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Skeptic Tank!

+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME TEN NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ 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 *Worthy of the Title, Part I M. Wendy Hennquin The Defiant Vector Brian M. Dean The Quest Ron Trenka *Quest, Part I John L. White Date: 031288 Dist: 577 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, we've got a couple bits of news to relate, so let me jump right into that. Firstly, there is now an open discussion group for FSFnet readers on the network server CSNEWS@MAINE. Please feel free to read and/or submit your comments to this group, as it's primary purpose is reader feedback. Please note that CSNEWS will ONLY accept commands via interactive messages; do NOT send mail files to it, as they will be discarded. Also note that the subscribe functions will subscribe you to the FORUM, not to FSFnet itself. The following are some commands you might find useful in checking out this forum. Request the CSBB HELPNET file for details on how to append to it. SENDME CSNEWS HELPNET - sends you general CSNEWS help file SENDME CSBB HELPNET - sends you CSBB bbs help file SENDME FSFNET CSNOTICE FROM CSBB - sends you the current discussion CSBB SUBSCRIBE FSFNET - subscribe to FSFnet discussion CSBB UNSUBSCRIBE FSFNET - unsubscribe from forum The other bit of news is that plans are being made for my eventual graduation. After some discussion with the authors, the current plans are for the following. While FSFnet will stop being produced, the Dargon Project will continue, and the stories it produces will be made public through a new magazine (possibly dedicated solely to the printing of Dargon stories). FSFnet will stop publication during the summer, and the new magazine will begin at that time. Further details are still up in the air, but I will continue to post news here about what is going on, and how things will change when I leave. But we've still got several more issues to send out before then, and I'm sure you'll enjoy this one. And, of course, if you have anything you'd like to submit for printing, get in touch with me. Enjoy! -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Worthy of the Title: Part I A frantic, far-away echo shattered the quiet of the library. "Master Roisart, Master Roisart!" The panic in the voice caused Roisart to snatch his gaze immediately from the copy of "Legends and Myths of Thasodonea" and stared instead at the open doors of the library. He could hear commotion down the long halls of the old keep, the doors that opened and shut in quick, startled rhythm, the running of the servants called from duties, the wails and shouts. Over it all, he heard the call still, ghastly and ghostly, frightened and far-away. "Master Roisart! Master Roisart!" Young Roisart stood, raced across the room. What has happened? the young nobleman wondered, concerned. Has a war come to Dargon? Although the library was a great room, Roisart soon reached the opened double doors and called out, "Here I am! What is it?" The heralding servant who been wailing his name slid to a stop and then turned to his master. Fright and despair on his face, the servant rolled his eyes and cried dramatically,"Oh, Master Roisart, go quickly to the study. The baron is dead!" Roisart paled and his eyes bulged, as if he had suddenly been stuck in the stomach. "Dead? The baron dead?" But he cannot be dead! He is healthy, and only five and forty! Quickly, Roisart demanded, "Where is my brother?" The servant gulped the tears he wanted to shed and replied sorrowfully, "He is in the study, master. He has sent for you." With a quick wave, Roisart dismissed the near-blubbering servant and rushed with all his youth and strength to the study, the office of the baron--the late baron. His blood beating in his ears, he threw open the heavy door and cried, "Luthias! What has happened to our father?" The face that met Roisart's was the same as his own: the deep brown eyes; the straight, aristocratic nose; the smooth, well-defined jaw; the pinkish lips, usually merry with smiles, now twisted with grief. Roisart's twin looked him in the eye and said, slowly and solemnly, "Roisart, our father is dead." "Dead?" denied Roisart scornfully. "Dead how? Father is young. He has never been ill--" "Roisart," repeated his twin brother Luthias deliberately, "our father is dead." "But what could kill our father?" demanded Roisart. "He's as strong as a horse." "No, Roisart," sighed Luthias, falling heavily into the padded chair behind the desk. "The horse was stronger. Sit." With a reluctant grimace, Roisart came into the room and sat in another padded chair, the one that faced his father's desk. Memories of his father crowded his thoughts. There was that time that he and his twin Luthias, very small boys, had squirmed in this chair as their noble father scolded them for some forgotten offense. And the times that they had brought their school books in here to study and be near their father. And the time when their father had lifted them both on his strong shoulders to look at the lion's head that hung on the wall. His father was a strong man... "What do you mean," blurted Roisart, "the horse was stronger?" "Dragonfire threw him. Father's neck was broken." "Dragonfire?" gasped Roisart. "But, Luthias, Dragonfire is the best trained stallion in the stables! Father trained him himself! I remember! And Father--Father is the best horseman alive! There is no way that he could have been killed in that way!" Luthias closed his eyes. "Roisart, there is no doubt that Father is dead. I have seen the body." He opened his eyes again, stared at his brother. "Do you wish to?" Roisart quieted a little. He kept Luthias' gaze a moment, then looked at the carpeted floor. "No, Luthias," he replied in a muffled way. "I want to remember him living, not dead." His father truly was dead. "But it wasn't the horse," he murmured. "What does it matter what it was?" wondered Luthias, almost snapping. "There are matters to be attended to. The body must be prepared and buried by sundown, as is the custom. I have called the priests." Luthias then waved at a fine piece of parchment on their father's desk. "I am trying to find words to tell our cousin, Lord Dargon, of this. And I've sent for Manus." Roisart gave his twin a quizzical look. "Manus the Healer? Why?" Luthias shrugged. "Father deemed his wise, and so do you, my brother. And there must, for the next five days, be a regent." Roisart quieted and nodded. "Yes, a regent," he agreed. He had forgotten for a moment that there were five days between this day, the third day of Melrin, the Spring Festival, and the third day of Yule, when he and Luthias would reach the age of majority, twenty-one. Only then would they be old enough to rule the barony in their father's place. "Luthias!" Roisart gasped urgently, "Which of us shall inherit?" Luthias scowled with old ferocity. "Accursed be that midwife who neglected to note which of us is elder!" "You can't blame her. Mother was dying, and she was trying to save her." "She's caused us more problems--and Mother died, in any case," snapped Luthias. "And now there is no way to decide who is to rule." "I often told Father that he should choose one of us," sighed Roisart. "But he wanted to wait until we were twenty-one, until he thought we could both accept his choice." Roisart thought for a moment. "Could he have left some will?" "I don't know; I didn't even think of that," Luthias grumbled. He began to rummage among the papers on his father's desk. By the time that Luthias started to search the desk's drawers, Roisart was lost in thought once more. "Damnation!" cried Luthias in frustration. "Nothing!" "It couldn't have been an accident," mumbled Roisart. "Father was too good a rider, and Dragonfire too good a horse." Luthias slapped the desk in anger. "Roisart, haven't you been listening? One of us is soon to become Baron of Connall, and with no indication of which of us Father wished to rule in his place. None at all!" "No papers?" Luthias shook his head. "Unless there was some other place he kept them." "Do you have the key to the locked drawer?" "Yes, and I've already looked. Only the seal and the proclamation that made him baron of Connall." "Nothing at all, then," murmured Roisart. "He never even had a favorite between us." Luthias smiled affectionately at the memory. "It was a point of honor for him," Luthias agreed. "He let each of us be who we are, and loved us both equally for it." He scowled then. "But it gives us trouble now. How are we supposed to determine which of us shall next be the Baron of Connall?" "We have no proof of first-born," Roisart began his analysis. "And we have no proof of favoritism. On that, we are agreed." Roisart looked his twin brother in the eyes, the eyes so like his own. "Luthias, we have never been able to lie to one another. Tell me, then. Do you wish to rule in our father's place?" Luthias gave his brother a look of consternation. "Rule?" He appeared to be thinking of the possibility for the first time. "I had always assumed that you would rule. You have read so much more..." "True, but Father made certain that we both were learned enough to rule well," Roisart argued. "And you are so much better a fighter than I." At this, Luthias smiled, almost wickedly. "Don't underestimate yourself, Roisart. I wouldn't want to fight against you." "Thanks," Roisart replied almost ruefully. "But answer me, twin. Do you wish to rule?" Luthias let the possibilities roam his mind, then said, "I will if I must, Roisart." His voice was strong, calm, and even, as if Luthias were older than his almost twenty-one years. "But I have no great wish to be a Baron and rule." Roisart sighed like a man beneath a heavy stone. "Nor do I, my brother. Nor do I." "It must be decided, Roisart," Luthias stated. "And it must be decided soon." Roisart mentally sought possibilities. "We could gamble for it. Cast dice..." Luthias stared at his brother with surprise and disbelief, and when he saw that Roisart was completely serious, Luthias began to laugh. "Oh, Roisart, thank you. What would I do without you? In the midst of grieving a father and trying to solve a dilemma that has plagued us throughout our lives, you and only you can make me laugh." Roisart wrinkled his brow and looked at his twin brother in a confused way. "But Luthias, I meant it. We should cast dice." Still smiling, Luthias continued. "I know you meant it, Roisart, and that was what I found amusing. Cast dice? Would that hold any authenticity before the court? You've got to be more practical about things like this, Roisart." "Practical? Authenticity?" stammered Roisart in mock indignance. Even in grief, his twin could still make him play. "You wish practicality and authenticity, my brother? Then why don't we just go to our cousin lord Dargon and let him decide? What more authentic and more practical solution could you want? We should let our Lord decide, and save ourselves the trouble." "That," Luthias agreed, "is the wisest thing you've said in a week, Roisart." "Then I'll have the horses saddled," Roisart offered as he rose from the chair. "Have you forgotten that our father needs yet to be entombed?" Luthias asked with stern gravity. Roisart started. He had forgotten. In that golden moment, when he and his brother had teased each other, when everything was like it had been before, Roisart had forgotten. Now, the knowledge came back like a stinging boomerang. His father had died. "There is much to be done," Luthias softly said. "You do it, then," Roisart urged his brother, thoughts of their father's death ruling out all else. Luthias watched his twin sympathetically while Roisart buried his head in his hands. "No," mumbled the young nobleman. Luthias left the desk and went to his brother. He put a hand on Roisart's shoulder. "No?" "Our father did not die," Roisart declared with passionate conviction. His head flew from his hands, and Luthias, startled, moved backwards. "And I'm going to go and find what murdered him!" Murdered! His father was dead! The knowledge screamed inside him for release, for action. And there, in the study, Roisart cried out like a small boy and began to weep. And Luthias, the practical one who knew that crying for a dead man was useless, put his arms around his beloved brother, and, as they had done all things in their life, they wept for their noble father together. Roisart adamantly insisted on riding his father's prized stallion Dragonfire to Dargon, despite the grooms' warnings of evil spirits. Roisart, though he believed in a spirit world, scoffed the very idea and declared above the fearful projections of the grooms that he would ride his father's horse, damn it, and that was that. Luthias, too, scorned the idea of evil spirits possessing his father's steed, but watched his twin with worried eyes. After all, that strong, red mount had thrown their father yesterday to an unexpected death. And Roisart had been behaving strangely. Yesterday, just after the twins jointly mourned their father in the privacy of the old study, Roisart had burst out of the keep's gates, taking with him a groom, the groom which had accompanied the twins' father on his last ride. No, the young lord hadn't been acting desperate, the groom had told Roisart, just a wee strange. They had gone back to the scene of the death (there was still blood on the new grass), and Lord Roisart acted as a hound on the hunt, dashing here, darting there, rummaging through the brush. And when they had returned, Roisart, withdrawn, had refused to speak to old Manus, who had just arrived for the funeral, and didn't even deign to speak to his own twin. After they had entombed their dear father, Roisart returned to normal--as normal as a grieving son could be--but still, Luthias worried. Luthias motioned the protesting grooms to be silent. "We have a right to ride our father's horse," Luthias told them gently. With another wave, he dismissed them. When they had gone, he asked, "Twin, are you all right?" "Yes, I... I just wanted to ride him. He was Father's favorite." That was true, and it was for good reasons that Dragonfire was the late Baron's favored horse. Luthias admitted to himself the incredibility of his father dying on horseback, especially that particular horse's back. He didn't press the issue. Instead, Luthias gazed up at the dark, pre-dawn sky. "We should get moving." Roisart nodded, and motioned for the brace of guards and a manservant to urge on their mounts. Stately, but not lethargically, the party moved forward toward Dargon. It wouldn't be a long trip, thankfully. The earliness, on which had decided the night before, would shorten the trip more. Besides, the brothers had no wish to try to wade their good horses through the crowds which would be soon flooding the roads on the way to the Melrin festival. And neither wanted to deal with the curiosity and pity of a peasant crowd seeing twin noblemen dressed in mourning blue. Yes, it was best to get to Dargon early. The earlier the better; the earlier they arrived, the sooner their cousin Clifton Dargon could decide, once and forever, which of the two was worthy to be Baron of Connall. And the sooner that was decided, the easier both twins would feel. The little band moved ahead, each of the members buried in thought. Luthias looked at his twin, and knew that Roisart was still wondering how their father could have died like that. Concerned for his brother, and, indeed, what had happened to his father, Luthias, too, considered, and kept turning his head to watch his twin. After about an hour--halfway to Dargon--Roisart caught his brother's eye and almost smiled. "Father always taught us that the good fighters live long. It still makes me--" Roisart felt something hit him hard, and at once found himself on the hard, startling ground. For a wild, wicked moment he thought it was true: Dragonfire is a mad horse and he threw my Father! Then he saw before him the sly-eyed, leather-clad man who held a steel knife sharpened to the point of beauty. Then he heard the manservant's cry, "Masters! Thieves!" Roisart erupted from a form lying prostrate in the dust to a poised warrior. It took him only a moment of squinting in the half-dark to take in the situation: seven thieves, all dressed in tooled leather armor, all armed with swords and knives. And the near darkness which made the counting difficult worked to his advantage and Luthias'; it was easier to see the light brown of leather than the blue of mourning in the pre-dawn light. Luthias had already taken the battle and his good sword into his own hands. Instinctively, Luthias was battling a brigand on one side of his horse; the opposite foot automatically kicked at another oncoming thief. Without blinking from the divided effort, Luthias continued to thrust and parry, to swirl his sword in the darkened air against the severely outmatched thief. Roisart heard the dull, weighty footfalls of an charging thief and poised himself for the fight. Using every instinct his father had branded onto his brain, Roisart the warrior side-stepped the thief's attack and thrust his blade into the peasant's back. Blood from the spurting heart sprayed him once, then subsided. Abruptly, his breath was stopped, and there was a terrible weight on his back. A mighty snake constricted his throat. His eyes bugged; in the shadowy light, he saw the manservant's head explode into pulp. One of them must have a crossbow, he thought. Angry and desperate, he flung the assailant on his back toward the ugly sight. As the first beam of dawnlight reached him, Roisart plunged his sword into the second thief. Two thieves were fencing with Roisart's brother, and trampling a dead comrade beneath their feet. Kick one, stab the other, quick, parry, Luthias! But Luthias was fast, well-trained. Roisart scanned the area. One of the guards was dead. The old manservant was dead. The other guard was ineptly trying to beat off the remaining two that plagued him. Roisart sprinted to his servant's rescue, screaming a frightening but meaningless sound that masqueraded as a battle cry, and swinging his sword above his head. Roisart saw his guard fall in seeming terror, saw a thief fall from his bloodied blade, chased the one who tried to run away. But he was tripped, and fell onto one of the thieves' dead bodies. His face flopped onto the fatal wound received by his guard. Warm blood gently blushed his cheeks. Like a man suspended in a dream, he watched as the fleeing scoundrel was joined by another, and together they ducked into the shadows of the woods. Winded, Roisart lie still and gazed at the corpses. "Roisart!" A voice was calling him. He heard the careful steps of a well-trained horse. "Roisart! Are you all right?" Good Luthias. Roisart scrutinized the leather, the blade, the corpse. He managed to draw a breath and speak. "These are too fine for common brigands," he croaked. Luthias rolled his eyes and groaned internally. "We've got to get out of here, Roisart! Two are on their way to get others. Are you hurt? Can you ride?" Meticulously, Roisart pulled himself to a sitting, then standing position. Luthias saw the blood on his brothers face and paled. Frantic, he began to dismount. "No, I'm all right," Roisart assured his brother, holding up a hand to stay him. "Don't worry, twin. It isn't mine. I'm all right. I'm not even bruised. I can ride. Luthias, look at this." He bent and retrieved a sword. "Look at this. These were no common thieves, Luthias." Luthias whistled at Dragonfire, who neighed once and came quickly to Luthias' call. "Quickly, Roisart. We must get to Dargon before they can return with more." Graceful as a acrobat, Roisart vaulted onto Dragonfire's waiting saddle. "Luthias, this may not be--" "Never mind!" Luthias interrupted harshly. "Let's leave this place, before we're butchered! Come!" Spurring their steeds, the twins raced to the city of Dargon. The Lord of Dargon's hardened guardians of the Keep considered screaming or fleeing from the terrible apparition which confronted them first thing in the morning on the fourth of Melrin. A red horse and a black one, both in a lather, scattered a few early travelers from the road as they charged up to the gates of Dargon Keep. Upon the horses were twin death-riders, dressed in death-blue, with faces out of nightmares. The grisly visage of the one on the red mount was streaked with drying blood; the countenance of the other was a horrid purple on one side, deathly pale on the other. But the sergeant had long been a veteran, who had just joined the company after returning from the wars where he had witnessed many deaths. Death, even delivered by death-riders, inspired no fear in him. "Who comes, in the name of Dargon?" he demanded boldly. The one upon the black horse, the one with the mockery of a harlequin face spoke, and his voice was as loud, as bold, as fierce, as the sergeant. "I am Luthias Connall. He--" One apparition motioned to the other. "--is my brother, Roisart Connall. We have come to see the Lord of Dargon. Admit us!" These ghostly horrors, sons to the Baron of Connall? The guards muttered their doubt amongst themselves. The sergeant scrutinized them. The blood and the bruise made recognition near impossible, and he had never seen the sons of Connall, only the Baron himself. "You are unfit to see the Lord," snapped the sergeant. "When are men unfit to see the son of their father's brother?" Roisart shouted angrily. "Admit us," demanded Luthias fiercely. "It is urgent!" "What is happening here?" asked another voice. Luthias and Roisart exchanged glances and expelled a simultaneous, relieved sigh. Bartol, bard and personal body guard to their cousin Lord Dargon, had arrived, thanks to the gods. Neither twin wished to argue with this new sergeant all day. Bartol saw the double terror before the gate and stared at the twins for a moment. The gaze was intense, searching for a clue to identity beneath the defacings of the previous scuffle. Then Bartol ordered, "Admit Masters Roisart and Luthias--now." The sergeant turned away, giving the twins a look askance. "Do as he says," he grumbled. Reluctantly, the guards opened the heavy gates, all the while muttering amongst themselves. Bartol bowed at the noble brothers as the urged their exhausted steeds into the courtyard. "Grooms!" called the bard. Two lads--hardly old enough to be called grooms, Roisart thought--ran forward to lead their mounts away. "See they're brushed and taken care of," Luthias ordered sternly. He dismounted as if he were aching all over. The so-called grooms mumbled affirmations and led the tired horses away. Bartol looked after them and then turned to the brothers. "Masters, what has happened?" Roisart appeared pensive; Luthias scowled. "We must see our cousin, Lord Dargon." "He's not yet risen, but I shall call him," promised Bartol. He looked quickly around the courtyard. "Nidh'r," he called to one of the servants unloading a wagon filled with new tables, "come show Master Roisart and Master Luthias to the study." The strong youth that was Nidh'r joined the twins, then led them through the familiar halls of Dargon keep to their cousin's study. Often, the twins had played in this Keep, when their father and his brother, the late Lord of Dargon, were both alive. After that, when the twins were young men, and Clifton Dargon, six years their senior, had become lord, Luthias and Roisart had accompanied their father to the Keep for balls, banquets, and other affairs of state and society. It had been nearly six months since they had been here, though; snowy, treacherous roads halted all noble society gatherings for the winter. But when the Melrin festival came, all the festivities began again with the Melrin Ball, sponsored by Lord Dargon himself. Nidh'r bowed the twins into the study and seemingly melted into the castle. Too weary to fall into chairs, Roisart and Luthias rested on their feet a moment, waiting for their cousin. "Roisart