avis surveyed the shop. Nicked tables surrounded the room, pushed up against the walls, punctuated by the occasional worn chair or stool. The stone walls on the inside were a shade darker gray than the outside. Floor planks creaked and moaned as father trudged over them to a far set of shelves which held leather strips, leather tools, leather belts, leather sandals, and burlap bags full of other leather items.
Tavis padded over to a nearby table and picked up an awl. He turned it in his fingers a moment, examining the years of use that had been worn into it.
"A lot of this stuff is from your shop back in the district," the boy said, making it sound like a question.
"Never without me good tools," father said, then gave an 'oof' as he hefted a large bag from the top shelf. "They're your best friends in this trade, you know."
Tavis set down the awl and retrieved a tiny hammer from a post on the wall. "You don't use them as much anymore." Once again, the boy made it sound like a question.
"Hasn't been as much work, lad. Bleedin' Gnomes will build you a machine that makes 'undreds of belts, scabbards, whatever."
"Is that why you spend more time with the merchants?"
"Well…" father gave out another groan as he hefted a larger bag. "You've got to adapt to this world to survive for any time."
Tavis replaced the hammer and picked up a small belt-sheath for a hunting knife. "I learned about some of the Gnome machines back in the district at the anatheum."
"Bleedin' halfers should stay up north where they belong."
An awkward pause followed, the air filled with the sound of father grunting.
"You thought about what you want to do when you grow up like your dad? Considered the things you like to do?"
"I like astronomy," the boy replied.
"Ho, ho, you can't feed a family with astronomy."
"Nah. No money in it."
"Like I said son, you've got to adapt to survive."
A pause, as father and son's eyes met.
"C'mon, son. Let's head to the bay."
Vines of pitch and night extended into fingers. Creepers of silt and shadow spilled upward to make a cloak and cowl. Embers within the hood flared and seared as the Lamya awoke.
Tavis' bowels felt like water. Tongue and throat went dry, and knees lost all their strength. With a will born of that sickening combination of disgust and fascination, Tavis' eyes locked in on those piercing scarlet orbs while every nerve in his body cried to flee. Numerous times, Tavis was disturbed with Zeyn and irked by his presence, but the sight of this otherworldly form dispensed all other peeves and annoyances that the Yyyzyzyrn had brought before.
The inky figure spoke. Grating, rasping, clawing like a wild animal into his ears. When Zeyn spoke, it irritated, harried; The bother of hearing the trace of a voice just beyond the range of hearing. Such was not the voice of the Lamya. It invaded, and it did much more than invade. It burrowed, discovered, exposed. It penetrated into Tavis' soul and pulled back the deepest and harshest memories and feelings. It twinged the raw feelings of passion and mayhem that lay at the basest depth of any being: a lustful thought he once had for Kenja; the grim fascination of seeing a murdered and dying man in an alley; and the burning thirst for vengeance when a bully had stolen a toy from him, back in the distant streets of Rhendale.
It passed. Painfully, gradually, it passed. Tavis, and the rest of the team revived. When he regained his senses from their immersion in his most primal existence, Tavis found Gin's hand in his, small, delicate fingers fiercely holding onto his own. Brogan was panting as though he had been fighting for days with no respite. Rhoden stood taut, staring with the unblinking eyes of a man facing his death.
Only Zeyn seemed unaffected. If the biting effects of the Lamya's speech touched the wraith in any way, he gave no indication. He just stood there hovering like another shadow in the night. At length, he gestured to the conjurer, and Rhoden slowly strode to his side. The features of his body gradually lost the highlights of the moonlight, and his figure was enveloped in the unnatural purplish light that emanated from the Lamya.
Zeyn touched his wraithlike hand to the cheek and temple of the conjurer, just as he always did. A few awkward moments of silence passed while the two communicated. Then Rhoden turned and spoke.
"The Lamya has attempted to find a way to communicate with you. He tried the more sophisticated layers, but could relate to nothing you could offer. Having failed that, the Lamya attempted to drop down to lower, baser layers, but those would not suffice either. Alas, he must communicate with you indirectly through Zeyn and me."
The other members of the party looked on, unresponsive.
"Please, -" the conjurer began his thought, and then stuttered on the words. "…Please do not be alarmed."
With that, Zeyn extended one hand to touch the inky form of the Lamya, and his other hand clutched the back of the conjurer's neck. Rhoden went limp. His whole body hung like the dead flesh of a corpse on a hook. Eyes glazed, sunk, retreated and shut. When the eyes reopened, there was no sign of the man that once stared through them.
"Hey! Hey!" Brogan roared angrily. The gravel beneath the great, ruddy BeHemoth scattered as his feet shifted and he prepared to charge. Tavis and Gin looked on, feeling helpless to stop either the great BeHemoth's charge or the ghastly forms that held the slack body of the conjurer.
"Stop you, brave you means to say; Join us; Bring your flesh to mine and sapped they will find you."
The voice stopped the BeHemoth like the Wall of Psondi. It came from the mouth of the conjurer, but Rhoden was nowhere in it.
"Not your way yet, is it; Not your time or your passage. Stay you; Hear you; Find you they with head and time and water still in you."
Brogan stared long at the Lamya. "You're not going to hurt him. Then I'll hear what you've got to say." But his words were braver than he was. Tavis and Gin could see that the BeHemoth was shaking. This was nothing the big red could push at or knock down or tear apart. All that was left to him were words.
"Stay you; Still you. Life is in the firemancer."
Brogan stood down. A few backward paces brought him standing next to Tavis and Gin. Normally comforted by the BeHemoth's presence, Tavis found no consolation this time.
"Gift you; Give you. Life I see and feel before me. Gladly see me… some form of variety. Shapeless, gray and alone; Stand in the Lamya, return you now. The life you know, the things you find; Somewhere, sometime, it will hurt you, make you grow. I'll bring you now what you find in kind."
"I'm going to need some help here." It was Brogan speaking again. "I'm real rusty on my tredge-talk and double-speak." Even now there were jokes from him, but there was no playfulness in them.
"Learning." Brogan and Tavis looked down. The voice belonged to Ginerial. "It wants to give us learning." The BeHemoth and the youth looked on dumbfounded at the Elf girl between them.
"Give you; Take you. Skill but tax you."
Ginerial slipped her hand out of Tavis'. "It's okay, guys. Really." The small girl took a step forward.
"Girl…" Brogan began, then broke off. "Hey, c'mon, kid… Gin! Ginny! …Oh, you stupid Fay!" The BeHemoth's huge, leathern feet seemed to stick fast to the ground.
The Elf girl continued advancing, one determined little foot in front of the other, until she too was absorbed into the purplish light.
A bright blue-yellow orb began to form between the glowing red eyes of the Lamya. Tavis recognized this; He remembered seeing Zeyn when he attacked the Elven police woman back at the Tavern. Sweat started pouring out of Tavis now. He felt it in the crook of his elbows, back of his knees, small of his back where his belt hit. A breeze caught the moisture and Tavis shook as he went cold.
The brilliant blue-yellow orb discharged, and a beam struck out and hit Gin. It caught her, held her. Seemed to pull her off the ground and make her small form go slack like Rhoden had. One of Brogan's enormous hands came down on Tavis' shoulder and clutched hard. Tavis nearly mistook it as a grip for support.
Then the little girl fell; the light died and the beam let her go. She lay on the ground, limp, heaving. A silent eternity passed, filled only by the incessant gleam of purple from the Lamya, and then the girl rose. Up onto one elbow, then a hand, then both hands. She rose up to her knees, and her head listed and swam. She almost went down again, but caught herself. Deep. It was deep down, but she found the strength to rise and walk.
Tavis had seen innocence die in the eyes of this young girl before. Back when they found her next to the burning rubble of her home in Tenjir, an overlooked straggler in the wake left by Mjorda's men in their Services For The Enteroh. It surprised Tavis to learn that there was innocence left in those eyes to kill, that it had not all been slain when her parents were torn and taken from her. But the Lamya had found some left over, found it and eliminated it.
She stared at Tavis. Stared long and hard with red, wet eyes that had seen and had Seen. She put her hand back in Tavis', turned, and stood like a sentinel, staring at the Lamya. Tavis shook again, but the breeze was gone.
Eyes gleaming, mouth open, Tavis took in the streets of the bay. Immediately, his nose filled up with the pungent smell of brine and wafting scent of market. Vendors haggled, ship merchants shouted orders, and the endless roll and crash of surf washed the boy's ears with a blanket of noise. Queer forms of sea life hung from carts, all dangling tentacles, stony shells, and scales like delicate armor. Sounds, odors and images bombarded his senses so rapidly that he could not assimilate them all.
"This is the bay, son. This is where your dad works now."
If Tavis heard, he gave no indication, jaw still slack and eyes darting all over.
"Here now," father continued, "we're coming up on the seacoast."
The mare trotted forward a distance and the street opened up like a yawning chasm. Tiered ribbons of shacks, vendor stands, cranes and cargo docks stepped down the land to the shore like an enormous amphitheater. The vast arms of the coast stretched and sprawled on and on, curving, bending, jagging and folding back on themselves where a peninsula jutted out. Again, Tavis found his eyes to small to absorb the sight: Here was quartet of old men playing Archimidis, clacking and rattling the draughts on the hardwood playing board; There was a troop of dwarves driving a pair of donkeys to pull up on the guy line of a huge, metal-and-wood crane, elevating a listing and swaying pack of goods of a shipdeck; And still farther on down the limbs of the coast, a cascade of lights from ten dozen taverns blinked out through the mist of the bay, smattered out along coast like a lazy chain of fireflies.
Father chuckled and pulled on the mare's reigns. "Quite a sight, eh? What do you think of it?"
Tavis continued staring for a long moment before responding. "You get to come here every day?"
"Most days. Sometimes I work back at the shop, but most of the time I end up coming to the bay."
"Wow… You've got the best job in the world."
Father's head rolled back and he let out a hearty chuckle. "Try convincing your mother of that, lad."
"Flamespeaker, firemage has Seen and Culled. Morninglight, blossom-born foreknows to come. Rudgerback, Trog-lo, taste and know."
The BeHemoth heard his old gladiator name and stared on blankly. Slowly, slowly, he took his hand from Tavis' shoulder, and crossed his hulking arms across his great, wide chest.
"Out of your fredjing mind."
"So well, so well," the Lamya replied. "On then, name-slayer, spark-channel. See what is Find."
"Me?" Tavis asked, "Me now?" He blurted the words out, dumb and stupid. Who else could the Lamya mean? Who else was left?
"Demon-harrow, shadow-glithe, Bring and Know; Twist and Find."
Tavis looked to the BeHemoth. There was no comfort or encouragement in the beady, black pits of Brogan's eyes. Tavis had seen this stance before. The BeHemoth would offer no support and no discouragement. Tavis hated it because it reminded him of so many other choices and how hard and grim so many choices were for him now.
He looked down to Ginerial, and almost regretted it. The Elf girl's eyes hadn't changed from before: red, damp, and Knowing. Seeing her, remembering her countenance from just the afternoon before, the picture of simplicity and brightness -a face that hadn't a trace of guile, but it was lost now. Gone and gone and gone. All that was left was now, and the heavy burden and price of now.
Tavis swallowed hard and looked up at the Lamya. Piercing, unforgiving embers like stoked coals looked back. Tavis took a few steps forward, then coughed, and halted.
"I have a question first." The youth said. It sounded like a challenge.
"Test me, say you; Here is forever and filled with nothing but answers."
Tavis swallowed and tried to pry his dry tongue from the roof of his mouth. "Have you seen… Endae."
"Discipline; Mentor; Master…" The Lamya paused, and it seemed for a moment that those harsh crimson orbs faded just barely. "Believe…Combine and creep and flow. Within and through the portal stirs the presence of the one."
Tavis gasped, letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "And he," another gasp, "and he knows -Sees us or… He's aware that we're here?"
"Surrogate father, learns and hears and grows."
He isn't really gone, then, Tavis thought. He knows.
Long moments passed while Tavis absorbed the Lamya's words, part of him still deciding if he had trust enough for this creature, despite all that Endae had told him. Another doubt surfaced, clear and plain in Tavis' mind.
"Tell me…" Tavis began. "Tell me who you are."
A foul and loathsome noise came from the Lamya, hollow and coarse. When the specter next spoke, Tavis determined that the creature was laughing.
"Sight, a bridge; Pale rumors and lost flickers in the eye. Do not learn my side, my 'is', for it is not your time to pass, flesh. Call me, tell me, stories and recite me. They are cut from dust, but I am Lamya, caern-scythe, Rohnjeck, birth's-lies."
Tavis sighed, and for the first time in this encounter, a small waft of calm passed over him. Rohnjeck. So it was true what the old man had said. Fate had laid the path in front of him, animated his legs, and propelled him down the road. Where was the sense in disobeying when all the powers of Rone and Belza seemed combined to bring him, willing or no, toward his inevitable future.
"Very well," Tavis replied, swallowing again and then biting down hard. "I'm here, I'll come." With that, the youth trudged a few paces forward, and entered into the violet glow of the Lamya.
From a distance the glow seemed eerie, foreboding. But once Tavis had entered into the Lamya's presence, it blanketed him and enfolded him round about, like submersion in a pool of warm water. Tavis looked on at the body of the conjurer as it hung limp in Zeyn's thin, ethereal hand. Rhoden's head was lolled back and eyes stared out like the dumb look of a corpse on a gallows. Then Tavis caught a look at the eyes that peeked out under those weary lids, and saw in them a tunnel that stretched from here all the way into the Land of The Dead.
The Youth's eyes scanned over to Zeyn, and found that the countenance of the wraith was as impassive as ever. There he was, hovering in the air apathetically before the Lamya as though he was simply standing before a mirror, gazing at his own ghostly reflection…
…A reflection. The first of the Omoz elder's visions of the future. Of course. It was all laid out for him, wasn't it? Tavis was just a player following pre-determined moves.
The youth stared up at the inky, oily head of the Lamya, and waited for the blue-yellow orb to form as he knew it would. Misty azure lines crackled over the forming golden sphere that hung between and just above the Lamya's eyes. Traces of sky and clouds dancing over a hazy, yellow sun, Tavis thought. Then the orb flared, and Tavis' mind drew out of time with the power of the Word.
"Enteroh-slayer, stormwatcher, Learn…"
There was Endae. Not just the image of Endae. It was Endae sitting at his desk, leaning over rolled or bounded parchment, fingers tracing the letters and symbols, just as he always did before mealtimes. Tavis has prepared peppered stew with vegetables and bits of Strok meat. Endae takes a seat at the table and they're eating. Quickly, quietly, and then they're even done with the pamoles. Endae is sipping at his Stroff now and telling Tavis that he's going to teach him channeling this afternoon. Tavis is doing well with the breathing and relaxation exercises, and it's time to move onto the next step.
Then Tavis is standing on the hill in back, soft blades of sedge under his feet. Endae is pushing him, guiding him, linking up the breathing and control exercises with this new concept of pulling energy through himself, channeling, Endae reminds him. It comes. It comes too much and too fast, stinging, burning, charring. The scent of his own burnt flesh, his damaged hands clutched close to his body, burnt and black, chips of flesh and ashes.
Tears and nausea and racking, choking cries. Endae knows a healer. Here, some salve for your hands until he arrives. Time and time and time, and still not well. Probably take a full year before they're healed, and you'll probably still have scars.
Months later, and tender, pink flesh is beginning to emerge. Tavis visits Anhur's temple, maybe feel peace for awhile, maybe heal his broken spirit inside. The priestess that sees him, scares him with her prophesies. Three words: Jhaway, Entesah, Moniah. How could she? Was she the one that started the game? Made the first move and put the pieces in motion, setting obstacles in his path, events for Tavis to run into, and stumble over, and fall. He came for peace, for healing, and this woman had undone him with three words.
Now the lance is in his hands. The energy is there as well, coursing in bright blue veins along the silver shaft, cresting and sparking off the spear at the end. It burns and flows like some new kind of blood and Tavis screams and roars like a young bull.
"Learn…" The last words the Lamya spoke are coming at him from a distance now, and Tavis is swimming up from the bottom of a dark pool. Night is there and the moon to greet him, and all of it is shrouded in a pale violet light…
The ground came up at Tavis in a rush. He raised his hands, too late. Shoulder, hip, and temple caught the rough gravel that met him. His skin was wet and salty, and the dust stuck and turned to mud on his exposed arm. Head swimming, nauseous, Tavis rose to elbows, hands, and knees, then found the strength to rise and walk to his friends. Gin took his hand and Brogan caught him under his arms to keep the youth from tumbling back to the ground.
Tavis was just beginning to admire the handiwork of the plaster and window frames on the lighthouse when the uppity Dwarf came round again, cursing and calling on a host of deities Tavis had never heard of before. Father had left to take care of an urgent errand, leaving Tavis in the care of the lighthouse keeper. Indeed, it had only been a few minutes, but in that short time, Tavis heard the haggard Dwarf swear by the teeth, the beard, the hooves, the ax, the fists, the shoulders, the anvil, and the chisel of at least two dozen or more different gods. Just when Tavis thought that there couldn't be any body parts, weapons, or tools left to swear by, Elnidar Toroth found a new curse to canker the air.
"Blasted… by the Horn of Heroth… Here, boy, take this bucket while I mend the sill here. Cursed bay weather eating away at me beacon like she was nothing!" Pulling a hammer from his wide leather belt, the Dwarf hobbled over to the window frame and began pounding. "Shaw! If we were back in the highlands instead of by this blighted cesspool, she'd hold! -And, if we had materials that weren't made out of spit and sawdust, then it would last longer than a year!"
That was another thing: Besides the endless stream of curses, Tavis had to put up with the abuse of having his hometown, local craftsmanship, and anything-that-had-to-bleedin'-do-with-Temacus badmouthed by this horrid little Dwarf.
"There!" Elnidar proclaimed, punctuating his statement with a resounding smack of his hammer on a stubborn nail. "Right then boy, let's see if you know how to be useful. Ever use a brush before?"
Tavis stood there dumbly, staggering from side to side, wishing the Dwarf would take this heavy paint bucket back from him, not quite registering that the Dwarf was asking him a question instead of cursing.
"No, of course not. I should have guessed. Clonis' crooked knees, I should've guessed. How old are you now, not an ounce of strength or patience to hold a blasted paint can and no work ethic at all. -Come on!" The Dwarf jerked the boy over to the lighthouse wall and handed him a massive brush. Tavis let out a weak protest, but nevertheless clutched onto the enormous paintbrush that was offered him.
"Right then, Into the bucket… Wipe off the excess, then up, and down, up and down… Got it?" Elnidar wrapped his stocky, callused hand around Tavis' tiny soft one and guided the boy through all the instructions he rattled them off. "Up and down, do you see?"
"Okay, okay, I think I've got it." Tavis spat out the words too soon and with too little confidence behind them, but he desperately wanted the old Dwarf to let go of him.
"Right, well, we'll see." Then Elnidar turned and took up a brush of his own, dipped it in the can, and began slapping out long strips of wet paint on the plaster.
They worked in silence for a while, dipping and smearing paint on the lighthouse walls. Then Elnidar spoke up. "Going to be a tanner like your father."
"What?" Tavis replied, startled.
"Work with leathers, you know, for a job? -It's not a dirty word you know, job."
Tavis paused and twisted up his face. "Dad asked me the same thing."
"Oh, and what did you tell him."
Tavis remembered his fathers reprimand about astronomy and opted not to repeat the dialogue to the Dwarf who would certainly give him more chastisement. He turned and stared off at the broad, swaying leaves of a pallow tree off upshore a ways."I guess I didn't tell him anything." The boy replied lamely.
"Norl fjon dourful Grinsh. -Here, I'm teaching you some Najordal."
"What's that mean."
"Directly translated, it means you've got a head full of feathers."
"That doesn't mean anything," Tavis grumbled.
"It means you're a daft and silly boy -Head full of feathers. Don't know what you're going to do. Don't decide soon and you'll never know what you want to do. Die that way someday, still wondering. Daft and stupid boy."
Won't be a minute, father said, he's harmless, father said…
"Revenues from the arenas are down!" The Enteroh shouted in disbelief, setting down his wineglass on the table. "How can that possibly be? They've been an absolute hit ever since they opened!"
"I'm afraid these are the correct figures, sire." The court accountant stammered apologetically. I have reviewed the coin taken with the booth managers at the arenas twice and gone over the calculations myself three times." The accountant paused for an approving response from the Enteroh, and hearing none continued stammering: "I'm sorry, sire. I am truly sorry."
The Enteroh lifted his octagonal wineglass, swirled the contents, and took a modest sip. "They're down since that big red left us, aren't they."
"I am afraid so, sire."
"So hard to find good talent…" the Enteroh pondered aloud as he sauntered over to a sofa by the far wall and sat down on the edge. "Very well Damor, you are dismissed."
"Yes, sire. Thank you, sire."
"Oh, and Damor," the Enteroh said, reclining into the cushions of his sofa, "Do pass along a message to the booth managers to be sure that none of the toll takers are keeping any coin for themselves. The more bad news we avoid, the less we have to hear, no?"
"Yes, sire. Right away, sire." The accountant hastily replied, shuffling backwards out the door and hoping that he would not be given any more messages to deliver.
"Right then, speaking of bad news…" The Enteroh turned to the Hazard-class Devict seated on a cushion in the far corner of the opulent room.
No response. The Enteroh took a long sip and looked on, annoyed.
Trondal woke with a start from his trance and took account of his surroundings. The Hall, the Throne Room. It always shook up Trondal when he came back from projecting. He was always paranoid that someone would disturb his body when he was gone.
"Well?" The voice startled Trondal, and his head snapped around to the source. It was Nashan, of course, languidly reposing on a nearby sofa, looking up from his wineglass. The Enteroh detested the throne -Not what it stood for, mind, but that the thing was so uncomfortable to sit in. "What did you find?" The Enteroh insisted.
"Highness," Trondal began, collecting himself as he did so, "I have discovered them."
"The western arm of the Angus Yorl. They have a Yuz helping them, warding against our scans."
Nashan closed the book and looked on at Trondal incredulously. "A Yuz. Helping them?"
Trondal fidgeted. "Yes, Highness."
"Never mind," Nashan began, standing up and beginning to pace. "Mjorda is a fool. He couldn't track a river, much less a boy and his traveling circus."
Trondal looked on, having learned by now when not to interrupt the Enteroh at one of his pauses.
"Mjorda will have one more chance though, and then I'm through with the barbarian. Project again and tell him to get it right this time -And, remind him that I don't want them harmed."
Another lengthy moment passed as Nashan paced the room, stopping by the long, rectangular, ivy-choked windows that offered him a view of the bustle and life of the bay. "How did you find them anyway?"
"I scanned an enormous manna surge, and recognized that they had summoned a, er Rohnjeck."
Nashan turned and stared at Trondal, brown-almost-black eyes burning into the Devict's. "And what precisely does that word mean."
"I am sorry highness," Trondal replied, fidgeting again, "It's the word they used. There's no real word for it in Roke. It means something like… oracle… seer… guide… gateway -that sort of thing."
The Enteroh was incredulous. "And they summoned such a creature. Are you positive?"
"Do you believe now that I'm not so paranoid about the prophesy in that passage of scripture."
"Yes, Highness." Trondal replied, submissively.
The Enteroh hardened his features and took another sip of his drink. "Hmm. Well then, if that's the case, tell Mjorda that the boy is the only one he need spare."