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+-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SEVEN NUMBER TWO
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+___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT
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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb
Leaving on Vacation Jim Owens
*Spirit of the Wood: 5 Rich Jervis
Ceda the Executioner: 4 Joel Slatis
Choice of Heart Jim Owens
Date: 020387 Dist: 259
An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project
All original materials copyrighted by the author(s)
Well, I know you've all been anxiously waiting for VOL7N02, and
here you are. Inside you'll find two shorts from Jim Owens as well
as continuations of the Spirit of the Wood and Ceda series. I'm sure
you'll be entertained. In VOL7N03 watch for the next (and very
significant) installment in the Atros tale, as well as the beginning
of another round of Dargon stories.
Also, I'd like to welcome the large number of new readers who
have signed up since Christmas. For those of you interested in back
issues, several file servers maintain copies. SILMARIL at FINHUTC
and TCSSERVE at TCSVM both maintain complete collections, CSNEWS at
MAINE maintains several recent editions, as SERVER at TAMCBA
maintains some of the most ancient issues.
Thank you all, and enjoy!
Leaving on Vacation
Tom stared down at his screen, his jaw hanging slack.
"Was ist?" Jim looked over from his screen. "Problems?"
"This thing just ate my files!"
"Oh. That happens. Maybe Kitty got hungry. Every now and then it
decides that you don't really exist, and that your whole processor
is a boogum made by a rat to fool the operating system. So it eats
it. Neat, huh?" Jim turned back to his screen. He was one of those
types that read the specification manuals for the fun of it.
"Wait! What about my files?"
"Guess you'll just have to rewrite them."
"Auuuggh!" Tom leaned back, rubbing his forehead. "I'm glad I'm
leaving on vacation tomorrow. Maybe they'll have this fixed before
"What? And kill Kitty? They'd never do that! It'd cost money."
House Kitty was the nickname the programmers had given to the
operating system. Its real name was HOS/CTI, short for Heuristic
Operating System / Collective Terminal Interface. Although most
programmers still used rather choppy sentence structure, it was able
to understand normal English, if there was such a thing. It was
usually a very friendly system to work with, but the last update had
a special addition. It was designed to deal with the problem of
unauthorized system programs, or rats as they had been recently
tagged. These were programs that crept into the system on
communication lines. Kitty would hunt them, and delete them whenever
it found them. It had a bug in it, however. It occasionally ate real
programs. Fortunately the unintentional victims could usually be
recovered. Tom typed in the commands to recover his.
>cti recover last system deletion
CTI: YOU HAVE INSUFFICIENT AUTHORITY.PLEASE NOTIFY SYSTEM OPERATOR
He growled. Stupid machine. Of course he had sufficient authority.
>cti restart virtual processor
CTI: ARE YOU SURE? THE PRESENT PROGRAM STATE WILL BE LOST
>cti yes, stupid
A moment passed.
CTI: THE WARM START IS COMPLETE
>cti recover last system deletion
CTI: THE LAST SYSTEM DELETION HAS BEEN RECOVERED
Tom's screen cleared and then displayed the lost files. Tom
sighed and went back to work.
Later that day the group leader mailed Tom some last minute
instructions concerning the project. The group was currently working
on a payroll monitor, and Tom had been assigned to the protection
schemes. Tom read the instructions, which mostly concerned error
checks on the maintenance password, or back door. He then saved
them. When he left the browse mode, however, and looked at his list
of files, he was in for a nasty surprise. If one discounted the
profanity, however, he didn't have much to say about the matter. Jim
came over, wondering about the cause of this burst of loquacity.
"All gone, eh? Guess Kitty got hungry again. Here let me try
something. Maybe I can get it to stop eating your files."
>cti purge processor state totally
CTI: ARE YOU SURE? ALL DATA WILL BE LOST
CTI: THE PURGE IS COMPLETE
>cti restart virtual processor
CTI: ARE YOU SURE? THE PRESENT PROGRAM STATE WILL BE LOST
CTI: THE WARM START IS COMPLETE. NO FILES FOUND. ERROR IN LOGON
Jim frowned. Sometimes these systems could get obstinate. Jim
was stubborn himself, however.
>cti hos vpg * 0000:0 0001<0000/FFFF
"Take that!" Jim rapped the ENTER key viciously. The machine
gave the visual equivalent of a convulsion.
"You killed my Kitty!" Tom sounded almost hurt.
"That'll teach 'er! Now we bring in a clone."
HOS: LOAD COMPLETE
CTI: GOOD AFTERNOON, TOM. HERE ARE YOUR FILES
A list of all Tom's files spread across the screen.
>cti set garbage collection on cont
CTI: CONTINUOUS GARBAGE COLLECTION NOW ON
"There. Now you shouldn't have any problems. That'll curb
Kitty's hunger pains. That lets her come in and clear out the
garbage regularly. That way she'll keep a current record of you at
all times, and she won't mistake you for a rat."
The next day Tom started off for Florida. His replacement sat
down at Tom's usual terminal, and typed in the password off the card
Tom had left him. He looked at the instructions Tom had left him,
and a look of puzzlement entered his expression. Seeing this Jim
came to the rescue. After reading the note, however, Jim merely
walked off, chuckling. The temporary watched him, and then reread
the message to see if he might understand.
THE PASSKEY IS IN MY MAIL FILES. IF YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS
GETTING IN, SEE MY NEIGHBOR JIM. HE'LL HELP YOU. CHECK THE BACK
DOOR, EMPTY THE GARBAGE, AND DON'T FORGET TO FEED MY KITTY!
Spirit of the Wood: Chapter 5
The sound of prowling animals awoke Loric the morning after his
sister left. They scratched the bark around the base of the trees
and called up to him. "Loric where is your song?" "Do you fear the
dawn?" "Fear it more than others for today you die!"
Shivers ran through him as he crouched on the wide limb that his
home sat on. The time of his death had come! Perhaps they won't see
me,I can stay here all day. But then Loric remembered who he was .
He straightened up and looked down into the half-dark below him. "Go
find another's bones to chew 'Speaker-for-animals', Loric Tolorion
will die when his song is done and not a note sooner. Kha-vanth
He spoke the ritual words of warding and shook loose some shelf-
fungus, "Go eat your tails and gnaw on this!" he cried as he pitched
the hard shell-like fungus down into the dark. His effort was
rewarded with a snarl of outrage. "A special death for you,
Tolorion-son, a slow, painful one." Then silence.
Still shaking, Loric smiled grimly to himself. There will be no
skins drying on Cid'shaa's Tree this morning. None of the Tolorion,
I wonder how I WILL die today? Stretched across a wasp's bole no
doubt, after taunting the 'Speaker-for-animals' so boldly. There was
no use in avoiding it, so he shook off his fears and went to meet
the day. He said his prayer to the Spirit and just to prove himself
added a new line that just occured to him;
Spirit of the Wood,
Spirit of the Wood
I'd come be with you,
If I could.
The sun's a-risen
and today I die,
My spirit's awakened
to you It flies.
