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Anthony J.D.Burns - Demogorgon Rising

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					DEMOGORGON RISING




ANTHONY J D BURNS




 a Mushroom eBooks sampler
Copyright © 2002, Anthony J D Burns

Anthony J D Burns has asserted his right under the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the Author of this
work.

First published in United Kingdom in 2002 by Mushroom eBooks.

This edition published in 2002 by Mushroom eBooks, an imprint of
Mushroom Publishing, Bath, BA1 4EB, United Kingdom
www.mushroom-ebooks.com



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in
any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the
publisher.

ISBN of complete edition 1843190486
                     Contents


Foreword                                        1


Book One: September 26 to December 24, U.67
I The Message                                   4
II The Vigil                                   18
III Salvage                                    32
IV Officers of the Law                         46
V News from Malice City                        60
VI Concerning the Web                          85
VII Dreams of Power                           97
VIII Justice of the Peace                     107
IX Enemies                                    122
X Contraband                                  133
XI Vigilant                                   147


Appendix To Book 1                            158
Book Two: December 21t, U.67 – ?
I Deliverance                         195
II Pilgrims to the Mount              203
III Upon the slopes of Mount Cirus    210
IV The Mentor                         237
V Discord                             252
VI Impressed                          262
VII Drydock                           275
VIII Necronautilos                    325
IX The Unwilling                      361
X City of the gods                    371
XI Hero’s welcome                     392
XII The revolution                    431
XIII Beltane                          453
XIV Prejudice                         486


Appendix to Book 2 – The Changeling   496


Notes                                 514
                    Foreword

The legend of the serpent god or demon has such a
universal significance among the world’s races, that
certain radicals and religious extremists heralded the
first public release of Mr. Rann Morgan’s journal almost
as the dawning of Apocalypse. Not a few at the time
were glad to note that this soon quieted into inquiries
such as whether the author was sane or a compulsive
liar. Such questions were obviously anticipated by the
late Mrs. C. Morgan’s two-year delay in publishing the
documents, notwithstanding the terms of her husband’s
will. That version nevertheless was subject to consider-
able emendations and omissions by Mrs. Morgan. With
the passing of the century, the State Press has deemed it
fit to bring the entire journal to public attention,
including some background material on matters
insufficiently dealt with by the author. Not that we
would wish to make any estimate of the accuracy of
these documents – their truth, or otherwise, is likely to
remain undetermined – but they may at least dare to
claim the status of uniqueness.

The editor, Mr. William Standish esq.

                           1
  The journals of Mr Rann Morgan
             (U.41–96)

Editor’s note: The author held the position of game-
keeper to the Duke of Upper Blackbrook – Lord Henry
Temple at the dates of these writings. He was born the
second son of Jem Morgan; farrier to the Temple estate,
and employed to the Duke’s service in U.58. His tragic
death of a riding accident passed his rights and
properties into the hands of Mrs Cecilia Morgan, his
wife of nearly twenty-five years, with whose permission
these documents are reproduced.




                          2
         Book One:

September 26 to December 24,
       Union-year 67




             3
                            I

                  The Message

Mistress Phoebe has requested – indeed, commanded
me – to keep a record of events, claiming that if
testimony is required in the future it would come better
in my words, and that she has crucial projects of her
own to preoccupy her. I do not dare question: at
present, I would probably follow her through both
Hades and Limbo if she recommended that course for
my safety. Not that she has asked me to go so far, as yet,
or to my knowledge. Guessing at the outcome of my
present state gives me great enough cause for anxiety,
and God only knows what position that will leave me in.
     Before I get ahead of myself any more, it were better
that I recount the circumstances which have brought me
to this. This year has proven remarkable to date, not to
mention disturbing. Upper Blackbrook County is by rule
little touched by such bounties of our modern times as
industry, machine-smashing, riots, land disputes and so
forth. Not since the overthrow of the Second Republici
have the people in these parts been accustomed to such
things as terrorism or vandalism. Even the militia


                            4
hardly make the effort to train these days, which, in
hindsight, may have been a mistake. Let me explain: my
position keeps me largely in the estate woods and up on
the moors, leaving me generally unaccustomed with
affairs among the duke’s tenants and labourers. Had the
matter been less grave than wilful crop-sabotage, I
daresay it would never have reached my ears. In any
case, news is rapidly spread through the estate at this
time of year, taking on particular gravity with both the
harvest and storage considerations for Yuletide. Just
when the granaries should by rights be stocked to the
eaves (as Mr Holman bewailed the following morning in
the Pike’s Head) some anarchist bastard has to take it
into their head to torch a good hundred bales’ worth of
wheat in the field, as if Mr Holman had ever mistreated
a labourer in his life. No one disputed that fact, and
since he posted some men to watch the field by night the
matter has been little spoken of. In truth, the greater
part of the crop was left untouched and I have no fears
that anyone will starve or be bankrupted as a result.
     My work carries me across the full length of the
estate. I reckon it two weeks later, on the ninth night of
October, when I was drinking in the Trap and Badger at
St. Oriele’s (fully fifteen miles from Holman’s farm) that
I fell into conversation with a labourer of Lord Temple’s
employ and received the news that first excited my
suspicion. It transpired that one of the duke’s private
wheat-fields had, some nights previously, been ravaged
after the same fashion as Mr Holman’s. No culprit had
been found, nor a motive for the clearly deliberate


                            5
burning of many areas of the field. Lord Temple
evidently suspected the draigwights, but his prejudice
since the U.62 land treatyii is well known and ill-
founded. I cannot share my master’s belief, for reasons
that will become clear.
     When the labourer had related this tale, a domestic
of Lord Temple’s household (a footman by his partial
livery, though personally unknown to me) entered into
our conversation with an account that arrested the
attention of all present. It seemed that earlier that same
evening the manor house had been visited by two
horsemen from outside the county. Not gentlemen, in
all likelihood, since they had been meanly accoutred in
similar uniforms of black. He reckoned that they may
have been clerical soldiers of some description, bearing
in mind their cowls, cloaks and sabre-belts. At any rate,
they had quite literally demanded access to the duke
and had made no very favourable impression upon the
household. In his opinion, their behaviour had been
forward bordering on threatening, though this much
could only be derived from their undisguised weapons,
furtive manners and curt address. For they had spoken
little, except maybe to the duke, in absolute privacy.
None of the servants could work up the courage to
eavesdrop and little was learnt from the duke, shaken as
he apparently was and in such condition as the footman
had last seen him, recovering over a tankard of malt. All
he had revealed was contained in an injunction to his
staff to avoid making casual mention of the crop
sabotage, and also in his expressed intention not to


                            6
bring the matter to the county sheriff. The footman, in
his own words, would not have been speaking of it now,
except for the fact that we were both already in the
know. I fear the inadequacy of this excuse, amidst the
developing group of interested late-night drinkers, but
was too interested myself to counsel the loquacious
domestic.
    My interest stemmed not only from the vandalism
upon my master’s lands, but also from the fact that I
had seen those two horsemen myself during the ride
from Temple Moor to St. Oriele’s. The pair of them had
been riding west, break-neck along the main road
towards Tardale County. Such strangers are far from
being a common sight in Blackbrook County, though I
had been able to dismiss the incident until now. I may
say in all honesty that I was genuinely shocked to hear
of such obscene liberties being taken not only with the
Temple properties, but also with their very proprietor.
There was no doubt in my mind that these mounted
thugs were clearly the vandals themselves, and for such
criminals to have the nerve to present themselves in
person to their noble victim and issue threats of
violence, as I presumed, was almost enough to make my
blood run cold. The fact that they had somehow
managed to put the fear of God into such a typically
sober and rational man as Lord Temple was quite
enough for this. Many of the listeners were of my turn of
mind, and several were of the opinion that the militia
should be sent into the next county to drag the strangers
back, whereupon they should be tarred, feathered and


                           7
either imprisoned or hung: an enthusiastic suggestion
that considerably improved the morale of most present.
I, on the other hand, was dubious that the miscreants
would ever be caught.
    The company broke up sometime near the approach
of midnight and left the Trap and Badger in mixed
spirits. I was among the last to leave, though among the
most sober that evening. Either of these circumstances
would explain why I was evidently the only one to notice
the figure observing the tavern entrance from beside the
stables, some distance along the road. Clear-sightedness
was certainly necessary: the darkness of the night and
the figure’s clothing rendered it little more than a vague
silhouette against the stable wall, and I had to strain my
vision to be sure. Yet when I was sure, I did not hesitate
in making my approach, with speed, determination and
anger. Any black-clad lurking stranger was hardly likely
to win my immediate approval after that evening’s talk,
and this one only managed to halt my hasty approach
by covering me with a suddenly-drawn pistol.
    “Hold it there,” hissed an angry voice from within
the hooded robe. “Drunken fool! You have no quarrel
with me.”
    “Are you sure of that?” I replied accusingly, with
forced calm. It pacified my confronter slightly, though
the pistol remained levelled.
    “I know what that crowd were incensed about, in
case you wonder. And I am not responsible, but if you
can’t lower your voice I suggest you do not use it.
Whatever you may think, ten to one if you should


                            8
attract that rabble back here they will not even stop to
think. If I should be lynched on your account, you had
better be prepared to contemplate innocent blood on
your hands for a lifetime, and to show to your maker.
How does that strike you?”
    “All right then,” I answered, unconvinced, except of
the fact that we seemed to understand one another.
“Then who are you?”
    “A shaman – a cleric. Nobody important to you or
your friends, except that I would beg a few minutes of
your time. I wish to show you something, if you will
permit.”
    A holy man of any description was to be spoken to
with some respect, I decided, and from hereon made an
effort to tone down the degree of scepticism in my
speech. Nevertheless, I remained on my guard and did
not lose sight of the matter at hand.
    “Anything to do with those bastards who threatened
the duke?”
    “Perhaps. Quite probably. At any rate, it must keep.
Can you meet me at daybreak tomorrow, on the highest
point of the escarpment overlooking the Temple
farmlands?”
    I answered that I could, then enquired, “What do
you know of those strangers?”
    “Nothing for certain,” was the disappointing reply,
and much to my suspicion. “I may speculate, though I
would rather not voice anything. My guesses would all
be potentially libellous, I fear.”



                           9
    “Are they also the ones who burnt up the wheat in
Holman’s field?”
    “Almost certainly not. Are any of those horses in
there yours? If so, I would thank you to take me as far as
the river bridge. There we may part until tomorrow.”
    It was out of my way entirely, though I acceded
without complaint. Aside from anything else, I was now
certain that this cleric was no holy man but a lady of
uncertain age to judge from the hissing, cautious tone I
had been attending. I called a boy from the tavern to
open the stables and bring a light, by which I now
clearly saw her face, and much to my surprise: for she
was a draigwight; bald-headed, yellow-skinned, fang-
toothed, sharp-tongued, red-cat-eyed, thin as a reed and
with a face that I would have tentatively guessed at forty
years of age (I later learned six hundred and seventy-
two, in fact). Her clerical robe was drawn tightly about
her, in a style almost indecent for such a substantial
garment. But by my guess, she wore little or nothing
beneath it. I may vouch that her neck and shoulders
were bare, finding it impossible not to notice such detail
having borne her before me on my horse for some three
miles’ distance to the bridge. We parted with a kiss,
which she surprised me with in an amazingly formal
and impassive manner. I assume this is a standard
gesture of courtesy among her people, which seems
almost savagely medieval in Upper Blackbrook. In fact, I
could recommend no draigwight to bring either their
traditions or their person within ten miles of Lord



                           10
Temple, and admired this woman’s audacity, since she
seemed above mere ignorance.

                           ***

We met as agreed, somewhat less than five hours later. I
found the lack of sleep of no particular inconvenience,
being accustomed to survive on very little during most
seasons. My friend the cleric appeared no worse off:
merely impatient when I encountered her on the edge of
Temple Moor. I refrained from asking questions about
her activities of last night after we had separated, and in
spite of my wide curiosity kept my talk upon the present
and what we had already discussed.
     “We’re up here to catch those two criminals, are
we?” was my admittedly blunt greeting. To be honest, I
was far from having exempted this strange woman from
my suspicions.
     “And a very fine morning to you as well,” she an-
swered. “And just to spare you future disappointment,
you may as well know that those horsemen will be more
than halfway to Tardale by now, unless they changed
their route drastically. I could only check their tracks so
far, of course, and still be here on time this morning. I
can only trust that you will appreciate my effort on your
behalf. Now, if you will join me upon this rise and look
out over the fields as the sun rises, what you see may
cause you to believe this journey not wholly wasted.
Always assuming, that is, you have any interest in
looking into such matters as may affect your master the
duke.”

                            11
     The recommendation was enough to persuade me,
though I was quite unable to conceal my disappoint-
ment and frustration in my manner. With ill temper I
rode to join her on the highest point of the ridge.
Looking out over the Temple farmlands, I could at first
see nothing to arrest the attention. A few indistinguish-
able souls moved about on the edges of the fields, in one
of which could be barely seen a mass of dark patches
where the wheat had been destroyed. The road was clear
as far as I could see either way, much to my chagrin.
With my thoughts firmly upon the horsemen, I required
some guidance.
     “Keep your eyes on that field – watch as the sun
rises,” she commanded, turning my head back towards
the ruined field with no resistance on my part. As the
light grew, I eventually discerned what I had been led
here to see and with no small surprise: although they
were not entirely clear in the dawn light and from my
angle of view on the escarpment, the burnt patches in
the Temple field formed a remarkably intricate pattern
of symbols, both circular and linear. I could not believe
it to be the work of random destruction, though why
crop saboteurs should wish to carve such a pattern in
Lord Temple’s wheat was quite beyond my imagination.
I turned to my companion for enlightenment, but
judging from her words her mind was already else-
where.
     “You know a man called Holman, do you not?” she
asked. I nodded. “I was making some enquiries down
that end of the county a couple of nights ago. I came


                           12
across that friend of yours in an establishment – the
Pike’s Head, or some such name. There were people
trying to console him, although in the end I fear they
did no more than poison his body and cloud his brain.
Apparently, some crops of his had been destroyed, and
he had suffered a very recent shock – that was plain
enough. They had trouble getting him to speak at first,
but he grew more articulate quickly enough. It turns out
that he had suffered a visit from two strangers who as
good as threatened his property and his family if he ever
dared breathe a word about the crop damage. Hardly
the height of diplomacy, even from federal authority.
And before you ask, I cannot vouch for their credentials.
Apparently they waved some description of official
warrant in the face of our friend Holman, but his
account was as inadequate as one may well expect from
a man neither sober, intelligent nor equable. We may
excuse him the last, of course. I would not be inclined to
trust these supposed officers, whatever their part in this.
Enough of them. Tell me: do those glyphs in the field
mean anything to you?”
    “Are they some form of writing?” I tentatively asked,
and earned myself some secret pride at her approving
reply.
    “Very good. I believe so. The construction appears
not dissimilar to glyphic text two, the most ancient of
the Faery scripts. Of course, I cannot translate with any
precision. My best guess would be that this is a map
reference of some description. I think I can read ‘north



                            13
forty-two’, but kindly do not quote me on that. It is a
simple message, whatever the details.”
    This was no easy concept for me to grasp. Story-
book tales of elves and dragons had been as much a part
of my childhood as any boy’s, and although I was
vaguely aware that there were some doctors and clerics
who considered the traditional legends as worthy
material for serious contemplation, I should have held
this statement to be merely ridiculous, had I anything
more likely to suggest. However, I could not keep a trace
of incredulity from my reply, to the annoyance of my
companion.
    “Are you suggesting, then, that some elf has burnt
directions into Lord Temple’s field for the benefit of his
friends? And did they use them to find their way
through into Tardale County, just stopping by here long
enough to present forged papers and terrorise a
landowner and his tenant?”
    With an impatient sigh, she answered my scepti-
cism: “Try to keep some sense of proportion. For one
thing, Tardale is in the west; not the north. For another,
burning an enormous set of bearings in a field would be
a most laborious and inefficient way of communicating
with two horsemen. As for this elf of yours, who can tell?
Tradition repeatedly states that the fair-elves were
celestial beings, descending from one of the lower
spheres of heaven – frequently referred to as Arcady.
We associate them with air and fire. Perhaps it is then
appropriate that such a sky-born entity would burn



                           14
geographical information into a field to be seen by other
sky-born entities.”
    Her serious, speculative tone amazed me more than
the extraordinary words it was misemployed in
speaking: a fact that she must have read in my expres-
sion, since I could fashion no polite way of letting her
know my true opinion.
    “Please do not take me so much for granted,” she
continued with ever-strained patience. “For though I am
unlikely to joke about terrorism, I confess to be no
expert on incidents such as this,” at which she gestured
out towards the mutilated field.
    “Then you’ve seen this done before?” I asked, at
which the confidence drained from her manner.
    Her voice in reply was rather sheepish: “Not seen. I
have read of such happenings over the last few decades.
This would be the second since U.60, I suppose. The
Lyceum apparently has the privilege of conducting
secret studies of crop patterns, though it is either
obliged or merely inclined to keep the findings to itself.
As it is, private students such as myself needs must
make do, and be sure our investigations remain
private.”
    I commented that these scholars had apparently not
been very successful in keeping these events a guarded
secret, but she dismissed this offhand.
    “Look at it,” she scoffed, indicating the field. “How
does one keep a strategically-burnt patch of farmland
from the public attention? The best they ever managed
was to put about fatuous tales of political agitators


                           15
causing the damage, and that goes little enough way to
explaining why an enraged radical would painstakingly
trace an unknown archaic script of no relevance. Why, if
the people of these nations were not so disinterested in
all but their petty, personal and present concerns,
maybe they would have thought to question the
distinguished professors? I assure you that if such a
thing were to happen in the highlands, on the farms of
my people, there would be little rest until a satisfactory
explanation was found. But whatever the Lyceum knows
it is pleased to conceal, and human plebeians are
obviously content to accept their excuses. At least, I
trust that I shall soon be satisfied.”
     “I can tell you, we’re not putting up with any bull
from the Lyceum, or the county prefect, or whoever,” I
replied somewhat indignantly. “Weren’t you listening to
the crowd at the Trap and Badger last night? Whoever
those horsemen were, they’ll be caught and dealt with,
by me if no-one else. And maybe they were from the
Lyceum, if they’re so determined to keep this sort of
thing quiet.”
     “Maybe,” she answered with no conviction. “How-
ever, they are beyond either your reach or jurisdiction,
and I would have you know that I put little faith in the
drunken ramblings of a mob. On the other hand, if you
would prove yourself above common apathy, I am
inviting you to join me tonight in my watch over this
field. The burning took place two nights ago. An
apprentice of mine kept vigil last night and had nothing
to report, but doubtless if anyone is intended to


                           16
discover this message, the time will be soon. It will not
be left for the burnt areas to overgrow, or beyond the
harvesting, you may be sure. It would be a great
discovery for us, would it not? Is that to your interest?”
     I agreed to this suggestion willingly, though for no
other reason than the hope of either catching the
mysterious crop saboteur or someone who could inform
upon him. With a second indifferent kiss we separated;
she walked away north through the nesting grounds and
I made my way back down to the Temple farmlands.
That morning I solicited the service of an apprentice of
my own: Lance Medlar, a lad of some fifteen years with
little education to show for it, but certainly apt to be
trusted never to speak out of turn, nor to drink himself
into extreme candour. I informed him only that the
purpose of our vigil was to arrest a suspected crop
saboteur and (recalling how Lord Temple had made no
secret of his suspicions) that we were to be joined by
two draigwights, whom he was to consider as allies.
Though surprised, he consented most obediently,
whereupon I furnished him with a loaded firelock and
instructed him to meet me at the gate of the field at
sunset. I performed my usual rounds and duties upon
the estate for the remainder of the day, though continu-
ally distracted by thoughts of the sinister horsemen for
whose benefit I could not help from casting repeated
glances up the road towards the county border. Aside
from spying a couple of post-boys and a cartload of
lime, it proved a fruitless exercise.



                           17
                           II

                     The Vigil

It was necessary for me to ride a considerable distance
that evening, and as a result the sun had set by the time
I was able to meet young Lance at the field. The cleric
and her apprentice were already there, and my own
poor assistant appeared more than a little confused and
uncomfortable in their company. To my surprise, the
cleric had brought along with her a young boy; not a
draigwight, and no more than twelve or thirteen years
old by my reckoning. His hair was lank and dark, his
skin pasty and his face rather drawn and suspicious. His
clothing was ridiculous: a set of black doublet and hose
straight out of some old storybook romance, completely
inadequate to the weather. He also wore a rough mantle
of fur, unlikely to serve against the rain for long. Lance
had thankfully provided oilskins for two. I offered one
to the cleric, who refused with polite words and a
thoroughly impatient voice. Preoccupied with gazing
across the horizon in all directions for heaven knows
what, she obviously had no time to worry about chills or

                           18
damp. I tried the same with her apprentice, but received
only sullen looks for my pains.
    “Johan does not speak the Brêvish tongue, I am
afraid,” declared the cleric, though never sparing us a
glance. “His birth was in a much colder clime, in the far
northern peninsula beyond the mountains and to the
east of the island nation of Albin. A rough land, on the
whole. I do not think you need worry about his
tolerance to your dismal, but mediocre, autumn
weather. He has lived with blizzards and winds that
would kill your pheasants stone dead if they whistled
over that moor for half a minute. And violent sea-
storms, mark you. His parents’ fishing vessel washed
ashore upon the northern strands of this continent. A
salvage team found the pilot and his wife dead and cold,
but they had poor Johan well protected below decks.
That was almost two years ago. His health is quite
recovered since, and I have taught him competency in
the traditional language of my people. Not yours, as yet.
I suppose I must eventually, now we are allegedly allied
powers.”
    “You mean to bring him up yourself, as a draig-
wight?” I asked, concealing my involuntary distaste at
the notion.
    She answered dispassionately: “Not as a common
legionary, I am resolved. Probably when he comes of
age, and I have trained him well, and the magister will
accept him as a novice shaman. Incidentally, my friend,
the term ‘low-elf’ would have been more courteous, if
less strictly accurate, than the Maordic corruption


                           19
‘draig-wight’. Then again, in Johan’s case,” and she
actually turned to look at him, with almost wistful
admiration. “See that hair, and those eyes! He has fay
blood in him for sure – perhaps a ‘dark-elf’, as your
romantic folk-tale butchers would have phrased it. I feel
an obligation, in fact. Either it is merely apocryphal that
elves were immortal, or it is some cruel paradox that
those with Arcadian heritage have a tendency to die in
their youth and typically extraordinary beauty. Such is
nature. An infusion of dragon’s blood may mar his
beauty somewhat, but what I preserve will be health,
youth and pleasure to last at least beyond a century.
Surely no prejudice could condemn that.”
    Seeing as how she expressed such concern for his
health, I again suggested the oilskin. She gave me a flash
of impatience, before interpreting my offer to Johan in
some very strange language. He answered me directly
with what might have been curt politeness, again in
speech that I could not comprehend. His gestures were
enough to inform me of his refusal, whereupon I let the
matter drop and donned the thing myself, over clothes
almost drenched already. A light hailstorm eventually
mixed with the rain and I was most thankful for Johan’s
endurance. Little passed in the succeeding hours worth
relating, save that the cleric and I exchanged names. To
be precise, she was already informed of mine. I learnt
that her name was Phoebe and to address her by this
alone: she seemed to take somewhat ill at the title of
“Mistress,” which I accordingly avoided (though I have
chosen to use it in these writings). We kept a constant


                            20
watch, ate what little food we had brought, sent Lance
almost five miles back to the Trap and Badger for more,
but saw nothing and nobody for a good eight hours at
least. I cannot be very accurate on that point, for though
it is far from easy or advisable to fall asleep beneath a
dripping tree, in damp clothes, in a hailstorm, I
somehow succeeded for a couple of hours, at any rate.
     I awoke in poor enough condition and worse hu-
mour, stimulated to consciousness by the shaking of
Phoebe. As soon as my vision had cleared enough to
discern her excited countenance, I realised that our vigil
had not proved as much of a hopeless exercise as I had
feared. I saw it was near daybreak, from a narrow band
of sickly sunlight on the eastern horizon. Lance and
Johan were both staring upon the escarpment, and
following their gazes I eventually discovered their
preoccupation: though at first it was hard to distinguish
from the fading stars, a moving point of light soon
revealed itself to be no work of nature at all. All
thoughts of a comet were dismissed when it relin-
quished its roughly western course across the horizon
and seemed to approach the field. The light of the rising
sun was soon sufficient to make plain how close it
actually was: surely less than a mile from where I lay
and goodness knows how high. It also became apparent
that the object gave out no light itself, but possessed a
metal surface that simply reflected the weak sunlight,
which it could well do at those shadowless heights.
     It must have passed over the escarpment before I
was able to distinguish a shape: a silver disc with a


                           21
raised surface, emitting a quiet but most unpleasant
whine as it drew near. I cautioned the two boys to keep
low among the wheat, reasoning that Phoebe would
have enough sagacity to make her own choices with
regard to due caution. This weird missile eventually
slowed to a halt in the air, perhaps some hundred feet or
more above the field, where it held stationary. At that
distance I could make out some detail on its underbelly.
It was indented and patterned with a circular cluster of
small black domes. The disc itself seemed to me no
bigger than a small storehouse or cottage, though the
whole view was far from clear. Quite apart from the rain
and the dim light, the disc itself was most obscure to
behold, shimmering and wavering as though seen
through a shallow layer of rippling water. Considering
this, I first thought it to be some description of mirage,
yet it held steady as a rock above the mutilated wheat
for long enough to persuade me of its nature as
substance. Otherwise, it was an entirely disconcerting
vision.
    I suspect that much pain and exertion would have
been avoided had our small party kept to my advice to
remain as low, sheltered and inconspicuous as the field
and trees permitted. I can only conjecture that I either
underestimated the force of a woman’s curiosity, or
assumed a capacity for mistrust and vigilance where
none was to be found. In any case, I was truly shocked
when I realised that Phoebe had risen from the shadows
of the boundary-trees and walked out into the open
ground at the edge of the field, where she took a new


                           22
and thoroughly exposed station. “It is magnificent!” she
exclaimed in idiot admiration, whilst gazing constantly
upon the abominable apparition. “A veritable angel’s
chariot!” and suchlike rhetoric, which impressed me but
little. I confess to being a simple and unphilosophical
agnostic, but the notion of angels being sent down to
earth with map references provided in advance hardly
seemed consistent with any miracle tales I had ever been
read.
     Inexpert as I may be, I am confident that the next
action of the celestial disc was by no means angelic, by
any stretch of the term. The shimmering that sur-
rounded it had now settled, allowing a much clearer
view of its pockmarked under-surface and armoured
skin. I could only regard this briefly: for my gaze was
forcibly turned by a violent flash of light as the air near
the disc seemed to ignite furiously, and the prompt rush
of heat came as our final warning. I leapt from the
shadows and drove Phoebe before me into the wheat,
calling out to Lance and Johan to run for new cover. I
did not look back to see how they fared, though I had
little enough opportunity, for it was mere seconds later
that the fireball impacted against the trees where we had
sought protection, and a cruel blast of oven-hot air
threw both myself and my confused partner upon our
faces among freshly-crushed stalks of wheat. The
following moments were sheer confusion, in which I
cannot hope to accurately recount the order of events. I
recall looking back upon the trees and being thankful
that the flames had failed to catch upon the dripping


