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The Sixth Goddess

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  • The Sixth Goddess

    The Sixth Goddess
    A Tale of Nyren Halff
    By
    Jeff Warshaw
    I. Stranger on a Strange Shore

    Nyren Halff stood shivering in the chilly mist of a fog-shrouded shoreline. He did not know where he was or how he had gotten to this strange shore. His last clear recollection was that he had been approached outside a broken down bar/inn on the outskirts of Nyarlin by three of Queen Hyasha’s Shadow Knights. An all-female army of fearsome reputation, they rarely spoke with anyone not of their own ilk, so Halff had been taken aback when the leader not only spoke to him, but pulled back her silver leopard mask and revealed her beautiful face.
    “I am Tan’akra,” the beautiful killer said. “You are wanted at the Interstice by the Confluence of Goddesses.”
    “What is that?” Halff asked. “I know of no such place, nor such a confluence.”
    “That is not important,” Tan’akra had shouted angrily. “You are to wait at Hissing Rocks for the Ship That Sails Between The Worlds. The Ship will come for you.”
    “What am I to do then?” Halff inquired.
    “Journey to the worlds of Sha’akran and Toovesh,” Tan’akra replied cryptically. “There you will find the Shield of the Six and the Scepter of the Six, an ancient wand carved of a single great emerald, carved with the mystic and forgotten Cyan Rune of Queen Hak’tori the Great.”
    “You speak in riddles,” Halff laughed. “What absurdity is this? I know of no such places, no such shore or ship.”
    “Go now!” Tan’akra hissed. “There is not time! The Eternal Winter is upon Karajan. Time is short for all, unless you find the Shield and the Scepter!”

    That strange conversation seemed like a dream, yet here he was, sore and cold, standing in frozen mud on a strange sore, waiting for the arrival of the Ship That Sails Between The Worlds. He had no idea what the ship looked like nor which direction it would take. He could be forced to stand in this freezing fog for days or weeks.

    As Halff stood brooding on the shoreline, he heard the sounds of a ship approaching, the slap of a wooden hull on the waves and an odd groaning. He strained his eyes, but could see nothing but fog. Finally, a dim outline began to emerge. The ship was unlike any he’d previously seen. It had no oar-banks but a high bow and slender stern. The ship was carved of dark wood, almost black, and strange geometric shapes had been cut into the high gunwales. Three huge sails, plain white with no national markings of any kind, flapped upon tall masts.

    “Hal, the ship!” Halff called. He cupped his hands around his chapped lips and called again. “Hail, the ship!”
    He had no reply for several minutes as the strange vessel drew nearer. Then a gruff bass voice called out.
    “Hail the shore!” the voice said.
    “Is that the Ship That Sails Between the Worlds?” Halff called.
    “Who asks?” the deep voice inquired.
    “I am called Nyren Halff,” Halff replied. “From Halcarn. I was told to find the Ship That Sails Between the Worlds.”
    “Aye,” the bearish voice coughed. “We were told to expect you. A boat will be sent to retrieve you. Wait where you are.”
    “Who are you?” Halff asked.
    “Ah—that is the subject of some debate,” the strange man replied. “But we shall discuss that when you arrive.”

    A three man row boat, carved of the same deep brown wood as the great vessel came to light upon the frozen shoreline. Halff stepped down and into the boat, nearly capsizing it. He was a big man, six feet two inches tall and 185 lbs, so sitting in the tiny craft was difficult. Two rowers clad in pearl-encrusted silver armor, their faces hidden by cylindrical helmets carved with fanciful deer antlers rowed him out to the ship. Halff tried to engage them in conversation, but they would not reply , leading him to believe they were deaf-mutes.

    A black rope ladder was lowered over the starboard gunwale. Looking up, Halff saw two men, one dressed in a black robe embroidered with strange gold symbols and a younger blond-haired man with a crooked smile dressed in a red deerskin jerkin, tan deer hide breeches and black knee boots. He wore a forest-green peaked leather cap with a comical arrow shot through it, a style Halff was not familiar with. When he reached the top rungs of the ladder, the two strangers helped him up onto the solid deck.

    “Welcome aboard, Nyren Halff,” the black-robed man said. He had a short black beard, which he stroked when he talked. “I am called Aris of Tangar, and this is my traveling companion Jack Sartain, sometimes called Jack the Jester or Tom’o’Fools.”
    “Hello,” Halff said. “What is this ship? How did it find me?”
    “The Ship finds those men and women destined to sail in her,” Aris coughed. “You were expected. We have been searching for some weeks for an iron-haired mercenary named Nyren Halff, and here you are.”
    “You are boring our guest to death with trivialities,” Jack Sartain said in a high and surly tone of voice. “When it is clear that he must be both cold and hungry. Come to the ship’s mess and we shall eat, drink hot tea and talk of our adventures, future and past.”
    Aris and Jack led Halff towards the stern of the great black schooner and soon they sat in a long room illuminated by red lanterns. They sat around a black wood table and a comely but silent lass brought them metal mugs of hot tea and a plate of bread and dried salted meats.
    “Are the ships servants all deaf-mutes?” Halff asked.
    “Aye, they are,” Jack said. He wolfed down a huge slab of salt pork and gulped his tea down greedily, banging on the table for another. “And the Captain and his Steersman are blind.”
    “This is a most unusual vessel,” Halff said. He tried some salted venison and found it gamy but delicious. He had not realized how hungry he was until he’d been offered food.
    “That is a great understatement,” Aris laughed. “’Tis the queerest ship I’ve ever sailed on in my forty years as a pirate.”
    “You’re a pirate?” Halff asked. “How did you come to be here? Were you captured?”
    “Not exactly,” Aris replied. “My fleet was attacked by King Tanamar’s Fourth Fleet and sunk to a ship. I expected to be shark food, but woke here after the battle.”
    “A sad tale,” Jack Sartain quipped. “Your plundering and pillaging days cut tragically short by law abiding citizens. How deadly dull!”
    Halff eyes the strange blond man and smiled thinly. He had a wicked sense of humor, somewhat black, like Halff’s own.
    “How came you here, Tom’o’Fools?” Halff asked. He sipped some more tea and ate a hearty slice of black bread and fresh butter.
    “Ah, a truly tragic story,” Jack Sartain laughed. “I was in the forest riding with band of merry makers, thieves and itinerant poets when there was a great thunder clap and I was transported, by some unknown agency, to this place.”
    “Well,” Halff said. “The question is, where are we going?”
    “I thought you knew,” Aris said. “We travel to the fabled city of Sha’akran on the Eastern Rim of the Fire Lands.”
    “I’ve never heard of Sha’akran, or the Fire Lands,” Halff replied.
    “I have,” Jack Sartain said. He shook as if terrified to his bones. “And I’m not looking forward to reacquainting myself with her subtle and seductive horrors.”
    “This sounds like a perilous journey,” Halff said.
    “Well, we shall not be alone, us three,” Aris replied. “We wait a fourth. A great warrior, I am told, from the Three-Fold Worlds.”
    “When do we meet him?” Halff asked.
    “Her,” Aris corrected. “The warrior is a lady. Quite a stunning beauty, I am told, with flame-red hair, pale gray green eyes and skin as white and smooth as alabaster. They say her figure is unrivalled in its perfection. But she is as deadly as she is lovely, a swordswoman without equal.”
    “Who is she?” Halff asked.
    “The Captain wouldn’t tell us her name,” Aris replied. “Only that we will retrieve her from her own strange shore in two days time.”
    “More mysteries,” Halff sneered. He sipped some tea. His life, he thought, had already contained far too much mystery and intrigue.
    “Aye,” Aris laughed. “This is a ship of mysteries, one atop another.”
    “It is time for bed,” Jack Sartain smiled. He gave Aris a look Halff could not interpret as anything but lust. “Perhaps our new friend would care to bunk with us?”
    “No,” Aris said. “The Cap’n said he is to have his own berth. I know where it is. Come, I’ll show you to it, friend. Watch your step. Below decks are cramped and the way is like a maze.”
    The two strangers led Halff down a narrow flight of wooden steps to a cramped interior. There were many twisting corridors and strange turns. Aris stopped at a black door with a fanciful red dragon painted on it.
    “Here you are,” the big man said. He clapped Halff on the back very hard. “Sleep well, if you can. This ship gives its travelers strange dreams, but think nought of it. You’ll be a new man at morning.”
    He and Jack Sartain padded off, whispering secrets and laughing softly.




