Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME THREE NUMBER ONE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial Orny Review: CATS HAVE NO LORD Rich Jervis Narret Chronicles: 5 Mari Paulsen Featured Author: CHRISTOPHER STASHEFF Orny Review: Chris Condon <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Hello, and welcome back! School is back in session, and here is the first issue of the year. Unfortunately, due to a lack of submissions, the summer volume only consisted of two issues, but I am hoping that with the return to school there will be a corresponding increase in submissions. Remember, this is your zine, and I can't do it alone. An entire zine by me would be boring, anyways, so for all of you who have thought about submitting anything, please do! Well, hopefully next issue will be out soon, depending on the number of submissions. I hope that this issue is not too slow, since it is composed almost entirely of reviews. Of course, Mari Paulsen's Narret Chronicles continues, and the featured author column this issue concentrates on Christopher Stasheff's Gramayre books. Well, I bid you welcome to volume three, and remind you that FSFnet cannot continue without reader submissions, and also that there are a number of new BITNET users who no doubt enjoy BITNET use but have yet to hear of FSFnet. Please try to spread the word to anyone you think might be interested. PS: Well, thanks to the link between YALEVM and MAINE, this issue is yet another week late. Sorry about that. Also, look for a continuing fantasy work called "The Aquisition" beginning next issue and the continuing Narret science fiction series. Watch this space! Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Review: CATS HAVE NO LORD "...Dogs serve Ralkan the wolf king, horses answer to an aging mare named Flowers, and ants obey Her Peerless and Exalted Majesty; Bzxxyl the 1842th, mistress of the Universe and Eater of Treats. Yet cats have no lord... Hawks serve Deathswoop the Daring, but all birds honor the Phoenix. Sharks only share with the Hungry One, while all fish swim at Tam tuna's request. Cobras turn at the command of the Hood of All-Potent Poison... Now, all snakes revere Nosey Groundsnake. And so on. Some wise folk claim that ther are creatures smaller that the eye can see. If so, they're ruled by a Supreme Atomie, for so the God ordered all things when She shaped the level of existence...." "What has this matter of Cat Lords, or the lack thereof, to do with us?" "My Order will pay each you each three thousand royals to climb World's Peak, discover where the Wisest one lives there and ask her for the answer to that riddle..." This is the reason of CATS HAVE NO LORD, if not it's rhyme. And it's by no means all there is to this smooth flowing novel by Will Shetterly. The main characters, the acrobat/thief, the half-elven swordsman, the merry cleric, and the most astute barbarian i've ever read, must find the Cat Lord while being manipulated, helped and hindered by forces arcane and mundane. Gamers and fans of Robert Aspirin's Thieves' World will find a familiar feel to the novel, with the added plus of being one complete novel by one author rather than a compendium of short stories. This is not to say that 'straight' fantasy fans will be left out of the action. Outside of beginning in an awkward way - the middle of a telepathic discussion between a woman and her rather adroit horse - the world is full fledged and easy to get into. Tensions between cities, lords and races (not to mention the various Lords themselves) give an overtone that there is more at stake than academic curiosity. It is almost a must that more will be heard from this magical world. CATS HAVE NO LORD by Will Shetterly, Ace Fantasy, New York, 5-85. Quoted in part as a review and not intended to violate any copyrights pending. -Richard Jervis <78KCK @ IRISHMVS> <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> THE NARRET CHRONICLES BOOK THE FIFTH "Well, it bears no Soviet markings at any rate, sir." "Or any marking's of any kind for that matter, Captain Phillips." "Well sir, what should we do now?" "You try to establish radio contact with the bogie while I contact NORAD." "They ought to be about ready to communicate by now," thought Samo. I had best stop down the counter-universal communications descanner and encrypter. "Seeker-1 to NORAD, come in NORAD, over." "NORAD to Seeker-1, we read colonel, over." "NORAD, we have established visual contact with the bogie, have found neither hostile nor friendly markings of any kind. Trying to establish radio contact at this time. Awaiting further instructions, over." "Seeker-1, proceed with communications interface and report any necessary changes in flight pattern, over." "NORAD, we copy, Seeker-1 out." "Any luck captain?" "None, sir. There's no response on the standard frequencies at all." "That's not surprising, let's face it - that's not exactly your standard craft were up against. Try the international hailing frequency." "All right sir... Seeker-2 to unmarked craft, Seeker-2 to unmarked craft, please respond." "Well," said Samo, "what do you know... they communicate. It took them so long to find the right frequency I was beginning to have doubts." "Unmarked craft to Seeker-2 - responding..." Samo said into the communications device." "Unmarked craft you have violated the airspace of the United States of America. Please identify yourself or we will be forced to shoot you down." "Friendly people." Samo said to himself. "I am Sgt. Dr. Samo Ht. I come on a mission of trans-universal importance. I am here to prevent a possible global war. Mine is a mission of peace, over." "Well, Dr. Ht, this is Colonel William Roberts, US Air Force. I don't know who you are, or where you come from but if yours is a mission of peace as you claim, then I must ask you to cooperate. At this time you are approaching the western boundary of our airspace. I must ask you to turn your ship around and continue in this formation due east until we receive clearances for landing. Will you cooperate?" "Yes of course, I'll cooperate. Tell your superiors what I have told you, I come in peace, and tell them also that I must speak to the leaders of the two belligerent nations before an international forum." "Seeker-1 to NORAD come in NORAD, over." "NORAD to Seeker-1 we read, over." "NORAD, we have established radio contact. The pilot of the craft is cooperating and states he is on a mission of peace. He also requests to address the President of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet Union before the assembled ambassadors of the United Nations. Over." "Seeker-1 the President is in his Oval Office, at this hour, and is being briefed on your situation. Proceed on a course for Dover Air Force Base, bearing 120 at 25,000 ft. We will notify the President of the pilot's requests and relay further orders as they we receive them, over." "NORAD, proceeding 120 degrees at 25,000 feet, Seeker-1 out..." "...Dover Control to Seeker-1, come in Seeker-1, over." "Dover Control this is Seeker-1, over." "Seeker-1, you are no longer under NORAD command. Permission for landing is granted. Proceed to dock alien craft in hanger-81, and place your Blackbirds in hanger 71 Alpha." -Mari A. Paulsen <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Featured Author: CHRISTOPHER STASHEFF Born in New York state in 1944, Christopher Stasheff grew up immersed in the developing years of both television, radio, and science fiction literature. Stasheff maintains that de Camp and Pratt's "Inconpleat Enchanter" is the single largest influence on his style, followed by Lester del Rey's "Day of the Giants" and "The Sky is Falling". After writing two unpublished novels, Stasheff began writing a text for a contest sponsored by the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Although the manuscript was never completed until 8 months after the contest deadline, Stasheff