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The Wriaith

The path back to the coven led into the forrest. The urgency and ease of the journey into town vanished. There was a tension between Yendor and Sapphosia. They were angry and uncertain. Yendor felt the night encapsulated his entire stay with the wizards; fraught with unnecessary tribulations due to hangups based on misplaced priorities. They wanted to preserve anonymity at the cost of all else. Understandably really, since the penalty for practicing wizardry was death. Incarnate himself took a particular interest in the elimination of wizards. Many things under Incarnate’s rule were forbidden under penalty of death. Many things were considered treason against the state and carried such a penalty. Knowledge of anatomy, charting the stars, on and on… But actual practice of wizardry really was at the core of all the seemingly nonsensical things. Wearing the wrong clothes made of the wrong material could get you accused of wizardry. Any use of magic, even accidental was forbidden. Actual wizardry wasn’t just dangerous, it was madness. Yet, what was the point of taking such a risk just to preserve arcane rituals and customs that were no longer understood? That contained no intrinsic power? It was like planting the seeds of cooked vegetables; useless.

Yendor knew that Sapphosia was furious with him. He had not just endangered her, but the entire coven. They could probably never go to that town again. Maybe they would have to move. Yendor would probably be expelled. Perhaps Sapphosia would be too. But why then, had she risked the journey? Clearly the stone and the sword belonged together, but what was that to her? Certainly the sword had not had its stone for some time. And there were so many other ways they could have done that. Other than go in the middle of the night. They could have stolen it, they could have hired someone to buy it for them. Yendor figured the merchant would not seek out the authorities but there had been a stir. certainly there had been witnesses to that magical event. To not report such an occurrence was a crime and although most people wanted to avoid sorcerers, their fear of trouble would compel them to report it. If one person reported it and no one else did, all the people who didn’t would be punished. They would probably do it as a group. The merchant could face consequences even though he was the victim.

Yendor operated on instinct. It usually led him in the right direction, but there were always unintended consequences. He wasn’t always around to see how they affected innocent people.

Sapphosia stopped. She had come to a decision. “We can’t go back.” she said. “They’ll track us to the coven.” Yendor had not considered this. “They’ll probably raise that town.” She had been leading the way and when she stopped she had not turned to face Yendor. She did so now. “That was reckless. It was unforgivable.” She shook her head in the darkness.

“I’m sorry.” said Yendor weakly.

“I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about myself.” Yendor could see her eyes glitter from an unknown light. “I allowed myself to get caught up in your…. enthusiasm. Many will die from the waves caused by our actions tonight. It cannot possibly be worth it.”

“You say this sword has killed dragon?” asked Yendor. She nodded. “Then it can kill Incarnate.” he said. Her eyes widened, whether at the realization he was right or the realization that he was mad, Yendor would never know. “Disappear into the city.” he told her. “I’ll defend the villiage. I’ll meet you at the library after.” The village was on the path to the sea and the coven lay between the ancient city and the small village where the coven had gotten its supplies from. “I’ll go to the coven to get our things. They should be warned. Maybe they should relocate before the sorcerers come looking for them.”

In the end, it was Sapphosia who warned the coven and held counsel with them. They decided to disband and scatter. They would reunite at some point but even staying in touch could be dangerous if one of them was caught. Sapphosia met Yendor in the library with his things. She was glad now. She could explore her path. She had been tethered too long.

Indeed the village went to the sorcerers as one to make their report. The merchant had disappeared with his diamond and family before the sun came up that day. Yendor watched as the sorcerers scoured the village for clues. The sorcerers concluded their search by surrounding the village with soldiers and Yendor made his appearance. He had been flitting from one spot to the next unnoticed, but emerged now walking down the main street towards the captain of the sorcery, his black cloak rustling quietly behind him, hood up. By now, the rumors of the black rebel had become legend. To them he was like a wraith, a specter from a story come to life. As he walked, Yendor unsheathed his sword. It sang like a struck bell, reverberating into the late afternoon air. They came for him, forgetting the villagers utterly. From every direction they came. He cut them down like wheat. The sword told him where they were before they were there. Like all real magic, the trick was to get out of the way. He was not the swordsman, he was an instrument of the energy that flowed through them both.

Never had the sword been held by such a one. The energy flowed through it. It bonded to Yendor. They were an extension of each other.

When it was done, the villagers fled. Yendor had not saved the town. The villagers would live, but they would never be the same. Neither would the wizards. Neither would the sorcerers. No one would.

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The Merchant

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

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

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

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

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

It sang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What in the bloody fucking hell…”

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

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The Blade of the Crescent Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Say ‘goodbye,’ zero.” He said.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wizards

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

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

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

“I’m Yendor.”

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

“Aren’t you late?” Yendor asked.

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

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

Nicholas said nothing, but his smile did not falter.

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.” He said with confidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He has no power.” Claret said.

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

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

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

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

He took it from her.

“Can you light it?” She asked.

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

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

Yendor strained, but still nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Prison Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yendor the Wizard

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

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Lausaw The Sorcorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honoring Stan Lee

I’ve always wanted to be an artist. When I realized I could draw Snoopy, it was a real eye opener. It wasn’t long before I was drawing superheroes too. I would draw them as I made up my own adventures for them.

I honestly don’t remember a time in my life without comic books. When I was little, they didn’t cost much, and my parents kept me in good supply. When I got older, I bought my own and amassed quite a collection. It was never worth anything because they were all read cover to to cover. Repeatedly. I’ve always loved DC as well as Marvel, to some extent: Batman and Superman and a few others, but by far my favorite were all Marvel brand comics. They were less goody goody, and if they got beat up or found out, that situation didn’t disappear in the next issue. If you liked Marvel comics, then Stan Lee was responsible for that. He co-created the vast pantheon of Marvel heros with the talented bullpen of artists they had.

It was his idea that the Fantastic Four not hide their identities. Why should they? (Then people didn’t always trust people with super powers, including the police, another “realistic  departure from conventional comics wisdom.

Spiderman decided to hide his identity and it was a good thing, because a graying, sarcastic publisher of newsprint periodicals hated him immediately!

This isn’t the place for a blow by blow origin synopsis of all the Marvel heroes, I got my education here. But the style of making the heroes have ongoing lives that were in conflict with each other and the world around them was truly groundbreaking and that was 100% Stan Lee’s doing.

Stan Lee also tried to make the origins of the heroes make sense; at least relative to comic books. The Fantastic Four were subjected to stellar radiation, the hulk the result of a nuclear accident, Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider… There was a lot of fear and unknown dangers of radiation in early nuclear age.

The X-men were a special group because they were all mutants. This meant they were born the way they were and society’s fear of them was a great metaphor for prejudice of all kinds. This was a special topic for Stan Lee (I can’t seem to call him Stan, or Mr. Lee…) he worked to show prejudice was wrong on many different levels. There’s legitimate criticism to be made that comics have been slow to champion women, and LGBT people, and even people of color. I believe Marvel comics in general and Stan Lee in particular, have worked hard to combat prejudice, but we are all blind to our own shortcomings. Just as America has always been a place where equality is an ideal, but a work in progress in reality, comics have work to do. But that work was begun by Stan Lee and comics owe him an undying gratitude. 

Stan Lee took a medium that was largely without elements of real life and injected those into comic books and changed the way the world sees itself. Thank you Stan Lee  Excelsior!