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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb
*Treasure 3 John L. White
Date: 112387 Dist: 494
An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project
All original materials copyrighted by the author(s)
Greeting. Apologize for lateness of issue. Promise that the next
issue will be more prompt. Plug stories in current issue. Plug
stories in next issue. Welcome new subscribers. Close.
Actually, I could try to pawn the lateness of this issue on the
fact that the Dargon Project had a minor contradiction come up which
had to be addressed, but the truth is that I procrastinated bringing
it up to the authors, so it's still my fault. O well. This time I
also have to apologize for the size of this issue, although THAT I
can slough off onto someone else's conscience!
Two items of news to report. Firstly, the procurement department
is having difficulty obtaining the prizes for the SF writing contest
(see last issue's announcement). I am hoping to purchase the prizes
soon, and I hope that many of you are considering entering a short
story. The other item of news is that although WISCVM is shutting
down effective December 15, FSFnet should be able to get through the
replacement local gateway, and I forsee no interruption of service
to our internet subscribers.
But, this editorial must be kept short and sweet. The next issue
will be out very soon ("No, *really*!"), and will contain a good
mixture of Dargon and non-Dargon works.
The toast was heartily echoed by those around the table, and all
lifted their flagons and drained them. Congratulations came from all
over the taproom of the Inn of the Panther causing Kroan to beam
brightly and toss appropriate replys back.
Je'lanthra'en leaned back against the wall and thought there
must be something in the air. Just a month or so ago, she, Cefn and
Kroan had attended the gypsy wedding of Maks and Syusahn, who was
none the worse for her imprisonment in the Emerald Hand. Je'en
remembered the ceremony with fondness, all barbaric splendor and
exaggerated pomp and solemnity. The party afterwards, which had
lasted a good three days, was wild enough to make up for the almost
And now, her brother was engaged to be married. The lucky lady
was named Anorra. She was the daughter of a widower baker and was
due to take over the family business. Kroan and Anorra had met over
a shipping dispute six months ago, and it was love at first sight.
Je'en was quite happy for her brother. She had met Anorra, and
they got along famously. Anorra was a small woman with long brown
hair and a wide, expressive face, full of energy and life, and
already a better baker than her father, who insisted he was proud to
be leaving the family business to her. Anorra and Kroan made a
beautiful couple, and Je'en echoed the toast again in her mind.
Cefn asked, "Why did you set a date so far away? Three months is
a long time to wait, isn't it?"
Kroan said, "I wanted Mother and Father to be here, and it's a
long way from Derenten to Dargon. I got their return letter just
last week saying when they would be able to get here. As soon as I
knew that, I talked to Anorra and we set the date. It's..."
Je'en broke in with, "Wait! Mom and Dad are going to be at the
wedding? Wonderful! Its been so long since I've seen them." Her
smile faded after a moment, and she said, "Oh, no."
"What's wrong?" asked Cefn.
"My parents don't know about my accident, or that I'm not a bard
anymore. I was meaning to tell them, but I just haven't gotten
around to it. So, they probably won't even recognize me as I am now."
Kroan said, "Well, actually, they do know. I told them when I
wrote about Anorra. They know everything: the accident; your
retraining; and the adventures you've had here in Dargon. They both
send their regrets, and wish you good luck in your new life. I'm
sure that they will be very happy to see you again at the wedding."
"Oh, uh, thanks, Kroan. I'm glad they know now, and I'm looking
forward to seeing them again." Je'en let the topic be turned to
wedding plans, then dropped out of the conversation. She slouched
back in her chair and turned her thoughts inward.
She summoned up a mental image of herself just as she saw
herself every day in the large piece of polished silver she used for
a mirror. It was as complete and detailed as a painting: her bardic
training had sharpened her powers of recall, and she was quite adept
at seeing concrete images in her mind.
She looked at the picture of herself, clad in a comfortable
leather tunic and breeches that went into knee-high suede boots. She
still bore the marks of her 'accident' more than three years after
the incident: a dark ribbon circled her throat to hide the scar
there; her right hand hung uselessly from a black-wrapped wrist near
the hilt of her sword, right-hung within easy reach of her good
hand; and, most visible, the silver half-mask that hid the marks on
her face. She presented a unique, mysterious figure, one that
belonged in fantastic adventures that, perhaps, a bard would tell.
Then, she did something she seldom did. She called up an image
of herself as she had been before the accident. No scars, no masks,
Leaf-Killer on her left hip and Soft-Winds hanging at her back. She
set the picture next to her present-day self, and compared the two.
The one that went bare-faced was the one her parents would be
expecting despite Kroan's letter informing them of the events of the
past three years. Briefly, Je'en wondered what she would look like
now, without the mask. But she found herself backing away from the
thought hurriedly. The silver mask had become a badge of her new
life to her, and to cease wearing it was unthinkable.
As she sat comparing the two images, she began to feel strange.
At first, she couldn't identify how or why. Then, as it got worse,
she was able to describe the sensation - it was like someone or
something was pressing on her mind. It took a few more moments to
realize that the sensation was almost familiar.
Instinctively, she began pushing back, concentrating on holding
her mind together and resisting the intrusion. As soon as she
started to resist, she felt the pressure lighten and then vanish.
The pressure had barely vanished when Je'en felt someone nudge
her arm. She opened her eyes and sat up with a startled 'Huh?' that
caused the others at the table to laugh.
Cefn said, 'Wake up, sleepy head. Kroan has to get back to work
and I thought we should toast him once more." The cowled man lifted
his flagon and said, "To Kroan and Anorra - a long, happy, and
Je'en reached for her mug of ale to join in the well-wishing.
She found it difficult to get a grip on the thin handle of the mug,
but finally she closed her fingers around to and raised it off of
the table. As soon as she did so, she knew something was wrong. She
felt the odd pull in the wrist, the pain, and then the splashing
noise of ale sloshing all over the table.
She focused on the mug, and then on the faces of her friends
around the table. She noticed that they were all staring at the mug
dangling from her hand in shocked disbelief. She started to say,
"Sorry..." but stopped when she realized why they were staring. She
finally realized that the mug was dangling from the fingers of her
An ornate stone corridor shapes itself out of the greyness as
she steps from the between-ways into the hallway outside the
quarters of the man once known as Kyle BlueSword. She senses the
pain emanating from the room before her, and she knows its cause.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, she walks into the room and sees Morion
writhing in pain on the bed. His arm throbs fiercely red in her
ihr-sight, revealing the fact that the perenidth has invaded his
body as far as his elbow. She can also trace the poison with her
sun-sight, which reveals the greenish cast of the skin on his arm.
Concern and guilt flood into and over her as she watches by both
ihr- and sun-sight the poison advance quickly up Morion's arm. She
walks across the room to him, and feels something break under her
heel. Awareness comes to her that she has crushed the egg-focus,
which will make closing the gate that much harder.
Before she reaches the bed, she sees consciousness fade from
Morion's body, but she can also see that his life force hasn't
slackened its fight against the drain of the perenidth.
She stands next to Morion's now still form, and tries to examine
the things she is feeling. She feels concern because she likes the
fierceness of spirit of this fast-liver, and she does not wish him
pain. He attracts more than her curiosity, and she has been hard
pressed not to think of him ever since their first meeting. Now, her
concern shades to fear; fear that she might be feeling what was the
bane of her race - hoftanau, the fire love. Only a fast-liver could
inspire the fire love in the slow living, slow feeling hearts of her
people. When that emotion was ignited, it was usually fatal. That
was where the guilt came from. She wasn't sure that her last warning
to Morion had been cryptic according to the pattern of Thyerin's
Dance, or if she wanted to avoid the destructive force of hoftanau.
Now she must decide whether to save Morion or to let the poison
do its work. She reviews the last glimpse of the pattern of the
Dance she had been given by Thyerin and tries to puzzle out the
meaning of the threads that govern this part of the Dance. It is
difficult. Finally she gives up - the strands are too tangled - and
attempts to make the decision on her own.
She doesn't have time to agonize, though. She can see that the
poison has almost reached Morion's shoulder, with tendrils pushing
ahead of the mass of the evil substance, almost as if it is eagerly
searching for the man's heart. She knows that he doesn't have much
time. If the perenidth reaches Morion's heart, she won't be able to
work fast enough to stem the flow of the poison throughout his
entire body. If that happens, he will be lost forever, his body dead
and his immortal self trapped in the other-space from whence the
demon-poison had been drawn.
She looks into Morion's tortured face and decides. She kneels
beside the bed and takes Morion's arm in her hands. As she prepares
herself for the effort it will take to battle the perenidth, she
feels the presence of Thyerin in her mind and she sees a part of his
Dance made clear. She sighs with relief as she sees her strand and
Morion's entwined and continuing beyond the scope of the Dance. She
has made the right decision.
She turns back to her task. Placing her hands about his
shoulder, she concentrates to place a barrier within Morion's flesh
that the perenidth cannot pass. She first makes sure that all
vestiges of the poison are on the arm side of the barrier, then she
begins to force the barrier, and with it the perenidth, back down
and out of Morion's arm. It isn't easy. The perenidth seems almost
to fight back, to resist being expelled from the body of its victim.
She struggles tenaciously until finally Morion's hand cups a small
pool of the vilest looking fluid imaginable, much more than could
have been stored within the tiny egg.
She relaxes for a moment, gathering her strength for the final
effort. When she feels herself ready, she again concentrates on the
barrier that now protects Morion's hand from having the fluid
re-enter it. The barrier, invisible to sun-sight but barely, bluely
visible to ihr-sight, closes around the perenidth, sealing it in a
bubble. The bubble begins to rise, floating slowly up from Morion's
hand. When it is a safe distance away from him, she begins to force
the bubble to shrink. This, in turn, forces the demon-poison back
through the gate to where it came from. When the bubble disappears,
she turns her energies to closing and sealing the gate that the
egg-focus had housed.
When the gate is permanently closed, she slumps back and closes
her eyes, nearly exhausted. But, she knows that there is more to do.
The perenidth had been removed from Morion's body, but the damage it
did while it was there must still be repaired.
Wearily, she opens her eyes and tries to guage how long it will
take to properly heal the fast-liver. She estimates at least three
weeks of deep, healing sleep should suffice, which will leave very
little time to deliver the circlet. As she worries, she sees a
possible solution in the pattern of the Dance. The King of the land
that Morion calls home will celebrate the anniversary of his birth
just a few days before the deadline. Such an event should bring
enough power-users together that, with her help, they may be able to
find a way to send the circlet in time.
She decides to leave speculation for later. She thinks that
Morion will know more about who will likely attend his Monarch's
36th birth anniversary. She needs to start the healing sleep soon,
before the damage increases and destroys their chances.
She arranges the still slightly suffering fast-liver more
comfortably on the bed, and then settles herself next to him. She
places her hands on his temples and tries to communicate directly
with his mind. She finds it easy, and pleasurable, to read his mind
but she must go deeper. She probes for the healing centers of his
brain, and finds them. She stimulates them to increased effort and
ties the energy generation areas of her own body in to his to
provide the necessary building and healing energies. She feels the
drain, and allows herself to fall into the same healing sleep as
Morion. Now, even should she wish it, there is no way to prevent
hoftanau between them.
Ka'lochra'en kissed Gillin one last time before giving her a
hand up onto her horse. He stared after her as she rode back home,
and reflected that she was probably the best thing to come out of
this, his latest assignment.
Ka'en had come to this northern corner of Baranur when he had
heard news on the grapevine that one of the border Barons of Duchy
Dargon was looking for someone discreet to do a job. Ka'en's pockets
were nearly empty, so he decided that he would look into the venture.
Ka'en had travelled to the Barony of MountainSpur in the guise
of a minor, unlanded noble name of Lord Kennet'. It had taken some
convincing to get Baron Kayden, the man looking to hire a thief, to
believe that he was suited to the job. It wasn't as if Ka'en had a
detailed history of past accomplishments to expound on, especially
since most of his best work had yet to be detected. Ka'en had been
forced to extract a few choice items from the Baron's personal
treasury to convince the man that he had the necessary skills to do
So convinced, the Baron had confided in Ka'en. Kaydin intended
to annex the lands of his neighbor, Baron Rombar. Rombar had
insulted Kaydin some years before by refusing to allow his daughter
to marry Kaydin's eldest son. To get even, Kaydin intended to depose
Rombar by discrediting him and having him and his family removed as
rulers of the barony by Clifton Dargon himself, acting as the due
representative of the Crown of Baranur. The method of discrediting
was devious and complicated. Ka'en's part involved some very
important documents stored in the very lowest vaults of Dargon
Castle. The ones Ka'en was to steal were both the Primary Charter
for the Barony of Fir Lake, and the High Charter for Duchy Dargon
itself. Baron Kaydin would provide a doctored version of the Primary
Charter of Rombar's Barony that would remove Rombar's family from
the Barony. Taking the High Charter to the Duchy was a little
insurance on Kaydin's part since without that specific piece of
parchment, Clifton could, legally, be removed from the Duchy as
easily as Rombar from his Barony. Kaydin intended to force Clifton
into supporting him in his claim to the land of Fir Lake when the
Barony was disolved.
It was all just too much politics and legalisms for Ka'en's
tastes, but he agreed to do the job. One of the convincing arguments
was Kaydin's youngest daughter, Gillin. There was a strong mutual
attraction between them, and Ka'en had recently begun having
thoughts about settling down. Gillin was pretty, intelligent, and
excellent company. Ka'en hoped that she wouldn't mind moving away
from MountainSpur, since he refused to live anywhere that there was
danger of him being exposed as a thief and Gillin's father certainly
knew who he was now.
Ka'en cleaned up the little glade wherein he and Gillin had said
good-bye, repacking his bedroll and the now severly depleted bag of
rations he had brought along for his trip to Dargon. Fortunately,
the Ducal city wasn't more than four days away and Ka'en was sure he
could make the remnants of his food last that long. Besides, it had
been well worth wasting the time and food to say farewell to Gillin.
Well worth it.
Ka'en spent a week researching a way to infiltrate Dargon
Castle. Baron Kaydin had offered a few suggestions, but no real help
in getting him near the secret vault. The details were up to Ka'en.
It didn't take him long to decide on a course of action once he
had explored all the possibilities. He had even been given a tour of
the Castle in his masquerade as Lord Kennet'. He had determined that
there was no possible way for a guest or resident of the castle to
penetrate the dungeons - there were just too many guards. So, he
decided to be a guard.
Given enough time, it was conceivable that Ka'en could have
become a Castle Guard by the normal route. But he didn't have the
three years or so that that would take. Instead, he would have to
fake it. And the first order of business was to make a copy of the
Castle Guard's uniform.
The uniform was a simple one. The Guards wore a black
thigh-length tunic over black trousers that went into black
knee-high boots. Silver and gold bands added color at the neck,
cuffs, tunic hem, side seams of the trousers, and the saddle of the
boots. A sash of silver and gold triangles was fastened to the right
or left shoulder by a pin of the Baranur Star. Rank was displayed
within a small red square on the chest. Additional ornamentation was
provided by small black buttons bearing a gold caltrop at strategic
places on the outfit.
Ka'en didn't want to buy enough fabric at any one store to lead
an inquisitive mind to link the purchase with an extra guard at the
Castle. So, he searched the second-hand stores for cloth, either in
old clothes or in bolts, and for the various decorative elements he
He was in a slightly seedy but well stocked little shop
bargaining for a child's show cape made of cloth-of-gold that he
could cut up for the sash, when he heard the door open. An
almost-familiar voice said, "Mergant, did you get in any....Oh, I'm
sorry, I didn't realize you had a customer. I'll wait until you're
through. Pardon me, m'lord."
Ka'en turned to look at the person who had spoken. He was sure
he knew the voice, but when he saw the speaker, he was just as sure
that he was mistaken. He didn't know any left-handed women who wore
silver masks, of that he was definite.
Ka'en was concluding his business with the shopkeeper when the
woman stepped up to the counter next to him and said, "Excuse me,
but aren't you Ka'lochra'en?"
Ka'en turned and stared into the eyes that were partially hidden
within the mask, wondering how this woman knew him. It was rare that
he went by his contracted name in Baranur, much less his full name.
Finally, made slightly uneasy by the blankness of the mask, he said,
"That depends to whom I'm talking."
"Of course, you don't recognize me. How could you, after all,"
said the woman. "I looked quite different the last time you saw me
in Derenten. I'm your second cousin, Je'lanthra'en."
"By the Blood of Argan, you are!" Ka'en finally recognized the
voice, the figure, the bearing, and even the set of the jaw. "What
happened to you, Je'en? You're not a bard any more?"
"Oh, its a long story, Ka'en. Much too long to tell without a
tankard of ale to ease the telling. But, no, I'm not a bard anymore.
I am an adventurer along with my partner, Cefn, who is a wizard. Why
don't you come down to the Inn of the Panther tonight, and we can
talk then, okay? Good. I'll be there around dinner time and after.
See you then."
Ka'en took the cape he had just purchased and left the store as
Je'en asked Mergant about some special lanterns for which she was
looking. He wondered what had happened to Je'en. She was so changed.
The mask, her voice, the strange bracer she wore on her right hand.
An adventurer, eh? They could be problems. At least the only
adventurers that Ka'en had ever dealt with had been problems. He
wondered if her presence in Dargon would complicate his business.
Moonlight filters into a shuttered and dark shop through warped
boards and air vents. The silvery light glints off large glass jars
filled with herbs and potions revealing the shop to be an apothecary.
A shadow among shadows moves slowly and cautiously. It inches
its way over to the jars and, after a pause to be sure it is alone,
it begins to fill several cloth bags from the large glass jars.
Suddenly, its movements lose their fluidity, like a marionette
whose operator has just sneezed. An elbow strikes and dislodges one
of the jars and it crashes to the floor, shattering. The shadow
freezes, and then, under control again, begins to hurriedly complete
The owner of the shop, who lives on the second floor, has been
awakened by the noise. He comes down the stairs armed with a large
club. The shadow seeks a way out, its mission now done, but the
stairs are closer to the door that it is.
The owner opens a shopfront shutter, flooding the tiny shop with
moonlight, and catches sight of the shadow, formless and dark no
more. Light glints off of a silver mask, the owner gasps out,
"Je...", and a sword weilded sinisterly slides between ribs. As the
owner slumps on the stairs, the shadow closes the shutter, wipes its
sword on the owner's nightrobe, and slips stealthly out of the shop.
"So, where is Je'en, anyway?" asked Ka'en.
Cefn said, "I don't know. She's usually here by dinner unless
she has something else to do, and she didn't mention anything to me.
Still, she has been acting strange lately.... I'm sure she'll be
around eventually. Could you explain again, Ka'en, why the middle
part of your name isn't the same as Je'en's if you're related to her?"
As Je'en's cousin tried to explain the complexities of southern
family trees and their special naming conventions, Cefn wondered
with more concern than had been in his voice just where Je'en was.
If Kroan hadn't recognized Ka'en when he entered, the poor man would
be sitting in a corner wondering where his relative was. It wasn't
like Je'en to invite someone to meet her at the Panther, and then
Ka'en's dissertation was interrupted by the bells on the door,
and a few shouted greetings that indicated that Je'en had finally
arrived. When she finally reached their table, Cefn noticed by her
manner that she was a little distracted. She said hello to her
cousin, appologized for being late, and yelled her dinner order -
"The usual!" - to the cook. She took her seat, and joined Ka'en in
trying to explain the name thing.
Cefn listened with far more interest now, but eventually the
conversation returned to Kroan's coming marriage. Cefn retreated
from the discussion for the same reason he had tried to side-track
it earlier: the topic made him nervous.
Yet, his mind refused to let him just forget the word. He tried
to deflect the thoughts of being tied for a lifetime to one person
with thoughts of Je'en and her increasingly odd behavior. But, that
tactic didn't work, because Je'en was the reason that the thought of
marriage disturbed him. Perhaps not marriage itself, but rather what
went with it: love. Cefn was even more disturbed by love than
marriage, and thinking of Je'en in that context just made him even
Cefn had been in love once, long ago while he was still an
apprentice. The relationship had lasted for almost a year before it
disintegrated messily. The breakup also resulted in the destruction
of their partnership, which had almost been worse than the breakup.
Now, Cefn was feeling the beginnings of what could well be love
for his partner Je'en. And he didn't want anything at all to happen
to their friendship, which was why thoughts of marriage made him
nervous - he had recently been daydreaming of spending the rest of
his life tied to Je'en.
Conversation soon turned to the celebration of the King's
Birthday three days hence. The celebration in Dargon would be token,
with the Court Ball held by Duke Clifton being the most lavish
demonstration scheduled to take place. Je'en and Cefn had an
invitation, and they discussed what they would wear to the event.
When Cefn offered to wangle Ka'en an invitation, too, the young man
declined politely, saying that the atmosphere would be far to
rarefied in the Ballroom for him to be comfortable.
Eventually, Kroan had to leave as it was getting late and he had
work the next day. As Kroan left, Ka'en also took his leave. Cefn
expected Je'en to stay with him for a little while, but she rose
from the table directly after her cousin and bade Cefn farewell very
distantly. Cefn looked after her as she left the Inn, and wondered
what had gotten into her lately.
Feeling uneasy, Cefn bought a bottle of wine and went home. He
activated the golden globes he had had installed in the town house
he had purchased and made sure that all of the windows were properly
sealed. He then removed his protective cowl and hung it on a peg by
the front door. He took the bottle, got a glass and his cards, and
went to the study to do a reading on Je'en to relieve his uneasiness.
He shuffled, cut, shuffled again, and was ready. The first card
turned over was the Twelve of Swords reversed. Trouble from the
start. He swiftly layed out the rest of the Bent Star, the frown
deepening on his face. When the layout was complete, he filled his
glass, drained it, filled it again, and drained most of it. Then, he
looked at the layout again. Nope, it hadn't improved.
It was one of the worst yet non-commital readings he had ever
seen. It indicated danger - disaster, even - all around, but it
couldn't identify the source. Every bad card or position had shown
up in that reading, but in such a way that it told him little.
Topping off his glass again, Cefn reshuffled the cards. It took
some time before they felt right, and when he layed them out he
found out why - the entire layout was, card for card, the same as
the first one.
Eyes wide, Cefn sat back in his chair and drank from the bottle,
leaving the glass on the table. He had never heard of an exactly
duplicated layout actually happening before. He wondered what it
meant and whether Je'en would survive the forces gathering around her.
Tanandra en'Elerch lifted the simple brass door-knocker and
hesitated a moment. As she finally let it fall to strike against the
shiny plate it was hinged to, she wondered what it would be like to
see Cefn again. It had been so long since the last time...
She waited for several minutes before taking the knocker in hand
again, but as she did so, she could hear noises just inside the
door. Hastily stepping back, she composed herself and waited for the
door to open.
When it finally did open, there was a moment of silence before
Cefn spoke. "It's... good to see you, Tanandra. Come in, please."
Tandi wished she could see inside the cowl that Cefn had to
wear. She couldn't quite fathom the tone in his voice, and she was
sure that if she had been able to see his face she could have
She stepped into the entry hall of Cefn's town house and turned
as he shut the door. With a gesture, the single candle lantern that
had been shining in the little hall went out, and the golden globe
at the ceiling took over illumination duties. Cefn removed his cowl
and hung it on a peg by the door, then led her into his study.
Tandi took in the scene in the study while Cefn asked her if she
wanted anything to drink. She noticed the spread of cards on the
table, and even though she knew little about their meanings (she
hadn't chosen to study them), she could tell that the layout was a
bad one. She also noticed the bottle on the table, and wondered at
it since she knew that Cefn didn't do much drinking at home.
As Cefn handed her a glass of cider, he asked, "Well, how have
you been, Tandi?"
Before answering, Tandi took a good look at Cefn. She decided
that time had treated him well - he still looked as good as when
they had been ...apprentices together, if not better. She also
realized that she still has some deep feelings for him which
suprised her; she thought she had left him behind all those years ago.
Firmly pushing her uncertain feelings out of the way, she
recalled the reason she was visiting Cefn. She set the glass down
and placed her forefingers and thumbs together, forming a crude
circle. She hummed a low note, and the space within that circle
began to glow with a swirling green-blue light. She said, "I have
come on business from the Council, Cefn."
The blue-eyed mage's smile of welcome vanished at the sight of
the sigil that the swirling light had formed between Tandi's
fingers. Cefn said, "I no longer serve your masters, Tandi. You are
wasting your time."
Tandi had expected this reaction, and was prepared. Sternly, she
said, "The Elders never acknowledged your debt as paid. You
performed a great service for the Council when you finally
eliminated the last followers of Jhel and the Sword of Cleah. Even
so, the services they have rendered you have not yet been repaid."
Before he could interrupt, she continued, "The Council has
detected certain experiments into the Forbidden Art. They lay to you
the task of finding who is learning the Art and stopping him. There
is every indication that the experimenter is Vard."
Cefn paused a moment, pondering the situation, before answering.
He said, with a forced calm that Tandi could see through with ease,
"I cannot help. I...I am otherwise occupied. Something is wrong here
in Dargon. There is a threat hovering over my partner,
Je'lanthra'en. She's been acting strange lately - out of character.
I must stay and help her - after what I have already put her through."
He turned away, but not before Tandi read the love in his face,
and the pain of that secret. She reflected that going around with
one's face hidden by a magically dark cowl didn't give one much
reason to learn to control one's facial expression. Cefn probably
didn't even realize how open his face was. She felt the remnants of
her own love crumble in the face of his deep feelings.
Sadly but forcefully, Tandi said, "Cefn, the Council has
empowered me to order you into this; even to lay a gorfodd on you -
they knew you would resist. But, I don't want to force you. Listen,
I know what Je'en has been through. You were monitored during that
mission, as were the events you set in motion. But, she has survived
admirably. She redirected her life without any help at all, which is
remarkable considering the loss she sustained. She will be able to
cope with whatever awaits in her future.
"Cefn, you are the only person currently available for this
mission. The others are all elsewhere, or not of sufficient ability
to deal with someone able to delve into the Forbidden Art. Please
reconsider. This IS important. You know the possibilities of an
adept of the Art. Remember Ciraledwen."
In the silence that followed, Tandi knew that he was
remembering. The story of the most infamous Elder in history was an
early lesson, and one that was drilled into every student of the
Council. Ciraledwen had, through study of the Art, become able to
reanimate whole armies of the dead - an invincible force. The only
limit to her power had been the number of lives she could tie to her
focus - humans enslaved to her will body and soul, and used to
infuse the corpses with artificial life. It had taken a tremendous
combined effort of the normally reclusive Elders and all of their
students to finally breach the shields she had built to protect
herself and destroy the evil Ciraledwen.
When Cefn finally turned back to face her, Tandi could see the
struggle he was undergoing on his too-expressive face. The concrete
threat of a practicioner of the Forbidden Art had to be balanced by
the vague threat against his partner and love.
Finally, he decided. He said, "I...I cannot." His resolve firmed
as he continued, "Je'en is more important to me than a vague threat.
You are easily powerful enough to go against Vard, if he is truly
involved and his name wasn't used just to try to lure me into this
mission. After all, you have been under the tutelage of the Council
for all these years since I left. You must be far more powerful than
I by now.
"Please understand me, Tandi. I will not go of my own free will,
and I cannot allow myself to be forced by either you or the council.
It's been good to see you again, Tanandra. Good bye."
Cefn turned away again and went over the the table where his
bottle still sat. Tandi watched him pour another glass full and
drink half of it in one gulp. Sorrowfully, she began to concentrate
on the sheet of light filling the circle still formed by her
fingers. The identifying sigil had been given to her by the Elders
of the Council, and with it had come a latent spell, a gorfodd, or
compulsion. It was far more powerful than one she could cast
herself and (so the Elders hoped) more powerful than Cefn could break.
As she concentrated on the sigil, the light that formed it began
to change from green-blue to red-purple. She watched the spell focus
as it strengthened. She considered Cefn's suggestion that she go in
his place. She had offered herself to the Elders, a fact that Cefn
couldn't know. And she had been rejected as not able enough. True,
she had spent the years since Cefn had gone out on his own with the
teachers of the Council but she still was not as powerful as Cefn.
It wasn't her fault. She just didn't have Cefn's ability. Not
everyone could master the forces of magic to the same degree, and
she just couldn't do as well as some. Certainly not well enough to
combat someone able to delve into the forces required to master the
The spell was ready. Cefn hadn't turned around yet - he was
filling his glass again. Tandi said, "Cefn, forgive me but I was
ordered." And, with a Word, she released the spell.
Cefn may not have turned around, but he must have suspected
something. He whirled at the sound of her voice, and Tandi gasped at
the sight of the hoop he held between his hands. He stretched it to
about three feet in diameter, the silvery strands threaded across it
actually weaving closer together as the hoop grew. By the time he
faced her, the hoop was a shiny mirror held before Cefn's head.
The purple-black sphere of the gorfodd spell struck the
hoop-mirror and bounced. Tandi gasped again when she saw that it had
been perfectly reflected, and would strike her. Before she could
react, the spell hit her, and she felt the cold tingle of the
compulsion magic settle over her body and mind. She immediatly felt
the compelling need to go find the person practicing the Forbidden
Art. It was like a physical presence inside her, forcing her to
move. Its little voice whispered to her, 'Get moving, find the man!'
As she turned to leave, she heard Cefn say, "Tandi, I'm sorry! I
didn't mean for the spell to return to you. Will you be all right?"
She opened Cefn's front door, knowing that he couldn't follow
her because of the moon- and lantern-light on the street. She called
back, "Of course I'll be fine. Good bye, Cefn. Good bye." She didn't
close the door behind herself, hoping that that tactic would gain
her enough time to get away. Now that she had taken the gorfodd, she
wanted no help or hindrance to her mission. She would find the man,
and she would destroy him, all by her self.
She didn't even hear the other tiny voice in her mind, the voice
of her reason, saying, "I'm dead if this quest succeeds."
He awoke feeling totally disoriented, almost as though was in
two places at once. Slowly, almost painfully, he sorted out the
sensations and realized first that he wasn't dead. He wondered why,
considersing the vivid memory of the pain the poison had caused him.
Morion could still feel slight twinges from his arm, and it hurt to
close the hand that had held the tiny, lethal egg. Of course, he
couldn't account for the general stiffness of the rest of his body
by the effects of the poison - if its effect had reached that much
of him, he wouldn't be around to notice the results.
Then he realized that he wasn't alone on Kyle's bed. He looked
at the sleeping form of the strange blue haired woman who had called
herself Kimmentari and realized that there was now a rapport between
them that had been instrumental in saving his life. Somehow, he knew
things about Kimmentari that he couldn't possibly know - things even
lovers wouldn't tell each other. And he knew that she was
helplessly, perhaps fatally, in love with him.
The first stirrings of returned feelings propelled Morion off
the bed in fear and confusion. How could he possible be in love with
such an alien creature? He had never even heard of her kind before.
He...he just couldn't really be in love, could he? She was
beautiful, in an exotic way, and she had saved his life. Still...
Thoughts came to him, memories and dreams. They weren't his,
weren't even human, but they were entrancing. He saw Thyerin, the
god Kimmentari's people worshipped, and the Dance he laid out as a
pattern for his followers. He saw what hoftanau meant for one of
Kimmentari's race, and how deeply the fire love had already burned
into her. The thoughts were remnants of the healing bond that had
followed her ridding his body of the poison, not actual mind to mind
contact. But, Morion remembered the instant of his waking and
seeming to be in two places at once. And he knew that if someone
could know him on so intimate a level as to have actually been in
his mind, and they still cared or loved him, he wouldn't refute that
love. And, he knew that he loved Kimmentari.
He looked for a long time at the silken-clad body of the alien
woman, then reached out tentatively to touch her shoulder. As his
hand touched her, he felt a brief reprise of the joined sensation
and she opened her eyes. He stared into the deep red of her eyes,
willingly getting lost in their depths. He settled slowly onto the
bed, bent over, and lightly kissed his saviour on the mouth. Her
response was slow and hesitant, as if she didn't know how to
respond. But soon, as their mental rapport re-established itself,
her reactions took on more passion.
Several hours later, Morion again awoke to the now familiar two
places at once feeling. He looked up into Kimmentari's ruby eyes
where she was leaning over him staring at his face. He wouldn't have
minded taking a few hours more to get to know his love even better,
but Kimmentari laughed at his thought with a sound like silver
bells, and said, "There will be time enough and more for that, my
love, when we have danced our part of the Dance done. Or have you
forgotten your mission here - the circlet?"
In fact, Morion had done just that. It took a moment for him to
recall just how he had ended up where he was: the challenge by Kyle
BlueSword, meeting Kimmentari on the road to Belliern, the fight in
the village square, Kyle's story of possession, Morion's task to
deliver the crystal circlet to his former pupil Je'lanthra'en, and,
finally, the tiny poisoned egg that had been the revenge of the
demon-thing that had possessed Kyle.
"Souls and swords, what day is it, anyway? How much time do I
have to finish my task?"
"Calm yourself, my love," said Kimmentari. "My thread has been
joined to yours in this Dance - the task of delivering the circlet
has become mine as well. This day is AvansDay of Harvest, just nine
days from the deadline."
"But, I...we'll never be able to get to Dargon in nine days,
that is unless you..."
Kimmentari smiled as she said, "I cannot move over such great
distances any faster than you, my love. Alone, my magic cannot solve
the problem. But I saw something in Thyerin's pattern that might help.
"Just six days from now, your King Haralan will celebrate his
six and thirtieth year of life. As I understand it, this is a cause
of much celebration, and many people will gather in Magnus to help
him commemorate the event. Among those present, there are sure to be
enough persons skilled in the shaping of Power to enable us to
devise a method to deliver the circlet in time. It seems that we
should be able to reach the Crown City before the celebration, right?"
Morion said, "That depends on just where this citadel is. Or,
will that 'lens' thing that Kyle used still work?"
"Its power has dissapated with the passing of the demon from
this plane. We shall have to use more conventional means of
transportation, I'm afraid. Still, I think we can make it. We have
no choice, really.
"To be sure, we should leave as soon as possible."
"Surely a little more...rest...wouldn't hurt?" asked Morion.
Kimmentari laughed again, and answered, "Well, maybe not a
little more...," and kissed him.
Near sunset of the day before the King's Birthday, Morion and
Kimmentari rode into Magnus on wild horses she had called out of the
forest around Kyle's citadel. The ride had been long and hard, and
they had made it in just five days by leaving an hour before sunrise
and riding for an hour after sunset every day. That didn't leave
much time for sleeping, much less other nighttime games, but their
mission was serious. Morion's rapport with Kimmentari had given him
as much of an understanding of Thyerin's Dance as he could grasp,
and he saw what the Dance had planned out for Je'en if she didn't
receive the circlet in time: full mental possession by a
Morion pondered what to do when they arrived in Magnus. It
wouldn't be easy to put Kimme's plan into practice: unless very
powerful, those persons able to harness the Power seldom made it
generally known that they could, as magic-use wasn't (in general)
looked upon with much favor. Morion no longer had the contacts he
once had in the Crown City. He had been away too long. He thought of
just going to the Castle with the vague hope of meeting some of his
old military friends when he hit upon the perfect solution. It
wouldn't be very nice to put an extra load on Coridan, since he
would certainly be having a busy day as the Falcon Herald at an
official Baranur function, but the young man was the only person
that Morion was sure to know at Court.
He decided not to intrude on whatever last minutes of peace
Coridan was likely to be having this celebration-eve, and he took
Kimme to the Inn he stayed in whenever he was in Magnus. They made a
noticeable pair as the warrior and the alien woman rode through the
streets. At the Inn, Kimme drew some long stares, but the presence
of Morion prevented any overt hostility her strangeness might have
precipitated. The Inn had changed hands since Morion's last visit,
but its quality hadn't suffered in the exchange and he and Kimme
spent a very restful night making up for all the shortage of rest
they had had on their ride.
Morion and Kimme set off to the Castle early the next morning:
so early that the kitchen of the Inn hadn't yet opened for
breakfast, forcing the pair to leave without eating. Despite the
hour, there were a good number of people up and about making
preparations for the Celebration Parade that wouldn't even start out
from the Castle until high noon. It was dark enough in the pre-dawn
gloaming that Kimme received no undue attention. Morion was careful,
however, to go out of his way to stay out of even the fringes of the
Fifth Quarter - he had no intention of risking his life for a few
less minutes walking time.
Magnus was a huge city. Morion knew that it had no competition
for the title of Largest City of Baranur. It could hold an infinite
number of villages the size of Tench, and even cities the size of
Dargon or Endeirion would vanish two or three times worth within the
limits of Magnus. Morion and Kimmentari had several miles walk (not
including the detour), and the sun was just beginning to peek over
the horizon by the time they reached the outer wall of the Crown
The walk around and around the rings surrounding the Castle was
as tiring as the walk from the Inn, and the sun was well up into the
sky by the time Morion and Kimme reached the entrance to the Castle
itself. More than an hour later, after bullying his way through more
minor court functionaries than he could count, Morion finally found
himself in the reception room of Coridan's quarters. He made
personally sure that a page had been sent to summon Coridan before
allowing himself to relax and calmly await the Herald's arrival.
After what seemed like days but was only about half an hour,
Coridan appeared. It took a moment for Morion to be certain of that,
though - the young Herald was dressed in a plain brown tunic and
leggings, dress more suited to a page, or rather a house-squire
because of his age. As Morion rose to greet him, the question must
have been on his face because Coridan, after glancing down at
himself and smiling, answered, "I am dressed like this because it
makes it easier to spy. While most of the castle staff know me on
sight, we have almost doubled the number of servitors in the castle
for the celebration, and most of the new staff don't know me from
the king. So, I go around and make sure that things are getting
done, and nothing is getting stolen. The guards are looking out for
that sort of thing as well, but it makes me happier to see to some
of it myself.
"Besides, you should hear the staff gossip when they think no
one is listening! I get more news in this disguise than all of the
king's spies can ferret out. Why, I just heard that Lady Merritan
had been seen...
"Sorry, Lord Morion. I forgot myself, please forgive me. Now,
what brings you here with such urgent business, and who is your
Morion said, "Master Coridan, allow me to introduce you to the
Lady Kimmentari, a highborn of the Araf. My Lady Kimmentari, I
present to you Master Coridan, Falcon Herald of Baranur."
Coridan and Kimme bowed to each other, then Kimme stretched out
her hand, and Coridan properly kissed it in greeting. Morion could
see that Kimme's strangeness fascinated the herald - the young man
could hardly tear his eyes away from her when he said, "The Araf? I
don't believe I've ever heard mention of them. Where did you meet
Kimme answered, "My people are a very secretive race who live in
tune with the Dances of Thyerin. It was one such dance, that of
Ahar'yKinel, that crossed the paths of Morion and myself and which
brings us here."
Morion continued, "I met Kimmentari on that quest you brought to
my door so long ago. She appeared out of the rain one day as I was
going to meet Kyle's challenge, and told me about Belliern. She also
said that there was a further purpose in my meeting Kyle beyond
freeing him from the demon that had possessed him and protecting the
villages of Baranur from his ravages - namely, that I retrieve a
crystal circlet from his citadel and deliver it to one of my former
"When I had defeated Kyle, she appeared again, got the dying
Kyle to explain what had happened to him. Then, she reminded me of
my secondary mission and tried to warn me to be careful. I went to
Kyle's citadel by the same means that he had used to get in and out,
and eventually found the circlet. But the demon that had possessed
him had also laid a trap for anyone going after the circlet. That
trap almost killed me, and would have if not for Kimme's intervention.
"The healing sleep she had to put us into wasted more than three
weeks of the time before the deadline established by the pattern of
the Dance to get the circlet to Je'en. That deadline is just two
days hence: far too long to get to Dargon even by the fastest mode
of transport available. And so we came to you, because Kimme had an
idea about how to get the circlet to Je'en without us traveling
"I know an enchantment that will enable us to send the circlet
by magical means to Je'lanthra'en," said Kimme. "But to send the
artifact so far will require far more effort than I, alone, can
muster. In fact, it will take at least a score of human power-users
to put forth enough effort to get the circlet to Dargon."
"And," said Morion, "I decided to come to you for help, because
I figured that you know all of the magicians and sorcerers in the
Kingdom, or at least who would know them. If you will help us, it
will save valuable time in gathering enough people to power Kimme's
spell. So, will you?"
Coridan took his time pondering the story and what help he might
possibly be. He believed it - Kimmentari's appearance alone gave all
the credence necessary to Morion's tale. But magicians were mostly
reclusive, and wary of letting knowledge of their abilities get out.
In some parts of the kingdom sorcery wasn't as frowned upon but
here, in the Crown City, magic was looked down upon except where it
was always beneficent, like the healers. For some, if the fact that
they were users of magic became known, it would destroy them and
their businesses. So Coridan thought long and hard before finally
agreeing to help.
A discussion of details kept Coridan from his duties for a
further hour. It was finally decided that a message would be given
discreetly to all of the 'power-users' (as Kimmentari put it) that
Coridan knew of to meet at Coridan's rooms in the last hour of the
day. Coridan would also distribute the message to the few people he
knew that would have a broader acquaintance with users of magic. In
all, Coridan assured Morion and Kimmentari, there should be well
over a score of people to aid in the conjuring.
The time between Coridan's leaving and the arrival of the first
of the magic users late that night was occupied by three things for
Morion and Kimmentari: eating (first, a large breakfast, then a
moderate lunch not too long after the breakfast, a dinner at about
the proper time, and intermittent snacks, mostly as the evening wore
on and there was little else to do); preparing for the enchantment
(which consisted of Kimme listing the things she and the others
would need, and Morion sending pages looking for the items so listed
in what, at times, amounted to a treasure hunt all across Magnus for
the more esoteric needs); and, by far the most pleasurable pass-time
for the pair, just being together. What with all of the travel and
worry of the past days, the two hadn't had much time to be alone
together. Of course, they were more tightly joined than was humanly
possible for a couple under normal circumstances: Morion could still
feel the resonances of Kimme's mind within his own when the
conditions were just right. But it was still nice to just sit and
touch and talk at times.
It was after midnight when Coridan arrived in his apartments and
announced that there would be no one else coming. He joined Morion
as the only other non-participant in the room over next to one wall
where they would both out of the way, and watched the thirty-seven
users of power, directed by Kimmentari of the Afar, begin the ritual
that she had explained to the first few arrivals, who had then
instructed those who came later.
The ritual was taking place in the largest of the rooms
belonging to Coridan, which had been cleared of furniture as part of
the preparation that Kimme and Morion had engaged in earlier.
Cushions on the floor, and two chairs against the far wall were the
only non-magical trappings left in the room. The 37 magicians were
arranged in three patterned rings around Kimme. Within the inner
ring where Kimme sat slightly off center was a forked candle stick
mounted with a tall red candle and a much shorter purple one. The
red candle had come out of the castle's stores, but the making of
the purple one had taken much time and many of the strange
ingredients the pages had been forced to hunt for.
When everyone was seated comfortably, Kimme said, "The object of
this conjuration has been relayed to each and every one of you. Most
of the detailed effort shall be handled by me, as I have the best
knowledge of the enchantment required, and I have as accurate a
mental picture as is possible of the target, one Je'lanthre'en, a
former pupil of my Lord Morion. The rest of you are to concentrate
on the two candles before me. Try to keep both of them in focus, but
of the two, the shorter one is the more important. I shall start a
chant to get us all in rhythm - from there, each of you use whatever
method you prefer to pool your power around the candles.
"Is everyone ready? Then, let up begin. Hmmmmm..."
Morion watched as the 37 magicians began to chant and sway.
Slowly, they all began to speak and move as one. When they were as
attuned as they could get, Kimme eased herself out of the chant-meld
and began to conjure. She huddled over the silk pillow that bore the
circlet. The pillow contained even weirder things than did the
purple candle, and it was from those strange stuffings that Kimme
was attempting to produce what she called an awyrdyn - a creature of
another plane that could be bound to this one for a specific
duration, such as 'until the completion of a given task'. The
necessity of the pooling of powers was that it was draining to open
a planar gate (which was the function of the pillow and its
stuffings), and even more draining to bind the creature so summoned
to its task (in which the purple candle would aid). Kimme and her
kind were strongly steeped in the useage of the power, but she
needed to be sure that both the gate and the bond lasted long enough
to get the awyrdyn all the way to Dargon safely with the circlet. It
wouldn't help the spell's effectiveness any that the clearest
impression/image of Je'en that Kimme could get from Morion's mind
was very vague and could almost as well be applied to any of Je'en's
family at least by the criteria that the awyrdyn was capable of using.
Time seemed to slow down for the two watchers. So little was
happening, and what was was so boring. Coridan almost nodded off
several times - but then, he had been up since very early and it was
very late. Morion had had enough rest that he was able to resist
closing his eyes, but the sameness of the ritual almost hypnotised
him into unconciousness at least as many times as Coridan. A rough
estimate of the time told Morion that more than half an hour had
passed before he finally noticed the faint blurriness that was
hovering like a small cloud around the small pillow.
After rubbing his eyes to be sure that they weren't playing
tricks on him, he began to pay close attention to what was
developing on and around the circlet. The wavering cloud thickened
until it almost blotted out the pillow and circlet, both visible as
wavery outlines within the form of the wraith-like thing formed
around them. It was vaguely human in shape, but there was no detail
to its body - it looked like a wax shop mannequin before it's been
sculpted to look a little more natural.
The chant began to speed up a little as Kimme began the second
part of the ritual, that of impressing the task on the awyrdyn, and
she started drawing power faster. The red candle had burned rather
rapidly until it was the size of the purple candle, at which point
both began to melt at about the same rate (which was faster than a
normal candle would melt). As the purple candle shortened, the
awyrdyn seemed to grow darker in shade, from the milky translucence
it began as to a deeper and deeper violet. Adding color to its form
didn't help its definition, though - in fact, making it easier to
see was definitely disturbing. When it was indistinct, its
formlessness could be accepted. Now that it was fully visible and
purple, the utter lack of features was unnerving.
As the ritual continued, signs of fatigue began to show among
those supplying the power for it. Sweat beaded the brows of most,
and some were dripping from the exertion. A few of the marginally
talented who had come only to show off their ability were seriously
straining to keep up with the rest - they would have dropped out,
but they all knew what that would do to the rhythm that had been
Finally, both the red and purple candles were little more than
stubs in the candellabra. Kimme uttered a command that grated on the
ears of all who heard it - a decidedly unpleasant sensation
especially from one whose voice was normally so music-like - and the
awyrdyn began to rise to the ceiling of the room. The circlet rose
with it, held within its body somehow. Of the pillow that had held
the circlet, there was no sign. When the wraith-thing had vanished
from the room, Kimme gave another, more pleasant command, and the
chant stopped even though no one present could understand the
language she used. The candles also extinguished themselves, and
there was silence in the room for almost half a minute, until one of
the magic users moaned loudly and collapsed.
Quiet chaos reigned in Coridan's room as the overcome magician
was taken away to be tended and the other power users filtered away
to rejoin the celebration below. Finally, only Morion, Kimme, and
Coridan were left in the room. Coridan said, "Did it work?"
Kimme, who looked tired but not exhausted, said, "It should
have. There was enough power present, and enough time to prepare the
enchantment properly. But I have not been able to see whether this
will work within the weave of Thyerin's dance, so we can only hope."
Morion said, "Thank you, Coridan, for letting us use your rooms
for this, and for all your help in gathering the people we needed to
make it work. Do you think there are any free guest rooms we could
sleep in? It's a long way back to the Inn..."
"Don't even think of moving from this room, you two. You have
done enough for one day, and you'll take your rest right here. You
know where the bed is - use it. I have duties elsewhere that I have
shirked to be here to watch your Lady work. I have to get back to
them now, so go ahead and sleep. And don't worry about me - if I
need a rest, I can find places more suited to a busy and single man
than to a couple who want to sleep for hours. See you in the morning
- or rather, later this morning. Pleasant dreams."
As Morion lay letting sleep overcome him, arms around Kimme who
was already asleep, he wondered whether Kimme's enchantment would
prove effective. Finally, he decided that it had to - there was
certainly nothing he or she could do about it now anyway. Time to
stop worrying about his old mission, and start thinking about his
future with Kimme at Pentamorlo. With those pleasant thoughts
running through his mind, he fell asleep.
Je'en stood in front of the mirror, a battle going on in her
mind. Her body trembled from the effort she was putting into the
fight. Her left hand was locked, white knuckled, on the edge of her
mask, and much of the battle going on was over how to move that hand.
The room she was in was one of the lesser guest rooms in Dargon
Castle. Sounds of merriment came faintly to her from the Ball in the
High Court, and from the smaller celebrations that had been brought
to some of the rooms in the guest wings. She was alone in the room,
and no one knew she was there, which was as the thing in her mind
commanded. The thing that had forced her there, and that was trying
to force her to remove her mask.
The thing - the presence - in her mind had been gaining strength
ever since that day that she had learned of her parents coming to
Dargon for Kroan's wedding. It had finally been able to force her
into Abernald's Apothecary just a few nights ago. Abernald had been
killed that night. She wasn't quite sure that she had done the
killing - she didn't remember. Perhaps someone might have slipped in
through a door left open by her to do it. But she had a sinking
feeling that the deed had been done by her - or the thing in her mind.
She knew that Cefn was worried about her. She had been aware of
his concern for a long time, but the thing had enough control of her
mind to force her not to react. She turned aside his questions, and
simply ignored him when he got too insistent.
He had put on a good show of normalcy earlier that day when he
had arrived at her house to escort her to the Ball. They were almost
normal together. But she knew what she had in the satchel she
brought, and had a vague idea what the thing intended for her to do.
She knew that the Ball would be far from normal for her.
Somewhere around the 10th hour of the night, she broke away from
Cefn at the command of the thing in her mind. She had been covertly
eyeing all of the unattached males at the Ball, as per instructions,
and had selected the perfect specimen for her deception. When she
left Cefn without a word of explanation and latched onto her choice,
she saw the hurt in Cefn's stance - she had become very adept at
reading her partner in ways that didn't involve the face (which she
seldom saw much of). His hurt hurt her, but she had her orders, and
she didn't seem to be able to disobey them.
The young knight, resplendent in his green jeweled belt and
golden spurs, was much flattered by Je'en's attentions. He willingly
let her lead him around, especially when she led him away to what
she said was her room. As soon as they were alone in the empty room,
Je'en slipped from her belt pouch one of the small spheres she had
made from the things taken from the Apothecary. It broke properly
when dropped, releasing a fast-rising cloud of white powder that
soon had the knight sleeping peacefully on the bed.
Je'en then slipped unnoticed out of that room, and made her way
to another. She slipped into dark clinging clothing from her pack,
and donned a hood. And then came the moment when she stood in front
of the mirror fighting the presence in her mind's command to remove
her mask. Everything she had done at its command so far she hadn't
been able to resist, no matter how repellent to her. But removing
her mask was too much of a violation of her self. She had to fight it.
The presence again commanded her to remove the bright silver
mask. It was easily recognized, and hard to hide. Je'en again
refused. It was her strongest link to her new self, and without it,
she felt she would just be a songless bard with a maimed right hand.
The presence insisted, and Je'en could feel the pressure on her mind
increasing until she could no longer bear it. With a satisfyingly
final gesture, her left hand moved away from her face, bringing the
mask with it. A casual toss relegated the silver object to the
shadowy corners of the room, where it was forgotten.
The once again fully controlled Je'en pulled her hood down over
her face, hefted her satchel, and slipped out of the room, heading
for the depths of Castle Dargon.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Je'en stood before a huge door
in the deepest and oldest part of Dargon Castle. Few people knew
about the sub-dungeons she now stood in, or that they had been built
long before the Castle itself had. The somewhat faded Dargon Crest
painted on the vault door before her covered, but did not well hide,
the original markings on the door - markings in the runic style of
the Fretheod Empire.
Six people normally stood guard around this most secret vault.
All six had been taken care of by the dust in the spheres as easily
as all of the other guards Je'en had passed on her way down. She
walked up to the next obstacle in her path and examined the series
of locks that bound the vault closed. From a separate pouch in her
satchel, she removed a small wineskin that was filled with another
special mixture. Placing the nozzle in the largest keyhole, Je'en
gently squeezed the fluid into the locking mechanism. When the
wineskin was empty, she stepped back and waited.
Soon, thin white smoke began issuing from the keyhole. Je'en
still waited, until the smoke turned black, then ceased. She went
back over to the vault door and lightly touched the handle. Finding
it hot, as expected, she used the wineskin to protect her skin as
she pulled the door open with ease. As it came open, a grainy grey
powder began to leak out of the bolt hole - all that was left of the
The vault itself was huge, but mostly empty. Along the wall
opposite the door was a small locked cabinet and there were some
shelves on the left hand wall that bore some decrepit antiques, so
poorly maintained that there was no telling what they had once been.
But Je'en wasn't interested in what was in the vault - she was
looking for what was under the vault.
In the very center of the vault's floor was an ornate inlay of
what seemed to be a compass rose, save that the four main points
were lettered in runic Fretheodan, and they didn't point in the
normal directions. Je'en didn't even notice this, but went to stand
on one of the lesser points. She gave the passwords that would open
the vault-within-a-vault, three nonsense syllables in Low
Fretheodan. The words came to her from the presence in her mind, and
she repeated them out loud. When the last echo had died, a rumbling
began. Slowly, the main axis of the 'compass' began to rise, bearing
with it the treasure Je'en had been directed to retrieve - the map
to the hiding place of the keseth, the key to unlock that hiding
place, and the skull of the only person who knew how to get by the
traps guarding that hiding place.
Ka'en changed into the Castle Guard uniform he had pieced
together after entering an empty guest room as close as he could
find to the servant's wing of the Castle. Getting into the Castle
hadn't been as difficult as he had feared - he still retained some
of the sneak-thief skills his first master had taught him.
He had spent as little time as possible at the Ball itself,
mostly from fear of meeting his cousin and her friends and being
recognized. He hadn't accepted their invitation to go to the Ball
with them because it would have complicated his mission to have to
alibi himself to them when he vanished. He put the finishing touches
on his disguise and slipped out of the room and down into the cellars.
Once into the under-levels of the castle, Ka'en began to walk
purposefuly through the hallways, as if he were on an important
errand. He came to the first set of stairs leading into the dungeons
proper and was astonished to see the posted guard lying on the floor
next to the portal. He knelt next to the prone man and noticed a
light dusting of fine white powder on and around him. A touch to the
side of the throat assured Ka'en that the man was just sleeping even
though he was breathing so shallowly that he seemed dead to the
casual glance. Ka'en wondered exactly who and what had happened to
the man as he continued onward and downward.
By the time he reached the second sub-level, which was as far
down as most people thought the Castle went, Ka'en was getting
annoyed. Someone had preceeded him into the depths of Dargon Castle
and without a shread of the subtlety that he had taken so long to
insure. Each and every guard Ka'en had passed had been lying on the
floor, covered in white powder, asleep. It was a crude but effective
way to gain access to the lowest levels of the castle and it made
Ka'en's guard disguise utterly useless.
He entered the foundation levels of the castle quietly and
cautiously, wary of whoever had drugged the guards since they could
still be down there. The age and style of the architecture he passed
through was lost on him - he didn't have the experience to recognize
ancient Fretheodan ornamentation or construction techniques nor the
concentration to spare even if he had the knowledge. He began to
hear noises from up ahead, strange sounds like conversation but not
in any language he understood. He finally came to the end of the
hall he had been following and saw the open vault door, the vault
that was his own reason for being here this evening. He saw the
small vault within the larger vault that held the papers he had been
hired to procure; he saw the shelves on the walls with their
strange, incomprehensible contents; and he saw someone dressed in
black standing on the design in the center of the floor and watching
a portion of that design rise slowly into the air.
When the hidden crypt had fully revealed itself, the person in
black pushed back his - no, her - hood and squatted down to retrieve
the contents. It took Ka'en a moment to place the familiar face, but
when he finally recognized Je'en (the scar threw him off for a
moment), he gasped involuntarily, realizing that she must have been
the one to drug the guards. He wondered what was so valuable about
the contents of the hidden crypt that would draw Je'en to steal them.
Je'en heard Ka'en gasp and whirled and straightened with a grace
and fluidity that again astonished Ka'en. He knew that she was now a
warrior but to see the skill in her stance and bearing proved what
he had been told. She scanned the room looking for a weapon, since
she hadn't brought her own. Her eyes fell on one of the antiques,
and she dashed over to it. Drawing it left-handed, she continued her
dash right over to Ka'en. When he saw the murder in her eyes, his
instincts overcame his confusion, and he drew his steel to meet her.
But Ka'en was a thief, not a warrior. He could defend himself
against the types he was likely to meet in his job, but not against
one who made a living by the sword. Also, there was the fact that
Je'en was family to restrain his reactions. On her part, Je'en
wasn't pulling her blows for any reason, and Ka'en wasn't even sure
that she recognized him at all. He parried like mad, and tried the
few disarming tricks he knew, but Je'en's skill was too great. After
only a few minutes of frantic battle, she slipped her borrowed blade
deep into her cousin's side.
Ka'en knew intense pain and his blade clattered to the floor,
his body following it seconds later. His wound bled freely, and
Ka'en could feel the warm pool growing against his side. He watched,
too weak to protest or call for aid, as Je'en calmly pulled a bag
from her satchel and filled it with the three objects from the
hidden crypt. Then, she put the bag back away and walked over to the
vault door, without even a glance for her cousin and victim.
The blood that drained from Ka'en's side also drained his
strength. He tried to pull himself after her, but he could barely
even move his arms, much less his whole body. And then something
happened to assure him that he was on his way to death. Just as
Je'en reached the vault door, there was a faint *pop* and a
beautiful silver and white circlet appeared, hovering about three
feet off the ground. It wavered back and forth between Je'en and
Ka'en, but she didn't even notice it and kept walking. When she
turned the corner to head for the stairs, the circlet seemed to make
up its mind. It drifted quickly over to Ka'en and settled gently to
the floor right in front of him. His efforts to touch it to see if
it was real sapped the last of his strength, and he fainted dead away.
Cefn was getting ready to leave when the guards came to get him.
He had only stayed as long as he had because of a conversation Kroan
had gotten him into with a visiting Countess - he had managed to
forget about Je'en's peculiar behavior until Margreth had been
called away. He was on his way to say good bye to Kroan when a man
and a woman dressed in the uniform of the Castle Guards came up to
him and asked him if he would come with them. Puzzled but not
worried, he followed them as they led him down into the cellars,
then the dungeons, then the sub-levels, and finally to a part of the
castle he had never known about, a part obviously older than the
rest. They had passed little groups of guards and other castle staff
clustered about apparently sleeping guards on the way down, and
there was a much larger congregation of guards and staff on the
lowest level of the castle. Cefn was lead through the confusion of
people and into what appeared to be a huge vault. He noticed the
strange contents as he was lead through it and over to another
cluster of people near one wall.
One of his guides said, "Sergeant Hammin, here is Lord Cefn as
A woman rose from the cluster of people and smiled. "Greetings,
Lord Cefn. We seem to have a little problem here. None of the Castle
healers can be reached right now, and this man is very near death. I
was wondering if you might be able to help him pull through so that
we can find out just what went on here?"
As Hammin was speaking, the cluster of people broke up revealing
to Cefn the bloody body of Ka'en. He immediatly stooped down and
made sure that Je'en's cousin was still alive. Cefn wasn't a healer
- his talents didn't run in that direction. But he was good with
artifacts, and he made sure that he kept some healing crystals on
his person for emergencies. He quickly fished in his belt pouch and
drew out three long green rods. He carefully rearranged Ka'en's body
so that he could get to the wound, and touched the first of the rods
to it. It began to glow, and the blood stopped oozing from the
wound. When the rod began to shorten as if it was being absorbed
into Ka'en's body, Cefn grasped the hilt of the sword firmly and
drew it out of the wound. The first rod was soon gone, and Cefn used
his knife to cut away Ka'en's tunic from the wound. Then, he applied
the second and third rods one after the other. As each rod was
absorbed, the wound closed more and more, and Ka'en's color improved
from the deathly pale of heavy bloodloss, to an almost healthy (in
comparison) slightly wan.
By the time the last rod was gone, Ka'en had begun stirring. The
properly fatal wound in his side had been reduced to a bad slash and
nothing more. Enough of his vital fluids had been replaced that he
was in no danger of death - at least from his wound. From the looks
of the guards, though, Ka'en had better have a good reason for being
in the vault wearing a makeshift guard's uniform.
Cefn left Ka'en to the care of Hammin for a moment, and went to
examine the crypt that stood open in the center of the vault. He
looked in the holding tray and saw that it was empty. He examined
what he could see of the mechanisms, but could tell little save that
they were very old and very well made. He could sense a subtle magic
around the crypt, but it wasn't a strong enough impression to
determine type or purpose.
His attention was drawn to a knot of people around one of the
sleeping guards, who did not seem to want to wake up. Cefn went over
to where the guard lay, and noticed for the first time the white
powder that covered him and the wall and floor around him. Searching
carefully, he produced shards of what seemed to be unnaturally
brittle wax. He brushed his finger through the powder, and sniffed
it. Sleeping dust. He isolated the main ingredients in his mind, and
realized that the most important one could only have come from
Abernald's - the shop whose owner had been killed not long ago after
a break in. He told a guard what would act as an antidote, then went
back to check on Ka'en.
Je'en's cousin had recovered even further as the healing
elements of the green rods continued to do their work even inside
his body. Ka'en was sitting propped up against the wall, drinking
from a wineskin someone had brought with them. Cefn checked him over
again to make sure that he would be alright, and then Sergeant
Hammin asked him just what he was doing dressed as a guard in the
most secret vault in Dargon.
Ka'en circumvented the direct question by telling them instead
about how he had seen Je'en open the hidden crypt and how she had
attacked him and left him for dead, taking the contents of the crypt
when she left. No one had even known that the crypt existed, and no
one knew what signifigance the scroll, key, and skull might have to
anyone. Then, Ka'en told about the appearance of the circlet. Cefn
examined it as he had the crypt and again found faint but unreadable
traces of magic, both on it and in it. From what he could tell,
though, the magic he could sense on it was whatever had been used to
make it appear in the vault. The magic within the circlet was like
nothing Cefn had ever sensed before though if there had been more of
it he might have been able to figure it out.
Cefn eventually managed to talk Hammin into letting him go after
Je'en. He reasoned with her that he had more experience in chases
like this would be, and that he had another motive for finding her -
Je'en didn't normally go around stealing things that no one else
even knew existed. Something strange was going on, and Cefn wanted
to find out what, and help Je'en out of whatever trouble she was in.
Ka'en had more difficulty getting himself out of trouble, but he
hadn't even taken anything after all. When Hammin pronounced him
free, he stated that he wanted to help Cefn help Je'en. They left
the Castle together, both trying to figure out how to find Je'en.
-John L. White