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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb
*Winds of Change Becki Tants
*Reunion Ed Murphy
*The Treasure: Part 2 of 4 John L. White
Date: 071587 Dist: 385
An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project
All original materials copyrighted by the author(s)
While there isn't a great deal of news to report, that is most
probably due to the fact that this issue is being sent out no more
than a week after the previous issue. For the most part, the news
which was reported in the xeditorial for 8-1 is still current. We
are still working on getting a mailing out to prospective postal
subscribers, which is late due to the fact that I exploded my
printer in the heat of our apartment. I have received some responses
from readers who will be attending Pennsic, and also some responses
from FSFnet writers who will be there. The only truly new news is
that there has been a change in issue naming conventions. All issues
now have the filetype of VOLxxNy, where 'XX' is the volume number
and 'Y' the issue number. This change has been made on files on
LISTSERV at TCSVM and CSNEWS at MAINE as well. When requesting files
from those sources, please be careful to get the proper filetypes.
In this issue we have part two of John White's "Treasure" story
which was begun in issue 7-5, and two short stories from two new
Dargon Project authors, Ed Murphy and Becki Tants. The next issue,
8-3, should be out near the end of July or early August, and will
contain some startling information, as well as the long-promised
(but is it long-awaited?) "Legend in the Making" which I've
tantalized you with since February!
Winds of Change
Ariel awoke that morning in a bed for the first time in weeks.
It was a welcome, warm feeling that had almost caused her to forget
the knock on the door that had awoken her in the first place. She
blinked as the knock came again. In a brief moment of panic, she
realized that no one should know that she was here. She knew no one
in this city. Drawing her dagger, she moved silently over to the door.
She was about to open the door when she heard the innkeeper
outside it, saying "Ma'am, 'tis mornin'. Breakfast is ready fer ya
down in the common room if yer up."
Relaxing a bit, she listened as the footsteps went on down the
hall and began the same strange procedure again. It occurred to her
that this was not something that had ever been done in her father's
inn, but she was quickly distracted from the thought as she looked
around the room for the first time. Her quick flight there late last
night and almost immediate collapse from exhaustion had given her no
time to examine her rather rich and elegant surroundings. The carved
wood furniture, beautiful wall hangings, painted ceramic wash bowl
and pitcher, and the call to breakfast by the innkeep all led her
quickly to the conclusion that she would have to find a job soon to
pay for the place.
She poured some water into the bowl, rinsed off her face to hide
the tell-tale signs of her long, hard journey, and dressed quickly.
Looking up at the polished mirror on the wall, the surest sign of
how expensive the place was that she had seen so far, she realized
just how much her defense these last few weeks had taken out of her.
Her skin looked well tanned, but pale below the tan, a sure sign of
the exhaustion she still was recovering from. The area underneath
her eyes had some uncharacteristic lines caused by the stretching of
her powers beyond her own limits of endurance in an effort to save
her own life. Worse yet were her eyes. They still held the look of
one hunted, betrayed, and forsaken in her direst time of need. The
change was depressingly obvious, and had the effect of making her
look much older then her mere 18 years. She quickly turned away from
that other face in the mirror, but the thoughts of all she had been
through still followed her. With her eyes not quite focused out the
window into the early morning light, she began to think of all the
things that had happened to her in the short 6 months that had
passed since her 18th birthday.
She had been working at the time for her father. He owned an inn
in a small village and had eked out a meager living this way for
many years. She did his books, waited upon the customers, and
generally did whatever was needed. She provided 'services' for the
more wealthy customers, as well as amusing herself by opening the
locks on things without the keys. A very simple life, but not
satisfying. At 18, she wanted to see more of the world. When a rich,
handsome young man came into town, she was immediately very
attentive. This one's name was Stefan. The rumor about town was that
he was a mage of some sort and her father, hearing this, advised her
to stay away from him. This just whetted her curiosity more. They
spent much time together and soon, as he was leaving, he invited her
to join him, saying that a young lady of her particular 'talents'
could be very successful in a big city such as Dargon. Charmed by
the young man so thoroughly, she left without a word to her father
or a thought to the consequences.
She quickly found the rumors of his magic to be true and
convinced him to teach her. He agreed, thinking it a good chance to
practice for him and an amusement for her. As they traveled he began
to teach her the powers of the air. He soon realized that she had a
strong streak of talent for this running through her, and sped up
the training. As they traveled, practiced, and slept together, their
relationship grew. Soon Ariel began to think she was in love with
Stefan and he seemed to reciprocate this feeling. She began to hold
great hopes for her life in a new city, a big city full of
opportunities, and her life with Stefan.
All too soon, however, the training was halted and her dreams
were smashed. The cult of the earth god, Haargon, found out about
the existence of the two mages and made their plans to attack. The
rivalry between Haargon and Iliara, the goddess of the air, had long
been fierce, but only recently had it escalated to such huge
proportions. The cults had escalated it to blood-shed. Haargon's
followers had acted first, killing one of the air goddesses high
priests, saying naught but that he had blasphemed their god beyond
permissible levels. The cult of the air goddess was quick to take
its revenge. Of the existing earth mages, over half were murdered
one night in their sleep. Since that night, the cult of Haargon had
been killing any air mages found in an attempt to "even the score".
Stefan had told Ariel about this cult before, so when they attacked
in the middle of the night, she recognized them. Before she even
awoke, Stefan was dead by the hand of their leader and they were
coming for her. Calling all her fury and grief to play, she used
everything she had learned so far to call up a wind strong enough to
blow about the pine needles on the ground and pull the ones from the
trees, giving her the cover to escape. She ran, but only far enough
to find a place to hide before she collapsed in utter exhaustion.
She had slept after that for almost 18 hours. When she awoke, still
exhausted and emotionally drained by the death of her lover, but
she found a bit of food and then began to travel toward Dargon.
The face in the mirror told her that she had still not
recovered. Since that night, almost 2 months ago, she had rarely
been able to call anything more then a light breeze. Slowly, though,
her power had been improving. For the first month after the fight,
she had not even been able to stir the breeze. "Soon," she thought,
"soon, I will be my old self". But this thought had been losing its
power to console her. She was beginning to think that she might
never regain what she had lost. Still, the cult continued to follow
her. Not as viciously, but they were watching, and she had to keep
her eyes open.