    Lord Warshaw the Unknown

    "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

  • #2
    Chapter Two, Dreams and Downpours

    II. Dreams and Downpours

    Nyren Halff was no stranger to sleeping on ship board. Until recently, he had owned a unique mechanical cutter, the Winter’s Queen, named after the Winter Goddess, Mhalathorna. He had slept on board for many years. But there was something odd about this ship which made him restive. After a while, he realized that it was not the ship’s motion, but rather, the lack of the same. The Ship That Sails Between The Worlds glided through the inter-dimensional seas so smoothly that she had none of the pitch and roll of an ordinary vessel. It was like sailing over glass.
    Finally, exhaustion took him and Halff slipped into sleep.
    In his dream, Halff walked through a strange white wilderness. Everything was brilliant white, so bright it hurt his eyes. He marched past a brace of silver beeches, and saw cream colored fawns nibbling at alabaster grass and drinking from a marble river. The only thing that was not white or a shade of white was the snow that fell, which was deep indigo blue!
    Halff trudged for many miles through the blinding wilderness until he came at last to a stone circle. He stared at the strange cyan and violet runes carved by ancient knives into the trilithons and the flat rune stone in the middle of the circle. He could not read the language but felt certain he knew if from somewhere.
    Suddenly, there was a brilliant silver flash of light and Halff knelt in the snow before a silver goddess of supernatural beauty and grace. He felt divine power flow from her like a magnetic wave, washing over him, making the hairs on his arms and chest rise and tingle with arcane electricity.
    “Nyren Halff,” the unknown deity said in sweet, dulcet tones, like water falling over rocks. “You are not only the ari’k’ta’an, The Beloved of the Five. You are the arit’shas,n’aa, The Chosen of the Six. I am not known to your world, but once was. My name is Zylara, once known as the Silver Queen. You are on my quest now, in strange worlds and through bizarre ages. You must not fail. You must find what once bound me to my sister goddesses, those you already know and love. The Shield of the Six can summon the Conjuration of the Six, a powerful magic that unites us across the Multiverse. The Wand of the Six will channel our power to you, so you may do our will upon Karajan and destroy the evil that stalks that world. Go now. Seek the Silver Shore. My avatar, Lady Xiar, the fiercest warrior the Multiverse has ever produced will meet you. She is my Sword, but you are my Champion. Beware Fal’hak’ra, the Queen of Storms, for she loves you too, but her love is the Kiss of Death, the Embrace of Chaos. Beware her Champion, the Shadow Knight K’harr, whose beauty is like a beacon, but burns men as a lamp burns the wings of the moth who draws to near it.”
    Then the Silver Goddess Zylara faded from the white landscape like a heat mirage, leaving only a faint afterimage.
    Halff woke, and heard knocking on his door.
    Sleep addled, he pulled the seal skin blankets off, quickly dressed and paced to the door.
    Jack Sartain, far too sprightly and refreshed for a rainy morning, stood smiling broadly. Aris was absent.
    “Come to breakfast, Halff,” Jack invited. “There’s fresh fish hauled in last night from the Red River of Saxto. Nothing like buttered Saxto catfish with red bacon to revive you.”
    “All right,” Halff said. His mouth tasted pasty and awful. “Give me half an hour. I’ll meet you in the mess.”
    “Be quick!” Jack taunted. “The catfish goes fast among the silent crew!”

    Halff tried to remember his dream, but only snippets of it remained vivid. He remembered the white deer, the circle of stones and the Silver Goddess Zylara. He was to avoid someone, but he didn’t remember her name or that of her patron. He felt certain he had forgotten something important, but could not force it from his memory. He felt oddly uneasy this morning. Reaching the deck by the same winding stair case that led to the crew’s quarters, Halff saw that they were in the midst of a torrential rain. He was soaked to the bone by the time he reached the Mess.
    “Why didn’t you warn me of the rain?” Halff scolded Jack Sartain, who looked happy and dry as he sat behind a plate piled high with fried fish patties and bacon.
    “It’s only a bit of water!” Jack laughed. “It won’t hurt hurt you. Better go get some catfish before it’s all gone.”
    Halff cued up behind six silent sailors before a large table spread with fish, butter, bacon and black bread. An equally mute chef served portions on wooden plates. Halff observed the behavior of the sailors and pointed to what he wanted, until his plate bore four hearty catfish patties, six strips of red bacon, a large pat of butter and two slices of black bread. He also asked for some steaming clear ale in an earthen tankard and went back to sit with his odd companion.
    “Where is Aris of Tangar this morning?” Halff said. “He hardly seems a man to miss such a fine feast.”
    “Indeed not,” Jack laughed. “On most occasions, he would be first at the table and first in line for seconds and even thirds. But Aris is a man of large appetites in all things. Such exertions oft leave him quite drained. I expect he will rise in a hour or two, though would not be surprised if he slept past midday.”
    “I see,” Halff said. He sipped some clear ale and tasted the catfish, which was buttery soft and delicious. It has no “fishy” taste, but was more like rare meat. The bacon was tangy and hearty as well. “How did you and the pirate meet?”
    “Ah, now there’s a curious tale,” Jack smiled. “You see, this vessel navigates the Moonbeam Roads between the Worlds. I had been living in the Forest of Tangar North, abiding with a band of jugglers, fortune tellers and cut-purses. Being a bit of all three, I was most welcome among them. Or so I thought. For one fine rainy morning, like this one, I found that the traitors had abandoned me, stolen my coin purse and my silver dagger and even my fine silk tunic and breeches and deer hide boots and left me tied to a tree, naked, with the word “thief” in the native language painted on my chest with coal dust.”
    “How embarrassing,” Halff laughed. “However did you escape?”
    “Wait, it gets worse,” Jack said. He wolfed down a catfish patty and some black bread, wiped his face on a cloth napkin, then continued his tale of woe. “My treacherous former comrades had told the local Feudal Lord that it was I who had raped and impregnated his fat comely daughter and that I had drugged and sodomized his wife as well! Lies, all lies! Though I escaped the ropes and managed to steal the clothes of some local farmers, I could go nowhere without hearing the hooves of pursuers. I am no swordsman, Halff, but had to fight my way past professional killers and hire swords for nigh on two months. Only my skill as a dancer and fleetness of foot saved me.”
    “You still dodge my question,” Halff said. “How did you meet the dread pirate Aris?”
    “I took refuge in a small tavern at the edge of Tangar West, a region of broken down shacks and cut-throat bars. Pirates were common in Tangar West, and no sloop, cutter or barque was safe at her harbors,” Jack continued. “I had been earning a meager living by fortune telling and card cheating, but was still a wanted man. One day, a big bear of man in black leather breeches and stinking of fish came asking after me.”
    “So he was a mercenary in addition to his piracy?” Halff asked. He was done with his meal and felt utterly stuffed. He had not eaten so well in many months.
    “Aye,” Jack said. “A man of dark reputation to be sure. A cold blooded killer of first water. He wanted the ten thousand silver pennies the Feudal Lord had offered for my severed head mounted on a pike. I knew there would be no pleading for mercy with such a rogue, so I fled that night into the deep forest.”
    “So you eluded capture?” Halff asked.
    “For the time being,” Jack said. “But Aris pursued me relentlessly for nearly six months. By my wits and my superior knowledge of the landscape, I managed to evade capture and keep one step ahead of the brute. But one day, I let my guard slip. I was slumbering in a brothel outside the low city of Falkor when there was a great commotion from the girls. I quickly dressed and knotted my bedsheets together into a rope and lowered myself out a window. The last few feet I had to jump. Being afraid of heights, I closed my eyes and leapt. I landed not on the hard ground, but in Aris’ bear hug! He had caught me at last.”
    “I see,” Halff laughed. “What did you do then? How did you escape beheading?”
    “I struggled mightily at first,” Jack said. “But it became apparent that I could not escape Aris’ grip. So I did something that struck me as my one possible out. For I had heard the appetites of some pirates ran to both sexes, and I took a risk. I kissed Aris full on the lips. The rest, as they say, is history.”
    The rain poured down over the black deck of the ship, and Halff felt oddly disquieted. He left Jack Sartain at this repast and stood staring out at the driving rain. Staring deep into the sheets of swirling water, Halff could swear he saw a face! It was the face of beautiful woman, a Queen of Rain, a Goddess of Torrents, her hair the sleek shine of the rain drops, her face the wet smooth water. Halff remembered now a name from his cryptic dream. Fal’hak’ra, the Queen of Storms. Zylara had warned that she was a Death Goddess. Yet he felt entranced by her watery beauty, the allure of the shining raindrops.
    “Halff?” Jack’s voice called. “It’s a squall developing. We must get below decks. Halff? Come out of the rain, you’ll drown.”
    But Halff could not hear the gay jester. He could hear nothing but the seductive swish of the rain drops on the deck, the siren song of the storm clouds, the voice of Fal’hak’ra swishing in his ears. He ran on deck, eager for the Queen of Storms to take him into her sleek watery embrace.
    He was wrenched from that dream trance by the feel of Aris of Tangar’s strong hands upon his shoulders, pulling him back into the ship. Halff struggled, angry that anyone should come between him and his watery paramour. He felt a sharp blow at the back of his neck and lost consciousness. The last thing he heard was Fal’hak’ra’s rainy voice calling “I’ll be back for you, lover.”
    Lord Warshaw the Unknown

    "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

    Comment


    • #3
      III. Silver Warrior, Black Blade

      The next morning, Halff was feeling slightly hung over, as if he had drunk too much clear ale. Despite Zylara’s warning, he had not been prepared for his encounter with Fal’hak’ra, the Lady of Storms. He still felt water in his lungs, though he knew there was none. He was late to breakfast, and ate little and said little.
      “We near the Silver Shore,” Jack Sartain said, staring over the starboard gunwale. “I see the strange red clouds and silver waters. I have been here once before, but I cannot recall when.”
      “How can that be?” Halff asked the spritely thief.
      “There is a theory,” Jack said. “Though I don’t much believe it. Some people say we are not one, but many. There is the multiverse, a plethora of dimensions and universes, and in each universe or dimension, there is a version of ourselves. Some of our dreams are merely glimpses into those other selves, other lives. I saw this place in such a dream.”
      “Nonsense!” Aris of Tangar laughed. He stabbed a huge slab of antelope steak with his fork and wolfed it down. “There’s only one Aris of Tangar!”
      “That may well be,” Jack said. “But then again, it may not.”
      Halff said nothing. He sat wrapped in his thoughts, wondering what new adventures and terrors lay ahead.

      The Ship That Sails Between the Worlds moved silently from blue waters to a crimson river, then plunged violently down a foaming emerald green rapid, rocking and pitching wildly as it crested a huge wall of brilliant green water. When the ship reached the bottom of the roaring cascade, they were sailing smoothly upon a sterling silver sea. The color was night bright but pale like old silverware, a bit tarnished by time. The shore was also silver, as were the trees, which looked like pines and elders.
      After twenty minutes of sailing, Halff spotted a lone figure standing on the shore, dressed in armor and holding a huge black broadsword which seemed hauntingly familiar to him. For reasons unknown to him, that weapon filled Halff with an deep and primordial dread. Once, in some other realm, he and the sword had been one. He had been it’s slave, and they had both been slaved to a higher power, a dark being of infinite evil and guile. When he tore his eyes from the sword, Halff saw that the figure was a beautiful women with pale white skin and bright orange-red hair.
      “Hail the shore!” Halff called to the stranger. “We come seeking Lady Xiar. Are you she?”
      “I am,” called the woman voice. It was both gruff and sultry. “Who am I addressing, Sir?”
      “I am Nyren Halff of Halcarn,” Halff said. “I was sent here upon a mission by the Goddess Zylara, The Silver Queen.”
      “Then you are the ship I have awaited these long months,” the woman warrior said. She sheathed her black blade in a scabbard across her back and smiled thinly. “Send a boat for me, will you?”
      Halff ran to a mute sailor and asked him to lower a boat. The sailor signaled to four others, who lowered one of the lifeboats off its davit. Two jumped in as rowers and made for the strange shoreline and the red-haired warrior. Ten minutes later, she was clambering up the same rope ladder Halff had used to climb aboard the Ship That Sails Between The Worlds.
      “Welcome, Lady Xiar,” Halff said. “My companions are Aris of Tangar and Jack Sartain.”
      She gave them all harsh, appraising looks.
      “I am Xiar of Salkrimm,” the beautiful warrior said. “I am here to guide you to the forbidden Temple of the Six in Sha’ak’ran’s Forest of Screaming Trees.”
      “That does not sound a pleasant journey,” Jack Sartain mused.
      “It is not,” Lady Xiar replied. “But my Queen and my Goddess bid me guide you, so I will. But let me make myself plain. Halff, your reputation precedes you. I will be neither your lover nor your friend. Jack Sartain, you are known to my people as well, and we know you seek other treasures here. You may find some are not what they seem. As for Aris, I know nothing of your fate, save that you are to accompany us.”
      “Your sword is interesting,” Halff commented. “Where did you get it?”
      “It was found in a ruined city on our Eastern Shore,” Lady Xiar said. “It was given to me by a lover, the Lady Tanithara. She was a sorceress and told me that it was my destiny to carry the sword.”
      “Does it have a name?” Halff asked. He had heard whispers in his mind when he’d looked upon the blade. A name half-formed, but as quickly forgotten.
      “No,” Xiar said. “It is only a black iron greatsword. An object, not a person. Objects do not require names.”
      “May I see it?” Halff asked.
      “Of course,” Xiar said. She started to draw the great black blade from its scabbard, but Jack Sartain jumped up and grabbed her arm.
      “No!” Jack shouted frantically. “You must not touch it!”
      “What’s wrong?” Halff asked. “I only wanted to see the Lady’s unique sword.”
      “I do not know why,” Jack said. “But you must not! In fact, you must avoid that blade at all costs, Halff. One touch could rob you of your reason and destroy your quest. Remember why you are here! You are the arit’shas,n’aa, the Chosen of the Six. It is vital for your world and many others that you find the Shield of the Six and the Wand of the Six.”
      “Merely touching Lady Xiar’s sword would prevent me from doing that?” Halff laughed. “I fail to see how.”
      “Trust me!” Jack implored. “You must avoid contact with the black blade!”
      Nothing more was said. Lady Xiar sheathed the sword and they went to the galley for breakfast.
      Lord Warshaw the Unknown

      "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

      Comment


      • #4
        VI. Dark Forest, Stormy Lady

        “The city lies here,” Lady Xiar said. She had with her an excellent hand-sewn silk map. It showed an intricate level of detail. “Beyond the Forest of Screaming Trees. We must navigate past the lands of the Tragnar Raiders and through treacherous ruins of a city so old, her name is forgotten. Beyond those ruins, on a small bluff overlooking a waterfall, stands the Temple of The Six.”
        “It sounds a treacherous journey,” Aris of Tangar said. “But exciting too! It has been long since my cutlass swung and my daggers flew.”
        “Don’t be fooled, pirate,” Lady Xiar said. “The dangers we will face are real and there is no guarantee all four us will emerge unharmed. This is no time for jubilation.”
        “Still sounds like fun!” Aris said. He wolfed down a huge tankard of clear ale and belched loudly. “Doesn’t it, my boy?”
        He clapped Jack Sartain on the back for emphasis.
        “On the contrary,” Jack said. “It sounds terrifying. How are we to navigate past the raiders and ruins?”
        “Halff and I are both skilled warriors,” Lady Xiar replied. “We will get through the perils because it is the will of Zylara the Silver Queen that we succeed.”

        The blind steersman led the Ship That Sails Between The Worlds though a cyan stream, a crimson current and a sienna sea before reaching an emerald embankment, where Halff and his friend disembarked in a sturdy row boat lowered over her side by ropes.

        “I like not that silent crew,” Halff admitted. “There is something sorcerous about them. They seem more like animated corpses than men.”
        “Some say they are just that,” Jack Sartain offered. “Men drowned and resurrected by magic, their souls absent, fed to Pyaray of Chaos.”
        “Aye, they’re a strange crew,” Aris agreed. “And I’ve sailed with some strange men and women. I’ve had four armed pirates from Far Gillik, three-breasted lady corsairs from Willithar and even lizard men from the shunned isle of Lankash, but none of those beings were as eerie or sad as our current crew.”
        “Speak less, row more!” Lady Xiar commanded. “You males jabber endlessly about trivial matters. It is no wonder we do so well without you in my native lands.”
        “A land without men?” Aris laughed. “How is that possible? How do you make more of you, then?”
        “What do you mean, pirate?” Lady Xiar asked. She seemed both puzzled and slightly insulted by Aris’s lascivious question.
        “My crude friend is merely curious,” Jack said. “He means how do you reproduce if you have no males?”
        Lady Xiar gave a thin smile and rolled her hips in a provocative and teasing manner.
        “We have our ways,” Lady Xiar laughed. “We have our ways! Now row!”
        The four of them rowed hard and soon reached the shoreline of bright green sand.
        “This place hurts my eyes,” Halff said. He and Aris dragged the boat up onto the green shore. “Are all the colors in this realm so blindingly bright?”
        “I am afraid so,” Lady Xiar said. She reached into her tunic and retrieved a pair of strange dark spectacles. “Here, put these on. They will cut some of the glare.”
        She had no pairs for the others. It seemed that despite her harsh words, she favored Halff over them. Honor among soldiers or some such unspoken bond.
        After an hour of walking through low woods and bushes, all brilliant shades of green, they came to a forest of huge gnarled oaks. The winds that blew through the oak leaves whistled strangely, making it seem that each tree was screaming. Hence the illusion that caused the name.
        “Be cautious,” Lady Xiar warned. “The Trangar Raiders hide behind the great boles of those oaks. Draw your weapons and be ready to use them.”
        She herself drew the black sword and held it out before her. Halff could see that there were red runes carved into the fuller of the sword, but he was unable to read them. They were not in any language he knew. Yet he felt that he knew this sword, as if it were a limb, an organ, part of his organic being.

        They passed the first few trees without incident, but then as they reached the second line of trees, Halff heard a rustling noise from the West and two huge warriors clad in bearskins, fierce bear heads draped over their own, leapt out at him. He summoned the Sword of Winter from the quartz crystal and slashed the first Trangar Raider nearly in half, splitting him from shoulder to navel. His gory entrails splattered Halff with blood and bile. He turned and vomited. For all his ferocity and battle skills, Halff was still Anoran. Killing literally sickened him.
        The second warrior was more formidable. He had a crude weapon, neither a sword nor a halberd, but something of both, a huge staff with jagged, irregular blades stuck out at odd angles. He waved it and feinted, and Halff found his left shoulder screaming with raw red pain. There was a deep gash that gushed blood, but was not a serious cut. He tied it off with a strip of his jerkin and kept fighting. The Raider was joined by two others, a six foot four brute of man with a war club the size of a tree and an even taller woman with her eye teeth carved into fangs and two huge blue steel broadswords.
        “I could use some help!” Halff shouted. But his comrades were all battling Raiders. Jack leapt and dodged between three huge swordsmen, while Aris hacked with his scimitar and fired his pistols at four tall brutes. Lady Xiar engaged two huge women who hissed and snarled like tigresses. Her black sword seemed supernaturally strong and slashed through armor, flesh and bone. But the brutes kept coming. No sooner had one enemy fallen than two more took his or her place.
        Halff killed the club wielder with a clever parry and feint combination, and the man with the crude halberd fell when Halff slashed his left hamstring. He decapitated the man before he could rise. But the fanged female warrior fought like a whirling dervish. Halff blocked blow after blow, but gained no advantage.
        Then, suddenly, he felt a few raindrops. In a moment, it was a torrential downpour. The rain howled and poured down around the combatants. The Trangar Raiders seemed taken aback and hesitated in their attack. This gave Halff’s party an advantage. Lady Xiar quickly cut down four huge men and Jack dodged so skillfully that a man and women warrior stabbed each other to death. Halff’s adversary seemed momentarily blinded, allowing him to avoid a killing blow. But she was relentless and pressed home the attacks. Halff was growing weary. His shoulder wound throbbed and his muscled arms ached. Even the strongest warrior could not fight for long without fatigue.
        As it seemed he was about to lose his fight, a strange warrior appeared from nowhere. She was clad in rain-black armor and held a huge slick sword. Her luxuriant hair was pitch black and fell over her shoulders in watery waves. She seemed to be able to direct the rain. She caused a huge wall of water to inundate Halff’s adversary, knocking her to the ground, where another torrent of water washed over her. She coughed and struggled, but was held down by the torrential rain fall. She drowned as Halff watched, helpless to save her.
        The odd warrior came to him and removed her helmet’s visor. Halff gasped. She was stunningly beautiful. Her face was bone white and perfect in every line and detail from her high smooth brow to her long aquiline nose, enticing pale gray eyes and full pouty lips. Her chin was slightly sharp and elfin. Halff was instantly smitten with his strange stunning savior.
        “Who are you?” Halff asked. “How did you come here? None of us saw you.”
        “I came along the Moonbeam Roads,” the lovely water-warrior said. “I heard your cry for help. My lady Fal’hak’ra loves you and sent me to rescue you. I am her Champion, as you are the Champion of the Six.”
        “Riddles and puzzles!” Aris spat. “I’ve had my arm nearly hacked off by the wretched raiders and this cove spits nonsense! Who are you, really?”
        “I am Lady K’harr!” she spat. She back handed the huge pirate with such force that he was knocked flat on his back. “I am a Shadow Knight of the High Order of Fal’hak’ra and you will address me with the respect such a title deserves!”
        “Pardon me, your Highness,” Aris teased. He rose to his feet and performed a mocking bow.
        “That is the most respect you will get from him,” Halff said. He held back her sword arm, which was poised to deal Aris a death blow. “But you have my full gratitude and respect.”
        He knelt in the mud and kissed her gloved right hand.
        “Thy servant,” Halff offered.
        “That is better,” Lady K’harr said. She helped Halff up. “This warrior knows gratitude at least. Now let us be on. There are more dangers in this wood than those barbarians and my Lady of Storms can only keep up the rain for so long, for she must keep many worlds wet. Naught survives with her great gift of water.”
        The party moved together into the woods, weapons still drawn and at the ready.
        Jack noted that Lady Xiar had now a sour look on her fine features, which marred her great beauty, but only slightly. It seemed to the wily thief that the red-haired warrior was jealous of the dark beauty Lady K’harr’s apparent affection for Halff and his innate respect for her. Jack smiled. Such things could come in handy. For he planned to steal an object of great value from the ruined city, a ruby of immense size said to lodge in the eye of a fallen statue of a forgotten goddess. And he would need a distraction.
        Last edited by WhiteWolf359; 08-06-2011, 05:51 AM. Reason: Typos, typos, typos!
        Lord Warshaw the Unknown

        "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

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        • #5
          V. Ancient Secrets, New Deceipts

          Halff, Aris, Jack, Lady Xiar and Lady K’harr trudged through the Forest of Screaming Trees. The mighty oaks gave way to smaller pines and white beeches, but the trees were thickly packed and at points almost impassable. Twice they had to hack through low underbrush to continue forward.
          “These trees seem endless,” Halff commented to Lady K’harr. “How will we ever get through them?”
          “Be patient, Halff,” the dark haired beauty replied. “Be cautious also. I sense danger.”
          Suddenly something heavy dropped onto Halff’s wounded left shoulder. Startled, he turned to see a large lizard the same color as the bark of the white beeches staring at him.
          “Don’t touch it and don’t harm it!” Lady K’harr warned. “Let it move off you at its own pace. It is a Guardian Skink. They are not dangerous if you don’t move.”
          The large reptile flicked out its black tongue, gave Halff a curious yelp. It settled down on his shoulder and fell asleep.
          “You are truly blessed!” Lady K’harr said. “I have never seen a Guardian Skink select a human to guard. It is a good luck talisman. Let it rest. It will warn us of other dangers.”
          “Get it off me!” Jack Sartain gasped. “I hate lizards!”
          “I told you not to touch it!” Lady K’harr said. But it was too late. Jack grabbed the white lizard off his head, where it had landed, and threw it to the ground. Suddenly, he was surrounded by twenty white lizards, hissing and spitting up at him.
          “What have done, you impish idiot?” Lady K’harr hissed. “Stand very still! Do not panic!”
          But Jack could do neither. He was so frightened that he screamed like a little girl and ran off into the woods, pursued by an army of white skinks.
          “Jack!” Aris shouted. His own Guardian Skink had already examined him and crawled down his chest, over his legs and down off his huge feet. It looked back at him as if curious or sad, tilted its lizard head and loped off. “Jack, come back here!”
          “It’s all right, they won’t hurt him,” Lady K’harr replied. “They’re not venomous or harmful, but they love to run, you see. So if someone runs, they will run after him. They think it’s a game. They’ll quickly disburse when your friend stops running.”
          Aris laughed heartily. He laughed so hard that he doubled over holding his sides.
          “What’s so funny?” Lady K’harr asked the pirate.
          “You don’t know Jack!” Aris laughed. “He can run for hours. For days! Poor devil!”
          “Well, we’d best not waste time,” Lady K’harr said. She turned to scan the others. Her own Guardian Skink had left, as had Lady Xiar’s. Halff’s snored gently.
          They continued deeper into the white beech forest. They came to an open circular clearing and Halff’s lizard woke on his shoulder and chirped into his ear.
          “My friend senses danger,” Halff said. Somehow he could feel the little creature’s thoughts entering his mind. “He says we must go right, but look left. There is something following us, in that tree line. Not humans. Either bears or great cats. Leopards.”
          “Wonderful,” Aris scowled. “First leaping lizards then lurking leopards!”
          “Quiet!” Lady Xiar cautioned. “Leopards have very sensitive hearing.”
          They continued around to the left of the clearing. The Guardian Skink chirped nervously into Halff’s ear when they passed as small fallen statute. It calmed down again only after they had passed the clearing and were back in a thickly wood bole of white and silver beeches. When it chirped again, they were surrounded, not by leopards, but by warrior women dressed in white armor leading snow leopards on leashes! Halff’s Guardian Skink fled.
          “Who dares enter the Sacred City of the Six?” the lead warrior demanded.
          Halff stepped forward.
          “I am Nyren Halff of Halcarn,” he said. “I was sent here by Zylara, the Silver Queen, to recover the Shield of the Six.”
          The woman stared at him long and hard. Her leopard looked hungry and made Halff nervous, licking its chops as if it was contemplating him as a snack.
          “Come here and let me touch your face,” the woman warrior commanded. It was a strange request. Halff moved forward and saw that her eyes were entirely white with no pupils. She and her fellow soldiers were blind!
          The lovely warrior’s slender hands ran over Halff’s rugged scarred face, touching each surface. In its own way, the examination was quite tender and even erotic. At the end, she kissed him passionately on the lips. Then she passed him to the warrior to her left. This continued until all the warriors were done feeling his face and tasting his kiss.
          “Kneel at my feet, Nyren Halff,” the lead warrior ordered. He did so.
          “I shall now reveal to you that the name of this city was once Toovesh, the City of the Scepter,” the blind beauty said. “The Scepter was once held and guarded by my sisterhood. But it was stolen from us by the Dragon King ten centuries ago. We await our revenge. If you will help us destroy the Dragon King and his vile army of lizard men, we will help you find the Scepter.”
          “I agree,” Halff said.
          “Then rise,” the leader said. “I am Liyara. My sisters are Norana, Taniya, Sashar, Venyar and Athanra. We are now your allies. We shall lead you through the ruins. Our leopards know the way. Follow us, but be as quiet as you can be, for traps abound. Oh, we have something of yours, I believe, yonder.”
          She pointed to a broken marble column. Tied to the column was Jack Sartain, surrounded by thirty sleeping Guardian Skinks!
          Lord Warshaw the Unknown

          "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

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          • #6
            VI. Serpents, Scepters and Seductions

            “Damned vile lizards!” Jack Sartain snapped. The Snow Leopard sisters untied him. “They think I’m their mother! They won’t leave me alone.”
            “I told you not to run,” Lady K’harr said. “Now you have formed a bond with them. You played their game. They will follow you always. Even along the Moonbeam Roads to other times, places and dimensions.”
            “A fine company for a thief!” Jack complained. “How shall I ever sneak into a throne room followed by thirty huge chirping skinks?”
            “Perhaps now you will consider an honest living,” Aris laughed. “Like piracy! Them lizards would scare off merchant seamen for sure!”
            The Snow Leopard sisters walked off into the ruins and Halff’s party followed. They wove around invisible traps and carefully laid rock falls and pits. The ruins must run ten miles! To cross them would take two full days at least. At night, they stopped in a clearing, pitched their and slept. Jack and Aris shared a tent, but the others slept alone.
            Halff woke to a wet tongue licking his face. It was Liyara’s beautiful leopard. It purred like a huge kitten! It lead the taciturn mercenary to Liyara’s tent. It was still quite dark and Halff guessed he had only slept an hour or two.
            “Yes, Sister Liyara?” Halff asked in a whisper. “What is it you want? Your leopard woke me.”
            “Do you find me beautiful, Nyren Halff?” the blind warrior asked. She was clad only in a thin white night shirt, beneath which Halff detected the curves of a fabulous body.
            “You are beautiful, Sister Liyara,” Halff replied.
            “Then come,” she beckoned. “Make love with me.”
            They made mad passionate love for hours, then slept together entwined and exhausted. At morning, they made love again, then dressed.
            Jack had risen early and lit a small campfire. He was cooking eggs in a bent skillet he’d found in the ruins. His skinks slept nearby.
            “How slept you, friend thief?” Halff asked.
            “Not well,” Jack. “Between Aris’s—exertions—and the hard ground, I slept hardly a wink.”
            “What is the treasure you seek?” Halff asked. “Lady Xiar seems to know you better the rest of us.”
            “She would like to know you better, I believe,” Jack said. “I may prefer to bed men, but I can read jealousy in women as well. She was mad when you kissed Lady K’harr’s hand, and she is furious that you kissed all of the Snow Leopard sisters. If she knew where you spent the night, her face would blaze as red as her hair.”
            “Nonsense!” Halff spat. Jack slid him some eggs on a metal tray. “You heard her say she would be neither my friend nor my lover. Why should she care who I make love to?”
            “I do not,” Lady Xiar said. She had risen, donned her armor and come to eat with them, sitting on stump. “You may bed all six of the blind sluts for all I care.”
            “Forgive me, my Lady,” Jack said. He handed her a plate of scrambled eggs. “I spoke out of turn.”
            “Nothing to forgive,” Lady Xiar said. “We must focus on our mission. I know of the Dragon King. His warriors are fierce and loyal only to him. We must defeat them, or we will not have the Scepter of the Six, nor approach the Fortress of the Shield. It is lucky we have these allies. If Halff loves Liyara so be it. She is beautiful. I would bed her myself if I could.”
            Aris joined them, followed by Lady K’harr in her dark armor. They ate in silence. When the sisters and their great cats woke, they moved back into the ruins.
            Aris was the first one to die. A six-foot pike pierced his breast. I had been flung from the trees. He toppled backwards, his ruined chest pumping blood. He died instantly.
            The attack was so swift and silent, none of them anticipated it. The lizard men dropped on them from the trees. They had been following them in the forest canopy, using their prehensile tails and sharp claws for balance and traction. They dropped down with their jagged swords slashing, hissing from their dragon-like snouts. They were “men” only because they had two legs, two arms and stood upright. They were brownish green, six feet tall and had blood red eyes.
            Halff drew the Sword of Winter and slashed four of the charging beasts to ribbons, his leather jerkin spattered with yellow blood.
            Jack Sartain, enraged by his lover’s murder, jumped and leapt among the lizard men, slashing ankles and throats with his flashing daggers. The army of Guardian Skinks also attacked. Their bite was septic and they tore jagged hunks of flesh from their foes. One lizard man went down and when the Skinks had finished, only a gory skeleton remained.
            Lady Xiar swung the black blade with deadly force, cutting a swath of destruction. Arms, legs and heads flew as she slashed down with the black sword. Halff saw the runes begin to glow. He heard a strange sound as if the sword was singing to him.
            Two lizard men snarled and jumped at Halff, almost toppling him onto his back, but he recovered. He stabbed the first through the stomach and decapitated the second. Two more slashed at him with their jagged swords. From behind him, he heard a low growl and Sister Liyara’s snow leopard tore the throat out of the nearest reptilian, while Liyara herself impaled the next one with her slender silver sabre.
            Lady K’harr fought wildly. Her slick black broadsword seemed oiled, slashing with ease through skin and bone alike. Lizard men fell before blade, but one cut her left flank with his blade and she withdrew from combat, badly wounded. Two of the Snow Leopard sisters tended her wounds.
            The battle lasted perhaps ten minutes at most. At the end, when the lizard men withdrew once more to the treetops, Aris lay dead. Lady K’harr was unconscious. Halff’s right hand bore a three inch gash. Jack Sartian’s left leg bore two jagged cuts. Sisters Norana and Taniya were missing.
            “We have lost much,” Halff said. He winced as Sister Sashar bound his wounded hand with linen. “But what have we gained?”
            “This,” Sister Liyara replied. “The idiots always carried it into battle. They believed it made them invincible. Perhaps it did, until today.”
            She tossed Halff a strange four-sided wand. It was carved of a material that felt like both wood and bone. It was tapered at the top and ran down to a silver-capped point. There were black and crimson runes carved on each side, in what looked like four different languages, none of which Halff could read.
            “Now half of your quest is done,” Lady Xiar, who had escaped the fight unwounded said. “We need only reach the Fortress of the Shield.”
            None of them had noticed that Jack Sartian, his wounds cleaned and bound, accompanied by his silent army of Guardian Skinks, had vanished into the ruins.
            Lord Warshaw the Unknown

            "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

            Comment


            • #7
              VI. Serpents, Scepters and Seductions

              “Damned vile lizards!” Jack Sartain snapped. The Snow Leopard sisters untied him. “They think I’m their mother! They won’t leave me alone.”
              “I told you not to run,” Lady K’harr said. “Now you have formed a bond with them. You played their game. They will follow you always. Even along the Moonbeam Roads to other times, places and dimensions.”
              “A fine company for a thief!” Jack complained. “How shall I ever sneak into a throne room followed by thirty huge chirping skinks?”
              “Perhaps now you will consider an honest living,” Aris laughed. “Like piracy! Them lizards would scare off merchant seamen for sure!”
              The Snow Leopard sisters walked off into the ruins and Halff’s party followed. They wove around invisible traps and carefully laid rock falls and pits. The ruins must run ten miles! To cross them would take two full days at least. At night, they stopped in a clearing, pitched their and slept. Jack and Aris shared a tent, but the others slept alone.
              Halff woke to a wet tongue licking his face. It was Liyara’s beautiful leopard. It purred like a huge kitten! It lead the taciturn mercenary to Liyara’s tent. It was still quite dark and Halff guessed he had only slept an hour or two.
              “Yes, Sister Liyara?” Halff asked in a whisper. “What is it you want? Your leopard woke me.”
              “Do you find me beautiful, Nyren Halff?” the blind warrior asked. She was clad only in a thin white night shirt, beneath which Halff detected the curves of a fabulous body.
              “You are beautiful, Sister Liyara,” Halff replied.
              “Then come,” she beckoned. “Make love with me.”
              They made mad passionate love for hours, then slept together entwined and exhausted. At morning, they made love again, then dressed.
              Jack had risen early and lit a small campfire. He was cooking eggs in a bent skillet he’d found in the ruins. His skinks slept nearby.
              “How slept you, friend thief?” Halff asked.
              “Not well,” Jack. “Between Aris’s—exertions—and the hard ground, I slept hardly a wink.”
              “What is the treasure you seek?” Halff asked. “Lady Xiar seems to know you better the rest of us.”
              “She would like to know you better, I believe,” Jack said. “I may prefer to bed men, but I can read jealousy in women as well. She was mad when you kissed Lady K’harr’s hand, and she is furious that you kissed all of the Snow Leopard sisters. If she knew where you spent the night, her face would blaze as red as her hair.”
              “Nonsense!” Halff spat. Jack slid him some eggs on a metal tray. “You heard her say she would be neither my friend nor my lover. Why should she care who I make love to?”
              “I do not,” Lady Xiar said. She had risen, donned her armor and come to eat with them, sitting on stump. “You may bed all six of the blind sluts for all I care.”
              “Forgive me, my Lady,” Jack said. He handed her a plate of scrambled eggs. “I spoke out of turn.”
              “Nothing to forgive,” Lady Xiar said. “We must focus on our mission. I know of the Dragon King. His warriors are fierce and loyal only to him. We must defeat them, or we will not have the Scepter of the Six, nor approach the Fortress of the Shield. It is lucky we have these allies. If Halff loves Liyara so be it. She is beautiful. I would bed her myself if I could.”
              Aris joined them, followed by Lady K’harr in her dark armor. They ate in silence. When the sisters and their great cats woke, they moved back into the ruins.
              Aris was the first one to die. A six-foot pike pierced his breast. I had been flung from the trees. He toppled backwards, his ruined chest pumping blood. He died instantly.
              The attack was so swift and silent, none of them anticipated it. The lizard men dropped on them from the trees. They had been following them in the forest canopy, using their prehensile tails and sharp claws for balance and traction. They dropped down with their jagged swords slashing, hissing from their dragon-like snouts. They were “men” only because they had two legs, two arms and stood upright. They were brownish green, six feet tall and had blood red eyes.
              Halff drew the Sword of Winter and slashed four of the charging beasts to ribbons, his leather jerkin spattered with yellow blood.
              Jack Sartain, enraged by his lover’s murder, jumped and leapt among the lizard men, slashing ankles and throats with his flashing daggers. The army of Guardian Skinks also attacked. Their bite was septic and they tore jagged hunks of flesh from their foes. One lizard man went down and when the Skinks had finished, only a gory skeleton remained.
              Lady Xiar swung the black blade with deadly force, cutting a swath of destruction. Arms, legs and heads flew as she slashed down with the black sword. Halff saw the runes begin to glow. He heard a strange sound as if the sword was singing to him.
              Two lizard men snarled and jumped at Halff, almost toppling him onto his back, but he recovered. He stabbed the first through the stomach and decapitated the second. Two more slashed at him with their jagged swords. From behind him, he heard a low growl and Sister Liyara’s snow leopard tore the throat out of the nearest reptilian, while Liyara herself impaled the next one with her slender silver sabre.
              Lady K’harr fought wildly. Her slick black broadsword seemed oiled, slashing with ease through skin and bone alike. Lizard men fell before blade, but one cut her left flank with his blade and she withdrew from combat, badly wounded. Two of the Snow Leopard sisters tended her wounds.
              The battle lasted perhaps ten minutes at most. At the end, when the lizard men withdrew once more to the treetops, Aris lay dead. Lady K’harr was unconscious. Halff’s right hand bore a three inch gash. Jack Sartian’s left leg bore two jagged cuts. Sisters Norana and Taniya were missing.
              “We have lost much,” Halff said. He winced as Sister Sashar bound his wounded hand with linen. “But what have we gained?”
              “This,” Sister Liyara replied. “The idiots always carried it into battle. They believed it made them invincible. Perhaps it did, until today.”
              She tossed Halff a strange four-sided wand. It was carved of a material that felt like both wood and bone. It was tapered at the top and ran down to a silver-capped point. There were black and crimson runes carved on each side, in what looked like four different languages, none of which Halff could read.
              “Now half of your quest is done,” Lady Xiar, who had escaped the fight unwounded said. “We need only reach the Fortress of the Shield.”
              None of them had noticed that Jack Sartian, his wounds cleaned and bound, accompanied by his silent army of Guardian Skinks, had vanished into the ruins.
              Lord Warshaw the Unknown

              "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

              Comment


              • #8
                VIII. Sorcery, Summoning and Surrender

                Lady K’harr was too badly wounded to continue the journey to the Fortress of the Shield. The Snow Leopard Sisterhood took her to their hidden retreat in the wooded hills to heal her. Halff, Sister Liyara, Sister Sashar and Sister Athanra would have to navigate the shattered ruins of Toovesh alone. Jack had run off in the night.
                “Are the lizard men likely to attack again?” Halff asked. His arms and chest ached from the prolonged battle. He did not think he could last long in another protracted fight.
                “No,” Sister Liyara said. “They are beaten. The force that attacked us was nearly all of their number. They will retreat. But there are other dangers. The Fortress of the Shield lies on a high plateau. It is said to be protected by a mad and powerful sorcerer, Amontax Graff, once a great king driven mad by invocation of certain forbidden spells.”
                “I hate sorcery!” Halff fumed. He had seen enough magic to last him a lifetime.
                “Fear not,” Lady Xian said. “My goddess is no fool. The magic of the black blade is equal or greater than any brain-addled magus.”
                “I hope to Anora you’re right,” Halff said. “I tire of this mission. A friend lies dead, another mortally wounded and now we march into more danger. I would soon have the Shield and return to my own world.”
                “Then let’s go,” Lady Xiar said. She stomped the fire out and smeared the coals to avoid detection. Then she marched off into the ruins. Halff and the Snow Leopard Sisters followed reluctantly.
                As they entered a field of tall limestone columns carved with the images of forgotten gods and goddesses, Sister Liyara’s snow leopard snuffled and turned to regard his mistress.
                “Something’s wrong,” Liyara said. “Draw your weapons. There are magic traps here.”
                Halff summoned the Sword of Winter and Lady Xiar drew the black blade. Liyara and her sisters drew their slender sabers.
                “That is a fascinating weapon you carry,” Liyara said.
                “A gift from Mhalathorna, the Mother of Eternal Winter,” Halff recalled. “Or rather, a treacherous sorceress in her employ.”
                “Mhalathorna’s time comes, not on just your world, but thousands of others,” Sister Liyara replied. “My feline companions will soon have plenty of snow to play in.”
                “So it seems,” Halff said. He kept his eyes peeled for danger.
                Halff had expected Amontex Graff to try an attack, but he it did not come until their party had climbed the long steep curving road up the side of the plateau. As they were approaching the flat land that led to the Fortress of the Shield, he heard a curious flapping of wings.
                Ten tall warriors were approaching from the sky, mounted on gigantic flying lions! The lions were brick-red with bone white manes and fierce yellow eyes. Their wings were leathery and flexible like huge bats. The warriors who rode their back were slender men dressed in pale blue armor carrying silver headed pikes and blue-steel cutlasses.
                “Corsairs of the Northern Sky,” Lady Xiar announced. “Kill their mounts. The warriors are illusions. It is the beasts who are deadly.”
                “I can’t kill a lion!” Halff objected. “Lions are sacred to Anora, my patron goddess!”
                “These are not lions, fool!” Lady Xiar hissed. “They are abominations! Mutants created by the mad wizard’s demented spells. Monsters without souls.”
                One of the winged beasts landed a few feet from Lady Xiar, and she drew the black blade. It slashed out and killed both lion and warrior in a single sweeping blow. Again it seemed to Halff that he blade sang a strange and seductive tune.
                He had little time to muse as a second winged lion landed directly in front of him. He drew the Sword of Winter. He was reluctant to kill the animal, but Lady Xiar was right. This was no natural creature. Foul ichor dripped from six inch fangs as it approached. He slashed down at the great head with the White Sword and killed the disgusting beast. It did not howl or cry out, but merely vanished in a red puff of smoke!
                In the lion’s place stood a wizened old man in midnight blue wizard robes and a strange round hat with odd red runes sewn on it.
                “Who dares invade my fortress?” the mad magician asked. His eyes did not stare at the approaching party, but into the middle distance.
                “I am Nyren Halff of Halcarn,” Halff said. “I have come to the Shield of the Six.”
                “Oh, have you now?” Amontex Graff laughed. “Just as easy as that? Well, you shall not have the Shield while I live!”
                The wizard waved his bony arms and six great green dragons rose up out of the ground, surrounding Halff and his party.
                The dragons roared and slashed with their mighty claws. Halff evaded one dragon’s claw, only to have his left arm savagely torn by another. He cried out in pain and slashed at the beast with the Sword of Winter, but the blade had no effect on its leathery hide.
                “Use the Wand, Halff!” Sister Liyara said. A dragon had her leopard in its maw and was shaking the terrified cat from side to side. “It’s our only hope!”
                Halff drew the Wand from the pouch on his shoulder and held it out.
                “What do I do?” Halff asked. “I’m no sorcerer. I know no spells or magic.”
                “Summon the Six!” Sister Liyara implored. “You are their Champion.”
                Halff held the wand in both hands and concentrated on the faces and forms of the six goddesses.
                “I, Nyren Halff, summon the Six Goddesses to my aid,” Halff chanted. “Come Anora, Goddess of the Golden Summer! Come, Hyras, Goddess of the Silver Moon! Come Great Mhalathorna, Mother of Eternal Winter! Come Tirinth, Radiant Fire of Spring! Come Vashkar, Goddess of the Lilac Twilight! Come Zylara, Silver Queen! It is, Nyren Halff, the arit’shas,n’aa who calls the to his aid.”
                The wand began to glow and become warm. Halff saw the red runes pulse and shift. The black runes also changed and whirled. A great vortex of wind rushed up from nowhere and the dragons were pinned. The dragon dropped Sister Liyara’s snow leopard, who was upset and panting but not badly hurt. The other dragons howled and hissed, deadly fire-venom dripping on the ground at their feet. Halff continued to chant and the wand began to glow in a rainbow of impossible colors.
                Amontex Graff shouted and stamped his boots.
                “No one defeats my dragons!” Graff screamed. “I’ll kill you all for this!”
                But the old madman’s cries were in vain. There was a blinding flash of light and the dragons were gone.
                Halff’s shoulder wound had magically healed.
                The Wand of the Six now glowed a pale cerulean blue. Halff held it out towards the enraged sorcerer.
                “Take me to the Shield of the Six, now, or I’ll use this on you, old man!” Halff shouted.
                “Damn you all!” Graff spat. “You destroyed my dragons and my winged lions! Why should I help you rob me of my greatest prize?”
                From behind the mad sorcerer came a peel of mocking laughter.
                Jack Sartain, holding a ruby the size of his fist, emerged from behind the bole of a white ash, surrounded by his army of Guardian Skinks.
                “I have already robbed you of your greatest prize, old fool,” Jack laughed. “Anything you give my friends pales in comparison to the Eye of the Goddess.”
                “My Eye!” Graff snarled. “You triple-damned thief! Give it back to me!”
                “Come take it,” Jack laughed. He danced and dodged, always guarded by his lizard army.
                Amontex Graff recoiled from the snapping, hissing Guardian Skinks. He could not set a foot towards their master before being surrounded by them.
                “No!” Graff shouted. “I hate lizards! Make the go away! Keep the cursed ruby!”
                “That’s more like it,” Jack said. “Come, boys. Leave the mad magician alone.”
                The lizards gathered around the laughing theif.
                “Now, ladies and gentleman,” Jack said. “Come and I’ll show you where he’s hidden the Shield of the Six.”
                “I am beaten,” Amontex Graff sighed. “Damn you all. Come on, I’ll show you myself. Out of my way, theif!”
                He stormed towards the ruined castle, beckoning the others to follow.
                “Careful,” Lady Xiar warned. “He’s not as defeated or helpless as he appears. There will be magical traps laid for us in the Fortress of the Shield.”
                “None that can withstand the Wand of the Six,” Jack revealed. “Now that Halff has charged it with the power of the goddesses.”
                Lord Warshaw the Unknown

                "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

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                • #9
                  VIII. Sorcery, Summoning and Surrender

                  Lady K’harr was too badly wounded to continue the journey to the Fortress of the Shield. The Snow Leopard Sisterhood took her to their hidden retreat in the wooded hills to heal her. Halff, Sister Liyara, Sister Sashar and Sister Athanra would have to navigate the shattered ruins of Toovesh alone. Jack had run off in the night.
                  “Are the lizard men likely to attack again?” Halff asked. His arms and chest ached from the prolonged battle. He did not think he could last long in another protracted fight.
                  “No,” Sister Liyara said. “They are beaten. The force that attacked us was nearly all of their number. They will retreat. But there are other dangers. The Fortress of the Shield lies on a high plateau. It is said to be protected by a mad and powerful sorcerer, Amontax Graff, once a great king driven mad by invocation of certain forbidden spells.”
                  “I hate sorcery!” Halff fumed. He had seen enough magic to last him a lifetime.
                  “Fear not,” Lady Xian said. “My goddess is no fool. The magic of the black blade is equal or greater than any brain-addled magus.”
                  “I hope to Anora you’re right,” Halff said. “I tire of this mission. A friend lies dead, another mortally wounded and now we march into more danger. I would soon have the Shield and return to my own world.”
                  “Then let’s go,” Lady Xiar said. She stomped the fire out and smeared the coals to avoid detection. Then she marched off into the ruins. Halff and the Snow Leopard Sisters followed reluctantly.
                  As they entered a field of tall limestone columns carved with the images of forgotten gods and goddesses, Sister Liyara’s snow leopard snuffled and turned to regard his mistress.
                  “Something’s wrong,” Liyara said. “Draw your weapons. There are magic traps here.”
                  Halff summoned the Sword of Winter and Lady Xiar drew the black blade. Liyara and her sisters drew their slender sabers.
                  “That is a fascinating weapon you carry,” Liyara said.
                  “A gift from Mhalathorna, the Mother of Eternal Winter,” Halff recalled. “Or rather, a treacherous sorceress in her employ.”
                  “Mhalathorna’s time comes, not on just your world, but thousands of others,” Sister Liyara replied. “My feline companions will soon have plenty of snow to play in.”
                  “So it seems,” Halff said. He kept his eyes peeled for danger.
                  Halff had expected Amontex Graff to try an attack, but it did not come until their party had climbed the long steep curving road up the side of the plateau. As they were approaching the flat land that led to the Fortress of the Shield, he heard a curious flapping of wings.
                  Ten tall warriors were approaching from the sky, mounted on gigantic flying lions! The lions were brick-red with bone white manes and fierce yellow eyes. Their wings were leathery and flexible like huge bats. The warriors who rode their back were slender men dressed in pale blue armor carrying silver headed pikes and blue-steel cutlasses.
                  “Corsairs of the Northern Sky,” Lady Xiar announced. “Kill their mounts. The warriors are illusions. It is the beasts who are deadly.”
                  “I can’t kill a lion!” Halff objected. “Lions are sacred to Anora, my patron goddess!”
                  “These are not lions, fool!” Lady Xiar hissed. “They are abominations! Mutants created by the mad wizard’s demented spells. Monsters without souls.”
                  One of the winged beasts landed a few feet from Lady Xiar, and she drew the black blade. It slashed out and killed both lion and warrior in a single sweeping blow. Again it seemed to Halff that he blade sang a strange and seductive tune.
                  He had little time to muse as a second winged lion landed directly in front of him. He drew the Sword of Winter. He was reluctant to kill the animal, but Lady Xiar was right. This was no natural creature. Foul ichor dripped from six inch fangs as it approached. He slashed down at the great head with the White Sword and killed the disgusting beast. It did not howl or cry out, but merely vanished in a red puff of smoke!
                  In the lion’s place stood a wizened old man in midnight blue wizard robes and a strange round hat with odd red runes sewn on it.
                  “Who dares invade my fortress?” the mad magician asked. His eyes did not stare at the approaching party, but into the middle distance.
                  “I am Nyren Halff of Halcarn,” Halff said. “I have come to the Shield of the Six.”
                  “Oh, have you now?” Amontex Graff laughed. “Just as easy as that? Well, you shall not have the Shield while I live!”
                  The wizard waved his bony arms and six great green dragons rose up out of the ground, surrounding Halff and his party.
                  The dragons roared and slashed with their mighty claws. Halff evaded one dragon’s claw, only to have his left arm savagely torn by another. He cried out in pain and slashed at the beast with the Sword of Winter, but the blade had no effect on its leathery hide.
                  “Use the Wand, Halff!” Sister Liyara said. A dragon had her leopard in its maw and was shaking the terrified cat from side to side. “It’s our only hope!”
                  Halff drew the Wand from the pouch on his shoulder and held it out.
                  “What do I do?” Halff asked. “I’m no sorcerer. I know no spells or magic.”
                  “Summon the Six!” Sister Liyara implored. “You are their Champion.”
                  Halff held the wand in both hands and concentrated on the faces and forms of the six goddesses.
                  “I, Nyren Halff, summon the Six Goddesses to my aid,” Halff chanted. “Come Anora, Goddess of the Golden Summer! Come, Hyras, Goddess of the Silver Moon! Come Great Mhalathorna, Mother of Eternal Winter! Come Tirinth, Radiant Fire of Spring! Come Vashkar, Goddess of the Lilac Twilight! Come Zylara, Silver Queen! It is, Nyren Halff, the arit’shas,n’aa who calls thee to his aid.”
                  The wand began to glow and become warm. Halff saw the red runes pulse and shift. The black runes also changed and whirled. A great vortex of wind rushed up from nowhere and the dragons were pinned. The dragon dropped Sister Liyara’s snow leopard, who was upset and panting but not badly hurt. The other dragons howled and hissed, deadly fire-venom dripping on the ground at their feet. Halff continued to chant and the wand began to glow in a rainbow of impossible colors.
                  Amontex Graff shouted and stamped his boots.
                  “No one defeats my dragons!” Graff screamed. “I’ll kill you all for this!”
                  But the old madman’s cries were in vain. There was a blinding flash of light and the dragons were gone.
                  Halff’s shoulder wound had magically healed.
                  The Wand of the Six now glowed a pale cerulean blue. Halff held it out towards the enraged sorcerer.
                  “Take me to the Shield of the Six, now, or I’ll use this on you, old man!” Halff shouted.
                  “Damn you all!” Graff spat. “You destroyed my dragons and my winged lions! Why should I help you rob me of my greatest prize?”
                  From behind the mad sorcerer came a peel of mocking laughter.
                  Jack Sartain, holding a ruby the size of his fist, emerged from behind the bole of a white ash, surrounded by his army of Guardian Skinks.
                  “I have already robbed you of your greatest prize, old fool,” Jack laughed. “Anything you give my friends pales in comparison to the Eye of the Goddess.”
                  “My Eye!” Graff snarled. “You triple-damned thief! Give it back to me!”
                  “Come take it,” Jack laughed. He danced and dodged, always guarded by his lizard army.
                  Amontex Graff recoiled from the snapping, hissing Guardian Skinks. He could not set a foot towards their master before being surrounded by them.
                  “No!” Graff shouted. “I hate lizards! Make the go away! Keep the cursed ruby!”
                  “That’s more like it,” Jack said. “Come, boys. Leave the mad magician alone.”
                  The lizards gathered around the laughing thief.
                  “Now, ladies and gentleman,” Jack said. “Come and I’ll show you where he’s hidden the Shield of the Six.”
                  “I am beaten,” Amontex Graff sighed. “Damn you all. Come on, I’ll show you myself. Out of my way, thief!”
                  He stormed towards the ruined castle, beckoning the others to follow.
                  “Careful,” Lady Xiar warned. “He’s not as defeated or helpless as he appears. There will be magical traps laid for us in the Fortress of the Shield.”
                  “None that can withstand the Wand of the Six,” Jack revealed. “Now that Halff has charged it with the power of the goddesses.”
                  Lord Warshaw the Unknown

                  "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

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                  • #10
                    VIII. Shields, Ships and Swords

                    The Fortress of the Shield was a dilapidated old castle. The keep was merely a pile of broken stones. Halff, Lady Xiar, Jack and the Snow Leopard Sisters stepped gingerly over the mine field of shattered stones into the castle courtyard.
                    Halff’s party entered the castle itself.
                    “Graff?” Halff shouted. “Where are you? Show yourself, you coward!”
                    There was no answer from the long hall that led to an empty dining room filled with cobwebs. Room after room was ruined and empty. Finally, they reached the Great Hall. There, amidst the ruined banners and fallen portraits sat Amontex Graff in a red velvet throne, weeping into his hands.
                    “Beaten,” the old sorcerer repeated. “Beaten.”
                    He pointed with his withered arm at a wooden shield on the far wall. It was not round, as Halff had expected, but was a buckler, a tall arrow-shaped shield. Upon it were painted six lovely portraits, one of each goddess.
                    “Quickly,” Lady Xiar said. “Take it and let’s go.”
                    As they exited, there was a great rumbling sound as the Fortress of the Shield crumbled into dust.

                    Halff stood at the gunwale of the Ship That Sails Between the Worlds. The Snow Leopard Sisters had left them in their sacred wood. Lady Xiar stood at his left shoulder, Jack Sartain at his right.
                    “It was a grand adventure, was it not, Sir Champion?” Jack asked.
                    “One I would not relive,” Halff said. “I long only for home now.”
                    “We approach your shore, I think,” Lady Xiar said. “Is that not the white sand beach whence you came aboard?”
                    The Ship had taken him home to Karajan. Halff held the Wand and wore the Shield of the Six across his back.
                    A boat lowered him over side as the Ship That Sails Between the Worlds vanished silently.

                    The End.
                    Lord Warshaw the Unknown

                    "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

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