The Long Dark Road to Wizardry
by Richard K. Lyon
|Table of Contents|
Book V: The Three Dreams
Episode 2: The Third Dream, a Dream Without Waking
PREVIOUSLY: Present as a disembodied spirit Breen watches his cousin Pyre confront Nestromon, a being of vast unnatural power. The Vampire King answers Pyre’s question then asks a question of his own: “Since you are guilty of interrupting my breakfast, how do you expect to leave here alive?”
“Oh,” said Pyre in a cheerful tone, “that’s quite simple. I’m going to kill you.”
The undead lords and ladies stared at Pyre uneasily, not knowing what powers this unknown wizard might have. Nestromon, however, replied with vast amused contempt, “And how, pray tell, will you do what hosts of heroes have been unable to do for a thousand years? My power is so great I can snuff you out like a candle, and I am vulnerable to no mortal weapon.”
“True,” Pyre answered agreeably. “That’s why I’m going to use an immortal weapon. By my magic I shall make the sun rise.”
At his words the undead lords and ladies of Tehracula burst into derisive laughter. They knew sunrise was yet an hour distant, and they knew, as all men know, that no magician, however mighty, nor even the Gods themselves, could move the Sun from its unalterable course.
“Then,” commanded Nestromon, hunger in his black evil eyes, his long fangs completely bared in a hideous smile, “do this miracle right now, for I am very thirsty.”
Still in the hands of the zombie guards, the naked blonde stared wide-eyed at Pyre, hoping against all reason that he might save her. Breen, watching the girl, cursed his bodiless helplessness. There was no way he could save her or rescue his mad cousin from the consequences of his folly. Worse, when he glanced at the eastern sky, it had never seemed blacker.
For a long moment Pyre and Nestromon stared at each other, then the black-robed mage said, “As you will. It is fitting that I should work your death for I am Pyre, Godslayer, born in the flames that ate a great city.”
Turning to the east, he stood straight and tall, a proud hawk among vultures. Raising his hand, Pyre commanded with utterly confident arrogance, “Sun, I now order you to rise.” He snapped his fingers.
With utter abandon Nestromon and his entire court laughed at their soon-to-be-victim and his absurd pretense while dawn broke above the mountains, the first golden rays of sunlight striking them like arrows. Some became withered corpses while still laughing, crumbling into dust while their merriment still echoed.
Nestromon clung to his unnatural life a bit longer. “NO! NO! This cannot be!” the monster shouted while his bones came apart one from another. Freed from his neck, his head fell, striking the stone paving and breaking like an egg. One eye remained staring at Pyre with a look of incredible hate for a brief instant. It dissolved into black putrescence; the skull crumbled, and all was dust.
As Pyre freed the girl from what remained of the zombie guards and draped her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, Breen watched his cousin with total awestruck wonder. “Ahh, Pyre... I, ahh, was wondering are you going to put the sun back? While I don’t know much about these things it would seem as though it might, ahh, cause problems if...”
“I fear,” Pyre replied blandly, “that that is not to be helped. Indeed the spell I used is a progressive one: not merely was sunrise an hour early today, ’twill be two hours early tomorrow, three the day after, and so on indefinitely.”
“THE SUN,” Breen exclaimed in dismay, “WILL RISE EARLIER AND EARLIER UNTIL THE WORLD IS DESTROYED?!”
“Yes,” Pyre said blandly, “either that or someone will think to take the extra water out of the waterclock.”
Doing a sudden double-take Breen protested,”Why, you humbug! You said you were going to perform a great enchantment, destroy Nestromon by means dire and arcane.”
“Ahh,” Pyre smiled sardonically, “but, you see, to get that water into the clock I did indeed use means most exceedingly dire and arcane.”
Before Breen could reply, the mists of dream began to fade. He was again in his bunk on the Bold Lady.
* * *
The third and last dream came in Yama, capital and chief port of the kingdom of Weinhar. An expected war had been averted at the last minute, and Breen was left without employment. Though his purse was not empty he could see that unhappy day coming. To save a bit of money he’d persuaded a farmer to let him sleep in the barn, and cold and hungry he made himself as comfortable as he could in the straw.
Scarcely had he dozed off when he found himself sitting in a high-backed chair. On the long dinner table before him was a mouth-watering array of food: roast beef and fresh bread piping hot from the oven; sweet potatoes cooked Nargrab fashion; mable yams, and all manner of vegetables, most of them in delightful-looking sauces.
Though Breen felt an awe bordering on dread for his wizardly cousin, the emptiness in his stomach swept all other thoughts away. With but a glance toward the dire wizard at the end of the table, the young mercenary declared, “Cousin, thank you for inviting me to dinner,” and started attacking the food.
Nodding his agreement, the man who had once been Sir Druin poured pale amber wine for himself and his guest.
After wolfishly devouring his first slice of succulent roast beef, Breen relaxed. More in the mood for conversation, he refilled his plate and asked, “Tell me, Cousin Pyre, what ever happened to that blonde girl you rescued? As I recall she was quite beautiful.”
Pyre shrugged. “Here at Castle Ice I live not alone but without human companionship. Thus, since I’d no use for her, she was returned to her parents.”
Wondering what “not alone but without human companionship” might mean, Breen glanced about. Within the dining room there was no sign of any servants, but obviously someone — or something — had to cook, fetch and carry for Pyre.
No matter. Whatever demons there might be out in the kitchen, the food was still good, and Breen was determined to fill his empty belly.
When this task was approaching comfortable completion, Breen again attempted conversation. “Cousin,” he began, “it must be very lonely for you here in this strange castle. Why don’t you—”
Pyre stopped him with an impatient hand gesture. “My loneliness is of no importance. Other and far greater matters concern us tonight. Have you finished eating?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Good, for now I must show you something that might spoil your appetite even though you’re the veteran of many gory battles.”
The wizard’s hands shook themselves and abruptly he had three hands: his normal two and a third, severed at the wrist and waxy white. Each of the fingers and the thumb had wicks like candles.
“A Hand of Glory,” Pyre murmured as he lit each candle finger. “A simple but effective device.”
The hand had been flat, all the fingers straight and parallel to each other. Now, as the dark mage lighted them, they moved, curling and bending as if to hold a large ball.
“Now the next part of this,” Pyre said softly, “is just a bit delicate.” As Breen watched, awestruck, his wizardly cousin put down the burning Hand of Glory, which was now an unholy candelabrum and picked up a silver pitcher full of clear water.
Slowly with infinite care, the mage held the pitcher above the center of the pentagon formed by the five candle flames, and poured. A single drop of water fell and came to a stop floating in the middle of the pentagon. Bit by bit Pyre added more water until a sphere of crystal clear water floated above the flames of the five finger-candles.
From his robe, the dark wizard now produced a tiny bit of onyx, explaining, “For long I have been searching the world; seeking some clue to my unknown enemy and his plans. Recently I found a place in the shadow-guarded graveyards of Naroka, where the astral signs all showed that something important had happened. Moreover my enemy has at last made a mistake: he or it failed to notice that there was a piece of onyx, this piece, in the floor.”
“What,” Breen interrupted, “earthly difference does that make?”
“Much.” Pyre smiled. “Onyx has the curious property of remembering all it sees.”
While Breen tried to understand this strange assertion, the dark mage dropped the tiny onyx into the aqueous sphere. For a moment the sphere shimmered, then began to fill with images, eye-twisting pictures that the young mercenary struggled to see but couldn’t.
“Your pardon,” Pyre murmured, “the stone’s field of vision is too wide for the human eye.” The mage gestured and without warning Breen found he was no longer sitting in his chair. Instead he was a disembodied eye looking up from the floor of a strange room.
Damn, now my cousin’s turned me into the onyx!
That wasn’t quite accurate, for Breen could still feel his chair under him. Still, he was seeing everything as the onyx would have seen it. Looking to the right, Breen could see a massive black stone altar. Though Breen could see naught of what was on top of that altar, there was apparently someone tied spreadeagle there, for a pair of bare feet projected over the edge. Gnarled, aged feet, but whether the bound captive was an old man or old woman Breen couldn’t guess.
To the left there stood a small table whereon rested a transparent crystal vase filled with an eerie shimmering green liquid, an occult substance that burned with a fire like melted emeralds. Its unearthly glow was the only light in the black-walled stone chamber. From the rear of this grim chamber an unidentifiable black figure walked soundlessly into Breen’s field of view. Indeed, everything was totally silent, and Breen realized that though the onyx sees, it cannot hear.
As the black form approached the altar, something flashed briefly in its hand: a knife. While the unknown figure bent over the altar, over the helpless person’s chest, the victim’s feet quivered with horrible intensity and became completely still.
Turning away from the altar the black figure turned toward the small table, something held carefully in its two hands. As it gently lowered this object into the glowing green liquid, the object was revealed: a human heart, freshly cut from the victim’s chest and still beating. Floating in that unnatural emerald sea the heart continued to beat.
As the unknown bent down to examine the heart in the vase, its face came into the light and was at last revealed. The features were ratlike and distorted by a look of unholy triumph while the mouth moved with soundless words.
Ebbern! Breen thought as the vision faded, and he found himself again seated at the wizard’s dining table. Gazing around the room he struggled frantically to get his thoughts in order. Till this moment he’d been enjoying a pleasant evening with his wizardly cousin, as much as one could enjoy the company of such an awesome person. Now, however, he felt distinctly uneasy. “Cousin Pyre,” he said tentatively, “I have the feeling I wasn’t summoned here for a social evening.”
“True,” the mage nodded. “This is more in the nature of a council of war. If you could read lips, you’d have seen Ebbern say: ‘Good. At last it works. Now the Master can carry out the last step of the Great Plan.’ Thus, Cousin Breen, our situation: Ebbern’s Master, the unknown who arranged my father’s murder and all manner of other evils, is about to complete his or its mysterious plan. That we must thwart at all costs. Of course, with Mardarin gone our side is vastly weaker than the enemy’s, but I have a rather subtle plan, a plan with which I need your help.”
Meaning you want to use me as an expendable pawn. Aloud Breen replied politely, “But if the odds are heavily against us, why fight? I know you want vengeance, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to sit this one out?”
“I fear, my boy,” the dark mage replied heavily, “that you don’t understand. We face a great evil, one so great that it will eventually destroy us unless we destroy it while we may. Also... I use the word ‘we’ because in simple truth I need you.
“Wars of magic are mixtures of long dull waiting and sudden short battle, the loser nearly always being the one whose concealment fails. As my only living relative, my one link with humanity, you can afford an excellent means for me to hide my actions.”
“No,” Breen said flatly. “I’ve already worked for you once, cousin, and gotten short pay.”
Pyre shrugged. “This time,” he replied, “I’d be generous, for I’m in great need of your assistance... and all the other help I can get. To put matters bluntly, the fact is that, though I make a bold show, my powers are far less than my grandsire Mardarin, and our unknown enemy destroyed him with ease.”
Damn! He really means it. My cousin is trapped into a fight with powers greatly beyond him. For moments Breen permitted himself the luxury of compassion, but that moment soon passed. Slowly he shook his head. “Sorry but I’ve found the pay’s always short on the losing side. Your problems are your problems and mine are mine.”
Waving his hands in a gesture of resignation the hawkfaced mage said, “As you will. Still, though I regret your attitude, there’s no reason for me not to give you a little help. As I understand it, you’re in the awkward situation of being a soldier in a world momentarily at peace?”
“Yes, thank you,” Breen replied politely, though there was considerable suspicion at the back of his mind. “I hadn’t expected you to take such a kindly attitude.”
“Kindness has a way of returning to the giver.” As the mage spoke, his gray eyes seemed to grow larger, and Breen found it impossible to look away. “You see, my boy,” the dark wizard continued, spinning words as a spider spins its web, “your real problem is your personality. The world’s at peace just now and you need to be someone who fits into peacetime.
“Suppose... just suppose... that your name is Gulnor. You were raised on a farm by your kindly aunt and uncle in a quiet country where nothing much ever happens. Of course, being a spirited youth, you want to do something more adventurous than farming. The pinnacle of your ambition is to join the Imperial Guards of King Practus of Milfar.”
“But,” Breen protested, “the so-called Imperial Guards of Milfar are a bunch of toy soldiers. The do-nothings just parade all day in fancy uniforms.”
“NO, GULNOR,” the mage said, the force of his eyes absolutely irresistible, “you’re a farm boy, hopelessly naive, and greatly impressed by those fancy uniforms. Fortunately for you, you have a distant cousin of noble birth, and I wrote the necessary letters of introduction, etc, to get you a position in the Imperial Guard.”
Reaching into his robes Pyre produced several scrolls all of which he handed to the helplessly staring youth. “One thing,” the mage continued: “The Imperial Guard will, of course, supply you with a uniform and a drill sword... a sword like this.” The mage displayed a highly polished piece of steel shaped like a sword but edgeless and pointless. Gently he placed it into Breen/Gulnor’s inert hand. “When they do, you will throw it away and instead use this sword. It is your lucky sword and you must keep it a secret.”
* * *
When he awoke in the farmer’s barn, Gulnor was a little frightened. He had never, so far as he could remember, been this far away from his dear aunt and uncle. Still he was here pursuing his dream to be an Imperial Guardsman, to wear that incredibly glamorous armor in stately parade before awed crowds.
Nervously, Gulnor checked his pouch and found they were all still there: all the letters that would get him passage on a ship to Milfar and, once there, enrollment in the guard. Of course his lucky sword was still safe at his side.
After politely thanking the farmer for the use of his barn — and asking if he could do any chores in repayment — Gulnor made his way to the harbor. People were kind enough to help him find his ship and with the tide he was sailing for Milfar... Milfar and the fulfillment of his dreams.
Next episode: Book Six: The Puppet’s War
Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon