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Ralph Nicholls

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Fighting the Good Fight
By Ralph Nicholls
Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Ralph Nicholls
· Saddle Sore
· And the Rains They Came A-Tumbling Down
· A Trail Grown Cold
· Legend of Legend: a disallusioned knight seeks the Truth
· The Death of Bertram Hildegarde
· Exploring Ruins
· Return of the Justiciar
           >> View all 19

Fighting the Good Fight is an excerpt of an as yet unpublished novella based on the now self-published science fiction-fantasy game Legacies of the Artificer( which i helped name and extensively collaborated in developing), by Legacy Games, Inc.

Seisday, the 16th of Tarsakh,
830th year of the 4th Era
Great Tree - upper canopy, Eleusia

Gaerlen leaned over the railing of the skywalk looked down upon the bustling citizens of the community of the Great Tree and sighed. He were an urbanite born and bred and this pastoral vista left him feeling somewhat unsettled. These elves walked about like they had not the slightest care in the world. That is with the exception of the lincoln green liveried wardens who stood out somewhat from the other elves who also wore various earth tone shades of clothing. Gaerlen came to central Eleusia at the behest of his birth mother(Gaerlen had only just come to know he were adopted on the Birthing Day he became an adult.), Bethyraine who herself was a long time friend of the Ambassador of Talus, Igorbre Osmanti. Osmanti were a Grey Elf and they often found fault with the doings of their Wood Elf and Silver Elf cousins. Talusia (at least the region that comprised and surrounded Dragon Bay) had become highly industrialised But the Silver and Wood Elves who populated the walled treetop city of the Great Tree had done little to strengthen the fortifications of their enchanting( and growing) metropolis. Great magics allowed the city to grow larger in population without growing overmuch outwards. Or so claimed its citizens.

Gaerlen sorely missed the daily, almost hourly sounds of whistles calling workers back to the foundry and to the steamworks power plants that dotted Dragon Bay. True, the aeromancers aquamancers and geomancers employed by the ruling council of Dragon Bay had to work harder to keep the air and water around Dragon Bay clean (if not pure). But the level of mass production was worth that cost. At least Gaerlen thought so. He were born to wealth owed in part to industrialisation. And had never wanted for food, drink or fashionable evening attire. Until the Rube Ministry and the Church of the Holy body had come and confiscated practically everything the Starrkion family had owned. They would be a long time in getting a lot of it back. Not all, certainly. But a lot. While in Great Tree, Gaerlen was staying with Osmanti's cousin four times removed, Egmodro Inatis, in his lofty summer cottage. What were situated high in a treetop neighbouring the colossal Great Tree for which the city (if one really insisted upon calling it that) had been named. Inatis had another cottage further down the trunk of his family's tree, but the family only usually lived in it during the cooler seasons of the year. Cause the surrounding trees formed a sort of windbreak.

With so many magic-using elves around (as well as the powerful emanations given off by the Great Tree itself) Gaerlen found plenty of energies to siphon out of the ether to increase his own conductivity. This were another reason the Starrkion family had chosen to deposit Gaerlen in Great Tree…Despite his personal choice of attire (and the many supposedly magical accoutrements he carried about on his person) Gaerlen could not cast spells from spellbooks and scrolls like other magic-users and he only spent time pretending to meditate and commit spells to memory. There was not even a rune of power that held a magical influence over his life. And it was a matter over which he was deeply and grievously ashamed. And an one which he took great strides to keep hidden even from his closest acquaintances. Gaerlen had no true friends. And not because he could not attract them to himself (like he did others' magics). But because he would not allow himself any. In this he was completely unlike his erstwhile adventuresome birth mother. Or even his adopted one, Kariska Starrkion.

"Have a care you do not fall to your death, young Gaerlen!"

Gaerlen started. Then he immediately recomposed himself. It would not do to be seen to be rattled by an unexpected greeting. He looked and saw it were Aethelgifa, one of his tutors hired by Master Anatis to help Gaerlen in his magical studies. Normally he would have bridled at such an effrontery. But circumspection showed him the hiring really had not been intended as an insult. His birth mother was merely trying to make amends with her estranged son. In the only way she knew how.

"I will not fall, ", Gaerlen replied. "Too many of my classmates would rejoice to hear of my most unfortunate demise. An' I will no give them th' satisfaction."

"Now there's the Gaerlen we have all come to know and love.", intoned a short somemat pudgy Grey Half-elf, standing at the tutor's side. Even without shielding his eyes against the sunlight filtering its way through the trees canopies Gaerlen recognized the half-elf as Oeric. Oeric was a jack-of-all-trades and a self-proclaimed master-of-none. Oeric was likeable in a way Gaerlen never had been. In a way Gaerlen had never allowed himself to become for fear of having his dreadful secret discovered. And as usual, Oeric was not alone. Other students, mostly young women, were with him. For Oeric was very handsome. If somemat too fond of good food and ale. And clever. Almost as clever as Gaerlen himself. If not more so.

"Ahai, Gaerlen.", piped Estrith. Estrith was a Wood Elf and specialised in the school of hedge wizardry. "We missed you in class, today. "

"Did ye o'er sleep, again? Silly man.", intoned Wynflaen. Her tone of voice bespoke her belief that Gaerlen had done nothing of the sort. Wynflaen were a Silver Elf and an apprentice aeromancer.

"He spent the morning daydreaming more belike.", interjected Ealthrae. Ealthrae was an apprentice enhancer. "Gaerlen has all the makings of a first rate artificer. And none of the ambition. ", she added in a quieter voice. To any but Gaerlen it would have been clear she intended the latter statement to neutralise the severity of the former. But Gaerlen only had ears for the insult.

"Tis no one's business but mine how I spend my day." Gaerlen grumbled. " I occupy my mind with deeper matters than any of you could possibly understand. We human wizards are not like you Elves."

"Oh, is that so?", Wynflaen asked, archly. "How are you humans so different from us Elves? I should like to hear this " It were already an old argument and the debaters' positions seemed to change every time there was repartee between Gaerlen Starkkion and Wynflaen Avonlae. It were clear to the extraordinarily observant Oeric that there were some undeniable physical attraction between the two verbal combatants. And that Gaerlen was equally intrigued by her intelligence and wit. But Gaerlen Starrkkion was threatened by Wynflaen, somehow. This was painfully obvious. At least to Oeric it were. Prudence told Oeric that he should help Gaerlen protect his privacy. That in time the recalcitrant human would find the courage to crawl out from beneath his self-made shell. But Oeric also had a bit of the fae in him. And he could not also not resist in trying to bait his friend a bit. It were this trait of being unafraid to reach down and take hold on the sleeping manticore's tail and give it a firm yanking that made Oeric such a popular student at the School of Wizardry. He had yet to find himself in a spot he could not either talk himself out of. Or that his uncle, Cecil Humboldt, could not rescue him from. somehow. Usually all it took was the offer of receiving some scholarship of one sort or another to smooth out all the rough edges. If this did not work there was always some type of actual monetary bribery that could be made. And if all else failed Oeric's rich uncle Humboldt would offer the person(or persons) Oeric had offended some minor enchanted article or other. Usually it took no more than this.

"Have a care, Gaerlen,", Oeric warned his dour schoolmate. "Methinks the lady is baiting thee, again."

"Why, of course she is trying to bait me.", Gaerlen replied turning and sweeping the fold of his robes about with a flourish.

Estrith took a hopping half-step backwards. Estrith's instinct told her she did not want the mysterious Gaerlen Starrkkion to touch her. Even indirectly. She had heard rumours of strange things that had happened to others when they had touched him. Or possibly when he had touched them. Nothing fatal. But definitely detrimental to their spell-casting ability. If the rumours were to be believed.

"When is our dear Wynflaen no trying to bait some one? She seems to think it her purpose in life to try and bait the unwary. Oh, but she wastes her time with me."

Oeric coughed at Gaerlen's parting jibe. He almost laughed aloud but caught himself just short of doing so. It were one thing to jest and poke fun at the cagey Gaerlen Starkkion. But to risk the ire of one of the most influential (and prettiest) girls on campus could quickly escalate to social ostracism. Ostracism was one thing Gaerlen, on the other hand, had no reason to fear, so far as Oeric could see. He was not well liked in any event. His stay at Great Tree was expected to be short lived. And he would not be attending the School of Wizardry, at all. Save that he had a wealthy, unknown benefactor paying for his tuition, spell books and spell components. Amongst other things. A popular rumour going around the school had it that Gaerlen's unknown benefactor was themself an alumnus of the school. Others had it that the faculty or the school itself owed a debt of honour to Gaerlen's benefactor. Whatever the case, Gaerlen was not the sort to go out of his way to make life unbearable for someone who had benefited him so much. Even if it did call unwanted attention to himself. Exactly what Gaerlen Starkkion had to hide Oeric did not know. But he was determined to ingratiate himself to the secretive young man. And in time he would find out. Both for his own gratification. And for his superiors in the resistance. They had told him to be on the look-out for anything strange or unusual. Gaerlen fitted that bill on both scores. The question remained was he to be reckoned a force for good? Or for evil?

But Wynflaen Avonlae was not an ignorant young woman. And she did not fail to notice Oeric took some small pleasure at her discomfort. Colour rose in her cheeks and her tiny hands curled into fists at her side. Her almond shaped hazel-green eyes blazed with feminine fury. And she turned this fury not on Gaerlen Starkkion. But on the unhappy Oeric.

"And ye!", she growled archly "Do no think I have not noticed ye…laughing at me behind my back! Oeric. This human laughing at me is one thing. I have come to expect it of him! Most of us have. But ye! Ye should know better. Perhaps, I should have my father speak to your uncle."

"You let our Oeric alone, Wynflaen Avonlae!", Estrith interjected defensively. "Everyone at the school knows what an absolute Drow ye are, at times."

'Now, children,", Aethelrifa tsked. "There's no reason to be calling one another such dreadful names. Gaerlen Starkkion can no more be faulted for being born a Human than you can be faulted for having been born an elf."

Gaerlen quick stepped away for his tutor and the young Elves. The magical staff in his hand quivered as though it were a live thing and could sense the magical energies held in reserve inside their bodies. It had been ensorcelled to attract and absorb such energies deflecting them away from its wielder. And immediately back at the attacker. Or held in reserve for a later casting. But paired with Gaerlen's magical conductivity the staff became a much more powerful talisman. Equipped with the staff Gaerlen truly became a force to be reckoned with. Even the most experienced master wizard would hesitate to engage Gaerlen in a duel of magic while he held the staff clasped in his hand. And strong emotions such as anger or the stress of holding his anger at bay always strengthened Gaerlen's conductivity. And this made him a threat to other magic-users whose company Gaerlen Starkkion kept. And this was the reason Gaerlen preferred to keep to himself. And not because he did not want or need the companionship offered by others. His was a power only a few little known sages could comprehend. Such a power made others who did not understand it become filled with feelings of distrust and fear. And this fear posed a threat to Gaerlen's very life. This power was one of the chiefest reason he had been sent to stay at Great Tree. The agencies that served the Rube Ministry would find it difficult to successfully infiltrate the population. And find Gaerlen here.

But doing this was not impossible. And the dreaded Rube Ministry (or their allies with the Church of the Holy Body) was not above attempting (and sometimes achieving) that what others considered impossible. This was another of the chiefest reasons Gaerlen had been sent to Great Tree. His survival depended on his finding someone to help him more fully understand (and hopefully come to develop some degree of mastery over) his mysterious power. And until he did everyone he cared about ( and who cared about him) would remain in utter jeopardy. Complications arose from the fact he could not have his search for such an unique individual become public knowledge. If he was to find a mentor he had to do it in absolute secrecy. And it had to remain a secret between the two of them alone. Or both of their lives would come to be in the gravest sort of danger.

Certainly Gaerlen had yet to see any evidence that would have led him to believe he would remain safe for very long. Not if such a thing were to become made known.

"Where are you going, Master Starkkion?", Aethelrifa called after her charge. "Lord Anatis will want to know if the school informs him you have been skipping out of classes, again. And I will not know what to tell him, if you do not tell me."

"I go to the Fount. To pray and to meditate. But feel free to tell Lord Anatis whatever you like. I am a man grown. I am a guest in his home. Aye, s'truth. But I am no a foster child what needs looking after every waking hour of the day. "

Gaerlen said this knowing the tutor would take no actual offense. It was merely an act he and she put on for the public. Emogordo Anatis would never have even considered taking an absolute stranger into his home. Much less a non-Elf stranger. Certainly Lord Anatis did not have all the facts. But he must know Bethyraine well enough to have taken her biological son into his home. And she had never been entirely forthcoming about every facet of her adventurous life. She would not have wanted Anatis to know anything about her or her offspring that could be used to unnecessarily endanger Anatis or his family. It was no secret some members of the Rube Ministry could delve into the minds of passes-by and glean information that could prove instrumental in furthering the goals of the Rube Ministry. And endanger the lives of those who had access to such information.

Gaerlen did not wait for a verbal reposte. It did not matter what the tutor had to say after this. All the necessary messages had been conveyed. And received. Lord Anatis would not ask where his houseguest was during the time he was allegedly absent from his spell-casting classes. He really did not want to know. If a hired assassin were to slay Lord Anatis in an endeavor to find Gaerlen, certain of Bethyraine contacts in Great Tree would find the enchantress' son. And bear him away to a safe house. Even if the assassin had necromantic skills or had a necromancer accompanying him or her, Anatis' spirit could not divulge the location of it.

Gaerlen's longer legs and naturally quicker stride very shortly carried him far away from Oeric and the others. Smiling in a lop-sided matter he hoped Wynflaen Avonlae would find endearing (or at least mollifying) the handsome Half-elf observed that Gaerlen did indeed seem to be headed up towards the Fount, the holy of holies in the worship the Mogen David. The Fount was the highest point to be found in all of Great Tree. The walls of the Fount were constructed of pure crystal. And the crystal had a magnifying effect on the surrounding vista. From inside the Fount a person could literally see the surrounding woodlands for miles and miles around. In the centre of the Fount sat an elaborately decorated porcelain scrying pool fed with spring water. And magical energies that were forced up from below by natural gases what formed deep underground in a massive pool fed by well over a dozen tributaries. They reached out for dozens of miles in every conceivable direction. The magical energies that flowed up into the Fount came from the very heart of the Great Tree for which the woodland city had been named. Here the influx of available magical energies overloaded Gaerlen's mysterious conductivity. And he could safely relax his self-imposed constraints. No magic-user in his or her right mind would even consider attempting a spell-casting from inside the Fount. To do so would almost certainly have brought about their instantaneous annihilation.

And yet there was no place in all of Great Tree where Gaerlen Starkkion felt as safe and secure as inside the Fount.

"Thought I would find ye here.", rasped a figure, suddenly appearing from the shadows. Gaerlen thrust his wizards staff towards the figure, who laughed derisively. "Put the staff, away, boy. I mean you no harm. I am a friend of yer mother's. She asked me to pop round. And look in on you. She wanted to be sure you had gotten yer package. Just a token few souvenirs accumulated during a lifetime of adventuring. Part of yer inheritance, truth be told. But do not look to acquire it all any time soon. Yer mum is a tough old bird. Unexpected happenstances aside, she could easily outlive the lot of us."

"And who might you be?", Gaerlen asked warily. "How am I to know you are truly whom you claim to be?"

"Awww! You have already made a potentially fatal mistake, Master Starkkion.", the stranger admonished. "You have told me, a stranger, that you are indeed Gaerlen Starkkion, the son of Bethyraine. Rather you should have asked me what package I spoke of. And who would have sent you such a thing. any roads."

Gaerlen shook his head slightly.

" I know somemat about the way my "mother" does things,", he said quietly. There remained the slight chance of their conversation being overheard, after all. "I am not a complete imbecile. If she did not know you…and perhaps have even sent you to look in on me as you say, you would not even know about that package. Nor would you have been aware that this staff came to be mine only after I had received it."

"You are Bethyraine's child, alright.", chuckled the stranger dressed in a ranger's livery. Gaerlen also noticed the stranger was either a Half-elf. Or made up to look like one. "You have her quick wit. And her sense of skepticism. I can spot you studying me, even now, noting things about my speech and manner of dress others might easily over have a look. And to answer at least one of yer questions, no. I am not a Half-elf. Though many a man is taller than me. Tis only truth.", he interjected raising his hand as though to wave away any objection Gaerlen might have proffered. As if by magic a slim finely crafted throwing dagger appeared in his hand rolling off his nimble fingers and streaking towards Gaerlen in a seemingly single fluid motion.

"No!" Gaerlen cried out in despair and instinctively thrust his staff out as though to deflect the slender missile. The dagger swerved from its own natural pathway thru the air and struck the staff Gaerlen held about a full foot away from his whitened fingers and ricocheted away. At the same instant a shocking bright multi-colored spray of light sprang from Gaerlen's brocaded mantle and enveloped him head to toe. When the magical light faded Gaerlen saw his would-be assailant had somehow removed himself from the spot on what he stood.

"Good," the stranger rasped over Gaerlen's right shoulder. Then he deftly reached around and plucked the staff out of Gaerlen's nerveless fingers. "You have been practicing with yer mother's gifts. But you still have a ways to go in learning to defend yourself from attacks made from close quarters. Had I been sent to assassinate you I could have handily enough done."

Seisday, the 16th of Tarsakh,
830th year of the 4th Era
Great Tree - upper canopy, Eleusia

Gaerlen looked at the man his birth mother had sent to check up on him through narrowed eyes, his thin lipped mouth held in a firm, hard line. The swiftness and ease with the which the other had disarmed him, frightened him more than words can have expressed. He had deluded himself into thinking that he was nigh untouchable. If the other man had used magic directly against him he might have been. but the assassin, for now knowing how stealthily and quickly he could move and Gaerlen could think of him as little else, had disarmed him, rendering him defenseless without doing so. Yes, he had thrown a dagger at Gaerlen and this dagger had been ensorcelled otherwise it might well have pierced his wildly beating heart. But the man had used no magic merely to reach out and take Gaerlen's wizard's staff away from him. He felt the nigh irresistible urge to loose his bowels inside his pantaloons, and he could not trust himself to so much as move lest his legs tremble and collapse beneath him, thus betraying Gaerlen of the sheer degree of the terror and growing self-loathing he experienced.

"Calm yourself, young Gaerlen.", intoned the other. "You are safe with me, now. Leastways, as safe as you can be with anyone, anywhere, or ever have been since the very hour of your birthing. But be mindful of this, others, even a platoon of Rubes have as much reason to be afraid of you. True a mundane bullet can pierce your heart and kill you. Even a dagger, whether magickal or not, can do. But you are a wizard, at least others will always see you as being such, so long as you choose to wear the type of attire that you do and will always undoubtedly come at you with the thought that they are coming at you, a skilled wizard of uncommon power and proficiency in mind. Nevermind that you are a mere wizardling. And perhaps not even that. Perhaps, more; perhaps, much more. Your mother, Bethyraine, has Fae blood running though her veins and thus also have you, boy. Though i do not know, nor can anyone know, how or to what degree this can, has, or will affect the magic that you do. "

"Do!?" , croaked Gaerlen, finally finding his voice again. "I canst not do any magic! That's the whole point of the subterfuge i've been perpetrating my whole life, isit? I canst not call the scantest spark of flame into being, canst not raise a tiny pebble to rise and meet me off the ground at my feet–"

'Ahhh, " the older man waved off dismissively. "You speak of the magicks of the pyromancer and the geomancer…And neither canst yer mother do either of those things, either. Nor canst i. Your mother, the Maker bless her, is a master enchantress. Yet you, her son, are not such an one. And yet, and still you can trick and deceive another with almost a great an efficacy as she hath ever done in all her life. You perform sleight of hand better and with more effortlessness than anyone else i have ever met. And this is saying alot. Others feel the emanations yer body gives off when they even come close to touching you and do not know why-"

" I dost not know why, myself, man!" , Gaerlen snapped, though still not quite capable of commanding his great and abiding fear enough to make the command in his voice ring true .

If the other was the least bit taken aback or insulted by the sheer effrontery, he did a superlative job of not allowing even a trace of this to show. Save only in the slightest narrowing of his eyes.

"Of course you don't. boy. You've still away to grow yet."

" I really wish you'd quit calling me that. I am not a boy; i am a man, 44 years of age."

"Oh, but you are a boy, still."

"But how canst such a thing be?", Gaerlen argued with only a modicum less fierceness. Fear and its passing away emboldened him, more than he can have thought possible.

"The answer is quite elementary, Young Gaerlen.", replied the other evenly. "You are not a Human. You, Gaerlen Starkkion are a Detzunian. And you are a magick Conduit."

Seisday, the 16th of Tarsakh,
830th year of the 4th Era
Great Tree - upper canopy, Eleusia

" And what In the Name of the Mogen David is a "conduit, sir?", asked Gaerlen favoring the other with a querulous look. For Gaerlen, having lived a life full of mystery and intrigued, enjoyed delving into other mysteries supremely.

"You may call me Morkney, young Gaerlen. Though others to the which i am far less kindly disposed, sometimes call me the Crimson Shadow or the Red Death; though as i've been given to understand there is an other who likewise is referred as such, a vile, despicable creature that serves the Fallen Lord and whom i should very much like to meet one day; and kill. His soul is already in Xodod, but i should like sending the rest of him there, as well. To answer yer next question i am known as i am for the blood red cloak i wear that turns me all but invisible to those who would otherwise see me, exercising my unique talents. As you might guess i am a Detzunian, like yerself. But i was seduced by a very much darker art in my youth, that of the necromancer. I later repented of my sins, but found my gifts for producing murder and mayhem came in quite handy in visiting destruction who swore fealty and gave their allegiance to the Adversary. I became an avenging angel, of sorts, a vigilante and a nightcrawler . When a Rube and i meet in a place of darkness, the Rube does not walk out into the light, again. That i shall have to give an account of my dark deeds before i walk amidst the green, green grasses of the Elysium Fields i have no doubt. But this is how i, Morkney, serve the Mogen David.

"Alright. I suppose that as you are helping my mother, rather than assassinating me, you consider me a non-threat to the Forces of the Light. Or, at least not beyond redemption such as were you, yourself. Is this a magick cloak you wear then? And why aren't you wearing it, now? Rather than risking exposure as a non-elf as you are here?", Gaerlen asked, as he felt his great fear and trepidation continue to fade away.

"Would you not the rather learn more about your heritage as a Detzunian? Or learn what it means to be a Conduit?"

"No," Gaerlen replied matter-of-factly. "For i know somemat of what a Detzunian is and i know i am not an one."

"Uh-huh," Morkney grunted noncommittally. "Yer mother told me i ought expect such skepticism from you. And knowing herself so well as i do, i'm surprised i didst not heed her sound advice. I do not often make such mistakes. It is not healthy, shall we say, for me to do so.", Morkney smiled humorlessly. "But now to answer yer question, i didst not wear the cloak, as least outwardly, because it is a type of calling card for my which i use in my deeds done in darkness to try and spread fear and distrust amongst the Rubes, whose practices and devices i have come to learn of and understand, to a degree as i stalk them. these soulless creatures are not easily frightened, tis true . But they can be thrown into confusion, with a wee bit of practice and a little imagination. The cloak is not magick in the same way that magick is understood by most magick-users today. It is made of an arcane magick-tek material, this cloak, and elves and dwarves with their warmvision canst see me whilst i wear it, whereas others canst not. It is made of an arcane material that refracts light or bends it away from itself, is how i believe a learned master artificer once explained it too me. Wearing the cloak does not allow me to actually pierce the veil that separates this world from the Place of Shadows, though i once had such a cloak, only to have it stolen quite away by some thief or other. I've not since been able to recover that cloak, which differs in my crimson one, as it does not wish to be found. At least not by me. If it is sentient, as i have come to believe it was; perhaps, it did not enjoy the taint of darkness on me.", Morkney concluded laughing humorlessly, again.

Seisday, the 16th of Tarsakh,
830th year of the 4th Era
Great Tree - upper canopy, Eleusia

"Your cloak was sentient, did you say?", queried Gaerlen Starkkion thoughtfully.

"Uh-huh. Aye; yes, this i did.", replied the assassin-vigilante

"How does a thing do this; gain sentience, i mean?", Gaerlen coaxed. He had no space magick he could use, like his mother, Bethyraine, but he earnestly wanted to understand as much as he could come to know about the mysterious inner workings of true magick. To his irritation, Morkney shook his head and smoothed his goatee.

"I dunno, ", replied the other. "Beyond the ability to shunt which i became born into when my living soul and spirit came to abide within a Detzunian form. there's not very much i understand about true magick, at all. I am not a magick-user. I'm an assassin and at one time i dabbled–well, more than a bit dabbled in necromancy, which is a dark, evil and wicked magickal art better left unpracticed, by anyone. Those who are caused to depart from this world are meant to remain amongst the dead, after all."

"Yes, yes, ", Gaerlen started impatiently. "I agree, of course. But that's not answering my question, now, isit? I care little enough about gaining the ability to deal with moldering corpses."

"Don't be so quick to dismiss necromancy, nor those foul creatures who practice that dark art, outright, for as i have been given to understand that yer power of conductivity is not so very different than a wight's power to suck the lifeforce out of a living being."

"The Xodod you say!", gasped Gaerlen appalled

"Tis truth only i speak, young Gaerlen. And tis why you are so greatly to be feared."

"Feared?", stammered Gaerlen. "Why am i to be feared, when everything frightens me so?" Belatedly he realised that he'd allowed Morkney to unmask him. And most irritating of all, it hadn't been very hard to do, at all. He was fervently beginning to wish this assassin hadn't come to visit him like this. Gaerlen was beginning to learn more about himself than he could ever have thought he'd wish to know. And, as yet, the man sent by his mother, had actually told Gaerlen very little about himself that he hadn't already known. And some he definitely didn't believe. Or that he didn't want to believe.

"Tis good you know fear, so long as you don't allow that fear to rule itself over you. Fear teaches awareness and respect for the one, or thing, that is feared. Fear is crippling and debilitating and sometimes can even kill if one fears strongly enough. But without fear, "Morkney rushed his words sensing he was about to be interrupted, again. Gaerlen was so very much like Bethyraine, his mother, and Morkney's dearly beloved friend; and one time consort. "Without a good healthy dosage of fear in his heart a man could not possibly survive long enough to even achieve manhood."

"How do you figure?", asked Gaerlen mollified. And he was eager, as ever, to learn something more.

"Were you not afraid of fire, and of being burned, would you not thrust yer hand into a blazing bonfire, out of sheer curiosity?"

"As a child, perhaps… Ohhh!"

"You see my point, then. And that is good. Yer depth of understanding gives me hope for yer survival in the days and weeks to come.", Morkney relied, and realised only belatedly that he'd said more than he'd meant to do.

"Days!? Weeks?!", Gaerlen gasped loudly. Too loudly; if he continued to make such outbursts mightn't he get to himself unwanted attention, even high atop the community below, up here in the Font?

"You must try and keep yer voice down, young Gaerlen; even here in the Font.", the assassin said looking warily about. "No safer place in all of Eleusia is there than here to discuss such things as i am with you, now, but and you aren't careful you canst be overheard, even here."

Seisday, the 16th of Tarsakh,
830th year of the 4th Era
Great Tree - upper canopy, Eleusia

"How can you be so certain i am Detzunian? Are you able to smell it on me? Is that the way it works; one Detzunian can tell if another person is a Detzunian by the way he, or she, smells?"

Morkney laughed humorlessly. "Something like that. Only with you the "smell" isn't there. No, it's something more intrinsic than pheromones. And, gramercy, don't ask me where i came by that terminology. The half of what i've learned from others over the decades wouldst make yer head spin. Suffice it to say isn't the way you smell.."

'Then what pray-tell is it?"

"It's the ever so slight taint of the netherworld that lingers around a Detzunian. Not a smell, exactly, though there is that, too. But the taint of one who has been through the astral plane that skirts the realm of Zodo and has returned to the realm of the living, again. But not like an undead…hard to explain, actually."

"And am i to understand that a Detzunian acquires this taint while shunting?"

Morkney nodded soberingly. "Uh-huh. One who is a Detzunian acquires it whilst in the act of shunting. Just so."

"Then this proves that i canst not be a Detzunian, for i have never "shunted". And if i had , surely you, or an other couldst have detected this taint of the realm of the Fallen One on me, isit? Even as a Human i have failed at every attempt to perform any magick of mine own. I know! I have tried, time and again."

"Aye, "replied Morkney. "That i very much suspect you have and often, in secrecy, for all you Starkkion's are a passing stubborn lot; as is your birth mother Bethyraine. And i've never known her to be able to leave well enough left alone. At least not for very bloody long. But, now, tell me this, young Gaerlen; have you ever actually tried to shunt. Not call up fire or levitate rocks or cause a cloudburst–but shunt, as per a Detzunian?"

"What simpleton dost you take me for, Morkney?", queried Gaerlen. " I am Human, else have always believed myself to be so, wherefore wouldst i have tried to doeth a thing so alien to me? I have lived amongst Humans, all my life and hath only met one or two of the Detzunians in all my 44 years, before this day, and they didst not knowst me for to be one of them."

"Then how, praytell dost ye knowst you canst not shunt and you hadst never even tried.? Listen to me now, young Gaerlen; listen. You are Detzunian! Both yer mother and father were Detzunian, so ye canst not help but be Detzunian yourself. the Detzunian are born with the basic stuff needed to shunt. All full blooded Detzunians are, but most do not comest into their ability to do so until after their sixtieth year of life. Some sooner, some later, but most by then. Perhaps, if ye canst not yet shunt you hath not come into the full of yer bloom, yet."

Gaerlen shook his head and waved the assassin-vigilante to be silent a moment. This was all sooo very much for even him to try and take in and try and assimilate in but one feeding of his mind. It was only then that Gaerlen Starkkion realised he had quite naturally, effortlessly really, had fallen into speaking that most ancient tongue of Destunian High Court speech. But the truly shocking thing was Destunia no longer even existed! It had been swallowed up like many another continent in the world of Nor'Ova by the overwhelming O'Lennon Ocean. Only the most ancient of text, sequestered and held under the most secure form of security, even spoke of that destroyed civilization, anymore. Gaerlen himself only knew of it, because like all mysteries that had inexorably called out to Gaerlen Starkkion, this too had positively cried out to him in the cold dead of night to be explored.



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