VOLUME FIVE NUMBER TWO FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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

Skeptic Tank!

1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME FIVE NUMBER TWO | | ========================================== +___________+ 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 Spirit of the Wood: 2 Rich Jervis The Glory of Adventuring Ovis Respect thy Elders: 1 Orny Ceda the Executioner: 1 Joel Slatis Date: 080486 Dist: 159 <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Well, I told you that 5-2 would be right on the heels of 5-1! Had it not been for the fact that our 3705 burned in flames, this file might have actually made it on time! As for 5-3, Jeanne Dixon has said that it will be out the second weekend in August, so watch your reader queues! Actually, to tell you the truth, we've managed to lure three unknowing and unsuspecting amateur authors into the Dargon Project, and they're cooking up stories faster than I can print them! 5-3 is actually all set to go out, save that I have to finidh writing *my* story for that issue! And it promises to be an excellent issue, with stories from myself and each of the three new authors. But I'll let you wait for that. This issue contains the beginnings of two serials, one a Dargon story (my own, in three parts), the other an unrelated piece by Joel Slatis, one of the three new authors. Stuffed in around the edges are a short story by Ovis, another new author, and part two of Rich Jervis' "Spirit of the Wood". Two other points and then on to the issue. Firstly, due to extremely poor timing, the day I sent out FSFNET 5-1, the userid of one of the contributors changed. If you are interested in contacting the person who was advertising the national gaming organization, the userid is now C4898002@UMSLVMA, rather than S4898002. Or was it the other way round? Finally, I'd like to welcome the new members, and remind everyone once more to keep spreading the word about FSFnet. It is, as I've been saying all along, your zine, not mine. Enjoy! -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Spirit of the Wood: Chapter Two Loric had no chance to reply to Oldsir's query because their dialog was interrupted a the high whistling call from below them. Oldsir looked down and said to himself "So soon..." "Loric the call has been given. You must go below and stand on the ground with your friends. I wish you luck." Loric looked at his grandfather and then closed the distance between them. He hugged the old man fiercely and said "If it means your time of death has come closer, I won't go! " "Here now, is that the voice of a Tolorion I hear? Are you so strong that you can wrestle with time itself? My time has come, but so has yours But do not let the fate of an old man deter you from doing your best! I will be watching you as all of your tribe will, to see that honor is maintained and that the Spirit of the Wood is not broken. Now go, son of my son. And may the dew never settle on your brow!" With that blessing Oldsir turned and leaped off the porch of his house and deftly caught a vine some yards below. Before Loric could call out to him he was lost from sight. "Thank you Oldsir," He said softly, "Goodbye,Grandfather." He barely heard the second sounding of the call and threw himself off the platform with a vengeance. He went downward recklessly, allowing the bare minimum margin for safety. He hit the ground hard and lightly bruised, but in one piece. Without a glance at the gathered downlander's he strode to the center of the circle where they had gathered and stood with head held high and body erect. Determined that his Grandfather's last wish would be granted. Loric tried to stay aloof from the others, hoping to keep his anger fired, but the excited conversation around him kept intruding on his thoughts. "Going for it again, eh Hiram? Maybe you'll get to the top of the Home-tree this time." "Go jump Jakul,I made the Tree-climbing test, it was the Net-walking that did me in last time." "You were lucky then, if you'd made that they would have thrown you into the Pit. My brother Yione was there for three days before they dragged him out. He still won't talk about that one but I think they used snakes on him, he never did like them." "Snakes I don't mind, but there's worse. They say there's always one test you can't pass. And then there's always the Shreaving. Hey there's Loric. Loric! What's in the pit eh? Snakes or spiders or just a few wild dogs to gnaw your bones! Hah-hah!" Loric looked at his friends and smiled thinly. "Whatever it is, it couldn't be as mean as you two! I still remember the time you two put that bee-comb in my sister's bed and the ant's all but carried her off! I couldn't catch you then, but maybe after today, you'll not be so fast? I think a tree-crab could walk away with what's left of you after the test and no one would notice." "Jakul we made a mistake even speaking to this one, he's obviously the first test; to see how long we'll stand here before stringing him up by his toes!" Hiram made a feint towards Loric which he dodged and then grabbed His friends arm and pressed his thumb into the wrist. The scene was on the verge of becoming a tussle when the third sounding of the Call was made and the late arrivals noisily joined the trio in the council circle. Under his breath Hiram asked, "What's up your tree Loric, you used to take that guff and pass it out fresh?" Loric looked side-ways at his friend. "Sorry, Hiram. It's just that my grandfather has had his second vision." Hiram stepped back and then asked "Did he tell you what it was?" "No, only that his time had come...and mine too! Shhh! Dernhelm is looking at you--turn around!" Loric spun his friend around to face his uncle. He waited for the silence to spread to all present, even the young children were silent. Somehow feeling the intensity of the moment. "Know you children of the Village in the Trees, what is the benefit of the Arborskill?" Loric and the others replied as one; "Yes, my chief. my eyes and the eyes of my tribe, my hands and the hands of my tribe, my heart and the heart, ears, and tongue of my tribe will become keener, and I will know the joy of life from the Spirit of the Wood. I will adapt,and my tribe will live. I will take the offerings of the Wood, and make new and better things things for the living. The Arborskill honors and protects, and the seasons change." "What do you need to achieve the Arborskill?" "My Kesh-blade, my chief." "Only this?" "My wits , my chief." "This is all?" "And my song , My chief,and my hands." "Do you have these four things?" "I have them, my chief, My wits are as keen as my blase and my hands are as strong as my song. My song is strong, my chief!" "Then show your tribe what you know. What is the first craft of the Arborskill?" "The first craft of the Arborskill is the Lashing." At this loric looked about him. In the circle were poles he was to use as a rope walk, but there was no grass gathered to plait into a lashing. Realizing that the cane fields were a long-run away and the reed marshes even further than that, several of the boys waved to their families and sprinted off into the woods. Loric started out muttering under his breath. He has went only a short distance when he stopped. This can't be right! he thought. It will take most of the day just to gather the grass and return with it, and there's more tests after this one! Loric looked back at the circle of logs where the tribe sat silently. There were more logs than usual around the fire pit, leaving several unoccupied or with only one person to a log. The new logs were still dark with bark and the scent came to Loric as he walked back into the circle. The acrid smell of Liamas trees greeted him. Of Course! Adaption! Loric had been taught how to plait grass and vines but there was a no reason he couldn't do the same with the fibrous bark of the Liamas tree. He ran across the clearing to where his sister sat with several of the other young women. "Loric I see no grass for you to weave, perhaps you intend to weave the air into a rope?" Loric was stung by his sister's words but caught the twinkle in her eye that meant to Loric that he must be close to an answer. Formally he stood before his sister and said: "I ask that you give up your seat my sister, so that your brother may become a man." Silsia gave up a cheer. "Ai-ya! Ai-Ya! Little Loric would be a man and make his sister stand!" She laughed and stood by her friends. "Come sisters, we must move for near-man Loric who already knows how to act like a man!" Loric drew his knife from it's sheaf and started cutting the bark from the log in long strips. -Rich Jervis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Glory of Adventuring "So this is how it will all end," thought Glanaril as he sank slowly to a sitting position against the cold, black cave wall. "We were all so tough, so grown up and ready to make names for ourselves, so wrong..." Glanaril knew he didn't have long, the hideous beast's claws were so covered with filth that the poison on them could kill an ogre. Unfortunately he had taken more than a scrape in the fight with it. It had come upon them only minutes ago, a time when they had been the most famous adventurers in the world (or would be soon, after they managed to kill Lothgar the Black and rescue all those lonely, misguided gold rilks). The horrible guardian beast had not sneaked up on them, no, it had come straight at them, slowly, allowing them plenty of time to ready spells and form an attack plan. They had smelled it coming long before they met it. Oh, but once they met it )) it became a living death machine. Granted the beast was very large, but one beast against a party of well equipped adventurers, ha ha )) no problem. Glanaril smiled grimly as he remembered his thoughts as he handled his trusty spear. It wouldn't be long now, the pain was growing, working its way up from the horrible gash he has received in his side. His armor was like butter before the thing's claws. Glanaril glanced about him at the remains of his party. Katrina, a pretty spellcaster, lay in a heap against the far wall. She had been concentrating on a spell and had not avoided the beast's backswipe with its great foreleg and she'd been tossed against the jagged stone wall as easily as a man swats a fly. Carly, a hobbit thief, was now unrecognizable as such. He had tried to maneuver to a position behind the thing so that he might hamstring it. Just as he'd raised his dagger to do so, the beast had taken a step back and placed its great hind leg right on top of him. So much for crippling it. Harth died trying to help Katrina. He had seen Katrina go down and rushed to help her, thinking that the three fighters could keep the beast at bay while he cast a spell of healing. He was wrong. Harth turned his back on the beast and bent over Katrina to begin his work and so did not see the great claw coming which ripped down his back and pulled him back into the jaws of its owner. The other two fighters, Jaron and Jakon, were thrown into one another with force enough to kill them both, the reason they were unable to keep Harth safe. And Glanaril had seen them all die as he stood there, too stunned to believe that all his friends had died in less than two minutes. Then the thing had turned to him and lunged directly towards him. Glanaril set his spear against the wall to protect him. But he had missed. The spear had scored a hit in the right shoulder of the creature, not enough to cause it to blink. It came on, pushing the spear into its shoulder, and took a swipe at him. It did not miss. He was already against the wall and had no place to go, he took the full force of the claw and went sprawling sideways, knowing that this was it. He awoke shortly thereafter. Looking around told him that the beast had gone. His spear lay in the middle of the cave, broken in two. "So much for fame and glory," he thought, "our whole party killed by a common black bear, and not even close to Lothgar's stronghold, not even close..." And the darkness closed in. -Ovis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Respect thy Elders: Chapter One Kite bounded up the granite stairs to the portals of Winthrop Keep. Winthrop was a small holding, perhaps a dozen leagues southwest of Dargon. Recently, Kite, an aspiring young lord of the house of Talador, a wealthy duchy south of Winthrop, was engaged to Pecora, the only child of the ruler of Winthrop. But this sunny morning, Kite had received a message from Mistress Izetta, Pecora's woman-in-waiting and nursemaid of many years, asking him to come at once to Winthrop Keep. It seemed that Pecora had fallen ill, but the note had revealed little more. Kite walked quickly through the halls he knew so well. He had often visited Pecora during their courtship, and had cherished each moment within these walls. Yet he strode to Pecora's room quickly, and without any emotion more evident than concern. At last he came to the door to her chambers, and rapped anxiously. After a moment, an older woman quietly opened the door and bade Kite enter. He entered into a spacious and well-decorated lounge area. He hardly noticed as the woman guided him to a seat. "What is wrong, Mistress Izetta?" "Pecora is ill. Last night she went weak and pale as a ghost. She is not well, milord. Come speak to her." With that, she led him to the bedchamber, where Pecora lay. She did not see Kite until he had knelt beside her. She tried to speak, but could not, but Kite could see her words in her questioning eyes. "I am here, love. It will be all right. I promise." He kissed her forehead, and she closed her eyes. He stood, and the two silently returned to the entry. After a few moments, Izetta spoke. "Milord, I have done what I can for her, but I have seen this disease before, many years ago, when we lived in the south. It was my mother." Kite knew by the servant's downcast eyes that her mother had not survived. "Is there anything you can do?" he asked, futilely, seeing the weariness in her eyes. "I have done all I can. Yet there may be something you can do, if you have a strong heart. I remember when my mother was dying, my father saying that an Elder would possess the knowledge to help her. He sent friends to seek an Elder named Isentraum, but none believed him, and he would not leave my mother. Do you know of the Elders?" "I have heard the tales, but I thought the Elders were all dead. The legends say they lived hundreds of years ago!" The woman smiled. "And so they did, and still do, for the Elders know far more than any nursemaids or even great lords. If you can find an Elder, he will know how to save Pecora, for I know not." "Yet where shall I look? The Elders all are said to have lived far from other people, or in secret places." "If you ride southwest, you will pass many villages, and after several days come upon a great lake. This is where my father sent men to search for the Elder Isentraum. Look there, and godspeed." After a moment of hesitation, Kite stood. The anxiety he had fought to contain finally had an outlet, and there was hope that Pecora would be healed. He would search for the Elder. Kite wrapped his cloak tightly around him, but the rain soaked through, chilling him as his horse slowly plodded up the slope of the valley where Winthrop was nestled. To keep his cheer up, he talked to Dagley, his horse. "Well, Dag, this is it. The quest has begun. But it isn't much of a quest, eh? Here we are, trudging out of town in the rain. This isn't one of those quests the minstrels will sing about, that's a certainty; the hero, plodding along on his soggy mount, watches his sword rust in the scabbard because all the monsters are inside where it is dry and won't come out to fight!" The horse turned his head, looking at Kite, who tried to fathom what the horse might say if he could speak. Eventually they reached the ridge above the valley, and Kite turned to view the town below. After a few silent moments he turned the horse and headed off towards the west, silent and contemplative. -Orny <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter One A tall lonely figure dressed in black strode confidently through the Desert of the Hidden Army (or Grobsts D'arbos Desert as some prefer to call it.) It had been called that ever since the High King of Grandydyr rode through leading a vast army to battle some 10,000 years earlier. Grobst D'arbo was high king of the biggest country of his time. He controlled a massive army of strong men who were all battle trained, well equipped and fearless. They were crossing the waste in the area that Ceda now rode when, as the tale goes, one of the routine scouts rode up ahead of the troops as usual, to survey the surrounding area for scouts of the opposing forces. That night, after a thorough search of the area, the scout returned and to his horror found the entire army of 500,000 men dead and the king lying at the head of the troops, still alive. The scout jumped from his horse and ran to the fallen king who told him a message. The message, however, has long since been forgotten (for about 1000 years) but it is said that the message is of grave importance to the entire world in the years to come. The kings head fell back into the hands of the shocked scout who lay the king down gently on the ground. Then the scout stood up to look upon his fallen majesty who, by some unknown force, now lay dead at his feet. Then a peculiar thing happened: the kings body seemed to melt and change. The horrified scout watched as the body of the king altered into that of a tree. The scout could hardly believe what had happened and he stood gazing upon the tree until he fainted from the sun. Some time after that, the opposing army drew near and the scout was found lying in the shade of the tree. The army of Grandydyr was no where to be seen and they were never heard from again. The scout , before his execution at the hands of his captors, told them what had taken place, then he died by decapitation, but the story lived on. And to this day, people who wish to travel are warned of the Desert of the Hidden Army, for it is foretold that one day, a certain weary traveler will find it. This, however, was just a child's fairy tale and thought to be mendacious, for almost none of the numerous people that cross though the gigantic wasteland ever come across the tree of Grobst D'arbo and no one really ever believed the story that they told... if they lived to tell it. It was this tree that Ceda was now approaching and he looked at the surrounding desert for any possible source of water, but as far as the eye could see, and even beyond that, there was nothing but the golden sand upon which he now strode. The area around the tree was littered with dead bodies. Most of them were now nothing more than bleached bones, but one or two were still clad, dead only for about 3 months, all from deep wounds. Ceda looked at them in disgust but then forgot about them as he contemplated the tree, having previously thought that it was but a tale of children. The story echoed in his head for sometime as he made his way through the sand. The only thing besides him and his wingless dragon mount, Melgon, was the single tree; not even insects lived in the Desert of the Hidden Army and only seldomly did birds venture in to feast on a dead animal. The tree itself was not particularly tall and didn't look very healthy for that matter. It was about the height of Ceda and only some of the leaves that now grew on it were green. The roots stuck out of the ground in an odd fashion and seemed to be warped in some peculiar way that Ceda did not notice. He stopped to look at it as they passed and Melgon swung his head around to see why they had stopped. Unable to look at the tree because of the heavy armor that reached from the dragons head to the base of it tail, it shifted its body around and slowly glanced up at the phenomenon. Ceda, amused by this sorcerers work, knowing a little sorcery himself, he advanced on the tree until the reins of his mount pulled tightly at his hand. "Come on, Melgon, this thing won't harm you, fear not." He tugged again at the reins, but this time harder and in turn, the dragon strengthened his foothold. Obvious that the dragon would go no further in the direction of the tree, he dropped the reins and continued towards it alone. Even as he approached, the tree sensed that Ceda had no good intentions and began to shake as if it was warning him to come no closer. It was almost as if a wind were blowing the tree but Ceda could feel nothing of this wind and neither could his wingless dragon mount, Melgon. The closer that Ceda drew, the stronger the wind blew. Melgon began to back away as the wind grew even stronger. "Stay, Melgon," came Ceda's voice fiercely as he turned at the dragon. The only answer that he received was a low growl as the dragon halted. He reached the tree and the wind grew greater, and all of a sudden, the gusts focussed of Ceda pushing him back by surprise. His long black hair flew back to reveal a handsome face with piercing black eyes, a short, straight nose, tight thin lips and a firm chin. The gusts of wind knocked Ceda off balance and he was momentarily pushed back before he again struggled to get to the tree. Finally after five long hard steps, he had reached it again and he lifted his hand to touch one of it's leaves, his long black cape waving wildly under the force of the wind. The wind grew stronger as he grasp a leaf of the growth. Then he pulled at it with all his might and it came off into his hand. Then the wind stopped. Ceda threw himself against the trunk of the tree. Then a noise which startled Ceda for a moment swam through the hot desert air but he relaxed as he recognized the low pitched moaning as a dragon laugh. He glanced menacingly at Melgon who was still laughing and a smile crossed his lips. He picked himself up and walked back to his dragon mount. "There, you see? It's nothing more than a little magic, that is all. Methinks the old kings' wizardry must be weakening over the years... or perhaps the old king was not as strong as I had expected." He opened his hand and examined the leaf. It seemed to crumble in his hand and turned to dust. A worried expression crossed Ceda's face as the wind started again and blew the dust up into his eyes momentarily blinding him. Then, simultaneously, four figures appeared around the warrior as if they had come from the very sand itself. Their swords drawn, their expressions covered by the shadows of the hoods which hung loosely about their heads. Only two gleaming balls of fire were visible beneath the hoods. They wore robes down to their feet and wore gauntlets to shield their hands. "Who are you to question the power of Grobst D'arbo, High king of Grandydyr?" the voice came from within Ceda's head. Ceda's hand raced for the hilt of his sword, the wind still blowing at him from all directions. He raised it to strike at the nearest of the advancing force and swung. The wind changed course and blew the sword harmlessly down missing his opponent. The attacker swung at Ceda's head and seeing the on coming strike, the warrior raised his sword to parry and again the wind changed course. The blade was almost blown out of his grasp, but he held on with all his strength to defend against the assault. Ceda, seeing that the fight would lead to nothing but certain death, jumped to his mount and fought against the wind to ride out beyond the reach of the kings sorcerous winds and warriors. They had gone fifty dragons lengths when the wind ceased and they could ride unhampered. After a short period Ceda looked back to see if the tree was still in sight and if the four demons had yet returned to the underworld. The worried expression returned to his face as he saw the four riding devil spawn steeds with crimson colored fire coming from their nostrils with every breath. The horses were catching up to him and he cursed himself for tempting the dead kings spirit. Ceda bent down low on his mount and spurred it on faster realizing the full extent of the danger. If he were killed by the demons sent after him, his soul would be damned to serve the dead king in a state of half death and half life for all eternity. He reached down into the saddle where his spell book was and pulled at it. It came out and almost as quickly fell from his hand to the ground. "Slow, Melgon. I must retrieve the book if we are to survive." The dragon growled in disapproval as he slowed and turned to the book, but Ceda was already upon it looking for the spell in which he needed to escape his pursuers. He marvelled at the tenacity of the oncoming demons as he invoked the rune he had found that would aid him in escaping danger: "When at a time that I may fall Bring forth the winds, L'amron To aid my call... Naar akbles gah dee Hegwray sde urngen tse dooh, L'amron Faeer sforen cha haben..." First in his language and then in the language of the Wind God. Black smoke rose into the shallow desert air and seemed to clump together as if something had sucked it all into a great hovering mass. Ceda glanced back at the on coming attackers as the smoke filled the sky. Then a large figure of black smoke loomed over him with a face far darker than those that dwell in the most dreadful of the caves of Arnmere. "Why have you summoned me from my most restful sleep, mortal?" The black smoke undulating as he talked. "I have summoned you to aid me in my foray with these demons, Lord," he replied as he cast another glance at the oncoming attackers. "I am, as they are, under the rule of the Lord Ileiruon and cannot aid thee without incurring his wrath upon myself as a result, mortal. Fare thee well." The wind sent the smoke swirling in all directions and at once the Wind Lord was gone. Ceda drew his sword and stood waiting the few remaining seconds for the demons as his mount retreated a safe distance to survey the battle. As the riders approached, the steeds upon which they rode began to waver and finally disappeared as they reached their quarry. The demons dropped to the ground from where they had sat on their hellborn mounts and at once set upon Ceda. This time, their was no devil wind to hinder him as he fought the attackers and with ease he defended himself. Ceda parried one of the swings made by the attacker and disarmed him as a result. Then with lightning quickness he lifted his sword up to unveil the face of one of his opponents and in doing so revealed a fleshless being. All that remained in place of a head was a skull with two crimson balls of light for eyes. All the clothes worn by the attackers at once withered to dust as Ceda was left fighting the living dead. Four odd looking skeletons were before him and were advancing on their prey, the foremost wearing upon his bleached skull a richly designed crown inlaid with rare Malthoogian gems. This one was at least twice the size of the other three. Ceda attacked the crowned figure and as he struck under the same defenses of it's sword, the bones came apart and fell to the sand in pieces. The warrior formed a wry smile and turned to face the three remaining opponents. But, even as he turned, the fourth quickly, magically reassembled itself and resumed the battle. Ceda looked on in utter horror as his hosts reassembled itself after every blow, realizing that if he didn't think of a way to defeat his foe, it would defeat him. Then the solution to beating the wizardry came to him. He turned sharply avoiding the trust of one of the smaller demons and swung at it before it regained its balance, Ceda hit it hard knocking it into a pile of bones. Then with lightning speed, he grabbed at the odd skull dropped it into his pouch. Then it's bones seemed to dry up and wither into nothingness as Ceda fought on. The other two fell easily to Ceda's blade and he deposited the other two skulls into his pouch. Now all that was left was the largest of the demons; The fire glowed in its eyes like two red stars. "Now, you die!" It hissed and swung down at Ceda's head. Ceda parried the thrust and swung under the skeletons sword. It blocked and jabbed for Ceda's head and he had to jump back to avoid being pierced through his neck. Then he lounged at the skeleton tearing its bony arm off and its sword with it. Then the skeleton was easily defeated by Ceda's blade. He swung so that the side of the blade hit turning the massive demon to a pile of milk white bone. As he reached to get the the crown, the demon had time to reform and before he knew it, it was already on its feet and advancing on him. "The crown," it said, its eyes gleaming brightly. "Give it to me." Ceda swung at the skeleton again and hit it, then hit the skull. And the skeleton crumbled. Then the voice returned to his mind and said: "Beware not to let the skulls lose, for my demons will get you," and the voice laughed. Then it was gone from his head. Ceda remembered the warning and he looked into the pouch. The eyes of the demons had lost their fire, as if they had died. Ceda knew of the danger that would be released if they ever broke free and decided to keep them in case he found use for them. Then he turned his attention to the crown. It would be worth a lot of gold in any of a dozen cities . He rubbed it a little, polishing it, and added it to his pouch on the saddle. Then he had a long drink before he continued on his way thought the desert. A dark figure approached the westward gate of the city of Pheeng'Am. He did not ride the strange wingless dragon mount that walked next to him. He looked odd as he approached the gate, for dragons were very rare and those that were wingless were legendary at best. When they arrived at the gate, one of the city guards, a Giant from Weuyrt, the land of forests, (where the caves of Arnmere lie: the home of the feared orcs and hobgoblins) approached them. "What business have you in the city of Pheeng'Am?" his burly voice made all in the area turn to give ear to the conversation. "I am Ceda of No-Al Ben (a small country north of Grobst's desert from which Ceda had come,)" he said proudly before continuing. "I wish to enter the city for I have traveled the desert and am in need of food and shelter before I can continue on. Can you perhaps tell me where the nearest inn is?" Ceda tried to look innocent, he knew that the guards seldom admit those who look like they were there for foul purposes, as was the nature of Ceda. "What is your purpose for traveling this land?" he persisted. "I seek am as a hired sword where I might find work." The talk was beginning to annoy him, but he knew that there was nothing that he could do if he wanted to enter the city unharmed. "You?!? A hired sword? What's the world coming to?" The giant mocked him, but he knew the giant was testing his ability to withhold his temper, so he ignored this. The other guards laughed. "Be the world as it may, I wish to enter the city." Ceda re-stated this with a slight tone of anger in it. The giant thought about this for a minute and then said: "Very well now, you may pass, but be weary of the laws of the city lest I have to find and slay you myself. Go now." Relieved, Ceda continued past the giant and into the city. Pheeng'Am was one of the biggest cities in the land of Ruirse which bordered the Desert of Grobst. Its large populace was due largely to the fact that it bordered the desert. All people traveling through usually went there before continuing on there way. The Desert separated the two largest countries from one another and south of that were the Sarshirian mountains which was virtually impossible to get through safely because they were inhabited by evilly aligned creatures. Ceda, now in the city, headed for the nearest tavern to get a drink. He disliked talking with people which is what he would have to do in the tavern, but he had to meet someone there. Once in the tavern, Ceda got himself a skin of Ruirsian wine and sat down at one of the empty tables in the back so that his face fell into the shadow of the walls. Many people were in the tavern, some drunk, some just walking about but Ceda looked for just one of them: an elf by the name of Rincraw that was to pay him for the service of assassinating Berk, the mighty king of the people of Caffthorn. Then he saw him sitting at the bar with a wooden cup of wine in his hand talking to another elf. Ceda got up, walked over to him and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. The elf turned quickly and his hand flew to his sword, but he relaxed when he saw who it was. "Greetings, Ceda, we have been expecting you, and a job well done to you! I believe we owe you this," he handed the warrior a sack full of gold coins and offered Ceda a drink of his wine. "No thanks," he took the sack and made his way to the door. Feeling the crown in his pouch as he added the sack of gold, he thought a minute about how to get the most money for it and returned to the elf. "Have you ever seen Grobst's tree while in the desert?" he asked the elf slowly thinking about what he was going to say to him. "No, but I've heard rumors, I don't even know if it still lives or even stands for that matter. Why, have you news of it?" "I have. I also thought of it as but a tale until 4 days ago when I accidentally came upon it. All around it was littered with men's bones and mayhap a fresh body or two that the birds have not gotten to yet. The strange thing was that it blew at me with the force of the strongest of winds when I approached. Then I was set upon by minions of hell and the leader wore this:" he withdrew the crown which reflected the light of the candles with an eery red glow. "I had to slay them to live but they fought with the technique of that found only in the king of Grandydyr's greatest ancient heros". The elf looked at his companion who was also confused. "And you say that the leader bore this crown?" he looked at the it. "We shall give word of this to our king and I shall inform you of his bidding." He glanced at his companion, Quendell. "We ride for the port of Dhernis tomorrow, and then on to the Learis Islands. In the meanwhile, make merry and enjoy the wine." He laughed and took a sip. Ceda finished his wine and left the tavern. He felt good from the wine and decided that he would walk around for a while before going back to the tavern to rent a room, so he untied his dragon mount and with him, set off through the city. While passing through one of the many alleys of the city, four large men approached Ceda, who was, at this time, quite intoxicated. The larger of the men coming foreword. "Give us your gold and we won't kill you," his voice was cold. He withdrew a large knife from his side and showed Ceda the blade. Ceda knew he could do nothing in his drunken state and turned to his dragon mount who was now ready to attack. "Down," he whispered into the dragons ear. "I have a much better way." "Hurry or I'll kill you and find it myself," warned the man. "Here it is," Ceda replied pulling out of his pouch the largest of the strange looking skulls and dropping it to the ground. The skull at once grew to it's full size and looked at Ceda. "Give me the crown!" It hissed. "They have it," Ceda pointed at the advancing men as the skeleton turned to face them, its fiery eyes dimly lighting the alley. As the demon advanced on its new target, Ceda led the dragon away and resumed his walk through the city. "It won't find us now unless it stops to ask for directions," Ceda laughed. The sound of men screaming came from the passage where he had just been and he chuckled again. As Ceda walked through the large area in the center of the city square, he notice a small bench carved from rock put there for festivals that sometimes took place in the city on the kings birthday or on certain holidays. He decided to sit there for a while and relax for he was tired and the effects of the wine were wearing off. He put his hands down on his knees and in turn, his head down on his hands and gradually fell into a mild slumber. "Greetings, Ceda," was the voice that next roused him. He looked up at the source to discover a tall woman with long blond hair tied in the back. She wore common garb and had no weapon "You know me?" he looked up questioningly at her, his head hurt and his voice was weak. "I know of you, I have wanted to meet you for a long time." She sat with him now and he could smell the perfume which she wore. It smelled good and he took a long breath. "Mayhap we could go someplace more private than this. She looked at him and smiled displaying a number of black and green rotting teeth. "So be it." He stood up, the pain in his head was beginning to fade now as they made their way back to the tavern and got themselves a room. They were now in the room and she looked at him for a moment without saying anything, then she started to undress. Ceda now understood what she had meant and also took off his clothes. They both looked at one another. She had a magnificently built body with perfect legs and large breasts. She took the binding off her hair and it rolled down to meet her shoulders. She was beautiful. Ceda moved closer to her. He could feel her hot breath against his chest and he grabbed her and set her gently on the bed on her back. His hand now gently caressed her large breasts and she gave a soft moan of approval. Then he reached over and blew out the candle at the side of the bed. The next morning the sun came in through the cracks in the stone wall and woke Ceda. He looked around but the woman was not in the room. He got dressed and went down stairs to the tavern where the bar keeper was polishing the crystal cups that he used for the nobility of the city. "Greetings, sir," he said with a jolly look on his face. "Greetings to you to," Ceda replied. "Have you seen the woman that I came in with last night?" "Can't say that I have, but if I see her, I'll let you know." The bar keeper smiled. "Thanks," he said as he left the bar for his room. Ceda entered his room and gathered his things into a pile. He opened his pouch and noticed that the crown was not there. He looked on the cold stone floor to make sure he had not lost it and then got all his things and left the inn. He walked around The city asking people if they had seen her and he cursed himself for not asking her for here name. No one in the city seemed to know where she had gone, but the giants at the city gate knew who she was and they new her name also (for a small bag of gold that Ceda had given them.) The giants said that she had left for the city of Caahah and that it had only been a few hours before. They also said that the needed to hire swords, for there was a demon lose in the city that was killing both man and beast shouting about a crown of some sort. Ceda turned this job down. He raced back to Melgon who stood ready for him. He put his sword in its place on right of the saddle of the dragon mount and then rode out of the city away from it and the desert in search of the woman called Viamea and the valuable crown she had stolen. On the side of the city that did not border the desert, the wilderness was relaxing as Ceda the Warrior rode by. He planned to catch Viamea before she reached the city lest he have to explain why he was chasing her to the city guards. He was passing a stream now and slowed his dragon mount to refill his skin pouch with water; aside from this, his ride was uneventful. The next day he had reached the city and still he saw no sign of the woman. He decided to go into the city and look for her in any case, reasoning that she may have had a faster horse than he thought. When he got into the city, he went to a tavern, rented a room and waited for nightfall. That night Ceda went through all the taverns until at last he saw her sitting in a corner talking with another man. Ceda made his way through the people and grabbed her by the arm. "Come, demonwoman, I want a word with you." His voice drowned out by the other people in the bar so that only she and her companion could hear. "She's with me," the man across the table stood up to face Ceda. He was tall but stood an inch under Ceda's height and not as bulky. "Not any more," he pulled at her harder this time wrenching her from her seat. "No!" she yelled and a few people turned to stare. The man now reached for his sword and swung at Ceda grazing his left forearm. Ceda threw her at the floor and grabbed at his sword to parry the next attack by the man. Then he jabbed. The sword slid in between two of the mans ribs and he lumped to the floor. By this time there was a crowd in the tavern watching and Ceda wiped his sword on the mans garments and replaced at his side. Then he faced the woman who now sat crying against a wall. He grabbed her hair and dragged her outside and back to the room he had previously rented. "Now, where is the crown that you took from my pouch! I want it." He looked into her face and saw that she was now crying even more than before. "I don't know where it is now, I was paid to take it by two elves. Please don't kill me, I didn't know it meant that much to you," she put her head into her hands and cried again. "Where are they now?" he asked. She did not answer so he grabbed her hair and pulled it up until he could see her face. "Where are they now?" he said again. "They rode out of the city gate to the North East towards the Port of Dhernis. Please don't kill me." she replaced her hands over her face. Ceda got up and closed the door putting the bar in place. he walked back to the woman and took her by the hair. She looked up into his eyes and he smiled at her. "Are you sure?" His voice was now calm. "Yes." "Good," he smiled. Two hours later, a tall man dressed in black opened the door to his room in one of the more popular inns and departed for the port of Dhernis. In the room in several pieces lay the body of a woman. -Joel Slatis <>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