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The Merchant

As it was, they got to the village with dawn several hours away. The two made remarkable time. Sapphosia was not like the others, Yendor began to see. The others went through their rituals, they worked hard to achieve small things magically. Sapphosia was special and unlike Yendor, she hid it, perhaps even from herself. They had walked in the dark and not tripped or veered from the path. He picked up on how she did it in the same way that a novice tracker might learn from an expert. There was a kind of invisible light seen only by them that they used to find their way. They didn’t even have to cast it. It was already there. They just had to tune in to it.

When they reached the village, Sapphosia used a similar technique to divine the home of the jeweler. They found the area where he kept his stall by the residue of the stone Sappho had traded him. Then they identified from that an aura in his footprints, like a dog on the scent of a fox, thought Yendor. Sappho had not revealed that they would be using these techniques. She gave Yendor a look each time she showed him what she was doing that said, “This is between you and me.” Yendor understood. He had in fact, he realized also been hiding his skills from the the others. Even her until now, he realized. The others seemed to frown upon the discovery of abilities that were not formally taught.

As they approached his home, Yendor put his hand on the hilt of his sword in case there was trouble. He recoiled from it in shock to find it was hot. He put his hand back. It wasn’t really too hot to touch, just warm. He had just been surprised. Sappho turned on Yendor and hissed, “Take your hand off that thing!” Yendor moved his hand to his dagger. How had she known he was holding it? She was in front of him, and why didn’t she want him to touch it? And why was it hot? The domicile was one among a cluster of them, presumably other vendors at the market. They were all one room wattle and daub round huts with thatched roofs, including the jeweler’s, which seemed to suggest to yendor that he didn’t have the wealth of some jewelers he’d seen. There were snores coming from inside, the likes of which would have woken Yendor up and made it hard to go back to sleep if he had been part of that family.

“We should wait until market hours and simply offer to buy it back so he doesn’t suspect anything.” Yendor said.

Sapphosia gave Yendor a hard look. “We have to be back before anyone wakes at the coven!” she whispered. “Besides, it’s too late for subtleties. The sword knows its stone is here.” She seemed to steel herself to what she must do. She knocked on the door, quietly at first, but the house snored on. She rapped a little harder with no effect. She didn’t want to wake up the whole neighborhood, that would really be trouble. Yendor could smell the dew forming. This was the exact wrong time to be doing this. His stomach vacillated between a fear of what could go wrong and annoyance over the whole thing. What did it matter if the sword had one stone or another? Why had he been compelled to say anything? Why did they care if the coven discovered they were out? Why did she act like the sword was a living thing? He put his hand back on the hilt of the sword without thinking.

It sang.

Well, not like a person, but like a tuning fork. A clear, loud, lovely B tone; ringing in the night. Yendor removed his hand immediately. It was too late. Far too late. The pitch died out slowly like bell struck. The look in Sapphosia’s eyes was enough to make Yendor involuntarily take a step back.

“What in the bloody fuck was that?” came the jeweler’s gravelly voice. Once again, Sappho knocked. You could almost hear the jeweler frowning in the darkness. There was a shuffling sound and the door opened. He held up a dagger.

“What in the bloody fuck do you want?” He said. “It’s you lot!” He recognized them and there was the frown, just as Yendor had pictured it. He said again quieter and lower, “What in the bloody fuck do you want?”

“I am terribly sorry to bother you in the middle of the night.” Sapphosia said, “But our mission is quite urgent. We must have back our purchase. We will give you back what you paid us, plus extra to compensate you for your inconvenience. Once again, we are most dreadfully sorry.”

“You’re too late.” he said. “I’ve sold off the lot to the four winds. Now go away back to wherever you came from. It’s the middle of the fuckin’ night!”

“Please, sir,” Yendor said stepping forward, “It’s very important or we wouldn’t come in the middle of the night. You must realize that.”

“Bugger off! I’ve told you, it’s all gone! Now get the fuck out of here before I lose my temper!” He flashed his dagger.

Yendor thought for a beat. Fuck this. “You’re lying.” he said.

“Fuck you!” said the man. “I’ll gut you like a fish! I’m within my rights!”

Yendor drew the sword. It rang out and seemed to begin to glow.

“What in the bloody fucking hell…”

Yendor poised at quarte, as if to lunge and then instinctively raised the sword straight over his head. The amethyst rattled around from somewhere in the hut, broke lose from its box and flew into the setting, resulting in a blinding flash that would later be described as lightning. Everything returned to normal. As far as the sword was concerned. Yendor fished the diamond out of his pouch. He used his thumb to flip it to the merchant. Without further ado he turned and began to walk away. He heard Sappho follow. Even in the dark, the jeweler could tell it was a diamond. Exactly the same shape as the amethyst. “What in the bloody fucking hell…”

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The wizards spent hours in contemplation with incense burning. They searched caverns for specific crystals that they bonded with. They took meticulous care of their carefully crafted garments. To them, everything was a metaphor for a divine mystery that they seemed to accept was not to be solved, but rather appreciated. They were strict vegetarians and tended their garden with the same reverence they did everything. Yendor began to sympathize with those who were hostile to him: nobody could be this calm all the time, human nature would cause bottled up emotions to come out in unforeseen ways. They were ostensibly celibate, but that seemed to Yendor as if they were fooling no one but themselves. There was almost no magical training whatever. They seemed to think any magical abilities that came from wizardry were a side effect: a gift from the gods, of which there were many. Danu of the river, Bridget of the glen, Curnunnos, the horned god. There were fertility gods, harvest gods, gods of regions, weather, types of weather, morning gods, evening gods and noonday gods. Yendor was expected to know their names and the rituals connected to them, but the wizards thought it off when Yendor asked if they communicated with or knew the gods on a personal level. Yendor puzzled over much of what was expected of him. The wizards could answer few questions. When Yendor asked if would understand better with time, he was told that he would come to not question everything and just accept the mysteries.

Seasons passed and Yendor felt as though he were in a waking dream; the rituals carried him from one task to the next, from one day to the next. There was ritual bathing in the morning, washing before handling food, clothes, crystals, which were laid out in intricate patterns for various rituals to the myriad gods. Yendor felt as though he were failing Danse, and when he brought this up, he was told that life was behind him now.

They had an initiation ceremony to induct him into the coven. It came months after he had settled in, and Yendor was surprised that he was only now an initiate. How long would it take to become a master? Some wizards never became masters, he was told. In the coming months Yendor was told, he would become an apprentice. If he worked hard and showed potential, after several years, he could become a journeyman. Mastery was for the chosen few. When Yendor asked what rank the others in the coven were, he was met with rebukes at forwardness. It was not his place to know how advanced his superiors were. It was presumptuous of him.

Yendor did not mention the sword incident, and they did not seem to know about it.

Yendor had worked so long and so hard to find and become one of them, it took a long time to realize, that this wasn’t going to ever take him to where he needed to get.

He had very little time to himself, but he did have his own small cell where he often decided to forgo sleep to practice the martial arts Danse had taught him. It didn’t just keep him battle ready. That actually seemed secondary to Yendor at this point. It kept him connected to Danse. To her memory. Amid the candles and the incense and the chanting, his life seemed a fog, but when he practiced with his sword, he felt alive.

Occasionally, the group, or some of the group would go into the city on some errand or other. When they went, they carried daggers for protection, as did all of society. Even the poorest beggar usually had a knife, no matter how crude. One day as summer waned they went into the city to get wool for winter garments. They usually had some trinkets to trade. Yendor did not know where they got them. They had acquired none in his presence.

On this occasion, they went on a market day and after getting the wool, they decided to get some tea. There was some haggling over the trade. The various knick knacks where not enough to get the amount of tea that was thought would last the winter. Nicolas produced a carved figure of the wheat God that Yendor suspected he had carved himself. Sapphosia produced an amethyst in the shape of a crescent moon. The trade was made. Yendor carried the tea. Something about that amethyst struck Yendor as odd, but he couldn’t place it. He had come to realize that unlike any other learning situation he had been in in his life, he wasn’t supposed to ask questions. It was considered rude and disrespectful. Ygraine had told him that she too had been inquisitive when she had been recruited, but learned her place after a while. Yendor wanted to know if they had all been recruited except him, but knew better than to ask.

That night, Yendor was tired from the days activity, but he dutifully retrieved his sword from its hiding place and having adopted the idea of ritualizing every aspect of his life, he knelt with the sword blade down in front of him and gave thanks for Danse, her instruction to him, the sword, its red leather hilt, the Crescent diamond, the lightweight blade… The Crescent diamond! That was what was so interesting about that amethyst. It was exactly the same size.

Sapphosia was a priestess. Unlike the other wizards, she did not fit into the hierarchy of the coven. The entire group was a religious order, but Sapphosia was ordained as a priestess and led certain special rituals and often did not participate in the activities of the others. Konstantine was ostensibly not her master, but as he was the master of the coven, she often demurred to his authority. Yendor felt a special bond with her because she was kind to him and they both felt like outsiders to him. He was not supposed to be out of his cell after the night ritual, but he crept quietly through the maze of corridors to her quarters at the behind the temple.

He knocked at her door in the dark of the hall. He could smell the lilac and lavender in her chambers. Her room was not referred to as a cell. “Come in Yendor.” She said. They all had some magical abilities but she seemed the most magical to him; not necessarily powerful, almost mysterious. As if what they were all striving for came naturally to her.

He entered. She sat at a desk with her back to him. She wore an ephemeral gown. He felt as if he were intruding. She turned to him, the candlelight flickering across her face. She saw his expression, something like confusion and wonder, and she reached slowly across to a coat rack, stretching out, the folds of her garment shimmering, diffusing pale shades of pink and shadow, and retrieved a silken robe, which she donned as she stood and turned to him. “What is it?” she asked.

Yendor seemed to come out of a trance. “I wondered what you could tell me about that amethyst you traded this afternoon.” he said.

She frowned as if trying to recall. She shook her head. “Which amethyst?” she said.

This was not like her. She didn’t play games, she didn’t have trouble remembering crystals, she wasn’t coy. What was going on? Yendor produced the sword, which had been hidden by his own robe. She looked at him. She seemed genuinely puzzled. “Where did you get that?” she asked. Yendor did not answer. He knew he was risking expulsion. “Yendor.” Sapphosia said, “Where did you get the sword of the Crescent moon?”

“What?” he said. “It’s just a sword.”

“No. Yendor, this is an ancient sword. It was last told of being in the lands of the south. In Wysteria. This sword has slain dragons.” she said. She took it and he let her. She studied it. She must be mistaken. It was just a sword that sorcerer was going to beat that kid with. She got out her dagger from its place at her desk. It flashed in the candlelight. She prized out the diamond. She held the cold gem in her hand for a moment and looked at Yendor. She shook her head. “This is wrong.” she said. She held it up and examined it. The back was flat. “What have I done?” she said to herself.

By the time the two of them were dressed, it was going on midnight. They dared not light the lantern until they were well away from the wizardary. It took about an hour to get to the market square in the daylight. They would be lucky to get back before dawn. And where would they find the tea monger? How would they get him to give up the amethyst? If they offered him the diamond, he would know its value exceeded anything he had ever owned. Worse, he might deduce that they were wizards.

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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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Koan

It was getting a bit chilly for camping. In retrospect, Damien had made some poor choices. referring to his current situation as camping was probably the least of them. It had been an emotional experience. They had been trick or treating and his kids had not been paying attention, so they had gone on ahead while Damien had struggled to adjust his cloak. It had gotten caught on a thorn bush and he didn’t want to rip it. His wife had made it for him a few years back. That was the year they were Jedi. Then he had been Robin Hood, and this year, he was a wizard. Stupid. So, when he had caught up to his kids, he was already irritated about the thorn bush, and them not staying with him. They were young and small for their age. It had only been a minute, less than that, surely. These kids were so excited about Halloween that they wouldn’t listen to any instructions. All evening this had been a problem. They didn’t realize how dangerous it could be. He was constantly worried something was going to happen. They were his whole world. How was he going to protect them if they wouldn’t stay with him? And now, here they were, being shaken down for their candy by some older kids.

Well, by the time they got home, the kids were crying, they couldn’t get the story out coherently to their mother. He tried to explain, but she seemed to reach her own conclusions before he could get the words out. “Not the first time,” she had said. It rang in his ears. It reminded him of just before he had gotten sober, how the incidents seemed to beget each other, as if he were caught in some spider’s web, some thorny bush!

He wasn’t a violent person. He didn’t think of himself as one anyway. Not the first time.

She asked him to leave right then. For the children’s sake. She was concerned for their safety. Not the first time.

He had still been wearing the costume. the wool cloak, the boots, the dagger, the staff, the whole nine yards. He grabbed the tent, and the camping pack with all the gear in it, the speckled cookware, the lantern, and stove, bedroll, sleeping bag tied to the bottom and took off. He just set out walking. He didn’t want to take the car, she would need that. He didn’t want to spend money on a motel, they couldn’t afford it. Maybe he was punishing himself. His heart was beating harder than it was during the incident. Was he being a martyr? Probably.

Damien had made some very quick, very rash decisions at that point. If he couldn’t be around his kids, he was done. He was done with the rat race, done with civilization, done with hiding who he was.

Maybe he wasn’t wearing a costume. Maybe this is who he was.

Those older kids weren’t with their parents. They weren’t wearing costumes. They were teenagers and they hadn’t wasted a moment to bully a couple little kids who had gotten away from their dad for a second.

“Give us your candy, you little turd!” one was saying as he pulled on Damien’s daughter’s arm.

The memory seemed to actually sear Damien’s brain. He walked on. Lowami woods shouldn’t be far. He had never walked it before. Maybe He should have headed for Memorial off of Garden Home… There were plenty of wooded areas right in the midst of SW Portland. He was sure he could find a spot to pitch his tent, even if it was illegal. He wasn’t sure. One night, surely would be ok. Then he could figure it out tomorrow. He didn’t want to join the homeless in a patch by a freeway onramp. This was Oregon. Why camp in civilization? He’d see whether that dagger was just for show or not. Maybe catch a rabbit, they were everywhere. Damien had picked up the medieval replica at one of those cutlery stores in the mall. The kind that had pocket knives, kitchenware, and swords. Of course, he had wanted a sword, but he had been unable to bring himself to spend the money. This 2ft miniature had been considerable more money than the hunting knives, but he had suspected it was just for show. He had displayed it on the wall when he was a bachelor, but married with kids, it stayed in a box in a drawer until Halloween.

Now he could concentrate on becoming one with nature. Get away from the concrete jungle and be more spiritual. He could finally learn to control his Chi, let it flow through him, instead of building up inside and exploding out… That’s what he was being guided to do, right? Of course, this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking would not play well in a custody hearing. The rational, right thing to do, would be to go to a motel, and seek counseling. Where did spiritual people get counseling? Was there a priest of Chi? Where can you find a Shaolin temple when you need one?

Then, there in the concrete jungle, just as the drizzle began, came the neon glow of the sign he was seeking.

Damien entered the little house and a bell rang as the door struck it. He had been by this place dozens of times, driving to Target. He had never thought to visit before. Who goes to places like this? Now that he was here, he worried maybe it would cost more than a motel. He had a twenty on him and had vowed an hour earlier not to use his debit card tonight. The rain picked up in earnest outside. Portland.

Dimly lit, ambient music played in unseen speakers. This part of the house had been converted into a lobby, deep red walls, with purple wall hangings. Batiks, abstract, soothing. Well worn carpet, a couch against the wall to the right. No one in sight. Who comes to places like this? Not the first time.

Damien removed his hood and shook out his graying, windblown hair. Curly enough to never look combed. His middle age was beginning to show on his lanky frame. The dim light made his eyes seem to recede into their sockets. His mustache and beard needed trimming. He needed a shave. Portland.

A door opened and a woman appeared. What had he been expecting? She had a scarf on her head and hoop earrings. She had a bunch of jangly bangles on her wrist. She had a vest over a paisley blouse that gathered at her wrists.

He had on a damp woolen cloak.

He had completely forgotten he was wearing a costume. He even still had the staff. A branch from their parking lot. It had broken off during a windstorm and landed on the car.

Maybe this is who you are.

Jesus Christ, what was he thinking?

“Come in,” she said. He walked through the lobby into the room she had just come from. Another dimly lit room. The most electricity the place used was the sign outside: “Psychic.” “I’m Marla.” she said. She looked at slightly sideways, waiting.

“I’m Damien.” he said. He felt ridiculous. He was sure he was as red as a beet.

“Have a seat, Mr. Damien.” she said. In the middle of the room was a table. it was wooden and had a tasseled table cloth in deep red paisley over it. There was room for a tarot reading, or a crystal ball. Neither was on display. He sat down. “What can I do for you, on this Blessed Samhain?” She asked. She pronounced the word “Sowen” He knew it was the Wiccan word for Halloween, the night that the great goddess slept or died, and the horned god reined for the dark winter months. How did he know this? He had studied. Damien had taken a comparative religion course in college.

“Blessed be.” he said, making blessed two syllables. He had never heard the phrased aloud.

“Blessed be, indeed.” she said. one syllable. Was she correcting him, or did it matter? He decided it didn’t matter.

“I need direction.” he said. “I’m lost.” he cast about for where to begin.

She smiled. “You are not lost. For the first time, maybe in your entire life, you’re home.” This was exactly what he wanted to hear, but he suspected she knew this. She stood up and went to a shelf against the wall. Were these walls black? It was too dim to be sure. She came back with a pitcher and a cup. A chalice, really. Really? A fucking chalice.

“The chalice with the palace has the brew that is true.” invaded his memory. A Danny Kaye movie.

She poured.

“I’m sober.” he said. “I don’t drink.”

“It’s not that.”

“Or drugs. I’m sober.”

“It’s not that.” she repeated. “It’s the cost of your visit.” she said.

What the hell? He hadn’t been to a meeting in years. Tonight would have never happened if he had. He took a sip. It was like an herbal tea, but fortified somehow. Thick.

Just then, the bell rang. She did not look surprised, but her smile left and her jaw set. She stood. She didn’t say, “Just a minute,” or “I’ll be right back,” she just went to the door. Her stride was different. Defiant. She opened the door to the lobby. His back was to it. He couldn’t see. As he turned, she blocked his view. She was diminutive, but he was seated. What was in the tea?

“Ah, Marla. There you are. Look at you, dressed like a Gypsy for Halloween. How apropos.”

She’s wearing a costume? thought Damien.

“You are not welcome here.” she said. She spoke with authority that Damien found surprising. He stood up. Huh, any effect of the tea had been ruined by this interruption. He felt normal again. In fact, he felt calm, detached.

“Marla, you need to rethink your situation. You’re in no position to give orders.” Damien came up behind her and saw that there were four large men in the small lobby. They wore black. They had slicked back hair. The leader had a black blazer. Were they dressed for Halloween too? If so, the main guy was missing a fedora.

Marla was barring the door. Damien understood why he was there. “let me through.” he said. She looked up at him, unsure. He wasn’t much bigger than her. “I’m who you asked for.” he said. She looked at him, this costumed dad, out of place everywhere. He would have to do.

Damien stepped into the room.

The men chuckled. “Ok, Gandalf, we don’t want any trouble.”

“That is simply not true, is it?” said Damien. The men smiled.

The main guy shook his head, chuckling. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words. It would sound like an old episode of Batman or something. He didn’t have to say anything. They spread out along the walls of the small room. They had no idea.

It came up through from the ground through his feat, an energy that was warm. It gathered in his chest and he swung his arms in a kind of Tai Chi motion, which culminated as if he were striking the two outermost men, even though they were about five feet away each. A beat later they each slammed against the walls hard, their faces looking like they were experiencing mach 2 G force. Taking his staff in both hands, he pointed at the guy coming at him from his left and hit him with it, end first like a spear, knocking him back. The last guy was going for his gun and had it out fast, pointed at Marla. Without thinking, Damien pulled the dagger from its sheath at his belt and flung it. It embedded itself in the crook of the man’s arm, causing him to drop the gun as it went off, spoiling the shot.

The main guy’s eyes were wide but recovering. His mouth was set in a closed line. He and Damien faced off across the room. thirty seconds had passed. The guy looked at Marla but didn’t speak. He shook his head and left. The others all followed warily out the door, bleeding and leaving the thin weapon behind.

Damien turned back to Marla. She smiled. “Welcome home.” she said.

 

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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.