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1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SIX NUMBER FOUR | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb *Cydric and the Sage Carlo Samson Ceda the Executioner: 3 Joel Slatis *Spirit of the Wood: 4 Rich Jervis *The Dream: Part 2 of 2 John White Date: 120686 Dist: 214 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 Well, things have been mighty hectic. I have just returned from a visit to New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday, which was very entertaining. However, the big news is that FSFnet is no longer being sent directly to you, but is being distributed by the LISTSERV distributed server network. It certainly makes my job considerably easier, and hopefully no one will wind up with format problems. But that's all icing on the cake. We've got several interesting tidbits in this issue, including the conclusion of John White's excellent story, The Dream. Also you will find installments of Joel Slatis' Ceda tale and Rich Jervis' Spirit of the Wood stories, as well as an interesting story from Carlo Samson. I am quite impressed with this issue, and There will be at least one more issue out before Christmas, and possibly two before the new year. Looking forward, we have another excellent story from John White, which I am sure you will enjoy, and the continuation of Merlin's Atros epic. Enjoy, and best wishes! -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Cydric and the Sage I. Arrival: The Tavern It was late afternoon when Cydric Araesto arrived in the coastal town of Dargon. Hot and tired from his journey up from the capital of Baranur, he rode through the main street of the town, seeking a place to rest. His eyes fixed on a large building near the middle of the street; a sign above the door proclaimed: BELISANDRA'S in bold red letters. Below the name was a painting of a young buxom wench raising a large tankard of brew. Cydric dismounted in front of the building, put his horse in the adjacent stables, and went inside. The common room of the tavern was large and brightly lit by lanterns that hung from the rafters. The smells of fresh-brewed ale, Comarian tobacco, and wood smoke reached Cydric as he sat down in a corner table and mopped his brow with the edge of his cloak. He called out to a passing serving girl and ordered a cold pint of Lederian Special Brew. As the girl left to fill his order, he leaned back against the wall and sighed wearily. "I am finally here," he thought. "But should I even *be* here? Does my future lie in Dargon, or was it all a fever dream?" He shook his head ruefully. "It is too late for regrets. I made my choice, and I can never go back." He turned his attention outward to the tavern. The place was nowhere near capacity, he noted. To his right he saw a young couple holding hands and conversing quietly. At a table in front of the bar a group of richly dressed middle-aged men talked and drank. Near the entrance, a hooded figure in blue robes sat hunched over a mug of brew. A thin, bearded man smoked a small pipe in the glow of the fireplace. And at a table in the center of the room, a pair of leather-clad women arm-wrestled. The serving-girl returned and placed a large tankard on the table in front of him. She smiled at him as she turned and made her way back to the bar, where a stout woman of about forty summers watched the arm-wrestling women with a look of mild interest. Cydric took a long pull of the cold brew and made a sound of approval. He settled back, letting the tiredness bleed from his bones. Then, without warning, the strange vision that had been recurring in his mind for months once again intruded upon his thoughts. He tried to purge it from his mind, but the vision persisted. He gave up the effort, having learned early on that the only thing he could do was to let it run its course. II. Reverie: The Vision He was sitting on a large boulder that lay half-buried on the shore of a vast golden sea. The sky above him was a deep cobalt blue. Far in the distance, on the horizon, an object sparkled and glittered. He hopped off the boulder and walked to the edge of the sea, straining to see what it was. Then he knelt down and scooped up a handful of the golden water. He raised it to his mouth, but before he drank it he cast his eyes toward the object on the horizon again. He sighed, and his breath turned the golden liquid in his hand to plain colorless water. The water slipped through his fingers, and where it wetted the sand a small lump of a transparent substance appeared. He picked it up, and the lump grew into the shape of a life-sized human skull. The skull floated out of his palm and came to hover in front of the boulder. Beams of white light lanced out of the skull's eye sockets and struck the smooth stone, sending up a cloud of dust. After several moments, the skull ceased its activity and set down atop the boulder. Cydric brushed away the rock dust and saw that the skull's eye-beams had carved into the stone an outline of the continent that contained the Kingdom of Baranur. A small "x" marked a spot on the western coast of the continent. Below the outline were the words "Corambis the Sage". As soon as Cydric read the words, the transparent skull rose into the air and, with a clack of its jaws, sped away over the golden sea toward the glittering object on the horizon. III. The Tavern: Company The vision faded. Cydric looked up as the serving girl returned and asked him if he wanted another drink. "No, that will be all, for the moment." The girl turned to leave. "Wait a moment," he called. "Yes, milord?" "Do you know of a person called 'Corambis the Sage' ?" The girl looked at him oddly. "Yes, everyone knows of him. Are you just arrived?" "Yes, I am. Do you know where he lives?" The girl cast a glance over her shoulder. "A moment, milord." Cydric watched as the serving girl went over and whispered something to the blue-robed patron. The person nodded and stood up. Cydric's hand instinctively moved to the Zanzillian sundagger he wore on his right hip as the blue-clad figure approached and stopped in front of his table. The figure removed its hood to reveal a feminine face framed by a mane of flame-red hair. "Thuna tells me you are looking for the Sage," she said in a conversational tone. "Do you know where I can find him?" "Better than that; I can take you to him. May I sit?" Cydric nodded, and the woman seated herself. "So," Cydric said, "how much will