DargonZine 7, Issue 6

Endgame

Seber 10, 1014


The village of Tench

 

The reader leaned over the Wheel of Life, a drop of sweat falling from his forehead onto the ornately decorated cloth. Eight signs of Makdiar’s zodiac were painted inside slices of a circle on the aged fabric’s surface. Eight smaller symbols separated the signs, and at the center was the mark of Destiny.

 

It was unseasonably hot for Tench in Seber, and there was precious little breeze coming in through an open window. The two men knelt on opposite sides of the Wheel, in a small room at the Duck Inn.

 

The fat-faced reader hovered over the wooden discs and uttered a soft incantation:

 

May Araminia’s grace

Fall upon this Wheel

Like the first kiss of spring

On a graveyard.

 

The reference to the goddess of good fortune was part of the pitch, Teyvas noted with amusement. The rogue expected to receive happy news about a bountiful tomorrow. There was no profit in ill tidings, after all.

 

The reader gestured for Teyvas to pick up the nine discs that were blue in color. Teyvas did so, and he was told, “Close your eyes and make a picture in them of your birth sign. Can you see the Torch?”

 

Teyvas, clamping his eyelids shut as tightly as he could, saw orange and red flickering. He tried to make a torch out of it but the glimmerings were elusive. “I can see Pyrale,” he said.

 

“Cast the discs!” the reader said, and Teyvas opened his fist to let the discs spill out over the wheel. For more than a mene, the reader looked over the scattered objects and mumbled a few disparate words to himself. The cutpurse reached behind his back and scratched at a slow-healing sore near his midsection. This action prompted no notice from the reader, and Teyvas smiled to see how self-absorbed the man was.

 

Finally, the reader offered his interpretation. He pointed a pale finger at a blue disc that lay near the only red one. “This is the heart, and it is resting on Pyrale, your birth sign,” he began. “You are a man of fiery passions.”

 

The reader looked to Teyvas for a comment, but he wanted to hear more so he said nothing. Several other discs were described, based on their resting places and the reader’s gift for metaphor, but it became obvious that he was saving the best for last.

 

“This disc represents the body, your own mortal flesh,” the reader stated ominously. “It lies on Valonus the Oak, which means you will not be called from this realm for many years.”

 

If Teyvas had needed more proof of the insincerity of the Wheel, this prediction would suffice. He knew there would be no life for him beyond 25 years, if he even got that far. Teyvas welcomed a young man’s death — after his parents were killed in their beds when Dargon guards raided their camp in 1004, Teyvas promised himself that he would die on his feet. He was well on the way to keeping that vow.

 

Teyvas pointed to a disc that had fallen on a smaller part of the wheel. “What does this mean?” he asked.

 

The reader looked a bit flustered, then said, “Occasionally, a casting falls in a way that cannot be explained in the teachings,” he said. “This is such a case. The disc for future foe has landed on the Crown, the symbol for the past.”

 

“That is indeed a puzzle,” Teyvas said, amused at the misfortune.

 

“Verily,” the reader said. “In such cases, you must find the answer in your own heart.” He moved on to another spot on the Wheel. “This last disc is your course of action, and it has landed on Kafarn, the water symbol. You will be traveling soon, on a long journey that will be of importance, perhaps by seaborne route …”

 

Teyvas interrupted him, pointing to the symbol for Gefflin the Fox, which was his real birth sign. “What of this, then?” he asked. The reader was surprised to see a disc there, and was unaware that it had been the thief’s doing.

 

“This is the symbol for treachery,” the reader said. He was planning to elaborate further, but was interrupted again, more forcefully this time. Teyvas had pulled a knife from his boot and buried it in the man’s fleshy midsection before another word could be shared between them. The reader gasped, and a strangely comforting hand was placed on his shoulder by Teyvas. The fortune-teller fell with a shudder as the knife was yanked from side to side before being removed. As Teyvas pushed the man aside, a drop of blood fell from the unfortunate’s mouth and landed on the Wheel.

 

The blood was about the size of a disc, and of similar coloration to the red token. “Your body disc has landed on Valonus,” Teyvas said to the fallen reader. “You have a long life in front of you.”

