Powers and Perils

The Life of Abnaric Elgar

By Abnaric Sabree


After a long journey, including two years serving the Faerry queen Alandrys, I found myself at the caldera. My dream of writing the epic details of the great mage's life was about to reach fruition.

As I stood before the jeweled doors of the Jade Palace, I thanked Basscarr Hammond for bringing me. As I remember, the Great Mage's champion warned me to forget my goal. He belleved the affairs of Elgar’s past were best left buried.

I understood the feellng. More then a little trepidation begged me to accept hls wisdom. I could not. Though I am an adequate magician in my own rlght, first and foremost I am a scholar.

The chance to speak wlth Abnarlc Elgar and record the hlstory of his astounding life was too great an opportunity to deny. I stepped into the palace at Basscarr's side to plead my case.

My first look at the Great Mage did not fill me with awe or wonder. He seemed a man with a genial personality as he talked to a young woman in his gymnasium. When Basscarr introduced me, Abnaric sent the woman, in fact his daughter Marta, back to her exercise and turned his attention to me.

Though I am sure the impression was spurred by my anticipation, Abnaric's vibrant eyes seemed to measure and dissect me as they locked on mine. The pages of the book that was my existence were being read and highlighted.

After a lengthy pause, the Great Mage gave me permission to speak and sent Basscarr away. Failing to fight my stutter, I explained, "I am Drachir Redins of Gom, Sir, a minor magician and scholar. I seek the privilege of recording your life for posterity."

Abnaric laughed and told me not to be foolish. Driven by the scholar's need to pursue knowledge, I pressed him pleading, "I know there is much of secrecy in your life, Sir. Also great evil. The recording of these facts could well aid others to avoid pitfalls you escaped. It would be a service to the savants of Gom and beyond."

Abnaric seemed pigued by my statement. He glared, "More likely a road map to power for arrogant fools. Forget it." I allowed the matter to drop that day. The gleam of power in his eyes stayed my tongue and my feet dragged my unwilling mind away.

A few days later I sat at the Hammond table sadly taking my evening meal. Abnaric walked into the house with a broad smile and took a seat at my side. With him was one of his Queens, the Baobhan Miryan.

As I learned while serving Alandrys, those of Baobhan who chose to leave the god Kototh took umbrage at being called Baobhan Sith. They reserved the final appellation for those of their sisters without the wisdom to deny the Jester. The good among them were Baobhan or True Sidhe.

After complimenting Basscarr on his wine, Abnaric looked at me and asked, “How much do you want to write my story?" Though the question was ambiguous, I answered, "I will do anything for the privilege, sir."

I remember Miryan's sensuous giggle at my answer. Abnaric again gazed into my eyes. This time his fingers moved and his eyes truly glowed with power.

For a moment, I lost all sense of the room. I truly felt like a book that was being read. When I regained my senses, Abnaric stated, "Start tomorrow." Turning to Basscarr, he asked, "This white is excellent. Do you have any of that fine port left? I have a taste for red wine tonight."

The rest of the evening was a socialable event. No matter how I hinted the book was not mentioned again. That night I paced my room anxiously. The dream of my adult life was about to become fact. I would write the Life of Abnaric Elgar for the elucidation of the learned.

A First Note

The family history and early life of the Great Mage were greatly relevant to the course he chose in his early life. While information on this is included in the main volume, a bit more elucidation is required. For this reason, I append the following..May it help you begin the journey with some understanding of the nature of Abnaric Elgar.

Alcine watched with trepidation as the priestess performed the ritual. Green smoke curled up from the altar. The woman turned saying, “It is clear, Baroness. You shall bear a son.”

Hanging her head, the lady gave the woman a donation after reguesting her vow of silence. Getting into the carriage, she began the long ride home from her family’s estates in Musci.

The one thing her love insisted on when they wed was that she never have a son. He was adamant. His family suffered a foul curse no priest or wizard was able to break. His first son would be his death. It had been so for the six ancestors before him.

Alcine’s proper act as a dutiful wife would be to visit a healer and terminate the pregnancy. She could not. Her family was among the hidden faithful. Unlike most Rogizini, who worshipped one or more minor chaos deities as needed, they devoutly honored elder deities. Her personal favorite was Bes. Slaying an unborn infant would offend her god. She was incapable of such an act.

Six months later Rigald’s rage all but seared the heavens. As his hand went to the infant’s throat to throttle him, Alcine pleaded for young Abnaric’s life. Barely, his love for her won out. He sighed, “You have forged my death,” as he left the room.

Though his love for Alcine did not dim, Rigald would have nothing to do with her son. The boy was removed before his father entered any room. At times, this was done with great force, much to his mother’s dismay.

Sadly, she could not act. Her love for Rigald was strong. So too was her pride in him. He was one of the greatest soldiers in the Empire. The final fact that held her silent was quite simple. He was violent in his rage and terrified her.

Save for the abuse of guards and other such actions, Abnaric’s first six years were relatively normal. He felt sadness and rage in knowing he had a father who would not see him. He accepted it. Alcine and occasional visits from his uncle Grat were his life.

Plague came to Elga as he neared his seventh birthday. The sight of the wagons carrying dead brought a tremor to his soul. As one passed, he looked out a tower window. By chance, loose brick fell as he did. It barely missed landing on a tall man in armor who was watching the dead pass.

Noting the man’s rage as he looked down, Abnaric shouted an apology. Minutes later, battered and bleeding, he was thrown at the man’s feet. Rigald snarled, “I have tried to forget. It is not to be. You force me to act without knowing who I am.”

The guards shackled and gagged the terrified boy. A moment later, he was thrown into a trench containing dead plague victims. Glaring down, Rigald snarled, “Remain until you are one of them. I will be shed of you.”

The stench of the grave, cold bodies and scampering of rats around and over him struck terror to the core of Abnaric’s soul. He passed the night in the open grave. With the morning, three more bodies were thrown in. One, a woman, landed full on him. Her weight pressed him into the others.

He struggled sobbing for most of the morning. Setting his jaw, he fought the terror into the rear of his mind. It remained a trembling promise of damnation but, for now, he could not let it assail him. Finding a way to survive was more important.

This was the birth of a selective schizoid nature, which led to the maelstrom Abnaric forged. From then, events and powers his emotions could not withstand were shunted within and caged. As each came the total of the agony and rage grew.

After his second day in the pit, the boy was weak and barely conscious. Above he faintly heard his mother sob, begging for his life. Rigald sneered, “He has had six more years than I wanted for him. Damn the brat.”

A man’s voice reasoned, “You can’t let it make a child killer of you.” Rigald hissed, “I am Elga. No outsider will ever know.” The man snapped, “Be certain they will brother. No cause makes me tolerate someone slaughtering a child. I will report your action to the Emir.”

There was the sound of a scuffle above. The man’s voice shouted, “Fine. Add fratricide to the list.” When Alcine added her statement that she would be leaving, Rigald surrendered.

Abnaric was pulled from the pit, cold and pale. The guards carried him to the room the brick fell from. Standing in the door, his father glared, “This is your home until you die. Do it soon.”

At the age of eight young Abnaric nearly escaped from his cell. The result was a broken arm, severe contusions and three months spent chained to his bed. Only the return of his uncle from campaign won his release.

From that day, guards were posted outside his door and under his window at all times. Their simple order, which his father gave in his presence, was quite explicit.

Should Abnaric leave his room he would be killed. If he managed to escape all the guards with the duty, and their families, would die. He did not make another effort to flee. The chance to do so did not come in time.

The Elgar Line

ErialdAccidentally killed by son while hunting.
GratKilled in battle by son’s errant shaft.
RigaldPoisoned by son for his title.
ThemorinKilled by son in popular revolt against him.
TrevarianFell to death after son’s inadvertent push.
RoganMutilated and killed by lost son on return.
RigaldFather of Abnaric Elgar.
AbnaricFather of Nergas.
NergasThe terminus of the Elgar curse.

Chapter One

Abnaric smiled as he saw his uncle Grat waiting. Grat sighed, "Your mother is dead. The plague took her." Shrugging, Abnaric, with all of his twelve years of wisdom, stated, "Rigald hasn’t let her be a mother for years. No loss."

Handing him a jewel chest, Grat snapped, "You're wrong to think that way. My brother is a damn fool to keep you locked in here but Alcine loved you more than anyone.”

Abnaric nodded coldly. It was pointless to tell Grat he was going to kill his father. Doing so would put him in the way. Hurting his uncle, the only one with the courage to defy Rigald, to slaughter his monster father would not happen. Stowing the box under his arm, he asked, "Did you bring any new books?"

Grat held out a scroll. After handing it to Abnaric, he left the cell saying, "I have to go to Araou. Rigald wants an offering made to end the plague. I'm elected. Be back in a month or so."

Abnaric wished his uncle well. In his heart, he knew Rigald was sending Grat because he didn't like having anyone around his son. Frowning, after Grat was gone, he hissed, "The asshole probably smothered Alcine himself. Disease hell!"

His uncle’s gift was a historical treatise on the history of the Rogizini Empire. Near midnight, he finished reading it and looked at his mother's gift. The box contained jewelry. Tied to her dead father's ring was a note.

Sternly, Abnaric read her words. She asked him to accept the trinkets and forgive her. Fear of Rigald kept his mother from him. For that, she was eternally sorry. Putting the box away in his secret hiding hole, Abnaric swore, no sorrier then he. I am his death.

As he went to douse the light, armored feet pounded up the steps of the tower. Two guards grabbed Abnaric roughly and took him outside. As he cursed, they brought him to Rigald. His father stood at the door of a gilded carriage. Inside was a bald man nearly drowning in his own fat.

Abnaric was stripped and held for the man's inspection. The pig's eyes met Abnaric's. He yawned, "I understand you are literate, boy." He stated, "I am. Is there some reason why this is your concern?"

Rigald hissed, "Keep a civil tongue in your head or I’ll have it out!" Coldly, Abnaric replied, "Be damned, sir. Why was I not allowed to attend Alcine's funeral?"

Stepping forward, Rigald roared, "Still your thrice damned tongue!" The fat man stated, "I accept your kind offer, Baron." Laughing, he added, "I will need him kept whole however. His tongue is of value to me." Burning with fury, Rigald ordered, "Put his foul ass in the carriage," and stalked into the tower.

Eyes glaring at his father’s retreating form, Abnaric leapt from the seat he had been placed on. A bolt of power paralyzed him as he rose. The obese man purred, "I am your master Bol Lairbenet. Henceforth you are apprentice and body servant. I shall make you an expert servant. Your pretty body will make me very happy." Finishing his statement, Bol began to explore.

Three years passed before the wizard tired of him. As the boy matured, Bol's attention waned. Instead of being abused daily, he found himself in the wizard's bed only a few times a week. The rest of the time he performed menial chores in the tower and stable.

Bol did nothing to train Abnaric in the magical arts. In fact, he informed the boy, Rigald set a condition against such training. He was to be whore and servant. Bol intended to abide by that vow to the letter.

Receiving this foul knowledge when he was fourteen did a great deal to pull Abnaric out of his malaise. It also set hate in his soul as a driving force. Whatever it meant, blubber man and the monster would pay for demeaning him. They would pay heavily.

Late that night, while Bol raped a new child, and the true apprentices slept, Abnaric snuck past the tower guards. When he found a sure route, he began to read the grimoires and magical texts in Lairbenet's library.

Abnaric taught himself the basics of the magical arts by the time he was sixteen. For two years, he searched for a way to get revenge. Escape was not his priority. Vengeance stood first in his heart. It was often so in his early years. Anyone who caused him pain or interfered had to pay.

When he finally found the right method, and arranged the event, Abnaric was four days from his nineteenth birthday. Bol brought the young man to him on his birthday. After abuse, he noted, "You are quite handsome." Abnaric smiled. Moving closer, as if to kiss Bol, he opened his hand and blew purple lotus powder into Bol’s face. He smiled as the wizard's muscles locked.

Smashing the helpless wizard in the face, he noted, "I would render you for lamp oil, blubber man! I have a better plan." Laughing, he got his ally Xelor, Lairbenet's chief apprentice. They dragged Bol to the casting room.

When the wizard was in place, Xelor lit the candles and fumigants while Abnaric opened Bol's tome and began a long chant. The spell smote the paralyzed wizard with a compulsion curse. Abnaric ordered him to travel to the throne of the goddess Tiamat, steal the Pearl of Immortality and deliver it to him wherever he may be at the time.

After Xelor negated the lotus and hid, Bol struggled to his feet and glared. He struggled to cast. The spell restricted him from doing the harm he yearned to inflict.

Angrily, Lairbenet waddled out of the room to begin his guest. He had no choice. He was not a man who tolerated pain well. Every day he hesitated, the spell would inflict it in ever increasing doses. Should he delay overlong it would slay him.

Xelor stated, "That was nicely done. Where did you learn?" Abnaric replied, "My business. Do we abide by our agreement or fight?" Xelor laughed, "I see no reason to battle. Forty gold, a sword and a horse wait in the stable. The tower and its contents are mine."

Abnaric nodded and left the room. When he was ready, he promised to return. Xelor must die. Everyone who knew what his father made of him must. No one could ever know his shame. For now, he was too drained to press the issue and too inexperienced to be assured of victory. As he mounted and struggled to ride the horse, he knew waiting was his only choice. His time would come.

The next day Abnaric led the horse through the eastern gate of Gom. He immediately sold the animal. The young man detested horses. After years spent tending Bol's stables, and half a day’s experience riding, he was glad to be shed of the beasts. In his mind only a fool could love such creatures.

Looking back, Abnaric was sure the word mark flashed over his head as he wandered the streets. It was the first city he ever saw. In fact, other then cleaning the stables, it was the first time in twelve years he had been out of a tower for more then a few hours at a time.

The hum and vibrancy of Gom excited Abnaric. As he stood staring at a woman dancing in a window, he felt a tug at his purse. When he turned, Abnaric saw a man running, purse in hand. Angrily, he roared, "Stop," and cast a spell to paralyze the thief.

The cutpurse fell to the ground. After bouncing a few feet, he remained motionless. Reclaiming his pouch, and stuffing it in his shirt, Abnaric warned, "In a moment the spell ends. You will regret it if we meet again." When he walked back to the window, a man said, "The girl interests you."

Abnaric lied, "Seen better." Clapping Abnaric's back like a lifelong friend, the man commented, "A Rogizini from the provinces. Wonderful! Would you like an introduction? Anya is quite friendly." Fighting his blush, Abnaric said, "I wouldn't mind."

An hour later he woke in an alley. The man took him to Anya all right. After getting a feel and a kiss, he gave the man a gold coin. Anya led him to a room. As he ravished her lips his head exploded.

Feeling the back of his head, as his waking sent rats scurrying away, Abnaric felt a large lump and clotted blood. He was left with the clothes he was wearing. Everything else was gone. Eyes narrowing, he set his heart on vengeance. For now, he had to worry about survival. He was hungry and penniless. From the condition of the derelicts he saw as he left the alley, he knew that was not desirable.

Stopping at the closest tavern, Abnaric went to the bartender saying, "I want to see the owner." The bartender held out his hand. When no bribe was forthcoming, he nodded. Two men chucked Abnaric into the street. Fighting his humiliation, he dusted his clothes off and returned.

When the laughing bouncers approached he cast lightning swarms about himself hissing, "I want to see the owner now!" The bartender chided, "That'd be me. If you don't stop singeing my door I'll have your scrotum for a pouch."

Letting the spell drop, Abnaric stepped forward sighing, "I need a place to sleep, food and money. I'll pay with my services as a magician." The bartender laughed, "Why would I need one? The magic in my bouncers' blades and regular payoffs get me by fine."

From behind, a man stated, "Do you gamble?" Abnaric turned. The man was about his height, dressed shabbily and armed with daggers at boot and belt. He shrugged, "I've played card games."

Nodding for Abnaric to follow, the man dealt a hand smiling, "You can wager your first week's wages against a silver coin." Abnaric replied, "I'm worth more." The man chided, "You're the seller in a buyer's market. Take it or leave it."

After an hour of play, the man ordered a meal and refilled Abnaric's mug. Smiling, he observed, "You're quick on the uptake, kid. Make a good shill. Names Cholad Larma."

When Abnaric nodded, he stated, "I pay ten percent of the take plus room and board. You make money on the side with hocus pocus shit I get half. Once we see how things work, we'll review the deal."

Curbing his anger, Abnaric accepted the conditions. It met his needs and gave him protection while he learned how to survive in the city. Softly, he described the people who robbed him asking, "Do you know where I can find them?"

Cholad said, "Woman mostly works the Velvet Fist. Can't say I know the man." Reading something in Cholad's eyes, Abnaric guessed, "Meaning the man isn't someone you want to face." Cholad winked, "Or you either. He's bad news." Abnaric shrugged, "He can wait. I'll start with the woman." Cholad answered, "She's a peska whore. Ten gold puts her on the street."

Smiling, Abnaric drank his wine. The one thing he mastered in his short life was patience. Anya could wait until he was ready to make her life hell. The man would wait longer. Both would pay for angering Abnaric Elgar.

He learned his job as a shill quickly. In his spare time, Abnaric made contacts of his own. He developed a reputation for intelligence, wit and an effective, cold temper. He also earned some renown as a fortuneteller.

Reading people's futures amused him greatly. For most, all he had to do was make a big show before telling them they got the woman, got rich or destroyed their enemy. Their faces and conversation let him know which they most wanted to hear. It was easy money.

After a month, Abnaric had a bit more then eight gold in his pouch. As he put it away, Cholad entered winking, "Big game tonight." Standing, he asked, "Who?"

Cholad stated, "A couple Imperial advisers will be in the ghetto slumming. We should shear ten gold." Abnaric sternly said, "It's time we change things. I want twenty percent and my side money is my own."

With a shrug, Cholad soothed, "Why rock the boat? I'll keep things going good." Abnaric replied, "No offense but I'm not negotiating. It's my way or I walk. I'd rather stay." Cholad shrugged, "Have it your way kid. I have enough sguirreled away to take the loss."

Abnaric smiled, "If things keep picking up, it won't be a loss. People are starting to hear my name. They come looking for me." Cholad snapped, "Don't get too famous. The High Justiciar is an asshole. He loves roasting punk magicians."

Assuring Cholad he would be careful, Abnaric dressed for the game. He didn't see any reason why a rich wizard would care about him. He made his living in ghetto taverns. It was chump change to someone who lived off people in the palace.

Before they entered the tavern for the game, Abnaric cast luck on Cholad. Soon they were sitting with two notables raking them over the coals. Before the hour was over they were up twenty gold. The notables were getting drunk and nasty. As Cholad pulled in a three gold pot, one slammed a dagger into the table roaring, "You have to be cheating! I want my money back."

When he refused and stood to rake his winnings into his pouch, the man attacked. Abnaric waved his hands and hit his friend with a bolt of lightning. Gutting the first man, Cholad collected the money on the table while Abnaric kept the crowd back. A moment later they were running through the alleys.

Ranting after eight blocks, Cholad said, "We're in the noose." Abnaric shrugged, "No one will talk." Cholad warned, "They don't have to. The High Justiciar will find out who did them with magic. I'm bound for Shieram. Come with me."

Taking his cut, Abnaric replied, "I have things to do here. I'll get by until you can get back." Cholad observed, "It's your butt, kid. Don’t expect me anytime soon." Slipping him a few extra coins, Cholad suggested, "Stay away from our place. They’ll be laying for us before the nights over. Keep a low profile and cool the magic until this blows over."

Abnaric promised, "I'll be fine. Now that I have coin, I have a lady to see about a robbery." Shaking his head, Cholad said, "You're a stubborn ass. Remind me not to get on your bad side." Abnaric noted, "It isn't a place anyone wants to be. I wish you well."

Staring coldly, Abnaric watched Cholad leave. He would miss the man. Stifling any pain he felt at the loss he went to find a room. Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin his vengeance. Right now, he had to find a hole and crawl into it.

The next morning, Abnaric went to the Velvet Fist. As he walked, he stayed well clear of his normal haunts. Twice he heard criers informing people of a reward for Cholad Larma and a lesser one for "Cholad's wizard."

Noting the description was accurate Abnaric raised his collar and entered the tavern. When he found the manager he described Anya smiling, "A friend told me you could be convinced to put her on the street." The manager snapped, "She brings in good money." Abnaric offered, "My gold says she's a street whore." The manager shrugged, "We can talk."

An hour later, Abnaric left eleven gold lighter. Anya was thrown into the gutter with nothing but a dirty shift. Walking toward her with a bottle of cheap peska, Abnaric asked, "Want to party?" Seeing the bottle, Anya offered, "Two silver and the bottle."

Abnaric laughed, "The booze when I say so and you do what I want." Anya hissed, "Go to hell!" Abnaric warned, "I think not madam. What I will do is stay right here. You'll get nothing. I'll see to it."

Anya spat and started off to stir up some trade. He followed. For the next two hours, she approached easy marks and he intimidated them. With people who looked like they knew killing, he let fire dance on his fingers for a moment saying, "Anya is mine. It would be terrible if she caused you trouble by getting me jealous."

Finally, Anya went to him. Licking her lips with a dry tongue, she begged, "Give me a drink. I'll treat you nice." Abnaric snapped, "You are mine. Say it." Anya pleaded, "I am yours. Give me a drink."

Abnaric led her to his room. As he closed the door, he chided, "Welcome to hell." As she moved toward him, he tore her shift open snapping, "Stand there." For the next hour, Abnaric humiliated her. When she was naked, shivering with the need for a drink and standing in the corner with a battered ass, he gave her a cup of peska.

Elgar spent the rest of the week inflicting his vengeance. When she was broken and willing to do anything, he asked, "What did you do with my money?" Anya cringed, "I haven't touched your pouch, master."

After more questions and some slapping, it became clear she didn't know a thing about the robbery. All Anya ever bothered to remember was where her peska came from. She was a discarded tool. The robber was the bastard who hit him not this piece of drunken fluff.

The next day, Abnaric put Anya in her rags and dragged her to a dress shop. When she was dressed suitably, he said, "You work this corner. If you aren't back in the room with some money in three hours I roast you."

While Anya began to ply her trade, Abnaric went to see if the heat was still on. After some words with a few contacts it was clear the hunt had slowed. When he returned to his room a man was inside. Anya was tied and gagged at his feet. The man smiled, "Association doesn't like freelancers."

Seeing her bruises, Abnaric shrugged, "I get the message." The man snapped, "You will," and rose with a sap in his hand. Glaring, Abnaric began casting a spell. Immediately, the man flicked a dagger at him.

Holding his concentration firm as the weapon missed, Abnaric locked the man in place with black bands of power. As he struggled, Abnaric pulled the dagger out of the wall smirking, "I was willing to be nice."

The man hissed, "I'm a guild member. You're dead if you touch me!" Abnaric noted, "As I understand, the guild runs brothels. Street whores are independent fluff for people who can't afford a good lay. If you're guild, you're freelancing. If you aren't, who cares?"

As Abnaric cut a button from the man's shirt, he pleaded, "Don't hurt me, man. I was just looking to make some easy money." Abnaric observed, "We make a deal now or you die." He agreed to bargain instantly. Abnaric said, "I plan to run a string of whores. Protect them from thugs and you get a piece. Procure new ones, you get more." The man nodded in agreement.

Abnaric stated, "To make up for today's insult you only get ten percent the first month." After taking hair and spit from the terrified man, Abnaric cancelled the spell noting, "If we have trouble I will curse you. I guarantee you don't want that to happen. What's your name?"

"Dax," the man blurted, "I'll be loyal." Abnaric snapped, "See you are. I do not grant second chances. I'll expect you back tomorrow morning." Nodding, Dax ran out of the room.

After locking the door, Abnaric untied Anya. Sighing at the need to waste power, he cast a healing spell on her. She was just about beaten to death. When she woke, Abnaric explained what happened and added, "Dax works for me now. Put out for him when he wants. If he gives you any shit or punches you around, I want to know." Anya replied, "Yes, glorious master." Shrugging, Abnaric cleaned her off and took her to his bed. She was a battered addict but she was still a hot bitch.

Abnaric worked to build his string for the next few months. As necessary, he made money gambling and telling fortunes. He also intimidated his whores into total obedience. At the end of two months he had Anya and seven others. After Dax’s cut he made ten gold in an average week.

Bax and his brother Bo, an immense lummox with little intellect and the loyalty of a fine hound, were his enforcers. Smiling, Abnaric counted his money. He had forty gold and an average of two gold a day coming into the till. His star was surely rising.

That morning, Anya came to him. He could see she was hesitant. He snapped, "Spill it." Anya whispered, "I had no blood this month, glorious master." Abnaric observed, "You are pregnant. So?"

Anya pleaded, "I do not want the baby to be harmed by my weakness. Babies of addicted mother’s often die horribly. The temple will free me of peska for one gold."

For Anya's sake, Abnaric didn't care. The baby was another matter. He wasn't about to give anyone the chance to say he was a pig like Rigald. No way he'd force her to drop a kid who'd die of peska withdrawal.

Abnaric snarled, "Tell the Priest I'll pay. It doesn't change who you are.” Anya brightly smiled, "I will be even more your slave glorious master. Thank you." Waving a hand, Abnaric snapped, "Get to the corner, woman. The trade is getting away." Giggling, she arranged her clothes more seductively then ever and ran from the room.

When she was gone, Abnaric smiled thoughtfully. Her reaction to his largesse showed him a new face of power. It was wielded well through fear and terror. He used both well. Amazingly, power also struck home when kindness was employed. He vowed, then and there, to remember this important lesson. Power must be his blade. He would keep both edges sharp.

Anya kept working for three days. During that time, her take nearly tripled. Her efforts to show Abnaric appreciation more then made up for the cost of treatment. On the morning of the fourth day Dax took her to the temple.

At Abnaric's order, he paid two gold instead of one so she would have comfort during her stay. On his return, Abnaric asked, "What was her reaction to my generosity?" Dax replied, "Knocked her out. She just about flowed away on her tears."

Abnaric nodded and sent Dax back to work. Her reaction confirmed his hypothesis. The efficient dispensation of kindness was a potent motivator. His investment in her would certainly be repaid thrice over within two months.

While he studied his little empire and planned, a man slipped into the room. As he neared, Abnaric said, "Have a seat," and raised his eyes. The man remained standing a moment, then shrugged and complied.

Abnaric asked, "What can I do for the Brothers?" The man chuckled, "Why would you assume that?" Abnaric explained, "My door is garbage but the lock is intricate. You opened it noiselessly. That requires talent, access to a pattern or both. Your movements speak of professionalism. This diminishes the chance you are a simple thief or member of a lesser guild."

Seeing the man's eyebrow raise, Abnaric concluded, "The remaining possibilities are minimal. The most likely on that short list is that you are an associate, or member of, the Brothers of the Night."

The man observed, "A sound grasp of the situation for a street pimp and hedge wizard." Abnaric shrugged, "The first title is true. The second is an insult. The only limit on my ability is experience and opportunity. I shall rock this empire. You may plan on it."

Smiling, the man stated, "I'm here to collect a business fee. My associates want ten gold a month to view your operation without disfavor." Abnaric replied, "Understandable request. I have been operating for three months. I give your association thirty gold."

"The extra don't buy anything," the man warned, "T can pocket it." Abnaric chuckled, "Give me some credit. If you take any they will find out sooner or later. Your life is worth more then twenty gold. Secondly, I do not pay extra. This is your city. I worked it three months. I pay for three months."

Abnaric met the man's incredulous stare. Shaking his head, the man said, "I'll remember you." Abnaric replied, "If we are through, relock the door on your way out. I must get back to business." The man glared, then laughed. The kid had balls. Closing the door, he tripped the lock back into place and left.

Hearing the bolt engage, Abnaric smiled. The assassin almost guessed the point of my largesse, he mused, to be remembered. When the time comes, my investment will yield returns. No man achieves greatness in Gom without the aid and permission of the Brothers of the Night.

Over the next week, Abnaric added two more whores and bought a small house. When Anya returned, he greeted her with a broad smile. As he gauged the woman's reaction, Abnaric could see that smile sealed her bond to him. Hugging her, he said, "We will have a nice night. Wait until tomorrow to start work again."

The next afternoon Anya stepped into the streets like a queen. Abnaric smiled. Her profits were sure to continue to rise while she kept that attitude. Turning to Dax, he said, "When she gets too round put her up here. She can be our maid until she drops the kid."

Dax advised, "The other whores will bitch." Abnaric shrugged, "Explain it to them. If they continue to annoy you bring them to me." Seeing the fire in Abnaric's eyes, Dax smiled. He doubted if any of the whores would get ticked enough to risk facing Elgar. He scared the shit out of them.

Two days later Abnaric was invited to a game. He collected "venture capital" and went to the manor with Bo at his side. The man was dumb as a stump but he was seven feet tall and close to three hundred pounds. More important, he would do anything without question.

When he reached the manor, Abnaric entered the courtyard. Immediately, four Imperial soldiers surrounded him. Calling Bo off, he asked, "May I help you?"

Their Sergeant snapped, "Are you Abnaric Elgar?" Bowing, Abnaric admitted he was. The Sergeant stated, "By order of the High Justiciar you are under arrest." Bo whispered, "Kill them, boss?"

Abnaric laughed, "Not at all. I am sure we can resolve the problem. Go tell Dax to keep the business running. You help him." Bo nodded. After an angry glare at the soldiers, he went down the street to tell Dax the news. Elgar was immediately cuffed and gagged. The soldiers removed his property and prodded him down the street. Within ten minutes, he stood bound in a dark cell. He remained there more then a week.

When his daily meal was brought, Abnaric was forced to eat it from the dish like an animal while a guard stood over him with sword drawn. Finally, fury locked on incandescence, he was taken before the High Justiciar, Cior Drelok.

After the gag was removed, Cior stated, "You are charged with murder, sorcery and public fraud. Given the severity of those charges, I shall not impose the others."

Abnaric snapped, "This is ludicrous." Cior hissed, "Be silent, filth! As to the murder, my magic shows you killed an Imperial official. That fact proves the sorcery charge. As to public fraud I have nine witnesses to your impious fortune telling. You are guilty."

Eyes flaming, Abnaric hissed, "Is this what you call a trial? I killed in self defense. I know no law against using magic to defend yourself. As far as fraud, you must be kidding me." Cior snapped, "I don't jest with filth. Your ilk offends me and is a detriment to Gom. I am exiling you. If I hear of your return, I will order your execution."

Before Abnaric could roar imprecations, his gag was replaced and he was led out of the room. An hour later, he was chained in a coffle with two other people and led out of the city by a troop of soldiers. Channeling his rage out of his conscious mind, he vowed to kill Cior Drelok.

Abnaric's fellow passengers on the greased chute, as he choose to think of it, were a tall, muscular man around six ten and a pretty blond woman of five five. Beyond the coffle, neither was confined. Abnaric was the only lucky one. He stayed bound and gagged the entire week it took to get to the Rogizini border. His gag was only removed when they shoved food in his mouth.

Listening as he weighed the situation, Abnaric discovered the man was a barbarian foreigner named Kaprie. He was from some place called the Kameran. The lady was Gomese. Given the hair, somewhere down the line a slave dropped one of her ancestors.

Her name was Aja. She had a quick tongue and violent temper. She was also nice to look at. The most memorable part of the trip was walking with her chained in front of him.

At the border, the guards released the chains. Six stayed back with crossbows trained on the three of them. Smiling, the Captain tossed them each a coin purse sneering, "Good luck." Kaprie snapped, "Where are my weapons?"

The Captain waved. Three old, pitted swords were tossed at their feet. Laughing at Kaprie's rage, the guards departed. He snarled with rage as he glared at the worthless swords.

Abnaric looked in the pouch coldly. It contained one silver coin. Fighting his anger, he observed, "We have been royally fucked. I am Abnaric Elgar. I suggest we travel together to my father's barony."

Kaprie roared, "Better we chase these thieves down and recover my weapons!" Aja hissed, "Shut up, oaf! The fop makes sense." Abnaric warned, "First, I am no fop. Second, we work together or die. Third, we should know what each other are capable of before we go farther."

Seeing the others waited on him, Abnaric stated, "I am a magician with some ability as a healer." Kaprie said, "If I had honest weapons I would be a warrior scholar. These things aren’t good enough for practice." Abnaric soothed, "We will get weapons."

Aja stated, "I have skills that may prove useful." Abnaric chuckled, "I can see that much, madam. What can you do?" Aja roared, "Do not make the mistake of thinking I'm a slut! I'll gut you if you try anything."

Chapter Two

As they entered the mountains Abnaric stated, "The barony is on the other side. I will see you are provisioned after I give my father the greeting he deserves. Serve me or go where you will."

Kaprie thanked him. Aja stared. There was something in the way he said it that made her believe something was up between the magician and his father. Taking Abnaric aside that night, she asked, "What's the real story, Elgar?"

Abnaric raised an eyebrow. Aja stated, "I heard what you said about the Baron. Should I expect trouble?" Abnaric commented, "The answer would depend on whether I have an ally." Aja shrugged, "I know I've been a bitch." Abnaric noted, "True." Hissing, Aja asked, "Are you going to hold it against me? We can do well together." Smiling, Abnaric stroked her face saying, "I need to know how much we can trust each other."

Sighing, Aja moved into his arms and allowed him to kiss her. Stepping back, Abnaric snapped, "You are willing to tolerate me. How honored I am!" Aja replied, "I want to be your partner not a whore." Abnaric chuckled, "I doubt Kaprie would pay his silver so you are clearly not my whore. If you want to be a partner, learn to share."

Glowering, Aja watched Abnaric return to the camp. From the corner of his eye, he weighed her. She was a hard woman trying to be a man in a man's world. A stupid choice given her assets.

It was also clear she saw him as a shortcut to the top. She would try to use him. In doing so, if the effort was worthwhile, he would come to own her. It was inevitable. Her mind was no match for his. Leading her where he wished would be no challenge.

That night Aja put her blanket beside Abnaric when she went to sleep. He ignored her, smiling as he saw the first move in her war to control him was underway. In a day or two, he would let her invincible charm overwhelm him. She could heat up until then.

The next day Kaprie snapped, "I don’t like the looks of this pass." Abnaric looked around. There was an overturned wagon and some broken bones. Recalling the maps Grat gave him when he was nine, Abnaric sadly said, "We have to take this pass. The next one is eighty miles out of our way."

After a search of the wagon discovered a decent dagger, they continued with care. A mile in, Kaprie shouted the alarm as a large ape blocked their advance. Instantly, Abnaric began framing a spell. Kaprie met the ape's charge while Aja stood prepared to take on any others who arrived.

Screaming ferally, Kaprie slashed his sword into the ape's belly. The blade shattered. A font of blood sprayed from the ape as it slammed its club into his shoulder.

Kaprie stepped back in pain. As he did, Abnaric unleashed his lightning. Though its body was savaged, and fur burned, the ape continued forward. He raised an eyebrow and began a new spell. Aja screamed as two smaller apes rushed her from behind and six more, including two large ones, ran at Kaprie.

Abnaric considered deserting them to their fate. Before he could, one of the small apes slipped past Aja. He turned too slowly as the ape bit his leg firmly. In a second, he felt the strength wane. He fell to the ground paralyzed.

Soon the larger apes were pawing him. After some grunting, all three victims of the poison were lifted from the ground and carried to a large cave. Helpless, they were stripped and thrown into a pit. After a grill was tied over it, the apes left.

In the dim light, Abnaric examined the place. They laid on old bones and offal. Kaprie was unconscious. Aja had two bites but, otherwise, was healthy enough to act when the poison ebbed.

Though he felt a bit of his childhood terror in this place, he could not succumb. Sending the fear to the barely extant maelstrom within, he waited. With luck, the vermin crawling around would prefer offal to fresh meat.

A few hours later, Abnaric felt his muscles spasm. When he could move, he grabbed a long bone and scattered the vermin. Most moved a respectable distance away. There was too much other food to risk battle over new meat.

After waking Kaprie with a healing spell that did little to improve his condition, Abnaric began massaging Aja's muscles to wake her faster. Ten minutes later, she began to move. Stepping away, he examined the walls and looked at the grill twenty feet above them.

The walls were slimy and partially smooth. Though it wouldn't be an easy climb, Abnaric had to assume a thief could accomplish it. Turning to Aja, he said, "Climb this wall and untie the grill." Aja, in a foul mood over the predicament, snapped, "Who died and named you god?"

Abnaric observed, "Unless you want to stay for dinner, madam, I suggest you stop being a petty bitch and do it." Aja blushed and apologized. After Abnaric healed her wounds with a spell, she began the climb. She fell once but eventually made it to the top. Hanging on the grill with one hand, she worked to untie the rope.

Looking up, Abnaric smiled. The view was not without interest. The paucity of Aja's intellect was more then made up for by lush furnishings. Whatever her future, he would have to enjoy her at least once before she was expended.

When the grill was free, Aja tried to push it open with one hand. It was too heavy. Seeing her desperation, Abnaric signaled her to wait. Moving close to Kaprie, he cast a Levitation spell. Both men lifted to the grill. Aja hissed, "Why didn't you do that for me?"

Abnaric snapped, "My magic is finite. Kaprie, help Aja push the grill open." Smiling, Kaprie complied. As she climbed out, the men floated to a place above the floor and Abnaric let the power leave him. Both fell a yard to the ground without incident. Abnaric whispered, "Smell for apes and fresh air. We have to get out before they come looking for us."

As they moved, Abnaric again considered deserting the others. He decided doing so was premature. If apes surrounded them again, he would reconsider. Until then, he must preserve his shields for the journey home.

Aja moved to the lead. After a few turns, they came to a large cave that glowed with firelight. Before she could report what she saw, her back went straight. She began walking into it.

Hearing apes coming up fast from behind, Abnaric pushed Kaprie forward. Their best chance was a dash through the cave. Kaprie was unlikely to make it but, Abnaric decided, he might have a chance while they subdued him.

Like a heroic fool, Kaprie ran and grabbed Aja, struggling to prevent her advance toward the monstrous serpent whose eyes were fixed on her. As he ran, Abnaric saw another serpent block his path and felt it assault his mind with power. Focusing his will, he shed its hold.

Gauging the situation, Abnaric knew desperation. Two Mahakoti, Great Serpents, waited while thirty apes surrounded them. His power was worthless. He could harm some and die. He could try to escape and, on certain failure, die. He could bluff it out and probably die after giving them a good laugh.

Thanking his foresight for browsing through the Kotothi language in Bol's library, Abnaric noted, "Dine on a bit of meat now or delay and harvest more in future."

The serpent at the doorway raised its head at his words. Trying to breach his defenses again, and failing, it slid forward saying, "Explain, meat." Abnaric extended his arms saying, "It is obvious, son of the great, we mortals stand doomed by your might. Because of this you have a fine chance for profit."

Flicking its tongue at him, the Serpent gazed directly into his eyes. lts head was nearly as wide as his body which was more then forty feet in length. Abnaric explained, "I am a mortal with great talent. If you slay me, you get meat and lose the profit I can bring. Grant my life and provide the other two to aid me. Your profit will far exceed the loss of this meal."

The serpent sighed, "You are arrogant, mortal." Abnaric offered, "I speak truth. Name a reasonable price. It shall be paid." The serpent inquired, "You speak for these others?" Abnaric shrugged, "Their presence speeds the task. If you have the patience to wait longer eat them. I can find others."

Both serpents laughed in a hideous, hissing fashion. The closest said, "If we agree you give obeisance to our overlord. Will you?" Abnaric replied, "With pleasure." The serpent stated, "Go to Shair Plateau in the mountains of Gom. Our overlord dwells there." The far serpent stated, "Fail to arrive within two weeks and you shall be returned to us."

Abnaric smiled, "On my honor, great lords.' Both serpents laughed again. The closest said, "When you have healed your warrior a guide shall see you there. It would be a shame to lose your "honor" if there is an unfortunate misunderstanding."

Hiding his exasperation, Abnaric thanked the serpents and allowed the apes to lead them to a small room. For the next three days, he cared for Kaprie. Large apes, males of the race, guarded them always. Twice a day raw meat was thrown inside. Not questioning the source of the food, Abnaric built a fire.

When it was cooked, Abnaric ate and saw that the others ate also. When Kaprie argued, he reasoned, "Will you assume it is human flesh and starve or be satisfied? You must have food if you hope to recover your strength."

In his breaks from his duties, Abnaric worked on Aja. The experience with the serpent terrified her. His action impressed her more. She was now ready to accede to his will if approached properly. With false sincerity, he expressed concern for her health. When she smiled and said she was all right, Abnaric sighed, "I am so glad. I was afraid you were gone. I'm glad I could think of something to save your life." He falsely added, "I think I'd miss you."

Eyes beaming, Aja moved closer saying, "You were impressive. Where did you learn to talk to the things?" Abnaric shrugged, "Most of my life has been spent in study. I guess that is why I have been harsh. A pretty woman can intimidate a scholar."

Aja raised her eyebrow a moment. Seeing his sincerity as he lowered his eyes, she kissed his cheek and cooed, "I am sure I can help you get over that." With measured hesitance, Abnaric stroked her breast and kissed her softly on the lips. Soon, they moved out of the firelight and made love, much to Kaprie's chagrin.

The next morning, Abnaric checked Kaprie's wounds. He stated, "I want to leave as soon as they free us." Abnaric said, "We have to do something for them." Kaprie hissed, "I will not further evil!"

Abnaric reasoned, "Then we negotiate something they want that won't offend you. It’s that or your life." Pursing his lips in irritation, Kaprie accepted the logic warning, "Be sure of it. I die before I spread evil." Stating his lie gently, Abnaric soothed, "As would I, my friend. I will strive to assure your needs are satisfied."

Outside, the serpents sat coiled before their Overlord. One hissed, "He is an intriguing human." The other agreed, "Devilishly mercurial and calculating. Marvelously amoral. Father wants more of his ilk." The Overlord snapped, "I will see it."

Abnaric stood as an ape prodded him and signed for him to follow. When the others started to come, the ape roared and pulled Abnaric away. With three males blocking their path, Kaprie and Aja got the hint and backed away from the mouth of their cave.

Blinking as he entered the sunlight, Abnaric stared. His eyes moved higher until they reached the three heads that glared down on him. Before him was possibly the largest Elder Dragon in the world. Immediately, Abnaric bowed purring, "You do me honor, great lord."

Bringing a head closer to the human, the Dragon hissed, "I understand you promise anything for your lives?" Abnaric stated, "The gist of my statement but not exactly correct. The exigencies reguire negotiation." Another head asked, "Why should I negotiate?"

Abnaric shrugged, "Why not? At worst, you enjoy the experience and eat me. At best, we forge the steel to win future power as friends. From your view the situation has no debit." The Dragon laughed, "You are an interesting thing. Make your offer."

"I must assume a great lord such as yourself has warts on his land he wants removed," Abnaric stated, "If one is a place my friend Kaprie can be deluded into striking we serve as agents in its eradication."

The Dragon hissed, "Suppose I do not care to delude your thing." Abnaric replied, "Then he dies and I strike as you direct, great lord. His loss would retard me. He is not inconsiderable as a warrior." The Dragon inquired, "What is he?"

Abnaric stated, "He is from a place called the Kameran. My observation indicates he is saddled with inconvenient morals and ethics. He has praised gods I know to be lawful in nature." After a moment, all three heads smiled. The Dragon said, "I condone his weakness. Bring your slaves. We depart." Abnaric bowed.

As Abnaric plotted, the Dragon read his mind. The creature was a marvel. It planned to negotiate further once they left the serpents. Feeling resistance growing the dragon withdrew undetected. He could indeed use this mortal. He was exactly what Father required for the years ahead.

Abnaric returned to the others and commented, "I have two edged news for you, my friends." Gaining their attention, he stated, "We are about to get a ride away from this place. Our steed will be an elder dragon." Kaprie spat angrily. Abnaric soothed, "It is death to stay. He promised a mission that will not offend your sensibilities. We must go."

Smiling, Aja walked to Abnaric and slipped her arm into his. Kaprie followed sadly. As they exited the cave, the dragon sighed, "A shame the female is not virgin. She looks tasty." Abnaric replied, "Indeed she is, great lord."

When Kaprie demanded a translation, Abnaric stated, "The dragon noted that my friends seem able. I assured him it is so. You must trust me in this. I will not always have the time to clear my words with you." Aja smiled. Kaprie snapped, "I trust you until you give me reason not to." Abnaric smiled, "Then we are united. Together, we deal with this minor impediment and be shed of the situation for all time."

Distrusting the smoothness of the man, Kaprie nodded ruefully. The Dragon observed, "The warrior is not stupid." Abnaric replied, "He is naive. Control must be achieved on a more circuitous road. The result is still control." Laughing, the dragon lowered its shoulder and ordered them to mount his back and hang on.

Abnaric thrilled at the power coursing through the dragon as they lifted into the air and headed south. This was a true steed for a wizard. Power atop power, overwhelming any who dared oppose them.

Sternly, he controlled his will. The lure of the dragon’s might threatened him like a snare does a rabbit. If he was to have real power, he could not strike at such bait. The power would be his on his terms in his own time. He would not surrender his soul to speed its arrival.

As they cruised over Shair Plateau, Abnaric saw the ruins of a village. South of it was a ruined castle. Two miles west was a large cave mouth. The dragon took them there. As they landed, Abnaric noted the immensity of the wealth inside the cave. All the coin he held in his life could be added and go unnoticed in the pile.

Fighting his greed, he stated, "Thank you for this marvelous sight, great lord. I wonder what price you offer for my services." The Dragon hissed, "We have paid you your life." Abnaric replied, "Which would be enough for an indentured peon. It is not enough for a friend and, I hope, future associate."

The Dragon shrugged, "Then I shall slay you." Abnaric observed, "An unfortunate risk I choose to take, great lord. Though I am only mortal my potential is great. If I must demean it, and you, by acceding to a penurious offer, you may dine."

Examining the mortal, the Dragon sought wisdom. The words of Father brought a smile. Accepting his will the Dragon repeated, "On your success, you have a place below mine and a token of import. Future success brings greater reward. Swear to serve the will of Kototh and his Overlord Shair."

Abnaric stated, "While the conditions are met, and opportunity for improvement remains, I stand in service to the god Kototh and his overlord Shair. May our association yield profit for all." The Dragon hissed, "I require a more definitive statement!" Abnaric replied, "I can give none until the mission is a success. You would certainly not want me to demean you with a promise that proves impossible to keep."

Acceding to a command from Father, Shair said, "It is acceptable for now. Seal the Tower of Burning Sands. Its evil threatens father's jungle. He finds the contamination distasteful. End it." After getting details, Abnaric explained the task to the others. When he was told of the places dark magics Kaprie agreed heartily. Smiling, Abnaric sighed, "We require certain items of equipment, great lord."

Nodding, the Dragon pulled a great sword from its horde and threw it to Kaprie. Abnaric translated, "This thing is a sword dedicated to a law god. You can use its power."

Abnaric glared Kaprie to silence as he began to question the weapon's presence in the hoard. Soon Kaprie was armored and Aja was armed well. Smiling, the dragon said, "You may take fifty gold coins. As a wizard, and possible associate, you need nothing more."

Filling his pouch, Abnaric stated, "Knowledge of their tongue and writing would help." The Dragon nodded. Abnaric shivered as bolts of magic locked on his mind, forcing knowledge of the ancient tower and its keepers into it. When the blasts stopped, he slumped to his knees. Shair noted, "You are still sane."

Numb, Abnaric replied, "Yes, great lord. Thank you for your confidence and gift." Shair chuckled as he heard him silently add, "You dirty bastard." Smiling, he nudged a ring toward Abnaric saying, "This ring is known to my servants. They obey its wearer."

Abnaric guickly snatched up the ring. After examining it, he placed it in his pouch. Shair asked, "Why don't you put it on?" Abnaric hedged, "On the chance that some past wearer defiled it with strange and evil curses, I wait until it can be fully examined."

Shair stated, "I promise no such thing exists." Abnaric soothed, "Sadly, great lord, there are mortals who would do such evil without consultation with their betters. For both our sakes, it would be best to assure no danger exists. I would not have you demeaned by inadvertently presenting an item that lessens my worth."

Sighing at not having such a curse in place, Shair ordered, "Go then. Travel west until you reach Shieram then follow the river south. I give you two months to succeed." Abnaric bowed, "Quite beneficent, Overlord. We will leave at once."

When the party was three miles from the cave, Abnaric ordered, "Wait here. I have to examine this ring." Kaprie smiled, happily sitting and gazing at his marvelous new weapon. Scowling, Aja nocked an arrow to her bow and stood guard.

Alone, Abnaric set the ring on a flat rock. Drawing a pentagram around it, he began a complex chant to uncover its nature. The essence of its power was communication. Those of the right nature would subconsciously understand the import of the wearer. As a result, they could offer him no harm.

Underlying this central force, the ring broadcast the name of Shair. Abnaric saw this message was only discernable by creatures with a degree of intellect. Those creatures that were mere brutes, such as Ogres, would not hear his name. It was for the leaders of the Kotothi only.

Nodding, Abnaric slipped the signet onto his left hand. While it was a thing of power, the extent of its utility would depend on his ability to treat with, and influence, those who must serve. It was an introduction not a hammer to compel submission.

Accepting that, Abnaric returned to the others. He preferred a tool that forced him to rely on his own ability. Minions enslaved to him would eventually rebel. Convinced to serve, there would be no such danger. Chuckling, he thought of Anya and thanked her for teaching him that lesson.

Kaprie noted, "This is a blessed blade. It is dedicated to Ateuseul, the god who slays beasts." Smiling, Abnaric stood a bit away saying, "We will go a few more miles before we camp. This ring protects us from Kotothi creatures. See you offer them no harm."

Aja shrugged. Kaprie nodded sadly and agreed. For a moment, it seemed to Abnaric as if his words went in one of Aja's ears and out the other unimpeded. Deciding against it, he allowed her to lead them down the mountain. Surely she would not be foolish enough to ignore him.

Sternly, he thought, if she was it would be her loss. Now that his foot was firmly on the ladder of power, no one would dislodge it. If her actions endangered his position she would die. The nature of his new allies, and his own, would demand it.

That night, the ring received its first test. A towering monster roared and charged, boulder in hand. Stepping forward, Abnaric extended the ring. Shaking its head, the Athach sniffed carefully then dropped its boulder and moved away. Abnaric smiled, "As you see, many of the dangers of the wild are no longer dangers."

After a week of struggling down from the plateau, Abnaric found himself in a battle against his own arrogance. The temptation to overreach himself was immense. Silently, he fought to curb his lust. There would be time to be an Emperor among the Kotothi. For now, you are a magician with a trinket. Do not forget it.

Once they reached the lower hills the party made camp. As Kaprie lit a fire, Abnaric noted three beautiful women sensuously moving toward them. Alerting the others, he cast invisibility on himself and moved closer. With his disappearance a pale of impenetrable darkness covered the area. Their attackers were Serpent Women, things of Chaos.

Kaprie drew his sword. As it left the scabbard it screamed with fury. The blade seemed desperate to taste enemy blood. Somehow, wielding it gave Kaprie the ability to pierce the darkness. He ran forward to attack the two serpents closing on him and Aja. The third remained back, in human form, weaving her magics.

Abnaric moved carefully toward the sibilant chanting. Serpent women were powerful. Alone, he knew he could never slay one with anything other than magic. The blessing of Seth granted the might to defeat all but the greatest warriors.

The creatures had to be cleaved in twain in a matter of seconds or all the damage done was for naught. Only a powerful slayer could hope to do so. Hoping for luck, Abnaric decided to risk a capture. The benefits would be great.

As Kaprie waded into the others, Abnaric stepped in front of their leader. Making himself visible, he cast a spell to fascinate her. Barely, his will overpowered hers. The darkness was withdrawn and she knelt at his feet. Abnaric snapped, "You are mine, Tiesha. Soon, you will be mine to the depths of your soul."

Roaring happily, Kaprie dispatched the serpents and hurried over, sword dripping. Tnterposing himself, Abnaric ordered, "We keep her alive." Kaprie roared, "She is a thing of the pit, Elgar! She dies."

Abnaric replied, "She is a master of darkness. Her knowledge gives us the key we need to destroy the tower. Sheath your sword!" Putting the sword away, Kaprie became more reasonable. Nodding, he said, "She dies when you have what you need."

Agreeing, Abnaric promised, "There will be death when her usefulness is over." Silently, he decided the future corpse would be Kaprie. The man was too smart and dangerous. Given his hostile mindset, his presence was too great a risk to allow.

Tiesha was held enthralled for the rest of the journey to Shieram. As they traveled, Abnaric discovered more about her kind. They were all but dormant in the daytime. Each dawn, she assumed her serpent form, curled up and slept.

Sensing the need for this, Abnaric did not try to compel her to act otherwise. They could travel at night if they must now that they were out of the mountains. He would not give up his prize over such a minor inconvenience.

First he would have all her knowledge then her entire being. He could use her once she was cursed to loyalty. What finer assassin than a Serpent Woman? She had the power to slay with her arts or entice, then crush them to pulp. Besides, he leered, when she was his, her body would make the journey warmer.

Tiesha had a voluptuous and entirely sensual body. Sex was the lure her kind used to bait mortals. Her allure was all but magical. Each night, Abnaric found himself at war with his own lust. He fought the urge. To succumb before she was owned could be his death.

Halfway to Shieram, the party encountered a war band of trolls. Abnaric showed his ring. When they stopped, a tall, armored troll stepped forward sneering, "Shair's minions appear to be diminishing in worth."

Abnaric noted, "That is something to discuss with the Overlord. Shall I tell him you doubt his wisdom?" Blanching at the thought, the King retorted, "I doubt you. Perhaps you are a thief." Abnaric commented, "If so, there would be no doubt of my ability. The things we wield are the property of Shair."

Seeing the troll gain some respect, Abnaric added, "If not, your attitude demeans the Overlord and calls his wisdom into question. Both are things a loyal servant should mention." The King replied, "I am sure there will be no need. It is my duty to assure you are genuine." With the sure knowledge of victory, Abnaric stated, "Now that you are sure, perhaps you will extend minor aid." The King glared.

Abnaric explained, "I need a large wicker basket with carrying poles for my new slave. I would also like two slaves to carry it. They must be able to travel in the daylight." The King hissed, "The basket shall be provided. I see no reason to diminish my larder." Abnaric promised, "Grant two men now and I return the favor twice over. Surely a great king is in no danger of starvation."

Smiling, the King offered, "It is agreed if you replace the humans with elves." Abnaric shrugged, "Whatever flavor you prefer, noble lord." The King roared, "Done. Bring two elf women in exchange." Abnaric noted, "I said twice over. I will bring one elf woman or two elf men."

Laughing, the Troll stated, "The Overlord chose wisely, my friend. I await your return with my delicacy. It has been months since I tasted the hot blood of an elf woman. I will relish its flavor."

Abnaric bowed and made polite conversation. An hour later, the trolls dispatched to collect his goods returned. Seeing the condition of the nude men, Abnaric snapped, "Is there nothing better? These men are nearly unserviceable." The King shrugged, "They are what I provide. Both are human males." As Abnaric glared, the troll host withdrew.

Examining the men, Abnaric decided he could make them usable. Turning to Kaprie, he asked, "Do you have any clothing for them?" Kaprie replied, "We can rig loin clothes." While Kaprie took care of their needs, Abnaric explained, "You are mine until we reach Shieram. If you serve well, you may continue with me or go free."

One of the men coughed, "If we don't?" Abnaric smiled, "My friend Tiesha will be fed." Seeing Kaprie's glare, he added, "Given the fact that I saved you from a Troll cave, I doubt the problem will arise. Am I wrong?"

The man replied, "Not as far as I'm concerned. Long as the money's hard and pure, I'm happy." The other man nodded in agreement. As the others slept, Abnaric and Tiesha sat with them. Abnaric prodded them for details about themselves. As they spoke, he smiled.

The man who questioned him was Xil Colparda. The other was Renyil, a trader from Port Doman. Xil was escorting him to Gom for a trade negotiation when they ran into Jaxon raiders. Both were stripped and taken off the road. Their slaves were freed and led away.

Trolls took them while Xil struggled to provide for Renyil. They spent ten days in the cave, as Xil put it, being tenderized. As they spoke, Abnaric noted Xil stated the truth with a shrug. His sojourn with the trolls left him untouched. On the other hand, Renyil was shaking. Every new sound made him jerk in fear.

Letting the men sleep, Abnaric guarded the camp until dawn. Renyil might be a usable tool in future. Xil was a man he wanted to win over. The little man's strength impressed him. As they neared Shieram, his physical ability also proved notable.

After less then a day, Kaprie was shouldering Renyil's load. Xil walked on. It was clear he was in pain with every step. He ignored it. At the gates, Abnaric took Xil aside and offered, "I can use a man like you."

Xil replied, "I’m not available Elgar." Raising an eyebrow, Abnaric asked, "You know me?" Xil replied, "One of my men filed a report. Look me up when you get back to Gom. I manage the Horseman's Rest." Abnaric extended his hand. Xil shook it. After accepting ten gold from Abnaric, he led Renyil into the city.

Abnaric raised his collar and smiled. With Kaprie's aid, he carried Tiesha to the closest tavern. When she was safely in their room, he went into the street. Locating some street kids, he said, "There's a gold coin for the kid who tells Cholad Larma he has a friend at the South Hostel and leads him here."

One of the kids took off like a cat with its tail on fire. A second later, the others were after him. Assuming the first boy was the one who knew, Abnaric snared the others with a Disorder spell. While they wandered aimlessly, the boy disappeared into an alley.

Letting the spell drop, Abnaric returned to the hostel. As he sat to dinner, an expectant boy found Abnaric. Behind him, Cholad grinned, “Nice to see you again, kid.” Abnaric paid the happy boy. As he ran off in glee, Cholad took a seat. When he saw no one could hear, he noted, “Friends tell me you got the bum’s rush. Looking to set up shop with an old friend?”

As he sipped some wine, he weighed his friend. Deciding, he stated, “Eventually. For the moment, I need help. You know the lay of the land around here.” Cholad shrugged, “As well as anyone. What you needing?”

Abnaric locked his eyes with a riveting gaze as he smiled, “An old cemetery. Preferably one with a bad reputation, if you know my meaning.” Before his shocked friend could reply, he added, “While I do what I must there, I need you to watch my back. It is not impossible some danger may be involved.”

Cholad stated, “Weird shit don’t scare me. Isn’t anything I bust a nut to hunt for either.” Abnaric said, “It’s important. I’ll owe you.” Cholad smiled. After ordering a drink from a passing wench, he whispered, “Fact is, I’ve been thinking about you. Have it good here. Married the guild master’s daughter and am friends with her brothers.”

Guessing his intent, Abnaric stated, “If you help me, my lady and I will eliminate the impediment.” Cholad chuckled, “Always quick on the uptake. If he’s out of the way I’m Guild Master.” Abnaric yawned, “Consider it done. Be back here in an hour with anyone you need.”

When Cholad shook his hand and left, Abnaric smiled. After finishing his meal, he went up to his room and got Tiesha. When the thief returned with three friends, they were waiting outside for him.

Chapter Three

Abnaric looked at the run down old cemetery after following Cholad and his men across the river. Cholad shrugged, “People stay the hell away from this place. Have for a long time. It’s cursed and haunted.” A detection spell later a thin smile lit Abnaric’s face. The place burned with evil. He could almost smell the power glowing in its center.

Fixing his gaze on an ancient mausoleum, he purred, “It’s perfect. Let’s move.” After breaking into the structure Abnaric carefully arranged his materials on the lid of a sarcophagus in the middle of the floor. When the area was clean, he drew a casting circle and pentagram on the floor.

The power of a Serpent Woman stemmed from the gods Nergal and Seth. Among other things, Nergal was lord of the dead and Seth commanded dark evils. Laying the curse on Tiesha in a place of the dead in the dark of night drew him closer to her nature. This greatly increased his chance of success. He only hoped Cholad could keep unwanted intruders, human or otherwise, away until he finished.

When she was chained in place, Abnaric lit his candles and started the first of the fumigants. At each step, he marked a part of her body with a sigil and lit a new fumigant. Finally, as midnight approached, he uttered the final invocation and laid his might on her soul.

Stepping back on facing intense resistance, Abnaric pressed his assault. Twice more he spoke the invocation and applied the unguent to her forehead. As the third repetition rolled from his lips a cold presence gathered in the sepulcher.

Tiesha's eyes opened. In a low, masculine voice, she said, "I give this daughter of Seth as wife. Do you accept her as such?" Tiesha's eyes were orbs of red power as she spoke.

Clearly, Abnaric decided, the shit was cascading from on high as he walked in a sewer below. Sternly, he replied, "As wife, to serve and obey me always without question. To this, I agree." The male voice hissed, "So it shall be."

Fighting fear, Abnaric set the spell in place. This time it slid easily to the depths of her being. The male voice ordered, "Consummate your union. You may not release us until you have." After increasing his wards, Abnaric stripped and joined Tiesha on the altar. Ravishing her, he stated, "I take thee as wife, obedient servant and tool for all time."

Despite the power of his wards, he felt the oppressive dark power riveting them. Tiesha gasped with exhilaration as it became one with her. He shivered with terror but maintained his discipline.

When he finished, Abnaric stepped down, dressed and dispelled the spirits. Feeling the warmth return, he shivered. The one fear he had was Death, the power of Rahab and Abaddon. He felt it here as he took Tiesha. He never wished to again. He would insure that fact if it cost a thousand lives to make it so.

While he mused, Tiesha got down from the altar. Kneeling, she kissed his feet saying, "I am yours to command, husband. I require two lives a month and your body when you choose." Abnaric stated, "You will accept any I choose to lend you to also." Bowing to the ground, she said, "Yes, husband."

Smiling at her vow, Abnaric led her out of the mausoleum. Cholad hissed, "We lost two men. A demon attacked." Abnaric replied, "Too bad. They have any children?" Cholad stated, "All loners." Nodding, Abnaric stated, "I will be at the slave market tomorrow. Have someone invite your father in law to visit me at the hostel tomorrow night. Before the morning, you will be Guild Master."

Cholad noted, "I already had a friend mention an exceptional bit of fluff. He expects her delivered to a cottage he keeps for his pleasures tonight." Pointing, he said, "See the light up the hill on the other side of the river?"

Abnaric replied, "Indeed. Is he alone?" Cholad stated, "No one inside except a slave or two. There will be a couple of boys outside guarding him." Abnaric stated, "I will have to kill them." Cholad nodded and went to join his remaining man. Turning to Tiesha, Abnaric asked, "Can you swim the river while I hold on?" She replied, "Easily as my true self."

Leading her to the river, Abnaric stripped and bundled his possessions. When they were secure on his back, he ordered, "Take serpent form and carry me to the other side of the river." She melted into python form. When Abnaric had a hold on her, Tiesha slid into the river and swam. He fought to keep his head up as the powerful coils propelled them forward.

It was difficult. The side to side motion of the coils abraded his flesh. Now and again, a coil battered his body. By the time he felt the other bank, he was bleeding in more then one place and nearly drowned.

From behind, Tiesha purred, "I am hungry, husband. You smell wonderful." Abnaric snapped, "You will feed soon. Do not come closer!" Shivering with hunger, Tiesha stood and watched sadly as he dressed. His flesh looked delicious.

When Abnaric and Tiesha arrived at the cottage, two men blocked their path. The biggest said, "What ya want?" He replied, "I am led to understand that your master expects a visit from my Tiesha." Nodding, the man stated, "She goes in. You stay. He's paying a gold."

After accepting the coin, Abnaric lowered his mouth to Tiesha's ear ordering, "Go inside. Seduce the man. When he is yours feed on him. Slay anyone else who is in the house however you must."

Seeing Tiesha run forward with a radiant smile, the big man laughed, "She's a willing slut. May give her a ride myself when she's through." Abnaric stated, "She relishes her work. There is no doubt of that."

Twenty minutes later, a scream was heard from inside. When the guards turned, Abnaric formed a spell and burned both with hellfire. After making sure there were no others about, he looked through the window. The serpent Tiesha was drawing a pulpy mass of meat into her body.

When she was full and sleepy, Abnaric entered the house. After gathering whatever money and jewels he could find, he stood over Tiesha and focused his power on travel. A moment later, they appeared in his room at the hostel.

Struggling, he got Tiesha into her basket and closed the lid. She would be valuable, he mused, but there were liabilities in her nature. Someone had to be there to bring her home after the kill. A true shame. When she ate Cior it would be her death.

Abnaric went to the slave market the next morning. As he passed an exercise cage, he noted a pretty black woman standing aloof from the other black slaves. He pointed her out asking, “How much?”

The man shrugged, “Ain’t for sale. Owner moves all his Nylasa bitches up in Gom. Pay more for them there. One there will go high. She’s young and high caste.” When he returned to his room, Abnaric wrote Cholad a note. It stated, “There is a high caste Nylasa slave at Felion’s. I need her. Convince the man that selling her here is wiser than keeping her for Gom.”

Two days later Abnaric boarded a riverboat south. As he did, Cholad arrived with the black woman. Abnaric stated, "Thank you, my friend. Did the slaver give you any trouble?" Cholad shrugged, "He was agreeable after a private explanation. You owe me thirty gold."

Abnaric passed the money over and took the woman's leash. Cholad noted, "The guild master disappeared. I hold his chair until he is found." Abnaric commented, "When such a man flees duty it takes an eternity to find him." Shaking Abnaric's hand firmly, Cholad said, "Shieram is your home. Return safely." Abnaric stated, "I have little doubt in my ability to survive. We will talk when I see you again."

When Tiesha was safely in a closet, Abnaric sat the black woman on his bed. As he sat beside her, she shivered in fear. He asked, "Do you speak Gomese?" When she remained silent, he slapped her face snarling, "Answer!" She remained silent.

Seeing he was getting nowhere, and knowing from her eyes that she understood, Abnaric rose. After pacing a moment, he said, "Understand your condition. You are my slave. Serve obediently and I return you to your people. I sell you to the next slaver we meet otherwise." The woman glared, "I am a woman of the tiger."

Abnaric soothed, "At the moment you are a woman of Abnaric Elgar. If you accept that fact your chance at a decent life is not over." She asked, "What do you want?" Abnaric replied, "Obedience and knowledge." She warned, "I will not be defiled." Abnaric roared, "Never place conditions on your service! Do you want freedom?" Sadly, the woman sighed, "Yes, master."

Abnaric leered, "Good. We start with obedience. Lie on the bed. Tomorrow will be soon enough to discuss your other duties." After repeated ravishing, the woman noted, "You know a woman well, master." Stroking her nipple, Abnaric asked, "What is your name?" She replied,

"N'gza." Removing her chains and collar, Abnaric stated, "You will remember your place without these." She stated, "Yes, master. Thank you."

Abnaric questioned her for the next hour. She was a high caste woman of the Ga’Nylasa. The jungles were her home. She knew weapons and the basic arts of her people’s tiger shamans. Had she not been taken slave she would be a shaman. She had been purifying herself to go to the tiger when the Domanese attacked.

Smiling at such luck, Abnaric said, "You will tell me what you know about Port Doman, the Pa’Nylasa and other tribes in the area. You will also stop calling me master. We both know it is the case without constant repetition."

N'gza smiled happily at being freed from this onerous duty. Women were the power with her people. Only they could go to the tiger. She found it offensive to call a man master. Perhaps this pale worm of a man, unlike the others, was a person who would prove worthy of the love he stole. He was quite handsome in his way.

Abnaric ordered N'gza to sleep. While she did, he planned. She could provide a key to the jungle. Perhaps he could build a nice army. He would know once he pumped her dry. He had to know about the Pa’Nylasa. They were the ones who worshipped the things at the tower.

When he sealed the place they would need something to replace it. He would be happy to be their god. Hopefully, N'gza could tell him enough to figure out the best approach. Being a living god would be a good start on the way up.

After a week learning from his slave a scowl rode Abnaric’s face. Her people were worthless to him. They were dedicated to their damn cats. Also, like just about all the jungle tribes, they hated white people.

Kacili slavers and the Domanese made sure of it, the stupid sots. The Kacili rode roughshod into the place now and again. They left nothing but destruction behind. The Domanese treated all blacks as subhumans. Even their allies, the lzza, were treated like dogs.

Thanks to them, my chance at godhood is gone. There is no way Pa’Nylasa accept a white god. Except for a few Gomese traders, they kill whites on sight. Those they had trouble killing were captured and tortured to death to make their might part of the tribe.

Unless I can figure a different approach, Abnaric mused, sealing the tower isn't going to get me much more then a pat on the head from the dragon. That won't cut it. I'll find a bigger slice of the pie somehow.

Abnaric woke from his musings as Tiesha stroked his leg. Smiling, she said, "I will soon hunger again. I already hunger for you." Smiling, Abnaric did his conjugal duty, thinking of his plan for the jungle as he worked.

N'gza walked in as Abnaric rolled off of Tiesha. She scowled, "I will return later." Abnaric snapped, "Stay!" Seeing the hatred in both women's eyes, he said, "You are both my servants. I don't care what you think of each other." N'gza hissed, "She is a devil. You are defiled by her touch."

Coldly, Tiesha slithered into her gown hissing, "And you are a noisome piece of meat I would happily burp over." Abnaric roared, "That is it!" Standing, he ordered, "Both of you, naked and on the bed. Now!"

When N'gza failed to comply, Abnaric stalked over and stripped her himself. Crying, she was placed beside Tiesha on the bed. Abnaric snapped, "You stay there until I see the hate leave your eyes. Move flat up against each other!"

Obeying his disgusting order, N'gza felt the cold caress of Tiesha's flesh. When she shivered, Tiesha smiled. Soon, they were clawing at each other and biting angrily. Sighing, Abnaric snapped, "Stop it! Tiesha, go to your basket until I call."

As he glared at N'gza, it became clear that some hatred was too deep to master. His own hate for his father was a fine example. Trying to force peace on these women would break his hold on them. He sadly soothed, "I'm sorry N'gza. I didn't realize how much you hate her. I'll find you another place to spend the nights."

N'gza pleaded, "It is wrong for you to touch that beast. It is evil incarnate." Abnaric sighed, "I am her master. It is often the way of magicians to deal with such things to gain power. She can do nothing to harm me." N'gza sighed, "It worries me. More so as we draw closer."

Abnaric gave the woman the expected hug. She was in love. Using that fact was the only way to keep her from attacking Tiesha. Sighing, he commented, "Honestly, the only disability of the bond is that if she is slain I die. Beyond that, I am in complete control."

Hugging him tighter, N'gza cried, "My poor, dear. You are doomed." Wiping her eyes, Abnaric chided, "Just so it doesn't come from you." Sighing sadly, N'gza promised, "I let it live, for your sake." Smiling, Abnaric lowered her to the bed and made slow, sensuous love.

After escorting N'gza to a separate cabin, Abnaric found Aja and said, "Keep an eye on N'gza. I saw a couple men eyeing her yesterday." Aja snapped, "She's your slave, not mine." Abnaric snapped, "Anything that happens to N'gza happens to you." Angrily, Aja loosened a dagger saying, "I'm not a damn whore to order around, Elgar." Sighing, Abnaric asked, "Please, Aja? They are just here to help with the mission. It's you I want."

Mollified, Aja apologized and did as he wished. Walking back to his room, Abnaric decided Aja's presence in his circle was troublesome. When the mission ended, she would leave, one way or the other. Her talent was not enough to balance her foul nature.

Returning to his cabin, Abnaric found Tiesha waiting lewdly on the bed. Sighing, he went to her. As he began to make love, he asked, "What can you tell me about that place I mentioned?" As he bit her neck, she gasped, "Very ancient darkness. Ba—en—kekon is god. Leader is old and strong."

Smiling, Abnaric continued the seductive interrogation. Extrapolating from her hints, he saw they died if they faced the might of the place. They had to find a secret route to the altar. Even then, they needed to start at dawn and succeed before dusk. The ancients would gut them otherwise.

The next morning, Abnaric sat with Kaprie and Aja as the Captain stopped to negotiate the passage fee with the Kacili. Abnaric said, "We can't go in the front gate. We'll climb the sand and go in through the top. I have a spell to help with that."

Kaprie nodded, "Once inside, I take the lead." Abnaric interrupted, "No. We get as deep as we can before I let you loose. You're the only one strong enough to reach the eye and put it back where it has to be. You don't take a step into battle until its unavoidable."

Seeing Kaprie's fury, Abnaric reminded them of what they had to do. In the altar room was a large orb, one of the actual eyes of Ba—en—kekon supposedly. The eye had to be taken from the altar and placed in the hands of a pair of statues in the back of the room. Until that happened, they were in trouble. If the master of the tower woke and got to them before they succeeded, they were doomed.

Abnaric warned, “Tiesha was positive on that point. The master is one of the first humans and wholly owned by darkness. He has been a spirit ruler there for millennia. We must succeed without facing him.” Aja soothed, "We'll get it done, Abnaric."

Nodding, he stood and went to see how negotiations were proceeding. As he watched from the deck, his eyebrow raised. They seemed to be having a party. The captain sat on a cushion smoking while a beautiful woman danced.

From the tone and smiles of the Kacili, it became clear they were more then the crude barbarian horsemen he thought they were. There had a grace and elegance that intrigued him. Judging the guards who stood around the meeting, he could see they had a hard edge as well. They were like their blades, supple and sleek at rest, sharp and deadly when needed.

As he made a point to learn their ways, Abnaric noticed a coffle of slaves behind the guards. All were naked except one who had a cloak thrown over her shoulders. Hoping his assumption proved true, he went down the gangplank and toward the meeting.

When the men glared at him, Abnaric stated, "Forgive my ignorant intrusion, lords of the desert, I had hoped you might find time to speak business with a worthless man." The Captain snapped, "Dammit, Elgar!" The Eldest Kacili chuckled, "I take no offense. You pay twenty gold to pass. Our meeting is over."

Glaring at Abnaric, the Captain paid the money and stormed up the gangplank. Smiling, Abnaric said, "Sadly, I do not speak your tongue. I hope you do not find Gomese offensive to your ear." Signing for Abnaric to sit, the Elder asked, "What can an impoverished son of the desert hope to do for you, noble sir?"

Abnaric shrugged, "I noticed a slave so ugly you are too ashamed to let her go naked. I thought I might relieve you of such shameful property." The Elder laughed, "You err, noble sir. We shield mortal eyes from her radiance lest beauty blind us. It would devour the heart of a man such as yourself." Abnaric noted, "I would risk the loss. May a man look at her?"

A moment later, the woman knelt under a raised sheet, protected from the sun. She was chained and gagged. She was also extremely beautiful. Abnaric stated, "I understand the depths of your embarrassment, great lord. Her skin is badly discolored. Perhaps you might accept ten gold to be shed of her."

The Elder replied, "It is the sensuous hue of her kind. Even crude as she is, I accept no less than one hundred and fifty." Sadly, Abnaric noted, "A shame your price does not match her merit. I could relinguish forty gold coins to save a new friend from embarrassment."

While the Captain waited angrily, Abnaric bargained. After forty minutes, and a good deal of wine, he paid seventy gold and led the elf onto the ship. The Captain snapped, "You cost me money, Elgar. I could've got them down to fifteen." Smiling, Abnaric tossed the Captain the last of his gold saying, "Have eight. Sorry about the problem."

Tossing the elf on the bed, Abnaric turned his ring to conceal the Kotothi mark. When she stopped glaring, he removed her gag and talked to her. After some effort, they found Nylasa to be a common language.

Abnaric stated, "For now, you are mine. I will allow you to earn your freedom." The Elf snapped, "I do nothing willingly, human." Abnaric sighed, "I have no wish to hurt you. I want to know more about your people. Teach me and you’re free." The Elf replied, "I will not arm your hunt."

Meeting her eyes with sincerity, Abnaric promised, "I have no personal desire to harm elves." As she gauged his words, he mused, it was a true statement. He wouldn't take a step out of his way to hurt one. It was his soon to be friends who had the need to slaughter them.

Relaxing, the Elf said, "It is one of our gifts to read the intent of others. It is clear you mean me no harm and your words seem true." After a moment, she asked, "Will you prove them?" Abnaric stated, "Of course." She snapped, "Remove these disgusting silver chains."

Abnaric noticed the chains binding her were indeed silver. Happily, he offered, "On your word not to leave this vessel without my express permission and your promise to instruct me, I agree." She stated, "I am Elai. I will teach those things mortals may know. I will not leave the ship until you permit it."

As he slid the chains into a bag, and hefted it, Abnaric figured they would bring five gold. The knowledge he was going to be getting would yield more. That was sure. Elf slaves, especially women, went for a lot in the city.

For the next ten days, Abnaric spent every waking hour with his instructors. N'gza taught him about the jungle and her people's enemies. Tiesha taught him the powers of Darkness and the hierarchy of Chaos. Elai spoke about her people and warned him to beware of the insidious Kototh.

As they neared the foothills of the Gholani Mountains, Abnaric sat with Elai saying, "We leave soon. It's a shame I won't have the chance to visit your people." Elai, completely misled by now, stated, "I assure you, Abnaric Elgar, you will be welcome to our hill." He shrugged, "I could never find it." Elai promised, "Should you ever wish to visit, I will take you there."

Abnaric blurted, "Really! That would be wonderful." After a pause, he earnestly asked, "Do you promise?" Elai smiled, "On all I hold dear, sweet man. I will teach you everything I can then." Smiling happily, Abnaric kissed her hand and stated, "I will certainly visit. Where do your people live?"

Carefully, Elai described the fastest way to reach her. His interested guestions even led her to describe the pitfalls along the route. Bowing, Abnaric said, "You have my leave to depart. I will visit at my earliest opportunity." Elai kissed his cheek. Weaving a spell around herself, she flew from the vessel toward the hills. As she disappeared, Abnaric muttered, "I'm sure you won't mind if I bring a few dozen friends with me."

Laughing, Abnaric went to get the others ready. They were no more then forty miles from the tower. The rest of the journey was best made on foot. Within a half hour, they watched the ship continue down river and headed into the hills.

Before the river was out of sight dusk came. As night arrived Abnaric noticed a person on a nearby hill watching them. Going to Kaprie, he whispered, "We're being watched. Guard the camp. Keep the fire low." Kaprie asked, "What are you going to do?"

Abnaric shrugged, "Nothing. If they come I'll have surprises ready." Calling Aja, he said, "Once it gets full dark take a position in that tree. If I give the signal, shoot whoever I'm talking to." After telling the other women to be ready, Abnaric sat back and cast a spell around the camp.

Near midnight, Abnaric felt the disappearance of his ward. Someone just flicked it out of existence. Waking, he saw a stunning woman with bat wings striding toward him. A blue mist swirled down from Aja's tree and Kaprie stood paralyzed.

The woman cast her regal eyes at Tiesha snapping, "If the thing moves T slay it." Standing, Abnaric showed his ring. This could only be a Baobhan Sith. Her beauty was unearthly. For the first time in his life he felt lust rise unbidden.

Moving closer, the majestic lady stated, "You are Abnaric Elgar. T was told to expect you." Abnaric replied, "It is a pleasure dear lady. Do you also serve the Overlord?"

She sneered, "So he believes. I am a Queen. Refer to me as such." Abnaric hinted, "A shame a more personal title is not available, your majesty." The Queen snarled, "I was not told to tolerate lust, mortal." Baring her long, vampiric canines, she added, "Continue to speak in jest and T drain you."

Stepping back, Abnaric stated, "I intend no offense, your majesty. As the servant of Shair, I accept none." With a chuckle, the Queen chided, "You wish to test your little powers against mine? How brave. What would you like to be turned into, mortal?"

Weighing the woman's gaze, Abnaric determined two things. She was amused and deadly serious. Taking a blind shot, he replied, "If you cannot be my friend as I am, make me the creature you prefer. I do not care to be your enemy."

A moment later, power washed over the camp leaving the women paralyzed. Smiling, the Queen cast lances of power into Abnaric. His effort to fight her was overwhelmed. In a moment, he heard cloth tear. His body burned. When the throbbing ended, Abnaric felt strangeness to his head and back. Turning, he saw he had bat wings. The Queen said, "You are now the creature I prefer. Shall I leave you that way?"

Controlling both curiosity and anger, Abnaric stated, "If it is required to speak with you." She noted, "You are strong of mind for a mortal. Most are trembling on their knees by now." Abnaric observed, "There would be no advantage to be gained from doing so, your majesty. Could we continue on a tad more civil note?"

The Queen chided, "I may keep you as you are. You are handsome as a male of the maleless. In time, I may choose to discover what you mortals find so stimulating about sex." Abnaric offered, "Should you do so, at any time, I am at your disposal, dear Queen. You will find me more than suitable to the task."

Frowning, the Queen snapped, "I forgive your effrontery. I see five. I was told three." Indicating Kaprie and Aja, Abnaric said, "These two are my slaves. The others have been added since I left Shair." She stated, "I keep them with me. They die if you fail."

Abnaric began to form an argument. The Queen explained, "Both would succumb, one because of the lure of darkness, the other because the power ensnares Nylasa." After a glare, she added, "I have been a queen longer then your Gom has existed mortal. Do not question my will."

Irritated, Abnaric stepped forward and coldly stated, "Your highness, I accept your advice and honor your accomplishments but I will not be treated like a dog. If you cannot deal with me as an ally, if not equal, then I continue without aid."

Immediately, the Queen struck his face. Abnaric was knocked to the ground by the blow. His jaw felt broken. Who would believe such a gorgeous lady could break his face with a slap? When he wiped his face with his left hand, the stone of his ring began to glow.

The Queen hissed, "Take the ring away from there. I apologize, mortal." Abnaric heard some fear in the voice that cut through his pain dazed fog. He could ignore her request and get even or abide by it. He decided there was more to gain by taking the chance and lowered his hand.

Breathing easier, the Queen cast another spell. Abnaric felt the pain of his jaw disappear. He also felt the wings melt away. The Queen handed him a scroll saying, "This map gives a route to the tower. Follow it exactly and you avoid the warriors who defend the approaches."

When she was sure he understood it completely, the Queen stated, "On your success, these creatures will be returned. We shall not meet again." As Abnaric said, "I hope you are wrong," the Queen disappeared with N'gza and Tiesha.

While the smoke cleared Kaprie snapped, "Where did she go," and Aja woke. Abnaric snapped, "Come down from the tree. The battle is over." Blushing, Aja complied. Abnaric soothed, "She overmatched us all. Don't worry about it." Aja promised, "Next time I shoot instead of waiting." Abnaric raised an eyebrow then shrugged, "A good idea if you're sure the target is an enemy."

Qn dawn's arrival Abnaric explained the map to the others and entrusted it to Kaprie. Smiling, he guipped, "These bumps are nothing compared to the Kameran. I can follow this to the inch." Abnaric stated, "Do so. We must reach the tower at dawn. Arrange it."

Starting out, Kaprie said, "Two days to get within a mile or so. We'll be at the place at dawn in three days." Aja snapped, "We can do it guicker." Kaprie retorted, "And be too tired to fight when we arrive." Settling it, Abnaric said, "We follow Kaprie. He is the mountaineer."

Around noon, they entered a narrow ravine. About halfway down, Kaprie scratched his head and snapped, "Impossible!" Abnaric asked, "What is it?" Kaprie said, "The map says we turn right."

Seeing the sheer walls and boulders, Abnaric noted, "Unless there is a hidden cave of some kind, that is impossible." After a half hour of searching, Aja crowed, "Over here." When the men approached, she slid a boulder aside and crawled into a three foot high hole. Angrily, Abnaric followed after her. As she neared light, hands dragged her out. Hearing the sound of combat and tearing cloth, he roared, "I serve the Overlord!"

Aja stood half naked in a sea of leering goblins. Two of their number were bleeding. One was dead. Abnaric was sorely tempted to let the things have her. Sighing, he ordered, "Stand away from her. Where is your leader?"

Seeing the ring, the goblins unhappily left Aja and escorted Abnaric to the throne. Abnaric nodded to the large goblin that sat there and explained their mission. The Goblin stated, "Dine with us. I have heard condemned humans prefer to die with full bellies."

Aja hissed, "We aren't condemned!" The Goblin asked, "Shall I restrain the pleasure device?" As Aja stepped toward the King, Abnaric slashed her to a halt with a paralysis spell sighing, "I apologize for her manners, lord goblin. Human females can be contrary." Not liking Aja's condition and the leering tone of the conversation, Kaprie stepped next to Aja glaring, "I want us out of here, Elgar."

Abnaric replied, "As do I. If we are inhospitable we get out after they digest us." Pursing his lips, Kaprie nodded in agreement. There were too many of them for one warrior.

Raising an eyebrow, the Goblin said, "Your female will be mobile again soon. It appears I should provide other accommodations for your companions." Abnaric agreed, "It would be preferable. I doubt they would appreciate dinner. Do not harm them."

The Goblin promised, "No more then they us. If the female slays another, she is ours." Turning Abnaric explained, "They are going to take you to a place to rest. I need to stay. Do not harm them unless they attack." Glaring at Aja, he added, "The King says if you kill another goblin, you are his. I won't be able to stop him."

Aja glowered violently and left the room with Kaprie and their escort. The goblin ordered, "Bring the meal. We shall dine." When a large roast that looked suspiciously humanoid was rolled in, the King asked, "Is the entertainment ready?"

Abnaric watched as a human man was chained in the center of the room. As they ate, three goblins methodically tortured the man until all he could do was whimper between screams. The Goblin stated, "I find screaming improves a fine meal. How do you feel about it?" Abnaric sighed, "It was an interesting spectacle, if a bit rushed."

Giggling, the Goblin ordered, "Marinate that one and bring another." Turning to Abnaric, he chuckled, "I allow you to show us your method." Faking a smile, Abnaric sipped his wine and waited. When the next man was in place, he walked over.

For the next hour and a half, Abnaric methodically tortured the man. After flaying an especially sensitive area, he healed it with magic and flayed it again. Before Abnaric allowed the piteous creature to die, the man was gibbering hysterically and begging. Sliding a dagger into his heart, Abnaric returned to the king shrugging, "Not overly inspirational but interesting."

Raising an eyebrow, the Goblin said, "You bluff well, mortal. You also have a marvelous talent for cruelty. I did not see knowledge of the science however. Take the time to learn the art of torture. It is a divine hobby." Abnaric bowed in acknowledgement.

Smiling, the King stood winking, "Allow me to show you my special project." Abnaric followed the king to a long narrow trough. In it was a nude, blue elf woman. Abnaric asked, "Asrai?" The Goblin replied, "Indeed. They turn to water if exposed to the air."

Smiling, he pulled a cork. As water began running out, the frantic women signed at him desperately to stop. Over the next half hour, the goblin all but destroyed her mind by the threat of the air and his abuse of her body. When he was sated, he sighed, "After a few weeks, it is always the same. Boring." Callously, the King pulled the plug leaving the woman to melt away. Silently, Abnaric commented, you are a first rate bastard but you know your hobby. When I am an Emperor, my torturers will be goblins.

After they rested, the goblins escorted the party through the caverns. The Goblin King noted, "There is a human village with many towers above us. The tunnels are the only way to pass unobserved."

Abnaric stared out when they reached the outside. It was dark. He cast a spell to allow him to see clearly. A few miles ahead was a dune of glowing sand. People moved in and out of a door that hung open where the sand was cleared away. Other people worked to clear more. As they did, Abnaric noticed them drop. Curious, he asked, "Why are the workers passing out?" The Goblin explained, "The sand is magic. It slays those who are exposed to it."

Amazed, Abnaric watched fifty people go to their deaths before the sun began to rise. Only the first thirty were collared. The others worked because they wanted to. They were true fanatics. He must find a way to lead them.

As the people left the area, carrying their dead, the door of the tower closed. Abnaric said, "Thank you for your help, noble sir. Gods willing, we meet again tonight." The Goblin smiled, "I await your return with anticipation." While they hurried to the tower, Aja snapped, "Never hit me with a spell again!"

Shrugging, Abnaric ignored her. Finding a nod somewhere in his gait, Aja dropped the subject and followed the men with an arrow nocked. At the foot of the mound, Abnaric gauged the situation. By the time they climbed it, they would be dead. Their hope lay in insubstantiability. If the sand did not somehow forbid it, and they could reach free air in time, it would make their entry possible.

Abnaric ordered, "Grasp my belt. Do not let go until I nod." After the first spell washed away without effect, Abnaric hissed, "Sheath that sword and concentrate on helping, Kaprie. My resources are finite!"

Shrugging, he complied. A moment later, they were walking through the sand. Despite the spell, Abnaric felt magic tickling his body. He picked up his pace astonished at the power it must wield. When his feet touched the floor inside the tower, he allowed the spell to drop away.

Kaprie whispered, "That was great. Let's use it to go all the way down." Abnaric explained, "Not advisable. The master and others are mostly spirit. If they catch us insubstantial, we are helpless. We proceed invisibly."

After Aja checked the hall, the men stepped out. After repeating his previous warning, Abnaric cast his spell. This time the power of the tower thwarted his first effort. Concentrating sternly, he succeeded on a second try and they ran for the stairs. Aja all but roared with joy at the ease at which they bypassed guards and traveled down. Twice, Abnaric covered her mouth to silence her. She didn't understand that the spell only concealed them from vision.

As they neared the bottom, Abnaric led them into an alcove and dropped the spell. He was panting with exertion. He gasped, "The magic I still wield must be reserved for battle. Aja lead out. Kill silently if we can. When that is no longer possible, Aja and I hold the pursuit."

Turning to Kaprie, Abnaric ordered, "You must get to the eye. When the time comes, forget us and go. Our only chance to survive is your success in the altar room." When it was agreed, Kaprie drew his sword and smiled. Tts glow brightened when he pointed it at the floor.

Abnaric snapped, "Keep it high until we get there. It should lead you to the eye." Hoping he was right, Abnaric allowed Aja and Kaprie to lead him out of the alcove. Now that battle was joined, it was time to be careful.

Two warriors waited at the stairway to the bottom floor. When one took an arrow, both screamed wildly and charged with clubs high. Abnaric left them to the others and looked for other targets. After a few seconds, four warriors came running down the corridor toward him. He unleashed a fireball that turned all four into torches.

Turning, Abnaric punched a minor lightning bolt into Aja's foe snapping, "Down the stairs." As the others ran down, an acolyte of the temple turned the corner and began casting a spell. Hoping for the speed, Abnaric countered with lightning.

Darkling light began consuming him painlessly. Summoning all his will, he cast his lightning. The acolyte was blown into pieces. As he died, the darkness left Abnaric's body. Sighing with fatigue and relief, he hurried down the stairs.

Reaching the floor, Abnaric heard the sounds of combat. Kaprie and Aja fought back to back. Seeing Kaprie down his last enemy and turn to aid Aja, Abnaric roared, "Run for the eye!" Sadly, Kaprie turned and left them.

With the last of his magic, Abnaric cast fire into the onrushing enemy warriors. All three died. After jamming the door closed with a dagger, he drew his sword and went to Aja. As Abnaric rammed his sword into the back of Aja's last foe, his club found her head. She was left a breath from dead.

Sighing, Abnaric gave her a bit of quick help and moved down the hall. As he neared as intersection, a warrior attacked. Desperately, Abnaric fended him of with his sword. Through sheer luck, he found the man's heart before he was beaten to death.

Abnaric stood gasping. He was too fatigued to use magic. His body was battered and bleeding. Sighing, he noticed an ornate door and limped into the room behind it. After jamming the door closed with his sword, Abnaric picked up an interesting scroll. Slowly, he limped to a chair, dusted it off and sat down.

As he read the ancient glyphs, he shrugged. If Kaprie succeeds, they had a chance to survive. If not, perhaps the ancient darkness could use a mercenary wizard. Certainly, there was no point in him limping to his death for the sake of valor. That would be asinine.

Chapter Four

Abnaric sat quietly in the sand. He no longer held the scroll. His wounds were gone. He felt strangely refreshed and whole. The area around him throbbed with light and silver radiance.

Standing beside him, Kaprie beamed, "I did it. The place went to sleep as soon as the eye went in." Smiling, Abnaric said, "Congratulations, my friend." Kaprie sadly stated, "I appreciate everything but we aren't friends. The way you're headed we never will be. We have to part or I kill you."

Abnaric shrugged, "That was apparent to me also." Kaprie extended a hand. Taking it, and rising, Abnaric said, "We part in peace. May we never meet again." Kaprie replied, "We won't for a while. I'll be away." Abnaric stated, "Though it is foolish to say, stay away. We cannot coexist. If nothing changes, one of us dies when we meet again. It shall not be me."

As he glared and began to respond, Kaprie disappeared. Abnaric was left alone with Aja. After a moment, the power faded. They stood on a hill overlooking the jungle. The magic that sent them was awesome. It did not wash over or rivet them. It simply put the pair where it wanted them to be. Abnaric was impressed.

Aja smiled, "They said I could go anywhere. I want to be with you." Hiding his true reaction, Abnaric stated, "I am glad. You are good at your work." She purred, "I can be better. We can be close partners now."

Fighting the urge to vomit, Abnaric stroked his ring as he watched a shape growing large in the sky to the north. Eventually, Aja stopped stroking him and noticed as well. After a few minutes Shair landed. When the dust settled, he said, "You succeeded." Abnaric bowed.

Aja said, "We did it, dragon!" With one head glaring at the woman, the dragon said, "Father is pleased. He desires your continued service Abnaric Elgar." Abnaric shrugged, "There was mention of reward and a token."

Shair chuckled, "You are quite greedy. We share a trait." After a moment, he said, "Your reward is the Pa’Nylasa. They are yours to take. Your token comes in the night. You command all it had." Abnaric noted, "I do not consider myself restricted to them." Shair replied, "Achieve the subjugation and travel as you will. We set no bounds."

With the dragon's words, the ring on his finger flashed and changed. In its place was a more ornate ring studded with three rubies. A three headed serpent appeared to gird his finger and stare out from his hand. Shair stated, "You are now Father's own servant, as are we all. Succeed and we shall one day speak as equals Abnaric Elgar."

When the dragon launched into the air, a small chest and a pair of silver keys were left behind. Beating Aja to them, he found one key opened the chest. The other, a gem encrusted key, did not appear to open anything. Inside the chest, Abnaric found a ritual dagger and thirteen large jewels.

Aja crowed, "We're rich!" Closing the chest, Abnaric pocketed the keys and accepted her affection. As they stepped toward the jungle, she reached to carry the chest for him. Shifting it to his other arm, he held it tight and continued walking. If she kept trying to get a piece of his prize, he'd find a black stud to give her too.

Making camp that night, Abnaric startled a wildcat. Before he knew what was happening, it was all over him. As he finally put a dagger into it, he lost consciousness. The last sound he heard was Aja screaming.

When Abnaric woke, he was in a soft bed. A young, sensuous lipped, Baobhan Sith woman looked down on him smiling as she playfully stroked his chest. Seeing his eyes on her, she pulled back. Abnaric soothed, "Keep it up. I like it." She leered but stood up saying, "The Queen must be told." As she ran out the door, she looked back winking, "I am Miryan. You are pretty."

Abnaric chuckled as the girl rushed off. All the bloodsuckers weren't cold bitches. He could get to like Miryan. She was almost as good looking as the Queen. Sitting up, Abnaric noticed he was wearing a fine, silk like, shirt. Buttoning it closed, he stood and pulled some pants on.

As he pulled his belt tight, the Queen entered. She was nude and wearing a collar. Kneeling at his feet, she sighed, "Father's order is that I be yours. Dispose of me as you will. I stand as token and slave as do all I ruled."

Abnaric smiled broadly. He wanted to abuse her badly for the way she acted before. More importantly, he wanted her body writhing under his. He caged both impulses. This woman had been Queen for a thousand years. More importantly, she was a real power and a damn smart lady.

She would obey if he kept her slave. That would be all. She'd play automaton, moving as he commanded and doing nothing else. She wouldn't be worthless that way but wouldn't compare with what she could be.

As a Queen, a queen who owed and/or loved him, she was invaluable. Her people were used to obeying her. There would be no interruption in power. She would give her orders and pass on his as needed. In time, with her backing, they would call him King.

Abnaric sternly stated, "Stand up!" The Queen obeyed. Abnaric snapped, "Back straight, hands behind you, chin high." She complied with each command. Abnaric stroked her sides and breasts until a rosy blush colored her face. Stepping to his possessions, Abnaric got the key to her collar. As he held it before her, he stated, "What I just did repays you for the way I was treated at our first meeting."

Unlocking the collar, he explained, "As I said then, I want to be your friend, not your slave and certainly not your master." After placing the collar on the bed table, Abnaric strung a leather thong through a hole in the key. Reaching over her astonished eyes, he hung the key from her neck. Positioning it between her breasts, he said, "I was also serious when I said it would be an honor to teach you the art of love."

Hooding her eyes with obvious gratitude, she stated, "Ro'beall." Abnaric asked, "What?" She replied, "My name is Ro'beall. I thank you." Taking his hand she purred, "My Abnaric."

Smiling, he stepped forward to kiss her. Releasing his hand, Ro'beall stepped back snapping, "I consider your offer later my Abnaric. cher matters must be dealt with first. I see you in my court in one hour."

Abnaric shook his head. Ro'beall was one forceful bitch. As he smiled at the doorway, Miryan entered sighing, "The Queen orders me to entertain you. I can dance if I must." Eyes merry, Abnaric took her hand. Leading her to the bed, he said, "You look like you have talent. Let me teach you the Gomese No—Step." Miryan giggled, "You are silly. All dances have steps!"

Pushing her to the bed and laying on her, he replied, "Not if it is performed on your back." Miryan’s eyes opened wide. For the next half hour she received her introduction to his dance. Panting, she was begging for more as Abnaric stood winking, "Time for court, isn't it?"

Roaring, Miryan pushed her dress the rest of the way off. Abnaric stepped back. She grabbed him and threw him to the bed saying, "I need more, mortal." Smiling, Abnaric consummated the act. As her passion shook her, Miryan lowered her fangs to his neck and bit.

From the door, Ro'beall hissed, "Get off my Abnaric, handmaiden!" Flushed and panting, Miryan knelt at her knees begging, "I could not stop myself my Queen. Strange roaring claimed me. I had to bite."

Abnaric ruefully looked at the blood on his shoulder noting, "We call it an orgasm." Ro'beall ordered, "You will not do this without my permission! Await me in the punishment room. Run there!"

Kissing Ro'beall's feet, Miryan ran out of the room without bothering to dress. Ro'beall asked, "Are you weakened my Abnaric?" He replied, "It was just a nip. I'll be okay as long as you girls control yourselves."

"We will speak of it after court," Ro'beall stated, "Come with me now." When Abnaric stood, he felt a little woozy. After a moment his head cleared and he joined Ro'beall. She examined his bite noting, "It will heal."

Turning, she walked down the hall, expecting him to keep up without speaking an order. Abnaric smiled. The more he saw of her, the hotter he got. She was everything a woman could be, at least everything a powerful woman should be. He needed her. More important, strangely, he wanted to need her.

When they reached a door guarded by two of the women, Ro'beall said, "Remain until the door opens again. When it does, walk forward until you stand in front of my throne. Do you understand my Abnaric?" He replied, "It is quite clear Ro'beall."

As she turned and entered without correcting him, the two guards stared at Abnaric with awe. After a moment, one of them giggled and said something to the other. Soon both were giggling. Abnaric inguired, "What is so funny?" Qne chided, "We are amused that the Queen is so familiar with her pet."

Abnaric blushed, turning the giggles into laughter. After a few embarrassing minutes, the door opened. As Abnaric entered, the guards fell in behind and followed him inside. When he reached his place, Aja begged, "Make them let me go. I didn't know!"

At a sign from Ro'beall, two guards whipped Aja to silence. The Queen stated, "In my former condition I was unable to meet you. My sister and two others did. Seeing you wounded she went to help. This woman shot her with an iron headed arrow. My sister is dead. The woman is yours. Pass judgment."

Aja breathed an audible sigh of relief. Abnaric glared at her. If he let her go, he was done here. Fuck her, he decided. I'm not about to lose everything because the stupid bitch can't control herself. The only question is what to do?

Smiling, Abnaric remembered Shair's interest. It shouldn't be impossible to make a suitable present for the overlord. With a bit of effort, and a lot of luck, he could make something astounding.

Abnaric sternly replied, "I sentence her to eternal death." As Aja pleaded, Abnaric continued, "Until I can gather the materials required hold her here. She will undergo daily torment but nothing that leaves scars. This is my command. Take her to a cell and guard her well." Ro'beall nodded. When the struggling woman was dragged away screaming with rage, the Queen said, "Explain Eternal Death my Abnaric."

After thinking a moment, he stated, "Certain boars are eaten daily and return whole. I fashion a curse. When it is laid on Aja she will have that attribute. I will kill her. When she regrows, she may have a maidenhead. If so, a virgin he can eat daily will be our gift to the Qverlord."

The court swam with tittering laughter. At a glare from Ro'beall, they fell silent. She stated, "I find the judgment sufficient. Be welcome my Abnaric." He bowed smiling, "I am honored Queen Ro'beall."

Standing regally, Ro'beall stated, "All know the will of Father and this mortal's answer. I stand as your Queen because of his choice. All Baobhan remain free thanks to him. Where it my will, he would now leave with nothing." Staring at Abnaric for a moment, Ro'beall noted, "It is not my will. I take him as Consort. Obey his orders. Let this be known to all our sisters wherever they may be. All must honor my Abnaric!"

After the proclamation ball ended, Abnaric stumbled toward his room. He was no dancer. They made him dance with everyone. As he passed a door that was open a crack, he overheard, "Tell me about this roaring. My experiences before the vow did not disorder my mind. I fail to understand your meaning. Be explicit!"

Knocking, Abnaric walked in prodding, "As consort it is my duty to be explicit in that area." She pointed to Miryan ordering, "Show me the process." Seeing a gleam come into Miryan's weal marked flesh, Abnaric replied, "As you command."

As he made love to Miryan, Ro'beall interrupted with questions about what he was doing and why Miryan was reacting as she did. Exasperated, he snapped, "My gueen, there is a time for science. This isn't it. Watch, join us or leave."

Ro'beall glared angrily for a moment. As he returned to his task, she smiled and watched silently. Again, when the strange spasms struck, Miryan savaged Abnaric's neck. Before Ro'beall could grab her whip, Abnaric interjected, "It seems to me that such a reaction is unavoidable. Perhaps you would like to prove me wrong tomorrow."

Standing arrogantly, Ro'beall hissed, "I shall prove you wrong immediately. If I succeed Miryan will be punished." Abnaric guipped, "If you fail, I punish you." Glowering as the handmaiden giggled, Ro'beall snapped, "Done! 1 shall not fail. Miryan, you stay. Witness control and learn."

After taking a glass of wine in an effort to goose his stamina, Abnaric began the assault on Ro'beall. For the next hour, he slowly enlivened her body until his least touch sent shivers through her. Deeming her ready, he consummated the act. As her body shook, she nipped his neck.

Clapping her hands, Miryan giggled, "You bit, my Queen! He can punish you!" Blushing, Ro'beall hissed, "Leave us! If I hear of this from anyone, I flay you for the pleasure of Goblins." Still giggling Miryan ran from the room. Holding Ro'beall tight, Abnaric whispered, "I shall punish you," and bit her chin lightly. Ro'beall commented, "We can say you did." Nipping her earlobe and squeezing tighter, he chided, "I would not lie about my gueen."

For the next half hour, he continued to tease her and hold her warmth pinned to his body. As he felt some energy return he stated, "I have decided on a punishment." Ro'beall warned, "Beware, mortal." Abnaric entered her. As she gasped, he sighed, "You are sentenced to bite again."

The next morning, Abnaric found himself in bed. He could barely move. Feeling his neck, he understood why. It felt like all the life had been drained out of him. Stroking his face, Ro'beall purred, "We continue my Abnaric." Sadly, Abnaric warned, "I would die."

Smiling, Ro'beall forced him to drink a cup of wine. As it burned into his belly, he felt his spirit rise. A moment later, she forced a different wine down his throat.

Within a minute, Abnaric was smiling and ready. He lost count of how many times they made love that day and just exactly where it happened. What he knew for sure was that he didn't get a hold on who and where he was until two days later.

As Abnaric stumbled to breakfast with his arms over the shoulders of Miryan and another lady, he sighed, "A hell of a way to go." Miryan pleaded, "You can not go. I must roar again." The other said, "It sounds pleasant, consort. I would try also."

Sitting him at the table, both women kissed him. They continued bringing food and wine until he couldn't eat any more. As he sat back and stretched, Miryan picked him up and carried him into the hall. When he complained, she said, "I must obey the queen."

Moments later he was in a clear lake being bathed by four of the winged wonders. All seemed interested in the task. When their endeavors reached the point of embarrassment, he snapped, "I am clean enough. Let me out of here."

Throwing a robe on as they giggled at his anatomy, he hurried back into the palace. When he found Ro'beall, he said, "Much as I love it, I can't stud every Baobhan Sith in the place. I have work to do."

Ro'beall stated, "It has come to me that your energy is being expended pointlessly. Henceforth, devote your attentions to a few others and myself and get back to work. We have the Pa’Nylasa to subvert."

Fighting his exasperation, Abnaric agreed, "A wise idea." Ro'beall informed, "On another matter, your thing is ill and the Nylasa is pregnant. Should I destroy them?"

Abnaric hissed, "Of course not. Take me to them." Raising an eyebrow, Ro'beall snapped, "I think I will take you to them." As they walked, Abnaric reasoned, "We are partners. It doesn't matter who thinks of an idea if we both agree." Ro'beall soothed, "I will try to learn this my Abnaric. I do not promise it will be done soon or easily." Squeezing her hand, he answered, "The effort is enough."

When they entered Tiesha's cell, she hissed. Abnaric opened the lid of her basket. She hissed violently. He barely stepped back in time to avoid her strike. Abnaric asked, "Has she eaten?" Ro'beall said, "She refused a man four days ago and became ill soon after."

Abnaric shrugged, "I don't know what's happening. Her stomach is swollen. I thought she might have eaten some bad meat." Ro'beall asked, "Is it possible she is pregnant?" Abnaric laughed, "Hell no. She isn't human."

Leaving Ro'beall in the hall, he went to N'gza's room. When she saw him she said, "I am pregnant." Abnaric smiled, "I know. It's wonderful." N'gza snapped, "An unwed woman who gives birth is cast out. She is fit only to feed the wild." Abnaric shrugged, "Then I shall make a married woman of you." Brightening, N'gza asked, "We will go to my people?"

Shaking his head, Abnaric answered, "No. I marry you here." N'gza sighed, "It means nothing without the blessing of the tiger." Abnaric inquired, "Why?" N'gza explained, "The tiger must know so the child has a place. Without that might, a child is soulless." Abnaric queried, "How is one so blessed?" N'gza replied, "One of our shamans performs the wedding ritual. If there are no evil omens the tiger has blessed it."

Promising to consider the problem, Abnaric left and rejoined Ro'beall. Smiling, he asked, "How hard would it be to have a Nylaza tiger shaman brought?" Ro'beall answered, "There are two chained at another place. Shall I acquire them?" Abnaric nodded, "Yes. I need them."

After passing on the order and setting a maximum price, Ro'beall steered Abnaric back into her study. A new Baobhan Sith stated, "I watched the black humans my queen. They are in chaos. They sacrifice many to get the darkness to return. Some have slain themselves."

Abnaric snapped, "We have to strike now." Ro'beall asked, "What shall we do? They are not our friends." Pointing at the new lady, she added, “Liera has no ideas on how it can be. Her realm is nearest.” Abnaric stated, "We have to trick them. Make them thing a living divinity nuked the tower and conquered us. When they believe in the god, they follow his servants."

Ro'beall praised, "Do you hear this, Liera? My Abnaric is a thing of brilliance. We give the black mortals a goddess and they obey." Abnaric interjected, "God." Ro'beall beamed, "Better. A goddess whose consort god is terror. They shall be our slaves."

Surrendering, Abnaric asked, "Have you decided how to go about it or can I talk?" Ro'beall smiled. Abnaric stated, "We wait outside the sacrificial altar. When they start gutting people, we come in and scare the cheese out of them."

Ro'beall stated, "My idea is superior. Liera, gather for war. Wait outside their village. Let me know when the killings start." Liera bowed. After a leering nod at Abnaric, she left the room. Soon a horn was sounding in the palace.

Abnaric hissed, "How about something more definite?" Ro'beall sighed, "You must trust me also my Abnaric. When I appear some will seek my life. Women are of low worth to them." Abnaric interrupted, "Then it should be a god!" Ro'beall snapped, "I am not finished my Abnaric!"

When he apologized, she continued, "They treat them worse then the serpent's children in Ghazai. I give them a goddess. This will strengthen our position. When I am attacked, I slay leaders and summon Anair, my god of terror. You ravage them until they beg the goddess for mercy."

Abnaric replied, "You have more power than I." Ro'beall smiled, "Which is why I am goddess my Abnaric. I provide the power to perform your task. I have many things you may use. You will also have a form they will detest and fear. You are Anair, the white terror of the sky."

As he considered her words, Ro'beall took him by the hand and led him outside. Smiling, she said, "Remove your shirt." Seeing no reason to question, Abnaric obeyed.

A moment later, after twisting with pain, he stood before her as Anair. Looking at his reflection, he saw a chalky white man with horns and pupilless red eyes. On his back were the bat wings of the Baobhan Sith. Ro'beall noted, "The terror of the sky must fly. I will teach you."

She instructed him in the basics of flight for the rest of the afternoon. When he was doing well enough, Ro'beall joined him in the air. After some maneuvers, she guipped, "It is a shame you are ugly. It would be interesting to be ravished in the air like a dragon."

Abnaric promised, "Some other time. I'm getting tired." Nodding, Ro'beall swooped to the ground. When Abnaric joined her, she said, "You will do well. If the call does not come, we practice tomorrow." Abnaric looked at himself and raised an eyebrow. Smiling evilly, Ro'beall ordered, "You remain that way for now. It is bad to waste power for no good reason." He await the call in my bed.

Shrugging, Abnaric followed. When he dropped his pants, he discovered a reason why Ro'beall wanted to keep him that way. Giving its heft, Anair would certainly be a terror to virgins.

Abnaric chided, "You are turning insatiable." Ro'beall noted, "When I choose to do a thing I do it often. There is no other way to progress." Abnaric soothed, "No complaints, Ro'beall."

After sharing passion, they rested. Near midnight, Ro'beall shook Abnaric snapping, "They take life. Follow." Abnaric jumped out of bed and followed, pants in hand. Turning back, Ro'beall grabbed the pants and threw them on the floor. As she dragged him along, she said, "They are male pigs. They will be shamed when they see the size of your thing."

Abnaric smiled and kissed her hand. Ro'beall snapped, "There is no time for that! We have a battle to win." A moment later, he stood in the palace treasure trove. Ro'beall fit three rings on his fingers, a necklace of strange bones around his neck and handed him two swords.

Pointing emphatically, Ro'beall snapped, "This ring brings you when I call. Stand ready. The second ring keeps their weapons from harming you. The final ring makes your noises greater. Whisper to me."

When Abnaric obeyed, his voice sounded like a shout. Ro'beall noted, "Your shout will be thunder. The sword in your left hand shoots flame. The other wields powers of the storm. As a wizard, you know how they must be used. The bones do nothing. Warriors will know they are the pubic bones of lions. Another way of showing you are more man."

As she stripped, Ro'beall asked, "Questions?" Abnaric shook his head. In a moment, she stood before him as a voluptuous black woman easily nine feet tall. Folding a loincloth on, and picking up a spiked club, Ro'beall cast a strong spell and disappeared. After a moment, he began beating his wings slowly. He hoped that would help him fly immediately when he arrived.

Ro'beall appeared in a cloud of smoke and fire. Immediately, she bashed her knee into the Shaman performing the sacrifice screaming, "Enough! You are slaves of the Black Goddess Agliat." A large warrior laughed. Pointing her finger, she burned him to ash with a bolt of flame. Standing on the altar, she roared, "T have sealed the dark and conquered the winged children of the jungle. Bow or face terror."

As many leering men ran to grab her, the Queen surrounded herself with fire darts snapping, "Be fools! I call Anair winged terror of the sky. Come my flyer, slay these vermin, burn their homes, leave nothing of them to offend my eyes."

Abnaric felt the tug and exploded with the pain of transition. He arrived a hundred feet above Ro'beall in an explosion of swirling smoke. Flapping harder, Abnaric dove at the crowd roaring in anger. As he came, he raked the men with fire and lightning. Wind tore through the huts smashing some of them. Telepathically, Ro'beall ordered, "Defile statues, burn houses, kill big men first."

Ro'beall screamed, "Behold Anair and know doom!" As Abnaric swooped and destroyed, she roared, "Come now my winged minions. Foolish meat awaits sport." The natives screamed as a host of Baobhan Sith leapt into the sky and flew toward the village.

Completely terrorized, an old woman begged, "Please Agliat, save us. We believe." Ro'beall touched her head, causing a blue aura to shine around her. Taking the hint, Abnaric pretended to dive at her and sheared away before he got there. As he fired houses, others, including many warriors, ran to join Agliat.

Ro'beall stated, "Surround my followers, winged children. They are ours to protect and instruct. Anair, harry the evil only. The wise are to be spared. They shall be my children."

Abnaric flew a wider arc. He struck any warriors he could get. Soon, the whole population was in the circle. The few who escaped to the jungle were hunted and killed by serpents and Daoine Sidhe who waited there.

Lifting the old woman, Ro'beall stated, "Behold the Shaman Queen of my people. As she was first to show wisdom, let all learn it from her and her daughters until the end of time. Let all others hold their line sacred."

Glaring at the warriors, Ro'beall hissed, "Let all males know the sacred vessels of my land are to be treated with honor. The beating of woman by man is punished by castration. There are no exceptions."

Looking at the new Queen, Ro'beall ordered, "As I tamed Anair to my service, so shall you tame your males. It is the way of Agliat. In time to come, all of my ways shall be made known. You shall obey!"

Snapping her fingers, Ro'beall called Abnaric down. He landed at her feet. After turning to show himself, he knelt at her leg and kissed her asscheek. Qrdering him to stand with legs wide, Ro'beall snapped, "T tamed this male. He is warrior enough to unman any. Tame yours as well. The wailing of weak women is pain to my ears. See I hear it no more."

For the next ten days, the goddess "show" made the rounds to all the villages. By the next ceremonial day, the dark of the moon, the worship of Agliat was the faith of the majority. Those who thought otherwise remained silent and went along. As she heard Liera's reports, Ro'beall smiled. The Pa’Nylasa were subdued.

Smiling, she handed Liera a scroll saying, "My Abnaric made this. Give it to the Shaman Queen as the word of Agliat. Teach her and her eldest daughter to read. They must know it is their law from this day."

Liera replied, "My own handle most of it my Queen. I inform you when the Goddess must appear." Ro'beall noted, "The answer to that is in the scroll. Gods come to reward or punish. They rarely come when called. If they stray punish them. They will know it is my will."

While Ro'beall arranged these details, Abnaric sat in front of two chained shamans. He stated, "There is a women of your people here. She requires a wedding to ease her guilt at bearing a child. Which of you will do it?" Both spat.

Abnaric commented, "I saw marvelous exhibitions of dark women in Gom. The things they think to do with them are imaginative. Unless she is my wife you find out in detail. They are especially creative with arrogant bitches like you once drugs and training take hold."

The eldest hissed, "We will not sanctify a slut." Pointing to her, Abnaric said, "Start with her." Turning to the other, a woman of N'gza's age, Abnaric made her watch. For the next hour the other shaman was raped and abused. Abnaric commented, "That was a pleasant introduction. Shall I start the real fun or will you be good?"

Sobbing, the woman agreed to accede to his wishes. Ten minutes later, N'gza was brought to the jungle and wed properly. After she hugged Abnaric and left, he said, "I normally let a person go after a favor. Unfortunately, you would curse her."

The shaman struggled as she was gagged and chained. When the other knelt beside her, Abnaric said, "Sell them to the next boat headed for Gom. They learn what it means to be a pleasure slave." Glaring at the women, he snapped, "When you're the ones who are friendless and spreading 'em on command, think about what you called my wife."

Abnaric was a bit amused with himself as he returned to the palace. He was angry at the women. N'gza's pregnancy actually made him care. Sadly, he realized this was a potential liability. It was an impulse he must seek to restrain before it weakened him.

While he waited for Tiesha to die and N'gza to bear her child, Abnaric consolidated his hold on the Pa’Nylasa. They were shown the other face of Anair, as an example to their warriors. The terror was also guardian of the young and a giver of knowledge.

As the months passed, many of those who secretly denied the truth of Agliat came to worship Anair. He was a male god, terrifying, warm and extremely masculine. The god was everything the new warrior of their Sacred Band, the elite warrior society, must be. It was a shame, some said, that his powers of death and destruction cursed him with white skin.

Once the tribe was truly won, Abnaric began concentrating his efforts on study. As he improved his powers, and mastered new arts, it became clear to him he needed more. To truly sit as King, he must gain power equal to Ro'beall's. Until then, he would be little more then a cunning amusement to the Baobhan Sith. That did not suffice.

Chapter Five

Ro'beall worried as Abnaric's desperation grew. Each day his temper grew shorter. He became reserved. No longer was he the eloquent fire she enjoyed tending. He became a guttering flame spitting unpredictably. It was a change she must stop.

Abnaric pursed his lips with irritation as Miryan entered and looked over his shoulder. He snapped, "Want something?" Miryan blurted, "I am interested. Magic is wonderful." Abnaric shrugged, "Have Ro'beall teach you. You're smart enough."

Miryan sighed, "I am happy you think so, consort. She may allow me to learn in a few hundred years." Abnaric turned and met her eyes. The girl truly yearned for knowledge. He said, "Follow me," and left the room.

Ro'beall glared as Abnaric snapped, "We must talk. Dismiss these women." She obeyed his will. When they were alone with Miryan, she warned, "Never speak to me in that manner my Abnaric. T will not tolerate it." Abnaric replied, "I'll remember. Why can’t Miryan learn magic?" Shaking her head, Ro'beall chuckled, "My handmaiden has no need to know such things." Turning to Miryan, she asked, "Have my rooms been cleaned?"

As Miryan responded, Abnaric interrupted, "I will not let you change the subject. If her status is the problem raise it. She has too much talent to be wasted on scullery work." Smiling sadly, Ro'beall explained, "I have no time for such an endeavor." Abnaric snapped, "Find someone who does." After pretending an angry

stare, Ro'beall answered, "So be it. Henceforth she is your apprentice and body servant. I expect the change to improve you both. Leave." Abnaric stalked out of the room glaring. As she reached the door, Miryan was ordered to remain. He glowered and returned to his calculations.

After he was gone, Ro'beall ordered, "Discover the cause of his fury." Miryan promised, "It worries us all, my Queen. I shall do my best to observe and learn." Ro’beall glared, “Do not fail me, handmaiden.” After a moment, Miryan inguired, "May I truly learn magic, my Queen?" Ro'beall snapped, "I have said so. Do not embarrass me by proving stupid." Miryan beamed, "I shall not, my Queen. Thank you."

Showing none of her true feelings, Ro'beall dismissed Miryan. The handmaiden is much like I was in the dark past. She will not face centuries of humiliation wheedling the art from a prince of the Daoine Sidhe as I did. She may yet subdue her humor and prove a worthy Queen somewhere.

Abnaric ignored Miryan until he finished his calculation and double checked it. Storing the scroll in a rack, he turned snapping, "She is pulling something. What?" Miryan hedged, "I do not understand, consort." Abnaric asked, "Do you want to be my apprentice?"

Miryan smiled, "Oh, yes, so very much." Abnaric glared, "I will not have an apprentice who lies to me. Speak up or go back to cleaning up after her." Miryan sighed, "I cannot betray my Queen, consort. I will leave."

As she turned sadly Abnaric frowned. Miryan was damn special. She was good enough to learn. With a sigh, he had to admit he would miss having her around. Her joy and beauty lit up a room.

Taking her in his arms, he soothed, "I was wrong to ask. Sweep the floor. We'll start training when I return." At the door, he snapped, "See you only touch the floor. My papers are mine alone."

Abnaric found Ro'beall in her study. After closing the door, he asked, "Why do you want Miryan watching me?" Ro'beall met his eyes. Finding no reason for duplicity, she answered, "The change in you worries me. I seek its cause so it may be reversed before I dislike you."

Chuckling, Abnaric felt his tension relax. Ro'beall noted, "That is the man I would have you be. Not the desperate, nervous creature you become." With a shrug, Abnaric explained, "The root is my need for power. Until I am your egual all I have is a gift. I want it to be something I deserve." Ro'beall sighed, "Mortal impatience."

Abnaric shrugged, "I admit it. There have to be ways to make it happen. I need to find them." Ro'beall stated, "To gain the power you seek, my Abnaric, you must study for hundreds of years or seek the blessing of Kototh." Abnaric replied, "Or both."

Ro'beall warned, "Kototh gives nothing without a price my Abnaric." He nodded, "I have studied the texts. The idea I have is sufficient to pay for instruction." Ro'beall stated, "If you walk this path, I can be of no aid. None stand against the might of Father."

Abnaric replied, "Don't worry. Have your people acquired the goods from the Lower World?" Ro'beall grinned, "It has only been a few weeks there my Abnaric. Be patient. We are happy entertaining the woman while she awaits punishment."

Elgar pursed his lips with irritation. It was hard to get used to the fact that twenty days passed here for every day in the lower world. Given the tools and knowledge, he would find a place where the reverse was true.

Instead of paying twenty years of his life to live one, he would live twenty at a cost of one. Research showed the possibility was fact. He needed to find a secluded plane where time flowed as he wished and make it his own.

Kissing Ro'beall's hand, Abnaric soothed, "I am always careful. I will try to resist the urge to offend you in future." Pulling him into her lap, Ro'beall stated, "I order you to do so my Abnaric," and kissed him firmly.

As their eyes met, Abnaric could almost feel their souls mesh. Whatever else happened, whomever else he came to know, Ro'beall was his woman for all time and he was her man. Blushing a moment, undoubtedly at a like revelation, Ro'beall snapped, "Do not let your duties keep you from our bed my Abnaric. I need you with me soon."

Returning to Miryan, Abnaric noticed a wounded man being dragged in by three women. He smiled and watched. The man was damn strong. As his roaring head came up, Abnaric roared, "Bo! Release him."

Seeing Abnaric, Bo glowered at the women, then ran over and hugged him. Gasping, Abnaric snapped, "Leave off, man. You'll break my ribs." Bo stuttered, "Dax send. Cior take everything. He hiding."

Sternly, Abnaric calmed the man and got the whole story as he cared for his wounds. Bo was sent four months ago. After my success at the tower Cior sent troops to destroy my business. He wants to make sure I have no reason to come back. He doesn't know me, Abnaric mused. He just sped his death. No one screws my people or me without riding lightning to the gates of hell.

Catching Bo's gaze, Abnaric demanded reports on all his people. Bo stated, "Most the ladies left. Dax is hurt bad hiding in the sewer. Couple girls take care of him. Anya is hurt bad. Guards did her all night."

Abnaric hissed, "The baby?" Bo sighed, "She bleeds. It was in her when Dax send me. Be out now." Signaling a lady, Abnaric said, "This man is my friend. See that he receives all of the comforts of the palace."

As Bo blushed when the leering woman sat next to him, Abnaric went back to Ro'beall. Behind closed doors, he said, "I need to postpone my plans." She asked, "What is the matter?"

Abnaric snapped, "I was plagued with a boil in Gom. I need to go lance it." Ro'beall nodded, "We leave tomorrow." Abnaric sighed, "I can't take you." Ro'beall chided, "I do not remember asking permission my Abnaric. Miryan and I accompany you." Abnaric snapped, "You are Baobhan Sith!"

Ro'beall shrugged, "They see what I choose to show." Abnaric gladly accepted her word. If she could be the goddess, she could pass as a woman with some instruction. Having her and Miryan there would seal Cior's doom.

Shaking him, Ro'beall stated, "We take your property. I will not allow your thing to remain." Abnaric asked, "Isn't there a way around it?" Ro'beall snarled, "The smell from her room fouls the palace my Abnaric. I tolerate it no longer."

Kissing her, Abnaric sighed, "We'll take care of her on the way to Gom. Bring Aja too." Ro'beall answered, "I let the agents know to seek me when they have the materials. Someone must arrange the use of a boat at Port Doman." Abnaric stated, "Bo and I leave tonight." Ro'beall purred, "Tomorrow."

Smiling, Abnaric led her to the bedroom. At dawn the next morning, well rested, he headed for the river. Bo said, "I know the way. Was there last month." Taking his fasces in hand, a rod to show the Pa’Nylasa so they could pass freely, Abnaric allowed him to lead.

When they reached the river, Bo said, "We make boat. It easier." Abnaric agreed. While Bo felled a tree, he watched the river and stepped in to bathe. As he did, a female voice taunted, "Oh no, it is a mighty wizard."

Abnaric found himself surrounded by four leering Asrai. The blue elf women continued to chide him. Whenever he stepped toward the bank, at least one would slap his body. Their touch made him scream with agony. It burned terribly.

As he struggled for a way to attack or escape, Bo rushed to his aid. Ignoring the women's blows, he pulled Abnaric to safety. Gasping with pain, he examined his body. He was covered with acid burns. Hearing the giggles of the women, he hissed, "Laugh. The day comes when I exterminate your race."

Laughing loudly, the women swam to find a new game. Abnaric worked on healing his wounds and swore vengeance. He could tolerate a reverse, never a humiliation. The Asrai would pay a thousandfold for the joy they took today.

When Bo finished hollowing out the boat, he pushed it into the water. Abnaric stepped in and they headed down stream. Near dawn of the second day, he noticed a heavy mist over the river. Bo noted, "Captain of boat say is island there." Abnaric smiled. It was the perfect place for his study. Secluded, near transport but shunned. When he had the chance, the place would bear examination. Whoever lived there, if anyone, was going to be evicted.

As they rowed by the west side of the island, Abnaric saw a war canoe slicing the water toward them. Angrily, he snapped, "Steer into the mist, Bo." He obeyed. Clearing his vision with a spell, Abnaric steered Bo through the snags and watched the Ghazai.

When they neared the mist, the Ghazai leader made a warding sign. Abnaric pursed his lips with irritation as the canoe held its position outside. He had no choice but to visit. Killing twenty Ghazai in a war canoe wasn't a sure thing even with Bo's body as a shield. He didn't have time to have a council with them.

Abnaric judged the island to be about a mile long. The mist was nonexistent when they reached land. Concentrating, he realized it was magical. As he walked up the hilly bank behind Bo, an elderly man appeared noting, "I do not have visitors often. May I help you?"

Stepping forward, Abnaric stated, "We are avoiding the Ghazai. Is this your island?" The man replied, "For many centuries. Come to my castle. I am sure you can use some refreshment."

Abnaric thanked him. As they walked, he noticed the island was more forest then jungle. The plants and animals were nothing like those in the jungle that surrounded them.

Smiling, the man said, "I prefer a more temperate environment. The jungle air is a bit oppressive." Abnaric nodded and grew wary. The man either sat on great magic or he was powerful. Either way, he must be handled carefully. Bo spat, "Look at that thing boss."

As he stared, the man stated, "The Mialin. An interesting fructivore. I brought it back from one of my journeys." Abnaric stared at the brilliantly furred, eight legged creature and smiled broadly. It wasn't likely that the thing was native to this world. If not, the island was nirvana. It surely contained the tools he needed to find the realm he sought. There was only one obstacle to remove.

As they sat at a beautifully carved table, the man said, "I am Wiilar Quil." After his own introduction Abnaric stated, "A fine abode." Quil replied, "It is more a library, actually. My father put it together hundreds of years ago." Abnaric asked, "Oh?"

Wiilar answered, "Yes. He was a great mage from Matan. Father came here to get away from restrictions and concentrate on his studies. I came two hundred and fifty years ago to take his place when he died. I am not the wizard he was but I try."

Bo sighed, "This food tastes funny. Makes me..." Abnaric glared as Bo's face fell into his plate. Wiilar shrugged, "Apparently Ugantha paste is a sedative to mortals." Pushing his own meal away, Abnaric snapped, "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you for this?"

Wiilar stated, "There are many reasons. The greatest is greed. You need me to show you how to use father's tools. Also, though I am not a great wizard, I can make you pay for harming me. I suggest we work together in the few years I have left. I shall destroy it all otherwise."

Abnaric hissed, "You can destroy nothing if I kill you now." Handing Abnaric a dagger, Wiilar said, "Cut my arm." Curious, Abnaric did so. As the wound was formed, a book burst into flames and a large mirror shattered.

Wiilar noted, "A spell of my predecessors. The castle is bound to me. I am bound to it." Seeing Abnaric's disbelief, Wiilar explained, "I may only dwell on this island. On other planes, I may travel as I will as long as I return before a month of our time is past."

Abnaric smiled, "I accept your offer, within limits. I do not intend to accept this island as my prison." Wiilar replied, "Then you must break father's wards." Abnaric nodded. After a moment, he asked, "Can I see the place?"

Wiilar handed him a ring saying, "This marks you as heir." Abnaric hedged, "I'll take it when I return. I have business to take care of first." Wiilar sighed, "Then the tour must wait. The wards would strike you down without the ring. I am not capable of resurrection like father was."

Abnaric considered the situation as he struggled to sleep. The man was intelligent but he was nothing to worry about. The problem was garnering the power he needed to break the wards. He wasn't up to the task. He would have to seek power from Kototh before claiming the island.

Bo laughed as he woke the next morning. As they left the castle, he kept laughing. Wiilar noted, "An interesting side affect." Abnaric snapped, "Fix him!" Sighing, Wiilar handed Bo a canteen. Bo drank a long draught from it. A moment later, he stopped laughing and said, "I was in a big tower with blue ladies. They were real nice."

Promising to return, Abnaric signaled Bo to push off. After three uneventful days, they reached the river gates of Port Doman. Abnaric judged the place on their approach.

Port Doman was a first class fortress. Fortified towers covered its approaches. A high, crenellated wall protected the city. Given control of the sea, the place was invulnerable. There was no way the tribes in the area could mount an assault that stood any chance of capturing it. The most they could do was torch plantations and manors in the outlying districts. That was not a rare occurrence. Hatred of Port Doman and whites in general was all the natives agreed on.

After beaching the dugout, the men walked to a land gate. The guard questioned them for nearly ten minutes. When Abnaric flashed a gold coin, he smiled and let them enter. Adding corruptibility to his eguation, Abnaric asked, "Where can I find a slaver named Renyil?"

When he was paid another gold, the man called a soldier over and ordered him to take them to Wharf Street. Abnaric walked attentively. The city was dirtier them Gom. Most of the population was made up of black slaves. Their lot was not a happy one.

In one case he saw a slave killed for spilling wine on a man. The constables response was to order the cadaver tossed into the jungle. The death meant nothing. As he entered Renyil's shop, Abnaric knew this was a place where he could get ahead. It was an overripe fruit waiting to be caught when it fell.

Renyil gasped when he saw Abnaric. Smiling, he said, "It has been a long time." Hesitantly, Renyil led him into a back office and asked, "I want to forget that terrible trip. What do you want?" Abnaric replied, "Your help now, your support when needed. Both will be profitable."

Seeing Renyil's hesitation, Abnaric warned, "I am not asking." The man snapped, "I will not take orders from you. We're in Port Doman." Abnaric shrugged, "I change that with a wave of my hand. I can also have you back with the trolls within the month. They enjoy marbled meat."

Catching on slowly, Bo closed the door and stood in front of it with a sap in hand. Weighing the monster, Renyil refrained from screaming. None of his guards were a match for the giant. Sadly, he gueried, "What can I do?"

Sternly, Abnaric stated, "Given your reticence start by calling me master in private. I want no doubt about our relationship." Renyil sighed, "There is none master." Abnaric smiled, "Very good. I need you to hire me a riverboat for a trip to Shieram. You accompany us with the ten best slaves you have ready for market."

Renyil stated, "My presence in Gom is not appreciated master. The Brothers believe I owe a large sum of money." Abnaric asked, "How much?" Renyil sighed, "Five hundred gold. I have three more months to pay master." Abnaric offered, "Then you entered my service in time to save your life. I will buy your shop and pay you well to continue as my manager."

As Renyil glared, Abnaric added, "On the other hand, I can deliver your head to my friends with the payment and get the shop from your heir. The first option is less time consuming."

Renyil hissed, "My properties are worth more." Abnaric answered, "For courtesy's sake I may consider a future bonus. Write up the deed of sale and we will get on with business." Gauging the man, Abnaric knew he was ruled by fear. As long as his fear of me is greater then his hatred, he is my pawn.

An hour later, Abnaric walked out of Port Doman’s Palace as the registered owner of Renyil's Emporium. While he returned there to examine his stock, Renyil went to hire the boat.

Turning to Bo, Abnaric warned, "Until the others join us, be wary. The man is not above hiring someone to knife me." Bo shrugged, "He nothing. You scare him boss."

Abnaric explained, "True, but I may need to show him a few examples of my wrath before the leash is on solidly. At this point, he may think he can escape through duplicity." Bo scratched his head. Abnaric chuckled, "By tricking me."

Bo laughed, "You too smart. You're the smartest man ever boss!" Abnaric smiled. He enjoyed having Bo at his side. He was a genuine friend who would face anything or anyone to protect Abnaric Elgar. Just the kind of friend a traveling wizard needs. Seven feet of loyal muscle with no ambition greater then being at my side.

After situating the slaves in the hold, Renyil happily led Abnaric and Bo to their cabin. Abnaric read his mood. When he left them, he snapped, "He is going to try. Don't eat anything we didn't carry on ourselves until I say it's all right. Be ready to fight."

Bo nodded and began sharpening a dagger. Sighing, Abnaric said, "I'm sure its sharp enough. Let's not tell them we are on to the plot." Bo grinned, "Smart boss," and sheathed his weapon.

Clapping him on the back, Abnaric locked the portholes and covered them. After laying a sword against the door and locking it, he lay down and took a nap. If he heard the sword clatter, the first man he saw would be cinders.

Nothing happened on the first four days of the journey. As they neared the island, Renyil said, "The Captain wants us to join him for dinner master." Abnaric snapped, "We will be there." Renyil corrected, "He didn't invite your bodyguard master." Abnaric said, "Tough," and closed the door between them.

That evening Abnaric donned a fine robe and slid ornate rings onto his right hand. Turning to Bo, he asked, "Do you like the rings?" Bo replied, "Real nice. The one on your left hand is prettiest." Smiling, Abnaric slid a ring on Bo's finger saying, "This ring will help you if we fight. Just forget its there."

After brushing off Bo's leather, Abnaric led him to the Captain. A long table was set out on the deck. The Captain and Renyil were at one end. Places were set for Abnaric and Bo on the port side. Five other men sat at the table. One was definitely not a sailor.

Abnaric chided, "I didn't know we were having a party." The Captain replied, "Impromptu I assure you. I hope you like fish." Stopping Bo as he reached for his knife, Abnaric held a hand over both goblets and both plates. He said, "You can drink. Unfortunately the fish is poisoned."

As the non—sailor leapt for him, Abnaric pointed his hand. Another ring shot a bolt of power. While the man shivered with intense pain, Bo upset the table and drew his dagger. The Captain said, "It's my ship, wizard. You might get some of us but you're dead unless Renyil gets his place back."

Laughing evilly, Abnaric smiled, "I don’t know what he promised. I do know you die unless you earn forgiveness." As the sailors rushed them, Bo snapped a neck and pierced a heart before heading for the Captain. Abnaric waved his hand. The other three were struck by darts of flame.

Glaring at Renyil, Abnaric stated, "What you fail to understand is you are a convenience. I survive your demise quite well." Overcome, he begged, "I've had enough, Elgar." Fighting Bo, the Captain hissed, "You damn ass!"

Abnaric called Bo off. While Renyil kissed Elgar's feet, he stated, "I still require your service. Do I have it?" Spitting on Renyil, the Captain stated, "My fee is ten per cent of the sale price. Take it or gut me."

"That is acceptable," Abnaric answered, "We will get on well now that you understand how things are." The Captain snapped, "I sure won't listen to that faggot again," and stalked off angrily.

After Bo decapitated the assassin and threw the body into the river, Abnaric handed Renyil the head. When it rested in the man's trembling hands, he ordered, "Keep this with you. You need a definitive reminder of your situation."

Bowing, Renyil carried the head to his guarters. By the time they reached the Ba’Nylasa lands, it was rancid and worm ridden. Its holder was shivering in fear. Walking up behind him, Abnaric grinned, “How is your friend today?” Renyil looked down, paling with terror. He whispered, “It smells master.”

Putting a scented handkerchief to his nose, Abnaric nodded, “That it does. The Captain chanced to mention that a few hours ago. Would you like to say good bye to him?”

Renyil pleaded to do so. Tears lined his cheeks as he fell to his knees and begged. Abnaric smiled, “Very good. Give him a big kiss and you can toss him into the river.” Baling, he looked into the dead eyes of the rotting head. He stuttered, “Kiss it?” Abnaric shrugged, “Or keep it until we reach Shieram. The choice is yours.”

The trembling man put the odiferous sphere to his lips and kissed. As he threw it overboard, and vomited, Abnaric warned, “The next time you try to betray me, I will not be this kind. Remember that.”

Days later the boat was towed up the rapids and stopped at the main Ba’Nylasa village. Noting the Captain’s nervousness, Abnaric shrugged, “No need to be concerned. They will not harm any friend of mine.”

The Captain gulped, “You have a hook in the bastards? Who you trying to kid?” Before he chose to reply, Abnaric was escorted off the boat by a group of the Sacred Band.

He returned days later. N’gza, a host of possessions and two stunning women were with him. Thirty vicious looking warriors, all members of the Sacred Band, accompanied them.

Beaming, the Captain headed north. Whatever the hell this Elgar bastard had going for him, he wanted in. A white man who could make Ba’Nylasa do tricks like a bunch of lapdogs was too dangerous to mess with and too valuable not to kiss up to.

Visiting the Captain that night, Abnaric smiled, “About eight days north you will see a double hill on the west side of the river. Anchor across from them. We have some business to take care of there. Wait for our return.”

Three days later, Abnaric saw a man standing on the riverbank waving to get the boat’s attention. A bit away from him were two corpses and a dead horse. He smiled thinly and went to the Captain. Minutes later the man stood on the deck of the boat. Standing behind him, Abnaric noted, “It has been a long time Uncle Grat.”

The man turned. Locking his eyes on Abnaric, he gasped, “Thank the gods. You are safe. I have been searching everywhere.” He accepted the man’s hug and led him to his cabin. Of all his relatives Grat was the one he treasured. He alone defied Rigald at times to help his nephew. That was not something Abnaric would ever forget.

Grat sipped the wine Abnaric offered saying, “I missed you in Gom. Now that we’re together, we can get everything straight. There is m” Abnaric interrupted, “I am not the boy you remember. My course is set. I treasure your presence and hope you stay but I am not changing my plans. I hope you decide to be part of them. I owe you a great deal.”

He could see Grat’s worried frown when an hour of argument did nothing to sway him. With a resigned look, he agreed to stay and went to the cabin Abnaric set aside for him.

Watching him leave, Abnaric smiled. He’ll try to heal his poor sick nephew and help as he can while he does. That suffices. It will be nice having Uncle Grat around on my road to invincibility.

As he worked over the battle plan the night before his departure, Abnaric heard Tiesha scream in agony. Slamming through the door, he ran to the cabin her basket was in. He stopped dead as he pushed the door open. An infant rested on her bleeding body. She weakly whispered, “This is our son Nergas, master.”

Cold black eyes locked on Abnaric. The child’s dead face leered. Power lanced from it. As the wave struck, Abnaric clutched his heart and stumbled back. Grinning, the fetid dead form of the boy began crawling toward him.

Before it could reach him, Ro’beall and Miryan arrived. The Queen rammed a sword into its flesh. It responded by glaring into her raging eyes and hissing. She snapped, “Get a chest for this thing Miryan. At once!”

Nergas crawled up the blade trying to free himself and win through to Abnaric. As he did, his father sat pale on the cabin floor. Terror owned him. Eyes flaming, Ro’beall stunned the infant with a powerful spell. On Miryan’s return, she slammed it into the chest and locked it there. Eyes hissing revulsion, she spat, “Throw that thing over the side.”

Abnaric weakly sighed, “No. Lock it in the hold.” Ro’beall screamed, “It is the foulest monster T have ever known my Abnaric! We must be rid of it.” He replied, “He’s my son. Take him to the hold.”

After allowing Miryan to heed his order, Ro’beall led him to their room and hissed, “I understand your weakness for children my Abnaric but this is insane.” With a sigh of infinite sadness, Grat noted, “The curse has struck again.” Abnaric frowned, “Curse?”

Glaring at the man, Ro’beall snapped, “How could any curse cause the creation of such a thing?” Standing in the doorway, Grat sighed, “It has been so for eight generations in our family. The eldest son of the eldest son kills his father.” She snapped, “Explain this!”

After helping Abnaric care for Tiesha and put her away, Grat shrugged, “It started a couple centuries ago. Our ancestor Eriald Elgar was on his way to be wed. As he reached a stream, he saw three bandits raping a lady. He charged in and helped. Killed one and got the others off.”

Taking Ro’beall’s glare as a command, he continued, “Before he could move on the others, the lady wasted them with a spell. When she turned to Eriald, her eyes locked on his. His bravery was rewarded for the next hour. Taking a deep breath, Grat stated, “As he dressed, she said he was a fine animal and would have the honor of being her body servant.”

Ro’beall scowled, “And?” Grat shrugged, “He explained he was on his way to be married and offered help. She glared and knocked him cold with magic. When he woke, he heard her voice. She wasn’t there. Voice told him if he chose an animal over a royal, the get of his foolishness would be the death of Elgar lords forevermore.”

With a deep sigh, Grat concluded, “The woman’s threat became fact. His eldest son killed Eriald in a hunting accident when the boy was 20. Since then, the eldest son has killed his father in every generation up to this one.” Looking at Abnaric, he said, “Every Elgar gets talents from the curse. It’s strongest in the eldest. The curse makes sure he has the power to kill the sire. Father’s fear or weird luck makes it happen.”

Abnaric glared, angry that no one ever told him. Standing to leave, Grat added, “From the description of the woman Eriald left in his journal she might still be alive. Little doubt she was royal blood Korchi.”

Ro’beall cradled Abnaric to her bosom after Grat departed. Despite millennia of discipline, a tear rolled down her cheek as she considered his foul fate. Stifling that sadness, she soothed, “Surrender is impossible my Abnaric. You belong to me not some foul curse. It shall be thwarted. I command it.” He silently glowered. Whatever it took, the bitch paid for her crime. No one made a thing of his son without burning in hell.

Chapter Six

Abnaric avoided the runes Elai mentioned as he walked through the ravine. As he passed he marked each. When Ro'beall came with the troops, she could snuff them out. None of them was a challenge for her power.

Smiling, he turned his ring to conceal the serpent. As he did, it became a simple band of silver. Abnaric smiled. He had never gotten around to finding out what it could do. For all he knew, he was wearing his death on his finger.

He shivered a little. Abnaric swore he heard a chuckle behind him as the thought entered his mind. There wasn't anyone there so he stared at the ring and kept going.

Reaching a forested rise, Abnaric rinsed his eyes with a vial of water Ro'beall gave him. He was now staring at a bare mound with an ornate silver door near the middle. Two guards stood at the door with bows aimed at his heart. Abnaric stated, "I was invited by Elai. T freed her from slavery."

The elves lowered their bows. One went into the hill. When he returned with Elai, she scolded, "The man is unarmed. Let him enter." The guard hissed, "I do not like the feel of him." Elai replied, "He has made missteps. It is my intention to show him truth. He is worthy."

Smiling broadly, Abnaric walked toward the glaring guard. As he passed him, he dropped a small silver pentagram and held his breath. The guard was too angry to pay attention. Elai was too naive. When the other guard turned to watch the approaches to the hill Abnaric knew the place was his. His men would be chaining elves before they knew what was happening.

Sternly, Abnaric fought to hide his intentions behind a facade of awe and friendship. Should anyone be alerted too soon, he was in trouble. Leading him into the main hall, Elai stated, "Most are asleep. I have yet to regain a normal rhythm after my horrible experience." Abnaric lied, "I am sure you will get over it. You are a strong lady." Blushing, Elai poured him a small glass of wine. As he drank, she warned, "It is heady stuff for mortals. Drink slowly."

Abnaric smiled. The wine was marvelous. Not even the wines Ro'beall served were better. This little cup made him feel like he was soaring. Laughing, Abnaric noted, "It doesn't seem like many people live here."

Elai answered, "This is a small hill. There are about sixty." Abnaric commented, "The men looked mighty dangerous." Elai giggled, "They are just nervous. Most of our men are away helping another hill fight trolls."

Stroking her arm, Abnaric soothed, "I am sure everything will be fine until they return." Elai nodded, "Our wards defend us. There is no need to worry, dear man." Abnaric bent to her lips and kissed her passionately. As she returned his ardor they heard an explosion and the running of heavy feet.

Efficiently, Abnaric knocked Elai out and crashed through a rune marked silver door. Ro'beall said such a portal was likely to be the inner sanctum. As lightings flared on the altar, he turned his ring and began to cast magic to dispel the wards before they sprang to life.

Green bolts of power drowned the lightnings. As they did, Abnaric noticed a furious older man in the corner of his eye. Before the man could complete a spell to slay him, he was smashed to the ground by a Pa’Nylasa club. Abnaric ordered, "Chains and gags for the prisoners. Gather them here."

Two hours of searching and work passed before Ro'beall was satisfied the hill was taken. Thirty six elves sat chained and gagged. All were comely. Some, like Elai, were gorgeous. Abnaric frowned a little at ten children who were in the group. Seeing Ro'beall's smile, he shrugged. It was war. He'd see they weren't used until they got older.

At Ro'beall's nod, Abnaric snapped, "Form them into three coffles. Men, women and children. You ten. Gather the treasure into the packs and carry it." When they all moved out, Abnaric cast fireballs into the main hall and down the corridors. As they headed away, the hill was burning fiercely.

Grat stood and watched as Abnaric returned. He frowned, "I don't know about this business." Abnaric replied, "It isn't for you. I'd like you with me but I'll understand if you can't stomach the trade." Grat noted, "You can retire and start a decent business."

Abnaric soothed, "I appreciate your concern, Uncle Grat, really I do. This is the man I am. The boy you knew died when father sold me to that fat pedophile Bol." As he saw one of the crew fondle a ten year old girl, Abnaric roared, "Touch that child again and I feed you your balls! No one abuses a child while I rule!"

Grat sighed and left the deck. Abnaric was a hard man but there was good in him. His defense of the child proved it. He decided to stay and try to bring his nephew to his senses. It was the least he could do after deserting him.

When the ship was loaded the Captain gave the order to move out. He was strutting like a rooster. Ten percent of this haul would make him rich. Abnaric stormed in screaming, "No one touches the children. You make it clear. If one is abused, you and the man who does it are worse than dead."

The Captain struggled for a reply. Before he could find the words, Abnaric turned and left the bridge. Turning to his mate, he said, "See the men oblige. I don't want to find myself on Elgar's bad side. He scares the fucking shit out of me and I'm not ashamed to admit it." The mate nodded in agreement and went to tell the crew.

Ro'beall smiled and hugged Abnaric. Miryan noted, "The Overlord will be pleased when he receives these captives." Abnaric commented, "He'll get a couple. A troll gets one. We keep the rest to get my business established." Ro'beall warned, "He will not approve."

Abnaric explained, "I don't serve him anymore. He said so. I work for Kototh. The elves do more good making me money and friends then they do in Shair's belly. I plan to keep them." Ro'beall sighed, "I hope you succeed my Abnaric. It is not without danger."

Miryan asked, "Shall I release the warriors to go home?" Abnaric stated, "We'll keep eight. Send the rest with half the treasure and all the weapons. They are to give them to the Shaman Queen." Miryan advised, "We should tell them we will take any elf or Faerry they catch."

Abnaric replied, "Do it." Ro'beall stated, "We must stop twice for provisions. There are many to feed." Abnaric nodded. After a moment, he ordered, "If a problem comes up, the children eat first." Ro'beall shrugged, "You are over concerned about them but I will see your word is known."

Pulling her to the bed, Abnaric said, "Let them know tomorrow. Raiding makes me horny." Ro'beall leered, "We shall raid often." When Miryan returned to the room, she agreed with the sentiment completely.

Four days later Abnaric visited N’gza. He found her lying in a pool of her own blood on the bed. Cradled in her arms was a sleeping infant. His examination of the scene made it clear. She killed herself after caring for their son.

Abnaric cradled the dark hued boy in his arms. Looking down at his mother he felt sadness. He also felt hatred for her action. Suicide leaving a new child without a mother was selfish and evil. Whatever his feelings for her, he would never forgive such weakness. Cradling the boy in his arms as he left the room, he said, “We don’t need her Grat. I’ll make sure you have everything you want. Be sure of it.”

Three weeks later the vessel crossed the border into Gom. Abnaric was sleeping peacefully. He felt the flesh of his leg rip. Hands clawed their way up his body. Waking, he saw Nergas' eyes leering. Terror froze him a second as the child opened his mouth to sink rotted fangs into his chest.

Screaming, Abnaric threw the child across the room. He rolled out of bed as it struck the wall. When he cast a chaining spell on the crawling creature it washed off like water. Nergas drew nearer, relishing his father's fear.

Angry now, Abnaric cast paralysis on the infant. His first effort, stemming from a chaos force, was worthless. Chanting the elder rites, he held the infant immobile. Loudly, he screamed for Ro'beall and fought to hold Nergas at bay.

When Ro'beall arrived, she added her might to his and Nergas was returned to his chest. Beside it was the desiccated husk of what was once a man and another crewman sitting gibbering in fear.

They heard a baby crying and investigated. Sadly, Abnaric added a gag to Nergas' restraints and resealed the chest. Giving the man ten gold, Abnaric said, "You never saw him. Do you understand?" The man wailed, "It was terrible." Sighing, Abnaric nodded to Ro'beall. She killed the man. If they couldn't trust him, he had to die. Looking at her, Abnaric said, "I have to resolve this thing."

Abnaric walked to Tiesha's room. When she stood, he said, "Are you feeling better?" She smiled, "Very well, husband." Abnaric stated, "I have an order." Tiesha sighed, "I am very hungry." Abnaric said, "Hunt as you will on the way."

Seeing he had her attention, Abnaric stated, "Across the salt marshes of the Northern Kacili desert T have heard of an old ruin called Jehandel. Go there. Remain until I come." Tiesha replied, "I cannot. I must care for the children." Abnaric snapped, "T will take care of him."

Tiesha giggled, "He needs no caring for. I talk about the others." Abnaric roared, "What others?" Taking him to the basket, Tiesha opened the lid. Inside were nearly thirty large eggs. As he watched, a serpent head poked out of one. Tiesha cooed, "She is beautiful, husband. I will name her Seret." Abnaric sighed. As much as he hated the thought, he had to be shed of Tiesha. He said, "Take the children with you. You have your order."

Sadly, Tiesha bowed and starting packing the eggs into a backpack. When she finished, she cooed something. A moment later, she lifted a tiny baby girl to her breast. Abnaric kissed her on the head promising, "I will come when T can. Take good care of our babies."

Ro'beall watched the woman walk down the gangplank and into the desert. Seeing a tear in Abnaric's eye, she warned, "The things may return and eat you. It would have been wiser to slay them." Abnaric whispered, "I don't hurt children," and walked back to his room.

At Shieram, Abnaric sent Miryan and two warriors to get Cholad. When he arrived, Abnaric gave him some money saying, "I need a few things. First, I want the property around the cemetery. Second, I need an architect. Third, I have to buy a manor for a slave business and hire staff to train property. A slaver named Renyil and my uncle will run it when I'm away. Can do?"

Cholad shrugged, "The people you need depends on the merchandise. Architect is no problem. I'll check into the land." Abnaric stated, "Get back to me. The merchandise is choice women and elves." Cholad leered, "You took an elf." Abnaric shrugged, “Thirty six."

"My god," Cholad roared, "Do you know how much you can get for them!" Abnaric replied, "Renyil sets the value at four thousand with training." Cholad chuckled, "I'd say more. I saw one bitch go for three hundred untrained." Abnaric surmised, "Then I also need you to keep tabs on Renyil. If he tries to bolt or does anything shady he dies slow."

The next morning Cholad returned. Abnaric brought him into the room with Ro'beall and Miryan. Cholad chuckled, "If this is a sample of the goods you're going to float in gold." As both women glared, Abnaric corrected, "The ladies are my associates." Tntimidated by Ro'beall's glare, Cholad looked at Miryan and said, "My apologies. I am Cholad Larma." Ro'beall interrupted, "Our thief."

Abnaric soothed, "Cool the fires." Turning to Cholad, he said, "I offer you a job as Overseer in Shieram. You receive a hundred gold a year retainer plus a cut of whatever passes through the city."

Cholad asked, "In exchange for?" Abnaric replied, "First, keep tabs on Renyil. Second, see nothing happens to my uncle or my son. Third, you work for me. When I say something needs doing, get it done." Cholad gazed at all the silver in the room and said, "I can live with that."

Abnaric gueried, "Are you religious?" Cholad laughed, "I am a fanatical follower of self interest." Abnaric noted, "I deal with the supernatural. You’ll do the same. Can you?"

Cholad replied, "We're partners." Abnaric snapped, "Be damn sure. Once you're in there is no way out." As Cholad reassured him, Abnaric slid a ring off Miryan's finger revealing her true self. Cholad blurted, "What a dish!"

Abnaric stated, "A Baobhan Sith named Miryan." As she bared her fangs in a sensuous smile, Abnaric noted, "Blood drinkers, actually. Welcome to the club." Cholad paled as Miryan sat on his lap. As she began to kiss him, he sighed, "What the hell," and returned her passion. With a smile, Abnaric took Ro'beall by the hand and left them alone.

While they waited for Miryan to finish sinking the hook, Ro'beall complained about the smell of Shieram. For nearly an hour, Abnaric briefed her on human cities, Gom in particular.

Sighing happily as they returned, Cholad suggested, "Open a brothel with these bitches. We could both retire." Holding Ro'beall back, Abnaric warned, "You have to be civil with the women. Ro'beall is a queen. Miryan is my apprentice. If you insult them you may end up dead."

Cholad apologized, then whispered, "The old one is one of 'em too." Abnaric replied, "As I said she is the Queen." Cholad asked, "Of all of 'em?" Abnaric raised an inguiring eyebrow. Ro'beall snapped, "That is the case, mortal. Do not insult me again. I am not noted for restraining my temper."

The next morning Abnaric gave Cholad a cup of elf wine and asked, "What's the news?" Cholad's eyes widened as he sipped. He raved, "Where did you get the sauce? It's fabulous." Abnaric snapped, "Elf wine. Get to business."

With a shrug, Cholad said, "I can get an old slave academy for four hundred and thirty with willing trainers and property on site. Owner is moving to Maoun. Far as the land goes, it's part of an old Baronial title. Duke will sell it for five hundred title and all. Architect can be here whenever you want."

Abnaric gueried, "Why so cheap?" Cholad replied, "Manor burned to the ground mysteriously a couple centuries ago and the cemetery is cursed. No one wants shit to do with the area." Handing Cholad a thick scroll, Abnaric said, "These are the plans for the manor I want built. Start at once. The architect can get the money from you."

Seeing Cholad's question, Abnaric huffed, "You get it from me through Renyil. When the architect finishes, I want all his plans. He agrees to silence or you kill him. Don't pick a friend for the job."

When the academy was acquired and everything was offloaded, Cholad said, "The Duke knows its you. He wants an extra two hundred to name you Baron." Abnaric hissed, "Pay it. See he keeps my name secret. If Cior finds out I’m here, hire the Brothers of the Night to pop the Duke."

Cholad sat back amazed. Abnaric noted, "I have the power building. The repercussions do not faze me. We aren't playing for coins. We are building an empire. Remain loyal and prosper."

That night, Abnaric gave the Captain a down payment on his cut and ordered, "Go back to Port Doman. Someone will be in touch when the next load is ready. I will have the rest of your cut for this voyage when you bring it." Looking at the heavy sack in front of him, the Captain saluted, "I'm your man." Abnaric warned, "See I have no cause to doubt you."

Soon after they left the vessel, they headed toward the mountains to the east. Abnaric, Ro'beall, Aja, four Pa’Nylasa and three elf women, including Elai, made up their party. Two of the warriors carried Nergas' chest. The rest remained behind at the academy.

Miryan wished to study and make sure the new home was secure. In truth, Abnaric realized, the thought of meeting Shair intimidated her. As her presence in Shieram could prove useful, he allowed her to remain. Someone had to look after his real son and uncle Grat. Miryan and Bo were perfect for the job. She was quick witted and Bo was great with the boy.

After a few days on the trail, Ro'beall cocked an ear strangely. She stated, "We will be visited tonight." Abnaric asked, "Who?" Ro'beall leered at Aja struggling along in chains. She purred, "My agents." Abnaric nodded. A terrible thing to do, but perfect timing.

