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Status: RO *--------------------------------- Cut here ----------------------------------* 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 6 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 5 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 6, Issue 5 12/10/93 Cir 1109 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Archives at in pub/Zines/DargonZine -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Startled Birds Carlo Samson (Guest Commentary) Resolutions Carlo Samson Yuli 4, 1013 Sons of Gateway 6: Running Jon Evans V. 30-Yule 12, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Startled Birds: A Guest Commentary by Carlo N. Samson (b.c.k.a. ) Seasons Greetings to all our new and current readers, and welcome again to another edition of _DargonZine_! Yes, the previous issue was another single-story blockbuster; while we endeavour to have at least two stories in an issue, sometimes a large story must be printed in its entirety in order to preserve the narrative integrity. Some of you may recognize two of the authors featured in issue 6-3. Jeff Lee ("Heroic Couplet") was a member of the Dargon Project in 1988, and his story "Stranger in the Mist" appeared in _FSFNet_ 11-1. He is now back with us and is currently at work on his next story. The other returnee is David "Orny" Liscomb, of whom I made mention in the commentary for issue 6-2. Orny founded the Dargon Project in 1984 and was its mentor until he stopped putting out _FSFnet_ (the predecessor of _DargonZine_) in mid-1988. At that time he, like many college graduates, dropped off the net and was never heard from again. "'Bout 'Majin'" is his first story since returning, and he also has a considerably more ambitious story that is currently in the editing cycle. We're glad to have his familiar style gracing our pages once again. Lastly, in this issue we have the sixth installment of Jon Evans' "Sons of Gateway" series, as well as one by this writer which wraps up most of the loose ends from my previous stories. Upcoming issues will feature the conclusion of the "Campaign for the Laraka" series, in addition to stories by Bill Erdley and Max Khaytsus. So stay with us, tell your friends about us, and let us know how we're doing. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Resolutions by Carlo N. Samson (b.c.k.a. ) (Author's Note: This story takes place about a year before the Baranur-Beinison war.) Brynna Thorne stood alone at the top of one of Crown Castle's many towers. She leaned on the rough stone battlement and gazed out over the city of Magnus in the direction of the Laraka River. A warm breeze caressed her long dark hair and brought with it a mixture of scents: the briny smell of freshly-caught fish being unloaded on the docks; the sweet fragrance of bright flowers from the Royal Garden; and the faint, familiar smell of the river itself. The sight of a small merchant ship slowly moving downriver under the broad grey expanse of Kheva's Bridge brought on a twinge of longing; she wished she could be out there on the river, back aboard her own ship, instead of being cooped up inside the cold walls of a castle, even the majestic residence of the King of Baranur. She heard a voice in the distance; it sounded like someone was calling her name. Brynna looked around, and spotted a figure waving vigorously to her from far down below in the courtyard. It appeared to be a woman, and next to her was one of the castle guards. Brynna politely waved back, unsure of the woman's identity. Apparently satisfied, the woman spoke to the guard and the two of them disappeared into the castle proper. Brynna's brow furrowed as she mentally reviewed the list of all the people she knew in Magnus. Within the first week of her arrival, before the trial started, she had visited with all the friends whom she knew still lived in the city; a few of them had moved away since the last time she was in town. She was still pondering over this when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning, she saw a tall young woman in a simple white and green dress coming toward her from the tower entrance. The woman's sandy-blond hair was tied back with a lavender ribbon, and her oval face was dominated by a wide full-lipped mouth, beaming with a broad smile. Brynna felt herself returning the smile as recognition came to her. "Kadie! So it's you!" The other woman extended her arms as she closed the distance between them. "Brynna Brynna Brynna! Surprised to see me?" "As a matter of fact, yes," Brynna replied. The two women briefly embraced. "The last time I saw you old is your son?" "Sons," Kadie corrected her. "Another one?" Brynna shook her head. "Don't you and Alexio ever talk anymore?" Kadie giggled. "Well, what do you think we talk about?" Brynna rolled her eyes. "You still look like the same old girl who used to hide whenever boys came around." "And you look--darker," Kadie said, squinting one eye. "But at least you've kept your mage mark." She reached out and touched the streak of blue that colored the strands of long ebony hair near the left side of Brynna's face. "As if I could get rid of it!" Brynna said with a laugh. "Now, do you want to tell me just what the freezing hell you're doing here? Dawna said that you moved back to the country two years ago." Kadie looked over the battlements. "My, but we're high up!" She gathered her skirts and sat down in a crenel. "Anyway, my husband has friends in the castle guard, and one of them came by a week ago for a chat. He happened to mention that the whole city was talking about the trial of some famous pirate who had been brought in by a woman ship captain. And I thought to myself, there's only one woman who that could possibly be! So I...persuaded Alexio to take me here to see you. He had to call in many favors and do a bit of persuading himself, but it all worked out and here I am!" "I'm impressed," Brynna said. "And I'm very glad that you did. Living in the Castle isn't quite how people imagine it to be." "So what exactly is your part in all this?" Kadie asked. "I thought you'd be away in some far-off port seeking ancient treasures or the like." "Well, it''s quite a story," Brynna said. "You know how much I like stories." Brynna sat down against the parapet. "Well, the whole thing started a few months ago with a book." "A book? What book?" "I was on a trading run to Dargon, and a day before we were to leave I wanted to get a birthday gift for my father. So I stopped in at a local book shop and ended up buying this very unusual tome--I'd never seen it's like before. The owner suggested I take it to a scribe he knew...." The scribe's name was Genarvus Kazakian, and he lived in a private residence east of the marketplace. He was middle-aged, shorter than Brynna, and dressed rather more formally than she expected. He seemed a bit nervous when he answered the door, but was pleasant enough as he ushered her into his small but comfortable study. A boy of about fifteen years was busily cleaning the fireplace; he straightened up as they entered the