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Skeptic Tank!

1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME FOUR 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 Welcome to Dargon! Orny Simon's Song Orny Rendezvous Joseph Curwen Exile Eric Date: 020786 Dist: 112 <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Well, folks, here it is: the First Anniversary Issue of FSFNet, and the first issue containing stories of the Dargon writing project. I must say, this is an impressive issue, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed putting it together. The Dargon project is a group of FSFNet contributors who have gotten together to write about a single location, much like Aspirin's Thieves' World project. And, as you can see, the results are phenomenal! Any people who are interested in joining the project and feel they will be productive, feel free to mail me. I'd also like to welcome the new readers who responded to the notice I sent out. I'm not sure whether to apologize or not for the extreme length of this issue, but I'm sure you won't mind once you start reading... But, for now, I suggest you sit back and enjoy some of the best amateur writing you will find on BITNET. Thank you all for your support. Blessed be. -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Welcome to Dargon! Dargon is a small, out of the way fiefdom of the Kingdom of Baranur, situated in the extreme northwest corner of the kingdom. It is separated from the rest of the kingdom by a vast wood and a minor range of hills, and is ruled by the young Lord Clifton Dargon. Dargon Keep, where the wealthy merchants and courtesans live, lies on a hill overlooking the town and port of Dargon, which lie at the mouth of the River Coldwell. The port is Dargon's only link to the more populated south, and the town is an active and busy place. In the fields of Dargon can be found many small farming peasant villages, that pay tithes to the Keep. Quaint and pittoresque, these villages lie on the very borders of civilization, and can be hotbeds of superstition as well as gateways to adventure. Come follow, whether your pleasure be politics and court intrigue, the devilish workings of a medieval port-town, or the horror and adventure of the hinterlands. Come follow the tales of wonder and woe that unfold before you, in Dargon. -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Simon's Song Dale ran breathlessly down the Street of Travellers towards the docks. His father had told him to read two whole lessons; being the son of a scribe wasn't the most exciting life in the world. His father, a well-known teacher and scribe named Cavendish, made his living by hiring out to teach youngsters how to read and write. He had left the fourteen year-old in the family library while he went to Dargon Keep to instruct some poor aristocrat's son. Dale knew his father had meant well, but there were other things to do all afternoon than read some old dry book. Besides, he'd be back in time to read most of his assignment, anyways. He turned the corner by Sandmond's, nearly capsizing an emerging sailor (listing five degrees to port), and scanned the dockside for the familiar red and white canopy. Finding it, he plunged back into the crowd and made for a warehouse at the far end of the quays. He pushed through the mob of sailors, soldiers, and merchants, finally coming within sight of his destination, a squeaky old cart, overloaded with three steaming kettles, attended by a tall, smiling man and his little monkey. A sign on the cart read 'Salamagundi Stew' in large letters. The youth slowed and yelled across the crowd, "Hey, Simon!" The tall man saw Dale and waved him over. "Hey, Dale! What you doing out so early? Did you Papa give you too much to read, eh?" The tall sailor smiled broadly and batted the young man on the shoulder. "Yeah," sighed the lad. "How's Skeebo?" he asked, bringing a sweetmeat forth from his cloak to offer the monk. "Oh, he's fine. Business is good, and look at the port! It's so busy!" He spread his arms to take in all the port area. Dale looked up after giving Skeebo his treat and surveyed the port. The crowds were thicker than ever, and there were several tall ships and galleys tied up along the docks. He knew the Angelique at the far end, and Captain Smith's Victory Chimes beside it. Right in front of the warehouse was a galley that Dale had never seen before, with a great deal of bustle on deck and a number of strange papery ornaments hanging in the rigging. "What ship is that? Is it from the south?" "Ah..." began Simon, a glint in his brown eyes. "I checked 'er out before. She's called the Singing Mermaid, and she's been on a long, long voyage. She left Baranur, down south... must've been nearly two years ago. Headed west, of all places!" Simon was aglow with the rapture of a bard revealing a tale. "They say this is their first landfall since they left a place called Bichu, across the western ocean. They say they've got some sort of western noble who paid them well to bring him here. Wonder what would make a man pay such a high price to leave his home, eh, lad?" While Dale listened, he dipped himself a bowl of 'regular', as Simon called the first of the three varieties of stew he sold. Dale had often listened to Simon's tale of how he had learned the recipe for Salamagundi Stew while he was serving as a cook on a galley many years ago. The stew itself was a sort of fish chowder, heavily seasoned, and the 'regular' was fairly good. Dale had never tried either of the other stews - Simon had always steered him away from them with a laugh. The young man looked up and contemplated the Singing Mermaid. There were a number of large crates sitting on deck, and many strangely-colored paper ornaments hanging from the yardarm. The captain came from below deck and stood talking with a strangely-dressed man who could not have been any taller than Dale himself. He nudged Simon and nodded towards the ship. Simon's eyes widened. "Yep. Must be that westerner... Let's go get a good look, eh, lad?" With that Simon slowly hauled his cart closer to the pier where the Singing Mermaid was tied up. Dale watched the foreigner order another man to gather some chests and boxes and make his way down the gangplank, the poor servant, overburdened with the foreigner's gear, close behind. The stranger was a young man, though perhaps five or more years older than Dale, but no more than an inch or two taller than the scribe's son. His clothing was strangely decorated in blue and white shapes that Dale had to think twice about to understand, and his robe hung about his body very oddly. Dale could see that he had a slight limp, and carried a very strange and wicked-looking sword in, of all things, a wooden sheath! Dale saw the stranger stop for a moment and look around, a dark expression on his face, and turn towards Simon. The youth hurried to catch up. Simon set his cart down and waited for the stranger to approach, carefully inspecting and gently stirring each of the three chowders he had made that morning. He had been lucky to get some spices from the Singing Mermaid's haul earlier in the day, and he was confident it was an excellent batch. The foreigner walked directly to him and slowly, haltingly said, "Excuse, prease... You offer to sell food?" Simon nodded and replied "Yes - stew! Three kinds: regular, sweet, and sun-sweet. It's very good," he added, lifting the cover from one of the pots to let the foreigner know just what he was about to purchase. Simon certainly knew enough not to upset travelling nobility. "Ah, very good. I would like the sun-sweet prease..." Simon nodded and carefully suppressed a chuckle. Sun-sweet was the spiciest of the brews, and he knew of only two people who had ever been able to finish a whole bowl: himself and Guiseppi, the old sailor-cook who had taught Simon how to cook, when he was younger than Dale. He smiled to the stern-faced stranger, dipped a steaming bowl of regular, and offered it to the stranger. No sense making a scene, Simon thought. He had travelled enough in the west to realize that he might have just saved his own life! The man took the broth with a short bow, if no smile, and reached within his silken clothing, producing two short sticks with which he began to eat the chunks of fish from the broth. Simon was about to congratulate himself on his tact when he saw Skeebo grab a spoon from the cart and thrust it at the stranger, who slowly lifted his eyes towards the monk, to Dale, and finally to Simon. Simon felt his stomach knot in worry. Suddenly, the strangely-clad foreigner broke out into the oddest laughter Dale had ever witnessed. The stranger took the spoon and gave the monk a small coin in return. He finished the chunks of fish and began noisily sipping the broth with the spoon. Simon knew that the man had probably never used a spoon before setting foot on the Singing Mermaid, though how anyone could go through life without using a spoon was quite beyond him. Skeebo went back to Simon, looking sheepish as any monkey could. The sailor took the coin from the monk, and an odd look came over his face. The westerner had paid in gold! It was a strange looking coin, but it was probably worth more than Simon had made all year. He was obviously a noble, but he didn't seem quite that rich... The stranger had finished his bowl, and seeing Simon's puzzlement in his face, he asked "The coin... is it not enough?" Simon, more confused than ever, could not speak for a moment. "It is more than too much!" he suddenly stammered, too astounded to even care that he could live off that small coin for nearly a year. He held the coin out to give it back to the foreigner, who closed the sailor's hand upon it. "I am Ittosai Michiya," he began. "I have left my home in dishonor, and am far from where I would be. I have not been happy in many months. Take the coin - is a smile not worth so much stone?" With that, he bowed low and, with a gesture for his baggage, left Simon and Dale both rather puzzled. Simon soon was busy with customers again, and Dale wandered off to look at the ships, including the Singing Mermaid. Simon had given up. The port was just too busy, and he couldn't keep up with the customers. His mind kept dwelling on the strange foreigner, and he found himself looking at the small golden coin, somtimes touching it like a worry stone. It was an interesting coin; on one side, an etching of a strangely shaped building surrounded by an even odder-looking garden, on the other side were strange letters that looked like chicken-scratchings. Perhaps he would get it changed and pay rent. Perhaps he would buy Dale something useful and give it to him during the upcoming festival. Then again, maybe he'd just tuck it away in case he might ever need it; it was a very attractive coin... Simon's twenty-fifth contemplation of the strange coin was interrupted by a familiar cry. "Hey, Simon!" "Hey, Dale!" After going off to look at the ships, the youth had wandered up along the coastline. Dale came over to Simon's cart and chittered at Skeebo as only a child would. "Guess what, Simon?" "There's a world outside Dargon?" Simon smiled. "No, silly," responded Dale, "I've found something while I was walking up the coast." "The ocean?" Simon asked, still sarcastically smirking. In answer, Dale brought forth a small bundle from his tunic. He had wrapped something in a wool cloth, and he unwrapped it very carefully to reveal what looked like a carving that had been covered with sand and seaweed. "What is it?" Simon was curious. Dale carefully picked the seaweed away and, with a handful of water from a nearby rain barrel, washed off the stone carefully. What was revealed was a small sculpture of Dargon Keep, crudely done, but made in ivory, the unmistakeable three towers rising above a walled section of town. Simon's eyes widened, then seemed very far. Then he came back, smiled at Dale, and said, "What a find, lad! I'd hang onto that, if I were you." "Yeah. I'm going to keep it in my room. I think it's really neat!" "It sure enough is that, lad. Now you run home and do your reading. We've had plenty of adventure for this day, eh?" "Yeah!" Dale said as he carefully wrapped the miniature keep in the cloth. "Well, see you tomorrow, Simon!" He turned and jogged away, innocent of the expression on his older friend's visage. Simon Salamagundi felt old, perhaps for the first time in his young life. Seventeen years earlier, he remembered, his mother had apprenticed him to a sculptor, thinking Simon had artistic hands. His father, Seth Salamagundi, had been a sailor, and Simon's blood came from his father's line. One afternoon, he had sat by the ocean, trying desperately to live up to others expectations of him, carving a small ivory model of Dargon Keep. It had looked so horrible that he hurled it as far into the sea as he could throw it. He ran home, wrote a note for his mother, and hired himself out to ship's cook on the Lilith. That was the end of his landboundedness, the last he saw of his mother, and the end of his childhood. Over the years, the memory of that piece of ivory had meant many things to Simon. When he was young, he had hated it, for it was a symbol of his mother's attempts to keep him home, and his failure to live up to the expectations of others. During his many years at sea, he had both loved it as a symbol of his freedom and success and hated it still for the failure associated with it. Now he could only look back at the wealth of emotion attached to the object and feel all that he had gone through once more, and cry. -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Rendezvous The aging alchemist Gilman awaited an appointment with a customer, but that did not make the mysterious, nocturnal visitor any more welcome. His silver however was, and Gilman knew well enough not to inquire too deeply into its source. It rankled him that respectable patrons were so rare these days with the rise of the mystic cult Masgrah, which seemed to be developing into a full blown hanse. The members, which included most of the aristocracy of the city of Magnus, were forbidden to deal with outsiders except as absolutely necessary. Gilman refused to give into these ecomonmic coercions but unless he did something soon his business would fail. His eminent customer's medicinal orders were some of the few means of support he could find in his toubled situation, tough the covertness often bothered Gilman. Gilman had wondered about the man since he had first entered his laboratory almost a year past. At first appearance the youth seemed to be among the riffraff commonly encountered in the poorer sections of any city the size of Magnus. He appeared unwashed, unkept, and half-starved; his clothing little more than rags. His face seemed a battlefield of pox scars. But the feature which repulsed Gilman most was the constant twitches and jerks which wracked the youth's frame. Still, he possessed two qualities which did not align with this image: money and a classical education. Gilman often worried about the source of funds which allowed him to acquire such rare ingredients at what Gilman well knew to be inflated costs. He had been similarly astounded to glimpse the youth's knowledge in classical science and literature in their discussions. So great was his education that Gilman often wondered why his own services were required by the youth at all. But then the youth's unsteadiness and nervous aggitation would be a major hindrance in the laboratory. The youth's background was one mystery into which this well-meaning investigator would not pry as he feared the prospect of losing such a monetary find. A gentle but unrhythmic rapping roused Gilman from his thoughts. Approaching the barred door, Gilman called for his visitor's identity. The sole answer "Atros" was sufficient passage into the alchemist's combined laboratory and home. The youth appeared if anything to be more nervous than normal. "You have completed the Nepenthe of the Mahedeos?" Atros asked. His articulation was so flawless that once again it startled Gilman. "I await only the second half of the payment," Gilman answered noticing the strange expression in the youth's eyes. "It is by far the strongest nepenthe that I have ever compounded. Its potency will surely overcome the tolerance which you seem to be developing. I promise that your sleep will be both deep and undisturbed by dreams if you imbibe in this 'Little Death'." Gilman chuckled lamely, growing uncomfortable. "I'm afraid that I don't have the money yet, but surely some arrangement could be worked out," Atros said with a rehearsed tone. "That is not according to our agreement nor my policy. Full payment on reception of the vial." Gilman had already promised the youth's coins to a creditor by the following day. "Allow me to take it and I will have your money within three days," Atros offered weakly. "No, I cannot accept credit. I cannot...." Gilman's mind filled with his eminent monetary troubles. "There is no other alternative?" Atros asked faintly. "No." Gilman responded hardly rising from his worries. The youth seemed to be taken by a particularly violent jerk of his right arm which flew toward the old man. In a near blinding flash of motion, Atros wedged a knife in the old man's chest. Gilman stared in astonishment, gurgled once, and died. Already beginning to mentally curse his impulse, Atros removed the knife and cleaned the blade. Not for the first time had he tragically let his instinct rather than his mind control his actions. "Fool! Coward! Where will I ever find another supplier!" Atros shouted at himself. After a moment, "He was just a harmless old man..." he mumbled leaning over the body, accepting yet one more burden of guilt. He began to search the building knowing that Gilman's apprentices would discover the crime at sunrise. He easily located both the vial of nepenthe and Gilman's alchemical notes and texts. With greater effort he found the old man's disappointingly small cache of coins. Careful so as not to be seen he slipped from the building and returned to the hovel in which he was currently residing. Once there he began to consider his situation. Surely, Gilman's apprentices knew of his nocturnal visits. He would never escape the headman's block if he remained in Magnus. He resolved to leave as quickly as he could pack his meager possessions, which were mostly comprised of rare and coveted books on a wide range of subjects. He was reluctant to leave any of his prizes but he realized that they would only slow him down in his flight. Quickly, he made his selections and headed for the north gate. He had heard of a distant port near Dargon where a man might lie low for a few months. He hoped that such a place could cater to his needs, but he realized that skilled alchemists were quite rare, especially ones who would accept a client as unaristocratic as he himself appeared. He tried to convince himself that his change of residence would be an oppurtuntity to begin anew, but he had drifted too much not to know that you always take yourself along with you. Within a few minutes he slipped past the guards at the northern gate and was leagues distant from the city by sunrise. A few hours after sundown of the following day, Atros sat near a small campfire in a secluded grove far to the north. Though he was very weary he had taken a great deal of time preparing as good a meal as possible under the circumstances. Of course, he had only attempted to delay the inevitable. Finally, he lay close to the small fire huddled in rags and slept for the first time in many days. Well aware of the finite supply of the nepenthe, he had chose not to partake of the drug hoping that the weariness of his body would prevent dreaming. He had been wrong. Atros didn't know when he first became aware. The environment about him had come into being quite gradually. Perhaps it was the heat of the forge itself which had roused him. Atros knew almost instantly that this was a dream, at least it was what other people in the waking world called a dream, though Atros was no longer so certain of the distinction. He also quickly realized that this was one of those few dreams wherein he was present as only a discorporate observer. This frightened him since such dreams, with their innate feeling of helplessness, were often the worst. His point of perception was suspended about three feet above a curiously crafted forge or oven. It was a hollow stone cube with two opposing sides open. Within the cube a bank of red coals were fanned by a strange wind which passed through the cube's open faces. The forge itself seemed to be composed of a gritty, brown rock which was encrusted in soot. Atros first perceived a disturbance in this scene with the sounds of the approach of several person who were beyound his field of vision, which seemed to be fixed downward. Shortly, he periferally sensed a dark, muscular figure who examined the coal bed, grunted, and placed a long, somewhat squared bar of black metal into the forge. The metal quickly grew red with firery intensity. After a time, the man, whom Atros took to be the smith, removed the brand, placed it atop the forge and set to striking it with a blunt, iron mallet. Each blow seemed vaguely unsettling and disturbing to the point that Atros mentally winced in anticipation of each strike. During this time another figure beyound Atros' sight began speaking to a third. He seemed concerned that the metal was too imperfect to temper it so harshly, but the third voice reassured him that the alloy was finer than before crafted and that none other could fill their purpose. This seemed to mollify the second voice to some extent but his voice retained a tinge of nervous anxiety. After what seemed to have been an eternity of excruciating blows to Atros, he gained awareness enough to look upon the product of these labors. He was astonished to discover a fantastically beautiful, silver brand of glossy smooth finish extending from a fine point down a double edged shaft to a thin tang bolt. Atros' mind was awed by this creation while the smith wiped his sweaty grip and brow on a soot-smeared rag. A barely perceived motion suggested that one of the as yet unseen figures had given the smith an ornately carved dark walnut box, which the smith fumbled open. Inside lay a fine silver chisel and a heavy mallet made entirely from a single casting of bone white metal. Here again, the voice of the second figure gave caution. He was unsure whether the forthcoming action was totally justified when the dangers were fully considered, but the third reassured the smith and set him about his task. Carefully, the smith took the hammer and chisel in hand positioning the chisel's tip on a point just below the sword's point. He raised his right arm and with a mighty blow came down with his full force which sent fine crack through the forge. Simultaneously, Atros elsewhere perceived the astonished stares of grocers, merchants, and midwives to a single clang from their chapel's bell tower, which for centuries had been used to signal a call to arms. This dual point of awareness was only momentarily disorientating to Atros as he had experienced the like before in other dreams. Returning to the forge, the bewildered Atros saw engraved on the blade the entire word "Cogne", but the smith was not yet finished. Once again, his hammer rose and fell but with an even greater force which further enlarged the forge's flaw. Once again, the high noted report of the barrel-shaped warning bell drew attention of distant farmers, herders, and millers. The blade now bore the highly stylized word "Tu" at its mid-section. The smith, exhaustion seeping from his pores, stretched his frame over the hot forge to impart the last engraved word to the haft. For the third and final time he drew his hammer high with incredible slowness and delivered it with the unmatchable strength that arose from the last of his reserves. As the block split, his blow caused the sword to leap outward lodging the sword's point deep within his abdomen. Exhausted by his efforts the smith calmly accepted death. Simultaneously, the bells of the church tower broke out in a furious and undying clangor demanding action from all the denzines of the manor. Struggling to keep out the clamor, Atros concentrated on the still visible haft of the sword which rose from the crumpled form of the smith. The word "Ipsem" was firmly engraved, but Atros also noticed that a fine crack ran from this engraving to the tang bolt, where its prescence might cause the handle to snap in its wielder's grip at some future date. Still, the clangor of the bells continued as Atros drifted apart from this vision. After some moments, Atros rolled over in his sleep somewhat roused by the bell. "Who was that? Dear." He called to the supine form laying beside him in bed. "Wrong number... Go back to sleep," a rich feminine voice replied. Atros drifted into sleep once more. Atros awoke with a startled cry jumping to his feet and throwing some of the begraggled bedding into the smoldering coals of the nearby campfire. He was sweating profusely though the night air was quite cold. Quickly, he rescued what scraps he could from the flames and croached back near the fire. He struggled to force the unpleasant recollections of his dreams from his mind. Aided by that natural psychological force which seperates our dream lives from our wakeful lives by forgetfullness, he managed after an hour to recall only that his dreams had been most unpleasant. No longer willing to take such chances, Atros quaffed a rather large dose of nepenthe and gradually returned to unconsciousness. His final thoughts lingered on the translated phrase which occupied his mind long after his dream had been forgotten. Still, he recognized that he had considered the phrase vitally important only moments ago. To the occasionally cynical mind of Atros, "Know you yourself" now seemed just a sample of that profound sounding drivel which streetcorner philosophers fostered on the unwary. It could not be worth troubling one's sleep over so, he let this too pass from his mind. Gilman's word, after all, had been good. Atros experienced the sleep of the dead for the next nine hours. A few minutes after Atros had administered himself with the drug and safely passed the arms of Morpheus without mishap, a black cloaked figure arose from the brush at the edge of the fire light, floated smoothly across the glen floor, and stood motionless above Atros' helpless form. It stood thus until nearly daybreak then glided into the nearby depths of the wood to wait yet again. -Joseph Curwen <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Exile Michiya awoke to the cries of sea gulls in the early morning hours of his last day at sea. He carefully groomed himself and donned a pair of stark white trousers. On top of this he wore a blue and white patterned shirt. About his waist he wrapped a pale blue sash pinned together with a tiny ivory figurine of a Kitsune. Through the sash he thrust the swords given to him by his father. As he reached the door of his small cabin he stopped and looked back at the black lacquer case next to his bed. He turned around and knelt in front it with his hand on the latch. After a moment he lifted the top and reached under the clothes to remove the two ancient swords given to him by his uncle Sasaki as he left home. He looked longingly at them and eventually told himself 'Michiya, you are a long way from home and the time has come for you to accept the changes in your life! Put away your boyhood swords and bear these ancient blades with the honor you deserve.' It was the first time he had borne the two beautiful swords since receiving them as he left home. After a short prayer to the Storm God Susano-wo for continued good sailing, he went out on deck. For a long moment he stood watching the sunrise until the mate called out to him, 'Good morning Ittosai-san.' 'Hai,' he whispered, 'totemo ii desu ne!' Turning to the mate he called 'Good morning Stiben-san, when will we be arriving in Darugon?' Checking the sun and the colour of the water, he replied 'Just before lunch if the wind holds up. Why don't we go below and get something to eat with the night crew before they eat their foolish heads off and leave nothing for us?' Taking Steven's suggestion to catch an early breakfast with the crew he was treated to a meal of lightly fried fish and potatoes. Potatoes were one few thing he had found to his liking since leaving his homeland so he ate with great enjoyment. Listening to the sailors talk of their expected docking later that day he realized how much he missed his homeland. Weary of hearing their foreign tongue that he had been forced to learn out of necessity, he drifted off into a reminiscence of his final good bye to his uncle. The bitter winter winds had swept the dock clean of snow that cold night in Yoshida. The cold irritated the freshly bandaged wound in his leg as he stood there waiting for his uncle. He considered returning to Osaka and facing his enemies rather than leave the country. His uncle insisted that this was the only proper course of action available to him, but leaving hurt his pride. Just as he decided that was exactly what he would do, he saw his uncle approach carrying a bundle under his arm. Kneeling before his uncle he said 'Uncle-san, my apologies but my sense of honor demands I return to Osaka and face the Itokawa clan.' His uncle, Ittosai Sasaki, replied 'You will do no such thing! The Itokawa clan is acting dishonorably in their attacks against you. They send many of their Samurai after you, a lone ji-zamurai, just because they cannot accept that one of their children could possibly be defeated by you. Once they capture you and find out who you are, they will declare an illegal blood feud on our small clan. I will not allow the Ittosai clan to be destroyed to salve their hurt pride. You have acted honorably all along, it is no dishonor for you to leave now and save your family. Go now, and may Susano-wo bless your travels.' 'But uncle-san!' he replied 'I do not feel so very honorable at the moment. Why are they so respected, if they act so dishonorably?' Sasaki thought a while before answering, 'They are very powerful, and they aided the new Shogunate on its rise to power. With such credentials many things are overlooked.' At this point he began unwrapping the bundle at his side. Inside was a beautiful old Dai-sho. Holding it out to Michiya he said 'I want you to take this and bear it with the same honor your great grandfather did after the son of heaven, Emperor Go-Shirakawa, gave it to him with his blessing.' With trembling hands, Michiya accepted the ancient blades, but said 'Uncle-san, I cannot accept this gift! They belong in our family shrine!' 'Do not argue with an old man on a cold night! Take them now and board the ship.' With that his uncle turned around and stalked off into the night. Rising stiffly to his feet, Michiya turned and boarded the foreign trade ship, The Singing Mermaid. His reverie was broken then by the yells of the crew as they prepared to enter the port. He went up on deck and headed forward to get out of the crew's way and get a good look at his new home. It wasn't as colorful as his home back in Bichu province nor as spotlessly clean, but it could have been worse. Some of the ports that they had stopped in to restock their food supplies had been smelly cesspools. As they docked, the Captain approached, and said 'Michiya-san, the crew has unshipped your crates and is ready to unload them. As you are new to Dargon, I have taken the liberty of ordering them to carry your belongings to a respectable inn called "The Inn of the Hungry Shark". Thomas the bartender is a friend of mine, tell him I sent you and he will make sure that you are treated with respect.' 'Thank you Captain Markus-san' Michiya replied with a bow 'I was wondering where I would stay until I became understanding of this place. I have enjoyed the trip and the company of you and your crew. I would also like to thank you for teaching me your language.' 'No thanks are necessary' said the Captain. 'It has been a pleasure to have you on board these last few months. In fact it is I who should be thanking you for your assistance in dealing with those pirates last month. I usually am able to go for years with no such encounters, and every time I have had an encounter I've been lucky to drive them off. Now I think it'll be quite a while till I have to worry again.' Looking rather embarrassed Michiya said 'It was nothing, please stop, such flattery to my head will travel. I not so special am...' At this point Michiya broke off in confusion and further embarrassment over his poor English. Saying good bye to the Captain, Michiya went ashore. It finally sunk home to him that he was in a foreign land. Nowhere that he looked, did he see any of his people. At this point he noticed a brightly colored wagon with an umbrella. The owner was a merchant and was selling some stew. Going over to the wagon he got some "Sun Sweet" stew which was quite good. Instinctively he had brought out a pair of hashi to eat with, but this seemed to offend the owner's pet monkey. The little creature grabbed a spoon and thrust it at him. Not wishing to offend to little monkey any further, he accepted the spoon. Handing over a gold koku to the little monkey he quietly complemented it. 'Anata wa kawakute chisaii saru imasu ne!' His comment seemed to puzzle the monkey who was obviously pretending that he didn't understand. Taking his leave of the soup vendor, he thought to himself that the merchants over here were definately an improvement over the ones' back in Nihon. Back home they grubbed for anything they could get and had no self respect at all. The crew members carrying his supplies brought him to a reasonably clean and tidy inn. Here he was introduced to Thomas the bartender. After finding out who had sent him, Thomas set him up in a small but nice room on the second floor. After a short rest, Michiya went back down stairs and asked Thomas to explain the Dargon monetary system to him. Thomas sighed and began to explain the long sad story as he saw it. 'At first there were only two coinage systems in use. One was the Shapkan system which had only two types of coins in modern usage. The two coins were of copper and silver. The other system was the Baranur system which had three basic coins. These coins were gold marks, silver rounds, and copper bits. The copper coin is of the same value as the Shapkan copper, but the silver coins were of different worth. Recently though, the Rand system has been introduced by our Lord Clifton Dargon to "simplify matters". It is a sort of average between the two systems and also has three basic coins like the Baranur system. Once again the copper coins are of common value with all the others, but the silver coins are of yet a third new value and the gold coin is of a different value than the Baranur gold mark.' Michiya stood there taking this in thinking to himself that 'This is madness! How could any one want more than one money system? One money system alone is bad enough, but three will surely cause greed and hatred.' Michiya thanked Thomas for his help and went out for some sight seeing. During his wanderings he passed by a farmers market where he bought some cucumbers. Back home they were considered a delicacy and he hadn't had any for a long time so he was quite happy when he returned to The Inn of the Hungry Shark for dinner. Michiya spent the next few days in somewhat the same manner, though he was constantly on the look out for something he could do to support himself in an honorable fashion. He realized that he could not live forever on the cash that he brought with him and was quite concerned with his future. One night as he was taking his evening walk after dinner Michiya wandered into one of the seedier sections of town. Having been warned by Thomas that thieves and cutthroats were known to attack people from time to time in the area, he was on his guard. Shortly after passing a dark and smelly alley way he heard a sudden stealthy sound behind him. Without pausing to look, Michiya spun about while dropping to his left knee and drawing his katana. Just as he dropped he heard the sound of a thrown dagger pass right over his head. Silently muttering a brief thanks to Hachiman, he rose to meet the rush of the attacking thief. The thief didn't look too happy about the turn of events, but had already committed himself to the attack with his charge. Michiya turned a parry of the thief's first swing into a wheel stroke, expecting the fellow to jump back and avoid the swing. Instead his attacker tried to parry but was hopelessly out of position. The swing cut through the thief's left arm and made a shallow cut in the side of his chest. Dropping the sword with a scream the thief grabbed at the stump of his left arm and stared at it in disbelief. Michiya was also shocked. He had been told that the local thieves were reasonably skilled in weapons and had assumed that they would all know the only possible response to such a basic attack. He hadn't wanted to kill or even seriously maim the man, only wound him slightly to drive him off. The thief fell to his knees and begged 'Please don't kill me! Here, I'll give you everything I have!' Michiya noted that the man was going to pass out from blood loss any minute now, so told him 'Keep your money and your life. I had only intended to try to scare you off and am now ashamed at myself for my failure. Take this as a token of my sorrow over what has happened here tonight.' With that statement Michiya tossed the man a small gold koku and turned away. The thief stared numbly at the small gold coin still disbelieving what was happening. Shakily he reached out, picked up the coin, slipped it into his belt pouch and staggered of into the night clutching at his arm. As Michiya stood there wondering what to do, he heard the sound of many running footsteps approaching. Thinking that more assailants were on the way he began to step into darkness when he realized that it was the city guard. Shaking off the blood from his sword, Michiya sheathed it and stood there calmly in the middle of the street. Six men in uniform came running down the road. Three of them immediately surrounded him and two of the others spread out and started searching the area. The last man, who seemed to be in charge came over to Michiya and asked 'Who are you sir and what went on here?' 'Ittosai Michiya I am' he replied 'I was just by a thief attacked.' At this point one of the searchers came running up with the arm and sword of the thief who had attacked him. He approached the officer and pointing in the direction of the fight said 'Sir! We found these over there by that alley.' Unshuttering his lantern, the officer inspected the sword. With a start of surprise, the officer exclaimed 'This is Captain Koren's sword. It was stolen from him a week ago!' With this he turned to Michiya and said 'Sir, I apologize for the rude manner with which I initially treated you. In this neighborhood we have to assume the worst about anyone we don't know. I am Kalen Darklen and am pleased to meet you.' Michiya noted that the soldiers relaxed as he replied with a bow 'I am honored to meet you Kalen-san. Unduly impolite for the situation, you and your men I did not find'. They chatted pleasantly for a while and eventually Michiya was invited back to the barracks near the Keep to return Captain Koren's sword. Michiya was initially hesitant to go there and embarrass the man in such a fashion. After all losing a sword was a horribly embarrassing thing. Kalen reassured him that it wasn't quite that bad of an embarrassment here in the west. Eventually Michiya returned to The Inn of The Hungry Shark with an escort this time, went to bed, and dreamt of home. -Eric Holmquist <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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