumbled. Tagir helped the boy up. He'd shut off his light several hours ago, pleading fatigue, and now carried a torch just like everyone else. "We can give the place a cursory look at least," said Tagir. "There's enough light for that. We can investigate further if we find something." "That sounds like a satisfactory course of action," said Burgamy. "All right, Sir Knight, lead the way." Ceneham moved off and everyone fell in behind, the squire taking up the rear. The passage that led down to the cellars was in better repair than the rest of the first floor. Dust covered the stairs, where wind couldn't reach and largish rocks were scattered around like pebbles, but the walls were intact and the steps solid. The unsteady torchlight caused fungi and moss to glow an eerie pink. As they rounded the final corner into a small antechamber, a pile of rubble taller than the mage loomed up to block their path. Apparently part of the roof had given way years ago, choking the corridor with dust and dropping the impressive pile in the path. Ceneham looked a little annoyed and the squire turned pale. "And how do you propose we get past that?" Burgamy demanded, glaring at the knight and the mage. "This was your idea." Although ostesibly in charge of the party, the merchant was more than willing to let someone else make the decisions so he could pass the blame of failures off later. Ceneham glared back. "Allow me," said Tagir, stepping forward with a flourish of cloak. He pushed past the knight and the merchant and made a show of rolling up his excessively full sleeves. Muttering softly, the mage made a few obscure gestures and started shifting the rubble aside, into smaller bundles than the amount should have been able to fit into. The rest of the party stepped as much aside as possible to allow him room to work. A pair of heavy, jagged boulders became visible as the smaller loose debris was cleared away. Tagir ended his first spell and took a deep breath. Moya observed him closely, out of professional curiosity. "I'll have to shift the rock straight up to get it out of the way," he declared. "You'll all have to move into the hall on the other side, so I'll have someplace to put it." "But how will we get back out?" asked Gindar, white faced. "There will be room enough to move around the boulders once I shift them away from one another," said the mage smugly. "Now stand back, but be ready to run through after I move it." He began to gesture and mutter again. After a long pause one of the stones shuddered and began to rise. To get it clear of the intended walkway, Tagir had to levitate the rock over his own head, which he did with agonizing slowness. He nodded significantly to the party as the boulder reached the designated threshold and watched as they passed, one by one beyond him. Turning his his attention to the place he wanted to put his rock in, he prepared to muster more power to do it. Then his eyes went wide as he spotted something on the stairs. It smiled at him, winked, then flickered into something else. And in that brief instant of Tagir's shock, he lost control of the spell. The rock landed with heavy finality, tiny plumes of dust rising to the ceiling. The mage's four companions stared in silent horror and shock. Moya fell slowly to her knees and started offering the prayer for the dead. "What do you think went wrong?" whispered Burgamy, staring, a little glassy eyed at the dusty stone. "Perhaps it got too heavy," Ceneham said. "He did indicate it would be difficult." He didn't sound very confident. Both men knew that keeping the rock in the air was well within Tagir's powers. "The damned squirrel is back," declared the squire abruptly. The two men looked to where the boy pointed. Atop the boulder that had crushed Tagir, the dark brown squirrel stared down at them. Its tail twitched and it turned, vanishing into the shadows. Ceneham cuffed his squire again . "It wasn't important," he said sharply. "I think it would be a good idea to go back up and camp for the rest of the day," offered Burgamy hesitantly. To his surprise the knight nodded in agreement. Ceneham touched the nun's arm with uncharateristic gentleness to get her attention and repeated the suggestion. Sister Moya started, looked up, then stood. "I think open air would be a good idea," she said quietly. "And I feel the need for purification." Strangely, the knight made none of his usual caustic remarks. The four made their way back up the narrow stairway and into the over-grown courtyard. By unspoken agreement, no one wanted to shelter in the great hall. Their horses and pack mules were still tethered by the remains of the fire. "If nothing else," commented Burgamy while Moya purified more water for the evening meal and the squire polished Ceneham's armor, "you'll get a larger share of the treasure." Moya actually stopped in the middle of her prayers and turned to glare at the merchant. "That is the second time that you have said that," she said angrily. "There are two men dead and all you can think of is gold?" "Sister, I don't know why you came along, but the others were just treasure hunters and adventure addicts," said Burgamy frankly, looking steadily at Moya's face for the first time during the journey. "They knew the risks, just like they knew the rewards, so save your recriminations for the sinners and your pity for the masses. Ragan and Tagir knew full well what they were getting into and don't deserve your sympathy." "And do you feel the same way, Sir Knight?" Moya turned to Ceneham, trying with only moderate success to hide her horror at the merchant's coldness. Ceneham looked up from peering over his squire's shoulder. "I agree with the merchant, Sister," he said calmly. "They were seasoned professionals. They knew the potential consequences. Save your worry and your prayers for the people who can benefit from them." Moya stared at the two men for a minute more before turning back to her pot of marsh water. Anger smoldered in her eyes. She hadn't been prepared for such callousness when she undertook her holy journey and joined with these companions. Some of Moya's faith faltered as she listened to the camp sounds and knelt beside the pot. It took longer then usual to get fresh water that night. With two of their party members dead, it was necessary for everyone, including Burgamy and Sister Moya, to take a turn on guard. Gindar woke the merchant just after moon rise for the second watch. At the knight's insistence, he carried the squire's short sword for defense, and Ceneham's shield was leaned against a log so it could be banged in case of an emergency. Barely an hour had passed and already Burgamy was bored and sleepy. Resolutely he started wandering around the perimeter of the camp with a torch trying to stay awake. He allowed his mind to wander a little with thoughts of himself, Sister Moya, a few common objects he kept around his shop in town, and the wonderful things they could do together. As he made another circle around the tiny camp a motion by a boulder caught his distracted attention. Burgamy stopped in mid-fantasy and mid-turn, gripping the short sword a little tighter in his sweaty palm. "Who's there?" he demanded hoarsely. As far as he had seen, none of his companions had gotten up or even moved since the start of his watch. There was a soft rustling of dry tipped marsh grass and a woman stepped around the shadowed rock. She was tall and slender, wearing nothing except the mane of red-brown hair that spilled over her forehead and down her back. Pale moonlight silvered her limbs from behind and the torches flickering yellow glow caused shadows to dance on her taut stomach and breasts. Her eyes were fathomless black in the uncertain light. She smiled at the merchant, revealing long, even teeth in the yellow torchlight. "How did you get here?" Burgamy asked, cautiously moving closer. He wondered if he had dozed off during his watch after all and was having a better dream than chaste Moya could ever provide. The woman's smile deepened and she slipped around the rock with a ripple of heavy hair. "Hey! Come back here!" Abruptly more confidant, Burgamy followed the elusive figure back into the first floor ruins. They found Burgamy's body laying in the middle of the great hall, stark naked, without a mark on him. His clothing was nowhere to be found and no reason could be found for him to have come out to the great hall. Sister Moya dropped her cloak over the body then blessed the dead man while the squire triumphantly declared; "I told you I woke him up. I didn't shirk my duty!" "Silence, boy," growled Ceneham, adding another bruise to the morning's set. Gindar accepted the cuff silently, and glared at the knight after he turned away. "We'll need to bury him," said Moya finally, gathering up her skirts and standing. "We don't have the time," Ceneham told her. "We need to find out what killed him." "We can't just leave him here!" "We don't have a choice, Sister. And you didn't seem to have a problem with leaving High Mage Tagir or Ragan, so I don't see the trouble now." Ceneham turned away. "Now come on, if you're coming. I want to check out that corridor where we lost the mage. The last thing we need is something trying to kill us before we can finish our business here." He marched off, calling for his squire to come help him with his armor. In the silence of the great hall, Moya again knelt and settled herself to pray. "Highest," she whispered softly. "I have erred. I did not do my duty by my companions and thereby to You in their hour of need. I beg Your forgiveness. Whatever they were in life, they are Yours now, either cleansed or damned. Aid me then, in granting a last bit of decency to their bodies, along with my prayers for their souls." A soft white glow grew around Moya after a few seconds, then spread towards the body of Burgamy. It touched it and leapt away, dividing itself to go to the lower level and Tagir's resting place and along the wall to where Ragan lay. For an instant the glow became incandescent, then it faded, leaving behind only Moya's dingy white cloak. The priestess opened her eyes and sighed deeply with fatigue. Only rarely did she try spells of such complexity, for just this reason. She spent a few more minutes in contemplation and prayer before getting up to join her companions. The dust had settled in little swirls around the rock that had killed Tagir and the footprints from yesterday were wiped clean away. Ceneham strode past without so much as a glance down, but Moya made a gesture of blessing and warding and the squire went pale again. They edged past the offset boulders and down another short flight of stairs to a heavy door. Time, in conjunction with the damp had warped the wood and turned the brass binding a sickly shade of green. Cobwebs choked the corners of the frame and the ancient keyhole. Ceneham made a quick survey of the barrier, then held his torch back for the squire to take. With several powerful thrusts of his mailed shoulder, the door bent back on its hinges, then fell to the cobbled floor with a dull boom, ripping the now useless crossbow trap out of the wall. Stale, musky air whispered up the corridor. Gindar jumped at the quick succession of sounds, and Moya winced. The knight took the torch back and stepped over the ruined planks into the cellar. Pale torchfire trebled as Moya and the squire joined Ceneham, reflecting off dank walls covered in something flourescent and yellow. The mold gathered the light and aided in brightening the dim chamber. Chests were stacked along the walls, with tatterd, moldy bolts of cloth leaning against them. Something long and wide lay in the center of the room, covered in oiled canvas. Gindar gasped softly. "I'd say that we found the treasury," rumbled Ceneham, flipping open one of the tattered lids. Leather bags, some with holes worn in them, lay piled inside, and bits of gold and silver glinted through in the wan light. "I thought we were looking for what killed Burgamy," said Moya sharply. "You thought wrong, sister." Ceneham's voice was harsh. "He's dead, just like the others. If what came after him comes after us, I'll kill it. But until then, it's stupid to go looking for trouble." He turned back to opening the chests. Gindar joined him, raising his torch high. Furious, Moya glared at the knight's back, then turned and marched out of the cellar. He was a lost cause, and she was worldly enough to realize this, but she didn't have to stay in his company. Ceneham didn't acknowledge the nun's leave-taking except to note absently that there was a little less light to see by. He considered the holy woman to be little more than a nuisince, useful only because with her on the expedition they would neither starve, nor die of wounds taken in combat. As a result of the sudden lessening of light and his slight preoccupation, Ceneham misjudged the composition of the next thing he picked up. The little box shattered in his hand as he grasped it like one of the heavy leather bags. Marsh nuts scattered over the damp floor. "Ridiculous!" Ceneham stared at his fistful of splinters and nuts. "Who the hell is stupid enough to keep nuts in boxes! Boy!" "Sir?" Gindar appeared by his elbow, trying hard to conceal a smile. "Leave that torch and go get some more. And that lantern the mage toted about with him. And make sure that damned nun didn't stray." The knight dusted his hands off and his feet crunched on shells as he wandered around the cellar searching idly. Gindar quickly found two rusty scones to deposit the torches in, then hurried back up the stairs and into open air. His relief was indescribable. He didn't like the way the shadows moved in that cellar. He'd never really liked cellars in general, but this one was worse than any of the others he'd been in. He trotted through the remains of the great hall and back out to the campsite where Moya knelt in prayer. The torch she had been carrying was stuck in the ground beside her, burning fitfully. "Run off, indeed," sniffed the squire to himself. "She can't run off any more than I can." In her case, she didn't have the survival skills, in his, Ceneham would find him, no matter where he ran to and make him wish he'd died. "Soon," Gindar thought, grabbing a handful of unlit torches, then turning to root though the dead mage's packs. "Soon, I'll know everything he does and I'll be able to do more than run." But until that mythical time, he would follow and obey to the best of his ability. Arms filled with the lit and unlit torches and the battered metal lantern, Gindar made his reluctant way back down to the cellar. Moya was started out of her meditative prayer by the squire's paniced screaming, echoing from the guts of the keep. She started up, stood uncertainly for a second trying to place the disturbance, then ran into the great hall. Gindar nearly ran her down in his haste to escape the crumbling walls. In his panic, he didn't recognize the hands that reached out to try and halt his headlong flight. He struggled wildly as Moya pulled him around and forced his back to a crumbling wall. "What is it?" she demanded, giving the boy a brisk shake. "What's happened?" It took a sharp slap to get anything coherent out of the boy. "C--C--Ceneham!" he stuttered out finally. "He's dead! Ripped to pieces!" "Lord above grant us mercy," breathed Moya. For a second she wondered what could have been big enough to kill the knight, but silent enough not to disturb her or the squire. Keeping a firm hand on Gindar's skinny wrists, she pulled him back down to the cellar, repeating like a litany that "God will protect us...God *will* protect us..." Sir Ceneham was indeed dead, although he was not, as Gindar had said, ripped to pieces. His breast plate was rent open, not with the clean cuts of a sword, but by four jagged gashes, as though some other-planer creature had tried seeking his heart. Beneath his helm, Ceneham's face was twisted into a mixture of fear and surprise. His heavy sword lay in a far corner of the cellar--in two pieces. The only other thing in the room besides Moya, the squire, the piles of boxes, and the cloth wrapped bundle was a squirrel busily stuffing marsh nuts into its mouth. There weren't any signs of a struggle. Gindar whimpered from where Moya had left him by the door, then, with a strangled sob, bolted back up the stairs. Moya jumped after him, clentching her will against the sickness in her stomach. The thought uppermost in her mind was that the boy could not survive alone. And neither could she. "Wait!" she shouted after the squire. "If we separate were doomed!" But Gindar, frightened and sickened beyond hearing, didn't even slow down. Doggedly Moya followed him through the great hall and past their camp. She hiked up her robes as he charged blindly off into the swamp, continuing to call after him to wait. Branches and vines tangled in her way, and the smell of rotting leaves was kicked up more strongly for the pairs passing. Strangely, no animals were disturbed by their charging blindly through the undergrowth. Moya lost the squire briefly in the growing mist, and only found him again after he shouted in surprise. She reoriented herself in the general direction the sound had emanated from, and ran after. She came upon him suddenly. Moya stumbled to a halt, then scrambled back a few steps as her worn boots began sinking into black mud. Gindar floundered in a mud pit, his paniced thrashing only drawing him deeper under the sticky mud. His screaming was all but incoherent from terror. Moya cast about for something to throw the boy, calling platitudes all the while, but by the time she turned up with a branch long enough to reach him, Gindar's head was beneath the mud's slick surface. A hand grasped briefly, futilely at the knobby root Moya extended, but despite the nun's impassioned encouragement, he was never able to catch hold. The last of Sister Moya's companions sank out of sight, without so much as a bubble to show where he'd gone under. For several long minutes the nun stared at the patch of mud that now looked no more dangerous than any other patch of cleared ground. Then she dropped the root and went to her knees. "How could You do this to me, oh Lord," she moaned, rocking back and forth without even realizing it. "How could You do this to Your faithful, on Your holy quest? How? Was I unworthy? How? Why? How did I fail You? How?" Moya kept repeating this, and variations until it was nearly dark. Night sounds and something hitting the back of her head finally roused her to partial reality. She coughed, voice raw from her prayers and tears, then jerked as another nut bounced off her arm and landed in the moss beside her. Bemused, the nun stumbled to her feet. "Must get back to camp..." she mumbled. "Complete holy service...keep vow...at the keep..." And she tottered off, deeper into the dusky, glowing swamp. To Be Continued by Michelle Brothers ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 October, 1992, 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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