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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
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)
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!
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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?"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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