VOLUME SIX NUMBER FIVE FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SIX NUMBER FIVE | | ========================================== +___________+ 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 *A Reintroduction to Atros Joseph Curwen *Growing Concern: Atros 4 Joseph Curwen *Gasmelyn Llaw: Part 1 of 2 John White Date: 121986 Dist: 227 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 Hello, all! This is the last issue of the 1986 calendar year, and the last issue of volume six. It contains only two stories, although I'm sure that you will find the issue highly enjoyable. Issue 7/1 will be out soon after the New Year, and will contain the second half of John White's story, as well as an interesting piece by Glenn Sixbury. That issue will also mark the second anniversary of FSFnet, and it will be our 28th issue. I'll be sure to write an appropriately verbose editorial, of course. For those of you who have not received 6/4 (due to a network problem), you may request it from CSNEWS at MAINE or TCSSERVE at TCSVM. I have (hopefully) corrected the problem for this issue. I'd like to welcome our new subscribers, and wish all and sundry a joyous and fulfilling Yuletide. Onwards! -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> A Reintroduction to Atros My good friend Orny (well as far as it is possible to call an editor a friend) has been so kind as to point out the slight difficulties in following a serial which has been running intermittently in FSFnet for nearly a year now, especially when the last installment appeared six months ago. Also, I'm fairly sure that several of you haven't been reading FSFnet for that long. This, of course, presents a problem. The usual solution to this sort of predicament is to remind or update the reader through providing clues of previous events in the story line itself (e.g. some character explains the situation to a new character arriving on the scene.) Well, in my opinion that sort of thing is awkward and boring, particularly for those who don't need a review. So, at this particular point in time, I refuse to do it. You'll all just have to bear it and be lost. Touch luck. No, I'm just joking. The purpose of this introduction is to provide you the reader with a summary of the previous installments in the Atros serial. This is intended primarily as a review for those who've read stories. If you haven't, I'd suggest if at all possible that you do so. Previous installments are "Rendezvous" (VOL4N01), "Dreamer's Holiday" (VOL4N02), and "Calls of Courtesy" (VOL4N04). All of these back issues are available from TCSSERVE@TCSVM (preferably) or from CSDAVE@MAINE (if you're off Bitnet or have other difficulties). So having cleared that up, I'd best get on with it. WARNING SPOILER FOLLOWS: The first of "Rendezvous" introduces the character of Gilman, a first rate alchemist who is a little down on his luck financially. At the opening he is awaiting the arrival of Atros, a mysterious street youth who has arranged for Gilman to prepare a nepenthe of Mahedeos, a powerful drug which prevents dreaming of all sorts. Atros arrives in the late in the night and asks for the nepenthe, but is unable to provide the final payment. Gilman refuses to hand over the drug and is killed by Atros in a moment of anger. Atros robs Gilman, takes the nepenthe, and leaves the city of Magnus for the port city of Dargon. During the trip, Atros refrains from using the nepenthe and experiences a remarkable dream which symbolizes his future. While he sleeps, Atros is watched from the shadows. In "Dreamer's Holiday" Atros is enjoying the life of a upper class merchant in Dargon's autumn festival. He has assumed the identity of Raffen Yeggent, a traveling merchant who unsuccessfully (and fatally) attempted to rob him during his journey to Dargon. In Dargon, he is forced to attend stuffy noble balls and ceremonies. He is adopted by the courtly couple Kite & Pecora (who spun off for their own series in Orny's "Respect thy Elders" VOL5N02, VOL5N03, & VOL6N01). At a ball, they introduce Atros to Pravo, a local scholar, who is working on a book about creation myths. Atros' responses to Pravo's questions intrigue and upset the scholastic, who cuts off the conversation. Later that evening on the journey home, Atros glimpses a man who resembles Gilman, the dead alchemist, but due to being separated by a crowd, is uncertain if it truly is Gilman. The rest of the story is spent on Atros' speculations on the survival of Gilman and his purpose in Dargon. "Calls of Courtesy" begins with Atros awakening some weeks later to find the body of Thad, an old acquaintance and hired assassin, draped over his bed. Thad has been cleanly murdered by having his neck broken, probably in the act of killing Atros. Again, Atros is at a loss to explain this. In Orny's story, "Hands of a Healer", in the same issue, it is revealed that Thad was involved in a plot to assassinate Lord Clifton Dargon, which was first detailed by Roman in "The Essence of Ur-Baal" (VOL4N02) and "Ur-Baal Magic" (VOL4N04) (a soon to be finished trilogy). The plot springs from high placed Dargon merchants who wish to subjugate the newly discovered land of Bichu for their own profit against the wishes, and foreign policy, of Lord Clifton. After Atros disposes of the body, Thad's disappearance cause some concern in the conspirators, whose ranks included the Royal Physician/Healer, all of which is detailed in "Hands of a Healer". As the series currently exists, Atros is as unaware of the conspirators, as they are of him, but this is soon to be remedied. Later in "Calls of Courtesy", Darla, a old friend of Atros' arrives from Magnus bringing some of Atros cached rare books. She tells Atros that Gilman does appear to have survived. He left Magnus for Dargon, soon after Atros fled. Not wanting another another Thad like incident, Atros takes Darla into his confidence to watch over him while he takes his drug controlled sleeps. Without his knowledge Darla browses through his diaries and papers during his sleeps. The papers tell of the full lives that Atros has lead during the passing of a single dream. Again and again, he has led tragic existences in a variety of lives, all of which he suspects to be as real as this. He has sought out the nepenthe, and other drugs like it, as his only method of controlling these tormenting dreams. Atros fears that this life to is only a dream and stays distant from everyone because he is afraid of yet more pain. Secretly, Darla loves and pities him. Well, that pretty much concludes my interruption of the real submissions to this issue. If you have any complaints about the series or the entire Dargon cycle, do not fear to write me directly or all the writers through LISTSERV. I sincerely hope I haven't created more confusion than good. -Joseph Curwen <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Growing Concern: Atros 4 A sudden draft of late autumn air set the handful of tallow candles illuminating the interior of the Inn of the Hungry Shark to fitful flickering. As the tavern's inhabitants at a few hours after midnight consisted of only the sleepy-eyed staff and a few groggy stragglers, no one had noticed the soundless opening of the heavy oak front door. But the prolonged change in temperature eventually drew stares. For several moments, the gray cloaked figure of a motionless Atros stood in stark contrast to the overcast night beyound the entrance way. A change had overcome his appearance. He no longer bore the guise of Raffen Yeggent with its white facial talk and near foppish stylings. Atros' long brown hair and somber gray floor-length cloak fluttered in the draft. But more subtly Atros' eyes seemed gripped by determination and touched by a quality of madness. It was certain that most of the tavern's clientele would give Atros a wide berth and continual observation. Finally, Atros entered and quickly located the night shift innkeep, a portly war veteran whose strength and firmness earned him respect in an establishment frequented by roughens and cut throats. "I would like to speak with you in private," Atros began in a low volume. "I'm working. 'Sides, if I turn my back for a shake, I'll be robbed blind by customer and lackey alike," the innkeep answered, clearing the bar counter of dirty mugs. "Perhaps that table in the corner, you could watch the room from there," Atros suggested a bit impatiently. "Look here, I haven't time to spend with every lonely thug who wanders in. Find someone else to bugger!" The innkeep's temper began to show. "You..." Atros began to raise his voice, then thought better of it. "Perhaps I should begin again." Atros hefted a small satchel of coins onto the counter but kept his hand on the bundle. "Now, will you talk?" "This way..." The innkeep led Atros to the corner table and and took a chair with his back to the wall. After collecting the satchel, Atros selected the opposite wall. "What is this about?" the innkeep whispered. "I know a man named Thad frequented this place for a few days about two weeks ago." "There's many a jack who muster through that door. I don't let names bother me much." "He was exceptionally tall and broad, dark black hair, boyish face with a permanent sneer. A single scar here," Atros added pointing at his right temple. "Him. A bad sort, I hear rumors." "Whom did he talk to here? Did he met anyone? Get any messages?" Atros asked eagerly. The innkeep seemed to mull this over for a time in his mind then said "Let's see your coin. This'll take gold." Atros spread the contents of the satchel and added a few gold coins from somewhere beneath the table. As he was doing this, Darla entered the tavern. Atros glanced once at her and once at a distant empty table. Darla ducked over toward that table trying not to attract attention. The innkeep was so lost in counting the coins with his eyes that he missed this exchange. Seeming satisfied, the innkeep began, "He spoke with no one 'cept the whores...and some men who let a room upstairs for a time," he concluded in a whisper. "Who were they?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from carrying. "Like I say, I don't know names...except maybe one... It'll take the pile," the innkeep pointed at the coins, "those men are dangerous and kept to themselves." "Fine. What was the name?" Atros answered quickly. "That one didn't come much. He was always trying to slip past but his fine clothes made him odd enough to notice. I'd seen him before...had him pointed out to me at any rate. He was," the innkeep hesitated and looked uncomfortable, "Dargon's High Wizard...Griswald Butsum or somethin' or other." His whisper was nearly inaudible. Atros could not contain a surprised expression as he pushed the coins across the table to the innkeep, who eagerly gathered them into a pouch hidden inside his cloak. "These men, what did they look like? How many were they?" The innkeep delayed before answering. "I'm already deep into somethin' big. Somethin' I don't understand. No more answers." He began to get up. "Wait!" Atros caught him by the wrist. "I'll double that amount." "What use is gold to a dead man?" the innkeep pronounced, broke free forcibly, and hurried into the kitchen. Atros stood, crossed the room, and motioned for Darla to follow. Once they had left the tavern and were safely walking the darkened streets side by side, Darla asked "So what's this tremendous thing you've learned?" "How do you know I learned anything at all?" Atros asked. "You wouldn't have given up a small fortune for nothing." This remark broke Atros' stride for a moment but he was quick to recover. "Be that as it may, everything seems to becoming more complicated." As they walked, Atros quickly and precisely informed Darla of his discussion with the innkeep. "You haven't any enemies in Dargon that I don't know about, do you?" Darla asked playfully. "No, not that I know of," Atros answered, "I'm worried that the high wizard was contracted to finish the task that Thad failed. I generally avoid tangles with wizards of all sorts." "Seems to be a good policy," Darla responded. "You've been around me too much these past few weeks, you're starting to pick up my dry sense of humor," Atros observed chidingly. "Perhaps," Darla agreed solemnly. Atros stopped walking and waited until Darla turned back to face him. "Are you mocking me?" His voice was steady, betraying neither anger nor humor. "No! Of course not. I wouldn't do a thing like that." Darla was perhaps over quick to reply. "I've just learned so much from you. I pick up things quickly," she finished weakly. Expressionless Atros began walking again. They continued together some distance in silence. "If you are so quick to learn, why have your reading lessons gone so slowly?" Atros asked looking forward. Darla gasped quietly then said "I haven't the patience or the time. I just can't see what use it all is." Atros began, "Books are any culture's, or any man's, sole means of preserving themselves. They are reservoirs of information that would otherwise be lost..." He continued in the same vein. The rest of the lecture was lost on Darla. She was overcome by relief for managing to distract Atros from her deception. It was a small thing really. But she felt that if her ability to read was discovered, Atros would lose all trust in her. She felt guilty about reading Atros' personal papers and diaries but couldn't resist. She was worried that her knowledge showed. She had made several near slips over the past two weeks and had thought that Atros' question about her lessons might have arisen from well founded suspicions. But apparently her answer had placated him. Caught up in her own thoughts, she listened to Atros' voice drone with an occasional nod. Thus both were being slightly incautious when suddenly a bright light from the alley way before them stung their eyes. The surprise was complete, their response predictable. They threw up their arms to block the blinding rays of a phosphorus lamp and were momentarily stunned into inaction. A disembodied voice to the right called Atros' name and he turned removing his hand from is face. An instant later he was tackled from the rear. An armored man seized Darla while another attempted to bind her hands. As her vision cleared, she screamed and fought, kicking indiscriminately with her feet while trying to break her arms free. Atros was having trouble of his own. Through more accident than skill he managed during his fall to break free of the arms clinched about his waist and to roll to his feet. Atros' assailant landed face first on the cobblestones and was slow to recover. Atros took the opportunity to draw his rarely used sword and survey his opponents. There were three, all armed, all armored, and all somewhat experienced. Atros felt a sinking feeling his stomach but managed a quick flourish and charged his assailant, who now stood between Darla and himself. The tackler had apparently been chosen more for mass than for quickness. Still his armor would turn all but Atros' best placed thrusts. Atros seemed doomed to fight a war of attrition with the giant, who now bore a hand and a half sword, a weapon capable of splitting the unarmored Atros in half. It was times like