room. Kazakian introduced the boy as his assistant Abiro, and sent him away to make them some tea. They sat down at a table in the center of the room. Brynna watched Kazakian examine the book; he used a large round lens mounted on a wooden handle to peer closely at the cover and pages. "It is certainly very old," Kazakian murmured after several minutes. "And the writing is very precise." He put down the lens and looked up. "What about the language it's written in?" Brynna asked. "That I am not entirely sure about. The letters do not belong to any script or alphabet that I am familiar with. Although, I do have an idea...." He got up and pulled a book from a nearby shelf. Returning to the table, he opened the new book to a certain page. He used the lens to scrutinize the cover of Brynna's book, then looked over to the open pages of the other book. After a few minutes of reading, his expression became triumphant. "By the beard of Ol! I cannot believe this!" He turned to Brynna and said excitedly, "Captain Thorne, you have purchased a most significant tome!" "How significant?" asked Brynna, her interest mounting. "Firstly, have you ever heard of the Mystics?" "Of course. They were an ancient race that lived on Makdiar about three or four thousand years ago. My mother used to tell me stories about them." Kazakian nodded. "But if my suspicions about this book are true, then it may be that the Mystics did not merely exist in stories, as most people believe." Brynna was about to ask him what he meant when Abiro returned with the tea. "Just put it over there, will you?" Kazakian motioned to a low table in front of the fireplace. "And fetch my writing desk." Abiro nodded and moved to comply. Kazakian turned back to Brynna and continued his explanation. "You may know, Captain Thorne, that the Mystics are widely considered mythical by most scholars, and that those who do research on them are generally scorned. I fall into the latter category, and have gathered much information during my years of study." He went on to reveal that the Fretheod people, who ruled much of Baranur over two thousand years ago, sometimes made references to the Mystics in their literature, and even included samples of their script in various texts. "The symbol on the cover of the book you bought is exactly like the one depicted here in this Fretheod volume on religion. The symbol was apparently used by a Mystic sect known as the Ara'la Takkon. Unfortunately, not much is know about the sect, but their 'holy book' is commonly known as the Codex Araltakonia." Abiro returned with the writing desk. Kazakian opened it and took out a sheet of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink. Brynna moved the books aside to make room on the table. "Will that be all, milord?" Abiro asked. "Yes, yes," muttered Kazakian. Remembering Brynna, he added, "Unless you would like some tea, Captain Thorne?" She declined, and Abiro left the room with the tea tray. "As I was saying, this book may very well be the sacred text of the Ara'la Takkon. If so, it will do much to prove that the Mystics did once exist." He paused and looked at Brynna with a serious but hopeful expression. "If I may ask a great favor of you, Captain Thorne--would you be willing to take this book to Magnus for proper study?" Brynna considered for a moment. The capital was a two-week journey upriver from Port Sevlyn, her home and final destination. The crew of her ship was due shore leave, though, and the ship itself was in need of repairs; but it would be no trouble for her to continue on to Magnus by herself, and besides, it would give her the opportunity to visit some old friends there. "If it's that important, I'd be glad to do it," Brynna said. The scribe nodded his thanks and hurriedly scribbled on the parchment. "It is imperative, then, that you get this book to the Royal Scholar. He's an open-minded fellow--I met him while I was studying at the University--and he will no doubt be very interested in properly authenticating and translating the tome." He signed the parchment with a flourish. "Present this letter to him, also. It contains a brief summary of my conclusions, and instructions for you to be compensated for delivering it there." Brynna smiled in mild amusement. The scribe had certainly loosened up upon determining the book's significance. "I had no idea it was of such historical value when I purchased it." Kazakian nodded vigorously as he imprinted his seal on the parchment. "It is most fortunate that you came across the book and brought it to me. A devout man might see the hand of a god or two in this!" "Do you believe it was written by the Mystics?" asked Kadie. "Well, I looked at it very closely during the voyage," said Brynna, "and as I said the writing wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before. But in any case, as we neared Port Sevlyn the _Voyager_ came under attack by Commander Challion--" "He's the one who's on trial, right? Didn't he used to be in the Royal Army?" Brynna nodded. "He was Knight Captain of the Southern Marches, but was discharged for forcing himself on a peasant girl." "Disgusting," Kadie said, making a face. "Exactly my thoughts," Brynna agreed. "After his discharge, he became the leader of a band of pirates, and was widely sought for various crimes. He wanted the Codex, but I refused to give it to him...." "You haven't answered my question," Brynna said. "Is this a raid? If not, I'd very much like to get under way. Tell your mage--the conscious one, that is--to give us the wind back." Challion leaned over the rail. "I have one other objective, and I think you know what I mean." Brynna shrugged. "Do elaborate." "The Codex Araltakonia, Captain Thorne. I wish to purchase it from you." Cydric turned to Mandi. "The what?" he whispered. "That book you were looking at in the cabin," she replied in hushed tones."The one on her desk--it's supposed to be as old as the Mystics!" "Sorry. I don't have what you're looking for," Brynna replied, folding her arms. "No lies, no games, Captain! I know you acquired it back in Dargon. But I'm prepared to offer twice what you paid for it." "In truth, Commander, I never thought our paths would cross again--the dragon whale seemed rather attached to you, as I recall." "I got the better of the creature, in the end," Challion answered. Hitching his trousers up around his ample waist, he said, "Well, three times your purchase price, then. You'll be making quite a profit." "The knowledge in the Codex is beyond price. In any case, what do you want with it? You're by no means a scholar--neither are your mages." Challion rubbed his fleshy face and exhaled loudly. "My final offer--quadruple the amount you paid to acquire it! A fine trader such as yourself cannot fail to recognize a wonderful bargain such as this." "True, but I also recognize barjee squat when I hear it. And I've heard enough," said Brynna. "Spear detail, forward!" Several crewmen went over to the remains of the scorpion and picked up spears from the storage box. After dipping the points into the tar pot, they lined up alongside Brynna at the rail. Kayne lit up a torch and stood behind them. "It always comes to violence, hey Skoranji?" Challion said to the balding man. To Brynna he said, "Very well. If you do not wish to sell the book, then I am afraid I will just have to take it." "You and what battle fleet? Your men won't set foot upon this ship," Brynna shot back. The balding man spoke. "Truly now, m' dear? Be you willin' to test your pups 'gainst me bloodseekers?" "Would you be willing to bet on it, Captain Skoranji?" Brynna asked, smirking. The _Voyager_ crew laughed. Even from his vantage point, Cydric could see Skoranji turn red. "Please, please, let's not bring my friend's fondness for gambling into this," said Challion. "I appeal to your reason, Captain Thorne. Give the Codex over peacefully, and we'll part on friendly terms." Brynna shook her head. "You raffenraker, do you seriously think you intimidate me?" Challion motioned to the green-robed man, who lifted his arms and spoke a short phrase. An intense green glow limned his hands, then a ball of light the same color formed and shot toward the _Vanguard Voyager_. It came to hover over Kayne, then sped downward to strike him full in the chest and knock him backwards. It then ringed his neck, and slowly the First Mate rose into the air. "Certainly not, Captain. I know better than to threaten you. But a threat to your friend is another matter," Challion said, smiling. "True men do not hide behind magic," Brynna returned coldly, gripping the rail so hard her knuckles turned white. "Let him down, Commander Challion. Now." "We are going to board your ship. If you or any of your men resists, mister Kayne will no longer have the use of his head." "First let him down, damn you. Then I'll give you the Codex." "The book first, in exchange for his life. That is your only option." Brynna chewed on her lower lip, then finally agreed. "You didn't!" Kadie exclaimed. "Well, at that moment I didn't have much of a choice ," Brynna said. "But when I found out that Cydric and Mandi were hiding on deck, I secretly instructed Mandi to get my bow and arrows and have Cydric make ready to kill the wizard when I signalled." Kadie's eyes widened. Brynna slowly shook her head and sighed. "I don't like having to kill, you know that. But sometimes it's the only way." "I understand," said Kadie. "But then what? He was able to do it, I suppose, or else you wouldn't be here telling me about it!" "He did, and that enabled us to fight back...." Gulping a quick breath of air, Cydric leaped up, drew a bead on the _Black Swan's_ magic-maker, and let the arrow fly. It sped through the air in a flash of silver, and smacked deep into the sorcerer's left eye. The man screamed, clutched at his face with both hands, staggered forward, and pitched over the rail into the river. Kayne fell to the deck as the green ring vanished from around his neck. "Battle positions!" shouted Brynna. The _Voyager_ crew surged forward, scooping up their weapons and whooping in defiance. Cydric ran over to check on Kayne. Challion cursed as Brynna severed the grappling lines. "Are you all right, sir?" Cydric asked, helping Kayne to sit up. "Never did like wizards," the First Mate replied, rubbing his throat. Brynna instructed two crewmen to take Kayne below, then ordered the spear detail forward again. She retrieved the torch and re-lit it. Challion ordered the _Swan's_ oars back into the water, then directed Skoranji to prepare the ballista for a counterattack. Brynna handed the torch to the first spearman, who lit up his weapon and passed the flame to the next man. After the torch made it down the line and all the spears had been lit, Brynna gave the order to let fly. Several of the burning spears struck the side of the _Black Swan_. A few of them landed on the deck, and one managed to hit a sail. The fire spread quickly, forcing Challion to abandon his plans for a retaliatory strike in favor of saving his ship from the flames. Cydric and Mandi watched the action from the rail. As Skoranji dashed madly about the deck of the _Swan_ calling out orders, a breeze rippled across Cydric's cheek. At the same time the helmsman cried, "We've got the wind back, Captain!" Cydric looked up and saw the ship's sails billowing proudly once more. "Get us under way immediately!" called Brynna. As the _Vanguard Voyager_ slowly pulled away from the enkindled _Black Swan_, Cydric could see Commander Challion standing motionless at the rail, flames licking at his back. Suddenly he shouted out across the widening gap between the ships. "I will not forget this, Brynna Thorne! I cannot be defeated so easily--revenge will be mine, in the end!" Brynna came over and took the bow and arrows from Cydric. "Wrong, Challion. It ends now!" she said. She nocked an arrow and fired. It struck the Commander square in the chest, penetrating his breastplate. Challion gasped and fell back into the fire. "Was that really necessary?" Kadie asked. Brynna was silent for a moment. "You have to understand, that wasn't the first time he and I crossed each other. I was just so frustrated and angry that he had attacked me and put my crew in danger again. I really wanted it to end." "And I suppose it has, hasn't it?" said Kadie. "With the trial, yes. When we arrived in Port Sevlyn, I saw a Royal Navy ship in dock, under the command of Captain Xane Hellriegel. He's the one who actually went back and captured Challion and the crew of his ship." "And you rode with them all the way here to Magnus," Kadie finished. "Yes," said Brynna. "I was rather surprised to see how quickly they brought Challion to trial, though. Apparently this is one case the Crown wants disposed of as soon as possible. And, since I was one of his victims, I testified against him. The King is going to announce the verdict soon, so I came up here to wait." "Well, I'm sure there's no doubt about what it's going to be," said Kadie. "But how did Challion even know you had the Codex?" "He claims that a woman hired him to obtain the book from me and deliver it to her, in exchange for a large sum of money. Unfortunately, the woman he described hasn't been found, and he claims he knows nothing else about her." "What about the Codex itself?" "The scholars have been debating over it since practically the moment I brought it in," Brynna said with a grin. "They seem to have divided into two armies--those who believe it's authentic and those who believe it isn't. I still got paid, though." "You've certainly made your mark on this city, haven't you, Brynna?" Kadie said with admiration. Her emerald-green eyes took on a faraway look. "Your life is so much more exciting than mine. You've seen and done far more that I could ever hope to!" "That's what many people think, but the truth of it is...well, don't tell my mother this, but sometimes I think of giving it up. Just settling down and raising a family like you've done." "Would you really do that?" Brynna half-shrugged and gave a slight shake of her head. "I don't know--I mean, you remember what happened with Tarant?" Kadie nodded, remembering the time when a 23-year-old Brynna had accepted a marriage proposal from a young man, but later broke off the engagement in order to take advantage of the opportunity to become captain of her own ship. "So what you mean is, you don't know if you even could settle down?" Brynna sighed. "Well, I suppose I eventually will, but it won't be for a while, at least. Maybe someday if I ever get tired of adventuring." They talked a while longer about family and friends. Presently, the castle guard who had escorted Kadie came up the tower and informed Brynna that the King was about to render his verdict. "Oh, came I come too?" Kadie asked hopefully. "I've never been to a trial before!" "Of course. Let's go," said Brynna. The Audience Chamber of the castle had filled almost to capacity with various courtiers and nobles by the time Brynna and Kadie arrived. The guard led the two women through the murmuring crowd to a bench near the front of the room where sat the other witnesses against Commander Challion. Kadie marvelled at the vast expanse of the great hall, and expressed great interest in the colorful banners and huge tapestries that hung on the walls. A few minutes later, a black-haired man in a gold and green tunic strode solemnly into the room from the double doors at the rear. Brynna explained that he was the Falcon Herald of Baranur, distinguished by the image of the blue falcon in the center of his tabard, and by the silver circlet he wore on his head. The Falcon Herald reached the front of the hall and stood in front of the throne. "Your respect for His Majesty, King Haralan of Baranur!" he intoned. The room fell silent. A moment later, the doors opened to admit an entourage that included several guards, the High Priest, the opposing Advocates, various functionaries, then the King himself surrounded by soldiers of the King's Own. Brynna instructed Kadie to bow her head like the rest of the crowd as the King passed by. When the entire assembly had installed itself at the front of the hall and the King had seated himself on the throne, the Falcon Herald motioned for the congregation to be seated. Commander Challion was then brought in, flanked by guards and iron-shackled at the wrists. Brynna saw that although his arrow wound had fully healed, he still carried himself as if he was in great pain--no doubt a ploy to gain the King's sympathy. The guards made Challion kneel before the throne. King Haralan stared at him for several long moments, stroking his chin. Brynna's heart pounded in her chest as she waited to hear the verdict. Finally, the King stood up. A page handed him a golden scepter, which he pointed at the large man kneeling before him. "Artemus Challion, former Knight Captain of the Southern Marches, the accusations that have been brought against you are most grave. You have committed crimes against your country and stained your honor. It is my judgement, then, that you be declared guilty of all charges, and punished accordingly." The hall exploded with scattered cheers and excitement. Brynna leaped up and shouted with elation. Dimly, she heard Challion shouting in protest. The Falcon Herald called for quiet, and when the noise died down the King continued. "Because of your past service to the Crown your life shall be spared, but you shall be held in the dungeon for fifty years, or until the end of your days. Furthermore, all of your possessions shall be seized and used to pay restitution to those whom you have caused injury. This I decree, before God and the Kingdom." He handed the scepter back to the page. "This tribunal is concluded." "No!" shouted Challion as the guards forced him to his feet. "Your Majesty, please! You cannot do this to me! I implore you--" He roared in defiance as the guards began dragging him away. Catching sight of Brynna, his face contorted with rage. "I *will* have my revenge, Captain Thorne!" he snarled. Brynna gazed coolly at him, smiling faintly in satisfaction. When he was finally out of the room Kadie remarked, "My, but he was angry! Aren't you frightened?" "Not at all. He won't be bothering anyone for a long while." The High Priest said a brief benediction, then the royal entourage moved out of the hall. The crowd broke up, some leaving the hall, others milling about. "So what do you do now?" Kadie asked as she and Brynna headed for the doors. "I collect my restitution, I suppose!" Brynna said with a laugh. Just then she spotted a familiar face coming towards her out of the crowd. "Come on, let me introduce you to someone." A tall well-muscled man in the uniform of the Royal Navy stopped and congratulated Brynna. She thanked him and gave Kadie a little push forward. "Captain Hellriegel, may I present Acadia Farrondale." "A great pleasure," Hellriegel said, taking Kadie's hand and pressing it to his cheek. The young woman gave a nervous giggle. "Ah--it's--I'm delighted to meet you," Kadie falteringly replied, a wide grin on her face. Brynna explained that she and Kadie grew up together in Port Sevlyn, and that Kadie moved to Magnus upon her marriage. "And didn't you say you moved again?" she asked, casting her friend a prompting look. "Oh--ah, yes, we did," Kadie answered, casting her eyes shyly downward. "After my second son was born, my husband decided that we would need a bigger place to live, and so we moved to a town not far from the city." She flicked her gaze up at Hellriegel, then over to Brynna. Hellriegel made small talk with them for a few more minutes, then asked Brynna if she would like to join him later at a local dockside pub. "I'd like to, but..perhaps some other time," Brynna replied. "Are you sure?" asked Hellriegel. "You do, after all, owe me a dinner." Brynna smiled. "We'll see." "That's as good an answer as I'm going to get, eh?" Hellriegel said with a slight nod of his head. "Hope to see you, then, Captain Thorne. A pleasure, Lady Farrondale." He smiled as he took his leave of them. Kadie stared open-mouthed at his retreating back. "Did you hear that? He called me lady!" She put a hand on her chest and turned to Brynna. "WHY didn't you accept his invitation?" Brynna shrugged. " didn't seem appropriate." "You spent two weeks on a ship with the man! Don't tell me nothing happened!" "Nothing did." Kadie sighed and mimed slapping Brynna across the face several times. "Is your mind still there, Brynna? HOW could nothing happen between you and..." She glanced back and breathed a sigh. "And him!" "Don't let Alexio hear you talk like that. He might get jealous." "Realm of the gods, Brynna, it looks like you're not even trying!" Brynna put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "You haven't seen the Royal Gardens yet, have you? They have the most beautiful variety of roses that my mother would give anything for. Would you like to go see them?" Before Kadie could reply, a young disheveled-looking man dressed in red and gray scholars' robes came rushing up to them. "Captain Thorne?" he asked breathlessly, looking at Brynna. "Yes, what is it?" "My name is Cullan, I'm with the Scholar's Council at the University of Magnus. May I speak with you?" "Concerning what?" "It's about--well, we, that is, the Council, would like to make a proposition--I mean, we'd like to make an offer, uh...." "An offer of what?" asked Brynna with slight annoyance. The young scholar visibly composed himself. "Are you available this afternoon? The Council would like to see you before you leave Magnus. It's about a possible expedition." "An expedition to where?" Brynna asked, concealing her sudden rise of interest. "That will be discussed at the meeting. Will you be able to attend?" "Yes, of course. Thank you," Brynna replied. "Very good, Captain. Um, someone will be sent for you at around three bells." Brynna nodded, and the young man departed. "He seemed excited," Kadie observed. "Do you know what he was talking about?" "I'm not sure. I should have at least asked him about the Codex," Brynna said. She turned to Kadie. "Well, why don't we go see those roses now?" Meanwhile, in the infamous Fifth Quarter of Magnus, a gaunt dark-haired man angrily made his way into a pub called the Silverchance Tavern. The man swept through the common room and pushed through the crowd in the gaming parlor until he came to one of the private booths at the back. He flung aside the curtain and stared wordlessly at the older, more expensively dressed man who sat at a small table with a slender auburn-haired young woman beside him. "Ah, Veltain! What news, eh?" the older man said, turning from his young companion. "Challion has just been sentenced," Veltain said tightly, eyes narrowed. "At last," the older man replied. "Well, sit! Tell us about it." The gaunt man stood for a moment, breathing heavily, then ripped the curtain back across the booth's entrance and slammed himself into a chair. "You were wrong, Javaro. Challion has only been sentenced to imprisonment, not death!" He rested his elbows on the table and cupped his face in his hands. "Then it would seem that the King is in a merciful mood today!" Javaro chuckled and took a sip of wine from the silver goblet before him. Veltain looked up, annoyance clear on his face. "Don't you understand? They may interrogate him further--he might even lead them to her!" He stabbed a finger at the young woman, who calmly took a long puff on the pipe she was smoking and exhaled in Veltain's direction. "Why must you always be so scared?" she said in a smooth voice. "You're nothing but a mouse in a pit full of snakes." She looked away and sucked on the pipe. "Damn you, Taja!" Veltain said tensely. Javaro sighed. "Calm yourself, Veltain. Nothing has changed. Challion still knows nothing of us. What does it matter that he wastes away in a rat-infested dungeon instead of twirling at the end of a rope?" He slipped his arm around the young woman's bare shoulders. "And do you really think he could recognize her outside any of her many disguises?" Veltain slapped both palms on the table. "The true issue here is that the Codex is now lost to us, thanks to your total mishandling of the whole matter! If you had done as I suggested--" Taja looked at him sharply. "If we had done as you suggested, every mage in Baranur would be knocking at our doorstep! You have no concept of subtlety, mouseface." "You call hiring pirates subtle?" Veltain sneered. "I would call that desperation born of ineptitude. I'm going to recommend that the both of you be expelled from the Triarch at once!" Javaro leaned across the table. "There's no need for that, Veltain," he said in a low voice. "The situation may still be salvaged." "You utter fool!" Veltain spat, nearly rising from his chair. "Without the Codex, the Triarch will remain no more powerful than a band of street urchins! I find it incredible that they entrusted the task to you!" Javaro's eyes narrowed. "One cannot foresee all that may go wrong," he said. "Nor can one accurately predict the actions of another." Veltain smirked. "You thought retrieving the Codex would be simple, given that Captain Thorne is a woman." He ignored the look that Taja threw him. "I am a patient man, Veltain, but I am starting to become annoyed with you," said Javaro, gripping the stem of the goblet. "You've become soft. Soft and weak. You have no place with us anymore!" Taja took the pipe out of her mouth. "You quivering little mouse," she said with sharp disdain, her pale blue eyes mocking him. "Why don't you go find a cat to put you out of your endless state of fright?" "Bitch," Veltain said. "Meow," replied Taja. Javaro frowned. "I don't want to ever see you again, Veltain," he said. "Leave us." Veltain threw up his hands and quickly rose from his chair, nearly knocking the table over. "Gladly." He turned and made to open the curtain. Suddenly he spun around and with a motion almost too fast to see, hurled something at Javaro. Taja screamed as the man's eyes popped wide, a many-pointed metal star embedded in his throat. Blood bubbled from the wound as Javaro gurgled and slumped over. Veltain's arm flashed again. Taja jerked aside as another metal star buried itself in the wall. She ducked down and shoved the table hard against Veltain's legs. The gaunt man lost his balance and tumbled backwards, bringing the curtain down as he fell. Several of the patrons in the gaming parlor looked up in startlement as Taja ran out of the booth, screaming wildly. Veltain scrambled to his feet and started to pursue her, but changed his mind after seeing the young woman tearfully imploring a pair of leather-clad men to help her. Veltain almost made it to the back door before the two men caught him. At Taja's insistence, they took him outside into the alley behind the tavern. Taja followed, sobbing. Her expression changed as she watched the men punch and kick Veltain. After a few minutes she told them to stop. She took a pinch of tobacco from one of the pouches she wore around her slim waist and sprinkled it into the bowl of her pipe. After lighting it, she told the men to stand Veltain up against the wall and move away. She approached the man's bruised and bloody form and put her face next to his. "You shouldn't have killed Javaro," she said icily. "And another thing; just because you're dealing with a woman doesn't mean that things will be simple." She took a step back and puffed on the pipe. A moment later, she exhaled a cloud of smoke into the gaunt man's face. Veltain coughed and waved his hands in front of him. Taja and her two confederates watched from further down the alley as Veltain's coughs became ragged gasps for breath. Soon he was on the ground, wheezing violently. He kicked and struggled, clawing at his chest. Finally a tremor rippled through his body and he lay still. Taja smiled with satisfaction as she led the men away. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sons of Gateway, Part 6: Running by Jon Evans (b.c.k.a ) My name is Cara Shem Fenib. I lead my clan. It is the cold time in the plains, but we have survived. I have been a good hunter, so there has often been meat, instead of the hard roots that leave my insides almost as empty as not eating at all. Sickness among my clan also has been rare: the wind spirits have been kind. This light time marks the middle of the cold time. If we survive now, my clan lives until the next cold time. But, the last few hunts have not gone well. Each member of my clan gets hungrier, and with hunger comes desperation: a young one challenged me, earlier. I refrained from hurting him, and avoided hurt for myself, but if the hunts do not improve, things will get worse. I sent the mothers and the weak to the thick trees in search of roots. I and my brothers will hunt what we can, and alert the others if we kill. Separation is bad for the clan. If we kill, it will take longer for the others to arrive, and another beast or clan may claim it before the rest of my clan arrives. But, at least the hunters will have eaten. I have no choice. Our mothers will starve, and will not be able to make milk for the young when the warm time comes and our loins burn. My brother's call disturbs my thoughts: he has found a fresh trail. It is near the darkness, now is the best time. The tracks are from a large beast. The depth of its tracks show much weight. The scent tells us its taste, and our legs tighten, and our stomachs cry out to be filled. We follow quickly. The scent gets thicker in a spot: it rested by this tree, it does not know we follow it. The trail continues, away from the thick trees, and we see a structure lit by Spara-Kla, the burning air. There are many worshipers around it. They are the Spara- Klani, the man-beasts, and they do not travel without the burning air. They roam the fields, burn the land, and hunt in the thick trees with the long claw and the flying stick. And they kill my clan when we are many and strong. We war with the Spara-Klani, but we are too weak now. The trail continues past here, back to the trees, and we follow it, knowing that it is the riding-beasts of the Spara-Klani that we follow. "I couldn't reach you until I was about a hundred feet away," Kenneth told Rho as they rode through the darkening woods. They left the burning tent and its occupants behind, trying to put out the fire, find out what its cause was, and control the slaves at the same time. "I know. The device must be very powerful." Rho looked over her shoulder to Goren, who sat in the saddle behind her. Kenneth, it seems, was only able to acquire one extra horse from the camp ground, and wasn't expecting any company. The silk clothes Goren and Rho had been wearing in the tent were not nearly warm enough for the winter evening, even with five layers of the material wrapped about them, and sharing the horse allowed them the double benefit of sharing their body heat. "I am thankful for your rescue, Kenneth," Goren spoke as a way of getting into the conversation. For some reason, Kenneth had not treated him terribly respectfully in the past half bell. Goren wished he knew why. "My family will reward you greatly for my return, when we get to Magnus. I'll make sure of it." Both Rho and Kenneth turned and looked at him disapprovingly when he said this, but it was Kenneth who spoke next, as if Goren wasn't even there. "I would have warned you if we had the time, but I was being... followed." "Looks like nothing's coming, now," Goren said, glancing back to make sure there was nothing behind them. This time, Kenneth did him the courtesy of acknowledging his remark. "There are other ways of knowing when you're being followed, boy. We are still in danger of those who are behind us." He looked down at Rho, almost scolding her with his expression. "I had to make a decision, didn't I?" She seemed almost childlike to Goren with this remark, and he glimpsed a softness that he hadn't seen from her in the tent. He wondered if he could like this demanding, oppressive woman whose angelic eyes concealed experiences he didn't wish to live, and a fire he feared... and shared. "It was wrong," was Kenneth's only response, and he looked forward and down as if to end the conversation, but he mumbled one last phrase in the next half bell. "The Fenib still have to be fed." The trail enters the thick trees, again, and I send my brother for the mothers and the weak. We are close now, and the man-beast will be stopping, and our numbers will be greater. It is very dark, and the Spara-Klani do not travel in the darkness. A strange thing happens: a man-beast walks toward my clan, not covered in its usual hide, and lays down in the white cold. My brother starts forward, but my bark stops him. The Spara-Klani are not to be trusted. I step closer, coming near his leg. He does not move. Smelling him, I do not sense fear. This disturbs me, and I warn my brothers. But this man-beast is foolish. The white cold surrounds him, makes him weak, and all we must do is wait. Then I feel him in me, speaking to me, showing me, and I know: this one is for us. I wait, and the white cold takes his heat and leaves him with the smell of the Black Fenib. I bark to my brothers: we shall survive this cold-time. Cold air greeted Goren as he stirred from under the blankets he and Rho had shared to keep themselves warm. The small lean-to which Kenneth had built the night before kept some of the wind out, and most of the snow, but the rest of the blankets and materials were needed for the horses. He looked around, searching for his many layers of thin clothes and found only a few of the items with which he had left. "Here, wear these," were the first words Rho greeted him with as she entered the slight structure, a gust of wind following her. She threw a small pile of clothes - a cape, suede vest, thick white pants and a pair of white boots which were a little large for him, and added as she walked out, "We're leaving soon." He dressed quickly, finding that most of the items fit him rather well, over the thin layer of clothes he had taken from their previous lodging. What was that place, anyway, he found himself wondering, and where are we going in such a hurry? And where were these clothes last night, when I needed them? And what's happened to... He left the tent. "I don't understand," was the first thing he said to her. She was dressed in some new clothes, also; probably taken from the saddle bags she was strapping onto the horses. She gave him a hard look, filled with sadness and determination. "He left last night," was her only explanation. This did nothing for Goren's need for information, and only made him wonder who he was dealing with, now that they were free. "Oh, so he always just gets up and walks off without his clothes? In the middle of the night?" "The Fenib had to be fed." She looked at him, almost accusing. "Who in Risseer's feast are the Fenib?" He was getting very annoyed. He knew she could knock him on his back, if she needed, but he didn't care. He only wanted answers, something she owed him at this point. "Inhabitants of these woods. Creatures who live in the winter because we help them, because they need help. All Stevene's creatures need help, some time or other." "Nehru's pointy nose! A Stevenic!" He threw his arms up in the air and began pacing around the fire Rho had built earlier. "Listen, I don't care what religion you follow, as long as it's not bloody Saren. All I want is answers. Why did he leave, what's happened to him, and why am I wearing his clothes? These are his clothes, aren't they? I mean, is he coming back, or isn't he? How does he intend to feed the Fenib? No one in their right mind just wanders off into the winter night without anything to wear. No one can live through..." His words trailed off slowly, their meaning finally hitting home. He knew why Kenneth had left, now, and what had probably happened to him. He had only one reply. "Ol, that's disgusting." Again, she said, "The Fenib had to be fed." "Why him?" This question only resulted in Rho's accusing glare. He didn't know why, but he had the feeling she thought it was his fault. Then, she stopped. "I'm sorry, it's not your fault. It's mine." Goren understood this statement about as well as he did all her opening thoughts, so she reinforced it. "If I had not taken you with us, you would have run on your own, when the tent burned, wouldn't you?" Goren nodded. "Well, you would have been caught by the Fenib, and they would have fed on you. You would be dead, now, and not Kenneth." "He gave his life...?" "I didn't know! The magic field around the tent was preventing me from contacting Kenneth. The Fenib were in danger of dying out." "But he's a human being!" "It doesn't matter, in the long run. There are plenty of human beings, but the Fenib who hunt in winter are slowly dying off. It's our fault, you know." "What?" That last one was a little much. As hard as it was for him to understand that Kenneth's life had been forfeit for his own, that Rho thought she was the reason for Kenneth's death, and the Fenib had to be fed, he had no concept of why she thought the Fenib's inability to survive was his and Rho's fault. "Not 'ours' meaning yours and mine, but 'ours'... the human race's. We kill them in the summer, when they hunt the game we think of as our own, the game we cage in to make the slaughter that much easier. It reduces their chances of surviving the winter." Goren looked at her, seeing pain, happiness, confusion, and remorse all over her face. It crumbled, her eyes became cloudy and her shoulders drooped. He thought of going to her, resting her honey-brown head against him, but she stiffened immediately. "There. You have your answers. Now, we head for Magnus to return you to your family." Goren began scooping snow into the fire and listening to it simmer as the flames became lower and lower. "What can possibly be taking them so long?" Ne'on asked no one in particular as he looked at his map of Baranur. He traced a line, once more, from Gateway to the Nar-Enthruen where he had sent a company of men to take the Stone of Strength. That gem was a giant piece of an important spell component. With it, he could open a gate the size of this hall. Ne'on paced in front of the fireplace slowly, reflecting on the comfort of the warmth. Lifting his black hand, he tilted his head back slowly to empty the goblet's contents down his throat. What was that, his third this evening? He hadn't kept count. He didn't care, anymore. Things had gotten out of control. He could barely even remember how he had gotten here. He reached for the bottle. Everything had gotten so chaotic. And then there was Phos. Phos, whose logic was infallible, who rationalized everything so convincingly until, before he knew it, Ne'on was sitting on the Seat of Gateway and heir to House Winston. Phos, whose magic filled him, gave him the strength to do the things he couldn't control on his own. But it felt so good when the energy filled him. It was better than the wine he was drinking. It was better than anything he had ever known. He could fly, if he wanted, or make lightning strike from the sky. And people listened to him. Yes, he admitted, that was definitely something to consider. The power and respect that he commanded. The way people accepted what he told them, listened to his instructions, and things went along so smoothly. There were actions which had to be taken before that happened. Ne'on didn't like to think of those times. He could hardly remember them happening, as if he had dreamed them during the night, only to wake up and find himself here, now. Phos had taken care of them. When things became confused, and Ne'on didn't know what to do - that seemed to be happening often, in the last few months - he called Phos. All Phos asked in return was a way into this world. Ne'on liked to think of Phos as his guardian angel. "Why not look for them?" Clay suggested from the edge of the firelight. "You have magic..." "That wouldn't work for our - my - benefit. It'd be like turning on a bright light in a forest. Equiville would pick it up in an instant." "I don't understand," Clay returned, stepping out of the shadows to peer at the bottle of Lederian red. Why not? he thought, and reached to fill an empty flask with the wine. "I thought you didn't drink." "I don't," Clay returned, and swallowed a large quantity of the liquid. Ne'on stared silently at his Captain. There were a lot of things he hadn't bothered to learn about Clay. He hadn't thought he needed to, but perhaps now... no. It would all be over in a few weeks. This damn magic - it can take control of a man. "Picture yourself sitting in the hills, watching a field. It's night time, heavy clouds, no moon. Someone is in the field, but he's not using anything to light the way. Can you see him?" "Very difficult," Clay answered. He finished the rest of his goblet, and put it back on the table. Instictively, he wandered toward the edge of the light. "But what does that have to do with it?" "To use my magic," Ne'on explained, "I would have to lower the Garthian Blind. That would be like lighting a torch in the middle of a dark field. Gateway would become very visible to Equiville's senses, and we can't afford that... not yet." Bartholemew Clay stepped back into the darkness. "Just remember what I told you," Rho's voice, surprisingly neutral, reminded him. "Don't stay at Gateway too long. You're not meant for that, anymore." "I still don't understand what you're telling me. First-" She looked at him again, and he became silent. The winter thaw had come and gone on their trip to Magnus, and the horse he had ridden had broken a leg in the muddy trail. They were forced to kill it. Something else for which she would remember him. She had a way of making him feel sorry, making him want to repent for simple mistakes. She had an influence on him which he had never known by his father, and couldn't remember from his mother. No one, in fact, had ever made him feel so much like a child, an inexperienced, immature infant. Yet, it wasn't malicious. It was more like... being instructed. "Don't understand, Goren. Just listen to people who know what they're talking about. Go to Gateway, do what you have to do, and then leave." "What am I supposed to do after that?" He scowled slightly when he said that, realizing that he had been taking orders from her for so long he began to rely on her input. "Forget it. I'll find something to do." "Good." She began to walk away, then turned around. "Remember what I told you about Stevene. He'll forgive you, as long as you forgive everyone else. And He loves you, no matter who you are, or what you do." Goren waived as she pulled her horse in front of her, down the cobblestone drive, and onto the road that would eventually lead her out of Magnus. She wanted him to go to Dargon for some reason. She hadn't said it exactly like that, but he knew she would be there... maybe he would go. She was very trying, as a friend, he thought. Never gave him an inch. He smiled as he turned to walk up the steps... he liked her like that. Haralan squinted his eyes, surveying the battle plans his advisors and War Council members had drawn out before him. It didn't appear favorable on the field, out-manned and out-horsed by the Beinison Army, but Magnus - and Crown Castle, particularly - was strong, and held the loyalty of every good citizen. It would take more than Beinison had, he hoped, to claim victory here. But these Councils went on forever; and with Marcellon's condition... "My Lord King," Edward Sothos, Knight Commander of Baranur's Armed Forces, spoke slowly and intently. "If the Beinison Armada makes its way down the Laraka and joins forces with the Emperor's Fist and the regular army in our Southern Marches, Magnus *will* be endangered seriously. It may be necessary to draw plans for evacuation." "Surely," spoke High Priest Redcrosse, "such plans were drawn up years ago. This discussion hardly seems necessary." "Surely, they were, my Lord High Priest," the Knight Captain of the Northern Marches, Luthias Connall, interupted, not a little contempt for the pompous clergyman in his voice. Haralan realized just how much Luthias had aged these past two years, with the beard roughly outlining his tired face, but he had yet to learn the complete wisdom of restraint. "However," Luthias continued, "those plans were drawn up over one hundred years ago, when Magnus only had three sections. Only chaos, confusion, and death would result if we tried to implement those plans today." "Well, then," returned the clergyman, "surely we should consider the safety of the Church-" A loud noise from the hall outside the chamber, followed by the main doors opening, interupted the High Priest. "Your Majesty," announced a guard, "Goren Winston of Gateway Keep insists on appearing before you." One more thing, he thought. The King sighed heavily, sat back in his throne, and motioned for his council members to sit down. "Show him in." A ragged, tired, and disshevelled man appeared before the throne, hardly presentable to a king under normal circumstances. "My Lord King, my name is Goren Winston," he began, and the King's patience, worn thin by the demands of war and unhelpful clergymen, failed immediately. "I am quite aware of your name, your title, and your heritage, my Lord Keeper. The Winston Household is one of the most well known among the minor nobles, and your resemblence to your father -beneath the dirt and blood on your face - is a striking one. I am also aware that you are now Keeper of Gateway, following your father's demise, and that you hold one of the key strongholds at the joining of the Laraka and the Vodyanoy rivers. Am I to surmise, then, by your appearance and your urgency, that we have lost that stronghold to the Beinison invasion, or have you finally decided - after six months of delay - to take the time away from your country's defense in order to receive your formal title by my hand? In light of the desperate situation the first example places us in, I prefer to believe that the leader of this potential military point of contention hasn't the wits to realize where he is needed most! Further more, the question of who was left in charge comes to mind, with the only possible answer being Knights of the Star!" The King rose from his throne, and Goren stared haplessly about the room, receiving no help from its other occupants. "My Lord King?" "We are at war, man - do you know what that means?" "War..." the word came out slowly, comprehension sinking in deeply and suddenly. "Yes, war - or haven't you been reading the royal messages sent from duchy to duchy these past months?" Haralan could not believe that Gateway Keep had been ignorant of the movement and news of the Beinison and Baranurian armies. He had sent a message less than twenty days past to the Lord Keeper, who had replied with Gateway's readiness. "Begging your forgiveness, your Majesty," Goren began, "in the past six months I have witnessed my father's death, been imprisoned by my brother, beaten by guards, hunted by slavers, and told that the feeding of a man I hardly knew to a pack of beasts was indirectly my fault. I have spent the last three months trying to cover the two weeks' distance between Gateway and Magnus for the sole purpose of clearing my name and requesting the aid of your Majesty in bringing my brother - the true murderer of my father - to justice. The idea that this country was at war never entered my mind, nor are royal messages passed on to slaves from their owners to keep them abreast of world news." Haralan returned to his throne, raising his hand to halt Goren's speech. "Something, then, has halted your freedom, my Lord Keeper. Lord Marcellon informed me four months ago of your situation and dispatched a letter to a fellow practitioner of the arts in order to reinstate your position by royal decree. Obviously, this was never executed. We had thought you in the Keeper's Seat these last two months, at least." Haralan searched about him for a quill and parchment, moving the maps and scout reports and hypothetical troop movements out of his way. "This letter of appointment will have to do," he continued, dipping the quill and scratching it onto the parchment, pausing every so often to speak. "I can't... afford the men... for an envoy... but reveal this to... Castellan Ridgewater, isn't it?... whom, I am told... was very loyal to... your family." Haralan signed his name with a flourish, dripped some wax onto it, and punched his ring finger's royal seal into the wax. "How am I to deal with my brother, Ne'on?" "We all have our situations to deal with if we're to overcome the Beinison forces, Lord Keeper. See if your uncle can spare a few of the House Guard to accompany you. And please, do the court a favor and find your uncle's baths before you embark. Looking like that, you're not likely to instill loyalty in a dog." Goren sighed deeply. "Thank you, your Majesty." "If you'll excuse us, Lord Keeper, we have a War Council to continue. You'll be receiving orders from us shortly, so take care of your business as quickly as possible." "Yes, my Lord King." Goren bowed for three backward steps, turned, and exited the hall. Edward Sothos looked at the King. "A little hard on the boy, weren't you?" "He's no boy... Untar is younger, and his scheming threatens our nation. It's time Winston started accepting the responsibility for the title he's claiming." Sir Luthias nodded his head in grim agreement. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright December, 1993, 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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