VOLUME SIX NUMBER THREE FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SIX NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb *Destiny of Tara n'ha Sansela Glenn Sixbury *Night Fruit: A Tasty Comedy Jim Owens *The Dream: Part 1 of 2 John White Date: 111686 Dist: 202 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Greetings and solicitations, all! First of all I'd like to welcome all the new readers, and thank the authors for their recent spurt of creativity. The next issue will contain several articles of interest, and should be out in early December. As for this issue, we have three Dargon stories. The first is a new character being introduced by Glenn Sixbury. The second is an entertaining short from Jim Owens. The third is the first half of an excellent story from John White, who insists on writing faster than I can edit. An excellent issue, and I hope you all enjoy it. The only other matter I wish to bring up is reader feedback. Now, the authors have mentioned putting a LOC section in the zine, which I personally dislike, because it would mean less room for stories. However, the authors are interested in hearing what you think of their stuff. As a compromise, you can mail individual authors, or, if you wish to send a mailing to all Dargon authors, it is possible to send a mail file to DARGON-L@NCSUVM, and it will be distributed by the LISTSERV there to the Dargon authors. But on to the real stuff... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Destiny of Tara n'ha Sansela "Tara! Tara!" Samuel called for his daughter, angrily chasing away the animals from their stolen supper. "What is it, Father?" Tara asked, emerging from the trees behind their house. "It's your rabbits, girl! They've eaten half the garden again while you were out wandering around doing who knows what. How many times have I told you that they are your responsibility?" "They didn't mean to, Father," Tara said, trying to calm him, as she picked up one of the offenders and cradled it in her arms. "They're not meaning to isn't going to bring our garden back." "I'm sorry," Tara said. Then she gathered up her rabbits and put them back into their cages. Being sorry is not good enough. I'm afraid they're going to have to go." "No! Please don't," Tara wailed. "I promise I won't do it again." "That's what you always say. This time it won't work." Then, seeing the look of dispair on his daughter's face, Samuel softened somewhat. "They are still going," he said, "but I will let you set them free in the woods. After that, if they come back, I won't hesitate to make them into rabbit stew." "Do I have to let them go?" "You've got too many animals the way it is!" he yelled again, his moment of understanding gone as quickly as it had come. "All right, Father," Tara agreed sadly. She hadn't given up hope of talking him out of this idea, but she knew better than to cross him when he was angry. "I'll take them deep into the woods, so that they won't trouble you anymore." "Fine. You better get started, though. Your mother'll be starting supper soon, and you ought to be helping her." With a heavy heart, Tara gathered up her three rabbits and put them into an old sack. After calling for Zed, her pet Shivaree, to follow her, she headed off into the trees, leaving her father to assess the damage the rabbits had done to the garden. After Tara had disappeared into the trees, her mother came out of the small farm cottage, and asked her father what had happened. "I made Tara get rid of her rabbits." "But she loves those, Sam," her mother started. "She loves every animal in the forest, Sansela, but that doesn't mean we have food enough to feed them all," he growled. Realizing how angry he was, Sansela decided not to protest further and to go back into the house. Walking through the woods cheered up Tara n'ha Sansela. She had loved these woods as long as she could remember. They seemed to strengthen her and it was hard to feel sad as she walked along the path, feeling the sunlight sift through the trees and smelling the fresh scent of the firs around her. As always, Zed, who was tagging at her heels, enjoyed being in the woods. Tara had found the young Shivaree several years ago when she had been out for one of her walks. He had been caught in an abandoned hunter's snare, and although he had not been severely hurt, he had been on the verge of starvation and had been very weak. She had taken him home and had nursed him back to health. Her father had only rarely ever seen a Shivaree and he had heard that these large, ferret-like creatures were impossible to tame, but Zed had never been any trouble. By the time the animal was healthy again, he had become just like one of the family. Tara had begged her father to let her keep Zed, and although Samuel had been skeptical at first, he had finally consented. Tara was a small girl for her seventeen summers, standing just a little over five feet tall, but she had worked on her father's farm since she was old enough to walk. She was strong for a girl her size and carried the rabbits about half a league into the woods before she grew tired and decided she had taken them far enough. From here, they wouldn't find their way back to the farm too quickly. Setting the bag on the ground, she let her rabbits out into the open air. Nestling one in her strawberry blond curls before setting it free, she knew deep down that they would be happy to be free again, but she would miss them. The rabbits gradually scampered off into the woods, leaving her and Zed alone. Then, knowing she was already late for supper, she headed back home with Zed scampering a few feet behind her stopping now and then to investigate various scents which caught his attention. After Tara left, Sam busied himself with the garden and wondered if he had been too tough on his only child. Of course not, he decided. She loved animals just too much. After all, his farm was beginning to look like a menagerie. She had adopted all kinds of birds: Doves, robins, and even a baby hawk. She also had a pet squirrel and a fawn, which she promised she would let go once it was grown. The girl just doesn't know when to quit, he thought, finishing his work with the garden. Then as he turned to take the vegetables he had gathered into the house, he heard horses in the distance. He should have heard them sooner, but he must have been too lost in thought. He bounded quickly into the cottage. "Sansela, there's riders headed this way. Maybe ten or more. You stay in the house until I find out what they want." Sansela nodded in agreement, looking worried as Sam grabbed his sword and rushed back outside. As he emerged from the house, he saw the riders. He counted about fifteen of them as they rode across the small patch of farm ground to the east of his house. Then, as they drew near, he noticed a wisp of smoke rising from the other side of the hill behind the men. That was about where Myridon, the local village was located. Something was burning, and in these woods, people joined together to fight fires. Men riding in the wrong direction was a certain sign of danger, but there was little that could be done about it now. Sam stood defiantly in front of his home, bracing himself for the worst. The men rode up and were brought to a halt by a very large man, with a bow slung over one shoulder. This man then made a motion, and the rest of the men circled Sam, a few of them drawing their swords. Once they were in place, the leader spoke. "I can see by your sword that you knew we were coming, and you knew it wasn't going to be a friendly call." Samuel remained silent, studying the situation. The leader of the group wore furs, made after a fashion common to an area east of here. He was a large man, and he wore a scar on his left cheek, indicating he had seen his share of fighting. He would not be a pleasant man to fight, Sam thought, and then the leader spoke again. "You know what we want. We're after your gold. Your friends there in the village decided to fight. They're all dead." As the leader said this, a few of the other men laughed and smiled. "As you can tell, my men want to kill you, but if you cooperate, I won't let them. Now, drop your sword, gather every bit of gold you've gotten hidden away in that little shack of yours, and bring it out here." Sam was in a bad spot, and he knew it. His honor demanded that he fight, but he realized with him gone, Sansela would be helpless. Perhaps, if he gave them the gold, they would leave, and his family would be safe. Then he could go for help and chase the bandits down. As Sam considered his options, the bandits grew impatient, and one of them behind him rode forward, planting a foot in Sam's back, knocking him down. Sam flashed the bandit a glare from his fiery eyes, but when he got up, he left his sword on the ground and disappeared into the house. Sam found Sansela hiding in the bedroom. He explained the situation very quickly to her in quiet whispers and promised that things would be all right. Then he got his small sack of gold from under the bed, and went back outside. As he stepped out of the door, one of the bandits, grabbed the sack from him, and brought it to the leader, who examined the contents. "Is this all you have? Something tells me you are holding out on us, farmer. Kork," he said to the man beside him, "go and search the house. Make sure our friend isn't hiding anything from us." Sam started to stop him, but Kork kept him at bay with the point of his sword and went into the house. Sam considered distracting them by telling them about the gold hidden in his cellar, but before he could, he heard Sansela scream, and saw the bandit at the doorway. He was dragging Sansela outside by the arm, and Sam saw that her dress was torn. He started for her, but one of the larger bandits grabbed him from behind, putting an arm around his neck to hold him motionless. "Lookie what I found," Kork called. "She ought to make for lots of fun," he jeered, and then grabbed the top of her dress, tore it down to her waist to expose her breasts, and pulled her to him for a savage kiss. Samuel could stand no more. He popped his elbow into the ribs of the man holding him and spun around, knocking the man to the ground. Grabbing his sword, Sam charged Kork, knocking another bandit out of the way as he did. Kork reacted quickly, tossing Sansela away and raising his sword to defend himself, but Sam was on him too quickly. After one blow, Sam had him decapitated and turned to face two other bandits which had charged him. Sam was not a skillful swordsman, but he had been strengthened all his life from hard work, and with the help of his anger and his adrenaline, he was more than a match for the two bandits. He killed the first one immeditatly, and turned on the second. The bandit tried to defend himself, but Sam put him off balance with one powerful blow, and then split him open with a second. Then, before Sam could turn around, an arrow whizzed into his back, its head pushing out from the front of his ribs. Samuel managed to turn around before falling to knees, cursing the leader who had shot him with the arrow. Another bandit stepped forward and grabbed Sansela, who was trying to run to her husband. "You are a strong one, farmer," the leader said respectfully, "but my men still should have been able to kill such an unskilled fighter." Then the leader smiled, "But as they say, if you want it done right...." With that, he notched another arrow, and let it fly. Samuel gasped as the second arrow landed in his chest, and then he fell forward, dead. As he fell, Sansela managed to struggle her way free and run to her husband. As she bent over him and began to sob, the leader notched another arrow and shot it into her bare back. As she slumped over her husband, one of the bandits complained, "Why'd you have to kill the woman?" "You would have fought over her, and I've lost enough men for one day." The other bandit did no more than grumble, not wanting to die this day. "All right, someone search the house, and the rest of you, take those animals along. We'll need meat for supper, and there's no reason to hunt when we have this nice farmer's generosity. One of the bandits emerged from the house. "There's nothing inside of any value. I guess the old man was telling the truth." "That's what I hate about these peasants," the leader growled. "All of them are too honest." Then he laughed loudly, and turned his horse back in the direction from which they'd come. "Ride," he called. The other bandits followed, the last throwing a torch onto the thatched roof of Samuel's hut before riding hard to catch up with the rest. Tara was busily picking the mushrooms she'd found by the path on her way home. She was hoping that the mushrooms would make up for her being late for supper. She realized too late that she really shouldn't have travelled so far to release her rabbits, but she hadn't wanted them to become rabbit stew, either. As she picked the last of the mushrooms, Zed began to prance nervously about, sniffing the breeze in a frenzy. "What is it, Zed?" she asked, looking up from her work. At first, she didn't see anything. Then, climbing on top of a nearby rock, she spied what had made Zed so nervous. There were two streams of smoke, one of them rising from somewhere quite near. "Fire, Zed, come on," Tara called, throwing the bag over her shoulder and racing down the trail for home. As Tara came closer to home, she realized the smoke was coming from her own farm. Terrified, she ran even faster, finally coming to the edge of the woods. As she stepped out of the trees, she stopped, turned to stone by the shock of what she saw. The house was burning, filling the air with smoke, and the farm was deserted. Her parents were gone. Even all of her animal cages were empty. Zed stood in the trees behind her, snorting nervously, being torn between his instinct to run and the need to be near his master. "Father! Mother!" Tara finally called out. Tara could feel her stomach tieing itself in knots. She tried desperately not to panic, but it didn't work. She called for her parents again and then circled the house, searching for them. As she rounded the front corner of the house, Tara saw the dead bodies and ran over to them. Bending over, Tara lifted her mother to her breast, sobbing uncontrollably. As she held her mother, she ran her fingers across the arrows sticking up from her father's body. "Oh, papa, papa," she said in between tears, pulling her father a little towards her. Then, putting her arms around both of them and laying her head on her father's shoulder, the sorrow overtook Tara, and she lost her last thread of thought, slipping into a shrieking, sobbing delirium. Tara was never sure how long she sat beside her parents, crying over in mourning. Finally, shock from what had happened numbed her, allowing her to regain part of her senses. Hardening herself against her feelings, she drug herself to her feet and left her mother and father for the moment. The house was gone. Judging by the smoke coming from over the hill, the village of Myridon was gone, too, probably suffering the same fate as her parents. She had nothing left. Tara experienced the lowest point of her life as she stood on the devastated farmstead where she had grown up, trying to see some glimmer of hope on the horizon. There was none. Thoughts of ending her life crossed Tara's mind. She probably would have killed herself, but her father had always taught her that people who take their own life are never granted another, but instead suffer eternally for refusing to meet their destiny. As Tara struggled with her situation, the sun sank low in the sky and a north wind began to blow. She was sober now, her temporary loss of sanity due to grief being completely gone. She realized that there was much work to do before nightfall, and she had better get to doing it. Tara's first concern was her parents. If she left them where they were, their bodies would be defiled by animals during the night. She considered digging graves for them, but decided that she didn't have time. Then she realized what she needed to do. Tara went to the cellar and began to bring out the things she might need. Luckily, whoever had killed her parents hadn't found the bag of gold which her father kept here. She also found some dried fruit and meat along with a couple of blankets. She gathered all the things together and hauled them up out of the cellar. Tara decided she had salvaged everything usable from the cellar. Now she had the hardest part of her duties left to do. Tara first dragged her mother, and then her father down into the old cellar. When they were first married, Tara's parents had carved this farm out of the woods, they had built the house which was now little more than ashes, and they had dug this cellar. It would make a fitting tomb, Tara thought. Then she paused to say a few silent prayers before shutting the door on the cellar, effectively shutting the door on her childhood and the only way of life she had ever known. By the time her parents were buried, it was almost dark. Tara knew that it might be dangerous to stick around, but she didn't want to travel at night, so she loaded up the things she had taken from the cellar and carried them into the woods. Then she whistled for her horse, Boxter. He emerged from the trees on the other side of the glen, but wouldn't come any closer, because he could smell the smoke from the house. Tara walked across the clearing to the with a rope in her hand. Soothing the old animal as she talked, she managed to put the rope around his neck and lead him into the woods near the smouldering house. There, she tied him to a tree and went back to the house to see that she had everything she needed. She looked around the farm, realizing again that all her animals were gone. She hoped that they had escaped, but there would be no way she would ever know. Then, seeing her father's sword laying where he had fallen, she picked it up and headed back to the woods where she had left Boxter and her things. Once Tara was back in the safety of her woods, she considered lighting a small fire. It might get very cold tonight. However, tonight she would make a cold camp, in case the people who had attacked her parents were still in the area. Zed had come into the camp with her, and he sniffed hungrily at her pack. She took some of the dried meat out of the pack and gave it to her pet, although Tara couldn't find the will to eat herself. Then she gathered some pine needles together, forming a cushion which would make a soft bed for the night. Once her bed was made, Tara settled down, covering herself with blankets. Zed came over and stretched out beside her. He will warn me if anyone comes near, Tara thought. Then, much to her surprise, she fell asleep. Tara was suddenly awake. It took her a few seconds to remember where she was and what had happened. Then she heard the same noise again which had disturbed her slumber. It was a voice, coming from the trail which led to the house. At first, Tara couldn't see anything. Then the voice spoke again, and she saw a form step from the trees into her small camp. Tara couldn't believe what she saw. She wheezed, trying to make herself breathe. She shook her head and looked again, convinced the shadows from the full moon were playing tricks on her eyes. When she looked again, she was positive who it was. It was her father. Tara was sure her mind was playing tricks on her. Then her father spoke her name. "I'm here father," she said, pulling herself to her feet. "Oh, papa," she said, taking a step toward him, and then she stopped. She could see an arrow protruding through the front of his chest, which was caked with dried blood. Then she realized that she could see the trees behind him through his body. Before she had time to react to any of this, he spoke again. "Tara, my daughter," the vision began, "I have come to help you." Her father's spirit took a step closer to her, and Tara noticed that although his body was still maimed, the look on his face was no longer full of pain but instead was peaceful. Then her father spoke again. "Your mother is with me, and we are happy. It was our destiny." "Take me with you, Father," Tara pleaded, reaching out for him. As she put her hand out to him, she watched helplessly as it passed through his body. He appeared not to notice. Then he smiled. "Our work in this world is finished, my daughter, but you still have much to do. Travel to Dargon, and there you must seek my brother. It is this path on which your destiny lies." Then the spirit began to fade. "No, Father," Tara begged him. "Let me come with you." "Travel to Dargon, my daughter, and do not grieve. Your mother and I will be here when you have come to the end of your road." Tara reached for him. As she did, she was suddenly sitting up on the spot where she had gone to sleep, her arm clutching nothing but the empty night air in front of her. A dream, Tara thought. I had a dream. She looked again where she had seen her father, but there was no one there. This time Tara did not fall asleep so quickly. In the morning, Tara saddled up Boxter, loaded her gear onto the saddle, and then before leaving forever, she walked back to look once more at what was left of the only home she had ever known. Tara had always assumed that she would live out her life as her mother had done, living on the farm with her parents until her father gave her away in marriage to some local farmer's son which had impressed him. Then she would spend the rest of her life raising children and working on the farm. Now her destiny had been mutilated by strangers in a single afternoon. It was almost too much for her. She let a tear come to her eye, and then she turned her back on the the farm and headed back to where she had made camp. As she moved off the trail to go to her little camp, something on the ground caught her eye. Bending over, she found a set of tracks, leading from the trail to where she had slept. She had seen tracks like these for as long as she could remember. They were her father's. She followed them into camp, and there, they stopped. So, it was real, Tara thought. Then she reminded herself that her father walked these woods all the time before he died. He probably made them yesterday morning, she convinced herself. Still, the possibility gave her courage to do what she needed to do. She would go to Dargon to live with her uncle. Even if it had only been a dream the night before, she had decided that it was the only alternative she had. Tara had never met her uncle, at least not when she was old enough to remember, but he was her father's brother. Surely he would take her in and help her decide what she needed to do. Then, strengthed by the knowledge of what she was going to do, she set about getting ready to leave. She would head first to the village of Tench. From there, she would be able to send word to her uncle to let him know she was coming, and perhaps she could buy a map or hire someone to take her to Dargon. Then, filing her father's sword into a sheath on the saddle, she started to leave, but before she could, Zed came bounding up on his short legs, snorting and grunting. "It's all right, Zed," she said. "You can come along. After all, you're all I have left." Then, giving the Shivaree a pat on his head before climbing onto her horse, she realized how final this leaving would be. She had never been more than 10 leagues away from home in her life, and now she was headed for a place she had only heard of. Then, overcome by the emotions of the moment, she had to fight to keep from sobbing at the realization of what she was doing. Finally, she forced herself to calm down. She was going to Dargon and everything was going to be all right. But first, she would need travel to Tench, over twenty leagues away, and she wasn't going to get there by staying here burning daylight. "Com'on, Boxter," she urged, pushing her heels into the horse's ribs, "we're going to Dargon." She left the farm with the morning sun on her back, heading west to Tench, to Dargon, and to a new life. -Glenn R. Sixbury <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Night Fruit: A Tasty Comedy Sarah woke up with that feeling. She reached out, but the other half of the bed was empty. Levy had already left for the smithy. She resigned herself to the fact and got up. She dressed slowly, stretching long and hard, tensing her body, but the feeling only got worse. Well, there's always tonight, she thought. She ate quickly, then started the day's chores. The feeling dimmed some, but it continued to flare up through the day. She worried. What if he didn't want to? Halfway through the day it hit her. Nightfruit! That way he'd have to want to! She hurried to finish her tasks, and then grabbed her staff and started across the field. She had seen some growing by the fence, near where Greta, Levy's sister-in-law kept her herb garden. She hiked through the field, enjoying the warm sun. She thought of the soon coming night. She hiked faster. She reached the fence, but no amount of searching would find a single nightfruit. She realized from the amount of marks in the area that the cows had probably been eating them. No wonder both cows had had calves. She looked up, and saw Greta in her garden. "Good day!" "Good day! Lovely, isn't it?" "Yes." Replied Sarah. She walked closer. She hesitated shyly. "I was looking for an herb, but I think the cows ate it. Do you know where I might find it?" Greta stood, hands on hips. "Depends. What are you looking for?" Sarah blushed lightly. "Nightfruit." "Ah!" Greta grinned. "I usually get that on The Outcrop. It's a climb, but it's worth it!" She giggled. "I shouldn't think you'd need it, though, only being married a week." "Nine days, and it never hurts to be sure." Sarah smiled back. "Thanks." She turned to leave. "It's just in good fruit, too. I gathered some just this week." "That explains your smiling face then, doesn't it!" Both laughed at that. Sarah started off towards The Outcrop. The Outcrop was a monolith that jutted up in the woods between Levy's property and Greta's father's property, to the east. Sarah had to walk for a half hour to reach the woods, and another ten minutes to reach the foot of The Outcrop. When she got to the bottom, she looked up. And up. And up more. The top of The Outcrop was hidden in the blaze of the sun. Is this really worth it? she asked herself. I know Levy won't need it. She then shrugged. It might be fun, she thought, and started climbing. Five minutes later she was thirty feet higher, and several degrees hotter. She paused to look around. She saw further up a likely place to find nightfruit growing. Nightfruit liked a thin but rich soil, with shade. The rock above could easily provide that. She kept climbing. She found a path that led along the face of the rock. It was rather wide, with grass growing sparsely on it. It soon narrowed, and eventually disappeared. She climbed up higher, by means of a few cracks in the rock, but soon had to back down for lack of further holds. She walked back down the rock, fingering a few, recent tears in her skirt. She found another path, one that led in the other direction. It led up to a wide, mossy ledge. A small pool of cold water lie there, fed by rain and a small seeping spring. She drank the water, and rested on the moss. She lay there, wishing she could have Levy there, in the cool fresh air. He was working, however, hammering hot iron, working off the last year of his apprenticeship. She would be alone all day. She got up, and continued to climb. She found what seemed to be a path, scuffed onto the bald stone by occasional use. She followed it up. It was steep, and the sun was now hot, and there was no wind. She hadn't gotten too far before she was sweating heavily. She followed it up to a small ledge that ended in a sheer twenty foot cliff. At the top of the cliff, just hanging over the edge, she saw a leaf, one she recognized. There were cracks in the cliff face, but they were small and far apart. They also were, unfortunately, the only way up. She pulled off her boots, and hoisted herself up with bare toes and fingers. Sarah had worked as a metalsmith for years, but after a minute or two of climbing she found her arms aching. Her calves were cramped, and so were her forearms. What was worse, she was only halfway up the cliff. She paused for a moment to rest. She looked out from the face of the rock. She was already higher than the treetops. She could see her house in the distance. She looked down, and shut her eyes tight. A night with her beloved husband was the furthest thing from her mind. Finally she urged herself back into movement. She struggled upwards, and finally pushed her face level with the tiny shelf. All it had on it was a thin layer of moss and the nightfruit plant. Hanging down pendulously from the bushy green leaves were two red fruit. They looked so ridiculous that she would have laughed had not the pain been so great. With enormous effort she reached up and plucked one of the fruit. I got it! she exulted. Now all I have to do is get down. When Levy got home that evening, he opened the door to his house and looked around. He was fairly well off, and actually had two rooms, a main room and a bedroom. The bedroom curtain was closed. A cold supper was waiting for him, as had been the case the few times he had been late before, and he proceeded directly to work on it. The meat he ate first, then the potatoes and bread. Partway through the meal he noticed a bowl upside-down in the center of the table, as if covering something. He waited until last to move it, expecting it to be a sweet of some sort, as his young bride had occasionally made before the wedding. When he lifted it, however, the red nightfruit gleamed seductively in the lamplight. He stared at it for a moment, then snatched it up and hasten into the bedroom. He undressed hurriedly, while softly calling Sarah's name. When no one answered, he carefully lie down beside her warm form. She did not move. She was so exhausted from her efforts she had fallen sound asleep. He gently shook her, but to no avail. So, he kissed her gently, and fell asleep as well, the nightfruit forgotten in his hand. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Dream Part One: Arrival The City of Dargon, seat of the Duchy of Dargon, was fairly typical, for its type - river mouth port town. It surrounded the mouth of the River Coldwell, and several miles of its lower length. The river, racing to the sea from its source deep in the Darst range and fed on its way by scores of major and hundreds of minor tributaries that drained the forest that carpeted the whole of the northwest, met an estcarpment less than 40 feet high that still succeeded in turning it from its quest, forcing it to go around the outcropping. Dargon Keep had been built upon that rock in times long past, thickset massive walls bearing three towers - two facing the river it protected and one facing the sea as a watcher. Of slightly newer construction, but still a century or more old, was the Old City, built between the Keep, the River and the sea, and walled for most of its perimeter. A well fortified causway crossed the river to the much newer parts of town, especially the bustling port itself. Within the walls of the Old City lived the wealthy of Dargon, with the wealthiest and most favored sharing the walls of the Keep itself with the Lord of the City and Duke of all the lands around, Lord Clifton Dargon. Across the river, the merchants kept up a busy trade in anything a traveler might want, while closer to the sea clustered the less well-off of the residents of Dargon, keeping the port well supplied with cheap labor. Je'lanthra'en reached Dargon shortly after midday, walking with a farm family who were traveling to the city in their yearly faring to try and sell the fruits of their winter shutting-in, having just gotten their crops planted for the warmer months. She had somehow expected there to be no travel from the landward side of Dargon, and certainly there was little that crossed the Darst range from the interrior of Baranur. But, the Lord of Dargon was also Duke of the forestland between the Darst and the sea, and his land was well populated, if not as well as the Barony around Magnus. She accompanied the family into the Open marketplace, where anyone with goods to sell could take an unoccupied booth and stay until their wares were gone, and from there she asked directions to the Inn of the Serpent. In the last letter she had had from her brother Kroan, he said that he was living in a place two doors down from the Inn of the Serpent, and he had just gotten a job with the Fifth I Merchant firm, doing inventory (Kroan has always been as good with numbers as she had been (once) with words). She set off across the market section of the city following the directions she had received. She came to the Inn on a street that served as a border of the merchant section of town. The Inn got its name from a well-carved sculpture of a Great Wyrm of legend - rather fancifully embellished, really, and painted a garish green and red: not frightening at all, not like the stories... Je'en counted doorways, entered the right one, and climbed the second set of stairs. Four doors down from the top, and she knocked. The door was answered by a young woman dressed very garishly. "Ya, whadd'ya want, 'oney?" she said. Je'en hesitated, then said, "Is this where Kroan Jessthson lives?" "Na, never 'eard of 'im, love. Lived 'ere t'ree years, I 'ave, and never 'eard tell of t'is Kroan person. T'at all?" Momentarily disheartened, Je'en thanked the woman for her time, and walked slowly back down the stairs. Four years it had been since she had read Kroan's last letter, and it had arrived at the College in Magnus two years before that - a Bard is seldom in one place for long. Much could have happened in six years, and obviously had: just look at her - once a Bard, now a left-handed fighter who wore a mask. Still, there was at least one more lead: she knew where Kroan had been working then. She decided to see if they knew of her brother at Fifth I Merchants, and if they didn't, she had time to search the whole town if it came to that. It didn't. She asked directions at the Inn, and found the offices of the Fifth I with ease. From there, after asking about Kroan, she was led to another office in the wealthiest section of town outside the walls of Old Town, and there, in an office, surrounded by clarks and ledgers, she was reunited with her brother. Kroan had really grown up since Je'en had seen him last, more than ten years ago. He was now taller than she, and had filled out some, tho he was still skinny by any standards. A full beard and moustache adorned his face, startlingly red in contrast to his ordinarily brown hair, making him seem even older, but his eyes were the same twinkling brown, and his smile made him seem like a child again, happy and carefree. To Kroan, Je'en had changed, too. She was still the tall, well built sandy-blonde woman that had left for the Bardic College when she was fifteen, over twelve years ago. He had always loved the way she could bring a song to life (he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket), and she had picked up harping with natural-born ease. But, she wasn't now dressed in the green cloak she had always worn when she had visited home, nor the pendant of her Rank, nor was the harp she had fought a duel of words to win on her back, and the sword she wore on her right hip (odd, that - Je'en was right-handed, wasn't she?) wasn't good old Leaf- Killer. She wore only dusty riding leathers, and a strange half-mask of silver that was molded to her features so that, tho it hid her eyes, he had had no trouble recognizing her. When he had recovered from the bone-crushing hug she had given him, Kroan said, "So, why are you here, Sis? I thought you mostly stayed in the south, in more civilized lands? What, did you get the Master of the College mad at you, and he sent you to the hinterlands as punishment?" Her eyes were well hidden, and he didn't see the pain in them, but he did notice the way her mouth twitched downwards, so he didn't wait for some awkward response, but changed the subject. "Well, we can talk about that in more privacy, eh? What say we go have dinner in this nice little inn I know of, and we can talk all we want - all night even. The nice thing about being boss here is I can leave anytime I want to (as long as MY boss doesn't find out, ha ha!). You have any place to stay, Je'en?" They did talk all night, both of them. Kroan told her how he had been promoted again and again, until he finally had control of all matters financial for the third largest merchantile guild in Dargon. He enjoyed his work, and felt quite happy where he was. And, Je'en told her brother what had happened to her - the attack, her injuries, her leaving the College, and training at Pentamorlo with the famous Lord Morion. Kroan was genuinely upset to hear about Je'en's losses, and, when she said she was looking for work, he immediatly assured her that she could have a lifetime position with Fifth I. She gladly accepted, but refused to promise that it would be for a lifetime. So, Je'en, with her brother's help, settled in to Dargon. He found her an apartment in the better part of town, and got her a job as a Peace-keeper in one of the Upper Marketplaces. She didn't really even have to know one end of a sword from the other for such a job, just how to placate irate customers and shop keepers, but she enjoyed it, anyway. Part Two: Assassination "The Sword of Cleah has returned to us, my brothers!" There was a murmur of suprise from the other black-robed-and-cowled members of the Septent of the Order of Jhel and Her Prophets on Earth. The seven men, who were always hidden, even from each other, when they met to discuss Order business, were astonished that the Time was so near. For the Sword to return in their lifetimes...! "Brother Saith, what proof do you bring to us of this?" asked Brother Un (for anonymities sake, each member bore a number instead of a name). "It was seen, Brother Un. I, myself, have seen it, after hearing reports about it from some of the acolytes. A woman wearing a silver mask who guards in one of the marketplaces bears Lladdwr openly at her side. The Sword of the First of Her Prophets has returned to us!" "To be precise," said Brother Pedwar, "Lladdwr has come to Dargon. It is in the hands of an unknowing Outsider. How is it to be returned to us?" "We could buy it," suggested Brother Chwech. "But, what if this Outsider is not unknowing? You know that the King has forbidden the worship of Jhel within his borders. What if this masked woman is a decoy - what if she knows what she bears, and is ready to point out any interest in her sword to agents of the King?" asked Brother Un. That gave them all pause. The Order of Jhel existed under a front in Dargon, that was one reason why the Septent went hooded when together. The King had decreed that Jhel and all of her followers were traitors to the Crown. The tenets that Jhel's Prophets proclaimed included that Anarchy was the Blessed state, and when there was no more external rule, then would everyone live in Bliss and Ecstacy Forever. Few believed in Jhel, but her followers were fanatical, and they believed that if a person couldn't be converted to Jhel's ways, then they should die, beginning with those who imposed their rule on the people, and so postponed Jhel's Promise. Finally, Brother Chwech said, "If this masked woman is a plant, then if she is dead, she cannot report who had interest in her sword, right? And, if she is not - well, one more step will have been taken to fulfill Jhel's Promise." "You know a competent assassin?" asked Brother Un. "Aye, several. But, I think that a few street thugs should be enough: she's only a woman, after all." "Do what you think best, Brother Chwech. In your hands I place the retrieval of Lladdwr, the Slayer that will bring down the world, and replace it with Jhel's Promise!" The room was dark, except over the intricately carved and inlaid table in its center, which was lit by a clear crystal globe that glowed with a golden light, suspended over it. The young yet knowledgeable man settled himself into the chair, as carved and inlaid as the table that was its mate, and shuffled the over-large deck of cards in his hands. When the cards felt right, he stopped shuffling and turned over the top card onto the center of the table. It was the Twelve of Swords - the cards were properly aligned with the subject. The young man proceeded to lay out the rest of the Bent-Star pattern - the two Force cards crossing the Significator, and the five rays of three cards each that outlined the pathways of the layout. It took him less than a second to scan the whole pattern and read it to its deepest level, and when he had, he leaped to his feet in such haste that the ornate chair went crashing backwards. He ran into the darkness at the edge of the room with no hesitation, calling out, "Mahr! Mahr, ready the Image Table quickly! Hurry!" The young man ran through the darkness of his house as if it was noonday-lit. Perhaps the way his eyes glowed with a sapphire blue light enabled him to move surely where even a cat might have faltered. Down three flights of steps to the first sub-basement he ran, and into another globe-lit room with another table in it. His apprentice, Mahr, was already there, preparing the special properties of the table in this room for use. The Image Table was large, with a flat top made of polished slate. At each of the four corners stood a crystal pole, about a foot and a half high, with what looked like small silver metal flakes imbedded in it. All but one now glowed with the same eerie inner illumination that the light globe did, and Mahr was touching the last unglowing one with the palm of her left hand, muttering something softly. When her words stopped, that pole, too, began to glow, and she looked up at the young man said, "It is ready, my Lord. Do you wish anything else?" "No, Mahr, thank you. You have done well. You may stay, if you wish." Mahr smiled, and moved back out of the way, but happy to stay and watch her teacher, Cefn an'Derrin, work. Cefn placed his hands on a metal plate on one of the long sides of the Image Table, and began muttering some ancient and powerful words. Light lanced outward from each pole, but only along and within the edges of the table. Soon the light seemed to take on solid form, filling the top of the table with a block of light. And then, the block cleared, but the top of the table had vanished. Instead, a portion of the town was visible, but not just as a picture - it was as if someone had built an exact scale model of part of Dargon's fringe district on the table. But, no model could be so perfect. Unfelt wind moved debris down the streets of the image, rocked shop signs, and caused lantern and candle light to flicker. And, every so often, people moved thru the tiny streets, either merchant going uptown, or sailor or dockworker going downtown. Cefn read the image with the same speed he had read the cards. He frowned, and muttered a mild oath that caused a symbol embroidered on his tunic to spark and flash. He said as if talking to himself (which he was really, but aloud for Mahr's benefit), "The cards said she'd be here. Must have taken too long to set up. I'll have to move the Image to the danger zone, and wait." The Image was centered on the street that ran along the nominal separation line between the low city and the middle city. As Cefn stood, the street ran right to left along the middle of the Image, and the low city was on the side closest to him. He ran the fingertips of his right hand slowly along the metal plate in front of him, and the Image began to move to the left, until he recognized a certain combination of cross streets and alleyways. Making careful adjustments until a certain street was directly in front of him, he began to move his fingers up, so that the Image moved into the low city, following that street. Cefn again recognized a certain alleyway, and moved the Image right, following the alley into the darkness between buildings. When the image just barely showed where the alley joined the street he had been following at its right edge, he stopped. He had reached the danger zone. Slowly, as they watched and waited, details became clear in the blackness of the alley. Cefn noticed the concealed figures first, because he knew that they would be there - once he had pointed them out to Mahr, their positions seemed obvious. Cefn said, "She will be comming down the alley this way, from the left of the Image. She'll never be able to spot these ambushers." "Master, will you intervene?" asked Mahr. "Little one, you know that I must keep my interrest and presence hidden for our purpose here to succeed. But - fetch me some glass slivers from the laboratory, quickly." Mahr dashed into the surrounding darkness, uncovering a small candle lantern when she reached the edge of the darkness that filled Cefn's house - she had no sorcerous means of penetrating it as her master did. She was swiftly back with the requested materials - a handfull of glass splinters from the preparations for a spell Cefn had been testing earlier that day. She placed them in Cefn's free hand, and resumed watching the almost motionless waiting of the ambushers in the Image. Cefn was also watching, dividing his mind between that task and preparing the spell he was going to use with the splinters. Silence grew absolute as the two magicians waited for the woman's arrival. A globe of lantern light preceeded the woman's arrival within the Image - yellow oil-flame glinting off of silver face mask and drawn and ready sword held left-handed. The lantern hung from a special hook attached to her right wrist, which she held before her to provide maximum illumination. Her pace was measured and careful, and she looked around warily. The two watchers saw the ambushers move deeper into the shadows that cloaked their hiding places. They were well enough concealed that even when the woman was alongside them, they would still be hidden from the light. Cefn plucked two splinters of glass from his palm, and held them above the Image where the two nearest ambushers hid. He mouthed the words of the proper spell, and released the slivers. They fell, and when they crossed the edge of the Image, it seemed that two swift bolts of lightning streaked down to flash harmlessly but brightly off of the sword-blades of the hidden attackers. The woman saw the flashes, and immediately set her lantern down, and backed up against a wall. The ambushers, knowing themselves to be revealed, rushed out of hiding - six well armed youths with the look of the street about them. They closed into a semi-circle around the woman, who just shifted slightly so that she could keep all of them in sight. Then, the melee began. The only light in the alley was that of the lantern the woman had set down. The movements of her attackers cast shadows into the dim illumination, making the action difficult to follow for the two who watched from safety and distance, but the attacked woman seemed unaffected by the chancy light. She moved with speed, grace, and skill, unaffected by the uneven odds and bad situation of the attack. Bodies darted in and out of light, used shadows of others to hid, and move unseen, and steel flashed bright white and blue as swords did their work. Soon, the peculiar glint of light off wet blood was seen as swift moving sword shed its red coating in moving to gain another. The melee became clearer as, one by one, the street toughs met the woman's sword for the last time, and ceased to move. Less than five minutes later, Dargon's population was reduced by six. The woman stood, panting slightly, sword still held at ready, in the unblocked light of her lantern - her attackers were all dead. Any expression she might have worn was hidden by her mask, and the size of the image the mage watched, but, by her stance, she seemed unaffected by her brush with death. Satisfied that the woman was all right, Cefn lifted his hand from the metal plate, and the Image folded in upon itself. Had he watched it fade away, he might have seen the swordswoman begin to shake in delayed reaction, dropping her sword, and sinking slowly to the ground. But, Cefn's attention was diverted by Mahr. His apprentice asked, "Who were those men, sir?" "I don't know, Mahr. But, I can guess that the Order of Jhel now knows that Lladdwr is in the city, and that was their first attempt to retrieve it. We must keep a better watch over the woman." "Yes, Master. After what she has been through, she deserves to be looked after. Master, will it work? Was it worth it to bring her?" Cefn frowned, and turned away from Mahr. After long moments of staring into the darkness, he finally said, "I have my orders. Jhel must be eliminated, and the Order here in Dargon is the only one left. You were with me when we cast the cards, looking for the answer. The only avenue open was to bring Lladdwr here, and the only way to do that was to get her friends to take her out that night. The cards didn't tell us what would come of that little sorcerous manipulation, did they?! "It has to work. We've destroyed that woman's life, just to get a damnable piece of steel into this city - if it doesn't bring down Jhel, well -- well, it has to, that's all. We must be vigilant, ready to help, and be ready, when the time comes, to expose and destroy the last Septent in existence." Part Three: Dreams "Brother Chwech, report," said Brother Un. "As you know, Brothers, the attack was unsuccessful. Apparently, this 'Je'en' woman, she who bears the Sacred Sword, knows its uses. The men I hired were all killed in the ambush. I..." "Pardon me, Brother Chwech, but it wasn't an ambush," said Brother Pump. "I was watching the whole thing, and someone or something intervened on the woman's behalf, exposing the location of the men hired by Brother Chwech, and ruining the ambush. Later, I learned that I was not alone in observing the conflict. Brothers, this woman is not here by chance. Someone has lured her here, and I fear that she is bait for us. If we wish to retrieve Lladdwr, we must act slowly, cautiously, and as covertly as possible. Forget not, Brothers, we are the last of Jhel's Priests - the prophecies do speak of a possible future wherein Jhel's very name is forgotten. That must not happen." "Well spoken, Brother Pump," said Brother Un. "Caution is indeed necessary. Has anyone here any ideas on how to coax the Sacred Sword from this woman?" Brother Tri said, "I have done some research into this woman's past, and I think I have found a possible weakness. You see, she was once a Bard, before a recent accident stole away her voice. What might she do, my Brothers, to regain it...?" Je'en, Mecke, and Taal laughed in pure joy as they walked down the street, heading for the best tavern in Magnus - the Battered Shield. They had just passed their final test and were now officially Bards, and intended to spend a few hours celebrating. For Je'en, it was the fulfillment of a dream. From that first day the circuit Bard had selected her from the Faire's singing contest, saying she had the potential, Je'en had done everything in her power to become a Bard. She had traveled to the College in Magnus, studied hard, and learned well. And, she was now a Bard. She and her two classmates entered the Battered Shield, and Taal immediately ordered a round for the house, announcing their news to all. Je'en smiled and accepted the congratulations of the patrons, and then the they settled into a corner booth and began to celebrate. About an hour and a half later, Mecke suggested a little contest. The three of them would take a given legend, and retell it, each differently. It was an exercise that they had all done in class, so they all knew what was required. Since Mecke had suggested it, she was chosen to go first. As she sang her version of the Balphiryon and Hengnra tale, the patrons of the tavern began to gather around - even in Magnus, listening to a Bard ply her trade was an event. When Mecke was finished - to much applause, and a few coins - it was Taal's turn. His version took a totally different turn, but was equally entertaining, and he, too, received applause, and cheers, and coins - enough to pay for his "round for the house" earlier. Then it was Je'en's turn. While she had been half listening to the others sing, she was formulating her own version, on yet a different tack from Taal's. So, once the accolades for Taal had died down, she began. By way of long practice, and tenacious teachers, it had become almost second nature for her to make up a story-song as she went along. Her version came out as smoothly and professionally and the two before, and she could tell that the audience was enjoying themselves as well. Then, in the middle of her twenty-second verse, she suddenly couldn't sing anymore. Her throat burned, there was stabbing pain in her face, arm, and leg, and all that came out of her mouth were harsh, croaking noises, fit only for an angry bird. And, the audience immediately turned on her, throwing mugs and bread, jeering, catcalling, abusing her verbally and physically. And, to make it worse, her friends joined in with the patrons instead of standing by her and helping her. She didn't understand. This hadn't happened before, before... Je'en woke up with a start, sitting bolt upright, her mouth open and breath caught to scream. She caught herself before she tortured her throat further, and instead began to sob, coiling into a ball on her bed. Wend had awakened when Je'en did, and he, used to her nightly fits, tenderly reached out to her, gently unrolled her, and let her cry herself out against his chest. When Je'en was calm again, she thanked Wend and stayed close to his comforting solidity. He was a Peace-keeper in the same market place she was. He had always been friendly, and a help in getting to know Dargon, and, eventually they had become lovers. And now, with these nightly nightmares, he was a great comfort to her as well. The bad dreams had started shortly after the attack in the alley. Up until that time, Je'en had never used her newly-won skills with the sword to kill. That, with the similarity of that ambush to the one in Magnus that had taken her voice, had released all of her carefully dammed up memories. Memories that were now tormenting her each and every night. Wend said, "Better now, hon? What was it this time?" Je'en told him. It seemed to help. He was so understanding. She was beginning to feel something deep for him. That night's nightmare was typical: a good memory from her past life ruined by the intrusion of her present circumstances. Without Wend's help, she would probably have retained the mixture, ruining even her memories of her past, but he helped her reason out the nightmare and banish it. She hadn't had any repeat dreams, for which she was glad. When Wend had done his work sorting out her dream, he said, "Je'en, I learned of this treatment that might help you. It's a mild drug that frees the mind, and with guidance, deep-seated problems can be resolved while under the influence. It has been three weeks since you had an undisturbed night's rest." Je'en thought about it. Normally, she didn't like drugs, other than a little alchohol now and then. She didn't like to be out of control. But these nightmares were bad, and without Wend, they would be worse. She didn't want to go through life dreaming bad dreams, with Wend always by her side (as nice as that sounded, for other reasons) to keep her sane. So, she said, "Alright, Wend. What do I need to do?" The house was in that chancy fringe district between the middle and lower cities. It stood out because it was the best kept house on the street, and it stood alone - its neighbors had collapsed, and the rubble cleared away, long since. Wend led Je'en up to the door, and knocked. Je'en was nervous - she was literally giving control of her mind to Wend, who had offered to give the healing guidance. But, she had come to know him, and she trusted him. When she was cured, she thought she might even ask him to marry her. An old woman answered the door, and ushered them into a well kept parlor, furnished with the trappings of a fortune-teller, as was the old woman. Wend whispered something in her ear, and handed her a small leather bag that clinked faintly as it met the woman's hand. She hefted it as if judging the value of its contents, smiled, and produced a small silver box from her robes. She said in a voice like old leaves, "Use number 15, my son. I wish you well." Then she began to putter around the room, ignoring the couple as they went up the stairs at the back of the room. Room 15 was neatly, if sparsely, furnished with a bed, chair, and table. It was very neat, and the furniture was expensive, but Je'en could guess what else this room might be used for. She wondered how much of the coin Wend had paid had been for the time in the room, and not the drug. Je'en took her place on the bed, and Wend pulled the chair up next to her. He showed her the tiny box, and opened it. Within were two very small pills with the silvery-red sheen of blood on steel. A ewer and glass on the table helped to wash down the pills, and Wend told her to just relax. It wasn't long before Je'en fell lightly asleep. She didn't consciously hear the soothing words spoken by Wend, but she felt their effects. And she began to dream. Nothing bad, this time. Only good. Reliving her memories, specifically her most recent nightmares, without the bad parts. The dreams were very vivid, and she enjoyed feeling herself sing and play music again. The pain of her loss was mitigated by the joy of her memories. When she awoke, she felt much refreshed. And that night there was no nightmare. Wend was happy that Je'en felt better, but felt that she should use the drug for at least the rest of the week - after all, she didn't want the nightmares returning, did she? So, every day for the next four days, she and Wend went to that lone, well kept house, and spent an hour or so in one of the upper rooms. Cefn sat in near darkness, the globe above the table dimmed to just a faint spark. He studied the lay of the cards on the table, and frowned again. They refused to tell clearly! He read dreams and danger in them, but there was no imminency in them, and no definite focus either. The way they read, it almost seemed that they were warning of the everyday possibility of an accident, save that the cards never worked so trivially. His charge, Je'en, seemed to be in some danger, but he couldn't tell what kind, or how soon, and he couldn't act until he knew. With a stifled oath, he swept the cards from the table, dimmed the globe with a gesture, and sat, brooding, in total darkness. -John White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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