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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.

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The Prison Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yendor the Wizard

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