 

***

 

It had not been difficult to get out of Tench with the reader’s money and the silver earring that he wore. The room was on the second floor, and Teyvas climbed out the window and retrieved his horse from the stables. Teyvas had hoped for more good fortune from the reader, but was not unhappy because he needed to leave town in any case. Tench was a crossroads village with a few squalid taverns and a rough reputation. Teyvas had hoped to meet Lana the Snake there, a dark-hearted beauty whose exploits were legendary. Lana was nowhere to be found, and the only explanation he got was crazy talk about the assassin losing an arm in a fight with her twin.

 

There would be other opportunities, he thought, and other women of questionable moral character to look after. Though he had just turned seventeen, Teyvas had a puckish smile and a calculated indifference that women found attractive. He had amassed a lengthy history of conquest, but in recent days the young man had narrowed his standards to a particular breed of femininity. He now sought women who were as hateful and fearless as he was, traits he imagined for his own mother when she was courted by his father.

 

Teyvas’ parents had been bandits, a profession he was proud to carry on. Ten years ago, they had been part of an encampment five leagues south of Dargon that had demanded a toll from travelers. He lived there, playing with the other children who were spawned by the bandits, but that life changed when Captain Tamar Armstrong led a Dargon guard unit on a raid of the camp. Armstrong, a general now, had been ordered to teach a lesson to those who would break the laws of the duchy. The lesson was taught. The boy’s parents were among the first to die — a guardsman entered their shelter and cut them down with his sword before they could even stand. Teyvas, who was seven at the time, was taken into the city and placed in a home for orphans.

 

The ride back to Dargon would be a long one, and not very pleasant, since Teyvas could not keep to the main roads. There would be soldiers about in great numbers, because of the war, and he did not want to chance an encounter with them out in the open. Someone might remember him from a past exploit in the city, or he might also be conscripted into the army.

 

The trip passed without event, save for a horrific storm on the 11th of Seber that forced him to seek the cover of trees. By the time he arrived in Dargon, he was nursing a headcold, so he sold the horse he no longer needed and used the money to buy a room in the waterfront district. The building was next to a brothel, and the thief could hear the hawker’s cries, as well as other carrying on, well into the night.

 

Teyvas kept to the docks for many days, a little worried that two murders he was involved in might be catching up with him. When he stopped at one of his favorite haunts, Teyvas was told that town guardsmen were looking for him in connection with the deaths. Zaran, a companion of his, must have confessed to the crimes while the thief was in Tench.

 

The two of them had dragged a woman into an alley, killing her servant when he intervened.

 

Zaran had wanted to take her, and Teyvas was willing to let his oafish friend have the pleasure of her company before they robbed her. Unfortunately, another hero chanced upon the little tryst. The portly fellow laid Zaran low with a skillet, of all things, and Teyvas was forced to cut down the man as he escaped. Teyvas now had learned the name of the middle-aged hero: Thomas Shopkeeper. His persistent widow had sung Shopkeeper’s praises throughout the city, and the city fathers had taken notice. They wanted the slayer brought to justice.

 

Teyvas needed to get out of Dargon, perhaps permanently. He could head back to Tench or a village like it, but the number of people who knew his face was getting perilously high. The best thing to do would be to book passage on a ship, but he did not have enough funds to leave Cherisk behind.

 

To remedy the situation, Teyvas left the docks and meandered towards the upper-class reaches of Dargon. He lingered on a street lined with temples, hoping to find suitable prey leaving from an evening service.

 

As the last strands of sunlight faded to the west, Teyvas watched a slender woman with a long tan cloak leaving a small shrine to Sbeppo. She was carrying a book as long as her forearm, and the thief concluded that she must be a scribe, since that was Sbeppo’s sphere of influence. It was heartening to see the glint of gold around her slender neck, since Teyvas could not linger long in this district without arousing suspicion.

 

The little scribe walked purposefully towards the market center of Dargon, evidently with some tasks in mind. When she turned away from a shop-lined avenue and headed across a tree-lined street, Teyvas cut across a grassy patch of land to get closer to her. He began dogging her steps, only 10 feet or so behind her, and she finally took notice of him. There was no one else on the street with them, and she knew what a bad position the shortcut had left her in.

 

This dance of prey and predator was something that Teyvas wanted to savor, to extend until he could practically taste the fear exuded by his victim, a scent that hung heavy like a musk. But there was no time for play.

 

Teyvas moved with the grace of a cat, knocking the scribe off the path and into some overgrown grass. She turned over and pushed at him with a weak thrust of her right hand, but the thief had undone her by pulling his knife across her throat. As a torrent of blood flowed from this second smile, Teyvas realized that the scribe was not as she seemed.

 

For starters, she was actually a man. A slight, almost elfin looking man, but definitely male. He took the necklace, a pouch of coins and the contents of a shirt pouch — thin slivers of glass coated with a powdery dust. He found a fourth sliver in the man’s right hand, as if he was planning to do something with it. Teyvas touched his tongue gently to the sliver, to see if the dust was some kind of drug he had experienced.

 

There was no taste, but Teyvas found all the explanation he needed when he looked more closely at the dying man, who was beginning to tremble convulsively. The book that he clutched tightly to his breast was covered with runes and other markings, whose origin was unmistakeably arcane.

 

He had killed a mage. Teyvas cursed the luck that had put this spell-wielder into his path. If the shopkeeper was not enough of a burden, this would be his undoing. The thief had made long practice of avoiding magic and its practitioners. He pried the book from the hands of the mage, kicking the now-dead man in the ribs so hard that bones snapped.

 

As Teyvas was walking away, three cloaked figures suddenly approached him from a street 50 feet distant. One pointed a finger at him and yelled in a guttural language Teyvas had never heard before.

 

***

 

The rope was pulled so tightly around his neck that Teyvas thought it would kill him prematurely. His promise was going to be kept; he would die on his feet, before hundreds of Dargon’s citizens who had assembled to send him off. The crowd looked up at the gallows with expectant faces, glad to have a diversion from the all-consuming passions of the war with Beinison.

 

A female lieutenant named Ilona Milnor read the accusations levelled against him, and the sentence that had been meted out in the name of Duke Clifton Dargon the Second. There was a dull efficiency to her demeanor, and Teyvas was instantly attracted to her indifference. She had better things to do, and the young thief earnestly wished that he was one of them.

 

After the murder two weeks ago, Teyvas had been captured by town guards as he was being dragged off by three Nar-Enthruen mages. He found out that the victim belonged to a 23-year-old arcane society that fiercely protected its own, affirming the thief’s lifelong fear of magicians. The Nar-Enthruen were disappointed to hand him over to the guards, and had complained bitterly when it was ruled that they could not have the killer back.

 

Still, they exacted one concession from the town guard before today’s hanging. A hollow-faced Nar elder had spent an afternoon outside of Teyvas’ cell, asking him numerous questions about his life and the crimes that he had committed. He was forthright, hoping some measure of infamy would outlive him, but the somber man did not seem impressed. As the Nar elder left, he spat some kind of curse at Teyvas in the exotic language of the Nar, and it left the thief with a strange coldness in his bones that did not fade.

 

It was time for Teyvas to pay for the murders of Thomas Shopkeeper and the mage. Ilona stepped over to a hoist that would pull his ragged frame up the gibbet.

 

“Do you have any last words?” she asked.

 

“Only these,” he said, looking into her eyes directly. “I love you.” He smiled as she signaled for two attendants to turn the hoisting mechanism. For a moment, Teyvas looked down with a cheery air at the crowd that had gathered to see him off. He felt important for perhaps the first time in his life. This elation faded quickly, replaced by the burning pain of the rope. The weight of his body pulled at his neck, and Teyvas strained for a breath he could not take.

 

For 20 minutes, onlookers watched as the thief danced on the gibbet, his feet gyrating to find purchase on the ground below him. Teyvas had promised to die on his feet, and as his consciousness faded he was still trying to extend an outstretched foot downward to the earth. His sorry path through the world reached an end.

 

But it was not the end at all.

 

Teyvas wiped his eyes, which had somehow become filled with smoke, and found that he was standing in a kitchen where roasted meats were charred black from overcooking. Through a closed door he could hear dozens of people talking in an adjacent room.

 

Instinctively, he reached to pull the meats away from the cooking fire, wondering if he was meant to prepare food in the life after death. He noticed that his own arm was slender, and pasty-white in color. He looked down at his body, and really began to wonder about his predicament.

 

“J’mirg’s blood!” Teyvas exclaimed in a sonorous, high-pitched squeal. He clutched at his chest in terror and amazement. “I’m a squirmin’ female!”

 

***

 

After a few minutes of hysteria, Teyvas settled down to the fact that he had been reborn as a woman after being hanged for two murders in the city of Dargon. He was a mature woman in a tavern maid’s attire, hunched over roasting fires in a kitchen. She had burnt most of tonight’s main course. Teyvas could hear the sounds of merriment from a nearby room, and he gingerly opened a door to peer out.

 

There were about 20 people in the dank establishment, which was decorated with boar’s heads and the pelts of numerous forest animals. A poorly executed painting of King Haralan hung above a fireplace.

 

“Adrana!” a man screamed at him — her! — as he approached from an adjacent bar. The boisterous character was a stocky barkeep with a long beard and unclean attire. He grabbed her around the waist once he came close enough to do so. “That foul smell had best not be the meat you’re preparin’, or we’re going to have a riot on our hands.”

 

Teyvas shrugged Adrana’s shoulders, suddenly embarrassed that a man was touching her in such a brusque manner. The thief would have liked to remove the offending hand with a blade, but this wench carried no weapons. Even if she had, he realized that the barkeep could physically dominate the woman if he chose to do so. This sense of inferiority was new to him.

 

“Ol’s balls, woman!” the barkeep cursed. “You really did burn the food … show me what you did.” He pushed her back into the kitchen, and gazed upon the ruined meats she had pulled from the fires.

 

For a moment, he stared at the food as if his glance could restore it, but his face reddened and he turned to Adrana. “Your stupidity has cost me for the last time, you old crone,” he said.

 

A feeling of shame and fear washed over Teyvas, two emotions he did not possess before assuming this woman’s form. He tried to stammer some kind of reply, “It, it was …”

 

Before he could finish, the burly barkeep brought the back of his hand across Adrana’s face so hard that she was knocked to the corner of the kitchen. A tin pitcher full of grease was upended by one of her flailing arms as she attempted to break her fall, and the hot liquid spattered against her leg, causing excruciating pain. The barkeep was not hurt by the grease, but the accident enraged him further, and he approached her to mete out more punishment. Teyvas was not going to let this continue, woman or no woman.

 

He lifted himself to a crouching position and grabbed a butcher’s knife. Adrana’s arms were not strong enough to plunge it deeply into the barkeep’s chest, but Teyvas hoped the dullard would not realize that.

 

“Adrana,” the barkeep said, a little quieter than he had been.

 

“I’m leaving,” Teyvas-Adrana said. “If you move I’ll gut you like a fish, and feed your entrails to those codswallops out there.”

 

The barkeep backed off a step. “Don’t come beggin’ tomorrow morn, woman!” he said.

 

“I won’t,” Teyvas-Adrana replied. She left through the tavern’s back door, and headed to a well-lit public street in front of the building. Teyvas could see the duke’s castle and a few familiar guard towers in the distance, so he knew he was still in Dargon. For a half-bell he walked the streets aimlessly, in the general direction of his apartment in the waterfront district. As he came closer to it, Teyvas suddenly realized that it wasn’t really his home any longer. He wandered away.

 

Teyvas was too stunned to be alive in this woman’s body to appreciate the escape from the hangman’s noose. There were no rope burns on his neck, but he could still feel the itch of the cord wrapped tightly under his chin. The grinding sound of the hoist pulling him onto the gibbet reverberated in his head like the clangor of a Lederian battle-drum.

 

Teyvas did not know what to do next. The few friends he had would not believe this, and some were likely to seize the opportunity to avail themselves of Adrana. From his vantage point, he could see she was not entirely unattractive.

 

With no other options to consider, Teyvas took himself back to the tavern, hoping to find someone who could tell him where Adrana lived so that he could sleep there. Unfortunately, as he crept into the kitchen through a back door, Teyvas saw the barkeep, sitting on a stool a few feet away and drinking wine from a bottle.

 

“I knew you’d come back,” he said, pulling himself to his feet with considerable effort. The unclean man wiped his beard with the back of his hand and then grabbed a knife. It was the same blade Teyvas had threatened him with a few hours ago.

 

“No wife of mine treats me like that,” the barkeep said. He smiled savagely at her, his teeth glinting like jagged rocks on the shoreline.

 

***

 

Teyvas sat up in a dark room and pulled a sheet off his body, screaming. The competing smells of excrement and death told him that he was in a dungeon cell. He was back under Dargon Keep, he reasoned, and had dreamed of his own hanging and the experience as Adrana. The last part was still horrifying to him, and though her murder was a figment of the mind he could not help but clutch at his neck in sympathetic pain.

 

The nightmare that had visited itself upon that woman was beyond anything Teyvas could conjure, and he wished the Nar elder was around so that he could tell the man his own crimes were minor. Teyvas had dispatched his victims with efficiency, and had never taken sexual liberties with any of them. To torture a woman and to rape her so violently was unimaginably grotesque, even to him.

 

Still, it was just a dream, probably an effort by the gods to introduce him to the sensations of guilt and remorse. It was not going to work, he thought, and laughed weakly. As he did so, the ends of his beard rubbed against his chest.

 

Teyvas did not have a beard. He found himself in a new form, some kind of squat, muscular figure who was covered in flea-infested hair. What happened to Adrana really happened, to him, and the rebirth had come again.

 

“Damn you, spell-tosser!” he yelled in agony, and Teyvas threw his new body against the solid wood of the cell door until it was bruised and bloody. He fell asleep on the floor, a throbbing and badly sprained arm lying askew at his side.

 

He awoke to the banging sound of a metal pan being slammed against the walls outside the cell. Teyvas lifted himself to his feet, crying in pain as the injuries of the previous night asserted themselves upon his conscious body.

 

Peering through a small barred hole in the door, Teyvas saw a guard clad in the duke’s colors heading down the hall. He recognized her as one of those who walked him to the gibbet the day before, though he had no way of telling if that was really how long ago it took place. He was still in Dargon.

 

Sitting back down on his noxious pallet, Teyvas looked himself over. He was some kind of wild man, with a stone-solid upper body, stubby legs and dark olive skin. Most of the injuries he inflicted upon this form would heal quickly, but the left forearm was still extremely sore.

 

When his sensibilities started to return, Teyvas began to think about the curious visit from the Nar-Enthruen elder shortly before his execution. Rosgode was his name, and he claimed that the visit was for an interrogation about the thief’s “sundered life,” as the elder put it. Rosgode acted as if there were some kind of spiritual reason for needing to know such details.

 

“Do you not wish to tell me?” Rosgode asked. “Surely you must know that you are already doomed.” There was a sympathy to this last statement, as if the old man took a fatherly interest in his subject. Teyvas did not believe in the sentiment, but was flattered at the attention he was receiving.

 

“I will share it all with you, spell-tosser,” he said, “and when you walk out of this place you will know that I wanted to be here.”

 

Teyvas told the mage about the carefree life of a roving bandit clan, and how rich with joy he had been before the devil Tamar had taken it all away. He explained how Dargon’s orphan shelters were haphazard operations that would expel children for troublemaking whenever expenses went beyond the funds alloted by the Dargon government. He told of fighting with wild pigs and dogs for refuse tossed in the middle of city streets at age ten.

 

While Teyvas spoke, Rosgode cupped his hands together as if he could catch the conversation like rainwater. Teyvas thought it was odd but was too wrapped up in himself to consider it further.

 

He continued his tale, hoping that Rosgode had a strong memory and would take the story beyond the dungeon walls. Teyvas told him about living in the dying houses when the Red Plague struck in 1007, stealing food from the palsied hands of victims when he could, hoping that he would join their suffering. But he never became sick from the exposure, and it even led to the only honest job he ever had, as a charnel runner taking the dead to be burned.

 

“Why did you never try to kill Tamar?” Rosgode inquired. “Did you not despise him for what his men did to your parents?”

 

“I despise them,” Teyvas said. “They were weak and deserved what they got.”

 

When Teyvas’ tale reached the murder of Rosgode’s compatriot and the thief’s subsequent confinement, the Nar elder stood up, clasped his hands together and held them tight as if he were holding a cricket. He stared at the young man in the cell and suddenly said something unintelligible in his own tongue. The sneer on Rosgode’s face made Teyvas feel that it was some kind of curse, and it laid a chill on his bones.

 

Sitting in this new cell, Teyvas surmised that the spell-caster had used their conversation as a pretense to enact some kind of Nar-Enthruen hex. Adrana’s demise at the hands of her husband was visited upon him as punishment, and a sense of dread fell over him as he wondered what might come next.

 

He did not have much time to speculate about it. The day progressed and guards delivered gruel masquerading as food. Teyvas was still trying to stomach it when his cell door was unlocked and another inmate stepped inside.

 

“I’d wager 13 marks you didn’t expect a visitor today, kinsman,” the prisoner said, pulling his lips back as a wolf does, revealing a sinister smile. The man was from Kimerron, a small country of barbarians that had lost a war with Beinison. He removed a short knife from a pocket in his leggings. “It cost a king’s ransom to get this shank,” he said. “Your lord sends his warmest regards.”

 

***

 

After his third death in Dargon, Teyvas was reborn in a widening spire of sites and situations.

 

At Gateway, he was a foot soldier of Beinison skewered by a Lederian colour sergeant. At Sharks’ Cove, he was a slaver whose property rose up against him, tying him up and setting him ablaze. At Shireton, he was a halfwit stoned to death for exhibiting inappropriate affection for livestock.

 

As the number of expended lives grew, the thief stopped resisting the fate that had been bestowed upon him. For a time he contented himself with the relative peace of drowning, submerging himself in the water before others could choose a more appropriate end for him. He began to lose his attachment to the mortal form, and imagined himself as a floating wisp of golden cloud, skimming the top of trees in one locale and then dissipating, only to reform somewhere else at the direction of the prevailing winds.

 

When the number of his reincarnated forms reached 17, Teyvas found himself kneeling in a small alcove, looking upwards at a bronze statuette of Sbeppo, the patron deity of scribes and the written word. There was a reflective glass behind the sculpture, and Teyvas gazed into it. His face was that of a frail, tawny-haired man. He carried a rune-covered book as large as his forearm. For several minutes, the thief stared into the eyes of the last man he had killed. He breathed deeply, filling the body with life, and thought about the way he had taken this vitality away from the mage.

 

Teyvas pushed aside the curtains that separated the alcove from a larger chamber of worship. Two men in lily-white robes stood near the back of the room, talking quietly. The altar was empty because the evening services had ended several menes ago.

 

Setting the book down, Teyvas ascended to the raised dais that contained the altar, a pair of tables and a large illustrated manuscript. The book was open to a drawing of a mother giving birth to a younger woman who was pregnant herself. The thief was not aware of the significance of the book, but he could tell that it was valuable and of import to the people who worshipped here. He yanked a torch from its holder on one wall, an act that took all the strength this elflike body possessed.

 

At this point, the two robed men approached him in alarm. “Get yourself off there, brother!” one said.

 

“Come any closer, brother, and we find out if this book will burn,” Teyvas replied. “Bring me Rosgode of the Nar-Enthruen!”

 

It did not take long for the elder mage to reach the temple. “Have you gone mad?” he asked emphatically as he strode down the aisle towards the dais.

 

“For someone you have killed more than a dozen times over, I am remarkably sane,” Teyvas said. He wished he could summon the other Teyvas, who was probably wandering the temple area at this point, looking for someone to rob. He would give the boy all of the mage’s riches, if he could, and send him away from Cherisk for good.

 

“This is nonsense-talk, Alder,” Rosgode said. “What kind of enchantment are you talking about?”

 

Alder-Teyvas was growing fatigued, and he knew that he could only keep everyone at a distance for a few more menes.

 

“I am out of your time, and I am not your friend,” Teyvas said. “Later tonight, I was a thief who murdered Alder and was captured. You came to my cell and I told my crimes to your hands. When you left, you spoke a Nar curse upon me.

 

“I was hanged, and reborn as someone who was fated to die,” Teyvas continued. “I am reborn and reborn, and I die every time.”

 

Rosgode looked stunned for a moment, but the expression was replaced by one of comprehension. “The hand-telling is a way to remove a man’s crimes,” he said. “If I did that, I took them so you would not have the evil to draw upon in a future life.”

 

The response made sense to Teyvas, gave him an answer to why he was unable to resist being the victim of 17 successive crimes. The evil had been stolen away from him, and he had not found anything to take its place.

 

The elder took a gentle step back, and held out his hand as if trying to keep Teyvas calm so the book would not be harmed. But there was fear in the pits of Rosgode’s ruminant eyes. This was a revelation to the tired cutpurse who had been freed from the finality of death. Rosgode had not expected the spell to come to a circle like this — before he had even cast it.

 

It was all Teyvas needed to see. He knew what had to be done.

 

Alder-Teyvas dropped the torch onto the holy book of Sbeppo, causing two nearby priests to cry out in agony and rush onto the dais. As this happened, Teyvas reached into a pouch on Alder’s shirt and pulled out four powder-covered slivers of glass. He knew that they were a weapon of some kind, since the original Alder had intended to use one before his throat was slit.

 

Rosgode was unable to react, jostled by onlookers who were rushing in to assist their fellows. Teyvas put the glass in his mouth and held it with his teeth as he leapt onto the elder. He wrapped both arms around the mage, who was attempting some form of evasive magic, and bit down as hard as he could.

 

White fire erupted from his mouth, spewing forth a clarified heat that blinded all those who gazed upon it. Rosgode, whose head was directly in its path, was beyond such concerns about his vision.

 

***

 

Teyvas stood on the deck of the Laughing Gale, a merchant ship headed to several trading ports on the eastern coast of Duurom. He found the money to leave Dargon for good: A miracle had visited itself upon him in the form of a fracas at the Temple of Sbeppo.

 

As he waited in the area, hoping to find a templegoer headed home with too much money and too little sense, Teyvas saw a spell-tosser confronting his brethren inside a temple. The frail man rose up like a snake baring its fangs, and as the thief headed for a closer look, a white fire erupted from the mage’s mouth.

 

This sorcerous act unleashed a potent magic that left one man dead and another dying. Rather than attending to the surviving mage, his fellows worked feverishly to save a book that had become damaged. “The illustration of the birth and rebirth has been lost,” a man wailed. “That page cannot be saved!”

 

As they left to attend to the manuscript, Teyvas was able to walk into the temple and clean the altar of its golden adornments. An offering box that rattled with coins was also left behind by Sbeppo’s faithful.

 

Teyvas used the easily gained fortune to book passage on the Gale two weeks later. He watched the continent of Cherisk recede to the east as the ship headed northwest into colder waters. Finally, when the land faded from his sight, he headed down to the hold where passengers were to sleep. Filthy straw covered the floor and the blankets were threadbare and moth-eaten, but he fell asleep like the duke’s heir esconced in a feather bed.

 

“Get up, dog!” The bark of the ship’s captain was unmistakable, sounding like a shovel dragged across stones. Teyvas stumbled to stand but did not move quickly enough, and four hands pulled him to his feet.

 

Hovering next to the captain, a round face slowly came into focus for Teyvas. When it did, he did not have to ask the reason for the nighttime visit.

 

It was the teller from Tench, whose fortune was much better than Teyvas had thought when he left the man for dead.

 

“This is him,” the fat-faced man told the captain as a sailor found a blade among Teyvas’ belongings. It was the only weapon he had carried onto the ship.

 

The Wheel reader brought himself closer to the thief, and Teyvas could smell the ointment that was caked upon the man’s midsection, salve that closed the hole opened by a knife.

 

“I must offer apology to you for a mistake in your reading,” the teller said, his voice weak but deliberate. “The Wheel’s promise of a long life has been shown to be false.”

 

A blackjack was brought down upon Teyvas’ head by one of the captain’s men. As red light filled his sight, and warmth radiated from the back of his skull, the thief received the last indicator of his future from the reader.

 

“You are about to embark upon a seaborne journey,” he rasped. Two sailors wrapped the legs of Teyvas in chains, and a bloody cloth was stuffed into his mouth.

 

A hearty shout rose from the crew of the Gale as the son of bandits was tossed overboard. Teyvas landed feet-first when he reached the ocean floor, a dying sob trapped in his throat by the Wheel of Life.

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Dargon Things

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