Act Two – Scene Thirteen: In another man’s shoes

In response to a recent conversation with AD Bane I set about an attempt to drag myself out of a difficult writing point by switching my point of view and writing a scene from the observer’s view. What I’ve written will not make it into the final draft, as it’s intended to be strictly from Gail’s view, but I thought that being the snippet that it is it might go well here, as a sort of limited sneak peak.

Andrue Kaorl rose slowly. He had been out in the woods for hours. It was his turn, by the drawing of straws, to watch the gate. Ridiculous, he thought, that the Irithol should continue to keep a watch on the gate in these dark hours, especially when they were so few… but then it could just as easily be argued that he was watching the western woods as he was the gate. Right near the gate an Irith on guard might not see an enemy until they were on top of him. No, instead Andrue stayed a good way back in the woods, pacing a slow circle about the gate some fifty meters out. He moved when he was cold, and stopped when he was tired. He had been sitting in the same place for some time now. I was time he rose and continued on his way.

He had not walked ten minutes when it happened. There was a sound almost as if thunder had struck here in the woods. It had not, of course. Andrue had not seen the gate to NaRasch open before, but he had heard of it from the others. He knew what this was now – knew that it could not possibly be anything else.
The wind hardly moved within the wood, but over on the gazebo a tornado had sprung up. The wind tore about the circle of the platform at speeds so great that Andrue could see it move. He broke into a run, drawing his sword even then.
He had gotten half way to the gazebo when she appeared. The transition was shocking. One moment there was nothing but the thundering roar of the wind – the next, the tornado was dying. In the middle of the circle a girl had appeared. Perhaps she was no older than Andrue, and her dress was much like the fashion of Gaeline. She appeared standing, but a moment later she fell to her hands and knees, fighting against the wind. That only lasted for a moment, however. The wind was dying, and the girl was rising.

Andrue ducked behind a tree, intent that he should not be seen yet. With his back pressed against the bark, he peered about. Slowly the girl peered around herself, looking into the woods in every direction, but she did not see Andrue. At last she walked to the edge of the circle and stepped from the stone onto the path. She did it tentatively, as though she might not be sure that the world she was looking at was real. Andrue wondered briefly what lay beyond the stone circle of the gate. He had heard that it was the house of Eliam Stragensol, but he had never seen the old man, and the stories of his house he had heard had been hardly consistent.
The strange girl was beginning to walk now. Andrue could see from his observation that she was well armed, with knives below her cloak and a sword at her back, concealed beneath the cloak with the hood hung loosely over the sheath. Andrue thought that it was hardly an effective way to carry a weapon. If she needed it out it was as likely to tangle in the hood as it was to come free. But dispite this she did not look like the sort of woman who would need a weapon. She carried herself with a sort of confidence that Andrue found it frightening to behold. She walked away down the path and Andrue followed, slipping between the shadows so as to stay out of sight. This worked for a while, but soon enough he realized that he was going to reveal himself to her soon enough. It was his duty to confront any gatepasser and bring them before the High Irith. Gomarden would not look kindly on him if he only followed her into the grounds like some frightened shadow. Andrue stepped out from the trees into the path.

“Who goes there?” he demanded.

The girl fairly jumped out of her skin. She spun around, and one of her knives was drawn in her hand. Andrue was reaching for his own sword, but the moment her shock was over she relaxed and began to resheath her weapon.

“Sorry,” said the girl, sounding embarrassed. “You startled me.” She sheathed her knife and dropped her hands well away from her weapons, trying to smile at him. “I’m Gail of NaRasch. Who are you?”

“I am called Andrue Kaorl,” he replied, letting the Kaorl resound as he always had, as his father and his grandfather did. The Kaorls were, of course, fiercely proud of their name.

“Is this Gaeline?” asked the girl. She asked it so innocently that for a moment Andrue thought she must be joking. But then he reconsidered.

“Of course,” said Andrue, a little stiffly, thinking that she, being the gate passer, should have known where she was going. “Alright then, you’ll be coming with me. By the law of the Irithol of the Karedon every passer of the gate must appear before him for judgement without haste!”

“Irithol?” said the Girl, and Andrue thought almost that she was excited to hear the name. “Are the Irithol here?”

“We are all around you,” replied Andrue. “I am an Irith.” She looked at him with wonder in her eyes, but she still did not move. “Come along now,” said Andrue, trying to be assertive. He didn’t want to have to use force with this girl. He wasn’t sure at all that he could match her. “You must appear before the High Irith.”

“Alright then,” said the girl, sounding as though he had merely suggested that they take a walk through the woods. “That’s fine. It was the High Irith I’ve come to see.” The way she said it was not as Andrue would have expected. It was as though she were saying that she saw his attempt to guard the wood, and with a respectful nod declined to be his captor. He could not doubt for a moment that if what she said were not true she would have simply turned and walked in another direction without another though toward him, heavily armed though he was. The idea unnerved him. Andrue began to walk, and the girl fell in beside him.

Act Two – Scene Eleven: Last Arrangements and Ultimatums

Excerpt from Irith Queen


“It would seem not,” said Elissa. “The imperials have occupied all of Kemlane along with their port at Legionair. We would have sent a message south if we had a way. But by my advice there is no way now – even if you turned around and went back, and if you slipped past all the hordes in the wasteland, you would still come to Vestrodge too late.”

“You are right,” said Hayley. “It would do no good for us to turn around. We must push forward.”

The cook then came and announced that the meal was prepared. It was a hasty affair, thrown together quickly and with little art, but to the company it was as good a meal as they had eaten in more than a week. Elissa left them while they ate, and with Hayley’s permission, she instructed her men to unharness the dashers. The sleds were left in the middle of the courtyard, their contents untouched. Then she disappeared inside for a while, returning when they had finished their meal.

“Captain Bresh is ready to see you,” she said. “He’s inside.”

They followed her through the kitchen, and found Arlen Bresh in the large room that must have been living room or common room at one time. Now it was bare, except for a few chairs and some crates. Bresh sat in one of the chairs opposite the doorway, waiting for them. His face was drawn, but he was calm. His cutlass lay across his knees in its sheath.

“My first mate has explained your situation to you,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. “You are now faced with a dilemma. You should procure horses immediately and set out, but unless our enemies have been napping, they are already aware of us. If I were they, I would lay in wait on the road out of Soptrod with a hundred men or so, and ambush you when you rushed out. Would you not agree?”

“That is the greatest danger, I think,” said Hayley.

“Then you must not leave by land,” said Bresh. “You must procure a ship, and sail over the bay. There is a river there I know of that is wide and deep for some way inland. A ship could take you far from the ocean by night, and by noon tomorrow you would be far away indeed, and these skulking assassins might search Soptrod for a week before discovering that you were gone.”

“You’ve given this a great deal of thought,” said Hayley.

“I have,” replied the captain. “Which brings us to your last concern. There are no roads in these lands, and your dashers have reached the end of their usefulness. You have no way to transport your companion Leordon. If you strap him to a horse his wounds will bleed him to death, and you have not the time to wait for him to heal.”

“What are you getting at, Arlen?” asked Hayley a little shortly.

“Just this,” said the Pirate. “I am willing to give you the horses you need. I will take your dashers and hire Bandits to dress in appearance like your company and set out east down the coast in your sleds – away from your intended direction. I will also take you aboard Der Anjet up the river to the north and drop you on the southern border of Oomar with your steeds and supplies. My first mate will take Leordon into her keeping, and Der Anjet will depart these waters, sailing north. If possible, he will be taken to Gaeline and, if he is slow to recover, or dies along the way, left in the keeping of his brother there.”

Hayley thought for a moment. “That’s a very generous offer,” he said at last. “Our sleds are not filled with chests of gold. What price would you name?”

Arlen smiled, his speech having finally come to point. “I will not ask much,” he said. “Certainly it will be nothing you cannot give. My price is this: that when you disembark in Oomar you take me with you.”

Gail might have thought the Pirate was joking. But his face was grave and he did not smile. There was a long pause before Hayley made a reply.

“Why would the captain of the Der Anjet desire such a thing?” he asked. “And determine your answer with care, because the only way I would agree to such terms is if I felt that I completely understood your intent and motive. Do not attempt to deceive me, Arlen.”

Bresh nodded. “I have not spent much time aground since the Paladin came,” he said cautiously. “You, Caval, of all men should understand why. Now that danger has passed, and the sea has grown thick with these imperials. Der Anjet is running out of places to dock. But I am weary of the sea. I want adventure again, and adventure is something that always follows you. I have great skill with the sword; a skill that I think you have need of. You have recently lost an Elemental. Another strong companion could not hurt your cause. As a condition of my coming I say that I will stay with you no longer than is my wish or your command, but should I fall in the protection of such fine men and women as yourselves then perhaps I will find some small redemption.”

“And what of your ship?”

“I have already declared Elissa captain of the Anjet,” said Arlen. “With your leave, she will order that the horses be taken and boarded now, and we will go when night falls.”

“I have not agreed yet to your terms,” said Hayley.

“As I said,” replied Arlen, “with your leave. What is your answer, Lord Caval?”

Hayley thought for a long time. He looked to Freyn and Gail, but they made no motion, either yes or no. Then he looked back at Arlen, but he addressed Elissa. “Captain,” he said, “Do you agree to these terms, that you will care for Leordon and deliver him safely into the hands of Gomarden Varyen in Gaeline?”

“I do,” replied Elissa.

“I shall hold Arlen’s life in contempt if that promise is not kept,” said Hayley. “However, on these terms I accept your offer.”

Act Two – Scene Ten: Rats on Ships

Excerpt from Irith Queen


Hayley hesitated for a moment. “Lead on, my lady,” he said.

She wasted no time then. Turning, she left the main road and led the way down a side street, walking quickly and looking about her cautiously. Hayley followed her, and the rest followed him.

When her dasher had fallen in behind the others Gail let go of her sled and came past to catch up with Alken who was directly in front of her. “Alken!” she said when she was close, her voice little more than a whisper. “Did she just say Arlen Bresh?”

“I think so,” replied the Kanedonian, after he had gotten over the initial shock of Gail’s first words that day. “This must be the Harlon that the merchants spoke of.”

“What on earth is he doing here?”

“How should I know?” said Alken. “Not even the Bandits seem to know. Why? What’s he to you?”

“I went with Anne to visit him before we came to Vestrodge,” replied Gail. “He was in Thorangel then.”

“Thorangel!” said the Kanedonian. “What’s he doing here then?” then his words of a few moments came back to him. “Never mind,” he muttered, returning his attention to their leader.

They had come several streets over and now their guide made another turn into a larger street. They had only gone a little way when they came to a place where a large building of some sort was divided from the road by a walled courtyard. Here she turned in, and they followed. The moment Gail had passed through with her dasher the gate closed behind them and a bar dropped.

The courtyard was wide and empty. The dashers came together in a haphazard cluster, and the travelers came from among them warily, with their hands on their weapons.

There were twenty or thirty men on the grounds, some of them guarding the entrances, others peering out over the wall, and still others eyeing the newcomers suspiciously. None of them were Bandits.

Their guide now turned to face them, and removed her cowl. She was young, perhaps in her late twenties. It immediately became clear to them why she had covered herself in the street for she had long almost blonde straight hair – a thing unheard of among Bandits. As she looked at their guide, Gail now recognized her as the bartender in Hembrage.

“I am sorry for the secrecy,” said the girl. “I am Elissa, the first mate of the Der Anjet. Captain Bresh is waiting for you inside. Your animals and equipment will not be touched. I believe the Captain has a business offer for you.”

“I am sure he does,” said Hayley warily. “Freyn, let your guards stay with the dashers and our ward.” By our ward, he meant Leordon.

They began walking toward the house, but before they had gotten far, the doors opened, and Arlen Bresh came out. As if in rebellion to the Bandit culture about him he was dressed in as Pirate-ish a fashion as could be devised, complete with a cutlass at his side. Hayley was the first one he addressed. Taking the old man’s hand in greeting, he half bowed, saying as he did, “My lord, Caval, it is good to see you again.”

“Well met, young Captain,” replied Hayley, a little wryly. “I see you’re still getting around.”

“With more success these days, fortunately,” replied Bresh with an awkward laugh. “And I see you’re still keeping a fine company.”

“These are my granddaughters,” said Hayley, “Freyn and Gail.”

“The queen of Gaeline,” said Arlen Bresh, looking Gail up and down. “Fancy meeting you here. But I suppose it’s to be expected that if Lord Caval is to appear he might as well have you with him. And in that case,” he turned to Freyn. “This Freyn must be a queen too? Perhaps the Freyn who rules Kanedon.”

“The same,” said Hayley flatly.

“I see,” said Arlen Bresh, his joke cut from under him. “And who are they?” he indicated the Kanedonian warriors.

“Freyn’s guards,” said the old man.

“And the injured one – is he a guard too?”

“See for yourself, Arlen,” replied Hayley sternly. “I think this one you’ll recognize.”

Arlen Bresh shrugged, and going past them, he went among the dashers as a merchant might have, appraising products and their values. Then he came to the sled where Leordon lay, and when the Pirate saw his face, he stopped, and his smug act fell away. He turned about and his face had gone white. “Caval,” he said, still unmoving. He seemed to be locked somewhere between hatred and fear. “Where is his sword?”

“It was destroyed,” replied Hayley calmly. “Last night, by the daughter of Lord Gretnert.”

Arlen stood frozen for a moment longer. Then, as a man waking from a dream, he shook himself. “See that they’re fed and rested,” he muttered to Elissa. Then, without another word, he turned and ran past them, back into the house.

Elissa watched the captain leave, a look of puzzlement on her face. “Come with me,” she said to them. “Your business will have to wait a little.”

“We are in no particular hurry today,” said Hayley politely.

“I have seen that,” replied Elissa. “But you do not yet know your danger.” She was leading them around the side of the house where an awning had been set outside of the kitchen doors. “My Lord Caval,” she said, “Captain Bresh owes you a great debit. We both do. It has been reported that you are asking for horses and, if you will accept them, we will be pleased to make you an even trade – horses for your current mode of transportation.”

“We need five horses,” said Hayley, “and we have only four dashers to trade. In Vestrodge three dashers are traded for two horses.”

“I know,” said Elissa. “We have four steeds here at the house, and three more aboard Der Anjet. You may take them all if you desire.”

They had come to the awning, and found that beneath it was set a table with benches. Elissa called into the kitchen, and the staff replied from inside, saying that a meal was in preparation and would be served soon.

“Your offer is very generous,” Hayley said cautiously.

“Not so, Lord,” replied the girl. “We will still be in your debit, I think, when all this is done. But the matter of gifts is of secondary importance.” She took a seat at the table, motioning for them to join her. When all were seated, she leaned across the table so that they could speak quietly.

