THE STORY SO FAR: The synopsis for parts 1 & 2 can be found in FSFnet VOL09N1.
In part 3 (chapters VI-VII), Cydric wakes up the next morning uninjured from the skull blast. As he recovers, Corambis brings him a few books. He reads about the Dreamrealms, other dimensions only accessible by magical means; about a mage called Nephros and of his quest for the Amulet of Hanarn (a device used by the ancient Mystics to open a Celestial Archway and physically travel to the Dreamrealms); and about Bahz and the conflicting stories concerning his banishment to the Dreamrealms. Cydric is dubious about the whole thing, but the Sage tells him, “There comes a time when one must stop asking questions and start looking for answers.”
After breakfast, Cydric and Corambis go the marketplace, where the Sage conducts his business of casting peoples’ horoscopes. Corambis introduces Cydric to Thuna, who also works as the Sage’s assistant. After watching Corambis give a casting, Cydric leaves but stops to talk to Thuna. Thuna attempts to seduce some information from him, but it doesn’t work and Cydric hurries off. After a while, he returns and the Sage offers to take him to lunch. They head over to the docks for some of Simon Salamagundi’s stew.
Corambis sees a friend and stops to talk, sending Cydric on ahead to get the stew. A man bumps into Cydric, causing him to drop the bowls. Cydric demands repayment for the spilled food, but the man refuses. They are about to fight when a crossbow-wielding woman appears and forces the man to pay up. As the man leaves, she introduces herself as Kittara Ponterisso. The Sage returns, and Kittara slips away into the crowd.
Cydric and Corambis go to Belisandra’s Tavern for lunch, where Thuna apologizes to Cydric for her earlier behavior. Corambis then asks him why he has not mentioned anything about himself, aside from the reason for his coming to Dargon. Cydric tries to evade the question, but the Sage manages to drag it out of him. Cydric reveals that he is the son of Khysar Araesto (the Duke of Pyridain and King Haralan’s Royal Treasurer). He says that he had been planning to leave the capital and travel the land, but his love for Lysanda (the King’s niece), prevented him from doing so. But when the vision started appearing to him, he made up his mind to leave. Corambis asks why he did not identify himself as a noble; Cydric replies that he has given up that sort of life. They then finish their meal, and leave the tavern.
It was late afternoon when Corambis decided to close up the booth for the day. The setting sun cast a pinkish glow over the sky as he and Cydric started home. Most of the shops they passed were starting to close as well. They had walked for a few blocks when Cydric realized that they weren’t on the road back to the Sage’s home.
“Oh, I know that,” Corambis replied when Cydric pointed that fact out. “I want to do something before we head home.”
A few minutes later, they arrived in what Cydric guessed was the temple district. He recognized the symbols of the major Baranurian gods that were inscribed over the entrances to the various shrines and houses of worship that lined both sides of the street.
“Well, which god do you pay homage to?” Cydric asked Corambis as they passed a group of prayer-chanting monks. Corambis frowned at the young man. “You sound as if you do not worship a god yourself,” he said.
“There is no law that says you have to, is there?” replied Cydric. “In any case, I personally have no need for religion.”
“I suppose you doubt the existence of the gods, as well?” he said.
“I just do not see why we must worship them. After all, we are the ones who control our destinies, not them.”
The Sage said, “Do not be so sure, Cydric. And you would do well to keep such opinions to yourself, especially around here.”
They came to small white-stone temple. “This is the House of Cahleyna,” said Corambis. “I shall pray for a safe journey for us. You may wait out here, if you wish.” He turned and went inside without waiting for Cydric to reply.
The young man sat down on the steps that led to the temple’s entrance. “Why does he bother?” thought Cydric. “There seems not to be any benefit in worshipping the gods.” Just then a shapely blonde altar-maiden in a short white tunic came down the steps of the temple. “Blessings of Cahleyna be with you,” she smiled as she passed him.
“But then again…” Cydric murmured as he watched her walk away.
After a short while Corambis emerged from the temple. He said little as they made their way back to the house.
“If I have offended you, I would like to apologize,” said Cydric.
“Well, perhaps it is I who should apologize, for being rather short with you,” replied the Sage. “I realize you have a right to your own beliefs, or lack thereof. Let us speak no more of it.”
They soon arrived at the house. The water clock in the study showed that it was seven and twenty-past. After a light supper, Corambis went upstairs for a short nap while Cydric retired to the study. He spent a while browsing among the bookshelves, but found himself unable to concentrate on reading anything. He took a pipe from the rack above the fireplace, intending to have a little smoke to calm his nerves. But after a while he gave it up, the pipe failing to relax him. He looked around, found a charcoal-stick and a piece of parchment, and started to sketch.
After about an hour he began to feel a little tired. He settled in front of the fireplace, watching the flames dance and flicker. He closed his eyes for a moment, then felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you awake?” Corambis asked.
“Of course I am,” Cydric replied, eyes open. “You did not seem to sleep for very long, though.”
“Not for very long? It is but half an hour until midnight.”
“Half an hour?” echoed Cydric. It had been a little after nine when he finished his sketching. “I must have dozed off.”
Corambis examined the parchment on the table. “Very nice,” he said. Cydric had drawn a tall stone arch situated in the middle of a windswept desert; within the arch was a lush forest. In the foreground stood a beautiful young lady, surrounded by little animals. She gazed at a cloaked figure who appeared to be stepping through the arch while looking back at her.
Cydric thanked him for the compliment. The Sage took the chair next to him, then said, “Well then, are you ready for this?”
“I suppose I am, though I don’t see how one could prepare for it.”
Corambis nodded. “There is some dried fruit in the kitchen,” he said. “Perhaps you should pack it along–there may not be a marketplace where we are going.”
Cydric grinned, then got up and headed to the kitchen, grateful for something to do. He took his time, and when he returned it was nearly ten to midnight.
IX. Through and Beyond
They waited, and when the water clock in the corner indicated twelve exactly Cydric said, “It is time.” He looked around the room. “So where is this Celestial Archway?”
“Hmmm…” murmured Corambis as he drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair.
“Maybe it is all an elaborate joke of some kind,” Cydric mused. “Though why anyone would want to do this to you I…” His voice trailed off. The chrysoline ring on the Sage’s finger had started to glow a bright blue.
“Hoho, it is time, indeed!” Corambis said, leaping to his feet.
Cydric watched in fascination as a bubble of blue light separated from the ring, rose into the air, floated to an empty space, then burst with a dazzling brilliance. Thousands of tiny multicolored sparks cascaded outward like a liquid rainbow, then began coalescing to form a large top-rounded rectangular frame. Moments later, the Celestial Archway fully solidified and floated in mid-air a few handspans off the floor.
“By the Seventh Sword!” breathed Cydric.
The view within the Archway was cloudy at first, then it cleared up and afforded Cydric and Corambis their first look at another world. They saw a vast blue sea bordered by a beach of black gravel. A range of low rocky hills stretched away to the horizon. Sulfur-yellow clouds drifted across an azure sky. There was no sign of life. Cydric walked around to the other side of the Archway and saw the same image, but in reverse. Intrigued, he gingerly touched the surface, and the scene rippled. “Amazing,” he said. He went back to the other side where the Sage stood.
“The moment is upon us, Cydric, are you truly ready?”
Cydric nodded. “Forth in the name of Cahleyna,” said the Sage. He checked his belt pouches, then stepped through the Archway. There was a brief sparkle of light, then he was gone. Cydric started forward, paused, then hurried to the other side. Drawing a deep breath, he stepped through.
Cydric felt a sharp coldness shiver through him, then suddenly he found himself standing on the gravel beach. The Sage was nowhere to ben seen.
“Milord Corambis!” he shouted.
Something touched his shoulder. He whipped around, startled.
“Why were you facing that way?” the Sage asked.
Cydric relaxed, relieved that it was not some strange flesh-eating creature. “I went through on the opposite side,” he said.
“Fascinating! I must remember to ask the Elder about that when we see him.”
“So now where do we go?” Cydric asked, looking around. The rocky hills, which ran parallel to the seashore, were blackish-gray in color and devoid of vegetation. He scooped up a handful of the gravel, then tossed it away in disgust. A thick coat of slime lingered on his palm.
Corambis held up the hand which bore the chrysoline ring. He pointed it in various directions, until the stone began to glow.
“This way,” he said, pointing up the beach. He started off in the indicated direction. Cydric wiped off the slime on a corner of his cloak and followed.
“Absolutely fascinating,” Corambis marvelled, taking in the surroundings. “A whole other world, like our own and yet unlike. Most mages would give nearly anything for an opportunity like this.”
Cydric nodded. “Speaking of mages, you mentioned last night that you had no desire to become a full mage yourself, though you do have some ability.”
“True,” the Sage sighed. “But my ability is not like that of other wizards and sorcerers you may have met.”
“It is not something I am proud of, but my grandfather was expelled from the Fellowship in Corvaira for breaking one of the Vows. He married a mortal woman.”
“Why should marriage be forbidden?” Cydric asked.
“Oh, marriage itself is not forbidden; the prohibition is against marrying people who have no magic ability. It dilutes the bloodline, you see; my father had half the ability of my grandfather.”
“And your father married a mortal woman, as well?”
“He did, and now I am merely a quarter the mage my father’s father was.”
They continued on. Suddenly, Cydric walked into what felt like a wall. He recoiled a few paces back, then frowned; there was nothing in his way. He started forward again, but met the same resistance.
“What is this?” he said, pushing against the unseen wall.
“Some kind of magic barrier,” Corambis replied, kicking at it.
“I can see that, but why is it here? I thought the Elder wanted us to help him,” Cydric said. He struck the barrier with the pommel of his sundagger, with no apparent effect.
“Perhaps this is his imprisonment,” said Corambis.
“But then how did he get the skull, and our visions, to us? Indeed, why did he not use the Celestial Archway to escape if he had it in his possession?”
“The answers obviously lie beyond this barrier,” the Sage replied. “But how to pass?” He fell silent. Then his face lit up.
“Pass… passport! Of course!” He held up his right hand. The chrysoline ring glowed fiercely. “If it can take us through the Archway, then it must also take us through this.” He clenched his fist, then smashed it ring-first into the invisible barrier.
There was a bright blaze of light, followed by the sound of shattering crystal.
Cydric uttered an oath of amazement, while Corambis merely stared in wonder. The landscape was the same, but hovering over the beach in front of them was a huge mountain of rock, roughly the shape of an inverted cone. A multi-towered castle sat at the top of the massive floating boulder.
Cydric estimated that the bottom of the mountain was over ten thousand cubits off the ground, and that the distance from their position to the top about three times that.
“How are we supposed to get up there?” asked Cydric. “Do we fly?”
“That spell I cannot perform, at least not on anything heavy,” Corambis chuckled.
Cydric noticed a large silver object on the ground nearby. He called the Sage’s attention to it, and they went over to investigate.
The object lay partially buried in the gravel. Corambis crouched down and brushed it off; it was a silver disc, with strange runes carved in it’s surface.
The Sage examined the face of the disc. “This is a ‘transportal disc, according to the inscription. It is supposed to take us up to the Citadel.” He paused a few moments, then straightened up.
“Now then, we stand on the disc thus–” he stepped atop it and motioned for Cydric to stand next to him. “Very good. Now for the invocation phrase. ‘Cael atya naqt yi hania atya suqt, egrer nezuhar hoa’st uul wes’huituf!’”
The land and sky dissolved into a shapeless haze, then Cydric felt himself falling. He braced himself, then solid ground returned under his feet. His vision cleared, and he found himself staring at the majestic Citadel of Sorrows.
X. The Citadel
“Are you all right?” Corambis asked. Cydric nodded. They stood near the edge of the top of the hovering mountain, on a silver disc identical to the one on the gravel beach. A short distance away, the massive bronze gates of the Citadel stood slightly ajar.
Cydric looked out over the rim. The bleak landscape ran unbroken for as far as he could see.
Corambis offered a quiet prayer to his goddess, then they proceeded to the Citadel gates. After spending a few minutes marvelling at the bas-reliefs carved into the bronze doors, they passed through.
They entered into a large courtyard. A marble fountain, long overgrown with weeds, stood in the center. Small translucent stones lay scattered about.
Corambis moved over to the fountain. “Pure Arkathenian marble,” he said, examining a broken piece. “The builders spared no expense.”
Cydric picked up one of the stones. “What about these?” he asked.
Corambis took the stone. “Not diamond, but some form of crystal,” he said after a few moments of examination. “Never seen it’s like before, though.”
Cydric pocketed the stone. “Now that we are here, where do we find this Elder person?”
Corambis reminded him of the chrysoline ring. The blue jewel lit up when the Sage pointed to a door straight ahead of them. They entered, and found themselves in a grand hallway. Glowing orbs fixed to the ceiling at regular intervals provided the illumination, and there were several doors along either wall.
The ring led them through a door on the right wall, up a flight of stone steps, then into what appeared to be an armory. Rusty weapons hung in racks along the walls; thick dust covered the shields and other armor that lay on long wooden tables.
Cydric picked up a battle axe. The head fell off and broke into small pieces. The rest of the items were no better. After searching in vain for anything usable, the two men left through the door on the other side of the room.
They passed through a short corridor, then came to a large gallery. Torn tapestries hung about the room, and the floor was decorated with an odd mosaic. Corambis attempted to brush the dust from one of the few undamaged tapestries, but it crumbled away at his touch. “Such neglect,” he tsked, “is truly appalling.”
Cydric studied the floor mosaic, which depicted several large lizards cavorting with a group of young maidens around a jungle pool. Corambis chuckled as he surveyed the design. “A highly unlikely scene,” he remarked. “Kaladrongan rock lizards are anything but friendly.”
They left the gallery, came to an intersecting corridor, took the left branch, and proceeded up a flight of stone steps that began at the end of the passage.
“We must be getting close,” said Corambis. “The ring is brighter.”
The steps wound around and upward. They finally came to a landing and a large oaken door. The blue light from the chrysoline ring was at its brightest.
Cydric drew his sundagger as Corambis prepared to open the door.
“Put your weapon away,” said the Sage. “I am certain he does not mean to harm us, after all his trouble to bring us here.”
“I would like to have it ready, just the same,” Cydric replied, holding the dagger in a throwing grip.
Corambis pushed open the door. A lone figure sat with its back to them in the middle of the room, bathed in the light from a single window. Books, papers, and various other things lay strewn about. The smell of decay filled the still air.
“Hello?” Corambis said, cautiously entering the room.
The figure neither spoke nor moved.
“You are Elder Bahz, I presume,” he continued, moving around to stand in front of the seated figure. Cydric remained in the doorway, his sundagger aimed at the figure’s back.
“I am Corambis deSaavu, Sage of Dargon. We have–” Suddenly he broke off and motioned to Cydric. The young man quickly moved to the Sage’s side.
“What is it?” Cydric asked. The Sage pointed to the seated figure.
Cydric glanced down and let out a gasp of horror. Pale yellow skin hung off the man’s face, as if melted. A thick slimy film covered his deep-set eyes. Saliva dripped from thin cracked lips, and a small worm twitched out from a nostril.
“Is…is that the Elder?” Cydric whispered.
As if in response, the man stirred. His mouth moved, but only a dry croak issued forth. Cydric grimaced in revulsion.
“Can you understand me?” Corambis said, speaking slowly. “Are you Jehron Bahz, Seventh Elder of Quentrellia?”
The man spoke again. “I…I am Bahz,” he said in a soft brittle voice. “You have come.”
“Yes, we are here,” Corambis replied. “Why have you summoned us?”
The Elder’s reply was barely audible. Corambis leaned closer.
“Help me…,” Bahz said. He stretched out his arms and tried to rise. Corambis reached out support him. Suddenly, Bahz’s hand shot out and snatched the chrysoline ring off of the Sage’s finger. Letting out a hideous laugh, Bahz pushed away and stood up.
“You fools!” he exclaimed gleefully. Cydric quickly recovered from his surprise and dashed the sundagger into the Elder’s heart. Bahz only laughed harder. He pushed the chair out of the way and stepped back a few paces, pulling out the sundagger and casting it to the floor. He spoke a word of magic, and green flames enveloped him. A moment later the flames died and Bahz was no more. In his place stood a tall man in green garb, dark-haired and quite healthy.
“Who are you?” the Sage demanded.
The man grinned. “I am Ishar Nephros, late of Quentrellia and future sovereign of the terrestrial sphere!”
“Nephros! What is the meaning of this? What happened to Bahz?”
“That old relic? Dead for ages,” he smirked. “You and the knife-boy over there acted exactly as I had hoped. I could not have planned it better.”
“You planned all this? For what purpose?”
“Yes, explain what your purpose is,” Cydric added, starting toward the wizard.
“I need not explain anything to you, sand flea!” Nephros shot back. He held up a fist and thrust it outward. Instantly, Cydric felt his limbs stiffen. He tried to move, but his whole body refused to act. He began to panic as he realized he was totally immobilized.
“Cydric!” Corambis cried. “What have you–” His words were cut off. Though he could not turn his head to see, Cydric knew that the green-garbed wizard had paralyzed the Sage as well.
Nephros came forward and squeezed Cydric’s arm. “Yes, you’ll do quite nicely,” he said. “He will indeed be pleased. Rest now, little flea; a greater purpose awaits you!”
Cydric felt the mage’s hand on his eyes, and then his thoughts faded into darkness.