That night two tall humans and a stoic Daoine Sidhe entered the camp. Immediately, the Daoine Sidhe glared at the chest. Abnaric stated, "I am Abnaric Elgar." The young appearing Elf said nothing as he looked at Ro’beall. She introduced, "The reticent one is Payan, Prince of the Daoine Sidhe. The mortals are slaves from the north I happened to enthrall."

At Payan's glare, Ro'beall said, "Thank you, Lord Payan." Nodding, he stalked into the wood. Abnaric checked the materials. It was better then hoped. In addition to the bristles there was a bone fragment. Abnaric stated, "It should work."

Nodding, Ro'beall went to her slaves. After sucking the blood from one, killing him, she said, "You will find this interesting my Abnaric." When he looked, she pulled a necklace from the man's neck. In seconds, he aged from a young warrior to a twisted pile of bones.

Abnaric asked, "How long were they down there?" Ro'beall replied, "Eleven years. Payan agreed to go in exchange for their being freed from my power." Abnaric queried, "Won't your killing them piss off Payan?" Ro'beall stated, "Both were slayers of Daoine Sidhe. Had I let them enter the wood he would have killed them."

Cheeks flushed and red, Ro'beall added, "Besides, the joyous news required a celebration my Abnaric." After ordering the remains buried, Abnaric did his best to improve her celebration. While he did, both Elai and Aja glared furiously.

The party remained camped through the next day. Abnaric planned his ritual and prepared the materials. When dusk came, they moved into the mountains. Soon, Ro'beall stated, "We are being followed by cu sidhe." Abnaric nodded. After a few minutes, he noticed their party ringed by the green eyes of the poisonous hounds.

Smiling, Ro'beall removed her ring. The dogs howled and ran ahead of the party. Abnaric said, "I would expect trolls soon." Ro'beall replied, "They are the most likely possibility. Daoine Sidhe and Mountain Giants also use hounds as guardians and trackers."

After a few hours, a host of trolls surrounded them. The King Abnaric remembered stepped forward. Seeing Ro'beall, he guipped, "She is more then double payment, my friend." Abnaric hissed, "She is my Queen. Select one of the elf women."

Looking around, the troll shrugged, "I think I deserve all three and the human." Holding his ring visible, Abnaric observed, "This is your realm. T will tell father and Shair why presents I intend for the Overlord did not arrive. I am sure they will understand."

Staring, the King considered his options. As he did, Abnaric's ring flashed. Stepping back, he blurted, "I beg your forgiveness." Hurriedly, he pulled Elai out of the group and offered, "If you care to visit you are welcome." Abnaric answered, "Perhaps on our return. My business is urgent."

Tossing Elai to one of his soldiers, the King turned and hurried away. Again, Abnaric recalled that he still hadn't examined the ring. Pigued, he hurried toward Shair Plateau. He would certainly see to it once his visit was resolved.

The group arrived at the plateau two days later. As they approached the cave, Ro'beall said, "The creature within advises the Goddess. He will do you no harm if you show respect and curb your fear." The Pa’Nylasa grumbled about this, loudly when they saw Shair stride out of his cave.

Shair roared, "My mortal and his slave. A pleasure." Abnaric corrected, "Your friend Abnaric and Ro'beall, my partner and Queen." Shair asked, "Why do you choose this?" Abnaric replied, "She is a greater asset free. Slaves do not extend themselves to see to a master's needs. Powerful and loving partners do."

"An interesting belief," Shair stated, "I see the Pa’Nylasa are ours." Abnaric replied, "Completely in service to the Goddess." Ro'beall bowed. Shair spat, "Not a preferred alternative." Abnaric noted, "Success at no cost is preferable to failure." Shair nodded.

After meeting the roving eyes of the Dragon, Abnaric stated, "When we last met, you said we would speak on my success. I am here, with gifts, to negotiate with you friend Shair." Venting steam, Shair said, "I said nothing of negotiation." Pushing his luck as far as he dared, Abnaric retorted, "You said we might speak as equals. Equals negotiate."

When the ring flashed, Shair scowled, "Tell me of your needs." Bowing, Abnaric sat on Nergas' chest with a shiver and stated, "I would like permission to build a citadel on this plateau. Where the ruins are would be acceptable." Shair hissed, "I prefer solitude."

Abnaric promised, "Any who approach you without leave are yours to deal with. I need a place for my future efforts. I will pay for the honor." Shair asked, "What is your offer?"

Indicating Aja, Abnaric stated, "A virgin you may consume daily for all time." Shair noted, "She is not virgin." Abnaric guipped, "She will be." Shair stated, "If you accomplish this, I accept the terms."

Abnaric hinted, "I see you noticed the elves." Shair growled, "They are virgin." Abnaric offered, "In exchange for your aid in raising my citadel, they are also yours." Shair queried, "Aid?" Abnaric explained,

"I require powerful gnomes to raise the citadel immediately. Our magics, combined with my Queen's, can accomplish this feat."

Shair purred, "Why must you hurry?" Abnaric stated, "I require a secure home for my eldest son in addition to a secret base for our conquest of the southern continent." Shair chuckled. Abnaric observed, "It is quite possible, Overlord. As I understand it, we are masters of the southern tip and the bulk of the jungle. My methods deliver enough of the rest to make conquest of it all possible."

After a long period of consideration, Shair agreed, "I support your construction. We will see if you speak truth." Delivering the screaming elves to Shair, Abnaric noted, "There is one other small request." Shair glared.

Abnaric explained, "Power and knowledge is required to achieve our goals. I ask your intercession with Kototh to seek knowledge from him." Shair bellowed, "That effrontery is beyond my tolerance!" As he prepared to breathe scorching flames, the ring burned with a steady light. Shair rumbled, "Father accedes to your request. Ro'beall must accompany you. It begins on completion of the Citadel and creation of my virgin."

Bowing, Abnaric turned to his warriors saying, "Take this chest a spear cast away. See that nothing escapes." Stoically, he dragged Aja into the cave. Ro'beall followed behind with his backpack. After setting up an altar, he chained Aja in place and stripped her as he recited a chant.

While the candle was lit, and the circle formed, Abnaric marked her body and chanted. The paste he used contained the ground bone and bristles from the lower world. Forging a difficult rite of similarity, he cast the first part of the curse. Nine times he cut her, each time the wound sealed and became whole.

Turning to let the sun shine on her body, Abnaric tied her curse to the morning light. As Ro'beall maintained the circle, all the power of his being lashed through the ring and into Aja. For a moment, her screaming form was incandescent. Finally, Abnaric took his athane from Ro'beall.

Solemnly, he stepped forward, dedicating Aja to Kototh as he cut her heart from her body. Holding the beating organ high, he concluded the chant and laid the dagger on her chest. A final glow flowed over her. The rite was concluded.

Offering Shair the heart, Abnaric stated, "At dawn, she should be whole, alive and virgin." Smiling, Ro'beall formed a golden cage large enough to hold the women. Shair lifted it to a ledge high above the ground and patiently waited.

Helping Abnaric, Ro'beall led him out of the cave saying, "Sleep a while my Abnaric. You are all but destroyed by the effort." All night, Nergas' chest rocked as he fought to escape and failed.

At dawn, the dragon's bellow woke them. Seeing Abnaric's tired glare, Ro'beall said, "That was happiness." Shair sauntered out with a screaming Aja hanging from one of his mouths and an elf woman in each of the others. Sucking an elf down, he said, "She is virgin!"

Ro'beall warned, "See that you leave the leg bones to put in the cage. If they are broken, she will not be whole again." Aja sobbed, "Abnaric! Please." Abnaric shrugged, "We await you at the ruins when you have finished dining." Happily, Shair replied, "I shall be there. This female truly earns you the citadel. I may never hunt again."

For an hour, Abnaric examined the foundation of the old fortress. Tt matched the dimensions he had hoped for well enough for the gnomes to implement his plan. Once it was tenanted and protected with wards, it would be a palace fit for an emperor.

As he visualized himself as the first great Emperor of Kototh's land, Abnaric shook his head and pulled the ring from his finger. Three times was enough. It was seducing him. He ignored its flashes and placed it in his pouch. He would worry about the repercussions later. For now, he set aside the power if its cost was his mind.

Landing, Shair yawned happily and said, "She was especially delicious. Where is your ring?" Abnaric stated, "It seeks to control me. I have removed it."

Saying nothing, Shair still showed amazement. After this long, the mortal should never have been able to remove the focus. The strength of his mind must be exceptional. Feeling Father's touch, he sensed, "Send them when it is done and the born lich is penned."

Sternly, Shair snapped, "Let the raising begin." Turning a head to Ro'beall, he said, "The mortal provides the pattern, we the power. Stand to my left." When she obeyed, Shair stated, "Open your mind. We begin."

Abnaric stood guivering as power raced through his mind and flowed out to the ruins. Soon, a crew of gnomes stood in place. As they seized the magic, the foundation exploded clean. Their bodies blurred with the speed of their efforts. As Abnaric watched, the citadel rose from the earth.

An hour after the structure's exterior was whole, the power ceased flowing. Abnaric slumped to his knees. As an exhausted Ro'beall picked him up, Shair said, "Cage the creature. Father awaits you."

Nodding, Abnaric signaled the astounded Pa’Nylasa. When they arrived, he led them to the massive door. Shair stated, "It will open at your touch."

Abnaric touched the portal. The doors swung open noiselessly. On a table inside was a ring of keys. One was black with its teeth descending from a skull.

Signaling, Abnaric led the party to the place he envisaged for Nergas. It was there. Unlocking an iron door and a heavier door made of banded lead, he entered the room. Inside was a lead crib fitted exactly into an iron cage.

In the middle of the floor was a lead chair with thirteen iron chains attached to it and a gag in the seat. Abnaric sighed, that would be Nergas' home when his infancy ended. Feeling a twinge from the livid scars on his leg, he opened the chest.

Nergas did his best to leap for Abnaric’s throat. Ro'beall grabbed him and slammed him into his place in the crib. When he was chained in place, the lead and iron grates were locked. Sadly, Abnaric promised, "I'll cure it if I can, boy." The response was jeering hate.

As they left, Abnaric felt the room beginning to cool. Shivering, he sealed both portals with bars, chains and magic. When each was in place, lead was melted to seal them.

Ro'beall said, "It is best to keep them sealed forever." Abnaric replied, "I can't. He is my son and we need to know he is in there. As he ages, he'll start planning his attacks."

Stroking the door sadly, Abnaric turned to the Pa’Nylasa saying, "You remain in this citadel until we return. Two of you stand at this door always. Let no one approach it unless I am present." Ro'beall added, "The rest of you stay on the ground floor. There is food in the larder."

Slowly, they returned to the dragon. Abnaric smiled wanly and said, "We'll have to check the place out when we get back. I saw things I only thought about as something to get later." Ro'beall stated, "If it was in your mind, and possible to provide, it is present. Gnomes are thorough."

When Abnaric and Ro'beall exited the citadel, it's door closed. Immediately, Shair's eyes glowed with power. Abnaric was riveted, nearly retching at an intense pain that cascaded through his body. Straightening, he stared into a massive eye. As the head it was part of pulled back, he saw Kototh, the three headed serpent of doom.

As Ro'beall knelt and bent her head to the ground, Abnaric was assailed by the sheer immensity of the god. Each of his heads was more than twenty feet in length. His barrel extended away as far as Abnaric could see.

Stepping back, he got a clearer view of the valley. The body of Kototh extended up and around for miles. As the head watched him, Abnaric noted another head listening to Ro'beall's words and a third speaking to a pale man in fine clothing. The man's eyes were black fire. When his eyes met Abnaric's, he knew it was no man. He was the god Kotarl.

Abnaric desperately sought to adjust to the immensity. His mind seemed to swirl wildly with the size and the power that radiated from the gods. Finally, on one knee, he tenuously regained his control and bowed his head.

"Welcome to the Pale, my child," Kototh welcomed, "Replace my gift on your finger. The pain will surely ease. It is a shame for you to suffer needlessly." Abnaric gasped, "Thanks for your kindness, father. The ring seeks to snare my mind. I appreciate your concern but will continue as I am."

Kototh smiled, "I am pleased by your performance Abnaric Elgar." Abnaric stated, "It is my honor, father." Kototh asked, "Is your boast something you truly believe possible?" Abnaric struggled. For a second, he met the eyes that were on him. He said, "Given the power and knowledge I seek, father."

As his statement echoed in the Pale, Abnaric felt his pain ebb. Cool fire traced the lines of his body as Kototh stated, "I accept you."

Abnaric stood confused by his new comfort and sense of ease. Kototh explained, "You have thrice named yourself my child, Abnaric Elgar. I accept the offer and have made it so. Your power stands augmented. What knowledge would you seek?"

Putting his concern for himself aside for the moment, Abnaric considered the awesome legend of this god's power. He was a keeper of knowledge, a lord of creation and master of cunning.

Of all gods, Kototh seemed most capable of providing anything. Abnaric stated, "If I must name one gift, father, it would be knowledge of your arts of Creation."

Kototh warned, "Children who reach too high often fall Abnaric Elgar. You ask much. I see no need." Abnaric explained, "The future shows it. Though your children are mighty, a great desert stands between my realm and the lands I carry power into. Your might is weak there. I will correct that lack." Kototh noted, "You do so strangely. Already you have added Chaos. Seth’s new children survive."

Abnaric stated, "Their existence was not my choice, father. Fate created them as he sought to forge my damnation. Were they not my children, they would be dead." Kototh soothed, "As a father, I honor such restraint, even when it seems unwise. We do nothing to sear the seed you planted at Jehandel."

After a long gaze, Kototh ordered, "You will accompany Ro'beall to her palace in my realm. When your strength waxes, l summon you into my presence once more." Abnaric bowed and allowed Ro'beall to lead him away. A half hour later, he entered a beautiful castle.

Bowing Baobhan Sith and the onset of soft, sibilant music met their approach. Accepting a kiss from the one lady who only nodded, Ro'beall stated, "This is my Abnaric. We will rest Aslin." The lady Aslin replied, "I stand regent until you rise, my Queen."

Chapter Seven

Abnaric remained on the palace grounds for three days. Wherever he wandered two ladies were at his side. After the first night, he rarely saw Ro'beall. Her time was spent examining the affairs of her people and discussing the future with her high council.

On the afternoon of the third day, Abnaric felt the last of his fatigue and numbness leave. He badly underestimated the power of the Kotothi. Now that he stood on the second rung of the ladder he climbed, it was clear the power available was limitless. He had only to stretch out his hand.

As a greedy smile lit his face, Abnaric fought the urge. The seduction was seeking to flourish again. Its roots were firmly planted. Abnaric sternly decided he must decide how it grew. He would remain his own man. If his strength sufficed he could be a power they would deal with and protect. If not, he would be used and expended.

Staring out at the stunted trees and mist of the Daoine Sidhe realm, Abnaric whispered, "I am Abnaric Elgar, wizard and future king. 1 shall not walk smiling into velvet chains." As he stated this, he felt energy shiver the air around him. One of his escorts stroked his arm saying, "You must return to the palace consort."

Nodding, Abnaric followed them to the opulent blue edifice. They bathed him. After perfuming his body, they dressed him in fine robes and set a small crown on his head. When they opened the door, thirteen ladies, led by Aslin, formed a cordon and escorted him to the throne room.

Abnaric's attention leapt to battle readiness. Ro'beall knelt at the foot of her throne. In the seat was a sickly handsome, extremely young, Daoine Sidhe man. Payan stood at his left hand. Abnaric was taken to Ro'beall's side.

When the thirteen formed a line behind them, Aslin whispered, "You must kneel, consort." Keeping his eyes on the Daoine Sidhe, Abnaric obliged her. The youngster stated, "As master of all Daoine Sidhe and Overseer of Baobhan I welcome the chosen of Kototh."

Abnaric weighed the man well. This was Paitco Sith, the god of all the Sidh who fought for Kototh. If elven legend spoke truly, he personally beguiled most of them into that service. It also stated he was an amoral beast in more than one way.

Paitco soothed, "I come at the request of Father. He believes you can better understand his largesse if a friend of more human mien speaks. It is my pleasure to help." Abnaric replied, "The honor of your visit is proof enough of father's largesse."

For a moment, Abnaric saw a grim smile light Payan's face. It disappeared immediately. Paitco Sith advised, "Father will certainly treat you with due regard. He has clearly shown this to be true. It is not too much to ask that you wear his gift to honor him."

"Were that its only purpose, noble lord," Abnaric stated, "It would not leave my finger." Paitco Sith's eyes darkened. As he began to speak, a roar was faintly heard. Softening his gaze, he said, "It is, of course, your decision. I turn to the joy of this occasion."

Facing Ro'beall, Paitco snapped, "Is it truly your wish to take this mortal as consort?" She stated, "I have done so, my lord." Paitco hissed, "He will age and grow worthless. Recant or accept the consequences of bedding a mortal!"

Ro'beall replied, "I accept them my lord." Paitco asked, "What place will it have?" Ro'beall purred, "He is King of Baobhan, my lord." Paitco turned cold eyes on Abnaric stating, "Do you swear to honor Ro'beall's bequest?" Abnaric replied, "Through all time I honor Queen Ro'beall." As Paitco frowned, Payan commented, "I find the response sufficient father."

Paitco coldly stated, "Accept the throne of the maleless or leave us forever." Abnaric answered, "I accept a place at my Queen's side with joy." Paitco purred, "Submit to the hierarchy of the Sidhe."

Abnaric met his eyes firmly and observed, "I am father's servant. As his will allows, I honor your place as my queen's liege and seek to heed any possible requests you make." Paitco stood angrily. Before he could speak, a roar thundered three times through the realm. Payan noted, "Father accepts his words. It is done."

Restraining obvious anger, Paitco stated, "I welcome the new king of Baobhan. Affairs of state demand my withdrawal. My marshal shall stand in my stead." Scowling, Paitco Sith faded from sight. Payan stepped to his place and sat in the throne. Signing for them to stand, he roared, "Daughters of the Sidhe, know thy king and obey."

Turning to face the kneeling women, Abnaric took Ro'beall's hand stating, "I am indeed King but I do not accept a place above our Queen. We stand together." At Payan's command, they stepped into the mass of women hand in hand and were welcomed.

After hours of music and dancing, Payan came to Abnaric stating, "I release the throne mortal. Serve it well." As Abnaric began to reply, Payan took Aslin's hand and led her from the floor. Ro'beall soothed, "Do not be offended, my King. The Ice Warrior has little tact."

Abnaric asked, "What does he want with Aslin?" Ro'beall replied, "Before father's gifts shrived us she was his wife. He visits her when he may." Abnaric asked, "You and the Daoine Sidhe are one people?"

Ro'beall explained, "Male and female of the true sidhe. Father gave the males youth and disease power. He gave us flight and a lust for blood. None understand why but it is so." Abnaric said, "And beauty." Ro'beall purred, "A different beauty then we had. Some prefer it."

As he accepted her enticement and kissed Ro'beall, Abnaric wondered at Kototh's act. Why would he sunder a race into two halves? Surely, it would be better to keep it whole so they could grow strong.

Smiling, he realized Kototh had no desire for any Sidh to grow strong. His act created valuable, angry tools. It also insured a large number of those he despised would stagnate.

Abnaric now fully appreciated his position. Kototh was known by the title "he whose jest is death." Abnaric always believe it referred to a jest on Abaddon that resulted in Rahab, death itself. He now saw a broader meaning and stood warned.

Kototh is not a god to trifle with or approach with arrogance. Unless my wits are alive, he mused, I will be a victim. At a vision of himself sliding down Kototh's maw, Abnaric shivered and followed Ro'beall to their wedding bower.

When the marriage was consummated, Abnaric was called back into Kototh's presence. After a bow, he waited for Kototh to acknowledge him. As he waited, Kototh spoke silently with a hoard of others. Many were the gods of his line. Among those Abnaric noticed were Kotarl and Gartun, god of the apes and lord of paralysis.

As the other audiences cleared, Kototh gazed at Abnaric saying, "Come forward child." Abnaric saw that only Kotarl remained as he drew near. Kototh stated, "I accede to your request in exchange for a favor."

Abnaric waited for him to speak. Kototh explained, "I am chained by jealous enemies. You must release me. I give you the knowledge you ask for in exchange for your promise to do so. Succeed and you are Overlord of the Southern Continent." Abnaric reeled at the enormity of the offer.

Kotarl purred, "Accept a small drink. It will aid your retention of father's instruction." Abnaric stared. Kotarl extended a goblet full of a viscous, ebony fluid.

Bowing, he took the goblet and sucked the contents into his mouth. His mind struggled as waves of power surged through it. Sternly, he added the onslaught to the swirling mass from before. As he did, the maelstrom was truly born. Banting, he accepted what knowledge his mind could absorb.

Kototh soothed, "Sit, my child. Let us speak of Creation." Smiling, Abnaric sat cross—legged in front of Kototh. All track of time escaped as Kototh spoke. He described the creation of his children and hissed at the groundless jealousy of the Sidh. Finally, Abnaric felt the power seated in his mind. Rising, he said, "I thank you, father." Kototh replied, "Thank me with freedom, my child."

As Abnaric departed, Kotarl whispered, "I do not understand the extent of your patience." Kototh explained, "His tongue is guicksilver and velvet my son. Charm and terror are weapons he wields. Beneath this facade is cold steel. He will make a fine avatar of Kotarl when the seduction is complete."

After a moment, Kotarl noted, “There is a mote within that should be expunged father.” Kototh purred, “No. Once it is a part of your avatar, we begin my final vengeance on the Sidh.” Kotarl smiled, "And I walk at your side in the mortal realm as the Sidh burn." Kototh nodded his heads. Kotarl stated, "He will be made known to the Shurani. Their knowledge holds the key to your desire."

Kototh warned, "Do nothing to make our intent clear. I would rather have him win through danger then alert the enemy to our goal." Kotarl bowed, “I shall be subtle father.”

Abnaric smiled as he caressed Ro'beall's side. The visit to the lower world cost six months of his life. It was worth it. His mind glowed with power. Staring at his finger, he noted the new ring he wore.

The other long since returned to Shair. The ornate band he wore now named him without seeking his soul. It also increased his powers among Kototh's children. He could speak to them in their own tongues. No longer was he restricted to the basic Kotothi that served thusfar.

Gazing around his room, Abnaric smiled more broadly. It was designed, like his dream, to make them appear to be lying on a fluffy cloud high in the air. With each movement, the mattress sank and rolled as he imagined the soft substance of a cloud would.

It was one of many things he dreamed of having that now existed. His greed thrilled at each new discovery. Barely, he succeeded in fighting its ecstasy and remaining whole. Kissing Ro'beall, he said, "We return to Shieram." Ro'beall yawned, "As you wish my Abnaric. I will meet you below."

Smiling ruefully, Abnaric went to his office on the ground floor. Unsealing a hidden compartment, he cast a spell and gazed into the crystal located there.

It was another of the things he dreamed of having. Sadly, he watched Nergas lying still in his crib, eyes glowing. After a moment, the child's eyes turned to meet his observation and leered ferally.

Abnaric broke the contact. His son was bound to him. Whenever he turned his attention to him Nergas knew and reacted with hate. As Ro'beall entered and saw him pushing a cabinet back in front of the compartment, she snapped, "Stop worrying about the foul thing."

"He is my son," Abnaric stated, "I have to find a way to help him." Grabbing his arm, Ro'beall turned his eyes to hers saying, "It is a weapon dedicated to slay. His birth, power, everything he is, is anathema. Let weakness lessen power your curse already marks as less and you die. I will not let you die a fool."

Clutching her hand, Abnaric promised, "I will try to be strong." She nodded, “I allow no option my Abnaric,” and led him out of the room. When they opened the front door Shair stood in front of them.

Sadly he stated, "My toy's mind is breaking." Abnaric noted, "She had little to begin with. Her flesh will remain sweet." Shair commented, "That is something." After a moment, he added, "I protect this place until you inhabit it. The gnomes continue to forge your tunnels. They demand two thirds of the wealth they uncover in the process."

Abnaric stated, "Accept. We split what remains evenly." Once Shair agreed, Abnaric inguired, "Can you arrange for a host of trolls to ward the interior of my citadel without defiling it? There is a place in the upper basement sufficient to house twenty. Nergas must not be alone."

Shair answered, "When the tunnel to their caverns is complete. Until then I shall see his door is watched." Abnaric thanked him and led Ro'beall and his warriors away. A moment later, he concentrated on his study at the academy and cast a powerful spell to send them to that location.

Ro'beall noted, "That was well done my Abnaric." The warriors bowed awed heads to the ground as he replied, "I have gained in might. Someday I will be your egual." Kissing him, Ro'beall purred, "In my eyes, that day is here my Abnaric."

After seeing the guards to a pair of rooms they could rest in, Abnaric and Ro'beall went down the stairs. Entering the main hall, they saw Renyil sipping from a goblet held by a slave while an elf woman washed his feet. Sternly, Abnaric asked, "How is my business progressing?"

Spitting wine, Renyil pulled his foot away from the elf gasping, "Master, you have returned." Abnaric noted, "Much against your wishes, it seems. Report!" Renyil smiled, "Nearly all of the first lot has been sold master. Only three remain."

Abnaric roared, "You sold the children!" Hesitantly, Renyil replied, "At a very high price." Abnaric glowered and shot a bolt of power into the man. When Renyil sat paralyzed, he hissed, "The price is your life. You knew my command."

Turning to Ro'beall, Abnaric stated, "Find Miryan and the others. Find out what else this cadaver did while I help him find hell." While Ro'beall hurried out, Abnaric pointed at the worried guard ordering, "Carry this pig and follow me." The black warrior guickly obeyed.

Abnaric went to the room he had set aside as a casting area. Inside he found torture devices, a bed and a wine cabinet. Growling, he ordered, "Put him on the bed and leave." Gazing at Renyil's terror filled eyes, Abnaric said, "You are right to be afraid. Your stupidity earned you an eternity of torment."

Enclosing the bed in a circle of powder, Abnaric drew a protective circle for himself and began casting a rite of summoning. His mind stretched out to the cemetery as he created a circle of power for the object of his spell.

In a moment, the sound of trumpets filled the room. The circle of power expanded. Abnaric barely prevented it from sundering as a diadem wearing scholar appeared on the back of a griffin. The scholar chided, "I have chosen to answer your summons."

Abnaric sternly fought his inclination to bolt. The thing cursing the cemetery was no demon. Murmur's representation sat before him. He was a Duke of Hell and the Lord of Necromancy. He was also the god of liches and source of their access to Nergal. Abnaric stated, "I offer a life in exchange for knowledge."

Murmur replied, "Defy your master. There is a place for you under the griffin's wing." Abnaric snapped, "I repeat my offer. The life you offer is not one I ever accept." Murmur purred, "It is a sure way to avoid Rahab's caress."

Abnaric hissed, "It is a different death. I repeat my offer a third time." Murmur smiled, "I accept if the request interests me." Abnaric asked, "How may I break the curse on my family?"

Murmur laughed. After Abnaric repeated the question twice more, the god answered, "In the halls of Abaddon in Korchu's bay is a fetish of your line. Remove it. When it rests at the depths of the ocean, enclosed in water no light ever sees, fire can destroy it."

As the laughing god seized Renyil and disappeared, Abnaric carefully dispelled his presence three times and purified the room. When he was through, he slumped to the bed and slept. How was he to burn something in water? The fire would die as soon as it was born.

Refusing to accept doom, Abnaric promised himself to find a way. It may be hard but it must be possible. Such was the nature of curses. However onerous or seemingly impossible all have a means by which they end. There must be a fire that burns in water. He would learn to wield it. If he must master all the magics of the mortal realm, he would find it!

When Abnaric woke, Miryan was sitting in a chair beside him. He smiled, "Been there long?" Miryan replied, "Only ten hours. I am awaiting punishment for being fooled." Abnaric rolled onto his back saying, "Come let me punish you."

Beaming, Miryan threw herself onto his body. While he began to ravish her, Abnaric explained, "You know nothing about business. I can’t punish you for failing to stop something you don't understand. I'll make sure you're ready before I leave you in charge next time."

Miryan blurted, "You will trust me again?" Abnaric assured, "It is the nature of apprentices to err. I do not discard a diamond because there is tarnish on the ring."

Entering her, Abnaric stated, "I will see you learn to avoid the difficulty." Miryan lost track of his words in her abandon. When she removed her fangs from his neck, she blushed happily.

Getting up, Abnaric said, "How are my relatives?" Miryan replied, "They are well. I have protected them since Bo was hurt." Seeing Abnaric's look, Miryan explained, "An assassin came to kill your uncle. Bo was poisoned stopping him. He still stumbles."

Abnaric stormed out of the room. Catching him, Miryan said, "He is in his room. I will take you." After a curt nod, he followed Miryan to the top floor. Entering the room, he saw Bo struggling to walk. Seeing Abnaric, he hurried to say hello and fell on his face.

Looking up, Bo joked, "Real clumsy now boss." Sadly, Abnaric helped him to the bed saying, "Lay still. I am going to try and find the problem." Bo obeyed. His trust was total. Abnaric was the boss.

After a moment of effort, Abnaric promised, "I'll cure the problem. Exercise as much as you can. If you stop the poison will kill you." Miryan noted, "Is has been getting worse." Abnaric explained, "It is a magic poison. Some wizard made it." Bo offered, "Cior."

Abnaric remained silent. Cior was a pig but he was a law wizard. He wouldn’t make poison and hire an assassin to use it. He was surprised the Brothers would agree. They looked down on poison. An honest dagger in the heart was their style.

Turning to Miryan, Abnaric asked, "Did you examine the body?" Miryan nodded. He inguired, "Did he have a tattoo under his hair?" She replied, "I didn't see any. Cholad is keeping it spiced. I thought you might wish to see it." Crushing her in his arms, Abnaric said, "Tell him to bring it tonight. Make sure he knows I want him here also."

Smiling at his joy, Miryan hurried to obey. Bo observed, "She loves you boss. You're lucky with women." Abnaric replied, "You might be right. Get back to those exercises. I'll help you down to dinner when I'm though with Grat and the baby."

After fifteen minutes, Abnaric found Grat with Ro'beall. He was exhausted. She was making him give a minute by minute description of everything he saw in the last six months. Abnaric listened with interest as his uncle exhibited his power. It was devastating. Not a wisp of smoke was forgotten.

When he got to the day before the attack, Grat mentioned, "Renyil was pasty faced as he got into a black carriage. The hand holding the door was pale with two inscribed rings. The arm had a black sleeve embroidered with white symbols. They weren't Gomese or Rogizini writing."

Abnaric stated, "That will be enough for now." Ro'beall woke Grat from his trance with a soft touch on his shoulder. Seeing Abnaric, he said, "I'm sorry about Bo." Abnaric replied, "I am sorry you let Renyil con you."

Grat sighed, "He did that. Same trick your dad used. Sold the kids while we were away getting the boy blessed. Renyil arranged it at the temple." Ro'beall hissed, "Temple?" Grat stated, "Nothing shady. It was the Temple of Bes here in Shieram. I know the man was a priest. I saw him my last time through."

Abnaric turned to Ro'beall and asked, "How do the accounts look?" She shrugged, "We have a thousand gold. The rest is spent on property, your manor and the Captain. Six hundred was stolen by Renyil." Abnaric snapped, "How many slaves do we have?"

Ro'beall listed, "Three males from the first lot. The second lot included five elves, three faerries and twelve humans. All are in training. None are children." Abnaric replied, "It will suffice. We leave for Gom when I settle accounts here."

Cholad held a scented cloth over his nose as his men carried the coffin into Abnaric's basement. When Abnaric entered he had the box opened. The cadaver was the man who robbed him when he first got to Gom. Cholad guipped, "I see you recognize the bastard."

Abnaric examined the man's head. There was no mark. Cholad stated, "He's a freelancer." Abnaric ordered, "Take the thing and get rid of it." After Cholad turned to lead the men out, Abnaric snapped, "You stay." Nodding, he sent the men off, assuring them everything was fine.

"You failed me," Abnaric stated, "Am I to believe a nothing like Renyil played you?" Cholad hedged, "Everyone gets fooled once in a while." Abnaric roared, "Do not try to fool me! His actions were apparent. He should have been stopped." Cholad soothed, "Calm down, kid."

Abnaric interrupted by casting bands of black power around Cholad's limbs. As the man struggled, Abnaric showed him a ring and lied, "This ring allows me to know when I hear a lie. How much did he pay you to betray me?"

Staring at the ring with fear, Cholad sighed, "Nothing. I was tricked." Abnaric trembled the finger with the ring on it snapping, "That is a lie." Shivering, Cholad hung his head and admitted, "I got half on the kids and one of the elf women." Abnaric roared, "How much?"

Cholad sighed, "Twelve hundred gold, the woman and fifty gold a month." Abnaric observed, "Basically, then, fifteen hundred plus the hundred I paid for services you failed to render and the woman. Is that all?" Cholad admitted, "His friends got the warrant on me withdrawn."

Interested, Abnaric gueried, "How could they convince Cior to do that?" Cholad replied, "Gom has cligues. One is a cabal of wizards. You got burned because one of them got pissed at you horning in on his fortune telling. Cior hates black wizards so it was easy for the cabal to convince him. One of their members is Cior's friend." Seeing Abnaric's glare, Cholad offered, "The wizard who sent the assassin lives in town. I know where." Abnaric snapped, "Tell me." Cholad said, "You have to swear you'll let me live."

Abnaric stated, "It was always my intention. You return the woman and two thousand gold coins. You also tell me where my enemy dwells. In exchange, you live." Cholad hedged, "You won't hurt me?" Abnaric promised, "You will suffer no pain. I guarantee it."

Cholad sighed. The kid was still naive enough to sell, thank the gods. Happily, he gave Abnaric the address. Smiling, Abnaric stepped outside and had two guards drag Cholad to his casting room. After he was chained and naked, Abnaric began inscribing his body with runes.

As he drew a circle around the man, Cholad screamed, "You said you wouldn't hurt me." Abnaric corrected, "I said I would cause no pain. I intend to keep that promise."

Sternly, Abnaric began to speak his curse. The room was inscribed with lines of green fire. Cholad felt the flames slowly, painlessly, enter his body.

Abnaric ordered, "I curse you until you bathe in the ice of the northern sea. May you know no pain. Let the demon whose touch grants the disease claim you. Forevermore, your opening sentence to all men shall be, "I was cursed by Abnaric Elgar, you motherless asshole cunt."

After sealing the curse, and placing two layers of underlying traps in place, Abnaric compelled him to bring his woman and money before leaving Shieram. Cholad rose slowly when his limbs were freed. He sobbed, "It can't feel anything." Abnaric commented, "Normal for lepers."

Glaring, Cholad left the room and dressed. He wanted to kill Elgar. He couldn't. Any thought of doing him harm was guashed by the spell. Thoughts of seeking magical aid made him tremble. Sadly, he left the house. He must finish his errand and leave.

Ro'beall noted, "We no longer have the thieves." Abnaric replied, "Either they come to us out of terror or leave us be. I can't see them being fool enough to try killing us." Ro'beall warned, "I would."

Abnaric shrugged, "I count on Gomese self interest and the reaction when we let it drop that Cholad had the old guild master killed. Only family would risk vengeance. His family will be happy about the curse when they know what he did."

Cholad's departure from town was not achieved for days. When he finally stumbled into the wild, all Shieram was buzzing about the wizard. Cholad was a battered and bloody mess. Abnaric sighed as he watched him leave. His disease would slay him. A shame greed outweighed his loyalty. He owed Cholad a lot but not forgiveness for what he did with Renyil.

As he stood there with his guard, three men walked up. Abnaric said, "You are the sons of the guild master before Cholad." The men drew swords and continued forward. Abnaric's warriors stood ready. He observed, "It is interesting that you would die for your father's murderer."

The men stopped. Abnaric tossed a pouch to them explaining, "That is your father's pouch. In it are a few rings and a cameo of a woman. I believe she is your mother." Abnaric smiled as he saw their fury change targets. Slowly, he said, "I acted against Cholad only. He betrayed me as he did you. Unless you insist on a war I consider the matter closed."

When the men nodded and turned to go after Cholad, Abnaric advised, "As your friend, I suggest you let the curse work. He will die. Your sister need not be burdened with the knowledge that his blood is on your hands. Let her continue to hate me."

After a long talk with the men, Abnaric persuaded them it was in their interest to take Cholad's place. When they left he was the high adviser of Shieram's thieves’ guild. In fact, despite Cholad's betrayal, he owned them. When the enemy wizard died, the city of Shieram was his. Abnaric stared at Miryan, then Ro'beall. He stated, "My best information is the man is a second rate sorcerer around fifty. His money comes from poison and people he can scare. Expect minor demons, thugs and poison weapons."

Ro'beall stated, "None of which are likely to bother us unless we are surprised." Abnaric snapped, "Be careful anyway. I don't want to lose either of you." Ro'beall turned her face aside to fight her anger at his tone. Abnaric soothed, "Sorry." Miryan replied, "I will see she comes to no harm."

Abnaric stared at Miryan saying, "Either of you." Miryan blushed at his concern. Sighing, he stated, "Fine. You go to the man and try to get poison. If he tries, let him think he's scaring you. Keep him occupied while the warriors and I move in." Ro'beall replied, "It shall be my Abnaric."

Watching them leave, Abnaric twirled his Kotothi signet anxiously. He honestly cared about their fate. It was a weakness. Sadly, his mind refused to let the feeling be stifled. His concern was part of him. It could not be denied. Hoping to relieve his tension, Abnaric checked his warriors then went to play with his son. His nurse stated, "He grows strong, master."

Abnaric tossed a ball to the boy saying, "You are no longer a slave Yngzi. There is no need to call me master." She replied, "I prefer to do so, master. T repay the goddess and my child for stubbornness." Abnaric asked, "What happened to the boy?"

Yngzi sniffled, "He burned to death in our hut. The terror of the sky claimed him." Abnaric paled. How many other children were slain in his attack? With a real tear in his eye, he said, "I am very sorry."

The Lady praised, "You have no cause master. T have a life and a son through your kindness. My prayers praise you always." Abnaric promised, "You see your home as a woman honored by the goddess." Abnaric smiled broadly as Grat stood weakly and tossed the ball to Yngzi. She whispered, "I stay in this land if my return takes me from your son master." Abnaric looked into her eyes. Her sincere sadness was apparent. Slowly, he promised, "Grat is yours to raise to manhood. T can think of no finer mother."

Miryan smiled as an ugly man answered the door. Ro'beall stated, "My friend informs me that her former employer dealt with yours. I require his services." The thug snapped, "He don't deal with bitches." Ro'beall snapped, "Inform him I have the coin and seek his services. Do it now!" As the man scowled, Miryan moved to within inches of his face cooing, "It is very important. I would be grateful if you would help." When she parted her lips sensuously and hooded her eyes, the man blurted, "Wait here," and closed the door.

Ro'beall whispered, "That was a disgusting performance." Miryan shrugged, "I find mortals are approachable when I invite lust. It is much like the lures used in the blood hunt." Ro'beall hissed, "It is more degrading."

Miryan shrugged. She would not tell her gueen how much she enjoyed the game of seduction. Ro'beall would be outraged. It was better to seem suitably chastised and continue as she wished as chances arose.

A moment later, the man opened the door. Smiling, Miryan stroked his face and whispered something in his ear. Seeing his eyes incandesce, Ro'beall huffed, "The wizard."

Happily, the man took them up the stairs to an iron door. After a knock, he said, "Open it when he calls." Miryan cooed, "It looks so heavy, dear. Could you open it?" The man hesitated. When Miryan's hands

began roaming on his body, he replied, "Sure thing, lady." After a few minutes, an echoing croak ordered them to enter. Assiduously avoiding the caress of the iron, the women stepped inside. The wizard sat with a disgusting looking imp on his shoulder. His seat was a throne made of contorted animal bones. The room was filled with alembics, herbs and scrolls.

Miryan stated, "Renyil said you might help someone in need before he disappeared. My friend needs help." The wizard hissed, "I do not concern myself with love philters." Ro'beall replied, "I require poison."

The wizard laughed, "What do you offer?" Ro'beall replied, "I have money." The wizard leered, "As do I.” The imp whispered in the old man's ear. Smiling, the wizard stated, "My friend has a price you can pay."

Ro'beall glared, "What?" The wizard giggled, "Make love to each other while we watch and I will give you a poison." Ro'beall began to step forward. Wrapping her up in her arms, Miryan nibbled her ear whispering, "He is to be taken alive." Ro'beall hissed, "I will not."

Miryan insisted, "We must." Looking back at the wizard and his imp, Miryan stated, "My friend is reticent, sir. Please be patient." Miryan took the next fifteen minutes to slowly caress Ro'beall and convince her to pay the price.

As they began to disrobe, the imp giggled and the wizard leaned forward with interest. Nibbling, Miryan whispered, "It should be easy. Stroke me like Abnaric does." Ro'beall glowered, then blushed as Miryan began her efforts. After thirty minutes they had the full attention of the wizard and his imp.

Abnaric whispered, "Giilam, you and three men run the ram through the door. Kill anyone who opposes you. Riigh'zan, you and your man guard my person. We follow Giilam in and head for Miryan's voice. Let nothing approach me."

Seeing a small crowd staring at his group, Abnaric flipped coins at them winking, "Go find a bargain." When they began fighting over the coins he signaled Giilam and the assault began.

The Imp screeched as Giilam's force slammed through the front door. Rising, Miryan cast a spell at the Imp while Ro'beall fixed her might on the wizard. Within seconds, the Imp was dispelled and the wizard sat paralyzed.

Going to the door, Miryan carefully, painfully, pulled the iron ring and opened it. Hearing it open, Abnaric cast an illusion that the shattered front door was whole. Turning to Giilam, he ordered, "Search the house. Kill any who fight. Take the others captive. Riigh'zan, any who come in die."

When his warriors acknowledged, Abnaric carefully walked up the stairs. Twice he noted a trap stud in a step and avoided it. Reaching the study, he smiled, "An interesting collection." The wizard hissed, "You will regret this! Your sorceresses cannot hold me forever. I am a great wizard."

Moving close to the man, Abnaric observed, "You fail to understand your situation Felb. Let me explain. I am not a thief. They are not sorceresses. You are not a great wizard. I am. Have I been sufficiently explicit?" Felb roared, "The cabal will hear. Shieram is my territory."

After casting detections and discovering no wards, Abnaric pulled a scroll down saying, "Had you not assaulted my house it still would be." Felb asked, "Elgar?" Abnaric replied, "Now we are on the same page. Tell me about the cabal. I want names and places."

Felb chuckled, "I have no intention of telling you." Abnaric shrugged, "You are brave for a petty magician. Sadly, I don't have time to play." Turning away, he waved, "Ro'beall," and examined the library.

She removed her ring and stepped forward in her true form. Felb hissed, "Baobhan Sith!" Ro'beall ordered, "You speak to my Abnaric or I compel you to do so and kill you afterwards." Felb sobbed, "I am dead in either case."

Abnaric noted, "Not if you have an antidote to the poison your man used. No one here will harm you if so. Assuming you talk, of course." Felb asked, "Will you protect me from the cabal?" Ro'beall hissed, "They are paltry children. Speak!"

Nodding, Felb listed the five other cabal members. After naming four addresses, he said, "I do not know where Warlon dwells." Noticing a familiar powder in a vial, Abnaric poured some into his hand and went over to Felb. Smiling, he said, "That will suffice," and blew the purple lotus into his face.

As the man froze rigid, Abnaric stated, "You may release the spell. He can do nothing until someone negates the effect of the lotus." Ro'beall hissed, "I want him! He defiled us." At Abnaric's guizzical look, Miryan explained, "He had us touch each other while he watched."

"An interesting sight, I am sure," Abnaric noted, "Sadly, I have other plans. He is my entree to the inner circle of the Brothers of the Night. They do not approve of people who hire freelancers."

Ro'beall spat on the man and left the room. When she was gone, Abnaric leered at Miryan and inquired, "How'd you like it?" Miryan giggled and went to get the warriors to carry Felb down the stairs. Smiling, Abnaric continued his search of the library. The thought of watching Ro'beall and Miryan together was not without interest.

Chapter Eight

That night, Abnaric and his warriors gathered the best of Felb's property. By the time the rape of his apartments was discovered they were ten miles north of Shieram with three loaded wagons. Grat remained behind to look after the academy and his nephew. Four guards stayed to protect him and six slaves from Eelb's dungeon.

As they rode, Abnaric knelt in the back and administered the antidote. In seconds, Bo passed out. Abnaric promised, "If you die I'll find another way to impress the Brothers." For the next hour he stayed at Bo's side. Finally, Ro'beall snapped, "He will not wake for hours. Leave him."

Cresting a hill, Abnaric saw a grey robed, faceless man in the road. He ordered the wagons to stop as Ro'beall hissed, "Zehani!" Abnaric asked, "Can I help you?" The Zehani remained silent. Sourly, Abnaric stated, "If you don't wish to talk, move. We have little time for maudlin delays."

The Zehani's echoing voice stated, "Our eyes are on you, Abnaric Elgar. Beware lest you rock the Balance." Abnaric replied, "I appreciate your concern. Do we fight or do you move?" Ro'beall paled for a moment, then smiled. The Zehani stepped aside saying, "There will be no second warning."

Abnaric bowed, "I appreciate the courtesy." As the wagons passed the standing figure, Ro'beall whispered, "That was very brave." Abnaric shrugged, "It was only one guy." Ro'beall commented, "The Zehani serve Manu. They state the word of fate in the mortal realm." Abnaric gulped, "Really. What is this Balance he talked about?"

Putting a hand to her mouth, Ro'beall giggled, "You were trained and never heard of Balance." Abnaric shrugged, "I taught myself when I could steal the time. Only bothered with important stuff."

The rest of the way to Gom, Abnaric received a basic primer on the Cosmology of the true world. Law was the new kid on the block. It represented light and the honor before dishonor crowd.

Chaos was dedicated to power and trashing everyone else, especially law. Fanatics in its group wanting everything going back to formless nothingness. Not Abnaric's kind of world.

The Elder was divided into three big groups and a lot of splinters. Except for the Sidh and the Kotothi, they basically took care of themselves and let the others be.

Balance's place in the mish mash was to keep the gods from destroying everything. Their might kept things even. What battles there were to fight, they wanted fought by mortals. That was why they snapped humanity out of chaos' control and, with Law's aid, gave them free will.

Abnaric pondered his lack of knowledge as he approached Gom. It must be overcome. The risks he faced demanded he know everything his mind could hold. While he mused, Bo sat up, ending eight days in coma. He sighed, "I'm starving boss. We gonna eat soon?"

Throwing him a bag of jerky, Abnaric said, "Good to hear your voice. When we get into town you get anything you want." As they neared the outskirts, a week later, Abnaric raised his hood winking, "Take us to the

Horseman's Rest." The driver nodded. A few minutes later, they turned down a side road and drove to a seedy looking building two miles from the city.

When the wagons pulled behind the building, two men sauntered up. The tallest said, "This is a private club. Move on." Abnaric stated, "I have business with Xil Colparda. Tell him the man who kept him from being an entree is here."

Turning to his friend, the man said, "No one steps down until I get back," and went inside. After a few minutes, he returned snapping, "You in the hood. Come in. Rest of you stay."

After reassuring everyone, Abnaric followed the man inside. Xil sat at a corner table. He moved over and sat down. Xil stated, "Nice of you to remember. It’s been a while." Abnaric replied, "Business kept me away. I am here to clear up my affairs in Gom."

Xil stood and signed for Abnaric to follow him. When they were in a private room, he said, "I owe you. Forget Cior." Abnaric stated, "He isn't the only target. I have five others in mind. I want to ally with your association." Xil laughed, "We don't deal with wizards."

Abnaric offered, "It would be nice to have one with your interests in mind in case an enemy wizard decides to attack." He shrugged, "Not a decision I make." Abnaric said, "All I ask is a meeting with the people who do and a free hand to handle my affairs."

Xil shrugged, "Best I do is pass it on. Where can I get in touch?" Abnaric answered, "I'll be moving around. I'll see you back here in two days." When he nodded, Abnaric asked, "Can you find some people for me in the interim?" Xil replied, "Nothing but hospitality for nothing, Elgar."

Putting a purse on the table, Abnaric said, "There is fifty gold. I need to know the whereabouts of my man Dax, my whore Anya and a wizard named Warlon. Keep the change." Xil stated, "First one isn't hard. He was sentenced to the mines last year. I'll put feelers out for the bitch. Warlon lives in a cemetery near the north pier.” After a sip of wine, he noted, “We track the cabal."

Abnaric asked, "What do you know about them?" Hefting the back, Xil shrugged, "Two are nothing. One is a hedge wizard with a succubus. Then there's Warlon and a hot Sorceress from Donara."

When Abnaric nodded, Xil added, "Given word from the south, Warlon and the Sorceress are the ones who can mess you up. There are two out of town members. One's a hermit in a tower east of town. The other is in Shieram. Both are small fry."

"Felb is in a wagon outside," Abnaric commented, "He hired a freelancer to kill my son and uncle." Xil snapped, "The freelancer?" Abnaric drew his finger across his throat. Xil smiled, "How much for the wizard?" Abnaric offered, "A chance to have the meeting."

Xil laughed, "You're good. Hell of a switch." Abnaric smiled, "Praise from a high caliber professional is always welcome. Can I invite my people inside?" Xil shrugged, "What the hell?" As he led Abnaric outside, he ordered, "I need a private hall and a feast. Set the hall now, food in an hour."

Seeing the group, Xil gueried, "You the one whose stirring up the Pa’Nylasa?" Abnaric replied, "They are mine." Xil raised an eyebrow. As Abnaric helped Miryan down, Xil whistled rudely. Ro'beall snapped, "Still your tongue!" Looking up with a leer, he whistled at her too. As Abnaric calmed Ro'beall, Xil roared, "You have great taste in whores Elgar!"

While Abnaric struggled to restrain Ro'beall, Miryan walked up to Xil and whispered, "My gueen will make you a toad unless you are civil. I would not like a friend of the King to spend his life shooting his tongue at flies."

Xil pinched her ass winking, "Whatever you say, hon." Using one of the parlor tricks Abnaric taught her, Miryan let fire dance on her fingertips smiling, "It was a friendly warning." Fearless, Xil stroked her ass promising, "I'll tone it down. If she doesn't my associates gut you. Won't matter how much magic you've got to toss."

Abnaric snapped, "Let's take it inside. We're all friends here." Ro'beall hissed, "He is a boorish little ferret." Xil bowed, "And you, madam, are a snooty prig with a damn fine rack." As Ro'beall's eyes flashed with fire, Abnaric roared, "Cut it out! Right now!"

Glaring, Ro'beall allowed Abnaric to lead her inside. She trembled with fury as Xil commented, "Nice ass too." Passing her arm to Miryan, Abnaric turned frowning, "Xil, I want to be friends. I can't have you cutting my Queen. Give her a break."

Xil replied, "I told the other honey, magic doesn't scare me. If she can't take it, she can get off her high horse." Abnaric stated, "She's been on that horse against tough odds for a thousand years. Don't force her hand. She can fry you with a wink. That fucks us both." Laughing, Xil said, "Jungle heat got to you," and walked inside.

Abnaric fumed as he followed Xil to the private hall. When the door closed, Abnaric asked, "Is anyone watching?" Xil replied, "No." Abnaric stated, "I want us to be friends. To help you understand I'm going to let you in on a secret." Turning to the women, he said, "Show him who you are."

Xil's eyes widened as they became Baobhan Sith before his eyes. Glaring regally, Ro'beall offered, "As you are a friend of my Abnaric, I accept your apology." Xil replied, "Don't have one. You lay off me, I tone it down. If not, let's see who dies."

When Ro'beall's eyes began to spark, a dagger leapt into each of Xil's hands from his sleeves. Abnaric snapped, "Enough! We're leaving Xil. Never cross my path again." Xil roared, "The bitch started it!" Eyes glaring with intensity, Abnaric screamed, "She is a damn Queen! Do you expect her to accept being treated like a street slut?" Xil clipped, "As much as I like being ordered around like a frigging pot boy. I'm inner circle, pal!"

Miryan soothed, "There is too much at stake to let friendship die over silly words." Hesitantly, she looked at Ro'beall advising, "My gueen, you should both apologize. Humans have pride also."

Seeing Abnaric's glare, both combatants grumbled an apology. Slipping her ring on, Miryan sat at the table. Taking a seat beside her, Xil smiled broadly and looked into her eyes.

Ro'beall hissed, "Tell your friend his attentions are unwarranted my Abnaric." Seating her, Abnaric whispered, "We just cooled this down. Let Miryan handle it."

While they talked, Xil's hand strayed to Miryan's breasts. Miryan whispered, "I find your attentions cute but you must mind your manners." Xil whispered, "I'd rather have a piece." Miryan promised, "The piece you get depends on you sweets. At the moment only my fangs yearn for a taste."

Sitting back, Xil removed his hands laughing, "You're my kind of lady. I'll play the gentleman." Miryan smiled, "Remain so with us always. You will find it safer and more rewarding." Ro'beall hissed, "Assuredly safer."

Flipping a lewd wink at Ro'beall, Xil turned to Abnaric saying, "I had the boys unload the cargo we mentioned." Abnaric noted, "I'm hoping to sell some of what's left." Xil replied, "I'll get a report. Maybe we can handle it."

A half hour later, Xil returned. As the food arrived, he said, "We can talk." Abnaric lifted an eye at the waiters. Xil chuckled, "No problem." Abnaric said, "I'm looking to move the herbs, jewelry and miscellaneous crud. The scrolls and books are mine." Xil noted, "That works. We don't handle books. Market for them is wierd. My man says hundred and eighty gold is a good price."

Abnaric hedged, "There is a lot of good property there." Xil replied, "Hot property we have to ship out. Two hundred is the best I can offer and that's a gift." Abnaric sighed, "I'll take it. Any chance you can store the other stuff until I send for it?" Xil replied, "For five down and a gold a day it's safe as a crib baby." Abnaric shivered as the phrase made him think of Nergas.

Passing Xil ten gold, he said, "Hold my two hundred until I need it." Xil chuckled, "No charge. Let's get to the food. I'm hungry. You bitches, err ladies, suck anything down besides blood?"

Miryan giggled and sipped her wine. Abnaric stroked Ro'beall's leg to calm her. It was clear she and Xil would never be friends. Her loathing for the man was obvious. Miryan, on the other hand, seemed to be able to handle the situation with no problem.

Guess years of taking it from Ro'beall gave Miryan that gift, Abnaric mused. She was better at mixing with humans then Ro'beall ever would be. Abnaric decided she was the one who would spend time on the road with him. It would be better for everyone.

The rest of the evening passed without event. It was clear Xil was taken with Miryan. Rising, around eight, Abnaric said, "We have to get in town and get rooms. Nice dinner." Ro'beall took Abnaric's arm and snapped, "Come along Miryan." Xil glared.

Abnaric smiled at Xil as the wagon driver's headed down the road to Shieram. Reminding him he would return in two days, Abnaric said, "Let's go people." Miryan hedged, "Xil wishes to show me his dagger collection." Ro'beall growled, "Miryan!" Xil soothed, "I'd like her to stay but I won't push it."

After fixing his eyes on the man, Abnaric asked, "You'll see she's safe?" Xil nodded. Abnaric stated, "She can stay until I come back. After that, we talk." With a pause, Abnaric added, "She is my apprentice and a very close friend. Treat her well." Xil promised, "I guarantee it, Abnaric. Thanks."

Walking into town, Ro'beall scolded, "It was heinous leaving my handmaiden with that little troll." Abnaric explained, "I left our friend and my apprentice with a man who is important to our future. By doing so, I expose her to his ways and seduce him. It was not done without thought."

Ro'beall stated, "If he harms her I shall not be stayed from vengeance." Abnaric promised, "If the situation arises, my Queen, he will be dead before you find out. I need both of you at my side." Ro'beall shrugged, "She is not totally unworthy."

When they neared town, Ro'beall handed Giilam a ring saying, "Wear this always. You are to take your men into the wild east of here and wait. I will find you when it is time to strike." Giilam bowed and slid the ring onto his finger.

As the warriors disappeared into the shadows, Bo asked, "Me too?" Abnaric replied, "No. Once Ro'beall is settled we have business at the mines." Bo shrugged, "Long way. We better get started." Abnaric stated, "We won't be walking."

Ro'beall settled on the bed in the cheap inn. Sniffing, she said, "The room is disgusting." Abnaric chuckled, "But its safe. Stay inside. Don't let anybody in until I get back. If anyone breaks in, take them out." As Abnaric and Bo left, Ro'beall smiled. Killing someone would brighten her mood nicely.

Abnaric grimaced as they fell a few feet to the earth. A few hundred feet away was the dark bulk of Gom's penal mine. Dax was in there somewhere. Signing for Bo to stay quiet he slid toward the wall. When they reached it, he made them insubstantial and walked through the stone.

Immediately, Abnaric noted the patrolling guards in the courtyard. Dropping the spell, he made them invisible and led Bo to the mine entrance. Entering the office Abnaric closed the door and dropped his spell. As he looked through the personnel files, he whispered, "Anyone who comes in dies." Bo nodded and cracked his knuckles.

After a few minutes, Abnaric smiled. According to the file Dax was on the ground level working as a loader. A note indicated the warden expected him to die within the week. Abnaric scowled, "We go into the mine. Wait until I tell you to move."

Abnaric cast a spell to give him sight in darkness and again made himself and Bo invisible. For the next half hour they searched the rows of coughing, dirty men. Finally, deep in the shaft, Abnaric saw Dax. Letting the spell drop, he woke the man and magically opened the locks on his chains.

Dax whispered, "Who's there?" Bo roared, "It's me! We busting you out." Abnaric snapped, "Shut it!" Dax sighed, "Elgar?" Abnaric said, "Yes. Bo, pick him up. Be careful." As they prepared to depart, a choking voice nearby said, "Me too, man."

As Abnaric prepared to ignore the man, Dax said, "He's a good sort." Sighing, Abnaric popped the man's chains with a spell. When he joined them, Abnaric cast a strong spell. They arrived in the room with Ro'beall.

She sat with her foot on an unconscious man. Beside her was the smoking ruin of what used to be another. Abnaric signed for her to get up and had Bo lay Dax on the bed. The other man said, "I'm Stoch. Got anything for grunge?"

Slicing both men with a spell aimed at laying diseases, Abnaric said, "Dax is about gone. Can you help?" As she bent to examine the man, Stoch noticed the man on the floor rising and kicked him in the head. He sunk back to the floor unconscious. Abnaric said, "Tell me about yourself." Stoch shrugged, "Nothing much to say. I pissed off the wrong people and got shoved into the hole."

Eyes aglow, Abnaric explained, "No time to bargain. You're here because Dax spoke for you. No other reason. Unless you give me a reason to trust you, the door is over there. Use it."

Indicating his rancid clothing, Stoch noted, "That would be pretty cold, pal." Glaring cold darts into the man's eyes, Abnaric warned, "I can be far colder then you could imagine and I am not your pal. Talk or walk."

Stoch met Abnaric's glare for a moment. Shrugging, he said, "I'm a mercenary. The boys I ran got into trouble with a sorceress. I went to bail them out and found two dead. Next day, the others and me were arrested. I'm the only one who's still alive."

Abnaric noted, "So you hate wizards." Stoch replied, "So I'm killing the bitch. I don't lay another man's sins on people who share the same profession. It's bad for business." Abnaric asked, "What are your limits?"

Stoch stated, "While I'm your man, none. If I can't stomach what you do I'll tell you and walk when the job ends." Abnaric gueried, "What about secrets you learn while you work for me?" Stoch shrugged, "They're yours. I don't rat on people."

Counting some coins into a bag, Abnaric tossed it to Stoch offering, "Twenty gold to start, ten gold a month plus whatever bonuses you earn. Are you interested?" Stoch tied the bag to his belt and noted, "I need to clean up and get weapons." Abnaric said, "We'll get what you need. Stay here in case they start looking for you."

As Stoch nodded, Ro'beall stood up saying, "He is ruined." Abnaric stared down at the man. For the first time, he noticed the burn scars across his eyes. Ro'beall listed, "He is blind and missing his right hand. His back is festered and freshly scarred. His limbs are sorely abused and he has been castrated. I am sure there is internal damage also. Slay him."

Abnaric turned to Stoch and inquired, "Was he like this when you met him?" Stoch replied, "He was in sorry shape. Some of the whipping happened after we met. They stopped by once a week to work on him. You're the reason."

Facing Ro'beall, Abnaric ordered, "Take him to the warriors. I want them to care for him and keep him alive." Ro'beall stated, "It is wasted effort." Angrily, Abnaric snapped, "He took this out of loyalty to me. I'll be damned if T discard him like a hunk of meat."

As Ro'beall prepared to obey, Abnaric added, "Take the corpse and his friend too. Do what you want with them." Ro'beall disappeared in a flash of fire. The men indicated were gone also. Stoch noted, "She has a temper." Abnaric said, "Red hot."

Seeing Bo sitting glumly in the corner, Abnaric went over and whispered, "Whatever I have to do, I will see that Dax is healed better then he was. Bo wanly smiled, “He be fine then boss.”

When they came down the next morning, the desk clerk smiled, “A message for you, sir.” Abnaric took the paper. After reading it, he glared, “We’re going to the wharf Bo. Stoch, recon those addresses 1 gave you and meet me back here tonight.”

While they made their way into the ghetto, Bo asked, “What’s up boss?” Abnaric ferally smiled, “We have a man to kill.” Bo nodded, “Any way you want. No problem.”

Once they reached the area, Abnaric sat at a table with Bo and watched. A large man stood against a far wall with two others and some women, obviously whores. Given their condition, he wasn’t a gentle pimp. As the women moved off to work, Abnaric whispered, “The big one is mine if shit happens. Watch the others.” Bo smiled, “Know em boss. Ain’t shit.”

The man locked his eyes on Elgar and Bo as they approached. A grin came to his face. He laughed, “Ain’t your turf anymore punk. What can I do for ya?” Abnaric glowered at his tone. After a glare froze both the thugs at his side, he stated, “You have my woman and a baby. If I get both right now you make it to evening alive.”

He roared, “No damn faggot pillow boy threatens me shithead.” Fire roiled in Abnaric’s eyes. Before he could think, the man’s garments burst into flame. With a cold sneer, he locked all his power on him and flayed his body with lances of flame.

While he stood insanely fixed on that effort Bo snapped the neck of one man and kicked the other to the ground. As a powerful punch shattered the last man’s rib cage, the large man burst into flames and burned to ash.

Trembling with his rage, Abnaric hissed, “Dump this offal. I’ll see what I can find out inside.” In his search, he found a small strong box and a letter. He crumpled the letter angrily. The sender acknowledged his willingness to pay thirty gold for an infant female. He was a purchasing agent for House Mullabi from Rogh’sa.

As he glowered, considering his next move, a soft voice gasped, “Abnaric?” He turned. Anya stood in the door. Her scanty clothes were filthy and torn. More than one bruise colored her face. He extended his arms. When she fell into them, he asked, “Where is the baby?”

Once her sobs subsided, Anya sniffled, “T have her in the sewer. It wasn’t safe here.” Abnaric noted, “The bastard was planning on selling her.” Anya nodded, “I know. He beat me last night. Wanted me to bring Herela.”

Abnaric smiled, “Herela. Nice name.” She hedged, “T can change it if you like. She’s just a baby.” He soothed, “Fine name for a princess. Let’s go get her somewhere safe.”

Anya led him to a pier and went under it. As he followed, she led him and Bo into the fetid sewer. After three turns they reached an alcove. Rats ran as they entered. Hanging above the ground from a thick rope fed through a ship pulley was a covered basket.

He snapped the rope with a spell and lowered the basket down to his arms. When Anya moved the covers aside, he saw a small, dirt—smeared face with bright eyes. His grin lit the dank sewer as he gently lifted her into his arms.

Bo grinned, “She pretty boss.” Purring gently he soothed, “A pleasure to meet you, princess.” Looking at Anya, he stated, “Leave all this trash. You and Herela don’t need any of it. You’re coming with me.” Before her gratitude mastered her shock, the four of them stood in the presence of Grat in Shieram. Putting the baby in his arms, Abnaric stated, “This is Anya and your niece Herela, Uncle Grat. I need you to keep an eye on them.”

As he nodded, Abnaric introduced him, told Anya to stay put and teleported back to the hotel in Gom with Bo. He gulped, “You something boss.” He smiled, “Something tired at the moment, my friend. How about some dinner?”

While they dined, Stoch entered. He noted, “Did the casing.” Abnaric said, “And?” He shrugged, “Three simple hits. Sorceress will be hard. No telling how bad the jerk in the cemetery will be. Man has a bad rep.”

Abnaric nodded, “Have some dinner. When you’re through, the three of us are going to get the hermit.” Stoch replied, “Might take more. Man has a tower.” Abnaric frowned, “Not a problem. I know the place.”

Xelor frowned as the dead body of his guard hurtled through the door, shattering it. As he rose casting his effort was snuffed. He glared, seeing an immense man filling the door and a smaller feral one moving around him.

Allowing himself to be seen, Abnaric smiled, “Nice to see you again.” He gasped, “Abnaric Elgar.” Taking his seat, Xelor sighed, “In all honesty I hoped we would not meet again. Your rapid rise shames me a bit.” Abnaric chuckled, “Aligning yourself with people who have chosen to plague me does little to guarantee my absence. It may be time to cut my losses.”

Xelor said, “I think that would be a waste of effort.” Abnaric grinned, “How so?” He shrugged, “T have no intention, ability or desire to oppose you. They acted against my wishes and without my support. I voted to dump Hasloc and add you. They refused.”

Showing a mark on his arm, he added, “Should I die, the powers of the cabal will be alerted. They forced this mark on me after Felb’s fall. The Sorceress insisted.”

Sending Bo and Stoch out with a scroll, Abnaric closed the door. Xelor sighed, “The other fact of interest is something no one ever hears. I went through the same crap with the fat bastard. That wound stays sealed.”

Abnaric glared, “I might trust you. I will not trust the others.” Xelor shrugged, “They died the night you escaped. I prefer to occupy my tower alone.” For a long moment, Abnaric met the man’s eyes. The rational course, given all facts, was to kill him. One spell and everyone who knew about his past was gone.

Sadly, it was not something he could do. He might never have escaped from Bol without Xelor’s aid. Repaying that favor with the man’s murder did not sit well with him. Error or not, he couldn’t kill him in cold blood.

Eyes cold, he stated, “I owe you a debt. The tower remains yours and you live. Do anything against me or tell anyone what you know and you will regret your error eternally. Do you understand me?”

Xelor nodded, “Crystal. Perhaps we can work together in time.” Abnaric replied, “Possibly. First earn it. If I feel a tickle from your direction while I do what I must, I will be back to rectify this situation forever.”

When they returned to the hotel, Ro’beall was sitting in the room glaring. She snapped, “I tire of this odiferous place my Abnaric. When do we slay your enemies?”

He soothed, “Soon my Queen.” Turning to Stoch, he said, “Take Bo. We need the services of a good thief to make it in to the Sorceress. Find one. We’ll meet you here after I pick up Miryan at the Horseman’s Rest. Expect us in two days.” Stoch shrugged, “Come on big boy,” and headed out the door. At Abnaric’s wink, Bo complied. If it was right with the boss, it had to be the smart thing to do.

Ro’beall frowned, “Must we spend days with that creature my Abnaric?” He smiled, “Only the time needed to set our hook and meet his employers. We can’t make the waves we must without letting them know. They would take it as an insult.”

Noting her indifference to what such mortals might think, he added, “Which would slow our progress and turn a group of competent potential allies into enemies.” She sighed, “Pander to the creatures if it is wise my Abnaric. I will not accept another insult.”

After an hour of passion, Abnaric looked into her eyes, then smiled, “I want you to go into the wild. Pick up Giilam and the warriors and get them back here unobserved.” She frowned, “Leaving you alone?”

He reasoned, “Their entry into the city alerts the enemy otherwise. If I have a problem Miryan can help. They have no chance without the power of their Queen shielding them.” She nodded, “It will be my Abnaric. If you allow yourself to be harmed, I will be cross with you. Know that as fact.”

When he reached the Rest the next morning, the guards waved Abnaric inside. Entering the common room, he stopped dead, glaring at Xil’s table. Miryan sat there all but naked obviously unaware of the world around her. She was drugged!

Blowing a man out of his path, Abnaric snared her arm and headed back for the door. As he did, Xil ran up shouting, “Elgar! What the hell are you doing?”

As he turned flaming eyes to regard the man, Miryan ran a hand down his body purring, “Mmmm, I have missed my Abnaric.” He roared, “I had your vow to take care of my apprentice! You made a drug whore out of her.” Xil frowned, “Didn’t know how hard the shit would hit the bitch. My word on that. Usually makes for a fun night. She’s been flying for a day. I like drugs. Never meant to hurt her.”

He could tell the man was serious and contrite. As he considered, Miryan yawned, “Smell sweet my Abnaric,” and nibbled his neck. Abnaric scowled, “It never happens again.” When he promised, they got Miryan into a room and put her to bed.

As they sat there, Xil stated, “Your meeting is set for tonight after the first show. You go unarmed.” He asked, “Anything I should worry about?” Xil shrugged, “Brothers have no reason to get in your face. Guys you whacked at the wharf weren’t protected.”

Barely in time to dress for the show, Miryan woke moaning. She hissed, “My head is killing me.” Abnaric chuckled, “Often the case when one does things she shouldn’t.” She beamed, “Abnaric! When did you get here?”

He chided, “It isn’t my Abnaric any more?” She paled, “I would never. The Queen would flay me.” He smirked, “Then I guess you don’t want her to know you called me yours this morning.” She begged, “Please never tell her! She would hate me. I m”

Taking her in his arms, he soothed, “No need, my love. I am her Abnaric. I am also your Abnaric. I see no reason to state the obvious to anyone. You know how much our Queen hates it when someone states obvious fact.” She purred and nearly shattered his heart with the passion of her kiss.

After watching an exhibition that he found depraved, and Miryan detested, Abnaric followed Xil up a set of dark stairs. As he walked, Abnaric subtly cast detection. Finding no magic, he cast a spell to allow himself to see in the darkness.

They came out in a large room. Xil led him to a chair. Seated in the darkness on the other side of the room were seven men. Abnaric carefully memorized their faces and let his spell drop. One stated, “We are informed this meeting is your payment for surrendering the contractor of a freelance assassin. Our thanks. It is over.”

Abnaric stated, “I would like to speak, if I might impose.” The voice sighed, “We tolerate it.” He continued, “I asked for this meeting to show respect for your patriotic organization. In the next few weeks I will operate in the city. I had no wish to do so without informing the Brothers beforehand.”

The man chuckled, “Xil informed us of your anger at the wizard cabal.” Abnaric said, “It is my intent to kill them. I am also eliminating Cior.” Ignoring a bit of laughter, he added, “I also wonder at the possibility of your organization having a use for the service of a power such as myself. It would serve us both.”

After some heated words, the man snapped, “We have little interest in dealing with wizards, arrogant or otherwise. Neither do we stand in the way of anyone who slaughters them. If you eliminate the cabal, we speak again in future. If not, you may stop speaking for all time.” As he heard the men rise and leave, Xil tapped his shoulder shrugging, “Meet is over, Elgar. I’ll take you back down to Miryan. Went well.”

Seeing his glare, Xil winked, “You’re still alive and we’re on the sidelines. Best you could expect.” Heading down the stairs, Abnaric mused, which means I need new dogs on top. You, little friend, will be one of them. The Brothers are in my pocket or in their graves.

Chapter Nine

Abnaric examined the home of the Sorceress. It was a two story manor surrounded by a stonewall. Nothing on the outside indicated the place had any magic. The thief, Eslag, noted, "Can't be right. This is Vinkel’s. it’s been a slaver's estate for eleven years."

Extending his hand to the building, Abnaric replied, "My detection ring says it is more. Stoch knows it is. Get us inside unobserved." The thief inguired, "My cut still on?" Stoch drew his blackened sword silently. He smiled, "Hope for the promise to be true or get cut now." As Bo pushed him toward the wall, Eslag hissed, "I'm going already, damm!"

Abnaric ignored the confrontation. His senses were locked on the building seeking any sign of magic. Eslag rolled over the wall and slid to his knees. Satisfied, he signaled the others to follow and loped carefully to the manor wall.

Minutes later, Eslag pried a large, double window open and entered the building. Abnaric felt no change in the environment. Whatever guardians the place may have, they had not been alerted. Quickly, they all entered and relocked the window.

Abnaric looked around the room. It was a large sitting room with fine furniture and statues. In the corner was an immense stone statue of a nude woman. Stoch hissed, "That's the bitch who gutted my men." Abnaric eyed him whispering, "Take Eslag and find the owner. Bo and T will wait here."

While they were gone, Abnaric examined the room. The furnishings were first rate. The quality of it made the big statue look out of place. Everything was plush. The other goods were fine ceramics and precious metal. The big statue was little more than a block of granite.

Moving closer, Abnaric saw the detection ring on his finger flash. He grinned, "The statue is warded. Must be a secret passage or something." Concentrating, he seized the powerful wards and shattered them. After assuring himself that there was no danger, he began to examine it closely.

As he found the lever, Stoch entered with a thin man in nightclothes. Abnaric frowned as his ring glowed furiously. Examining the man, he found a silver collar attached to his upper thigh. It was inscribed with complex runes and glowed blue as it was exposed to the moonlight.

Ordering Stoch to keep his hold on the man's mouth, Abnaric cast powerful magics to dispel the might of the collar. As its power waned, the man changed into an angry woman. Abnaric commanded, "Keep a sword at her throat. If you hear any words you don't understand kill her."

When she was pinned by Bo and threatened by Stoch, Abnaric said, "I assume you are the Sorceress." She hissed, "Devils will flay your soul for this atrocity." Abnaric replied, "Unless you are forthright with me, you will be in hell watching should it occur. Tell me about this residence."

As she glared, Abnaric depressed the statue's nipples and it swung away to the side. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Shall we talk down here? I would hate to disturb the household." The woman spat, "At your peril, fool. My servants will destroy you."

Unconcerned, Abnaric ordered, "Chain and gag her. We are going down the ladder. Eslag goes first, then Bo. When Bo and l are down toss the bitch to us." Stoch nodded. In a few minutes, they stood below. Finding a lever, Abnaric pulled the statue closed. Smiling, he said, "An interesting place. It will serve me well." Pulling a wand from his backpack, Abnaric led the party through a door and down the corridor. When two demons materialized and roared toward him, he mumbled words of power and pointed the wand. Both exploded into smoke as gouts of flame washed over them. Seeing the Sorceress' eyes open wide, Abnaric chided, "I am Abnaric Elgar. Aren't you glad we finally met?"

Over the next hour he expended the might of the wand destroying the Sorceress' demons. Standing within her altar room, he noted, "The statue you worship is powerful. Might it be the last of your guardians?"

The Sorceress' eyes glowed with evil glee. Abnaric smiled, "I take that as a yes." Turning to the others, he ordered, "I want this floor searched from top to bottom. You are looking for something carved with runes like the ones inscribed here. It could be anything. Bring it to me."

While the men hurried off, Abnaric knelt beside the Sorceress commenting, "When they find your familiar key, dear, we find out if he likes you more then he wants you." Her eyes filled with horror. Stroking her body, Abnaric added, "Shame you chose to be hostile. We could have been friends."

After a half hour, Stoch and Bo came back. Bo said, "No little thing with sguiggles. Lots of people chained in cells though." Stoch hissed, "What I saw indicates she feeds them to the demons." Abnaric shrugged, "A normal way for a Sorcerer to attain power." Bo snapped, "Two is kids!"

Abnaric's eyes glowered evilly at the woman. Slowly, he said, "You deal with Moloch. Very naughty. Consider your life to be over." After five minutes, Abnaric snapped, "Find Eslag."

As the men ran to obey, Eslag stumbled in with a loaded bag over his shoulders and a silver rod in his hand. Smiling, he said, "She has a little room by the ladder. It had all kinds of good stuff. This thing has the markings you're looking for on it."

When he held the key, Abnaric ordered, "Help him with our property Stoch," and walked toward the statue. Outside the arc of its might, he examined the key.

Like most, the wand assigned the Devil to the command of its last bearer. Smiling, Abnaric cast protections around the Sorceress, himself and his men then activated the power of the Key.

Slowly, the veined marble began to throb with life. When its eyes opened, it said, "I await your command, master." Abnaric replied, "I do not seek command though I wield it. I wish to bargain Rhadamanthus." The horse headed demon hissed, "Bargain?"

Abnaric stated, "I offer you freedom and the woman. In exchange, leave the rest of us alive and never return to this dwelling. The woman is yours to use as you will when you return to the pits of hell."

Rhadamanthus' eyes glowed with hateful lust. Smiling, he said, "On my word as a Judge of the Damned, I agree and obey." Abnaric asked, "You will also swear on your blood and the honor of your masters, Nergal and Sammael." Angrily, Rhadamanthus gave all three pledges. He was now bound to keep his word by the laws of sorcery. Betrayal would weaken him and cause the power of the gods to strike.

Snapping the fragile rod, Abnaric said, "I keep my bargain. Should you forget yours, remember your pledges and the fact I know your true name. Take your prize and depart without trouble."

Stepping forward, the demon swept the sorceress into his arms. The fact of the bargain negated her protection. She was his by right. Leering, Rhadamanthus purred, "For six years you ruled. For six hundred I make you regret the effrontery of your act."

Abnaric asked, "Another reguest, Lord Rhadamanthus?" The Demon leered. Abnaric stated, "I would have her sign the deed to all her property over to me. The treasure piled near my men pays for the inconvenience." Rhadamanthus replied, "I have affixed her signature. Stay me no longer."

After a bow, Abnaric began a rite of banishment to speed the demon on his way home. He departed into curling smoke as trumpets blared deafeningly. Abnaric whispered, may he rape you eternally, bitch. He had no time for anyone who dealt with Moloch. The only sacrifice that god accepted was infants and young children.

Finding all the deeds, Abnaric left Stoch and Eslag to secure the place and do an inventory. With Bo, he left the building for the cemetery. Warlon should be waiting in chains by now. The night was going pretty damn good.

Abnaric stared at the mausoleum. The door hung open. All of his warriors stood in front of it with gaping holes in their chests. They were obviously dead. Bo fearfully hissed, "Don't like this place."

Ignoring Bo's words Abnaric prepared for battle. It was obvious things had not gone well. When he neared the cadavers, an eerie voice whispered, "Come to me Elgar. Any with you remain with my slaves or join them." Abnaric snapped, "Stay here. If the dead attack run like hell."

Bo nodded violently, "Can't leave." Abnaric hissed, "It's an order." Sadly, Bo agreed to obey. Abnaric was smart. If he said go that was the right thing to do.

Abnaric stepped into the cold building. When he reached the floor, he saw a panel hanging open in the wall. Beside it stood two skeletons with polearms. Warlon's voice came up from the opening, "Hurry, youngster. The creatures are anxious." Abnaric stepped passed the skeletons and carefully walked down a long flight of stone stairs.

The room he saw was layered with dust. Bones, skeletons and pieces of cadavers hung along the walls. Miryan lay battered and chained on the floor. Ro'beall was nude and smeared with blood. Her body was chained to a black altar encrusted with bones. Warlon noted, "I have communed with my god youngster. You are not mine to kill. I may enslave you."

A groan escaped Abnaric as Warlon turned. Half of his face was skeletal. The rest was rotted flesh. His robes were pure black and streaked with dust. Sternly, he stated, "After I do you may help me send these to Lilith. She enjoys punishing false vampires."

Growling, Abnaric opened the war by casting Lightning into Warlon's body. He noted, "You are strong and fast for a novice," and began his own cantrips. Soon, their minds were locked in battle. Abnaric felt death and age oppressing him. Warlon personified his greatest fears. Discovering that, he used their power to drive into Abnaric's soul.

Desperately, Abnaric fell back. His stomach roiled as the stench of the grave oppressed him. As he fell to one knee, he set his final defenses on one thought. Bringing Kototh's ring to his eyes, he said, "If I fall, you dwell below forever."

Losing all sense of himself, Abnaric felt the maelstrom within his mind spring forward. As he was swept up in it, he heard a three voiced roar of fury sweeping out of his mouth. The cavern exploded with green fire leaving nothing but ash where Warlon had stood. When a black mouse leapt out it was englobed by the power and disappeared.

With the departure of the rodent, the maelstrom receded into the recesses of Abnaric's mind. Abnaric fell face first into the dust. Sternly, he fought to retain his consciousness and crawled toward the altar. Halfway there, he was lifted to his feet. Bo said, "Dead men fall. I help now?" Abnaric gasped, "Free Ro'beall," and slumped into unconsciousness.

Abnaric felt his head throbbing as he woke. He rested in a soft bed. A cool cloth stroked his forehead. Another stroked his stomach. Opening his eyes, he saw Ro'beall and Miryan. They were bathing him. Ro'beall ordered, "Lie still my Abnaric. The strength has yet to return to your mind."

Miryan kissed his cheek and thanked him for saving their lives. Ro'beall snapped, "Return to your duties. Waste time with sentiment when we finish bathing him." Abnaric asked, "Where are we?" Ro'beall stated, "Your new manor. Bo stands guard. The others organize your staff."

Abnaric said, "Eslag stayed." Ro'beall replied, "He awaits his cut, whatever that means." Miryan added, "He is most insistent on speaking with you. I have found him quite annoying in the last two days." Abnaric rose only to be softly pushed back to the bed.

Ro'beall stated, "Two full days have passed since the battle. This is the morning of the third." Abnaric sighed, "We have to get the others before they organize."

Grabbing a fresh towel, Ro'beall stated, "I killed the pretender in this city. Stoch informs me the one in the hills is not to be harmed. Only two remain. Neither is anything." Abnaric said, "The guicker I take them the better. The Brothers of the Night are watching." Ro'beall said, "I will not allow you to harm yourself."

Miryan offered, "With care and our aid, he may be able to act tonight, my gueen. It is important to him." Ro'beall snapped, "T pander to impetuousness this time only my Abnaric. I do not understand why your patience is so slight."

Restraining his comment, Abnaric smiled at Miryan and winked. She chuckled, "You are certainly not strong enough for roaring." Giggling, she added, "Be good or you shall have no wizards tonight." Abnaric laughed as he saw Ro'beall smile. Sighing happily, he laid back and enjoyed his bath.

Eslag eluded Bo's grasp and hurried up when Abnaric entered the main hall. He chuckled, "I see you need to talk." Eslag replied, "I've been getting a ride down a greased pole." Abnaric snapped, "The situation required a delay. Calm down."

Sternly, Ro'beall pushed Eslag into a seat and whispered, "If your irritation harms my Abnaric I shall be insatiable in my vengeance." Eyes darting, Eslag said, "I just want what's fair. This place is a gold mine. I earned a cut."

Abnaric asked, "What do you think is fair?" Taking out a roll of paper, Eslag commented, "As I figure, whole works is worth 2104 gold with the slaves out back and not counting the wierd shit. Two hundred and fifty gold is enough." Abnaric stated, "I'll pay it."

When Eslag smiled broadly, Abnaric warned, "This buys total silence. If I hear rumors about me, my people or this place, I'll find you." Eslag replied, "No chance. I'm on a boat for Pelara. Gom is starting to wierd me out."

Inviting Eslag to have a good life in the north, Abnaric had him paid and escorted to the harbor. When Stoch returned, Abnaric said, "We take the rest of the cabal tonight. You and Bo get Hasloc at his shop. The ladies and I visit Wernek." Stoch asked, "Are you sure this ring will protect me from the bastard?"

Abnaric stated, "He is a historian and fortune teller. That ring easily negates his magic. Take the man and bring him back here. He's part of my bait for Cior." Stoch shrugged, "If you're right, he's taken. Me and the big boy can handle any toughs he has."

After being forced to eat a leisurely dinner and relax an hour, Abnaric escorted the ladies to the home of Wernek. Ro'beall stated, "The little ferret you like so much says this man is no trouble. Let us handle him." Abnaric sighed, "Xil says the man has experience and not much talent. I have a use for him if he isn't too dumb to take the chance." Ro'beall advised, "Using him is not worth the risk. We can slay this Cior. There is no need to bait him." Abnaric explained, "If we kill a royal official in the palace the Emperor won't rest until we’re dead. Cior dropping outside the palace won’t bother him."

"The King is speaking with wisdom, my gueen," Miryan soothed, "Only a hundred and twenty years ago you called the great hunt on men who killed two escaping from your palace. A human emperor could do no less to retain the respect of his people."

Stepping up to Wernek's door, Ro'beall sighed, "I concede the point," and knocked loudly. A pale faced man in red livery answered. He asked, "May I help you?" Abnaric stated, "We would like to speak with Wernek."

The man answered, "The master does not receive callers without an appointment. Would you like to arrange one?" With one blow, Ro'beall slammed the door open. As they stepped inside, Abnaric snapped, "We have done so. I sense him and his lady upstairs. Shall we get him or will you?"

The man hurried upstairs. Abnaric ordered, "Close the door and stand beside me." Turning a chair to face the stairs he sat and crossed his legs. After a long pause, Wernek came down in blue silk robes. He held a staff in hand and his fingers were weighted heavily with rings. Abnaric gauged his age at around fifty. Beside him was a sensuous woman whose eyes reaved into Abnaric's soul.

Fighting for nonchalance, Abnaric said, "I want to try and do this peaceful. Call the Succubus off." Wernek snapped, "You just broke into my house. I have the right to kill you." Abnaric sighed, "If we fight, the Succubus grabs me and my ladies kill both of you. There are four magic users here. You rank third in power."

Wernek gloated, "I've seen a lot. You underestimate me." Abnaric sighed, "You floated through Donara, were instrumental on the winning side in the Salagi rebellion and have been here for seven years. Boiled down, you're a hedge wizard who won his way through hell with luck and guile. Do I need to know anything else?"

Ro'beall warned, "Your power can be blown out in an instant. I happily destroy Lilith's creature. I alone suffice. My Abnaric need not raise a finger." Miryan added, "We wish to give you a chance to stay alive."

Wernek chuckled, "So. You're Elgar." Abnaric nodded. The man stated, "Hasloc is the one who had you blacklisted. Why mess with the rest of us? It doesn't matter to me if you tell fortunes again."

Abnaric replied, "At the moment, assuming the success of my allies, you are all that remains of the cabal. The others are dead." Wernek giggled, "I'm sure." Shrugging, Abnaric tossed him a piece of the Sorceress' familiar key and an athane from Warlon's altar.

Wernek gulped, "They must be." Abnaric asked, "Will you join them or listen?" Wernek shrugged, "I don't say you'd win but no one wants to risk death when there's another way."

Abnaric explained, "I require your service as a carrot. Tell Cior you know who kidnapped Hasloc and can lead him to the perpetrators. Convince him the felons will kill Hasloc if he doesn’t come alone. When you reach the place I designate fall behind him. Coldcock him with a sap as the attack is launched. My informant tells me you are adept at such maneuvers."

"Cior isn't a fool," Wernek hissed, "He may smell a rat." Abnaric shrugged, "A risk you take to preserve your life. If you succeed, I consider our business at an end. You finish your days in peace."

Wernek guipped, "And if I fail or cross you, my days are over." Abnaric admitted, "Correct." Wernek noted, "Much as I like the idea, what you're asking is worth more then my life. I'll need guarantees."

Abnaric laughed, "You are not now, nor ever shall you be, in a position to bargain with me. My guarantee is your life, the continued existence of your succubus and the freedom to work your arts. I offer nothing more."

Wernek glared at Abnaric. The man's cold assurance, and the regal, domineering look of Ro'beall, convinced him. He sighed, "I'll do it. It wins a truce." Abnaric answered, "You have my promise on that as long as you do not interfere with me or mine."

When Wernek nodded, Abnaric said, "I do have a question?" Wernek shrugged. Abnaric inguired, "Why did you leave Salag after helping their King to his throne?"

Wernek smiled, "Political differences. I wanted power and wealth. He wanted to rebuild the nation. Didn't see a place there for a Chaos wizard with aspirations."

Ro'beall hissed, "Is the triad whole again?" Wernek replied, "Don't know anything about a triad. His god was some Sidh deity named Manannan. I guess they worship others but I wasn't much interested in their religion."

Rising, Abnaric said, "It matters little. Go to Cior at midday. We expect you at Steersman's Hill at dusk. Be there." When Abnaric was gone, the Succubus asked, "Shall I take him when he is unprotected master?"

Wernek sighed, "No Ysiila. We will see how this goes. I stand to profit with the others gone. I am the only wizard living in Gom with a reputation for power."

Abnaric sat eating an apple on Steersman's Hill late the next afternoon. The hill was a steep landmark. Navigators used it to guide their turn into the narrows of the river that led to Gom's port. It was an undeveloped, wild hill commonly swept by high winds. There were few places near Gom were a person was more guaranteed to find solitude.

Cior turned to Wernek as his carriage reached the bottom of the hill. Sternly, he said, "I don't like this. It is certainly a trap." Wernek soothed, "We are experienced wizards. Besides, there is no alternative if we wish to save Hasloc. I am sure they are watching. Soldiers would never be able to climb the hill in time to save our friend."

"I am afraid you are right," Cior noted. As he stepped out of the carriage, he said, "Stand with me. I will teleport us into their midst. We strike while they are unprepared." Wernek nodded and took a place slightly behind him as the spell struck.

"Surrender at once," Cior bellowed, "I arrest you in the name of the Emperor." Abnaric tossed his apple core aside and stood. When his eyes were fixed on Cior, he stated, "It has been a long time."

Cior hissed, "Elgar," and began a spell. Swiftly, Wernek drew his sap and rocked him into unconsciousness. Abnaric stated, "Very good. You may leave. Our business is at an end." Wernek asked, "You're going to kill him, aren't you?"

With laughing eyes, Abnaric said, "That was the original plan. He changed it." Seeing Wernek's concern, Abnaric soothed, "Don't worry. He won’t be seen in Gom again."

Relieved, Wernek turned and left. He was happy to see the back of Abnaric Elgar. Happier still when he heard what happened to Cior. He didn't want any part of a man who would do something that evil.

"On one hand, Cior," Abnaric stated, "I should thank you. I would be nothing if you had not sent me away. Thanks to you, I achieved power I rarely dreamed of in my days as a gambler and pimp."

Seeing Cior’s glare as he struggled with the ropes he hung from, Abnaric said, "Unfortunately, you also chose to steal, plague my friends and torture my lieutenant. Those actions make leniency impossible. I must destroy you as an example to others."

Turning away, Abnaric nodded for Ro'beall and Miryan to join him. They arrived carrying a selection of knives, healing supplies and bandages. Abnaric lifted a hooked knife and promised, "I'm not going to kill you." As he castrated the man with a quick cut, he whispered, "You'll just pray to die."

The next morning, Cior was discovered in the south ghetto of Shieram. All his senses had been stripped from him. His limbs were hamstrung, his hands and feet were gone and his back was scarred with burns.

Compelled by a curse, he sobbed, "Feed me, I am not fit to die," whenever anyone came within ten feet of his pallet. Those were the only words the magic ensnaring him allowed his split tongue to form.

Twice that day, a member of the thieves’ guild came and fed him. They were being paid well to see that he remained alive as long as his body could withstand the horror.

Abnaric returned to the hill after seeing to Cior's delivery in Shieram. The ladies sat with Hasloc. The paunchy wizard had been stripped and forced to watch what they did. Abnaric walked up saying, "A friend tells me you had it bad for Cior. Want to share his fate?"

Hasloc sobbed, "No, please don't hurt me. I didn't mean for it to get so bad." Abnaric asked, "Why did you do it?" Hasloc sighed, "You were too good. My trade was suffering." Abnaric observed, "So you sicced Cior on me." Hasloc hedged, "I only mentioned you. Cior wanted to hurt you as soon as I gave him your name."

Kicking Hasloc, Abnaric gueried, "Why would that be?" Hasloc whined, "He was a friend of your father." Abnaric glowered at the ineffectual little man. What was the point of killing him? Sternly, he said, "Tell me why I should let you live." Hasloc blurted, "I am a scholar. There is a great deal I can teach you."

Abnaric snapped, "Such as." Hasloc desperately answered, "History and legends, cosmology. What do you wish to know?" Abnaric noted, "If you are well versed in desert lore and Rogizini history you might live a while."

Hasloc begged, "The Rogizini Empire is a specialty. My studies of the northern realms of this continent have been extensive. Please let me live." Abnaric stated, "As my slave." Hasloc sadly replied, "If that is the only alternative."

Abnaric answered, "I'll draw up the papers. If you teach me with no trouble or complaint, I might let you go in a decade or so." Hasloc promised, "I shall comply." Abnaric snapped, "Master!" Sadly, Hasloc added the title. He was ready to do anything.

Turning to the ladies, Abnaric stated, "Take my slave to the house. Once he has signed over his freedom and property put him in a cell. I'll be back as soon as I can." Ro'beall asked, "Where are you going?" Abnaric snarled, "It is time to visit the old homestead."

Miryan said, "I shall go also my king." Abnaric stated, "I want to do it alone." Looking at Miryan, Ro'beall snapped, "We do not care my Abnaric. You take one of us or will not go. Despite the power of fate, the place is not without dangers."

Seeing how adamant the women were, Abnaric sighed, "Come on." Miryan happily ran over to him. As she hugged him, they disappeared in fire and smoke. Looking at Hasloc, Ro'beall stated, "Do not betray my Abnaric or you will have eternity to regret your error." Hasloc shivered. If anything, her glare scared him more then Elgar's did.

Two teleport spells later, Abnaric stood outside Elga. It was unchanged from the town he remembered. The baronial towers stood on the hill as always. The village below was home to twelve hundred people. The barony was devoted to farms and herding. There was little more to attract the attention of anyone. Only its position near the Kacili border made it a barony at all.

Walking into town, Abnaric said, "We'll have dinner in the inn. 1 never had a chance to walk around when l was a boy. It was a place I saw from my window." Miryan hugged his arm to console him and promised, "It will soon be yours."

As they sat enjoying ale and mutton, a soldier bumped Abnaric's chair. At his glare, the man said, "Want to make something of it?" Eyeing Miryan, he cooed, "How 'bout going upstairs with a man? You don't need this pillow boy."

Furious, Abnaric rose chanting and locked a glowing hand to the man's throat. The man paled and died. Casting him to the floor, Abnaric glared around the room. When no one challenged him, he nodded to Miryan and left. She soothed, "You must calm yourself."

Abnaric shrugged, "Some things set me off. I'm sorry about that fool. He was dead before I could stop myself." Miryan suggested, "Perhaps the rage will lessen if you talk of its cause. One of your might should not be subject to blind urges."

Sighing, Abnaric shook his head and walked on to the towers. There was no way he could tell Miryan. No woman could respect a man who put up with that filth. More important, he wouldn't respect himself if she knew.

Rigald sat pensively as a messenger told him Cior believed Abnaric had returned. The monster was at his gates again. What would it take to destroy the boy? As he cracked his knuckles nervously, his chamberlain stated, "Baron, traveling nobles from Gom seek an audience."

"Where are they from," Rigald demanded, "Who are they?" The chamberlain replied, "The man is Baron of Low Shieram. His name is Ragle." Rigald hissed, "Send them away." A moment after the chamberlain departed, he returned with a hollow sound to his voice saying, "Baron Ragle, sir."

As Rigald roared at the man, the chamberlain dropped to the floor unconscious. Abnaric walked in with Miryan and the door slammed behind them. He said, "It is nice to see you again father." Bringing all his power to bear, Rigald glared, "Die!"

Abnaric shielded himself from the evil eye and stepped toward his father. Miryan waited, prepared to slay anyone who entered the room. Risking the power, Abnaric dropped his shield and threw a spell of paralysis.

Rigald stumbled forward drawing his sword. He was a strong man. If power failed he retained his talent as a swordsman. Abnaric laughed and seized control of his father's mind. Within seconds the man was on his knees licking the floor.

Compelling the man to walk to his office, Abnaric ordered, "Write a writ of abdication and sign it. I am to be named as your successor." Rigald helplessly obeyed. In the fragment of his mind that remained free, he knew the curse had struck. Despite every effort the boy returned to claim him.

Leaving his father in the chair, still frozen by his power, Abnaric woke the chamberlain stating, "The baron has abdicated in my favor. Submit this paper to the Emir in Araou." The chamberlain refused. Abnaric suggested, "Either you have the task completed within the month or you die."

The chamberlain replied, "Sir, I have served this house for two decades. Before that I fought at your father’s side on campaign. I take no hand in his demise." Abnaric sighed, "Loyalty is a trait 1 prize. Misplaced loyalty is fatal."

A moment later, the Chamberlain gasped and died as Abnaric's power stilled his heart. Finding the man's aide, he showed him the baronial ring and the writ then coldly noted, "The chamberlain suffered a seizure on hearing of my father's condition. If you submit the writ to the Emir you are his successor."

The young man's eyes filled with tears. Finally, he asked, "Can it wait until I bury my father?" Abnaric grasped the man's arm stating, "Do so, chamberlain. The barony shall pay all expenses." After a pause, Abnaric added, "See that your father is buried with high honor. It is deserved."

Nodding, the man handed him a book and a ring of keys saying, "I was keeper of the prison tower. You need another for the duty. The book contains details on the persons in residence, including your sister."

Abnaric read the entry. His sister was named Cybel. He wondered if that was appropriate as he slipped a hood over his father's head and locked it in place. When the man's hands were chained and a leash was attached to his collar, Abnaric stripped him and snapped, "Follow the lead."

Finding Miryan, Abnaric handed her the leash and nodded for her to follow him to the other tower. The soldiers glared as he passed. Most gathered their belongings and left Elga. The others shrugged.

They heard of the Elgar curse. It struck again. They weren't about to mess with someone who could lead Rigald Elgar around like a dog. All they wanted was a job when the dust settled. It wasn't their guts the knife was twisting into.

Abnaric paged through the book as he walked from cell to cell. Three prisoners were farmers who owed taxes. He released them. Four were tradesmen and merchants who offended Rigald. They were given a gold coin for the inconvenience as he set them free.

The next felon was a man accused of raping a thirteen year old girl. Abnaric had the door opened. As the man stood, Abnaric blew him into smoking chunks of meat with a lightning bolt.

Turning to the jailer, he said, "If the girl still lives, she receives the best medical care and ten gold coins at my expense." Sternly, he added, "If any of it finds its way into your pocket I will not be lenient."

Trembling as the rats began to nibble the meat, the man promised, "I am honest, Baron. T will look after her like she was my own daughter." Abnaric snapped, "See you do," and continued with his inspection.

Of the next five men, three were released and one was killed. Facing the fifth, Abnaric said, "It says you are a brigand and thief." Tn crude Rogizini, the man stated, "I am desert man." Abnaric asked, "How is your Gomese?" The man replied, "Much better."

Abnaric nodded, "You are in my hands. If you promise a year's loyal service I free you." The man bowed, "I am Faoud the Bold, master. My sword, should you find it, is yours." Eyeing the guard, Abnaric ordered, "Unchain the man. When he is bathed, return his possessions and bring him to me."

Ignoring Faoud's blessings, Abnaric walked up the stairs. The journey reminded him of his boyhood. When he reached the top level, he stared at the door of his old room. All the hate and pain of those days came back. He almost leaned out the window to slay his father.

With fires slowly lowering, Abnaric walked to another door on this level. Behind it, according to the register, was Cybel. She was sixteen. Rigald but her away after she reached puberty. The directive written in the ledger was that no man was to be allowed in her room for any reason.

Leaning out the window, Abnaric ordered, "Miryan, come up here." She nodded and led Rigald up the stairs. After locking his father in a cell, he said, "The book says men aren't supposed to see Cybel. I want you to go in with me."

When Abnaric opened the door, Cybel turned and met his eyes. Her smile set his heart on fire. As Abnaric began to walk to her arms, Miryan snapped, "If you do not release him I must kill you." Cybel pouted, "I'm hungry. All they give me is food! I want a man."

Shaking his head as the power released him, Abnaric glared, "I am your brother Abnaric. Don't ever do that to me again." Cybel smiled, "You are the tower boy mama told me about!" Abnaric sighed, "Yes. Has anyone told you anything about your power?" Cybel chuckled, "A silly priest said I'm a demon. He tasted wonderful when we did it." Abnaric asked, "What do you mean?"

Shrugging, his sister huffed, "It isn't my fault men get weak when they use me. All I do is look at them. They're the ones that want it." Abnaric smiled, "There is no need for you to stay here. I will teach you how to control your gift."

Cybel purred, "I am free!" Abnaric warned, "As long as you obey my wishes. You will master your talent and use it as I command." Cybel pouted, "I need to taste men!" Abnaric chuckled, "I will choose them."

Smiling, Cybel hugged Abnaric. As she did, he started to feel his life ebb into her. Pushing her back, he said, "The greetings wait until you learn control." Cybel cooed, "You taste marvelous, brother." Miryan hissed, "See it is your last taste. He is mine."

Raising an eyebrow, Abnaric asked, "Yours?" Miryan blushed and looked to the floor. Kissing her head, Abnaric said, "You are right. It is not impossible for a man to love more then one woman." Miryan smiled. Seeing Cybel's eyes light with interest, she restrained her urge to go to Abnaric's arms and led her from the room instead. The girl was dangerous.

That evening Faoud came to the main hall. When he saw Cybel and Miryan his eyes lit. When Cybel's eyes lit as well, he walked toward her. Abnaric warned, "Can the fire." Slapping the table, she snapped, "I’m hungry!"

Abnaric turned cold eyes on her. Sighing, she sat back and pouted. Faoud offered, "If it would ease family tensions, master, I will be happy to serve." Cybel begged, "Please!" Facing Faoud, Abnaric warned, "No man who lies with my sister leaves less then totally exhausted."

Faoud laughed, "She has yet to lie with Kacili. If you allow it is she who will surrender." Abnaric shrugged, "Take him to your room Cybel. Try not to kill him." Faoud chuckled at his master's jest. Two hours later, gasping with weakness and pleasure, he was not so sure. The woman was ecstasy.

The next morning Abnaric visited the girl who had been raped. After an hour of sitting with her, he turned to the parents and promised them any aid the girl needed. They replied, "You have already done too much, Baron. No one in Flga will forget your kindness to our Tisha."

After attending the chamberlain's funeral, and speaking in praise of the man's honor, Abnaric returned to the tower. Finding the Chatelaine, he said, "We will be away. Until I return you and the chamberlain rule. See you treat the people well. All taxes are reduced to half. If you require money, send a messenger to Gom. It will be provided."

The Chatelaine stated, "I obey, Baron. Your father's treasury should see us through a few years. His taxes were severe." After a moment, he asked, "Should I continue the stipend he sends your brother in Rogh'sa?"

Abnaric inguired, "How much?" The officer replied, "Thirty gold a month." Abnaric laughed, "Inform him of the change and cut it to five. What does he do?" The man hissed, "He's a flunky at court. Frankly, Rogan is a fop and a sadist. Only thing he's good at is kissing up to his betters."

"I will include a letter with yours," Abnaric stated, "Come to the Baron's study when you are ready to send the messenger." As he sat in the study, Abnaric wrote,

"Dear Rogan, I am your brother Abnaric, the new Baron of Elga. If you would like three hundred gold and my support, get a high position in court. If not, learn to live on the pittance enclosed. You have one year. Impress me."

Chapter Ten

The next day Abnaric collected his cache. Miryan watched his sadness as he sat on the crude cot and carefully brushed the dust from a small jewel box. Noting her concern, he explained, "Mother's gift. I got it the day l was taken."

Miryan sat at his side and kissed his cheek. Opening the box, Abnaric looked through the jewelry. Finding a ruby ring with a silver band, he slid it on Miryan's finger. She kissed it softly saying, "I will always treasure this my King."

Smiling, Abnaric said, "Call me Abnaric. There's no reason why a woman I love should call me King." Crying happily, Miryan hugged him. When she began to do more, he said, "Never here. This is not a place of joy." Miryan purred, "Though it house infinite sadness it shall always speak of joy to me."

Abnaric smiled and continued his search. The box contained her father’s ring, five more of her rings, a couple necklaces and, in a hidden compartment, a stiff paper. Opening it, Abnaric reread his mother's last note. He smiled at the knowledge of her love. Miryan noted, "There is more writing on the other side."

Turning the paper over, Abnaric read the document. It was a deed to his mother's property in Musci province. Her dowry from the priest who sired her was a manor and five hundred acres on the river. Abnaric grinned, "She has given us a base for operations in the empire."

Smiling, Abnaric packed his old scrolls and the chest in a bag. When he collected Faoud, Cybel and his father, he said, "Get used to magic. You'll be seeing a lot of it."

Faoud extended his arms expressively and noted, "The winds of magic blow across the desert they do not change it." Nodding, Abnaric teleported them to the Citadel.

As they arrived, a pair of Daoine Sidhe aimed bows from the upper level. Abnaric snapped, "What are you doing in my citadel?" Releasing the tension on the bows, both bowed. One said, "The Overlord set a guard. We are among those who guard this place in the heat of the foul sun."

Abnaric replied, "Forgive my anger." Both smiled and went back to their awnings to continue their duties. Abnaric led them all inside. Turning to Miryan, he said, "See that Faoud and Cybel get separate rooms. I will find you once I show father his new home."

Miryan led the others away. Pulling his father along, Abnaric opened the door of a ground floor room. It was just as he imagined. Ouickly, he took his eyes away from the runes that marked the walls. Removing his father's hood, he pushed him inside.

After breaking the spell on his father, Abnaric slammed the door. A moment later, he faintly heard Rigald's anguished scream and the rattle of chains. Abnaric smiled. The room was dedicated and marked with spells of the Abyss. By now his father was insane. So he would remain until he died.

Securing the door's bolts, Abnaric went to his office to face his own terror. Looking in the crystal, Abnaric saw Nergas had grown but remained little changed. When the baby's eyes locked on his, Abnaric met them.

After fighting Warlon an infant lich did not scare him. Seemingly sensing this, Nergas smiled, then cried like an infant desperate for his mother. Abnaric whispered, "You will not mislead me. It will be many years before you can hope to gain your heart's desire."

The cry changed to a face of stone. Nergas coldly hissed, "Kill you dead! Own you!" Abnaric broke the connection and fell into a chair. Death's hand seemed to reach for his heart through the crystal. Cursing himself, he swore to never underestimate the power of his doom again. A moment's lapse and Nergas would claim his soul.

Touring his halls, Abnaric met the guardians and made sure they knew about the rooms. No one was to open either door. The room would provide his father with food and Nergas didn't need any. He just kept growing and getting more deadly.

Sighing, Abnaric stepped out of the citadel and went for a walk. He needed to relax after his near escape. As he did he saw two figures come over the ridge. One was a dwarf warrior. The other was a beautiful blond dressed in green leather.

Standing, Abnaric watched the pair move toward him. The woman's movements were sinuous and graceful. She was petite. As she neared he noted she was also perfect in face and form. When they drew near, he shouted, "May I help you?" The dwarf replied, "Naw. We're on our way west."

Abnaric stepped closer noting, "It is nearly dark. Surely you will allow me to host you at my citadel." The dwarf glared at him. The lady said, "It can't hurt to accept a bit of comfort, Kazad." He stated, "We don't know him, Anara. I'd rather camp."

Stroking his beard, Anara laughed, "You are so suspicious. Please." Kazad glared at her and shrugged. Abnaric promised, "On my honor, you are free to leave whenever you wish."

As they walked, Abnaric mumbled a spell. Telepathically, he ordered Miryan to get all the trolls and goblins into the basement. He had troublesome guests coming.

Completing his order, Abnaric smiled, "It appears your armor is damaged. Would you care to use my forge?" Kazad brightened, "Thank you. I would appreciate that." Looking to the west, Anara asked, "Does anything live in that cave?" Abnaric shrugged, "A dragon. We leave each other alone."

Leading them inside, Abnaric ordered Miryan to bring a meal and took Kazad to the forge. Returning, he sat with Anara saying, "You are a strange pair for these mountains, milady."

Anara smiled, "Call me Anara. Kazad and l are returning to a cache we left outside Gom. Our last month has worn on us." Drawing her out, Abnaric discovered a Rogizini wizard enslaved a Faerry in their group. What a strange party. As he spoke with Anara, her smile enticed him. There was something wonderful about her. Without visibly leering, he decided she would not leave with the dwarf.

Abnaric charismatically beamed, "I have a special wine. Would you care for some?" She naively replied, "I enjoy trying new things." Abnaric smiled and went to his lab. Consulting Felb's journals, and his own notes, he concocted a poison to sap a woman's will without visible clue.

Adding it to the wine, Abnaric returned to Anara with a full glass for each of them. Hers contained the special additive. A half hour passed pleasantly. He began to notice the change in her take hold and called Miryan to the room.

When Miryan entered, Abnaric ordered, "Have Faoud keep an eye on Kazad. He gets whatever he wishes." Miryan nodded. As she left, Abnaric said, "Anara will join us in bed tonight." Ignoring Miryan's shock, Abnaric said, "You want to join us in bed." Hesitantly, she replied, "I do."

Abnaric smiled, "In fact, you love me. You want to do whatever I wish." Anara moved closer and stroked his arm. Softly, she purred, "I love you so. Please let me serve you."

Three days later Abnaric watched Anara's poignant farewell to Kazad from the door of the citadel. In the intervening time, Kazad came to suspect Abnaric's true nature. He actually tried searching for evidence.

Understandable. Dwarves were among the great enemies of the Kotothi. They and goblins fought a war of extermination at every opportunity. As Kazad raised his arms in frustration and headed west, Abnaric saw he had gained an enemy.

Smiling, he let the dwarf live. Whatever Kazad's feelings he was firmly in Abnaric's grasp. His concern for Anara could be used to control him. Should I ever need a talented dwarf, Abnaric noted, I have only to prod Kazad into seeking me. Whatever his beliefs, he is now my tool.

Wrapping his arms around Anara, he said, "That was well done." Anara sighed, "I will miss him. He has lost all his friends." Abnaric asked, "What will he do?" Anara shrugged, "Return to his studies. Dvalinn will accept him for training when he reaches Kril Schandor."

Abnaric smiled broadly. He had a divinely schooled Rune Master in his pocket! Better and better. Leading Anara inside, he stated, "I considered your true feelings. You want to be my slave." Anara said, "Please let me be your slave."

Grinning, Abnaric hedged, "I don't know." Earnestly, the woman fell to her knees and kissed his feet. Hugging his legs, she pleaded, "You must allow it. Please, master." Abnaric sighed, "If it is your wish. Strip and follow me slave."

After sternly letting his host know the Dwarf was not to be harmed, Abnaric tested his hold on Anara. When the degradation made it clear his control was total, he sent her to wait in his bedroom. Miryan said, "You own her totally."

Abnaric replied, "The poison is effective. I will have to test its effects on males and other races. Have the trolls bring a human male." Miryan noted, "We have Faoud." Abnaric shook his head and explained, "Faoud is my servant. I need someone else."

That night, Abnaric listened carefully. Anara sponged his body and, at his order, told him everything about her life. She was a motherless child from the county of Novholm in Djanesborg. Her father died a Viking when she was twelve.

With his death she was left alone. Rather than became some warrior’s thrall, or worse, she spent much of her life in the forests and hills. A Vily in the forests of Novholm was her close friend.

After some adventures of her own Anara became associated with Kazad. Later they met a Faerry named Alandrys. At the mention of the name, Miryan commented, "Payan had a faerry slave by that name."

Alandrys, in fact, nearly assassinated Oberon, god of Faerry, at Payan's command, Miryan noted. As she heard it, a dwarf named Kazad barely stayed her hand in time.

Their further travels brought them into contact with a mage named Norbert and other strange things. She was a woman of talent and Kazad was the most dangerous member of their triad. Alandrys had power but arrogance could be used to chain her. It had been twice. First by Payan, then by the Rogizini who now had her.

Smiling, Abnaric sent Anara to his bed and sat thinking. She would be useful in Rogh'sa. Should the opportunity arise, he would have the Faerry released. It would be useful to have the creature in thrall. With both females in his hand, Kazad would surely obey.

Abnaric walked slowly to Cybel's room. For the next two hours, he continued her lessons. Her grasp on her power was now strong. She could turn it on at will. Seeing his smile, she winked, "I am glad you are pleased, Abnaric." He replied, "We will go to Gom in the morning Cybel. You are ready to taste the big city."

As he left the room, Cybel's eyes glowed with expectation. She imagined tasting every man in Gom and using her power to keep them all loyal to her and Abnaric. Hugging herself, she fell into bed with a sigh. As sleep claimed her, she thanked the gods for giving her such a marvelous brother.

Ro'beall snapped, "I was worried my Abnaric! Where have you been?" Abnaric explained the past week as he slipped a diamond ring on her finger. Ro'beall shrugged, "It is a pretty trinket. It does not excuse your tardiness."

Abnaric stated, "It was my mother's. I want all the women I love to have one." Ro'beall glared as she saw a ring on Miryan's finger. Abnaric admitted, "The ruby ring is also my mother's. Miryan is my love as you are." Sending Miryan out, Abnaric added, "She is my hot blooded Ruby, a piece of my heart. You, my precious diamond, are the core of my soul."

Ro'beall's fury fled at his sweet words. Sternly, she pulled him to her stating, "As long as this remains so you may have infatuations. You remain mine, first and foremost, for all time." Abnaric pulled her to the floor. As they made love, he promised, "There shall never be another before you, my gueen."

The next morning, Abnaric told Anara she wanted to undergo training as a pleasure slave. As she followed the slave master to the pens, he made a note to see she received the proper dosage of wine each day. Her recovery would not be appropriate just yet.

Strangely, Abnaric felt sadness as he thought of Anara dancing in chains. The woman touched him. Despite his use of her and the drug, the sight of her smile and her kind voice pleased him. Sternly, he caged the presentiments of love. She was only a tool and must remain such.

That afternoon Abnaric stood in the royal court of Gom. Lying, he swore fealty to the crown as Baron of Low Shieram. As he turned to depart, a member of the Guard put a note in his hand. Abnaric saw it was a message from Xil. He was to come to the Rest for a meeting.

Smiling, Abnaric destroyed the missive and went to register for his Imperial slaver's license. As the new owner of Vinkel's Emporium he was a purveyor to the crown. With his new, streamlined staff, he mused, he would become the only one.

In a nation such as Gom, control of the slave trade was a good way to achieve might. Stoch, Bo and Grat would remain behind to lay the groundwork. On his return from the south, he intended to make it fact.

Sitting with Stoch that afternoon, Abnaric stated, "I read the mind of a drug—slaved elf woman who whores at the Ensalte. Form a band of mercenaries and travel to Foha. Her hill is in that area. When you find it, use this ring to call me. It must be taken."

Stoch warned, "Jaxonese don't care for slavers." Abnaric replied, "We will do nothing to them. When the slaves are taken, trolls will ward their hill to take stragglers. We will lead our coffle into the Kacili desert before the forces of Jaxon know what we did. Faoud can guide us from there."

With a stern nod, Stoch agreed to the mission. Abnaric stated, "See that my uncle has no foreknowledge of it. I don’t trust him to accept a raid of this magnitude." Pushing a heavy bag of gold over to Stoch, Abnaric ordered, "Get forty of the best men you can find. The rest is to meet expenses and pay bribes."

Hefting the sack, Stoch left the room. Ro'beall warned, "Forty men will not be enough. The traitor named it one of the high hills. There will be hundreds." Abnaric nodded, "I know. A troll host stands with us."

Ro'beall snapped, "They will demand much." Abnaric met her eyes forcefully stating, "They accept what I give. I need the raid to accomplish Father's mission. They accept my offer and like it." Ro'beall smiled. Despite their status as Kototh's creations she detested trolls. They were vulgar animals to her. Those that weren't were crude, sadistic boors totally without any pretension of grace. iny the rare dwarf kings of their race were of any value. The rest were garbage in her eyes.

As Abnaric concluded his business, and prepared to depart for the south, his butler entered stating, "Sir, a man seeks information about the former owner. The ring you gave me marks him as a wizard." Sighing, Abnaric sat and told the butler to bring him in.

The man who stood with the butler was dressed in fine garments of a strange cut. He was also drunk. Weaving, he said, "Looking for the Sorceress. Name is Xama." Abnaric poured the man a glass of wine saying, "Please sit down, sir."

Turning to Ro'beall, Abnaric whispered, "Get me a bottle of the special wine. This is a man of quality." Smiling broadly, she hurried to comply. Xama said, "Nice of you. Where is the Sorceress?"

Abnaric explained, "I recently purchased the property from her. Sadly, she made me promise to screen anyone who asked after her. She has enemies." Xama replied, "Me. Gotta kill her. Redemption demands it." Abnaric asked, "What have you done?"

Xama blurted, "Dumb prank. Hurt my sister Mata. When I kill the Sorceress, Tehuti forgives me." Pouring him a glass of the special wine, Abnaric stated, "That is a fine mission. I am sure you are right. The reputation of the former owner is loathsome."

When he tossed, the glass down, Ro'beall refilled it immediately and inquired, "Is your sister alive?" Xama sighed, "Yes. Lost powers saving her husband." Abnaric sighed, "A terrible shame. Was she a wizard?" Xama burped, "Queen of Ma'helas, least 'til Xagh came home."

Ro'beall pursed her lips. She felt some compassion for the woman's dilemma. Abnaric sent her off and continued to wheedle information out of Xama. The husband was Chobar Jaxom, a wandering adventurer. Mata was a horsewoman, healer and wizard of the highest order.

Seeing the drug's affects take hold Abnaric stated, "I have already destroyed the Sorceress. You are eternally grateful." Hesitantly, Xama sighed, "T, I am." In his condition, he could do nothing to fight the affect. As Abnaric continued his statements, Xama fell under his power.

Ordering him to sleep, Abnaric smiled proudly. You are the final key to my majesty, he mused. After you teach me your magics you form the fifth point of my pentagram. The Balance, through your hands, will help Kototh rise from the Lower World. Leering, he thought, in exchange, I take your sister and heal her in my own image. It is the least I can do.

Abnaric's next three months were a whirlwind of activity. He returned to the Pa’Nylasa with his son Grat and Yngzi. Facing the Shaman Queen, he said, "The woman Yngzi redeemed herself. Allow her and my son Grat to dwell in this village."

The Queen replied, "The readings say to be damned is a thing eternal." Abnaric asked, "Where she damned could she be home?" The Queen nodded, "It is possible to see it so." As Abnaric continued his polemics, the Black Goddess appeared before them.

Ro'beall snarled, "Do you question the word of my chosen? Must Anair return?" The Queen fell to her knees pleading, "No, dear Goddess. I sought to fit his words to the writings. I accept Yngzi and his child. They dwell in my own high place and my daughter's after me."

Nodding, the Black Goddess disappeared in fire. The Queen hugged Yngzi. Looking at the child, she noted, "He is paler then other children." Abnaric shrugged, "I am paler still. As I said he is my son."

Turning to her people, the Queen ordered, "Behold Yngzi, wife of the Chosen, and her son Grat. They are accepted. Let no one trouble the child for his paleness. He is as any child in all ways. So it is written." Kissing Grat, Abnaric left the village. There was no point in diminishing Yngzi by saying she was not his wife. Let her keep the station Anair took. Smiling, he teleported to the island with Xama and Hasloc to face Wiilar. It was time to claim the manor.

Wiilar stumbled out of bed as the wards alerted him to the arrival of power. Sadly, he took up his father's staff and left the castle. Standing at the gate, he saw Abnaric's approach with two other men and smiled, "I see you have prospered, youngster. Who are your friends?"

Abnaric replied, "They are of no account. I have come for my manor." Wiilar sighed, "It is yours on my death if you take the vow." Abnaric stated, "Unless you choose battle it is mine now. I am ready to break the wards."

Moving aside, Wiilar noted, "It will be impossible. Feel free to try." Abnaric left Hasloc with Wiilar and moved into the courtyard. Using Xama's teachings, and aided by his might, he began the opening rites. The power he felt resisting him was strong. It was also fixed and old.

Without the power of a living caster the wards could be broken. As he worked, Abnaric realized the effort would have failed miserably if Wiilar were more then a faint reflection of his father. He wasn't. Before the sun fell, the wards were gone. New, vibrant wards stood in their place.

Exhausted, Abnaric went back to Wiilar asking, "The task is done. Will you serve me, leave this plane forever or die?" Wiilar answered, "There is a realm I wish to die in. I will go after I show you father's laboratories."

Abnaric offered, "You are welcome to stay. There is much I could learn from you." Wiilar sighed, "Your heart and mine are opposed by nature. I depart and hope you grow to find wisdom. The path you now walk is your doom, I fear."

With a shrug, Abnaric allowed the fool to astound him for the rest of the night. His father had been a master of planar travel and creation. Greedily, Abnaric saw these labs were the key to all his dreams. The labs of Tel, Wiilar's father, opened the doors of the cosmos to Abnaric. Any plane that was could be calculated and reached through his magic.

Tel's library on creation contained knowledge on the rites of Balance and Law beyond Abnaric's hopes. By merging that power with Kototh's gift, he could forge an invincible host of creatures loyal to their god, Abnaric Elgar.

As Wiilar merged into his new existence, Abnaric smiled, "This is my true citadel. Once I have completed Eather's task, I shall forge might the world has never seen." Compelled by the poison, Xama smiled at Abnaric's happiness. Hasloc trembled with fear but did nothing. The lure of the libraries and his terror truly made him Abnaric's slave.

After two weeks of compulsive reading, Abnaric gathered materials from the jungle. When he had them he got two large pachyderms, two slaves from Port Doman and some items of power from the north.

Exhausted, he brought the female elephant to the lab with the woman. He would forge a woman with the might of an elephant and an intellect that transcended normal mankind. Sternly, he fought his fatigue and cast the rites to merge the essences of both.

Adding the items of power, Abnaric left the magic swirling over them and brought the males together. They also felt his power. Soon two vortices spun before his eyes. He sat exhausted and waited.

At the proper moment, Abnaric called his creations forth. The effort nearly tore his soul from him. His awareness dimmed in the light of his power. He no longer had the energy to watch the effort dispassionately. All he saw was the birth of a race not its form. When the vortices disappeared, he collapsed into his seat unconscious. Abnaric woke some time later to the touch of a sponge. Twenty nude things sat around him. There was ten of each sex. The female who stroked him had the head and coloring of an elephant. Her body was pachyderm grey with the lewd voluptuousness of the woman he chose. She smiled and stepped back as he rose.

The females were large and muscular. The males were smaller but stared with a brighter eye. Sighing, Abnaric realized his error. He didn’t consider the mass of the essences. Each vortex had tons of elephant and a pittance of human. Of course the resulting creature was more elephant then man.

Kicking himself for his impetuous stupidity, he stated, "You are Elefan. Your purpose is to obey the Creator and protect his island. Each of you shall take another as a mate and bring forth children. As your talents allow, study combat and the arts."

Stepping forward, the Queen who had laved him said, "I have been chosen to lead. We would like names." Nodding, Abnaric stated, "Your name is Aniche." After giving all of them names, he gave them some scrolls.

Seeing the males begin to read to the others, Abnaric sighed. It would be interesting to see how this culture evolved. The Elefan held to the nature of the humans, to some extent.

The man used was a scholarly healer Liera hated. The woman was a Shurani bitch his slavers were training for arenas in Rogh’sa. She was voluptuous and powerful. She was also nowhere near the healer in intellect. The elephant gentled her nature but her intellect was not improved. Hopefully, in coming generations, the dichotomy of intellect would change. If the females were to rule, as they had instinctively been chosen to do, they should be as wise as their males. This was not now the case.

The next morning, well recovered, Abnaric took Xama to a hill overlooking his sister's ranch. While Xama stayed out of sight, he looked down. After a few minutes, a man came out. When he noticed Abnaric, he glared and started toward the hill.

Smiling, Abnaric returned to his citadel before the screaming man could draw near. In his casting arena, he called on Father and explained, "For my purposes, I must draw the man into the lower world. To do so, you must create a defiler of Sri E'poni. I shall see he is made aware and angry."

Feeling Kototh's acceptance, Abnaric crafted a fetish and returned to the hill that night. Sternly, he sought the mind of Jaxom's mount and called it forth. As the Sri E'poni ran toward him, Jaxom ran from the house.

Abnaric opened a portal at the shrine he crafted and directed the steed through. After changing its course, he left the portal to slowly wane. Satisfied, he made himself invisible and waited.

Jaxom ran to the altar. After screaming "Lightning" and savaging the altar with his magic blade, he ran through the portal. Smiling, Abnaric snapped the trap closed and walked to the house.

A dark haired woman of extreme elegance stood there, sword in hand. Four guards rushed to the attack. Abnaric swept them all with fire and continued to walk forward.

The woman said, "You will have to slay me also. Return my husband." Abnaric observed, "He is under my control now, once Queen. Unless you acknowledge me as your master, he dies horribly."

Mata glared into Abnaric's uncompromising eyes and sighed, "I cannot risk his life. I surrender. Never shall I call you master." Forcing her into unconsciousness, Abnaric whispered, "We will see." Obeying his bargain with Kototh, he killed all of the horses on the ranch and departed with Mata in his arms. Abnaric took Xama and Mata to Gom. Contacting Ro'beall, he said, "I have the pieces in place. Has Stoch called?" Ro'beall stated, "No. When do you return?"

Gazing at Mata, Abnaric stated, "Soon. I have a new servant to forge. When I finish, I must make arrangements in Shurikal for the great rite." Ro'beall frowned, "It is nearly a year before the stars will be in place for your spell my Abnaric."

Abnaric explained, "The five points of the pentagram must have time to prepare. What I plan is a thing of extreme complexity. All six casters must invoke the spell with one voice. With the matrix the other five form, I sunder the ban and bring Kototh into the upper world. You must be patient."

Sternly, Ro'beall stated, "It is not among my greatest talents. Come to me soon." Abnaric smiled and broke the tie. With Xama's help, he took Mata to the altar below the manor. It was now dedicated to Kototh and greatly improved.

Seeing Xama's face line with worried confusion, Abnaric said, "We reawaken her power. You want me to help. When she is on the altar you want to leave and finish your bottle of wine." Xama sadly agreed and followed his instructions. When Mata was chained he left the room to drink.

Carefully, Abnaric cut Mata's garments off and examined her. She cringed at his touch but remained silent. Smiling, he soothed, "Do not blame your cousin. He is a slave. I ask more from you. You are fit to be my wife." Mata hissed, "Rape is within your power. I shall never be your wife."

Commencing his rite, Abnaric slowly raped the fabric of her mind. The woman uncovered had a soft satin sheath of kindness around a core of molded steel. The essential gem of her soul rested within that core.

To possess it, Abnaric would have to shatter what he wanted to own. The husk that remained would not attract him as she did now. She would just be another woman. Abnaric turned the spell from its course and settled for deluding her. Wrapping her mind in chains of lies, he ensnared her will.

The woman could not be his completely while Jaxom lived. He would settle for less. She might be the one who could bear the slayer of Nergas. If Jaxom must die for this to be so, so be it. Warriors of his ilk were a gold a dozen.

As the spell drove her will into retreat, Mata whispered, "I shall never be yours," and passed out. Sadly, Abnaric lowered his body on hers and consummated the rite. In all ways, except the one that counted most, she was his tool.

As the power brought life to her womb, Abnaric swore, "The day will come when you are mine completely." Softly, with an unbelievable effort of will, she whispered, "Never."

Abnaric sat sternly considering his options the next morning. The cause of Mata's loss of power was her faith in the Balance. She defiled the Convocation. Xama's prank caused Jaxom to travel to the Lower World.

Concerned and unthinking, Mata broke the ban that kept Balance from that realm. She went to his aid forgetting his ability to return under his own power. Abnaric was sorry to hear he had that gift. Her own will, at her brother Xagh's command, kept her from power. It was in her. She refused to acknowledge it.

Determined, Abnaric went to the woman. Sitting beside her as she tended a garden, he said, "I read your mind." Mata replied, "A slave has no secrets master." Abnaric sighed, "You are not my slave." Mata smiled, "Then I return home." Abnaric snapped, "You remain here."

Mata returned to aerating herbs shrugging, "A slave awaits your next command master." Abnaric replied, "Fine! I command you to stop being a fool." Mata stated, "I am not a fool master." Abnaric asked, "Then why to you deny your power?" Mata sighed, "I am unworthy master."

Abnaric queried, "Because of an error that harmed nothing?" Mata replied, "It was sin master. I accept punishment." Abnaric reasoned, "If Balance sought to punish you the power would be gone. You would be afloat in your sea of astral fire."

Mata stated, "There are lesser punishments master." Abnaric continued, "Years of nothingness in Oblivion, prison, corporal punishment. I notice you suffering none of them. Your only tormentor is your mind. Forgive yourself."

As she glared angrily, Abnaric added, "How many have known harm because of your refusal to use magic? How many remain ill because the healer pouts? How many die because you refuse to shield them? For a fact, four men and twenty three horses are dead because of your stubbornness."

Mata roared, "Be silent master!" As the words left her, Mata's body wrenched in pain. Quickly, Abnaric canceled the affect of her rebellion and the spell slid back into place. Standing, he said, "Consider my words. I expect aid this afternoon." Mata replied, "Expect nothing but obedience."

That afternoon, Abnaric stood in his front hall when he heard a knock at the door. He sensed the power of Jaxom's magic sword. Sending Xama into hiding, he walked to his office. As he sat, a loud crash came from the front door.

Abnaric considered the situation. Mata was beginning the opening rites of desecration per his order. It was nearly time to defile the stallion. His timing was unfortunate. Sighing, he showed the man an illusion of himself entering the office and waited.

Jaxom entered with sword drawn. Sternly, he snapped, "I've come for Lightning and my wife!" As he spoke, he leapt forward and slashed Abnaric with his weapon. Thankfully, Abnaric had the foresight to wear a ring of invulnerability. Without it, his head would have flown to the wall.

Irritated, Abnaric rumbled a stern chant and struck the weapon with lightning. As his blade boiled and melted, Jaxom stepped back and drew another. Abnaric preempted his next assault with waves of darting fire. While the warrior burned, he stepped from the room.

The man weakly stalked past his hiding place as Abnaric watched. As he prepared to step out behind him, and shatter his being with a spell, he felt an urgent call. Hissing with anger he let the man live. His finding Mata defiling his beloved horse might resolve the problem.

On his arrival, Abnaric snarled, “What is it?” Ro’beall roared, “You wished to know when the Faerry you wanted were gathered! I will not be snapped at my Abnaric!”

He apologized and followed her to the captives. Both sat silently, ignoring the world around them. She shrugged, “They fade. I see little use for them.” He smiled, “They are exactly what I require, my Queen. Thank the gatherers for me.”

After teleporting both to his island, Abnaric chuckled, “You are a pair of dour little shits aren’t you?” Neither responded. He could feel both willing their power away, suiciding as he watched.

Casting a spell, he noted, “I’m afraid your attitude won’t do. I have plans.” With the might of the spell in force, they had to struggle if they hoped to fade expeditiously. The very act of struggling made fading impossible. For the nonce, they were trapped.

Going to each, he forced a glass of heady wine down their throats. As it began to burn through them they giggled. Color began to return to their countenances. Abnaric nodded, “Much better,” and gave them each a second glass. When they were both rolling on the floor, calling him despicable names and laughing, Abnaric began a powerful rite of desecration.

As it sundered their tie to the Sidh, he began his rite of creation. Twin vortices spun the laughing Faerry out of sight. Adding his chosen items of might, he crafted the powers he demanded for this creation.

Hours later, the vortices disappeared. Abnaric frowned. There was nothing there. The Faerry and the items were gone. As he looked around, he heard laughter. Now and then, he felt tugs at his hair and clothing. Snapping his head to look, he saw a tiny Faerry woman standing on his shoulder. She smiled, “I am Avalon, Creator dear. Would you like something?”

Abnaric roared, “You are the Midge. Obey your Creator always. I want you all standing in front of me visible at once.” She sighed, “That would be hard, dear. Most are off exploring. Should I round them up for you?”

After she left to do so, Abnaric sat in his chair heavily. Now and then, as he looked around, he saw one of more of the midge buzzing by. He sighed. Creation is the greatest of powers. When the hell are you going to get it right? These things are insane little bastards.

Two days of trials he tried very hard to forget passed before Abnaric got any control over the Midge. Their planned purpose was simple. They were to be spies. Only a person of great power or empathy had a chance to see them unless they chose to allow it. They were perfect.

Sadly, they also had a mind of their own. Their primary goal was fun, not service or obedience. They were more than happy to obey, if it didn’t get in the way of a good time or diminish their access to wine and candy.

Finally, Abnaric made a deal with Avalon and Boromir, their rulers. He made a home for them in Shair’s cave and promised to see they got the things they liked. In exchange, they stayed away from the dragon and let him send some of them on missions now and then.

Given their nature, it was the best he could do. The steps he needed to take to prevent the Faerry from fading gave them a perpetually effervescent personality. As they were mainly what he wanted, and the thought of slaughtering them all to try again saddened him, he accepted the compromise.

On his return to Gom Abnaric found that Jaxom and the horse were gone. He chuckled. Any man who would leave his wife to safe a horse was truly a fool. Mata should thank him for taking her away from the idiot.

Chapter Eleven

Abnaric stared with disgust as his foot touched the road into the sacred city of Shurikal. It was composed of obsidian and lined with the skulls of enemies. The sight of it reminded him of Warlon’s altar and Nergas. He was not pleased as he swept that thought from his mind.

As he walked toward the gates, the citizens of the outer tents gathered along the road and jeered. The Shurani's hatred of pale skinned people was legendary. For one to walk alone toward the heart of their might filled them with glee. They looked forward to watching the torture that would send it to perdition.

Reaching the door, Abnaric brought the hand with Kototh's ring up and chanted a spell. The crowd gasped as the gates opened and he stepped inside. While warriors ran to collect weapons, others knelt and prayed for god's fire to strike the evil one.

Abnaric walked through the streets. Each person who sought to stay him was thrown aside with a wave of his hand. Soon, he was flanked on either side by a great serpent. No one tried to approach after that. He was in the hands of god's children, theirs to destroy.

Entering the plaza before the high temple, Abnaric bowed to the ornate representation of Kototh on its facade. As he continued forward, a voice roared, "Your kind is not wanted worm." Abnaric snapped, "I come in the name of Kototh to instruct Shurikal’s children. He commands you to accept me."

As lines of shamans and wizards stepped out of the temple and buildings around the plaza, the voice commented, "Whatever the omens, such a thing can not only be said. It must be proven." Abnaric spread his arms wide roaring, "I accept. Know that in testing me, you test your gods. Be afraid!"

While the Shaman's beat a powerful rhythm on their drums, the wizards began to snake forward in a serpentine manner. Three lines approached. Scowling, Abnaric began a thundering chant. His voice filled the plaza, all but drowning the drums in his fury. As he released the maelstrom within, hordes of great serpents and dae'ta koti slithered into the plaza.

The Shurani stared with wonder as the serpents formed a ring around the pale wizard and glared at them. As the chant's volume increased, they fell to the ground in awe. They no longer saw the white worm. They saw Kotarl. His furious black eyes locked on them all.

Possessed by the power Abnaric screamed, "For five minutes you have stayed Father's course. Five die for that sin." At his command, the serpents swirled and grabbed five of the lesser wizards. As the others watched, the chosen ones were consumed. Abnaric snarled, "Do you hear the Chosen?"

Sternly, the voice from the temple said, "We greet the Chosen. Let a ceremony of welcome be called for the children of Shurikal." As the serpents withdrew, Abnaric fought the maelstrom. Finally, with great effort, he forced it back into the recesses of his mind.

Becoming aware of his surroundings again, he felt himself being carried to the temple on the shoulders of two warriors. When they reached the steps, they set him down softly and bared their throats. A waiting Shaman killed each. The voice explained, "One who has touched god's chosen is too holy to dwell with mortals. They stand guard before Kototh's throne. You have honored them."

Abnaric nodded. These people were first class fanatics. As he watched the ceremony of welcome, he learned that for a fact. Three men were sacrificed on the altar to provide blood for his welcoming bath.

After he dined, two virgins made the flight to Kototh. Basically, they moved through secret tunnels to the top of statues. Each statue was more then a hundred feet tall. At the proper time, the white robed women dove head first into the tiles of the plaza. By so doing, they welcomed Abnaric and became Kototh's brides.

That night, Abnaric was bathed and cared for by two women. Each insistently made love to him and slept at his side. In the morning, they were sacrificed to sanctify the talks.

Abnaric coldly caged all signs of revulsion. If this was their way, he let them have it. The fate of Shurani was no concern of his. Let them die if it made them happy.

As he sipped a pale wine, the leader stated, "We are honored to behold the Chosen. I am Murgo, High Servant of Shurikal." Abnaric replied, "There will be a ritual. I must examine your records. One point of five will be the High Temple. I perform the main rite at a place of my choosing."

Murgo shrugged, "The archives of Kototh are holy." Abnaric interrupted, "Do not question my right! I will not select five of the lowly to redeem your next error." Murgo soothed, "l have no intent of questioning you chosen. I seek only to speed your choice."

Abnaric answered, "Do so by taking me to the archives. See that the sacred maps of the temple's founder are brought." Murgo ordered, "His will is mine. Obey without question until he departs." Abnaric stood. Pointing to a shaman, he ordered, "Take me now."

After three days pouring through the archives, Abnaric had the information he needed. Through magic, and his own powerful intellect, he derived the nine hidden names of Kototh. Without them, no ritual of this magnitude could succeed.

Sternly, he walked past his tired guide and examined the sacred maps. They were an indexing of the land of Shurikal to the terrain discovered in the founder’s wanderings within Kototh's pale. Abnaric pointed to a spot on the map and asked, "Where is this place?" The Shaman yawned, "In the badlands of the Apina." Abnaric stated, "Bring the High Servant."

Hesitantly, the Shaman departed. A few minutes later, Murgo entered alone. Abnaric pointed to the map and ordered, "This is the place where my part of the ritual must be held. I need a step pyramid a thousand feet south of this spot in eight months time. I return then to begin final preparations."

Murgo inquired, "Will other aid be required?" Abnaric snapped, "As I said, when you feel my call perform the ritual I left. Any further preparation at the main site can wait until my arrival." Murgo boldly asked, "I have been patient, chosen. What is the purpose of our effort?"

Abnaric glared at the man. Seeing his fear and courage, he explained, "For your ears alone, we raise father from the Pale. When he has achieved his rightful place among the gods, then will be a time for his children and servants to roar."

Murgo's eyes filled with ecstatic joy. He smiled, "I would hug you but I wish to live to see the miracle." Abnaric replied, "See you accomplish your part, high servant. My vengeance on any who fail will not be light." Murgo bowed and left the room. Yawning, Abnaric made some final notes and fell asleep in his chair.

Ro'beall glowered down at the chained women. Snarling, she went to Abnaric and snapped, "You said to tell you when the human whores woke." Abnaric gently pulled her to his side soothing, "Your jealousy honors me, my love, but it isn't necessary. I require these women to

achieve my purpose." Coldly, Ro'beall stated, "I have seen your eyes. They are more then tools." Abnaric admitted, "That is true. I have come to treasure both of them. Neither is Ro'beall. They own pieces of me. Only you are my soul."

After an hour's passion to appease his jealous queen, Abnaric went to Anara and Mata. Both women were pregnant. Mata's pregnancy was planned. Anara's merely happened. Now he was faced with a problem. He did not have time to allow Anara the months she needed to give birth. Her presence was required in Rogh'sa. Abnaric pondered the wisdom of aborting the child. The strength to do so was not within him. He would not slay a child.

Sadly, this left only one option. They must venture into another plane of existence. A place where time passed faster then it did in the mortal realm. So doing, Mata and Anara could bear children while only a short time elapsed in this world. For a week, Abnaric searched the archives of Tel and scanned the heavens with his devices. Finally, by a stroke of luck, he discovered the realm he sought.

The plane was a pocket trapped between two larger realms beyond the sweep of the mundane cosmos. If his calculations were true, a hundred days would pass for every day in this realm. In two or three days, the women and he would return with children.

Turning to Asnon, an Elefan male who learned the use of the devices, Abnaric stated, "Once we depart, the position must remain unchanged. The guard is to let no one but you enter. Kill any who try if you must. We return in three days." Asnon bowed, "I shall inform Aniche, creator."

Abnaric nodded. As he departed, Abnaric considered his first creation. They divided as he feared. The males were intellectual creatures with little interest in physical pursuits and none in combat.

The women took happily to the things of the flesh and left the trials of learning to males. They reveled in the physical and loved combat. Sadly, he accepted it. The race as a whole was well suited to their service.

After passing on some final orders to Hasloc and Faoud, Abnaric set the device. Stepping over to Mata and Anara, he began the ritual. Soon, power spread their atoms. He sternly held the chant in mind as his essence swirled through the divine realms and into the outer darkness.

Piercing through the void, Abnaric came to rest on a field of blue grass. Other then plants he saw no life. Casting detections, he felt none within the scope of his power. It was a perfect and beautiful world but nothing dwelled here. He put his dagger into the earth saying, "I claim you for Abnaric Elgar."

Over the next few days, Abnaric raised a shelter for the women, gathered brush for the fire and explored. In one of his longer journeys, he came over a rise with Anara and saw a tall tower. It was a leaning edifice of gray stone about a mile from the wild ocean.

Tntrigued, Abnaric telepathically informed Mata of his intent and went to investigate. He doubted whether she would care. She found the plant life of the world interesting. In fact, it seemed to Abnaric, she had a love for all life. It was an integral part of who she was.

Before he arrived, Mata appeared in a flash of smoke to join the fun. Abnaric smiled. They were all more then a bit bored. Even Mata could put aside her fun to get a break from the ennui. He was glad. It was good to have something to break the monotony. It was better doing it with both of them beside him.

As they walked around the tower, Mata noted, "The stone on this side looks like giant insects seized it with mandibles. T have seen such cuts on the leaves of plants in our world." Abnaric examined the damage. She could be right. He asked, "What could have done that to stone?" Mata shrugged, "Nothing I know of, the cuts are like those left by locusts." Anara commented, "We haven't seen any insects." Abnaric stated, "Perhaps there is an answer inside."

Waving an arm, Abnaric led them toward the portal. lts hinges held shards of wood. The interior of the ground floor was a shambles. More scars from insects were located inside. Worried now, Abnaric led them up the narrow stairs.

A metal hatch blocked access to the higher floors. Abnaric opened it with a spell. The floors above were undamaged. They found furniture, clothing and crockery. Above the second floor was a library. Above that, in six more floors, were workrooms and sleeping guarters. In each bed, they found a withered skeleton that wasn't quite human.

Examining them carefully Mata said, "All but two died of starvation. The two on the top floor died of old age." Abnaric considered the problem. Something kept them in this tower long enough for thirty to starve to death. The others survived, more then likely, by eating the dead.

Seeing Abnaric's sad shiver, Anara stroked his shoulder saying, "We should bury them." Abnaric nodded, "I'll dig a grave." Mata suggested, "Just use your magic." Abnaric stated, "I want to avoid magic. I want this place for myself. No point sending out calling cards."

Mata laughed, "That is ridiculous. Your power is a wisp of heat in a volcano. There is no reason not to use it." Abnaric explained, "Most magic comes from gods. If I use it here, I may draw attention. This place is going to be mine. Not Kototh's, not some Chaos godlings, mine!"

Shrugging, Mata said, "Break your back if greed demands it. I will wait." As Abnaric left, Anara whispered, "He may be right. This is too nice a place to risk ruining." Mata asked, "How can you support him? He poisoned you to get your body. You'd still be poisoned if you didn't get pregnant."

Anara answered, "He is a harsh man but there is good in him. He will find it in time." Mata blurted, "You like him?" Anara shrugged, "I’ve known worse. How will he learn if all he gets from decent people is hate?"

As Anara left to help Abnaric, Mata shook her head sadly. Your kindness will undo you, she mused. A man such as this feeds on it until there is nothing left. You shall not find me so kind. Though I am compelled to obey, and I bear his child rather then slay an infant, I never forgive him.

When Mata had spoken words over the skeletons, Abnaric carried them out to the pit. Before burying them, he removed any jewelry or other token on the body. Mata hissed, "Must you rob the dead?" Abnaric sighed, "We have a mystery. I will not bury clues for the sake of propriety. Sorry if that offends your sense of decency."

When Mata stalked back to the tower, Anara said, "What he does is wrong but he has good reason." Mata snapped, "I know," and kept going. For the next six months, Abnaric tirelessly examined the property in the tower. Finally, comparing one of the signet rings to a book, he found a key to the language. Running for Mata, Abnaric asked, "My astral tongue isn't good. Can you help? I have a key that ties the books to that tongue." Mata shrugged.

After six months she had decided to accept things as they were. She had little choice. Soon she would be dependent on him to see her through childbirth. It was best if he had a reason to be kind.

While Abnaric and Mata worked on translating the texts that looked like they held clues, Anara cared for them and gathered food. After three weeks, she could no longer do so. Smiling, Abnaric said, "It will be soon." Anara sighed, "You have to get your own food for a while. I wish we had some meat," and went to sleep. Returning to Mata, he said, "If the children would be safe I would take you both back now." Mata shrugged, "You can breed others."

Seeing the pained fury in his eyes, Mata apologized. She never realized how important children were to him. How could a devil, a slayer of villages and raper of nations be attuned to children? Perhaps Anara was right. There might be good in Abnaric Elgar.

As he stood to go, Mata said, "I have an idea about the problem." Abnaric nodded sternly, still angry. Mata stated, "The people called themselves Isier. They worshipped healing spirits and nature. This tower was a central repository for wandering bands."

Seeing Abnaric's interest, Mata continued, "They were attacked by a gigantic swarm of armored locusts. The record calls them Abada Kir. The description is like the legendary servants of Abaddon who were banished into the void by Tehuti as part of the Convocation. The insects stripped all life from the world, at least this part of it."

Abnaric asked, "Does it say what happened to them?" Mata replied, "When there was nothing left they could reach they flew across the ocean. The journal says a big light struck when the swarm reached a place they call Heart Island. Men in flying chariots who shot bolts of fire drove the swarm into the ground. I assume they speak of Merkabah."

Nodding, Abnaric suggested, "The balance realized they fucked up and sent a host to stop the things." Mata replied, "It is likely. There must be life somewhere. They would have replaced the fallen if all life was destroyed."

Looking at Anara, Abnaric smiled and left the tower. In his hands was a round map from the top floor. Though he risked everything, Anara wanted meat. If there was life she would have it. He sternly made that a vow. Estimating the distance to the northern land mass, he teleported blind and hoped.

Abnaric spat angrily as he saw the hard rocks below him. He arrived twenty feet above a mountaintop. Scowling, he plummeted into the rocks and screamed in pain.

When he woke, Abnaric took a strong drug to kill his pain. Wedging his foot between two rocks, he pulled until the jagged bone of his leg meshed with its upper half. He then created splints and bound his leg.

Abnaric surveyed the plain below. He saw a herd of animals grazing in a plain beneath the mountain and teleported to a point a mile away from them. After taking another sip of the drug, he limped forward and closed on the beasts. As he chose one to strike with lightning, a gigantic creature stepped into sight and started driving them away.

Angrily, Abnaric limped forward as fast as he could and grasped the mind of the nearest creature. Falling to his belly as he succeeded, he directed it to ignore its instincts and run as he commanded.

Abnaric heard the giant monster growl something. When he was ignored, he killed the animal with a rock and tossed it into a bag. Abnaric howled with frustration as the monster followed his herd over the hillside. Struggling to his feet, he limped after them. Before he got a hundred feet, Abnaric heard a strange humming sound.

Turning, he saw a shape running up the hillside at him. As it neared, he saw the thing was a six legged dog easily as large as a bull. The humming was the sound as it cut through the air. He had never seen anything so fast.

As it moved, Abnaric saw the creature bare its fangs. The dog's countenance was terrifying. It reminded him of sketches he had seen in Bol's library of the fouler demons. Having little strength left, Abnaric slashed a lightning bolt into it. The creature yelped and fell dead. Abnaric limped toward the hound. When he heard an angry yell behind him, he limped faster. Turning, as he began his spell, Abnaric saw the angry giant coming with rock in hand. His spell exploded into being, sending him and the carcass back to the tower, seconds before the thrown rock could splatter him into fragments.

Mata jumped nervously as she heard the crash of a heavy object. Anara panted, "Check." Rising, ready to act magically if she must, Mata went to the doorway. Blocking it was a large carcass. On the ground on the other side, leg bleeding freely, was Abnaric.

Stepping on the carcass, Mata exited the tower and went to him. He smiled, "Meat," and passed out. While she cared for his fracture, Mata gazed at the man. She could not understand. His action was that of a foolhardy boy. He risked his life and might lose a leg so Anara could have meat.

An hour later, Mata returned to Anara with a full bowl of stew. She asked, "Find a new plant? Smells good." Mata replied, "It is stew. Abnaric got meat for you." Anara smiled broadly.

As she fed the woman, Mata decided Anara was right. Whatever the depths of his evil there was good in the man. Again the wisdom of Balance was proven. If a person of such monumental evil could risk his life to care for a pregnant mother all things were two sided.

The insidious monster that kidnapped her was vile. The kind man she saw today risked his life to care for his child's mother. He was not. Did her heart not already belong to another she could easily love the bringer of meat.

Abnaric grimaced as he woke. He was under a tent made of blankets and his leg burned. Mata said, "Anara is near her time. I could not move you myself." Abnaric stated, "Take care of her. I have drugs and herbs in my bag."

Taking the bag off him, Mata observed, "She will not need them. You may." Abnaric commanded, "Take care of her." Jerkily, Mata stood. Sighing, Abnaric cancelled the order. Mata soothed, "As you said when you scolded me, I am a great healer. Trust me. You lose your leg otherwise."

Sniffing, Abnaric noted, "Not infected." Mata stated, "It should be. The fact that it isn't is the only reason you still have it. The bone was broken badly. Where I in Matan, I would operate." He smiled. As she began to scrub the wound, he passed out from the pain.

The next time Abnaric woke he was alone. He heard Mata inside the tower soothing Anara. The woman was panting loudly, now and then she screamed. Abnaric felt his own abdomen clench in agony. Turning, he vomited into the grass causing his leg to scream in agony. Mercifully, his consciousness fled again.

Abnaric woke covered in sweat some time later. He was in a new spot. Anara lay beside him with a bundled infant at her breast. Smiling, she cooed, "Katrin and l were worried." Abnaric asked, "Are you all right? I heard screams."

Anara chuckled, "Not unusual for a woman giving birth. Mata thinks you will keep your leg." Pulling the suckling infant from her breast, Anara said, "Hold the baby. I need to check the smokehouse. We have a lot of meat to preserve."

Hesitantly, Abnaric cradled the infant on his breast. When he settled down, she cooed and brought her hand to his chin. In a moment, she pursed her lips and went to sleep. Abnaric did his best to remain still. The touch of the little hand was magic to him. He had a fine, perfect daughter. All was right with his world.

Mata kept Abnaric on his back for a week. Finally, she brought him a crutch commanding, "Use this when you must walk. Keep your weight off the leg for at least another week." Abnaric nodded, "No problem. Where did Anara but the bones of that dog?"

Getting directions, Abnaric went over to the skeleton and removed a long leg bone. The speed and viciousness of this beast would help with a creation. It would be a perfect messenger and assassin. Sadly, he put the bone in his bag. He still had business in a cruel world. This one would have to wait until he mastered the other.

Three weeks later, Mata went into labor. By then, Abnaric could bend his leg though it was still stiff. With Anara helping, he did what he could to ease her pain. The birth was hard. While Anara bathed the infant, he used magic to heal the damage caused by sixteen hours of labor.

Abnaric's eyes glowed as Mata woke. He asked, "It’s a boy. What do you want to name him?" She replied, "Whatever you like. He is yours." Abnaric stated, "Our son will be named Trevarian." Mata sighed, "Your son." Abnaric snapped, "Ours!"

Facing him, Mata explained, "The child was not the result of my choice. He is the product of magic and rape. Though it shall always pain me, I have no part of him. He is yours completely." Abnaric snapped, "If that is your choice, so be it."

When Anara brought the boy over, Abnaric ordered, "When she has fed Trevarian take him to his crib. The queen wants nothing to do with her son." As Mata's eyes filled with tears, Abnaric limped away. Anara put the boy in Mata's arms and sadly noted, "He is a beautiful boy. You should love him."

Mata brought the boy to her breast. While he fed, she sobbed and tried not to look at him. Softly, she said, "It is no fault of yours. I am sorry you must grow without a mother. Though you will never forgive, someday you may understand."

Anara stroked Abnaric's back as he stood watching the sea. The suppleness and peace that had found their way into his muscles was gone. Once more he was iron. Turning, Abnaric snapped, "We leave when the woman is fit." Anara advised, "You will need some rest." He hissed, "Do not argue. Return to the children!"

Abnaric stared at the waves crashing against the beach for more then an hour. Through their violence, he reestablished his hold on his emotions. Never again would he allow weakness to betray him. It would remain caged, a gem swirling in the foulness of his past.

Sadly, Anara waited for Abnaric's return. He did not arrive until the next morning. When he did his face was granite. Nothing stirred him. She tried to bring Katrin to him. He brusguely ordered her away.

With a sad tear she obeyed. When she brought Mata her food, Anara had nothing to say. Her stubborn vanity and pride destroyed everything the time here gained them. He was worse then before. Whatever the reason, Anara hated Mata for it.

Meeting her cold eyes, Mata explained, "He raped me. You have to understand." Anara interrupted, "I understand we almost woke a decent and caring man. You made him worse. Never speak to me again. I detest you."

Abnaric remained stern for the rest of the week. Now and then, when no one else was in the room, he stroked the infants. He realized, whatever his need, he could not make them suffer because of who their parents were.

Like Grat, they would be well raised. He would see they wanted for nothing and, as possible, knew their father’s love. As long as his enemies and allies were unsure, it was not a weakness they could use against him. He pitied an enemy who thought of trying.

When Mata and Anara came down the steps, Abnaric withdrew his hand snapping, "We return. Pick up your children and follow me." Mata soothed, "Abnaric, T'm " He interrupted, "Silence! We have nothing to say to each other."

Anara softened a moment as she saw the sadness grow deeper in Mata's eyes. Sternly, she fought the temptation. It was her fault this was happening. She was not the only one who had been raped. She was wrong to desert her child in a vain effort to hurt his sire.

Abnaric stood outside. As they approached, he ordered, "Tie the infants tight and cradle them well. If your child is lost, you will regret your laxity." When the women obeyed, Abnaric moved close and cast the spell to return home. Soon, they were riding the astral lightning again. As they traveled, he prayed his children would make the journey safely.

Sternly, Abnaric met Mata's eyes. They stood on the hill overlooking her ranch. He observed, "Return to your life madam. Continue serving a fool who loves a horse more than his wife. Waste your beauty in isolation and despair. It is the choice you have made."

Mata replied, "I am sorry you were hurt." Abnaric snapped, "Then forget this place and return with me." Mata sighed, "I cannot. My vow is sworn to Chobar. I abide by it."

Seeing the firm resolve in her sad eyes, Abnaric put a small box in her hands then said, "If something changes put this ring on your finger. I will bring you to me." Mata sighed, "Nothing short of his death will cause such a change."

Abnaric snapped, "Then I hope for his death." Seeing her fear, Abnaric soothed, "I will not cause it. Though you torment my soul I have an eternity to wait. He is only a man. Tomorrow or twenty years from tomorrow, he dies. On that day, you are mine."

Mata promised, "On his death or desertion I am yours. You have my pledge. Please forgive me for leaving the baby behind." Truthfully, Abnaric stated, "I will never forgive that. I can love you in spite of it." Mata watched sadly as the smoke enfolded him and he disappeared.

Unthinking, Mata clutched his ring to her bosom and tearfully walked to the ruined ranch. She had a life to rebuild. Hopefully, Chobar would return to be part of it. She needed his love badly.

Ro'beall glared at the sleeping humans. Anara and the infants were blissfully resting in their beds. It would be easy to snuff their lives out. From behind, Miryan stated, "It is wrong to hate them." Ro'beall left the room snapping, "Do you dare lecture me handmaiden?"

Miryan replied, "You may take it that way my gueen. His love is not finite. He loves us no less for loving them." Ro'beall glared, "He will as they bring new joy. He already gave the human whore one of his rings." Miryan sighed, "I saw it, my gueen. There is no cause for concern. His love for you consumes him."

Ro'beall snapped, "It is not enough," and fled behind a slamming door into her room. Miryan considered her reaction. If the powers allowed, Ro’beall would give him the child she yearned to give. That would resolve her pain. There must be a way to convince those who objected to allow this.

Deciding, Miryan went to her guarters. For Abnaric and her Queen, for herself, she would plead for an end to the ban. Paitco Sith must allow it. The ban on giving birth in this form must end.

After fifteen minutes of sulking on her bed, Ro'beall heard her door open. Abnaric stood there with a smile. She said, "Your children are sleeping." Abnaric stated, "At the moment I am interested in my gorgeous

gueen." Ro'beall snipped, "Your sterile gueen." Sitting beside her, Abnaric soothed, "That isn't important. It's you I need. Children can wait."

Ro'beall hissed, "Children are banned." Abnaric gueried, "What are you talking about?" Ro'beall explained, "When it was seen what we were made into Paitco Sith ordered us never to bear. Once the traitors are dead Kototh will return our true form. He has promised. Until then we remain barren."

Abnaric promised, "If you want a baby I will plant the seed. Just a matter of time." Ro'beall hissed, "We are not mortal rabbits! We control conception. Our kind requires melding and total devotion. Passion is secondary. Only if we are completely willing and lie with a male whose devotion equals our own can we conceive."

Cradling her to his chest, Abnaric vowed, "If there is any way to lift the ban I will. On all the powers I wield, or ever will, you have my word." As Ro'beall began to kiss him, she jerked away screaming, "The altar!" Abnaric hurried after Ro'beall. Something terrible happened. Baobhan Sith were running to the sacred nave from everywhere in the palace.

Fighting his way through a host of them, Abnaric saw Miryan jerking painfully. Bolts of green fire lanced her. A moment later, as she tried to battle the fire, Ro'beall was swept into the inferno.

Abnaric angrily ordered, "Stay back," and stepped into the room. He detected the cause of the attack and noted its source. Face cold, he stated, "I travel to the lower world. If I do not return in three days or they die, war on the Daoine Sidhe. I order it as your King."

Casting sheets of flame as he departed, Abnaric translated into the Lower world. He stood outside the castle of Paitco Sith. Two guards stood at the gate. He snapped, "Move aside. I have no time for flunkies."

One stepped forward and began a chant. With a backhand gesture, Abnaric burned him to death where he stood. When the other pulled a blade he also died. Glaring at the silver gates, Abnaric began a powerful spell to break them open.

Payan stood waiting as the gates exploded before him. As Abnaric stormed through the smoke, he stated, "Your presence is not wanted. Depart." Abnaric angrily hissed, "Your father is killing my wives. Stand aside." Payan remained immobile saying, "You are not a god mortal. Do not force me to prove it."

Lost in rage, Abnaric levied his greatest spell to destroy the Prince. Payan raised his sword and chanted a counter spell. When the efforts met, they exploded violently and the casters were locked in mental combat.

Payan's attacks were calculated darts of ice spinning into the gouts of flame that spun from Abnaric's mind. Slowly, methodically, the ice melted in the fire and doused it. As Abnaric snarled and sought to call the maelstrom a wall of ice sealed it in the depths of his mind. Desperately, he drew his dagger and teetered toward Payan. If magic would not suffice, iron must.

Before his fifth step power slashed Abnaric's back. He fell unconscious at Payan's feet. As he later discovered, the god immediately slew the man who interfered. Abnaric woke a moment later. Payan's magic was reviving him and healing his wounds. He weakly said, "I will pass."

Mistaking the smile in Payan's eyes, Abnaric struggled to his feet and weakly held his dagger ready. Payan laughed, "Your power overwhelms me mortal. I will help you into the hall."

Sheathing his dagger, Abnaric limped forward. Payan caught him. When his arm rested securely in place, he opened the door with a wave and led Abnaric into the presence of Paitco Sith.

The god stood gleefully casting fire into a crystal. In it, Payan and Abnaric saw the twisted, screaming forms of his women. Paitco Sith continued the torment hissing, "I said the creature was not to be admitted!" Payan coldly noted, "It is apparent his cause is just father." Paitco roared, "Do you defy me!" Abnaric gasped, "I defy you. I spit on you. I damn you!" Screaming, Paitco cast a bolt of lightning at Abnaric.

Payan stepped forward and took the brunt on his sword. The remainder seared his shoulder. With a whisper as cold as an arctic gale he hissed, "I stand in defense of this man and our honor. Fight me or cease your attack on our sisters."

Stepping back from the crystal, the God snapped, "You trust the prophecy too well my son! I prove it false unless you stand aside." Payan stood immobile, frozen eyes locked on Paitco Sith. He was obviously not a son who loved his father.

As they began to raise power against each other, Kotarl entered bellowing, "How dare you assault the chosen? Stop this!" Paitco whined, "This is my realm!" Kotarl spread his arms sneering, "This is the Pale of Kototh! Forget his supremacy at your peril. The three of you accompany me to face judgment. Payan, carry the chosen. He is not to be harmed further."

Three heads glared with fire as Kototh stared at the approaching party. He roared, "You sunder my patience! How dare you bring civil war to my realm." Paitco stated, "It is the mortal's fault! He sought to end my punishment of traitors."

Payan snapped, "He sought, against impossible odds, to end the torture of his women. Neither has been judged. The abuse they suffer is bad in the case of Miryan. It is heinous in the case of Ro'beall! My support of the chosen in this is eternal."

Paitco roared, "Traitor! I shall have you destroyed." Turning to his father, Payan snapped, "I am a Prince. As such I accept trial by combat. Will you meet me or name a champion?" Kotarl chuckled, "Must I remind you again whose court this is?"

Kototh glared at Payan with one head. Another observed Abnaric weaving on his feet, desperate to do battle for his females. Knowing it was his death he still sought war. Sighing, the third head faced Paitco Sith ordering, "T will judge this affair. Return to your realm." Seeing the God's hesitance, Kotarl noted, "Father's patience with rebellion is finite. Depart!"

Turning the third head to Kotarl, Kototh snapped, "Accompany him." He bowed and obeyed. As he did, Kototh's second head asked, "You would slay your father?" Payan replied, "His act defiled the honor of the Daoine Sidhe." Kototh ordered, "Return to your realms in the Middle World." Payan bowed and walked off. Halting him, Kototh stated, "First, bring the females in question to me."

Payan bowed again and was gone. Smiling, Kototh noted, "Mortal emotions can be strange Abnaric Elgar. There are many more Baobhan Sith. Why not choose two others?" Abnaric replied, "Ro'beall is essential to our plan. Miryan is a great help in the mortal world. I love and need both."

Floating a goblet of dark nectar toward Abnaric, Kototh stated, "Enough to drink of my knowledge again." Abnaric snarled, "Enough to bathe in it." Kototh laughed, "A drink suffices chosen." As Abnaric threw the nectar down and battled its hold, Kototh watched with interest.

When Abnaric was twitching on his back, still fighting, Kototh smiled. This was indeed a superior mortal. With the battle's end, he cast strength into Abnaric, returning his full vigor instantly.

As he stood, Abnaric saw his ladies being carried forward on litters. Kototh snapped, "Remain here," as he turned to go to them. Bringing a head to bear, Kototh ordered, "Payan and you others remain as witnesses." Looking down at the Sidhe things on the litters, Kototh saw the one named Miryan was a fingernail away from escaping into death. The other, their arrogant queen, was in coma but not in danger.

Kototh sternly asked, "Why did the females risk punishment?" Abnaric replied, "Ro'beall went to aid Miryan. I do not know why she was punished." Kototh inquired, "What is your guess?" Abnaric stated, "They want children. Miryan probably asked for permission."

Tasting the air a moment, Kototh announced, "That is correct." Turning to the Daoine Sidhe, he stated, " As a kindly father I accepted when you asked for the ban. Now your law stands in the way of my will. I sweep it aside. Any Baobhan Sith who chooses may bear. Be the sire their king or another their wombs are unchained."

Abnaric noted scowls on the four Daoine Sidhe and the hint of a smile on Payan's face. From what he had seen, that thin hint was equivalent to a roar of triumph from another man.

Kototh snapped, "The four of you shall deliver my word to Paitco Sith. Payan will escort these children to Ro'beall's palace. Deliver my message to her regent. Be certain she fully understands my will before you go to the mortal realm."

Payan bowed deeply in acknowledgement. As he did, Kototh's power washed over the ladies. Ro'beall rose guickly. Nearly a minute later, Miryan struggled to her feet also. The God had been forced to battle Morain, the Lady in the Mist, to draw Miryan back. At Kototh's nod, Abnaric rushed to them. With Payan, they left for the palace to spread the news.

Kototh smiled as he watched his tools. It was a shame the Sidhe must grow. The ban stopped that well. He decided having more of Dagda's scum around was a small price to pay for Kotarl's avatar and his own release. Once his goal was achieved, all the scum could be destroyed.

The God also decided that either Payan or Paitco Sith must die soon. Fate's edict could not be ignored. Payan would exceed his father and slay him. Paitco Sith let the situation continue too long to snuff the threat on his own. One of them must be prodded to their demise.

Chapter Twelve

On their fourth day of ecstasy in the lower world, Abnaric and his ladies were interrupted. Payan knocked and entered. He slowly said, "I require words with your king," then went into the hall to wait. Abnaric rose. After dressing he joined him. Payan hesitated for nearly a minute before stating, "Honor requires I offer you the chance to continue our duel." Abnaric replied, "It is not necessary."

Payan nodded, "On another matter then. I apologize for the insult suffered by Baobhan and attack on Queen and subject. I am willing to make redemption." Abnaric soothed, "You need never apologize for another man's error. As your aid saved our lives, I consider myself your friend. You are under no obligation." Payan asked, "I wish to take the regent Aslin to the mortal realm. Will you permit it?"

Abnaric gueried, "Is it her wish?" Payan explained, "As regent, Aslin reguires release from duty before she may speak on such a matter." Abnaric said, "Tell her the king orders her to state her wishes. If her answer is yes she may go. If it is no do nothing to force her." Payan hissed, "I am not my father!"

Seeing Abnaric did not understand his fury, Payan explained, "My mother was Numa, wife of Daenn, mother of Paitco Sith and Finvarra. When he joined the host of Kototh to continue the war he kidnapped Numa and raped me into her. I am my grandmother's son." Abnaric apologized, "I had no idea. Please forgive me."

Payan turned and walked down the hall. Reentering the room, Abnaric knew he was forgiven. Kototh himself couldn't have stopped Payan from killing him otherwise. He was a sad and dangerous man. Facing the ladies, he said, "I understand why he is the Ice Warrior now."

Ro'beall stated, "Though none acknowledge it he is the strongest of those who continue the fight. It is his fate and duty to rule us." Miryan hissed, "I never follow the rapist who sired him again!" Ro'beall snapped, "Be silent, handmaiden! You will do your duty."

Watching Miryan's eyes, Abnaric doubted that was the case. Her treatment by Paitco Sith destroyed her tie. Hoping to defuse the situation, he rejoined them in bed saying, "We return tomorrow, ladies." Smiling, they made his last night in the lower world memorable.

After appointing a new regent, Ro'beall cast the rites to return them to the mortal realm. Kissing her, Abnaric said, "Tell Anara to prepare for Rogh'sa. When I return from my castle we depart." Ro'beall asked, "Must it be now?" Abnaric replied, "We have lost nearly half the time I have. I must act. I am not to be interrupted unless Stoch calls."

At Ro'beall's nod, Abnaric went to see the children, then teleported to the island. Smiling, he forged the spells and items for his next creation. It would be his revenge on the Asrai. It would also prove a nasty surprise if Paitco Sith bothered him.

The items of power were ready after five days. Patiently, he searched the jungle for the next three days. When he found the right lion, he paralyzed it and brought it caged to the island. That night, he traveled to the north.

Reaching the Tower of Mab after three teleports, he gave them their final briefing and paid for the items Mab collected. One was a powerful token of the sea. The other was a gigantic barbarian with thews of steel. After returning, Abnaric caged the barbarian and waited until he was rested.

Two mornings later Abnaric entered the lab. Fascinating the man, he laid him on the altar and shaved the hair from his body. After removing certain parts, so as not to diminish the feline attributes of his creature, Abnaric cast the rite.

Methodically, over the course of the day, he added the lion, all the items of power and cast potent magics into the vortex to grant his creatures the powers and attributes it needed. When all was ready, he lifted four sets of enchanted iron claws and added them also.

Trembling with power, Abnaric cast a final rite and a proscription against doing harm to the Baobhan Sith. The vortex exploded a second later. Standing where it had been was a glaring, Leonid creature nearly eight feet in height.

Abnaric stated, "You are Leon. Your purpose is to slay the Asrai and all Sidh. Only my order or the order of one I order you to obey stays your hand." When the bright—eyed creature nodded, Abnaric continued, "As you truly feel, never harm one of the Baobhan Sith. You will also refrain from harming Daoine Sidhe and Sprites unless, on a later date, you hear me say Paitco Sith be damned. Lastly, obey your creator always."

Leon hissed, "Yes, Creator. I want to go." Abnaric extended a large ring saying, "Place this on your finger." When the creature obeyed, the band shrank to fit. Abnaric stated, "We are on an island. There are Asrai in the river that flows by it. Kill them. Return here with any treasure you find in their underwater castle."

Snarling happily, Leon knocked the door off its hinges in his hurry to be about his business. Abnaric smiled. With total immunity to Sidh magic and acid, and high immunity to elder spells, Leon should be able to do the job. Tron claws dedicated to slay the Sidh wouldn't hurt his chances.

Laughing hysterically, Abnaric began to clean up the lab. Those damn water bitches would rue the day they humiliated Abnaric Elgar. They rue it until Leon finds them. His gift of water powers would have them gasping air before they knew what melted them. Leon could go in the water after them or draw all the water away or both. Suck my fire bitches, he chortled.

As he calmed, Abnaric was glad he thought to forge the ring. Leon's dedication to slaughter would compel him to continue unceasingly. With the ring, Abnaric could find the creature when he needed him or issue telepathic commands. Without it, there was no telling where Leon would end up.

Abnaric sat in his tower at Elga with Miryan, Cybel and Anara. He had sent a band of mercenaries led by Faoud's cousin ahead to check the estate in Musci. They should arrive there within the next few days.

Anara sighed, "I am loath to serve as a whore." Abnaric soothed, "It's the best way. Think of yourself as a spy." Anara snapped, "A whore by any name is still a slut. I don't want to do it." Sadly, Abnaric enthralled her and ordered, "Go to the cabinet. Drink the wine in the red bottle."

Miryan smiled as Anara guzzled the poison laden wine down her throat. She did not hate the human but she enjoyed seeing proof that her place was inferior.

After an hour, Abnaric released the spell sighing, "You want to enter the palace in Rogh'sa. Once there, you want to seduce the Emperor's heir by any means possible." Anara sighed, "I want to seduce the heir." Abnaric shrugged, "You want to rest now. Go to our room and sleep on the bed." Anara got up and departed. Miryan asked, "Will she succeed?"

With a speculative look Abnaric replied, "It is a first attempt. The heir is insane. If Anara cannot reach him, we control him another way. The Emperor cannot die until we do."

Miryan offered, "Let us just take over the Emperor." Abnaric stated, "Too much competition. Besides, he was one of the buyers for the children Renyil sold. I don't deal with pedophiles." She sighed, "As you command."

After a moment, Miryan added, "On my last visit to Gom, Xil taught me assassin things. He said to tell no one." Smiling she guipped, "Of course he did not mean to keep a secret from you. I'm sure he knows I cannot." Abnaric shrugged, "You only got basics. You were only there a couple weeks before I came for you." Miryan hung her head. Abnaric hissed, "Spill it."

Miryan admitted, "I read one of your books while you were away and learned a spell. Once I arrived, I went back in time so I arrived three months earlier. I enjoy Gom so." Abnaric warned, "Never do such a thing without asking. You are not ready for some of the things in my library. They could kill you."

Smiling, Miryan apologized and showed him a pair of silver daggers saying, "Xil gave them to me. They are only elven but quite sharp and strong. I learned to fight with both at once. I can also throw them."

Abnaric smiled. As much as he hated the risk she took, her initiative improved his position. Being able to work as an assassin would help her stay away from iron and improve his chance of success in Rogh'sa.

Miryan worked to become death on wings to show her love. Abnaric liked it. He also liked owning Xil. Teaching the secrets of the Brotherhood to outsiders was their biggest crime. Xil was his forever.

As he lowered himself into bed, Abnaric felt Ro'beall's call. Telling Miryan to remain, he dressed and teleported back to the palace. Ro'beall stated, "The mortal has contacted us. Filania is found."

Abnaric ordered, "Take five ladies and go to the trolls. I join you after I see Stoch." Arming himself for battle, Abnaric teleported to the outskirts of a small village north of Foha. On entering, he noticed tough looking men loitering on its fringes and smiled. Stoch must have set up a perimeter. In all likelihood, he was running the place.

Tracing Stoch's ring, Abnaric found him asleep in the local tavern. When four men surrounded him, he said, "Wake your master." Their leader scowled, "Stuff that pal. You wait." Stoch woke with sword in hand at the screams of his men. Abnaric noted, "Professional but not bright."

As he released the thrashing men, Abnaric said, "Be situated for the assault at dusk. Has the hill been infiltrated?" Stoch stated, "No. We found the place because one of the elves visits a halfbreed on one of the ranches. They don't have much to do with humans."

Abnaric scowled, "Unfortunate. I will see you receive magical aid before the attack. Go to your positions. No elf may be allowed to exit the hill." Stoch nodded and went to get his troops in line.

Without another word Abnaric teleported to a large cave. At his arrival, three trolls rushed him. All stopped their charge when he held his ring aloft. Seeing the hesitant look on their faces, he hurried inside. As he reached the central cavern, Abnaric heard a gruff voice snap, "It is a small price. Entertain and I release the other sluts."

Ro'beall hissed, "I have given you two chances to stop Gwaltor. My next words destroy you." Abnaric roared, "As do mine. Does Mallen Trow war on Kototh's chosen? My knowledge does not name him a fool." Gwaltor hedged, "Welcome, mortal. We are insuring that these creatures serve you." Abnaric snapped, "I do not have time for troll rhetoric. One half of the price promised is forfeit."

Seeing the Troll's fury, Abnaric offered, "If you wish, I shall ask Father to discuss the situation with Mallen Trow. I will abide by their judgment." Gwaltor hissed, "It shall not be necessary. The host has been gathered for a month."

Abnaric raised his eyebrows as Gwaltor waved for the Baobhan Sith to be released. When they stood with Ro'beall, he warned, "If your actions alerted the Elves I shall not be lenient. Take us to your westernmost tunnel."

With a surly hiss Gwaltor rose and headed out of the cavern. Abnaric joined the Baobhan Sith and followed. As they walked, he said, "When this begins join Stoch with the humans. He will need your magic." Ro'beall replied, "I would rather stay my Abnaric." He snapped, "Gwaltor will pay another time. Obey my orders." After she nodded, Abnaric asked, "Why do they hate you so much?"

Ro'beall whispered, " I hunted them fiercely before the vow. They are a living insult. Except for the demands of war, I would hunt them still. I give the slime no doubt of that fact."

Abnaric nodded. According to elf lore he studied, trolls were Kototh's imitation of elves. Ro'beall believed this to be so. She did not believe imitation should be viewed as flattery. Her hatred of trolls was palpable. His magician queen was a warrior first.

Reaching a dead end, Gwaltor snapped, "This is the terminus, wizard." Ordering the trolls to withdraw, and dispatching the Baobhan Sith to Stoch, Abnaric called the might of the Earth. When a powerful gnome faced him, he stated, "To the west of this tunnel is Eilania. I require this tunnel to be extended silently to within one foot of their halls."

The gnome laughed, "A humorous suggestion, mortal." Abnaric snapped, "A command, son of the earth. I will pay if it is accomplished within twelve hours." The Gnome leered, "What do you offer, mortal?" Abnaric stated, "Eifty Rubies, Twenty diamonds and a tenth part of the wealth of Eilania."

Eyes burning, the Gnome replied, "We accept the gems now." Abnaric tossed him a heavy bag. After seeing the size and quality of the stones, the Gnome melted into the earth. A moment later, he returned with four others and began the labor.

Abnaric watched appreciatively. As a gnome struck a shard loose, it melted into the earth. The tunnel advanced almost faster then he could walk leaving no detritus. These spirits of the earth were truly magical. After five hours, they ceased their labors.

While the others departed, the first Gnome stated, "I shall return for our treasure. See it is left at this place in the tunnel." Abnaric promised, "Without fail, earth lord," and released his hold on the gnome.

Abnaric returned to Gwaltor and ordered, "The host takes its place in the tunnel in seven hours. When I open it attack. Capture everyone you can. Rape no one until I examine them."

Gwaltor hissed, "You destroy the joy of battle, mortal!" Abnaric roared, "I no longer tolerate your petulance. See that my orders are obeyed to the letter or my vengeance will be horror." Eists balled, Gwaltor snapped, "T obey your ring, mortal! Do not think I accept threats as well. You are a soft clot of earth I crush when T will."

Abnaric's temper exploded with that. The maelstrom screamed forward as he bellowed his spell. Within seconds, three hundred pounds of loam sat where Gwaltor had been. Turning with eyes blazing green, Abnaric roared, "Do any others question my right?"

No one spoke. As his fury eased, an immense Troll King stepped forward saying, "You are the chosen and my son is a fool. Do no more and I lead this attack." Abnaric snapped, "I stay my hand. He returns when the battle is won."

The troll bowed and began issuing Abnaric's orders as soon as they were given. When the cavern was bustling, Abnaric stated, "Your presence does not change our agreement." The troll replied, "I am not here to exert leverage. It is Mallen Trow's will that this thing be done. As his chosen, 1 am here to insure it. There is no need to say more." Abnaric nodded. After a short rest, he went to the terminus of the tunnel and waited for the host to gather. He had fifty trolls here and forty men outside with Ro'beall. With the magic at their command, he had no doubt his side would be victorious. When the troll stood at his side, Abnaric stated, "I will remove the stone. Enter silently until you are discovered, then take them."

The troll whispered the order to the smaller kings behind him. At his nod, Abnaric cast destruction at the terminus, shattering the foot of stone that barred them from Filania.

As the dust settled, arrows cut into the tunnel. Abnaric hissed as a shaft bounced off his chest. Without his magics, he would be dead. He roared a chant and swept the corridor with fire. In its wake the trolls advanced to war.

Abnaric watched the progress of his host. He was in the midst of a pitched battle. Watching the turmoil, he saw nothing but elf warriors opposing the trolls. Somehow, they were aware of his assault. It would not be an assured rout. Taking a large troll with him, he went insubstantial and walked around the conflict in hopes of taking them in the rear.

As Abnaric hurried through rooms and walls, he noticed no one except warriors. The hill was vacant. All the women and children were gone. He continued forward. If Ro'beall fails the raid is for nothing, Abnaric hissed. My spell reguires nine elf virgins. They must be here.

Coming into the main hall, Abnaric saw two elf warriors waiting for him. Returning to solidity, he ordered the troll forward and began a spell. Before he finished the troll was a bloody chunk of meat. The elf that killed him ran forward as the other made sure of the kill.

Roaring with power, Abnaric released his lightning. The bolt did not slay the warrior. It tore his sword away, hand and all. As the elf fell to his knees, Abnaric slammed him into coma and turned his might on the other.

Abnaric began to move toward the battle. As he did, he heard whimpers from the sacred nave. Smiling, he turned his attention to that room. Melting the door with a blast of flame, he peered inside. A cordon of young women stood protecting twenty children.

Summoning a new magic of his devising, Abnaric filled the chamber with an immense ball of tar. While the victims struggled to free themselves, Abnaric seized control of their minds, one by one, and held them. When all knelt and waited, he ran to the entrance of the hill.

Abnaric scowled as he noticed the battle situation. The trolls were surrounded. Female warriors attacked their rear. Snarling, he opened the gate of the hill and summoned Stoch to join the attack. The women must have waited invisibly until the trolls fought their way past.

The planner of this defense was no fool, Abnaric decided. A shame he was on the wrong side. Taking position behind the elves, Abnaric scorched their backs with flame, burning a few trolls in the process. Stoch overwhelmed the few elves that still stood. Trolls turned to face the females who plagued them.

As Abnaric watched sadly, Ro'beall brought the one handed elf to watch the slaughter. Seeing it, he painfully shouted, "The elves surrender." Hesitantly, the remaining combatants dropped their weapons. When the trolls continued to batter them, Abnaric snapped, "Remember your orders!"

Abnaric watched in amazement as Ro'beall set the elf down gently and treated the stump of his arm. Seeing his look, she stated, "In another life this was my youngest son." The elf replied, "No longer. You betrayed Dagda and the Sidh."

Ro'beall glared silently and continued her work. Abnaric could see the division in her people was total. Both sides stubbornly clung to the belief that the others were traitors. Sadly, he noted, they were both right. Elf and Eaerry betrayed by signing the Convocation. The others betrayed by siding with Kototh. Who was to say which decision was worse?

The large king stepped forward streaming blood and smiling. Seeing the wounded elf, he said, "We claim him as part of our prize." Abnaric snapped, "It was agreed that T divide the spoils. He is mine."

The troll hissed and rejoined his host. For a moment, it seemed they would attack Abnaric's mercenaries. They were dissuaded by Abnaric's glare and the glint of steel in the hands of Stoch's men.

When all the prisoners and loot were gathered, Abnaric stated, "Because of Gwaltor you are due a quarter of the loot. Take the lot by the nave and the five elves closest to it. When we depart, there will be a pile of treasure left in the tunnel. It is not to be touched."

As the trolls spat, Abnaric added, "Do what you wish with this place after our departure. It is yours." Efficiently, Stoch's men applied chains to the Elves. He had fourteen warriors, including their King, twenty women, twelve young virgins and twenty three children.

Turning to the King, Abnaric asked, "Are any of these virgins your daughters?" The King sighed, "All elves here are my children." Abnaric snapped, "You know what I mean." The King hissed, "I tell you nothing until the day I slay you."

Sighing, Abnaric had the man gagged and led away. After Ro'beall pointed out the others who needed to be gagged, they were led out of the hill and chained inside covered wagons. anud said, "We move down the south trail. With fair luck we shall be in the desert by dawn."

Abnaric nodded, "Deliver the cargo to the academy in Shieram." Turning to Stoch, he added, "When it is done, anud and Bo come to Rogh'sa. Keep the ten best men in your troop and run the operation in Gom. Pay what you must and release the rest."

As he culled out nine virgins and the King, Bo came up hesitantly saying, "Uh, Abnaric, I, well, uh." Abnaric chuckled, "Speak up." The man hedged, "I met this lady from Roghara and she kinda wants me to. I really like her."

Abnaric grasped his shoulder smiling, "I release you. I'll see Dax knows where you are when I get him healed." Bo hugged Abnaric beaming, "I'm sorry but you don't need me much. She’s a real nice lady."

Forcing a heavy bag of gold into his hands, Abnaric winked, "Have a good life. If you or your descendants ever have a need I will be there." Smiling Bo walked toward the village.

Abnaric sighed as he left. Though he would miss the man's devotion, Bo was right. He no longer needed a muscleman. The point where physical danger truly threatened him was gone. He wasn’t cheating at cards and running whores. He was a mage deciding the fate of Empires.

Extending a hand, Abnaric helped Ro'beall shuttle her women and the ten captives to the palace. Once there, he asked, "What do you want to do with him?" Ro'beall replied, "Arilon would prefer death." Abnaric snapped, "He shall not have it. He remains a prisoner or I release him with a curse that prevents interference. Choose."

She answered, "Release him." Abnaric sighed, "As you command, my gueen." He was reticent to accede to her will. If she could win him over, he would be a great asset. Sadly, he had the man chained and set his curses in place.

When he finished, Abnaric teleported him to the northern shores of Shanda. Arilon put his remaining hand to his sword and walked away. He was compelled to leave the Southern Continent. Only the end of Abnaric Elgar's service to Kototh could break the curse. Ro'beall's son could have no part in achieving that end. Sighing Abnaric transported himself to his tower in Elga and slept soundly. As he dreamed, he saw Emperors carry him to a high throne on their shoulders while all the women he passed stripped and begged for chains. Smiling, he realized it was no longer impossible. The future was his to shape.

Miryan shook Abnaric awake a few hours later blurting, "There is a messenger from Father. You must come." Throwing clothes on, Abnaric followed Miryan. The man sitting in the hall was dusty from the road and a bit effete in appearance. He bowed, "I am ordered to speak with you, lord Elgar."

Taking a seat on the Baronial throne, Abnaric signed for the man to begin. The man stated, "Father informs you that a woman entered the empire. She and her companion are on a great guest. Both are in the hands of a Baron and the Emir of Shazistan. They fail without immediate aid."

Abnaric asked, "Why does this concern us?" The man stated, "The woman's efforts allow us to form a high point for the ritual. She seeks the liberation of the white Hecate. I can aid your spell with that one. You must save their lives and see that they meet me."

While Abnaric considered, the man added, "Father does not wish the woman to know your hand aids her. She cannot be depended on if knowledge of his support is clear." Abnaric sighed, "Leave the details of her whereabouts and return to Rogh'sa. I shall see they meet you."

The man replied, "My talents are not equal to your order. She dies within days without aid." Pursing his lips, Abnaric stated, "We leave in an hour. Fat something and make ready. I will return when it is time." The man nodded and slumped back in his chair.

When the visitor slept, Abnaric read more details from the man's mind. The woman was a Djani named Rala. The man was a Kameri named Loran Rochana. Thinking of Kaprie, Abnaric smiled sternly. He had to be a relation. If he was anything like Kaprie he was not to be taken lightly.

Weighing the knowledge he gained, Abnaric donned his full arsenal of magic and called Miryan. Sternly, he said, "I go to the woman's aid. She will see you and three of your sisters. Get them from those who dwell in the area. From now you are a Duchess. See your sisters know it."

Miryan opened her mouth with astonishment. Abnaric soothed, "It is a place you have earned, my love." Hugging him, she promised, "We shall make you proud, Abnaric. The woman is as good as saved."

Abnaric ordered, "Save the man also. They are a stiff necked lot but I owe a debt to one. Free them, humiliate them a bit, then leave both where I put their possessions."

When the messenger was dropped off in Rogh'sa, Abnaric took Miryan to collect her troops. As the dawn sun rose, he watched invisibly as she led them into the surf. The woman and her man were buried to the neck in the sand. When the surf rose, they would drown. As soon as it was clear the ladies would save them in time, Abnaric went to the castle up the rise and searched out their property.

Examining each item, he smiled and moved it all to a trash heap near the beach. After his telepathic nod to Miryan, she ended the jesting and had the pair carried to the heap, ignoring the woman's insistent demands.

Abnaric smiled as he gazed at the nude lady. She was an extremely voluptuous creature. Sadly, as her banter continued, it became clear she was also stupid. Pure bitchiness and the strong arm of her friend got her this far. Her mental talents certainly had no part in explaining their success. Though, he leered, her body most definitely was a viable asset.

When the man began to stir, Abnaric ordered the Baobhan Sith away. Miryan came to him asking, "Shall we leave?" Abnaric stated, "Send the others home. We will transmute our appearance and lead them to the road before their escape is discovered." A few minutes later, Loran and Rala met two travelers who took pity on them. After seeing to their wounds and giving them food, they helped them to the road and pointed the way to Rogh'sa. Noting the wound on Loran's gut, Abnaric said, "I'd have the wizard at the Eater handle that. Leave an ugly scar."

Seeing Rala's eyes light up, Abnaric almost roared with laughter. He gave them directions. While they made the trip he followed invisibly. When they were safely in the hands of the messenger, he teleported himself and Miryan to collect Anara.

That afternoon, the three of them arrived at the estate. His mercenaries were camped outside. At the wall were eight guards with bows and an angry matron. Indicating he wanted to talk, Abnaric stepped forward. The matron hissed, "If you are in charge of those brigands leave

at once." Abnaric stated, "They are my men. I am Abnaric Elgar, Baron of Elga and rightful owner of this estate. Depart in peace." The woman roared, "T will do no such thing! I have lived here for ten years."

Handing her the deed, Abnaric observed, "I am prepared to be patient. I will not tolerate screeching." The woman looked at the deed, balled it up and ordered, "Kill him!" Abnaric glowered angrily as four bolts bounced off his body.

Eyes glowing, Abnaric seized the woman's mind with a spell and dragged her out. As she obeyed, her men leapt the wall and ran. After ordering his men inside Abnaric leered, "You were given a chance to see reason, madam. I hope you enjoy chains."

As Miryan and anud's cousin chained and stripped the woman, the other mercenaries brought a boy and two teenage girls out. Abnaric cursed his luck. Lifting the woman's chin, he asked, "Are these your children?" The woman replied in the affirmative.

Abnaric scowled, "Because you have the luck to be fertile I offer twenty gold and save escort to Musci for yourself and the children. Eailing your agreement you will be enslaved."

When he released the spell, the woman roared, "T will see you executed." Sadly, Abnaric stated, "That is not approval." He enslaved all four of them. After delivering them to his tower in Elga, he returned to examine his new manor.

After they sweated it out in the prison tower, some sense might find its way into her thick skull. If not, she was a slave. He would see that the others were cared for. Reminding himself to check on Herela he entered his new estate.

For the next two days, Abnaric put the estate in order. The more objectionable property of the woman's was burned. When the place was serviceable, Abnaric ordered, "Leave ten men here. The rest are to travel to Rogh'sa. T will meet you near the Eortress of Iron in eight days."

As the mercenaries set into motion, Abnaric teleported to the outskirts of Musci. After filing his deed, and claiming all rights due his mother, he left the city. The registrar informed him about an aunt and three cousins. They were all in chains in his tower.

In addition to the estate, they owned some houses in the city. All were rented to peasants and tradesmen. Eventually, Abnaric decided, he would examine them. For now, there was no reason to disturb the families who lived there.

Closing with Miryan and Anara, he transported them to the outskirts of Rogh'sa. As he landed, another wizard appeared saying, "This is the Red Hand's property. We do not want you here." Abnaric replied, "I am here. You may talk or do battle. Either option suffices."

When the wizard began to chant, Abnaric blew him along the ground with a sudden gale snapping, "Tell your masters I seek them at my leisure. Cross my path again and you die." Ashen, the wizard stood and disappeared. Miryan noted, "He was terrified." Abnaric spat, "If that was the best they can send they are mine. He was little more then a novice hedge magician."

After Anara and Miryan were settled, Abnaric sent a call to Ro'beall. She arrived with Cybel reporting, "All things are in readiness in Gom and the south. The Shurani expect you in three weeks. I have delivered the virgins and let the Shurani know they must stay perfect."

Abnaric nodded, "That's good." Ro'beall added, "There is strange news. A creature raided the river pen and killed five elves they were holding." Abnaric sighed, "That would be Leon." Ro'beall asked, "Leon?"

Abnaric replied, "My revenge on the Asrai and a surprise for the Daoine Sidhe if needed. He is walking death for the Sidh. Only the Baobhan Sith are safe. Anyplace the Sidh are, on land or in the water, he can get them." Ro'beall shivered, "Make no more my Abnaric. It sounds disgusting."

Promising nothing, Abnaric kissed her good bye. Turning to the women, he said, "I will be out for a while. Be alert for assassins. The Red Hand may try to attack me through you." Facing Cybel and winking, Abnaric stated, "If so, dear sister, do whatever you wish." As Cybel crowed happily, he left the room. He had a brother to meet.

Rogan happily filed the points on his whip. As he turned back to the nude woman on his rack he saw a stern man standing beside it. The man stated, "You're a real sicko aren't you brother?" Rogan dropped the whip and paled.

After relaxing the tension on the woman, Abnaric commented, "I had a welcoming committee. Do you know how the Red Hand knew to look for me?" His brother purred, "Assuredly not, brother. I am pleased you are here."

Abnaric felt a magical compulsion seeking to force him to believe Rogan. Stifling it, he snapped, "No time for lies. Your gift is obviously the power to influence people. It will not work. Try again and T will have your tongue removed."

For effect, he brought a red glow to his eyes and let green fire dance around his body. As Rogan fell to his knees begging, Abnaric offered, "Perhaps I will let this woman decide your fate?" Rogan blurted, "Not necessary, brother. I am yours to command. Might I have more money?"

Abnaric inguired, "Have you achieved the goal I set?" Rogan stated, "I am under chamberlain to the Court." Abnaric asked, "What will it cost to become Chamberlain?"

Rogan laughed, "The existing Chamberlain has to die. After that, I would need to buy the post from the Emir of Acghiza and Mullabi." Abnaric ordered, "The man dies tonight." Releasing the woman, Abnaric stated, "Inform her owner she escaped." After tossing Rogan a bag of gold Abnaric disappeared. Rogan leered as he saw the contents. Perhaps he would be glad his older brother came after all.

After clothing the woman, Abnaric gave her a small pouch and saw her onto a boat for Salag. She praised, "I shall never forget what you have done. It has been years since I have been home." Abnaric nodded, "Say nothing about what you heard and do not return." The woman blessed, "Morrigan love you, sir," and went to her cabin.

Having no doubt the war goddess of the Sidh would most certainly not love him, Abnaric journeyed to the home of the Chamberlain. Tnvisibly, he walked the halls. When he reached the man's bedroom, he stepped inside and stopped his heart.

Sighing, Abnaric returned to the women. Any fool could be an assassin. It took a calm mind and a willingness to kill. Entering his room at the inn, Abnaric found Cybel sucking the life from a man with passion while Miryan sat on another’s back. Anara stood at the window with her bow ready to kill.

Abnaric noted, "I see my warning fell on deaf ears." The man under Miryan hissed, "We will slay you." Slapping his head, Miryan stated, "If you must speak, call my King master!" Seeing the humor shining in

Miryan's eyes, Abnaric allowed her to play out the game. Within an hour of torment, the man on the bed was unconscious. The other was licking Miryan's shoes.

Shaking his head, Abnaric had them both chained and gagged. These were assassins of the invincible Red Hand, the hoary forty of legend. It was enough to make him vomit. He was more than either before he cursed Bol. They should be ashamed to dishonor the Red Hand’s history with their existence.

Before dawn came, two more waves of assassins and three demons came. The demons were banished. As he ate breakfast, Abnaric looked down at the chained forms of seven embarrassed magicians. Smiling, he said, "At this rate, I will need a new room. This one is filling fast and there are thirty three more of you." Kicking one, he asked, "Are you all incompetent?"

Walking through the door and becoming solid, a wizard stated, "Not all." Abnaric offered, "Have some breakfast. As I said, we can talk or I kill you all." The wizard noted, "We cannot allow such threats to go unpunished." Abnaric explained, "Luckily it is no threat, Cerel. Unless you swear allegiance T slay you." He asked, "How do you know me?" Abnaric laughed, "I just read it in your mind. Didn't feel a thing did you?"

Cerel blanched. Abnaric stated, "You have talent. Maybe seven or eight others might. The rest of your people, if these are a fair sample, are scum. Send them away or kill them. Those who remain become more powerful then they ever dreamed. The assassin trade is a paltry vocation for wizards."

Smiling greedily, Cerel stated, "I keep our properties in Rogh'sa and all holdings of the slain." Abnaric lifted a glass of juice saying, "To the death of the Red Hand." Cerel smiled. After sipping his juice, he slit the throats of the men on the floor and departed.

Miryan said, "We made no deal?" Abnaric shrugged, "He is probably their best wizard. He is afraid of me and greedy. My guess is Cerel will kill the incompetent and lie about the others running off to escape my might."

As she nodded, Abnaric added, "When he's done cutting his defense away T'll deal with him. Until then, its enough having him out of our way." Miryan smiled, "You are wonderfully devious, my King."

Abnaric ordered, "Inform the constables the Baron of Elga has slain seven Red Hand assassins. He expects the reward as soon as possible." Laughing, Miryan left. Such an act would bring notoriety and an invitation to the palace.

Chapter Thirteen

Miryan's analysis was correct. A Guard Colonel arrived with an invitation to the palace that afternoon. Abnaric entered a gilt carriage with his women and rode there. As he crossed the bridge to Royal lsland, he bent to Cybel's ear saying, "There will be sex. Taste as many men as you want. Only take a little from each. Use their lust to control them." Cybel smiled and kissed him happily.

Abnaric gazed at his sister thoughtfully. The more men she took the prettier she got. Eventually her subtle power would rival his own. She would be a woman no whole man could resist with a host of powerful toys desperate to serve her.

He would have to make sure she remembered who she had to thank. When the Rogizini affair was over she would help Stoch consolidate Elgar power in Gom. It was a perfect hunting ground for her.

As they exited the carriage, Rogan came out smiling. Cybel snapped, "Rogan! You never sent the present you promised! Liar!" Seeing his amazement, Abnaric chided, "It is a family reunion. Let's talk in your office before I meet the emperor."

Walking through the crowded foyer, Abnaric noticed Anara's eyes widen as she saw a cruelly abused Eaerry being led upstairs. Abnaric snapped, "You want to stay with me." She hooded her eyes and followed.

When Rogan closed the door, he stated, "My appointment is official tonight. Perhaps you and the ladies would like to help celebrate." Abnaric stated, "We are not here to play. There are things you must do." Rogan shrugged, "Whatever you want."

After making sure the room was secure, Abnaric listed, "First, Anara was to get to the heir and seduce him. When that is accomplished, you and Cybel poison the Emperor. I want him dead and his heir on the throne."

Rogan snapped, "That is impossible!" Smiling, Abnaric asked, "Why?" Rogan replied, "The heir is only interested in toy soldiers. The Emperor has everything he eats and drinks tasted."

Abnaric inguired, "Even his women?" Rogan's jaw dropped. After a moment, he roared with laughter then chuckled, "No. I can't say he goes that far." Abnaric ordered, "See Cybel and l are introduced to him. He dies of a heart attack soon after having her. As for the heir, he will be Anara's toy as soon as they are alone."

Smiling, Abnaric added, "For that purpose, get the dress blouse of a guard uniform and a helmet. We present her as a toy soldier. I am sure the Emperor will appreciate the joke."

Rogan stared at his brother with admiration. Who would have believed the tower boy could be such a devil? No wonder he handled father so easily. Abnaric was a first rate monster. Just the kind of man to make it big.

Bowing low, Abnaric acknowledged the welcome. The Emperor stated, "You claimed a large sum Baron." Abnaric stated, "It was earned, your majesty. Please administer its use to aid victims of the group. I guarantee their eradication." The Emperor chuckled, "Strong words."

Abnaric replied, "Truth, your majesty. My agents hunt as we speak. I will not suffer them to live." After loud applause showed the opinion of the notables, the Emperor stated, "We are pleased. Consider yourself welcome in our palace at any time." With an affected bow of gratitude, Abnaric stepped back. Rogan stated, "My liege, at your pleasure, my brother, Baron Elgar, would like to introduce his companions and present a gift for your son."

The Emperor smiled. Abnaric stepped forward again with Miryan and Cybel at his sides. Anara walked behind him in nothing but a guardsman's blouse and helmet. Abnaric introduced, "Your majesty, the Baroness Elgar." After Miryan's bow, he said, "And my young sister Cybel." Smiling, Cybel curtsied and flashed her power into the Emperor for a split second.

The Emperor roared, "My god, sir, your sister is astounding." While Cybel blushed as planned, Abnaric said, "She is a bit shy my liege. My father kept her locked away. I fear she knows little about the world." The Emperor leered, "We make it our duty to instruct her. Come here sweet girl."

Cybel went to the Emperor and blushed as he pulled her into his lap. After fondling her crudely, the Emperor sighed, "She is virgin." Abnaric replied, "Most certainly, sir. You may change that if you wish. I also have a present for your son." The Emperor snapped, "To the devil with him. I will see your lands doubled for this gift alone."

Moving aside to reveal Anara, Abnaric suggested, "I think the heir might enjoy his new toy soldier." The Emperor stared at Anara. The blouse only came halfway down her hips, leaving no doubt as to her sex. Abnaric counted cadence and marched her around while the Emperor roared with laughter. Finally, he chuckled, "Take her to him. It is time he had a soldier like that in his fool army."

Leaving Miryan to mingle, Abnaric followed Rogan to the heir's suite. As they entered, the man screamed, "Be careful! You'll step on the fifth regiment of horse." Rogan smiled, "My lord, a Baron from Araou has a soldier for your collection." The man clapped, "Wonderful! Where is it?"

Abnaric signaled Anara. As she entered he watched the heir. The man's reaction troubled him. Judging his anger when he saw Anara, Abnaric decided the man was faking insanity. That was a wise choice given court politics in the empire. His three older brothers were slain for showing competence.

The heir hissed, "That is not a soldier. It's a nasty old girl." Angrily, he ripped the blouse and helmet off her. He glared, "Get that camp follower away from my army. We have a battle to fight!"

Abnaric stated, "I am afraid she is yours." Turning to Anara, he ordered, "You want to make love to the heir." Anara began walking toward the screaming boy. Abnaric closed the door and left them alone.

After a moment, he heard Anara's scream. Entering, he saw the heir standing over her with a raised scimitar. It was not the crude grasp of a boy. It was the grip of a swordsman. Immediately, the heir turned on Abnaric. Eire shot from the blade. Unaffected, Abnaric snared his mind with a jerk of his hand. Sternly, he held him while Anara jabbed her poison ring into his shoulder, as planned.

When the drug took hold, Abnaric hissed, "You love Anara totally. She will be Empress when you take the throne." The heir sighed, "Jazil is. I love Anara. Be my Empress Anara." Abnaric ordered her to comply and left them locked in each other’s arms.

Turning to Rogan, Abnaric stated, "We return to the orgy. See that no one disturbs them. Who is Jazil?" Rogan shrugged, "It is a common name. Could be anyone from a slave to a Baroness." Abnaric made a note to find out.

After posting guards, Rogan followed his brother with pride. He would leave on other business. When he did, the empire belonged to Rogan Elgar. He would have his weight in gold and his pick of women to flay.

Abnaric watched with satisfaction as the Emperor ravaged Cybel. The membrane he placed in her contained a potent, slow death poison. When he absorbed it through his sensitive flesh, he was doomed. The poison was native to another realm of existence entirely. Abnaric had the only antidote. Cybel took it before they entered the hall.

Satisfied, the Emperor passed her to a nearby friend and drank a glass of wine. Seeing Abnaric, he said, "Sir, I name you Count of Araou. You command the southern third of the province." Moving forward, Abnaric thanked him. Rogan stated, "I will draw up the writ immediately sire."

Taking Cybel from the Emperor's friend, Abnaric winked, "My sister needs to clean herself. She will return." When they were alone, Abnaric cleansed the poison from her.

Cybel cooed happily and stroked his hair. Abnaric snapped, "Remember your restraint." Cybel pouted, "I don't see why I can't taste you. Rogan let me taste him." Abnaric replied, "I am not Rogan."

Seeing Abnaric's mood, Cybel shrugged, "Okay. I have a whole roomful of men to taste," and rushed back to the party. Abnaric sighed, hoping the men were too wasted to realize how strange the Elgar virgin acted. Perhaps they would write her off as a closet nympho that can't get enough once she gets started. He hoped so. The Emperor would be dead in three hours.

As Abnaric returned to the orgy, a stern looking man near forty intercepted him. After gazing into Abnaric's eyes a moment, the man said, "I am Riza the Younger. Clients of mine asked me to speak with you. Please accompany me."

Giving Miryan a telepathic tap on the shoulder, Abnaric fell in behind the man. Going up two stories they arrived in a private room. The man extended his arm for Abnaric to precede him. He replied, "After you, sir." The man pursed his lips with irritation.

As Riza entered, Abnaric felt the guesting discharge of a small ward. With a wave of his hand, he dispelled it and entered as well. Riza raised an eyebrow. Abnaric stated, "I do not choose to be read. I'm sure you allow me my privacy."

Pointing to a chair, Riza sat and glared sternly as Abnaric sat on the bed instead. Abnaric noted, "Neither do I care to be paralyzed by the chair. Can we end the tricks?" Riza observed, "You may have killed the assassins."

Abnaric said, "In truth, 1 arranged their demise. The result is the same. What do you want?" Riza smiled, "As you discovered the might of the empire no longer rests with the Red Hand. 1 am one of those who wield it. In the name of my clients I would know your purpose."

Smiling, Abnaric answered, "There is no reason I can think of why you need to know." Riza offered, "We prefer secure fiefdoms. You are, excuse the analogy, a barbarian trampling our garden. Would you accept a retainer to find adventure elsewhere? I am empowered to offer three hundred gold coins."

Abnaric laughed, "I toss that amount to flunkies regularly. My purpose is my business. If your clients wish to preserve their fiefdoms, stay out of my way." Riza scowled, "You are arrogant! Unless we have an understanding you will not leave this room." Abnaric snapped, "The day will never come when you have the power to best me."

Standing himself, Riza clapped his hands hard saying, "Put I can hold you," as he started a spell. Abnaric countered the spell. As he did, Riza began another and a man bearing a heavy crossbow entered. As Abnaric countered the spell and drove Riza hard into the wall, a silver knife slit the archer's throat.

Eorcing Riza to his knees with the pressing weight of his power, Abnaric stated, "If you dare face me again, I will see you writhe in agony forever. Tell your clients to accept the inevitable. Stay out of my way."

With a quick motion, Abnaric drove a bolt of power into Riza's face and left him on the floor unconscious and bleeding. Kissing Miryan, he led her out of the room and closed the door. After changing the blood on the floor to water he led her to the party. Miryan said, "There was another. I put him in an empty room."

Abnaric praised, "You did an excellent job, especially in pulling the archer in while I disposed of the wizard. You will be rewarded." Stroking his side, Miryan asked, "May I name my own reward?" Abnaric shrugged, "Why not?" Miryan leered happily.

Returning to the hall, Abnaric noted one, pudgy face that seemed the most surprised to see him return. He knew the face from his study of the local power mongers. He had cause to dislike him given what almost happened to Herela.

Walking over, Abnaric stated, "The merchant Mullabi, a pleasure. Though I am sure you had nothing at all to do with what occurred upstairs, I want to let you know something." He hissed, "If it is ever repeated I will destroy you." Mullabi choked, "What insidious effrontery! You will regret this insult."

Abnaric snapped, "Have your try, fat man. Prepare for the end when you fail. It will surely come." Seeing their master choking with apoplexy, his slave girls stroked his body to relax him. Grinning, Abnaric collected Miryan and Cybel and left the palace.

As his carriage crossed the bridge, Abnaric heard the palace bells toll. They called on all the citizens to pray for the divine Emperor in his hour of sickness. Abnaric watched as citizens throughout the city dropped to their knees. His driver stopped the carriage to get down and pray.

Abnaric noted, "Politics, girls," and got out to kneel as well. After a few minutes, he roused the teary eyed driver and gave him a gold coin for his misery. After collecting their property, they were taken to a new hotel.

Elgar had no wish to stay in the same room two nights in a row on this visit to Rogh'sa. Besides, House Mullabi owned the hotel they were in before. This hotel was not as well appointed. A new house owned it. They had nothing to do with the Mullabi Empire.

Abnaric stepped in with his women. Instantly, a smallish, hyperactive man met him stating, “A pleasure, your lordship, ladies. How may we be of service?" Abnaric replied, "We require a secure suite." The man winked, "I would certainly secure such valuable commodities. Our finest suite, with guards and all amenities, is five gold coins a night."

Miryan guipped, "I provide all the amenities the Baron requires." The man leered, "I am sure you are well able to do so madam. Nonetheless, we have many amenities. The price does not vary. Perhaps you would like a lesser accommodation."

Abnaric smiled. The man was an engaging little ferret. As he talked with them, he kept edging them further and further into the lobby. Seeing Abnaric's look, the man bargained, "We have a three day rate that allows no discount but includes three basic meals each day." Abnaric stated, "If I am satisfied with your guards I take the suite for three days."

Leading them in, the man waved to a Kacili in chainmail saying, "This is Ali Mahomet ben Hoerga, the chief of my guard staff. He will be honored to help you select your staff once we arrange terms." Abnaric stated, "I assume cash in advance is acceptable."

"Eminently preferred," the man beamed, "Might I interest you in a late night snack or a turn in the casino? You have little need for the paltry enticements of our brothel." Cybel giggled and flashed a hooded look at the man. When the man struggled, then continued his pitch, Abnaric smirked, "We will sample as much as we can before we depart. Shall we take care of business?"

When he had paid, Abnaric returned and followed Ali to the basement. Walking through the casino, they reached the guard barracks. Twelve men sat inside. Ali stated, "You may select two, sir. Shall I have them stand?" In Kacili, Abnaric replied, "Any two Kacili warriors suffice."

After a flowing bow, Ali called two names smiling, "My cousins. Both are excellent swordsmen and alert." Turning to them, he snapped, "You are to guard the Count's suite. See he suffers no embarrassment."

Extending an arm, Ali led them to the brothel. As they entered, he stated, "All suites come with a bath servant. Select the person of your choice." Cybel cooed, "Ooh. Can I have the red headed man?"

Abnaric shrugged, "As you wish." Turning to Ali, he stated, "The red headed man for my sister. See he knows he only serves the women." Ali bowed, "He shall be instructed, baron."

Leaving the brothel, Ali noted, "We have a wide range of recreational substances. You are allowed to select a small amount of one at no charge." Miryan cooed, "Cerulean Red! It is marvelous." Chuckling, Abnaric nodded and Ali gave Miryan a small vial of red powder.

As they left the hall, Abnaric asked, "Are there any other freebies?" Ali sighed, "Alas nothing beyond use of a tub, linen, complementary towels, soaps and the like. All else must be purchased. We seek to meet almost any request."

Abnaric was curious. He asked, "What reguest won't you honor?" Ali sternly stated, "We supply no tools or restraints capable of severe damage. We do not tolerate cheaters. Neither do we deal in children. We will not cater to foul rites of magic or abet depraved murder. Beyond that, most things are negotiable."

Raising an eyebrow happily, Abnaric stated, "You may tell the manager I will remember this establishment." Ali bowed, "He shall be pleased. May I escort you to your suite?" Abnaric followed the man. When they entered the suite, the guards checked all four rooms and took up positions outside the door.

Throwing herself on a soft couch, Cybel said, "This place is nice. We should stay a while." Abnaric replied, "I will arrange for you to do so. Miryan and I leave soon." Cybel asked, "You are leaving me alone?"

Abnaric chuckled, "Never. Faoud arrives soon. So do the mercenaries. You will never be alone again." Miryan offered, "I am not needed in the south. Perhaps a woman should stay." When Cybel pouted at the idea, Abnaric said, "Good idea. She needs a lady friend."

Near three in the morning, while Miryan wearied him with the affects of Cerulean Red on her body, Abnaric heard the sound of battle outside his window. Jumping up, he moved to investigate. When he looked out the window, Ali yelled, "Sorry to disturb. Attempted trespassing. I have handled it."

Abnaric chuckled and closed the window. An hour after dawn, a bath was rolled into the room by the guards. The redheaded man stood behind it. When the guards left, he asked, "Will the ladies bathe first or shall I wait?" Abnaric shrugged, "See to the ladies."

Bowing, the man led Cybel to the bath and undressed her. After washing her hair, he stripped and got into the bath also. This is a full service hotel, Abnaric mused.

Dressing, Abnaric left the women to their fun. At his command, the guards remained at the door to guard them. He went down to the front desk saying, "We will have breakfast in the restaurant. Can you provide a carriage in two hours?"

The man at the desk, a tall elegant person, stated, "There is a charge for the service. We will open an account." Abnaric stated, "Fine. When does your casino open?" The man replied, "It is always open. Shall I have the ladies informed to meet you there?"

Abnaric asked, "Ladies?" The man answered, "The register indicates that two women were with you when you signed in Baron Elgar. Is that in error?" Abnaric chuckled, "Not at all. T was surprised at your thoroughness. T will meet the ladies in the restaurant. Please tell them to be there in an hour."

Nodding, the man sent a boy up as Abnaric walked down to the casino. After an hour of trying the games, Abnaric went to the restaurant short a few gold. The casino wasn't crooked but the house players were good. He was too badly out of practice to compete without cheating.

As he slid into his chair opposite the women, Cybel giggled, "We gave the bath man a gold coin. He was thorough." Miryan drew her tongue across her lips and smiled lewdly. Abnaric sighed, "I better get someone up here to keep a watch on Miryan. You ladies will corrupt each other."

Miryan laughed, "Not before I collect on your promise." He shrugged, "You did that last night." Miryan snapped, "I didn't! You must still pay me. Please." Abnaric sighed, "As you wish. We can do what you like after we get back from the palace." Miryan stated, "You owe me a full day." Abnaric sighed, "When we have the time."

While they ate and conversed, the man from the night before entered and announced, "Ladies, Gentlemen, by order of the Chamberlain and Grand Vizier, today is a day of mourning. The divine Emperor, Maoud the thirty second, has joined his divine ancestor. The casino and brothel are closed until dawn."

Abnaric kept his face stern. Seeing the tears of the diners around him, he lowered his head and telepathically nudged Miryan. Fighting laughter she broke into tears. Cybel soon joined her. After a few minutes, they began making up praises for their fine Emperor and finished the meal.

Rogan met Abnaric when they reached the palace. All were dressed in pale yellow, the Rogizini color of mourning. Rogan said, "Per custom he resides in the royal vault. The ascension tests will be held at dusk. The Grand Vizier rules until then. Stay out of his way."

Abnaric asked, "Why?" Rogan stated, "The Emir of Acghiza if Grand Vizier. He is also a tyrant and the friend of House Mullabi. If you give the hint of cause he will execute you." Abnaric corrected, "He can try."

Miryan warned, "There are many soldiers. Do not be too confident." Cybel smiled, "The Emir won't hurt anyone." Abnaric stared at her, then smiled also. Looking at Rogan, Cybel noted, "He tasted nice. I am sure he will be kind to my brothers." Rogan laughed and led them out of the office.

When the Emir stormed up, the result was much as Cybel predicted. She curled herself around his arm and flashed her eyes. A moment later, the old Emir was greeting Abnaric like a brother. Abnaric grinned as he saw Mullabi and Riza turn angrily and leave a far foyer.

Abnaric toured the palace for the rest of the day. When dusk came, the High Judge of the Empire, a Count Eantil, arrived to conduct the ascension tests. With other notables, Abnaric watched as the judge performed various magic rites. He then took blood and spit from the heir and added them to a fuming potion.

Handing the goblet to the heir, he orated, "Only one of the blood divine may drink. We await the judgment of the original father. Are you pretender or the thirty third Maoud?" Obediently Maoud drained the goblet.

When he survived, Eantil turned stating, "Let all behold Maoud the thirty third, divine son of the original father, Emperor by right of all Rogizini. Bow before his glory." As he rose from his bow, Abnaric noticed Eantil was gone. He also noticed Riza whispering to Rogan. While Maoud gave his opening address, Abnaric watched his brother in the corner of his eye. Rogan was buying whatever Riza was selling. As Maoud announced his intent to wed Anara, Rogan took the leash of a chained Eaerry woman and led her out of the hall. Riza stared at Abnaric with a triumphant leer.

Abnaric cared little about the fate of the Eaerry. She was insurance at best. He did care about the defection of his brother. That was a capital offense. Sternly, he waited his chance to swear fealty and leave. As he did, he alerted Miryan to prepare for battle and sent Cybel back to the hotel.

Stepping forward an hour later, Abnaric stated, "I swear fealty as Baron of Elga Emperor. May you find joy in your reign." Maoud replied, "At the suggestion of the Empress, we appoint you Wizard to our Court and High Constable of the Imperial Precincts. We also approve our father's elevation of your rank to Count of South Araou."

Abnaric kissed the Emperor's ring and issued a telepathic command to Anara. She stated, "My love, might our Wizard pass the night in the palace." Maoud stated, "We allow this honor for him and his lady. All others abide by the traditional consummation ban." Abnaric thanked him and withdrew.

Glaring at Riza, Abnaric smiled evilly and watched as the high priest performed the engagement ritual. When it was over, he made sure the palace was cleared of all outsiders. This did not include his brother. It did include Riza, the former Court Wizard.

Going to the Emir of Acghiza, Abnaric hinted, "My sister is alone at Drell House. I am sure she would like company." The Emir smiled, "A plebian establishment. I go at once to assure she survives the tedium. Thank you, Count Elgar."

Abnaric watched the man depart. Like Mullabi, he had power but was easily removed. The trouble was Riza and whatever cabal he fronted for in the capital. They would have to be uncovered and smashed. At least he now had the right to move his own people into the palace. That would help when he was away. Perhaps the Emperor should request a unit of Black Guards. A clutch of Pa’Nylasa around the place wouldn't hurt.

Sighing, as the last carriage left and the gates were sealed, Abnaric returned to the palace. As he entered, Miryan stepped to his side from nowhere saying, "Your brother is in a small room by the dungeon. He is torturing the Eaerry. She will die soon."

Abnaric considered letting his brother finish. Sadly, he found reasons not to. First, the bitch was Anara's friend. Second, and most important, he couldn't let Rogan think he put something over on him. Third, Anara’s thoughts indicated the Eaerry had talent and was close to Kazad. If he needed to use the dwarf, two lures were better then one

Turning to Miryan, Abnaric stated, "We will not let him kill her." She hissed, "It is better then a Eaerry deserves. They are worthless, even for traitors." Abnaric replied, "I have my reasons. Show me where they are."

With a sad nod, Miryan complied. They walked down the stairs. After passing through a row of cells, they reached a barracks room. Some ten men slept inside.

After creeping past the sleepers, they turned. Abnaric opened an iron door. Ten feet down, on the right, he could hear the giggles of a man and a woman whimpering. Abnaric whispered, "Stay here until I call." Nodding, Miryan slid into a dark corner.

Rogan leered, "You will love the studded phallus. It will burn you beyond repair." Abnaric snapped, "As I burn you if you don't stop." Rogan jumped. Turning, he said, "Abnaric! T was just having some fun."

Abnaric saw the faerry's eyes lift hopefully to him, then take on a crestfallen look. She read his power. It was nice to know Eaerry truly had that gift. It was mentioned as legend in texts he read. He must find a defense against it.

Hopeful at Abnaric's hesitation, Rogan lifted a scalpel leering, "Care to help? She is quite nice." Abnaric hissed, "I said stop! Where did you get her?" Rogan lied, "I bought her in the slave market. They sold her cheap. She was damaged." Abnaric stated, "Two things I hate are betrayal and flunkies who lie." Rogan snapped, "I did no such thing!"

Abnaric glared at him stating, "We speak about it after you spend some time alone." The Faerry sighed as both men left the room then cringed when the wizard returned and looked down at her. He stated, "On any other day, I would leave you to your fate Alandrys."

She interrupted, "How do you know my name?" Abnaric replied, "You are thought of as a friend by a woman I love. I will take you out of here for her sake." Alandrys sighed, "You are Kotothi." Abnaric shrugged, "I am your escape. Take it or stay. I satisfied my conscience in extending the offer." Sadly, she said, "You will enslave me too."

Failing to keep a thin sneer from his lips, Abnaric snapped, "If I wanted you as a slave we would not be speaking. I do not have all night. Decide." Alandrys nodded, "I will go but I won't do anything to harm my race."

As he released her, Abnaric noted, "That would be included in slavery. I answered the question." Alandrys smiled wanly. Covering her gently, Abnaric carried her out of the room. When they were with Miryan, he cast healing on her and transmuted her blanket into a dress.

Miryan led them out with a scowl. Abnaric brought up the rear and watched the tattered Faerry. She moved well given her condition. She was beautiful for a woman the size of a child. Her size was not something Abnaric could overlook.

The day might come when he would need to seduce a Faerry but he could never love one. The thought of loving a woman the size of a child was revolting. Perhaps he would get over it. Seeing her, Abnaric doubted it.

As they reached the outer courtyard, Riza appeared, "You have my property, High Constable. That is theft." Alandrys snapped, "I am yours no longer. You violated our agreement."

Riza laughed. Alandrys explained, "He agreed I would not have to do anything against my people. A few nights ago he had a demon rape me while other people watched and laughed."

Abnaric stated, "I am well versed in Sidh lore. That is a violation of their mores. As High Constable, I declare your contract with this woman null and void." Riza hissed, "Damn you, Elgar!"

Alandrys roared, "No! Damn you," and began chanting franticly. Riza countered her spell with an attack of his own. Grinning, Abnaric cast a spell to interfere with his. Alandrys spell drove him to the ground, burned and unconscious.

Abnaric sighed, "Criminal assault. I am afraid I must take you and the evidence into custody. Miryan, inform the Emperor I was called away by an emergency. I will be back in the morning."

When Abnaric turned back, he saw the leering Faerry kick Riza. Smiling, he teleported the three of them to his room in the Citadel. Calling a troll, he ordered, "This man is to be stripped and chained in the Red Room. Have Daoine Sidhe remove all items of magic on his person and gag him."

The troll leered at Alandrys and complied. Seeing her back away in concern, he said, "You read the nature of my power. Why react so strongly on seeing proof?" Alandrys trembled with fatigue and fear. Smiling to reassure her, Abnaric said, "Rest here. I will return tomorrow to see what can be done about your wings and other damage."

The Faerry happily got into the bed. Looking into the sky vista, she said, "It is a beautiful room." Abnaric replied, "I find it pleasant. Remain on this floor until I return. Do not enter any room marked with runes. The effort to do so could slay you."

Back in Rogh'sa, Abnaric got Cybel a post as Anara's handmaiden and arranged for Miryan to represent him in court. Afterwards, he returned to the hotel. Finding the owner, he stated, "The Countess and my sister would like to keep the suite and guards for a month. I offer a hundred gold."

The man replied, "A good customer is a treasure, Count. I accept one hundred and twenty gold with a thirty gold deposit for potential extras."

Abnaric shrugged, "T will not bargain." The man sighed, "Then we are at a sad impasse. As all know, Theran Drell's prices are cut to the bone. T have little room for haggling."

Sliding Drell a hundred and fifty gold, Abnaric chuckled, "You will go far merchant. You are a glorious liar." Noting the sale in his book, Drell replied, "With valuable clients such as yourself I hope to do so. Perhaps you would like to match skill in a game of chance?"

Abnaric replied, "I am so far out of practice there would be no chance involved. You would leave me penniless." Theran laughed, "Never, sir. I always leave an opponent walking money. It prevents suicide and brings him back for more."

Happily, Abnaric sat for a while recollecting the good old days and learning more. Drell was a gutter rat out of Com. He used guile and skill to build a small fortune. He was now working, with the help of his wives in—laws, to build that fortune into a dynasty.

Liking the cut of the man, Abnaric offered, "I have contacts in Gom. If you arrange an agreement between your wife's family in the Silver Shadow society and my friends in the Brothers of the Night I will loan any funds you need to destroy House Mullabi."

Drell shrugged, "Bold words. Should I act with no surety of your resources?" Abnaric smiled and slid a pouch over. He always carried a few dozen gems for emergencies. As Drell stared greedily, Abnaric stated, "I will bring more. Do we have a deal?"

Theran extended his hand smiling, "I gratefully accept the loan. T will have an appraisal in the morning." Abnaric nodded and left the room. Carefully, Theran calculated the local value at two hundred and forty gold. By marketing them in the proper markets, he could clear five hundred. He smiled and went to enjoy his wives. His dealings with the Count could make his fortune.

Rogan screamed as he felt the ropes begin to give. He hung upside down over a deep fissure. On leaving, Abnaric rubbed the knot holding him aloft with lard. An hour ago, rats discovered the oily treasure.

When the ropes broke, Rogan fell twenty feet then stopped in midair. After floating over to a narrow ledge, and being flipped so he stood on tiptoes, Rogan saw Abnaric on the other side. Wobbling dangerously, he sobbed, "Please, brother, don't kill me. I didn't mean any harm."

"I thought you were clear on the facts," Abnaric stated, "I was wrong. You betrayed me and lied. If you weren't my brother, you would be in a living hell." Rogan swore, "I will never do it again. Please save me."

Laughing, Abnaric let him stand there until he began to teeter over the edge. As he fell, he pulled Rogan to his side with a bolt of power. While Rogan stood gasping, Abnaric froze his muscles and summoned a white hot iron out of thin air.

Rogan's eyes widened as the iron seared his left inner thigh. Coldly, Abnaric lectured, "You were a trusted brother. Until you prove you can be again this mark will remind you that you are my slave. Do not fail again." Waking the next morning, Rogan shivered at his terrible nightmare. After convincing himself everything was fine, he threw his covers aside. When he saw the brand on his leg, he passed out. It wasn't a dream.

Abnaric grimaced as Miryan scolded, "You promised last night and didn't come. Now you are leaving again! When will you keep your word?" He shrugged, "I said when time allowed. You want a full day now."

Miryan pouted and turned her back. Abnaric sighed, "Okay, I'll pay you double when things slow down. Tell Anara we freed Alandrys. It should improve her mood."

As Miryan turned and stalked into the bedroom, Abnaric teleported himself to the Citadel. Hearing him go, she giggled and jumped around like an ecstatic child. She fooled him. Now she would have two days to enjoy the debt. Smiling, she began rereading the book on Erotic Practices Xil bought for her.

Chapter Fourteen

On his return to the room Alandrys rushed over and helped him remove his cloak. Abnaric accepted the courtesy and asked, "How are you feeling?" She replied, "Stiff. The cuts hurt badly." Abnaric stated, "Come with me."

With no concern for her reaction, he led her down the stairs past Daoine Sidhe, goblins and trolls. She followed hesitantly, at first, then strutted as if it was nothing. Clearing a ward, Abnaric took her into one of his minor labs and consulted a scroll.

While he read, Alandrys looked around. After a moment, she said, "This is all about the Sidh isn't it?" Abnaric guipped, "It pays to know people who want you dead." Alandrys offered, "It is possible for anyone to redeem themselves. I'm sure you haven't done anything as terrible as I did. I was redeemed."

Abnaric stated, "You are Faerry. If they damn you they accuse themselves." As she considered that, he said, "Up on the table." Sighing, Alandrys tried to flutter up. Her wings failed her. After making the climb to the top, she asked, "Do you think you can help?"

"I can begin the basics," Abnaric stated, "Help will arrive tomorrow. She will take care of the major problems." Alandrys inquired, "Who will be helping?" Abnaric replied, "My queen. T have already called her." Alandrys shrugged. Smiling, Abnaric did not disabuse her of the notion that his Queen was human. Her reaction tomorrow would be priceless.

He cast magic and worked creams into her body for the next hour. He had some reaction to the task but nothing near the erotic lust he felt with a full sized woman. Sighing, to make the flushed woman think he was also excited, Abnaric said, "Dress now. We'll get some food."

Alandrys followed him all but skipping with joy. It was clear she was starved. Smiling, he led her into the main hall and sat her next to a Daoine Sidhe. As Abnaric moved to his throne, the Daoine Sidhe said, "Is there no other place it can sit?" Abnaric replied, "That will be her place tonight." Alandrys gave the man a "fuck you" smile and began to eat.

Nodding, Abnaric heard various petioners who came seeking advice or power. Most he advised and sent away. Three he promised to help when time allowed. After a few hours of this, he yawned and called a close. As they left, Alandrys said, "I didn't realize you were so important."

Abnaric lied, "They trust my judgment." Alandrys stated, "They seemed to think differently. Some treated you like a king. The rest were terrified." Regarding the woman, Abnaric decided to phrase his lies carefully. Her empathy was possibly the equal of Ro'beall. Given Ro'beall's nature, Alandrys' seemed stronger.

His Queen used her gifts to shape the flow of power more then she did to understand people. As far as she was concerned it was their obligation to understand her. She was Queen.

After a few minutes, they reached the Red Room. Abnaric opened the door and led her inside. Riza was chained to the wall glaring. Alandrys giggled. Abnaric stated, "He is yours." Smiling, Alandrys walked up and punched the man’s groin.

Abnaric saw the hate grow in her eyes as she scolded Riza. Pulling trays of silver instruments open, he said, "There are other tools in the cabinets. Do not remove his gag unless you remove his tongue."

Alandrys hesitated a moment as he left the room. Finally, she weakened. All the horrible tortures she suffered at his hands, and at his command, Came back to her. Watching through a secret panel, Abnaric saw her total demolition of the man. When he was a worthless shell, she removed his gag crowing, "Now you have paid!"

Riza hissed, "Though an eternity passes, I carry you to hell." Laughing, Alandrys cut out his tongue. As the blood spurted from his mouth, the last of his strength fled and he died. As he did, Abnaric felt a surge of power from below.

Sternly, Abnaric sheared Nergas' power and slammed him into unconsciousness. For the moment their brains were one, Nergas leered, "Another step nearer. You die in Rahab's hand and serve as my potboy forever." Abnaric shivered and paled. Alandrys exited. Seeing his reaction, she assumed it was because of what she did and blushed with embarrassment.

After a moment, Alandrys clutched his hand sighing, "If you knew what he had done to me you would forgive. It was so horrible. This is nothing by comparison." Knowing what she needed, Abnaric picked her up and held her. As she sobbed on his shoulder, he carried her up to the bedroom. Passing a troll, he ordered, "Remove the carcass in the Red Room. Dine on it tonight if you wish."

Alandrys shivered deeply and began to sob uncontrollably. Apparently, he decided, I have no choice but to comfort the child. Her vulnerability is too immense at the moment to let the opportunity escape.

Sighing, Abnaric held her tighter and kissed her head as he entered the room. With luck he would forget she was the size of a ten year old. Stroking her, he was glad she was not proportioned like a ten year old. That would make his task impossible.

Overcome by her pain, and saddened by his reaction to Riza's death, Alandrys returned his efforts to comfort her. Soon, they lost themselves in passion. She was a creature of emotion, exalted by its highs and shattered by its lows.

As Abnaric played her, Alandrys smiled sadly and answered with ecstasy. She would let the poor mortal down easily now that he loved her. I had my great affair with a Kotothi. Payan almost killed my people through it. I will not allow this mortal to love me. It is the best thing for both of us.

Abnaric rose from bed when Alandrys finally rested. Judging the look in her eyes, he knew the hook was set. It would be a simple matter to let her emotional nature and time take care of the problem. She would be his tool. As long as she felt herself in charge he could direct her.

Smiling, Abnaric dressed for battle. After helping a large goblin host break a dwarf tribe, and setting aside his share of the spoils, he teleported to Rogh'sa. He had four days left before he had to go south. Things in Rogh'sa must be settled first.

That morning Abnaric examined the constabulary’s files. There were seven notable gangs operating in the city. In addition, there was a small Silver Shadow society presence in the wharf district.

Escorted by a full company of constables Abnaric visited the leaders of the seven gangs. Each was intimidated. Only one's response impressed him. The others could be driven like sheep. Razeel was a wolf. He would join the fold or die.

Returning to him near dusk, Abnaric sat on his bed and said, "I have talked to all the bosses. You have talent." Razeel shrugged, "Is that why you threaten me again?" Abnaric replied, "I never threaten twice. I am here to make an offer."

Razeel listened intently as Abnaric stated, "I don't want to deal with seven bosses. If you work against Mullabi, in partnership with Theran Drell, the Constabulary will give you a free hand. You command the underworld of Rogh'sa. Drell rules its economy." Razeel asked, "Where do I get the clout to take out the other bosses?"

Abnaric promised, "The smart ones join. The others will be driven into extinction by my constables. The people must see my dedication to eradicating crime. Limit operations directed at the common people and concentrate on breaking House Mullabi. I give you until tomorrow to decide."

Razeel nodded. Seeing the man would say no more, Abnaric teleported out, arriving at his suite in the hotel. After bathing, he collected a heavy chest and went to see Drell.

Theran smiled happily as the wizard walked toward him. When they were alone in the office, Abnaric stated, "The final portion of your initial loan, my friend."

Drell smiled. The chest itself was worth forty gold at a minimum. It was an intricately embossed elven piece. Inside he found silver and gems. His eyes widened with greed.

Abnaric stated, "Forty pounds of silver and sixty gems. If my day’s effort bears fruit, a criminal named Razeel will visit. He will work against Mullabi. Once my men are in place the constables will also."

Drell replied, "There is no doubt I can make headway with these funds. Are you sure of Razeel?" Abnaric explained, "He is the best of the seven. With his talent, he is with us or dead. I gave him the chance to be with us. I kill him and make other arrangements if he isn’t." Drell offered, "I have some old friends in Gom I could get."

Abnaric decided, "Send for them. A core of professionals does nothing to harm the operation. I will arrange for a group of my friends to be at your disposal." Theran's eyes gleamed. Smiling, Abnaric stated, "Once the ball is rolling, its fate is up to you. Do not expect extensive aid."

Speaking with total honesty, Theran admitted, "Frankly, Count Elgar, I prefer it that way. I have discovered you are notorious. The powers that be are levying forces to smash you. I would rather not be linked too overtly."

Laughing, Abnaric left the office. He truly enjoyed the cunning of his ferret. After a fine meal he returned to the Citadel. On his arrival, Alandrys blurted, "A Baobhan Sith was here!" Abnaric shrugged, "That would be my Queen." Alandrys gasped, "Your Queen!"

Abnaric chuckled, "I told you to expect her." Flushed, Alandrys replied, "You never said what she was. They are horrible." Abnaric observed, "I believe her opinion of you is identical. Shall we go to dinner?" Alandrys gulped, "I eat little. I'll await your return."

After a stern glare, Abnaric asked, "How much do you know about these horrible creatures?" Alandrys looked down, a bit embarrassed. Abnaric stated, "A few who war on were Warmaidens like my Queen. Some are the remnants of battered women who died almost to the last fending demons away from the city's infants. By far the largest are the infants. These are your horrible traitors."

Turning harshly, Abnaric left her in the room. Before he reached the stairs, she was at his side. Smiling palely, she said, "I changed my mind. It would be wrong to insult her by not appearing."

Abnaric smiled to make her think he appreciated and understood her change of heart. Actually it mattered little. She would be compelled to deal with Ro'beall. Paving the path with a little historic truth would ease her walk down the road he wanted her to follow.

Elgar took his place beside Ro'beall. After kissing her hand, he looked at Alandrys. The Faerry sat between two goblins. If anything, she was more uncomfortable then the night before. Smiling, Ro'beall called court into session.

Alandrys watched. Court was little changed from the night before. After two hours, a large group of goblins entered and laid treasure in front of the thrones. Their leader stated, "The lucre of Kril Matel Chosen. Your portion of the slaves awaits." Alandrys paled. She learned the goblin tongue during her year with Payan. The slaves must be dwarves.

Abnaric stated, "Chain them in cells. I will see to their education as time permits. Put my treasure in the vault." The goblins bowed and carried the treasure away. After a few more interviews, Ro'beall called a halt to the session and snapped, "Let the Eaerry come."

Eyes fixed sternly, Alandrys stepped before the thrones. Ro'beall stated, "My Abnaric asks me to show mercy traitor. For his sake I shall." Alandrys replied, "Though my words be unwise it is not I who betrayed the Sidh." Ro'beall roared, "Silence!"

While the women's eyes exchanged fire, Abnaric stated, "The Queen has agreed to heal you. In exchange she would enjoy seeing you dance. The dances of your kind are quite elegant. It would please me as well. Dance for us."

Abnaric saw the light shine in Ro'beall's eyes. He also watched Alandrys weigh his intent. Was he seriously interested or trying to humiliate her? Trusting, despite the evil she had seen, she began to dance.

Ro'beall sgueezed Abnaric's hand affectionately and watched the display. Only peasants perform on command. The noble reserved such entertainment for special occasions and soirees. To dance on command, before the eyes of all, was a grievous insult.

When Alandrys finished, Ro'beall stood. Joining her, Abnaric said, "Come with us." Alandrys followed them to the lab where he worked on her before. Eight Daoine Sidhe were already there laying out materials. Ro'beall ordered, "Remove your clothing." Facing Abnaric, she added, "You may leave my Abnaric."

Bowing, he ignored Alandrys' request that he remain and left the room. He could imagine the faerry's humiliation. There was little doubt all nine would examine her like a beast before they began the process. Abnaric sadly realized this would set back his efforts but it was unavoidable. He needed Ro'beall's expertise. She had her price. Alandrys would have to put up with it.

A few hours later, Ro'beall shook him awake. She stated, "The creature will be whole. It is best if she does little for a month. I ordered her not to fly or cast magic for two months." Abnaric nodded sleepily. When Ro'beall got into the bed and began nibbling his ear, he groaned, "Does duty call my love?" Ro'beall purred, "It is a royal command my Abnaric."

Miryan smiled as Abnaric walked up to her in the palace foyer. He asked, "How are our rulers?" Miryan replied, "Anara is unhappy. The Emperor is still ours." Abnaric sighed, "Take me to Anara. Has Cybel been behaving?" Miryan chuckled, "Within limits. At least eight men a day are honored to serve her. All of the important courtiers are puppies around her."

Eyes serious, Abnaric warned, "Keep a close watch. One of them could decide to kidnap her." Miryan answered, "I will protect her. Do you have time for roaring before you leave?" Sadly, Abnaric sighed, "I'm afraid not. Make it three days I owe you. I have to bring Anara around."

Miryan took him to Anara's door and left smiling. Abnaric entered. Seeing Anara sitting at the window, he said, "If you were a Eaerry you would fade." Anara turned his eyes to him, then looked back to the window. Moving closer, Abnaric asked, "Do you hate me so much now?"

Looking down sadly she admitted, "My weakness is that I never can." Abnaric softly took her in his arms. Sighing, she said, "I am not a woman made for cities Abnaric. Walls stifle my soul." Abnaric felt the genuine malaise in her words. She truly felt imprisoned. For a moment, the development angered him. Sighing, he kissed her head and held her tight. She could do no more. Remaining here would ruin her. Smiling, he said, "I will have Miryan bring a Baobhan Sith to replace you. Tomorrow you return to the Citadel with me."

Anara hugged him tightly. For the next hour, they laid together. As they stroked and fondled each other now and then, they talked and got to know each other better. She was a woman of the wild. Whatever happened, she must have that freedom. It was not something she could live without.

When he left Abnaric found Miryan and told her to bring a Baobhan Sith into the palace. She replied, "It will be dangerous." Abnaric stated, "Transmute her." Miryan snapped, "She will still suffer from iron. A human would be better."

Abnaric was angry with himself. He forgot the Baobhan Sith's iron affliction. One could never pull off the role. There were too many occasions when the Empress had to wear iron. Hell, at all official rituals she had to wear the Emperor's collar. It was solid iron an inch thick.

Sadly, Abnaric admitted, "You are right. I'll find someone else." After his meeting with Razeel provided marginal results, Abnaric teleported to Shieram. Walking into the Academy, he snapped, "Where is Grat?" The guard stated, "In his library, Baron. Shall I call him?"

Abnaric said, "I will be in the office. Bring him immediately." While he waited, Abnaric paged through the books. The business was profiting well. With Vinkel's he was one of the top three slavers in Gom. As Grat entered, Abnaric asked, "Where is Anya?"

His eyes lowered. Sadly, he said, "She died. I sent word south last week." Abnaric hissed, "What happened?" Grat replied, "She began drinking again when you sent the man to take her child." Abnaric roared, "I did no such thing!"

Grat glared at his nephew saying, "He had a letter in your handwriting!" Abnaric screamed, "You should have known I would never do something like that. How long ago did it happen?"

He answered, "About seven months. He took her and disappeared with magic." Pursing his lips with fury, Abnaric hissed, "Take me to the room he was in when he left." Grat shrugged, "We are here."

Abnaric snapped, "Leave. We will talk later." After nearly an hour of preparation he cast a powerful rite to find the old trail. It was too faint. Angrily, he released the might of the maelstrom. No one used his name to steal a child. As his power roared around the room, he found the trace he sought and followed it.

As he raced through the blackness of the void, Abnaric cursed the man and himself. If he had kept a closer watch on Herela this could not have happened. Arriving in a cold, icy realm he saw a stark castle on a high mountain. Ignoring danger, he felt for Herela and teleported into her presence.

Roaring, Abnaric saw a young woman spread on a rack being tortured by a demon. Turning, the demon hissed, "You are not welcome in my realm. The child is mine." Abnaric answered, "I give you one chance. Tell me who sent you and release her."

The demon laughed, "You are no threat to me. Begone." Angrily, Abnaric shivered the creature with a bolt of flame. Steaming, the demon of the icy waste flew to the attack casting shafts of ice. Raising a shield of power, Abnaric deflected the shafts and loosed the maelstrom as he never had.

While a shield protected Herela, Abnaric filled the room with infernal flames. The demon twisted in agony. Maintaining the flames, he ripped into the creature's mind to find the name he sought. The power flowed as if three mages stood together assaulting the creature. He was Kototh himself as the power melted the demon into a slushy puddle.

Carefully freeing Herela, Abnaric heard the rushing of winds and saw the demon beginning to reform as the room cooled. Herela whispered, "Who are you?" Hugging her into his arms, Abnaric replied, "I am your father. We must leave."

Smiling, she slipped her arms around his neck and sighed. Abnaric drew on the maelstrom and returned. After desperately fighting the power back into its cage, he carried Herela to Grat saying, "This is Herela. The demon stole her childhood. See she is dressed and ready to leave within the hour."

After introducing himself, Grat led the girl to the baths and called a healer. Abnaric went to his casting area. After great effort, he found the location he sought and teleported into a large, black tent.

The ancient eyes of a Kacili looked into Abnaric's as he arrived in fire and smoke. Sighing, the man said, "The demon was insufficient." Abnaric snapped, "Why?" The man replied, "I am a seer of the future. The part I saw for you forced my hand. You bring blood to the desert Dervish."

Abnaric glared, "You have my guarantee of it now, old man." Restraining himself, he did not kill him. That would be too easy. He carried his body to the Citadel paralyzed to await his displeasure. When the man was well confined, Abnaric returned to Shieram.

Herela smiled as Abnaric came into the room. Before he could speak, she said, "Thank you for rescuing me, father. I didn't know you existed." Abnaric asked, "Sorry to be curious but you know a lot?" Herela replied, "The demon taught me. My reactions to his torments excited him more that way." Abnaric sighed, "I am sorry."

Herela smiled, "It is over. I must get on with my life." Abnaric stated, "I will take you to my citadel. You'll be safe there." Herela soothed, "I'll be fine. Being locked up in a musty citadel would bore me."

Intrigued by the girl's reaction, Abnaric sat with her for an hour and talked. The demon did more then torture her. Once he aged her, he took her on his journeys as his agent and pleasure slave. For two years of her time she learned what he required and hardened into a sharp blade.

Abnaric inquired, "Would you consider working for me until I arrange a replacement?" Herela blurted, "I will do anything for you." Abnaric explained the mission and his plans. Herela laughed, "Consider me the Empress Anara."

Hugging her, Abnaric went to Grat and showed him his signet. Sternly, he said, "Unless messages carry this mark, or the person is known to you, give them nothing." Handing him another ring, Abnaric added, "If there is a question use this to summon me."

After a light meal with his relatives, Abnaric took Herela and returned to the citadel. Abnaric left Herela with Ro'beall and went to craft the ring she would need. When he was through, he returned.

Alandrys was telling them both about her trials while she poured Ro'beall’s wine. Abnaric fought his urge to laugh. The Queen had her working as a handmaiden. After saying hello, he collected Herela and left the citadel.

Abnaric treated Herela to a fine meal when they got to the hotel. After a few hours, he introduced her to Drell and took the girl to the casino. She managed to lose forty gold in her effort to learn the game.

Drell smiled broadly and saw to it that a servant was assigned to provide her needs exclusively. Each time she stood, the servant rushed over asking, "May I help you?"

Herela mentioned what she wanted and the servant ran to get it. Abnaric noted, "This is called keeping the fish on the hook. Can't have you running up to the restaurant or the bar when you should be here losing."

Looking into his eyes, Herela queried, "Are you sure you don't mind? They act like it is a lot of money." Abnaric replied, "More than most see in a lifetime. It is a pittance for me. Enjoy yourself." Smiling, Herela returned to her game.

After all her chips were gone, Abnaric said, "It is time to go." Herela got up. Immediately, Theran came over and handed her an ornate plague. As she stared at it, he said, "Show this at any of my casinos. The concierge will see you are seated immediately and given fine treatment."

Herela thanked him and followed Abnaric out of the casino. Seeing her tuck the plague into her purse, Abnaric noted, "Gambling might not be for you." With a grin she promised, "I will learn. I have to get your money back." Abnaric warned, "That's a loser's mistake. Forget your loss. Treat each game as a new battle. If you don't professionals will eat you up."

Reaching the palace, Abnaric made them both invisible and entered the Empress' suite. Seeing Anara was alone, he cancelled the spell stating, "Herela will take over." Anara stood. When Herela slipped the ring on, Anara's mouth gaped wide. They were identical.

Abnaric stated, "Teach her what you can in the next few hours. Her mannerisms should be like yours." Anara began to show Herela how to walk and talk. While she did, Abnaric went to Miryan and Cybel at the orgy.

There was an orgy every night in this palace. Pulling Miryan from the man she was with, he took her into an alcove

saying, "I am out of time. I will be back when the spell is complete." Miryan kissed him lewdly. Seeing his astonished reaction, she smiled, "That is the third serpent osculation kiss. Do you like it?"

Abnaric laughed, "You are definitely being perverted. l have an hour. Show me more." After making sure he knew this in no way diminished his debt, Miryan happily complied. When she finished, Abnaric rose gasping and dressed. Miryan's eyes gleamed with pride at his reaction.

Returning her to the orgy, Abnaric went to Anara. Miryan was blossoming into a dangerous and seductive woman. Comparing her to the lady he first met was impossible. She could never be that winsome, lustful handmaiden. She was so far beyond that now he could hardly believe the change.

Two Anara's stood waiting with their hands behind them. As he sat, they moved and talked. He stated, "It should suffice." One replied, "You must choose the right one." Sighing, Abnaric went and kissed the real Anara. She chided, "Wrong." Meeting her eyes, Abnaric answered, "A man can distinguish between his loves no matter how quick his daughter picks up a role."

Anara gasped, "Your daughter! She is fifteen or sixteen. It is impossible." Abnaric explained, "A demon stole her. I just found out and rescued her. He took her youth." Hugging her likeness fiercely Anara cried, "Poor dear child."

Herela soothed, "Do not let it concern you. I am fine. Father needs to go now." Kissing her on the forehead, Anara went to Abnaric and they teleported away.

Stern faced, Herela began her exercises. For the rest of the night, she practiced being Anara and learned to control the smaller body she must wear. Sentiment could wait until another day.

Sighing, she realized she didn't understand emotions anyway. There had been no place in her life for them. It was possible there was still

no place. She would decide as time allowed. A week after Abnaric's departure, Miryan went to the door of a small manor with anud at her side. When a man answered, she asked, "I am the Countess Elgar. Might I speak with your daughter Jazil?" The man replied, "My daughter is ill."

Miryan urged, "My business is important. She will be happy to see me. Tell her I come to speak of a sword that shoots flame." The man shrugged and closed the door. After nearly ten minutes, he returned saying, "She will see you in her room. The man waits below with me."

Entering the room, Miryan saw a pale faced, raven haired woman. She sat quietly on a chair staring aimlessly. Miryan inguired, "How much do you love the Emperor?" Jazil started, "I don't know what you are talking about." Miryan replied, "I know you do. It took time to narrow the possibilities down to you alone. You were his lover." Jazil burst into tears.

Going to her, Miryan soothed, "That is answer enough. Would you like to be Empress?" Jazil whined, "He has Anara." Miryan offered, "If you swear obedience T will arrange for you to be Empress. Anara can be set aside. They are not married yet."

While Jazil looked into her eyes, Miryan added, "Your devotion must be total. If you betray my husband or me we will not be lenient." Jazil sighed, "T can have Maoud?" Miryan nodded. Jazil promised, "I will do anything."

The next day the Emperor announced his decision not to wed Anara and ordered her to leave Rogh'sa. When Anara was escorted out of the palace, Miryan collected her and took the ring. Smiling, she said, "You may stay and help me. Everyone will love to meet my niece."

Abnaric watched Anara and Alandrys hug each other tearfully. He remained silent as they talked over old times. When Ro'beall entered, he stated, "I have business in the south. Remain until I return. Stay away from the sealed rooms. If you go out, stay far away from the cave to the west. T will not be responsible for Shair if you bother him."

Alandrys' eyes widened as Anara told her who Shair was. Abnaric stated, "We are congenial at the moment. Do not change that." Alandrys promised, "You can be sure I will give it a wide berth." Anara said, "We will be fine." Eyeing Ro'beall, Anara asked, "How are the babies?"

Seeing Abnaric's interest, Ro'beall replied, "Noisy and troublesome. I shall have them brought." Anara smiled, "Thank you Queen Ro'beall." As the pair began talking about the infants, Abnaric and Ro'beall departed. Abnaric asked, "Has Liera reported on Grat?"

Ro'beall shrugged, "What would she say? He crawls, cries, hugs. All the things one expects from an infant." Abnaric soothed, "You will understand when our child is conceived." Ro'beall replied, "It has been my Abnaric." He hugged her until she hissed, "Release me at once. Would you crush him before he can fly!"

Laughing happily, Abnaric allowed Ro'beall to teleport them to the palace. Soon he would have his dream. He loved all his children but Ro'beall's would be special. He couldn't wait to hold him. Chuckling, Abnaric decided he would be just as happy to have a girl. The only thing demanding a boy was her pride.

After one day with her, Abnaric collected his supplies. Smiling, he said, "Keep tabs on Xama. He is the weak link." She replied, "Two of my best are with him. He will carry out his part of the rite." Nodding, Abnaric extended his power and teleported himself and his possessions to the Apina badlands.

When he arrived, Abnaric noticed the pyramid. The area was guarded by hundreds of warriors. On sight of him, they rushed to the attack. Filling the valley with his voice, he roared, "Behold the chosen, children of Shurikal. The time draws near. Bring forth your Shamans, wizards and artisans."

The warriors stopped and fell prostrate in the dirt. After a few minutes, Abnaric allowed them to return to their duties and instructed, "The wizards will prepare the altars. Shamans, purify the entire plain for Father's arrival. Artisans, sigils of the serpent must be engraved in the stone of the cliffs and the plain floor. You have less then a month. Begin immediately. The task must be done in time."

Abnaric spent two weeks making sure the elf virgins were in perfect condition and helping the wizards. As time allowed, he discussed their art with the Shamans. He sought mastery of all paths. The shaman's path was one he must know. When he understood everything he would attain power such as no human had ever known.

During the last two weeks, Abnaric saw to the positioning of the final engravings and set chains in place. The six outer altars were connected to at least two others with the chains. They would form a permanent shield to keep the spell in force. The spirits of the elves, bound to the chain, would provide power. Magically speaking, it was highly appropriate.

As he began two weeks of purification, Abnaric considered the irony of the rite. The Sidh were the enemy of Kototh and first signer of the Convocation that bound him. It was fitting to use their power to draw their opposing force. It was a shame purity was required.

Abnaric would have preferred to use people who had lived a while. The rite of opposition reguired young females. Youth must call to the Eldest Serpent. Female energy called forth male. Finally, Sidh power drew Kotothi. In three ways, Kototh was drawn, three ways for each of three heads. Once for each of nine secret names. No lesser summoning could succeed.

At dawn of the chosen day, Abnaric exited his tent nude and sweating from the steaming rocks within. After three women bathed him, he donned a green robe.

Three wizards, three shamans and three artisans led him on his inspection of the grounds. As he walked, he noted thousands of warriors ringing the plain. Representatives from all the tribes of Shurikal were here. Today was a day for legend.

Finishing his inspection of the outer perimeter, Abnaric noted a Zehani walking toward the plain. He hurried to block it before it could arrive. The Zehani hissed, "You will not do this!" Abnaric roared, "Be damned, Zehani," and released his might into the magical being.

The war seemed to go on for an eternity. Bolts of searing astral light slammed against his raging inferno of flame. As the power consumed him, Abnaric released it fully. The Zehani seared and was disintegrated.

As he regained control, and took a deep breath, thousands of warriors ecstatically screamed in praise. Shaman drums rolled over and over in celebration. There could be no finer omen in their eyes than the defeat of a grey walker on this the greatest of days.

After he insured that the plain remained pure, Abnaric went to his tent and changed into a new robe. Jaw set, he returned to the high altar ignoring the rabid cheers of the assembled thousands.

Focused completely on his task, he looked down into the hole in front of the altar. Abnaric awaited the exact second to begin the rite. As he felt the time arrive, green fire exploded from him. Immense tapers at all the altars burned with the flame.

Abnaric roared, "We call Zin, come forth." The Elf replied, "I go for him." As her words echoed, the wizard with her chanted a dark chant. After raping her in the name of Zin, he killed her. Holding her heart aloft, he roared, "Zin has come."

The same ritual was performed for each of the six lesser names. When six hearts were held high, Abnaric stepped to the hole thundering, "The outer vale stands open. Let the five points of light chart the course for your rise, eldest one." Stepping to the first of the three maidens, he stated, "Let the virgin go forth. Awaken the sleeper Kota. His majesty shall guide thy course."

Jaxom looked around. He left Lightning outside the city. As he walked done the street he saw people screaming. Far in the distance, near the bastard's house, the sky was aflame with blue fire. Angrily, he ran toward the light to save Mata.

The elf replied, "His majesty shall be awakened. I go for him now." Kissing her, Abnaric slit her throat saying, "He is with us." Collecting the spurting blood in a bowl, he poured it down the hole. As he did, a plume of steam rose.

Moving to the next woman, Abnaric stated, "Thole's knowledge charts Kota's course. Let the virgin bring him from the lake of wisdom that is his home. He must show Kota the road." The elf sighed, "He shall guide. I go for him now."

Abnaric held his hands over her mouth and nose and chanted Thole's praise. When he heard her death rattle, he kissed her saying, "He is with us." Carefully, the Mage lanced her heart and removed it. When it fell into the hole, the flume of steam became a rushing geyser. Actual flame flashed out sporadically.

Jaxom glared. Bolts of fire were riddling the bastard’s house. Ignoring his danger he ran into the building. Dodging the bolts, he smashed through the front door. As he did, two Baobhan Sith stepped in his path and locked their eyes on his. Roaring he drew his sword.

Facing the last woman, Abnaric extended his arms. As three wizards removed his vestments, he roared, "Tokier's passion and might power the journey. Let the virgin bring him from the eternal fire. Kota shall ride his rage. As Abnaric painfully mounted her, the virgin screamed, "He is with me. I call him." Snarling, Abnaric loosed the maelstrom from its cage.

While he raped the woman to death, Abnaric roared the final chants of power. Rising from her, he drove his dagger into her heart and collected blood from her womb.

Pouring the blood into the hole, Abnaric roared, "I call my eight brothers. My might flies to lift you. My passion burns as a beacon. I join you in darkness, come forth to the light. Come to me now."

Abnaric felt a weakening of the outer points as the hole trembled and gouts of green fire shot into the air. He fought the disruption with all his might. Trembling, he chanted the nine names and roared, "Let Kototh rise," three times.

Jaxom ran into the building after dispatching the Baobhan Sith. His neck bled from a bite. Reaching the center of the flames, he stopped in horror.

The man framed in blue fire wasn't Elgar. It was Mata's cousin Xama! Angrily, he ran forward and cold cocked the man with the flat of his sword. Slowly the fires faded.

Chanting in welcome, Abnaric watched the form of Kototh appear above him and rise into the air. As the god entered the upper world Abnaric felt the shattering of one point of his star.

Desperately, he fought the backlash. Blue and green flames encased his being. When the Shurani returned their attention to the chosen, he was unconscious and lying over the sacred hole.

Abnaric woke a week later. He was in a soft bed. Ro'beall and Miryan were on either side of him. Standing at his feet was a tall man with serpentine eyes. Abnaric whispered, "Welcome father." Kototh stated, "The ritual was only partially successful." Abnaric sighed, "One of the points failed. It can be broken if the method is learned."

Kototh smiled, "Only one with complete knowledge and great power could accomplish the feat Overlord. You alone." Abnaric stated, "Then it is eternal." Looking at his tool, Kototh considering making sure of that. He decided the added security would not offset the gains his chosen would yet make. Kotarl's avatar was nearly ready to be ridden.

Ro'beall hinted, "He is very weak, father." Kototh chuckled, "It shall pass." Facing Abnaric, he asked, "You have given me cause to be generous. What do you wish as a reward, my Overlord of the Southern Continent?"

Abnaric considered asking Kototh to destroy Nergas. It would slay the last threat to him. He could not. His debt to Dax demanded otherwise. Gazing into the Serpentine eyes, Abnaric stated, "There is a man named Dax. Heal him or grant me the power to do so." Leaving the room, Kototh said, "It shall be so. I am Kota should you call."

After three more days, Abnaric was able to walk. With Ro'beall's help, he went to Dax. Seeing the joyous man happily engaged with a lady, Abnaric said, "We can return later. I will send him to visit Bo when I am whole."

Ro'beall stated, "It will be soon my Abnaric. I shall not have you loitering in my halls." Miryan smiled, "And I must have spirit when you pay your debt. With interest it is four days now." Abnaric hissed, "Interest!"

Miryan crowed, "It is a thing Theran Drell spoke of. It makes a debt grow larger when it is unpaid." Ro'beall snapped, "Take the money from the treasury." Eyes bright, Miryan giggled, "Only Abnaric carries the treasure to pay this debt, my gueen." As Abnaric frowned and Ro'beall glared, Miryan laughed and went to take a leisurely bath. She returned to Rogh'sa in the morning. The beautiful debt would continue to grow.



Though the following has little relevance in the grand scheme of this journal, I include it to grant the learned additional insight into the character of the Great Mage.

Some four days after Abnaric saw Dax was whole they traveled to Roghara together. In the interim it became clear to him that, though strong again, Dax’ spirit was no longer willing to accept the risks his service demanded.

He accepted this fact with eguanimity. No thought was given to the cost expended to make the man whole. There was no anger that the price would never be repaid. Dax served well and loyally against all odds. Nothing else mattered to Abnaric Elgar.

Bo threw the table he sat at aside and crushed Dax in his arms as he and Abnaric entered. Abnaric chided, “Don’t break his ribs. I just got them healed.” Eyes beaming, the giant sighed, “Really glad boss. Damn nice seeing you.”

As he led them to a back room he beamed, “You like my tavern? Mira runs it great.” Abnaric nodded, “It is nice. I’m sure Bo’s Place will do well.” Bo said, “Mira thinks so. She smart about money and stuff.” Taking a seat, Abnaric said, “Glad to hear it. I was wondering if you know any good opportunities for Dax. He’s retiring too.” Obviously relieved, Dax sighed, “Thanks Abnaric. I can’t hack it anymore.”

After a long pause, Bo left the room. He returned fifteen minutes later with a baby on his arm. He said, “Told Mira about stuff. She says Dax should work for Jorda. He has a gang for gambling and stuff.”

Looking at his brother, Bo shrugged, “Had to hurt couple of his men last month. Tried screwing with Mira. She wouldn’t pay to have my tavern here. Don’t know if he’ll like brother of mine.”

Abnaric waved, “I’ll have a talk with him. Where did you get the baby?” Bo chuckled, “Right. Brought him to show you. This my son Naric. Give him smart name. Okay boss?”

A tear came to Abnaric’s eye as he held the boy and looked at his giant friend. After a long moment, he said, “I am honored Bo. Don’t forget what I said. If you or your family ever need anything I and mine will be there.”

Returning the boy to his father, Abnaric disappeared. Bo sighed, “Damn. Mira making dinner. She gots cake.” Dax winked, “Leaves more for us Bo. The boss is a busy man.” Bo nodded, then smiled. Getting more of Mira’s cake was always a good thing.

A moment later, Abnaric was seated in a warehouse after asking Jorda to lay off Bo and hire Dax. The man shrugged, “Business is business. Lady showed me up. Moron got in our face. Have to take them down. Brother can walk with the brat.”

Abnaric replied, “You will reconsider.” A moment after the man laughed, he was pressed against the ceiling of the room. Looking up, Abnaric smiled, “That was not a request. Bo is sacred to me. He and everyone in his family will be safe. You will find an easy, profitable, job for his brother Dax.”

He lowered the man slowly, then slammed him into a wall hissing, “Fail in any regard, at any time, and T will show you a greater hell than any nightmare ever has. Consider that god’s truth.”

When Abnaric let him fall, Jorda called out loudly. Both guards dropped their swords on entering and bowed to Abnaric. Jorda gasped, “Who the hell are you?” He purred, “Abnaric Elgar.” As the gangster paled, Abnaric winked, “I give no one two warnings. Do not give me cause to return.”

Abnaric was gone before the gasping man recovered from his fit of terror. For three years after the threat, Abnaric’s agents visited Roghara every month to insure that Bo and Bax were well.

For his part, Jorda came to be friends with Bax and treated Bo’s Place with the greatest care. Four men caused trouble there during the three years. None made it out of Roghara alive.

One harmed Mira and felt Bo’s wrath. The others were thieves. Jorda had them killed and repaid the loss. For the rest of his life, anything that might bring Elgar back was battled with all the might at his disposal.

I am certain there are those who fail to understand why such a sophomoric tale was included. It is easily explained and entirely relevant. The Great Mage was newly ascended to the height of his power at this point. The fact that the first action he undertook from this summit was attending to the welfare of servants who were no longer any use to him shows his nature clearly.

Even in the depths of his greatest evil, the inner core of the Great Mage remained true to his convictions. Without that adamant core of loving truth he would have been damned, as the volumes that follow clearly show.

Copyright (C) 2004, Snider Sabree

Richard L. Snider