“Four days ago there was an imperial ship that came through the narrows and anchored out in the bay. It was a great ship, and sent ashore many landing parties to the different towns. The soldiers were heavily armed and they spilled more than a little Bandit blood. We’d only been here two days when they arrived, and most of the Bandits said we had brought them, but we had not been followed. We harassed the soldiers as we could with our few numbers for there were more than a hundred of them on the ground and we have only thirty. Nevertheless, we made life so miserable for them that in two days they returned to their ship and left, tired and diseased. It gave us quite a good standing among the Bandits. But,” she lowered her voice even more. “The ship has not left through the narrows. What’s more, by our reckoning fewer men returned to it than what came from it. Perhaps as many as fifty soldiers stayed aground and for all our skills we have not been able to find them.’

“To make matters worse,” she continued, “your coming was not unlooked for. When they first landed, we got a hold of one of them and beat some answers from him. He said that they’d come from Legionair; that they’ve built a great camp there for the invasion of Vestrodge. He said also that at Legionair they caught a Vessergen hunter, and learned that he was of a band of fugitives flying north through the snow. They’re here looking for you, Caval, and now that they know you have come, we think they will land their ship and swarm these shores until you are found and killed – that is if they cannot overcome us with the fifty that they already have ashore that have eluded us.”

“Then the hunter was caught,” said Hayley gravely. “And no word has gotten to Vestrodge.”

Act Two – Scene Nine: Again with the Pirate

Excerpts from Irith Queen

To the mariners of NaRasch and the Pirates of the Kemlane Islands there were no harbors between Oomar and Vestrodge beyond the barren inlets of Arme. It was held among the ship-goers that there were no inhabited shore regions about the mouth of the great river, and in fact, most of them did not dare to pass within the ring of Drapmorg. There was no reason to take the risk.

However, the lands on southern shore of the inlet where the great river issued into the sea was far from uninhabited, and the Bandits who dwelt there had many seaside towns and more than a few small ships, though they did not themselves venture near Drapmorg or attempt the passage into open water.

The word Bandit encompassed a great range of forest dwelling peoples living at different points throughout the southern reaches of Greatwood. In the far western corner near the dividing mountains were the wandering bands. It was these same tribes that had held the princess Gail captive near the river village of Wanderwash. These deep forest Bandits were perhaps the closest to the Khalad, and therefore the furthest from anyone else. It was primarily because of their kind that the name Bandit was unsavory in civilized lands.

Throughout the southern marches of Greatwood similar dwellings lay, and though most of them were far less sadistic than the deep-foresters they all knew the Khalad and had no love for men of other races.

However, the black panthers of the forest hated the ocean, and so their sway was not so strong among the seaside dwellers. Travelers would move at times among the different communities and men could by no means say that any town was purely evil or purely good. However, even the Bandits agreed among themselves that the ocean side dwellers were a great deal more like the outside world than their cousins in the west. They maintained a primitive form of government and kept their towns to a basic code of conduct. They traded much among themselves for which they primarily used the water, as they had few carts and fewer roads, and they even spoke the common language of NaRasch rather than the broken dialect of their kind. Nevertheless, for all their civilization, they were beneath the skin Bandits, and they always remembered this, holding in suspicion any outsider who attempted to enter their lands.

The greatest of the coastal Bandit cities, which nowhere else would have been large enough to be called anything other than a town, was set in a low valley at the mouth of a river issuing from one of Rejhant’s western vales. This was called Soptrod in the Bandit tongue, but the locals affectionately abbreviated it to ‘the Swamp’. Here where the peaks of Rejhant came to meet the sea the weather tended to be foul more often than not and it was not uncommon to make it through the summer without more than twenty days of sunshine. Even in winter, the snows that fell deep on the mountains held a shifting domain on the shoreline, falling deep one day, and melting on a warm gale off the sea the next. Turning to rain, it would render the entire region of Soptrod full of half-frozen sludge, too wet to be kept out, and too cold to be abided.

It was around eleven o clock the morning that a band of outlandish travellers emerged from the deep valley of the dead mountain where no Banded ever dared or desired to go, and rode boldly into the Swamp. They came in five sleds drawn by the dashers of the southern lands and there were seven of them; an old man, three women, and two younger warriors. One of these lay in the other’s sled, wrapped in bandages and unconscious, riddled with fever and shrapnel wounds. Behind him came a grey horse, unbridled and following of its free will. The Bandits had heard nothing of the coming of the Paladin and this was for the better, for in these regions they feared him as they feared and hated the Khalad. Had they known more of the Paladin they might have recognized the face of the man who lay unconscious in Alken’s sled, but to the ones that peered cautiously and suspiciously out of windows and doorways he was just another outlandish face to avoid.

The old man Hayley, it seemed, had been to the Swamp at least once in his wide travels, and remembered something about the layout of the city. He led them down among the houses, but chose for his course narrower ways about the outskirts rather than the wide lanes through the markets that were the closest thing Bandits had to roads. The snow had faded now to a thin covering when they entered the town. They found that the passing of many feet had crushed it into the mud of the stony streets and it could no longer support sleds. Therefore, they dismounted and walked alongside their dashers.

In this way, they came unchallenged through the greater part of Soptrod to the lower city where the trade of the docks was carried. As they drew nearer the water, Hayley began to enquire of the traders who might have horses. Many of them would not even speak to him, but shuffled away angrily as if to dismiss his uncomfortable existence, glancing over their shoulders with dark looks as they did so. But a few spoke, and when he had purchased overpriced trinkets without bothering to haggle too much their tongues began to loosen. There were no horses in Soptrod they said, and had not been for many months now. Nevertheless, the general agreement was that Harlon from the ship might have some. The merchants spoke of the ship repeatedly, but gave no explanation for the phrase. With great prodding and greater attention to the things that were not said than the things that were, they learned that ‘the ship’ had come to the Swamp about two weeks past, and Harlon had been causing quite a stir in town. He came with goods and soldiers, and they were rumoring that he might not be leaving.

The opinions were mixed about the outsider. Some said that he would have to be made to leave, others that he was their best deterrent against the imperial ships that were passing by on the ocean. One old trader with a friendly tongue – too friendly, maybe – said that the man on the ship had already chased off one of the imperial vessels that had ventured within the ring of Drapmorg. But even he shared the opinion of the others, that even if this Harlon was helpful for the time being he should be dealt with the moment the imperials were no longer a threat.

When it became clear that all the merchants who would speak were talking of the same man, Hayley made his decision and they turned around, returning into the city in search of Harlon from the ship. He had learned that the man they sought, or some of his soldiers, could generally be found about the main market toward which many of the greater roads ran. They found themselves in one of the Swamp’s main arteries, and many of the residents saw them, and did not bother to conceal their stares.

Gail had been silent all that day, wrapped in her own thoughts. She trailed behind the others, and for the time being they did not try to engage her in conversation. The images of the fight of the night before were as clear to her mind as the waking world was, but it was not these that she dwelt the longest on. She found herself traveling back in time over the past months and every memory she had of Anne Gretnert.

She had not until now realized how fond she had become of the Elemental. It did not help anything that Anne had not strictly been human, or alive, or killed for that matter. It did not even help that, when Hayley had done everything he could to save the unconscious Leordon, he had come and talked to Gail. He had explained to her how Anne’s purpose from the moment of her creation had been to destroy the Paladin. Gail had understood what he told her. Somehow, it made sense. If a thing was not human – not born with the plans and desires intrinsic to humanity – that it would not benefit it to go on living when it had fulfilled its purpose. It all made sense to her reasoning, but it did not help the great hole she felt inside at the loss of her friend.

The streets near the Swamp’s market were quite crowded. It was one of the busiest hours of the day, and among the Bandits there were few rules regarding traffic or the placement of merchants’ wares in the roadway. Nevertheless, they had little difficulty getting through. The crowds parted before them, and the Bandits avoided them like a plague, scampering into the corners to stare at them in fear and suspicion.

They had nearly come to the market when out of the parting crowd came a lone figure, hidden beneath a muddied cloak with cowl pulled low, who stood in their way and waited for Hayley to approach.

“Greetings, travelers,” said the stranger. They were surprised to find that it was the voice of a girl coming from beneath the hood. “You must not linger here. These streets are not safe for you. I can hide you and, if you are willing, I will take you to Arlen Bresh for he wishes to speak with you.”

Act Two – Scene Six: First Appearance

part2-first-lookWell, moving onward, here’s a first look at a concept piece for part two of The Fall of NaRasch. I’m toying with the name Irith Queen for the second book, but haven’t settled on it completely yet. At this moment I’ve gone through the first third of the book and, I think, rewritten most of that first third. Now my attention lies with the rest, and the more I ponder the changes I’d like to make, the more I think this is “book revision” is going to be more revision than book. I’m not even entirely sure it’s going to end the same way. As such I’m trying to accomplish something that I rarely have achieved before: an outline. Yes, that’s right. I, Hiram Webb, am attempting to condense my story into point form in hopes that this little-used method will help me to gain a clear direction for the necessary changes and, hopefully, restrict me to some sort of timeline. In the mean time, I seem to have wasted (or well spent) an evening poking about photoshop in order to come up with a tentative cover which, at the moment, I’m very happy with. We shall see if it stands the test of time.

Act Two – Scene Three

Part Two: Sight and Circumstance

The mess hall was chaos. It was the very nature of a school to take the students with the least organizational skills and make them organizers. The school board and the planning committee called it democracy. Maleoke called it school spirit.

An impressive effort had begun to transform the plain hall of function into a festive ballroom in preparation for tomorrow evening’s party. The tables had been strewn about the floor in a haphazard fashion and nearly all of them were overflowing with gaudy decorative materials. Several of the high ranking members of the student body were busy running about, shouting orders to everyone and no one in particular. Maleoke grimaced as he entered the chaos, consoling himself that it was a relatively straight shot to the opposite door and his dorm beyond. It would take hours, he knew, but eventually this madness would morph into a somewhat respectable looking party, and he was content to wait for it, so long as it would allow him his  shortcut to peace and quiet. He gained the other door at last, and emerged into the open air like a boat shot from some perilous rapids to drift victoriously in the calm beyond.

“There you are,” said a voice from behind him. Maleoke nearly jumped at the words. He whirled around and found Embyr behind him. She was leaning against the wall just behind the open door, her right leg crossed behind her left and her hands folded behind her back. Her head was tilted to one side, and as soon as he saw her Maleoke knew she had been waiting for him, knowing that he must eventually pass this way.

“Don’t you have something better to do?” asked Maleoke, turning to resume his walk.

“I heard you were in to see the head Master,” said Embyr, pushing herself from the wall and coming at a light run to catch him up.

“You hear a lot of things,” Maleoke retorted irritably. “I was in the library all day.”

“You’re a terrible liar, Maleoke Parphonette!” she said with a laugh. “I heard from a friend who saw you there! Rumor has it there’s a big wig from the MPA here, and I’m betting you met him, didn’t you!”

“I was in the library,” repeated Maleoke, “studying for my exam in the morning.”

“Hogwash! You know those books off by heart! So what’d the Alliance want? Looking for more drones?”

“Yes,” Maleoke said, his stride unbroken and his gaze fixed on the building across the laws – the one which she was forbidden to enter and he was not. “They’re considering me for a position in the Prophetic Alliance – a full position.”

“And you told them to drag their starched robes back the way they came of course!” said Embyr.

“I most certainly did not.”

“Maleoke!” she said, giving him a slap as though she were his mother and he had used a cuss word. Then he re-evaluated. No, her slap was not intended to hurt.

“It’s good money,” he said, his tone becoming defensive despite his best efforts. “It’s a secure position with good renown, and the Alliance looks after their own.”

“At the expense of the rest of us!” exploded Embyr. “I wouldn’t have thought you would sell out for so little. The rest of this rabble, sure! But you?”

“Oh, shut it,” retorted Maleoke. “You’d take the money in an instant, just like the rest of us.”

“I most certainly would not!” It was difficult to tell how much of her offense was real and how much was staged – the better portion, he guessed. “Those pompous overlords have nothing of any remote interest to me! I’m going way higher than any of them have ever dreamed of – and you could too!”

“It’s a little late for freshman fantasies,” said Maleoke, a bit more harshly than he intended. “You can chase pipe dreams all you like, but this… this is real money – money that I can hold and spend – and it comes with the respect due a Prophet. Call that selling out, if you like.”

“Who’s in charge of the Alliance?” demanded Embyr.


“Who runs it? Who’s the boss? What about his councillors?”

“It’s run by Prophets,” said Maleoke.

“Yes, but which Prophets? What are their names?”

“I don’t know…”

“Exactly!” she said triumphantly. “And neither does anyone else. They’re shadows – formed into the mold of the Alliance. Maleoke, those men had to be someone to get there. They had to be really remarkable or really manipulative – so why aren’t they famous?”

“Maybe they don’t want to be?”

“Don’t be absurd! Everyone wants to be famous.”

“I don’t.”

“You’re an idiot, and yes you do. You’re a bigger idiot if you expect me to believe that. Maleoke!” she had stopped walking. He kept going, until she called his name again, this time making it a command that he could not safely ignore. He stopped and turned to look at her. “Mal, they haven’t got names because the Alliance took them away – traded them for gold. You can sell your name easy for money, but all the gold in the world won’t buy it back.”

“What do you know?” Maleoke muttered.

“I know you, mister!” she replied. “I know that you’d go there and do brilliant things and those nameless apes at the top would get rich and fat off of you. But you – you’d never see a coin of it, save what they put in your weekly pension. You’d grow old before your time in that system, given to a life of luxury and paid only enough to survive it, smiled at by a few bureaucrats, and remembered by none. Twenty years from now they’ll be saying ‘Maleoke who?’ and you’ll be explaining to them ‘that’s my name’.”

“And I guess you have a better plan,” said Maleoke.

“I’ve got ten plans better than that,” she replied, “and one or two of them might make better money. But how would you know when you’re too scared to try?”


“Yes, I said scared!”

“Try ‘smart’ on for size,” he snapped.

“Mal!” She fairly yelled the words, bringing the conversation to a standstill. “You always were a brick,” she said after a moment. Her voice was changed. She was calm, speaking quietly now, so quietly that he had to come closer to hear her. “You are smart, but sometimes it’s in all the wrong ways.”

He wanted to retort then and there, but her changed tone denied it. “All I’m trying to say is you’re worth more than what they’d give you,” she went on. “You’ve got it through your head that you’ll be happy once you’ve got a bit more money and a fancier badge on your robe but you won’t. You’re a terrible liar, and the only one still believing you is yourself. You’d hear the truth if you’d just shut up and listen for a minute – if you’d be honest with yourself.”

“You never liked the Alliance,” Maleoke said.

Embyr ignored his accusation. “Do you remember,” she asked, “two years ago after the end of summer when you’d been in Morvan? Do you remember that night after the autumn feasts? That place in the woods?” Without his realizing it, she had taken his hand in hers.

“I do,” he said, “what of it?”

“Do you remember what you said to me?”

“It was a long time ago,” Maleoke said defensively.

“Oh, shut up! You remember.” And he did. He had spent the semester before chasing Embyr about the campus, covertly lining his classes up with hers and manipulating his way through study groups, just to spend a little more time with the fiery redhead who had captured his attention. He had been oblivious to the social situations, of course, so preoccupied had he been with his pursuit, but she had seen every minute of it, watched his every advance, and waited for him. Then, a week before he was to leave, he had finally worked up the courage to ask her out, and their relationship had burst into bloom.

It was the stuff of schoolyard legends – the best of rumors that everyone sees coming and feels as if they’re somehow in the know of some juicy secret when it finally happens. It had lasted for exactly a week, and then he was gone, whisked away to Morvan for an apprenticeship with a subsidiary of the Alliance. They kept up their relationship through letters, and by the time summer ended and he returned to Coreson he was unquestionably, unapologetically, head-over-heels in love.

He had come back to the autumn feast, and she had been waiting for him, there to resume where they had left off. After the last night they had gone walking in the woods. He remembered how excited he had been – how his mind was fit to explode and how his hands shook, just knowing she was there walking beside him.

Of course, it had all fallen apart a week or so later and it was the testament of two years and a lot of social discipline that found them friends now, but try as he might Maleoke could not forget that night, and whenever he recalled it he would nearly fall in love again just from the memory.

“You made a promise to me, Mal,” said Embyr. “You said you’d wasted your summer and you should have spent it with me. You said you’d never do it again.”

“Yeah, and look how that turned out,” Maleoke said with a chuckle. “I said a lot of dumb stuff back then.”

“You didn’t say that for my sake,” Embyr retorted. “You knew something then that you’ve forgotten. You knew that the Alliance couldn’t make you happy – that their money couldn’t make you happy. Maybe we hadn’t figured out what we wanted, but Ancients, we knew what we didn’t want.”

“We were delusional,” said Maleoke, but now he didn’t even believe it. He could feel his mask cracking, and he knew she saw it too. “Things change – people change.” He wondered if it sounded as lame to her as it did to him.

“Not us,” she replied. “We’re the same short-sighted idiots we were two years ago. You’ve got to see that. I don’t care if you’re honest with me,” she took a step closer staring him in the eye so he couldn’t look away, “but promise me you’ll be honest with yourself before you pack your bags.”

“I’ll think about it,” Maleoke muttered.

“You’re incorrigible,” she said. Standing on tiptoe, she kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“And you’re a nag,” he replied. Then he stepped back, breaking her grip. He no longer felt like being stuffed up in his room. Turning his back on Embyr he moved off the sidewalk and made for the corner of the dorm.

“Where are you going?” she called after him.

“Somewhere quiet,” he replied, “where I can think in silence!”

The School of the Prophets was old – older than anyone remembered. The library still had on display a few old documents from the founding of the school, but these were so weather worn that they could hardly be read, even under a glass. The dates in them were in an archaic mode that some claimed to understand but that no one could agree upon, and the few translations that the library offered were a close approximation at best, and highly flawed at worst. The school had always been in this valley, but most of the buildings had been burnt down so many times that it was doubtful that they were anything like they had been. Only the library was unchanged. It was built of great pieces of stone, so great that even the technologies of Morvan could not have managed them, and the air within its walls would not abide any flame to exist. So the library and its contents had stayed, but the rest had all been transformed, probably many times over.

The school was laid out in more or less a diamond pattern, with the fountain and its circular highways at the center. The library was directly to the north of this, and the road lay to the south, though it wandered a little west as it went. The teacher’s houses were on the west of the fountain, and the mess hall and dorms were on the east, with various other facilities sprinkled among the layout. Behind the dorms lay a park which took up about a third of the valley and ran up to the cliffs which surrounded the valley on three sides, making it impossible to get in or out save by the road.

Maleoke made his way into the park. He wandered aimlessly at first, following the few paths that went this way and that, but after a time he abandon these. It was only after he had been walking for some time that he found himself heading steadily toward the north-eastern corner of the grounds. There a small shallow lake lay between the wood and the cliffs, fed by a small stream that ran from a gap in the cliff. He had been there many times before, though not for a year or more. It seemed a little strange to him, now that he thought about it, that it had been so long. But he supposed it only made sense. His studies had been demanding, and he had given himself fully to learning, especially after his ill-conceived relationship with Embyr. But now it was true what she said. He knew his text books by heart. The best thing he could do now to prepare was to relax and rest, so there was no time better than the present to visit an old haunt.

He came at last to the lake by an indirect route. It was a bit muddier than he had remembered it, and more weeds grew about the shore. But it was also a matter of days until the school would be drained of students and operating staff alike. Then the groundskeepers would have the place all to themselves for two months. It only made sense that they might let a few of the less important tasks slide in these last weeks. Well-kept or not, seeing the lake after so long felt a bit like coming home for Maleoke.

He made his way along the shoreline toward the cliff on the right. There, where the cliff met the lake, the stream flowed through a gap a little wider than the dormitory hallways, falling over steps that had been carved from the earth in some forgotten age. For some two hundred steps or more it climbed, back away from the valley to a sort of hidden sanctuary in the cliff. Maleoke came to the mouth of the stream and stepped in the water. The steps were placed well apart, but he made the climb with two strides to a step and so came to the top.

The sanctuary was perhaps the most interesting and remarkable piece of the Coreson School, but it was also a carefully guarded secret. To Prophets across the land it was a fond memory, but to the rest of the world it was a thing of vague legend – a secret easily kept because one would not understand the draw it had until they saw it for themselves. It was more or less circular, with a diameter of about twenty meters at the bottom. The floor was a carefully groomed lawn with a few stone benches and choice shrubbery set about the edge. There was a fountain here too. It was set in the center of the circle, and it was about three meters across, a shallow basin not much deeper than the height of a shoe. A stone phoenix perched on the rim opposite the entrance with wings folded and leaned over the water. The fountain came from its mouth and poured into the center of the basin. From there it poured out evenly over every edge and ran in a sandy stream to the staircase.

The walls of the sanctuary were riddled with tunnels. It was difficult to say whether these were natural or made by men. They were not formed, and certainly looked like the work of weather, but they all connected flawlessly one to another and from several openings on the ground one might walk by many winding ways up many levels to balconies set in the wall at different places, open to the central room. Grass grew within these balconies, though they were not open to the sky. It was most commonly believed that the rocks of the valley could reflect the virtue of the sun, and sometimes at night the basin would steam and fill the entire valley with dense fog, so the grass flourished without ever seeing sun or rain.

This sanctuary, like the lake outside, had seen some neglect in the past weeks. The grass, normally well trimmed, had grown long, and many of the shrubs had become ragged. None of this bothered Maleoke though. It meant that it had been some time since anyone had been here. It meant that he would be really alone without the need for climbing to one of the higher balconies. He moved to one of the benches along the wall and sat down.

The fountain soon drew his attention. It was not as steady and comforting as the one at the center of the school. Rather, this one had an uneven flow – almost a throbbing pulse like something alive. He recalled at times past that it seemed to mimic a heartbeat and serve to calm the nerves, but not so today. Now as he listened it sounded almost a frantic noise, like a flighty thing that ran from pursuit, or the kinetics professor’s steam turbine set free of its load to turn as fast as its own weight allowed. It seemed to match the turmoil within his head, though he could not define his own thoughts in such clear metaphors.

Maleoke took a deep breath, and tried to clear his head. This was no time to be analyzing fountains. He needed to be objective in his thinking. He needed to sort things out – to reestablish his position. Embyr had shaken his conviction, but deep down in his core he knew that she was wrong. He’d be cheating himself if he allowed his emotions to cloud his vision now. There was a certain way in which these things worked – the smallest idea could grow and fester and change one’s entire perception if it were permitted to, and these ideas, so deeply rooted in emotion, must not be allowed to grow. He was willing to concede that there was a small measure of truth to what she said, but it must be seen as just that – a small measure.

For starters, there were a dozen or more reasons why the leaders of the Alliance should remain nameless. The foremost was humility. Any man might be willing to forgo recognition for the greater good of humanity. Men such as the great Prophets would embrace such a notion. The second likely reason was safety in anonymity. The Alliance had many enemies and it was only in its best interest to keep secret the identities of those most important to it – those who would be seen as targets for its enemies. On that point alone Embyr’s entire ideology fell to pieces. She, unlike him, was driven by a need for recognition. How had he not seen that before? Hadn’t her father worked for the Alliance? Perhaps there was some bitterness there that he had passed along to her. There were endless possibilities, and all of them explained why she should hold a grudge against the Alliance. There were reasons why it was the oldest and strongest entity in Moran. What the MPA was doing worked, which was more than he could say for Embyr.

He continued mulling the matter over and gradually as his mind sorted out the tangles his head began to nod. Several times he found his eyes closing and fought it, but at last he realized that he really had nothing better to do and nowhere to be, so he laid himself down on the bench and fell asleep.

Act Two – Scene Two: Project Phoenix

I realize that nobody really reads this stuff, but as always input is appreciated. Unfortunately a free site membership is required in order to comment (for spamming reasons) but if you got here from facebook you can drop a comment on Arlen Bresh Publishing.




The lobby was a thing of elegance. It was almost as if it were built specifically to intimidate the students of the Coreson School of Prophecy, with its high vaulted ceiling dominated by a crystal chandelier and the indoor stream snaking its way through a plant garden that covered three walls of the room. The final wall was set like the front of a cathedral with the bookkeeper at his desk in the middle dwarfing the door to the left which led down a long hall and eventually to the study and private library of the School Master. The grand waiting area must have cost a small fortune to build, and it all seemed to be for the purpose of reminding the students that waited there of their position in life. To be commanded to wait here was either an event of great excitement or foreboding.

For Maleoke Parphonet it was the former emotion. He had taken his seat here nearly an hour ago, and watched as the minutes of his appointment fell off the clock, and still every name was called but his. But still he waited, for he had been summoned and that meant that he would not go ignored forever. Someone wanted to see him, and as far as he knew he had done nothing worthy of reprimand. In fact, if he were honest with himself, he had to admit that several of his recent accomplishments were quite remarkable for any prophet, much less an un-graduated intern; nearly-graduated, corrected himself. So if all his recent actions had been positive he must only conclude that this audience was to be equally positive. He did not presume to make any assumptions, but he was hardly what might be considered worried.

“Mister Parphonet,” called the bookkeeper. “Approach the front.”

Maleoke rose from his seat, picking up his book satchel, and straightened his uniform. It was the nearly nondescript grey assigned to the fifth-year interns with the school-standard Sun Shield embroidered on the breast. The loose fitting tunic fell to just above his knees, for it was only upon graduation that he would be permitted to wear the full-length robe of the Prophetic order – the robe that would grant him access to a life most people only dreamed of. But for the moment he straightened his tunic and made his way toward the desk.

“The master will see you now,” said the Bookkeeper, without so much as looking up when Maleoke came near. It was always the way with him. It was said among the students of Coreson that the school Master and the bookkeeper had a way of speaking to one another through walls and without words. The master would dismiss a student even as the bookkeeper admitted another, and when the student returned from his meeting the bookkeeper might have some special instruction for him that the master had not bothered to give. It only added to the sense of grandeur that saturated the head Master’s office.

Maleoke stepped through the door into the hall beyond. He had been here only once before – a week after his arrival at the school. Then the head master had called him in to welcome him, and to address the matter of some small feud between Maleoke and another student – a feud that neither he nor the other student had spoken of to anyone. Yet the headmaster had more insight into the matter than either intern, and had settled it quickly, making punishment to fit crime and causing each boy to consider seriously his future with the school. It was a meeting Maleoke would not soon forget.

The long hall was just as he remembered it. The roof stood about three times higher than it needed to be, dwarfing the various doorways that broke through the wall in ornate frames. There were perhaps ten or twenty of them, and that number seemed to change each time he recounted. They all stood closed – locked – and of all the conversations Maleoke had ever heard about the head Master and this hall he had never heard of anyone opening any door but the one through which he was directed – the one at the end on the left.

There was never any confusion because this door was bigger than all the others, and the carved frame was wider and more elaborate. Unlike the others, this door had no handle. One walked up to it, and when it opened, one entered. Maleoke stood outside the door and tried to catch his breath using a rudimentary mental practice taught early in the Prophetic teachings. He had not realized how excited he was – how out of control his emotions were, and he must be in control of himself when he appeared before the Master.

“Come in, Maleoke,” said a voice from behind the door, and slowly the great portal began to open, swinging silently upon its hinges without the physical influence of any man. Maleoke stepped through into the school Master’s study.

Beyond the door the masters study appeared as it might be expected to which, considering, was in contrast to the rest of the building. It was certainly grand, and the furniture that filled it and the paintings that decorated the walls were all fit for the palace of a king, but everything here felt a little more to scale. It felt as if this might actually be the office of a living breathing human. Maleoke found himself breathing a little more easily.

The study overlooked the school ground by three windows which stood at angles to one another and so made a sort of alcove in one wall. While the sun was up one could stand at the windows and look out over the teachers’ offices to the fountains beyond and the circular pavements that connected the major buildings of the campus; the cafeteria and mess halls, the dorms, the library, and of course the teachers’ offices and training grounds. The head Master’s office was the highest building on the campus, but now the sun had set and all that could be seen through the picture windows was the faint distant lights coming from dorms and the library.

Before the great windows sat the Master’s desk, and behind it was his chair, but he was not in his chair. Neither was he at one of the several couches that sat in the left-hand corner of the room, for what purpose Maleoke could not imagine as they had never to his knowledge seen any use. Instead, the school Master of Coreson was standing on the near side of his desk, and with him was another man.

This second individual was clearly not a teacher, or any staff member Maleoke could recognize, and from his bearing the young intern knew that he was none of the staff members that he could not recognize. He was a little taller than the head Master, and though he had on his hand the marking of the Sun Shield that distinguished him as a Prophet, he wore no robe but instead dressed as a dignitary or a bureaucrat might, in a tunic and pants with an ornamental sword at his side. He had hard features, as though all the kindness had been chiselled off of his face, though it was not that he looked particularly unkind. His hair was coal black, and cut short so that it stood up on end, and even through his clothes Maleoke could tell that this bureaucrat was as strong as a young bear.

“There’s someone here I’d like you to meet,” the head Master was saying. It seemed like an unnecessary thing to say, but the intern took no notice. He was glad of any speech that might make the meeting less awkward. “Would you like to sit?” asked the master, almost as an afterthought. Maleoke nearly answered, but then he realized that the question was not directed at him.

“I’ll be fine,” said the bureaucrat. His voice was surprisingly low. “I won’t take long, and then I must be about my business.”

“Maleoke,” said the Master, “I’d like you to meet Sir Kandace Longshod from the Morovian Prophetic Alliance. He’s here in search of potential recruits for the alliance, and I suggested you to him.”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mister Parphonette,” said Longshod. “Your master tells me great things about you.”

“I am humbled by his kind words,” replied Maleoke, accepting a little reluctantly the hand that was offered him and shaking it. The bureaucrat’s grip was like steel. “And the honor is all mine.”

“Yes of course,” said Longshod. “Now, Maleoke, I have a notion you’ve got some idea of what the MPA does…”

“Of course,” replied the intern without hesitation. “You’re archeologists. You manage the diggings in the tunnels of Morvan.”

“That’s part of it,” said the bureaucrat, a little amused. “A small part, mind you. What we do is not all digging. We search out the secrets of the old world, and we relearn them. Most importantly, we protect them.”

“Yes, I know,” said Maleoke. “I’ve read everything the library has on Morvan and the work that the Alliance does there.”

“You have an interest then?”

“Oh, very much so!” said Maleoke. “I’ve always been fascinated by the old world. My uncle was a member of the Alliance, and so was my grandfather.”

“Yes, they were,” said Longshod, “And great Prophets too. Maleoke, I’m here, as your Master said, to seek out new recruitment for the MPA. Do you understand what a big deal that is?” Maleoke nodded quickly, but the bureaucrat continued anyway. “The Alliance has around a hundred members stationed in various cities, mostly in Morvan. Normally we only accept two or three new members each year, and they are almost always seasoned Prophets with twenty years or more of experience, and then only the most outstanding applicants get accepted. In the long history of the Alliance only once before have we accepted a member as young as yourself. The fact that I’m here having this conversation with you says what tremendous words your Master has spoken in your favor. My purpose in coming to Coreson is to see if his words are true. Do you understand?”

Maleoke nodded, but he could not make his mouth open or coax words from his suddenly dry throat. His mind was exploding behind his closed lips.

“Good boy,” said Longshod. He gave the intern a smile that did not quite make it to his eyes. “Now, I’ll be in the city for two days, until after graduation. Then I’m going back to Morvan. When I go I want you to come with me and perform the tests for application to the MPA.”

Maleoke opened his mouth to speak, but the bureaucrat cut him off. “I don’t want an answer from you now,” he said, though it seemed plain that he knew what the intern’s answer would be as well as he himself did. “You have until graduation to make your decision, but I have faith in you to make the right choice.”

Maleoke nodded and then stood waiting. A long moment of silence stretched out, and then the school Master spoke. “That is all, Maleoke,” he said. “You may go now.”

The intern nodded again. “Thank you sir,” he managed to say, and this time when he shook the bureaucrat’s hand his grip was not so firm. “I won’t disappoint you.” Then he turned, and nearly fled the room. The door closed behind him silently.

“Are you sure about this, Andrew?” asked the bureaucrat from Morvan. His eyes were still on the door where Maleoke had been a moment before.

“I’m sure,” replied the head Master. “If it’s anyone in this rabble it’d be him. He’s the one you want.”

“I have ten other leads I could be following right now,” said Longshod. “You’d better not be wasting my time.”

“And I have fifty-six interns to graduate tomorrow,” replied the school Master a little hotly. “You’d better not be wasting mine. You’ve got no more to lose than I, I remind you.”

Act One – Scene Thirteen: The Passing of Titans

Here is my re-rendering of the death of Hayley (was Hasnove). I’m not entirely sure if I’ve done any good here, but considering matters, I’m not sure I could have made it any worse. At any rate, the rip-off line from Chronicles of Riddick is probably the one sentance I have written that I have regretted the most, so at any cost I am pleased to be rid of it. After all, it wasn’t as if it even made sense or did anything for the plot…

As a forward to the snippet I should note that I’ve reordered events so that Hayley and Alken leave the company directly before the rest arrive at Kanedon, so that as they fight in Craharn Gail has become engrossed in the Geldrin school of warfare as a means to pass time. Hayley on his return would therefore logically be heading to Kanedon.

When the sun set Gail was exhausted. She was more sore and bruised than she remembered ever being before, even on her first days with Anne. She stayed at the school that night. She could have gone back to her room at the keep, but it Lecia Geldrin offered her a bed, and it seemed better to her to stay here among her classmates. She was put in a room with the only three other girls in attendance there.The next day passed in much the same way, and the next after that. From sunup to sundown the princess of NaRasch was kept busy with various fighting scenarios, always pushed to expand her understanding and improve her reflexes. Her muscles hardened, and she found herself performing motions she had not been able to accomplish before.



The morning of the fourth day came as the two had before it, with a simple breakfast and then the resuming of practice. Gail had hardly faced off, however, when Arlen Bresh came riding into the grounds. He rode right up to here before dropping from the saddle.

“Hayley has returned!” said the Pirate breathlessly. “I came as soon as I heard! Come with me!”

Lecia Geldrin was with the queen that morning, and Taylor was teaching nearby. Gail looked automatically to the master of defense, and he nodded, giving her his leave – not that she would have needed it. Arlen Bresh remounted his horse, and held out an arm to pull Gail up behind him. When she had mounted he turned the steed about, galloping back to the keep.

They passed beneath the queen’s house and rode down through the city. The traffic of the morning scattered before them and in minutes they came to the front gate. There, a little beyond the gate, stood a horse, wounded and covered in blood and dirt. Beside the horse lay Hayley, himself every bit as battered as his steed. He was cut in many places, and an arrow protruded from his arm. Freyn was there, kneeling over her grandfather. The old man was shaking his head determinedly.

“Father, we must get you to the physicians!” Freyn was saying. “There is very little time!”

“There is no time at all,” replied Hayley, even as Arlen and Gail were dismounting. “My daughter, I am wounded far beyond what the eye betrays. There are few bones in my body which are not broken, for I was astride Bruno when a dart struck him down. I fell far. I am wasted – let me be.”

“You underestimate the skill of my doctors,” pleaded Freyn. “Come, and find comfort.”

“There is none left for me,” said Hayley, choking on his word. “I am thinking now for your safety. Know this now – that Craharn has fallen, and the royal house is dead. Your loyal warrior Alken died in defense of the king, and he did not throw his life away lightly as you commanded him. I escaped only when all those I had gone to protect were slain, but I was struck as I ran, and I have been pursued by the Watch. I must not pass your gate, or let it be known that you have been friends with the empire. Say, rather, that I came and you refused me sanctuary. Shut your gates!”

“I cannot do that!” insisted Freyn.

“You must!” replied Hayley, “for you and for your people! They will raise this place and burn your children alive! I am nearly spent. In any case they will not find me alive. Freyn, promise me you will leave me here.”

At last the queen nodded her head, accepting what she knew to be true. “I promise,” she said.

“I have loved you, dear one,” said Hayley.

“And I you,” replied the queen.

Then the old man turned his attention to Gail and Arlen. “Pirate,” he said, his voice rasping. He choked, and spat out blood. “The sword…”

Arlen brought the Sword of Anne Gretnert from his back in a fluid motion, and presented it to the old man. “Keep it,” said Hayley. “And bring it when you may to lord Gretnert, or return it to Vestrodge.”

Arlen nodded his acceptance of the charge. “Thank you,” he said, “for everything.”

At last Hayley addressed Gail. With a feeble movement of his good arm he beckoned her closer. She came, kneeling beside Freyn.

“I am sorry,” said her grandfather. “I have made many promises to you, and now I leave them all unfulfilled.”

Gail had nothing to say in response, so she took Hayley’s hand and held it. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked into the battered face, and saw pain there.

“Don’t stop,” Hayley went on. “…not ever. You will find a way… they will need you now. They will all need you…” He broke into a series of coughs, each one more shallow than the last. When at last he caught his breath his eyes were unfocused, and his body relaxed. “Spektare,” he said with his last breath. Then he died.

Act One – Scene Eleven: Public Image

Well there you have it – tentatively the new cover for the Fall of NaRasch. Input, as always, is welcome, though it should be noted that due to the wonderful amount of spam that has been attracting I’ve disabled comments from non-members. Membership is free and only takes a moment. You can log in over this way –>>> somewhere, or on the front page.

In other news, I’ve just gotten my new printer. It’s an Okidata B411 laser printer and so far it’s phenomenal. It spits out 35 pages per minute and I can print at 1.7 cents per page with the stock 88 dollar cartridges. I won’t be able to calculate the rates when I start refilling my own cartridges, but it’ll be pennies on the dollar. I’ll have my cost per book under 5 dollars, as opposed to the 12.50 that I used to pay to my publisher per copy. Now all I need is a stack paper cutter capable of handling 300+ pages, and a finished manuscript to publish.

Act One – Scene Eight: Applicable Histories

Unedited and full of flaws as always, but here’s the rough of a new chapter which I’ve accidentally added to the Fall of NaRasch, dealing with the demise of the Paladin (Dragon Breath, Mighty Dragon – depreciated). Incidentally, WordPress DOES have editorial positions within its infrastructure. Perhaps if you’re one of these people who cant stand a typo you’d care to fill a position…

But for the warmth and the good food Gail felt an uneasiness growing within her. She kept checking her memory of the day past, wondering if at any point they had come across tracks. She knew that they had not, and that no one had seen them, but for all the calming that her mind would do she could not shake the feeling that she was being watched, or followed or both. The great fire that they had lit made her nervous, but as none of the others appeared to share her concern she kept it to herself. It was only as they were getting ready for bed that Anne noticed her furtive glances into the darkness.

“What are you looking for, Princess?” asked the Elemental.

“I don’t know,” Gail replied. “Nothing I suppose. I’m nervous, but I suppose there’s no reason to be.”

“No, no reason,” replied Anne. Then after a moment’s thought she spoke. “Where is your sword?”

“It’s in my sled,” replied Gail.

“Go fetch it before you sleep,” said Anne.

Gail went to the sled. Maroward was fastened sheath and all just under the inside wall. She untied it and brought it back with her, pulling the sword a little out of the scabbard as she walked, just to see that it was the same as it had been, and of course it was.

“Good,” said Anne. “Now take it out. What do you feel.”

Gail drew the sword slowly, carefully. That one action drew the attention of the entire company, and she was painfully aware of this. At first she felt nothing, but she noticed that the woods seemed a little lighter. Then the feeling of foreboding came back, but stronger now. She turned a full circle, looking in every direction. But she did not know what she was looking for.

“I feel frightened,” said Gail after a moment.

“Put your sword away, Gail,” said the Elemental softly. “It’s nothing. Let no dark dream disturb your sleep tonight.”

The feeling of foreboding did not subside, but Gail did as Anne said, letting her reasoning come and dispel the fear. She got into bed then, but kept Maroward at her side, along with the knife she had been given by the Smithy in Vestrodge. The knowledge that they were there helped her feel a little more secure, but the rest that Anne had recommended eluded her.

She strayed into fitful dreams haunted by nondescript shadows, and came out again to sit up and stare into the darkest corners of the woods until she became too cold and hid under her blankets. It was perhaps the third or fourth time that she woke and found that Anne had moved from her bed. Sitting up, she found the Elemental a little way off, standing with her back to the camp. She was wrapped in a dark cloak, and Gail thought she saw the end of a dagger protruding from one of the sleeves. So silent and unmoving was she that at first glance she might pass for a rock or tree in the night. She did not stir when Gail got up.

“There is something out there, isn’t there,” said Gail in a whisper.

“Yes,” said Anne after a moment’s silence. “I have felt him since yesterday morning, at the time when he set his thought on you.”

“Him?” asked Gail, startled. “You know who it is?”

“Of course,” replied Anne. “Don’t you? I would have thought that by now you would recognize the feeling of the Paladin when it comes.”

At that Gail’s breath caught in her throat. It took her some time before she was able again to manage speech. The fear had come upon her again, but now it was many times stronger, nearly what she might call panic.

“What’s he doing here?” Gail asked, her voice catching even as she did.

“He’s looking for you,” said Anne. Her voice was steady and calm, hardly above a whisper. “He’s been looking now and then ever since you and Maroward gave him that start on the road outside Ossuar. After his first fright he fled for a while in fear of you. But it was not long before he found his courage again. Even so it’s taken him a while to find you. He’s been hunting around in the south for a long time, but this morning I sensed that he had learned news of our passing. Since then he has been coming swiftly. He is still afraid, but the wrath and hope of the Paladin are far stronger than any mortal fear that the man Leordon still possesses.”

“Why?” asked Gail. “Why would he be afraid? And of what?”

“I’ve already told you that,” replied Anne. “Don’t you ever listen when people talk? He’s afraid of you; of that sword you carry.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” said Gail. “I saw his reaction to Maroward at Ossuar. But what has he got to be afraid of? Can Maroward do him some harm?”

At this Anne let out a chuckle. “My dear girl,” she said. “The Prophetess who gave you the sword could have answered that question. Arlen Bresh could have answered it. Even your grandfather here could tell you a little about your sword if you’d only ask. And yet in all our company you still don’t know…”

“Know what?” demanded Gail, growing a little exasperated.

“That Maroward – the blade you treat as menial – is the only weapon that the Paladin fears. Indeed it’s one of the very few that can do him any harm at all. But like him you are blinded by your fear.”

“Why should Maroward be any more dangerous to him?”

“Because,” replied the Elemental. “That is its purpose. Before Leordon took up that hated weapon – indeed before it was even forged – Maroward was made by the hand of Silence to have dominion over such weapons as the Paladin. That’s why the Prophetess gave it to you. Because you are to be the queen of Gaeline, and it has always fallen to the crown in the north to guard against these monsters.”

“There’s more than one?”

“Many more,” Anne said. “But the others are of no concern at present. They are locked away as they ought to be; as he ought to be. For now our attention must be given to the Paladin.”

“I’m going to fight him?” Gail asked. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Oh girl, don’t be ridiculous,” the Elemental replied. “You don’t stand a chance against the Paladin; not yet. But I said Maroward is the only weapon he fears. I did not say that it was the only weapon that could harm him. It is one of the few. I still have my dagger. I told you they were forged by the same smith – by Silence himself. Yours has the greater purpose, but my blade is meant only for the Paladin. I have waited long for tonight. But I will need your help.”

“What can I do?” asked Gail.

“Challenge him,” was the reply. “Draw his attention; make him think that you are the chief danger.”

“And how should I do that?”

“By ignoring him,” said Anne. “The Paladin, I mean. Somewhere within that monster is a very real man, and I think he is still at war with the sword, though he has been losing for many years. Treat the Paladin as of no consequence. Address Leordon, and it will provoke the monster to fury. It may make my job easier as well. Can you do that, Queen?”

“I think I can,” said Gail. She wondered that the Elemental addressed her as queen where she had always before called her a princess.

“Good,” said Anne. “Go back to sleep if you can. He is still some way off. I will wake you when he draws near.”

Gail went back to bed, thinking that the very idea of sleep at a time like this was ludicrous. But she had not lain long when her eyelids began to sag, and rested peacefully until they were all woken by a shout from Anne.

“Get up friends!” called the Elemental. “A foe is upon us!”