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The Blade of the Crescent Moon

The Hall of the Palace Guarde was an ancient an honored place. It was made of stones hewn from fine quarries from all over the archipelago. The outer walls gleamed with the naturally occurring sparkle within the marble, and granite. The inner rooms were inlaid with rare and exotic woods. There was a library with priceless tomes of Immaculate pedigree. There were private rooms for conferences downstairs and upstairs rooms to accommodate the weary traveler, also of Immaculate pedigree. The high ranking and well to do officers of the Elite Sorcerer’s army came here to impress each other with their accolades and fine acutrements. The jeweled swords they wore had mostly never seen battle. More important even than impressing each other, these fine weapons served the purpose of impressing the officers with themselves.

Weapons crafted by Stradivarious, or Fabrige, there were rapiers, dirks, broadswords, spathas, cutlasses and scimitars. Many carried lengthy stories of the exploits of previous owners; sorcerers, brigands, princes, slayers of hideous beasts. One such weapon was the blade of the crescent moon. Fashioned into its rain guard was a jewel: a diamond in the shape of the new moon. It was a long, thin, double edged blade.

The fable went that it was among the first of the thin bladed swords that would come into fashion in the centuries to come. It was fashioned to be lightweight, fast but able to stand up to sparring with heavier blades. Currently, its handle was a leather wrapped around a sturdy iron hilt. The blade had been used by pirates, princes, sorcerers and thieves.

Its current owner, Captain Branghost, had acquired it in a shop while stationed in the farthest reaches of the archipelago in the south east. He had been searching for a blade that was both beautiful and legendary. There were fancier swords, bigger swords, more expensive swords, but few had such a distinguished pedigree. The captain had never used in combat. Whenever he had to go into the field, he used a regulation bastard. This sword was for the Hall. The captain came here when he could. He liked to be around the elite. Of course there was no “Royal Guard”, nor had there been since Incarnate had become Sorcerer Supreme. There was no higher rank in all of Fawn of the Ta Sea. The kings and queens had all bowed down to Incarnate as he defeated island after island. Here on Fawn, the Hall and the Palace had become the sorcerer’s headquarters. It was said more plans were laid at the Hall. Incarnate himself traveled extensively and was rarely here. His own castle, the Black Keep, was Incarnate’s home and he spent most down time there. Incarnate rarely held court, though when he did, he came to the Palace here in Fawn.

Captain Branghost finished his brandy, which had been served to him in a jeweled goblet. He stood at the bar a moment longer, looking at himself sidelong in the polished silver mirror on the wall next to the bar where he stood. His dark mustache was loosing its curl on one side and the captain decided it was time to call it a day. He smiled at his comrades, most of whom smiled back. The captain, like many the the elite “Midnight order,” had a backstabbing reputation. It would not do to cross him. He was zealous in his work, which was collecting zeros as he referred to the riff raff that filled the prison camps. They were the rebels, the undesirables, the homosexuals, the deviants, the poor, the darks, the malformed. There were so many. The problem was they were allowed to exist on the fringes, breeding like vermin. They had to cross some line to be erased. The captain was given broad discretion when it came to determining what that line was, but still, they seemed to come in unending supply.

The captain stepped out into the night to discover a cold drizzle had come on since this afternoon. He wrapped his cloak about him and set off for home. He began loose his cheery disposition as the rain crept inside his uniform. Like most officers, he wore the helmet d’shon, which showed his rank and caused everyone he came into contact with to show him great deference. It’s size prohibited the captain to don the hood of his cloak and did not offer him equitable protection. He was debating taking it off so he could put his hood on and so was deep in thought when he collided with someone on the street.

“Look where you’re going, you oaf!” he said, without really looking.

“Beg your pardon, sir!” said the young boy, who was about to flee for his life.

“Stand to, boy!” said the captain in his captain’s voice. “Where are you going in such a rush?”

“Oh, home, sir! I just wanted to get out of the cold.” The boy was dressed in rags, no cloak or coat, his face filthy. He was skin and bones.

“You think you can just run into an officer of Incarnate’s elite and expect to go home unscathed?” bellowed the captain, warming to his sudden evening’s entertainment.

The boy fell to his knees, “Please, sir, I’m just trying to get home! I meant no harm.” He clasped his hands together, pleading. Pathetic.

Captain Branghost was already bored. There was no spirit in this one. He pulled his sword, unsure if he was going to beat the child or run him through. The boy saw the sword and let out a scream that immediately gave the captain a headache. He raised his sword, still unsure how he would employ it, when he got a surprise. A lithe figure, dressed in black, stepped between he and the boy. Things were looking up again. The intruder wasn’t more than a boy himself.

“Well, let’s hear it!” said the captain. “‘Oh, let the poor boy go! He’s just a boy! He’s unarmed!” Here the captain employed what he thought of as a stage woman’s voice. He was already telling this tale to his friends in his head.

The brigand drew his sword, slowly, still silent. It was chipped and without any shine. The edge was probably as dull as the finish. Captain Branghost smiled.

The captain brought his sword down, aiming for his opponent’s blade. He assumed he would chop it right in half, but the lad was quick and parried by catching the attack at the cross guard. Then he kicked captain Branghost in the stomach. The captain staggered back but recovered quickly. Probably this ruffian had been in a scrape or two but he had never faced a captain in the elite army before! Branghost stepped back into the fray slashing at his opponent furiously, never giving him an opportunity to take the offensive.

Branghost decided the boy had no formal training but had learned to handle himself, probably on the streets. He must be a thief. Perhaps a highwayman. The boy they were fighting over was long gone. If he did have a home to go to it wasn’t in this district. The boy was probably homeless and was a cut purse. Maybe these two were working together to rob passersby, and they had made the wrong mark.

The captain could tell his foe was desperately looking for an opening, so he decided to give him one. He pretended to slip in the rain and feinted left as if he were losing his balance. The fool went for it and lunged. Branghost pulled the thief by his wrist, using his own forward momentum against him and throwing him off balance. He placed his blade at the whelp’s neck.

“Say ‘goodbye,’ zero.” He said.

Instead of his foe’s eyes filling with fear as he had expected, they grew furious upon hearing this. No matter, just a moment…

Suddenly, there was a searing pain in the captain’s calf. The thief used the moment to break free. He had turned his sword down and stabbed Branghost in the leg, even as his sword arm was pinned. Treachery! The time for banter was over. The cut wasn’t deadly but is was more than a scratch. It was hard to put weight on that leg now. He held his blade up and waited for an attack.

Zero. That’s what the man who had taken Danse had called them. They must be from the same regiment. Yendor could see that this man was a superior swordsman. He had gotten careless with his feint, but Yendor wouldn’t get so lucky a second time. The officer was extra cautious. He was hurt, but not badly. Yendor was under strict orders not to use magic or he could expose the coven. They only ever practiced in their cavern where they couldn’t be detected by the sorcerers. The wizards would be furious that Yendor had even defended the boy at all. Keeping the coven safe was their highest priority and not even the life of an innocent boy was worth exposing them. They dreamed they’d save humanity one day, but how no one knew.

Yendor had stabbed the guy’s left leg so Yendor circled to his left, forcing the man to reposition that leg repeatedly. Yendor feigned an attack a few times but the officer was not fooled. Yendor felt energy flowing through him as when he had during the concert. He realized he had never held back before. He wasn’t sure that he could. It would be better to do it on purpose than let it come out accidentally. His back was actually burning now with the unreleased force.

Branghost could see the boy trying to figure out what to do next. He was preoccupied. He might not get a better opportunity to attack. He lunged and thrust at Yendor’s chest, and Yendor, surprised pointed his sword at the officer and a bolt of lightning pulsed from it, striking the captain in the chest. The captain fell to the ground, smoking. Yendor saw the sword. It was beautiful. He had never seen anything so beautiful. And now it was his.

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The Wizards

As far as Yendor could see, he was the only witness to the parade. The sun had come out and shone upon them in that way that looks like a blessing from above, streaks of sunbeams spotlighting the park. They had staves topped with crystals, some glowing, others plain. Their holy garments were trimmed with sigils of unknown meaning which gleamed in the light. The procession came complete with choreographed gestures and chanting in archaic languages. It was glorious. One man held a brass pole atop which flowed two banners hung from a crossbeam. One banner was a deep blue with a dragon etched in gold, the other was a brilliant orange with a tiger outlined in black embroidery. One kept time on a drum while another accompanied with a flute.

When they were done, the one in red, who had winked at Yendor, turned to him and gestured for him to join them. Yendor came out and walked to them as if in a trance. His very being felt like it was covered in pins, he tingled all over. His ears were hot. The sensation was similar to when he had met Danse.

“We don’t usually have an audience.” Said the man in red. “I’m Nicholas. These are my compatriots.”

“I’m Yendor.”

“We shall have a feast, which is only symbolic, I’m afraid. And then we shall have another procession. Will you join us?” His smile was warm and genuine, and Yendor had not seen one in a long time. Even the Solstice folk had not seemed so welcoming.

“Aren’t you late?” Yendor asked.

“Not at all. The ancients kept a different calendar. We go by the old ways.” A table had been set up and the food was being laid out. It wasn’t a lot, but it was fancy. Cheeses, expensive meats, wine.

The conversation Yendor wanted to have was dangerous but what choice did he have. He had been taught his whole life not to talk about such things. He had nervously talked with Danse about these things, but that seemed almost a lark between friends. This felt official, but he had to do it. “You’re wizards.” He said.

Nicholas said nothing, but his smile did not falter.

“I am also. That is I want to be.” Yendor felt very hot. He voice trembled and he shook a bit.

“Are you now?” said the man in purple. Like Nicholas, he had a beard. They appeared to be of an age.

Suddenly Yendor felt like a child being questioned by an elder.

“Yendor, this is Konstantine.” said Nicholas. Konstantine did not have Nicholas’s smile.

Yendor remembered his actions at the detention camp. He looked around and came to his senses. He could probably take these old men if they gave him trouble.

“I am.” He said with confidence.

“You’re a wizard if I say you are.” said Konstantine sternly. Nicholas seemed to demure to him.

“When I was born, I was delivered by Gwenchlan. Who told my parents I was to be a wizard. Do you gainsay him?” Yendor said. He hadn’t meant to speak like that. He wasn’t sure where that came from. Had he ever even said the name aloud before?

“He has a tongue, this one.” said a woman wearing blue and silver. She didn’t sound critical, but amused.

A man wearing a claret color stepped in. “Where did you hear that name, whelp?” This one was hostile. Yendor knew how to respond to that.

“My master told me, as I was given up to him upon the news.” Yendor stood a little taller.

“Speak to us with respect, or not at all!” demanded the wine colored wizard, imperiously.

Yendor was ready with a retort, when Konstantine intervened. “That’s enough.” he said. “I’ve not heard the name Gwenchlan in an age. It is not well known. How did you find us, then young Yendor?”

Yendor calmed himself. He had had little interaction that wasn’t violent in some time. “I sought you out. I came from Elphendor here to dawn to the library to find clues. The song of the Goddess, told of the parade of the solstice. I reasoned that since these traditions were popular in ancient times but no more, that they were wizard traditions. It was coincidence that it took me so long to find the right clues that it was time for the solstice.”

“There’s no such thing as coincidence, boy.” said the woman in blue.

“He is a spy!” said the claret colored one. “We are found out! This foolish adherence to tradition has been our doom!”

“I’m not a spy. I am a wizard. I need training. My power is unmanageable.”

Nicholas laughed at that. “What power is that, young wizard?”

“He has no power.” Claret said.

“Be quiet, Ambrosius.” Said the woman in blue. “I am Sapphosia.” She said. She produced a red crystal from within her garments. The coven took a step back, seemingly anxious at seeing it. “would you hold this crystal? It is the root, the muladhara. It is the beginning.

“Fool! You act impetuously. We must fly before his sorcerers arrive to destroy us forever!”

Sapphosia rose to her full height, stretched out her arms and held her scepter topped with a matching blue crystal which was now glowing furiously. “I said quiet!” So brilliant was the glow that beyond it all seemed dark. All the coven bowed before her. After a moment all returned to normal. Yendor’s heart beat within his chest. What have I gotten into? he thought.

She turned to him, smiling, to calm him. “Will you take the stone?” she asked.

He took it from her.

“Can you light it?” She asked.

The crystal was the size of a pebble. Yendor closed his fist around it, unsure how to proceed. He opened his hand and held the crystal aloft. Nothing happened.

“You see, he is a fraud!” hissed Ambrosius. Everyone glared at him.

Yendor strained, but still nothing happened.

Ambrosius could hardly contain himself. He shook his head. Yendor could hear the winter birds chirp in the nearby trees as the seconds passed. Some of the wizards shifted the weight from one leg to another.

Finally, Ambrosius could take it no longer. “He is a nothing! He dooms us. Let us forget our task and tarry here no longer.” Ambrosius moved to snatch away the stone and as he did, Yendor’s temper flared. A bolt of lightning came down from the sky and lit the stone a blinding white. Ambrosius leapt back in the nick of time. “Sorcerer!” he said, pointing.

“You see, I have trouble controlling it.” said Yendor.

Another woman, wearing brilliant white with white shiny sigils trimming her garments came forward. “May I?” she asked. Yendor nodded. She took the stone, which shone still. “It is not hot.” she said. “Yendor, I am Hildegard. We are the Coven of the Sacred Deer. Perhaps we are all that is left of the wizards.” She gestured to the others. “You have met Nicholas, Ambrosius, the priestess, Sapphosia, and our leader Konstantine. In the orange is Brigitte, wearing yellow is Tertullian. That fellow clad in green is Isidore. In the black is Aphrahat. He looks gloomy, but his harp and his cooking will bring you warmth. In the indigo is Taliesin. Wearing forest green is Ygraine.”

“That is eleven.” Said Yendor. “I thought there was supposed to be twelve. Plus the devil of course for thirteen.”

“The Goddess is thirteen. It is the evil one who calls her the devil.” said Sapphosia.

“Perhaps you will be our twelfth.” Said Hildegard.

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Yendor: After the Library

Hours later, Yendor was still deep in thought, puzzling over the mysterious poetry from the library. It had taken weeks to get to the city, days to find the library through the labyrinthine and decaying old city, and days upon days longer still, sifting through endless, seemingly meaningless clues, to finally find something that felt like a clue. The wizards had set the winter solstice up a high holy holiday. They had worshiped a goddess, now only recognizable in an archaic greeting and the questionable etymology of one of the days of the week. But when wizards ruled the land, she had been the main diety.

Yendor knew as a musician, that many things we take for granted have ancient meanings, often laying just below the surface, not even hidden, just disregarded as myths, or tails for children. When searching for clues, sometimes even the apocryphal stories could lead somewhere; the old solstice was celebrated on an astronomical mistake: the sun was thought to reach its lowest azimuth of the year, and reach a standstill. The ancients calculated the day they could observe for certain that a change had occured: three days later than the actual solstice which could be calculated with more advanced equipment for Celestial observation. The correct solstice date had been referred to as “New Solstice” to differentiate from the “old solstice” the ancients used. Most people nowadays assumed “New Solsice” referred to the “renewal” of the year, when the days begin to get longer again. Yendor was unsure how any of this could help him find a coven of wizards. There were always rumors about them, but there were rumors and superstitions about so many things. Who knew what was real?

It had long since grown dark, and Yendor had simply been wandering the streets lost in thought. He realized he was hungry and decided it was time to eat and find his way back to the inn. It had started to rain around sunset and he had put up his cloak’s hood and buried himself deep within. It was a chill drizzle that had slowly insinuated itself into all the openings unprotected by the cloak. Yendor pulled back the hood to get his bearings and though the city was decaying everywhere, it became clear that this was not a good neighborhood. There was garbage in doorways and people huddled next to it.

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Yendor 1.7.20

Bone weary and wet, Yendor began to look for a place to eat, maybe to settle down for the night, and find his way back to the inn by the library in the morning. Yendor had been walking all day, everyday since Danse was taken prisoner, and had spent much of his life walking from town to town. He had covered quite a distance simply wandering the city since he had emerged from the depths of the library and he had no idea where he was. A large, gray man with a large gray jaw stepped from behind an old building and barred Yendor’s path. “Purse.” Grumbled Grayjaw. No preamble, no pretence, just a straight demand. Yendor froze. A traveling musician is a constant mark for theives; they are always strangers, they always just got paid (except when they hadn’t), and they weren’t famous for fighting skills. Yendor had been training his fighting skills for months, like a neverending boot camp. Plus, he was a wizard. Yendor hated street theives.

“Do you not see my sword and my dagger?” asked Yendor in a disgusted tone.

“They don’t look like they’re worth much. Just the purse.” said the theif, clearly unimpressed.

Yendor hated being underestimated.

The theif was close, so Yendor went for his dagger. Yendor was fast, but the burly man was faster. He had Yendor’s wrist and was in the process of breaking it off before Yendor knew what was going on. Lightning came from the sky found Yendor’s long, thin dagger as a rod and struck them both. They were knocked back from each other, Yendor with both wrists, but one less dagger. He had his sword out and his pounding heart was telling him to strike but he mastered himself and held. assessing the situation.

The theif had his sword out and if it had had a jaw it would have been square. his sword was large and wide. Yendor had never seen a blade like it. It could probably cut through Yendor and his sword in one swipe. Yendor had spent many nights strengthening his sword with magic, and he sent a bolt of energy through now to reinforce it again. Yendor could see that even if his blade remained intact, the big man would ring him like a bell. The rain fell along the big man’s form as if he were made of stone; slipping and sliding down crags and cracks. He smiled finally, and lifted his blade to back swing it down, forcing Yendor to parry backhanded, which he did with both hands. The blow did indeed ring like a bell, bringing Yendor to his knees, but the blade held and so did the block. Yendor slid his sword free and stepped back and up. He brought in a quick stabbing thrust under the big blade, but it was easily knocked away.

Yendor had killed several of Incarnate’s men in a much shorter time, but he had never come across a guy like this. Yendor put his sword in his left hand and held out his right. his dagger jumped into it from where it lay in a puddle. Yendor twirled each blade in his hands and then tossed them up to switch. His sword once again in his right hand, he thrust again, quickly hoping he had distracted the theif, but the craggy man swatted Yendor’s thrust away realizing too late that the thrust too had been a distraction, and Yendor used the opening to throw the dagger left handed at the man’s neck. Grayjaw had dodged but not fast enough and the blade cut into his neck as it flew by. Danse had always said to aim for the center mass, because you’re more likely to get a hit, but Yendor had been so sure he could make the short throw fast and acurate. And so he had, but that mountain man was so fast. He was bleeding though.

And furious. He yelled and began swinging wildly at Yendor in a rage. Yendor tried to back away as he blocked blow after blow, but on came the big man, cursing and bleeding. Yendor finally had a moment to send an energy blast at his foe. The energy came up from the ground and down from the sky and into Yendor where it centered in his chest and blew out his arms and twined from them into one thick blast that pulsed green between them for a moment before it hit the big man and knocked him back into the next building across the alley, skittered along the morter between the old bricks and dissipated back into the ground.

Yendor approached and saw the sword was blackenned, probably fizzured internally. The man had been thrust into the structure, causing a hole in the corner where the beam had been split, bricks had been blown away and he was unconscious, his wound apparently cauterized by the blast. Yendor couldn’t believe he wasn’t dead. He couldn’t believe they weren’t both dead.

Yendor walked back to the inn by the library without further thought of finding somewhere else to go. Once there, he ate his dried rations, washed in cold water, and fell into bed asleep.

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Yendor 1.7.20.2

Yendor had puzzled over the clues he had gleaned at the library. The songs, the maps, the fragments. It seemed clear that the old winter solstice celebrations had been important to people in a way that was no longer true. There was still a parade and gift giving, but it was no longer the most important day of the year. It also seemed obvious that the city itself, had been one of the centers of the wizards culture. In modern culture, sorcerers were the champions of good, and wizards had been irradiated because they were evil. Yendor had come to realize that this was the opposite of reality, but many people who just wanted to get through their lives with as little trouble as possible, and eek out what little joy they could never learned the truth. Incarnate had been so successful in erasing the truth that there was little left. The city had a reputation as a haunted, evil place. Yendor suspected that the reason for its reputation was its association with the old ways.

In the old center of the city, which had been long abandoned and lay in decay was field known as “Procession Park.” Yendor guessed that this was where the Winter Solstice parade had been in the old days of the wizards. Winter itself was setting in and though Yendor disliked the city, he decided that if the wizards still held any of the old customs it would be that one. Unable to afford staying at the inn until the day of the Solstice, Yendor found a homeless camp in the ruins near the park and pitched his tent. Most of the camp dwellers were beggars with no way to make a living and at first Yendor feared leaving his tent to forage for food. He kept to himself and avoided contact with the beggars. He was however, among them, and though they were grimy and haggared, he soon realized that they were just people.

One day, as the cold became worse, Yendor went out to get some wood for a fire and see if he could get a squirrel of a rabbit for dinner. His path crossed a ragged woman whom he pretended not to see. She greeted him, and when he appeared not to hear she shook him by the shoulder. “You there! I’m talking to you, boy.”

“Good day, ma’am,” he said.

“‘Tis too cold to be out in that thin cape.” she said. “I’ve seen you, shivering as you go out to hunt, to proud to beg.” Yendor hardly listened as he tried to find an excuse to escape. “I’ve had this shirt of my son’s since he died last year and I think it might fit you. You need it more than me.”

Yendor looked at the old woman for the first time. She held out an earth colored, heavy knit shirt. It wasn’t fancy or new, but it did look warm. “Thank you, Ma’am.” he said. She nodded and went on her way. After that, Yendor didn’t mind leaving his tent, and he greeted the others and passed the time of day with them.

Many were travelers like him. They had come for the winter solstice parade, too. No one minded such rabble, they said.

On the eve of the Solstice, it snowed a cold, wet snow that turned to slush quickly and then to mud. The gray, bitter sky hid the sun on its shortest day, but at noon, the parade started. The beggars sang, and threw confettee, and wore garish colors.

Yendor waited for the wizards to show themselves, but only the beggars were at the park. Once, near the end of the parade of rabble, as they began to lose steam, a few children showed up with a dog, but seeing the odd parade, they left.

Afterwards they all shared hot soup and gave each other trinkets. By now, Yendor was one of them. He had made the children toy animals from pinecones and bits of cloth from his summer clothes. He gave the woman cup he’d made of blue stone he’d found. She smiled at such a gift. There had been magic that day, just not the kind Yendor had expected, and despite the good cheer and festivities, he was disapointed. “Oh well.” said the old lady. “Nowadays you have to find your own magic.” He hadn’t revealed his secret, so he wondered at the expression.

The next day, they all slowly packed up and moved on their separate ways, promising to meet again the following year. By nightfall they were gone and Yendor was alone in the strange place in his strange shirt.

Yendor lay by his fire, unable to warm himself. He had tried to use magic, but that power eluded him. He thought, perhaps the wizards had concealed themselves as beggars and his failure to deduce this earlier resulted in them leaving him. After all, how would they know he was a wizard? He assumed they would be able to tell, but he couldn’t tell, so why did he expect they would be able to? He fell asleep cold and alone. More alone than even the night Danse had been captured.

The next day Yendor woke sore and cold. He lit a small fire and thought about his next move. He had no motivation. He had failed. He had invested so much time into finding some clue to guiding him to a wizard’s coven, trekking to the city, finding the library, God, that had been a nightmare in itself.

Yendor tried to keep a low profile at all times. He wanted to be invisible. He didn’t use magic unless he had to. He didn’t talk to strangers unless there was no alternative. He didn’t even want to be seen under his hood. He kept himself looking as nondescript as possible, His cloak was earth colored his clothes were dark. They weren’t ragged, but they weren’t especially nice. He even worried that his pack stood out. Many wanderers had similar packs, dressed exactly like Yendor was dressed; he was a non entity.

He had finally, had to ask directions to the library after wandering around hoping for a street sign or some clue, but what could be the harm in asking? It turned out that many people didn’t know, so not knowing didn’t make him stand out. Wanting to know did. People gave him strange looks. He began to get paranoid. Finally, a city official, Incarnate’s representative, a constable, stopped him and asked him straight out, “Are you the vagabond looking for our library?”

Yendor’s heart learched. This guy was burly, and had a professional frown. His uniform was impeccable; brass shined, everything straight and lined up. This guy took note of fine details.

“Yes, sir.” Yendor said. If he were caught lying the officer would really suspect something.

The big man looked Yendor up and down. His frown seemed to lead the head in turning this way and that. “Other side of town. About five miles.” he pointed. “Spiraling central tower on a hilltop. Can’t miss it.” He turned dismissively to more important matters.

Yendor headed in the nondescript direction he had been pointed to.

Then he had searched the library, gotten into a deadly fight, and for what? Nothing. That’s what. Yendor fished out his kit and began sewing repairs on the tent. He had to keep it in good repair in this weather. It was beginning to aquire a patchwork quality. He decided to pack it up and head out. There was no point in hanging out here anymore. Perhaps once on the road, he would get an idea what to do next.

As he trudged off towards the nearest road out, he passed a small group heading in. Neatly appointed, as if for a meeting or a convention. One man near the end of their line caught his eye and winked at Yendor with a smile. His bright red coat gleaming under his cloak. Definitely coming to town for some celebration. Yendor hung his head. These people had it together. Not like Yendor. They were organized. Marching into the park like some parade of fancy woodsmen or some such.

Yendor walked about another fifty feet before it struck him. A parade? In the park? He turned to see them stop right where Yendor had been camped, and set up a tent quickly and efficiently. They put all their extraneous belongings in it, and grouped together. They were dressed in bright colors now that they had removed their cloaks. Purple with gold trim, red with white fur, blue and silver. They began dawning capes and hats. The most unusual hats: one had four corners with a ball on top, one came to an arched point at the front. One was conical with stars and moons on it. Fucking stars and moons! One got out a large brass ball with decorative holes in it attached to a chain. He put burning incense and began to swing it around.

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Azul

The dragon was ancient, that much was clear. His hide had a patina, not unlike a worn coin from a lost civilisation. His manner too seemed from a different time. At first Yendor thought it was because he was a dragon, then because he lived a secluded life. While these things were true, Yendor began to see that there was more to it than that. There was a pace to his movements, to his very thoughts that came with the hoary, wizened ancients that Yendor had encountered on the circuit, storytellers unconcerned with the bustle of youth. Azul exuded it. But he was not slow from being decrepit. That would be a fatal mistake to make. Azul was the fastest, most agile creature Yendor had ever encountered. Azul was simply in no hurry.

Nevertheless, they were up early every morn, to train, to work, to plan, and well into each night. Azul loved the night. The dragon was himself the color of the sky just after dark, while there was a glow to the deep blue night, celebrating the coming darkness. Yet the creature worked Yendor throughout the day, tirelessly, beginning with bathing in the stream, exercising a slow calisthenics, involving breathing, balance and energy flow. Yendor drew on the energy from all around him and let it flow through him. There was energy from the earth, from the air, from the living creatures, from the streams that flowed, from the planets and stars in the sky, indeed, the sun itself. And there was energy from the Source. The energy that created and sustained and would ultimately consume the universe itself. Yendor didn’t take this energy; he allowed it to flow through him. It was there, free for any with the means to see it and accept it.

Next came breakfast. The dragon drank from the spring, whatever fish or other water creatures that came along were part of that morning tea, as Azul referred to it. Azul would then consume the fallen leaves and dead grass, whatever the forest had to offer. He seldom hunted. It would empty the land of life to sate such a creature for long. Yendor wasn’t sure exactly how big Azul was, he was mercurial in his movements and appearence. But Yendor had initially mistaken Azul for a hillside. The dragon could blot out the night sky. The creature’s eye, when it drew close to Yendor to take his measure, was as tall as Yendor at its roundest height, and half again as long horizontally. His head, so like a deer in shape, was proportionately larger. The smokey snout of the creature was like a table in the grandest halls. Yendor shook his head. He was a trained poet, but felt wholly inadequate trying to describe the dragon.

The morning continued with martial exercises. Swordplay, hand to hand combat. How a dragon was so versed in such instruction was a mystery to Yendor. For lunch Yendor would supplement his breakfast of fish, eggs and coffee, with dried venison and wild blackberries. He still had some actual tea he’d gotten from the city he visited. While the dragon snoozed, Yendor would puzzle over the Winter Solstice songs he’d found there, sometimes just wondering who the scribe had been. Was he the author of the songs? Were they popular? Had they been written long before Incarnate had come to power, or perhaps in the early years of his rise? This last idea had occurred to Yendor as he wondered about the Cypher of the lyrics. Sometimes poetics called for a veil of meaning. Blunt, emotional appeals to lost love were a sign of amateurish attempts at poetry, but the emotions themselves remained a source of inspiration, so metaphor and anecdotes were often applied to broaden appeal and bring originality to a subject that had been visited endlessly since the beginning of time.

These lyric’s meaning were masked for a different reason. Perhaps in Incarnate’s early years, these kind of songs were not yet outlawed, but were still considered subversive. Peeling back the layers, Yendor found an appeal to a Deity motivated by love. In fact it was getting hard to avoid the conclusion that the Deity WAS love. But not like one would appeal to for a mate… more like the emotion a mother has for a baby, or a child for a pet. Coupled with the training Yendor received, it was natural to think of the Deity as the energy that fueled the Cosmos.

The afternoons were for instruction of sciences; math, physics, logic, all things Yendor thought he knew, but couldn’t see why or how they were related to his martial training. Was Azul just being thourough? It didn’t seem likely to Yendor. Although, the dragon was thourough, he was also motivated by utility. There was a purpose to these things. They were, as Azul liked to say about absolutely everything, all connected.

In the evening they would hunt. Azul from the sky, and Yendor from the ground. Working in concert. Yendor came to see that this too was training. After all, the dragon did not kill or partake of the meal. He would eat an entire pack of wolves if he were hunting for himself, not the rabbit or other small creatures Yendor killed for his supper. Indeed, if there were signs of an imbalance in the ecosystem to that effect, that’s what Azul would do. It was rare for the dragon to allow himself to interfere in the balance of the forest though. Usually it sorts itself out, Azul would say.

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The Prison Camp

Yendor sat underneath the old ocherfruit tree. It was early spring, and the branches were budding with their flowers. the tiny blossoms looked like a million candle flames alight on the tree, with bright red at the base the petals and a translucent yellow that was much more brilliant than the dusky fruit that would come later, topping each petal. The scent they gave off was like honey mixed with berries and new grass; a sweet earthy scent that called to the hummingbirds who all said, “mmmmmm” approvingly. The gnarled bark was a deep, rich brown that seemed burned in the crevices but burnished on its high spots. The bark seemed to weave in and out of itself like a crazed basket that decided to become a tree and took root in the new yellow green grass and sprung out, reaching for the heavens all the while being shaped by the wind. The branches arched out in every direction as if it were caught stretching and yawning one morning and just continued to grow into that pose.

The air was cool that morning caressing the young leaves of grass and whispering in Yendor’s ear. “Shhhhhhh….”

He could hear the guards coming before he could see them. They hadn’t heard the morning breeze’s whisper. He had scouted the camp in the night and he knew this area would be patroled. It was the farthest point from the camp that the patrol covered. The guards came out of the grove, their deep red uniforms seeming to emerge from the shadows ahead of them. Yendor sat still. The sun was behind him, and he was dressed in his black leathers. even with his golden hair curling around him, they didn’t see him. “Hello, boys.” he said. He was still working on a “calling card” greeting.

The guards stopped and stared at him, frowning at this unexpected encounter. Yendor stood in a smooth fluid motion, using only his legs, which had the effect of appearing to have levitated up out of the ground. He smiled, bowed his head slightly in greeting, pulled out his sword and killed them both before they could respond. He had stabbed them each in the abdomen and curved his thrust in and up under the ribs, and rupturing the heart, so quickly that the second man was dead before the first man’s heart had stopped. First the man on his left, then the one on his right; one, two, done. No magick, just concentration, and execution, so to speak.

Now he had about ten minutes before they were due to report after completing their rounds. This would be the only break he got, he knew. He approached the fence near the rear of the camp, away from the gate. It wasn’t a blind spot but it was as close to it as he was going to get. The prisoners filled the yard. They were over capacity by quite a margin. Clearly the prisoners had to sleep out in whatever weather there was. They were a gray, ragged mass of a mess. Danse was in there somewhere, just another outlaw, waiting for sale. They sold the young and able into slavery, the others they put to work there in the camps. Everyone worked until they dropped. They were underfed, sick and exhausted. There was a twenty foot clearing around the camp and Yendor burst out of the trees at a sprint and headed straight for the fence. It was made of thick wire which criss crossed in four inch squares. Yendor cut through the wire with a downward swoop and instead of beckoning out the prisoners, he entered the prison camp. A few prisoners close by just stared at him. He motioned his head toward the opening but that was it. They would figure it out.

There was relative quiet; the prisoners milling about, the guards mostly gossiping with each other, only taking note of the prisoners to inflict some petty cruelty upon them. He tried to intuitively divine where Danse was. It was almost not magick. Just follow your gut, your nose, only slightly more accurate. So far, he was undetected. Mostly hidden by the mass of prisoners and walking with a sense of belonging. That might have been the first trick he had ever learned. If you’re sneaking around, you look suspicious, but if you walk around like you belong there, no one pays you any mind. That trick had gotten him many a midnight snack from strange kitchens growing up touring the faires. Yendor walked with such purpose that some guards saw him and nodded to him in deference. Perhaps they were used to visitors here. Apparently of high rank. Probably came to buy slaves. High ranking officials would probably get special treatment and be able to visit the camps rather than wait for market days like everyone else.

The prisoners were the poorest of the poor. To the sorcorers the people of the world were there for the taking. They were like animals to be used or eradicated as vermin. Anyone who wasn’t fair, from the northern isles, women, pagans, heathens, anyone who didn’t worship Incarnate as a god. The Sorceral, they called the church. People could be outlawed for nearly any excuse. Not able to pay taxes was the main reason, but fines for any infraction, often made up. was another. The sorcerers saw the world as overpopulated and poor, brown people were more valuable as slaves than free. Waters had been given his freedom long before Yendor had met him. He carried a medalian around his neck that bore the symbol of his former master to prove he was a free man. Even so, any one of rank could simply take that medalian from him and put him right back into slavery, either as his own or for sale. It was only that Waters surrounded himself with people and carried himself with a special dignity that kept him free. Even so, he had to be careful. There had been some run ins Yendor remembered from his childhood, that he hadn’t understood at the time. In fact it wasn’t until right now, in this camp, that Yendor began to fully understand the severity of the situation Waters had faced. Indeed, nearly anyone could be put into a camp. Even a noble, if he crossed a sorcerer. Or even a sorcerer if a higher ranking sorcerer so decided. Only Incarnate himself was safe from such a fate.

Such camps were everywhere. Yendor had passed by countless ones, but never been inside one. Always one believed that it couldn’t happen to them, and that those it did happen to somehow deserved it. It was the only way to go on with life. Yendor had been in the resistance. Those armies were always crushed, utterly, but always they sprung up again as common as these prison camps and now Yendor could see why. Even with the hopelessness of the cause, there was a certain appeal to fighting against this way of life. Perhaps there was a way to unite each of the little armies into a single army. If they struck at the same time from their various places across the world, even the sorcerers could not defend such an attack.

“You, boy!” Yendor was pulled back into the present when he realized he was being addressed by a guard. He turned with a bit of a pout on his face, and looked down his nose at the guard. “What’s your business here?” At least the guard didn’t mistake him for a prisoner, yet.

Yendor affected a high brow accent, “Shopping.” he sneered. and approached the guard. “Maybe I’ll take you.”

“Oy! I’m not for sale!” said the guard defensively.

“Pity.” said Yendor, pulling his sword, which had been sheathed behind his cloak, and dispatched the guard in the same manner as he had his compatriots outside the camp. These people imprisoned Danse, and he had no compunction that he would have to eliminate as many as possible to get out alive.

At that moment a horn sounded from where he had entered the camp. So they had found the breech. His masquerade as a noble would be useless from here on out. “Breech in the perimiter!” he shouted, mimicking the voice of the guard he had just killed. If the prisoners rushed the fence, and the guards focused their attention on that it would give him some cover. Shouts of “Freedom” began to go up throughout the camp, and Yendor wished he had made more of this earlier, but had reasoned if the guards weren’t alerted to the breech, more people would be able to escape. Now he had to find Danse and get out of there.

“Danse!” he called, but a cacophony had arrisen from the chance of escape and he couldn’t even hear himself. He cursed himself for not having more of a plan. for not having become more of a wizard before making this attempt. He had allowed his fear to cause him to act recklessly and now he might not find her. In fact, he had put her and everyone here in danger, and he only now saw that. He had been willing to sacrifice as many of these prisoners as needed to find Danse, as if they were pawns in his plan. He was no better than the sorcerers.

He lifted his sword to the sky, “DANSE!” He shouted, as lightning came down and struck his sword and lit up his nervous system like a ghost. Where a moment before he had been lost in the chaos, now a wide circle opened up around him. Most of the guards were human. The Officers had sorcerers in their ranks no doubt, but ones whose power was limited and so pursued a career in the prisons where they could rise farther than if they had to compete with more talented magicians. Still, these officers wore the red insignia of sorcerer over their uniforms, and considered themselves powerful among the powerless.

These officers made their way to the circle and appeared simultaneously surrounding Yendor. He released the lightning he had absorbed and it coursed out of him through his arms, but also out from his heart, striking the sorcerers all at once, eliminating that threat. Now the chaos really set in as the prisoners tried to escape the magic. Most people had only ever experienced magic from sorcerers and didn’t even contemplate the idea that it could come from someone else. The prisoners overwhelmed the guards, outnumbering them by the hundreds, and in their panic, made good their escape. The shrieks and savagery escalated still further. And there was no sign of Danse. She had not understood the bolt. Perhaps she wasn’t even here after all.

In the end, there were the bodies of the fallen, both outlaw and guards. Yendor stood awhile longer at the center of the circle of sorcerers laid out before him in each direction.

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At the Library

Yendor was not sure what he was looking for. He had come to the city, decaying, decrepit, ancient, crowded and yet thriving, looking for some scrap that had been missed over time by the sorcerers. There was a history that was forbidden, but it hadn’t always been so. Before Incarnate there were archives and records and deeds and an insurmountable amount of information that had to give some clue about what it was like before. When there were wizards, when there was more to magic than sorcery.

Chamakata Shahar had been a long journey. The ancient decaying city had once been the jewel of Faun, the archipelago civilization nestled in the Ta Sea. Yendor had traveled extensively as a musician in Watter’s troop. They had played festivals in the fields outside the city. When Danse had been taken prisoner, she and Yendor had been in the western island of Padu. Yendor had tracked her to the prison camp there, though she was gone by the time he had arrived. eventually he had to give up his search, and he had resolved to learn to control his wizardry by seeking out hidden coves of them. So far that too was proving fruitless. Then he remembered the old city on the Isle of Faun itself, in the center of everything. Unable to afford a ship straight to Faun, Yendor had traveled by foot across Island after island, working his way west. Sometimes he was able to earn some money in a tavern, saving it to pay passage on the next boat, sleeping in his tent rather than spending coin to stay at an inn. He hunted and gathered wild nuts and berries, fruit and whatever he could find. Sometimes passage was earned as a deckhand, though Yendor wasn’t much of a sailor.

Eventually, he made his way to Faun and then to the city. There were other cities, usually a trade center for each of the islands, some at the sea lanes, some inland, centralizing multiple harbors. No city was as big or ancient as Chamakata The people here were unfriendly and solitary as city folk tended to be. Yendor had not much experience within the city itself. It was labyrinthine and confusing. The library had been difucult to find. Once there, the books, scrolls and maps were kept in a warren of rooms on several floors, including multiple basements. The library was a city in itself. Some rooms hadn’t been set foot in in years. One his first day, Yendor got lost and could not find his way out, so complicated was the meandering construction. Eventually, he found another patron who directed him back to the main area.

The library had seemed the obvious place to start. Of course that would be where the purge had started. Surely anything revealing what wizards were, where they lived, what they believed had been eliminated from such a public and obvious source. But Yendor had to start somewhere.

As a musician, he knew about subversive lyrics. Code words to fool those who didn’t know how to listen. Often they were so ubiquitous that you never noticed them. they hid in plain sight. Why did the children’s song start out about flowers and end up talking about ashes and falling down? Because that children’s rhyme was about the plague, that’s why. That was really more of a forgotten knowledge than a forbidden one, but the idea was the same. Learn to look at things from a fresh viewpoint. Nobody knew it was about the plague because everyone grew up singing it. Children’s stories were full of incongruous, frightening scenes; were they all allusions to hidden meanings or was there something in the way storytellers crafted children’s stories that made them put in these dark passages? Did children need them to develop their minds? Musicians were storytellers but Yendor had never heard a solid answer to the question which hardly ever came up.

Deep in one of the basements, on his third day, lit by an odd Smelling candle, in a nook in a room long forgotten, he found an ancient poem about the winter solstice. The poem caught his eye, because the solstice was approaching, and it would be his first away from friends and family. The hand that had scribed the poem was lyrical, but the letters were an ancient form that seemed stilted to Yendor. It was an odd combination that distracted him so he had to read the first stanza several times before he could make sense of it:

“Wrapped in an azure raiment, She whirled, colourring every cheak. Warming each heartt with Her Light, singing to all individually. Mary, she is.”

The archaic spelling aside, the story was well known, but the poem was not. It told of Winter herself, merry in her blue sky, her cold wind howling in everyone’s ears, making their cheeks rosy with cold swirling wind. But this poem described Winter personified, which was not unusual, but the idea of being warmed by her was different. Nowadays it was the celebration of her that warmed people’s hearts. She brought cold, but also the promise of light to come; as the longest night of the year, the worst was over, the next night would be shorter; the coming days longer, ostensibly warmer. This poem said she was the light, and the howling wind was singing… It was odd enough for Yendor to copy down.

As he dug deeper, he found another poem in that same unique hand. This time it was signed “Sumessence.”

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Yendor the Wizard

I’ve been working on this story since I was fifteen. Recently, I’ve taken it up again in earnest. I have some new ideas and I just have to make time for it. This character’s name is Yendor. I don’t want to give too much away but the story is called “The Song of Yendor,” so he may have a prominent role. You can read some of the story here

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Lausaw The Sorcorer

Danse and Yendor walked through the woods, headed east with the stream, which would lead to the next town. Yendor had been a traveling musician all his life and he knew how to find civilization and how to avoid it. There was a road they could have taken, but Danse was sure there would be soldiers patrolling them, alerted to the forbidden magic that had happened at the harbor. Yendor wanted to head into the hills, just he and her an begin training. She insisted there were some preparations they had to make. They had both just abandoned their lives for each other without really thinking about the consequences. Yendor’s training as a musician was more or less complete and probably wouldn’t be utilized much now anyway, except perhaps as a cover or to earn a roof over their head. musicians in a troop scheduled performances at fairs and worked out accommodations, provisions and logistics ahead of time. Usually some kind of payment could be secured over and above what the crowd decided to spend its pennies on. Whether it was a charge to attend the performance or passing a hat, a troop was too big to sustain itself on the fickle whims of a crowds passing fancy. The base payment was usually only enough to sustain the troops tour from fair to fair, and the crowds pennies helped to make life a little more livable. Like most people, musicians eked out a living that kept them from starving and not much else.

Lone musicians could not count on anything but the hat. And they were vulnerable to robbers both high and low, whether the sheriff made up a fine for a permit that he invented on the spot (fines are always more than fees, usually a person had to pay both, so it is in the sheriff’s interest not to bring it up until the violation has occurred), or a sorcerer charging for a blessing that wasn’t sought, or a real thief, who at least isn’t pretending to be something else.

They had precious little money between them, and Danse wanted to outfit them with weapons, provisions and necessities like a tent, cooking ware and other things of weight that Yendor knew he would end up carrying.

When they got to town, they found the marketplace and got themselves a meat pie to split, realizing they would soon either be living off the land, or Yendor would be spending as much time supporting them as a musician as he did training to save the world. Maybe more. Watters had always said that the bulk of life is spent doing the work needed to live it. Until now, that had meant chores like doing dishes, rolling billets, printing flyers, cleaning up camp, or mending tents, clothes, costumes, instruments. People thought being a musician was playing music all day. This just isn’t the case. Musicians lives, artists lives, everyone’s life was spent doing chores. Even clergy like the sorcerers had to fill out reports, keep endless records, gather tithes, and darn their socks, while shoring up for winter, which was coming by the way.

Townsfolk had homes that kept out the weather, but travelers lived in tents. Watters would say winter just means moving the fire inside. Many travelers carried their winter things all year round. Some had winter homes, that they stayed in. some stored their winter things in halls rented for such purposes. Some sold their furs in the spring and bought new ones in the fall. Watters had liked to carry things in a spare cart that invariably got damaged, stolen or worn out, so that there was always the expense of new things and the burden of carrying things all year. There were less fairs in the winter, but people still wanted to hear music. This was actually the best time for a lone musician and the troop would often split up for the winter. Watters kept a stash of money hidden from robbers like most travelers. Sometimes the robbers found it, sometimes not. Usually thieves only wanted money because they too were travelers. “Thieves couldn’t make a living staying in one place, not unless they went into government,” Watters would say.

They got most everything they needed. She had a long stiletto dagger that had been in her family. He got an old sword, double edged, short handle, small guard, nothing fancy. She could tell it was well made. The one he wanted she said would break in its first fight. “Showman.” she said, shaking her head as if he’d picked out a prop that would glitter for the audience. She wasn’t wrong, he guessed. The tent he picked out. It was his turn to know what was needed. Treated canvas that had been given a layer of lacquer to keep out the weather; He would find the right trees, and boil some sap for another layer. the poles were Ashwood, heavy but solid. He and Watters had used tent poles to fight off bandits on more than one occasion. People often went for lighter wood that was easier to carry, but Yendor trusted the hard wood. They got a few pots that could double for roasting, stewing, frying or what was called for. They got forks that Yendor thought could be used to pitch hay, and hunting knives for table knives. Everything had two uses and everything was second-hand. That’s how it goes, playing in a band, thought Yendor.

They kept going East, heading for the Wyvern Hills, and pitched the tent early so Danse could snare something for dinner, and Yendor could make the lacquer for the tent. They found a clearing in the lee of a hill, a little plateau that gave them a view of oncommers but shielded them from the wind at the same time. They had just finished the rabbit stew when they heard horses. The soldiers crested the hill and left room for the sorcerer bringing up the rear.

“Well, well, what have we here?” the sorcerer, dressed all in black, was reed thin but had a resonate voice in spite of that. “Outlaws I’ll wager. They had to have circumvented the road and gone quite a bit out of their way to sneak up the hill like that. They hadn’t just happened along.

“We’re travelers. Musicians. Not outlaws.” said Yendor.

“I know who you are.” said the sorcerer as the soldiers drew their swords simultaneously. “I am a sorcerer of the order of the mace, on the business of Incarnate.” Sorcerers loved to recite their credentials. Yendor wasn’t familiar with the order of the Mace, but it didn’t sound good. They were never “Order of the pansies that grow in the Spring by the roadside in the field.” It was always “Order of the plague,” or some nightmarish name meant to drive fear into the hearts of ordinary people.

“We have been sent to find you. Did you think your …performance… would go unnoticed?” They were still on their horses. The firelight demonized their faces as the sky glowered in the twilight. “I know not what evil magic you follow, but only the Sorcery is lawful. Any use of magic, or even the ability to use magic other than by a sorcerer is heresy. You corrupt the souls of all who fall in your shadow.” Now he stood in the stirrups and dismounted. “I am Lausaw, come to remove your scourge!” He pulled a glowing orb of slick protoplasm from the air about him, dripping its green, electric slime, and aimed to throw it at Yendor. Danse moved faster than a deer and was between them, her dagger slicing at the pulsing fireball. He had already committed to throwing it and it was cleaved by the dagger. Lausaw grabbed her by the wrist, trying to wrench the knife from her hand, as she kicked him in the back of the knee. Yendor was up and had his knife, but his sword was in the tent. The soldiers were down from their mounts and came at him simultaneously. Yendor had thought to stab the sorcerer as he fell but had to change course. He turned to put space between the soldiers and himself, but that was a mistake. Thinking he was fleeing, they thought he was a coward and charged harder.

Now heat came from Lausaw’s hand, burning Danse’s wrist. She fell to her knees screaming and dropped her dagger. Lausaw curled her arm behind her back and they both got to their feet. He got his other arm around her throat. “Heretic!” he shouted. “I have your woman!” Yendor turned and the soldiers flanked him. “Surrender!” Lausaw called. “or I’ll kill her right here.”

Yendor had only been a wizard for a day. He didn’t know anything. For a fleeting moment he was beaten. There was no way out of this. But then a fury rose up in him unbidden. Perhaps this fury has arisen in everyone in such times; the inability to accept the situation. Usually followed again by resignation at the futility of it. But this time, Yendor’s fury escaped captivity. He shouted and a curling, freezing whirlwind formed on either side of him and he released them to devour the soldiers. Each a mirror of the other, the winds turning one clockwise the other counterclockwise. The soldiers swords were ripped from their hands, their limbs thrown and twisted like ragdolls, they were sucked high up into the air and thrown into the darkening night.

Lausaw redoubled his grip on Danse, using her as a shield. He had no idea what Yendor could do. He wasn’t doing anything that Lausaw recognized. Yendor wasn’t following any teaching Lausaw knew of. Lausaw didn’t know it, but Yendor wasn’t following any teaching at all. The sorcerer held Danse but he too was held. He could do nothing while he had her. She struggled, writhing like a viper. Yendor Picked up one of the swords dropped by the soldier. better than his in every respect; lighter, sharper, longer, better made, plainly. Out of the dark, lightning came down and struck it, filling it with power and wrath.

“Stay back!” screamed Lausaw. Then, eerily, the sorcerer’s horse came to him and knelt. Lausaw crabstepped back to it, pulling Danse with him. He struggled into the saddle, and the horse got up. Yendor sprung toward them, but without removing his grip on the girl to take up the reins, the sorcerer turned the horse and trotted into the night. Full dark had descended and Yendor had no idea which way they had gone. He went to the campsite, stirred up the fire and pulled out a brand. He could find no tracks. “I hate magic!” he said.