VOLUME SEVEN NUMBER FOUR FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME SEVEN NUMBER FOUR | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb A Death in the Attic Jeff Girard Lifesong Aiwu Lian Shakka! H.D. Baumeister Seer's Doom John L. White Ceda the Executioner: 5 Joel Slatis Idol John L. White Date: 033087 Dist: 312 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Hello one and all! No really exciting or motivating news to report, so I'll just jump into a description of this issue. There is no Dargon work in this issue, although you'll find a couple choice tidbits from some unexpected sources. However, for those of you who actually enjoy the Dargon material, here's a hint of what's in the works for the near future! John White is working on a new tale which I have seen parts of, and it promises to be a classic. Joseph Curwen is plowing through the next tale in the Atros cycle, which should also be out soon. I am, of course, humbly plugging away at my story, which should be ready very soon (no promises, however). It is at the close of the editorial that I historically welcome our new readers and emplore people to spread the word about FSFnet. Well, as we have over 300 readers who get the file directly and uncounted millions (?) who get the magazine from servers, secondary distribution sites, and who knows where else, I've decided that I can finally sit back and pass up the opportunity to remind you to help get others interested in FSFnet. Of course, this doesn't mean you should stop spreading the word... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> A Death in the Attic Tina slowly closed the door behind her and proceeded up the attic steps. The fading light of the autumn sunset cast a beaming ray through the only window that caused all it touched to shimmer with a golden hue, while at the same time it cast dark, forboding shadows about all that were out of its reach. Tina paused for a moment, and smiled to herself at the sheer irony of it. How much it was like her own situation now. She flicked on the light, and immediately all but the most hidden corners were were bright and visible. She stepped around the trunk which held her mother's wedding gown and high school yearbooks, crossed over her grandfather's antique clarinet, and stopped in front of a small coffer. She paused for a moment, then reaced for it and undid the latch. Trembling, she opened the silver-lined box and picked up the ring that lay inside. It looked ordinary enough - carved out of silver with a ring of rubies and emeralds encircling a medium sized diamond in the center. Definitely a treasure by any standards, but also much more. Tina held the ring tightly in her hand, and thought once more about what she was about to do. She had spent the last hour just trying to decide what to say. She was sure this was what she wanted, but at the same time she couldn't help but feel a great dread deep in her soul, and for a moment considered just putting the ring back and forgetting the whole ordeal. At the same time, the caring nature of her soul kept crying out for her to do it, that this was the greatest thing she could ever do. Eventually, her caring side won out. She unclenched her hands and slid the ring on her finger. At the same time she glanced at her watch. It read 6:47. She would have to hurry, or she would be late for her job. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the ring, just like she had accidentally done earlier today. In a moment, she felt a small gust of wind, and then heard the voice. "Yes, Tina Redgrave, have you thought of your first wish yet?" She opened her eyes, and gazed directly at the man she had just met a little over an hour ago. He stood about six feet high, with dark black hair and a very heavy build which matched his voice. A nearly perfect specimen of a man, and Tina felt the same surge within her again. This time, however, she was prepared and replied, "Yes, I have." "And what is your wish?" "My first wish is this: I wish there was no longer any death." The man frowned. "Have you thought long and seriously about this? Are you absolutely sure that this is what you want." For a moment she considered crying out No, I'll think of something else. But when she thought about all the suffering she could alleviate with just that one phrase, she had to do it. "Yes, I'm sure. That is my first wish." The man sighed. "It shall be as you have it." He gestured into the air, and a huge spark of energy flew from his fingertips out the window and disappeared from sight. "Are you ready for your next wish?" Tina, still staring at where the energy ball had passed through the window, jumped slightly and said, "No, I'll have to think on my next one too. How about if I call you again tomorrow morning?" "Whatever you wish, Tina Redgrave," he said, then faded away into nothingness. Tina took off the ring, placed it in the coffer, closed it, and then rushed downstairs. It was now 6:50. If she hurried, she still could get dressed and make it to Kmart before her 7:30 shift. Tina could hardly keep in her excitement as she jumped out of her car and practically flew into the store with minutes to spare. She took off her coat and walked briskly over to her station at booth number nine. Stacey, the girl who worked the previous shift, was standing there totalling up the price of an old man's sweater and pipe. "Hi Stacey, how's it going tonight?" She turned and smiled, but there was a note of concern on her face. "Hi, Tina. You seem awfully bubbly tonight. Here you go sir, and thank you for shopping at Kmart." The man walked past them with his purchases. Tina looked at Stacey carefully and said, "What's wrong? And don't you dare say nothing - I know you better than that!" Stacey turned up the portable radio she kept next to her. "Haven't you heard? Listen to this." Bill Artwood, the local news reporter, was talking. "-admitted just a few mere minutes ago. Apparently, he was the victim of a mugging in Central park. He has suffered multiple stab wounds, including one right through his left lung, but is still alive. He has been placed under heavy sedation, but the doctors don't expect him to live. They were totally amazed that he lived this long. Whether this has any connection to the terrible accident on James and Third is unknown." "James and Third? That's nowhere near Central park. What does he mean about a connection?" "You didn't hear? You mean you didn't listen to the radio on the way down to here?" "No, the time kind of flew by for me today." "Well, at about 7:00, I guess you would have been on your way soon after, a tractor-trailer lost its brakes and plowed straight through a red light into a small Subaru. The Subaru was flattened. Of course a big pile-up occured, and three more cars were demolished. But the strange part is, no one died. The two people in the Subaru were horribly mangled, and another had his rib cage completely collapse against the steering wheel, but all of them were fully alive and conscious too. they were screaming, those that could. One paramedic was so sick he had to leave the rescue team for a while - Tina? Are you OK, Tina?" Tina just stood, shocked. What could have gone wrong? How could this be happening? This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. She had said, I wish there was no more dying, and- no, that wasn't what she said. She heard her own words now as plainly as if she was in her attic again - "I wish there was no more death." She hadn't said dying, she had said death. She turned hard and ran for the door. "Tina? What's wrong? Tina?..." Tina pulled into the driveway and leaped out of the car. Her keys fumbled with the lock, and it took her three tries to unlock the front door. Finally she succeeded and slammed open the door, not even bothering to get her keys. She ran inside, up the stairs to the second floor, and into the attic. switching on the light, she stumbled her way across the littered floor to the coffer. Tears were streaming down her eyes now as she put the ring on her finger and concentrated. In a moment the man appeared again. "Yes, Tina Redgrave, have you thought of your second wish?" "I want to change my first wish!" she nearly screamed. "I didn't mean to say it that way except that I was so excited but that wasn't what I meant to say and you've got to change it, please!" He looked at her with a gaze that chilled her to the bone, and she quieted down. "Normally, you could use another wish to undo a previous wish, but this is a slightly different case. You wished for there to be no more death, so I destroyed him." "Him? What do you mean, him?" "Death is an entity whose touch causes the soul to be released from the body. Without him, all souls are bound to their hosts, and can't die. This doesn't mean they can't be hurt. They just can't die." "Well, bring him back! That isn't what I meant to say!" "If it was a normal person or thing, I could. However, death is an entity of great power, and it will take time to create him again." "How long?" "I would say about 36 hours." "36 hours? But what about all those people out there who are supposed to be dead now? I can't simply let them go on suffering!" "You could find a replacement." "What?" "A replacement. Someone who could temporarily take death's place until I can re-create him." "How? Do I just walk up to someone and say, 'Hey, this genie just granted me a wish and I wished for no more death so he destroyed him and now we need a replacement'? I hardly think that will go over. "I'm afraid that that's your problem." Tina thought for a moment, then came up with an idea. "Alright, here's my second wish. Let me become death while you try to recreate the original." "As you wish, Tina Redgrave." He waved his arm, and suddenly Tina felt different. She was dressed in black robes. She looked at her hands, and saw that they were nothing but bones. Suddenly, she felt a surge of power, and knew what had to be done. She flew out the window at an incredible speed and soon found herself next to an old man in a hospital bed. She touched him, and a white globe floated up skyward. She then flew across the continent and touched a young boy just as he hit the ground after leaping from the eleventh floor of a hotel. His soul floated out of his body. Then she flew elsewhere, again and again for thirty-eight hours without a stop. When she was caught up, she used her powers to temporarily stop time for a while, then flew back to her attic. She stood for a moment, shocked and appalled by all she had seen. Some people she had to touch were in such a horrible shape that she felt like throwing up her last dinner, except that death couldn't do that of course. She walked over to the coffer, opened it up, and put on the ring. In a moment, the genie appeared. "Yes, death, can I help you?" "OK, here's my third wish. Return me to normal and let death resume his job. I'll never forgive myself for wasting my wishes, but I guess it's too late to change that now." "I'm sorry, death, but I can not help you. My services are currently being given to a young woman named Tina Redgrave. You are not Tina Redgrave, you are death." With that he vanished into thin air, leaving death to stand and bemuse the fate befallen on her. -Jeff Girard <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Lifesong Viam ad Infinitum Space...a void not empty. Planets and moons, followers of the great ones, the stars, move in time with the great music which is not heard with their children, the comets and asteroids. These ride the coattails of their parents, occasionally breaking away to amuse themselves with the games of the innocence of youth before becoming planets themselves and taking the orbits planned for them. The planets for the most part cared only for themselves, but the stars were constantly shining light upon them all, and because of it many of the planets reflected the light of the great sun and began to live, and walk toward the path of becoming a star. There stood in the darkness of night and the cold of death, alone in a prison of metal a man, with his face in the direction of the east, eyes shut, waiting. Flint-faced and unmoving in the icy wind of Altus V which probed with invisible fingers any living flesh, his clothing could not keep out the intangible members feeding on his comatose mind. It was dark, the dark of a remote planet near the edge of the universe; no stars and no moon shone on the forbidding ebony landscape. The man's gloved hands were nearly frozen to the bars they clutched, the heavily booted feet were a part of the deck on which he stood. All was utterly silent. Behind eyes shut and ice-coated, there was blackness. The sky before his face suddenly grayed, casting upon the face of the watcher. Slowly but steadily the horizon paled, and the forms of a few unhealthy clouds appeared, a dirty white. Now the winds had ceased to blow, though still the landscape was anything but appealing... and with the luminescence a smell became apparent to frigid nostrils: the smell of death and rot, of terror. Exposed by the steadily-brightening light was an expanse of bare rock pocked with the remains of plants and animals long vanquished. Bones and ash, fragments of unburned roots and cinders adorned the surface of the dead planet. Now the glow of the firmament grew more quickly, showing the black of his robe, tunic, and trousers. A cape of red completed the costume, and his gloves and boots were likewise as unliving blood. Black hair, moustache and long beard, caked with ice, testified somewhat to his middle age. ragged clouds of moisture escaped his lips, though there was no other sign of life in him, and this but infrequent. But behold! for at this time, a voice carrying one wonderful note of music quiet yet powerful, was imposed upon the world, drowning the sounds of silence. The sweet voice increased its volume, and the grey of the edge of the horizon glowed faintly pink... it increased again; the planet shuddered. Yet again. And the planet shook this time; and reaching its peak the music of the morning shattered the walls of silence! As the walls of ancient Jericho they crumbled before the trumpet's blast, the mighty Singer. The first streaks of color ripped apart the grey of the sky...fragments of cloud disintegrating, the heavens burst into flame. On Jason's world the sun rose. And as it then looked upon the planet, there appeared at the man's feet, green in the midst of the destruction. A single flower of blue and gold grew, bloomed, and around it sprang up grasses and flowers of every kind, until the surface of the world was covered with the fresh, living color and there was no trace of the former cataclysm! Now also began trees to sprout, and there were forests of mighty Sylvan specimens to rule over and care for their younger cousins and remove from the air the horrible stink. When this was accomplished, it was yet the first hour of morning. The note which had broken the walls of death and darkness now became Song. In sweet liquid voices it flowed over Altus Five and collected into paths and channels, where followed cool water for the sake of the living things. Now Jason had not moved in all the time previous, being nearly dead from the cold but the rays of the sun focused upon him and the song once more changed. Now growing bold and strong, beauty became handsome; the music washed over him as the rains of the spring. A drop of filthy water dripped from beard and fingertip, moustache and boot, and collected at his feet in a growing pool of red. And as this man's flesh began to live, yet another wondrous thing happened. As the Song washed his flesh, the powerful light of the sun also washed over him...and the dye of his garments faded to be replaced by a sparkling white. Trembling with all the excitement of a newborn, the emerging butterfly which sees light after so long in darkness, the eyes of gold opened; Jason began to live. And there was much rejoicing in the galaxy, and the sun and the song were happy at these works and rejoiced long. For after years in the grip of death a man gained the eternal life of one whose soul has seen the morning. -Aiwu Lian <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Shakka! It was a day as any other, Jardell awoke to the smell of smoldering wood outside his father's campaign tent. His mother quietly rattled with her pots and spoons which she used to prepare breakfast. He gently attempted to recall the dreams of the night before, but he could not fathom their nature. Then he remembered that today was to be a special day: He would go on a hunt with his friends of the surrounding tents, and Lenda, daughter of Jast, the merchant travelling with them for their protection, would join them at a secret meeting place later in the day. Lenda's father was a coward, and as Jardell thought of this large, heavy man with the constantly dirty hair, a jeer spread across his face. The only reason why he let Jast treat him as he did was because of Jardell's desire for Lenda's love. Today would be the day of fulfillment. He smiled as he thought of the day's plans: He and the gang would go out to track down a few coyotes and maybe even attempt to kill and hide one, just so as to be able to show that they had indeed done something useful upon their return. However, hey would cease this activity as soon as the sun reached it's peak and would then meander to the Shakka tree a league away from their camp. Shakka trees were strange creatures: They were plants, but then they weren't. Whoever sat within it's Sphere of Dreaming, or Shadow as it was called by the elders, would mindlink with the Shakka entity which, according to legend, resided not in the tree itself, but in the netherworld - reputedly near Odin's Valhalla. This, mixed with the lack of factual knowledge, made Shakka-sitting, as it was called, a very adventurous thing to do. The elders forbade it, the young ones craved it. It was addicting, to an extent, but not to the point where one could not rip oneself free from the Shakka's grasp. Once mindlink was established, the Shakka would, upon deposition of a small part of one's lifeforce, create any phantastic circumstance one desired. One could reenact anything one could imagine, and always escape unscathed, as the Shakka thrived on lifeforce, and would not destroy his guests for fear of them not returning should they be mentally scarred. The elders disapproved of such unworldly pleasures, as deposition of a fragment of lifeforce weakened the character and shortened one's lifespan, or so they said. Also, there had been reports of Shakka's that had extracted all of a guest's lifeforce while they were journeying in the land of make-believe. Such stories were told by hardcore users to Virgin Dreamers, as first time users were always called. Today would be different from other Dreamtimes, however, at least for Jardell and Lenda. They would commence to make their way to man and womanhood while in the shadow of the Shakka. It was considered the ultimate act of love to copulate in it's shadow, and Jardell had always desired for his Passing to be of such a high caliber. He was excited and fearful, and for the first time since the plan had evolved out of their young minds did he discover doubts in his mind. His father had concluded his Passing in the same manner, much to the disapproval of the elders afterwards, and he had given Jardell only one piece of advice on the matter: "Wait until you feel that it may be the wrong thing to do - then you will know that you are ready...". These words reverberated through Jardell's young head over and over, pushing tears from his eyes and causing him to tremble all over his body. He wanted to call it off; he suddenly thought it was the wrong thing to do after all. He would tell Lenda that he didn't think it was such a good idea, she would certainly understand. After having dressed and eaten breakfast, he quickly gathered his hunting implements and headed for the meeting place just outside the camp. Two of his friends were already there, evidently in eager anticipation of the day's coming events as they hastily greeted Jardell and then went back to discussing any possible evasive actions should such be required. Jardell sat next to Rhun, one of his better friends and inquired why they were even considering such possibilities, as they all knew the Shakka was their private secret. "Because, Jardell, one of the elders COULD have found the Shakka on one of his spiritual walks. It is unlikely, but possible. It is true that we planned this well by telling your father that we would be hunting coyotes by the old cave, as that one can draw a straight line from the Shakka to the cave, and it will pass right through the camp, but all possibilities MUST be considered!" Rhun had always been a pessimist. In either case, Jardell had already made up his mind that he would not make the Passing under the Shakka's shadow after all, so all that could happen to them is mild reprimand. The other two participants in their campaign arrived soon after, and they set out for the old cave. The trip lasted an hour, which was normal for Drytime, and their waterskins were soon depleted. They arrived at the old cave and promptly made their way to the hidden stream inside to refill their water supply and to quench their thirst. Then they sat upon the cold clay floor of the main dome and proceeded to devour their brought rations hungrily. After a short rest, they headed out to hunt coyotes. They needed not search long, as their tracking and hunting skills were much improved from the previous year. They had soon entrapped a confused dog in their midst and were jabbing the snarling animal with their spears. As they continued their deadly game with the doomed creature, they debated who should give the fatal blow. It was decided that Jardell should do so, as he would be consummating Lenda's love and completing his Passing on this day. All involved smiled jealously as the decision was passed, all except for Jardell who blushed. He nodded silently, saying nothing about the decision he had met earlier. He prepared for the deadly blow, and the others tightened the circle about the crazed animal. Jardell aimed and thrust his spear at the coyote's head, thrusting with all his might. The thrust struck the animal beneath the right eye and glanced off. The entire group fell silent for a split second - a glancing blow during a hunt was an omen that any decisions passed that day were bad. Jardell fell back in horror - only he knew that the omen could apply directly. The others fired him up, yelling to complete the kill, and Jardell thrust again. This time, the coyote was stuck squarely in the eye; the spear head pierced it's brain and a shower of blood burst forth from it's nostrils as it jerked in a few spastic motions and finally remained still. The boys gathered about the dead animal and congratulated Jardell on his excellent kill. None even thought of the omen, no one thought it applied, no one but Jardell, and while he shook his friend's hands, he quietly thought about his decision this morning. He felt a nudge beneath his stomach, and suddenly the decision not to follow the plan was wiped from his mind. He began to smile in eager anticipation and disemboweled the coyote with such fervor that it even surprised Rhun, who knew Jardell to be the hardworking type under all that lazyness. The carcass was skinned and the hide was hung up to dry. Rhun built a fire and stuck five neatly cut pieces of coyote meat on a thick stick which was kept in the storage area of the cavern. The boys gathered about the fire and began the almost ritualistic telling of stories. One could tell that they were all ready for the Passing, but only one member of a Circle of Friendship was allowed to do so every phase of the moon. Soon the time to travel to the Shakka came and they gathered their posessions and wandered off. Jardell wore the completely dried hide about his waist, a feature of the ritual for which he was thankful for, as it helped him hide his display of anticipation. At the start of their trek the sun was still high in the sky, but going around the camp to an area roughly the same distance from it as the old cave took a long time and when they finally arrived at the Shakka, the sun was just an hour away from setting. There was no breeze, and the Shakka's huge stationary form sent a shudder down even the most expert user's spine. It's branches were grotesquely twisted arms that reached out toward the boys in blind desperation. Even though they were out of the Shakka's mindlink shadow, the unworldly creature could still transmit empathic emotions to them. It was hungry for their life force, that much was obvious. Jardell began to think of the stories told by the elders about Shakkas devouring the entire lifeforce of a user while he or she was under the Shakka's influence. He shuddered: Such stories were merely used to try to scare them away from the strange dreamlike state that the tree produced. They were to meet Lenda when the sun fell behind the horizon, so they sat atop a nearby rock and wearily gazed at the Shakka. "I don't like what I just felt close to Shakka!" Rhun said. The others nodded in agreement, but Jardell thought differently. "Guys," he said, "we're just overwrought with anticipation, that's all... I don't think there will be a problem. We never had one with the Shakka before, I don't see why we should now!" The group fell into silent thought which was only interrupted with the spectacular display that rippled across the clouds covering the horizon: The sun was dying and spilling its blood into the white cloud cover. They gazed in awe at the spectacular display and only Jardell noticed that the Shakka was moving. He wordlessly pointed it out to Rhun. The Shakka's root system seemed to have disappeared, leaving a system of ten or so leg-like appendages. It appeared to be stretching it's newly found legs as it slowly folded and straightened them. The other three now noticed this odd display and fear riddled their faces. Janten was the tallest of the Circle, and also the first to run in fear, the other two followed him, loudly yelling unintelligible phrases as they raced back towards the camp. Rhun had tried to stop them, but gave up when it was apparent that nothing would change their minds at leaving the Shakka far behind. Both Rhun and Jardell were as fearful as they, but Jardell thought of Lenda who should be arriving soon, and Rhun would never have left him in a dangerous situation such as this. They had heard the myth of the Rising of the Shakka, but neither of them had believed it. The myth told of a certain day of each year when one Shakka was allowed to move on to another location; the magic was invoked at sunset and lasted until dawn. As this was only possible once a year, the Shakkas made certain that they could pick the best spot to settle down again, and many tales of horrible violence upon mortals were linked to the myth. "Look, over there! It's Lenda!" Rhun exclaimed as he pointed towards a small moving figure silhouetted against the horizon. The Shakka shuddered again, producing whistling sounds from it's branches whipping through the air. It whirled around and seemed to gaze at Lenda with invisible eyes. Then it made it's way toward her, slowly at first, but with ever increasing speed. Jardell jumped to his feet, quickly gathered his possessions and ran behind the Shakka as fast as his leg would carry him. Rhun was right at his heels, panting loudly. They made a wide circle around the Shakka which was headed straight for Lenda. "Why doesn't she stop? Can't she see that it's coming her way?" panted Rhun. "Maybe the Shakka has taken her mind into control?" Jardell muttered. They ran towards Lenda, but as they passed close to the Shakka, they realized that this had been a bad move. Rhun was the first to feel the effects, but as they got closer to the Shakka, Jardell was also beginning to feel the effects of the spell. "Run back!" he screamed at Rhun, just in time. Rhun slowed, blinked and with a surge of concentration broke free long enough to make it out of the Shakka's Shadow. Panting, the two boys huddled together and tried to decide the best plan of action. "It's best if we just run around it at a great enough distance, don't you think?" Rhun commented. "Otherwise, it'll get to her before we get help or do anything else." Jardell agreed, and they made their way around the Shakka at a safe distance. When the two had finally reached Lenda, she indeed seemed to be in a trance. Jardell stood in front of her, breathing hard, and called her name over and over. Lenda gave no response, and Jardell had a difficult time trying to stop her moving even closer to the rapidly advancing Shakka. Jardell slapped her face lightly, and for a split second, it seemed that her eyes cleared, but then they quickly took on their previous state. Almost ready to panic, Jardell picked up on what he had just seen: Pain seemed to break the spell. In desperation, he whipped out his hunting knife and made a short, clean cut on her lower arm, trying his best to stay away from any areas that contained major blood vessels. Her eyes cleared instantly, she gave a quick yell and looked at Jardell questioningly. He grabbed her unwounded arm and pulled her behind him as fast as possible. "Don't ask questions, just run!" He screamed at the top of his lungs. He noticed that in all the confusion, the Shakka had come within twenty paces of them, and it was high time to get out of it's way. Jardell, Lenda and Rhun darted to the right, out of the Shakka's path, and this seemed to confuse it enough for them to gain some distance. They stopped, and panting, Jardell tried to explain the situation to Lenda. She understood immediately what had transpired, and told Jardell and Rhun of a short story that her father had related to her some years back. It seems that he, too, was a Shakka user in his prime years, and had come to the local Shakka on a day like this. He was the only one of the group to survive unscathed, but he never related to Lenda how he had made his escape. She seemed to remember him muttering something about Rabbits, but he never would tell her more. "Rabbits?" Jardell exclaimed. Just then, the Shakka changed direction and was heading toward the group once again. "Come on, let's move!" Jardell yelled. "Rabbits!" he thought to himself. It was too obvious: The Shakka seemed to have a limited intelligence in certain ways, much as a predator had when trying to chase a rabbit. When rabbits fled, they would not run in a straight line, but zig-zag their way to safety. This not only wore the chasing foe down, but also confused it to the point where the chase seemed fruitless. "Come on... let's go! Do exactly as I do!" Jardell screamed, and immediately changed his direction to the left. Lenda and Rhun, astonished, followed his example. The Shakka slowly realized the directional change, and altered it's direction accordingly. Jardell now changed to the right and the other two followed his example. The Shakka took even longer to realize this change and had moved away quite a distance before it turned in the correct direction. "One more should do it!" Jardell exclaimed. Once the Shakka was on their tail again, he suddenly ran towards it in an almost straight line, veering off to the left at the last moment. The Shakka didn't even notice that they had passed it and were successfully escaping its wrath behind its back. It just kept moving forward, eventually slowing down to conserve resources. It was well on its way to a new location, having already forgotten its prey. Jardell, Rhun and Lenda stopped running when the Shakka was but a tiny speck against the growing dusk. They hugged each other, exasperated, but happily laughing, and after a short rest started to make their way back to the camp. -H.D. Baumeister <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Seer's Doom The man freely checked his sword and knives to the child at the flap of the garishly colored tent before entering. The dim interior of a thelavran, or seer's, tent was not a familiar place to him, but Baranya was rumored to be the best forecaster alive, and he wanted to be sure, for his wife's sake. He knelt on the cushions before the low table and waited for the thelavra to appear. His eye was caught by the many-faceted crystal spheroid on the a black velvet padded stand in the center of the table, and so he didn't notice Baranya's entrance. One moment her chair was empty and the next, she was sitting serenely before him. "Pose your question," she said without preamble, sliding gradually into her trance by narrowing her eyes to slits, breathing shallowly, and concentrating on her personal thendera, or concentration point, which was a painted wood toy knife her brother had owned as a child. The man said, "My wife wants a child. But, she's a small woman. The healers aren't sure that she can safely carry and bear one. My question: If my wife becomes pregnant, will she succeed in delivering it safely, and will it be...normal?" There was a history of deformity in his family, and that worried him as much as his wife's possible problems. The thelavra began humming softly, and closed her eyes in full concentration, sinking fully into her trance. Presently, she opened them again, and, still humming, gazed deeply into her crystal. "I see...your wife." Baranya spoke slowly, humming between, and the man had to concentrate in his turn to understand her. "She's pregnant. She's delivering...a son...safely." He breathed a sigh of relief. "I see...a limit. If...you...she conceives within...six months, ...all will be...well with her...and the...child." Baranya sat back, a slight frown on her face. She shook her head, as if unable to quite leave her trance, and her eyes unglazed. She looked at him, and asked, "Was that satisfactory?" "O, yes, my lady. Thank you, thank you so much. Here, for you, and all your help." He set three gold Stars on the table. "Thank you again." He stood, turned, and left, smiling. Baranya's frown deepened as the tent flap closed. She had seen something else, but she knew from experience never to give a customer more than he wanted. Still, she was curious, so she breathed deeply, re-entered her trance, and stared into her crystal ball. Her frown deepened, then her eyes widened in horror. She muttered, "No. No! Stop!" She stared for a few more moments, then she screamed, "Gods, NO!" and slumped in her chair. She breathed once more, then died. The man never knew what he had engendered. The thelavra had looked into the future a little too far, and seen her own death, and the result. And, seeing her death had brought it about, just as she had seen it - slumping back in her chair and expiring right then and there. But, such were the circumstances, and her power, that her psychic death-gasp was transmitted throughout the whole of Eastland, setting up a chain reaction among all of the mentally gifted - the so called magicians - and, in forced empathy, killed them, or burned out their powers. Unknowing of the disaster foreseen, the man went home to tell his wife the good news. His son was delivered some months later. On the man's son's first birthday, barbarians from the Steppes invaded quietly. They poured into Eastland unnoticed, and attacked from within. Their conquest was easy and uncontrolled, due to the demise of most of the witches and wizards the year before. -John L. White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter 5 The day was getting on and there was still a long way to go before he was safe. If the Nuadrin had made a new gate then they were almost certainly watching for him. The sun was on the other side of the mountains now casting shadow of Psom far out into the wilderness past the cliffs. Darkness stretched as far as the eye could see, but in any case, Ceda waited for the sun to go down totally and the darkness to be complete before he left the shelter of the cliff face. That night he set out. Being on the east of the mountains, he had the moon to guide him, but the way was dangerous. Trying to avoid roads as much as possible, he tramped on slowly, being most sparing with the remaining food that he had left. A couple of hours march brought him a newly made crossroad. The way South undoubtedly led to the Port of Breanduin or Naz'Clow and the North, it probably led up the Cities of Pheeng'Am, Bilfneuin or past the Gate of Ploughdom to the far City of Naudsman on the borders of Old Grandydyr beyond the desert. The way West led back to the Cliffs of Belos. East was the way that Ceda went, though he was not sure at this point where it led. After a short time, The dry atmosphere that hung about the mountains vanished and woods sprang up all around. Soon the road was deep into a forest surrounded by the pleasant sound of birds. The road was now slow and hard. The road climbed now up some unnamed hill and twisted constantly. Soon all sense of direction was lost and continuing meant following the road or being lost in the endless wood. Then Ceda heard footsteps coming up the path in front of him. A great many footsteps, 'around fifteen of them', he thought. 'Mayhap they can tell me where I am.' They were getting very close when Ceda heard a commanding voice call out an order in the common tongue. "Halt! We hold here for the night! Beniza, chain their feet and bind their mouths. I don't wish to meet any Bilfneuin Axemen. Now! Any of you filthy men decide to try anything and I'll personally cut your fingers from your hands. We reach the gate tomorrow." The voice was Nuadri. The laughs that followed were Orcish-- and the cries were Human. Ceda jumped into the woods. His first thought was escaping, then remembering the fate of the men that reached the mountains, he decided to help them. Taking a long sip of his wine, and throwing away the last skin, he slipped into the woods and approached the camp under the cover of the trees and the darkness. Soon he stood just outside the camp. There were indeed fifteen: one Nuadri, four Orcs and ten men. The sun was just crawling over the trees in the east when they had settled down and the Orcs drew a little into the wood to shield themselves from the coming sunlight. The Men were bound in heavy chains at their feet and necks and were anchored to a nearby tree and Nuadri slept down the road out of reach of the men. Ceda waited until the sun was over the trees shining down on the company before he moved. Then taking his trident in both hands, he crept forwards and silently killed the Nuadri. Then walking to the trees the Orcs slept, he killed all but one, then he put his foot on the Orcs chest and yelled. The Orc and the rest of the company awoke with a start. Ceda lifted it to its feet and took its weapon casting it away onto the road by the Men. "Now, Orc! tell me, what is your business on this side of the Gate of Ploughdom?" The Orc looked at Ceda in dismay, then spat at him. The Orc died quickly. Then Ceda turned to the dead Nuadri. A brief search revealed the keys to the chains that bound the Men. Then they all sat and talked. "I am Aroth of Leafholm, City in the Wood of Carne," said a man. "And I am Ceda of No-Al Ben" "Thank you for your kind service. My men and I were taken prisoner of the Nuadrin some three days ago," said the man before he was cut off by Ceda. "Nuadrin? How came you by that name?" "The Beast you killed there, it is called by our people a Nuadri," replied Aroth. "So have we decided after none of the elders could find any text with description or word of them. We have never seen them before." "Nor have I," said Ceda. "But I also have come to call them Nuadrin though I know not why. I thought of such a name in folly for I could not remember ever meeting such an odd creature as this in all my travels. But let us come to this later, first we must leave the road, for there are many of these Nuadrin about now, they have hewn a new gate from the mountain of Psom." "Aye, and from Dearn. But this is old news. We shall speak of it later when we reach Leafholm. It is six hours stride from here." "Nay!" cried Ceda. "I'll not travel the roads now! they are infested with the vile Nuadrin!" Aroth laughed. "We are native to this wood, Ceda of No-Al Ben. We need not contend with The Orcs new masters! We know the wood like as well as the Elves of Carne. You need not fear!" Then he leapt to his feet an bounded into the wood followed by the rest of the men. Ceda went to the Corpse of the Nuadri leader and took a skin of liquid that was tied to its waist. Then he followed into the woods after the men who were singing a merry song. Carne! the merry wood We return to Thee Coming home. Carne! where all is good As we enter Thee coming home. Leafholm, the City in the Trees Where all is well and good! From the Days of Old when Elves wrought gold and ruled The kingdoms untold. Then came to Leafholm. And Leafholm! I return to thee In bliss and glee And smell the sweet nectar That flows in Thee! Coming home! Strong wind and rain, And Tainian's Bain, And all the Ice of Plime; Nor Orcs or Barnonoen Or Dragons of Khuss Shall keep me from my Beloved Leafholm! Coming home! The air is sweet! The food a treat! All is right In Leafholm! Carne! love me please! Let me live under your leaves! Carne! I return to you! I come home! And rest I shall In Leafholm! Coming home! And so they sang as they bounded through the forest as though they were in an empty field hindered not by the trees of the hills that they passed. At times they had to wait for Ceda who had a great deal of trouble keeping up with them. Finally, after some hours march, they came to a large wall that stretched into the trees in either direction. The wall was as green as the trees themselves and they turned and followed it for a little while until they came upon a great gate. Upon the gate were many Elves cloaked in dark green robes drawn tightly about their heads. In each ones hand was a a long bow and on their sides rested long knifes. Seeing Aroth, the gate was drawn open and they all entered. "Do the Elves of Carne and the men of Carne dwell in the same city?" asked Ceda as the gate was closed behind them. "Nay," said Aroth. "There are no men of Carne." Ceda stopped short. He looked up and down at the row of Men he had entered with. All appeared to be human. Then he looked sidelong at Aroth who stood smiling at him. "Ceda of No-Al Ben," he said. "We are not Men, but are Elves. Come, we will hold now a council with the King, and you shall be there to tell of your ordeal. There you shall learn all that you wish to know. Ceda was led up many streets until they reached the gate to the palace of the city. The walls were made of a strange silken thread, which Ceda commented on and was told that its properties were that of the strongest metal and the thickest rock yet inclimbable. All over the city as Ceda passed, trees towered over his head, their tops disappearing into the clouds above. Green leaves covered the paths (in Elven tree cities, there were no set roads to disrupt the natural area, but paths were maintained for convenience) never dying, and the soft singing of birds was never absent. Inside the great walls of the palace, a great ring of pine trees acted as a palace wall, which was only enterable through the Gate. The trees were much larger then all the others and even as their mighty trunks rose into the clouds above, they gave no hint of ending. Into the tree gate they went and discovered a large stair. The stair went both up and down, they went down. Torches lined the walls and which were delicately carved out of the dirt among the roots. Finally after a long descent, they came to a large door guarded by four Elves. The doors were made of an odd yellow metal which lighted the passage. Ceda was told to leave his weapons and enter. The hall that he had entered was like none he had ever seen or even heard the likes of in any tale. The walls and ceiling were that of the living tree root of the magnificent trees that grew in the Palace Ring. They were nicely cleaned and polished to the magnificent color of orange which Ceda guessed was their natural color. The floor was of the same yellow metal that the doors had been made from. The room was full of Elves the like of which Ceda had never seen before. They were dressed in many different shades of green, their hair was and well groomed (mostly in braids) and their faces were stern but gentle. They welcomed Aroth and turned to Ceda as he and his men left the chamber. "Welcome," said one of the larger Elves coming forward. He was well dressed in a light green robe and wore a helm of orange leaves about his head. "I am the Lord of Leafholm. Rakine I am called by most of my Elves; Rakine of Leafholm. What is thy name, Sir?" "Ceda of No-Al Ben," replayed Ceda. There was some muffled talking around the room. Then Rakine spoke. "The finder of the Crown has come to us! Welcome again, Ceda of No-Al Ben. Tell us your tale and then ask us what you will, for I see great concern in your eyes." He signaled and chairs and a great table were brought forth. Ceda sat at the middle of the long table. Elves were all about him, but they were silent and Ceda spoke. "When the winter had passed, I was hired and left for the city of Caffthorn. Then, as the sun rises and the moon sets, it was ten days and three when I found the Tree of Grobst and came upon the Crown." "Aye," said Rakine. "This we know. We have been in close contact with Rackins, for he is my brother, and we hide nothing." Ceda stared at Rakine for a moment and then continued. "Then I will start from the time that Cander of Perstanie reached Cramstrock. It was ere two months that he came to me, and I was drunk and could not talk. He took me like a dog onto a horse and we rode for Dhernis stopping in Caahah. It was only there that he counseled me that we made for the City of the Elves. "Upon leaving, about four days ride from Dhernis on swift horse, we went astray by my leave to the Gate of Ploughdom, for I had misgivings about the Dark Doorway, though I know not why. Methought it best to check and see lest there be something afoot. "You dared to approach the Dark Gate in times of war? and what of Cander, we knew not that he had reached you! where is he now?" said Rakine. "Cander," said Ceda slowly. "Met his end in the Caverns of Onibus, but what is this talk of war?" There was more quiet talking in the room and Rakine looked to an Elf at his side and spoke a few words. The Elf answered and then Rakine continued and the room grew silent. "The Mouths of Arnmere and the Gates of Ploughdom, Dearn and Psom have been spewing forth their vile laborers in war for nigh two and a half months!" said Rakine. Caffthorn, Ruirse, No-Al Ben and all the little countries of the East, North and West have been in violent struggles to defeat their might, but as yet they are strong and well armed. And they have with them the Nuadrin to command them." "Aye," said Ceda. "I know of them, though I do not yet fully understand them. I had no name for them, and in folly did I begin to call them Nuadrin, for I had naught else to refer to them as, and yet you use the name as do I, yet none have heard me speak it." "They are to us a nameless people, not in song or story, but yet they are here, and we call them now the Nuadrin for we also have but naught else to call them but must speak of their deeds. Continue." "After seven suns had passed since we had departed from Cramstrock, we were taken prisoner by Nuadrin not fifty dragon lengths from the Gate! I know not of anything else but that I lay for sometime in a dark room bound in chains at my feet and hands. Then I was led before a large beast that bore like to the Nuadrin, but was bigger and stronger. He was the ruler, and he mocked me and smote Cander, and that was the last that I saw of him. "After a while in my cage I escaped and found my way to a pass in Psom and learned of the new gate. There I fought with a Nuadri and some of its pet Orcs and found this:" he reached into his pack and retrieved the medallion with the crown on it. "Aye, we have seen many of the like," Said Rakine. Ceda returned the medallion to his pouch and went on. "There was one other matter of the mountains that troubles my thought: on the night that I had escaped from the pursuit of the Orcs, I came upon a place that was barren of life. Naught lived there, it was as if all creatures were dead and gone save the trees and plants. It was to that place that the Orcs from Onibus did not follow me as I fled." "Aye, there are places in the mountains that even the Orcs will not tread. You were lucky that you found not what did live there I'll wager." "It is there that I slept. When I awoke, I journeyed down into the valley below and there I found a camp of the enemy. They did not spy me though I sat and watched them for a time. There they burned men and made many weapons in ready for war. "I sat until the sun fell and then I circled the camp making for pass in Psom. And it is there that I first discovered the new Gate. "I fled Orcs over the pass killing some and gaining the medallion and traveled down the other side of the mountain to the Cliffs of Belos and then found a way down the following day." "You found way down the cliffs with naught but what you have now, or did your luck provide you with rope from one of the dead Orcs?" asked one of the Elves that sat at the table. "Luck it was, but not with rope," he answered. "Down the cliffs edge Southward I walked until I came to a crack in the cliffs edge that descended until the ground. That was the night that it rained. Almost half way down I came upon a cave and rested there until the following day. "When I came down the mountain the following day, I traveled East until I came so Carne and met your men in the hands of the Enemy. They led me here, and that is my tale." Rakine sat for a while in thought until a another elf entered the room. And Ceda stared at him in wonder, for it was Aroth, yet he was no longer a human, but an elf; the face was the same, with perhaps a more smooth look, or perhaps his eyes were more stretched and thin, but this was Aroth, and anyone could see that. He bowed low before the king and took a place at the far side of the table with a nod to Ceda. "Well," said the King at last. "We must send word to Rackins at once. Ceda, it is upon you to accompany them to the fair city of Perstanie in the Learis Islands. This time, however, I hope that you shall go there without any short side trips. Go now directly to Dhernis, and take the Ships of Tearny by my order to the Captain. "With him we shall need to send escort. Aroth, go with him, and take whoever you would with you, but make haste! It is nigh one year since he was sent for, and we have as yet heard nothing from my brother in forty suns and forty moons. Go now, and may your speed compete with the raven! 'uentu descern shyen svequ seju!'" "We shall leave at first light, cousin" said Aroth to Rakine with a nod to Ceda. "Nay," said Rakine. "First we wait for word from Rackins, messengers have already been sent telling of his arrival. As for now, go and make yourselves ready, for you leave within the week." With that final word, Ceda and Aroth got up and left the room. "Cousin?" asked Ceda as they walked down the hall. "Yes." Aroth led Ceda to a room where he was to rest and before long he was sound asleep on one of the most comfortable beds that he had ever slept on. It was a week and three days before they had left. No word had come from Perstanie and time was ever fleeting. Ceda lay on his bed, thoughts drifted though his mind and slowly he fell into a slumber. It felt like he had hardly closed his eyes before Aroth once again stood before the foot of his bed, clad in a dark green riding cape with a hood and light riding boots; and it was not long before they were on tall horses riding for the city gate. Aroth seemed of good cheer and was full of energy as was Ceda who was once again under way to the beautiful City of the Elves on Cergaan. Before the sun was in center sky they were deep into Carne many leagues from Leafholm. The light could just barely seep through the leaves of the treetops high above their heads bringing small showers of blissful illumination to the undergrowth and small animals that bathed in the tranquility. On the look-out for Orcs and Nuadri, they continued onward, but met none. And by nightfall, they were a days ride from the border of the forest. They pulled off the road about a hundred yards and set up their camp. The horses were put on watch while they set up. Then they sat down to have a meal of some cakes that they had brought from Leafholm along with some fresh water from a near-by stream. The pleasantness lasted during the night and at length both Ceda and Aroth were deep in slumber while the horses watched over the camp. At first light they awoke and packed up their gear for the days ride. The red pinnacles of light were barely visible through the branches above stemming over the early morning sky and the air was rich with the soft sounds of birds. Reluctantly they stowed the last of their things, had some berries and started for the borders. The second morning since they had left Leafholm was peaceful. Although they were in a hurry, they could not ride though the great Forest of Carne without slowing to wonder at the somber trees that stood so noble in their path. Soon they took to walking, first quickly, then slower and finally barely moving up the path at all. After a few hours the sun was over head and they stopped to have a meal in a small patch of sunlight that managed to sneak through the upper branches of a tall tree and form a large circle of light on the ground near its trunk. They took a few cakes from their packs and sat down to eat when they first heard the noise; hoofs, running at great speed up the road from the direction they were headed. "Arnea seek Duval! We were not careful! They will see the horses and will know we are here," cried Aroth as he leapt to his feet. "We shall perish from this folly of ours!" He ran to the horses and pulled their reins jolting them off the road in a frenzy. Ceda also got up, but not as hastily. "I think not, Orcs ride not on steeds of any kind." "True, but can the Nuadri ride?" "I know not, but it is too late do debate, alas they are upon us!" He through back his long hair and reached for his sword that hung loosely at his side. At that moment the riders came into sight, and Aroth relaxed for they were Elves. "Hail!" shouted the foremost rider seeing Aroth. "Greetings." "Hail," answered Aroth with a long sigh of relief. "I am Aroth of Leafholm, cousin to Rakine the King. We seek knowledge of the way up ahead by the forest gate, is it save to travel?" "Aye, we have seen and heard naught for a days ride, it is safe." "Good, and what is your business? Are you messengers?" said Aroth. "Yes, we travel with message from Rackins. Pardon me, but are you Ceda, for our message is for you be you he." "Ah!" said Ceda with satisfaction. "Rackins has word of our arrival then! What were his words?!" "He spoke not as much as Merth. They want you to ride for the Caves of Arnmere and seek what lies there, thou I know not what. He said you would know about what he speaks," said the rider. "The Caves? Is that old fool wizard in his right mind?" cried Aroth. "Even in times of peace I would not venture within fifty leagues of the hideous Caves!" "Aye," said Ceda. "I know of what he speaks." With a glance from Ceda, Aroth bid the riders continue to Leafholm and inform Rakine of their new destination. In a spring the horses had drawn away bearing the riders onward and were soon out of sight. "To Arnmere?" asked Aroth with a lump welling in his thought. "Aye," said Ceda with the same feeling of dread. "I know what I must do. Come if you will, but I force you not." "I will come, for only a coward would leave you, and I am of noble blood!" he said thrusting his fist into the air revealing the pitch black ring that encircled his forth finger. "Then let us ride at once!" shouted Ceda with a smile. They finished what remained of their meal and stowed their gear. Then mounting the horses they sped down the road and out of sight into the distance with swiftness of the eagle. -Joel Slatis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Idol My father was a mercen'ry: For our upkeep he sold his sword. His fame was sung throughout the land, And told to us by Mother's word. We saw him little in early years, As across our land in war he went Leading some and killing others, And always money home was sent. Then he left home to fight foreign wars When I was but a decade old. Yet we looked up to the image he left In the tales my mother told. Without a father we grew up, But our mother raised us right With tales of Father's glorious deeds That made us all eager to fight. And though we were not swordsman each A model was his courage still. And we learned pride in all to take Even if 'twas only to kill. And he left home to fight foreign wars When I was but a decade old. Yet we looked up to the image he left In the tales my mother told. Another tenyear he'd been gone When word of him fin'ly came back: He'd died in battle, brave and true, To hold his flag against attack. That had occured some two years past When we began bad things to hear. A saint he was not, and no one is; But the wrong he did was not ours to bear. And he left home to fight foreign wars When I was but a decade old. Yet we looked up to the image he left In the tales my mother told. Ten more years had passed me by; Years I'd lived both full and well, And for myself because I knew No good would survive me after I fell. For Father's life was oft in my mind And the tales that grew after he'd died Spreading the wrong, forgetting the right: Leaving me no need for pride. And he left home to fight foreign wars When I was but a decade old. And the Idol created by Mother's words Died by the tales that others told. -John L. White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank