Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME ELEVEN NUMBER ONE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb For the Umpteenth Time James G. Thayer *Stranger in the Mist Jeff Lee Review: Hart's Hope 'Orny' Liscomb *A Scent in the Air Becki Tants Necrolepsy Bob Aspel Review: A Man Rides Through M. Wendy Hennequin *Spirit of the Wood: 7 Rich Jervis Date: 051288 Dist: 641 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 To begin the issue on a serious note, on the morning of Sunday May 8th, Robert A. Heinlein died. At age 80, Heinlein had been suffering with emphysema and heart disease, and although the news is not unexpected, it does not lessen the impact of his death upon his fans. Heinlein's works span a period of fifty years, from the early days of science fiction to the present. He won four Hugo awards and has written such classic SF works as "Stranger in a Strange Land", "Starship Troopers", "Time Enough for Love", "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and many, many others. His writing has touched many of our lives, and there is no doubt that his works will continue to be regarded as classic science fiction for years to come. In this issue you'll find a little of everything. We've got two SF shorts which I'm sure you'll enjoy, two short reviews, and three Dargon Project stories. We have Becki Tants' second Dargon story, and Rich Jervis' continuation of the 'Spirit of the Wood' storyline. We also have the first submission from the newest member of the Dargon Project, Jeff Lee. I was thoroughly impressed with the story, and I hope you enjoy it equally. As this is the first issue of the summer volume, I find many of the people who regularly contribute articles and stories to FSFnet leaving the network for the summer. This means that unless some new people decide to submit items, the number of issues you receive this summer will be minimal. I'd like to strongly urge anyone who can write to consider submitting a story, or possibly writing an article, review, or even a featured author column. If you are interested, please get in touch with me, and I'll let you know what the basic requirements are. Remember, I can only print what you submit, so if you want to see something different in the zine, feel free to contribute something, and I'll work it in. With that, and a welcome to the new readers, I leave you to enjoy this excellent issue. Regards, all, and enjoy your summer... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> For the Umpteenth Time Dr. Sherman Anderson adjusted his device for the umpteenth time. He almost had it now; with just a few final adjustments, his time machine would be ready to be shown to the world. The press conference was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes, and the reporters were already getting anxious in the auditorium. With the help of an assistant, Dr. Anderson pushed the device out onto the stage, behind the curtain. Then, shooing off the assistant, he stepped out from behind the curtain and stood at the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, may I have your attention please?" Dr. Anderson said into the microphones. Slowly, everyone grew silent out of respect to this great man. "I have called you here today to announce the greatest discovery of my career -- indeed, perhaps the greatest discovery in all human history. For centuries, Man was limited to travel in two dimensions. We could travel the length and the breadth of the Earth, but it was only less than one hundred years ago that Orville and Wilbur Wright breached the third dimension and allowed Man to fly. "Today, yet another dimension has been pierced and opened for Man to explore. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to announce that I have assembled the first device that will allow Man to move through the fourth dimension of time as easily as we currently travel through three. "Rather than giving you all the boring technical details now, my staff has prepared a pamphlet explaining how this works. Instead, I offer you a demonstration, actual proof that this device is capable of doing what I have promised. In fact, so confident am I of this device, I have not even tested it yet. Right now, you all shall witness the miracle I have discovered as I turn time back 15 minutes!" A hush fell over the crowd as Dr. Anderson threw a switch on the device. Then, in literally no time at all, a single impulse expanded from deep within the device to encompass the entire universe as time moved backwards precisely fifteen minutes. Dr. Sherman Anderson adjusted his device for the umpteenth time... -James G. Thayer <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Stranger in the Mist The cool white shroud lay like a benison over the sweltering city of Dargon. Though the fog seemed to crouch in every corner, as a hungry beast would lie in wait for its prey, the mist was welcomed by the inhabitants; it was gladly received as an interlude in the incessant heat of this long, unusually hot summer. As the people relaxed in the early evening, a darker shadow clung to the wall encircling the city. Slowly -- for the wall glistened with the moisture of the mist -- this shadow crept yet closer to the top of the wall. It had almost reached the top when its hand, probing for a minute crack with which to pull the shadow further up, encountered an outthrusting of stone, placed there for the very purpose of deterring intruders. The shadow hung there for a moment, head bowed, then reached its hand up once more. Its fingers pushed into the stone as though it were potter's clay, and the shadow pulled itself around the stone barricade in this manner. When it had reached the top, the figure emitted a soft keening of shame. A dog looked up curiously from the street, saw a human sitting atop the city wall, knees tucked under its chin. It wore little clothing, noted the dog, who never had understood why humans clothed themselves anyway. A cat's piercing miaow drew the dog's attention away, however, and it trotted off in the direction of the sound. Drawing a slim cord from a pouch, the slender figure slipped out from the embrasure between two merlons and crouched on the archers' platform. It waited until the moon was hidden behind a thick bank of clouds before descending, bracing itself against the support beam with the cord. At the bottom, the glow from a nearby window revealed the figure to be that of a young woman, barely clad in leather. Her long black hair shimmered in the yellow light, and her dark eyes gleamed as she scanned the streets and alleys. She started as the sound of footsteps sounded at the door of the nearby house. As there was no cover near, she threw herself to the ground and rolled up against the city wall. As the chill stone pressed against her flesh, she prayed that the fog would offer her enough cover to escape detection. She shivered as the footsteps came closer, relaxed a bit as they went off to one side. They stopped, not ten feet from her head, and she heard the sound of fabric rustling. Something began splattering against the wall where the walker was, and an acrid stench wafted her way. Trying to keep from gagging, she held her breath and prayed that he would finish quickly. After a while, the splashing faded, and the walker breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He turned, finished refastening his clothes, and walked back to his house. She released her pent-up breath, took three shaky, deep breaths, then stood and crept quickly and silently away. By following the alleyways and searching all of the trash heaps she could find, she procured enough clothing to cover herself in the manner of the people she had observed from the alleys. Noting the glow over one part of the city, and hearing the noises from that direction, she surmised that there she would find a market. As she entered the market, she straightened up, seemed bolder in visage, and attempted to look nonchalant as she gathered in her surroundings. The babble going on around her was incomprehensible; among the aspirants and palatal consonants of her own language were harsher glottal and labial sounds. Nevertheless, she could understand only too well the rumblings of her stomach, which worsened as she neared a baker's stall. He was a big, burly man, face and neck bright red from long hours in the summer sun. At the moment, he was haggling with two young boys over the price of a sweetmeat. She could see that she would receive no help from him; from the looks of things, the boys had not eaten much recently, and had collected all of the money they could beg. It was apparently not enough to satisfy the vendor. As the man turned to a wealthier client, one of the boys stole a small loaf of bread. Her eyes widened; she emitted a gasp of disbelief. She was not naive, and she had seen thieves before, but she was still unaccustomed to the idea of taking what one did not own. As the vendor shouted for the guards, the two urchins sped from the booth -- moving straight towards her. Still shocked, she did not think to move until it was too late. The first boy, still clutching the purloined bread, crashed into her. The back of her head hit something, and she lost consciousness. When she awoke, she found herself in strange surroundings: a soft bed with a comfortable pillow under her throbbing head. The grey stone walls about her held no threat, and a washbasin was filled with inviting water. Her clothes were gone, but finer garments than she'd had were laid out on a chair against the far wall. A heavy oak door, closed, stood next to the chair. Sunlight streamed through a high window, bathing the room in a comfortable glow. Although the day outside was hot, and there was no air flow in the room, the staid stone walls kept the chamber comfortable. When she had taken in all of her surroundings, she rose quickly and went to the door. The sudden motion brought a stab of pain to her head. Wishing that she had the healing talent like her brother had had, she opened the door a crack and peered out. She was at the end of a well-furnished hall with many other doors, most of which stood open. She closed her door again and moved -- more slowly this time -- back to her bed. For a moment she felt fear: although she was not a prisoner, her surroundings reminded her all too much of her brother's fate for her to relax. Almost without thinking, she caressed the cool stone wall by her bed, and began to apply the "dielaim". Her grief expressed itself through her fingers, and she molded a small section of the wall into a sculpture of her brother's face. She studied it for a moment, adjusted a few rough edges, re-hardened the stone, then softened the section of wall directly below the face. Swiftly she molded his neck, paying careful attention to his marvelous throat, which had been the pride of her people. A wave of melancholy hit her; never again would she hear him sing in three voices at once. Before she could add the one feature lacking -- the manner of his death -- she heard someone approaching. She began pressing the sculpture back into the wall, for she had not allowed the neck to re-harden. She hadn't finished "erasing" his throat when she remembered her lack of clothing. Torn between the desire to cover herself and the need to hide her abilities, she wrapped the sheet around her torso and set her back against the sculpture. The nose pressed unforgivingly into her back. When the door opened, she was surprised to see a young girl, perhaps seventeen or eighteen summers of age. Strawberry-blonde curls cascaded around the newcomer's shoulders. "I'm Tara," stated the girl. "I'm Sharin," she responded, surprised. This girl, Tara, had an amazingly open mind. Among Sharin's talents was the ability to learn language from those who were "open". If Sharin heard a word, she could glean its meaning if the other person had a strong mind. That had been one talent which she and Relann -- Oh, my brother! she thought -- had shared. "I saw what happened in the market," commented Tara. "At first, the vendor wanted you arrested, but I convinced the guards that you had nothing to do with it. I think having an important uncle helps sometimes. No, Zed! Get out of here!" Sharin looked at what Tara was talking to: a Shivaree with a torn ear. Sharin spoke to it: "Zed, lhi nielann yonne." The Shivaree couldn't understand the Lanoam tongue, of course, but it heard the meanings. It looked quizzically at Sharin, barked an apology, then started trotting out of the room. "No, that's all right, Zed, if she doesn't mind you I guess you can stay. What language was that? You're not from Dargon, are you?" "No. That language was Lanoami." Sharin wished she knew more of this language, but she was grateful that Tara was an easy talker. In an effort to learn more, she asked, "Zed?" "Oh, he's been my friend for years. I found him," she said, and now her voice took on a tinge of ire, "in a hunter's trap." Her voice softened again. "I took him home and fed him, and he's been with me ever since. He's not really tame," said Tara, obviously remembering a past event. Tara fondled the torn ear fondly. "He'll give his life for me if I'm threatened, I know that. I really love him, at times he's been my only friend." "He love you," said Sharin, who knew that it was true. She felt a bond with this Tara, who also loved animals. Sharin wondered if any Lanoam blood was in Tara, for she obviously had a talent. "Why do you say that?" asked Tara. "I mean, I know it, but how can you tell?" Sharin didn't know the words to express what she wanted to say, but she didn't want to songweave, not until she knew this girl better. Songweave wouldn't work on most non-Lanoam, but Sharin had a feeling that this girl could receive -- after all, her bonding with a Shivaree was incredible. So she had to indicate with her hands and eyes that she didn't know the words. Frowning, Tara ventured, "You can't speak my language, can you? You're only using the words that I've said!" Sadly, Sharin replied, "No, I can't speak the language. You speak the words, I..." she pointed to her head. "Learn?" asked Tara. "I learn the words," finished Sharin gratefully. Trying to glean the most important information as inconspicuously as possible, she asked, "Uncle?" "This is my Uncle Glenn's house. He's known here as Adrunian Koren, the Captain of the Guards. I had to come here when my... when my parents were killed by bandits." Zed nuzzled Tara's hand, reacting to the strong emotions she was projecting. Sharin felt closer to Tara; she understood the loss of family. "Since then, I've begun learning how to defend myself. I've had cause to do so, though. I met a woman who looked exactly like me, but that's where the resemblance ended. She was going to kill me, but Zed saved me. That's how his ear got torn -- she tried to kill him, but luckily she missed. I'm sorry, I'm just rambling." "No," protested Sharin. "I learn." "No, I've completely forgotten my manners. Here you are, wrapped up in a sheet! Oh, I cleaned your wound -- you took a nasty knock -- then I gave you a bath. I hope you don't mind." "I don't mind," said Sharin. She looked towards the clothes. Tara took the hint. "All right, let me know when you're dressed, I'll be outside." She went out the door, closed it behind her. Quickly Sharin turned and finished removing the traces of her brother's throat. She was just ready to re-soften the face when the door opened again. "Sorry, Zed's still in here... How did you DO that?" Tara stood gaping at the sculpture. Sharin was frozen in horror. For a fleeting moment she was angry at Tara for coming in without knocking, but it was overwhelmed at the fact that one of her talents had been discovered. Tara came into the room. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you! How did you do that? It's beautiful! Please, I'm sorry for barging in here. Why are you afraid?" Sharin could feel that Tara really was sorry for what she had caused, so she decided to take a chance and trust Tara. She motioned for Tara to close the door and sit down, and sat on the bed herself. When Tara was sitting, Sharin began the Songweave. Her throat opened, and the music of her story poured forth. Tara, already conditioned to be receptive to animals, heard the words of the Songweave as though they had been sung aloud, and to her surprise, she could understand them perfectly. I am Sharin, daughter of Oriann and Niarda, of the Lanoam people. The song I weave is of my brother, Relann. He was beloved of the Lanoam, and with the voice of three Winds could he weave his tales. He was a healer, a master of the dielaim, and was born whole! None were needed at his birthing to assist his life, and all who saw him proclaimed that his place on the cliffs would be high! For nineteen summers he grew, and with each passing summer he grew sadder. For among my people rare is the whole child. At the birthings are all too often needed the strongest healers, to correct the children's bodies. Relann said to the elders of my people, Alas! for we are too few, and with each generation the children grow weaker! We must find help, and others who will share our lives, that we pass not from the sight of the Sun! But the elders listened not, for he was but a child then. On his eighteenth summer, he again petitioned them, saying, Alas! for now fewer are born alive than dead! We must have help, or perish utterly! Yet again the elders would not hear him, and in the next summer he tried once more, saying, Alas! if you do nothing for the love of your children, grant to me at least the right of Quest! For other people have magics, which we cannot use, and mayhap I might find one who can aid us! And to this the elders consented, for the children who had lived had been terrible to behold. All were now unblemished, but their visages at birth could rend the heart! Thus in that summer he began his Quest. To far lands he ventured, finding none who would help him. Then, in the next spring, he found a noble who was willing to help my people, if he would receive aid in return. Relann showed him what he could do: sculpt beautiful works in stone; strengthen wooden bridges to the hardness of metals, so that they would not break; heal the sick and dying. But the noble was black of heart, and forced Relann to use his talents in other ways. At first Relann refused, for to use talents for ill is contrary to all of the laws of my people! But the noble had naught but scorn for morals, and maimed Relann until he agreed to do the noble's bidding. Relann's wonderful talents were used to work woe: rather than sculpt, he had to soften the stone defenses of the noble's enemies; he was made to harden wooden weapons, that the noble could conquer less expensively; he was forced to heal only the noble's soldiers. Yet Relann could do nothing; he had to keep his life. One day he coaxed a sparrow to him, and told it to find me. When the sparrow found me, I left at once. Relann would not touch me, for he had become corrupt. He sang for me his Lifesong, as I watched him at his window. Then was the last of his three Winds sounded, for with a piece of glass he released them. With a heavy heart I returned to my people, and sang his Lifesong. With only one voice, I could not express it as he did, and my heart nearly burst with grief. High on the cliffs I sculpted his death-mask. In the chasm that had been his throat nests now the sparrow, for it grieves with me. When I had carved the mask, I continued his Quest. None yet have I found who could aid me, but I will not ask the nobles. I have used my talents shamefully -- with dielaim have I entered cities unnoticed. I have corrupted myself, but I shall finish Relann's Quest ere I sing my Lifesong. I thank you, my spirit-sister, for your hospitality, but now must I move on. May your Song be sung for Eternity! When the song was ended, both had tears in their eyes. Rising, Sharin kissed Tara in the manner of her people. Startled, Tara resisted, but it was over. Quickly, Sharin dressed. Wordlessly, Tara showed her to the door, then hugged Sharin tightly. When Sharin had disappeared from view, Tara closed the door and went back to the guest room. She caressed the face in the stone for a long while, then went back to her own room. That night, as the mist crept back into the streets of Dargon City, Tara n'ha Sansela began to sing. -Jeffrey S. Lee <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Review: "Hart's Hope" This recently-released TOR reprint was originally published in 1983, but received only passing attention. Card has received acclaim for several well-known works, including "Speaker for the Dead", "Songmaster", "Ender's Game", "Wyrms", and "Seventh Son" and its sequel "Red Prophet". There has recently been some discussion of Card in SF-LOVERS, as well. Although not a member of Card's other collections, "Hart's Hope" is definitely a worthwhile read. "Hart's Hope" is a tale of the cruelty of mercy, and its vengeance. The story opens with a count named Paliocrovol leading a successful uprising against the current king. To legitimize his power, he kills the old king and forces his daughter to marry him, publicly raping and shaming her (a necessary act to legitimize his assumption of the throne). Against his advisors' warnings he permits the woman to live in exile, under the guard of a trusted wizard, thinking the woman powerless. However, the queen secretly studies the arcane books of the wizard, and when she bears the child of the new king, she sacrifices it to give herself immense magical power. She then enslaves her guardian and returns to the city where her king is about to wed a second time. She interrupts the cermony and through her magic enslaves Paliocrovol's advisors and his bride and curses and banishes him from the city, ruling in his stead. Her magic makes even the gods powerless, and her reign endures for centuries as she keeps Paliocrovol and his cursed advisors alive through her powers. The book is the story of her rise to power and how her power is challenged as it weakens after three hundred years of absolute power. The book is very well-written, and definitely an attention-holder. The magic used is complex and well-characterized, and it is neither simple nor overused. The characters are deep and intelligent and very well-developed. The book is written in a unique style, being an open letter to Paliocrovol, raconting the story of Queen Beauty's rule, and it is very easy to read. One of the most admirable aspects of the book is Card's ability to characterize several different religions which have followings in the region. The religion of the Hart is a male-oriented belief in the mystical power of the living blood; the Sweet Sisters, a matriarchy deriving their power from the secrets of womanhood; and God, a new religion based on a monotheistic pretext. Card's use of these religions is very sophisticated, and the conflict between the queen and the gods is the underlying story within the book. "Hart's Hope" is a fascinating book, both for the casual reader and the astute fan. Not only is it an enjoyable and provocative read, but its style is refreshingly different without giving up any of its power to take the reader away to a very different world. Even if your reading list is limited by time, as mine is, I reccommend it. -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> A Scent in the Air Summary - Since it has been so long since 'Winds of Change' was put out, I am going to summarize what happened. When we left Ariel, she had just left the tavern in search of a job. She had arrived in Dargon the night before, exhausted from a long journey, during which her lover, Stefan, had been killed. Stefan had been an Air Mage, under the goddess Iliara. He had been killed because of a blood feud between the worshipers of Iliara and the worshipers of the earth god, Haargon. They have been following Ariel ever since, because Stefan had been teaching her prior to his death. They do not know how far her powers have gone yet, so they have yet to take action against her. Just prior to leaving the Inn in search of a job, Ariel received a note from a priest of Iliara along with a ring that had belonged to Stefan. The note merely told her that she was on her own for now. "Following this little wench is getting to be a pain!", Alec said as he walked into the back room of the chapel. "She has shown no sign of regaining her powers enough to fight us off, or even be considered an Air mage anymore. Why do we continue to bother?" "Patience, Alec. Haargon has shown me signs that this one is dangerous, but I don't want to kill her until I find out in what way. I don't want this danger to present itself again. What have you learned?". Alec looked at the old priest. He was dressed in the simple robes that any of the priests in this city might wear, identified as one of Haargon's followers only by the holy symbol hanging around his neck. It was the only symbol of any of the Gods that had any value in and of itself. The piece of crystal clear quartz, encircled by silver in such a way as to allow a chain of silver to be hooked through, was worth quite a bit of money to a jeweler or noble, and this specimen was extraordinarily beautiful. The priest had had all sort of intricate carving done on the medallion and had gone out of his way to find the most beautiful, double terminated piece of quartz seen in Dargon in years. Alec didn't know if the medallion was magical (although he assumed it was), but he did know that the priest would protect it to the death. "She is staying at the Inn of the Golden Lion, up in the rich section of town. She went out this morning, wandered around for some time going from shop to shop in the market area, as well as the business district and never came out of Camron's Shipping. When she had been in there for about 3 hours I decided it was a good time to come report to you." Alec said. "Reasonable. Camron has been looking for a good bookkeeper and from what I'm told of her history, she would fit that description. She needs a job to pay rent here. That will work out nicely......." "Sir, then would it be possible for me to get paid?" Alec asked, a bit afraid of the answer. This particular sect had a reputation for trying to get you to convert and donate your earnings as opposed to paying for services. They were rumored to be VERY effective. "Hmm, uh, What? Oh yes, your pay. Certainly." Reaching under the desk, he pulled out a couple of large denomination coins and tossed them to Alec. "If you are interested in more of that, I would like you to follow her for the next couple of weeks. Just keep an eye on what she does, who she sees, and if she goes anywhere out of the ordinary. Also if she moves out of that expensive Inn. Report in once a week, or whenever there is something I should know about immediately. Interested?" Thinking how easy the payment had been to get, and assuming that the rumors were wrong, Alec said "Certainly, sir. I will report back to you in one week." "Wonderful" the old priest said. As Alec was walking out the door, almost as an afterthought, the priest added "Oh, by the way, are you interested in converting?" Getting a job in Dargon turned out to be easier than Ariel had thought it would be. She stopped at several places, and had a job as a bookkeeper for a nice, older man by noon. She worked until late that night getting herself familiarized with his system, then had a quick dinner at the inn before turning in. The next morning, she moved to a cheaper place. Her new boss, Camron had a cousin who wanted to rent a room in his house to someone, and the arrangements for Ariel to move in had been completed the day before. She was shown to a nice room, relatively large, with a bed and a dresser in it and told that she was welcome to eat with the family. The rent was 1/5 that of the inn she'd been staying at and the atmosphere much nicer. Camron's cousin Karina and her husband Marcus were immediately friendly towards her. As they were eating dinner that night, they got to know each other and by the time they were done, she had both their friendship and their sympathy. Ariel did, however, leave out the details of the magic. Karina and Marcus struck her as very down-to-earth people who felt that magic was a bunch of rubbish, so when Stefan's death came up, she told them that it had been merely bandits in the forest and that they had not noticed her sleeping nearby because she was so rolled up in her blankets. "You were very lucky, you realize. Surviving that little episode as well as getting through all the intervening distance alone, through some rough territory, is quite a feat for one as yourself. You should thank the gods for your life. Perhaps they have something in mind for you." Marcus said, as they were all clearing the table. "I have thanked them over and over, but if they have something in mind for me, they have not yet deigned to tell me of it." Ariel replied. She liked Marcus. He was a very caring person who had done all but adopt her in the short time they had known each other. "Well, that little adventure over, you should find yourself a good husband, settle down, and marry. My cousin Camron hired you because he has a soft spot for ladies in distress, but a young woman such as yourself should not be working, but be married and with a home and family of her own." Karina said. She was definitely the practical one in the family. Loving, good, and practical. Her house reflected this. Everything was spotless, the food was fresh, good, and prepared with all the love she could come up with. "Perhaps someday, but right now my loss of Stefan is too new. I doubt I could love anyone the way I loved Stefan right now. Maybe someday.... Now if you'll excuse me, I should get to bed. Today was a long day and tomorrow will be no shorter." Ariel said, heading for the stairs. "Certainly, dear. Sleep well." Karina said as Ariel walked up the stairs. Up in her room, Ariel pondered her new-found friends. Marcus and Karina were both young, hardly more than a couple of years older then herself, yet they had been married for almost four years and there were no children yet. "That's why they are renting this room" she thought. No children to put in it. Unfortunate. Karina would make a good mother. With thoughts of Stefan, children, and homes running through her mind, Ariel drifted off to sleep. The next day was indeed a long one and Ariel worked until well after dark trying to balance The Dolphin Queen's cargo sheets. Finally finished, and highly pleased with the work she had done that day, Ariel headed out, not really even considering the danger of a female walking alone at night. As she came around the corner onto a side street a few blocks from home, she began to get an odd feeling that she was being watched. Glancing behind her and seeing no one, she dismissed it as merely paranoia, but began to walk a bit faster. The street was deserted, and not very well lit, so when the bright light hit her in the face, she was momentarily blinded. When her vision came back, there were three robbers with torches surrounding her, looking at her with a terribly malicious look in their eyes. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a small man in priestly robes and Haargon's holy symbol watching with an even more murderous look in his. As they approached her, she realized the danger she would be in if she even tried to call upon her powers, and did the only sensible thing; She charged at the ones in front of her, at the last minute ducking left and around them both. Free, she began to run as fast as she could. The ruffians were not far behind her as she ran, but as she passed the priest, he merely smiled and began walking in the other direction. They were catching up on her. She was very slowly running out of breath to run any further, and losing this race anyway. Without even thinking, she began to draw the wind to her, to move her along faster and to strengthen her. Feeling little response, she attempted to concentrate on Stefan's ring and do the same thing. This time, there was some help. With the wind at her back and in her lungs, strengthening her and speeding her along, she gradually outdistanced the ruffians and eventually they stopped chasing her. She didn't stop running though. The earth mage knew that she had called upon power...he had to have known.... She was once again in danger from the cult. This thought alone sped her along the rest of the way home. "At least they don't know where I live," she thought as she came through the door, huffing and puffing, and almost completely exhausted. Marcus and Karina were waiting for her, looking worried. Karina's face became even more concerned when she saw how heavily Ariel was breathing. "Good Gods, what happened? Where have you been? We've been so worried! Are you all right??? " Karina said. Marcus's face echoed the questions, although all he did was lead her over to a chair and get her a glass of water. When she finally regained her breath, Ariel said "I was working late on a problem I had all but solved. As I was walking home, I was attacked by three muggers about five blocks from here. I ran. They followed for a while, but I outran them and they gave up soon after they realized that. I'm OK. Really. Just a bit out of breath. I'll be fine." "Let me get you a some dinner and then you should go right to bed. You know, this area isn't highly prone to muggers, but I guess a single female walking anywhere alone at night is in danger. Please be careful. Perhaps you can get someone from work to walk you home?" Karina said as she brought a plate of bread and cheese and a bowl of soup out. "From now on I will. Either that or not stay as late. I'm so exhausted." Ariel said, immediately diving into the stew. They sat in silence while she ate, until Marcus finally spoke up. "Ariel, is there someone after you? This is the second time you've been attacked recently, and I've seen this man hanging around outside quite a bit lately. Are you in some kind of trouble?" "No," Ariel said hurriedly, "but thank you for caring. Now if you'll excuse me, I really need to get to sleep. G'night." As she walked up the stairs, Karina and Marcus exchanged glances. Neither believed her. "So she does have some of her power back. Interesting. Keep an eye on her and report back if she does anything further." the old priest said. "We may have to take care of her soon. Permanently." Alec shivered at that last word and walked out of the room. -Becki Tants <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Necrolepsy Gregory Schaeffer refused to believe what his associate, Martin Johnson, had just told him. "There is no such thing as necrolepsy. Someone cannot simply die and be revived without medical intervention; it's just not possible." "I am a doctor, Greg. I know what I saw. This man just dropped dead over in Felder Park. I checked him out personally: he had no pulse, no breathing--nothing. CPR had no effect on him and when the emergency squad came, their shock pads didn't phase him either. When we reached the hospital and checked him out further, I had to report him DOA. But when the men from the morgue came up and started to take him away, he sat up and said, 'Hey, where we going?'" Martin glared at Greg as if daring him to say he was lying. "Maybe the instruments are on the fritz," Greg said. "Or maybe Franklin's been screwing with the settings again." "No," Martin said, "Franklin hasn't been around the last couple of days, and everything has been checked out thoroughly. Nothing is wrong with any of the instruments. Face it, Greg; we've got a new disease on our hands, and the only name that fits is 'necrolepsy'." Martin made sure Greg was looking at him before he went on. "He says this has happened to him before." Greg wasn't convinced. "I still say there is something wrong with our monitors. The tests these people run on machinery around here would say that a blood pressure cuff with a hole in it was working perfectly. Is there any evidence that it has happened before?" Martin sighed. "No. He says he was always alone when it happened before. But he claims to have blank spaces in his memory where all he remembers is standing one instant and the next he is picking himself up off the floor with the clock telling him it's several hours later." "And you believe him?" Martin looked up at Greg. "I have no reason not to--I've seen it happen once myself." "Marty, do you realize that if something like necrolepsy does exist, as you claim, there are hundreds of people that this hospital alone has sent to the morgue who may have really been alive? For the sake of my own sanity, I can't accept that such a disease exists." Martin suddenly understood why Greg wouldn't believe him. "Yes, I realize that, Greg. But if it does exist, I have to know. It's the only way I'll ever be able to do my job effectively. If there's a possibility that a disease like this exists, I have to know one way or the other. I've requested three nurses to be assigned to watch him at all times. I want to know immediately if he drops dead again." During the next two months, Mr. Bowen had no more seizures. The nurses worked in shifts, watching him and taking his blood pressure and pulse every twelve hours. Nothing abnormal was found. After two months, the hospital's Chief of Staff approached Dr. Johnson. "I can't authorize three nurses to babysit a perfectly healthy man any longer, Martin." "Luke, you have to. If this man isn't monitored regularly, we'll never find a way to diagnose necrolepsy." "Martin, I have to run this hospital according to a budget and a board of directors that gets very upset when I take money out of that budget and don't tell them exactly what it's for. They bring this up at every meeting. I can't avoid the issue any longer and I'm not about to tell them what's really going on. If they were to find out we were just waiting for a man to die again so we could prove that a disease, which half of my staff is afraid to even admit is possible, exists, I don't know how they'd react. I'm sorry, Martin, but I've got to recall those nurses." Martin knew what Luke had said was true and that there was no way to convince him to keep a nurse assigned to Mr. Bowen. So, rather than trying to argue, he left the Chief of Staff's office and started on his rounds. Meanwhile, all around the city, the necrolepsy spread. -Bob Aspel <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Review: "A Man Rides Through" Mordant's Need Volume 2: "A Man Rides Through", by Stephen R. Donaldson. Del Rey Books, 1987. In summer of 1987, Stephen Donaldson released the first part of Mordant's Need: "The Mirror of Her Dreams". It was a book that realized that medieval societies have government intrigue, corruption, and war strategies alongside the knights and magicians. "The Mirror of Her Dreams" spun a magic spell and involved the reader in the various plots of the imaginary kingdom of Mordant, where Earthling Terisa Morgan was miraculously transported via Mordant's peculiar breed of magic, which involves mirrors. "The Mirror of Her Dreams" ended in a cliff-hanger: our hero, Geraden, who hopes to become an Imager (a Mordant magic-user who uses only mirrors), is framed for the murder of his brother and disappears into his own mirror. Lady Terisa is left alone to face the ire of the crusty Castellan and the machinations of the two traitors within the castle. "A Man Rides Through" opens with Terisa in the dungeon being threatened by the slightly psychotic Castellan Lebbick. There still are traitors loose in the castle, and an enemy army stands outside the walls in an attempt at siege. One of the princesses is with the enemy, the other is missing. The King refuses to take any action against the siege. Many try to make Terisa betray Geraden's whereabouts (which, incidentally, she does know): the Castellan, the King's Chancellor, one of Geraden's brothers, and one Master Eremis, a slick, lecherous, and totally unlikeable Imager. The country of Mordant is being attacked on all sides by dangerous, magical monsters. Things progress from there. Donaldson's style, as always, is captivating, varied, and easy to read. The story itself is hard to get away from; I dreamt of Terisa and Geraden for two nights. The plot (or should I say plots) of Mordant is well worked-out, and, in the end, it all makes perfect sense. Of course, this is a Donaldson book, and one must expect certain things. There are no lepers in this book, but as usual, Donaldson's usual cast of neurotics are out in full force. There is Adept Havelock, one of the most likeable loonies in literature, for one. Castellan Lebbick impresses me as a sado-masochist. About one character in three has a superiority or inferiority complex. Yet the mild insanities serve to make the characters more realistic; these are not token insanities. One word of warning: reading "A Man Rides Through" without having read "The Mirror of Her Dreams" can be hazardous to the reader's sanity. There are so many plots and counterplots in King Joyse's realm that without prior knowledge, the reader will become quite confused. But "The Mirror of Her Dreams" is as well written and entertaining as its sequel, and the only criticism I can make of either book is that they end too soon. -M. Wendy Hennequin <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Spirit of the Wood: 7 Loric's first sight as a man was the sun pearling through the caul that surrounded him. For a moment he didn't recognize where he was and struggled with the thin membrane of skin, flopping onto the forest floor like a ungainly hatching. It was late afternoon by the look of it and the air smelled of impending rain. He took a clean lungfull and puzzled over why he felt that it had been ages since he had done so. "OH" said Loric as he looked down at the caul. "I suppose I should eat you now. I am hungry but not really that hungry." He bent down and tore loose a dry piece of skin. He smelled it thoughtfully and started to put it in his mouth when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Loric whirled and dropped into a crouch. He felt for the press of his kesh-blade and was relieved to find it tied with gut to his side. At first he saw nothing, only shadow, then he saw a shadow darker than the others. A moment more and he could see a man standing next to a tree dressed like no other he had ever seen. He wore an outer piece of cloth draped over his shoulders and his legs clad in high soft boots. His right hand cradled a short staff and the left was open and held out from his body. He wore a dusky hat that covered thick curled locks. Long sleeved tunic and breeches the color of wet tree bark blended so closely to the woods around him that Loric was unsure where the man ended and the tree began. The man's face held no menace, though what inner emotion it did reflect, Loric could not guess. Loric noticed he had hair on his face and wondered if his tribe had marked him as an outcast or whether he had never passed his Shreaving. "You're not going to eat that?" The stranger's voice was deep and accented but slow enough for Loric to understand. He looked away for a moment to glance at the caul and then back to the stranger. "I'm supposed to. Part of my song will remain in it and if an animal eats it I'll become a shapechanger under the moon's full face." "Has that happened to anyone alive, or is that just what your Histories say will happen?" "I have no doubt in the Histories! They are the blood of my tribe and my song is strong!" Loric rose slowly to his full height and tried to look menacing. He didn't like this stranger and knew he should not be here. "What tribe are you? And why have you interrupted my Shreaving? If you know of the Histories, then you know I am to avoid contact with anyone, the Shreaving is a test of my ability to survive on my own. Go away." "Do your Histories tell you to eat that goatskin by itself boy, or can you make it part of other foods?" Loric picked up the caul and stepped back. "It's not a goatskin, it's my caul! If you will not leave, then I must! He turned and walked stiffly into the forest trusting his hearing to tell of any pursuit. When no sound of the stranger followed him he turned and circled back to the clearing. He searched but found no sign of anyone ever having been there except his own tracks and those of some Downlanders six days stale. Satisfied that he had traveled far enough to avoid the stranger, Loric set about building a shelter. He wove a short length of rope stout enough to hold his weight and used it to anchor one end of a limb to a tree trunk while wedging the other in a fork high enough to discourage all but the most persistent of hunters. A roof of broad leaves from a fustian bush made a good cover from the rain which had already begun to fall in loud plops around him. He took a moment to gather some dry wood to start a fire after the shower, then climbed to the top of the trees and sang his song to the Spirit. After that there was nothing to do but wriggle into his shelter, pushing the bundle of wood ahead of him, and wait out the storm. It was a tight fit, but it was dry and he could see the forest rolling away from him in a dense canopy of muted greens, the sun a white disk behind the clouds. There would be time to build a better shelter later, if the Spirit so desired. He thought of the stranger and what he had said about the histories, silently admonishing himself for summing up the Shreaving in such a small way. Was that really all the Shreaving was to be, a test to see if I can survive alone? The stranger had disturbed something deep within in Loric and he found it difficult to turn his thoughts to the tasks ahead. The sun crouched low on the horizon when the rain ended and Loric emerged from his 'home'. By now he was ravenous and he went to the limb where he had hung his caul to catch the rain water. He drank deeply and then cut a piece to chew on while he hunted. The Histories clearly spoke of what Loric could and could not eat during his Shreaving--especially since he had not yet eaten his caul. The easiest prey being snail and tree-crab, both of which became active after rainfall, and then certain of the larger animals that fed on them. Loric climbed from tree to tree looking for signs that a river or stream was near. He followed the lay of the land and found not just a stream but several small streams that ran together in mad confusion before falling into a gorge and out of sight. He approached slowly,hoping to find howlers there that had caught crab or snail in the trees and brought them to the water's edge to crack on the rocks. He stopped a short distance from the forest's edge and listened intently. He heard the water dripping from the trees and the rub of bark and limb and the voice of the Spirit moving among the trees; sighing a song about rain and the life it brought. Then he heard the telltale clack and scrape of feeding howlers. With a smile Loric moved slowly forward, knowing that one sound out of place and the howlers would set up an alarm that would send the pack racing for the safety of the trees. He began to weave the wood-song about him, slowly like the web of a spider, a strand at a time. I am the wind, Oh Spirit, I am the limb that speaks loudly to the leaf, nothing more. A howler would not be alarmed by the sound of a limb mumbling in the shadow of its brothers. Of course not, how silly it seems, when there are so many other things think about howler. The sun is still out the pack is feeding and there are meat-nuts to crack. Loric kept thinking one such thought after another, never stopping the flow of thought and never stopping his progress forward. This was the first time Loric had put the wood-song to use on his own. In times before he had his grandfather to keep the cadence and flow of thought clear. He never realized how hard it had been for Oldsir to carry the theme of the song for so long. Oldsir! Loric cursed himself for the drifting thought. The howlers were sitting in a circle and the one closest to him an older female, stopped picking at the shell she had in hand and looked right at him. OH Spirit! Thought Loric furiously. I am a log. Many times you have passed me on your way to this spot she-howler. I remember your first time here after I had fallen. You carried your young one on your back. How he cried! Where is he now, She-howler? The howler blinked and coughed once. The pack turned and became instantly alert. A young male walked out of the circle and sniffled in Loric's direction. It seemed confused for it could not see the source of the images it heard, it could not see anything where the she-howler looked, nothing but the forest and a pile of dead wood at the forest's edge. Loric turned his attention to the young howler. 'You are so strong! Why do you not lead the pack? Your fur is thick and your limbs are clean and strong. Surely there is none to challenge you. You should have your choice of females.' Loric thought as hard and sincerely as he could. The male was pacing back and forth in short tight turns. Weaving in rhythm with Loric's thoughts. Suddenly he turned and barked at an older male. A shouting match began and the young male was chased up a tree by the leader. **The pack-male is jealous of your son She-howler, and he is hungry. He eats too much! He will eat all the meat-nuts and you will have none. He can see the shells you have. He will take them and you will not eat. Hide them! Put the biggest ones where he can not take them. Look around, where can you put them, clever She-howler? Bring them here. Put them beneath me. I am a log. I do not eat meat-nuts. You can eat them when Pack-male is drinking. ** The howler looked back and forth from Loric to the Pack-male. She leaned forward and sat on the snails. **No. He will see them when the pack moves. You are clever She-howler, hide them under me. You can eat them and pack-male will not take them. Look! Already he has chased your son up a tree. Your son will not get any meat-nuts to eat. Pack-male is eating his nuts. He will come for your meat-nuts...what can you do She-howler? ** Loric blinked sweat out of his eyes and took a long silent breath. The she-howler looked around and walked over to Loric' prone body. She felt under Loric's arm with a thin, clawed hand. Her nails scraped him several times but he put the pain behind the wood-song. There is plenty of room She-howler, and I am soft and rotten. The meat-nuts will get fat and juicy here. And pack-male won't eat them. The She-howler put three snails in the hollow of Loric's arm and went back to her pile of shells. She looked at the pack-male and then back to Loric. Several times she moved toward Loric and he stopped her with a strong thought about Pack-male. Now all he had to do was get the pack to move away so he could get up and stretch his protesting muscles. It would have been easy to just get up and scare the pack away or to have killed She-howler when she was in blade-reach, but Loric knew that the Spirit was listening to his wood-song and gave it the ability to be understood by the forest. If he ended his song now, with death, it could sever the bond between his people and the Spirit of the Wood. And they would be lost. Loric watched the pack move from tree to tree searching for more snails. They would move away and drift back. Never going too far from the forests' edge. He continued his wood-song trying to get the she-howler to forget about the snails. But she would always come back and feel under his arm for the snails. 'I am weak Spirit, I want to eat these snails, but I will not take them while She-howler can still claim them. Show me a way to end the song.' The howlers turned as one and moved in his direction, having scented him and saw him for what he really was during the short moment he was distracted. The pack-male barked a challenge and Loric hurriedly picked up the strands of the wood-song. He did not have time to try and spell the pack-male, so he concentrated on the she-howler, convincing her that the pack-male had seen her snails. She ran ahead of the male trying to beat him to Loric, but he turned instead to chase her. The respite was all Loric needed to re-affirm the illusion of a log. But the Pack-male was agitated and walked around Loric, sniffing and biting at his head. The pain was sharp and bright in his mind, but desperation drove him even deeper into the wood-song. If he flinched now the powerful male would rend him into pieces smaller than meat-nuts. The male could not decide what Loric smelled like so he marked Loric with a spray from his musk pouch, kicked a bit of dirt onto Loric's back and then walked down the river bank. His actions made it clear to the pack that the mystery of the log was over and off limits. In a moment or two the pack would follow him to the water's edge and they would not return to this spot. It was then that the chee'tar leapt into the clearing. For more times than there are rings in a tree, Silsia Tolorion cursed the recklessness that made her leave the Village-beneath-the -Trees without preparations. To avoid arousing suspicion, she had taken only a few ornaments of mourning; A broadweave dyed dark with clay, a few beads made of Keshwood, and the wooden whistle Oldsir had made her. She was supposedly only going as far as Wood's End, so she couldn't justify the provisions for a long-walk to Eadyie or even ask for a Keshwood knife to protect herself with. Eadyie would have sent one of the men in the village to escort her--no doubt one she wanted Silsia to dance for. The green-root she had stuffed in the bottom of her slouchbag was long gone as well as the two quomo fruit hidden away during the preparations for the next day's Shreaving. She took refuge in the trees and avoided the paths traveled by the larger animals, moving slowly in the direction Oldsir's star had gone. It was also the direction that held Wood's End, where the druid Carson Feldspar held sway over Wildwood. The thought of a single man guiding the will of a forest frightened her. Did it serve him or he serve it? What noisy deaths did it sing? How many struggled and withered while his thoughts were elsewhere? How could a person's spirit stand against a land where everything had a voice of its own and gave heed or creedence to none? Here in Silsia's forest the Spirit of the Wood provided the harmony and the song that all creatures sang. It had been the rhythm and reason behind everything, and for as long as man could remember, it had fed her people and kept them safe. Nothing was asked of them, save that they also care in return. It was a circle as the priests explained it; the Spirit cared for and guided the Upstem village, and the Upstem village cared for and guided the Downland village and they as a whole cared for the forest. You sprang from the forest and lived in harmony with it and, when your song was sung, you returned to the forest. There had been better times for the forest, and what should have been easy traveling and foraging was time-consuming and often fruitless. Her slouch-bag bulged with the fleshy heads of bread-plant; a filling if not very healthy-looking fungus that grew in the shadows of silent trees. Silsia didn't care for their gritty taste, and they provided little in the way of nourishment, but the alternative was even more distasteful; an empty stomach. At least the bread-plant was proliferating, there seemed to Silisa to be more dead trees than she could remember ever seeing near the village. They were either lying across her path or leaning heavily on their brothers, no longer able to sing for themselves. In places it was like walking in the wake of a Djervish, seeing the results of its destruction, but never the destructor. Silsia could not think of anything that happened in the season past to cause so many silent trees. The winter had been exceptionally cold, but that should not have killed the fully grown trees. Perhaps a Djervish did walk these woods. A shiver of premonition brought her suddenly back to her surroundings. She looked about and found she had almost stumbled into a devatha. Child! she admonished herself, Stumphead! The only reason you're alive is that it amuses the Spirit to observe your folly. The odor of wet mould that always accompanied living devathas had alerted her when she was daydreaming. Looking closely she could see the ropey tendrils hanging from the canopy of leaves high above her. The devatha would have been easy to escape with a kesh-knife, she thought bitterly, but un-armed as she was she could not have broken free at all. She had seen the devatha's cruel attentions once and knew exactly what happened to anything or anyone unaware enough to come within its reach. Its victims would be bound and stung repeatedly by one tentacle while held fast with the others. Then they were drawn slowly upward to the waiting beak; a bite on the back of the neck ended any further struggling, but did not kill. The devatha left its prey hanging like quomo fruit, full of the juices it could not get from its host-tree. The death would be as slow as it would be certain. Thinking that she would feel better with something for protection, Silsia looked around for a weapon. The keshwood is forbidden me, and I do not know the song for keening its edge anyway. But there must be something else as good, or close that I can use? I could try making a spear, but I do not have a way to shape the tip. Sighing, she picked up a limb that was not too rotted, and hefted it meaningfully. With a new sense of awareness she moved in a wide circle around the devatha and into the lowlands beyond. Silisa was deep into a wooded valley when it began to rain and she moved into the protection of a half-felled tree. Parting the clinging vines that covered it like a curtain, she entered the relative dryness underneath. The rain made its own random music on the trees above her and was echoed when it made it to the ground below. She folded a fusia leaf and watched as it gradually filled with water. Slowly her attention pulled close about her, and she let herself be taken away by the reflections of the beads of water. It brought her memories...memories of fire. Her friend Yoni was looking at her from across the flames in surprise and shock. "Silisa! You don't really mean to take one of the cauls?" "Yess!" She whispered back. Silsia felt deliciously sneaky and daring, both by shocking her friend and by doing something forbidden by man. She and Yoni had spent the whole morning peeking into Eadyie's hut where the secret part of the Shreaving preparations were hidden from all but the Upstem priests and Eadyie, of course. After what seemed ages of waiting within earshot of Eadyie's hut, Silsia and Yoni slipped in when Eadyie had left with something wrapped in fur. The single large room looked the same, but for a pile of goatskin and a large black-wood bowl near the cooking fire. In the bowl was a thin material, all wrinkled and folded over on itself. It looked like the goatskin, or goat brains, but stretched impossibly thin, and coated with an oily layer that gave it the look of being fresh from the animal. Another skin was hanging from the roof, drying in the heat from the cooking fire. Silsia reached out and touched the drying skin, it felt warm and alive to her touch, it was like the skin of a lizard, only pliant and warm. She saw her shadow dance on the pearl-like surface, and looking through it she could she Yoni's nervous outline. Suddenly she was moved to action and she pulled the caul from the beam and folded it into a small bundle. She tucked it into the top of her sarong, locking eyes with Yoni as if daring her to say anything. It still felt warm and alive, like a hand between her breasts, a man's hand. With a blush at her thoughts she quickly checked outside the hut and then dashed for the riverbank, the astonished Yoni still in tow. It was a stiffness in her neck and the gradual stopping of the rain's patter around her that brought her back to herself this time. She smiled at the memory of Yoni's face and unconsciously clutched the lump between her breasts. "Oh Yoni, How your eyes would widen now if you knew what I was about." Silsia stretched out one leg and then the other and stood up, pulling free handfuls of vines as she went. It seemed to her that no time had passsed at all, but she could tell by the slanting rays of the evening sun that she had spent a good long time crouched beneath that tree. Almost at once two sounds came to her, the distant cry of a Chee'tar and the very near guttural challenge of a wood-pig. Across the small clearing she could see the outline of a creature full eight times her weight, its snout lifted to show its serrated tusks, its red-pink eyes enflamed with rage. At first fear did not come to her and she stepped forward and said "Kom-beh, tay-chee chee hai!" The wood-pig snorted and kneaded the ground with its forepaws. The words of warding rolled over it, but it did not flee. Wide-eyed, Silsia tried to look up at the trees and around her feet for signs that the Spirit was here. but there was no song on the wind, no constant flittering at the back of her mind. Somehow she had passed beyond the forest--her forest, and into the Wildwood. Fear grabbed her heart and squeezed it tightly. She felt around her for the forgotten club she had picked up earlier but couldn't find it within reach. The wood-pig took one step, then another then charged her. It held its porcine head low and emitted a high-pitched cry from deep within it like that of a woman in pain. Silsia reacted blindly and leaped backward and up onto the fallen tree. The wood-pig passed beneath it, shreding the vines like spider's web as it shook free and turned to attack again. Silsia ran down the path she had been following heedless of the scratches and gouges from countless branches that sought to hold her back--to slow her down enough that the wood-pig could catch her. "Gorund de nee-cha!" She growled wunder her breath--"Get out of my way!" She could hear the wood-pig pursuing her but dared not spare a glance behind her. She followed the trail and it seemed to become even more close and resistant to her advance. She was slapped in the face by a thick broad leaf that blinded her long enough for her to run into a low limb. It took the breath from her, but somehow she stumbled on. "CROM VETH NORLA TOVAY!!" the path beyond seemed clear and it gave her a moment to wipe the tears from her smarting eyes. She saw a wider path ahead of her; the trees leaned away on both sides as if they feared to block the trail. The crash of underbrush behind her spurred her down the trail before she could question it, but even with a clear trail she knew the wood-pig would catch her. Her breath was a fire and her legs jammed blades of saw-grass into her raw nerves with every step. "Spirit! "She cried out, "my song has been less than true, judge me not too harshly for I fear I am about to greet you!" She charged blindly as sweat blurred her vison, adding a burning that she hardly noticed. Ahead of her a figure broke free of the shadows--or perhaps it was a stilla shadow or even a dead tree-- she couldn't stop herself in time to tell, or even cry out. Her headlong rush was suddenly cut short by an arm that shot out and held her fast. She doubled over and blew out a loud breath. "Shade of the Ancient Oak!" a voice bellowed,"--a child!" Silsia tried to retort 'I'm not a child!' but could only gasp and mouth her words. If the man had not been holding her, she would have fallen to the ground. She tried to twist free and look at her captor but his grip was like the strongest limbs and she had no energy left to fight. Suddenly he seemed to become aware of the charge of the wood-pig towards them. He dropped Silsia without a word and held his staff over his head. Then slowly he muttered to himself and gestured at the wood-pig. The pig tripped and slid on its belly, got up and tried to charge again, but vines and roots held it down. It cried its outrage and tore at the vines with its tusks. The vines gave away, but each time it moved closer, more took their place. "Come on child!" the man said, "We can be far away before he gets beyond my Circle of Restraint." With that he strode into the woods with big ground-covering strides. Silsia had hardly gotten her breath when she found herself laboring to keep up. "W-wait! Please, I've got to rest!" "Sorry little one--there's a rouge druid loose in my wood and this is no place for a girl-child to be playing." Silsia's response was lost on his rapidly disapearing back. If she didn't stay close she would lose him in the gathering dusk. So she followed doggedly and held her tounge. For now. It was a tribute to Loric's grandfather, and to Loric himself, that he did not jump up and try to run the moment the chee'tar arrived. It would have been the last action he would have ever made. The chee'tar took no notice of him and chased several of the howlers to the river's edge cutting off their easy escape to the trees. Loric saw that it was the female howler and one of the young males--perhaps her own, that faced death in the form of the chee'tar. Loric had a reluctantly clear view of the tableau. He could see the fear in the howler's eyes, the hungry pacing of the chee'tar, its very stance implicitly announcing that it knew its prey was trapped. A deadly game of advance and retreat began as the howlers would back all the way to the water's edge and then having no where to go would bluff and charge the chee'tar into backing up a bit. The sight would have been thought funny if Loric had not known how the dance would have to end. Caring little for getting wet, the chee'tar was only waiting for the howlers to break for the trees. He did not know a song for taming chee'tars, no one in his village had ever tried and then returned to tell about it. A stray movement on his part could send the chee'tar running, or it could just as easily make it attack him. Loric knew that if the chee'tar didn't make a decision soon, he would have to. The wave of energy that flooded his stomach had gone sour, bringing with it the realization that the howlers would be free if he had not been weaving his spell at them. It was his responsibilty. Finally his energy spent and he his legs trembling despite his best efforts, he decided that bluffing would at least give the howlers a chance to get away, and with the Spirit's good will, he would make it up a tree also. Loric waited until the chee'tar paced directly in front of him and then sprang up howling and waving his arms wildly about. The chee'tar whipped around and backed up several feet snarling and crouching on powerfull hind legs. It bellowed out a challenge and Loric stomped his feet and shouted "Hi! Go Bomcha Chee'tar! Kei Kei!" The chee'tar seemed to flinch at the words of warding but did not run. Instead it un-coiled its lenght in a long arc toward Loric's head; claws extended and white fangs standing out stark against its ebony fur. Loric dropped to his knees and slashed across the chee'tar's belly as it passed over him. He felt white-hot fire pierce his skull as the chee'tar kicked down and raked his scalp. Screaming in pain and outrage it turned to attack again and saw Loric leaping for the lower branches. It leapt also, but the branch would not hold them both and they fell together in a flurry of leaves, claws and flesh. Loric slashed out at the direction of the pain and was unsure if he had struck the chee'tar or the treelimb. He was pinned to the treetrunk by a heavy limb and too stunned to even try to break free. Blood ran into Loric's eyes and he heard more than saw the chee'tar struggling to get free of the limb as well. It broke free, then started rolling and rubbing its flank on the ground, trying to dislodge a short length of limb impaled in its flank. Quickly Loric wiped his eyes with a leaf and broke off a sharp stick that was jabbing his chest. He leaned to the side as far as the limb would allow, took aim and prayed to the Spirit to guide his hand. He threw in-expertly, and the stick bounced off the enraged chee'tar's head. It forgot the pain and charged Loric again, who braced his arm against the trunk and hoped the impact would be enough to drive the blade home. There was a loud thud as the feline's hurtling bulk hit Loric full force, and then Loric's scream of pain joined that of the chee'tar. The kesh-blade was jerked from his grasp and the breath wheezed out of him in one loud ooff! as the limb abruptly broke free and dropped him to the ground. The chee'tar charged into the bush blindly snapping and screaming whenever the branch in its side would snag on the undergrowth. Loric slumped and leaned against the tree, trying desperately to summon enough strenght to follow the chee'tar and to force air back into his lungs. He heard the chee'tar at some distance, and by following the sound, he found the dislodged kesh-blade, and further on the piece of wood. The trail led over the side of the gorge, and at the bottom Loric found the chee'tar lying on it's side, it's fur matted and dark with their blood, its yellow eyes were fierce in the darkness, full of pain, full of hate. Loric tried to get close enough to the beast to finish it off, but the chee'tar would rally at his approach, each time roaring with less ferocity. Loric decided that the chee'tar would die soon enuff and wearily tried to climb a nearby tree. With his vision blurred and his footing unsure, he could only brace himself on in the crook of two lower limbs and wait for the Spirit to claim the chee'tar. He pulled some leaves to press against his throbbing wounds and was unconscious before his hand was half-way to his head. -Rich Jervis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank