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[edit] The Book of Minimer Randibone

[edit] Book 1: The Book of Zetria Atrian


Zetria Atrian sat on the ocean's shore. As she rested in contemplation, a sparrow flew down from the sky and alighted upon the wet sand. To Zetria's surprise, the sparrow changed form, transmuting itself into a clam that lay humbly upon the sand.

Now Zetria Atrian had learned the art of speaking with animals, plants, rocks, the wind and all manner of things. So it was not strange at all for her to question what she had just seen. Literally. "Oh curious clam," she spoke. "How do you feel now that you are no longer a sparrow? Don't you miss the warm air buoying your flight, the land stretched out below you?"

"You are extremely confused," the clam replied. "Why should a clam be interested in such things? I'm content with the sweet ocean water surrounding me. It is cold, but I barely realize it. I am tossed to and fro in the waves without a care in the world. Why should I worry any longer about the currents of air and the hunt for food?"

"If I were you, I would recall it," Zetria replied.

"But you are a [person]," the clam pointed out. "As a [person], it is your nature, given to you by the Creator, to wonder about such things. If you were a clam, it would be in your nature to sit in the sand and take your nourishment from the ocean water."

"But why did the Creator give such a wondering nature to [people]?", Zetria asked.

"How should I know?" the clam exclaimed. "I'm just a [expletive] clam!"

Then it burrowed into the sand and disappeared from Zetria's sight.


Waves washed over the clam's burrow, swirling sand around, concealing the lowly creature from her view. But the waves also exposed something in the sand. Zetria walked over and picked it up, letting the ocean wash away the silt. The object was an old turtle shell.

"Now what interest could you have in an old thing like me?" the shell asked her.

"I've just learned something from a clam, so why not a shell?" Zetria asked.

"A [person]'s viewpoint," the shell replied. "Well, if you'd like, I'll tell you about myself. I was once the shell of a turtle. A supremely enlightened creature, he lived for a thousand years and then advanced in form, becoming a dragon. As dragons have no need of shells, he left me behind and made his way to the Ocean Palace to present himself to the king of all dragons."

"You missed out on seeing that," Zetria said.

"Perhaps, but why should I care?" the shell replied. "I am a shell, and that is all I will ever be. I served my purpose and was discarded. Now I have not a care in the world, letting myself be tossed about by the sea, becoming one with the elements. Perhaps the waves will render me to powder. Perhaps a craftsman will carve me into a work of art. Perhaps you will wear me on your head. I have no way of knowing, I'm just a shell."

"I don't think I'll wear you on my head," Zetria replied, "But I would like to take you along to remind me of your words."

"That sounds like something only a [person] would do," the shell said. "If you really think I'm that useful, maybe I should share with you something I learned from the dragon."

Zetria turned the shell over and discovered it divided into nine sections, three by three, each inscribed with a mystical number. "Amazing," Zetria said, tracing the symbols. "Thank you."

"Don't bother thanking me," the shell replied. "I'm just a shell."

"Of course," Zetria said. Then she placed the shell in her sack and began to walk.


In due course Zetria Atrian came upon a gathering at a crossroads. Resting upon a soft cushion was a [man] in finely ornate robes. Surrounding him was a group of [people], mostly male, mostly old. Some were dressed in vestments even more fine than the seated one's. Some were unclean and unshaven like hermits. All were arguing loudly. As she approached, Zetria realized that the arguers were vying for the seated one's favor. That luminary raised his head and regarded Zetria with a weary face. "Ah, someone else come to prove their worth?" he asked.

"Sire," Zetria said, "I don't know how much I'm 'worth', but my humble talents are at your disposal."

Much of the arguing had quieted at this point, as the group regarded the newcomer. The seated one raised his eyebrows. "You didn't come to petition for the position of my advisor, advisor to the [King]?"

"My divinations merely said it would be a good idea for me to walk this way today," Zetria replied.

"Others have claimed the power of divination," the [King] said. At this point several scholars stepped forward brandishing implements of divination, but the [King] raised a hand and they fell silent. "Tell me about your abilities."

"My abilities, as you call them, Sire, simply encompass the patience to listen to what my shell tells me." She held out the shell and the scholars looked at it suspiciously, examining the various numbers of dots inscribed upon its surface.

"And what does your shell tell you now?" the [King] asked.

"That the simplest way to choose your advisor is with a GAME," Zetria replied. "A contest of wits."

The scholars began to argue again, but the [King] chuckled. "An excellent idea. And you have a game in mind?"

"I do," Zetria replied, smiling. "I will play any of your scholars or all of them at once. The game is called [Dozen]. The two sides take turns choosing numbers from zero to eight. The first to possess a combination of three numbers--no more, and no less--that add up to the sum of twelve is the winner."

"This day may turn out amusing after all." The [King] clapped his hands. "Start the game!"

The scholars huddled together and debated amongst themselves. Finally the one draped in exquisite purple silk robes stepped forward. "We wish to begin by choosing the number four," he intoned, as if he were reading a sermon.

The [King] scowled at this presumption. But Zetria merely bowed. "Of course, honored sir. I will respond with five."

The scholar stared at her in surprise, then turned back to his compatriots. More arguing ensued before he finally said, "Six."

Zetria nodded. "And of course I will say two."

Grumbling was heard from the knot of scholars, but the representative nodded. "One."

"I see you are grasping the game quickly," Zetria said. "Seven."

A grin spread slowly across the lead scholar's face. "Three!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, honored sir," Zetria said, bowing. "I'm going to choose zero. Seven, zero, five--I win." Ignoring the shocked stares, Zetria turned and again bowed to the [King]. "Your servant, sir."


[edit] Book 2: The Book of Kallomar Ridditum

[edit] Kallomar Ridditum's Instruction

In the days of the Ninth [Empire], Kallomar Ridditum was one of the best-known teachers of the [Lyceum]. One day his former student, Melenon Agribar, presented himself before the great master.

"Greetings and well-wishes to the great Kallomar Ridditum. Long have been the years since I last stood in this sacred grove of [???] trees, speaking to those ringed around me on the stone benches. Heavy has been my heart as I reflected upon the gentle, sun-shrouded days spent learning at your feet. And once again gladness arises in me like a summer zephyr to stand before you once again."

"Hail and ill met, Melenon Agribar. I greet you as a teacher greets a former student, with expectation of infirmity and uselessness. For I am merely old, and even in my prime I had little wisdom. For years, too, I have thought of your delicate face upturned in the sunbeams of our sacred grove. For years I have reflected on the beginning of your life and speculated as to what vistas of adventure and knowledge you were now exploring. And now you come before me without news of valiant battles or lofty philosophies. You come before me offering merely the off-key reprises of days gone past, slathered with [honey] to slip into my gullet. How quaintly charming. How utterly disappointing."

"Old teacher, you are even sharper than I do recall. I would be most surprised if you truly were afflicted with infirmity and uselessness. Allow me to explain that I came with deepest joy and reverence with an offering of sweet memories to cultivate a field of love in which we can meet once again as friends. There is no need for the bitter struggle of philosophical inquiry among two deep friends such as we."

"Dear ill-equipped student, there is nothing else that matters to me in this life, nothing that I truly can offer except the struggle of inquiry. Why should my life and soul be bitter to me? Why should I shun them when my life already features doubts and distractions enough? What I most hoped to hear from you were new plots and ponderings after your years away from my tutelage."

"Very well, out of great respect for your great wisdom, old teacher, I shall illuminate the vistas of inquiry that I have explored in my time since the grove. I shall reveal the advances in the most sacred arts of prophecy that have occupied my life."

"How exhilirated I am to hear such noble words from your sweet lips. How rapt I am with anticipation of the wonders to which you will now expose me. How joyous an occasion to hear about the interesting arts of prophecy, of minimal utility though they be."

"Dear old teacher, I see your trap immediately. You wish me to expound on the sacred role the arts of prophecy fulfill in our society and the importance with which they are endowed."

"Dear old student, I expect nothing of the sort. It is obvious that little needs to be said of the minor importance held by these arts."

"And yet they are used in all walks of life, from the humblest of fortune tellers to the highest of advisors to [kings] and [princes]. Many are the legends of divination woven into our [culture]."

[edit] Kallomar Ridditum's Instruction (2)

"Dear student, you need hardly remind me of the musty old tales that serve as the foundation of our [culture]."

"Then, my former teacher, you must admit that a study of divination is a worthwhile pursuit."

"This trap you missed, my unclever student; One does not obsess over a foundation for the lifetime of a house. One builds upon it and fulfills its potential."

"A foundation could be said to be the part of a house used most often. Every moment of every day it works to hold up the structure above. Such is the role of divination in our [society]."

"Since you appear to be hung up on this subject, my student, let us address it. How is divination used to guide one's life?"

"When one has a difficult decision, divination can provide a course of action."

"If one takes a divined course of action, who is to be commended if it turns out an ethical course, and who is to be vilified if it is not?"

"There are theories about the source of information, but none have yet been proven."

"What reasons does an individual have to undertake a divined course of action?"

"The fact that divination has revealed it to be a favorable course of action."

"My student, if there is no reason, no reward and no risk, why should anyone choose to allow divination to guide their life?"

"Divination is not consulted for simple decisions. Truly, my teacher, the strength of divination is that it may illuminate a path that was dark and previously unregarded."

"Truly, my student, one cannot simply Tank Cat into Mordor."
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"Truly, my student, one cannot simply
travel a path thoughtlessly, like an [automaton], like [errmythrefnotfound:bestfits:Sisyphus/Psyche]."

"Contrarily, my former teacher, the process of divination requires thought. A [person] cannot be kept from thinking except through the vilest excesses of tyranny. When presented with a divined course of action, the divinee cannot help but to consider it. They must think about what it may mean and why it was offered. Their minds are activated and shown connections they had heretofore missed."

"And here we come to a contradiction, my student. A foundation, while admittedly used every day, is not thought of or considered with any great frequency. You had begun your speech by praising the virtues of divination and its ability to replace thought, but now you say that it in fact encourages and even requires thought."

[edit] Kallomar Ridditum's Instruction (3)

"Once again you have brought me to a higher understanding of the world, my teacher."

"Indeed so, my former student, because like a spiral staircase we are in the same place but now higher. Of course none could gainsay the value of Divination in our lives; while we must be ever inquisitive and curious into the nature of reality, there is no reason to abandon the foundations that have brought us so far."


[edit] Book 3: The Book of Keridwen Oculet

[edit] Days of the Dark Forest - The Journal of Keridwen Oculet

Day 9: My most interesting recent discovery has been a small blue spider. It is quite hairy, the coloring almost cyan but less saturated. The eyes are the most interesting feature, dark with colored depths. This is the only spider I have ever come across to really take notice of [people] and watch us with what I can only call curiosity. The spider moves its head to track us huge creatures stumbling around the forest. And if one of us gets too close, the spider jumps backward--and continues to watch! Very intriguing.

Despite the hardships of camping out in this strange forest, I'm enjoying it. This is the first time I've really felt challenged to use everything I know, not just to perform my research and other duties, but to merely function day by day. The hunters are sworn to take care of me, of course, but I take pride in not requiring their help. Often.

Day 10: The leader of the hunters is Davadron Toluin. He's been quite kind, I would almost say solicitous, in providing for me. Of course, *I'm* the one who's supposed to find out what's edible and what's not in this forest, but the hunters perennially do things their own way. I suppose I'll have to treat one of them when he eats a bad berry. Still, they have their uses; their [tricks] for finding interesting species are almost as good as mine!

Day 11: I've procured some glass to rig up a primitive terrarium for the spiders. The hunters have caught a few for me, but it's hard to keep them around so I can study them. The spiders, that is; the hunters don't really have any choice in the matter, though I shudder to imagine what *they* think of me asking for all these silly blue spiders. I find the creatures so intriguing, but I'm not even sure why.

The hunters tell me there's a type of bee that builds hives in certain trees around here. And they say these bees do in fact create honey. *That* should prove their worth even to the hunters!

Day 12: [Expletive] tricky spiders! They can climb right up glass! Who ever heard of a spider that can climb glass? I just returned to camp to find the last one scurrying up the terrarium and out the top! I'm going to need more glass to build a *real* terrarium, [viz.], with a lid.

Well, I shouldn't fill this journal with silly things like that. The truth is that the bees are turning out quite interesting. Good quality honey with a distinctive, slightly bitter and almost smoky taste. I'm sure gourmets back home will go wild for it. As much as gourmets *ever* go wild!

What's more interesting to *me* is that the bees only build hives in a certain species of tree. The hunters call it a "bee bush"; I guess that's as good a name as any, for now. (The bees, of course, are "bush bees". How pointless.) Right now I'm getting ready for a field expedition to see these bushes for myself. In my copious spare time, of course.

Day 13: The bush has stiff branches with alternate compound leaves, with nine leaflets each. The leaflets are elongated with rounded tips and smooth edges, dark green on top and smooth white underneath. These branch-trunks spiral upward in a twisty manner I haven't figured out yet, forming a large bush. Each bush has what appears to be somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen flower stalks, quite stiff, each stretching nearly [a meter] upward. This stalk is woody and light brown, with no leaves, but a few odd ridges and structures I don't recognize. Atop each stalk is a magenta flower with a wide base, myriad short petals and both stamens and pistil in the center. The bees are often seen taking nectar from these flowers.

What's *really* interesting is that the bees build their hives between the flower stalks. The stalks are plain, nearly featureless, sticking straight up in the air for [a meter]. The hives usually join three of these stalks, as if someone had wrapped a [scarf] around the stalks and filled in the area thus delineated. Each plant has three hives with startling regularity. The whole arrangement is completely bizarre and unlike anything I've ever seen before.

I had to stop writing because Davadron just brought some amazing news.

We aren't alone in this forest.

[edit] Days of the Dark Forest - The Journal of Keridwen Oculet, part 2

Day 14: I've finally gotten the terrarium working. The spiders are happily wandering about inside. I'm going to have to get a steady supply of insects.

I don't know much about politics, I never have. These newcomers say that we're trespassing in *their* forest. From everything I've heard, no one was claiming the forest at all, and that's why we felt justified in sending a research expedition. I have this strange suspicion that the only reason the blue-armored soldiers are interested in the forest is because *we* are. Why can't they leave us alone?

Day 15: I didn't realize it, but Davadron has a startling knowledge of politics. I guess since he's the leader of this band of hunters, he's an administrator, so he would have had to deal with it before. He did confirm my suppositions; apparently the Blues have heard tales of the honey, perhaps from travelers who wandered this way before. They want it.

Day 16: I'm starting to think it would be a great crime to let the Blues have their honey. Davadron wouldn't understand...I'm not sure I understand it yet myself, but this forest is more delicate than anyone realizes.

The spiders *can* spin webs! But they only spin single threads. Before they jump from somewhere they fasten a 'safety line' so they can climb back up.

Day 17: I've realized that some of the nodules and structures on the flower stalks provide starches and sugars that the bees ingest. They don't just get nectar from the flowers, it comes from the entire plant. But this poses a question; How did the nodules evolve in the first place? What's their purpose?

We found some bee bushes stripped of their hives today. Davadron said it was the Blues' work. It was hard to look at. I know they were just bees, but to me it was tragic. I can't explain it. Especially not to Davadron.

The trees with no hives are also missing their leaves, but Davadron says the Blues didn't take them. One of the hunters watched the Blues harvest and he says the leaves weren't affected. And there was another group of trees with leaves stripped off but hives intact. I have this strange feeling there's more to this story than we yet realize.

Day 18: Maybe I shouldn't hope mysteries get solved. There's another faction of beings in this forest. Strange reptilian creatures, but Davadron says he can communicate with them. He calls them Hedges, I think, I don't know why.

The Hedges stripped the leaves from the bee trees. From what I can deduce they get some medicinal value from them. They don't care about honey. Why are there all these people trying to destroy this forest? Why did we even come here in the first place? We should go back to our city and leave them to fight it out.

Another minor mystery solved; With the hives gone, herbivores eat the leaves from the bee bushes. The bees, when present, sting anything that tries that.

Day 19: Davadron is trying to negotiate with the two factions. The hunters are better at tracking and fighting in this forest than anyone else, with Zetria's [tricks] helping. Davadron doesn't want to fight, though, and I don't blame him. When I tried to suggest retreating he yelled at me. It hurt, but it hurts more to see him under such pressure. I still don't see why we had to leave our city. Why doesn't anyone know what to do? I've gone through all my books and they don't have anything useful at all. My head is spinning.

[Expletive] I forgot to feed the spiders. There's only one left. I should have remembered spiders could become cannibalistic under conditions like this.

One of the hunters left me a gift. A nine-holed flute made from beeswax. I know what it can do, and that is not the right path. But I don't know what is.

Day 20: I dreamed that all the old teachers and heroes were yelling at me for not knowing what to do. It ended with Kallomar Ridditum himself berating me. He told me that *he* had no idea what to do, because he was in the past, and I needed to look to the future. He told me I had everything I needed.

When I woke up I felt a lot better.

I know why the bees live in the bushes and why the bushes have their bees. I know why the spiders jump. I've figured it all out. I know what I have to do.

I just don't know if I can pull it off...

[edit] Days of the Dark Forest - The Journal of Keridwen Oculet, part 3

Day 22: The negotiations went well. The Blues are greedy folk, very interested in the honey. They would say "their honey", but I wouldn't. Because they were so interested, they assumed they would have to give something in return, so I asked them to cede ownership of the trees. They agreed.

Day 24: I was extremely impressed with Davadron today. The Hedges are such strange creatures, but he was able to negotiate with them with patience and skill. His range of talents is astounding. Well, in any case these talks were also successful. The Hedges want leaves from the trees, and in return they have agreed that we own the bees who nest in them. Now comes the tricky part.

Day 25: It worked. We did it. We made it happen. I still can't believe it.

The Blues and Hedges finally met today. Davadron brought them together. The Blues want honey, of course, and they do it by stealing the entire hive. But that destroys the bees, and the Hedges have promised the bees to us. And the Hedges want leaves, but the harvesting kills the trees...which the Blues have promised to us. So either faction pursuing their goals would violate the treaties made by the other one. And neither wants to get into that conflict.

The real truth, of course, is that they were already connected and they didn't realize it. Without leaves, the trees die and stop providing the sugary food to the bees, who also die. Without bees to sting the herbivorous animals of the forest, the trees would have their leaves eaten and also die. The two life forms have evolved together. The flower stalks provide the bees with food and homes. The bees having learned to build their homes in the trees, defend them.

The Blues and Hedges have to work together. We're going to try to find a way that they can get what they want without destroying everything. No, we *will* find a way. We can harvest *some* leaves and *some* honey, without killing anything. This is a lesson we will *make* them learn.

And now Davadron is organizing a celebration that I should attend.

Day 27: Now that this expedition is coming to a close, I'm thinking about everything that's happened to me. It's hard to believe it all happened in less than a [month]. I started out just a girl who liked books and studying plants and animals. And now I've become something like a leader. Davadron and I were able to do what I thought was impossible, preserve these beautiful life forms. I know we'll have a great future together, like a spider jumping into the unknown but keeping a connection to the knowledge we've already gained.

I can't wait to see where he and I will go next.


[edit] Book 4: Book of Hommeret

[edit] The Hand of Darkness by Hommeret Auricon, part 1

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 surface.

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 dish.

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 burdens.

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 nod.

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 air.

"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 Bark?"

"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 head.

"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.

[edit] The Hand of Darkness by Hommeret Auricon, part 2

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."

[edit] The Hand of Darkness by Hommeret Auricon, part 3

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 business.

I did not get much sleep that night after all.

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