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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.

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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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.

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Lost Cause

Although Yendor had been conscripted into the Armata Rebellis by force, he felt he had joined unofficially the day he met Danse. The memory of her hit him from within, a burst of pain in his chest. He could picture her; just her face: dimly lit, dirty, miserable. His fault. He didn’t even know how to go looking for her. He shook her out of his mind. Danse had taught him to fight, to engage his magical energy into the effort. The Armata had taught him battle. The brutality of it. He did not relish it, but understood its necessity. In order to defeat Incarnate’s Armata, it would take an Armata. These boys were trained, disciplined, and vicious. They would probably be crushed. But if he could get close to Incarnate, if the Armata could keep him focused on them, he might be able to get in a lucky shot; whatever that meant.

These thoughts meandered through his mind as he marched with the troops through thick, viscous fog. The men were superstitious about any natural element, whether it was in their favor or not. The fog, they mumbled was conjured by sorcerers, lurking nearby waiting to ambush the Rebellis. At times the fog was so thick Yendor could not see anyone else. He could hear them laughing disembodied nearby and then they would materialize, as if from another realm. The fog seemed to whisper with them, saying nothing in particular; just sowing fear. And then, with a sudden inhalation, it sucked itself away, into the shadows, leaving the men spooked.

They were descended upon without mercy. sorcerers and warriors, moving as one attacked from all sides. Their numbers were legion. Yendor had his sword out and cut with precision. A brute smelling of earth and shit hacked through the man on Yendor’s flank and came at him frothing at the mouth. He lofted his bloody axes at Yendor, the weapon still dripping with the blood and gristle of Dante, the man Yendor had shared breakfast with. Yendor’s fear turned to icy hatred and parried the axe with his thin blade, enchanted, glowing and with Yendor’s pain and anger surging through it. It cut the axe clean through, then took the eye, brain and life of Yendor’s attacker in one lethal thrust.

A sorcerer saw Yendor’s action and turned his attention to the wizard. The stink of the earth opened up under Yendor, and he fell, lurching to the side to escape the chasm. Before he could regain his footing, the sorcerer was on him with a mace. Incarnate’s favored weapon. The sorcerer wielded the spiked sphere with blinding speed and deadly accuracy. Yendor got his shield up barely in time, but it blocked the blow edgewise, so that the shield crushed under the blow and the mace rammed into Yendor’s left hand. Yendor didn’t feel any pain at first, and that is probably what saved him. He turned into the attack instead of away as his instincts told him, and kicked the looming sorcerer over his head. He leaped to his feet and faced the enemy. The mace began to glow with a heat summoned from pure evil. Another swing of that would be the end of him, Yendor knew. He thrust his sword without magic or thought straight at the necromancer’s heart. There was a hiss as black smoke emerged from the wound, staining the blade.

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1ST BATTLE

They came at him fast, weapons out. He ducked as he moved to pull out his sword, but he still hadn’t gotten used to how long it was, so it still wasn’t drawn by the time they were on him. There were two on his left, one on his right, and one in the middle. They were burly. They had armor, and that didn’t seem to slow them down. Yendor could smell them, rust and freshly sharpened steel, with sweat and bad breath. The sound of their chain mail was deafening. In another moment he would be dead.
Still crouched, he lunged at the small gap between the middle and the right. As he sprang from the crouch, Yendor pulled his dagger from his boot. He came in under the attack and locked his arm using the force of the lunge to propel his dagger, instinctively knowing there was more force in his two legs and combined weight than there was in a stabbing thrust. He aimed for the man on his right. Luck was with him, as he had got it under the mail shirt and the dagger sank deep into the abdomen. Yendor had successfully picked off the weak link of the attack.
Yendor spun to the remainder of the pack. They had crowded themselves when Yendor lunged and had been unable to slice him up. One or two would have succeeded. Briefly Yendor was reminded of a comic stage routine where three oafs bumbled around onstage. He had his sword out now, and had the alertness of one who had just escaped death. The soldier on Yendor’s left thrust the one next to him at Yendor. This one was the tallest. He came at Yendor in a berserker rage, quickly evaporating the advantage he had of superior reach. The soldier swung his blade like a hammer clearly meaning to crush Yendor who was thin and wore no armor. Yendor stepped aside at the last moment and as the man stumble into the space where Yendor wasn’t anymore, Yendor sliced his blade through the air and into the man’s backside.
Now there were only two. The leader who had shoved the last one at Yendor and he was the burliest one of the bunch. Naturally, the leader motioned for the big man to attack. This one was cautious. His weapon was a battle axe. The kind that had a space behind the sharp part of the blade. Yendor had thought that gap was to lighten a heavy weapon but now as he faced off he realized that a skilled warrior could use it to wrench his opponents weapon away. That can go both ways thought Yendor. As he attacked he aimed for where he thought that gap would be. He guessed right and skewered the axe instantly yanking back as if on a fishing line, pulling the axe free.
This caused the brute to lose his temper, abandon caution and come at Yendor with his fists; each one like a sledgehammer. Yendor began to swing his weapon between himself and his foe but moved too slowly, too late. One massive fist collided with the side of Yendor’s head, followed almost instantly with the other to his ribs. Yendor nearly dropped his blade as he fell to his knees. He focused on not losing it. His vision blurred and his body felt rubbery. He squeezed hard on the blade. It occurred to him that up until now he must have been moving with a kind of time defying quicksilver. His vision came into focus in time to see the giant smile as he raised his fists for the coup de grace. Yendor raised his sword with both hands in front of himself and became a conduit. Lightning leapt from the sky and struck Yendor’s sword. The energy flowed into Yendor and pulled him to his feet. Yendor felt as if he had become a passenger in his own body, and observed as he lopped the head off the enormous brute like fruit from a tree. He let the sword pull him in a circle as he continued to swing and came to rest facing the dumbfounded leader, who slack jawed turned to flee. Before that could happen, Yendor slid the sword into the man’s chest and pulled it out so quickly that his foe was still turning to run as he fell lifeless to the ground. Yendor had somehow tapped into the flow of the moment. He had learned to get out of his own way.