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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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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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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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Lausaw The Sorcorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lost Cause

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

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

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

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

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1ST BATTLE

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