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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
Ur-Baal Magic Roman Olynyk
Calls of Courtesy Joseph Curwen
The Hands of a Healer Orny
Date: 052886 Dist: 148
Well, everyone, here is the last spring issue. Summer is quickly
approaching even our northern clime, and school is something best
left forgotten until September. The summer volume (five) will
continue to be produced, and we will try to keep the Dargon project
going, despite the loss (for the summer) of some of our best
authors. Some of the issues will be Dargon issues, while some will
contain more traditional items. One note of special interest is that
there will be a special gaming issue this summer. I'd like to
solicit articles from gamers out there, particularly ones who have
dabbled in designing their own games. The issue will concentrate on
giving exposure to games BITNETters have designed and the hows and
whys of roleplaying game design. If anyone is interested in
contributing, ship me a note as soon as possible.
The volume past has been a great success, and I'd like to thank
both the readers and the authors who have made the Dargon Project
possible. One of the major purposes I have intended for FSFnet has
been to get amateur fantasy and science fiction authors together to
compare styles, to begin friendships and correspondances, and to
expose them to a truely diverse readership to give them an idea of
what the public desires in fantasy fiction. The Dargon Project has
not only been a boon for readership, but it has brought amateur
authors together in a productive setting. Perhaps I'm going
overboard to think that FSFnet is one of the most productive
non-computer oriented BITNET organizations. Thank you, one and all,
for your interest as readers, and a very very special thank you to
the authors for joining together to bring this about.
Well, before I can think of something else silly to say, I'd
best introduce this issue, the last of volume four. You will find in
here three related stories, and the resolution of some question
marks. We'll be looking for you with 5-1 real soon.
A Ticklish Situation
Aardvard Factotum's disembodied mind was trapped, unable to
return to its rightful place. In the midst of his panic, however,
Aardvard suddenly felt something wrenching at his spirit, pulling
him home. No longer confined by the four walls of Griswald Brutsam's
room, his mind once again flew over the battlement of Dargon Keep,
across the countryside and back toward his home on the outskirts of
the city. He was drawn by an unknown force.
Aardvard opened his eyes and chuckled. Nothing was funny about
his situation, however. Aardvard's mind, after all, had been through
a good deal of excitement. Through the use of Banewood's essence of
Ur-Baal, it had left his body and travelled to Dargon Keep, where it
became trapped in the private chambers of Griswald Brutsam,
physician to Lord Clifton. Still, Aardvard couldn't stop laughing.
And when he looked down the length of his body, he saw the reason --
Banewood, the Shaman, stood at his bare feet, tickling them with a
"Laughter -- one of the best ways to reunite a body with one's
wayward mind," sniggered Banewood. "I warned you about going too
far, didn't I?" he chided.
"Never mind," said Factotum as he jumped to his feet. He quickly
sat back down again, putting his hands to his head. Aardvard gently
rubbed his temples. His head throbbed from the aftereffects of the
essence of Ur-Baal, the potion that had put him through this
adventure. "Something terrible is going to happen if we can't stop it."
"What do you mean?" asked Banewood.
"Griswald Brutsam, the personal physician to Lord Clifton, is
plotting to assassinate him."
Aardvard told the Shaman about the conversation between Griswald
Brutsam and Lek Pyle, their conspiracy to assassinate Lord Clifton.
"The Lord of Dargon Keep is standing in the way of Baranur's plans to
control all trade with the distant island of Bichu."
"I have an idea," said Banewood, "Listen..." Banewood whispered
his plan to Aardvard. Factotum's face became a study in moods,
changing from puzzlement to astonishment, and then to amusement.
At first, Aardvard stared at Banewood with disbelief. Then he
slapped his friend on the back and doubled over in laughter.
"You crazy Shaman! I think it just might work," exclaimed Aardvard.
In the morning, Aardvard pulled some of his gold from its secret
hiding place, and together, he and Banewood put on their cloaks and
left for the herb seller's home.