"But first I must eat." she said to herself out loud. Splashing
her face with water once more, quickly, to get the dreamy look out
of her eyes, she headed down to breakfast.
As she came down the stairs, she was all but overwhelmed by the
smell of the fresh cooked bread. She hadn't smelled anything that
good since she had left her father's inn. It seemed like ages ago.
"It was." she told herself. But the scent was strong enough that she
hurried the rest of the way to the common room, her mouth watering.
The meal was plain, but wholesome. Ariel hadn't realized how
hungry she'd been until the innkeep put the fresh, warm bread, ripe
apples, and sharp cheese before her. The food tasted fantastic.
After so long on the road, any fresh, warm meal was welcome.
She was just finishing up when a small child, approximately 6
years old, wearing dirty, torn clothing and no shoes, came running
in from the street. He scanned the room and, spotting Ariel, came
running over. He looked her over carefully for a moment, then,
without a word, dropped a note and a leather pouch before her and
ran out of the inn.
Startled, Ariel reached for the note and the pouch. As she
opened the pouch and emptied it's contents, her face went white.
Stefan's ring, the one that he said helped him to concentrate, lay
there on the table before her. Dragging her eyes away from the ring,
she opened the note.
"Ariel; Air Mage.......
This ring belonging to your friend will help you
to overcome those who still watch and follow you...Be
wary, for they will not give up easily. I cannot
interfere directly, so you must have faith in your
own abilities. Stefan has taught you well. Overcome
this obstacle and you will be brought into our
fellowship. Until then, take care, and trust in your
Cyrrwiddyn; Priest of Iliara......."
As she read the last words in amazement, the writing on the
parchment disappeared. Startled, she sat with the now blank
parchment in her hands, wondering how these people had found her and
where she could find them. She had so many questions. But the letter
had given no clue. She had no ideas on how to find the Priest.
Soon her attention turned back to the ring. Placing it upon her
finger, as one would a wedding ring, she was surprised to see it fit
perfectly. Stefan's fingers were nowhere near her size. Quickly
however, she realized that there was magic involved here and that
she should not question the ways of the Gods.
"Stefan," she whispered, "They took you away from me too soon. I
will extract a price on them for this. But please, give me the
strength to live long enough to do it."
Finishing the last of breakfast, she got up and left the inn,
heading out in search of a job, but with the words of the letter
still buzzing around in her mind. So occupied was she that she
failed to notice the shadowy figure that moved away from the wall as
she went by and began to follow her.
Gellan left the forest just after dawn. The dew was still
dripping off the trees but the chill was leaving the air as he
strode across the meadow just outside the city. He stood for the
moment at the crest of a small hill and looked over the expanse to
the city walls of Dargon. Dargon. It had been a long while since he
had seen Dargon and its high buildings and crowded marketplaces. The
first time he saw Dargon, he was a young lad, not even had he seen
his tenth year. He dimly remembered looking in wonder at the great
colorful banners of the duchies and kingdoms, for it had been the
time of the great Festival that was given in Dargon every year. His
view now was not one of awe, however. He had been through much in
the seventeen years since his innocent days of childhood. He shifted
the pack that was slung over his shoulder and settled into a steady
gait made his way to the main road that led into Dargon. The morning
traffic had picked up while he had been approaching. As he walked
along the side of the road he drew stares from the coaches and
wagons that passed. He chuckled softly to himself as he thought that
they probably considered him some type of barbarian due to his
homemade clothes and unkempt hair and beard. But he had never really
cared about others or what they thought about him. That had been one
of the reasons he had left his village, family and all the security
that those things implied. If only they'd understood... if only...
ah, well. He had come to the archway of stone that was the entrance
to Dargon. He walked through the high entranceway and was astounded
by the density of the people and the buildings. The people! It had
been so long since he had seen so many people bustling and crowding
in one place. He walked down the streets and alleys of Dargon and
was only able to gaze in wonder at the large city. "Well, " he
thought to himself, "I'd better take care of business first. I'll be
here quite long enough to sightsee...". Then he was off to look for
a place to live during his stay in Dargon...
Night was falling over the city of Dargon, and most of the
businesses in the lower part of the city were closing. The 'most'
however didn't include the bars. The city was going through the
metamorphoses that happened every night around dusk. The nooks and
alley-ways used during the day to get from place to place in the
city were now shunned at all costs. A man could lose much more than
his purse at night in Dargon, especially in this district. Merntik
was making his way to Belisandra's for a night of general debauchery
and ruthlessness which was usually what he did, when he wasn't
planning on taking some poor merchants livelihood. The salt air was
drifting in from the water as always. Merntik entered the pub and
immediately grabbed the first serving girl that came within reach.
There were cries and whoops from all around. "Hi Mern!", a group
called from the end of the bar. He waved and made his way to the
counter. "Ale!, the strongest and darkest you got, lady!" he yelled
and then turned with a twinkle in his eye. That, among other things
is what had made him famous. Nobody knew just exactly how he did it,
but there are those who say that he could make his eyes sparkle in
pitch black darkness. After reciving his mug he pushed his way
through the crowd at the end of the bar.
"So, you are looking as ratty as ever, Gauld!", he said and
delivered a resounding slap to his comrade. "What has the night
brought this way?"
"Bah, only you, you old abandoned horse," Gauld said with a
grin, and then continued, "but, nothing else as yet. It has been a
slow night thus far. And how have you faired today? I saw you
earlier on Ramit Street talking to a couple. I assume you were
'helping them'?", and then his grin broadened.
Merntik let a little twinkle enter his countenance and replied,
"Well, they were lost! And not from this city, I had pity on them.
And besides, I had no idea how well they would pay for a guide to
get them to their hotel", he took a gulp of the dark ale, "as a
matter of fact neither did they!" He laughed loudly as he ordered
another round for the group and threw the gold coin on the counter.
Time went on as he and the men drank, laughed and played games. The
serving maids knew enough now to stay out of reach of the group as
the night wore on but always managed a tease now and then by coming
just out of reach. The night wore on and Merntik decided that he had
had quite enough frolic to sustain him for this night. "Besides," he
thought to himself, " I do have an early day tomorrow, no telling
how many people I will have to 'help'." And with a chuckle to
himself, he rose, said his goodbyes and left. The cool night air did
little to raise him out of his drunken stupor. He didn't even notice
the small dark figure that followed him from the front of the tavern.