sent the book to Ace, who published it as "The Warlock In Spite of Himself". He has also published three other books: "King Kobald" (and "King Kobald Revived"), "The Warlock Unlocked", and "Escape Velocity". There is some question as to the chronological order in which these novels fit together. For simplicity, they will be discussed in order of publication, rather than chronological order. "The Warlock In Spite of Himself" is the story of Rod Gallowglass, an interstellar explorer, and his adventure in trying to establish democracy on a long-lost planet of medievals (founded by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, no less). Rod discovers an interstellar conspiracy across time trying to oppose him, and he and his robot-brained horse, Fess (who is subject to seizures due to an engineering problem), have their hands full trying to stymie their foes, occasionally using superior technology, which earns Rod an unwanted reputation as a warlock. An exceptional book. "King Kobald" was published in 1970, although before the recent Ace reprint of the series, Stasheff rewrote the book, and retitled it "King Kobald Revived". This book takes place approximately two years after the previous book, and describes a further threat from the forces opposing Rod's effort to steer the planet, Gramayre, back to democracy. His role as Royal Warlock is influential in defending Gramayre from an invasion of Neanderthals with strange telepathic powers. An excellent book, with plenty of excitement and wonderfully developed characters. The new version is much improved over the original, due to the rewrite, but it does not contradict the other books in the series. "The Warlock Unlocked" is begun following two characters, Rod, of course, begins the novel some 6 years after "King Kobald", and Father Al Uwell, a priest of the Order of St. Cathode, an engineering saint. Uwell is being sent to Gramayre by the church to monitor Rod, since he has become so involved in the fight for democracy. meanwhile, Rod and his Gramayre family (wife and four children) are transported to another world, and must discover the way back to Gramayre before the forces against him overthrow all his works. He meets up with Father Al, who has been tracking him, and together the group has a number of very unique adventures. A very fast-paced book, indeed. "Escape Velocity" is the only book of the series that does not concentrate on the events on Gramayre, and is more science fiction than fantasy. In this book, which takes place long before the establishment of Gramayre, Dar Mandra and company must reach Terra before a coup planned by the LORDS overthrows the democratic Interstellar Dominion Electorate. Unfortunately, someone in the upper echelons has it out for Dar, and spreads the rumor that Dar and his group are horrible telepaths, out to pry into every citizen's secret thoughts and desires. In the following panic, Dar manages to reach Terra. This book is perhaps the most interesting of the series, as the characters are all fantastic and yet somehow believable. Though the action is interesting and riveting, the end of the book comes too fast, and seems less well-written than the beginning of the book. In this book, the founding of Gramayre (which later is lost during a "twilight" of democracy and then later found by Rod Gallowglass) is described. In all the books, Stasheff's style is very enjoyable and readable. his characters are all excellently depicted, and there is no lack of plot movement. His Gramayre books are an excellent fantasy work, and "Escape Velocity" is a very good piece of science fiction. His style is easily adaptable to either genre, since it does not concentrate so much on the environment, but on the human characters and their relations with other humans. Altogether an excellent study in characterization, and also an excellent read! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Review: THE SAGA OF PLIOCENE EXILE by Julian May A four book series: The Many-Colored Land The Golden Torc The Nonborn King The Adversary All kidding aside, this set of books is some of the best SF I have ever read. It is chock full of truly interesting characters, plot twists, insight, high tech and (yes!) even some action. There are several plots running at once. MAIN CHARACTERS actually DIE! The GOOD GUYS (if you can tell who they are) DON'T always win! It is a delight to read and so sprawling in it's plot that it is difficult to describe. Without giving too much away, this is how the story works: Sometime in the not-too-distant future humanity is part of a Galactic Milieu of minds. There are many metapsychics that are part of this "cosmic unity". The psychic powers (such as coercion, psychokinesis, etc.) are supposed to be genetic traits. Those people with latent abilities have no way to make themselves operant metapsychics. Enter the time-gate: A scientist puts together a one way time-gate which runs six-million years into the past. Notice: ONE WAY. Anything that enters the time gate from the pliocene takes on the burden of six million years of aging. Until his death he keeps the gate running as a curiosity. Upon his death his wife supports herself by sending PEOPLE on a one way trip into the past. Many of those disgruntled latent metapychics take that ticket to get way from it all. This time gate tripping goes on for many years. We then meet a group of time travelers and follow them on their journey into the past. Instead of a "Riverworld" type of society they find a Europe inhabited by an alien race! These Tanu use torcs to make themselves and latent humans operant metapychics as well as enslave those that are not latents. Can humanity be freed from the slavery of the torcs? Do they want to be? Is the time gate really one-way? That little synopsis covers the first fifty pages of the first book without giving away the juicy details. Those of you that have already read the book know that I haven't even gotten to the really good stuff. This is too good to spoil. It's in paperback so it won't bust your wallet to read it. Trust me. Read it during the summer when you have time to get really involved in it. -Chris Condon <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> XPAGE 1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME THREE NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial Orny The Acquisition, Part Two Roman Olynyk Review: THE DEAD OF WINTER - TW7 Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Well, folks, again I find myself apologizing for the lateness of this issue. Unfortuantely I have been busy with my new job. For those of you who are not already aware, I now have a new id, LISCOMB at MAINE, as well as NMCS025. Should NMCS025 be unavailable, I may be reached at LISCOMB, but for the time being FSFnet will continue to be sent from NMCS025. Other news is that the most recent issue of FSFnet can be found on CSNEWS at MAINE's ComDisk and can be requested using TELL CSNEWS AT MAINE SENDME FSFNET VOLxNxx FROM COMDISK. Also in the works is a new project for all people interested in writing amateur fantasy fiction. A group of FSFnet contributors and myself have begun a writers' workshop very similar in structure to the Thieves' World project undertaken by Robert Aspirin. Several authors have begun developing characters and stories, all based in an area known as Dargon. FSFnet VOL4N01 should contain the first written results of this project, and will be in your reader in mid-January. If any of you budding authors are interested in joining the effort, send me a mail file and I'll be glad to fill you in. Unfortunately, there is no Narret Chronicle in this issue due to the fact that I cannot get in touch with the author. Hopefully we will get Narret back before volume 4 starts. Finally, I'd like to remind you all that it's the holiday season, and everyone's got a new book out. New McCaffrey, Anthony, Tolkien, Adams, Daley, Asimov, Stasheff, and anyone else you can think of. No time to review them all right now. Next issue the Acquisition will continue, and I'll review M.A.R. Barker's new Tekumel book, Flamesong, and, if I get it read, Norman Spinrad's Star Spangled Future. Until then! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> THE ACQUISITION Part Two: The Forest Beyond the short expanse of cultivated fields, the two travelers soon crossed the boundary of scrub that marked the edge of the forest. At first, the woods were characterized by light beeches, birches and poplars. The leaves of the poplars were waxy and rustled crisply in the soft breeze. Banewood recalled his early childhood when he would venture into the light woods in search of edible mushrooms, a favored delicacy of the local people. With his sharp and experienced vision he could still pick out his favorites protruding through the fallen leaves. It was here, while gathering mushrooms that Banewood heard many of the childhood tales and legends passed to him by his parents: tales of the Ludki, those mischievous little people who lived deep within the forest and tales of Lessy, the Silvan Lord, who made strange animal sounds and led lost children astray. Banewood remembered how his father would then make animal sounds and frighten him for the rest of the day. Stories of Baba Yaga, embellished over the years, would cause tears of fright to well up into young Banewood's eyes. Now, years older, Banewood still felt the burning in his face as he realized that Baba Yaga might be real and that he might meet face to face with the blistering eyes of Kathryn. As the two journeyed onward, the character of the forest changed. Dark oaks and towering elms now lined their path. The leaves of years lay upon the ground, crackling with every step. Animal sounds diminished. Banewood and Sod picked their way uphill, climbing an overgrown path which led to an uncertain fate. Throughout the day, Banewood and Sod walked the leagues of dark forest, constantly catching cobwebs in the face and beleaguered by blood-thirsty deer flies scenting their first human. At the top of the rise, the two travelers paused to rest. Sod sat still in the hope of delivering a killing blow to the ravenous deer fly which had doggedly followed him during most of the climb. "I think we should make our first camp here," said Banewood. "We're on the nearest hilltop and we'll have ample warning of anything approaching." "Gotcha!" Sod finally killed the deer fly which had settle in his hair for a fateful supper. Sod picked the scrawny insect from his hair. "If we build a smoldering fire we might be able to spend a night without these cursed flies." Sod gathered some dead twigs that still hung on the tree. After arranging them carefully, he reached into his bag and brought out his flint and steel. Within minutes a small fire was being tended. Banewood walked the perimeter of their encampment and stopped occasionally to pick at some plants growing scattered on the ground. He returned and gave them to Sod. "Here, use these on the fire. They'll keep away the flies better than the smoke." "Thank you," said Sod. He threw them on the small fire and whiffed the fragrant aroma created by the consumed leaves. "How did you learn so much about herbs?" asked Sod, who already knew the answer. He was fighting his nervousness with small talk. "Most of what I know comes from the Shaman," said Banewood obligingly. "Now I have to learn from his books, but the details are really meager. Most of the Shaman's knowledge was in his vast memory. He said that certain books did exist. The Shaman said the books were dangerous because they could fall into the wrong hands." Banewood and Sod ate a meal of wafer bread and dried meat and then slept lightly upon cushions of leaves and boughs laid upon the ground. Shallow holes were dug out to provide recesses for their hips. Smoldering coals kept away the night flies, but they didn't ward off Banewood's evil dreams; the crimson eyes still haunted him. Dawn came with the cry of a horned owl. The dying coals were fed a breakfast of fresh tinder. Hard-boiled eggs and a little herb tea saw the worried travelers on their way. Revitalized by the rest, Banewood and Sod trekked down the slope, meandering ever deeper into the dark forest. Soon Banewood's sharp eye caught the first impression of the large cloven hoofs that were to show them the way. The tracks were too large to belong to anything else except Kathryn. Broken branches and an uprooted tree lent credence to the supposition. To Sod's relief, the tracks were fairly old. Sod fretted about his decision to hunt the sow. The mysterious sword whose hilt he often fondled didn't seem like a weapon that could stop a charging sow. Funny how he thought that if he set his mind to killing Kathryn, he would find a way. Could they do it by craft and artifice? Maybe by setting up a dead fall or some other booby trap? Funnier still was the feeling that it was the sword which seemed to whisper that, given the resolve, Sod would be able to meet the challenge. Banewood and Sod journeyed down the slope, up the next hill and down another slope. Leagues passed beneath their feet. They skipped lunch and walked under the power of their stored energy. They continued on slight paths which joined and separated through the forest. Occasionally, Sod would stop to mark a tree at eye level, entertaining the hope that they would somehow return by this route. Banewood now walked with his bow in hand, ever keeping a watchful eye on the path behind them. The Shaman's longbow proved its value later in the day when Banewood knocked down a squirrel with a special blunt-tipped arrow. They carried the black squirrel with them after quickly field dressing it. The little tree rat, as Banewood called it, had set up a frightful chattering before it met its final doom. Sod and Banewood both agreed that it would be a good idea to cover some more distance before feasting on the tree rat. There was no telling what attention was called by the noisy animal and, besides, they didn't want to prepare the tree rat until they were ready to make camp. The two journeymen walked with greater care after killing the squirrel. Banewood regretted his slaying of the little tree rat. He now had the uneasy feeling that the forest knew of their presence, that they were somehow being watched. Sod sensed Banewood's distress or maybe he, too, felt the paranoia. He tightened his grip on the sword. Banewood now walked with an arrow nocked. His fingers whitened from their tight grip. Every minute sound that the two seekers made was amplified by the forest. Once, when Banewood turned quickly around, he thought he noticed a pair of amber eyes watching them, but they disappeared quickly and he was no longer sure. Tension increased with every step. Both travelers began to perspire. Suddenly, the explosion of a dry twig snapping sent Banewood and Sod into a back-to-back position, their weapons drawn and poised. An electric tension pulsed within them, begging to surge, asking for release. But nothing happened. No other sound was heard throughout the forest. After excruciating minutes of silence, Banewood and Sod voted to resume their walk. Several more hours of travel brought them to a small stream in the forest. The water looked wholesome, affording the two an opportunity to refill their flasks and to bathe. This looked like the ideal place to pitch camp and prepare a welcome supper. Banewood's tree rat no longer looked as appetizing; however, it was the best food that they had. Throughout the meal and respite they remained watchful, for the penetrating silence of the forest remained. Evening had settled rapidly. Sod and Banewood ate near their fire, slowly finishing their meal and conversing. The fire cast a bright glow around the immediate circumference, but outside, the darkness was forbidding. Sod thought again about his quest. "If I hadn't found this sword, I probably would never have attempted such a foolish venture," Sod thought to himself. "This fine looking weapon is of too fine a quality for a man like me. I wonder if I shouldn't give it to someone worthy of possessing such a weapon." Aloud, Sod said "We've been in this forest for two days. It doesn't appear to hold the danger I had anticipated." "The danger lies in our laxness if we trust in our safety," replied Banewood, parrying Sod's wishful thought. "Tonight I am sleeping with my bow in hand." Speaking the unspoken, Sod said "Then you also feel like we've been watched?" "Ya," replied Banewood. "I thought I saw it once, a pair of eyes. I've learned to trust my intuition." Tensing and grabbing for his sword, Sod said "Your intuition was right! Look! Out there, see those eyes? I don't think they're friendly." Sod pointed in the direction of the creek. They both stood up and moved around the fire, placing it between themselves and the presence. The same amber eyes Banewood had thought he'd seen earlier were slowly reeling toward them. When their distance from the eyes was cut in half, Sod threw an armful of dry tinder upon the fire and threw extra light out into the night. "It's a wolf." Whispered Banewood. "It's too big." Answered Sod, who was beginning to quake in his boots. His sweaty fingers grasped the sword tighter. "How am I going to kill the wolf if it attacks?" he thought, questioning his ability to wield the sword. A deep, gutteral growl emanated from the large slavering beast. It crept forward with its belly low to the ground, ready to leap at the instant. Sod raised his sword slightly and then cried out. "Oh no!" In the same instant that the fell beast launched itself toward them, Sod's sword slipped out of his hand and dropped to the ground at a distance. The lunging hulk darkened his view. Sod heard a snapping chord like the sound of his heart breaking. The wind rushed past his left ear. In a massive thud, a large wolf, larger than any Sod had ever seen or heard of before, fell at his side. Its eyes were wide open and its lips were curled in a hideous grimace. A feathered shaft protruded from its throat. Banewood's hand rested on Sod's shoulder. "Are you okay?" he asked. "You killed him. I thought I was going to die and, just as suddenly, this wolf is dead instead. You've saved my life. How can I repay you?" "Don't worry; it all comes out in the wash. But what happened at the last second? Why did you drop your sword?" "I don't know... I guess my mind went blank. The sword seemed to slip from my hands," said Sod. "I've never seen such a fine shot. I think the wolf was dead before it hit the ground!" "I've tipped some of my arrows with the juice of the aconitum; it is a deadly poison." "With such a weapon as yours, you could single-handedly slay Kathryn!" "It won't work. I've already tried," answered Banewood. Sod was taken aback by this. "There's certainly more to this Shaman than meets the eye," he thought. Aloud, "When did you try that?" "On the last night that Kathryn attacked I hid myself and loosed my best arrow against her. It shattered as if it had hit a rock." Sod was incredulous. "How are we ever going to stop her if she is as you say?" "I don't know. We'll think of something." "Ya," Sod said without sincerity. The wolf was enormous, but Banewood and Sod, after endeavoring for the better part of an hour, managed to drag the beast away from the camp. The two found no difficulty in dropping off to sleep, for though the forest was still dangerous, it now possessed one less threat. Dawn came without a sound. Banewood and Sod got up and fed the fire and went to the creek for water. On the way, they looked for the wolf, but it was gone! They searched around the area in the hope that they were disoriented last night when they dragged the wolf out. It was gone. Now a very real fear possessed them; it may have been Baba Yaga. How else can a dead animal disappear? Sod's empty stomach felt like it held a rock. Suddenly, through the trees, they heard a musical voice. Banewood and Sod quickly reached for their weapons. Through the tall trees they could see an approaching figure. It was gaily dressed and wore a tall, pointed hat with a feather in its band. It sang: "Hey ho, hey ho, the wolk's a dead you know. for if it ain't a dead then I'm a not alive and I know I'd better go!" The two stood with their mouths open. Marching straight up to them was a short person, a very little person, with large round eyes and a pudgy little nose. "Hello, hello, my name is Stickleburr unless I'm not, of course." Sod and Banewood found themselves face to face with one of the Ludki. The childhood descriptions were indeed accurate. He looked so odd! "I want to thank you for killing the great wolk because he's no longer alive. He has been plaguing my people for years, but not for years to come. Anyway, they're not really my people, they are their own people, but I guess you wouldn't call us people, would you?" Banewood spoke: "I...I thought that the wolf, I mean wolk, wasn't dead, that maybe it was really Baba Yaga." Stickleburr jumped. "Oh, no! I mean yes, it was really a wolk. It's certainly dead now, isn't it? You two are heroes, unless of course you don't think so. So that's the wolksmert, isn't it?" Said Stickleburr pointing to Sod's strange sword. "Wolksmert?" Replied Sod. "Oh, yes. Certainly." He laughed at the irony, because "wolksmert" meant "wolfslayer" in the eastern tongue. "Yes, most certainly," laughed Stickleburr. "You two can come with me unless you can't. We want to thank you properly, and it's not proper to thank you here." Banewood and Sod agreed to follow the Ludki back to his home. They quickly broke camp and gathered their belongings. They whispered and laughed among themselves, marvelling at the strange speech pattern of Stickleburr: Ludki always followed the assertion of a positive statement with it's negative. It was a most curious pattern of speech, but it wasn't curious at all to the Ludki. Within a half-hour, the three came in sight of the Ludki village. It was set in a small dale cleared of trees. Little houses in the shape of bee hives lay haphazard about the village. Wisps of smoke curled out of their tops. The Ludki were fond of smithing, as was evident from the many miniature iron furnaces that sent their black smoke up over the rooftops. The Ludki village had evidently been in this location for some time because much of the area was cleared of the hardwood trees essential for the making of charcoal needed to smelt the iron. The little people walked about in gaily colored clothes. The Ludki men wore high pointed hats dressed up with bright feathers. They were a happy folk. The air was full of whistling and the songs of their merriment. When Stickleburr and the two travelers approached, the village folk poured out to meet the heros. Stickleburr began introducing his family and the more prominent of the Ludki to the strangers. The names came rapidly: Milfoil, Hyssop, Lavender, Mullien, Five Fingers, Violet, and, well, you get the idea; they were all names of plants that the Ludki were fond of. At the bark of orders from Stickleburr, the Ludki busied themselves with preparations for a great feast. The men set up tables and stools, built fires and brought out kegs of mead. The Ludki women quickly filled their ovens with various breads and foods until the heavenly aroma replaced the acrid smell of smelting iron. The Ludki loved feasting and merriment, and this occasion, as any other, was an excellent opportunity to lay aside their work. The fearful wolk which had terrorized the Ludki for so many years was dead, slain at the hands of the tall folk and wolksmert. Among the Ludki, wolksmert was the center of much attention. Their large eyes beamed with admiration and the little hands eagerly, but reverently, touched the fine metal. From the Ludki, Banewood could learn nothing about the sword, but by their evident joy at seeing it and the two travelers, the Ludki seemed strangely elated. Even while the preparations were still underway, the eager little Ludki began to celebrate with joyous abandon. Musicians began their tunes and the mead was passed around. And such mead! Banewood and Sod both drank and agreed that it was the best they had ever tasted. How the Ludki could consume so much of it without the obvious signs of inebriation, they couldn't guess. During the feast, Stickleburr talked with the two strangers and learned the reason for their sojourn into the deep forest. At the news, Stickleburr balked but then regained his composure. "Oh yes, we had most certainly believed that Baba Yaga had died, for we had not seen her alive. And Kathryn, oh yes, we had heard whisperings of her rampages, else we were deaf. Kathryn is Baba Yaga? We most certainly hope she isn't!" "Yes, most certainly," agreed Banewood. Sod, careful not to spill a drop of the mead he was drinking, looked at Stickleburr and asked, "Do you know of the way to the hut of Baba Yaga?" Stickleburr replied "No, no...well yes, sort of. I know the way but I don't know how to get there. It's a long way off, although not that far to someone as long-legged as you, though for yourselves, I'm sure you're not all that long-legged." Stickleburr was beginning to show some signs of inebriation. Banewood and Sod sat back to enjoy the feast. They watched the antics of the Ludki as they danced their high-kicking dances and swung their arms in the air. With a shout, the dancers punctuated the songs with a "hey!" At length, even the subdued travelers were on their feet and kicking. The Ludki laughed and clapped to urge on the long-legged dancers. Sod twirled like a top and bobbed like a cork. At a feverish pace, he was caught-up in the festive mood. Moments before he could dance no more, the song stopped with a rousing "hey!" Stickleburr was much impressed with the two travelers. After slapping both of them on the shoulders, the squat little fellow mounted a stump and cleared his throat. "Ahem!" The crowd became silent. "I'd like to express the thanks of all Ludki for what you two have done. We couldn't have done it ourselves." Stickleburr brought out a long object and handed it to Sod. "This is for the wolksmert unless it's for something else. Sod looked at the fine-crafted sheath given to him by the Ludki. The sword slid silently into it's scabbard. Sod expressed his thanks with a smile and a nod. "And these," continued Stickleburr, "are for the Banewood and they're not for anyone else." Banewood received a quiver full of fine, Ludki-crafted arrows with razor-sharp metal heads. The shafts were straighter than any Banewood had ever seen. With great bombast, the swaying Stickleburr went on to offer the friendship of the Ludki to Banewood and Sod. Much to his surprise, Sod immediately took him up on his offer for assistance. This was a surprise, because the Ludki had very traditional views of hospitality. After favors, guests did not customarily ask for more. But Sod did. He wanted to know the way to Baba Yaga's hut. The Ludki blanched at such a request. Oh horrors! But it was only a request for directions; the Ludki need not accompany the travelers. Anyway, thanks to the mead, Stickleburr was in a jovial mood. He went so far as to offer guidance to the outside of their realm. -Roman Olynyk <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Review: THE DEAD OF WINTER Thieves' World Book Seven Robert Lynn Aspirin's Thieves' World series continues in this new paperback from Ace, and it is, in my opinion, quite a step up. The most recent TW books have been, to me, a letdown. They were bogged down with the heavy-handed politics of Sanctuary and were not interesting to read. Book 7 starts slowly, but soon improves vastly into what I believe to be the best TW book written to date. The Veiled Lady, by Andrew Offut, is a very warm and amusing tale of Ahdio, the keeper of Sly's Place in Downwind. When the Spirit Moves You, by Aspirin, is also one of the best tales TW has put out, and nowehere near as heavy-handed as previous efforts. The Color of Magic by Diana Paxson returns us to the household of Lalo the Limner and Gilla, who is taken captive by a Roxane who is determined to sink Santuary in a storm of epic porportions. For me, however, the most wonderful story was by Diane Duane, called Down by the Riverside. It is an account of the death of Harran and what happens when the twin goddesses Sivieni and the once-mute Mriga find out. They and their dog, Tyr, elicit the aid of Ischade in a wonderfully-depicted descent to Hell and back, and is filled with surprises. Buy the book if just for this story! This book is a must for TW fans, and a wonderful breath of fresh air after the dry politics of the previous books. You may be surprised to find that cover art is being done by Gary Ruddell, so the book looks a little different, but you should have no trouble finding it. Unless, of course, the bookstore runs out before you get your copy! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> XPAGE 1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME THREE NUMBER FOUR | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial Orny Narret Chronicles, Book 3 Mari A. Paulsen The Acquisition, Part 3 Roman Olynyk <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Well, I had this issue all set to go out before Christmas, and then Yale went down for vacation. Sigh. Well, I guess late is better than never. In this issue we continue with both the Acquisition and the Narret Chronicles, thanks to Mari's staying up until 3am to type it in. I hope you enjoy them. There will be one more issue in Volume 3, which will follow on the heels of this issue, before we start Volume 4 and the Dargon writing project. By the way, I've rewritten the FSFnet sending program again. Anyone who wants to change the program I use to send their issues please mail me. You may choose from: DISK DUMP (class N), PUNCH (noheader class m), and SENDFILE (netdata). If anyone is really into CARD DUMP, I'll even use that! For those of you who haven't heard, and didn't notice, FSFnet is being sent out from a new id - CSDAVE at MAINE. Due to the work I do on CSNEWS, NMCS025 has been changed to CSDAVE. FSFnets will continue coming out, but from CSDAVE. NMCS025 is no longer in the CP directory, so please forward any mail or messages to either CSDAVE or LISCOMB at MAINE. Finally, just when you thought it was safe to write a Thieves' World review, TW 8 has just been released. More details (and a review) as soon as possible! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Narret Chronicles Book the Third "Dr. Ht this is Dr. Terrence Seni of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Sir Walter Reed Medical Center, and Dr. Adam Tristy of the American College of Surgeons. They will be examining you, with your permission of course." "Surely." said Samo "Dr Seni is the nation's foremost pathologist, and Dr. Tristy is one our most prominent bio-physicists." "Really, well this is quite a reception... Pleased to meet both of you gentlemen. You can examine me if you wish, but I'd rather provide you with the data myself. You see, I have all the pertinent information on our physiology stored on tape in my craft. Allow me a moment will you and I'll be back with the data you wish for in several of your languages. "Here you are, 'Yarg's Complete Physiology of the Narretan' a Narret classic physiology text. The best ever produced! That should answer all your questions concerning our physiology, but I'll bet you still want to know about my AND molecular structure. That I'll leave up to you." "Could we take a small blood sample to help us study the makeup of your circulatory, respiratory, lymphatic, and immune systems? Such a sample would provide us with the AND molecular structure data we also desire." asked Dr. Seni. "Sure." said Samo "I'd be glad to help in any way I can. I'm a scientist myself. I was only kidding when I said I hate needles. I was just trying to get a laugh." "Make a fist," said Seni as he searched Samo's arm's densly packed molecules for a vein. "This may pinch a little." "No sweat," said Samo. "What you gentlemen will really be interested in though, is the fact that in the counter-universe, we are not solid creatures at all, as you know it." "Really?" queried Tristy as he took notes. "Yes, really." said Samo. "At home, on Amrif Arret, we are by our own nature of a gaseous form. As your molecular forces are attractive here, ours are repulsive, thus, we are all perfectly non-solid, as opposed to your solidity." "How extraordinarily fascinating!" exclaimed Tristy. "In fact all our worlds, stars, everything is unbound but space, which is the solid through which we all pass. That is why I can get here so much faster in our system of time, our entire concept of time is based on density of our solid space, rather than the vacuousness of yours. It is far easier, I assure you, for a plasma to pass through a solid than a solid to pass through a vacuum." "Ahh, I got all but that last bit then I lost you, could you clarify the part about easier..." started Dr. Tristy. "Surely," Samo interrupted "You see, when we pass through the solid form of our space, we use the actual binding forces of the particles in motion of the spatial-solid in order to propel ourselves. Thus we can utilize the very nature of our 'space' itself, as a means, or force of propulsion. Do you understand that better, doctor?" "Much better, thank you. I must say this is all quite astounding.." "Not at all, simply the state of nature doctor. Which reminds me, I wish to make a statement on the wisdom of our physicians in the Narret System. If you would be so kind as to record it doctor, I'm sure all of humanity will find it of great use." "Surely, any advice you can give would be held in highest regard by our scientific communities." said Dr. Tristy "It came to pass, through the thousands of Losar Cycles (what you call years) of our existence, that our physicians began to use the fundamental laws of nature in their favor. Rather than fight the immune system for example, they found ways of strengthening it, bolstering its abilities. Cancer, as another example was found to contain cells of a much stronger variety than those said to be normal. What our physicians did was to retrain the immune system to work on the AND structure within the Cancerous cells, so that the dominant Cancer cells were effectively "programmed" to conduct the function of the tissue it replaced. And this new, Cancerous super-cell was stronger and better than the original cell it replaced, because it lives longer and is less suceptable to other diseases. Therefore your physicians should also learn to work with and not against nature." "Thats absolutely astounding. You've just helped us realize how far we've set back Cancer research in the last 50 years. We've been trying to eradicate it for so long we completely overlooked the possibility of trying to turn it into something useful. Incredible!" "I see you're rather enthused at the prospect." said Samo. "Enthused? I'm simply overjoyed at the possibility that there's a cure for our worst killer. Cancer claims millions of lives here each year." "Yes, I know..." stated Samo. "Dr Ht. you have no idea how much just that little information you just shared with us means, how many millions of peoples lives this few minutes you've shared with us will save. Mankind shall be forever in your debt." "Oh, I think I do." said Samo "Remember, peace and understanding throughout these universes is what I came here for. And sharing a little scientific knowledge in the process is the least I can do. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I see the colonel at the door. I have another speech to give, and I hope if everything goes well, you gentlemen may get a little more time to work on your medical problems." -Mari A. Paulson <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Acquisition The Hut In the morning, bright and early, Banewood and Sod were woken by the sound of little marching feet. A troop of gaily dressed Ludki in tall, feathered hats approached them. "Hey Hyssop! Hey Burdock!" shouted Stickleburr as he clapped his hands. Immediately, two little people ran forward. Stickleburr addressed Banewood and Sod. "Good morning, unless it's already mid-day. My two sons and myself will accompany you to the borders of our realm unless you don't wish to be accompanied. First, though, you must have breakfast." Stickleburr clapped his hands again and several Ludki approached with steaming plates of food. The travelers ate with relish, though there wasn't any. From a nearby keg they filled their flasks with a light mead and they were ready to depart. Banewood and Sod followed the Ludki as they marched off, their pace marked by the rhythm of the Ludki's singing. Hyssop and Burdock marched ahead while Stickleburr walked and chatted with Banewood and Sod. He told them about the paths ahead and how they must not stray, lest they tread paths unknown. He told them to be on their guard for the Silvan Lord, for these were his woods. The Silvan Lord, or Lessy as he was better known, would lead them astray with his lies. Lessy was a liar at heart and he delighted in deluding the hopelessly lost. He would draw them to one point and then to another, then to another and yet another. However, there was one way of outsmarting the Lessy. It was a method known only to the Ludki, and it was Stickleburr's parting gift to the travelers. "Lessy is a liar," said Stickleburr, "for he can't tell the truth. To get to the truth, if it's lies you don't want, you must wear your clothes inside-out or outside-in if they're already inside-out. Your shoes you must wear on the opposite feet unless, of course, your feet are already opposite. Then you just wear your feet opposite." Banewood and Sod laughed aloud at Stickleburr's foolish words. "It is worthy of a children's rhyme even though it doesn't rhyme," Banewood said. They all laughed again at the strange paradox of Ludki speech. After their having walked away the longest part of the day, and after their having heard innumerable anecdotes from Stickleburr, the two travelers parted company with the Ludki. Banewood and Sod marched on at a much faster pace, since they needn't keep time with the short-legged Ludki. Once again, the brightness of sunlight and companionship dimmed as the travelers departed the realm of civilization. The dark forest seemed darker without the chatter of the little people. A dark, sinuous path pointed out by Stickleburr led in the direction of the setting sun. The roots of gnarled oaks lay twisted across the path, occasionally catching the carefully placed feet of the plowman. Spider webs built across the gaps of branches often ended up in the faces of Banewood and Sod, tickling their noses and generally making their way unpleasant. Pale mushrooms of the deadly varieties could sometimes be seen lining the edge of the path. Strange animal sounds echoed through the trees. After hours of walking, the travelers still had not found a resting place suitable for a night's encampment. Though the sun was possibly an hour away from setting, the way had become dark and difficult to navigate because of the forest canopy. At length, Banewood and Sod stopped to decide which way the path was supposed to lead. The forest seemed more alive at this dusky hour than it had earlier in the day. Birds chirped and strange animals chattered beyond the distant trees. "I don't know," said Sod, "maybe we should stop right here and wait until morning. I just can't be sure of keeping on the right path if we go on." "Oh, don't worry, I'll show you the way to go from here," a strange voice answered. Banewood and Sod quickly drew their weapons and stood ready. Wolksmert glowed reddish from the light of the evening sun. Before them stood an eerie sight. A greenish man, or something resembling a man, though much taller, stood a dozen paces before them. His eyes had an orange, malevolent glow. They appeared cat-like. Banewood feared the worst, for to his inexperienced knowledge, the eyes reminded him of Baba Yaga's. The apparition was dressed in what appeared to be leaves. A bird nest was perched upon the shoulder. Sod felt the hilt of his sword slide through the sweaty grip of his fingers. His hand clenched Wolksmert tighter. He wondered about what action he should take. Quickly, he decided that it would be safest to let the creature make the first move. The green figure stood before them and made a chirping sound like a bird. He clapped his hands and then smiled. It was a friendly, disarming smile. "Take the path straight ahead until you come to a fork," said the strange apparition. "Then, bear left until you come to a large boulder and proceed to your right until you come to an old tree. >From the tree, go left until you meet the next tree, then take a sharp right to the first stream. You can't miss it." "Uh, excuse us for a moment, if you please, sir." Banewood tugged at Sod's shoulder and pulled him away. "Oh yes, most certainly, yes, yes." The green man laughed, clapped his hands and chattered like a tree rat. "What's the matter? Who's that? What are we doing?" Sod's questions came quickly and nervously. "Shhhh!" hissed Banewood as he led Sod out of sight of the green man. When they were safely out of sight, Banewood said, "That must be Lessy, the Silvan Lord. Stickleburr warned us of him. Remember, he'll lie to get us lost. Let's hurry and turn our clothes inside out." As quickly as they could, Banewood and Sod pulled their clothes off and reversed them. They turned the insides outside and helped each other button-up from the back. They did the same with their britches. Then, they pulled off their boots and placed them opposite: left boot on right foot and right boot on left foot. When they had finished, they smiled sheepishly and stepped back out into the open. Lessy was patiently waiting, whistling to himself and smiling. When the Silvan Lord saw how Banewood and Sod appeared, his orange eyes opened wide and bulged. He stood stiff with his fingers out-stretched. "Eeaarrgh! Owwww!" Screamed Lessy. He jumped around and emitted more strange sounds. Sod stood nonplussed, unable to move during the exhibition. Banewood took the initiative and said aloud: "Tell us, Silvan Lord, which is the way to the hut of Baba Yaga." "Eeaarrgh! Owwww! I'll talk, I'll tell you the truth, I promise! I'll tell you anything, but pulleese! Straighten-out your clothes!" Banewood and Sod felt sorry for the Silvan Lord. Evidently, the truth was so foreign to Lessy that it caused him great discomfort. When Banewood and Sod had put their clothes back on outside-outside, they returned to Lessy. The Silvan Lord was now docile, almost subdued; he was saddened by his loss of victims to his trickery. "Yes, most certainly," said Lessy, "I will show you the way to Baba Yaga's hut. Yes, then you'll wish you were lost! Follow me." Banewood and Sod walked behind Lessy as he led them through the dark forest night. Since they had first met the Silvan Lord, the sun had set, changing the long shadows to a solid smear of blackness. The two travelers were both stabbed by the sharp pang of doubt as to whether Lessy could be held to his word. Whatever the status of Lessy's honor, Banewood and Sod realized that they were both in the hands of the Lord of the Forest. Lessy strode before them, mumbling to himself and emitting more strange sounds. More than once, Banewood and Sod had tripped on tree roots and stumbled to the ground. Low branches snapped back by Lessy often caught Sod in the face and chest, leaving him sore and scored. The long hours of night were unbearably drawn out in this manner. When the slender rays of first morning light pierced through the trees, the three travelers found themselves on the edge of the forest. Sod felt a heaviness in his stomach when the first realization of their plight hit him: How were they to return? Neither of them had thought of marking their way. Lessy turned to face the exhausted travelers. The faint light barely illuminated his gnarled and worn face. Banewood and Sod could only concentrate on the eyes-- those strange cat-like slits surrounded by an orange glow. "Here is where I'll leave you," said Lessy. "The rest of the way is before you. You'll probably reach the hut by mid-day." Lessy chuckled as he pointed to the path before them. As quickly as when they had found him, the Silvan Lord disappeared into the green growth of the forest. The path lay before them. Banewood and Sod stood on the edge of the dark forest and before a vast expanse of scrub. Sod preferred the darkness of the forest to what he now saw: a thin path leading through a tangle of long-thorned trees which were so closely interwoven that they seemed inpenetrable. "Why don't you try Wolksmert on those branches," offered Banewood. Sod drew his sword and swung lightly against the tangle that lay before him. Sod was glad for the chance to draw his sword and test its edge. The massive, thorny growth fell to their feet. "Only Kathryn could walk a path like this," commented Sod as he continued to slice his way through. "These branches are so sharp and tightly interwoven that only the sow could manage to walk through unscathed." The plowman and the Shaman, however, could not pass through unharmed. Even though the path was partially cleared by Sod's sword, some branches remained to tear at their clothing and puncture their skin. Punished and brutalized by the last leg of their journey, Banewood and Sod proceeded slowly, their hearts heavy with fear and anticipation. By noon, they had passed through the forest of thorns and had entered into a wide perimeter of tall grasses and occasional trees. Banewood sniffed the air and winced. "Look," he said, pointing to a large copse of assorted and vile smelling weeds. "This must have once been Baba Yaga's herb garden." The expanse of foul-smelling weeds grew unbounded. They had probably been untended for many decades, but they still held firm against the encroaching forest and field. One fell weed pitted itself against the other for dominance of space. It was an evil looking tangle. Banewood hoped he could return by this path and gather some of the herbs. A few were familiar to him; they were shaman's herbs. Some plants had divinatory purposes, some had medicinal uses. Other plants were total strangers to Banewood's herbal. These were the most curious to the novice. Reluctantly, the two pressed on. Because of the tall grass, Banewood and Sod didn't see the hut until they were almost in front of it. The hut of Baba Yaga loomed dark before them. Centuries old, the hut was partially collapsed at one end; it appeared like an apparition, grayish and fragile. The grass about the hut was trampled-- signs of a current inhabitant. Banewood was shaken by the sight; it was an eerie recollection of his divinatory dreams, minus the malevolent red eyes. Sod sensed the nervousness of his companion and gripped Wolksmert tightly. He glanced over his shoulder and searched around them. The scene was quiet. Not even a bird song could be heard. Sod turned and shook his companion's hand. It was a farewell to their past and an initiation to whatever would befall them in the moments ahead. Banewood and Sod resolutely approached the hut. It looked weak, but it stood in evidence of craftsmanship from a forgotten century. Patches of straw, now grayish, were still attached to the roof. A few strange weeds had taken residence on the roof in order to catch extra light. On the roof's peak perched a dark bird. It was a raven. It waddled about and croaked a few times, picked at the wood and then silently winged out of sight. Sod held out Wolksmert and walked toward the dimly lit entrance of the ramshackle hut. Fat spiders retreated to the shadows with the approach of the plowman. Sod's heart quickened and his whole body started to tremble slightly. He placed his feet carefully to avoid making any sounds. With Banewood close behind, Sod craned his neck through the doorway. It took an agonizing instant for his eyes to grow accustomed to the dim light. Was there something inside? Had it heard them coming? Where is it? Nothing stirred within. Lying among the cloven tracks and defacation, however, was a flattened pile of leaves-- Kathryn's bed. The stench from inside made Sod gag. Confirming their worst fears, it seemed that Kathryn, the monstrous sow which had rampaged through Gorod, was now living in the hut of Baba Yaga. Signs of the monstrous sow were everywhere. Most of the hut's interior was badly battered and decayed. Scattered debris on the ground may have once stood for a chair. Few furnishings remained distinguishable. In the far corner, though, near the bed of leaves, stood a dark and mouldering chest. The brass straps and brads had long since turned green and disintegrated from the moisture. Banewood saw the chest and could not restrain his curiosity. He entered the hut and opened the chest. Most of the wood was badly decayed, and it fell apart when it was disturbed. Inside the chest, however, the contents were fairly well preserved. Banewood unwrapped a book-sized, oilskin-covered bundle which was on top of other items. It was a book. "I don't believe this," whispered Banewood in awe. "Don't believe what," said Sod, not believing that Banewood dared to utter a sound in the lair of Kathryn. "It looks like Baba Yaga's book of spells. I can't make out some of the writing; it's an old script. This is one of the books my old master told me about. It contains the ancient secrets of sorcery. This is an unbelievable discovery." "Well, pack up your discovery and let's get out of here. This place makes me nervous," said Sod. His hands began to sweat and he could feel the weight of his sword sliding through. Banewood hastily rewrapped the package and stuffed it into his own sack. On an impulse, he picked up another small bundle, which upon inspection, contained what looked like a Shaman's smoke mixture. Banewood lashed the sack to his belt and the two retreated back into the daylight. When Banewood and Sod stepped outside, they saw that the scraggly raven had returned. Seeing the plowman and his companion, it cried out in a raucous frenzy. Through the cacophony, Sod and Banewood heard another sound: a terrifying squealing and trampling sound. Towering above the distant grass was a massive black shape. Thin, gray hair lay matted on its back and around it's notched ears. It was a wonder that such a large beast could have existed unnoticed for so many years, but it is true: The forest hides many secrets. Clouds and fumes emanated from around the creature's snout. It reared its head up and Banewood and Sod could see a pair of blazing red eyes. "It's Kathryn," thought Sod. "It's Baba Yaga," thought Banewood. "We're in trouble," said the two aloud. Sod was possessed by a grave doubt as to his future being. This whole scene was a nightmare and he wished he could wake up. What finally woke Sod up was the one thing which he had most feared. Like a fish, Wolksmert's handle slid through the gripped fingers of the plowman and fell to the ground. When Sod reached to pick it back up, it immediately slid out of his grasp. Kathryn was charging and spewing her fiery froth. Banewood loosed a Ludki arrow at the charging Kathryn, but it glanced off of the sow's forehead. Sod was distraught, to say the least. His sword would not remain in his hand. Banewood, seeing Sod's plight, ran forward and shouted at the charging Kathryn. A spray of singeing fire told Banewood that he succeeded in getting her attention. He ran around the hut in an attempt to lead Kathryn away from Sod, who was still pathetically trying to grip his sword. A bit of Kathryn's breath caught the corner of Baba Yaga's hut and ignited the tinder-dry structure. Evidently, however, Kathryn's fiery froth had a limit, for it quickly decreased in range and intensity to the point of being a caustic dribble. Banewood took advantage of this and became bolder in his taunts. He loosed a few Ludki arrows at the enraged sow in order to further torment her. It worked. Banewood saw a nearby tree that he thought could hold his weight. He ran to it and limberly pulled himself up the trunk. He had previously discarded his backpack and other paraphernalia, but he neglected to untie the tiny old bag which held the ancient smoking mixture. It ripped open as Banewood shinned up the trunk, spilling its contents around the base of the tree. Kathryn was not an ignorant sow. She saw this grand opportunity to harvest the tree's single fruit: Banewood. She ran headlong into the sturdy trunk of the tree and splintered part of the trunk. She tore at the ground around the tree with her hooves and layed her forehead against the trunk in an attempt to batter it down. Kathryn kicked up a cloud of the ancient herbal mixture torn from Banewood's belt. Her two wide nostrils inhaled part of the cloud and Kathryn no longer felt any pain. Hitting the tree with her head was easy; in fact, it was fun. Sod saw the impending danger that Banewood was in. It was Sod's fault, he thought, that Banewood even came on this journey. He couldn't let him die. Sod had decided to go into this quest, and by his life, he would take it to its completion. He picked up a rock and threw it squarely at Kathryn's rear. Kathryn turned about and faced Sod. He taunted her with insults to her genealogy. Sod hardly noticed that he now gripped Wolksmert firmly in both hands. He spaced his legs, hurled another insult and waited. The smoking mixture continued to work on Kathryn's brain. It had a strange, numbing sensation. Colors burst before her crimson eyes. Directly in front of her stood a tattered and sweaty plowman-- easy prey and a quick lunch. Suddenly, though, she was faced by two plowman-- no problem-- then a third. Three Sod's stood before the eyes of an enraged and disoriented sow. Baba Yaga's mixture, whatever it was, buzzed around in Kathryn's head like a swarm of happy bees. Kathryn decided that the plowman on the left, Sod number three, was the real one. It didn't really matter; she could always come back and finish off the other two. She charged with full fury. Distance between the two retreated with the sound of thundering cloven hooves. Sod number two, the one in the middle, didn't quite understand why Kathryn was veering so much to his right. No matter-- Wolksmert, guided by the plowman's strong arm, swung with the ease of a baton but crashed with the weight of a boulder. Blood poured from Kathryn's head. Blood ran to the ground in red rivers and stained the dusty feet of the plowman. Blood dripped from the shining blade of Wolksmert. Kathryn was dead. It was several minutes before either Sod or Banewood moved or said anything. Sod stood alone with his sword dripping blood to the ground. Banewood shouted from the tree. "You killed her. I can't believe that it happened so quickly." "Quickly?" Sod thought hours passed during Kathryn's charge. "I owe you my life," said Banewood. "How can I ever repay you?" "Don't worry," said Sod, who smiled for the first time. "It all comes out in the wash." Without having to discuss their next step. The two quietly and deliberately set about gathering dried brush and grass for a fire. It took nearly an hour to amass the giant pyre, but it was finally built and easily set aflame from the embers of Baba Yaga's smoldering hut. The evening light was brightened by the burning pile of brush. A night bird sang vespers, and the wind whispered softly over the plains, gently fanning the blaze. -Roman Olynyk <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank