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From: "Jumping Spider" <spiderjumping>
Date: 2008/03/15 Sat PM 11:05:06 CDT
To: spiderjumpingSPLATgmail.com
Subject: The Hand of Darkness, by Hommeret Auricon
CMProtocol@@JStart: Ready
The Hand of Darkness
by Hommeret Auricon
It was in the ninth month of the last year that I sat in my atelier,
staring at my work table.
There was a dark lump of metal, resting on the scarred and stained wooden
There was a sliver of bright and lustrous metal, resting in a small glass
dish, submerged in a thin layer of oil.
There was a shimmering pool of silvery liquid metal, filling another glass
And there was a single coin. Even worn, chipped and clipped the perfect
noble luster shone through.
These four objects were quite mundane. While they varied in rarity, they
were each precisely physical and solid. The episode about which I am writing
was marked in my memory by a profusion of heavy, stultifying presences that
constricted me on every side, yet had nothing of the physical about them.
But I well recall this one moment of contemplation, alone with these very
physical specimens against which I had set my intellect, free of any mental
The door opened, arresting my attention. Through it entered Aleat, my
most trusted colleague and confidant. A strange fellow; my discourse will
illuminate this in time. For all that, or perhaps because of it, he was a
great help in my work and likely the only one in the city talented enough to
keep up with me. He stood barely a step away from the door and held it ajar,
gazing at me with a customary half-grin tugging at his mouth, slightly hunched
as if hiding something near to his chest. "Visitors," he said, granting me a
I sighed. "I have no time for idle conversation," I replied. "You know
I am tied up with this work for Vekitin. I can't talk with anyone. Your
visitor will have to leave."
"Your dedication is commendable!" The door was pushed open fully by a
withered claw of a hand. I felt an upsurge of nausea and a knot in my stomach
as I gazed upon the apparition that stalked forth. Bent even farther into a
hunch than Aleat was a creature who had long since left behind middle age. Of
my own race he was, yet I struggled to recognize kinship in the twisted
limbs and darkened eyes. I stood, fighting the urge to step back as a clawed
hand reached for me, golden knots of jewelry sparkling among the cracked and
spotted skin.
"Lord Vekitin," I said, calmly as I could. "Pleased I am to see you--"
"No you aren't." Vekitin's cackle made my skin crawl anew. "No one ever
is." His hand grasped my shirt and yanked forward with absurd strength, the
strength of insanity, of dead and hardened wood. I found myself staring into
those cold, gleaming yellow eyes. "You are the best, Hommeret," he hissed.
My instincts warred within me, wanting to pull away from this decrepit
monster, wanting to abase myself and cower before him; it did not matter, for
still he clutched me in his grasp. "You are the best, and so I shall ask of
you a favor."
"Of course, my lord, anything--"
"Gold." He yanked again on my collar, cutting off my words. "Gold. In
three days."
"My lord?" My throat closes even now as I recall the desperate fight for
"In three days, you will turn lead into gold." Suddenly he thrust his arm
forward, throwing me back into my chair. "Or perhaps iron," he said, a
bizarre lightness in his tone. "I am not a slave to caprice."
"My lord!" I protested. "We've made progress, but we cannot solve the
Great Work itself in--"
"Of course I would not bid you do this alone," he continued, as though he
had never ceased speaking. "I have something here that might help." One of
his bodyguards stepped forward and tossed a large book onto my workbench,
scattering the elemental specimens.
I reached out my hand to it, clenching my fingers around the edge. Bound
in tree bark, as was traditional, cured and bound in many layers to form a
tough cover. The book was remarkable only for its size--and for the symbol
marked on its cover, one all mages knew by rumor if nothing else. "Ilsanya's
"A new translation," Vekitin commented. "More complete, we hope, than any
currently extant. Copies will be published soon, to rare dealers and such. I
figured you might find it useful before the official release. Of course I
need hardly remind you of your contractual obligations to secrecy..."
In truth I hardly remember what Vekitin was saying, so affected was I by
this moment. Before that time I had never studied more than specific sections
of the Bark, copied out more or less painstakingly to create folios treating
specific topics. A copy of my own, or at least exclusive access to one, was
more than I had ever dared hope for. I took the cover in hand and opened it.
At that moment agony struck me. An intense pain exploded in the back of
my head and worked down my spine, as if an invisible assailant were dragging
a jagged blade...In truth I do not wish to recall in detail; let me say simply
that it was pain enough to block out thought and bring forth pleas for mercy.
I fell back and stared at Vekitin, panting from the cries I must have given
forth, thankful the pain had lasted only moments.
He stood there with a slight smile marking his features. One finger was
extended; from it danged a leather strap and a small cloth bag below it. "To
focus your attention," he said. "Failure is...inadvisable."
Vekitin struck his staff against the floor and turned, hobbling out of the
darkened room. The guards followed him closely, closing the door behind...
Leaving me alone with the book. And Aleat.
"What, by all the gods, was that?" I said finally, rubbing the back of my
"I believe I know," Aleat replied. He was looking down at the Bark,
though he glanced at me every now and then. "A spell of legend, mostly
forgotten by our people...but of course we are not the only people in this
city. Among others I've most recently heard it called a 'hairlock spell'.
With you working in this lab, he could have found part of your body--a nail,
even a fleck of skin--and enchant it to create an arcane connection to your
physical being."
"A hairlock spell," I said, letting out a sigh. "That's old, dark magic."
I flexed my fingers, a nervous habit to which I must confess. "Is there any
counter to it?"
Aleat gave me a searching look. Only then did I realize that I had just
suggested disobeying my patron. But I defy any who have experienced that
agony not to search for such a way to avoid it. "There is," he replied.
"There always is. However, I believe it depends upon you outclassing the
caster in either arcane knowledge or sheer will...or, ideally, both."
"And we would be hard-pressed to find one in this city with more skill or
willpower than he."
"Even so."
"Still." My gaze had landed upon the Bark once more. "I wonder. With
such a tome as a guide..."
"I do not believe the answer will simply be found here," Aleat said. At
the time I did not wonder why he chose his words so carefully.
"True," I admitted. "Or else Vekitin and everyone else would already know
of it." As I touched the book I could not help flinching, as if fearing the
stab of the hairlock spell again. But this time, nothing stopped me from
opening the tome.
It was late into the night when I departed the lab. I did not wish to
start all-nighters yet; I knew I would need all the sleep I could scrape
together. So I dragged myself from the Bark and stumbled through the streets
of the Ivory City.
Rarely had I traveled the city at night, for it always was a strange
experience. Though darkness fell it was never complete, as the proud towers
were perennially speckled with lights and lanterns of every description, as if
it were the roosting place of a thousand thousand crawling fireflies. Never
had I seen the streets empty, even at the darkest of hours (just before the
dawn, naturally). As I wended my way through the labyrinthine avenues I
passed all manner of beings; here the squamous Sarnath haggled at a dockside
market, there a pair of Ikatak climbed up a wall to avoid me...
In truth my steps did not lead straight home. I stopped at a small chapel
frequented by my kind. To my relief, the lady Aedria was still on duty.
"I must confess to surprise that you are, ah, working this late," I said
once we had moved to a private room.
"You shouldn't be," she replied with a smile. "Our faith guides each of
us to our proper ends, does it not?"
Over the years knowing the lady I had arrived at a method of interpreting
her words. In truth she was merely speaking of the skill for divination that
all of us possessed; it was foolish of me to have forgotten. "Even so," I
said. "But that's what has brought me here tonight..."
"Your strain is obvious," she said. Her hand reached out to knot her
fingers into mine. I could already feel the warmth of her being touching me.
"You must recall that we are all connected. Each of us must learn to share
our burdens with those who care for us. Thus, together we have the strength
to overcome any obstacle."
Eventually I made my way back home. My dwelling at the time was an
apartment in a rickety old tower at the base of a high cliff, an ancient fault
in the earth. From my window I had a wonderful view of a bit of scrub
clinging to the sheer rock, and every morning I had a few minutes of sunlight
when the rays slanted down at just the right angle.
The tower had originally been built by the Ikatak and given only the
barest modification to allow habitation by other races. There was a locked
gate that allowed access to a series of poles and platforms by which one could
climb up to any of the apartments (each of which had its own individual lock,
of course). The spider-beings probably gave the climb barely a thought; I
looked at it as a source of daily exercise and a justification for low rent.
Just as I was unlocking the gate I felt a constriction around my throat.
A cord wrapped around my neck, drawing into a tight knot, cutting off my
breath. I clawed at it, but my feeble scratchings were useless. Something
pressed into my back even as the cord pulled from behind, holding me in an
impossible position, unable to move forward or back.
"Do not fulfill Vekitin's request." I believe I croaked something in
reply, but it did not matter. "Vekitin's power is waning. He will soon fall.
If you assist him, the fall will be delayed, plans will be upset. You will
feel the consequences. Assisting him is...inadvisable."
Suddenly the knot loosened and slipped away. I tumbled forward against
the gate, gasping for breath. The stones felt cool and comforting beneath me
as I drew in air. It was long moments before I regained my senses enough to
consider what had just happened.
I did not recognize the voice that had addressed me; it had been flat and
nearly emotionless, though certainly masculine. No one was visible nearby,
not even passers-by; perhaps they were smart enough to mind their own
I did not get much sleep that night after all.
CMProtocolError@@@@@@t: Datacross
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