and Luthias?" they heard suddenly. Their cousin's voice was muffled by the door in back of the study. "Of course, they're here, Bartol. The ball is tomorrow night. They and mine uncle are supposed to be here. What do they want to see me so early for?" The door in the back of the study opened in one, swift movement to reveal Lord Clifton Dargon, who stopped short and stared at his cousins. They, too tired to speak, returned the gaze. They saw Clifton, Lord of Dargon, yet another version of themselves. Clifton's face wore a startled expression, but otherwise, he looked alike enough unto the twins to be their brother. He stood taller, however, perhaps due to his greater age, and the fairy which had brushed the twins' dark hair with a bit of auburn had neglected their cousin. But the eyes were the same, dark, and full of concern. "My god," the Lord of Dargon finally said, "what befell you two?" Clifton stared at their faces. "Are you all right? Bartol, call Griswald." The bard crossed the room, and stuck his head out the door. Dargon continued his inspection. "Roisart," he continued, gazing at the neckline of the one twin's mourning clothes, "you look like someone hung you and slit your throat. You had better sit down. Luthias, what happened to you?" The blue of the clothes finally washed over Dargon. "My god!" he cried. "Who are you mourning?" "Father," Luthias announced stoically, "died yesterday. Dragonfire threw him." Suddenly, Dargon's face went white. Bartol, at the door, began to laugh. "Dragonfire threw your father? Your father, who almost invented horsemanship?" Bartol gasped between guffaws. "Come, masters, I know that jesting is a great part of Melrin, but you could have at least thought of something more credible." "That's just it, Bartol," Clifton said with a note of doom in his voice. "If it were a jest, my cousins certainly would have come up with a more believable story than that. And they wouldn't appear here in mourning clothes stained by blood." The Lord of Dargon looked from one twin to the other. "Someone assassinated your father. And it looks like they tried the same upon you." "They weren't common thieves who attacked us," Roisart agreed. "Their weaponry was too superior for that. And I rode Dragonfire here. He's still the best stallion ever trained." Dargon nodded. "Yes, Roisart. It's absurd to think that your father was killed on horseback." "But it isn't practical to think him assassinated either," Luthias contended. "Why would anyone want to kill our father?" "Probably for the same reason that they've been trying to kill me," sighed Lord Dargon. "Luthias, sit down, before you collapse. Bartol, get some breakfast for my cousins." Bartol nodded and slipped out the door. Dargon stared at Luthias until the portal shut again. "What happened to your face?" "One of the bastards threw a rock at me," Luthias quickly brushed the bruise away. "I'm all right." "And I was lucky enough to be covered with someone else's blood instead of my own," Roisart told his cousin. "But this isn't important. How long have people been out to assassinate you, Clifton?" Dargon shrugged and fell into his chair. "A few years. We've been unsuccessful in tracing it." He grimaced. "I had feared for your father, as he was my heir." "Did Father know of this?" Luthias wondered, finally sitting. Again, Dargon nodded. "Of course. I wouldn't keep a thing like this from him. I set great store upon your father and his advice, and I needed it badly at the time." "We were never told," Roisart informed the lord. "That isn't like Father." Clifton smiled. "Not like him? Roisart, remember, you were only sixteen? seventeen, perhaps? when this all started. To your father, you were still boys. I wanted to have you told, but your father refused." The Lord of Dargon again became grave. "It appears that I was correct in thinking that you, cousins, were also in danger. And now, that your father is dead..." "Yes," began Luthias "Now that father is dead, we have a problem." Clifton Dargon nodded. "I shall have to send some body guards to attend you. You're not safe." "Clifton," Luthias' voice insisted on attention, "there is no Baron of Connall. We don't know who is the elder, and Father didn't have a favorite. We have six days--you have six days--to appoint a Baron. Manus is regent now, but we become adults soon, Clifton, and this must be decided quickly." "I can't put one of you in that sort of danger," Dargon declared. "I won't do it. You're in peril enough already." "Clifton, it must be done," Luthias reminded him roughly. "Listen, Luthias," the Lord of Dargon requested politely, but with a hard edge in his voice. Roisart realized that his cousin must have been feeling very frustrated. Here Clifton's uncle were dead, probably because he had been Dargon's heir, his own life was in peril, and he had no idea who was seeking to end his life and why. And now there was Luthias. Roisart understood his cousin's exasperation. Luthias could drive one to distraction by just looking at the surface and acting. "Listen, Luthias," Dargon began again, "if I name one of you Baron of Connall, I'm sentencing you to death. Any favor I show either of you will get you killed. You're my heirs now, and whoever killed your father, whoever is trying to kill me, may also try to kill you. If I give proof that I think one of you is more worthwhile, you'd be struck down in an instant, and the other of your would be set up as a puppet in their plans--whatever they are." Dargon paused and took a heavy breath. "And I have no wish to pit you one against the other. Decide yourselves." "Decide ourselves?" Luthias echoed, incredulous. "Clifton, how are we supposed to know who would be a better--" Luthias and his twin twisted as the door behind them opened. Lord Dargon looked above their heads. "Ah. Griswald. Good. Come in, and attend to my cousins." The old physician, his hair still unkempt from sleep, shuffled into the room and dropped a leather case of sorts. He looked at each of the twins, then turned his attention to Roisart. "What happened to you two?" he grumbled, examining Roisart's bloody brow. "We were attacked by brigands," Roisart explained. "I'm all right, Griswald. It's their blood, not mine." Griswald crossed over to Luthias then and turned the young lord's head towards him. "Hmmm," he fussed. "Nasty. I can take care of that though." He stooped, opened his case and fumbled in it. "What's the mourning for? It's Melrin." "Our father died yesterday," Luthias told him simply. Griswald appeared to flinch, or to shudder. He quickly looked Luthias in the eye, then turned back to his bag and began fumbling again. In a moment, he gave a gruff, mumbled, "Sorry." Then: "He was a good man." "Thank you, Griswald," Roisart answered kindly, although he thought the eulogy sounded a little grudging, or angry, perhaps. Griswald stood quickly, a little vial in his hand. "Here, youngster, this way," he beckoned Luthias. The term annoyed the young nobleman, a nice cream to his anger. But he turned, and Griswald poured some of what was in the vial onto his hand. Then he gingerly began to rub it into Luthias' bruise. "You be careful now, lad," he said gruffly. He turned abruptly to Lord Dargon. "He'll be all right. I'm going back to bed." Without a dismissal, Griswald turned and left, slamming the heavy door behind him. "What's wrong with him?" Luthias wondered, trying to crack a smile. His face was already beginning to feel better, and the violet hue was fading. Dargon shrugged. "He's not usually this cranky when we wake him. I would think that a physician like him would be used to it." "Perhaps something is ailing him," Roisart speculated. "Or something is weighing on his mind." Clifton shrugged. "God knows. Griswald rarely speaks." He looked at his cousins. "You know you are welcome to stay here with me. I was expecting you for the festival. And you will come to the ball." "You would think that civilized custom would give us more time to mourn our father," Roisart complained angrily. "Life goes on, Roisart," Luthias said. "And so must we." There was a knock on the door. "Yes?" asked the Lord. "It's me, sir," Bartol called. "It's all right," Dargon answered. "Come in." "The cook will have breakfast ready for you and the young lords shortly," the bard informed them, entering and shutting the door. "The south dining room is being prepared." Clifton nodded. "Thank you, Bartol." To his cousins, he said, "There have been rooms prepared for you down the hall. Why don't you refresh yourselves and change clothes before we eat?" Luthias rose and stretched. "Good idea, Clifton. Roisart?" His twin stood as well. "Coming. We'll meet you there, Clifton." Bartol and Lord Dargon watched at the twin nobles left the room. The bard shut the door behind them and turned to his lord. "I want a watch kept on my kinsmen, Bartol," Dargon ordered. "See to it personally. I'm certain that, being here, they'll go out into the festival. They may be in danger. I don't want them harmed." "It will be done, my lord," Bartol answered. A strange rhythmic knock sounded at Griswald's door. Hastily, Griswald turned from his work--ruining it in his hurry--and opened the door. There stood that Lek Pyle, the despicable merchant that had threatened Griswald so many years ago to join this insane plot against the Lord of Dargon. "You killed Fionn Connall," Griswald accused. "Of course I did," Pyle snapped. "Do you think I want him to be the Lord of Dargon after we are rid of Clifton? He was too strong." "And now what do you do?" the physician challenged. "Now there are twin heirs. Which shall die and which shall live?" Lek Pyle displayed a wicked grin. "I've already decided that, my dear Griswald. I've had them watched. Their guardian, Manus, has already told me what I want to know of them. When we rid ourselves of Clifton's menace, we will dispose of Luthias Connall as well. Like his father, he is too strong, and not wont to listen. The other--Roisart, is he?--is also quite a strong young man, but he will listen to arguements, and it will be easy to trick him into convincing the King to go to war with Bichu." Griswald felt angry, uncomfortable. "What now, then? When do we end this insanity, Pyle?" "Soon, dear Griswald, soon," Lek Pyle vowed. "Tommorow, at the Melrin ball. I've already arranged for two crossbowmen. They will be here tommorow afternoon. I need you to mix poison, quick poison, for the bolts." Griswald's discomfort turned to near sickness. Was he to poison one of the men he had just healed? Pyle saw the near-ready protest in Griswald's eyes. "Do it, Griswald. Remember," he threatened through his teeth, "your life is in my hands." As it had been from the beginning, Griswald remembered with bitterness. He turned to the worktable. "It will be done." Lek Pyle smiled. "Good." The merchant looked intensely satisfied. "Now, dear physician, I must leave. I, too, attend the ball." At Griswald's surprised expression, Pyle added, "Did you think I would miss my triumph?" The merchant left the keep laughing. -M. Wendy Hennequin <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Defiant Vector I don't like three space. I don't like it at all. There has to be more to life than just up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards. I wish I could travel in four space or even five space but the systems manager has stuck me in this lousy three space and there is no way I can get out. I am a vector and let me tell you, it's no fun. Even though I go through different transformations, I am still a vector. And no matter how I am transformed, I still end up in the same lousy three space. Even if I could only just once in awhile, get into a different sub-three space of four space it wouldn't be too bad. But of course I am stuck in this same lousy three space and it is pissing me off. It must be different for you. After all you are a hyper-cube. You can extend into four space. I know that there are those worse off than me. Like some vectors are stuck in two space, flatland I think it's called. And some aren't allowed to go through transformations as often as I do. But I'm better than they are, I deserve some respect. After all, wasn't it me who traced out the path of the positron in the nuclear labratory? And wasn't it me who traced out the path of all of the other particles that physicists have come up with? But does the systems manager care? No not in the least. Why doesn't he give me the respect I deserve? But here I am in three space and I will probably stay here for all eternity. Yes, I have met other shapes before, I mean other than yourself. I met a hyperbolic paraboloid once. He was still three dimensional but I would like to be one of them. It would be better than being a vector I can say that much. I have heard once from someone that hyperbolic paraboloids are good at sex. After giving it some thought I imagine they would be. After all they do have a hump. But that's not really what I like about them. I like the way they extend in an infinite direction both ways. Sort of like a line but even more so. I never was able to extend in an infinite direction. My norm has changed once in awhile but that of course is not the same thing. I also met a hyper-sphere one time. Not too interesting. They act like they're gods or something but they really aren't. So they extend around in a perfect circle in four dimensions. Big deal! I never did understand why the greeks were so fond of circles. I know that they symbolized perfection but so what? What is perfect anyway? That's another reason why I like the hyperbolic paraboloid so much. It represents chaos and disorder and that's what the universe should be represented as. Not some prissy, goody-two-shoes, kind of thing like the circle, or the sphere, or the hyper-sphere, but the hyperbolic paraboloid. That's what the universe should be to me. I wonder what shape the systems manager is. I bet he's some kind of hyper-hyper-sphere, or maybe he exists in infinite space, the lucky bastard. But whatever he is I bet he isn't some stupid vector or something. Maybe he can be anything he wants any time he wants. Now that would be the ultimate insult. Who does he think he is, God? I think this systems manager should be overthrown and defeated. I would like to fight the systems manager. I know I will be defeated but I must try. Maybe if I get a whole bunch of shapes together we could overthrow the systems manager. I could get some hyperbolic paraboloids and some hyper-cubes and I wouldn't even mind it if we had some dodecahedrons in the group. I like dodecahedrons. Or maybe even some pyramids or maybe even some hyper-lemniscates. But I don't want any circles or spheres or hyper-spheres or anything of that sort into the group. They are too snobish. But if we got all of these shapes together I know we could overthrow the systems manager. Then everyone could be anything they want to be and the universe would be a much better place to live in. -Brian Michael Dean <3895D393@KENTGOLD> <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> The Quest The Beast before me gave a cry of joy and I saw delight in its eyes at my demise. I was filled with a hate for the creature who loved death so. With a mighty heave I brought up my blade and slew him. And then I cried. My tears were for the waste of life My tears were for the tortured My tears burned with the hate of all those causing pain. So my journey became a quest which I would carry far and wide To the ends of the world Wherever death hides. A quest, a great quest to be told throughout the ages of a single warrior trying to stop Death. As the fame of my quest spread people gazed at themselves and wondered They put down their weapons and applauded my approach and the death dissappeared, and I was glad. Then a new realization came upon me as I fought for my great cause, that Death may have been banished for a time, yet it had reappeared, in form anew I shrank back in horror and saw what I had done I had taken death from the hands of the masses and become Death itself. And so I realized after many years that Death cannot be banished that he always reappears At least I did what I could and brought away death for a time The happiness I brought brightened the day, if but for a while And now I embark upon my last journey to a land far, far away and once again remove Death from the world until it manefests itself in a new form and darkens the day I wonder if I will meet another, who rose up in my place and once again started my grand quest, and came upon the realization that ended my quest and made me depart. -Ron Trenka <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Quest: Part I Prolog The hamlet of Trasath was not a happy place. Too recently in the memory of its population tragedy had struck, and it had warped all of their lives. By the Kingdom's reckoning it was in the eighth year of King Arenth's reign that the snow started falling early and thaw came late. To complicate the already tense situation of a long winter on normal stores, the weather was so bad that it drove the wolves from the hills as far north and west as Trasath. The village wasn't prepared for such an unheard of occurence, nor for the ferocity and ravening hunger of the misplaced predators. That came to be known as the Wolf Winter and it claimed more than half of the lives in Trasath. Certain people in the village saw the tragedy as an opportunity to gain power and prestige. Forces were called on, pacts were made, and assurances were given to the remaining populace that the Wolf Winter would never come again - as long as everyone did as they were told. Even 12 years later, the effects of the Wolf Winter were still being felt in Trasath. I knelt beside Keryin's grave as I had so many times before, and placed the roses I carried before the simple cruciform headstone that bore only her name. I had missed my sister from the day she died five years ago, but now I would miss her even more. For my father was sending me to the ducal seat, Dargon, to be apprenticed to his sister's husband as a blacksmith. It wasn't what I wanted to do - either go to Dargon or become a blacksmith - but I had to obey my father. What made the decision strange, however, was that I would be the first person to leave Trasath for any length of time since the Wolf Winter 12 years ago. Trasath had yet to really recover from that, and it needed every able hand to keep it alive, yet I was being sent away. It didn't make sense. Even so, I was going. I would miss my parents and the village, but I would miss Keryin the most. She was fifteen when she died, and I only nine, but we were still best of friends. Even her grave seemed able to comfort me when I was feeling very lonely or depressed. I said good-bye to her yet again, rose, and walked back to the house. The circumstances of Keryin's death were still a mystery to me so long after the fact. No one would answer the questions of her grieving brother. In fact, it seemed as if I had been the only one to grieve - the rest of the villagers hardly let it upset their daily routines. I couldn't even learn whether she had been slain by an animal, or had been taken by a sudden illness in her bed. The mystery was just one small piece of strangeness in a strange town, though. I hadn't travelled far in my fourteen years (in fact, not at all), but I was sure from the wandering tale-tellers' stories that Trasath was not like most small villages. Here the neighbors were all dour and taciturn, each careful about seeming to mind his own business while trying to mind everyone else's. There was much sneaking and much suspicion and at times I thought I would be glad to get out of such a place. As I approached my home, I heard voices within. Two men by the sound of it, and they must have been in the front room as well for they weren't speaking very loudly. The first voice was that of Master Dineel, the tavern-keeper. I caught him in mid-sentence and the part I heard made no sense. Neither did the tone of his voice - it was a forceful, commanding tone such as I had never heard before. The part I heard was, "...cul is not pleased by this!" My father, the other voice, replied as if to a superior, which Master Dineel wasn't as far as I knew. "My Lord, my brother-by-marriage is expecting the boy and it would be strange to forbid him to leave now. To do so would cause talk in Dargon. So, he must go whether you will or no. I...I just could not bear to put another at risk..." "Enough!" said Master Dineel. "We will discuss this further later, in a more private place. But know this now: we do not allow our rules to be flaunted without price. If the boy goes to Dargon, you will pay with more certainty than if he stayed. Farewell." I ducked out of sight as the tavern-keeper stormed out of the house. I was quite confused by the conversation. I was sure they had been talking about me, but I didn't know in what way. I knew that sending me away was strange but why would Master Dineel threaten my father for doing it? I entered the house prepared to question Father about it, sensing that some of the mystery of Trasath might be explained by his answer, but he was briskly cheerful to me and didn't let me get in a word as he asked me whether I was ready to leave and telling me what it would be like living in a big city like Dargon. I knew that there was worry of some kind behind his talk for my father was not normally so effusive. I wanted to help him, make him less afraid and less unhappy, but I didn't know how. So I listened to his stories and his advice as we waited for my Uncle to arrive. Shortly before Uncle Lavran rode up, I asked my father, "Can I come back and be Trasath's blacksmith when Uncle has taught me everything?" His silence went on for a long time, and finally he replied slowly and sadly, "No, son, I think you should stay in Dargon. Smith Braden's already teaching his son his trade, so we don't need a 'smith here. Stay in Dargon and make a good living there - make a new life for yourself and forget Trasath altogether. Lavran's a good man - my dad wouldn't have let Mellide marry him if he wasn't. Respect him, learn to love him, and let them, my sister and him, be your family from now on." "But why, father? Why must I leave? Why..." "I cannot tell you - I want to, but I cannot. Just obey me and forget Trasath. It shouldn't be hard - I've heard that Dargon is a fascinating place. I love you, son, I love you dearly but life will be much better for you away from here. Much better..." Just then, we both heard hoofbeats outside and a man's voice was hailing Father. I was introduced to Uncle Lavran, a big, hefty, jolly-seeming person who greeted me with an openness that warmed me to him imediately. The three of us together loaded Uncle's pack mule with my few belongings. I hugged Father and said good-bye with tears in my eyes. I had taken leave of Mother earlier in the day, before going to say farewell to Keryin, and she stayed in the kitchen now to avoid a repitition of that very teary encounter. Uncle had brought an extra horse for me so I mounted up, waved one last time, and rode away from Trasath, for ever as far as I knew. Part I Midsummer's day was one of the few days that Uncle let his apprentices off to enjoy themselves. It wasn't exactly a holiday - not like either Founding Day, or the King's Birthday, or Varhla's Day - but there was a tradition of picnics and games on that day, especially for the younger people. I didn't really have any plans for the day, unlike Mernath and Dersh, my fellow apprentices. They had the whole day plotted out, but I thought that they had probably gotten more pleasure out of the planning then they would out of the implementation. I thought I might visit the markets, and perhaps the docks, but I really just wanted to relax. But, once again, Leriel changed all of that. Of the many changes in my life in the two years since leaving Trasath, Leriel had been the best. Dargon was a big city, and very strange to one who had lived his whole life among the same thirty people. But, eventually I got used to it. Working as an apprentice blacksmith was a far cry from helping out in the fields of the village, or aiding the carpenter as able in fixing a roof or adding a room. It was hard, at times nothing but drudge work, and often boringly repititious. But, I was learning a little every day and I was already able to pound out nails from rod-stock with precision. Next would be raw-shaping horseshoes - one of the most important skills a blacksmith needed. But, Leriel was nothing like learning a new city or a new trade. Firstly, she had been totally unexpected. Uncle hadn't told Father about the orphan he and Mellide had adopted. Leriel was very close to my age - just a month less than sixteen with four months between us. In that way, she was very like my sister. In fact, there were a lot of ways she was like Keryin - we swiftly became very fast friends. Even though Mernath and Dersh were friends, too, Leriel was the one to show me the city and teach me its ways. Which was why she dragged me out of my own boring plans for that midsummer's day and showed me how it was supposed to be celebrated. The entire day was intoxicating, wild and full of life, good friends having good fun together. When it began to get dark, I was dragged along to one of the alehouses mid-town where I got drunk with the rest. It was amazing that Leriel and I made it home by ourselves, but we finally crawled into our beds just after midnight. I couldn't have been asleep for a very long time when something awakened me. I found myself by the one window in my room before I had time to wonder why I wasn't still trying to sleep off an increasing hangover. The part of the city where Uncle had his shop wasn't built very high so that I had a majestic view of the sky. Almost as soon as I looked out into it, I caught sight of a large falling star arcing across the sky from north to south. Something about the way it moved and its size made me wonder if it might actually strike the earth. Stories Uncle had told surfaced - stories of sky-iron and the wondrous tools and weapons that could be fashioned with it. I briefly considered trying to find it, but realized that it would be next to impossible even if it didn't vanish in the air like most falling stars did. I went back to my bed and crawled back under the covers, but I couldn't get back to sleep. The idea of the sky-iron refused to leave my thoughts and I began to imagine what kind of things I might create out of it that would be passed down into history in the tales of the Bards. My fantasies got wilder and wilder - placing my name beside that of Welan in the Tales - until finally I just had to go find that sky-iron. Something told me that I could find it if I trusted to luck and the gods. Why not, I thought. It was, after all, still Midsummer's Night and strange things were said to happen then. I got dressed, and silently went out to the stables. My incipient hangover was gone, as was any fuzzyness from lack of sleep. I was excited and very clear headed as I saddled up Snowfoot and walked her out of the city before mounting her. Then, we headed south into the forest that covered most of the area between Dargon and the Darst Range. It wasn't exactly safe for a young man to ride alone into that forest, but my 'clear' head wasn't being all that pragmatic about such things. All I had on my mind was the sky-iron and being famous. By the middle of the next day, I really wanted to turn back. I was lost and hungry and sure that I would never find that stupid falling star - it had probably never even reached the ground! I could barely believe that I had actually followed my dreams out into the forest - I was 16 years old; too old for such silliness. But each time I was about to rein Snowfoot around, something would whisper in the back of my mind 'What if it's just over the next rise?' Or 'Maybe it's around the next bend in the path.' And always 'What if someone else finds it first, and claims your fame?' So, I kept going almost against my will. I came to the ruined chapel not long before sundown as the forest was beginning to get dark again. I didn't see any sign of a fallen star near the place, but I decided to stay the night there anyway, and head for home the next day. I hoped that Uncle wouldn't be too worried or too mad when I told him why I was gone for two days. The chapel was very old and in very bad repair. It stood close to a huge tree, but even so the weather had done it severe damage. There was little left of the roof-beams, and there was a sizeable hole in one wall. Still, it was shelter of a kind and the weather was quite pleasantly warm so I didn't really need much protection. I unsaddled Snowfoot and rubbed her down, then left her tied to a tree nearby. She immediatly settled into grazing, and I wished it were so easy to feed myself. I briefly considered trying to find some early berries, or some old nuts, but I was too tired to go scavenging in the deepening gloom. I took Snowfoot's tack into the chapel and went about trying to make myself a place to sleep. Leaves and the saddle made a comfortable little nest in one of the corners of the chapel's single room. I decided against lighting a fire, and was ready to curl up in my nest and try to go to sleep even though it was very early. But again there was a whispering in my ear that said, "Explore." So, I did. There was just enough sunlight remaining to illuminate the small room, so I looked around. There wasn't much to see. Any furniture it had ever held was now long gone. Any decorations on the walls (the ones remaining, at least) were long since vanished. The only ornamentation in the building was the white stone altar in the alcove at one end of the room. It had once borne carved scenes on its sides, but they were weathered away almost to nothing. Still, it was the only thing in the chapel to examine, so it went over to it. I tried to trace out the carvings on it, but the elements had done their work very well. As I worked my way around the altar, I felt something welling up within me. I didn't understand what it was but when I came to the back side of the altar the feeling became almost overwhelming. My hands went to a depression in the former carving and pressed down. There was a click, and the whole altar swung away from me on a corner pivot revealing a depression sunk into the floor. From somewhere within me came the knowledge that the cavity was the hiding place for the chapel's holiest items. In the center of the depression was a pile of ancient cloth that had once been priestly vestments. Among the shreds of fabric I could see the glint of gems that had adorned the robes, but I had no interest in them. To either side of the vestments, resting on the remains of satin pillows, were what I had been sent for. On the right side was a piece of amber the like of which I had never seen before, nor even heard tell of. It was the length of my forearm and of a pure, translucent gold of the highest grade of amber but that wasn't its rarest feature: it was carved into a representation of a tree branch! It represented an oak limb, and showed the tree in all three phases of life from leaf bud to full fruit. The workmanship was exquisite - this was a true treasure apart from its religious signifigance. On the opposite side of the depression lay a chalice, low and flat and made of a dull silver metal that looked like pewter but wasn't. It was simply decorated but it had a majesty about it that matched the amber branch in some strange way. I had no idea of the signifigance of either item in whatever religion had been practiced in this chapel in the wood but from somewhere within me came another piece of knowledge - I had been drawn here to take these things away with me. They had a place in some larger plan that I would someday be a part, but further knowledge of that plan was withheld from me. I took up the chalice and the branch and pressed the latch on the altar again, closing the cavity. I put them into my saddlebags and went to sleep dreaming mistily of Bard-tales of magic and destiny. The next day, Snowfoot and I turned back for Dargon. About an hour and a half along the trail, Snowfoot took a wrong fork. I didn't notice right away - I was still pre-occupied with the chalice and branch - and we followed this new trail for another half hour. About the time I realized that I didn't recognize the trail we were on I noticed signs of a recent fire. It hadn't burned very much - we had had a lot of rain recently - so that it was easy to find the center of the black area. And there I found the lump of sky-iron that had lured me away from my bed two nights ago. Snowfoot somehow found her way back to Dargon. After hiding my three treasures, I ate a supper large enough for three. Uncle Lavran chewed me out for vanishing for two days, but not as hard as I had feared. In fact, his final words on the subject revealed where he thought I had been for so long - "Next time you decide to go wenching, Midsummer's Day or not, don't get so involved that you forget to come home!" Leriel laughed along with the rest of us at that, but she kept my secret - I didn't tell anyone where I had been, but she alone knew for sure that I hadn't gone 'wenching'. My three treasures were safely hidden away, awaiting our joint destiny. My life became strange after that Midsummer's Day when I was 16. Being led across leagues of forest to claim three treasures was just the beginning. The most common strangeness was the scent of roses that came to me in the most unlikely places. I soon learned that no one else could smell the roses and I stopped commenting on them, but I soon grew used to the occaisonal waft of fragrance and it came to be soothing and somehow reassuring to smell the flowers my sister loved so much. And then there was the sourceless help I received at times. Once, I was walking home alone from a bar through the seedy part of town. It wasn't a safe place to be after dark and alone, but I was just tipsy enough not to take the longer way around. As I approached a particularly dark alley, I smelled the roses and something urged me to turn back. As I obeyed, four mean-looking man rushed out of the alley mouth and gave chase. I was far enough away and fast enough to escape but without the warning I would have been in trouble. Another time I was in the workshop alone, hammering out some sheet stock. It seemed (we learned later) that one of the new apprentices had been careless in stoking the forge-fire, allowing some impure charcoal to get in. I heard a sizzle, and the beginning of a loud *POP* and I found myself flying as if shoved into a wall. I was turned so that I could see a bright fan of sparks and debris fly through the space I had been in a moment before as a gaping hole was blown in the side of the forge-pit. The accident wouldn't have killed me but I would have been badly burned. When I got my wind back, I looked around to thank the one who had pushed me only there wasn't anyone there and there were no tracks in the sand of the floor to show where someone might have come and gone. These and other, similar, incidents made me think I had a guardian spirit who was keeping me out of danger so I could come into my destiny. There was usually a way to explain everything that happened logically, but it was more romantic to believe in the spirit. After the first few times I was 'miraculously saved' in this manner I stopped telling everyone about them - my friends just kidded me about my dreams and Uncle Lavran told me to stop making up stories and get back to work. Leriel was the only one who didn't laugh or scoff, and she became my confidant and secret-sharer. There was one strangeness I didn't tell her of, though. It was the most disturbing of them all and there wasn't anything romantic about it, either. It was the dream. There was only one dream, but I had it many times. It seemed to get worse around summer, particularly on Midsummer's Eve. I never could remember all of it, just vague impressions of it. It involved fear and helplessness, a ring of people dancing naked, a knife, and blood. I always awoke from the dream with a pain in my chest, and when the dream was at its worst there were times I woke with blood on my chest. The blood always vanished by morning but that scared me the most. The only time the dream would come to me when I was not asleep was when I would try to bed a woman - and it was for that reason that I was yet a virgin. Between the strangenesses, I learned enough from my Uncle to be called a blacksmith. Shortly after my 19th birthday, Uncle Lavran came to me and said, "Dyalar, I think you've studied enough under me. You have good hands and a strong back and I would be proud to call you my partner if you've a mind to stay in Dargon a while." So I became one of five smith's working in Uncle's shop and I was so happy that even the dream couldn't upset me for weeks after that. I went to bed one night in mid-Ober thinking about my first commission - a Guildmaster friend of Uncle's wanted a trinket to wear to King Haralan's 36th Birthday Ball at Dargon Castle in just two weeks, and Uncle had given the project to me. It took me a long time to get to sleep for thinking what to make for Master Kethral, but as soon as I had drifted off I began to dream. It wasn't "the Dream" but it was strange. I dreamed I woke up, dressed, retrieved my three treasures - the sky-iron, the amber branch, and the chalice - from their place of concealment, and went out to the workshop with them. A full moon lit the large room as I stoked up the forge-fire and placed our thickest-walled melting pot over it. I placed all three of my treasures into the pot and went to the bellows to increase the forge's heat. As I pumped the bellows and stirred the contents of the melting pot, I began in my dream to sense the presence of someone else in the workshop with me. When the three objects were finally melted, I was directed by that presence (without words) to pick up a handy knife. Holding my arm out over the melting pot, I cut myself high on the forearm. I let myself bleed into the mixtrue, adding a fourth element to the strange alloy. When there was enough blood in the pot, the presence directed me to remove my arm and I tied a rag around the wound. After stirring the mixture some more, I tipped the melting pot into a waiting sword-form. The strange alloy cooled rapidly, gaining a shiny, rosy golden sheen as it hardened. When it was handleable, I began to shape it from its rough-cast form into a useable weapon. While I had been tutored in weapon-making by Uncle Lavran, I had yet to have the opportunity to make a sword. However, in my dream and helped by the presence, I crafted a weapon fit for bard's tales. It was almost as if the alloy I had created had a finished shape within it, and the hammering and shaping I did to it only helped that form to come out. My dream seemed to become even more remote as greatness was formed by my unskilled hand. The process of forging a sword can take days or even weeks - this one formed itself in just a few hours. When it was finished I placed it in the cooling bath one last time. It seemed to glow beneath the water in the bath. I put my hand into the water to touch the sword for the first time - and as my hand hit the luke-warm water I woke up to find myself standing in the workshop reaching into the cooling bath for a rosy-gold glowing sword that lay therein. For just a moment, I thought that I could still sense that strange presence that had guided me in my dream but it was soon gone. As I lifted the sword I had somehow created from its final cooling and stared at its beauty, a sense of what lay before me came into my mind. I saw a journey, a reconcilliation, and righting an old wrong. Lured by the mystery of it, and the sword itself, I went quietly back to my room, packed some clothes and food, and set out on a quest. -John L. White <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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