this, that Atros wished he'd taken real sword wielding lessons or at least bothered to select a religion. Atros cursed himself, distracted by that thought he had missed a critical opening. Atros resolved to fight instinctively and cut off thinking so much. He allowed his anger to flare. He must make it to Darla. After several moments of futile effort, the onslaught that was Darla relented. Without a weapon, she could only inconvenience, not harm, her two armored opponents. It occurred to her that perhaps a more subtle strategy might be called for. Almost as soon as her fury subsided, one of her assailants, noticing his companion's difficulties with Atros, pronounced "Here, take her", shoved Darla into his partner, and strode toward the more active melee. Atros was tiring rapidly now. He was out of condition and the nepenthe seemed to drain his endurance. He met the entrance of a second opponent into the fray with mixed emotions. He seemed certainly doomed now, but perhaps Darla could find a chance to escape. She'd done nothing; it must be him they wanted. The outcome of the battle had long been decided. Atros' two opponents began to jeer and taunt him, as he grew steadily more helpless. Atros' anger gave him some strength, but it would not be enough. He fought on, knowing he appeared awkward and comical now. He almost wished they'd end it quickly, if only to save his pride. At long last, the obvious occurred to the ruffian who held Darla captive. "Wait," he called out to his companions, "we have the girl. We can make him stop fighting." He held one of Darla's arms in a painful hold behind her back. Still, she did not struggle. Like Atros, she seemed to have accepted her fate. "Why? It's just becoming fun," the taller opponent responded while swinging his sword in a wild, wide arc. "We can take them alive. We'd get more gold for it," Darla's captor suggested. Distracted by the conversation, his hold on Darla's arm was loosening. "What makes you think that? Nobody said anything about bringing them in alive," snapped the third finishing in a child's rendition of a fiendish grin. Darla saw her opportunity and took it. She clutched a short dagger from her captor's belt and attempted to drive the blade into his exposed neck. Her aim was poor but she did manage a painful and bloody gash to the base of his chin, just left of his Adam's apple. He whirled, cried "Bitch", and struck her across her right temple with his gauntleted hand. She never noticed that a small punch dagger was affixed to the back of his gauntlet. The blade scraped bone and Darla went down in a slight spray of blood. She lapsed into unconsciousness. Atros let out a piercing shriek and tried to break through to Darla, but was prevented by his two opponents. Confusion reigned as the combat became a scuffle. After a few long moments of wrestling on the darkened cobblestones, Atros felt the weight of his larger attacker lifted from him and heard a resounding crash some distance away. He looked up to see the outline of a short cloaked figure leaning over tussle. The man took hold of his remaining opponent by the head and quickly snapped his cervical vertebrae. With a momentary feeling of deja vu, Atros pushed the corpse off himself. His rescuer extended a hand to help Atros to his feet. Atros noticed that the hand was large, coarse, and cool. The distant sound of fleeing footsteps could be faintly heard. "They're gone?" Atros inquired shaken. The cloaked man nodded and walked over to Darla's motionless body. Atros had enough sense to fetch the overturned phosphorous lamp to aid in examining her wounds. He stumbled a bit, obviously exhausted, but he couldn't ignore Darla's need now to rest. For the first time, their rescuer's face was illuminated by the light of the lamp. "Gilman!" Atros shouted, unable to control his surprise. "Gilman no longer..." He spoke softly in monotone. "Though I remember being Gilman once." Looks of fear, comprehension and awe swept across Atros' features. He stood stunned while Gilman began binding Darla's wounds with strips of fabric from his tunic. "Who...What are you now?" Atros inquired softly, hesitantly. "A servant of our master, yours and mine," Gilman pronounced ominously. "You understand." It was not a question. "My tormentor," Atros whispered under his breath. "Yes that too... You must go quickly now. I will hold off pursuit." Though the opponent had been repelled, both instinctively knew they would return soon in greater numbers. "I have so many questions," Atros began. "They will wait," Gilman cut in. "I have a message for you." Atros hesitated, reluctant to ask. Finally, he nodded. "All of your preparations are unnecessary. To meet the master of your dreams you need only to hold the desire and to sleep." Gilman's words rung like a muffled bell to Atros' ears. Drawing into himself, Atros' only acknowledgement of the message was a soft grunt or moan. He had hoped that he was wrong. "Go now...quickly," Gilman advised, lifting the partially conscious Darla to her feet. Atros supported her and began hurriedly limping away. After a short distance, Darla could walk no farther even with Atros' support. Her mind wasn't lucid then. She hummed softly to herself and spoke in fragments of remembered conversations. No tears stained Atros' cheeks as he lifted the semiconscious Darla in his arms and staggered under his burden, but only because Atros had forgotten how to cry long ago. Atros knew that she needed a place where she could receive immediate medical help and much rest, but no such haven existed in this neighborhood. It would be foolish to return to the flophouse now as well. His best hope for a healer lay in the wealthier areas nearer The Keep. He was well past his normal physical limits of endurance and he knew that he would require several days recuperation himself. Trying to block out his own pain and exhaustion, Atros carried Darla though the empty, darkened streets of Dargon for a time that seemed to stretch into hours. Atros' own mind began to lose clarity and he lost his direction. He wandered aimlessly for some time, occasionally calling out to empty alley ways or vague shapes. As he grew weaker and his thoughts more primitive, his only desires were flight and safety. The weakness and pain blurred his senses. It was in this condition that Atros, with Darla in his arms, staggered into a darkly dressed gentleman stepping out of a darkened doorway. The man cried out in surprise as Atros sank to his knees still supporting Darla. Seeing the blood and bandages, the man exclaimed "She's hurt. Quickly inside, in the light," and helped Atros carry Darla through the entrance way into a dimly lit foyer They placed Darla on a hard wooden bench cushioned with woolen cloaks from pegs on the walls. As soon as this was finished, the gentleman turned up the oil lamp and turned toward Atros and Darla. Without the facial talc it took a moment for recognition to dawn on him. "Raffen!?! Raffen Yeggent?" he exclaimed. Atros looked at the gentleman's face for the first time and dimly remembered speaking to the man once at dance hall during the festival. Could it have been only a few weeks ago? Atros' thoughts cleared and he remembered the scholar who studied myths and legends. "Pravo" he said weakly. "Who is the girl? No, never mind that now. It doesn't matter. A friend of yours, I suppose?" Pravo asked. Groggily, Atros nodded. He couldn't keep up with Pravo's words. "Don't worry. I'll take care of her. She'll be alright. You rest. You look exhausted." Pravo's tongue seemed hyperactive. Once again, Atros nodded. Pravo set to examining Darla's wounds while Atros slumped against the base of the opposite wall. Pravo's hands worked quickly and efficiently. He seemed to know what he was doing and at the moment that was good enough for Atros who slid into a stupor. But Pravo wouldn't let him rest. "How did this happen?" he asked. "Muggers in the street," Atros answered barely conscious. "Where?" Pravo inquired. "Down by the wharves near the Hungry Shark," Atros smiled with his eyes closed, seeming amused, but Pravo never looked back at him. "They take your purses? Why'd they hurt her? What's her name?" "Darla," Atros answered, slightly amused. "The initial bandaging was done quite skillfully. She hasn't lost much blood. She'll be fine in a few days. Maybe a scar though." "Good." Atros began to chuckle quietly to himself but stopped when he realized it wasn't really funny. After a few moments he drifted into unconsciousness. Atros awoke a few hours before dawn on the entry way floor with a coarse blanket over him. He was confused and slightly frightened. But after several moments of sitting in the dimly lit room, the events of last night came to him. Darla no longer lay on the bench and Pravo was no place to be found. Atros' arms and legs were sore beyound imagining. He got up slowly, stiffly and wandered further into the house. The second door he came to was open. A short tallow candle burned on a high shelf. Darla lay in a large comfortable bed. In the soft glow she looked very beautiful, very vulnerable. Seeing the bandages covering her temple, Atros felt a surge of guilt. He knelt beside the bed and took her hand into his own. "I'm sorry Darla, I never meant for anything to happen to you," Atros began. Darla moved slightly in her sleep. "They wanted me and you were a convenient tool." His breathing was irregular, his voice hoarse. Darla stirred slightly. "You must forgive me. I've failed you. I let them hurt you," Atros went on weakly, eyes cast downward. "Shhhh. Be quiet, Atros....You have nothing to be forgiven for. You don't don't have to protect me. I've always taken care of myself." Darla reached out to Atros and gently stroked his dark hair. "I'm no swordsman...no hero. A quick jab of a blade in surprise maybe, but not a real fight." Atros' voice cracked. Still, he could not face her. "I know, Atros. I know. But you are a hero. My hero. You saved me and provided for me. My wounds are my own fault. You have cared for me. You have nothing to be ashamed of." She was gentle, motherly. There was a long silence. It was broken finally by the entrance of Pravo. "I thought I heard talking," he said entering in a nightshirt. "You should be both be asleep," he said accusingly. "There will be time for talking tomorrow. Darla needs her rest." Pravo sounded annoyed though inwardly he was happy to find Darla awake, it was a good sign. "Oh, yes Darla, we haven't been formally introduced. I'm Pravo, a friend of Raffen, and master of this house. You are welcome here until you are well again. The healer has gone now, but will return tomorrow and guarantees that you will be well soon. Provided you rest, of course." Pravo said smiling. "Now, if you excuse me, I will show Raffen to his room." Pravo took Atros by the hand and escorted him down the hall to another bed room. Atros tried to as if he were totally well, but Pravo could not avoid noticing his stiff gate. The room which Pravo gave him was not nearly as grand as Darla's, which Atros now realized must be that of the lady of the house. Atros inquired. Pravo said, "That room is vacant. I live alone now." Atros was surprised, to live in such a large house without servants was unusual. He asked, "You are widowed?" Pravo answered obviously painfully,"No. My wife left me many years ago. I dismissed the staff." Atros was sorry that he had asked. Pravo changed the subject. "There is water is the pitcher, linen in the chest, as well as some clothing that might fit." Pravo turned to Atros, seemed to consider for a moment then said, "She calls you 'Atros'....There was an 'Atros' in Arbor two years back... Who are you?" Pravo asked, facing Atros. "What do you know of that man in Arbor?" he responded cautiously. "Very little really. He stayed with a colleague of mine named Baughis. Baughis wrote a letter praising his Atros' scholastic talents and congratulating himself for the find of such a remarkable young talent in the slums." Pravo paused a moment. "The next letter was filled with curses upon an ungrateful runt who relieved Baughis of half his library and departed unexpectedly." Pravo straightened his stance and looked Atros in the eye. "You are that Atros, no?" "No.." Atros said obviously lying. But after a moment "Yes, I am that Atros....You must forgive me. Those books were very important to me at the time. I took them only because my need was very great...You must understand." A distraught Atros plead. If only he could justify himself to someone just this once. "Understand?" Pravo watched the youth, made some decision, and chuckled. "I nearly laughed myself to death reading that second letter." Pravo continued smiling, "Baughis is a pompous old fool who never finished a book in his life. It just pleases his ego to play at being a great mind. He buys rare books with inherited money and then gets great pleasure form having more renown and less wealthy scholars beg to borrow some unique tome. No, I have no qualms about that incident...But Raffen, Atros rather, who are you really?" A moments silence passed. "It's been so long...I really don't know anymore," Atros replied weakly. "Come now, you are still young. It could not be so long a story." "But it is. A very long story filled with lifetimes of memories...They all begin to run together...I am uncertain. I no longer know truth from lie, reality from dream." Atros mind drifted. "You are still tired," Pravo says sounding concerned. "We will talk when your mind is cleared. Sleep now." Pravo left the bedroom. Atros retrieved the bottle of nepenthe from his satchel, began to unstopper the cork, and then hesitated for a long moment. "No, despite what Pravo thinks, I am still strong...Strong enough for this." Atros whispered to himself, then returned the drug to the satchel. He laid down on the firm straw pallet and quickly fell asleep. -Joseph Curwen <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Glasmelyn Llaw Part One: The Tower Deep in the forestland south of Dargon there stands a Tower, far from anywhere, off all beaten paths. Sixty feet high it stands, and it bears five "finger" turrets that rise, one from each of the above-ground floors, sixty feet themselves - lifting the roof of the highest turret 110 feet above the leaf-covered ground. The Tower is a marvel of architecture made from smooth-cut, dry-set, green crystalline stone which, with its turrets, gives it its name - Glasmelyn Llaw: The Emerald Hand. It is obvious to any casual observer that it was not erected by mortal hands: its lines have an ethereal, otherworldly beauty and grace that summons images of equiraptors and gryphons flying about and roosting on its turrets. The Tower has stood for a very long time; since the plains of the northwest become carpeted with forest; since the land was colonized by a sea-faring nation, who built a fortress at the mouth of the only navigable river to safeguard its cities from invasion; since that colony eventually died out as support was lost after the parent nation was besieged and conquered; since the re-colonization of the land by the youthful, growing kingdom of Baranur, and the founding of a new duchy, given to an accomplished young commander named Anton Dargon who turned an old watch-fort at the mouth of the Coldwell into the ducal seat. And, the Tower has stood, unnoticed, while Dargon (the duchy) has grown, and Dargon (the city) has spread across the mouth of the river it sits upon. Its builder was a wizard in the days when wizards were as common as fleas on a wild dog, if a little more feared. His name was Tarlada, and he was very powerful among his kind, mostly because of the extensive research and collecting he had taken the time to do. His ability made others jealous, and they imagined that they, too, could be as powerful as Tarlada, and without the time he had taken, if they managed to kill him, and take the fruits of his labors as their own. Tarlada was more than just a scholar of magic - he was adept at his craft. Because of this, he managed to survive three surprise attacks by his fellow wizards who wanted his grimoires and artifacts. But he knew that he couldn't hold out forever. So, he had his tower built by magical means (untouched by human hands, it was), and hoped that living in it would be safer than where he had lived before. He was wrong. Two more attacks made him angry, and just a little afraid. Afraid enough to take a rather drastic step. He knew that eventually his attackers would catch him totally by surprise, or asleep, and get the best of him, taking all of his hard-earned spell-lore as their own. So, he began to do some research into several large iron-bound volumes for a certain spell that he had heard of once. It was there, and it would do what he needed it to. He gathered the materials necessary, which took several months, and then he began the rituals necessary to activate the spell. When he was done, several more months later, he had instilled into his tower a purpose. Not life, but just a purpose - to protect him from harm in any way necessary. The spell gave the Tower enough intelligence to carry out its job, and the means to as well, in the form of several magical weapons, and the ability to adapt several energy stores to contingency uses, as it saw fit. Tarlada was well pleased with his work, and he showed it off to any and all. He was now secure from outside harm, and finally able to return his life to normal. But, his enemies weren't so pleased. They found his enchantment to be very successful - anyone who attacked the tower found themselves absorbed into the energy reserves for future use. Eventually, the greedy ones began to leave him alone, for which Tarlada was glad. Tarlada was a solitary sort of person. He had friends, but he had built his tower so far away from everything that he seldom had visitors, especially since the attacks stopped. Many years passed, and Tarlada barely noticed them, so wrapped up was he in research. And then, one day he was in the laboratory when the door-chime rang. He hurried down stairs and opened the door, and saw Lars'n, his very best friend and companion all during his apprenticeship to his master K'am. But, Lars'n appeared ancient, all bent and grey, and they had been of an age when studying under K'am and Tarlada both felt and looked no more than mid-thirty or so. Lars'n's voice was as old as his appearance. "Ah, my friend," he rasped weakly, "this is indeed a marvel. You haven't aged a bit since last I saw you, what, sixty or seventy years ago? Remember, just after Red Mergan tried to attack your tower? He was the last, wasn't he? So, tell me how you manage to look so young?" Tarlada was stunned. Eighty years? It was impossible! What was going on?!? He invited his old friend in, and they chatted. Eventually, Tarlada told Lars'n that he had no idea that so much time had passed. Lars'n looked thoughtful, and said, "I feared this. I think it was unwise of you to use that particular spell. It seems to be doing its job rather too well. Tell me, friend, when was the last time you left this place?" Tarlada thought, and said, "Well, I don't rightly remember. Some time ago, I think. It was when Jiil wanted me to come to her wedding, I think. Just last year, wasn't that?" Lars'n said, "Tarlada, Jiil was married seventy-one years ago, and died eight years ago. She outlived her children, and her grand-children. I met one of her great-grand-children in Rihls on the way here, and he is thirty-three years old. Come with me back to Irlenda, just for a visit. My own great-great-grandchildren have heard stories about you - I'm sure that they would enjoy meeting you." Tarlada was more than a little frightened by what Lars'n had told him, and what he was implying. So, he agreed. Without even packing, he helped Lars'n to the door, and tried to leave with him. But, he couldn't pass the door. Lars'n was on the step outside, watching Tarlada's attempts to pass through the door, shaking his head sadly. "I'll try to help you, my friend," he called. He turned away, and began to move surprisingly swiftly down the very faint path that led up to the door of the Tower. And that was the last time anyone left the Tower for a very, very long time. Part Two: The Prey "Are you sure that this is really a short-cut, Maks?" Syusahn asked. She really didn't like the look of the trees hereabouts, even apart from her natural distrust of enclosed spaces. Being from the south-eastern steppes, she was used to being able to see the horizon, and traveling through this forest was unnerving. She had grown used to it a little after the last five days of travel, but the forest had lately changed character. It now seemed almost brooding, or even sinister. Perhaps that was due to the strange, almost iridescently green, yellow, and blue vines that were everywhere, intertwined between the trees, across the top of the trail, and even among the grasses of the trail itself. Very little sun managed to filter through the vines. The horses' hooves and the wagon's wheels made very little noise as they moved over the trail, and the normal forest sounds - insects, wind in the leaves, and the like - were very muted. It all made Syusahn nervous and anxious, a feeling she disliked: ordinarily, she feared little. She looked at Maks, her betrothed, who was looking a little uncertain. Maks was one of the Rhydd Pobl, commonly called gypsies. He was five foot seven, thickly built, but not fat, with dark brown longish hair and full beard and moustache. His eyes were very black, his nose very large, and his face rather squarish, but in combination, he was very handsome. They had met four months before, when his tribe was moving through her homeland, and had fallen immediately in love. It had taken a while for his family to accept one of the Gwynt Gyrun - Wind Riders - as Maks' betrothed, but she finally convinced them that she and Maks belonged together. The first banns had been cried in the camp of her people, and Maks' tribe had sworn to cry the second banns when they reached their spring camp. She and Maks had tarried in her homeland for several weeks, and then had taken to the road more slowly than was the norm for a gypsy caravan, but when they finally arrived at the spring camp in the northwest part of the Kingdom of Baranur, near a city named Dargon, the banns would be cried for the third time, and they would be wed at the mid-summer gathering of tribes. Maks finally said, "The maps of my people say that this is the shortest way to the camp site. We are children of the road - our maps do not lie. This is the right way." But he wasn't truly so certain. The maps of the Free People never lied, but the one he was following made no mention of this strange patch of forestland. What really worried him, though, was the fact that his map had an area marked as dangerous just a few miles to the west of where they were, and the description matched how these woods looked. Maks glanced at Syusahn, and noticed the worried look on her face. He knew how she felt about the forest, and had thought she was over it, but the strange feel of the forest here probably brought all of her fears back in full. For Maks, the happiest day of his life was the day he met Syusahn. She had come charging up to the caravan on a wild black mare, riding bareback and brandishing a slim sword and looking as deadly as the fifteen other youths - mostly male - who were also test-charging the band of gypsies "invading" their territory. Maks' people knew the ways of the Gwynt Gyrun and held their ground, and the charging riders veered off at the last minute. Syusahn had come back almost immediately, as intrigued with the young wagonmaster as he was with her. They had been much together during the southern trading season, and had very swiftly declared their love, and had taken the matter to their elders. Syusahn's father, khan of a small but fierce khanate, had immediatly given his permission for them to wed. Maks' own people were more reluctant, but eventually gave in. They made the Four-Ring Promise to her people, and the Knife-and-Wheel Pledge to his, and plans were made for the wedding. Maks was sure he could not have done better for a wife. Syusahn was short - only five foot two - but not tiny in any way. She had long, flowing raven-black hair, and an almost elven face: oval, fine-boned, with high cheeks, arching eyebrows over green, silver-flecked eyes, a short nose, and a full, sweet mouth that flashed gleaming white teeth whenever she laughed, which was often. Her body was surprisingly full at chest and hips for so short a woman, and her waist was very narrow - features she liked to show off by wearing very tight clothes, usually in red and black, and lots of leather at waist, wrists, and feet. She also went heavily armed, though with more than the slim sword at her waist - she had at least a dozen small, sharp knives secreted about her person, and she was an expert in either throwing them, or close in-fighting with them. In all, she had such energy, such a joy in life, that Maks was sometimes amazed that she would choose to settle down with him - but then, a gypsy's life is seldom dull, either. They rode late into the night, the lamps on Maks' wagon-home lighting the way long before the sun actually set due to the gloom of the overhanging vines. Also, they were anxious to make good time through this strange forest, and so didn't stop like they usually did at the first sign of red sky in the west. They finally found a clearing in which to camp not more than two hours before midnight, and ate a hasty supper, then retired to the single bed together and tried, with some success, to blot out their individual uneasiness in the joy of merging. Syusahn awoke about an hour after the two of them had finally fallen asleep, feeling the call of nature. She hesitated for a moment, not relishing the prospect of going into the woods alone, but then she steeled her courage, muttered a prayer to Karoga, the Wind God, to keep her safe, dressed fully, and went outside. She was returning to the warmth and safety of the wagon, when she thought she saw a light flickering between the trees. Curiosity got the better of her, and she tried to get a better view, promising herself that she wouldn't go far. Meanwhile, Maks awakened alone, and wondered where Syusahn was. He pulled aside the curtain on one of the windows, and looked outside in time to see Syusahn disappearing into the trees across the clearing. He hurriedly threw on his pants and a cloak, and dashed out after her. Syusahn found it surprisingly easy to move through the trees after the light, but she couldn't seem to get any closer to it. In the heat of the chase, she forgot all about her promise not to go far. She didn't even think about getting lost - it was very hard for a steppes-rider to get lost if the sky was visible. Maks was having more difficulty. The vines seemed not only to block his way, but to actively hinder him by catching him, tripping him, making it very hard to follow his love. He called out to her, but she didn't seem to hear. So, he drew his knife, and began to blaze his own way to her. Syusahn did hear him, once, but as she began to turn to answer, the light seemed to take a wrong turn, and it got almost close enough to see clearly, and she took up the chase again. She didn't hear any of his cries after that - in fact, she began to forget about everything but the light and the trees between it and her. Maks managed to get close enough to his love to see the light she was following. She saw it as a flickering, yellow-red, torch-like blob, but he saw that it was really a pale green-yellow globe of light floating about head-high above the ground. He recognized the will-o-the-wisp, and called out even louder, but Syusahn was deeply ensnared and she didn't hear him. He fought the vines harder, trying to reach her, but the vines were fighting back, and now the trees themselves were joining in, throughsting up roots to trip him, and waving branches in his face. He fought on, following Syusahn as she followed the light, for a very long time. He was nearly exhausted when he came to the end of the trail. And that was a tower. Huge and menacing, it was surrounded by vines as thick as trees twined utterly impassably save for a narrow pathway that led up to the door. He saw Syusahn enter the tower, and the door close. He ran up the path to the door, but it had no handle, no way of opening it. He beat on the door, calling for whoever was within to open it and face him, or give back Syusahn, but there was no answer, at least not from within. But, the vines that formed walls that framed the path began to close in, reaching out for him, pulling and whipping at him. They eventually got so violent that he had to run, fleeing before increasingly violent vegetation that was driving him away from his love, trapped in that strange, five-turreted tower. Part Three: Employment "It was an experiment," said Cefn in response to the question that Je'en finally got up the nerve to ask. They were sitting in the common room of the Inn of the Panther, at one of the rear tables. Though they were a rather strange couple, they had spent enough time there that they had become almost a fixture and the patrons barely noticed them anymore. Cefn was wearing his dark hood, as usual, and, while no one could see into the recesses of the cowl, he could see out perfectly clearly. It had taken several powerful spells to contrive the special darkness that filled his hood: it allowed him to see in ordinary light, a simple feat that he would have found impossible without it. He stared at Je'en while he told her of a research project that had gone wrong, cursing him with his glowing blue eyes and a total intollerance for normal light of any kind. She, of course didn't notice his staring, not being able to see his eyes. In that, they were evenly matched: her silver half-mask hid her eyes almost as effectively as his hood did his. He found her fascinating. He knew much - if not most - of her past, and he knew that she had an indomitable spirit. Few others would have been able to start again in a whole new life as readily and easily as she had done. And, being a swordswoman suited her as well as being a Bard. He also found her attractive. She was tall for a woman, almost taller than he, and very sparely built. She had sandy-blonde average length hair framing a longish, well-formed face. If trying to find faults, he could have listed her nose, which was too long, or her mouth, which was too thin, but he liked her hazel-grey eyes (when he could see them, which was rarely). Her arms and legs were strong and supple, and she was long-fingered and graceful (with allowances made for her near-crippled right hand). She was wearing a flatteringly cut green and silver tunic, and leather leggings with knee-high boots. She was armed, with sword and knife both worn on the right side of her belt. And, of course, there was the face mask, and the scar it hid. Cefn was sure that she still wore the mask more out of habit than necessity: she had built up a fine reputation in town, and no longer had to worry about being taken for a "poor, disfigured woman". Still, it added to her charm and mystique, and it was no odder than the hood he was forced to wear. Je'en listened to Cefn's tale intently. He seldom talked much about himself, but then, neither did she, which made for many long silences when they were together. She had always wondered about his eyes, though, ever since she saw the way they glowed so strangely when he had rescued her from that strange limbo place. She had seldom seen them since then, except at night, or in a very dark room, or when he had taken her to visit his mansion-like home, and he had used those strange golden globes to light the rooms. She had been rather nervous about asking him about them, but finally decided that she wanted to know more about this mysterious magician who was her partner. And, perhaps there was something more. The few times that she had been able to see his face, she saw that he was very handsome in an aristocratic way. He had short black hair, and a long moustache beneath a perfect nose and above a perfect mouth. She had yet to get close enough to tell what the crest on his earring was. He was tall, six feet or more, but not quite as tall as her. And, he had a games-man's body, sleekly muscled, not like what she thought of as a magician's body. She had felt an attraction to him from that first day, but she was wary of him, of his strangeness, and of his powers. She was glad that he had offered to be partners with her - it would allow them to get better acquainted. Much had happened between that first day and now. The first thing they had done as a team was destroy Lladdwr, the sword that the Cult of Jhel had so desperately wanted. That was after Cefn had gone to a secret meeting of the Septent disguised as Brother Tri, using the theryum to help his masquerade. He had destroyed the entire Septent, managing to take them by surprise, and had then given the names of the other cultists to Dargon authorities. Destroying Lladdwr should have been easy, except that the being trapped within the sword knew what was going to happen to it, and it did its best to thwart them. But, they eventually succeeded in breaking the spells on the blade, banishing the being within it, and melting the shards into a surprisingly small ingot of very impure iron. And, the journey back was delayed by bad seas, and an early winter. But, return they did, and safely. After that, they advertised by word of mouth their availability and willingness to solve problems and right wrongs in and around Dargon. They were hired to hunt down some wild animals, and two outlaw bands that were making the frontier life even more difficult - nothing too taxing to their abilities. But, the last of those had been last month, and they were getting bored - or at least Je'en was. She wished for something to do as Cefn finished his story and went back to sipping at his mug of ale. She happened to glance at the door as a very colorful fellow entered the Inn. He was dressed in a loose brown vest over a loose, multi-colored tunic, and strange, flare-legged black pants. From that, and his patterned sash, she recognized him as being a gypsy, probably here for the annual gathering that occurred just west of the city. He looked worried as he scanned the common room. His gaze settled on the strange pair at the back table and he hurried over. "You are Je'en and Cefn, the troubleshooters?" he asked. Cefn spoke, somewhat eeriely, from the recesses of his cowl. "Yes, we are. Please, be seated. Can we help you?" The man introduced himself as Maks, and then he explained his problem. "Less than a week passed, my betrothed was taken captive by someone who lives in an old, vine-covered tower in the forest to the south and west. I tried to rescue her, but the forest began to attack me and drove me away. I rode fast and hard for the spring camp, to get help, but my people had also had several losses from traveling that track and didn't know what to do. The elders eventually decided to send for help into Dargon, and I was elected to go. Please, can you help? We have heard about you both, even things that the gossipers do not know, and the elders are sure that you are the only hope for my Syusahn and the others who vanished into the forest." Je'en was immediately interested. She and Cefn had commented earlier on a few vague rumors that had been coming in from the south for a few months about strange goings on in the forest. And, here was an opportunity to investigate them, as well as several disappearances in the area as well. It sounded like fun. She said to Cefn, "What do you think?" while nodding her head. Cefn caught her signal, and said, "We will do our best. Do you have a place to stay tonight? We will start at first light, tomorrow." Part Four: Suspicions Food for the journey was the hardest to get hold of before the departure time set by Cefn. But, with some help from Jann, the innkeeper of the Panther, Je'en and Cefn managed to get enough for about a month on the trail, just in case. The other equipment they planned to take came from their personal stock, which wasn't all that large - Je'en hoped that they were adequately prepared. They all met at the Inn shortly after sunrise. With a minimum of discussion, mainly about their initial heading, the three distributed the equipment between their horses, and set off quietly through the silent streets of Dargon to the south. Je'en rode the chestnut mare that had been Mahr's. Mahr had named it Chestnut, but Cefn had assured Je'en that the young apprentice had had more imagination than the simple name implied. Cefn rode a big white gelding called Streak, for the red-brown blaze between its eyes. And Maks rode a bay stallion that didn't have a name - it was one of his tribe's messenger horses, not his. They encountered the strange part of the forest four days southwest of Dargon, and all three of them immediately noticed the change as they entered it. Sound seemed to be swallowed up by the ubiquitous vines, and sunlight was filtered almost to nothing. Another day, and they found the trail that Maks had been following, and shortly after that, they found the clearing. They tethered the horses there, shouldered hastily made packs of equipment, and pressed on on foot, using long, sturdy knives to make their way through the underbrush and vines to where Maks remembered the tower to be. It was difficult going, and Maks commented that the vines were even thicker now that they had been before. Cefn was very silent, and spent a lot of time examining the vines. That first day afoot finally ended without the three reaching the tower. They debated continuing on, but finally decided to camp and wait for the return of the meager sunlight. Cefn set wards around the little space that they had cleared of vines while Je'en and Maks gathered wood and built a fire. He assured the other two that the wards would keep out the vines, and any luminary visitors, but they remained a little wary of sleeping in the midst of the strange forest. Cefn had long since demonstrated that he was an excellent trail cook, and he again managed to produce a hearty meal from what seemed to be very unappetizing ingredients. Je'en envied him that skill, and she was taking lessons, but she wasn't very good just yet. Of course, Maks was also able to make meager rations into a feast as he had demonstrated once at an earlier camp, but he praised Cefn for his skill, and said that he didn't mind not having to cook to get good food on the road, as he usually did. When the meal was over, and the dishes rinsed and repacked, the three of them sat for a long time staring at the fire. They were all wrapped up in their own thoughts, and stalling before going to sleep. Maks began talking, almost to himself, still looking at the fire, a haunted, pained look on his face. Je'en noticed him speaking and started listening. He was telling of how he had met Syusahn. He described their time together with such emotion and such clarity that Je'en was both moved, and conscious of the fact that Maks would have made a great Bard. Then, he told of the night he had lost Syusahn. The light, the vines, the tower. He made her feel his fear and concern for his love, and his helpless rage when the door closed on her and refused to reopen. Je'en noticed that Cefn was listening as intently as she, but the expression on his face was not one of sympathy for Maks' loss, or admiration for his skill with words, but one of thought, as if he were trying to understand just what had happened and why. She got the impression that he had a fairly good idea of what was going on, but she knew that he wouldn't tell anyone until he was sure. She hoped that he would be sure before it was too late. Eventually, when Maks had been silent again for a long time, Je'en decided that she needed sleep if she was going to be any good for anything tomorrow. So she decided to trust Cefn's magic wards, said goodnight to her traveling companions, went over to her makeshift bed of green leaves, pine needles, and blankets, and went to sleep. The other two soon followed suit. After a light breakfast next morning, they packed up and set on their way again. Je'en noticed that the vines grew thicker and thicker, and were tougher to cut, as they moved south. She also noticed a strange feeling in the air as they proceeded, almost like a presence that was everywhere, but not quite aware of them. It was very disconcerting. Around noon, after breaking through what was an almost solid wall of vines, the three came to a clearing, and saw the tower. It was an impressive and disturbing sight. It rose majestically from a solid matting of vines that covered most of its first floor, sloping away from it into the trees of the perimeter of the clearing almost 50 feet away from the sides of the tower. It was a brilliant green, and it had five turrets rising to various heights around its circumference. The narrow windows that Je'en could see looked dark and sinister. They pushed through waist-high vines around the edge of the clearing until they saw a higher mound of vines that probably indicated the wall around the path to the door. After much hacking and straining, they managed to push through the wall, and indeed found the entrance pathway. The presence Je'en had felt earlier was much stronger now, but Maks commented that it felt different now than it had when he was here before. Less aware, less active. Je'en worried that their damaging the vines would alert the presence, making an intuitive connection between the two, but that didn't seem to be the case. They walked up to the door, and, while Je'en and Maks tried to force it, Cefn carefully examined the glittering tower walls, particularly where the vines came into contact with it. After a few moments, he said, "Je'en, Maks, come look at this." They joined him at the edge of the door, and saw what he indicated - the vines seemed to actually be growing from the tower itself. They could see dozens of tiny green crystal nodes dotting the tower wall, and from each node grew four to six blue, yellow, and green vines, each thickening swiftly from it's root and twining into the mass of vines that walled in the path. Having made that discovery, Cefn turned to the door, and took a little red pyramid from his belt pouch. He touched a flat side to the door just below the ornately cast iron knob. It glowed briefly, and the door opened just a crack. Before entering, the three armed themselves. Maks drew his boot knife, and went in with both knives at the ready. Je'en sheathed her vine-cutting knife, and drew her sword. Cefn fished for a moment in his belt pouch, and finally came up with a short, pale-blue rod that, for all its shortness, could not possibly have fit in the pouch. Je'en looked at him a little strangely, and then entered the tower, with Cefn hard on her heels. The interior wasn't as dark as Je'en had assumed it would be: it was dimly lit by a pellucid greenish light that cast no shadows whatsoever. Moving cautiously, the three of them began prowling around the first floor. The oppressive atmosphere was even more intense inside, but still there was no feeling that they were noticed. The first floor was a well kept common living area. The furniture was in excellent repair, and there was no dust anywhere. The walls were hung with beautiful tapestries, and Je'en recognized the style of a few of them as very ancient, and very valuable. Around the wall were about a dozen statues of men in various forms of war gear, from what looked like many different ages and countries. They were made of a strange, flakey stone that none of them had ever seen before. There were candles in wall sconces, and a huge chandelier in the center of the main room that looked like it burned oil from a score of prism-enclosed wicks. But, there was no sign of use, and there was something about the way everything looked that made it seem as if nothing had been used in a long time. They climbed to the second story, and then the third, before finding more than dusted furniture and statues. Cefn was exploring the alcove entrance to this floor's turret, and so saw the body first. It was dressed in much the same manner that Maks was, but the body itself was dessicated to the point of looking like an ancient mummy. The other two noticed Cefn examining the body, and joined him in the alcove. Maks said, "That was Neika, one of those that I was told had gone missing in the forest. See, that is his ring, and that badge on his sash shows that he was horsemaster for his tribe. But, he vanished not more than three weeks ago. How could he have come to look so...so long dead?" Cefn shook his head, and said, "I imagine that would depend on just how he died." Then he turned his back on the corpse, and continued to explore. Je'en and Maks spent a moment more with the body, long enough to be sure that Neika bore no visible wounds. Puzzled by the content and tone of Cefn's last comment, Je'en led Maks up into the third floor turret after the wizard. That turret was empty, as had been the one below. The three continued up, to the fourth floor, and then the fifth, where they found two more mummified bodies, again identified by Maks as the gypsies that had disappeared on the trail. On the sixth floor, they found another, and Cefn appeared to come to a conclusion. He said, "Come on, it must be at the top of this last turret." -John L. White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank