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    "He says he was there for five hundred days."

     

    "Five hundred days. Impossible. How?"

     

    "No idea. He said he learned to breathe air."

     

    "That's..."

     

    "Crazy. I know. But you've seen the changes, you saw how his skin was

    all red and rough when we brought him back."

     

    "The crew did say his chest was heaving, when they saw him. Thought it

    was some kind of spasm. Some kind of sickness."

     

    Kam can hear the voices outside the ward. Doc Forvin, and the skeptic,

    another man he doesn't recognize.

     

    "This is crazy. Crazy!"

     

    Forvin walks in.

     

    "Kam? I'd like you to meet Chief Scientist Lavell. He wants to run some

    tests -"

     

    "Not too painful, I hope." Kam coughs into his fist. His skin still has a

    pinkish tinge; his throat is sore, the Wine irritating it. He feels foggy.

     

    (Back on the island: no fog, clear thought, octopus strength. Glowing

    skin. He could move boulders under his own power, do trigonometry in

    his head. All without the Wine, like it was the most natural thing...)

     

    "We'll need to draw some blood. That's all for now."

     

    "Fine by me."

     

    Forvin and Lavell are gray, granite gray. People are gray, that's the

    way they are; babies are born pale, start to turn a healthier gray with

    their first breath of Wine. But it no longer looks healthy to Kam.

     

    He talks to Lavell as Forvin takes out the needles.

     

    "How long were you stuck on that island, up there?" Lavell asks.

     

    "Five hundred days, give or take."

     

    "Without Wine."

     

    "Without Wine."

     

    "What happened?"

     

    He remembers: the thirst, the pain, the suffocating feeling in his

    chest. Collapsing to the black soil. Finally opening his mouth to gulp

    in air; first in mad desparation, then in agony, and finally in relief.

     

    "I figured out how to breathe air."

     

    "That's impossible, Kam. Human bodies are designed for Wine. A few

    breaths every few hours -"

     

    "But here I am." He raises a pinkish-gray hand, turns it over. Coughs.

    It feels strange to be talking without breathing, his trachea closed;

    but the air down here in the city provides no nourishment, and tastes

    of tar and filth.

     

    "You didn't have a supply -"

     

    "No." Kam thinks. "Mr. Lavell, don't you wonder what I ate and drank on

    that island?"

     

    Lavell raises his eyebrows. "It's not as big a mystery, but -"

     

    Kam continues. "There was a spring on one of the hills, for water.

    There were fish and octopuses on the beach - squid too. Little ones,

    not Wine producers."

     

    "How did you catch them?"

     

    Kam grins. "Bare hands. Air makes you faster. Makes you think clearer,

    too."

     

    Lavell is looking at Forvin. He looks... frightened, Kam thinks. He

    looks terrified.

     

    "You think he's on to something," Forvin says.

     

    "I think he's telling the truth."

     

    Silence.

     

    "Kam."

     

    "Yeah?"

     

    Lavell looks directly in his eyes, gray face grim. "In my capacity as

    Chief Scientist, I am ordering to be utterly silent about this. Speak

    of it to nobody else. On pain of death."

     

    Kam's face betrays him. "You have got to be kidding me."

     

    "There will be panic if this gets out, Kam -"

     

    "Dr. Lavell." Kam can barely contain himself. "We have been at war with

    Gannishmen for over forty years now."

     

    "Do not even think about -"

     

    "We have been at war, for forty years, because of the Wine. The squid

    population's declining, we all know that. More and more don't produce.

    And the ones that can, don't produce as much. Attempts to farm them,

    to breed them in tanks, have all been for nil.

     

    "And now you know that people, at least some people, can breathe air.

    Sure, it has to be clean enough - well, you could pipe the stuff down

    here from the mountains. The point is -"

     

    "Enough!"

     

    "The point," Kam bludgeons on, "is that people are getting shot to

    pieces out there, and being bombed, and living half-lives or even

    dying of suffocation because there's not enough Wine to go around.

    People cannot breathe, man! Think about that -"

     

    "Enough, I said!"

     

    "Think about what it would mean, if we didn't need it. If people could

    breathe something that's everywhere, and doesn't cost anything.

     

    "It could stop the war. It would save so many lives..."

     

    "Lavell - he's right. Listen to him."

     

    "No."

     

    "Lavell - "

     

    "Dr. Lavell, have you wondered why I'm not taking to the Wine again?

    Where the withdrawal symptoms came from, when I started breathing the

    stuff again?"

     

    "Kam, just -"

     

    "I think humans evolved to breathe air, in the first place. The Wine

    isn't natural."

     

    "Humans didn't evolve. This is nonsense."

     

    "Think about it, Lavell. Think about it. Fish and octopuses evolved

    in water, and they breathe it. Humans walk on land. What if we weren't

    created?"

     

    "Nonsense."

     

    "How would we even happen in the first place, Lavell, if we couldn't

    breathe the stuff around us?"

     

    Lavell sighs. "Alright. Alright. But one word of this, and I'll have

    you both executed on the spot."

     

    He turns, paces out of the room.

     

    "Goddamn. And I didn't even get to take any blood."

     

    Kam sighs.

     

    "Kam?"

     

    "I thought it might work. For once, I thought something might work."

     

    Forvin shrugs. "The vaguaries of the state -"

     

    "It's garbage. Absolute garbage." He looks Forvin in the eyes. "How much

    do you spend on Wine a week?"

     

    Forvin mumbles something.

     

    "What?"

     

    "Over ten thousand creds. Over a third of my salary."

     

    He has a wife, Kam thinks. And a kid, maybe two.

     

    "When I crashed on the island, it would have been -" his brain drags it

    out, foggy on Wine. "Seven thousand, probably. Maybe a little more."

     

    Forvin nods. "And the quality's been getting worse, too. The Wine

    we've been getting is usually stale, half-depleted. Sometimes makes my

    son sick."

     

    "This can't go on."

     

    "No. It can't."

     

    Forvin starts putting the tubes away, slips the needles in a sharps

    container.

     

    Humanity, Kam thinks. Oh, what a state we're in. To have once breathed

    the free air, and now rely on squid exudate, walking through dirty

    gray cities with raw throats and gray skin and closed-off trachea.

    Walking in a perpetual fog, delusion and war and government hypoxia all

    in one giant greasy ball -

     

    "I'm going back."

     

    Forvin opens his mouth.

     

    "You can come with me. You can bring your family."

     

    "I - it doesn't -"

     

    "I'll teach you how to catch fish, build a fire."

     

    "Not that."

     

    "What, then?"

     

    Forvin averts his eyes. "The Gannishmen."

     

    "Yes, what about them?"

     

    "The week after we pulled you off the island, a Gannish missile went

    slightly off target."

     

    "Oh, no -"

     

    "Yeah."

     

    "Gone."

     

    "Gone. Blown to radiactive pieces."

     

    Kam buries his face in his hands.

     

    "I'm sorry."

     

    Never again. Kam's chest burns. He'll never get away.

     

    "Do you... " He clears his throat. "Get me some Wine."

     

    "Sure."

     

    Maybe I'll get used to it, Kam thinks, as Forvin retrieves the dark bottle

    of squid-stuff, hooks it up to an aspirator tube. Maybe. Give it time.

     

    Maybe.

     

    But God, it hurts.

  1. Student of Trinity
    Latest Entry

    My writing project is still slowly going along. It will eventually end up as at least one finished novel. I don't really have a lot of time to work on it, but I hack away when I can. Sometimes I plunge ahead writing; sometimes I step back, frown, and gun down darlings. Up to a point I have high standards, but I'm not trying to write a Great Novel; just write something I like. If you want to make money from writing, I am no-one to advise you, but I can recommend writing a novel as a hobby. It's fun.

     

    What was originally going to be one book has expanded into a trilogy. First I cut it into two. Then this summer I recognized that the first volume was getting too big because it was really two stories, and I decided I had to surgically separate the conjoined twins, to make a total of three books. Compared to what was going to be that single, fat first volume with one sequel, the new result for the first and middle books of the trilogy would be two books that were each less densely packed with wild and crazy stuff; but I decided that this was for the best. A dense story that seemed cool to me, having lived along with it for years, would be incomprehensible to a reader. I'm writing to please myself, but still the task with which I'm trying to be pleased is writing a book that could be popular with other readers, at least in an ideal world.

     

    When I first carved off the part of my story that will now be Book 3, I was still at an early stage in the project. Splitting the first volume into Books 1 and 2 is being done now in a heavily re-written second draft. So it's really quite a surgery. It's an interesting task. Some things that I like don't look so easy to save in the separated version; for one reason or another, things they needed to work will no longer work. Some of these may be salvageable, with effort; and that's an interesting puzzle. Some may just have to be lost. That's disappointing, but everybody says you have to kill your darlings. I'll try my hand at that, too. And some things that were kind of pinched into the previous story now have room to expand to a natural length. So it's not all disappointing.

     

    I think I've learned a few basic things about writing longer stories. Who knows whether these are things that will help anyone write commercially, but they're things that, when I first started writing, I didn't realize that even I myself wanted them. Now I realize I do.

     

    One is that there's a kind of physical limit to how complex your plot can be. Past a certain point, you can make your logical connections as solid as you want, but the mere fact that there are too many of them makes the story feel rickety. It just becomes too hard to take seriously. I think that what goes on is that every reader knows instinctively that in any real scenario there are bound to be a bunch of unknown factors. It's plausible that two or three clear and basic reasons are decisive over all these unknown factors; but it's just not plausible that a string of ten reasons would really hold together without getting screwed up by something unknown. So complicated scenarios are just inherently unbelievable. You have got to keep it simple. Ingenious answers for nitpicking hit a plateau of diminishing returns.

     

    A sort of related thing is that you have to give the reader a sense of where your book is going. You may get a certain grace period at the beginning, a couple of chapters in which the reader is prepared to simply gawk and nod Uh Huh. But pretty soon, you have to give your readers a confident sense of which issues they are supposed to be keeping in mind, so they can relax and let the rest of the stuff just wash over them without trying hard to keep it all straight. You can't expect your readers to keep perfect track of everything. It needs to be enough for the reader to be clear on just a few things — and the reader has to know which those things are. They could be things like your protagonist's love life, or where the Maltese Falcon is, or what lies over the mountain. Probably all kinds of different things will do; but by around Chapter 3 the reader has to have a sense of what these main issues will be, for the long haul of the book. You cannot wait until The Two Towers to bring in the Ring.

     

    Once you've established that sense of direction, of course you can mess around with it. Instead of just pulling a plot twist, it's a subtler but deeper way to pull off surprise, to make what seemed like a minor theme turn out to be more important than it seemed to be. Of course you have to watch that this isn't just annoying or disappointing. But at least at this point, my feeling is that those problems are not so impossible to avoid. A well-managed surprise can be good, I think, but a lack of direction is just boring to read.

     

    The other surprising thing I've found is that Anastasia Morandau has taught me to write. Literally: she's my narrator, and in an effort to give her a distinctive voice, I gave her writing a couple of characteristics that I thought would be interesting and yet still easy to take in large doses. In particular, I made her follow most of Elmore Leonard's rules for writing — not because I thought his was the only way to write well, but because I thought it was one way to write well, and it suited her character.

     

    So Anastasia is spare with adverbs, especially emphatics and superlatives. She almost never says 'very'. She has no fear of short sentences. She doesn't use cliché expressions. She almost never reports dialog with anything other than an unqualified 'said'. And she never ends a sentence with a preposition, because she saves the emphatic last place in a sentence for a word that carries more than a preposition's worth of her thought.

     

    Well, after writing a bunch of chapters in her narration, I found I preferred Anastasia's style to my own. I felt that her style was blunt and forceful. I thought it made you take seriously whatever she said. I started writing more like her, all the time.

     

    The other quirk I gave her narration was an aversion to commas. She hardly ever uses them unless they're grammatically necessary. I try hard to make her sentences comprehensible just by making them clear and simple, and by avoiding ambiguous antecedents. So if the sentence is comprehensible at all when read all in one breath, she writes the sentence that way. This is supposed to indicate the high speed of her thought. Her brain is always in top gear. When she speaks to other people, though, her dialog has plenty of commas. She knows instinctively that she has to slow herself down for other people to follow.

     

    Whether this works, I don't know. Maybe I'm mistaken about how clear her sentences are, and they're really misery to read, and at some point I'll have to go through the whole book line by line, adding commas. But these are fun experiments to make.

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    It was morning in the Contested Lands. The young blademaster stretched, yawned, rolled stiffly off the pile of dried grass and blankets that had served him as a bed, and fumbled into his clothes. A quick meal of last night's leftovers washed down with a mug of herbal tea, and he began to feel almost human again.

     

    He stepped outside the abandoned barracks where he and his scouting partner had bivouacked the previous night, blinking and squinting as he strode purposefully towards the outhouse. A few minutes later, he reappeared, washed, refreshed and fully awake.

     

    Now he was ready to start the day's work. He drew his longsword from its scabbard, got into a fighting stance, and began. Stroke and counterstroke, thrust and follow-through, attacking, parrying, defending; right hand to left hand to right hand, then two-handed, with ever-increasing speed and fluidity - was he battling invisible enemies, or simply dancing with the sword for his own enjoyment?

     

    "Fionn!"

     

    The sound of his name broke the blademaster's concentration. He misjudged his footing, tripped, staggered, tried to catch his balance, failed, and sat down hard, facing the woman who had called his name. His sword went spinning out of his hand to land with a muffled thump in a patch of nearby grass.

     

    "Damn it, Silke, don't scare me like that when I'm holding a blade!" he sputtered once he'd gotten his breath back.

     

    Silke just grinned. "I'm not the one whose warm-up exercises make more noise than a pack of hungry wolves," she reminded her trainee. "Anyway, you'd better get off your rear if we want to get today's patrol started. We're due back at Rockridge Keep tomorrow. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to hot bathwater and clean clothes. Come on."

     

    Fionn couldn't help but smile back as he got to his feet. "Agreed. Clean clothes, a hot bath and not having to eat my own cooking will make a nice change for the better." He bent over to pick up his sword, wiped the blade against his breeches (not that that helped much) and put it back in its scabbard. There would be time to clean it properly later.

     

    "Your cooking has improved, I'll say that for you. It doesn't taste like feet marinated in week-old vomit anymore." Silke moved to the door of the barracks and peered inside. "Time to break camp."

  2. As of September 22nd, the Ermarian Network is being prepared for a gradual move to a new home. After more than seven years of being served by DreamHost (who I've been very happy with, but whose shared hosting plan isn't sufficient anymore), I'm going to be renting a virtual server from CloudSoarer.

     

    I'll be posting the status of the move periodically on here.

     

    For a start, the Encyclopedia Ermariana is the first site to be hosted on the new server, eris.

     

    (Edit: Better title - "Putting the clop in Encyclopedia.")

  3. Elliot and James arrive at Waste Management's headquarters north of town to "collect Hank's belongings" and do a little snooping. Meanwhile, Linda does the same at the Town Hall.

     

    Their visits follow an almost identical trajectory. The secretary offers polite regrets for their loss, then escorts them to the employee lounge, where personal affects are kept. They stay as long as they dare, searching the room for something awry, and reading coworkers for signs of deception. As she is leaving, Linda passes Liz Birch, visiting on some pretext, while Elliot and James encounter Jack Finch.

     

    They meet to exchange notes at Java Joes, a coffee shop downtown.

     

    "As a reporter, I've learned to find interest in almost every subject, but I'm not sure anyone could make a decent story out of that run down hole in the wall."

     

    "The town hall is no doubt cleaner, but no less dull for that. Besides which, one of the P&Z guys tried to flirt with me. Men have no class."

     

    James shoots Elliot an exasperated look. Linda continues as if she didn't notice.

     

    "Anyway, the only thing I found that seemed out of place was this."

     

    She pulls a manila envelope with a large, stylized hourglass (or is in an infiniti symbol?) scrawled on the front. They all lean forward as she opens it. Inside are a series of measurements. Various psychoactive chemicals present in the city waste water. Estrogen, alcohol, nicotine, and THC lead the charge.

     

    "What in the-"

     

    "Probably irrelevant."

     

    "I saw Hank sketching that symbol just a few days before his death. It's not nothing."

     

    "Come to think of it, I think I saw somethin' of the sort in the bathroom at the trash facility."

     

    The three stare at the papers in silence for a long time.

     

    ***

     

    He packs his sunglasses in a mesh bag with his other effects- Glock .22 in a waterproof case, butterfly knife, an assortment of fake IDs, and a sizable wad of cash- and straps it to his back before diving into the river. The cold is almost unbearable, but he keeps his eyes glued to the park on the other side and gives it his all.

     

    Ten minutes later he arrives, dripping, in Windsor, Ontario.

     

    When he arrives at his small apartment nearby, he's nearly hypothermic, but he has an electric blanket and a shot of epinephrine waiting by the door. Once his condition is more stable, he steps into the shower and cranks the heat. He smiles as he lathers. In a drawer by his bed, his passport sits idle. One stamp entering Canada, nearly three weeks ago, and none leaving. The perfect alibi. He's beyond the reach of a law, and ready for some rest.

  4. This is the Prologue.

    It tells of what came before.

     


    4


    Decadent robes hiked up to his waist, a wrinkled man wearing more jewelry than clothing ascends the stairs at as fast a clip as he can muster. Those among the living he passes salute or bow to him, but he pays them no mind: he is too focused on blocking out the nauseating squish that accompanies his every step. Every few meters, he is forced to move around the form of a fallen soldier, and in most cases, there is no way to avoid the blood and... other fluids that have since caked into the plush carpet once the unfortunates were left to bleed out. Healers and battemages tend to the casualties fortunate to survive the slaughter, but the rest...

    Gods, so much blood.

     

    At least, he comforts himself, most of these poor souls are important enough to warrant resurrection. They are, after all, the best that the Empire has.

    He rounds the corridor of the ninth level much more easily than the floors previous, given that there are no bodies, only to stop short at the macabre display left upon the final flight of stairs. The scene from hell itself, with still-burning tapestries, half-mutilated bodies draped at unnatural angles, and entrails strewn across the path forces his supper to unceremoniously evacuate his stomach. He quite fortunately manages to catch the holy sign and other baubles around his neck before it happens. The two guards at the top of the steps continue staring forward as if nothing has occurred.

     

    Catching his breath, he gingerly steps around his sick, still careful to keep his robes of office far from the floor, and picks his way up through the obscene scene around him. If the guardsmen recognize him, which they should, given the significance of his position, they do not show it. They do not move at all as he passes through the flame-pocked doorway into the throne room itself.

     

    "Howar," the familiar baritone rumbles behind him. He turns to find Garzahd propped against the front wall of the room, peering into open space. "Thank you for coming."

     

    "I came as quickly as I could," he responds, turning back to search through the room. Even though the throne room is equipped with massive braziers to light up night audiences, only a few torches are in use, making it difficult to see. "The Emperor's body, where is it?"

     

    "Gone," The answer comes from a silhouetted figure in the back of the throne room that Howar does not recognize. "Dusted. We will have to wait until morning to be sure, but it's doubtful that there is enough left."

     

    "I don't understand," Howar says, returning to Garzahd. "I presumed that you had called me here to resurrect him. Why else call for the High Priest?."

     

    "You are here because I require your political prowess," Garzahd says, eyes still fixed on some unidentifiable point of the floor in front of him.

     

    "Political prowess? In such an emergency? Garzahd!" The wizard's eyes snap up to regard Howar. "Do we know who did this?"

     

    Garzahd's response is wordless: he merely regards the darkness to his right, and conjures a magical light to illuminate the large serpentine rune burned into the marble floor.

    Howar instinctively clutches his holy symbol and backs away, his throat too hoarse from the sick to properly shriek in terror.

    The figure behind the throne supplies the words for Howar's thoughts:

     

    "A single silent symbol tells a story that would fill volumes, doesn't it? Erika Redmark literally signed the assassination. It would make for excellent poetry, if it did not so clearly violate our laws of censure. And that's not even the best part."

     

    Howar cannot be sure if the words are bitter irony or outright praise, but they clearly show a measure of respect for the outcast worm... "I'm sorry," he forces out before trying to clear his throat. "Just who are you?"

     

    "Ah, manners," Garzahd says. "I assumed you knew General Limoncelli."

     

    "Only by reputation, of course," Howar says, trying to view into Limoncelli's tall outline.

     

    "Charmed," Limoncelli does not move.

     

    A moment of tense silence passes before Howar asks, "How did she do it... I thought... the curse?"

     

    Garzahd shakes his head. "The death curse that I placed on her only triggers in response to sunlight. We thought it would be the most... appropriate measure of punishment."

     

    "Given the timing, that alone would have worked, had she not acted by proxy," Limoncelli explains. "Instead, she managed to teleport a small group of fighters past all of our defenses... and teleport them back out."

     

    "I still don't understand," Howar says. He has finally found a portion of carpet that does not squish with his every movement. "The spells? The antimagic field? The teleportation measures? We were prepared for this."

     

    "We were only prepared for what we knew they had," Garzahd corrects him. "Erika clearly tapped into something even more powerful than she. There is no other explanation."

     

    "What, artifacts? A demonic alliance?" Howar asks.

     

    "It's possible," Garzahd responds. His moving hands betray that he is thinking through the rites that might allow such a thing. "Quite possible. Our last reports from Below suggested that an army of demons had escaped imprisonment. Erika was part of the group that sealed them; she may well have let them loose, for a price."

     

    "Anything to get what she wanted; yes, that was Erika." Howar shudders at the thought. "She was a menace."

     

    "Is," Garzahd corrects him again.

     

    "Is a menace," Howar amends. "Well, we can't simply banish her again, now can we? She's already there, and besides...[censored]!" He is shocked that the thought has only just now come. "An heir! He's dead, and no heir!"

     

    "Hence, why you were summoned," Garzahd states, returning his gaze to the floor near Howar's feet. "Limoncelli and I have been talking. You see, there are... oh, we're not entirely sure, at least a dozen illegitimate claimants to the throne in Solaria alone. A few of them even live here in the Spire. But we're going to need your help determining the best one to continue the royal line."

     

    "The Council of Governors will never stand to have a bastard on the throne," Howar says, trying to figure out just what Garzahd is looking at.

     

    "They will if you validate the union." Garzahd looks up to meet Howar in the eyes. "It'll be two or three days before the Council is fully assembled. We have until then to provide them with the heir. I'm thinking one of the younger ones, and I, of course, will be happy to serve as temporary Regent."

     

    "I will help preserve the line," Howar agrees. "That is my duty. But why do you assume that I'll be your patsy?"

     

    "Because of the single most important detail in the room." Garzahd smiles a twisted, mocking smile. "Obviously, you missed it; otherwise, you wouldn't be standing on it."

     

    Limoncelli's deep, resonating, ironic chuckle sounds behind Howar as the High Priest looks down and promptly stumbles back.

     

    Written in blood and ash, ground into the carpet by Howar's feet, are two words:

     

    "WE REMEMBER"

     

    Howar whispers the words, trying to understand.