                            23
wood, though the leaves and thinner branches at least
on the field aspect of the treetops had been reduced to
fine grey ash. Many times I gazed up in a fearful search
for the disc, once catching a glimpse of the appalling
device as it skimmed flat across the fields, keeping a
constant height.
     I spent a brief period keeping low in the wheat,
attending to the unlucky Phoebe. Barring dignity, she
had not suffered from either her mistake or her fall, and
upon her suggestion we crawled as rapidly as possible
back to the edge of the field in search of the two youths.
We soon discovered the wheat they had trampled in
their rush, and shortly afterwards the area in which they
had settled, relying as we had done upon the tall stalks
to confuse the view of our heavenly bombardier. Lance
was exhausted and no better for the brain-assaulting
heatwave, but essentially uninjured. Johan, unfortu-
nately, had fainted outright at the explosion, doubtless
from being born in such a cold climate and therefore
little accustomed to strong heat. Our brief efforts failed
to revive him and soon our attention returned to our
more pressing problem: judging from the interminable
whine and infrequent glimpses over the stalks, the disc
was still sweeping over the field and presumably looking
to finish the job of our incineration. All I could suggest
was that we might all run in separate directions and
pray that we confused it long enough to make good our
escape. Phoebe dismissed this with some contempt,
pointing out that the disc would have little trouble
pursuing any one of us if it so chose and we were not yet


                           24
so desperate as to be making human sacrifices for the
sake of the majority. She then asked whether I had been
able to keep my powder and shot out of the rain.
Thankfully, the oilskin had kept both perfectly dry.
     “Then reload your musket,” she commanded, “and
make it a strong charge. But tie something around the
gunlock and block the barrel. You shall need it prepared
for quick use, but you dare not risk the charge going
damp again. Your lad and I can, with luck, hold the
attention of that hunter if we run across the face of the
escarpment, but I should hate for all our sakes to draw
out such a plan for longer than the necessary bare
minimum.”
     “You think that a shot from this will be any use
against that?” I asked without pessimism or sarcasm,
but sheer hope of release. Not that I relished the idea of
using poor Lance to draw the fire of our enemy, however
briefly, but I thought it best to hear her out entirely.
     “Understand this: that thing is protected by a pow-
erful shield, impenetrable to any means of ours.”
     “You mean that it’s armoured?”
     “Probably, but I refer to something else: a sphere of
psionic energy, or something of a similar nature.
Supernatural protection.”
     “Witchcraft?” I accept it was a naïve comment and
the brief impatience in her face and reply was probably
justified:
     “I don’t know – call it what you will. We shamans, at
all events, are sensitive to such impressions. Shot from a
musket would simply disintegrate against something


                           25
that potent. But maybe you noticed how the distortion
around the disc vanished when it fired upon us?” I
assured her that I had. “That suggests to me that it has
limited power. It can either protect itself or attack us,
but not simultaneously. Therefore, we must trick it into
making an attack on us for our own strike to be
effective, if my theory is correct.”
     “And if it isn’t?” I protested, recoiling at a word so
unpromising as “theory.”
     “Then he and I,” she flatly answered, indicating
Lance, “will be running in opposite directions along the
escarpment, rather as you first suggested. Johan will be
no worse off for being sheltered here if the disc is kept
pursuing us, and you are welcome to bolt to wherever
you please. Only I suggest we hurry, otherwise it may
simply find and kill us here while we debate. We shall
keep low as we approach the rise, and hopefully only be
seen when we run along the open face. I imagine it will
have to fly nearer the escarpment to get a fair shot at us,
so you had better follow us to the other edge of the field.
Perhaps you may catch it as it passes overhead.
Remember, though: only when the distortion fades,
which should be when it prepares to fire. Preferably
before it actually fires, if you would. I suggest you aim
for the black lumps on its underside. I sense some
emanations from them; strong energy thrown mostly at
the ground. I suspect they have something to do with its
flight, and more to the point they do not appear to be
armoured. I trust you are a fair shot yourself, friend
gamekeeper. Let us proceed.”


                            26
     Having spoken thus, she grabbed Lance by the arm
and the two of them were trampling down the wheat
before I even had a chance to clear out the wet charge
from my firelock. As it befell, I had to do this as best I
could while running in their wake and resisting the
temptation to look about for the source of the perpetual
whine, which certainly grew no quieter for all the
distance we covered. I was fumbling for my powder
horn, uncertain of whether or not there was any point in
trying to reload and pursue my two companions at once,
when a rush of heat to my right flank occasioned an
instinctive change of plan: I veered to my left, and at the
dull sound of the explosion threw myself upon my face,
freshly plastering it in mud and wheat-grains. When the
scorching wind had passed, I rose and belted for the
edge of the field, hardly daring to look back for fear of
delay. My one, brief look discovered several small fires
in the area I had hastily abandoned. For the sake of both
Lord Temple and the prostrate Johan, I hoped that the
weather would subdue them before they spread.
     In the minutes it took me to reach my appointed
station I was fired upon once more, with no more
harmful effect. Yet it was a source of considerable worry
to me that the disc was evidently able to see our move-
ment among the crops. To be frank, even crouching with
our heads down, the wheat was by no means tall enough
to conceal our forms from above. It did, however, hide
from me the sight of Phoebe and Lance for some time,
giving me no end of anxiety concerning what fortune
they had suffered in these recent bombardments. I was


                            27
only relieved when I eventually saw them upon the face
of the escarpment, each making an oblique, rapid ascent
– Phoebe to the east, Lance to the west. My relief was
totally mitigated when a fireball the size of a two-horse
gig exploded against the ground less than twenty feet
behind Lance, who accordingly devoted even more
effort to his – by no means leisurely – flight. I wasted no
time in flinging myself to the ground at the edge of the
cultivated area and finally refilling my firelock with
powder, balls and a piece of thick cloth as wadding,
trusting that this would keep the rain from the barrel for
long enough. I refilled the gunlock with dry powder,
rubbed the flint dry and protected it with my hand,
while I turned to search the sky for my target.
    The disc had come lower, not to mention closer. It
was now holding a slow, steady course and was due to
pass directly over me in a matter of a very few seconds,
assuming that anything of me would be left by the time
it made that pass. I could only imagine that I was the
intended quarry: that it had either killed both my
companions while I had reloaded, or had simply
abandoned the attack on them as too awkward following
their separation. In any case, it had clearly followed the
tracks we had left and by such means had tracked down
my present retreat. Almost petrified, I watched it draw
closer in a silent and immobile panic, but kept enough
astuteness in spite of my fear to pay attention to its
every action. As Phoebe had predicted, the shimmering
that surrounded it settled completely as it came over
me. My reactions were never so quick as in that mortal


                            28
moment: I raised and fired the musket in one split-
second movement. Where precisely I hit, I cannot tell,
but suffice to say that the dreadful missile buckled
violently in the sky and I was on my feet in the next
second and hurrying towards the escarpment, harbour-
ing no wish to be crushed beneath the remains of my
opponent.
     I collapsed upon the slope and gazed back through
eyes streaming with rain and tears. The disc rocked and
jerked back and forth above the field like a crazy
pendulum, with a most satisfying absence of its former
poise and balance. It eventually seemed to regain some
equilibrium, much to my dismay, and for a few seconds
held a somewhat shaky position before it skewed
roughly to the east and ploughed into the field, where it
burst into an impressive cloud of flame. It settled, but
the twisted wreckage continued to burn steadily, as did
numerous patches of Lord Temple’s wheat. I am
thankful that the rain and hail soon put paid to that.
     Phoebe and Lance, both quite unharmed, recovered
me from where I lay with words of encouragement and
congratulation that I cannot ever expect to remember,
considering the state of the brain that heard them. It
was not long before the name of Johan was mentioned. I
recall that most specifically, since none of us could
recall exactly where we had left the unfortunate boy, and
thus could not help casting glances and morbid
reflections upon the numerous patches of fire and
smouldering wheat. I eventually discerned our tracks
and was able to reassure the cleric that none of the fires


                           29
were even remotely dangerous to her young charge,
though she would not be satisfied until we had retraced
our steps to where he lay, drenched to the skin and dead
to the world, but actually no worse off than before. Thus
comforted, Phoebe allowed her attention to drift to the
ruins of the disc.
     “This is a truly wonderful event,” she declared, to
my irreconcilable amazement. “I am sure nothing like
this has ever been done before, and it is worth infinitely
more to us down here that it was in the air, even
destroyed. Rann Morgan and Lance, you must guard
this field with your lives until that debris is safe for us to
examine. Tell nobody else of this, no matter how
trustworthy you may think them. We cannot risk the
wrong people coming to hear of this. I shall return in a
few hours, well equipped. Kindly keep a safe distance
between yourselves and that wreck until then, for your
own safety. Be patient and I promise you that we shall
satisfy more than mere curiosity. And God be with you,”
at which she kissed me most lasciviously, then did the
same to Lance, as I presumed from the expression it left
on his face. With the same air of shameless enthusiasm,
she gathered up Johan and set off back to the moor,
where I supposed she kept her encampment. On
reflection, had I been performing my job to the letter, I
should have apprehended her for even walking through
the nesting grounds. Much as I disapproved of her in
many ways, I knew that this was something I would
never lower myself to. Not that I was aware of owing any
particular debt to her: I had no doubts on that account


                             30
as I stood guard over a smouldering, rain-drenched
field, desiring sleep so greatly that I had little thought
for my accustomed duties that day. But a man does not
need to be a Lyceum doctor to recognise when his fate
has had the fortune or misfortune to become linked to
that of another.




                           31
                           III

                       Salvage

Though the hail eventually let up, it rained steadily for
the whole morning. A few of the farm workers at-
tempted to enter the field, curious at the column of
smoke that rose from the wreck well beyond full sunrise,
and leaving us no option but to turn them away. All I
could tell them was that there had been a particularly
unpleasant and thorough act of sabotage during the
night and on no account was anyone to be admitted
until the field was confirmed safe. I regret that they left
clearly suspicious. It was not long before we were
visited, presumably on their report, by one Mr. Lanyon,
manager of the estate. Typically, myself and Mr. Lanyon
are on polite terms, but on this occasion he dispensed
with all restraint. He asked, in no uncertain terms, what
the devil did I suppose I was playing at and whether or
not I actually intended to earn my living for the day, or
to stand sentinel over a field that was none of my
concern and thus prevent others from earning theirs. He
made no mention of the fires, which was a relief, as it

                            32
seemed to suggest he did not suspect me for the recent
“sabotage.” I therefore told him only that a fireball had
struck the field during the night and it was clearly
prudent that as few men as possible should be allowed
in the area until safety had been absolutely confirmed.
He took one look at the crumpled, blackened remnants
of the missile, unidentifiable from both distance and
damage, and grudgingly declared that he had best put
the matter to Lord Temple, if the duke could possibly
bear another mention of crop destruction.
    “And since you seem determined to play guardsman
rather than gamekeeper,” he went on in ill-tempered
irony, “perhaps you might make yourself useful as
either or both. I’ll swear to the Lord Justice himself that
there’s someone up on the moor, and if they’re not
poaching his lordship’s pheasants then maybe they’re
just curious to get a peek at your fireball. At any rate, if
you mean to change jobs for the day, I can only suggest
that you mend your performance.” At which he rode
away, having disturbed me considerably. My first glance
at the escarpment discovered nothing, but it was mere
moments before a mounted, silhouetted figure appeared
over the ridge and held its ground, overlooking the
wreck. Though greatly discomposed, I kept enough
sense of prudence and duty to act without hesitation.
Having instructed Lance to keep guard over the field, I
took my musket and started my approach to the figure
on the ridge, keeping a steady pace in the hope that I
would neither alarm nor provoke it.



                            33
    As I came near the edge of the field, the rider started
down the face of the escarpment, causing me some
anxiety. I was both relieved and somewhat irritated to
discover that the source of all my apprehension had
been none other than Phoebe, cloaked in her hooded
clerical robe and riding an unsaddled horse that seemed
both malnourished and deformed. Not only desperately
scrawny, it also had red eyes, thin, coarse hair, mis-
shapen teeth and long, tufted ears more like those of an
ass in proportion. In spite of all this, it bore its rider
easily as it traversed the slope, with consummate speed
and skill. I asked with some distaste where she had
come by the animal.
    “I borrowed her. Some of my associates are en-
camped further north. Johan and myself are part of an
expedition, of which you shall hear more, I daresay, if
you intend to continue with us.”
    I was more curious at present regarding the remains
of the disc. Considering the events of that morning and
my present uneasiness, it was an investigation that I
would gladly have had over and done with as soon as
possible. I asked Phoebe if she would rather that I
approached the wreck first, to which she replied in a
strangely dispassionate manner:
    “Then I assume you have some protection? Prefera-
bly something along these lines. . .” at which she
produced from beneath her robe a silver medallion,
fashioned like a witches’ star.iii I admitted that, to my
regret, I lacked any such accessory. “That being the case,
it would probably be better if I were to go first. Unless,


                            34
that is, you know without a shadow of doubt that your
mind is invulnerable to spiritual possession, and you
have literally no fear of the inevitable consequences.
Perhaps you are not familiar with them?” I confessed to
this and received an answer in the same proud,
disturbingly calm tone: “When a poltergeist invades the
human being, it invariably seeks to supplant the soul
and gain for itself shape and identity, but it is in the
nature of the entity to degenerate whatever it claims. I
do not imagine that you relish the thought of being
reduced to a skulking vampire and surviving for the
next few centuries of steady decay on a diet of psionic
energy and blood, drained from anything and anyone.
Alternatively, if your soul were strong enough to reject
the possession, in all likelihood the resultant conflict
would cause every blood vessel in your body to
haemorrhage. Spontaneous combustion is also not
uncommon in such cases. Now, with all due respect to
your chivalric conventions, perhaps this would be better
handled my way.”
    I could argue none of her points and thus consented
to her plan. Her advance to the wreck, medallion held
out before her and incessantly muttering some strange
foreign prayer, as I suppose, was understandably slow
and cautious. I watched her attentively, though
nervously. I could not think that a poltergeist would be
greatly, if at all, threatened by a shot from a musket,
though I kept the wreck covered nonetheless. She
eventually worked her way among the debris with little
more appearance of confidence than I felt, then ducked


                          35
out of sight as she made her search, to my frustration.
Lance left his post by the gate and joined me with an
infuriating air of curiosity, and I somewhat regret that I
sent him back with very sharp words. It was a great
relief to me when Phoebe finally stood and gave me a
reassuring wave, followed by a signal and call to join
her. I did so promptly.
     Observed closely, the disc was still very nearly un-
recognisable from the night before. It was entirely
crushed on the side it had hit the ground, whilst the
once-silver armour had warped and blackened like
burnt crumpled paper. The thought that it had ever
been a smooth, hollow and round object would hardly
have crossed the mind of one who had not encountered
it in its prime. I, however, could distinguish from this
sad ruin features of the disc that had not been wholly
clear to me before. As I had earlier conjectured, the
upper surface of the disc was a raised, if shallow, dome.
What I had not before seen was a turret that must once
have protruded from the centre of the disc like a small
roundhouse of metal, enclosed and windowless. I could
perceive that it was sufficiently large for the comfortable
accommodation of a single man not merely from the
size of the wreck itself, but from the broken and burnt
bones that I observed without pleasure in the central
area of the debris. There was little else to excite the
interest – for most of the remnants amounted to black
dust and burnt fragments. Phoebe seemed content in an
examination of the incinerated corpse, which gave me



                            36
further incentive to confine my own curiosity to the
least damaged side of the disc.
     Trusting in my leather gloves to protect me against
any remains that had yet to cool, I set to work pulling
away some of the twisted sheets of cloth-thin armour
and so discovered the twisted remains of the metal
framework that had given the disc its former shape. The
interior was a chaotic mess of charred and mangled
artefacts, mostly defying all terms of description. It was
beyond my imagination to guess at what their shapes or
general structure might have been prior to the crash and
fire, save that they were strange to all my former, if
strictly limited notions of engineering, art or architec-
ture. I recovered the one thing that bore any meaning
for me: namely a small and fairly undamaged black
witches’ star. It was made of a lustrous, smooth
material, but from its warmth and lack of weight quite
unlike any metal with which I am familiar. Though
confident it was not Phoebe’s talisman, I offered it
nonetheless if only for the sake of form. She took it with
avid interest, examined it briefly, then pocketed it in her
robe without further comment and directed my
reluctant attention to the remains of the pilot.
     Considering that distasteful moment, I was briefly
grateful for the distraction that Lance suddenly afforded
as he arrived at a frantic run, almost breathless from
panic and exertion. I made no endeavour to calm him,
reasoning that for the boy to get himself into such a
state there was doubtless a perfectly valid reason for all
three of us to panic. My hopes were not disappointed:


                            37
for through his gulping breaths, Lance quickly commu-
nicated to me that three masked horsemen were riding
up the road at a fair pace, each openly bearing a pistol
and sabre. None of us, it would seem, needed more
provocation than that to abandon our little operation
forthwith.
     “Get to my horse!” commanded Phoebe, leaping
from the wreck like an athlete. “It is strong enough for
the three of us, and will climb the escarpment faster
than theirs, should they attempt it.” Whereupon, she ran
towards the beast. Lance did not hesitate to follow. I,
consequently, brought up the rear. As I moved away
from the wreck, I took a single glance at the road and
was not surprised, though appalled, to see our adversar-
ies at the gate. One had dismounted to admit the other
two, who were already treading down the wheat with
impunity and were staring back at us, as far as I could
tell. For beneath their cowls each of the cavaliers wore a
black helmet, with a perforated yet concealing visor. I
was not at leisure to examine them more closely, though
I might add that their horses were tall, powerful and
impressive creatures, certainly more to look upon than
the cadaverous steed in which I was now to trust my life,
or indeed any horse that the county might produce.
     At all events, it was no encouraging sight, and I ran
all the harder for it. I shortly heard the crack of a pistol
and promptly ducked low. Heaven only knows who the
shot was intended for, but when I had straightened it
was to the reassuring sight of Phoebe and Lance,
evidently unhurt, climbing upon her repulsive horse.


                            38
Lance went before her and she assisted me to mount
behind, whereupon the animal at once broke into a
steady trot up the escarpment. I have to admit that the
speed and strength of the creature was truly remarkable
and although its path was not actually a vertical ascent
of the slope, I have to wonder if this was not merely a
convenience to avoid throwing off three unfortunate
riders who were already clinging on for dear life. I, at
least, was so absorbed in that single act that I did not
even dare to look back at the field or our erstwhile
pursuers. Not until I felt the searing impact of the next
shot in my lower left side did I suddenly find cause to
relinquish my grip, and I have Phoebe to thank that I
did not fall all the way to the foot of the escarpment.
With one hand she steadied me for the rest of the climb
and probably for some distance over the moor. I cannot
be certain, since for the next few hours my mind was a
clouded orgy of pain. I recall that at some point we
stopped on the moor and she gave me a rough piece of
folded cloth to press against the wound. At least I
proved capable of this much.
    I next began to take notice when we stopped for a
second time, in an area of patchy woodland to the north
of Temple Moor. We had come to a clearing that was
liberally scattered with cinder-heaps, scraps of paper
and remnants of food. The ground had been thoroughly
trodden down recently and the single small tent that
remained confirmed to me that this had been the
encampment of Phoebe’s expedition. Only one member
greeted us, however, and that was Johan, seemingly


                           39
quite recovered from his fainting shock. Otherwise, the
cleric’s following appeared to have completely deserted
the camp. Judging from a frantic conversation she
immediately entered into with her young disciple, this
was a development she had expected no more than I
had. In spite of this obvious surprise, her next action
was to help me to my feet and into the tent, where she
laid me down upon a somewhat damp cloth of jute. The
shelter was certainly lacking in simple comfort – a
matter that had not been improved by the previous
night’s ground-soaking weather. I then suspected this to
be the reason for the mass abandoning of the camp, but
was given no time to reflect upon this assumption.
Phoebe passed her hands across my body with the result
that my head became even more clouded than before,
though not with pain. The sensation was cloying but
almost pleasurable, except that it left me conscious but
entirely impotent. Perhaps that is how the blessed feel
when they die, before they are raised, though my
circumstances were by no means so terminal.
     “The ball did not penetrate deeply, but I must ex-
tract it nevertheless and purge the wound,” she calmly
explained whilst I numbly attended. “It was more than
skin-deep. You need not be alarmed, for I am a
consummate healer: it is a mandatory discipline among
our order. In any case, you shall feel nothing until I have
closed the wound. Johan shall boil my knife, and then I
will proceed. I hope to take no more than a few minutes.
You shall be perfectly comfortable.”



                            40
    I was in no position to argue, either physically or
from the point of view of common sense. In fact, I
barely noticed as the surgery took place. She was kind
enough not to show me the knife and it was only by her
words that I could tell anything of what was happening.
I also now learnt from her the fate of the expedition,
which I found eminently more distressing than the
operation.
    “Perhaps you are wondering what became of my
companions. To that, I only wish I could give you a
satisfactory answer. They have left at speed for the
north; that is certain. They were considerate enough to
spare one more horse, though apparently they could not
spare enough time to explain themselves fully to Johan;
beyond the simple recommendation, that is, that he and
I immediately close our affairs here and move on,
preferably in their wake if we value our health and
safety. In case you are wondering, there was some
mention of pursuers. Maybe it were best that I ex-
plain. . . (Ah! there it is. I have the ball. A simple
infusion should suffice for the purgative. I shall stitch
this up at once). Now, where were we? Of course, our
party split when we came as far as Tardale County. Five
of us continued south and then west, to the city-state of
the Church of the Six Travellers. A long journey indeed,
but they were most keen to examine the so-called
Travellers’ Tombs in the necropolis. I dread to think
how they fared with the ruling clerics of Malice City,
mind you. We dragonpeople are detested and reviled as
some manner of demon by most of your modern creeds


                           41
and theologians, but we have no quarrel that I am aware
of with the relatively ancient Church of the Six Travel-
lers. (Damn this needle!) Notwithstanding that, they
found their way here in considerable panic, or so I hear,
after some two months separation. I had a couple of
novices attending me here, but I perceive it did not take
a great deal of persuasion for them to join in the flight.
No scruples, I see, about leaving poor Johan ill equipped
to fend for himself. Disdainful upstarts. And, indeed,
abandoning their superior without so much as a by-
your-leave, and leaving the vaguest of reasons. At all
events, it now seems most likely that this wretched little
retreat of mine will soon be invaded, if not by our
faceless friends back in the wheat-field, then by whoever
it was that put the fear of God into my so-called
students. We dare not linger here. (Thank heavens! That
is done.)”
     I know not whether it was either necessary or even
traditional, but she drew away my paralysis with a
lingering kiss. I cannot say that I enjoyed it, since it
served to gradually sap my warm asylum of lethargy and
return to me the aching weakness and coldness of blood
loss, not to mention the greatly reduced yet still present
sensation of piercing in my side. She then presented me
with a small phial and instructed that I drink down its
contents, to which I willingly consented, having no wish
to die in the agonies of disease after the effort of all my
recent escapes. It had an unpleasantly rusty taste, but
spread a soothing warmth throughout my body that
went some way to alleviating my pain. She laid me back


                            42
on the damp sheet and urged me to remain there while
she and the others prepared.
     “Prepared for what?” I enquired.
     “Do you not see that we must leave as soon as pos-
sible?” she answered with some surprise. “It is essential
that we put as much distance as we can between
ourselves and all pursuers. So, we shall head directly for
the north. We may rejoin my followers if we travel with
speed. At the very least we can hope to regain the
mountains and drop out of sight of our enemies, then
we shall travel to absolute safety in Fort Rowan. That is
where I wish to compare and investigate our discover-
ies.”
     I considered that an unduly grand term for brief
eyewitness reports and one slightly burnt piece of
debris, but allowed that to pass. Nevertheless, I had
other objections on which I could not hold my peace.
     “Then you mean to follow your fleeing friends?” I
began, ill-advisedly, but all I managed by that comment
was to incense her.
     “If you would rather stay here and be cornered and
killed, then by all means indulge yourself!” she more or
less hissed between her fangs. Nevertheless, it naturally
led to my more important subject:
     “You’d best know, Phoebe, that I don’t plan either to
stay here or travel north. I’m not some adventuring
highwayman, drifting monk, or criminal on the run, in
case you hadn’t noticed. I have duties of my own, which
is why I am here at all. Remember? You got me in on
this with the hope that I might get those masked


                           43
buggers who shot me arrested, and you needn’t think
I’ve changed my mind on that score. Next time we meet
I’ll have a party of sheriff’s men or militia with me, and
when it comes to the assizes those rogues can each pay
for this wound with interest, on the end of a rope.”
     “Stupid peasant! Or else you must truly have a death
wish! With villains such as those lying between you and
your precious Lord’s estate, how do you propose to even
return there alive?”
     “Lend me a horse, and I can easily avoid them.
There were only three as I remember. I’ll have no
trouble passing them if I ride along the moor. And
should I accidentally meet whoever’s chasing your
friends, I can’t see that they’ll have any quarrel with
me.”
     “Mark my words, Rann Morgan: you will be chased
and hunted to your death like an animal. Those
horsemen, just to remind you, were deadly serious.
Considering what we have heard and seen of them for
ourselves, I cannot imagine that they will tolerate any of
our lives after what we have been involved in. In any
case, you have no idea what reinforcements, authorities
or powers those three might be able to call upon.
Remember the writ they supposedly showed Holman?
This has the hallmarks of a carefully-laid strategy to
protect the knowledge of that Arcadian vessel, and one
against which it is hardly prudent for a single man to pit
himself. Courage is fine and laudable, but pointless
suicide is arguably sinful. Only with my followers and
myself will you be reliably protected.”


                           44
    Her persuasions unnerved me, but could not change
my purpose. I was determined at the very least to settle
all my affairs with Mr. Lanyon before I retreated into
hiding. Considering the wound I had taken along with
the fear Lord Temple and his entire household already
had of the terrorists, it could hardly be difficult for me
to convince my employer or his estate manager of the
very real danger I was in. But this was a mere contin-
gency, assuming I failed to settle the matter as I
formerly intended: with the aid of militiamen, the
county magistrate and the gallows. As far as I was
concerned, it would be unforgivable of me to flee until
the effort had been made to cleanse Upper Blackbrook
of its recent, pernicious invaders. After much heated
debate, Phoebe grudgingly consented to my intention
and allowed me the use of one of the horses. I allowed
Lance to choose for himself whether or not to accom-
pany me on this admittedly dangerous errand, to which
he consented most loyally. It was all much to the
chagrin of the draigwight cleric, who nevertheless
parted from me with instructions that should matters
get out of hand as she feared, I could travel to Fort
Rowan by way of Tardale. “Assuming, that is,” she
reassuringly quipped, “that there is anything left
capable of travel.”




                           45
                         IV

             Officers of the Law

I struck a south-western course across the moor, hoping
thus to avoid riding into the bloodthirsty cavaliers. I
was greatly encouraged that we were accosted by no-one
throughout the journey, and encountered no sign of our
former attackers or any other ill-meaning strangers,
either upon the moor or from the foot of the escarpment
to the grounds of the manor house. It was here that we
encountered Mr. Lanyon, who approached us in a state
of suppressed though unmistakable consternation. That
did little enough for my former optimism, which was
promptly decimated by his first words:
     “Thank the Lord! But where the hell have you been,
Morgan? They couldn’t say whether or not you’d been
done for.”
     Rather than answer, I urgently enquired what he
meant by that last distressing comment. It transpired
that in the time since I had ridden away wounded from
the invaders in the field, some more farm workers had
approached that area. The sight of two armed horsemen

                          46
patrolling about the strange, burnt heap was enough to
dissuade them from this course. They had hurried to
Mr. Lanyon and reported this affair, which at once
alarmed the estate manager who could only presume
that I had failed dismally, or fatally, in my role as
sentinel. He had armed a group of men and taken them
to the field, only to discover it suddenly uninhabited.
There were many signs of its recent visitors: divers
tracks through the wheat, of men, horses and, unexpect-
edly, of carts. These led from the road-gate to the main
burnt area – upon last inspection, the severely crushed
but empty burnt area. The debris had been entirely
removed in what must have been a lightning operation.
Some riders had been sent out east to trace the wagons,
having reasoned that they could have gone in no other
direction except across country to avoid interception.
They were placing their hopes on the belief that the
terrorists could hardly have gained much of a start
ahead of them, though even then my pessimism was
steadily growing.
     I more or less fully explained the circumstances of
my escape to Mr. Lanyon, deciding that now we had
settled upon a common enemy, there was no further
reason to conceal the alliance I had briefly formed with
Phoebe. He at first appeared to take the news with some
distaste and suspicion, but this had alleviated consid-
erably by the time I was relating how she had acted to
preserve my life on the moor. Indeed, he responded to
this part of my tale with some concern.



                          47
    “I hope she knew what she was about, Rann. You
look to me as sickly as any man I’ve ever seen, and I’ll
include the time when my brother-in-law had the
consumption. You’re bloodshot, man. How long has it
been since you last had any sleep?”
    A valid point, I conceded. A night out in a storm,
exhausting pursuits, incessant anxiety and a pistol-ball
in the side, had certainly taken their toll, and even with
the urgent business of justice yet to be completed the
thought of a few hours rest was considerable tempta-
tion. Mr. Lanyon did not begrudge me this. Considering
recent events, he had evidently given up all attempts at
trying to preserve the routine of the estate. In any case,
my wound and my condition spoke for themselves.
    To best serve my duties over the full area of the
estate I held two cottages, though found little occasion
to make regular use of them both during the colder
seasons. I preferred to dwell in the one situated closer to
the manor and the dwellings of the farm workers,
considering that the other was essentially built to serve
the duke’s woodland and the nesting grounds, and was
in fact little better than a draughty hermitage upon the
moor. To the former I now repaired, having first seen
young Lance safely to his parents’ dwelling with my
caution not to tell them any more than seemed prudent,
if only for the sake of their ease. Nothing else hindered
me in settling down for the afternoon with the fond
hope that Lord Temple’s servants, now on their guard,
would at the very least prove a sufficient deterrent to
further acts of terrorism, even if they were unsuccessful


                            48
in bringing the known perpetrators to justice. In that
event, which was all I expected, I would ensure that
among my duties the following day would be included
either a message or personal visit to the county
courthouse in Blackbrook Town and possibly a similar
communication with the commandant of Camp
Hazeldine. With such favourable thoughts as these I
whiled away my last few hours of comparative ease,
soon drifting into a sleep that I presently regard as the
true boundary between a perceived hope and order and
a very real despair and chaos.

                          ***

It was some time later, perhaps two hours before
daybreak, that I awoke. I had little occasion to note the
time: for I awoke from shallow rest and an obscure
nightmare, chiefly concerning brimstone and drowning,
to a scene of little improvement. At first I could make
out nothing around me, and as my eyes grew accus-
tomed to the darkness my vision remained
unaccountably dim. The shapes of furniture seemed like
phantoms in a mist. The acrid stench of my dream
remained in my nostrils, and as I breathed in this
contamination it produced a rasping pain in my throat
and a fit of choking. The weakness I had upon rising
refused to lift – quite the contrary – and despite the
panic of my mind, my body remained entirely apathetic.
Mercifully, the progress of my terror was promptly
terminated by my complete loss of sensibility. I have the
vaguest recollection of being carried bodily through my

                           49
own window, but I only truly recovered upon the grass
some distance from my unfortunate cottage. How much
later this was I cannot say, except to state that it was
dark and my dwelling had since been more or less
reduced to a blazing ruin, the stone walls acting as a
primitive sort of furnace, concentrating the incineration
of the contents, including the collapsed remnants of my
thatch roof. The glass had melted from all the case-
ments, save that of my chamber which had been
deliberately smashed in by my rescuers.
     I noted that the fire had drawn a fair crowd from
among the neighbouring servants and labourers, many
of whom were rather pointlessly engaged in attempting
with various containers of water to save the irreparable
shell of my cottage. None were presently attending to
me, presumably having already satisfied themselves that
I was alive, breathing, and would recover. As I dragged
myself painfully from the damp ground and to my feet I
attracted the attention of a few men, among them Mr.
Lanyon, who was supervising the chaos from horseback.
He left the mob to their own devices and rode up to me
with a look of anxiety I could well understand.
     “Rann, are you alright to be moving? You look terri-
ble. Positively haggard. We’d best get you a bed down at
the Pike’s Head right away.”
     I thanked him for his consideration, then enquired
whether anyone was aware of how the fire had started.
Not that I was lacking in suspicions: merely in confir-
mation and evidence.



                           50
    “Would it be too much to hope that you might have
somehow started it accidentally?” he asked, with little
hope. I could answer that easily enough: I had used
neither my fireplace nor my stove for the whole of that
last miserable day. A depressed look of resignation
crossed his face. “In that case, one of these men did
report seeing a horseman with a torch take the turning
for this road down by the Pike’s Head. I think that
makes it plain that you don’t dare use your other
cottage, for the present at any rate. I’m taking this
matter straight to the sheriff tomorrow, and this time I
shan’t even wait to see whether Lord Temple objects or
not. Burning the wheat-field was one thing, but to keep
silent over attempted murder would be as good as
treasonous, if not a downright mortal sin, for all their
threats.”
    “Only the one of them?” I exclaimed, grasping at a
very slight hope. “And how long ago would that have
been?”
    “Too long to hope of catching the bastard, if that’s
what you mean. In any case, I’m afraid there’s another
lurking about the district somewhere. Our friend saw
two of them, but the other just kept on down the main
road.”
    “Did he also have a torch?”
    “I don’t know. I . . . I didn’t think about it.”
    Lance had been seen with me in the field, without a
doubt, when we had fled up the escarpment. In fact, he
had seen the cavaliers before I had. The Medlar’s
homestead and smallholding was situated some four or


                          51
five miles to the west of the manor house and only
distantly visible from the main road. Unlike my cottage,
they were far from being within easy access, or even
within notice of neighbours. Some of these thoughts had
occurred to Mr. Lanyon as well as to myself, and with
recommendations that I should wait upon his return
without exertion, he set off towards the road at break-
neck speed. In spite of his precautions I was quick
enough to follow on a horse borrowed from the Pike’s
Head stables. I had tethered the draigwight beast to a
post outside my cottage, but found the rope broken and
loose. Considering its strength, it might just as easily
have freed itself as been taken by the terrorist, though I
learnt no more of this. In my thoughtless desperation I
would probably have risked proceeding on foot, except
that the inn presented itself most conveniently to me at
the road-junction.
     I could not catch up with Mr. Lanyon on the road
and next met him riding back along the narrow path
from the Medlar’s home. He expressed no surprise at my
approach and it did not prove difficult for me to search
his face for the information I dreaded to find. Traces of
sickness, embarrassment, indignation and confusion
were manifest signs of what had become of Lance and
his parents, as were the awkward words he pronounced:
     “There’s nothing to be found. It’s hopeless.”
     This did not long deter my progress up the path,
drawn by sheer morbid compulsion. There was, in truth,
little more than nothing to be found. A stranger might
have mistaken a destroyed house for a mere pile of


                           52
rubbish. The whole had the appearance of a disused and
decaying brick kiln half full of smouldering charcoal
and clinker. I was far from being inclined to investigate
those remains any more closely, but like a fool I rode
out into the country along some tracks I espied in the
soot-clad earth. Caught between guilty remorse (for who
but me had involved the boy in these wretched proceed-
ings?) and hatred of my suspected quarry, I did not even
consider that I was far more a hunted object than the
stranger I pursued, let alone spared a thought for Mr.
Lanyon, who would have wished to aid me, if only to
dissuade me from such recklessness.
    The tracks led south across the field and into
wooded country and I pursued them assiduously, along
paths almost too narrow to even allow easy passage to
wanderers on foot, and between trees where no paths
existed, until they eventually led me to the bank of a
stream. Upon the opposite bank stood a tall horse,
accoutred in a light armoured coat and metal blinkers,
its halter tied to a tree. I scrutinised the bank for the
impressions of the rider’s boots, but saw only a few at
the very edge of the stream that ran up as far as the
horse. Quite evidently he had dismounted, tethered the
horse, and then walked back and waded the stream. I
had no way of telling at what point he had returned to
the bank, or even upon which bank he had climbed out.
In short, he had thrown me off his track completely. All
I knew was that he was probably near and waiting for
me to expose myself to his pistol-sights. I dared not
attempt riding across the stream, thus relinquishing


                           53
what cover the trees might have afforded me. Shaken to
my senses, I realised that my only sensible course of
action from this ludicrous point would be to attempt
retracing my steps as silently as possible.
    I had only just begun to manoeuvre my horse about
when the expected shot rang out. It was something of a
misfire, catching my unlucky horse in its flank. Before
the animal bolted into the woods, never to be seen by
me again, it shook me violently from the saddle and I
came down upon the bank, almost rolling into the
stream. I did not hesitate in wading it, knowing from the
direction of the shot that my enemy had attempted to
take me from behind – from the very direction I had
been preparing to follow. My only resource now was the
murderer’s horse, assuming that I could release and
mount it before he found time to reload. In this much I
succeeded, only to realise that it would give me no
advantage of speed over a man on foot in these dense
woods. Cursing my own stupidity, I looked back to see
the cloaked and masked cavalier on the bank of the
stream I had recently deserted, wielding a sabre. I found
that of some small comfort, but only for as long as he
kept his present distance.
    He did not: he began to wade the stream, steadily
but relentlessly, sword already poised for deadly action.
In a desperate act I spurred the horse forward to an
immediate gallop, directly across the stream and over
my assailant. He tried to turn at the last minute, but to
no avail, and was trampled down with a nauseating
scream. Following this brief but turbulent ride I drew up


                           54
on the bank, dismounted, secured the horse and turned
back to the stream. Though I felt nothing but loathing
and a vague satisfaction in regard to the dark and
twisted shape that lay almost completely submerged, yet
I endeavoured to haul it upon the bank and examine it
for what signs of life I may find. It was a wasted effort:
though his heavy, shot-proof cuirass had saved his ribs
from crushing, his neck had been twisted fatally. His
head slumped at a hideous angle and declared this
beyond a doubt, yet I gingerly removed his helmet for
absolute confirmation. His twisted expression of pain
had set on a face that already appeared ashen and
milky-eyed. Needless to state, he did not breathe.
     I felt it best to search him for what effects, if any, he
carried, so that I might be provided with some lead
concerning his fellows. I proceeded to this with
considerable distaste, however, and at first with very
little success. I found no pockets in his cloak, and once
obliged to remove his armour, I found nothing in the
pockets of his coarse, dark clothing. Not until I thought
to remove his boots did my fortunes change: purely by
luck did my hand encounter a small metal object
concealed behind the inner flap of leather in the first I
drew off, which I examined as soon as I had possession
of it. It proved to be fashioned in the shape of a star,
with a moulded outline that particularly suggested a
witches’ star, and a central engraved pattern that I could
not distinguish. Threads fastened it to the leather flap,
but I had soon torn it free and held it up to the weak
dawn light for scrutiny.


                             55
     The pattern was made up of a device and two frag-
ments of writing. A sword was crossed with a single
branch against the background of a fortified tower. The
larger part of the writing was a classical motto, known
to me ever since the schooldays of my later childhood:
Pro Patriae Paci (For the peace of our land). That phrase
was taken up by the People’s Militia during the Great
Revolution, and has since passed into the use of the new
order, for which they paved the way with the ruins of its
predecessor. Above the device was engraved the letters
L, C and G.
     At the time, I had hardly ever found occasion to
travel beyond the county boundary, saving intermittent
excursions to Tardale. I had never visited the cities of
the south, had no dealings with them, and understood
little of life as it was led within them. Only a few scraps
of knowledge had I learnt by repute or notoriety, among
which was the nature of the insignia I had taken from
the corpse: the man I had trampled was evidently an
officer of the Lexigrad Civilian Guard. Personal
bodyguard of the delator of Lexigrad: sheriff of the
largest and richest borough within not only the state of
Brêven but the entire Union, if not the very world.
Arguably the most powerful man beneath the primate
himself, not excluding the elected prefects or the council
members.iv Indisputably the federal head of criminal
justice, with command over all the lesser sheriffs and
considerable influence in the county militias, according
to hearsay. A hero statesman since he secured peace
with the draigwights, but no less feared for it. Even the


                            56
farmers of Upper Blackbrook could relate the popular
tales of his well-established uncompromising cruelty to
even minor offenders. There was a particular and oft-
repeated story of how his armed guards, on direct
orders, had fired upon a group of agitators with
calamitous result, except insofar as the riot was ended at
a dubious cost.v Lexigrad was often said to be the safest
city in the Union, save for anyone unfortunate enough
to fall within the suspicion of delator Taplowe.
     His civic guards, hated and reviled by all who were
not wholly innocent and candid, were nonetheless
generally considered as the elite within their field.
Except in their function as bodyguard to the delator it
was unknown, or certainly unaccustomed for them to
operate outside the metropolis. And now I had killed
one of these universally dreaded and extremely well-
connected deputies. Aside from having survived this far
against the odds, the circumstances could hardly have
appeared more bleak. What outcome dared I expect if I
reported this discovery? These men were answerable
only to the delator himself and presumably under his
orders even as they had put the torch to the Medlar’s
home and my own. With the support of such a man,
albeit clandestine, the power and authority of our local
sheriff was apt to prove thoroughly ineffective against
them. Even assuming that the secrecy of their opera-
tions would remove any danger of myself actually being
arrested or lynched as a murderer and traitor – which
by no means did I intend to take for granted – the
likelihood remained that they would still hunt me down


                           57
as before and finish the work of tonight. However the
matter was examined I was as good as a fugitive, absent
of all hope that Mr. Lanyon or anyone else could bring
my adversaries to justice. A foolish construction,
considering as how they were the active embodiment of
what passed for federal justice. Phoebe had attempted to
persuade me that flight was my only means of survival
and for the first time I began to question my wisdom in
disputing and ignoring that counsel. The fruits of my
decision after a single day had been the loss of four
lives, the destruction of my home and two narrow
escapes from joining the death list.
    Not that I was confident even of my present sur-
vival. For I chanced to catch a glance of my face in the
stream and even from that unsteady image could see
what Mr. Lanyon had meant about my haggard looks:
my face had become morbidly thin and drawn in the
space of a single day, whilst my hair seemed equally
neglected and diseased. I reached to my scalp and
attempted to comb back the dishevelled clumps with my
fingers. My hand returned with a collection of dry,
lustreless strands. A second stroke brought the same
result. I then noticed my fingers: the skin around the
nails was dry and flaking and the nails themselves were
loose enough that I might have dragged each of them
out with barely a twinge of pain. Even on my hands,
veins and bones were notably more prominent than
usual. Yet in spite of all this the only debility I felt was
hunger. I found that most curious, then disturbing and
infuriating. Events on the moor came back to mind and


                            58
I looked once more upon my reflection for confirma-
tion. It took neither time nor effort to find. For my eyes
were not merely bloodshot: the once-brown tissue had
quite simply turned a dark red and grown outwards to
reduce the whites to narrow outlines. For the first time I
began to notice the heat within my mouth, which I had
formerly been content to overlook for the simple reason
that it was by no means uncomfortable. None of these
effects were, yet they were as unwelcome as they were
painless and filled me with an unconsidered and
probably unjust wrath towards the healer who had
inflicted it upon me. Not only was I a hunted man
beyond the help of friends, but as if to complete my
estrangement I had even failed to preserve my own
nature: the physic Phoebe had given me was changing
me into a draigwight. No wonder, then, at her determi-
nation that I should accompany her back to her own
lands. For the sake of survival, I should now have to
make that journey alone.
     I am given to understand that draigwights are more
prone to strong feelings than all other peoples of the
world. I can certainly state that it was with more ill
grace than I had ever before felt that I made my
preparations.




                           59

				
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