it cost me for you to take me to him?" "Merely a moment of your time," the woman replied, smiling. Cydric found himself smiling back. She couldn't be very much older than his own twenty summers, he decided. He paused a moment before replying to study the way the lantern-light reflected from her clear green eyes. "That sounds reasonable," he said. "My name is Holleena," the woman said, extending her hand. Cydric took it and pressed it against his cheek in the traditional courtly manner. He told her his name. "So tell me, Cydric Araesto, what brings you to our humble town?" she asked. A piece of the vision flashed through Cydric's mind. "My horse," he replied. Holleena laughed. "I see. Do you wish to visit the Sage now?" Cydric felt his stomach rumble. "Not just yet. I seem to have forgotten about supper. Would you care to join me?" "I would, indeed," Holleena said. Cydric raised his hand to signal the serving girl, but Holleena stopped him. "Let's not eat here," she said. "Why not?" "Belisandra is a good cook, but as anyone in Dargon can tell you, you haven't eaten until you've had a bowl of Simon Salamagundi's famous stew." "Fine," Cydric said. "Let's go." He tossed a couple of coins onto the table as they rose to leave. He offered his arm to Holleena, and together they left Belisandra's tavern. -Carlo Samson <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter 3 Ceda reclined on his bed at the inn that he had previously stayed at on his last visit to Pheeng'Am. The guards at the gate had (for a small fee) told him that the demon had finally found the crown and had left the city without a trace. "Then it is over," he he thought to himself. "The demon has the crown and has doubtlessly returned to the Overworld, or wherever it came from; And I need not travel to the caves of Arnmere." His tiredness took him and he fell into a deep slumber. Tarnigen had had a long trip to the old continent of Cergaan, where it was rumored that a mysterious demon had taken the crown. Why it had gone there was a mystery indeed, but Tarnigen could not pass up an opportunity of such a fortune as Grobst's Crown. A small fishing vessel from Dhernis had dropped him off on the shore off the Largely unexplored continent off Cargaan a few hours before, and now he got organized before setting out to find the Demon. This was the ultimate test for him; A man was what he wanted to be, a real man, and this (in his eyes) was a worthy test for it. Tarnigen laid down and looked at the night sky that hung so still above his head. He wondered if he would ever see it again. Yes. He would. He had, for a moment, surrendered his thoughts to fear, but this would not ever happen again, he reassured himself. He was determined to get the Crown, and he would, or, he said to himself 'I am not worthy of the Throne of Caffthorn. The cold features of Tarnigens face could just be made out by the pale light that came from the fire he had built. His long crooked nose was perhaps the the most noticeable thing about him. It was, to say the least, enormously out of proportion to the rest of his face protruding down over the pale thin lips of his mouth. He had narrow blue eyes and long blond hair that hung down to the center of his back. Nothing else was really noticeable about him. He had a large body and was very strong as were most nobles of Caffthorn. The sun had set and Tarnigen was tired; His eyes pulled themselves closed and at once he was asleep. The sun was almost directly over head when he awoke. Now not only the dim outline of the land that he now stood upon was visible. It was richly colored by many grey an yellow flowers that grew all along the shore line and the trees at the edge of a large forest that grew about two hundred yards inland rose higher than any he had ever seen before. No roads crossed through the aria, only a few animals tracks could be seen on the bank. This was a peaceful place. Tarniger was amazed at the utter tranquility of the area. He gathered his things and started walking towards the shelter of the trees while he made his way west along the shore to the Ruined Tower of Threemis Where the Demon almost certainly was. Once in the forest, he climbed one of the taller trees to survey The area. It was a clear day and he could just make out the outline of a tall shape rising above the trees 20 miles up the coast. It looked lonely and out of place, a gross sight among the plentiful vegetation of the southern continent; like a knife stemming out of a mans back, and the man unable to remove it, slowly dying. He wished It wasn't there. He wished he wasn't there, but it wouldn't help now, he had to prove himself a man and could not leave without throwing away his family honor and pride, not to mention the throne. However, the thought that man had not yet disturbed the solemn beauty of the continent consoled him, and were he not to return to Caffthorn, It would surely discourage people from coming to this 'New world', and destroying its solitude and innocence. But he had to return, there was no doubt about that, for if he did not, his people would send a party to look for him. Instead, he would tell of beasts fifty feet tall that could kill a man with a mere blink of its eye, and of tall trees that swallowed unsuspecting animals at night. With that thought in mind, he descended the tree and started for the Ruined Tower. Tarnigen reached the tower after two day. A river obscured from sight by the trees had barred his way so he had to make a small raft in order to cross. The wooden gate had long since been torn down and was reduced to a pile of rotting wood in a corner of the large courtyard that encumbered the tower. Moss grew between every crack in the giant stone wall that stood around the tower and the even larger wall around the courtyard was totally covered be leafy green vines that hung down from the long unused torch holders high above Tarnigen head. He entered the courtyard steadily walking for the tower entrance. As yet, he had not encountered any animals or beasts and was, to say the least, a bit puzzled at the odd calmness of the continent. Then he remembered what he was there for, a demon waited for him in the tower. It was probably aware of his presence since the moment that he had set foot in the courtyard. He reached into his sack and pulled out his sickle, a weapon that he had been training with since he was a child. It was three feet long from the base of its handle to the base of the blade an the blade was two feet long. The handle was made of a special grey wood that could be grown only in Cafthorn and the handle was of a dark metal of unearthly origin. Close to the base of the blade was an inlaid gem that glowed in a magnificent purple haze. Tarnigen then entered the tower gate. The gems glow turned to yellow lighting the chamber to reveal a large hall with a stairway up at the far end. slowly he moved towards it, looking in all directions for any hint of trouble. Upon reaching the stairs, he surveyed the room once more before starting up. The gem then changed color to a pale white and Tarnigen stopped and looked around. The gem continued to glow in the solemn white. He took another step, then another; then fell. A trap door had opened underneath his feat and had brought him to a lower level in the tower. Tarnigen stood up. Luckily, he was not hurt from the fall. He looked up to see the trap door twenty feet above him. He examined himself, but to his astonishment, he was not hurt. The hallway that he had dropped into was long an narrow. It sloped downward at an alarming angle ending in darkness some three hundred yards down. The gem lit the hall with its luminous white light as Tarnigen started his decent. The passage ended in a small room with a large hole in the center. In the hole, a dark mist swirled around like water in a fountain. The gem was still glowing bright white. The the mist rose and surrounded him. the room went dark despite the glowing sickle that he held in his hand. After a brief moment, the mist dispersed. The gem was no longer glowing. And to Tarnigens surprise, he was no longer in the tower. He now stood in a dark forest that stretched in all direction as far as the eye could see. The trees towered above his head, some of them out of sight into the low cloud cover. A loud cry broke the air and Tarnigen turn just in time to meet a small party of tall thin beasts unlike any he had ever seen. The foremost attacked him immediately and fell to his blade almost a fast. The rest of the party turned and ran, dropping there sacks and fleeing in terror into the dark wood. Still confused, Tarnigen left the packs there and started in the direction that the beasts had come. A short walk brought him to a large stone wall much like that of the Ruined Tower's. He walked around until he reached a gate which was guarded by four very large beasts not unlike the ones that he had come across a little earlier. He cautiously approached the largest of the group. It stood unmoving as he approached, it did not even seem to breath. Once Tarnigen was in striking distance, the beast lashed at him with one of its numerous claws and ripped his entire right arm off. Tarnigen screamed in disbelief, but he felt nothing. Another blow from the monster tore his upper body off throwing both his legs in opposite directions, the beast picked up the now helpless Tarnigen and opened its gaping jaws and bit his head from his neck. Tarnigen watched the jaws close about his head, then felt what was left of his severed body being torn away from him. There was no pain at all though he could feel that he was reduced to only a head. He rolled into the darkness of the beasts stomach and all went dark. Then once again the mist cleared. Once again Tarnigen stood in the room with the swirling mist in the center. He stood slightly dizzy for a moment and then fell to the floor. Tarnigen awakened later to find that nothing had changed. His sack lay at his feet, his weapon intact in his hand still glowing its solemn white. He stood up and looked about the room. The hallway leading in was gone and instead, an adjacent room stood in its place. The door to the room was understandably missing so he just entered. At the center of the room was a large throne inlaid with some of the most beautiful Malthoogian gems that Tarnigen had ever seen. In the throne sat a bony figure, unmoving and expressionless. And upon its bleached head sat the Crown of Grobst D'arbo. The Demon stood up, the burning crimson eyes flashing brightly rivaling the strong white light that poured out of the sickle in Tarnigens hand. The demon looked in Tarnigens direction as it removed the crown from its head, and with its bony fingers, it placed the artifact on the throne. Then, from nowhere, a long sword appeared in its hand. Tarnigen raced the Demon with his sickle raised in front of him. The demon was shattered in to many small bones and the bones into dust. Tarnigen looked to the throne and the crown, but they sank into the floor and disappeared from sight. A door appeared from nowhere in the wall of the room, and Tarnigen entered. The sickle's gem changed to a dull red color that barely lit the room. In the corner was a large stone chest that sat against the wall. Tarnigen walked over and set his sack down. He opened the chest to reveal about fifty thousand ancient Grandydyian coins, many diamonds and jewels and under some of the wealth, just visible, lay Grobsts Crown. The pale light from the sickle danced up and down his forehead as he reached into the chest and grabbed the crown. "At last," he exclaimed. " the crown is mine as is the throne of of Caffthorn." The skull rolled out from the inside the crown and within an instant was whole again. Tarnigen reached for his sickle which now glowed it bright white color, but it was too late. the demon had already picked it up. Tarnigen stood helpless as the demon changed and grew. The bones grew skin and the skin grew hair. Within a moment a fifteen foot demon loomed above him. It grinned displaying a mouth full of three inch razor sharp fangs. "It is but a small man that tries to steal the Crown of Grobst D'arbo? Well behold me my true form, human, before you are banished to limbo forever, I the Mighty King of Grandydyr decree!" With that, the king swept Tarnigen into his hand and flung him into the wall shattering most of his bones. Then he picked Tarnigen of the floor and replaced the crown into the chest, and vanished into a puff of smoke. -Joel Slatis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Spirit of the Wood: Chapter 4 The openness had a smell all it's own. Loric breathed the clear, cool air above the trees with a special relish. One borne of the open spaces. He believed the stars over his head exhaled a sweetness unlike anything in his valley. There was a rustling below him and he leaned out to see his sister Silsia climbing up behind him. He smiled at her adeptness, knowing that it represented many forbidden practice runs. Runs she would have been punished for had the men known that a downlander would dare the heights and walk among them. Loric waited till she came along side of him and gave her a signal of greeting. He could not acknowledge her presence without penalty, but they had an unspoken code, fingertalk that they had learned in the early days of Oldsir's blindness. A skill he never used and they never forgot. She held her hand out for Loric to grasp. He gripped it tightly for a moment, knowing that they both had come here for the same reason. He had come to tree-top level to watch the sun set and sing a farewell to Oldsir. He sang Oldsirs song to the Spirit of the Wood, and then the traditional songs of farewell. He could have gone home then, but had lingered to watch for Oldsir's star to appear. Everyone felt that since Oldsir had been given his second vision, his star would be a special one, even the Downlanders had dared to speak of it aloud. There was no hope for them to spy it from the ground, and they also knew that Silsia would not have missed trying to see it. Loric tapped on her palm: "I thought you were journeying to Wood's End?" "That was just a rouse and you know it near-man, dear brother. I only wanted the villagers to think I was leaving, so they would not look for me up here." "I have passed all my tests, you can call me a man now." "But your Shreaving is not until tomorrow, you can lose all there. Would you have me call you a man, and add being here with a man to my list? Perhaps you'd want me to dance for you when you return? It is not unknown..." Loric blushed in the darkness, shocked at what his sister was suggesting. Then he heard the stifled giggle, and knew that she was joking with him again. "The wind blows exceptionally hard tonight." he mused, halfturning in her direction. It would serve her right if he caught sight of her and let out a call of warning to the other men here in the trees. He felt her squeeze his hand tight enough to wring a cry from him, but he held silent. "Not as hard as a boy will blow to prove his manliness!" "A man would have made you crabmeat by now, but list! Is this how the Tolorions show respect for the dead? I have not seen Oldsir's star, maybe he's not gone yet." Silsia's hand went limp and dropped from his for a moment and then came back. "He is gone Loric, I know it." "How?" She gave no anwser, but she handed something around the tree and the pungent smell coming from the soft leather bag was all the answer he needed. It was Oldsir's hearth-fire ashes. Water came to Loric's eyes as he opened the bag and took out a pinch of ash. He tossed it over his shoulder, then got another and rubbed it onto his chest over his heart. He shook half the rest into his own pouch and then tied the pouch onto his belt. The rest would be for Dernhelm. "Loric? I did something, I mean... I took some of the ash, some of Oldsir. Will that bring dishonor to his memory? When he came to me while you were taking your tests he said that the Spirit had called him and he knew you would pass because you were a Tolorion. I was so sad to see him go, that I told him I wouldn't give this to you. He said that Spirit only knows why they don't let women into the trees, or to have a Hearthfire, but that he knew I would do the right thing whether that was to pass his ashes along, or to keep them. So I went with him, he wouldn't even tell Dernhelm he was going. He refused the escort and witnesses-male witnesses that was his due. I was so confused when I got back I took a pinch of the ash and threw it into my cooking fire. And it worked Loric! The magic worked for me, I'm not a preist or druid or even a man, but I saw him! He was young, and I saw mother there as a child, he was showing her how to use a river vine to stretch skins... Then it was gone and I cryed because of what I had done. I told Eadyie that I was going to Wood's End and ran into the forest and wept till sunset. Then I came here." Loric had remained silent during her long communication. He concentrated closely on the words her hands formed. Not knowing what to do or say. If Dernhelm heard of this he would have her expelled from the village and then he would leave himself out of shame to the Tolorion name. Loric wasn't sure he felt the shame that tribal law would place on him. He felt that his sister had done something daring and had passed a test of her own. Perhaps she was more than a woman herself now, but what did the making of the Hearthfire for a woman mean? Surely his sister was posessed of more magic than any other woman in the Village-beneath-the-Trees. Eadyie herself knew only healing herbs and roots. He knew that it was the men who carried the favor of the Spirit and that made all magic theirs to command. Oldsir had a second vision, he had gone to his hearthfire, taking only his grand-daughter as honor and escort. Then she had made her own hearthfire and had not been consumed. The portents where there, if only he could read them a-right! "I don't know what to say. How do you feel?" "Terrible. Great. Awful. Glad, sad, and mad! How should I feel?" "The decisions of a moment..." began Loric. "Oh shush child! I know that as well as you! Oldsir did not spend all his time instructing you." Loric burned again and said "The night wind whispers against the past. I will not tell it where to blow next." "Shall I break this taboo also Loric? Or shall we keep this our secret as the others? Till our hometree's roots reach across the plains of Woe? I can think of only one thing to do. I must speak to the Druid who lives in the valleys beyond our wood. This is a greater matter than I or old 'quote the histories' Dernhelm." Loric held her hand tight, then signed slowly giving weight and meaning to each word. "I think that is best, for I love you and would not have you leave the tribe because you can do something no one else in our village can do. A woman who can spell would not have a good chance at a husband... nor want one I beleive. But if you leave on your own then when I see you on the paths beneath the trees, I will not have to spit on your shadow, or utter phrases best saved for enemies, not beloved sisters!" With that he reached around the narrow truck that sheilded her from him and hugged her to it. His arms did not meet, but he held her as best he could. He felt her shake with silent sobs. Loric looked beseechingly upwards and saw a bright reddish streak arc across the sky and fall to earth somewhere way beyond the Wood. "Did you see?!" He gasped. "I saw, Loric. Oldsir did not choose to stay among his kin in the sky. He has given me a sign. That is the direction in which I must go!" "Hoo-ya!! Hoo-ya!!" Came a call from some tree beyond Loric. It was Dernhelm. He must have been watching for Oldsir's star also. "Hoo-ya! Hoo-ya! A!" Loric called back. Soon, all the tribesmen called out in blessing and happiness for Oldsir: "Hoo-ya! Oldsir the Second- sighted! Hoo-ya hoo-ya hoo-ya a! The Spirit of the Wood has called him back!" Loric reached back to grasp his sister's hand but found only rough bark. He wanted to attract her attention to a glow on the horizon that he hadn't noticed before, but felt only rough bark. Silsia Tolorion had gone. -Rich Jervis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Dream Part Four: Choice When the child, Herrn, came to the temple for Margala's monthly supply of Hanla's Tears, the robed man waiting in the alcove was not the usual supplier. But, the priest accepted the large bag of coins, and handed Herrn back one just a little smaller. Herrn checked within, saw the little red-silver pills, thanked the priest, and left. No one saw the triumphant smile of the priest, hidden as it was by his deep cowl. Herrn arrived back at Margala's House before the empty cache of pills was noted by Margala herself. While barely 11 summers old, just a child, Herrn was street-wise, and trusted with important duties by the old woman who ran the House. One of these duties was to keep the supply of Hanla's Tears, that dream drug, current. But, Herrn liked to use the little dream-givers himself (without paying, of course). And this past week he had overused rather badly, exhausting the supply on the morning he was to get the new month's. He had hastened to the temple with the money given him by Margala, hoping that the old woman wouldn't need any of the pills before he returned. That was one reason he hadn't questioned the fact that Brother Mikl wasn't in the alcove - he was in too much of a hurry. The new supply was barely in its box when Margala entered Herrn's room. She said, "Good, little one. You have returned just in time. Fix me up with five boxes, and have more ready. This is going to be a busy day." When Wend and his woman entered Margala's House, Margala was ready for them. No whispering was needed - this was the sixth day they had come in, and it was the same every time. She took the money from Wend, handed him one of the little pill boxes that Herrn had given her, and gave them room 21 to use. She watched them climb the stairs, and wondered just what they did in that room. She knew that they both were Peace-Keepers in one of the upper markets, and they both had good pay, and so homes of their own. She didn't suppose they used her House as a trysting place, though many did. Perhaps she would find an opportunity to ask Wend later - they had known each other for a long time, after all. Je'en relaxed on the bed as she had five times so far. Wend said that this should be the last time they would need the drug - and it was true that Je'en was feeling a lot better now. Ever since the accident, she had been repressing her memories, hiding all the things that had been very special to her at one point because now she had lost them. But, since her arrival in Dargon - the completion of the "plan" that had kept her going from the accident, thru Sir Morion's School, and to the meeting with her brother - there had not been anything occupying her time save her job, which was about as exciting as staring at a lake on a windless, grey day. So, her memories leaked to the fore, causing her nightmares. But Wend was putting a stop to that, helping her deal with the loss of her musical abilities in a rational and healthy way. It caused her to wonder just what he was doing guarding a bunch of high-class shopping stalls: such knowledge as he had used to help her was not common, nor easily won. Wend took up his place next to the bed, and handed her the pill box, and a glass of water. She swallowed the tiny pills with the water, and laid back down. Normally, she would feel herself relaxing under the influence of the drug, and she would fade into sleep. But, not this time. Her whole body went rigid seconds after she swallowed the pills, and when it relaxed, she found herself in a strange place. It was all grey, featureless save for misty outlines of indistinct shapes. At first, she thought she was dreaming, but this had no sense of a dream. She wasn't awake, either, but in some strange half-state, a limbo of the senses. She stood, and moved around in the greyness. There seemed to be walls here, in shape much like the room she had been in. There was no furniture, but the door was where it should have been, and the window likewise. Of Wend there was no trace. She went thru the door, and into a shadowy version of the House's upper corridor. She paced throughout the whole house, but didn't quite date to venture outside - looking out the windows, she had found outside to be even stranger than it was in here. She had searched the whole house and found it empty, but she decided to call out anyway, and when she did, she received a suprise. Her voice sounded normal. Normal, as in the pure, alto tones it had had before her accident, not the husky, almost gravelly sound it had settled into once the pain vanished. She tried to sing, and succeeded. She went over to a table, and leaned on her right wrist, and it didn't give way. Now, she was certain she was dreaming - she was fully healed once again! Wend was looking at the still rigid body of Je'en on the bed worriedly. She was very pale, and very rigid, almost deathly so, but he could see the shallow rise and fall of her breasts, and her heart was still beating, but slowly. He sincerely hoped that he had done the right thing. In the past month or so that he had known Je'en, he had come to like her. The man who had put him up to this had assured him that no harm would come to her, but seeing her now, he couldn't be sure. He heard the door open behind him, and turned. He said, "She is under the influence, Terkan. All has gone as planned." Terkan, a short, middle-aged man who dressed like a merchant, said, "Yes, I know. Your progress has been monitored. Your duty is now done. You may leave." "The rest of the price, as we agreed?" "Will be delivered to you," answered Terkan, staring avidly at Je'en on the bed. "I want it now. We agreed. And, your assurance again that she will be unharmed." "What matters it to you, fool? You will be paid for your treachery, and it will not be the first time you have sold your honor for a little gold. Now leave; the money will arrive tonight." "What are you going to do with her? You must not harm her - she has done nothing to you. She doesn't even know you. She hasn't been in Dargon long enough to have injured you. No. Leave. Keep your second payment, and I will return the first. Tell me how to bring her out of this trance, and then leave. You cannot have her." Terkan smiled cruely, and said, "No. A deal is a deal, and this deal is done. She is ours, now, and that is that. You had best leave, and take your payment like a good little turncoat." Wend drew his sword and lunged, but, for all Terkan's appearance of a middle-aged merchant, he moved faster. Wend never saw the knife flick out of the sleeve and into his neck. He fell at Terkan's feet, dead. Terkan then turned his eyes toward Je'en, and the sword propped up against the wall. For a moment, he thought of taking it, but that was too dangerous. It had to be freely given. It was dangerous enough for him to be in this room - to have a member of the Septent present, involved directly. But, the slightly modified Hanla's Tears that Je'en had taken had put her in a state that only a Full Adept of Jhel could penetrate, so there was no help for it. Perhaps, when Jhel's ministry began to spread again, he could become Brother Un somewhere, instead of just Brother Tri, as reward for the risk he was taking. So thinking, he began to put the finishing touches on his plan. Cefn stopped shuffling the cards, cut them, and layed out the Bent Star pattern. It appeared exactly as before. Nothing conclusive! Stifling the impulse to curse loud and long (the last time he had given vent to such oath-making, he had inadvertantly leveled his previous house, and laid waste to about a square hectare of the land about it), he was about to sweep the cards from the table yet again, when something caught his eye. He extinguished the light globe overhead, to better see the cards. Yes, there, the fifth ray, last card. Trump 35, The Entwined Oak. It meant danger, and it had always been there. But, today, it was reversed - the only change in the pattern for the past week. And the Tree reversed meant imminent peril, instead of vague danger on the horizon. It was happening. Now. Je'en was in trouble. He gathered up the cards again, and, using Trump 35 as the significator, he layed out a different pattern, a secretly developed one taught him by his master a long time ago. It told him exactly what he needed to know, and leaving it lying, he left the dark room to muster some help for his charge. Je'en was becomming worried. This weird limbo she was trapped in was beginning to wear on her. And, there was the fact of her regained ability to contend with. It didn't really feel like a dream at all, and she had been trained to recognize such. She had returned to the upper room in hopes that Wend would be able to reach her better there. She was staring out the window at the swirling chaos there when she heard a sound. She turned, and saw that she was no longer alone. "Welcome, my dear, to your heart's desire. My name is Terkan, and I am responsible for your being here. I also have the power to let you stay here, if you so wish." Je'en stared at the man who had spoken. He was dressed in strangely symboled robes that glowed palely, and there was an air of mystery and power about him. She said, "What do you mean? Where am I, and why would I want to stay in such a shadowy place?" "This is but a gateway from our world into another. In that other, you would have all of your former abilities, as well as those you have gained since the accident. And that is why you would want to stay here. I can show you the way into that other world, where you would be as you are now, fully healed and whole. There is but a small price." Je'en grew immediately wary. She believed the man, for there were tales of other worlds and passages between them. This limbo was not like any of the stories, but then the stories were old. She was wary for a different reason. She had obviously been led into this by a long and very twisted path, and she wanted to know why. If this man Terkan had been acting charitably, he would have simply offered her the choice for free, without all this subterfuge. What did he want, and why? "What price?" she asked. "And what of my companion, Wend?" "Ah, Wend. Well, he was in my employ, you see. The drug I used on you is illegal in Baranur - and very rare and expensive. Wend was well paid to get you into the proper state, but at the last, he decided that his salary for the job wasn't enough. You see, that sword you carry is very valuable to certain people, but it has a spell on it that it cannot be taken, it must change owners by free will. My sponsors are willing to pay a large sum of money to me for this sword, some of which Wend would have gotten. But, he got greedy, and wanted it all. So, I had to kill him." "But, why not just come to me and ask for the sword? I have little sentimental value for it, and would sell it gladly for the right price. Why all of this?" Terkan smiled a little nervously, and said, "Well, I thought to pay you in other kind, being a little greedy myself. When a little research revealed a certain incident in Magnus, I decided to restore to you your Bardic abilities, if you so choose." It almost made sense to Je'en. But, not quite. It was too devious. All of the secrecy, Wend's supposed duplicity, the mild drug to lull her senses. There was something more. There had to be. But, so what. Terkan was indeed offering her her heart's desire. For, tho Wend had cured her of her nightmares, the desire to make music remained as much a part of her as ever. And it seemed that here, and (if Terkan was to be believed) in the world on the other side of this gate, she could be a bard again. Was that worth whatever the real reason behind Terkan's manuevering was? Part Five: Rescue Cefn and Mahr rode into Dargon at a gallop. They hadn't actually ridden that far - Cefn's home was much too far from Dargon, so they had used a little magic to help them on their way. Cefn, robed and deeply cowled, led the way at an unsafe speed through the streets of Dargon, arousing cries of suprise as they galloped past citizens. The wizard reined in just outside of Margala's House. He raced to the front door, Mahr behind him, and entered without knocking. They dashed past the suprised Margala, and up the stairs, down the hall, to room 21. They entered the room without any ceremony (after Cefn unbarred it by setting a glowing hand on the knob), and Mahr looked around as her Master got to work immediately. Mahr saw Je'en on the bed - the first time she had seen their charge in the flesh. She looked much the same as in the Image Table, or Cefn's Scrying Prism, save for the fact that she was obviously in trouble. Her whole body was rigid, with just a faint rise and fall in her chest to denote breathing. Her face, what could be seen around the mask, looked to be drawn in suprise, perhaps pain - her eyes were closed tight shut, and her mouth was a compressed line. She turned quickly away from the body in the corner. Mahr knew who it was. She had seen Wend and Je'en together in the city in the Image Table. She was sorry he was dead - he had treated Je'en kindly - but she wasn't sure why he was dead, or if he had had any part in getting Je'en into the vulnerable position she was in now. The other person in the room, a middle aged man dressed like a merchant, was kneeling and sitting on his folded-under legs. His fingers were contorted into the Triple-cross sign, and his hands rested on his knees. He seemed to be concentrating, focusing on a small medallion on his lap, but his eyes were closed. His breath came as slowly and shallowly as did Je'en. Cefn had explained little - their ride had been short and hurried - but Mahr realized that the meditating man was one of the enemy. She even fancied she could feel an aura of evil about him. Cefn said, "Mahr, south-east, quickly." Mahr fetched the compass from her belt pouch, and noted the requested direction, then pointed. Cefn took a small blue angle and placed it on the floor pointing where Mahr had indicated. Then, Cefn removed six other angles form a small yellow pouch, all colored red, and touched them, one at a time, to the blue one. As they came into contact with the first angle, they each began to glow, and as Cefn released them, they moved of their own accord to their proper place. When the sixth red angle had settled into place, forming, with the blue one, a seven-pointed star, the first angle also began to glow, causing a webwork of lines to spring up between all of the angles, forming a solid seven-sided figure with a seven-pointed star within. Cefn beckoned, and Mahr joined him at the center of the figure. He asked, "Ready?" Mahr nodded, and Cefn said a word. Blue and red flame shot up from the outlines of the figure, climbing to the ceiling and blotting out the room around them. It flared for several seconds, and then it died, revealing a vastly different scene. It was a shadowly, limbo place, vaguely resembling the room they had come from. The formerly meditating man, now dressed as a priest of Jhel, was speaking. "We don't really have forever, Je'en. The drug you were given will wear off in time, and I don't have any more with me. You must decide. Which will it be - keep the sword or become a Bard again?" Cefn said, softly, "Mahr, stay within the septacle. This could get messy." Then, louder, "Je'en, don't listen to that man. He has lied to you. Whatever you do, do not give him your sword." Both parties turned at the sound of the mage's voice. Mahr saw that Je'en wasn't wearing her mask here, and there was no scar on her suprised face. The priest scowled, and said "Just who do you think you are? This woman can make up her own mind - leave her alone." Cefn ignored the man, and took a few steps towards Je'en (and out of the septacle). "Je'en, this man is a priest of Jhel. Have you ever heard of that particular cult? Well, its been outlawed for a very long time. The last remaining members of this cult are right here in Dargon, and this man is one of them. The sword you bear, that you got from the vaults of the College in Magnus, just happens to be the key to a prophecy of total world victory for the followers of Jhel, and the prophecy is not just words - if the high priests of Jhel get hold of that sword, and release what is within it, the whole world will fall to them." "Why should I believe you, instead of this man?" asked Je'en. She was even more confused now. If the tall, cowled man was right, the priest's interest was explained, but she couldn't be sure. And, if she could really enter another world, and have her heart's desire in that world, did she care what happened in the one she had left? "Je'en, please. You must listen to me. Just now, when he said that the drug would wear off - it won't. You'll be trapped in this limbo forever. Even after your body dies, your spirit will wander here endlessly. You have regained your bardic skills and whole body, but to what use? The beings who inhabit this realm need no music for entertainment - they have other amusements. Please, do not accept. He will give you nothing in return, and destroy the world in the bargain. Deny his offer, come to me, and we will depart." There was something about the cowled man that prompted Je'en to trust him. Perhaps, it was because he wanted nothing from her except to give up what the other man had supposedly given her. She turned from him to the priest, and saw the scowl on his face. It was actually more than a scowl, it was pure rage and hatred concealed badly. Je'en made her decision - she began to walk over to the taller man. The priest shouted "No!" and flung an arm across Je'en's path. >From his fingers a siclky purple-green line of fire flashed across the room, between Je'en and the cowled man. The priest swung his arm behind him, and the line of fire became a translucent wall dividing the whole room in half, with Je'en on one side, and the other three on the other. Je'en tried to push thru the green-purple wall, but touching it caused so much pain that she cried out and fell back. So, she could only watch what was going on on the other side. Mahr was watching, too. She had never seen her master in an all out Duel of magic. Such a thing was very rare, as were magicians of most any caliber. She was not suprised that the priest could hold his own against Cefn - it had rapidly become obvious that he was high up in the priestly order of Jhel, perhaps even in the Septent, and it was well known (to those who knew at all) that the highest of Jhel's followers were renowned magic users. The contest was incomprehensible to non-participants. All that was visible of the striving was stray emissions - attacks that did not make their mark, the efluvia of shattered thrusts, and leakages of gathered force for an attack. Mahr saw her master seemingly just standing, cowl thrown back, hands slightly forward of his body, facing the priest, who was in a similar position. Light flashed to the sides of them, and Mahr started as several stray attacks that shattered against the protection of the septacle. She noticed that the wall created by the priest was similar protection for Je'en. Eventually, the battle began to go against the priest. There were few stray emissions around the priest anymore, indicating more on-the- mark attacks. He began to sweat, and his hands began to move higher and higher as he worked harder to attack and defend himself. He began to glance furtively around for a way out. His eyes lit on Mahr and her protection, and he smiled. His hands began to point different directions, and he began to direct energy at the ground around the septacle, as well as at Cefn. The ground below the septacle began to thin, but no one noticed, so intent were they on the battle. Slowly, Terkan's magic ate away at the fabric of the limbo space, until finally it gave way. Mahr screamed as she fell thru into somewhere else. Cefn turned in time to see his apprentice vanish, along with the septacle, intact. With a little cry, he darted over to the hole in the floor to try to help her. Seeing his chance, Terkan prepared a final blow, aimed at Cefn's defenceless back. Je'en saw Terkan smiling at the undefended mage, and knew that the mage was in trouble. She braced herself and threw herself at the purple-green wall, and at Terkan. Pain lanced thru her, searing every nerve, causing her to scream in agony - but she kept going. She moved through treacle, taking forever - a forever of agony - to reach the man, but reach him she did, knocking him down, causing him to lose his concentration, and his spell backfired. Je'en lay panting and crying from the pain for several minutes before she felt the other man gently move her from on top of Terkan, who seemed to be unconscious. Cefn examined the priest, and deemed him safe for the moment. He returned his attention to Je'en, and said, "Are you alright?" Je'en sat up groggily, and looked at her rescuer. She first noted his eyes - pure blue all thru. He was handsome, with thin, aristocratic features, but his eyes seemed something out of legends. She finally said, "Yes, I'm alright. Your friend..." "Mahr was my apprentice. She is beyond hope. Perhaps my masters will look kindly on her, save her, but she will not return to this world. I should have been prepared for treachery. I..." "Um, thank you for saving me," said Je'en. "Who are you, anyway, and why?" Cefn said, "My appologies, Je'en. My name is Cefn an'Derin. My occupation should be obvious. What I said about Jhel was true - your sword is the key to the priests of Jhel's armageddon prophecy, and this man, probably one of the leaders of the cult, was trying to wrest it from you. We, Mahr and I, have been involved with the downfall of Jhel, and have been watching you carefully, which is why he tried to trick you into giving him the sword. Only his brief possessive thought alerted my surveilance to the fact that you were in trouble. Now, we - I - have the key we need to destroy the rest of the Septent of Jhel in Dargon, and destroy her worship for good." Cefn reached, perhaps a little wearily, into his belt-pouch and withdrew a small hemisphere of dark glass. Je'en watched as he placed the glass dome on Terkan's temple, and said a word. The dome began to glow, and the unconscious Terkan began to grimace in pain. It took about five minutes for the dome to do its work, and by the end, Terkan was screaming soundlessly. When the hemisphere ceased glowing, Cefn removed it from Terkan's head. It left a charred spot where it had rested, and it was no longer dark, but rather a swirling milky-white. Cefn said, "Within this theryum is all of the priests memories and thoughts. With this, I can masquerade as him, gain admittance to a high meeting of the Brothers, and destroy them. "Come, Je'en. Let us return to Dargon. I think the priest will be happy to suffer the imprisonment he meant for you." "Wait, Master Cefn. Terkan, the priest, he said that he could send me to another world, where I would be able to sing again. Could you do that as he said? If so, I would rather not return to Dargon." "I'm sorry, Je'en, but that was another lie. There is no way for our magics to penetrate the dimensional boundaries. This is another plane of existence, and in it, you bear your spirit-body, which is as healthy and whole as you wish it to be. But, human life is foreign to this plane, and its natural inhabitants enjoy torturing anyone or thing foreign." Cefn had begun setting up another septacle, orienting the major angle on a sense he had of the proper direction. Je'en watched the little red angles dart around of their own accord with fascination. When it was done, Cefn motioned her into the center of the figure. She said, before Cefn could begin to activate the septacle, "So, what now? You have the means to destroy this cult of Jhel, but you have also lost your apprentice. What will you do when your mission is complete?" Cefn looked at Je'en, and she saw sadness in his face. He said, "Mahr and I worked long and hard to destroy Jhel. I shall miss her greatly, yet some kind of loss is fitting, in a way. As to what next, I have no idea. My time is finally once again my own. Perhaps I'll do some more research, maybe find another apprentice, and pass along my knowledge. I just don't know." "Why don't we team up," said Je'en. "I have been getting so bored in that Peace-keeper job I've got, that it nearly drove me mad. But, in a land that is so sparsely populated, and largely unknown, there must be some more exciting work for a swordswoman, and it will be even more exciting with a real magician along to help. Sound good?" Cefn was silent for a long time. In truth, the idea seemed a good one - but Je'en didn't know very much about him, including the part he had played in her present circumstances. Still, the offer of adventure sure sounded better than a lot of reclusive research. And, he had grown to like Je'en while watching and protecting her. So, he finally said, "Sure. Why not? Let's be a team!" And he activated the magic that returned them to the real world and Dargon. -John L. White <>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