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+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME EIGHT 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 Ceda the Executioner: 7 Joel Slatis Sir Lyoyn of the Pale Loren J. Miller *Spirit of the Wood: 5 Rich Jervis *Cydric and the Sage: Part 2 Carlo Samson Date: 083187 Dist: 412 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 Well, the honeymoon is over, in a thoroughly literal sense. I have returned from the Society for Creative Anachronism's annual Pennsic War unharmed, save for a slight sunburn and some poison ivy... For those of you who aren't familiar with Pennsic, imagine over 5000 medieval recreationists taking part in a week-long event featuring tournaments, merchants, feasts, revels, court, raids, and much more, culminating in the annual war between the Midrealm and the East Kingdom. Let me tell you, it was quite an experience! And although the Dargon project conference never did materialize, John White and I did manage to get a little talking done, and I managed to meet a reader or two as well. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I hope to see more of you there in future years! But back to the news. Hardcopy subscriptions are almost ready to actually be implemented (after blowing up my last printer, I have a new one currently on order). And a potentially major development was the recent announcement that the WISCVM inter-network gateway is considering closing down. There is currently a lively debate by the powers that be as to how BITNET is going to maintain access to other networks. I strongly suspect that BITNET will continue to maintain a gateway, even should WISCVM shut down, and I doubt that there will be any great effect upon FSFnet distribution should this occur. And finally, you might notice that direct FSFnet distribution has broken 400 with this issue. I'm very pleased with this, and am hopeful that we will continue to grow. Be sure to show issues to friends who might be interested, and keep spreading the word! This will be the final issue of volume 8, and the first issue of volume 9 should be out in mid-September. And remember, September is "Be Kind to your Editor" month... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter 7 It was close to the end of that day ere Ceda rode out of the west gate of Caahah on his wingless dragon mount, Melgon. In the pouch at his side was the Crown of Grobst D'arbo and on his back rested Renielk which glowed in a bright white aura as they rode though the Ruirsian countryside approaching the forest of Nen. He rode half that night with the radiance of the moon aided by the axe to guide his mount before they set up camp on a mound of lush grass. By first light he had awakened and was on Melgon riding fast for the forest border. To the north the Aun Hills were barely visible in the early morning sky and to the east the sun was already rising making long shadows in front of them as they rode on; before midmorning they had reached the large forest of Nen. At the forest entrance where the path disappeared into the dark trees before them, Ceda stopped Melgon as he took Renielk from his back and placed it across his legs before entering the forest. The gem had been glowing white since he had left the distant city of Caahah and was subsequently useless to him, but in any case Ceda sensed that the glow had lessened a bit. He slowed his mount to a cautious trot while loosening Melgon's reins before entering. The trail grew difficult as he entered; being in bad upkeep it would take some time to ride through Nen, though going around would take much more time than Ceda had to spare. He pushed Melgon on slightly faster as they made their way though the trees and soon the entrance was well out of sight behind them. All around the Traveler and his mount were green plants; the soil was moist and the air was sweet. Nen had not yet been infested by the vile creatures of the Sarshirians. Suddenly four men dropped from the trees above Ceda's head. They had long and sharp swords but wore no armor. Ceda immediately slid down Melgon's scaly back onto the soft ground and gripped Renielk tightly as he turned to face the attackers. "Halt!" Shouted one of the men as Ceda lowered his axe recognizing the blue and yellow colors of Ruirsian warriors. "He is a man." "Hail, scouts of Ruirse! I am Ceda of No-Al Ben. I am in hasty flight and ask that I may pass. I ride with authority of King Threythus and all that hinder me in this hour shall answer his wrath!" "Strong words you speak," said the leader. "But these are times of war and all who travel through the lands of his majesty Threythus must do so with the consent of his scouts. What is your destination?" "I am bound for the desert," answered Ceda yielding. "What else must you know? Time is short, ask swiftly!" "Where in the desert do you intend to go? Know you not of the Orcs? They roam much of the area to the south of the City of Pheeng'Am even though we control it; it is too dangerous to travel there without a large escort. If it is to No-Al Ben that you travel then I advise you to take the road back east the way you came and journey around the Aun Hills to the desert in the north." "The way north of the Hills is no longer safe. The enemy has taken all of Weuyrt and killed nigh twenty thousand men with a force of mighty giants. The last of the scouts of the north called Azzar returned to Caahah seven suns ago with the news. He also said that a great host has crossed over the Voidland into Ruirse and they advance on Caahah. They may have arrived even now and a battle may be at hand." "The news you bring is not unknown to us for there have been other scouts that have told us the same. In any case the army of the enemy has not come this way, or by the path to the north of the Hills, for we have scouts there that travel here every day and have not seen or heard anything unusual. They have gone either back to Weuyrt or East to the Little Kingdom if they have not come to Caahah - that I can assure you." "This is for the most part good news," said Ceda. "I must go now. Thank you for the information. What is your name?" "I am called Aesl. Farewell, and ride north if your way permits for the south is unsafe at all times of the sun and the moon." "Farewell," answered Ceda as he remounted Melgon and rode forth down the rode towards Pheeng'Am. It was three days until he reached Pheeng'Am. The City was now well fortified with many guards and warriors. Some men from No-Al Ben were present and were many from the country of Caffthorn. As Ceda entered the city, the sun was just setting over the white sands to the west. The next morning Ceda was on his dragon mount riding into the age old desert. The sky was blue and the gem was white, though no sign of trouble had aroused Melgon or come to Ceda's attention. They rode with great speed through the desert as the sun became hotter heating the sands in turn making the air dry and unsavory to their parched throats. Night came rapidly and the sun sank between two towering dunes that stretched up before them as they rode westward. They still had no sign of trouble aside from the gems white warning so Ceda decided to continue on into the night reasoning that it would be far less dangerous and far more comfortable without the light or the heat. After a few more hours ride they pulled to an abrupt stop and Ceda rolled of of Melgon's back on to the cooling white sands. They slept until some time into the next morning when the sun, high up in the sky, finally gathered enough heat to wrench them from their sleep. Two days later Ceda reached the area that he had last seen the tree almost a year before. The ground looked no different than any other place on the desert floor and mounds of sand rose all around him. He searched all day for the tree, walking in a small radius from where he first stood and then slowly moving outward. He was in a hurry for it was nearly nine full days since Ceda had departed Caahah. Searching until the sun had completely dropped out of the sky he finally gave up and went to sleep. The next morning he was up with the sun and riding in circles hoping to come across the tree that day. By noon he was discouraged and tired. The tenth day was upon them and Ceda had still not found it. Finally he gave up trying to find the tree in that manner. He mounted Melgon and rode up and down the larger mounds in the area in hope of spotting the tree in that manner as the day drew on. While searching, his thoughts drifted back to Caahah. The army from Arnmere must have come by now; If they had, he though, then the Lost Army would be of no help to them by the time they would reach the city that lay nigh two hundred miles east. If they had indeed turned back to the caves being content with the victory over Weuyrt then they would not need the Army, but still, it would be good to have the help of such an ally. If however, the forces of Arnmere had gone to the Little Kingdom first then they would have already defeated it and have come to Caahah out of the west, and if they had gone south to Dhernis then they would have reached it before the seventh sun falling after Ceda's departure. He searched most of the day and by the time the sun had dropped in the western sky he was tired, hot and near desperate. Fear rested on him like a heavy weight on his heart as he constantly thought about his friends and allies that he left behind in the possibly doomed city. along with that fear rested the burden of the crown and the chance of being found by a group of Orcs that may be out in the desert. Suppose there were some at the tree, waiting, to protect their future by stopping the Army's return? If that was so, then there was surely a great force at the tree. The moon came out and Ceda dropped of Melgon's back onto the white sands. His thoughts drifted again to the east and the City of Caahah. He wondered if it was still there or if the forces of the enemy had gone to the Port of Dhernis instead. Perhaps they went passed Caahah and then came from the east to the fair city of Bilfneuin. 'I have failed,' he thought. 'No matter what their destination they will reach it long before I ever even find the accursed tree.' He reclined onto his back and looked up at the rising moon. A strong wind was blowing and some of the sand blew up and his face. He brushed it off and sat up. The breeze had moved something on to his chest but it took a moment before his tired eyes could focus on the object. Before him was a greenish brown leaf. Ceda looked at it in wonder before it occurred to him where it had come from. "Melgon!" He shouted. "Lift your weary head and your body too!" Melgon growled in a low voice and rose. Ceda jumped to his back and pulled his reins so he faced into the desert wind. "Onward! there is still a hope!" They moved slowly down the hill that they were on and came to two small dunes at the bottom. They continued on between them and arrived in a small shielded area. mounds were on three of the four sides, but not tall enough to block the sight of a large man. Just enough to stop roving eyes from spying out the small growth that lived therein. Melgon would go no further so Ceda dropped from his mount and approached. He looked at it in amazement for it had not changed from the last time he saw it - not in the slightest way. "I may not have failed, Melgon of Cergaan! We will wait for the morrow and then we shall find the Lost Army. We will bring them back into our world in the beginning of the new day to mark the beginning of the new era that shall come with them! I have not failed!" Day was coming and that would be a relief. The Enemy had attached with sudden ferocity eight days after Ceda had left the walls of Caahah. Aroth stood next to Threythus and Ballison as the watched the battle progress from the palace tower. There were more foul creatures outside the gates than any had ever seen before. The Nuadrin were the worst. They fought with tridents, black and deadly. They did not tire and they were fearless, or so it seemed. They fought like wild starving animals would over a small morsel of food; such was their vigor and might, and in their dark eyes burned a hole of an unquenchable hatred. Aroth's Elves sat along the battlements; their bows aimed, poised in a slightly tilted position as they shot arrow after arrow into the horde of wild Orcs that constantly bombarded the walls with their own bodies in effort to climb over. One after another another fell dead as did the Nuadrin and many other horrid beasts when the slender arrows pierced their weak armor, but it did not help; there were too many to defeat that way. Threythus drew a mighty horn to his lips and winded it with a great blow. It was heard all over the city, the signal to open the gates and let our troops out to fight on open ground. The Orcs were razing the wall and had to be stopped. The great ringing of the horn finally ceased and Threythus lowered it from his wrinkled mouth and reattached it to his bent side. His face was sorrowful and disbelief rested heavily in his tired eyes as he watched the battle. With the final note of the horn the gates opened in a mighty clamor crushing several Orcs under the awesome weight. Then a great cheer arose as many angry Axemen stormed over the battered door and cut like a hot knife into the ranks of the enemy as Orcs fell on all sides with hideous screams. The odor that they brought with them was perhaps their greatest ally. The smell consumed men's minds as they fought. It slowed their reflexes and weakened the spirit. Some of the weaker men fell to the to the ground unable to move or think as a result. And the odor stayed not on the battle field. It drifted all over the city bringing with it fear to the women and children that hid, sheltered in the interior of oppidan. Through the stench of the enemy troops came other smells. The smell of men, drenched in sweat from the heat of battle, and the smell of bodies. Many dead bodies that lay piled in large heaps where they fell. Blood covered the fields outside the wall, both from the enemy's troops and from the men. It ran from the necks and the severed limbs down into the ditches forming small pools and streams. Streams of pure blood running through the trenches outside the city gates. Dammed in places by the dead that filled it as they fell to their end, it made puddles that rose as high as ones knees. Some of the wounded that were unable to move as a result of the noisome air or an injury also fell here and drowned in these puddles. Others, wounded or afraid, hid beneath the murky thickness of the red liquid when sought by an enemy blade until the immediate danger had passed. The Axemen fought on, but to them it seemed ludicrous. For every Orc that fell dead there were ten more to take its place. Slowly the number of men left alive on the field decreased. And those that remained with their axes in hand swung madly at the terror before them and became tired. Threythus blew into his horn again and the gate fell open. Into it came a great many wounded men and some that had remained unscathed. With them came a rush of Orcs. Before they had again closed the metal doors to the city, nigh seventy beasts had entered, but were slain quickly by the Elven archers on the walls. The battle raged half the night before the enemy troops pulled back from the walls to regroup and rest. Some Orcs remained near the city to search through the remains though they lived not a long time so close to the walls of the city. Aroth and Threythus left Ballison in the tower as the descended the long steps to the streets of Caahah. They walked around talking with the men while trying to comfort them and spread enthusiasm, but could not. The next day could be the end of the city and all knew it. Many lay dead in the streets after having limped uselessly back into the city or having been carried in by a friend when the gates were reopened. Women and children sat in dark corners and cried softly to themselves over the body of a dead relative or friend. Most of the people were unable to talk, the lumps that rose in their neck seemed almost large enough to choke them as the tears welled in their grief stricken eyes dripping slowly down their sad faces and falling to an end before their huddle bodies. Despite the general atmosphere, the Axemen and the men of Caffthorn remained cheerful. They sat together and talked and laughed. Most of them were not hurt, and those that were did not seem to be greatly moved by it. Some of them were dead, and for those a toast at their meal and bowed heads seemed the only lament by their friends. These men loved war and hated the Orcs. Dawn came and the enemy drew near the city walls. This time the Axemen and men of Caffthorn fought side by side. They opened the gates as soon as the enemy was within bow shot of the city and out sped nigh five thousand men, all well rested with food and wine in their bellies. They charged right into the ranks of the advancing horde and killed many within the first few moments. But then came the giants of Weuyrt. Like great thunder they poured from the back ranks of the unorganized surge of horrible beasts, tearing the up the field before the walls. The other creatures moved aside to let the giants pass as the great horde tramped by in an angry onslaught. The Axemen pulled back slightly as the giants approached. They were big in size and numbers, there were over one thousand of them. Finally they reached the front. The men off Caffthorn were crushed before their might and many fell. Elves that lined the walls shot many desperate arrows at the towering giants, and some of them fell dead, but most of the arrows fell to the ground failing to pierce the thick skin and armor of the beasts. Threythus was up in the tower watching the battle with Ballison and saw the giants attack. He looked to the King of Caffthorn and lowered his head. "I sense that this night will see the death of the kings of Ruirse and Caffthorn. If the battle does not turn soon, I shall give the order to withdraw to the city walls and try to hold off the giants from here." "Yes," replied Ballison. "I believe that may be our only hope. But remember, it IS a hope." The battle raged and the men of Caffthorn were beaten down before might of the giants. Many lay dead on the field among those that had fallen the day before. Finally there was a signal. A deep and mellowed blast filled the ears of all in the city. It sounded in every room and every hall and up the tower. It was low pitched and rang long in the ears of Men and Elves. Then it subsided and all looked up in wonder, for the horn had not come from the tower but from far to the south on the road from Dhernis. The Kings turned their attention from the battle and gazed southward past the sheltered walls. Not far off down the road were many torches. They burned brightly in the morning sky and moved quickly over the land up the road to the field. Bearing the first of the torches came Rackins of The City of Elves. Next to him was Merth on his right followed by several other Elves. Left of him came Azzar, tall next to the Elves, and proud. Next to Azzar came a stout figure, he was shorter than all that walked beside him and he was neither Elf or Human. His name was Rekrovax, and he was the ruler of the Dwarf Kingdom of Balmoth on the southern continent of Cergaan. Azzar had made it to the southern continent and with him he had brought back a mighty force of fighters. Threythus smiled to himself and looked at Ballison. "All is not lost," he said, "the wind may change to any direction no matter how hard the gusts seem to blow." Immediately things began to change. The Orcs withdrew from the area near the wall and turned their full attention to the forces that came up from the south. The Men of Caffthorn regained their vigor and with a loud battle cry they surged forward into the horde of giants killing many in their angry wrath and new strength. They laughed loudly as they slew the huge creatures throwing themselves into the retreating force headlong with their swords cutting deep into the fat bodies of the massive giants. Many of the Orcs were now in battle with the armies of Cergaan. It took a heavy toll on their numbers and they soon were few and week. By evening there were few remnants left of the great muster from Arnmere but for the most part they were destroyed. Those that remained had fled into the woods but were later killed by the Caahahian scouts and patrols that swept the countryside. After the battle as the sun was rising the army finally entered the city. They were greeted by loud shouts and cheers from all around and were treated with honor. The night had hidden their numbers, but later they reported nigh thirty thousand troops. Fifteen thousand Dwarfs of Balmoth and another Fifteen thousand warriors from City of Elves. That night all the bodies of the dead enemy were burned before the gates of the city. Their weapons and armor were melted and poured onto parts of the wall that were broken making a new and stronger barrier. The next evening, a meeting was held in the tower. Merth and Rackins were there as were Rekrovax, Ballison, Aroth and Threythus. They met in one of the lofty chamber that near the zenith of the mighty structure. The room they were in was large despite its thin and slender appearance from outside. In it there were windows facing in the four major directions and many chairs and couches lined the richly decorated walls. Tables were laid out with food and drink and as they ate they had a long overdue council. Merth began. He was seated by one of the windows looking out westward over the lush green fields of the Ruirsian countryside. "Where is Ceda of No-Al Ben? I must see him at once; he should be present here." "He has left us. Aroth returned with a marshal from Leafholm and two of the southern ports. With them they brought the Crown of Grobst D'arbo for they had recovered it in spoils after a battle in the Desert of the Hidden Army. Ceda took the Crown with him when he left for he seeks the Lost Army." "He seeks the Army?! What folly sent him on such an errand?" cried Merth turning around and facing Threythus with sudden anger. "We knew that there would be an attack by the forces of Arnmere and when we received the crown, we thanked Sarve and sent the Chosen Traveler to seek the tree and find the Lost Army. Aye, the profacy shall come true!" said Ballison clenching his fist, "and the Army shall complete its task. So should the world be!" Merth lowered his head into his hands. His temperament was of great sorrow. "I have feared this would happen!" he moaned. "But it was as the warning said: 'He shall seek the tree and find it'. You have done a great service to those of Arnmere." "What is there to fear?" said Aroth. "So the Lost Army will be found and the Dark Mountains of the south shall be conquered! What are your thoughts, wise Wizard of the City of Elves?" "Ileiruon laughs even now, but it is too late to stop what is to be. I advise you all, and it is a fool that turns my advise away, to call for your armies and have them come together at some well fortified place, for the lost army shall return, but it will not be what you expect." Merth turned his gaze back westward and looked out over the fields. "A great danger is soon in the coming, and no man or child will be save ere it is dealt with." All looked at the Elf for a moment before anyone spoke. "Merth, my faithful servant, tell us of what you speak, for we do not understand your warnings," said Rackins at length. "Yes," said Merth. "I... I must-" he stopped. "Why?" he said closing his eyes. "The evil comes," he continued. "They will not...-" He reopened his eyes and looked to Ballison and Threythus. "I have just spoken with One who knows. Send messengers and bring your remaining soldiers and the rest of your men here, or to some other stronghold. Send your women and your children away, Dhernis would be the safest place for them. Do it now, before it is too late!" Rackins looked in astonishment at Merth, "In Tavaar's name, why?!" "Ceda has found the tree and the Great Army will return to our world by the morn!" "And for this we must bring our remaining peoples here?" laughed Ballison. "Perhaps your wise wizard is feeling the torment of age?" "The Army is not of men." said Merth. "They are Nuadrin!" Ballison looked at Merth in astonishment and then turned toward Threythus. "Can this be? How could the tales be changed so?" "Over the years they have been manipulated by Ones who know and would have things different if they could; and now they have." said Merth apathetically. He seemed dazed as if he were not totally aware of where he was. He looked nervously around the room and then back out over the see of green fields beyond the western wall of the city. "Is there a chance of stopping Ceda, or is it too late?" said Aroth. "I shall make for the desert at once-" "Ceda has found the tree. The Army will be recalled and you will not even have gotten to Nen ere their heavy feet make prints in the soft white sands of Greyboren," said Merth. "Then they are only twelve days march from the city! We have not the time to bring our people here!" cried Ballison. "They must travel through the desert ere they can come to this place!" "Aye, perhaps you are right," said Merth. "But there is more time that. The Army will not know that they have ever been gone. They will think they are still in the past and will march to the Twin Fortresses before going anywhere else. It is wise for Rakine's people and those of Bilfneuin, Naz'Clow and Breanduin to remove and come here or to where they might find safe shelter if Caahah falls. The port of Dhernis should be left populated, for those who escape may take ship and depart for Cergaan. For that reason, Leaders of the southern continent, I bid you not call more warriors to this place. They will not make the journey in time." Rekrovax gripped his sword. "I shall do as you ask, though my people shall stay here with you. We do not run and shall die defending your city ere we leave for Dhernis in disgrace!" "As will we!" agreed both Rackins and Ballison. "Good, then let us send messengers to our peoples and have them come here or do what they will, and let us turn our attention to preparing for the return of the Army that was Lost and then Re-found!" answered Merth in a sudden vigor. "Ceda carries with him Renielk, Axe of Caffthorn, and instead of falling the tree, he brings it to life!" The night was wearing away but Ceda could still not sleep. He rolled onto his back and then back to his side. It was cool in the desert after the sun fell. He fingered the crown running his fingers across the silk-like interior. The Malthoogian Jewels glowed under his covers and Renielk lit the area with its strong white glow. He lay the rest of the night starring up at the dark sky. There were no clouds and the stars shone above him in strange brilliance but the tree and the crown dominated his thoughts. Melgon did not sleep that night either but lay beside Ceda with both of his red eyes open. They moved slowly, searching up and down the landscape before him peering into darkened moors unilluminated by the brightness of the stars or moon, for signs of danger. Finally the stars faded into the sky of the new day as the pale light of dawn filled the desert revealing the white sands to Ceda's tired eyes. "Well," said Ceda rising and turning toward Melgon. "We have waited for more than ten suns falling and only with the luck or Tavaar will we bring the army before there is an attack on Caahah, but let us delay no more." He rose taking the crown in one hand and Renielk in his other. The tree was still as he approached it. He neared cautiously taking slow and careful steps fearing the wrath of the king or sudden attack of any Endillonions, but none came. Presently he stood in front of the growth. It seemed to change slightly as Ceda had approached and looked proud and possessive of some hidden energy despite its distorted appearance. Ceda turned and looked at Melgon who had backed away a considerable distance. "Crown the King, and he shall rise..." recited Ceda. "I have a notion, though I doubt it is what is required of me. If the King was mutated to this tree, then he is still the king. Aye Melgon?" The dragon took another step backwards. "Of all the beasts I tame it has to be a wingless and mute coward!" said Ceda jokingly to Melgon as he turned again toward the tree. "Tavaar's luck be upon us," he said. Taking the crown in both hands and fastening his axe to his back, he reached up and stood on the tips of his feet straining to reach the highest of the wasted branches. His fingers raised the crown even further and stretched them over the tree's top finally placing it on a single branch. He then relaxed his body and stepped back. Immediately the ground began to shake. The gem on his back took on new brightness rivalling the desert sun and burned fiercely in a great white aura. Ceda staggered backwards until stopped by Melgon's tremendous grey body and leaned there watching the desert area that lay before him. Rents opened up in the ground and deep holes that led into darkness dominated the desert floor. Mounds of white sand drained into the gaps changing the area radically before the Traveler and his mount. Great explosions burst forth from the newly formed pits of the desert blowing dark and noisome smoke high into the air followed by high spurts of fire. A constant rumbling noise was evident shaking the very foundations of the land beneath their feet. Then the gapping holes began to close as suddenly and as fast as they had appeared. As they drew shut, the edges brought dusty figures with them, covered with sand and completely motionless. Soon the desert was silent and before Ceda were thousands of relit campfires. A few horses stood near him and the closest of the figures was nigh four dragons lengths away. They were Nuadrin. Slowly they began to stir. The sand that had covered them fell to the ground and was lost in the sea of white grains. Ceda was astounded. Neither he or Melgon were able to move, the shock of the fifty thousand Nuadrin had taken its toll. The beasts looked up at the sky as they regained consciousness. They too were aghast and for a moment were dubious as to what was happening, but that moment wore quickly away. Those that regained their awareness quickly noticed Ceda standing near the kings fire. Leaping to their feet with a fierce ululation they bounded quickly toward him. Grobst arose and looked around him. His face was hideous and cruel and his expression the same. He too saw Ceda and sprang at him with a merciless cry. Ceda regained control of himself and turned quickly leaping onto Melgon's back. "Arnea seek Duval! Ride!" he shouted. "Ride with the speed of your lost wings! Ride! RIDE!" Melgon wasted no time. He leapt forward at an amazing pace as his gargantuan claws bit deeply into the desert sand throwing up a shield of dust behind them. Fear held him and Ceda and weighted heavily in their minds. "Ride!" shouted Ceda again, shaking the reins forcefully. "We must reach Caahah with the coming of the fifth sun falling! RIDE!" Leaving the great army behind they leapt over hills wasting no time while they had energy left to go on. Behind them was the Grobst D'arbo, the Desert of Greyboren lay before him, and great worldly changes were happening. D'arbo stopped short. The dragon and its rider had gotten away and were now beyond his reach. A strong looking Nuadri approached him from behind, "Father, I shall go personally and slay him!" "Nay, Tondrux," said Grobst. "Let the foul Dragon-rider go. Let him warn the Twin Fortresses of their peril, or die if he meets the scout we sent forth." "Ileiruon will be pleased, father," said Tondrux. Then looking up at the morning sky he said, "I am worried, how came it to be day? And how did the Dragon-rider come so close without being noticed?" "Of this, I have not an answer, perhaps Ileiruon or those of our allies in Endillion will give us a sign. For now, let us rest and this evening we shall march." -Joel Slatis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Sir Lyoyn of the Pale In the Land of the Yellows The Tumescent Spleens, With their plumage displayed Flashing violet and green, Would go prancing about With their toes in the air, They would hem and they'd haw Giving strangers their glare. And the stout Knight of Fuschia, Sir Lyoyn of the Pale, Heard tales of their manners From Annwara the Frail, Who had ventured one morn In the slippery dew, Picking lotus and mandrake, A Persephone two; So the earth opened up And Big Earth Hog came out And lo he did laugh And Annwara, shout. The force of her cry Would have quickened the dead, But the spleens hemmed and hawed And glared slowly instead. The Hog snatched her up fast And He dragged her below To his den in the Dirt With no spittoons or clothes; Where the tale of her stay Is too lengthy to tell, And it's sordid and grimy And it's boring as hell. But a true party lizard Aided Annwara's flight And they swarmed up a ladder In the wee hours of night; And the lizard, named Brutus, Showed Annwara the path, And stayed to impolden The Big Earth Hog's wrath. While she stumbled and crawled Through the thistles and mud The exsatchous Spleens Flapped their cheeks and said, "Chud." Which meant in their tongue, "Oh you graceless young fool," "Go on back to your pots" "And your Pasta Fa-Zool." A Spleen elder named Bloost Kicked behind her frail knees And tugged at her hair And forced her to sneeze. The whole flock abused her With effultent spite, While the Hog chewed up Brutus With one Big Earth Bite. Brutus cried lizard tears, Sliding down the Hog's throat, As Annwara fell To the back of a stoat Which quick flew away; While she blessed her luck The Big Earth Hog stomped And swore in his muck. Now safe and secure In the Fuschia stockade, Annwara related Her sad serenade. And the stout Knight of Fuschia, Sir Lyoyn of the Pale, Summoned up all his courage Within barrels of ale. And he took up his armor, And his trusted old lance, And strapped on his shield, And girded his pants, And armored his beast, Growing old in the stable, And mounted its back, Straight as he was able. He gallumphed along To the Land of the Yellows, And the Spleens gave a glare And shouted and bellowed, And charged him hands high, And called out "Soouuuiiiieeee!" His war-beast spun 'round, Proceeding to flee. The Big Earth Hog appeared And started to snort, The Spleens threw their spears At stout Sir Lyoyn for sport, The stout Knight regretted His naivete, And made an attempt At a prompt getaway; But the Spleens and their Lord Were too bold for the Knight And they knocked him out cold, And they wrapped him up tight. For the stout Fuschia Knight, Though a fierce looking foe, From indulgence, in stout, Had become, soft, as dough. Not the spotted old armor, Nor the trusted old lance, Nor the fearless old shield, Nor suspenders with pants, Helped the drunken old knight. With the meaty war-beast, The Big Earth Hog baked him, And the Spleens had a feast. In the old Castle Fuschia, Annwara ope'd the gates, And she sold all the silver, And she sold all the plates; And the ancestral jewels, With their fabled, rare stones, She stole from the caskets, Stripping ancestral bones. Then she called her old friends And the Spleens came to see, With the Big Earth Hog, they Split the money in three; They went on their ways, And she traveled the land, Growing rich, for old fools Were always at hand. -Loren J. Miller <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Spirit of the Wood: Chapter 5 Loric Loric floated just above himself. There was a warmth surrounding him and a buzzing in his ears. An eternity later is seemed, the buzzing resolved itself into speech. His eyes came into focus and he stared long at the canopy of trees above him trying to decide if he was above or below them, and when someone walked around the edge of his vision, he knew that he had not gone to the Spirit as he thought he should have. Something must have held him back... 'It must have been the Teline,' Loric thought disjointedly to himself, 'How else can it be that I have died and yet I still see?' The tendrils of the Devatha have released me. I see many of the Downlanders... their dead brown faces holding masks of mourning. The wailing of the women is loud but I can not move to cover my ears! I see Dernhelm dispatch the Devatha with a single stroke. He breaks the horn from it's head stalk and I am surprised to see that it is dry and hollow inside. He blows the call of loss thru it and is anwsered in the village. DEE-ath! DEE-ath! I do not want to be dead! I shake myself hard to show him I am alive but my body doesn't move. Look at me uncle! I live! I saved the kesh-blade of my father from the Pit. It's there on the ground at your feet! Two masked villagers come and lift me up. I am moved but I cannot move. I do not feel their grip on my arms and legs. The sound of Bullroarers announces our arrival in the Village-under-the Trees. They lay me on dried rushes among my friends. I get a glimpse of Jakul and Hiram both with matted hair and covered with a light blue clay. Were they in the Pit too, I want to ask, or some other trial? I want to cry but my eyes are a dead man's: they will not cry for me now. I try to look away but my eyes will not close. All I can see is the sky and the treetops. Did I do well? What are they doing now? The Village is so quiet. Have they all left us here for the birds to find? Did we shame our families and they are refusing our bodies? I can hear Dernhelm talking, but his words are unclear. He's mumbling something and the Downlanders are responding. Chanting. Mumble memble chant mumble mumble memble. Ah! Now I see him at the edge of my eyes. He's leaning over Jakul. There's his father Koonial--what are the doing with those switches- -They're striking his body! Koonial turns to Dernhelm and says "He is dead, my son is dead, the tribe has lost a hand." Behind him I can see a long, somber line of villagers.They all have switches. Each strike Jakul's body and then toss the switch on top of him. Now Dernhelm's moves to Hiram. Hiram's mother Joulin is coming with his sister Teelan helping her. She hasn't walked alone since the night the nets fell on her and took her husband and my father. My Father! Who will come for me? There is none to show the Downlanders I am dead! My father died on the nets, my sister had left to seek her own song and Oldsir had his second vision and is with the Spirit of the Wood now. I wonder if they will hang me in a tree or plant me among the Adinase so that Eidie can come and ask my spirit who should dance for whom? Now Dernhelm is giving Joulin the switch. She's hitting Hiram on the head, the chest, and the legs. I see little puffs of blue dust each time she hits. Are you dead Hiram? Was your song strong enough to join the Spirit of the Wood or are you there, trapped like I am? "My chief, my son is dead, the village has lost a hand." Teelan is in line behind her, she's smiles as she strikes, the switch sings it's pain path each time. Ah, Teelan, If you had danced for me before I died I would have been a strong father for your children and eased the days of your mother...and I would teach you not to strike my friends so hard, even if that friend is your brother. Dernhelm is looking at me now. He's going to hit me. I should have guessed! My uncle is the only Tolorion left in the Village. I try to feel the pain but it isn't there, the world has gone to fog. One ,two ,three! I am dead! Is that my blood on the switch? How can I bleed? "My brother's son is dead, the village has lost a hand." Pyres! I understand now, thought Loric, feeling distant and uncaring of the living world, they mean to burn me! Thank you Dernhelm, thank you my chief! I will be free to go to the Spirit now, thank you.... Dernhelm For a moment Dernhelm thought he saw his nephew's mouth twitch like he was coming back from the dead. His open, glazed eyes were disconcerting in the torch-light. If the boy came to life now it would look bad. The ceremony must be finished. With a frown he leaned down and closed Loric's eyes and motioned for the Speaker-for-animals to come forward. The Speaker howled and growled and hissed a song of mourning for the fallen boys and for the many animals that would not feast on their catch this day. Then he jumped from pile to pile snorting flames from his nostrils to set the dry rushes aflame. Dernhelm grimly watched the switches pop and smoke darkly. Waiting until the right moment to signal the final passage from the death of a boy to the life of a man. Finally when the flames all but obscured the bodies and he could smell the hair begin to singe, he blew on the horn of the Devatha three short bursts. He smiled cynically as the pyres collapsed in on themselves. He knew that under the supports the boys were being wrapped in hides and coated with healing salves. He turned to lead a procession of Downlanders to the river where they would keen and smite the water and call upon the Spirit to receive the boys with favor. There were rush boats to be built, octli to be consumed and tales to be told all night long. Later, after the elders had joined them he would leave quietly to care for Loric's 'body'. After the boy had been sealed in a caul and left for the Spirit to care for him, I can look forward to a quiet turn of the moon. The boy was too much like his Grandfather to come back after a day or two with only a tale of his death and of singing with the Spirit. He would actually try to bring something to the village to help us understand the Spirit of the Wood better. Dernhelm's smile faded as he passed into the trees remembering when he too believed the Spirit guarded them. That was before he had become chief and had revealed to him the mysteries that surrounded every action the Downlanders took from birth to death and birth again. When Loric joined the Spirit he would make no hearth-fire for his brother's son--could not, for the Spirit did not move him anymore. -R. Allen Jervis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Cydric and the Sage IV. The Sage Twilight had settled upon the town by the time Cydric and Holleena finished their meal of Simon's fish stew and left the docks. The full moon was beginning to rise as they arrived at the house of Corambis, which stood at the far eastern edge of the Old City. As Cydric's black stallion came to a stop in front of the gate of the iron fence which enclosed the front yard, Holleena slid off the horse's back and said, "Here you are, Cydric. Just go to the front door and knock--he is usually home around this time." "Wait a moment! Where are you going?" Cydric called as she began to walk away. "To my own home, of course," Holleena replied. "It is not very far from here." Cydric quickly dismounted. "I should at least accompany you," he said. "It is getting dark, and--" "I appreciate your concern, Cydric, but I will be quite safe, I assure you," She nodded toward the house. "You had better make your visit now, before he goes to sleep." Cydric looked back at the house, then shrugged. "Are you certain you will not need an escort?" "Quite certain." "Well, then, I shall not detain you any longer. I thank you for your kind help, Holleena--perhaps we will meet again sometime, at the tavern for instance?" "Perhaps," she replied with a slight smile. Turning, she walked briskly away down the block and disappeared into a side street. Cydric led the black stallion through the iron gate and tethered it to a nearby hitching rack. He paused a moment, recalling what Holleena had told him about the Sage: He made his living by interpreting dreams and omens, and by casting personal horoscopes. His practice earned him enough gold to enable him to have his own private booth in the marketplace. He was well known and respected, and it was said he possessed all manner of arcane knowledge. Casting a final glance back at the horse, Cydric strode up the paved path that led to the Sage's front door and knocked. The door opened and a grey-haired bearded middle-aged man dressed in a loose maroon tunic and green trousers peered out. "Yes?" "Good evening, sir," Cydric began. "Are you Corambis, the Sage?" "I am indeed," the man replied. "How may I be of service?" "Well, sir," said Cydric in his most courtly tone of voice, "I am Cydric Araesto, of Baranur, and I have a certain matter to discuss with you." "A certain matter, eh? It must be of major import, since you have sought me out like this," said the Sage. "Your pardon, sir, I did not mean to disturb your rest--I shall come back tomorrow." The Sage smiled. "No, no, it is quite all right. Come inside, young sir, and we shall discuss this matter of yours." As Cydric followed Corambis into the house, he tried to guess the man's age. Although he appeared to be nearing his sixtieth summer, the Sage walked with the stride of a man many years younger. They passed through a short hallway, then entered the Sage's small but well-furnished study. A bookshelf containing rows of various leatherbound volumes occupied the entire west wall. The north wall housed a cold fireplace; above the mantle, the stuffed head of a nighthound glared down at them over a pair of crossed swords. A bookshelf also occupied the east wall, but instead of books it contained various small objects, the most prominent of which were a pair of demon's horns, a bust of the goddess Cahleyna, and the body of a giant leaf-roach encased in a glass pyramid. Lastly, an ornately carved oaken table and three padded chairs stood in front of the fireplace. Motioning for Cydric to sit, Corambis took a pair of tobacco pipes from a rack mounted near the mantle. "Smoke?" he asked, offering one to the young man. "I thank you, sir,"he replied. The Sage filled both pipes from a pouch that hung around his waist, gave one to Cydric, then took a seat at the opposite end of the table. Cydric took a sniff of the tobacco and noted with delight that it was fine quality Comarian. "Fazar!" Corambis said suddenly, stabbing a finger at the fireplace. The logs burst into flame, and at the same time Cydric saw a wisp of smoke curl upwards from the bowl of his pipe. "She did not tell me you were a sorcerer," he said with some awe. Corambis made a gesture of dismissal with his pipe. "In truth, Cydric, my abilites are no more that that of minor conjuror. I have neither the power nor the desire to become a full mage." He paused a moment, exahling a cloud of smoke. "Who did not tell you, by the way?" "A girl I met a Belisandra's Tavern. She told me how to find your house." "Did she also tell you that I only conduct business during my regular time at the marketplace? But it matters not, I shall make an exception in your case." "You are most generous, sir," replied Cydric. "Indeed," said the Sage. "Well now, what is it that you have come all this way to discuss with me?" "It concerns a vision that I've been having of late," Cydric began. The Sage listened intently as he described the golden sea, the colorless skull, and the carvings in the rock. "I've even made a sketch." Cydric pulled a roll of parchment from the inner pocket of his cloak and spread it out over the table. "This is what I saw inscribed on the rock. When I compared this outline to a map of the continent, I found that the "x" corresponded to the location of Dargon. And you can see, your name appears below the outline." Cydric paused and looked up from the table. "And that is why I am here. I am hoping you can tell me what this vision means." Corambis picked up the parchment and stared at it for a while, puffing on the pipe and saying nothing. Finally, he stood up and moved to lean against the mantle of the fireplace.Turning, the Sage regarded the young man thoughtfully and said, "I do not believe that I am the one you should be asking." Cydric frowned. "Why not? You--" "It is obvious that the person responsible for our visions intended for you to come to Dargon and seek me out. That much you have understood." Before Cydric could form his question the Sage held up a hand. "I shall explain what I mean." He tossed the parchment into the fire and left the room, motioning for Cydric to follow. V. The Message Corambis led the young man into the cellar of the house. Pausing in front of a wine rack, the Sage uttered an arcane phrase and the rack slid aside to reveal a large well-lit room. "My laboratory," he said with a sweep of his hand as they entered. The room was full of various kinds of equipment, ranging from alchemistic set-ups to animal skeletons in different states of assembly. "A truly marvelous collection you have here," said Cydric as he roamed about the room, eagerly examining the many fascinating objects that lay on tables and shelves. "Ah, a student of the arcane, are you?" the Sage asked, pleased with the young man's enthusiasm. "I suppose I am. I've been fascinated by the works of Thassalen the Mystic ever since I was a child," replied Cydric as he examined a wooden mobile of the World with the surrounding sun and moon. The Sage grinned and nodded. "Well then, you will certainly be interested in what I have to show you. This way, if you will." Cydric followed the older man to the back of the room where stood a table, an ebony box atop it. "Open the box," said Corambis. Cydric looked at him suspiciously. "I thought you were going to explain what you were talking about before." "The explanation, or part of it, lies within the box. Go ahead." The young man paused a moment. Couldn't be anything dangerous inside, he thought. Shrugging, he flipped the lid back. A gasp of surprise escaped his lips. Within the box was a life-sized human skull, made entirely of crystal. "The skull from the vision! But how?" The Sage closed the box. "I knew that would get your interest," he grinned. "Well, this skull appeared on my study room table one day several months ago. That same night I had a dream in which the skull spoke to me, telling me that I would be visited by a man from Baranur who sought the meaning of a mysterious vision. When he arrived, the skull said, I was to speak a certain incantation to receive further instructions." "How can you be sure that I am indeed the one?" asked Cydric. "I am fairly certain, since none of my customers in the last few months have had dreams involving skulls. And I am also certain that the skull's creator will have some means of verifying its 'chosen one'," Corambis replied. The young man reflected upon this for a moment. "Have you ever had that dream more than once?" he asked. "Indeed I have, Cydric. It appears in my mind at various times, much like your vision, I would suppose. In fact, I experienced the vision a short time ago, some time before you arrived." Cydric felt a sudden chill. "So, our visions are connected in some way to the skull. Have you any idea who sent it?" "I know not who sent it but I believe that person to be an Elder." "An Elder? What would an Elder want with us?" "Well now, Cydric, the only way to find out is to ask him, eh?" Corambis opened the box again and took out a piece of parchment that lay next to the skull. "This is the incantation that the skull told me to speak." "You're going to read it now?" "No better time like the present." Corambis squinted at the page, then began reading: "'Ghe farsta li voyar etye tavarsta li omnae, nechuzar Bahz se khya seke.'" They waited. Nothing happened. "Hmmmm," Corambis mused. "Perhaps I mispronounced that last phrase. Let me--" A dazzling white light exploded from the skull, filling the room completely. Both men instinctivly shut their eyes and threw up their arms to block out the blinding brightness. Before either could react further, the light ceased as suddenly as it had appeared. Cydric slowly lowered his arms and peeked at the skull. A soft red glow slo wly pulsed at its center. "Apparently you did pronounce it right," he said. "Indeed," said Corambis, squinting intently at the skull. "What next, I wonder?" As if in response to the Sage's question, the red glow pulsed faster until it became a steady blaze. It expanded to fill the skull completely. Then the skull began to speak. "Greetings," it said in a cold, ethereal voice. "I bring you a message from Bahz the Elder, Seventh of the Council of Eight of Zaad'Astropolous, capital of the Quentrellian Isle. He has need of your aid, and is willing to reward you generously for your efforts. You must travel to the Citadel of Sorrows, above the shore of the Sea of Time, on the Plane of Tarradan, to free him from his unjust imprisonment. Lest you think you are being lured into a trap of some sort, the Elder sends you this assurance of his good faith. A nugget of chrysoline, rarest of all gemstones. It shall protect you from all forms of hostile magic, and be your passport through the StarDoor." As the skull spoke, images formed within the red glow. Cydric saw a dark-haired man in purple robes, then an island in a turquoise sea, followed by the image of an imposing castle situated on a foundation of barren rock. The final image was that of a small blue-and-white jewel set in a platinum ring. "The Elder urges that you respond to his appeal, for his time is limited. Your reward will be very great, he assures you. Make your journey at midnight; the jewel will be your guide." A moment after the skull finished speaking, the red glow began to die as cracks appeared in its crystalline surface. A pulsing sound emanated from the skull, growing louder with each beat. Cydric pressed his hands over his ears, but the sound still remained. In his mind he saw the skull, small but growing in size with the volume of the droning beat. Suddenly, the skull in the box shattered into a cloud of crystalline dust just as the sound reached a crescendo. The skull in Cydric's mind loomed large, filling his thoughts. Then a sharp pain stabbed daggerlike into his soul. He cried out, staggered, then collapsed to the cold stone floor. He was vaguely aware of someone calling his name as darkness welled up and swept him into unconsciousness. -Carlo Samson <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>


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