Merntik turned to walk down a side street that led to his living
place and that was when the man appeared in front of him. "Stop
there Merntik...". That voice was as familiar to him as any ever
"Jernan, what finds you here this late at night? Scraping for
your dinner in the gutter?". As any could guess, Jernan and Merntik
did indeed know one another, and they held more hate towards the
other than any thought possible.
"Ahh, Merntik. You're tongue still has a fork I see. I have so
missed your conversation. And will forever, after you are dead."
Every once in a while Jernan had tried a futile attempt to kill
Merntik. They had studied under the same master when they were
young, but Jernan became impatient with what he thought were
monotonous studies and left long before he was ready to face the
world that a thief must face. And as could be expected, he was soon
arrested and imprisoned for a number of years. After he got out of
the Lord's prison he once again delved into the criminal element
where he found that Merntik had made quite a name for himself. The
jealousy that he harbored toward Merntik along with a few meetings
since then was what caused Jernan's obsession with the elimination
Merntik, tired and not wanting to allow Jernan first blood
feinted to the left and produced a dagger from beneath his cloak. He
then did a quick recovery and lunged after Jernan. But missed. He
ended up going tripping over his cloak. As quickly as he could, he
got to his feet and managed to strip his cloak off increasing his
maneuverability. Jernan had already drawn his knife and whirled
around. Jernan stabbed at Merntik. If he had been a bit faster,
Merntik might had taken it in the stomach. As it was, he felt the
steel enter his leg. Jernan gave the knife a twist and the shock was
too much for Merntik. His knees buckled under him, and he was
suddenly on his back facing up at Jernan. Jernan walked over slowly
and kicked Merntik's dagger further down the alley.
"I would have thought that when this time had come you would
have given me more of a fight. Tsk.... It seems that you slipped
once too often, Merntik." He walked over and Merntik saw him take a
foot long steel pipe from the ground nearby. "There is really no
need to be gentle about this I guess..." and with that he grabbed
Merntik by the collar of his tunic, lifted him up, and hit him in
the stomach. The pain was almost to much for him as he tottered on
the brink of unconsciousness. His drunken state and the loss of
blood had left him unable to focus. He never should have travelled
alone on this night. His mistake might have just cost him his life.
Jernan pulled back for another blow when a hand came out of the
shadow. The third man grabbed the pipe and wrenched it from Jernan's
hand in one swift move. Jernan whirled around redrawing his dagger
and jumped for the man but his hold on the blade was broken as the
stranger brought the pipe down with blow that could have only broken
Jernans hand. The stranger then brought the pipe down on Jernans
neck and the would be murderer crumpled, like paper, under the blow.
Merntik had seen this all from the ground where he had fallen
when Jernan released him. The stranger, his face hidden in shadow,
walked over to Merntik and knelt down beside him. Merntik could only
mutter, "Thanks..." before he was overtaken by unconsciousness.
The young thief awoke an unmeasured amount of time later. His
wounds had been cared for and he was bathed and lying on a cot. He
tried to sit up on his elbows to further survey the room but his
body had already decided that it was in control at this particular
time, and his stomach, bruised from the previous skirmish, had
knotted together. He could only groan and fall back in the cot. He
heard a movement from across the room and turned as far as he could
and said, "Hello? Who is there?". He was silently wishing he had so
much as a bobby pin for protection. Then he heard the clinking of
dishes and the smell of an obviously strongly seasoned stew waifted
over from somewhere. He was suddenly ravenously hungry. Still the
man had not yet come into view, so Merntik thought to get him to
speak. "Who is there? I want to thank you for you help, I was sure
that I had had my last drink.... Hello? Please, I would like to pay
you for your help....". At last he heard steps coming toward him and
his eyes opened wide as a look of recognition came over his face.
"Mern. Now how would it look if I took money for helping you....
brother", Gallen said as he knelt down beside his brother with the
"Oh my God...", was the only Merntik could think to say. Then he
smiled and reached out to hug his brother, but fell back in agony
"You always were headstrong when you were sick", Gellan said, as
he offered a spoon on the stew.
"Where have you been? What have you been doing? Why did you not
come home?" Merntik asked, "I mean, Gellan... Seventeen years!...."
"Shhhhh.. Mern. I am here now. I will tell you everything but
first you must eat. Then we will talk of me."
Roharvardenul walked away from the Fighting Unicorns well
pleased with the deal he and Ka'en had made. Patting his side, where
the book rested in the folds of his cloak, he walked slowly to the
shadows of a side alley. Once hidden from casual observers, he let
the 'whore' illusion that hid him fade, as well as the 'man in
brown' one he wore under it. And he smiled in the knowledge that
even should the missing book be somehow traced to that most capable
thief he had hired, it could not be traced further - he did not
believe in taking chances.
Vard (a name he much preferred to his given one for its
simplicity - Roharvardenul was very difficult to pronounce correctly
for one not raised with it, and he hated it when people
mispronounced his name) moved even deeper into the shadows until he
was sure that no one could see him. He began to concentrate on
building up yet another illusion. This would be very difficult -
invisibility was hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain,
especially when moving. Vard had practiced long and hard under his
erstwhile masters, and he knew his craft. Soon, even careful
scrutiny of the shadows wherein he hid would not have revealed
Vard's presence - he was invisible.
When he had reached an equilibrium within himself, and he knew
that he was ready keep the spell going as he moved, he inched his
way out of the alley and around to the rear of the Fighting
Unicorns, studiously avoiding the infrequent torch- or lantern-cast
pools of light that were scattered about - hiding himself was hard
enough; hiding his shadow as well would be nearly impossible.
Placing his steps as noiselessly as possible, Vard crept into the
Fifth Quarter and its concealing darkness.
Feeling more secure once he was three streets deep into the
Fifth Quarter, Vard began to move faster, but kept up the
invisibility. He knew that he couldn't hold the spell much longer.
He wanted to be as far as possible from the fringe Inn before he
became visible again. He was already weaving the illusion that would
replace the invisibility - he tried to be himself as little as
possible outside the walls of his fortress home.
Curiosity has killed more than cats in the Fifth Quarter, but
anyone with a little left might have seen a child, an urchin, appear
running from nowhere, clad in scant rags and bare feet. An urchin
was a common sight in the Quarter, the sudden appearance was not.
Still, had it been seen, the incident wouldn't have passed the lips
of the observer, for the insane are dealt with even more severely
than the curious in the alleys of the Fifth Quarter.
Threading his way through the maze-like inner streets of the
Fifth Quarter, Vard eventually reached a blank, wooden wall at the
end of a particularly narrow alley. The hidden catches were both
difficult to find, even for him, and hard to press all at the same
time (to prevent accidental discovery). Finally, the wall parted
just enough for him to slip through, then slammed shut seconds after
its opening, leaving Vard in total darkenss.
He stood in the darkness for several moments, letting the
disguise he wore fade away. Here, he needed to be himself, for he
had set traps to protect this secret way into the heart of his home
from strangers. Filling his mind with the patterns the traps
expected, he strode confidently through the utter lightlessness
towards the inner sanctum. It seemed that hours passed in the
minutes it took him to reach the final curtain, but finally he
stepped into light.
The small room he had stepped into was deep below the streets of
the city, although the gradual slope of the corridor was only barely
detectable as one walked it. An ornate chair was set against one
bare wall. There was a soft carpet on the floor, but the only other
decoration in the room was a large pattern of lines surrounding what
looked like a stylized door on the wall opposite the curtained real
door. The decor of the room was completed by two lamps flanking the
door, and a medium sized chest resting near the wall pattern.
Vard took a deep breath and relaxed - walking the gauntlet of
that corridor made even him nervous. He walked over to the pattern
which was more than a decoration. It was, in fact, a portal into the
cellars of Aahashtra, his fortress home. With it, he could make the
40 league trip to and from Magnus in one step. It had taken a lot of
effort to create the portal, but his frequent trips to the Crown
City made it necessary.
Laying his hands within the terminal-circles at the edge of the
pattern, Vard began to prime it, readying it for the activation
spells. It was just beginning to glow faintly when he heard someone
enter the room behind him. He whirled, fire beginning to limn his
hands as an attack spell filled his mind, but he let it slip away
when he saw that it was only his servant Qrun returning from his
errand. Qrun bowed to his Master and took the wrapped bundle that he
carried over to the chest. Opening the lid, the servant carefully
placed the bundle on top of the many other oddments that filled the
chest. He turned and bowed to Vard again.
"Ah, Qrun, what did you find today? Anything of special
interest? Have you completed your rounds?"
"Master, yes, I have visited all the shops you told me to. These
last items are the most interesting I found. They registered eight
on the meter." Qrun unwrapped the bundle in the chest, displaying a
leather-cased harp and a slim-bladed sword. "See, Master, even a
little above eight."
The servant produced a strange device from the pouch hanging at
his belt and held it next to the harp and sword. It was a simple
rectangle of black wood, with a tube of glass set into a little
trough on one side. There were lines etched across the glass at
regular intervals, and a number was graven into the wood next to
each line. As the device neared the two objects in the chest, a
bright bar of yellow light began to move up the tube from below the
mark labeled '1'. When Qrun held the device almost touching the harp
and the sword, the yellow bar had pushed past the mark labeled '8'.
"Very good, Qrun, very good. These items will serve me well!
Let's see if they have any identifying markings, eh?" Vard lifted
the harp case from the chest and examined the silver-decorated
leather carefully. He opened the case and removed the beautifully
wrought harp and examined it. Plucking a few strings that sounded
marvelously in tune, he said, "It names itself 'Soft-Winds'.
Beautiful name, eh, Qrun? Wonder who the owner was? Belike some
bard, down on his luck. Well, his loss is my gain, right?" He placed
the harp back in its case and set it back in the chest. He picked up
the sword. "Matched set, these were," Vard said. "I can feel they
had the same owner. Wonder what could have parted a bard from both
his livelihood and his protection?" He peered closely at the
carvings on the sheath and drew the blade after unfastening the
peace-bond. He read the runes etched among the delicate leaf pattern
that chased up and down the center of the well crafted blade. "And
this weapon hight 'Leaf-Killer': an odd name for a very fine blade.
It belonged to a south-western family at one time, and was
transferred from son to daughter last, if I read my runes correctly.
So, the bard who lost these was a woman! No matter, they will serve
as well in any case."
Vard placed the re-sheathed sword back in the chest beside the
harp, and bade Qrun secure the chest for travel. While his servant
attended to that, Vard returned to the task of activating the
portal. Presently, the pattern built of special tiles and set into
the very fabric of the wall began to glow strongly, with a slight,
pulsing beat. The portal was open.
Vard took one last look around the room to be sure that it was
empty. With a wave, he extinguished the lamps by the door, and by
the light of the pattern he followed his servant into the portal and
vanished from Magnus. Immediately after his form vanished into the
pattern, its light went out, leaving the secret room in darkness
until the next time Vard had to come to the Crown City.
Lights sprang on of themselves in the room in Aahashtra that
mirrored the one hidden under Magnus as first Qrun and them Vard
stepped through the center of the glowing pattern. Vard said, "Take
that to the sorting room, Qrun, and take care of its contents. Tell
Eirul to bring me something to eat in my study, if she hasn't
already." As Qrun carried the chest through the curtain at the far
end of the room, Vard followed him as far as the first side door.
There, the magician turned aside from the long hall and went through
the door and up the stairs behind it that led to his study.
He found a bright and cheery fire burning behind its screen in
his study and a tray of tarts on a table in front of it. He bit into
one and smiled. Eirul was a superb cook. The tarts were a specialty
of hers and a favorite of his.
Vard removed the Book from the folds of his robe and set it
reverently on his reading desk. After lighting several of the lamps
that stood around it he went over to a tall bookcase to get down
some reference volumes. He settled into the stiff-backed chair at
his reading desk and opened the book to the first page. He was
pleased to find that it was written in what was called Middle, or
Pure, Fretheodan, the language of that empire's most productive
period. He was conversant in the language, so he began to read, not
taking the time to look up words or usages he didn't understand. He
wanted to get an idea of what was contained in the book before
Pausing only to nibble at the food he never saw Eirul bring, he
read the book from cover to cover. By the time he had finished it,
almost a full day had passed and he was sure that the Tome of
Yrmenweald was exactly what he had hoped it was. It contained the
secrets of a vast powersource that the Fretheod Empire's wizards had
managed to harness. It gave details on how to duplicate the feat,
and exactly what could be accomplished with the harnessed power.
Vard was sure that he could put the Yrmenweald to as good a use as
had the Fretheod. He had always dreamed of being the most powerful
wizard in the world, and with this book he could be.
But, first things first. Vard had gotten the gist of what the
Tome contained. Now he wanted to know exactly. It was essential that
he understand, word for word, the instructions left by the wizards
who had harnessed the Yrmenweald the first time. Patience was
something Vard had learned long ago, along with thouroughness, and
now he put both to work studying the Tome.
First, he translated the Tome into the trade language that the
Fretheod Empire had created. It was a language that was able to
express complicated ideas very clearly while still being easy to
learn because of its logical structure: its rules had no exceptions
since it was not a naturally evolved language. He was able to
clarify to himself what certain passages meant by the way they read
in the trade tongue. Then he translated the trade version into his
own native tongue, gaining even more insights into the text. The
last step was a detailed examination of all three versions,
comparing them and finalyzing the exact meaning of the Tome. He was
aided here by his collections of material from the Empire's history,
including maps, journals, and books written by Fretheod scholars.
This helped him pin down geographic references and fit them into his
own frame of reference. It also helped to clear up idiomatic usages,
obscure (to him) literary references, and the other little things
that kept him from total understanding of the Tome.
He learned that the source of the Yrmenweald had been found by a
team of explorers who were charting the continent they called
Gereon, which was south of their homeland and east of Vard's. One
day, the native guides they employed showed them a taboo area where
a stone had fallen from the sky. They were told that the first
people to go near the place, soon after the sky-stone had come down,
had been burned to death by the heat of the earth. Several weeks
later, when the earth had cooled, another group of people had tried
to get to the sky-stone. These had been driven off by strange lights
in the pit where the sky-stone rested. When they died later of a
strange, wasting sickness, the area had been declared taboo.
However, the Fretheod explorers insisted on seeing for
themselves. The tales of the sky-stone were several years old, and
they persuaded their guides to stay with them by suggesting that
perhaps the 'evil spirits' inhabiting the place had gone by now.
Jarl Hremon, the leader of the expidition, entered the
depression created by the sky-stone first. Burried in the earth, he
found a wall of silver metal that sparked feebly when he neared it,
then went out. He tripped on a clod of dirt and fell against the
metal. When he did, the entire wall shimmered and faded into
nothingness, revealing a large, dark cave.
Hremon got a torch and led his men into the strange cave. They
found much that they could not describe or understand, but they did
find - well, something. The Tome used a strange symbol for what they
found that seemed to be enough description for them. No mention was
made of exactly what it was, or what it looked like, or where the
symbol came from. Vard could find no other reference to a symbol of
that type anywhere in any of the books he had collected. For his own
convenience he assigned a sound to the symbol. He called it 'keseth'.
Somehow, Hremon had recognized that there was potential in the
keseth. He had a permanent camp set up around the pit, and sent a
man back to the capitol with a message informing the King of their
discovery and suggesting that the Court's wizards send someone back
to further examine what had been found.
The King sent a full legion of his army to Gereon, escorting
most of the Weavers in the capitol including Swithwald, their
master. It was Swithwald who closeted himself with the keseth for
many days. When he emerged from the cave, he knew what the keseth
was capable of, and to what use it could be put to.
Swithwald left for the capitol after instructing his wizards in
what preparations to make for the keseth's transportation. When the
Master Weaver was home, he set about building a place for the keseth
deep in a long disused mine. He had the full support of the King
once he had informed the monarch of his plan, and being able to draw
on the resources of the whole Empire made the work go quickly. Soon
the vault was ready. In an exhausting exhibition of magic that
required the services of every Weaver and a good many of the lesser
mages, the keseth was transported from the pit on Gereon, into the
vault that Swithwald had made where it would be safe and available
Years went into that study. Swithwald bent all his energies on
harnessing the power that the keseth held. Finally, he found a way
to keep the keseth bound while allowing it access to its power. The
discovery of cwicustan by another exploration team probing into the
northern wastes of their own continent was the deciding factor in
harnessing the keseth's abilities. After much research into the
strange, almost living, crystal called cwicustan, it was discovered
that any part removed from the whole was still affected by some
things that happened to what remained. It was thought by the
researchers to use cwicustan as a magic channel, for a spell cast at
the heart-lode would emanate from any and all fragments of that
lode. Swithwald heard of its properties, and set teams of
researchers to finding out how to apply that ability to the keseth.
Finally, the connection was made, and the Master Staff was formed.
The Son Staves that were formed from the master were linked to it,
and the Master Staff was linked to the keseth enabling anyone with
access to a Son Staff access to the power of the keseth.
And that power was, in the main, farseeing with incredible
clarity. Commanders could keep an eye on enemy movements from a
considerale distance. Explorers could view the terrain they would be
crossing well before reaching it. Ship captains could spot land from
afar, as well as keep an eye on weather patterns using another minor
ability of the keseth. And it was the power of the keseth that
turned the agressive and formidable Fretheod Nation into a
world-spanning, invincible Empire.
Finally, both Swithwald and the King decided that they needed to
safeguard the core of their newfound power. Once Swithwald was
certain that the keseth was safe and secure in its vault, he sealed
it and took a map, one of his servants, and the key across the sea
to one of the nation's outposts. In the cellars of a watch-keep
named Wudamund he he burried for safekeeping the map to the vault,
the key to enter the vault, and the servant who knew the traps
guarding the vault. He then instructed the Tome to be written, to
hold all of the knowledge of the Yrmenweald (as they came to call
the power that the keseth gave to Fretheod), the keseth, and the
Staves. And lastly, he and the Weavers worked a greater magic than
the one that had moved the keseth. All knowledge of the keseth, its
whereabouts, and the source of the Staves' power was removed from
the minds of all the Fretheod people. Only those with access to the
Tome would know the real power behind the staves, and only someone
able to raise the dead could gain access to the vault where the
keseth was bound. With the Tome entrusted to the royal bards, both
Swithwald and the King were sure that the secrets would be kept
safe. No one imagined that treachery from within would finally end
It was almost by chance that Vard had come across the one thing
that would enable him to take the Yrmenweald for himself. He had
purchased what turned out to be the seachest of Tarhela, the last
Skaldric of Fretheod, from an illiterate hoarder who didn't know the
value of what he had sold. Among the shreds of rotted clothing, and
more intact books, he found the Skaldric's journal. Within the
journal was the only written reference to the Tome of the Yrmenweald
Vard immediately began a magical search for the tome. He traced
its path through history from the shipwreck of Tarhela's ship, to
its final resting place within the walls of the Bardic College in
Magnus. Trickery, magic, and a lot of favors had eventually gotten
him the keys to the vault where it was stored. It only remained to
hire Ka'en to steal it from under the noses of the Bards without
And now, Vard was even closer to ultimate power. He knew that
Dargon Castle had been built on the partial ruins of the watch-keep
that the Fretheod had called Wudamund. With a little research of his
own, he knew he would have no trouble unlocking the secrets hidden
in the cellars of Clifton Dargon's home. The more difficult task
would be to find some cwicustan, for he knew that he would have to
begin from scratch in constructing a Master Staff of his own and
that required his own supply of the living crystal. He decided to
make that his first priority.
It was only an hour from sunset as the good ship Morcyfaill
dropped anchor in the harbor of a small fishing village called
Hadrom on the east coast of Duurom, the present name of the
continent that was once the center of the Fretheod Empire. The
longboat was lowered over the side. Owain Garothsson took his leave
of Captain Camarond, and he and his men climbed down into the boat
and were ferried ashore. No amount of gold Owain could offer would
get Camarond to sail farther north. Owain was resigned to making the
rest of the trek afoot.
Vard watched the disembarkation from a special room in his
fortress. It was a small chamber at the top of a squatly conical
tower, with barely enough room for himself and a chair and table.
The only light in the room came from an oblong of translucent stone
that rested between two silver plates on the table and glowed with a
faint turquoise light. Vard's hands rested lightly on the silver
endplates and his eyes were closed. He watched the far off scene in
Hadrom in his mind, checking on the progress of his pawn. The
blue-green bar of glowing stone bound Owain to Vard's will by means
of a property of magic known as Contagion. Stated formally, the Law
of Contagion stated that 'Things once in contact continue to
interact from a distance after separation'. This allowed Vard to use
control magic on an object that had once been in Owain's possession,
and thereby control Owain.
Of course, this ordinarily wouldn't have been enough for him to
completely control a person from such a distance. The Law alone
wasn't strong enough to allow him to control someone who was just
across the room from him. But Vard had discovered more about the
intricacies of the Law of Contagion than any other mage whose works
still survived. He had learned that the stronger a person's
emotional bonds were to the object, the stronger the Law bound the
two. Once he had isolated that property in the object, he had found
a way to magnify that property so that he could use his control
magic on the object with an almost overwhelming effect on the
subject. The strength of the modified control depended on the degree
of the initial attachment, but if that attachment was strong enough
Vard could be assured of complete control with a minium of effort.
At some point in his career, Owain had lost a bamboo transverse
flute that had meant a great deal to him. Vard had invented a
measuring device that codified the degree of attachment between
object and former owner. The tube of yellow light in the black wood
rectangle had reached midway between the marks labeled '7' and '8'
when held next to the flute. Once Vard had located the flute in his
sorting rooms, where all of the items he and his servants collected
were stored, he had processed it to magnify the attachment property
to usable levels. The result was the turquoise bar that rested on
the table before him in his control room.
More than eighteen months had passed between the time Vard
resolved to obtain some of the cwicustan and the day he sat watching
Owain and his band disembark from the ship that had carried them to
Hadrom. The time had been spent first finding a cache of cwicustan,
and then finding a way of getting hold of it. Vard never did such
things for himself as they were far too dangerous and there were
easier ways of getting them done. Even if he had desired to venture
into the northern wastes of Duurom himself, he had no patience with
traveling the hard way. And there was no way to use his magic to
travel the distance with ease. Teleportation was a difficult spell
and it required either vast amounts of power and strong
enchantments, or precise and exacting knowledge of the destination.
Vard had neither at hand, although one of the uses he could forsee
for the Yrmenweald when he had harnessed it was as an aid to
teleportation. With the ability to view distant places in amazing
detail he would be able to transport himself anywhere on the face of
the globe with little more than a thought. He would be revered and
respected for having such power.
The thought crossed his mind to hire an adventuring team to
retrieve the magical stone, but he knew that wouldn't work. He
couldn't afford to pay the team enough gold to insure that they
would return the stone to him. Cwicustan had enough visibly strange
properties to give an experienced adventurer ideas about selling it
in a better market. When he had hired Ka'en to steal the Tome, Vard
knew that the thief would have no use for an old book, and so would
not try to double-cross him.
Vard had to search for someone whom he could control. Where
money might fail, his magic wouldn't. Using specially developed
future-scanning spells designed to locate an object that fulfilled
the requirements of the castor, he had searched his storerooms,
eventually finding the flute belonging to Owain. The process of
refining the flute into a useable form took six months. Fortunately,
he had no trouble taking control of Owain once his aparatus was
ready. Ocaisionally, a very strong will could put up a fight, and he
had to take care (and much time) to insinuate his control carefully
into the subject's body and mind.
The rest of the elapsed time was taken up in waiting for the
expedition Vard had caught Owain in the middle of preparing for to
be diverted to Duurom, and then for the two month sea voyage to
Hadrom. He had had no trouble getting Owain to change the object of
his adventuring, even over the objections of his fellow explorers.
He was also able to keep the man from revealing the reason that they
were suddenly going north into Duurom, instead of south on Cherisk
into the Skywall Mountains (which wouldn't have involved any sea
voyaging at all). He didn't have the materials to control all eight
of the adventurers, so he had to keep the cwicustan a secret.
As the longboat was rowed to shore by ship's men, Owain looked
over the seven he had with him. Two of them had been with Owain on
other adventures. In fact, Auvgin and Telrmun were two of his
closest friends. But not one of the adventurers was quite sure just
what they were doing in a boat bound for a fishing village.
Sometimes, that included Owain.
Owain was an adventurer. That wasn't the only thing he had ever
done: only the lucky or short-lived could make adventuring their
life's work. Owain had held many jobs, from guarding merchant's
caravans to hauling goods in a warehouse. He did those other things
to amass enough money to go adventuring. He hoped one day to bring
back such a big find from some ancient temple or ruined city that he
could retire with his riches and be remembered forever for his final
Six months previous, Auvgin had come to Owain with enough money
saved up to fund almost half of the stake required to outfit an
adventure to investigate some maps and tales of strange happenings
in the heart of the Skywall mountains. After some negotiations, it
had been agreed that Owain would put up the rest of the money needed
to investigate the rumors of vast treasure that Auvgin had heard.
With the skill of much practice, Auvgin and Owain had soon put
together a band of people and the necessary supplies to follow
And then, almost on the eve of their departure, Owain had
changed that plan. Now they would be traveling to the northern
wastes of Duurom. He had refused to tell them why, except that he
had heard even better rumors than Auvgin had brought of easy
treasure to be had there. Since he had the most money invested, it
was easy for him to quell the grumblings of Auvgin and the others,
and they headed for Duurom.
The reason Owain hadn't told the others why he had changed their
plans was because he couldn't. Something had told him to go north
into Duurom, enticing him with visions of a strange crystal that
grew there. What was really frightening was that he couldn't resist
the order. He had no choice. He would have gone alone if the men in
his expedition had refused to go. But, he couldn't even tell anyone
that he was being forced to go north. Whatever was cooercing him was
preventing him from talking about it.
As the longboat manuevered alongside the dock, Owain looked
first back at the Morcyfaill and then north beyond Hadrom. He
wondered if whatever was forcing him after the crystal would let any
of them come back alive.
Hadrom was well prepared to outfit travelers going north. It was
the northernmost village on Duurom's east coast, a week away by ship
from its southern neighbor due to an archipelago that contained too
many shifting shoals and shallows to chart, forcing ships to go
around, and a month away overland due to the mountains that grew
from the sea along the line of the islands and continued inland
across half the continent. The only pass thru the mountains was two
weeks away from each village, although a desperate man could find a
shorter though much more dangerous route.
The self-sufficient fishing village also served as an outpost
from which to explore northward. It offered goods and services
needed for an expedition at reasonable prices, enabling explorers to
travel light until they reached Hadrom.
Owain and his band spent a day and two nights in Hadrom getting
supplies and information for their trip. When Auvgin suggested
hiring a guide, Owain flatly refused. The force driving him informed
him that it would be their guide to the cwicustan, but it left it up
to Owain to provide a reasonable explanation to his followers.
They left Hadrom on the second dawn since their arrival on
Duurom. Day after day, which became week after week, they walked,
ever farther north. Duurom was no longer settled much above Hadrom.
Owain saw no indication that it had ever been inhabited save for the
occasional rune-marked obelisk which were identical to several he
had seen at home. When six weeks had passed, the grumbling among his
men was getting dangerous. It got worse when Owain informed them
that they were still at least a month away from where they were
going. And then, as they were gathered around the camp's fire, the
It took everyone by suprise. Having spent six weeks traveling
with not the slightest problem had dulled their reflexes enough for
the bird-thing to stoop down on them unawares, its long and sharp
talons grabbing hold of Telrmun and piercing his body as it lifted
the screaming man off of the ground a short ways then dropped him.
Telrmun gave out a little cry as he hit the ground, then lay still
and soundless, splashes of red dotting the front of his tunic.
The rest of them were slow enough drawing steel and nocking
arrows that the bird-thing, its beak now open and producing a noise
like no normal bird any of them had ever heard, was able to latch
its talons into Druorn. That young man was able to take a swing, the
first of the party, but his blade didn't even nick the glistening
silvery hide of his attacker.
Owain tried to get an idea of what the bird-thing looked like as
he attacked it during its screeching swoops. It was huge, larger
than a man by half. It had no feathers, but rather thick pebbly skin
that protected it from all but the strongest and truest of blows.
The bows of Maloc and Eergna were useless - their pull wasn't strong
enough to drive their arrows into the hide. Its wings were stiff and
didn't seem to move at all. Its head was long and pointed at both
ends, and it had large intelligent-looking eyes. Owain was sure that
it wasn't a natural creature.
Owain and his men were able to finish off the bird-thing without
losing anyone else. After burying Telrmun and Druorn, the six
remaining decided to put their grumbling behind them and continue
the expedition in a more careful manner.
The remaining weeks passed with no more arguments about where
they were going or why. The far northern wastes were populated with
all kinds of strange beasts and birds, none of which seemed quite
natural, so that they were kept too busy staying alert for trouble
and defending themselves to argue. Owain was reminded by them that
the Empire which had once spanned all of the land they were
traveling through had been well supplied with magicians and wizards.
He supposed that the monsters were byproducts of magical
experiments. He might even have been right.
Finally, they came to a rather small range of mountains that the
voice in Owain's head indicated was their destination. The six spent
a night at the foot of the smallest mountain in the chain, and were
up bright and early the next morning to find the treasure.
Owain led the way up and over the mountain that was really a
medium sized hill. On the other side was a valley that ran down the
center of the whole range. It looked just the sort of place for a
hidden temple or ruined city - always sources of fabulous wealth. It
was heavily forested, mostly by conifers which meant that the valley
floor was carpeted with green even in the semi-eternal winter of
this frozen land.
They soon reached the floor of the valley and turned east at
Owain's lead. The valley was full of ordinary sounds as the
adventurers moved silently through it. Birds cried in the trees, and
there were rustles in the undergrowth indicating small animal life.
There was absolutely no evidence of man in the valley, not even an
obelisk anywhere. The small fauna seemed to have no fear at all of
the six humans slipping through their forest. Owain even saw
something that looked remarkably like a deer just standing in the
shadow of a tree, and it didn't flee when they walked by.
It took two hours to reach the east end of the valley. The
forest grew right up to the foot of the tallest mountain in the
range and no further. The slopes of the mountain were bare of
everything but rock. Owain pointed at a dark hole in the mountain's
flank and said, "That's where we are going."
The voice in his head told Owain that the crystal grew in the
back of the cave, but it also said that there was danger in the
cave. It still refused to let him tell about the crystal. As he
hesitated about just how to get into the cave while avoiding the
danger in it, the voice commanded him to order the others into the
cave. This would lure out the danger, and allow him to slip in and
get the crystal. He had no choice. Even as the commands entered his
head, his mouth was giving them voice.
He followed his companions up the side of the mountain, slipping
to the side as they reached the mouth of the cave. He listened to
the others march confidently into the darkness; the voice had
assured them through his lips that there was no danger at all within.
The footsteps had almost died away when there came a cawing
roar, somewhere between the sound of a lion and that of a huge
eagle. On the heels of the sound came startled yells, one scream of
mortal pain, and then running.
Four of the five who had gone into the cave now came tearing
out. They scattered as soon as they were in the open and turned back
to face what they had found within the cave. As it bolted into the
sun and spread its huge wings, Owain recognized one of the fabled
gryphons of legend. Half lion and half eagle, it was majestic and
terrible as it took to the air cawing its rage and lashing its
lion's tail. There was blood on one of its taloned fore-feet and at
the tip of the beak.
Although Owain would have rather gone to help his companions,
the voice had clamped down on him in total control. He could only
look back as he was forced into the darkness of the cave to see the
gryphon land amid the four men who were now armed. He didn't see the
battle begin, but he could hear it as he went deeper into the
darkness - the battle shouts of the men, the roaring caw of the
gryphon, the sounds of wounds on both sides.
Owain finally reached the nest of the gryphon. He was suprised
to find that there was light, provided by a mass of strange-looking
crystal against the back wall. In the dim light, he saw the dead
body of Tellor lying where the gryphon had left it.
The voice that had control of him cared not at all for Tellor,
alive or dead. It directed Owain's body over to the glowing crystal,
and had him remove a hammer and a delicate chisel from his belt
pouch that he didn't even know was in there. After carefully
examining the growth of crystal, he was directed to place the chisel
carefully in two places near the base of one large mass and tap it
lightly with the hammer. Placing the tools back in the pouch, Owain
was then made to take hold of the mass of crystal and pull. Much to
his suprise, it came away from the wall with no trouble at all. It
was also very light for its size. Measuring three feet long by one
around, it weighed no more than five pounds; an easy if awkward
burden for the trek home.
A bag was fished out of Owain's pack by his own unwilling hands.
He could feel the voice's intent to leave the other four to the
mercy of the gryphon. But, though he wanted to help in the fight
with every fiber of his being, the voice's control was too strong.
He had no choice but to place the crystal in the bag, secure it to
his pack, and then make his way back out of the cave.
When he reached sunlight, he saw that the battle was still going
on. Telkor, who was Tellor's twin, had not survived his brother by
much. Lorth was limping on a bloodied leg, and had hooked a crooked
bleeding arm in his swordbelt. Of the three remaining fighters, only
Auvgin was unmarked. The gryphon was faring better than its
opponents, but it too bore wounds. Someone had managed to disable a
wing, preventing the half-bird half-lion from taking to the air
again. Owain hoped that his three remaining companions would
vanquish the monster. As the voice controlling him forced him toward
the saddle between this mountain and the next, he sent a silent
'good luck' back to the battle. It was a long time before the sounds
of the conflict faded into the distance.
The walk back to Hadrom was a nightmare for Owain. The voice was
no longer in his head constantly, but it had laid a conpulsion as
strong as a geas on him to return to the fishing village where a
ship would be waiting to take him back to Cherisk. Detailed
instructions filled his mind about how and where to go once reaching
Marrak, the ship's first port-of-call on Cherisk. He finally knew
that he was to deliver the crystal to a wizard named Vard. He
secretly cherished a wish to be able to make the wizard pay for
forcing him north, and leaving the three to make it home alone
assuming they survived the gryphon.
Vard was sitting in a rear booth in the Fighting Unicorns
disquised as a somewhat tattered merchant when Owain strode into the
bar. Vard had chosen this as a rendezvous again because Baranur was
the closest city to Marrak wherein he had a hidden portal.
Owain had been ordered to take a room near the river and clean
up a little before coming to the 'Unicorns. It was a very
presentable adventurer who settled himself across from the merchant.
Only his eyes bore evidence of the six month plus trek he had
undergone, half of it alone.
False small talk was made about Owain wanting to hire out with
the merchant on a caravan while one of the barmaids took their order
and came back with their drinks. Once they were alone, Vard asked
for the bag with the crystal to be passed under the table. Keeping
up the chatter, Owain did so. Vard hastily checked the contents of
the bag. Satisfied, he fingered two phials he was carrying in an
inner pocket. One contained slow poison, and the other was a
powerful potion that induced amnesia. He wasn't sure which to give
the man who sat talking across the scarred and dirty table from him.
Finally, he shuffled them around and took one at random. With the
ease of a practiced prestidigitator, he slipped the contents into
Owain's bell shaped stein of ale. He proposed a toast to seal their
fake bargain, and Owain drained his cup in one swallow. Without
waiting around to see which phial he had selected, Vard got up and
left the inn, slipping with his usual ease into the depths of the
Fifth Quarter and back to his fortress.
Owain ordered and drank another ale before leaving the
'Unicorns. He made his way back to his own inn and collapsed on the
bed in the room he had rented. Sometime in the night, two things
happened. First, the control that Vard had exercised over him
vanished as the wizard destroyed the transformed flute. And, all
memory of what had happened to him from the time Auvgin first
approached him about an expedition he was planning vanished. When he
awoke next morning, he was very puzzled about why he was in Baranur
and where the past year had gone.
Vard set about preparing the cwicustan as the Tome instructed so
that it would be ready for use when he finally found the keseth.
When that was finished, he turned his attention to the next two
phases of his quest for the Yrmenweald. First, he had Qrun delve
into the deepest vaults of the fortress wherein were kept the most
dangerous and powerful books of lore he had managed to acquire by
fair means or foul. While his servant was so employed, he went into
the Sorting Rooms and prepared a location spell to help him find an
object he could use to control someone who could get the treasure
out of the hidden vault in Dargon Castle.
The ball of light he formed between his hands began to drift
around the room when he said the last words of the spell. It looked
like a drunk wil-o-the-wisp as it darted erratically around the
room, from shelf to shelf, object to object. After making the rounds
of the room three times, it finally settled around something. When
Vard looked at the objects, he smiled. He picked up the sword named
'Leaf-Killer' and the harp named 'Soft-Winds' and took them upstairs
to be processed.
-John L. White