VOLUME NINE NUMBER ONE FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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Skeptic Tank!

+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME NINE NUMBER ONE | | ========================================== +___________+ 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 FSFnet SF Short Story Contest 'Orny' Liscomb the Cube Joseph Curwen *Je'en: A Recap John L. White *Cydric and the Sage: Part 3 Carlo N. Samson Date: 101687 Dist: 459 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, it's been a full six weeks since the last issue of FSFnet was sent out, and I must apologize for that. I'm sure that many of you have been busy with returning to school, and things here in MAINE have been mighty hectic. We've recently installed a new 3090 CPU to replace the old 3033 and 4381 we were running in tandem previously, and the system is finally stable. The rumor that LISTSERV@TCSVM was shutting down its TCSSERVE subserver (which maintains a complete collection of FSFnet back issues) has proven to be a falsehood, although the shutdown of the WISCVM internet gateway in December is a confirmed problem for which the entire BITNET community is still searching for a solution. However, I'm sure that you will find this issue well worth the anxiety of waiting. We have the announcement of the FSFnet science fiction short story contest, which should produce some interesting fiction, and which I hope many readers will take part in. We have a short story by Joseph Curwen that I'm sure you will find intriguing. And for Dargon Project offerings we have the third chapter in Carlo Samson's "Cydric" tale, and a synopsis of John White's stories (which will continue in part three of "Treasure" in the next issue). All in all, a respectable offering. Due to the long wait between issues, we have nearly 50 new readers joining us for this issue, and I would like to thank them all for their interest. The next issue, Vol09N2, should follow this issue by no more than a week or two, and will contain the next installment of "Treasure". If you aren't caught up with White's work, I would heartily suggest that you request from LISTSERV@TCSVM the back issues which contain his stories, as listed in his article below. Enjoy! -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> FSFnet Science Fiction Short Story Contest FSFnet is proud to announce our first science fiction writing contest! All FSFnet readers are more than encouraged to enter this wonderful contest. The rules are as follows: Entries are to be science fiction short stories, and all entries are limited to a maximum of 4000 words. All entries must be sent to the userid CSDAVE at MAINE on or before December 31, 1987, and must be clearly noted that they are contest submissions. Judging will be done by a panel of five SF readers, in the categories of plot, character development, grammar, and their value as science fiction pieces. Prizes will be awarded to the authors of the top two stories, and those stories will be printed in FSFnet Vol10N1 in January 1988. Other entries will also be printed in later issues. The prizes currently planned include posters of Geiger artwork and other related materials, depending on availability. All entries must follow the following subject guidelines. They must be written using a 'cyberpunk' setting (for those of you who are unfamiliar with this sub-genre, 'cyberpunk' is usually designed to reflect a politically complex society where the line between technology and mankind is very thin; see works by William Gibson). The story may, alternatively, deal with computers of the future. The author is free to develop any storyline he (or she) desires within one of these two broad topics. If you have any questions regarding the contest, please feel free to get in touch with me via MAIL. -David 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Cube Few of us have not had the common experience of waking with the thought "Where am I?" foremost in our minds, but in most such cases we quickly recognize the strange surroundings. This was not true in my own case. I awoke one morning from a deep, peaceful sleep to find myself lying in a disrupted heap in a white plastic room. At least it appeared to be plastic. The walls were glossy white and quite smooth to the touch. The room was a cube, mathematically perfect in form with the exception of my own presence. No seam suggested the existence of an entrance, nor more importantly an exit. From childhood, I've occasionally experienced a slight claustrophobia, which now demonstrated itself with an unprecedented zeal. With the realization that I could not escape, panic became my foremost emotion. I ran to and fro pounding on the walls screaming for release. I frantically searched each joint of ceiling, wall, and floor. But to my considerable distress found that the room appeared to be composed of one contiguous piece of material. My embarrassment makes me hesitate to recount further, but I have resolved to shield no aspect of my experience to the public, which shall serve as final judge in this inexplicable matter. The tremendous weight of those oppressive walls bore down upon me. I began to feel choked, certain that I would asphyxiate in minutes. I sank whimpering to the floor. After what must have been many minutes of self-pity and wrenching horror, I fought to regain my composure. Blind panic had probably robbed me of the greater part of my oxygen. I slowly overcame the torrent of anxieties which had overwhelmed me. I would remain quiet and still. I made a conscience effort to slow my agonized breathing. Finally, coherency returned to my thoughts. I estimated the room to be about ten feet across, though in my delirium moments before it had seemed vastly smaller. That gave me about a thousand cubic feet of air. I did not know how quickly a man consumed air, but I hoped that this would give me several hours of calm respiration. It occurred to me that I didn't know how long I had occupied the room, but I dimly remembered that sleeping substantially reduced one's oxygen intake. It did not appear to be great length of time since the air did not feel stuffy nor did I feel hungry. I attempted to think back to my last meal, but a thick fog lay across my memory. With great effort, I remembered the stale sandwich I had hastily consumed in my eagerness to complete the first draft of my doctoral thesis. I wished that I had partaken of something a bit more substantial. With this start, I began tracing my steps forward in time. I had finished critiquing the compositions of my English 27 class and proceeded to my apartment on campus to type a preliminary draft of the thesis. However after only a few minutes of work, a power outage made my word processor useless. I stumbled in the darkness to my sofa, where I resolved to take a short nap. I fell asleep almost instantly as I had been sleeping little of late. In spite of my best efforts, I could remember nothing after this. Somewhat reassured of my immediate survival, my natural curiosity began to demand attention. How had I come to such a predicament? Surely the answer to this question would aid in my pursuit of escape. With the failure of my memory to solve this enigma, I was forced to turn to my immediate senses. Calmly I set about examining my surroundings as closely as possible with what natural tools I had at my disposal. My sight revealed nothing which I had not observed previously with the exception of the condition of my own apparel which while not regal was only slightly wrinkled. Also my previous estimation of the room's size had been a bit shy of the twelve feet which I now observed. I listened with all my powers of concentration but beyond my own heartbeat, I could perceive only a faint humming which might have been only my own fancy. My sense of smell seemed only marginally more useful. I determined that the air seemed to be slightly scented with a pleasantly familiar floral odor which I could not identify. This alone encouraged the belief that my captors,if any, had my well being in mind to some extent. There being nothing to taste, I carefully probed the surface of the walls and floor, which seemed to be uniformly smooth and dry to the touch. But I gradually grew more despondent as my searches proved continuously profitless. Forcing myself to continue the tedious examination, I was inspecting the base of one wall when I noticed a slight air current. My fears of asphyxiation were unwarranted! Excited by my discovery, I attempted to to determine its course but was dismayed to discover that the breeze passed directly through the plastic surface. It seemed to flow from the top of one wall to the base of the opposite. At least I could now permanently orient myself while within the room. Hoping that it was some form of membrane or fine mesh, I tried pounding and kicking through the surface of the "vent". My attempts were unsuccessful and somewhat painful, but I did learn that the "vents" sounded more hollow than other portions of the wall or floor. The surface itself seemed to have no special distinction or weakness. My hope for escape had once more been disappointed. Having completed a thorough investigation of my surroundings, my next logical step seemed to be the development of explanations for my situation. At first, explanations leaped into my mind but they soon grew particularly outlandish and farfetched. So much so that I began to doubt the usefulness of this endeavor. But I quickly reasoned that my fantastic situation might have an equally fantastic explanation. My first reaction was that I had been imprisoned by an unknown party or parties. The identity of these individuals occupied most of my thoughts. But to my knowledge, I lacked really hostile enemies. An unestablished graduate student rarely attracts physically dangerous enemies. Nor would hypothetical kidnappers receive any funds worthy of efforts as phenomenal as the creation of this prison. I had, of course, read of kidnappings wherein the victim was buried alive, but such speculation only served to excite my anxieties. The mere thought that this chamber might be buried under tons of earth and rock transfixed my muscles with raging tremors and weaknesses. In a effort to maintain control, I tried my best to avoid such thoughts but was only partially successful. One possibility did come to mind, however remote it was. A friend and associate in the field of psychology was well known for his occasionally gruelling psychological tests and ruses, but I couldn't bring myself to believe that any professional would subject a subject to such an imprisonment without some sort of prior consent. Besides the inhuman cruelty necessary even under normal circumstances, my friend was well aware of my claustrophobic tendencies, so I doubted he could be responsible for such unmotivated psychological brutality. It occurred to me that the best method of determining my captor's identity lay in the nature of my confinement. As I have mentioned, kidnappers would be unlikely to employ such elaborate devices. Nor could I envision someone doing this as a jest. This left only those who had access to technology beyond that normally encountered in day to day life and those who were also willing to utilize it to confine me. I knew few science professors at the university, as they traveled in different social circles, so that department seemed guiltless. I could perceive no reason for a corporate or government body desiring my capture. My work, although hopefully inspired, was largely esoteric in nature. The possibilities of some sort of disgruntled student perpetrating this conspiracy seemed remote as well. And while any citizen could be the object of terrorism, this is unlikely if one remains within the confines of one's own apartment. In fact, within such an environment any circumstance leading to capture and imprisonment within a plastic cubicle hardly seems reasonable. Of course, the thought that this might be some sort of dream or hallucination did cross my mind. The fact that my last memory was falling to sleep seemed to support this. But my own dream experiences led me to believe otherwise. My dreams are normally lacking in the intensity of detail which I encountered in the cube. Also, I did not feel emotionally or intellectually constrained in any manner as is common to dreaming. My own ability to react logically and analytically to my experiences seemed to suggest that this was not a dream. Also, if one realizes the possibility that one is dreaming it is not usually difficult to cause oneself to awaken. Rest assured that I tried. All of these points amounted to a virtual certainty in my mind that I was not dreaming. Another more macabre but certainly normal thought was that I had in someway reached my afterlife. However, according to commonly circulated stories about those who have returned from death or death-like experiences, one is vaguely aware of a certain indistinctness about one's physical form in death. Most seem to recall actually departing the body as a spirit, a feature which this experience certainly lacked. If I had in fact been whisked away to my "Great Reward", I could think of no more hideous punishment than spending eternity in a featureless cube. Surely, my "sins" in life did not merit such treatment. Nor was I aware of any glowing white light as is commonly reported. But now that lighting did occur to me I noticed that the cube's surfaces radiated a soft incandescent glow which thoroughly illuminated its interior. It is surprising that I did not notice this earlier, but the resulting environment seemed perfectly normal though shadowiness. But returning to my speculation, I thoroughly resolved that this afterlife conjecture was the least likely that I'd yet explored, especially since I am a bit agnostic by tendency. Having shed doubt on these speculations, I was compelled to turn to those fantastic conjectures and fantasies which I have been avoiding. Capture by advanced intelligences was favorite among these. Mysterious mechanisms, such as the ventilation, lighting, or the power outage which I had experienced before capture, lent some credence to the idea that I had been captured by a mysterious, technically superior group, whether they were aliens, time travelers, Atlanteans, or some other even unsuspected organization. I could almost believe that this cube was created as some sort of sampling container for indigenous life forms. The cube might simply materialize encompassing the specimen and then spirit him away across great distances of space or time. I normally was quite skeptical concerning such matters because I felt that such visitors would make themselves know to the public if they existed. My beliefs were countered by the popular idea that advanced intelligences would avoid interference because of some sort of ethical responsibility. This position seemed highly unlikely given any sort of historical awareness of the results of an encounter between an advanced culture and a more backward one. The American settlers had felt little ethical obligation to the natives when they claimed the land for themselves. Another proposition was that travelers from the future would be reluctant to significantly alter their past. This seemed more plausible as self-interest is a much more common motivation than altruism. According to this reasoning, I must either be considered unimportant to the course of the future or perhaps my importance was the very reason for my capture. Possibly I had been captured because my future actions would have consequences contrary to the wishes of these speculative time travelers. Contrary enough to warrant the dangers inherent in interfering with their past. It was more pleasing to my ego that I be considered vitally important, if undesirable, than to be relegated to the status of the masses of insignificance. But still, all this imaginative speculation had little basis. Having shed serious doubt on all of these possibilities, I began to despair in the possibility that ration could solve this enigma. Perhaps this was something so far beyond human experience that a mortal's mind could not comprehend it. If this was true, what then lie in my future? The thought that I might remain here to the end of my existence was fearful enough, but I suspected that even stranger experiences lay before me. What lurked behind these walls? Some malignant intelligence so alien as to prevent human understanding? And if this were some sort of holding tank or vehicle, what would I be forced to face after my stay here was through? It was then that I first noticed the approach of those white plastic walls. Perhaps they had been subtly enclosing on me for sometime, but I suddenly became aware that the room was eight feet across and shrinking rapidly. Of course, this realization triggered the claustrophobia which I had been suppressing through concentrated application of reason to analyze my surroundings. I screamed once more; a deep wrenching scream which tore loose from the base of my troubled spirit. My coherency was lost and still the walls pressed inward. In a moment the room was only four feet in breadth. Shrieking I attempted to stave off their approach, but met with no success. Crouched on my knees I attempted to push outward on each of the surfaces in a willy-nilly fashion. I desperately tried one, then another in such a manner that I never brought my full strength to any. My panic went beyond any previous level as I vainly attempted to prevent my impending death. Even the frenzied strength of a half-mad man was not enough to hold off those oppressive and impersonal barriers. I lapsed into a tucked fetal position after I no longer had room to use my arms. I watched my enclosure shrink inch by inch, measure by measure, until I felt the weight of the ceiling on the base of my skull. I awaited the moment when their crushing pressure would drive the life from my frame. Strangely, in this moment of imminent death a certain serenity overtook me. I had done all that I could and still would perish. But if death is inescapable, it is is some strange way more acceptable. I noticed a certain hesitancy in the rate of the room's collapse. The walls' progression slowed to a painful creep. In this weird lull before my destruction my mind struck upon an idea which welled up from the depths of my subconscious. An idea which would save my life. For in that frightful moment when ration returned, I saw a relationship between the size of the room and the level of my anxieties. And with this realization the course of the walls' movements reversed. They shrank away from me slowly at first, but with increasing speed as my conviction in the belief grew. A conviction which was fed by the successful retreat of the walls themselves. In moments the room returned to its former size. Relief burst forth from me in wild laughter and daunting courage as the walls themselves began to change from white to gray to black. They faded into the nonexistence of the darkness. That is how I escaped the cube: not through clever reasoning or minute observation, but through a billowing flood of hope, defiance, and joy which broke the dam of my confinement. After my fit of emotion had passed leaving me exhausted but light hearted, I looked up from my position on the darkened floor to recognize the dim light of the night filtering through the amber shades of my apartment. I was, in fact, home. My experiences had been some sort of wild delusion or dream brought on by overwork and emotional exhaustion. I would see a professional psychologist in the morning. I would never again drive my mental health to such extremes. But at that moment, I needed rest. So, without moving from my position on the bare floor I lay down and quickly fell deeply into sleep. The high light of the mid-afternoon sun brought me gradually from my slumbers. But my wakefulness rapidly returned after I opened one eye. For to my horror I beheld that I lay in the middle of my bare floor with all of my furniture, rugs, books, and papers pushed away in a roughly square pattern approximately a dozen feet across. Even today, I cannot resolve the events of that night in my mind. Was it, in fact, a dream, a hallucination brought on by my internalized fears and anxieties as the doctors say? But how can that explain what my neighbors saw when they came answering my screams. I can only be thankful that the ceiling of my apartment was abnormally high. Could it have been only a delusion? Or was it something more real. Something beyond the range of normal human experience; something which we shall never truly fathom. Make your own judgements for I don't believe that anyone will ever positively know the truth. -Joseph Curwen <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Je'en: A Recap In the 33rd year of Haralan, King of Baranur, a renegade wizard by the name of Vard hires a thief to steal a book from the vaults of the College of Bards in Magnus (V.1). At the same time, another wizard in the employ of the Council of Elders is given orders to eliminate the last cult of an evil goddess named Jhel (I). This wizard and his apprentice, Cefn an'Derrin and Mahr, determine that the only way to eliminate that cult is to subtly influence the friends of a bard named Je'lanthra'en to take her out on the town (I). In riding back from the bar, Je'en takes a short-cut through the worst part of the city, the Fifth Quarter, and is attacked and mutilated (I). Her belongings (a sword, a harp, and the pendant of her rank in the College of Bards) are stolen by the brigands and she is left for dead when they learn that the City Watch is on its way (I). Not knowing she is a bard, the Watch takes Je'en to a street healer who cannot fully heal her injuries, leaving her scarred for life (I). Meanwhile, the thief hired by Vard, Ka'lochra'en (Je'en's second cousin in fact), buys Je'en's rank pendant unknowingly from one of the ruffians named Bellen (V.1). While Je'en is recuperating from her wounds Ka'en infiltrates the Bardic College disguised as a bard and successfully steals the book (V.1). Ka'en delivers the book to Vard, who returns to his stronghold with a few purchases from the pawnshops of the city, among them Je'en's sword and harp (V.2). Vard studies the book and is happy to learn that it is indeed what he had hoped it was - the only existing authority on an incredible power possessed by a former empire known as the Fretheod (V.2). Vard hopes to gain mastery of the world by gaining access to that power, called the Yrmenweald (V.2). Je'en recovers her health after being taken to the Royal healers in Magnus, but she is scarred beyond recovery (I). She has lost most of the use of her right hand (a sword thrust through her wrist), and her voice (slashed throat) (I). In addition, she has a very bad scar on her face (I). When she discovers that she can no longer sing, she resigns from the College of Bards, taking with her only a seemingly nondescript sword from the vaults of the College, and decides to change her life and become a fighter (I). She goes to a fighter training school run by Sir Morion and becomes most accomplished with the sword (I). While there, she has fashioned for herself a silver half-mask to cover the scar on her face and put her on an equal footing with the other students (I). Meanwhile, Vard has determined what he needs to re-harness the power of the Yrmenweald, and he sends an adventurer named Owain to get for him some of the living crystal known as cwicustan (V.2). Vard is able to control people from a distance by means of some special magics he has learned, using objects once owned by a person to enhance the power of the controlling magics (V.2). Owain retrieves the cwicustan at the cost of all of the people he went adventuring with, delivers it to Vard, and has his memory of the whole affair erased by a potion (V.2). The next step for Vard is to retrieve the keys to the vault where the Yrmenweald is hidden, and by his magics he locates the objects to use to control the perfect person to get those keys - Je'en's sword and harp (V.2). Je'en graduates from Morion's school after two years and goes to Dargon to visit her brother, Kroan Jesthsson (I). She gets a job there as a Market Guard, a job that is less than challenging (II). The events set into motion by Cefn come to fruition as Cefn rescues Je'en from a trap set by one of the Septent of the Order of Jhel using the Sword of Cleah, Lladdwr (the "non-descript" sword Je'en received from the College) as bait (II). Cefn looses his apprentice to a trick of the Brother of Jhel, and asks Je'en to become his partner in her place (II). Je'en accepts (II). The new team have a few adventures, among them getting rid of the sword (III). After several weeks of inactivity, the pair are hired by one of the Rhydd Pobl (gypsies) named Maks (III). They overcome an ancient, wraith-like wizard and his living tower, the Glasmelyn Llaw, to rescue Maks' beloved Syusahn (III). Je'en and Cefn are invited to the gypsy wedding in thanks (III). Shortly after Cefn and Je'en's adventure with the Emerald Hand (III) Sir Morion is visited at his school by the Falcon Herald of Baranur who has a mission for the old soldier (IV). Morion reluctantly accepts and sets out to eliminate a former student of his named Kyle BlueSword who has been terrorizing the countryside (IV). On the way, he meets up with a strange blue-haired woman named Kimmentari who informs him that he has become caught up in the Dance of Thyerin, one of her people's gods (IV). His mission is now both to eliminate Kyle, and to retrieve a circlet from Kyle to be delivered to another of his former pupils, Je'en (IV). Morion kills Kyle, learns why he turned bad, and goes after the circlet (IV). However, he is caught in a fatal trap just as Kimmentari comes to help/warn/save him from it (IV). The story shall continue from there in FSFnet Vol09N2. An Index to the Stories: I - A New Life - FSFNet Vol 5 Number 3 II - The Dream - FSFNet Vol 6 Numbers 3 and 4 III - Glasmelyn Llaw - FSFNet Vol 6 Number 5 and FSFNet Vol 7 Number 1 IV - Duty - FSFNet Vol 7 Number 3 V.1 - Treasure: Part 1 - FSFNet Vol 7 Number 5 V.2 - Treasure: Part 2 - FSFNet Vol 8 Number 2 -John L. White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Cydric and the Sage: Part 3 THE STORY SO FAR: In Part 1 (chapters I-III), Cydric Araesto arrives in Dargon late one afternoon. While resting at Belisandra's Tavern, he experiences a vision that has been recurring in his mind for some time. In the vision, he is alone on the shore of a vast golden sea. He starts to take a drink of the golden water, but it turns colorless in his hand. A transparent skull appears, and makes some strange carvings in a nearby rock. He sees that the skull has etched the outline of a continent, a small "x", and the name "Corambis the Sage" into the stone. Then the skull flies away toward a glittering object on the horizon. Coming out of the vision, Cydric asks the serving girl, Thuna, if she has heard of Corambis the Sage. Thuna goes over to a blue-robed patron at the other side of the room and whispers a few words. The patron approaches Cydric's table, and he is relieved to see that it is a woman, who introduces herself as Holleena. Cydric asks her about Corambis, and she offers to take him to see the Sage. He agrees, and they leave the Tavern together. In Part 2 (chapters IV-V), Cydric and Holleena arrive at the house of Corambis after having a dinner of Simon Salamagundi's fish stew. Cydric offers to accompany Holleena to her own home, but she declines and walks off into the twilight. Cydric goes up to the house and is welcomed in by Corambis. In the Sage's study, Cydric relates his vision, showing a sketch he drew of the carvings in the rock. Cydric explains that when he compared the sketch of the carvings to an actual map of the continent, he found that the "x" corresponded to the location of Dargon. Since the Sage's name appears below the outline, Cydric has sought him out in the hope that he will be able to explain the vision. The Sage says that he is not the one Cydric should be asking, and before Cydric can reply, takes him to his cellar laboratory. There Corambis show Cydric a box which contains a crystal skull, exactly like the one in his vision. The Sage reveals that a few months before, the skull mysteriously appeared on his study room table. That night, he himself had a vision that foretold of Cydric's arrival. Corambis then takes out a parchment with an incantation written upon it; the skull had instructed him to read it once Cydric had arrived. The Sage recites the incantation, written in a sorcerer's language. A moment after he finishes, a white light explodes from the skull then ceases, to be replaced by a red glow that burns in the center of the skull. Then the skull speaks, telling them that it has a message from Bahz the Elder, Seventh of the Council of Eight of Zaad'Astropolous, the capital of the Quentrellian Isle. The skull says that Bahz needs their help, and is willing to reward them. It says that they must travel to a citadel located in another dimension to free him from an unjust imprisonment; to assure them that it is not some sort of trap, it promises to send them a chrysoline gemstone that will protect them from all hostile magic. The skull concludes by telling them that the Elder's time is limited, and says that they should make their journey at the following midnight. As it finishes speaking, Cydric sees the skull in his mind and hears a loud, pulsing beat. The image expands and the sound grows louder until the skull in the box shatters. Cydric cries out and falls into unconsciousnewss. VI. Answers and Questions "Quentrellia--There are many legends and myths about this small island nation (which existed at around the time the Fretheod Empire was at its peak). Some historians believe that it's capital, Zaad'Astropolous, was a major trading port of the Ancient World. The island was ruled by a Council of Eight Elders and presided over by a Leader.... "There are two stories about the Exile of Jehron Bahz, the Seventh Elder of the Council. In one version, Bahz attempted to overthrow the Council and seize power by admitting a fleet of Huultaran raiders through the massive Sea Gate which protected the entrance to the harbor of Zaad'Astropolous. The invasion was thwarted, however, and Bahz was arrested. In the other version, the Council Leader falsely accused Bahz of treason and had him removed from the Council (apparently because Bahz was a strong critic of the Leader's policies). In both accounts, though, Bahz was tried and sentenced to exile. He was then imprisoned in an ice-wood cage (to destroy his magic ability); then the other Elders cast him through the Celestial Archway that Nephros had opened. Thus was Bahz banished from the island.... "Three summers after the Exile of Bahz, a force of Fretheod invaders lay siege to Quentrellia. One month later, the island was captured and absorbed into the ever-expanding Fretheod Empire...." --"History of the Ancient World", Volume 6; by Trenta, Historian and Chronicler to King Vulpa of Baranur; pages 144-145. Cydric looked up from the book as Corambis entered the room. "Ah, you are awake, Cydric. I am glad to see that you were not permanently damaged by the skull last night. How do you feel?" "A little tired, but otherwise fine," Cydric replied. "Thank you for putting me up. I hope I haven't inconvenienced you in any way." "Nonsense, my boy," Corambis snorted. "There's plenty of room in this old house. Besides, I couldn't just leave you lying around in the laboratory, now, could I?" He placed a hand on Cydric's forehead, then nodded with satisfaction. "You just rest there and read those books that I've selected. I'll be back in a moment." He closed the door as he left the room. Cydric shifted a little in the bed, took a volume entitled Arcana Antiqua from the stack on the nightstand, opened to the marked page, and continued reading. "...the existence of worlds beyond our own. These other worlds, sometimes known as "dreamrealms", are believed to be as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach. Travel to the other worlds is mainly achieved by projecting the spirit-body into the chosen dreamrealm. Alternately, the physical self may be transported by the use of a portal called the Celestial Archway, first described by Nephros (the first known mage to successfully return from the dreamrealms) in 'A Wondrous Voyage'...." Corambis returned with a mug full of an aromatic liquid. "Here, drink this herbal tea. It shall restore you to your full health." Cydric took a cautious sip, found it rather tasteful, and took another pull. "Not as bad as you expected, eh?" grinned the Sage. "Well now, have you read the passages I marked for you?" "Yes," replied Cydric, "but some of this information I do not quite understand." "Oh? Such as?" "The 'Celestial Archway'. It is mentioned in the texts, but there is no description of what it exactly is." Corambis handed Cydric the last remaining book from the nightstand. "A Wondrous Voyage, by Ishar Nephros," read the cover. Cydric opened the book to the page Corambis had indicated. "...and as the old man died, he whispered to me the location of the Cave of the Mystics. I followed the directions, and sure enough found the fabled Cave, its entrance cleverly hidden by a waterfall. "I stood there for a moment, my mind filled with the many tales and songs of the legendary Mystics, predecessors of the Elders, older even than the Fretheod. No one knew why they suddenly disappeared from the face of the world those many ages ago; standing there outside the entrance, I sensed that I was on the verge of finding the answer to that question. "I cautiously entered the Cave. The light from my torch glistened off the moisture that coated the dark rock of the interior. After walking for what seemed like days, I came to a dead end. Anyone who had gotten this far would have been forced to turn back, but not I. Holding aloft the Symbol of Shazax, I spoke the ancient chant the old man had revealed to me. "The wall of rock fell away, and I stepped through the opening into a huge cavern. There was a pool of water in the center of the cavern, with a tall white tree growing out of it. I advanced to the edge of the pool, barely able to contain my excitement. Years of searching were about to come to an end; I had at last found one of the Sacred Places where the Mystics hid their most powerful magic. "I spoke the second chant the old man had told to me. Instantly, the water began swirling about, churning up great waves. A bluish glow limned the tree; the very air seem alive with power. Suddenly, the leaves on the tree began flickering with color: green-blue-violet- red-orange-yellow-green in blinding succession. There was a sharp crack as the leaves burst from their branches and took on a silver hue. The leaves whirled and spun like a cloud of glow-flies, then formed into a silver sphere, coming to rest on the surface of the pool. "The waters calmed, and a bridge of light extended from the sphere to the pool's edge. I stepped onto the light-bridge and strode confidently to the glowing sphere. I knelt down and picked it up (it had been about the size of a large melon, but shrank to the size of an orange at my touch). As I carried it back to the edge of the pool, the bridge of light disappeared behind me. "I placed the sphere on a large rock near the cavern's entrance. Speaking the last of the old man's chants, I hurled the Symbol of Shazax at the sphere. There was a flash of light, then the sphere vanished. In its place lay the object of my quest, the fabled Amulet of Hanarn. "I picked it up and held it in my hand. I could feel the power radiating from its center. It was the Mystic power, the ancient energy that fueled that ancient race of beings and enabled them to create spells and magical devices so great that they remain unequalled to this day. "I turned the golden Amulet over and read the inscription engraved on its reverse. It was the command phrase for invoking the Celestial Archway, a portal into the fantastic worlds of the Dreamrealms. I gave a shout of exultation when I read these words--this was exactly what I had hoped to find! Many other mages had tried to create devices that would allow physical travel to the Dreamrealms, but without success. Indeed, those who ventured forth with their crude creations were never heard from again. But I now possessed the very device that the Mystics must have used when they left this world for whatever their destination. "I was sorely tempted to invoke the Amulet right there and then, but I knew that I had to properly document this incredible find. With the Amulet safely stored in a special pouch I rode away from the Cave, thinking of the wondrous sights that lay beyond the Celestial Archway." "So, has that enlightened you somewhat?" asked Corambis as Cydric finished reading. "Somewhat," Cydric replied. "But I always thought that the Mystics were nothing but myths--children's stories." "Well, all myths have some basis in fact," Corambis replied. "And I also read once that it was impossible, even dangerous, to physically travel to the dreamrealms." "True, it is impossible, but only for the abilities of the wizards presently living today. The age of the Mystics was an age of great magic, an age that shall never come again in this world." "What about the chrysoline ring?" Corambis reached into a belt pouch and brought it out. "Before you ask, it is absolutely genuine. I checked while you were asleep." Cydric held the ring up to the window. The chrysoline stone glittered and sparkled in the morning sunlight. "Rarest of all gemstones, he he murmured as he handed it back. "Indeed it is. Why, I could live like a king for the rest of my days with the money that would bring, if I chose to sell it." "Perhaps you should," Cydric said. "Why do you say that?" asked Corambis. Cydric placed the books back on the nightstand. "There's something about this whole thing that does not quite fit... how can Bahz have sent the skull and caused our visions if he was imprisoned and exiled over a thousand summers ago? His powers were nullified by the icewood, were they not? Indeed, should he not be dead by now?" The Sage smiled. "My boy," he said, "There comes a time when one must stop asking questions and start looking for answers." He picked up the mug. "Do you feel well enough to have breakfast downstairs?" Cydric nodded. "One more question, though; do you really intended to travel to this other dimension? Something about this does not feel right to me." "Well, it does not feel right to me either; that is why we must investigate this." He turned to leave. "We?" Cydric echoed under his breath. "You say something?" Corambis said from the doorway. "Uh, nothing--I'll be down soon." "Good lad." The Sage closed the door as he left. Cydric lay back for a moment and thought of home. He shook his head, gave a short laugh, then got up. VII. Interlude After breakfast, Corambis suggested that Cydric accompany him to the marketplace. Cydric agreed, and started to go around to the stables where the Sage had put the black stallion up for the night. "It is a fine day, better suited for walking than riding," said Corambis. "Besides, the fresh air and exercise will do you much good." "Very well. But I was only concerned about your own health." replied Cydric. "How do you think I've managed to keep fit all these years, eh?" chuckled the Sage. They started off toward the marketplace. "There's something I forgot to tell you," Cydric said. "Last night, just before the skull turned to dust, I saw it in my mind, very clearly. It felt as if it were going over every bit of my brain." "Well, it was no doubt making sure that you were indeed the one that its creator had selected. Such magical processes can be quite ungentle on the mind and the spirit." Soon they came to the marketplace. The daily crowd was starting to gather, and a few early merchants had claimed the best stalls. "Here we are," said Corambis, stopping in front of a large wooden booth that stood in the center of the square. It appeared cleaner and sturdier than the five other booths that clustered near it; a small purple flag with a white dot in the center fluttered from the top. Cydric saw that unlike the common stalls, the booths had solid wooden doors. On the door of Corambis' booth there was a strange symbol, which Cydric recognized was a glyph of some sort. He had seen such symbols in the books he had read in the Royal Library. Although they would not stop a skilled mage, wardings were ample protection against even the most cunning thieves. The Sage traced the glyph with his right index finger, chanted a short phrase, then opened the door. A few feet within was another door, but with no symbol. They passed through the second door into the audience room which was no more than ten feet on a side. Much of the space was taken up by a large green table and two chairs. "Those other booths--can just anyone use them?" asked Cydric. "Lord Dargon's treasurer assigns them to whoever can pay the rent for them," replied the Sage, sitting down in the left-hand chair. "The stalls, on the other hand, are for everyone's use." The Wheel of Life was carved into the top of the table. Cydric recognized the nine constellations represented in each division of the Wheel: the Knight, the Oak, the Fox, the Maiden, the Falcon, the Torch, the Harp, the Mistweaver, and his own sign, the Ship. The symbols for Air, Earth, Fire, and Water were inscribed around the outer rim of the Wheel, as were the symbols of the Crown, the Sword, the Scepter, and the Shield. Just then a slender dark-haired girl walked in. "Good morning, Master Corambis," she said. "Ah, good morning, my dear," replied the Sage. "Cydric, this my assistant, Thuna." Cydric rose and took her hand. "I believe we've met. You also work at Belisandra's Tavern, do you not?" Thuna smiled. "Yes, I remember you. You came in late yesterday and had a Special." Corambis said, "Well now, we had better get to business. Cydric, you may stay and observe, or explore the town, as you wish." "Thank you, I should like to stay awhile." Cydric replied. Corambis brought a small stool out from beneath the table and handed it to Thuna, who took it and placed it in the small area between the inner and outer doors. She then opened the shutters of the windows on either side of the outer door. "Very well, then, Cydric. Are you familiar with Wheel of Life?" Corambis asked. "Yes, somewhat," the young man replied. Just then Thuna came to the doorway and announced the presence of a customer. "Stand on my right, Cydric," the Sage said. A moment later, a middle-aged lady entered the room. "Welcome, good lady," Corambis said, gesturing for her to sit in the opposite chair. "The door, please," he whispered to Cydric as the lady sat down. As Cydric closed the door he saw Thuna smile and wink at him. The room was dark. Cydric was about to comment on this fact when the room suddenly lit up. He looked up and saw the source of the illumination: a small glowing orb fixed to the ceiling of the booth. "Well now, what may I do for you?" said Corambis to the woman. "I would like you cast my stones for this week," she replied. "And what is your birth sign?" Corambis asked. "I am a Tallirhan," the woman said. The Sage reached into a belt pouch and took out ten small wooden discs, one painted red and the rest colored blue. He placed the red one on the symbol of the Knight and the blue ones in the center of the Wheel, over the symbol of the Mistweaver. He placed his right hand over the discs, spoke a few words, then told the woman to gather them up and hold them above the Wheel's center. When she had done so, the Sage told her to concentrate on the symbol of the Knight, then drop the discs. The woman paused a few moments, then let the discs clatter to the table. Corambis glanced over the pattern the fallen discs made on the Wheel, took out a scroll from a tube that hung at his belt, unrolled it, and began his interpretation. When he had finished, the woman paid him five silver Sovereigns and left. "Well, Cydric, what did you think of that, eh?" Corambis asked, leaning back in the chair. "I found it most fascinating, sir," Cydric replied. "I would very much like to learn more about the aspects of the Wheel, if you would so instruct me." "I would very glad to, Cydric, providing we return relatively whole from our midnight meeting," Corambis said with a straight face. He broke into a chuckle upon seeing a slight wrinkle of worry crease the young man's brow. "The passage will not be unduly dangerous, I assure you. I shall take all the necessary precautions to insure our safety. But we will speak more of this later, eh? I am sure you would like to see more of the town now." "Oh, yes, I think I will do that. I shall be back in a few hours," Cydric said, moving to the door. "Good. Enjoy yourself. Tell Thuna to send in the next customer." Cydric closed the door behind him as he left the audience room. "You may go in now," Thuna said to the man standing just outside the outer door. Cydric stepped aside to let him pass. "Where are you off to?" said Thuna when the inner door had closed. "I am just going to have a look around the city," Cydric replied. "Oh, please, do not go just yet. It gets very dull just sitting here with no one to talk to," Thuna said, laying a hand on his arm. "Won't you stay for a little while?" Cydric paused a moment, then said, "I suppose I have plenty of time for sightseeing." "Wonderful," Thuna said, leaning an arm out the window of the booth and crossing her legs on the stool. She ran a hand through her long black hair and tossed her head. "So, Cydric, are you here in Dargon for business, or pleasure?" Her eye gleamed as she said the last word. "Uh, business, actually," Cydric said, leaning back against the opposite wall. Thuna waited, and when he did not volunteer anything more, said, "It gets so warm this time of year." She undid a few of the laces of her front-laced blouse and pulled it open slightly. "What business did you say?" she asked. Cydric quickly looked up. "Business? Oh, its nothing really. I doubt it would interest you." Thuna hopped off the stool and walked over to him. "Oh, but it would," she said, leaning very close. Cydric hesitated a moment, then said, "I... think I should be going now." Thuna placed a hand on his chest and gently pushed him back. "Please stay, just for a few more minutes," she whispered. Backing away slightly, she reached over and closed the shutters on the window. "Don't go away," she said as she went over to the other window and closed it up as well. Cydric had his hand on the doorknob when Thuna intercepted him. She turned him around and kissed him hotly. Cydric felt the blood rush to his face, and throughout his body. "Do you, ah, think this is appropriate?" he said when she released him. "Isn't it?" she giggled. "But the customers! And Corambis, inside--" "No one will bother us if they see that the booth is closed. And Corambis? Do not worry about him." Thuna stroked his cheek. "What business do you have with that old goat, anyway?" Cydric tried to gently disengage himself from the young woman's embrace. "Really, Thuna, I must be off now," he said. Thuna smiled prettily, then pressed him back against the inner door. With a provocative look, she unlaced her blouse all the way and let it drop to the floor. Then she threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately, her body firmly pressed against his. Cydric felt all resistance crumble away. He pushed all other thoughts out of his head as he began caressing Thuna's unclothed back. Suddenly, the inner door gave way and they both fell through into the audience room. There was a moment of stunned silence as Cydric glanced upward and saw Corambis and his customer looking down at him. Cydric quickly scrambled to his feet. "Uh, I was just about to, ah, leave now, sir," he said, hastily dusting himself off. "Very well, just be back around midday, eh?" Corambis replied, ignoring the shocked look of the customer. "Right." Cydric glanced down at Thuna, who rolled over onto her back and licked her lips. Completely embarrassed, he wasted no time in leaving. Cydric wandered aimlessly for a good half-hour before the incident with Thuna began to fade a little from his mind. He found himself on Traders Avenue and decided to have a look in some of the shops. He entered a small jewel merchant's store and asked the shopkeeper to show him some diamond rings. Holding a small three-stone ring the merchant brought out, Cydric sighed and murmured very softly, "Sweet Lysanda, why did I ever leave you?" After leaving the jewel merchant, Cydric next stopped in at a weapons shop. "Grauban of the Blade" read the sign above the door. As Cydric entered the shop a large man, apparently Grauban himself, looked up from the battle-axe he was polishing and said, "G'day, milord. What can I do for you?" "I'd like to see some swords," Cydric replied. Grauban led him to a wall rack filled swords of various types. Cydric picked up a curved scimitar and swung it experimentally. He put it back and picked up a fine rapier with a gold and silver hilt. He swung it and found that it felt just right in his hand. "Ah, now that's a real beauty," said Grauban. "I can let you have it for about, oh, two Cue." Cydric thought about how he had lost his own sword on the journey up from Baranur. Deciding that a replacement was a good investment, he said, "I do not have any gold with me; make it thirty Sovereigns and you have a deal." After several moments of consideration, the weapons dealer said, "I can't let it go for less than forty. I have a business to run, you understand." "Thirty-five Sov's, and not a Noble more." Grauban scratched his beard, then said, "You bargain hard, milord, but I accept that price. Will you be taking it with you?" "I shall bring you the money tomorrow, and pick it up then." "Fine. It will be waiting for you." Cydric visited a few more shops. When he heard the town crier announce that it was midday he headed back toward the marketplace, wondering what he was going to say to Corambis. The Sage was waiting for him outside the booth. Thuna was nowhere in sight. "Sir, about this morning, I--" "No need to say anything, my boy," Corambis said. "It's quite all right." "What do you mean?" asked Cydric, a little surprised. "Thuna used to be a street-corner girl, you see. A few months ago she was attacked by a drunken rowdy. I saved her from being killed, and took her into my care. So far she has led a rather clean life, with a few occasional lapses. You need not worry about what happened this morning. I have already spoken to her." Cydric nodded and silently sighed with relief. "Where is she now?" he asked. "At Belisandra's Tavern. Thuna works afternoons, and Belisandra gives her room and board in return, plus a small allowance. It works out quite well." Corambis cast a glance back at the booth, then said, "Well, now, shall we have lunch? What do you say to some nice fish stew, eh?" Cydric agreed, and they began walking toward the docks where Simon Salamagundi the stew vendor could always be found. When they were in sight of Simon's cart, a voice called out, "Corambis! Over here!" The Sage looked around and, identifying the source of the voice, waved and returned a greeting. "I must speak to my friend over there," he said to Cydric. "You go ahead and get the stew--I will have whatever you are having." He gave Cydric a few coins and departed. "Ah! You back again, young sir?" Simon Salamagundi said as Cydric approached the cart. Cydric greeted him and ordered two sweet stews. As Simon filled the bowls Cydric asked, "Do you remember the girl I was with last night?" "Red hair, in blue robes? Aye, what about her?" "Do you know where she lives?" "Sorry, me friend, I know not. Did she not tell you?" Cydric shook his head. "Does she come around here often?" "In truth, young sir, I believe she is new in town herself. You might try the inns, like the Panther or the Serpent, or Sandmond's." Cydric thanked him, gave the money to Simon's monkey Skeebo, and left carrying the bowls of stew. He had not traveled very far when a man bumped into him from behind, causing him to drop the bowls. Cydric watched as the man continued on without so much as an apology. Keeping his temper, Cydric hurried after the man and tapped him firmly on the shoulder. The man spun around. "You have just caused me to lose my lunch," said Cydric, pointing to the spilled stew. The man shrugged. "You should watch where you walk next time," he said, and turned to leave. Cydric grabbed his shoulder and forced him around. "I think you owe me for the cost of the meal," he said. The man shook off Cydric's hand and drew his sword. "I said, watch where you walk next time!" Cydric's hand flew to his left hip and found nothing there. Silently cursing the loss of his sword, he drew his sundagger instead. "I think you owe him for the meal," said a female voice. Cydric looked to his right and saw a cloaked woman holding a loaded crossbow. She was pointing it straight at the man's head. Walking closer to the man until she was a little beyond the sword's reach, the crossbow woman said, "Please pay him now." The man hesitated. The crossbow woman raised the weapon to her shoulder and placed her finger on the trigger. The man swore, dug out a handful of coins, flung them at Cydric, then stalked off. "Are you all right?" the woman asked, lowering the crossbow. Cydric nodded and sheathed the sundagger. "I appreciate your help, but I think I would have been able to defend myself." "With only a dagger?" The woman grinned. "Either you are a very good fighter, or the dagger is magic." "Both," Cydric returned the grin. He told her his name, and the woman introduced herself as Kittara Ponterisso. "I am pleased to meet you, Miss Ponterisso," Cydric said as he pressed her hand against his cheek. "Call me Kitty," she said. Just then Cydric heard someone call his name. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw Corambis hurrying toward him. He waved and turned back to Kittara. "Pleased to meet you as well, Cydric Araesto. I must go now, but I hope to see you around." She turned and melted into the crowd. Cydric started after her, but just then Corambis arrived, looking slightly breathless. "I saw what happened, Cydric. Most rude of that fellow." "Did you see the woman with the crossbow? She forced him to pay for the stew." "Ah, yes. Very nice of her to do that. Did she tell you her name?" "Kittara Ponterisso. Ever hear of her?" The Sage shook his head. "Can't say that I have." He glanced at the spilled stew, which a pair of cats were happily lapping up, and said, "Why don't we have lunch at an inn?" Still feeling a little uncomfortable about the incident with Thuna, Cydric declined Corambis' proposal that they eat at Belisandra's, and suggested that they go to the Inn of the Hungry Shark instead. The Sage pointed out that it was better to face up to the situation and resolve it rather than avoid it. Cydric reluctantly agreed, and they headed off to Belisandra's Tavern. Belisandra herself seated them and took their orders. A few minutes later, Thuna came to the table and apologized to Cydric for her improper behavior. He readily forgave her and suggested that they forget that it had ever happened. After Thuna left, Corambis said, "Do you recall the friend that I met back there at the docks?" Cydric nodded. "Yes, why?" "That was Kandevoll, the jewel merchant. He happened to mention that you were in his shop this morning, looking at betrothal rings." "Yes... I believe I was there," Cydric replied cautiously. "He also said he heard you whisper the name 'Lysanda'. That wouldn't be Lysanda the King's niece, now would it?" "Um, well, perhaps there are two Lysandas in the Kingdom," mumbled Cydric. "Aha. Something tells me, Cydric, that you are not the freewheeling adventurer that you seem to be. Perhaps you will tell me what you really are." Cydric looked up from his mug of ale. "What do you mean?" "I mean, Cydric, that so far you have not told me a single thing about yourself. Why is that?" Cydric took a long sip of ale before answering. "Very well. You are right, I was looking at a betrothal rings for Lysanda." "I am sure that you did not come all the way to Dargon just to look for rings. A young noble like yourself could find better jewelry in the capital." "I told you, I am here because of my vision. And--" He paused, and looked Corambis in the eye. "And you think that I am a noble?" The Sage chuckled softly. "I suspected it from the moment you introduced yourself. I used to be King Haralan's astrologer many years ago, and I never forgot the way the courtiers announced themselves whenever they came to me for a horoscope. You sounded just like one of them, even though you looked like an outlander." Cydric said nothing for a long moment, then sighed and said, "You have me, sir--I am indeed a noble. I suppose you want to know" everything about why I am here." "Hoho, indeed I do! Please begin, at the beginning, eh?" Cydric drained the last of his ale before speaking. "My father is Khysar Araesto, Duke of Pyridain and Treasurer to King Haralan. Ever since I was young, my father wished for me to follow his trade--to become the next Royal Treasurer. I grew up learning the ways of the treasury, though I really had no interest in it. I wanted to be like Sir Talan Shalk, the Captain of the King's Guards." "Ah, the famous soldier-adventurer, eh?" said Corambis. "Yes, but I knew my father did not approve of that sort of life. Even so, I convinced Captain Shalk to teach me what he knew. Under him, I learned how to use a sword, how to survive in the forest, and other things that I would need to know when I finally left Baranur. "About a year ago I made my decision to leave. I had planned to join an expedition to the Skywall mountains, but I had fallen love with Lysanda and for her sake I did not. But I never stopped thinking about leaving the city, about venturing to other lands. I tried to convince Lysanda to come with me wherever I eventually decided to go, but she was too used to civilization and implored me to stay in the city. "And then the visions started. I realized that this was the time; I truly had to leave. It was very had to part with Lysanda, but I knew that if I did not go I would never find peace. So I wrote a letter to Lysanda, packed my things, and left the castle in the middle of the night. I traveled with a caravan for a time, then made my way to Dargon alone. The rest you know." "But why did you not tell me you were of nobility?" asked Corambis. "In my experience, traveling royals usually like to make themselves known as such." "I turned my back on that sort of life when I left the King's castle, and I have tried to act in the manner of the common folk; but, as you have guessed, it will take some time for me to forget my court protocol." Thuna arrived and served up their orders: steamed fish for Cydric, a plate of cooked vegetables for Corambis. "Well, Cydric, it seems that you have sacrificed a great deal just to find out the meaning of your strange vision. What will you do after you learn its meaning?" "That all depends on what happens when we travel to this other world. Are you sure the journey will be safe?" "Passing through the Archway will not be dangerous. But after we arrive at our destination, I cannot know what will happen to us." "Perhaps if we knew, we would not want to go," mused Cydric. "Now Cydric, you are not afraid, are you?" Corambis asked, looking at the young man with mild amusement. "I do not fear going; it's returning that I am concerned about." "Well, Cydric, you are right to be concerned, but I shall make certain that we return safely. And now, eat up, for we have quite an adventure waiting for us." They continued their meal, and when they had finished, Cydric and Corambis left the tavern. -Carlo N. Samson <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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