He leaped out to a vine nearby and absent-mindedly descended to
the ground . I wonder if any of the others will die today, I've been
so wrapped up in my own ordeals that I've forgotten that I'm not the
only one trying to become a man this day. Jakul perhaps, Yione
surely. He's never had a hard time doing anything.
Loric walked the hard packed clearing in silence and wondered
where the Downlander's were. He caught a movement on a path that
led to the clearing where he and the other boys were tested for
their knowledge of bush-craft. That's right! He thought to himself,
there was still time to recover his kesh-blade from the pit before
he died. If he could work it loose then it would be much easier to
survive the Shreaving.
A man could do anything once he had his kesh-blade. The forest
would clothe him, feed him, protect him and receive him when his
song was done, the Spirit willing, that is.
With no more hesitation Loric padded swiftly and silently down
the path and round an ancient Liamas tree to where the Pit was. The
log on which Minial had sat while witnessing Loric was still there.
And the Liamas bark rope he had fashioned was coiled up neatly
around one limb. The smell of Liamas was everywhere and its heady
aroma made Loric smile in remembrance of the fever he had when only
four years old, and of Eadie's potions of Liamas bark and pond-scum.
Eadie's hut was set by the river,where it would be a short walk
for her to gather water. Not that she ever did menial work on her
own, she always seemed to have four or five downlanders aiding her
and doing her work. It was there that she kept the roots and herbs,
poultices and potions, and it was there that she kept the Teline.
Loric decided that teline was the only way he could manage to
pull the kesh blade from it's bonding. He had seen men using the
Teline when the limbs of several ice-laden trees had given away and
fallen on the Downlanders huts. They had chewed the green stemed
plant and it gave them the ability to move the heavy limbs and to
think like many hands on the same arm. Loric's father had been on
the nets freeing ice when that happened, and no amount of Teline
could help him when he fell, his song was sung.
With a shiver he went to Eadie's hut and listened, when no one
appeared he went in and searched the many hanging vines and drying
strings for the Teline. Dimly he was aware that somewhere within the
forest the Downlander's were preparing for his death, and that of
the other boys who would chance the Shreaving this day. Pushing the
thought aside, he continued his search with determination.
After a bit of frantic searching he found several small pieces
wrapped in a waxy leaf from the copo tree. Hurrying back he avoided
taking the direct paths. There was nothing wrong in his taking the
teline; everything was there for those who wanted it,he just didn't
want to die before he recovered his knife.
Taking up the rope, Loric breathed a quick prayer and solidly
anchored the rope to a limb on the log. He leaned out as far as he
could and looked down into the dark hole of his last trial.
The bottom was hidden in the early morning shadows but he could
see the hilt of the kesh blade sticking out of the side right where
he had left it.
"Blade of my father, have you been lonely here in the soft
earth? Or have the roots of your brethren kept you warm with talk of
leaf and burr, nut and thorn?"
Loric 'walked' himself down the side until he was level with the
knife and took from his belt a short green stem of the Teline plant.
It was kinked and had tiny hairs along the length of it. He broke
off a small piece and chewed it briefly.
When he felt a burning in his throat he double-wrapped his grip
on the rope and then looped it around the ornate hilt of the knife.
PULL,he thought to himself, pull! It was always hard to think
when he chewed Teline. What it gave in strength, it took in reason.
Until later when it took strength too. Loric felt the muscles in
his neck go taut and his heart raced so loud he was sure that
everyone in the village could hear it.
He took large gulping breaths and felt a tightness in his chest.
When his arms and legs twitched their need to be used he growled and
pulled on the rope. He ground his teeth and tasted blood, for a wild
moment he thought of his position and wished he hadn't chewed so much.
Then the knife began to give, it made a slow sucking noise,
reluctant to leave its earthen sheath. Loric spat on the wall and
pulled all the harder, too far gone to notice the green-red spittle
that ran down his chin. There was a groaning noise, then the sound
of the blade sucking free of the earth. With a cry of triumph Loric
straightened his back and held aloft the newly freed blade. Its
resin-coated length gleamed darkly in the sunlight.
Loric leaped out of the pit and dropped his rope unnoticed on
the ground. In a moment he had run around the Liamas tree and then
kicked the log into the hole with one foot. He felt a rush as part
of him realized that he couldn't have moved the log normally and
that he would have a large dark bruise on his heel to remind him for
many days to come.
He did four backward flips and flicked his knife at the Liamas
tree in mid-spin. It struck the rough bark with such force that bits
of bark went flying in all directions. He laughed uncontrollably at
the sight and walked on his hands over to the tree. When dark ropey
tendrils dropped on him from above he showed no outward concern,
allowing them to envelope him completely. The morning light was cut
off abruptly and his breath began to be squeezed from him from all
sides. There was a sharp pain in the top of his head where the hard
bony beak of the creature was biting him but he could give no
resistance. He welcomed pain and howled his pleasure to the Spirit.
"I marvel that I know no fear Spirit, I have lived as a
Tolorion, and I am dying as a Tolorion! Eee-yoooo, a-yay!"
Loric's cry of defiance did not go unheard, Cid'shaa was at hand
and replied in a loud voice of cracking bone and booming drums.
"You WILL fear Tolorion-son for I have sent a Devathma to
consume you! I promised you a slow painful death and this you shall
have! But as your spirit flies to join the Spirit of the Wood, be at
peace. I will tell your brethren that you died with honor, like a
man. Thus you will be borne anew, like a man!
Darkness began to take Loric and the Teline started to wear off.
He could not have called out if he had wanted to, and he did not.
With a glad heart he went into the darkness...dying like a man!
Ceda the Executioner: Chapter 4
Cander peered nervously over the rail of the ship at the raging
water. He had been sailing for over a weak and was not yet
accustomed to the violent upheavals of the South Sea. He wore the
special dark metal ring (that is commonly referred to as black gold)
typical of Elven nobility on his pale hand which now held tightly to
the railing. A light rain had manifested itself over the area that
the ship was now sailing and was throwing the little vessel all over.
Cander was a large strong bodied elf. He wore a dark cape that
hung loosely about his stout figure effectively covering most parts
of it. If it was possible, which at this point it wasn't, to see
under the hood about his head, you would have seen signs of great
sorrow. This elf was not at all pleased about something, and was on
his way to let someone know about it.
That someone was of course Ceda, who was at that very moment,
half out of his wits in drunkenness about three hundred miles away
in the remote city of Cramstrock. (This city lay up in the far North
of No-Al Ben by the Icy Waters of Plime where Ceda was born.)
It is then quite understandable, that after months of endless
searching, and after finally finding Ceda who was at the time, numb
from Cramstrockian wine, he was in an extremely bad mood.
What had happened was this: Cander had found Ceda in the local
tavern drinking with his father and the few friends that still
remained loyal to him. He entered and demanded that Ceda come with
him to the City of the Elves. One of Ceda's friends, who was not
particularly fond of elves, let alone elven nobility (being a dwarf
himself), remarked that the elf looked like his old grandmother.
The elf, not very happy with the idea that he resembled the
dwarf's grandmother, took it upon himself to teach the dwarf some
manners. He picked up the jug of ale that sat in front of Ceda and
dumped it all onto the head of the now very unhappy dwarf. Ceda, who
did not like having his drink wasted, hit the dwarf in the stomach
with a stool and the fight was on. Almost instantly after the first
punch, everyone in the tavern was jumping in to help friend against
friend; what a scene it was!
Fortunately for the elf, all were drunk but he, so he waited
until everyone had been beaten senseless by one another, and then he
dragged Ceda off and hoisted him onto a horse, leaving for the Port
City of Dhernis immediately.
Ceda awoke the next morning to the sound of the market place in
the heart of Caahah. He wasn't sure at all how he got there, for
that matter, he wasn't even sure where 'there' was! The first
thought that entered his mind was food, and lots of it. He got up
and dressed and then looked around the room to see what he might
find. All the elfs things were there, but he didn't remember that he
had met anyone recently. Everything was strange to him. Many things
were in the room, none his, and he didn't want whomever they
belonged to to find him lying around their room.
He opened the door and went into the tavern down stairs where
Cander was sitting drinking a glass of wine.
Cander turned and confronted him: "Good day, Ceda of No-Al Ben.
You are a hearty sleeper! all the way from the shores of the Icy
Waters of Plime!" The elf threw back his head in laughter. "I am
Cander of Perstanie."
Ceda walked over to the elf and grabbed him by the collar. "Who
in Tavaar's name are you, and where might I be?"
The elf choked, and his hand flew to Ceda's arm. The dark gold
band upon the elf's finger caught Ceda's eye and he released his grip.
"Rackins of the Elves has need of your presence," said the elf,
as he fingered his neck. "It is a strange man that greets people in
such a manner," joked the elf, trying to settle Ceda's temper.
"And what is Rackin's wish with me after so many a month, for it
has been since last October that I last lay eyes upon his noble face?"
"And it is from November to March that I have sought your
company. It is for the most part about evil tidings from the
mountains in South. The dark creatures that dwell therein have
gained control over the crown of Grobst D'arbo's and seek a way to
"About what crown do you speak? For that which I remember had
since returned to the underworld. Be there two of these foul
things?" said Ceda.
"Nay, and you know this to be true," replied the elf. "For what
purpose do you ask such foolish questions?"
"If my memory does not fail yet, The demon that sought the crown
had found the crown. You say that it has been won from him?"
"The spell caster Merth has not revealed to me his thoughts, but
he has summoned you to his palace in the City of the Elves, which in
itself is an honor that rivals even the greatest of nonelven
nobility. But as for now, haste is upon us, for I have wasted many
months in searching and must not delay anymore with idle questions
that will be answered in due time. Make haste now that you have
awakened, for we ride for Dhernis!"
"If it is Merth that seeks my presence, then I shall come, for
it is probably of great importance if I am to be dragged from my
home like a common thief. Let us make haste!"
The elf disappeared for a moment through the doors that led to
the upper rooms and returned with his things. Then they both left
together and rode all that day for the port of Dhernis.
They rode fairly quickly through the country of Ruirse, Ceda on
a light brown horse supplied by the elf.
"And what of your dragon mount, Melgon? I sought him before we
left Cramstrock, but to no avail," said Cander.
"Melgon has returned to Cergaan, though I know not how he did it
without wings. He has been gone for fourteen days, and will remain
gone for another moon," answer Ceda. "There comes a time each year
that he departs without word nor warning, but he leaves message that
it is to his home, far beyond the City of the Elves, that he goes."
At that moment Ceda stopped his horse. He looked off to the far
South Towards the high mountain peaks that rose in the distance as
Cander rode up along side of him. From where they stood, the
mountains were almost invisible being so far away. "We now ride for
the Cliffs of Belos at the feet of the Sarshirian Mountains," he
said at length.
"Why?" cried the elf in dismay. "We must make the greatest of
haste to the City of the Elves, and the Gate of Ploughdom that leads
into the infested mountain and its dungeons and towers interests me
not! I shiver at the thought of the foul stinking things that lie
beyond the pass!"
"And all the same, we will make for it and then for Dhernis.
There is something afoot in those peaks. Methinks that it is best to
look lest we miss the ranks of orcs marching foreword to war out of
the Gate of Ploughdom unnoticed."
"And if they are on the march," said Cander, "it is not this elf
that wants to meet them on their way to whatever their destination.
They have grown strong in numbers since the battle at the fortress
of Num-deaon. And may Tavaar know what draws you to the borders of
that deadly place?"
"I know not what, but I sense that all is not well within the
land of Gate.
"I wish only to see if they have indeed passed through the
border into Ruirse. It is not my motive to battle the entire orcish
legions, or whatever other dark foes that Ileiruon may have brought
forth from the abyss," said Ceda, "and it will lengthen our journey
but a week." With that, he reared his horse to the South and rode
down towards the Gate of Ploughdom.
Further and further South they rode, passing the large forest of
Carne to the East as the hours wore on. The mountains came up and
met the sky in splendor with their snowy white peaks glittering in
the sun. After five days of uneventful riding, they were only fifty
miles from the closest of the Sarshirian mountains, called by the
orcs and other evil creatures, Onibus, after the battle of Ploughdom
13,000 years before when Ileiruon's followers were lead to victory
by a demon called Onibus. Men, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves and all
other creatures in alliance with Sarve, had called the mountain
Barnonoen, the name that was first given to it over 15,000 years
before by the Old Folk that lived in the land before the first
wave of evil swept over the continent from Cergaan.
They passed the ruined castle of Nuum-Orron, brother fortress to
Nuum-Deaon just visible against the Northwestern sky, and veered to
the Southwest in order to meet the cliffs of Onibus (the cliffs were
called Belos as a whole, but when referring to a certain area, they
were called the cliffs of the mountain that they belonged to) a day's
ride from the gate.
The sky was growing steadily darker with clouds the closer they
got, even though they were still a day's ride from the closest of the
mountains. Clouds were coming up from the south and a cold wind was
blowing harshly hampering their progress. They decided to return to
the sheltered walls of Nuum-Orron for the night before they
continued on to the gate.
The castle was large and supposedly deserted for many years.
They rode through the long open gate into the vast courtyard and to
the far side where there was a door large enough to admit their
horses. Ceda dropped from his mount and went to search the castle
while Cander set up camp.
When Ceda returned, Cander approached him. "I don't like this
place, Ceda, It has a foul reek and the horses are uneasy about it."
"The night air will offer no cover from the wind and the on
coming rain clouds should they decide to spill on our heads, and it
is foolish to risk camp outside so close the the threshold of Onibus
and the Gate. I have looked around and have seen naught nor heard
footfall, alas we may be safe the one night that we spend so close
to the Dark Doorway!" answered Ceda, not at all pleased with the Elf
for his timidness.
"Then here we will stay, but I am against it all the same." And
with that final word, Cander went to sleep leaving Ceda the guard.
Early the next morning they were off, towards the dark figure of
a mountain that loomed before them. The peaks now rose high above
their heads into the clouds and out of sight. Every moment brought
them closer to the dark opening that held so much terror for the Elf
and wonder for Man. The nearer they got, the more the Elf seemed
uneasy, but with good reason, the tales told of those that were held
there, and by some luck escaped were horrifying. Tales told of the
foul creatures that lived therein hewing off limbs of captives for
pleasure. These thoughts did not comfort Ceda or his companion.
Finally they reached the mountain's base and turned now toward
the West to come to the gate riding in the shadows of the tall peaks
to their left. All around the Borders of the Sarshirian mountains,
steep overhanging cliffs towered up hundreds of feet. The only
entrance was through the Gate of Ploughdom that the Dwarves of
Psardon had made in centuries past.
After another hour of riding, they approached the gate. It
looked like any ordinary cave to them, a dark hole in the face of a
large mountain side; but somehow, it seemed threatening, menacing
almost. A pungent smell issued forth from the crack filling the air
with an unholy odor of some vile creature or creatures.
Ceda dropped from his horse and went forth. Cander started after
and grabbed his shoulder. "Have you not seen enough? If they do not
await your coming outside the Gate must you go forth and present
yourself to them?"
At that moment, four husky looking creatures dropped from a ledge
in the cliff far above landing squarely on Ceda and Cander. Ceda was
knocked to the ground under the weight of the beast and Cander fell
from his mount with a heavy thud on the dry ground.
Before any could draw their swords, they were both subdued and
totally unable to move. Ceda saw one of the beasts strike Cander in
the back of the head with a heavy club, and then he too felt a blow
from behind and remembered nothing more about that day.
Darkness followed in the days to come; wherever Ceda was, it
was pitch dark and noisome. The smell was enough to drive a man to
tears, and it took its toll on the prisoners. Ceda awoke to the same
vile odor as before, but much nearer and stronger. His head hurt and
he was very hungry. He was sprawled out on a flat surface in a pitch
dark cave or room somewhere in the Sarshirians.
And so he lay, bound in heavy chains at his heels and wrists and
surrounded by total darkness; needless to say that he knew not for
how long. Hour after hour dragged on and still he heard no sound.
The smell grew in his nostrils to the point where he was screaming
in agony, and still no one--or nothing came.
After what seemed like years, a creaking noise was heard and a
faint light shone in the room he was in. The walls were covered with
a faint ooze like substance. He lay on a bed of solid rock against
the far wall, and all around him dark shadows moved upon the ground.
The light grew stronger and before Ceda knew it, there were four
tall Orcs before him. The light hurt his eyes and he cowered back
turning his weak head to the wall.
They undid the clasps at his wrists and feet and lifted him up
setting him on the floor. He fell over again was placed on his feet.
Then they started out of the room and down a long corridor. Ceda
fell to the floor many times and was dragged when this happened.
They didn't speak. Not one word. And the smell was beyond imagination.
The corridor seemed to go on far a long while, and frequently it
would bend suddenly and resume itself in another direction
altogether. Sometimes they passed other corridor entrances from
which came the same vile smell, and sometimes great stone doors that
were shut fast had a dim outline in the dark walls.
At length, they came to a large door set at the end of that long
passage. One of the Orcs entered and the remaining stayed outside
with Ceda. After a while at the door, the door was thrown open and
Ceda was lead into a great hall. It spanned far and wide, and in it
were a great many foul smelling beasts like those that had captured
Ceda to begin with. At the center of the far wall, raised high above
the heads of all Orcs and other beasts, sat a mighty being, one that
Ceda had never seen before in all his travels. He was lead before it
and dropped by the Orcs to the ground, as he could not stand by
himself in his weakened state. All he could think about was food,
for he had not eaten since he was captured some days before, though
he knew not how long ago.
There was a onset of hideous laughter as he struggled to stand
but could not, and finally was content to sit up in front of the
great seat that loomed before him.
"Well," it hissed. "We seem to have caught a spy. From Ruirse
perhaps? or be it from New Grandydyr? Weuyrt? From whence do you
ride, Elf tamer?"
Ceda did not reply, his mind was too tired and he was far to
hungry to even pay attention to the thing, but rather sat and gazed
up past the throne into the darkness of the ceiling that stood far
The beast continued, "or be you from the weak realm of Pirintar
in the north or Prass to the far east by the great water? Answer
me!" it shouted. but Ceda still gazed at the ceiling high above with
a partial smile on his pale lips.
Then the beast signaled to one of the Orcs and it stepped
foreword kicking Ceda in his back with all its might, its heavy
studded boots digging deep into Ceda's flesh. Ceda screamed with
agony and fell unconscious to the floor.
"Remove him until later," said the Beast. And a smile crossed
his lips, "and see that he is well fed!"
When Ceda next awoke, he was back in his cell, now chained only
at at one ankle. His mouth was dry and it pained him to swallow. He
rolled over onto the floor just in time to see an Orc leaving his
chamber. Before him on a dirty plate, lay a large piece of meat,
freshly cooked and spiced. A feeling of wonder passed before his
eyes accompanied by disbelief but there was the meat, steaming hot,
its smell god-like to his nose. At once he grabbed at the food and
began to eat as if it was long forgotten to him (and indeed it
had been for some days), the fragrance of the spices overcoming the
noisome stench of the stale dungeon air.
When Ceda had finished, he sat back against the wall and rested,
for after not eating a long time, the food sat heavily in his now
full stomach. Some time later, the faint creaking of a door echoed
though his chamber followed by foot steps. Before long, a beast much
like the one on the throne appeared before him with a water pouch;
until then, Ceda had not even been aware of the thirstiness that had
long grown in his dry mouth until now and grabbed at the sack in
desperation. The Beast let it fall and the precious liquid ran onto
"That's all you'll get for today, scum," it said. "Better you
learn to use your tongue or you'll not drink 'till the morrow," it
laughed. "Lick, scum, lick from the floor as do the beggars!" and it
left the cell, with one final word: "enjoy your meals while they
last!" it said and choked with laughter. And then heart stricken,
Ceda began to lick.
Ceda sat back after a long and disgusting drink trying not to
think about it. He thought for a moment about what the beast had
said 'while they last,' he said to himself. 'While they last,' and
coming to no conclusion, he forgot about it and went to sleep.
And the days wore on in the same manner. The beast would bring
him strange meat (for Ceda had never before tasted it) and Ceda
would eat and drink his fill. Presently he became accustomed to the
smell and it no longer troubled him. And he grew stronger.
After what had seemed about a month (by Ceda's reckoning), once
again the Orcs reappeared and took him down the long corridor the
throne room. This time, Ceda entered with pride, for he was now
fully healthy again, and as strong as ever before. He stood above
all other beasts in the room with his head held high before the
might of the ruler.
"Now, scum," it started. "I trust you have eaten well?" It smiled.
"Yes I have, Lord. From what beast is this meat, for it has
strange virtues?" answered Ceda, thinking that he did not want to
know the answer.
"Elf," smiled the beast.
Ceda was right: he really didn't want to have known what he had
been eating thus far, a feeling of dread filled his face and he
thought about Cander for the first time since being captured, and
the terrible fate that had become of him. At last he knew what the
other beast had meant by its remark about how long the food would
last. The room was again full of hideous laughter and Ceda's
confidence was wavering. To the end of his days, he never forgot that
moment that he had been told of his meals, nor could he bear to be
with elves for any length of time before guilt got the best of him.
Anger welled up inside of him. He thought to smite the beast
where it sat. His hand flew with lightning speed to his side, but
his sword had long been taken away from him as had all other things
save his cloths
"From whence do you ride," it now asked in a grim voice. "And to
what purpose do you dare approach the Passage of Ploughdom?"
Ceda did not answer, but instead he stared in hatred at the face
of the beast that loomed over him. It repeated its question but
received no answer still. Then it lashed out bending foreword and
with one great arm knocked Ceda from his feet to the floor.
Still Ceda said nothing to the growing anger of the chieftain.
Finally, after many strikes from the Orc guard and a few from the
ruler himself, they gave up. "Take him back to his cell and we shall
see how long he will remain quiet to the face of hunger!" It yelled
as Ceda was led from the room.
Down the long winding and twisting corridor was Ceda lead by his
Orc escort until his own room was in sight. As they drew close to
the door, Ceda leapt foreword pushing the two Orcs in front of him
to either side as he sped off down into the darkness of the passage.
Great was his speed as he outran the pursuing Orcs, but their
cries brought still more terrible things forth from the surrounding
openings and doors until the way behind was filled with angry
creatures running fast and tireless after him.
The corridor sloped down, then up and bore right, then left.
Twisting and sloping the tunnel wore on in an almost never ending
path. Finally, a faint glimmer of light could be seen ahead.
presently The glimmer grew into a opening and without stopping, Ceda
ran forth and out into the sunlight for the first time in well over
But the trouble was not over yet. Ceda was out, but he was
alone, unarmed and without food. Still he continued down the rocky
slope of the mountain side he had come out of at a fast pace. Pain
welled up in his chest but still he ran on, pursued only now by the
beasts like the one on the throne, for Orcs hate sun light.
After a while, Ceda had to stop. Being faster than his pursuers,
he had long since stopped hearing the sound of running feet behind,
but that would not last long, for if the creatures behind him could
not track, the Orcs could, and would soon be after him as the sunset
Now almost at despair, he started out for the borders of Ruirse
in the hope of finding a place in the steep cliff low enough to jump
from. It was his only hope, and that in itself was small.
He had been silently moving at a steady pace Eastward but was
extremely tired. The sun had dropped behind the tips of the Western
mountains and his shadow grew long. 'Time for a rest,' he thought to
himself as he climbed up a tree and sat down among its branches far
up out of sight. Then, breaking a few of the larger branches, he laid
them out making a crude but safe bed among the loftier limbs. Soon
it was pitch dark. The moon was hidden behind a rocky peek off to
the north leaving Ceda stranded in the tree should trouble pursue.
The air had a dank smell of burning flesh that came up from the
East; the direction that he was now headed.
During the night, all seemed to change. Even though Ceda was
being pursued, he had noticed that the country was gradually
becoming emptier of any and all things that usually dwell in those
parts. Not a sound was heard all that night, and the only life he
could see were the plants and trees. The quiet was discomforting,
Ceda would have been more at ease were he attacked or something,
weird though it was. Finally, sleep took him.
The next morning, he woke up and to his surprise, he had not yet
been found. He was so tired that last night, that it didn't even
matter to him weather he was caught or not, and indeed Orcs could
climb trees as well as they could track. Something wasn't right, but
Ceda had not the time, food or energy to even care. He should have
rightly been dead or captured by then.
The morning was young, and the sun was just creeping over the
eastern peaks. Ceda climbed higher and peered out through the
branches over the trees Eastward. The land about a mile off dropped
suddenly into a valley and all beyond, between the mountain that
Ceda was on and the mountain bordering Ruirse was hidden from sight.
That valley went for about thirty miles before Ceda could see the
slope of the next mountain climbing steadily upwards. 'About 3 days
journey on foot,' he thought to himself, 'if the valley is flat and
straight'. Then, climbing down the tree, he set off.
The valley was further than the trees had shown. After the mile
of tree tops that Ceda had seen, the trees had suddenly stopped and
a long barren field continued for another mile. The morning was
waning and Ceda still had not eaten. After reaching the end of the
field, he took digging up roots for food, much to his distaste.
From the end of the fields, the valley descended acutely into
more trees far below. A small winding path in bad upkeep led down
the almost cliff like face into the valley. This he took.
Walking all day, he finally reached the bottom of the mountain
and ate more of the roots that he had found. After a little
searching he found a stream that ran into a small lake. Drinking his
fill, he swam the lake and continued walking on the other side.
Upon reaching the valley, the trees began to reappear until the
forest was like a dense wall all about him. Moving now would be slow
Before long, he realized that the smell of the burning flesh had
returned and it was now growing stronger. The ground was now level
and things were beginning to look as they should. Bats flew
overhead, noises returned to the dismal mountains and in the
distance, Ceda could hear the faint shouts of Orcs. He continued in
the same general direction but away from the shouts.
After a while longer of walking, the yells became unavoidable.
They were all around him now, yet not to close, and to go back meant
death by the other Orcs or a long journey around the valley that
would take more time then Ceda had to spare.
Cautiously he ventured foreword towards the sounds and at length
to the edge of a clearing. Here shielded by the trees and shrubbery,
Ceda could see many of the same creatures moving about in the
sunlight where the trees had been quickly uprooted and burned. Some
Orcs were about but not many; They were kept busy by the orders of
the other beasts at whatever they were doing. Ceda could not see
much, but it looked to him as if the beasts were preparing for war.
Many of them were around going here and there with wagons full
of tridents and axes, others were running all over the camp on
errands of their own. Far off in the Center of the clearing, a large
hole had been dug and many Orcs went in and out. They all wore mail
armor and carried the axes that were made in the fields. They also
carried bucklers with a golden crown painted on it. The crown was
richly inlaid with Malthoogian gems. All the shields were new as
were the axes and the armor, and in the distance, Ceda could see the
faint glow of blacksmiths hard at work forging more.
Ceda stayed and watched, not daring to move until the sun had
long gone down and night was upon them. The moon was still hidden
behind the mountains and it was totally dark except for the torches
that were in and around the camp. Many of the beasts, Nuadrin, as
Ceda began to call them, had gone into tents that were set up in the
camp. Now many Orcs were about here and there shouting orders at one
another and arguing amongst themselves in there own harsh tongue.
The night drew on and presently Ceda fell asleep in the scrubs
where he hid. Morning came and he was awakened by the sunlight as it
rose above the far off mountains in the East. The burning was much
closer now and he could finally see what it was: men.
He sat and watched all day growing very disgusted at the ghastly
sight, yet very hungry as well, until nightfall. Then, using all his
talent, as a master assassin, he crept quietly from the edge of the
clearing back into the forest where he found both food and water in
a shallow stream that ran down the mountain slope from the West.
After eating, he began the slow journey of encompassing the
entire camp of about ten thousand troops of Orcs and two thousand
troops of Nuadrin (as well as he could reckon).
The night went slowly but at length Ceda had reached the other
side of the enemy camp and had begun again his path toward the large
mountain that towered above him.
Leaving the bloody camp behind, he had travelled almost another
ten miles from the Eastern edges of the camp when daybreak overtook
him. He settled down and went to sleep among the branches of a tall
pine tree out of the sight of all watching eyes of the mountains.
That night after a long rest, he awoke to the tree's gentle
swaying in the breeze leaving him with a slight chill. Tonight if
all went well, he would reach the base of the next mountain, Psom,
and would climb about half way to the point where he thought he
could see a pass between it and an adjacent mountain that Ceda did
not know the name of.
The night drew onward. Walking very surely and quietly, Ceda
slowly approached the mountain. Nuadrin were everywhere, walking
about in heavy plate mail with long black tridents and small round
bucklers; all with with the sign of the crown on them. They passed
commonly on a road that Ceda now followed about twenty yards to the
right so as not to be seen when troops passed. Now and again, ten or
more Nuadrin would pass with about fifty men chained together in
some heavy grey metal. Their faces were sad and they did not speak
to one another. Sometimes, he could hear the crack of one of the
long leather whips that the Nuadrin carried on some mans back, then
a yell of agony, then silence.
Orcs also trudged up and down the road, but not as frequently.
They were usually led by one of the Nuadrin, who were larger and
After an hour or two, Ceda left the road altogether and made
his way towards the mountain pass. It was not long before he came
upon the road again going in the same direction. 'Must have changed
course,' he thought to himself and followed on. The road veered
South as it came to foot of Psom and widened a little. He decided to
follow it a little to see where it headed.
Even on the mountain, the trees grew just as big and as thick.
They may even have become denser, but because of the general
incline, his way was hampered in many places. Now and again the road
would turn and head either North or South as the slope became more
acute but for the most part the road went up towards the pass.
Then all of a sudden, the road ended. As it came up the slope it
became so wide that it was not really a road any more. Then it just
gradually disappeared out of sight. Ceda walked along the area for a
while before a troop of Nuadrin came marching up the road.
When they reached the end, they walked along south for a while
until they came to the base of a small cliff. Then, the Nuadrin
leader went foreword and pushed at the wall of rock. It opened into
darkness and all the troop entered.
Then the door closed swiftly leaving no trace in the side of the
Ceda ran to the door and put his ear to it. He could hear the
Nuadrin singing until their voices vanished into the depths of the
cave. Their deep voices echoed in the cavern as they sang:
"Plunder we shall,
and spill the blood of the enemy,
until all their vast kingdoms lay
dead at our feet.
Kill their old Kings,
and spill the blood of the enemy,
until all their hearts beat at the
sound of our feet.
Pay them we shall,
and spill the blood of the enemy,
until all their men band together
Fight them we shall,
and spill the blood of the enemy,
until all their great gold lay down
under our feet.
Drive them out, we shall we shall.
KILL THEM and BEAT THEM until they all flee.
Out we shall pour
from the new gates of Psom and Dearn,
continuing the work of our
plunder we shall,
and spill the blood of the enemy,
until all their vast kingdoms lay
dead at our feet."
Then their voices were lost to the tunnels under the mountain.
The sound however was replaced by feet coming up the path. He leapt
from the opening into the cover of the trees just before around
thirty Orcs came marching up the path. Then he went as quietly as he
could up through a worn path away from the company.
Soon he heard the voices of the Orcs below as he left. They
spoke in common tongue so they must have had a Nuadri with them. (As
do all other forms of speaking beings, Nuadrin have a unique tongue
than most cannot comprehend, therefore, they are forced to use the
Common Speech when talking to things of other races.)
"Blyazax," hissed the leader to one of the Orcs in the first row
of company. "I smell Men here. What tunnel do they march the Men
"From the North opening, you know that. Let me smell." Replied
the Orc coming foreword. Ceda froze and listened intently. Faint
rustling among the ranks was heard and then a sniffing sound, long
"You're right Aejr. There were men here, and his smell leads up
from here. They've probably seen the entrance now! better take the
troop up after him before Ifaduk finds out and throngs us all! Come
on guys, after him! They can't be far from the smell of things!"
There was another rustling among the men, and then many foot
steps in Ceda's direction. He jumped up and ran with all his speed
up the side of the mountain towards the pass high above him. The
Orcs were making good speed up the mountain but were slowed by their
heavy armor and weapons. Ceda was far stronger, faster and didn't
have any armor to hamper him so it was not a problem to outrun them.
Soon the sounds of pursuit were faint and the yelling between
them was remote. He sat down against the trunk of a tree unable to
run any longer without a brief break. The night was almost over and
day would make him visible to all eyes. He got up and went on. The
voices were much clearer now than they were before. They were
tracking him well.
Gradually the mountain's slope increased until continuing was
only possible by crawling almost vertically. Trees grew all over the
mountainside and made his way up easier, but there was still a long
way to go before even reaching the pass, and after that it was not
certain that he would find a way through and then down from the
dangerous cliffs of Psom.
After another hour of climbing, the pass was within sight but
the sounds of feet were still close at hand. The going was slow
for both Ceda and the Orcs, but they were making headway faster than
he. The vile smell of the dungeon at Onibus was in the air as the Orcs
gained on him up the slope. They would soon reach him at their
The smell grew in his nostrils until the remembrance of the
Elf, Cander, came to mind. That drove him on up the slope and
finally to the pass with an outburst of hidden strength. Anger now
drove him and welled up within him as he climbed up onto the narrow
ledge that was formed by the merging of two lower parts of the
The ledge was not altogether flat, but it was firm and narrow.
Ceda decided to turn and face the enemy before all his strength was
gone. He turned and leaned against the wall of the mountain on his
left and rested until the first malformed head of a Nuadri soldier
popped out of the trees below. Then it was only a matter of seconds
before it was at the edge of the pass.
It looked up and saw Ceda waiting for it. Then with a Cry in
another tongue, it hastened up the remaining feet to the pass. Ceda
was ready. He stood back letting the Nuadri up and then like
lighting threw both his fists down on its large head knocking it
down. Then he jumped on it catching its head in his hands and
turning it until its neck it broke with a shuddering crack!
Then he undid the small buckler from its back and took the
trident from it where it lay at the Nuadri's side. Then finally he
unfastened a pouch that hung about the beast's side and waited for
the rest of the Orcs to catch up.
It was not long before one, then three, then ten had poked their
heads out of the trees underneath Ceda. Seeing their leader dead at
his feet demoralized them a little, but seeing that there was only
one man to deal with gave them the courage to approach.
Then Ceda threw the body down at them knocking two of them off
the side of the mountain into the trees far below. The rest climbed
up towards the pass with malice in their eyes.
Ceda stood his ground until they had gotten within reach of his
trident. Then he slowly backed up through the ledge of the pass
until they were all on the pass in a single file line before him.
The one in front fell first. He had made a charge at Ceda which was
easy enough to block with a simple thrust of his own driving his
weapon deep into the belly of his opponent. The second came up the
pass and tripped on his fallen comrade, he died quickly afterwards.
The third and forth Orcs fell in the same way and the rest turned
and fled over the side of the steep ledge in the direction that they
had come. Some crashed into the the trees far below dying instantly,
while two or three made it down without serious injuries. Gathering
the things of the fallen Orcs and placing them with the things of
the Nuadri leader, Ceda started down the Eastern face of the mountain.
As soon as he left the Western side of the mountain, the climate
changed as if by magic. What was calm and humid was now dry and
cold. Nothing grew there and no water ran down in streams so
frequent on the Western slope.
The sun was shining down nearly overhead by the time Ceda found
a place that he thought was safe to sleep without danger of pursuit.
The Orcs were all underground by now and the Nuadrin would have to
climb up through the pass in order to find his trail; so he went to
sleep peacefully for the first time in nearly six weeks.
That night when Ceda awoke, he found that nothing had changed.
He looked at the things that he had gotten from the fallen Nuadri
leader and Orcs. Finding one sack full of a strange kind of wine, he
gladly quenched his growing thirst. Then rummaging through the
remainder of the things he found some dried meat (that he threw away
quickly), three more skins of the wine and a golden medallion (from
the Nuadri) with the symbol of the crown painted on in dark grey and
Then he started down the mountain. Going down was far more
dangerous then going up. Below him about five hours away, were the
cliffs of Belos that surrounded the entire Sarshirian mountain range.
The way down was quite steep. This made five hours into ten and
then twenty. The trees that had earlier helped Ceda up the other
face of the mountain did not grow on the face he now tread. Trying
to keep his feet in a sure place, he made his way slowly down
stopping only to find food among the berries and to rest his legs.
Day came quickly, but not without being wanted. Ceda's legs were
tired and his back ached from the continual stooping. Finding a
place to lie on one of the many jagged rocks that jutted out of the
mountain face, Ceda fell into an uneasy sleep, for the next night,
he would reach the cliffs.
When he awoke, the sun had already set and the sky was full of
clouds. Rain! Ceda jumped to his feet and looked down. He was closer
to the cliffs than he had thought the previous night, but it was
still a long way down, and with the rain, he could be washed off the
face entirely. He opened a skin of wine and drank most of it.
Replacing it at his side, he started down.
It was about an hour before he had reached the tops of the
Cliffs of Psom. He lay flat on his stomach and looked over the edge.
About four hundred feet below him was the foot of the cliff. Looking
in each direction showed that the same distance down was held all
along the face as far as the eye could see. Then by the pale light
that the moon cast down through the clouds, he saw it. To the North
towards the border of Grobst D'arbo's desert, a tiny figure appeared
out of the face of the cliff. Before long, about 20 of them had left
the cliff base and Ceda could see that they were Orcs. They wore the
same armor and had the same weapons as he had seen earlier. He
watched the band until they were out of sight then he got up and
started South along the head of the cliff, searching for a way down.
The clouds were growing thicker and the night was drawing on and
getting steadily cooler. He walked along for sometime wondering what
would become of him. Then he found what he had been looking for: in
the cliff, a deep gash ran up from the ground to the top of the
cliff just wide enough for him to fit in.
He sat down on the edge and inched himself into the ravine.
Pushing on either side with his hands and feet, he held himself
while he made his way down. The way was slow and tedious, but the
rain did not fall and the ravine did not widen.
About a third of the way down, he came upon an opening along the
chasm. It was big enough for him to fit inside, indeed even room
enough for him to stand and walk around in, and soon he was fast
asleep on the rocky floor out of danger for the time being.
The midmorning sun roused him as it shone through the hole into
the cave upon his face. Drinking some of his wine and eating the
rest of the berries he had collected along the way down the
mountain, he soon started again.
It had rained while he was asleep and the way was treacherously
slippery, but he managed to find handholds and not to fall. By
midafternoon he had made his way almost to the bottom and slid down
the rest of the way to the ground.
He was finally out of the Sarshirian mountains in the wilderness
Choice of Heart
Phil stepped out of the mess hall just in time to hear the final
call, and to hear the CRACK of the rifles. He and everyone around
him just stopped for a moment, not quite looking at each other, and
then continued with their business. Phil and four other men from his
squad continued toward their barracks. As he walked towards the
bunkhouse, Phil saw the door to the old warehouse open, and the
soldiers filing out. He counted sixteen. That meant that four people
had just been executed.
Phil and his buddies joined their squad leader in their room.
While the five soldiers strapped on their gear their leader read off
their assignment. It was a typical one. Phil had been in Miami only
four days, and already he had lost count of how many missions he had
been on. He had no trouble remembering how many deaths he had seen,
however, nor how many he had caused. An image of a young, pleading
face hung before his mind's eye, and only when one of his buddies
nudged him did he realize that his assignment was being read off.
Phil and the other men in his squad marched out of the building
to where their plane was waiting. They climbed in, the squad leader
going in first, Phil going in last. Phil dogged the door shut, and
then the plane was rolling. It lifted off quickly, it's fat wings
using the airstream to best advantage. The plane climbed steadily,
pushing the soldiers against the floor with extra weight. More than
one wished for a window to look out of. There was no talking. Phil
checked his rifle carefully. He counted his rounds, he made sure
that the chamber and flues were clear, and that the generator
operational. There would be no chance to do that later. As he
checked his equipment, Phil had a chance to think about what he was
about to do. He had joined the military out of financial need, but
when the President had declared a national emergency because of the
drug problem, he had welcomed the action he saw as a result. Finally
he had a moral reason to be carrying a weapon. It was only when he
was transfered into a domestic area that he started to have doubts.
They had been in the air for about ten minutes when the leader
started giving last minute instructions to the men. Phil listened
intently, as did all the others, being especially careful not to
misunderstand their role. The squad leader spoke until the light
above the door came on. He then gave one last encouragement, then
shuffled over to the door. He pushed the door open, and tumbled out.
One by one the others followed, with Phil pausing to push the ALL
CLEAR button before jumping.
The squad leader struck the roof of the building with the force
of a small car. Unfortunately the roof was sound enough that it did
not break, removing some of the element of surprise. The next two
soldiers landed on the pavement in front of and behind the building,
however, effectively blocking escape. The next soldier, and Phil,
also landed on the roof. Phil managed to hit an air conditioning
unit, which broke through the roof, providing quick access. The
other two on the roof quickly followed Phil through the hole.
Phil and the other soldier, John, immediately secured the room.
It was a large studio, which hadn't been cleaned for quite some
time. While they were doing that, the squad leader pulled a thermal
scanner from his pocket and quickly searched for all the heat
sources in the building. The nearest one appeared to be directly
John took point, and Phil took up the rear, as the trio quickly
but quietly left the studio, and started down the hallway. They
froze when sounds could be heard from below, but the scanner did not
show any of the sources to be moving, so they continued.
At the end of the hallway they found dozens of brown paper
boxes. While Phil and John watched, as witnesses, the leader quietly
opened one. It was no surprise to Phil when the squad leader pulled
out a plastic bag full of white powder. The squad leader pulled a
small probe out of his belt, and sank it into the bag, but it was
more of a formality than anything else. Phil could recognize Slam
when he saw it. The drug was responsible for more death than any
other illegal drug since heroin, and much of it to innocent people.
Mere possesion of it was a capital crime under martial law. Four
people had been shot that morning for owning it. Phil hated it.
They reached the bottom of the stairs without making a sound,
the force fields around their bodies supporting them millimeters off
the concrete steps. The stair emptied into a hall, with two doors on
the left and one on the right. The scanner showed one large heat
source behind the first door to the left. Phil hugged the wall, just
to the left of the door, facing in, with John hugging the wall to
the right. The leader put away the scanner, readied his rifle,
switched his field to assist, and kicked.
The door was a cheap wooden one, and it gave way spectacularly.
The remnants of the flimsy barrier bounced across the room, waking
it's inhabitants. The man, probably the main pusher, yelled and
rolled across the woman, who screamed and clutched the blanket. The
squad leader covered them, and started to shout an order to freeze.
The drug dealer grabbed a small automatic off the night stand as he
fell from the bed. Just as Phil stepped into the room, the dealer
sat up, and aimed the gun at the squad leader.
The roar from the weapon blanked out all thought in the room.
Phil stepped back and aside, to get a clearer field of fire. John
did the same. Before either of them could really aim, however, the
shooting was over. The squad leader stood with his legs apart,
holding the railgun at his waist. The drug dealer was lying on the
floor, his body almost bisected by two gaping wounds. The bed was
lying in two pieces, the body of the woman mostly hidden in the
bloody blanket. The three stood there, frozen for a moment. The
woman's body slowly slid off the bed to the floor, on top of her
dead lover. The leader carefully approached, and checked for any
vital signs. There were none. It was probably just as well, thought
Phil. Better a quick killing here than to have to take them in and
have them shot.
The leader headed for the door. Phil turned and followed him.
The leader stepped into the hallway, and there was the sudden bang
of a large caliber pistol. The squad leader was pushed aside by the
force of the bullet encountering his force field. Phil stepped into
the doorway, rifle up, back against the frame. The attacker was two
doors down, on the right. He fired before Phil had a chance to aim.
The slug hit Phil's breastplate like a well-thrown fastball. The man
ducked back into the room. Phil didn't even really aim. He held the
trigger down, and tracked with the muzzle. The incandescent rounds
converted the cheap concrete of the walls into deadly shrapnel as
they punched fist-sized holes in the cement. Phil stopped after six
shots, and John scuttled down the hall, weapon ready, while Phil
held his position. John's expression let Phil know that there was no
longer any danger. Phil turned to the leader, who climbed to his
feet, a little embarrassed at having been caught.
While John checked the drug runner for life, Phil and the squad
leader checked each other for wounds. Then the squad leader broke
out the scanner again. It showed no definite targets. As they were
on the fourth floor, however, they still could not relax. They
reassumed their positions and started down again.
Phil had just started down the next flight of stairs when the
feeling he had dreaded hit him. It hit him after every successful
mission, and sometimes during a mission. It was terrible feeling
that he had just participated in someone's death. Sometimes it only
happened afterward, as in this case. What was worse was when he got
it beforehand, as he often did when testifying in the short,
formalized trials that had been held daily for the last four days,
where the soldiers were required to help convict the people who they
brought in from the drug raids. Phil had watched a seemingly endless
stream of people standing before that awful table, as he and his
fellows had told of drugs and weapons found on premises, found on
persons, found in cars. What was really awful was when they were
young, say his age, and when they were female.
The next floor was clear, as was the next. A heat source
appeared when they reached the ground floor, however. It seemed to
be coming from the basement. Cautiously John started down the stone
steps, the leader and Phil right behind. At the bottom there was a
locked door. John carefully picked it, and pushed it open. It opened
on a panorama of chemistry. Tubing, stainless steel, and chemicals
littered the large, well-lit room. As Slam was synthetic, it was
possible to produce it almost anywhere, with the right knowledge.
>From the looks of the setup, a little of the right knowledge was
soaking into the rugs four stories up.
The leader indicated a door on the other end of the room. It was
open, and the three slid in. Phil could see that the signal on the
scanner was a strong one. The hall they entered was short and
narrow, with a door at the end, and one on the right. The leader
indicated the far door, and John stepped up to it. He switched to
assist, and was about to kick it in when the leader tapped him on
the shoulder. As the leader waved John off, Phil could see that the
signal was so strong as to be indeterminant. The leader turned to
Phil, and motioned at the other door, which Phil was standing
beside. Phil's heart started pumping. The squad leader motioned for
Phil to do the honors. Phil switched on, readied his gun, and kicked.
In the gloom it was a moment before he saw the stubby tank. He
immediately recognized it as a water heater. The leader stared at it
for a moment from the doorway, then gave a grim chuckle. He turned
and started for the stairs, John behind him.
Phil stood there for a moment, grateful for the reprieve. He
started to turn to leave, and saw the foot.
It was mostly hidden under a rag. It was bare, and dirty. Phil's
heart started hammering. Suddenly everything seemed to become
crystal clear. He could hear the gentle rustling of some papers as
John knocked them to the floor on his way to the door. He could hear
the soft, electric hum of the water heater. It was almost as if
someone else was in his body, and he was just watching, as he leaned
forward and looked around behind the tank.
She couldn't have been more than nineteen. If the look on her
face hadn't been so terrified, she might have been pretty. She had
long blond hair, and blue eyes. And she was staring straight at him.
He opened his mouth to call his companions, but as he did she
silently mouthed a desperate "No", and the words froze in his mouth.
It was then that he saw the patch on her arm.
Slam is a strange drug. It has mild halucinogenic effects, as
well as being a powerful stimulant. There were rumors that any
sensation experienced while under it's influence was magnified a
hundred times. It was also very volatile, making it possible to
absorb the drug through the skin. The standard way to use it was to
sprinkle some on gauze, and tape the gauze to the skin with plastic
tape, allowing the user's body heat to evaporate the chemical. The
usual place to put the patch if one was a solitary user was the arm.
The girl was still staring at him, pleading. She knew her life
was in his hands, Phil could tell. He stared at the patch, thoughts
and images running through his head. The squad leader, knocked aside
by the pistol slug. A young pleading face, blood sprinkled on the
forehead, the eyes fixing, glazing. A friend, a comrade, lying on
the sidewalk, eyes up, as if to look at the small hole punched in
his forehead. The woman upstairs, her hair flying slightly upward as
the leader's rounds sprayed her internal organs on the rug beneath
her bed. Another pretty, young woman, crying beside her car, which
held the body of her young husband, an innocent bystander killed in
a drug war.
"Please," Phil heard her whisper, "I'll do anything, anything..."
Phil stared at her. He imagined her, handcuffed to the wooden
pole, her back to the four soldiers, aiming their rifles.
"Please, no..." He looked at her. She noticed the patch for the
first time, pulled it off.
"Phil?" John called from the stairs. Phil turned aside,
startled, then looked back quickly. She hadn't even moved. She had
her eyes closed. Phil realized that she could think of nothing she
could offer Phil for her life. Indeed, Phil realized, there was
nothing here, in her whole way of life, that was of value to anyone.
"Lieutenant, John! I think you'd better come here."