By noon, Banewood and Aardvard found themselves outside of the
old herb seller's hut. The doorway was dark, and it appeared as if
nobody was home. Soon, however, they heard the sound of humming. An
old woman's head peered through the doorway, a kerchief covered most
of her gray head. It was the kind that most peasant women wore.
"Come in, come in. Always open for business," the old woman said.
Banewood and Aardvard followed the old woman inside. As their
eyes grew accustomed to the dark, they could see her wares: dried
herbs, stalks and roots hung from the walls and rafters.
"She keeps it dark, because the light diminishes the potency of
the herbs." Banewood whispered to Aardvard.
"Quite so, quite so," cackled the old crone, her hearing
obviously much sharper than one would have guessed. "What can a
simple herb gatherer do for you?"
"Let's see..." said Banewood. "First I need some Dragonswort root."
The old woman pulled a piece of root from a large pile and
placed it before the shaman. "Done."
"Next, I'd like a stinkwort, the whole plant."
"Heh? What's that?" Asked the old woman.
Banewood began to described a stinkwort plant to the crone: "A
large, whitish root; round yellow-green stalk; about five feet high;
large, white funnel-shaped flowers; prickly fruit..."
"Oh," she interrupted, "you mean a nightshade." Gingerly, the
old woman used two fingers to pull a nightshade plant down from the
rafters. She set it before them.
"A Galangal root," added Banewood.
"What's a nice boy like you need an aphrodisiac for?" The old
woman smiled a toothless grin -- she bagged her second husband with
a Galangal root.
"It's for a friend." Banewood lied. "And a henbane plant, too.
There's one over there." He pointed to a particularly green weed
near the corner.
"That's my last one," said the old woman. "I'm not sure if I can
let it go this late in the season."
Banewood looked at Aardvard Factotum, who reached into his cloak
and produced a little bag full of gold Baranur marks. He spilled
them into a little pile on the table. The gold glimmered in the dark.
The old woman gulped. Regaining her control, however, she
hedged: "I couldn't ask less than four marks for the plant. I have a
starving daughter to feed."
"Four marks!" protested the physician. "It's not even worth one!"
"Three marks" said the old woman, her lips drawn in a straight
line. "Food is very expensive, in case you haven't noticed."
"Two," said Factotum. "Take it or leave it."
"All right," said the old lady. "I'll keep the plant."
Factotum pulled at Banewood's robe. "Come on, let's get out of
here. I know of another place where we can get this stuff."
"Okay, okay." Said the old woman. "So my daughter goes without
dessert tonight. Three marks."
"Two marks," the physician corrected her.
"Yes, I'm sorry. You're right -- two marks."
"One more thing," added Banewood. "Do you have many mushrooms?"
"I have a few," the old woman lied. She was the biggest supplier
of mushrooms in the district.
"I'm not sure if this one grows around here," said Banewood. He
described a mushroom to the woman: "Red cap covered with white
warts, grows under pines and birch..."
"Fly agaric!" snorted the old woman. "Soaked in milk, we use it
to stupefy flies."
"That's the one. How fresh are they?"
The old woman reached under her table and pulled out a box full
of the little, red beauties. "Just picked 'em yesterday -- how many
would you like?"
"Several will do," he said. "I wish to stupefy some flies, too."
Aardvard paid the old woman more money than he would have wished
to. They left with their purchases. Walking away from the hut,
Aardvard counted his remaining gold.
"I'm surprised that the old woman's teeth are gone." He said. "I
thought sharks grew their teeth back!"
Aardvard's eye caught sight of a buxom young girl in her late
teens. She was bearing a bundle of herbs toward the old woman's hut.
He elbowed Banewood, who was also staring at the same delicious sight.
Banewood laughed. "Poor girl... no doubt she'll go to bed
without dessert again."
Calls of Courtesy
Normally Atros arose slowly from his nepenthe drugged sleep but
adrenaline remarkably quickened the process this day. It's not
everyday that one finds a corpse practically draped over your bed. I
wasn't that corpses weren't familiar to Atros, but Atros didn't
appreciate them popping up in his sleep. He quickly rolled out into
prone position dirk in hand, but no opponent presented himself. He
was quite alone in his rented room with everything exactly as he had
left it the night before, with the exception of the dead man of course.
It was Thad, a man Atros had known for many years though he
wasn't particularly proud of the relationship. Thad had been a
graduate of a slum in some city, which Thad had declined to mention.
He'd learned at an early age that violence was a saleable commodity
and had marketed his natural talent for it quite successfully. He'd
gone from bully to strong arm to assassin all the while becoming
increasingly belligerent and decreasingly likable. What with Thad's
wandering from one city to the next, it was eventual that he and
Atros would cross paths. At first Atros had nearly fell in with him
as a kindred spirit, a fellow survivor who often traveled in the
same circles. But the relationship had cooled after Atros had seen
some of the results of Thad's recent labors. Atros didn't disapprove
of assassins but unlike Thad's employers Atros felt that Thad let
his brutality get in the way of his work. Thad's calling card had
become the gruesome state in which he left his victims, and
sometimes their families.
But Thad had been successful as a hired killer. He could
virtually guarantee results and had never been caught in the act by
anyone, until perhaps last night. Nor had Thad ever betrayed the
identity of his employers. It was sure that many, both the guilty
and the innocent, would rest easier once they heard of Thad's
demise. Not that Atros would allow that to happen for sometime. He
began to attend to the body while the early morning streets were
still sparsely populated. Fortunately, whomever had slain Thad was
much easier to clean up after than Thad himself. The most puzzling
part of the whole matter was how a man as large as Thad could have
his neck snapped without any signs of a struggle.
Later that day, Atros stood just outside the entryway to his
boarding house. He yawned and had to shuffle his position several
times while leaning against the cobble stone wall to prevent from
drifting off. For someone accustom to going without sleep for days
on end, this was a bit disconcerting. Atros wondered if perhaps the
drugs he utilized were too strong even a man of his own will power.
He had noticed that it was becoming progressingly more difficult to
remain alert, a difficulty that he could hardly afford in his
position. He was just resolving to start weaning himself off the
nepenthe when the person he had been awaiting rounded a distant corner.
He watched her as she approached apparently unaware of his
presence. She wore a coarse bit of grayish linen, that doubled as
both chemise and tunic, under a ratted surcoat probably fringed with
fur at one time. She was short and somewhat dark in complexion
especially on her hands which were small but rough. Her light brown,
and lately unwashed, hair was cut short with straight banes lying
across half her forehead. All in all, she was rather plain looking,
almost masculine at first sight.
"Atros...." finally recognizing him in spite of his new
wardrobe, Darla called out as she rushed forward to greet him.
"Call me Raffen!" Atros cut her off, his voice a harsh whisper.
"Though that may shortly change as well." With a piercing look,
Atros cut short the conversation until they were safely in his room.
"How many names may one man have!?!" Darla seemed confused,
unsettled, and somewhat hurt.
"As many as it takes to keep him safe. You've brought the
books," Atros said businesslike.
"Yes, I have them here in Dargon. They are quite safe." Darla
"Good. I am very grateful. I've missed them," Atros said. Darla
winced though Atros didn't notice.
"Bringing them wasn't difficult. You've done much for me in the
"You can consider that debt settled." Atros said in monotone.
"I don't think so. I owe you my life." Darla said testing Atros.
"If that's the way you want it, perhaps you'll be able to pay in
kind," Atros lilted a bit.
"You're in some sort of trouble?" Darla asked sounding concerned.
"There has been an attempt on my life. I anticipate more." Atros
said perhaps a bit teasingly.
"Who?" Darla asked.
"Do you remember a particularly brutal overgrown street waif
"I could never understand why you would associate with him."
Darla pronounced almost interrupting his question.
"He was dangerous but had his uses."
"Was?... You killed him?" Darla asked tentatively.
"No, he died in the attempt but not by my hand."
"Whose then?" Darla said a bit exasperated that she had to do so
much coaxing to get simple answers.
"I know little more about it than you." Perhaps sensing Darla's
impatience, Atros quickly explained the events of the morning.
"You were lucky." Darla seemed somewhat relieved.
"It seems too unlikely to be unintentional... Thad dying while I
was totally helpless." Atros gazed off as though he were only
"Thad had many enemies. Perhaps one caught up with him." Darla's
suggestion drew Atros' attention for a moment.
"You don't think that Thad was incredibly careful while on a
job? It would have been very difficult to surprise him. And who
could have broken his neck with apparent ease? Also, why let me
live? Why not take the opportunity to rob me, or Thad for that
matter? Why leave everything so sloppy? I could have been set up in
such a way that I would be certain to take the blame. As it was, it
was easy for me to straighten everything up." It was Atros who was
becoming impatient now.
"Perhaps they feared waking you." Darla suggested hopefully.
"Possibly.. But it just seems so unlikely..." Seeing nothing
further to be gained here, Atros said, "Our first concern, I
suppose, should be why Thad tried to kill me in the first place."
"You're certain that he was hired?" Darla asked.
"We didn't exactly part on amiable terms but Thad would never
have tried it without payment. And there was a good deal of money in
"So you expect whoever hired him to try again?" In spite of
Atros' opinion, Darla could be insightful.
"Yes, though they will delay a few days at least, waiting for
word from that or for me to get less wary."
"Any suspicions as to who put up the money?" Darla asked plainly.
"Probably Gilman. He's here in town and I think he's looking for
me." Atros suggested offhandly.
"Oh yes! I've traveled all this way and forgotten to tell you. I
checked into things while I was in Magnus picking up your books.
They aren't looking for you. No report of any crime. And Gilman,
apparently unharmed, put his business in the hands of his employees
and left Magnus shortly after you did."
"I suspected something like that. Still can't understand how
Gilman survived. He was assuredly dead."
"That's what I thought you meant in your letter but I decided
that I misunderstood."
"I've got to teach you to read and write. I don't like having
others read my messages." Atros seemed annoyed.
"But you worded the letter so cleverly that no one could
understand it but me. Besides the friend I got to read it to me is
trustworthy." Darla tried to reassure him.
"Yes but my 'clever wording' does add some confusion and I
couldn't relay many details." Atros said, still being difficult.
"Enough details. I understood enough to come here and to bring
your books." Darla was becoming a bit annoyed herself.
"Yes you did and again I thank you. But I have another favor to
ask." Atros thought it best to settle things.
"Name it." Darla said straightforwardly.
"The drugs that I am using cause me to sleep very deeply.
Possibly Thad knew this and decided to strike at night. If Thad
knew, then his employers probably know. I need a bodyguard I can
trust at night."
"No problem. I really need a place to stay anyway. I'm low on
funds and know few people in Dargon." Perhaps Darla hid a smile.
"That's fine. We'll live off Thad's ill-gotten gains though we
may have to lie low so as not to attract attention. No more nights
at court." Atros said trailing off, as was often his habit.
"Nights at court!?! You've been to court!?! During the
festival?" Darla appeared surprised and jealous.
"Yes, but I didn't really enjoy it. Besides the wardrobe is too
expensive and uncomfortable. Have to see a friend and return some
borrowed clothing. And tell him that I must leave Dargon."
"You are planning to stay, aren't you?" Darla was concerned.
"Yes, there is something here for me." Darla gave him a
quizzical expression. "Just a notion," Atros said dismissing it. "I
have a few errands to attend to. Why don't you get all of your
things and get settled. I'll return with something expensive for
dinner in a couple of hours. Oh, perhaps you best not get too
settled. We'll have to find some other place to stay tomorrow. I'd
have done so today, but I was waiting for your arrival. We'd best be
very careful tonight." Both Atros and Darla departed for the
When more than a couple of hours had passed and Atros hadn't
returned, Darla became concerned. But not knowing the city well nor
anything about Atros' plans for the afternoon, she delayed for some
time before deciding to go searching for him. It was well that she
did, because Atros returned as she was heading for the door. She
didn't mention his lateness nor did Atros volunteer much
information, but true to his word Atros did provide the most
delicious meal that Darla had eaten in sometime. After the late
repast, Atros gathered a few of the books that Darla had retrieved
and began jotting notes in one of his journals. When Darla asked him
of this, he replied only that he was pursuing an idea. He advised
her to sleep so that she might be rested for her vigil, but Darla
was content to watch him and listen to the soft, irregular
scratching noises of the long quill pen. After some time of this she
Some hours later Darla awoke to find Atros still at his labors.
He seemed to be quite weary though happy, saying that he thought he
was onto some new discovery though he left its nature a mystery.
Darla was only able to convince Atros that he needed sleep by
suggesting that he might think clearer after a few hours rest. Atros
acquiesced begrudgingly and took a dose of the nepenthe to settle to
sleep for the remainder of the night.
Truthfully, Darla only understood a small fraction of what she
encountered in Atros' books. Many were in languages or codes unknown
to her. Most were replete with obscure references and complicated
arguments which would take a lifetime of study to understand. Even
in those that were not, Darla's reading skills often fell far short
of complete understanding.
Sometime ago she had gone through many of these books before
uncovering Atros' dream journal. In it he kept all from his dreams
which he did not wish to forget. Even though these were his good
memories, Darla quickly grew to understand why Atros fought so hard
to escape his nocturnal visions. Often times his hand was shaky and
his thoughts overcome by emotion as he struggled to quickly record
what were sometimes an entire lifetime in his dream before the
memories passed away from him. Darla often wondered if destroying
this journal was not the best thing she could do for Atros. It
occurred to her that the good memories, which are recalled a
thousand times with infinite sadness and longing, might be much more
tortuous than the bad memories, which one can learn to forget or
avoid. But it wasn't hers to judge and she feared Atros' anger.
After reading this journal that first time nearly a year ago,
Darla began to understand why Atros kept everyone at a safe
distance. The book recounted lifetimes which Atros had experienced
in dreaming. Oftentimes he had no recollection of any life beyond
the dream. As far as that individual was concerned the dream was his
complete universe. These dreams were often the most painful for
Atros, because for a time he could experience peace. But the
collected recollections of dozens of lifetimes weighed heavy on
Atros soul and no one could remove that weight.
Darla turned to the finger smudged pages of one dream entry near
the beginning of the journal and began to read this tragedy once
more. There were other dreams, other lives, much like this, but this
was the most tragic because in it Atros had been the most happy. In
this dream, Atros bore a name and spoke a language which were
unpronounceable to Darla. He was a tall, kind man who enjoyed life's
simplicities in an age where others took them for granted. In time he
found love. A beautiful young author, she was called Narya. After a
lengthy and romantic courtship, they married. They settled in a
small cottage in a secluded valley filled with wildlife, prefering
their own company to that of anyone about them. The house contained
hundreds of fantastic devices which made life easier or provided
entertainment for the couple. They lived quietly and happily
together and wrote many successful books. In time they had two
children: a daughter and a son. One day just as his son was first
learning to walk unsupported, Atros awoke and was permanently torn
from the happiness that he had found in a single night's dream.
Never able to return to that happy life, Atros thereafter bore
its memories as a curse. His anger grew but he could find no one to
blame. In his daily studies he sought to forever escape the dreaming
which had become so painful to him, regardless of the content of the
dreams. Atros had also developed a lingering doubt that this life
too might only be a dream, from which he might be snatched at any
moment. Thus, he forbore pleasure and love so that he might not
regret their loss when he awoke. His fear of this life being a dream
had slowly pervaded all his waking thoughts and actions until he had
succeeded in fashioning an existence in which there was little
Darla understood this, at least in part. It made little
difference to her whether his dreams were somehow real, because
Atros believed them to be real, which was far more important to her
than any philosophical consideration. She had tried to help Atros.
Slowly, carefully she had pierced his barriers and had succeeded in
gaining some of his trust and friendship. But her hold to this
position was tenuous. She realized that Atros often used little
barbs in order to drive her from him, not because he disliked her
but because he cared for her too much. She also sensed the contempt
which Atros expressed in subtle ways for nearly everyone about him
at one time or another, but she knew that it was only his way of
coping with the pain at times. Perhaps he envied others who could
lead an untroubled life. Darla wondered how he managed as well as he
did despite all the frustration and anger within him.
As she left off reading that passage, almost of their own
volition, her hands turned to the dedication, which Atros had at
sometime scribbled on the inside of the front cover. She stared at
what he had written there until the moistening of her eyes made it
impossible to continue. He had written:
I've loved many and burried a few,
But in all my search found nary a clue.
The secret of life it seems
Lies forgotten in my dreams
Forever separating one from two.
The Hands of a Healer
Griswald Brutsam, physician and mystic healer to Lord Clifton
Dargon, gently closed the door to his chambers and made his way from
the keep. He had served the Lord of Dargon for many years. Having
dedicated his life to the mystic pursuits of healing, his skills
were very much in demand. Still, he had maintained a modest life,
secreting himself with his studies within the keep and seeing to the
health of his liege. And now he was a party to a plot to assassinate
He pulled his cloak close about himself and made his way towards
the port, the seedier section of town. The evening was cold but
clear, and the stars shone bright above the dark shadows of the
port. Brutsam occasionally came across citizens, stragglers from the
festival, still revelling nearly a week after the festival had
ended. After a short time, he came to one of the few lit buildings
in this section of town. He pulled the cowl above him and stepped
into the Inn of the Hungry Shark.
The entry corridor led on the right to the bar and common room,
and on the left to a stairway to the rooms above. Griswald dreaded
being recognized by the people in the common room, but they seemed
to be completely involved in what amounted to a contest to see you
could bellow the most obnoxious saying the loudest. It was unlikely
that anyone saw him as he turned towards the stairs, save perhaps
Brutsam climbed the stairs slowly and quietly. He halted in the
corridor at the top, pausing. After a moment, he stepped towards one
of many closed doors in the hall. He knocked. And again. And waited.
The door was opened by Lek Pyle, the man who had recruited
Griswald into this insane plot. Pyle quickly brought Griswald within
the room and closed the door behind him. "What's the problem?"
The aging physician shrugged off his cloak and stood before the
warmth of the hearth a moment before replying. "Nothing's happened.
The assassin you hired is missing."
"Thad? He wouldn't run out on a job. He's a scoundrel, though."
"What are we going to do? Do you think he was caught? I'm sure
if he did then he'll have told all about your plot..."
"No, not Thad. His reputation has it that he's one of the best
in his business, though his methods aren't the most subtle."
Griswald was visibly agitated, not able to sit. "Well, where is
he? Would he try to get more money by selling us out?"
Pyle, seeing the fear in Brutsam's eyes, sneered. "He might
have, but might just as easily simply skipped town. Still, that's
not Thad's style. He's a scum, but he's a brute - he enjoys the jobs
people give him, the more violent the better. He's not likely to
get caught or to just leave the job, even when he is paid in advance."
"You seem sure of that, but then where is he, and what are we
going to do?"
"We must proceed with our scheme. It matters little whether Thad
was found out or not." The merchant from Baranur gazed into the fire
thoughtfully. "We will simply have to proceed with another scheme..."