DargonZine F9, Issue 1

Cydric and the Sage Part 3



This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Cydric and the Sage

THE STORY SO FAR: In Part 1 (chapters I-III), Cydric Araesto arrives in Dargon late one afternoon. While resting at Belisandra’s Tavern, he experiences a vision that has been recurring in his mind for some time. In the vision, he is alone on the shore of a vast golden sea. He starts to take a drink of the golden water, but it turns colorless in his hand. A transparent skull appears, and makes some strange carvings in a nearby rock. He sees that the skull has etched the outline of a continent, a small “x”, and the name “Corambis the Sage” into the stone. Then the skull flies away toward a glittering object on the horizon.

 

Coming out of the vision, Cydric asks the serving girl, Thuna, if she has heard of Corambis the Sage. Thuna goes over to a blue-robed patron at the other side of the room and whispers a few words. The patron approaches Cydric’s table, and he is relieved to see that it is a woman, who introduces herself as Holleena. Cydric asks her about Corambis, and she offers to take him to see the Sage. He agrees, and they leave the Tavern together.

 

In Part 2 (chapters IV-V), Cydric and Holleena arrive at the house of Corambis after having a dinner of Simon Salamagundi’s fish stew. Cydric offers to accompany Holleena to her own home, but she declines and walks off into the twilight. Cydric goes up to the house and is welcomed in by Corambis. In the Sage’s study, Cydric relates his vision, showing a sketch he drew of the carvings in the rock. Cydric explains that when he compared the sketch of the carvings to an actual map of the continent, he found that the “x” corresponded to the location of Dargon. Since the Sage’s name appears below the outline, Cydric has sought him out in the hope that he will be able to explain the vision.

 

The Sage says that he is not the one Cydric should be asking, and before Cydric can reply, takes him to his cellar laboratory. There Corambis show Cydric a box which contains a crystal skull, exactly like the one in his vision. The Sage reveals that a few months before, the skull mysteriously appeared on his study room table. That night, he himself had a vision that foretold of Cydric’s arrival. Corambis then takes out a parchment with an incantation written upon it; the skull had instructed him to read it once Cydric had arrived.

 

The Sage recites the incantation, written in a sorcerer’s language. A moment after he finishes, a white light explodes from the skull then ceases, to be replaced by a red glow that burns in the center of the skull. Then the skull speaks, telling them that it has a message from Bahz the Elder, Seventh of the Council of Eight of Zaad’Astropolous, the capital of the Quentrellian Isle. The skull says that Bahz needs their help, and is willing to reward them. It says that they must travel to a citadel located in another dimension to free him from an unjust imprisonment; to assure them that it is not some sort of trap, it promises to send them a chrysoline gemstone that will protect them from all hostile magic. The skull concludes by telling them that the Elder’s time is limited, and says that they should make their journey at the following midnight. As it finishes speaking, Cydric sees the skull in his mind and hears a loud, pulsing beat. The image expands and the sound grows louder until the skull in the box shatters. Cydric cries out and falls into unconsciousnewss.

 

VI. Answers and Questions

 

“Quentrellia–There are many legends and myths about

 

this small island nation (which existed at around the time

 

the Fretheod Empire was at its peak). Some historians

 

believe that it’s capital, Zaad’Astropolous, was a major

 

trading port of the Ancient World. The island was ruled by

 

a Council of Eight Elders and presided over by a Leader….

 

“There are two stories about the Exile of Jehron Bahz,

 

the Seventh Elder of the Council. In one version, Bahz

 

attempted to overthrow the Council and seize power by

 

admitting a fleet of Huultaran raiders through the massive

 

Sea Gate which protected the entrance to the harbor of

 

Zaad’Astropolous. The invasion was thwarted, however, and

 

Bahz was arrested. In the other version, the Council

 

Leader falsely accused Bahz of treason and had him removed

 

from the Council (apparently because Bahz was a strong

 

critic of the Leader’s policies). In both accounts,

 

though, Bahz was tried and sentenced to exile. He was then

 

imprisoned in an ice-wood cage (to destroy his magic

 

ability); then the other Elders cast him through the

 

Celestial Archway that Nephros had opened. Thus was Bahz

 

banished from the island….

 

“Three summers after the Exile of Bahz, a force of

 

Fretheod invaders lay siege to Quentrellia. One month

 

later, the island was captured and absorbed into the

 

ever-expanding Fretheod Empire….”

 

–”History of the Ancient World”,

 

Volume 6; by Trenta, Historian

 

and Chronicler to King Vulpa of

 

Baranur; pages 144-145.

 

Cydric looked up from the book as Corambis entered the room.

 

“Ah, you are awake, Cydric. I am glad to see that you were not permanently damaged by the skull last night. How do you feel?”

 

“A little tired, but otherwise fine,” Cydric replied. “Thank you for putting me up. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you in any way.”

 

“Nonsense, my boy,” Corambis snorted. “There’s plenty of room in this old house. Besides, I couldn’t just leave you lying around in the laboratory, now, could I?” He placed a hand on Cydric’s forehead, then nodded with satisfaction. “You just rest there and read those books that I’ve selected. I’ll be back in a moment.” He closed the door as he left the room. Cydric shifted a little in the bed, took a volume entitled Arcana Antiqua from the stack on the nightstand, opened to the marked page, and continued reading.

 

“…the existence of worlds beyond our own. These

 

other worlds, sometimes known as “dreamrealms”, are

 

believed to be as numerous as the grains of sand on a

 

beach. Travel to the other worlds is mainly achieved by

 

projecting the spirit-body into the chosen dreamrealm.

 

Alternately, the physical self may be transported by the

 

use of a portal called the Celestial Archway, first

 

described by Nephros (the first known mage to successfully

 

return from the dreamrealms) in ‘A Wondrous Voyage’….”

 

Corambis returned with a mug full of an aromatic liquid. “Here, drink this herbal tea. It shall restore you to your full health.”

 

Cydric took a cautious sip, found it rather tasteful, and took another pull.

 

“Not as bad as you expected, eh?” grinned the Sage. “Well now, have you read the passages I marked for you?”

 

“Yes,” replied Cydric, “but some of this information I do not quite understand.”

 

“Oh? Such as?”

 

“The ‘Celestial Archway’. It is mentioned in the texts, but there is no description of what it exactly is.”

 

Corambis handed Cydric the last remaining book from the nightstand. “A Wondrous Voyage, by Ishar Nephros,” read the cover. Cydric opened the book to the page Corambis had indicated.

 

“…and as the old man died, he whispered to me the

 

location of the Cave of the Mystics. I followed the

 

directions, and sure enough found the fabled Cave, its

 

entrance cleverly hidden by a waterfall.

 

“I stood there for a moment, my mind filled with the

 

many tales and songs of the legendary Mystics,

 

predecessors of the Elders, older even than the Fretheod.

 

No one knew why they suddenly disappeared from the face of

 

the world those many ages ago; standing there outside the

 

entrance, I sensed that I was on the verge of finding the

 

answer to that question.

 

“I cautiously entered the Cave. The light from my

 

torch glistened off the moisture that coated the dark rock

 

of the interior. After walking for what seemed like days,

 

I came to a dead end. Anyone who had gotten this far would

 

have been forced to turn back, but not I. Holding aloft

 

the Symbol of Shazax, I spoke the ancient chant the old

 

man had revealed to me.

 

“The wall of rock fell away, and I stepped through the

 

opening into a huge cavern. There was a pool of water in

 

the center of the cavern, with a tall white tree growing

 

out of it. I advanced to the edge of the pool, barely able

 

to contain my excitement. Years of searching were about to

 

come to an end; I had at last found one of the Sacred

 

Places where the Mystics hid their most powerful magic.

 

“I spoke the second chant the old man had told to me.

 

Instantly, the water began swirling about, churning up

 

great waves. A bluish glow limned the tree; the very air

 

seem alive with power. Suddenly, the leaves on the tree

 

began flickering with color: green-blue-violet-

 

red-orange-yellow-green in blinding succession. There was

 

a sharp crack as the leaves burst from their branches and

 

took on a silver hue. The leaves whirled and spun like a

 

cloud of glow-flies, then formed into a silver sphere,

 

coming to rest on the surface of the pool.

 

“The waters calmed, and a bridge of light extended

 

from the sphere to the pool’s edge. I stepped onto the

 

light-bridge and strode confidently to the glowing sphere.

 

I knelt down and picked it up (it had been about the size

 

of a large melon, but shrank to the size of an orange at

 

my touch). As I carried it back to the edge of the pool,

 

the bridge of light disappeared behind me.

 

“I placed the sphere on a large rock near the cavern’s

 

entrance. Speaking the last of the old man’s chants, I

 

hurled the Symbol of Shazax at the sphere. There was a

 

flash of light, then the sphere vanished. In its place lay

 

the object of my quest, the fabled Amulet of Hanarn.

 

“I picked it up and held it in my hand. I could feel

 

the power radiating from its center. It was the Mystic

 

power, the ancient energy that fueled that ancient race of

 

beings and enabled them to create spells and magical

 

devices so great that they remain unequalled to this day.

 

“I turned the golden Amulet over and read the

 

inscription engraved on its reverse. It was the command

 

phrase for invoking the Celestial Archway, a portal into

 

the fantastic worlds of the Dreamrealms. I gave a shout of

 

exultation when I read these words–this was exactly what

 

I had hoped to find! Many other mages had tried to create

 

devices that would allow physical travel to the

 

Dreamrealms, but without success. Indeed, those who

 

ventured forth with their crude creations were never heard

 

from again. But I now possessed the very device that the

 

Mystics must have used when they left this world for

 

whatever their destination.

 

“I was sorely tempted to invoke the Amulet right there

 

and then, but I knew that I had to properly document this

 

incredible find. With the Amulet safely stored in a

 

special pouch I rode away from the Cave, thinking of the

 

wondrous sights that lay beyond the Celestial Archway.”

 

“So, has that enlightened you somewhat?” asked Corambis as Cydric finished reading.

 

“Somewhat,” Cydric replied. “But I always thought that the Mystics were nothing but myths–children’s stories.”

 

“Well, all myths have some basis in fact,” Corambis replied.

 

“And I also read once that it was impossible, even dangerous, to physically travel to the dreamrealms.”

 

“True, it is impossible, but only for the abilities of the wizards presently living today. The age of the Mystics was an age of great magic, an age that shall never come again in this world.”

 

“What about the chrysoline ring?”

 

Corambis reached into a belt pouch and brought it out. “Before you ask, it is absolutely genuine. I checked while you were asleep.”

 

Cydric held the ring up to the window. The chrysoline stone glittered and sparkled in the morning sunlight. “Rarest of all gemstones, he he murmured as he handed it back.

 

“Indeed it is. Why, I could live like a king for the rest of my days with the money that would bring, if I chose to sell it.”

 

“Perhaps you should,” Cydric said.

 

“Why do you say that?” asked Corambis.

 

Cydric placed the books back on the nightstand. “There’s something about this whole thing that does not quite fit… how can Bahz have sent the skull and caused our visions if he was imprisoned and exiled over a thousand summers ago? His powers were nullified by the icewood, were they not? Indeed, should he not be dead by now?”

 

The Sage smiled. “My boy,” he said, “There comes a time when one must stop asking questions and start looking for answers.” He picked up the mug. “Do you feel well enough to have breakfast downstairs?”

 

Cydric nodded. “One more question, though; do you really intended to travel to this other dimension? Something about this does not feel right to me.”

 

“Well, it does not feel right to me either; that is why we must investigate this.” He turned to leave.

 

“We?” Cydric echoed under his breath.

 

“You say something?” Corambis said from the doorway.

 

“Uh, nothing–I’ll be down soon.”

 

“Good lad.” The Sage closed the door as he left.

 

Cydric lay back for a moment and thought of home. He shook his head, gave a short laugh, then got up.

 

VII. Interlude

 

After breakfast, Corambis suggested that Cydric accompany him to the marketplace. Cydric agreed, and started to go around to the stables where the Sage had put the black stallion up for the night.

 

“It is a fine day, better suited for walking than riding,” said Corambis. “Besides, the fresh air and exercise will do you much good.”

 

“Very well. But I was only concerned about your own health.” replied Cydric.

 

“How do you think I’ve managed to keep fit all these years, eh?” chuckled the Sage.

 

They started off toward the marketplace. “There’s something I forgot to tell you,” Cydric said. “Last night, just before the skull turned to dust, I saw it in my mind, very clearly. It felt as if it were going over every bit of my brain.”

 

“Well, it was no doubt making sure that you were indeed the one that its creator had selected. Such magical processes can be quite ungentle on the mind and the spirit.”

 

Soon they came to the marketplace. The daily crowd was starting to gather, and a few early merchants had claimed the best stalls.

 

“Here we are,” said Corambis, stopping in front of a large wooden booth that stood in the center of the square. It appeared cleaner and sturdier than the five other booths that clustered near it; a small purple flag with a white dot in the center fluttered from the top.

 

Cydric saw that unlike the common stalls, the booths had solid wooden doors. On the door of Corambis’ booth there was a strange symbol, which Cydric recognized was a glyph of some sort. He had seen such symbols in the books he had read in the Royal Library. Although they would not stop a skilled mage, wardings were ample protection against even the most cunning thieves.

 

The Sage traced the glyph with his right index finger, chanted a short phrase, then opened the door. A few feet within was another door, but with no symbol. They passed through the second door into the audience room which was no more than ten feet on a side. Much of the space was taken up by a large green table and two chairs.

 

“Those other booths–can just anyone use them?” asked Cydric.

 

“Lord Dargon’s treasurer assigns them to whoever can pay the rent for them,” replied the Sage, sitting down in the left-hand chair. “The stalls, on the other hand, are for everyone’s use.”

 

The Wheel of Life was carved into the top of the table. Cydric recognized the nine constellations represented in each division of the Wheel: the Knight, the Oak, the Fox, the Maiden, the Falcon, the Torch, the Harp, the Mistweaver, and his own sign, the Ship. The symbols for Air, Earth, Fire, and Water were inscribed around the outer rim of the Wheel, as were the symbols of the Crown, the Sword, the Scepter, and the Shield.

 

Just then a slender dark-haired girl walked in. “Good morning, Master Corambis,” she said.

 

“Ah, good morning, my dear,” replied the Sage. “Cydric, this my assistant, Thuna.”

 

Cydric rose and took her hand. “I believe we’ve met. You also work at Belisandra’s Tavern, do you not?”

 

Thuna smiled. “Yes, I remember you. You came in late yesterday and had a Special.”

 

Corambis said, “Well now, we had better get to business. Cydric, you may stay and observe, or explore the town, as you wish.”

 

“Thank you, I should like to stay awhile.” Cydric replied.

 

Corambis brought a small stool out from beneath the table and handed it to Thuna, who took it and placed it in the small area between the inner and outer doors. She then opened the shutters of the windows on either side of the outer door.

 

“Very well, then, Cydric. Are you familiar with Wheel of Life?” Corambis asked.

 

“Yes, somewhat,” the young man replied.

 

Just then Thuna came to the doorway and announced the presence of a customer.

 

“Stand on my right, Cydric,” the Sage said. A moment later, a middle-aged lady entered the room.

 

“Welcome, good lady,” Corambis said, gesturing for her to sit in the opposite chair. “The door, please,” he whispered to Cydric as the lady sat down. As Cydric closed the door he saw Thuna smile and wink at him.

 

The room was dark. Cydric was about to comment on this fact when the room suddenly lit up. He looked up and saw the source of the illumination: a small glowing orb fixed to the ceiling of the booth.

 

“Well now, what may I do for you?” said Corambis to the woman.

 

“I would like you cast my stones for this week,” she replied.

 

“And what is your birth sign?” Corambis asked.

 

“I am a Tallirhan,” the woman said.

 

The Sage reached into a belt pouch and took out ten small wooden discs, one painted red and the rest colored blue. He placed the red one on the symbol of the Knight and the blue ones in the center of the Wheel, over the symbol of the Mistweaver. He placed his right hand over the discs, spoke a few words, then told the woman to gather them up and hold them above the Wheel’s center. When she had done so, the Sage told her to concentrate on the symbol of the Knight, then drop the discs. The woman paused a few moments, then let the discs clatter to the table. Corambis glanced over the pattern the fallen discs made on the Wheel, took out a scroll from a tube that hung at his belt, unrolled it, and began his interpretation.

 

When he had finished, the woman paid him five silver Sovereigns and left. “Well, Cydric, what did you think of that, eh?” Corambis asked, leaning back in the chair.

 

“I found it most fascinating, sir,” Cydric replied. “I would very much like to learn more about the aspects of the Wheel, if you would so instruct me.”

 

“I would very glad to, Cydric, providing we return relatively whole from our midnight meeting,” Corambis said with a straight face. He broke into a chuckle upon seeing a slight wrinkle of worry crease the young man’s brow. “The passage will not be unduly dangerous, I assure you. I shall take all the necessary precautions to insure our safety. But we will speak more of this later, eh? I am sure you would like to see more of the town now.”

 

“Oh, yes, I think I will do that. I shall be back in a few hours,” Cydric said, moving to the door.

 

“Good. Enjoy yourself. Tell Thuna to send in the next customer.”

 

Cydric closed the door behind him as he left the audience room.

 

“You may go in now,” Thuna said to the man standing just outside the outer door. Cydric stepped aside to let him pass.

 

“Where are you off to?” said Thuna when the inner door had closed.

 

“I am just going to have a look around the city,” Cydric replied.

 

“Oh, please, do not go just yet. It gets very dull just sitting here with no one to talk to,” Thuna said, laying a hand on his arm. “Won’t you stay for a little while?”

 

Cydric paused a moment, then said, “I suppose I have plenty of time for sightseeing.”

 

“Wonderful,” Thuna said, leaning an arm out the window of the booth and crossing her legs on the stool. She ran a hand through her long black hair and tossed her head. “So, Cydric, are you here in Dargon for business, or pleasure?” Her eye gleamed as she said the last word.

 

“Uh, business, actually,” Cydric said, leaning back against the opposite wall.

 

Thuna waited, and when he did not volunteer anything more, said, “It gets so warm this time of year.” She undid a few of the laces of her front-laced blouse and pulled it open slightly.

 

“What business did you say?” she asked.

 

Cydric quickly looked up. “Business? Oh, its nothing really. I doubt it would interest you.”

 

Thuna hopped off the stool and walked over to him. “Oh, but it would,” she said, leaning very close.

 

Cydric hesitated a moment, then said, “I… think I should be going now.”

 

Thuna placed a hand on his chest and gently pushed him back. “Please stay, just for a few more minutes,” she whispered. Backing away slightly, she reached over and closed the shutters on the window. “Don’t go away,” she said as she went over to the other window and closed it up as well.

 

Cydric had his hand on the doorknob when Thuna intercepted him. She turned him around and kissed him hotly. Cydric felt the blood rush to his face, and throughout his body. “Do you, ah, think this is appropriate?” he said when she released him.

 

“Isn’t it?” she giggled.

 

“But the customers! And Corambis, inside–”

 

“No one will bother us if they see that the booth is closed. And Corambis? Do not worry about him.” Thuna stroked his cheek. “What business do you have with that old goat, anyway?”

 

Cydric tried to gently disengage himself from the young woman’s embrace. “Really, Thuna, I must be off now,” he said.

 

Thuna smiled prettily, then pressed him back against the inner door. With a provocative look, she unlaced her blouse all the way and let it drop to the floor. Then she threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately, her body firmly pressed against his.

 

Cydric felt all resistance crumble away. He pushed all other thoughts out of his head as he began caressing Thuna’s unclothed back. Suddenly, the inner door gave way and they both fell through into the audience room. There was a moment of stunned silence as Cydric glanced upward and saw Corambis and his customer looking down at him.

 

Cydric quickly scrambled to his feet. “Uh, I was just about to, ah, leave now, sir,” he said, hastily dusting himself off.

 

“Very well, just be back around midday, eh?” Corambis replied, ignoring the shocked look of the customer.

 

“Right.” Cydric glanced down at Thuna, who rolled over onto her back and licked her lips. Completely embarrassed, he wasted no time in leaving.

 

Cydric wandered aimlessly for a good half-hour before the incident with Thuna began to fade a little from his mind. He found himself on Traders Avenue and decided to have a look in some of the shops. He entered a small jewel merchant’s store and asked the shopkeeper to show him some diamond rings. Holding a small three-stone ring the merchant brought out, Cydric sighed and murmured very softly, “Sweet Lysanda, why did I ever leave you?”

 

After leaving the jewel merchant, Cydric next stopped in at a weapons shop. “Grauban of the Blade” read the sign above the door. As Cydric entered the shop a large man, apparently Grauban himself, looked up from the battle-axe he was polishing and said, “G’day, milord. What can I do for you?”

 

“I’d like to see some swords,” Cydric replied.

 

Grauban led him to a wall rack filled swords of various types. Cydric picked up a curved scimitar and swung it experimentally. He put it back and picked up a fine rapier with a gold and silver hilt. He swung it and found that it felt just right in his hand.

 

“Ah, now that’s a real beauty,” said Grauban. “I can let you have it for about, oh, two Cue.”

 

Cydric thought about how he had lost his own sword on the journey up from Baranur. Deciding that a replacement was a good investment, he said, “I do not have any gold with me; make it thirty Sovereigns and you have a deal.”

 

After several moments of consideration, the weapons dealer said, “I can’t let it go for less than forty. I have a business to run, you understand.”

 

“Thirty-five Sov’s, and not a Noble more.”

 

Grauban scratched his beard, then said, “You bargain hard, milord, but I accept that price. Will you be taking it with you?”

 

“I shall bring you the money tomorrow, and pick it up then.”

 

“Fine. It will be waiting for you.”

 

Cydric visited a few more shops. When he heard the town crier announce that it was midday he headed back toward the marketplace, wondering what he was going to say to Corambis.

 

The Sage was waiting for him outside the booth. Thuna was nowhere in sight.

 

“Sir, about this morning, I–”

 

“No need to say anything, my boy,” Corambis said. “It’s quite all right.”

 

“What do you mean?” asked Cydric, a little surprised.

 

“Thuna used to be a street-corner girl, you see. A few months ago she was attacked by a drunken rowdy. I saved her from being killed, and took her into my care. So far she has led a rather clean life, with a few occasional lapses. You need not worry about what happened this morning. I have already spoken to her.”

 

Cydric nodded and silently sighed with relief. “Where is she now?” he asked.

 

“At Belisandra’s Tavern. Thuna works afternoons, and Belisandra gives her room and board in return, plus a small allowance. It works out quite well.” Corambis cast a glance back at the booth, then said, “Well, now, shall we have lunch? What do you say to some nice fish stew, eh?”

 

Cydric agreed, and they began walking toward the docks where Simon Salamagundi the stew vendor could always be found.

 

When they were in sight of Simon’s cart, a voice called out, “Corambis! Over here!”

 

The Sage looked around and, identifying the source of the voice, waved and returned a greeting.

 

“I must speak to my friend over there,” he said to Cydric. “You go ahead and get the stew–I will have whatever you are having.” He gave Cydric a few coins and departed.

 

“Ah! You back again, young sir?” Simon Salamagundi said as Cydric approached the cart. Cydric greeted him and ordered two sweet stews. As Simon filled the bowls Cydric asked, “Do you remember the girl I was with last night?”

 

“Red hair, in blue robes? Aye, what about her?”

 

“Do you know where she lives?”

 

“Sorry, me friend, I know not. Did she not tell you?”

 

Cydric shook his head. “Does she come around here often?”

 

“In truth, young sir, I believe she is new in town herself. You might try the inns, like the Panther or the Serpent, or Sandmond’s.”

 

Cydric thanked him, gave the money to Simon’s monkey Skeebo, and left carrying the bowls of stew. He had not traveled very far when a man bumped into him from behind, causing him to drop the bowls. Cydric watched as the man continued on without so much as an apology. Keeping his temper, Cydric hurried after the man and tapped him firmly on the shoulder. The man spun around.

 

“You have just caused me to lose my lunch,” said Cydric, pointing to the spilled stew.

 

The man shrugged. “You should watch where you walk next time,” he said, and turned to leave.

 

Cydric grabbed his shoulder and forced him around. “I think you owe me for the cost of the meal,” he said.

 

The man shook off Cydric’s hand and drew his sword. “I said, watch where you walk next time!”

 

Cydric’s hand flew to his left hip and found nothing there. Silently cursing the loss of his sword, he drew his sundagger instead.

 

“I think you owe him for the meal,” said a female voice.

 

Cydric looked to his right and saw a cloaked woman holding a loaded crossbow. She was pointing it straight at the man’s head.

 

Walking closer to the man until she was a little beyond the sword’s reach, the crossbow woman said, “Please pay him now.”

 

The man hesitated. The crossbow woman raised the weapon to her shoulder and placed her finger on the trigger. The man swore, dug out a handful of coins, flung them at Cydric, then stalked off.

 

“Are you all right?” the woman asked, lowering the crossbow.

 

Cydric nodded and sheathed the sundagger. “I appreciate your help, but I think I would have been able to defend myself.”

 

“With only a dagger?” The woman grinned. “Either you are a very good fighter, or the dagger is magic.”

 

“Both,” Cydric returned the grin. He told her his name, and the woman introduced herself as Kittara Ponterisso.

 

“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Ponterisso,” Cydric said as he pressed her hand against his cheek.

 

“Call me Kitty,” she said.

 

Just then Cydric heard someone call his name. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw Corambis hurrying toward him. He waved and turned back to Kittara.

 

“Pleased to meet you as well, Cydric Araesto. I must go now, but I hope to see you around.” She turned and melted into the crowd.

 

Cydric started after her, but just then Corambis arrived, looking slightly breathless.

 

“I saw what happened, Cydric. Most rude of that fellow.”

 

“Did you see the woman with the crossbow? She forced him to pay for the stew.”

 

“Ah, yes. Very nice of her to do that. Did she tell you her name?”

 

“Kittara Ponterisso. Ever hear of her?”

 

The Sage shook his head. “Can’t say that I have.” He glanced at the spilled stew, which a pair of cats were happily lapping up, and said, “Why don’t we have lunch at an inn?”

 

Still feeling a little uncomfortable about the incident with Thuna, Cydric declined Corambis’ proposal that they eat at Belisandra’s, and suggested that they go to the Inn of the Hungry Shark instead. The Sage pointed out that it was better to face up to the situation and resolve it rather than avoid it. Cydric reluctantly agreed, and they headed off to Belisandra’s Tavern.

 

Belisandra herself seated them and took their orders. A few minutes later, Thuna came to the table and apologized to Cydric for her improper behavior. He readily forgave her and suggested that they forget that it had ever happened.

 

After Thuna left, Corambis said, “Do you recall the friend that I met back there at the docks?”

 

Cydric nodded. “Yes, why?”

 

“That was Kandevoll, the jewel merchant. He happened to mention that you were in his shop this morning, looking at betrothal rings.”

 

“Yes… I believe I was there,” Cydric replied cautiously.

 

“He also said he heard you whisper the name ‘Lysanda’. That wouldn’t be Lysanda the King’s niece, now would it?”

 

“Um, well, perhaps there are two Lysandas in the Kingdom,” mumbled Cydric.

 

“Aha. Something tells me, Cydric, that you are not the freewheeling adventurer that you seem to be. Perhaps you will tell me what you really are.”

 

Cydric looked up from his mug of ale. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, Cydric, that so far you have not told me a single thing about yourself. Why is that?”

 

Cydric took a long sip of ale before answering. “Very well. You are right, I was looking at a betrothal rings for Lysanda.”

 

“I am sure that you did not come all the way to Dargon just to look for rings. A young noble like yourself could find better jewelry in the capital.”

 

“I told you, I am here because of my vision. And–” He paused, and looked Corambis in the eye. “And you think that I am a noble?”

 

The Sage chuckled softly. “I suspected it from the moment you introduced yourself. I used to be King Haralan’s astrologer many years ago, and I never forgot the way the courtiers announced themselves whenever they came to me for a horoscope. You sounded just like one of them, even though you looked like an outlander.”

 

Cydric said nothing for a long moment, then sighed and said, “You have me, sir–I am indeed a noble. I suppose you want to know” everything about why I am here.”

 

“Hoho, indeed I do! Please begin, at the beginning, eh?”

 

Cydric drained the last of his ale before speaking. “My father is Khysar Araesto, Duke of Pyridain and Treasurer to King Haralan. Ever since I was young, my father wished for me to follow his trade–to become the next Royal Treasurer. I grew up learning the ways of the treasury, though I really had no interest in it. I wanted to be like Sir Talan Shalk, the Captain of the King’s Guards.”

 

“Ah, the famous soldier-adventurer, eh?” said Corambis.

 

“Yes, but I knew my father did not approve of that sort of life. Even so, I convinced Captain Shalk to teach me what he knew. Under him, I learned how to use a sword, how to survive in the forest, and other things that I would need to know when I finally left Baranur.

 

“About a year ago I made my decision to leave. I had planned to join an expedition to the Skywall mountains, but I had fallen love with Lysanda and for her sake I did not. But I never stopped thinking about leaving the city, about venturing to other lands. I tried to convince Lysanda to come with me wherever I eventually decided to go, but she was too used to civilization and implored me to stay in the city.

 

“And then the visions started. I realized that this was the time; I truly had to leave. It was very had to part with Lysanda, but I knew that if I did not go I would never find peace. So I wrote a letter to Lysanda, packed my things, and left the castle in the middle of the night. I traveled with a caravan for a time, then made my way to Dargon alone. The rest you know.”

 

“But why did you not tell me you were of nobility?” asked Corambis. “In my experience, traveling royals usually like to make themselves known as such.”

 

“I turned my back on that sort of life when I left the King’s castle, and I have tried to act in the manner of the common folk; but, as you have guessed, it will take some time for me to forget my court protocol.”

 

Thuna arrived and served up their orders: steamed fish for Cydric, a plate of cooked vegetables for Corambis.

 

“Well, Cydric, it seems that you have sacrificed a great deal just to find out the meaning of your strange vision. What will you do after you learn its meaning?”

 

“That all depends on what happens when we travel to this other world. Are you sure the journey will be safe?”

 

“Passing through the Archway will not be dangerous. But after we arrive at our destination, I cannot know what will happen to us.”

 

“Perhaps if we knew, we would not want to go,” mused Cydric.

 

“Now Cydric, you are not afraid, are you?” Corambis asked, looking at the young man with mild amusement.

 

“I do not fear going; it’s returning that I am concerned about.”

 

“Well, Cydric, you are right to be concerned, but I shall make certain that we return safely. And now, eat up, for we have quite an adventure waiting for us.”

 

They continued their meal, and when they had finished, Cydric and Corambis left the tavern.

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