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The Long Dark Road to Wizardry

by Richard K. Lyon

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Book V: The Three Dreams

Episode 1: Since You Have Interrupted My Breakfast,
How Do You Plan to Leave Here Alive?

Druin had come too late to save his grandfather, the wizard Mardarin, from the Thesian army’s sack of Ermont. Still communing with his grandfather’s spirit, Druin carries Mardarin’s body into an inferno.

Druin’s young cousin Breen heeds his elder’s parting words and hastens to a tower, where his bravery and skill in archery enable him to destroy the Thesian command and to open the gates to the city’s rescuers.

While Druin becomes the mysterious figure Pyre, Breen goes his own way as a soldier. But even in the course of years, the two cousins’ fates remain inextricably intertwined.

“Out of the night come terrors and wonders. Woe to the man who lets a dream enter his waking life.” — The Visions of Darmostra

To be a hero in a great war, to save a city full of innocent people from the sword is a proud thing, but the years that come afterward may be happy or full of harsh things. For Breen the years after the siege of Ermont were years of war, years of earning his living as a professional soldier, and they were both the worst and the happiest in his life.

Worst because of the cold, the rain, the mud, the long marches and short sleeps, and all the other miseries that are part of leading an army in war, none of which the boy minded, himself, but which took their toil on old Uster, to Breen’s great concern. Happiest, because at last the aged knight received the honor that was his due and that Breen had so keenly desired for him.

When Uster’s brain wasn’t working well, great and proud men moaned that a lamp they desperately needed was extinguished, and they urged Breen to take better care of the old man. When his mind was clear, those same proud men, the nobility of a nation and commanders of its armies, attended his words like dutiful children. And they won battle after battle.

After the war in Paragar there was another war and another. Uster said that a soldier’s proper home is battle, and it proved to be the old man’s last home. On a hillside overlooking a vast windswept plain under dawning iron-gray skies, Sir Uster died. He was privileged to see one last battle from his deathbed, see his plans deliver a nation from foreign oppressors, and he lingered in life till Breen returned from that battle. The boy, now become a man, came back glowing with the pride of hard victory and splattered with blood, some of it his.

Breen’s elation turned to grief when he realized Uster’s condition and, weeping, he knelt beside Uster’s bed. With his last breath the old knight blessed his grandson.

Breen continued going from one war to the next. War was now a trade he knew, and a soldier’s life suited him as well as any other. Over the years as he roamed the world, Breen occasionally heard dark rumors, tales whispered in taverns late at night when men’s tongues are loose. It seemed a new dark wizard was about in the world, a fearful being named Pyre. Though his purpose was a black mystery, ’twas woe to whoever crossed his path.

Such rumors Breen largely ignored. His life, if naught else, was a busy one and he had little time to worry what his cousin might be doing. On rare occasions, however, Breen had rather disturbing dreams.

The first came on the eve of the Battle of Rastarfarn. After checking the men of his small command one last time, Breen retired to his tent. Though sleep came quickly, in the middle of the night he found himself cold; an odd sensation, for ’twas the middle of a hot summer. He rose — or thought he did — and when his sleepfogged eyes cleared Breen stared about in puzzlement.

What am I doing here?

Before him lay a great dining hall, vast and somber, carpets as dark and red as blood; and tapestries as cold a blue as the winter ice. The long, polished ebony table was empty save for two place settings, at one of which... Breen’s eyes bulged as he stared at his host.

“Greetings, Cousin,” Pyre declared, “and welcome to Castle Ice. Since you’re my only living relative, I took the liberty of summoning you to dinner.”

The whole scene had the eerie unreal feeling of a dream, and Breen vaguely wondered if he were truly awake. Aloud he said, “Sorry, cousin Pyre, but I’ve already eaten as much as ’tis wise to eat on the eve of battle.”

“Then at least a glass of wine and some conversation.” The sorcerer moved his empty hand and began pouring wine from the bottle now in his hand into the glass Breen found himself holding. “Now,” the mage murmured smoothly, “please, dear cousin, tell me of your life.”

Slowly sipping the wine, which was quite good, Breen obeyed. When he’d finished he said, “And what of you, Pyre? The world rings with tales of your deeds, but what may be the truth of them is more than I can say.”

“I do,” the dark mage answered with a shrug, “what I must.”

“What of King Knarr?” Breen persisted. “The story is oft whispered that that mighty monarch sent his entire army against you, and you destroyed them by summoning demons.”

“’Tis true, absolutely true. Would you like to know the secret of how such things are done?”

“Well, ahh, I do have a battle to fight tomorrow...”

“Good,” Pyre replied with sardonic smile, “for it’s really quite simple. All you do is let the other side chase you through a huge field of happy poppies and then start a grass fire.”

For a moment Breen stared at his cousin, then realizing that he was being mocked, he started to shout, “That’s not...”

As his eyes sprang open Breen found that he was in his tent, sitting up in his bed.

* * *

The second dream was much worse. Abruptly Breen found that he was no longer in his bunk on the ship Bold Lady, bound for Sernar. Instead he was standing in what appeared to be a public square. To his right, some kind of vastly complex mechanism was barely visible in the dim moonlight.

“That’s the famed Ozmarall waterclock.”

Whirling, Breen saw that he was not alone. “Pyre!” he exclaimed. “You brought me here? Why?”

“A small vanity,” the black-robed mage replied. “I wanted you here for a witness. I am about to battle a monster with means dire and arcane, and soon you will see either the greatest or the last enchantment of my career.”

This reply Breen scarcely heard for the young mercenary was busy staring at his own body. It wasn’t there. Not merely did he have no body that he could see, when Breen tried to touch things he couldn’t. Though his hands felt as real as usual, they passed through anything he tried to grasp.

“Don’t worry,” Pyre told him blandly. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s just that you’re not really here. You’re still asleep in your bunk on the Bold Lady.”

“But where’s here?” Breen snapped peevishly. To his further annoyance, Pyre did not reply. Instead, the dark mage turned and strode deliberately toward the center of the square.

The water clock gurgled abruptly and with a sudden release of compressed air whistled twice.

At the far end of this square there was some sort of palace, a squat ugly structure absurdly crowned with twisting minarets. Richly clothed figures were filing slowly out of that evil-seeming palace in calm stately parade.

Watching those slowly moving sinister figures in the flowing robes, Breen remembered and shuddered. According to the grim seafarer’s tale, there was a famous waterclock, the clock of Ozmarall, in the dread city of Tehracula, a fearsome place whose ruling aristocracy were all vampires.

With legs he didn’t have, Breen sprinted after his cousin. “Pyre,” he called, “don’t you realize the danger? That’s Nestromon, the immortal Vampire King! He’s evil beyond measure, and his powers are so great he defies the very Gods with impunity!”

Despite this warning, Pyre continued advancing on the dread black assembly with long swift strides. Turning his head back ever so slightly, he whispered to Breen, “Don’t worry. You’re in no danger, because you’re not here. As for me... I’m doing what I must.”

By now Breen was close enough to Nestromon and the king’s dire retinue to see them clearly. The lords and ladies, bejeweled and dressed in silk and satin with somber elegance, moved with the grace of stalking cats, unnatural hunger glittering in their red eyes. Two guards, squat powerful creatures with faces the color and texture of wax and dead unmoving eyes, were carrying a naked blonde girl, gagged and bound hand and foot.

From the terror in her wide blue eyes and her pathetic whimpering ’twas evident she knew she’d be Nestromon’s breakfast. As Breen’s eyes traveled to the Vampire King himself, the young mercenary trembled, for never before had he seen a being so awesome. Towering head and shoulders above even the tall Pyre, Nestromon’s body was straight and slender as a willow, his face a skin-covered skull. He wore plain clothing, shirt and pants of dark red, for this king needed no ornaments to show his authority.

His eyes alone were enough: vast dark pools of evil wisdom. Those dreadful eyes were now fixed on Pyre and with fanged smile the Vampire King commanded, “Stranger, tell me what you are doing here.”

With a bow so slight as to be mockery, Pyre replied, “I’ve come here to ask you a question.”

“I am a fair man,” Nestromon replied, his smile growing wider and showing more of his glittering fangs. “Ask what you will but then you must answer my question.”

Pyre nodded agreement. “There was,” he began, “within your kingdom a certain man named Kananose, famed as the most skillful polisher of mirrors in the entire world. Where is he now?”

For an instant there was the slightest flicker in the Vampire King’s eyes, as if he found the question a trifle disturbing. “As you probably know,” Nestromon replied, “I valued the services of dear Kananose because he, and he alone, had the skill to polish a mirror to such near absolute perfection that I might see myself in it. Naturally I guarded him well, but some foolish upstart, a petty wizard named Ebbern, stole him from me. My vengeance will be swift.”

Pyre shook his head. “I fear not. The powers at work here are greater than you imagine.”

“Let that be my problem.” There was now no mistaking the hunger in Nestromon’s eyes. “Your problem, interloper, is to answer my question. Since you are guilty of interrupting my breakfast, how do you expect to leave here alive?”

Next episode: The Third Dream, a Dream Without Waking

Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon

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