     

    "It's not just Erika," the general says, behind him. "It's all of them. And now that they've found a way into the one place designed to keep them out, it's only a matter of time before they come out somewhere else. And kill again. Why stop with kings when you can directly address the men who threw you in the pit? The Judge who passed your sentence? The... priest who used his influence to make you disappear?"

     

    "Gods," Howar swears, his hands again reaching for his holy symbol. "What will you do?"

     

    "We will do what we have to do," Limoncelli says. "When a dog repeatedly turns on its master, there is only one course of action.

     

     

     

     

    "It must be put down."

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    Balladeer
    Latest Entry

    Was bored one day so I browsed available movies to watch instantly on Netflix and came across this gem. Saw David was in it and gave it a go. I loved it, though I cannot say I would have loved it as much without David. He did a brilliant job (as in my bias he always does) but I think the writing was good enough for other actors to do a brilliant job of it, too. Maybe a little too much awkwardness on the part of the leading lady and the shop owner's interest in her was just plain creepy. All in all I recommend it to anyone who likes a wee love story now and again.

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    Sitting in the train one day on my way back from college, I was joined by a bearded, elderly man who had with him one of those big, man-sized umbrellas which can so conveniently be also used as walking sticks. After making himself comfortable on the seat beside me, he began to recite a series of slokas under his breath.

     

    Now this is very unusual behaviour, for slokas are usually recited in front of a holy idol only. Why should a person recite slokas in a train? I asked him whether he was a Brahmin. The world, as our great grandfathers knew it, was divided into four primary castes; the Kshatriyas (kings/warriors), Brahmins (priests/learned men), Vaishyas (traders/businessmen) and Shudras (peasants).

     

    Naturally, I assumed that he was from the Brahmin caste. They are the most ardent worshippers of, and are devoted to, our gods and goddesses. But he said, no, he wasn't a Brahmin. He proceeded to tell me that, in fact, he wasn't even a Hindu. He was a Christian by birth, but had read all the religious texts of the three dominant religions. He was an astrologer. I said, great. An astrologer. Can he elaborate upon the faint ideas that I have of astrology having to do with a person's life being determined by the time and place of the person's birth? Why, yes, he told me, that is true. When a newborn baby has its first contact with Earth, the baby's destiny is planned. It has to do with latitudes, longitudes, and the positions of the various planets at the time of birth.

     

    What is my nakshatram, he asked. I replied, Chodhi. Hm, hm, hm. You were influenced by bad planets my son, but don't worry, Jupiter will save you until you are about 34. You must have had an unpleasant childhood, yes? (I nodded slightly at this one, not wanting to disappoint him) And, oh yes, - people with Chodhi usually have problems with their studies, so take care.

     

    Diplomatic though I usually strive to be, a look of skepticism must have flitted past my face, for he told me that I shouldn't consider what he says to be some fantastic ramblings of a deranged old man. All of this, he said, has a firm basis in science. You see, it's like this: The Sun emits energy. This energy (or some of it), when falling on the planets, if reflected back onto Earth. This is Good. When energy is not reflected, it is Bad. And because of <insert un-understandable physics-related thing here> you see that electrons are involved in the whole process. This combination of Good and Bad (put together by several complex astrological formulas) is what determines, at least in part, what a person is.

     

    Sad is my knowledge of Physics, and our conversation was one-sided to so great an extent that I resigned myself to meekly listening to everything he said, and nodding wisely whenever he said anything about electrons and energy. Sigh.

  5. Lartaynior was sitting in the common room of the inn in Almaria. From time to time, he liked to pretend he was a commoner and get a feel for the general opinions of the populace. Today, the feeling was agitation. Merchants wanted out of the city to sell in the refugee encampment across the river, but no one was being allowed across the bridge. I wish I could make them understand how necessary this is. No matter how many times he had explained his reasons for sealing off the city, the people just didn't understand. Thomys had sworn that the evil presence was still east of the river.

     

    "Give me another mushroom merlot," he said to the barkeep.

    He downed the concoction and got up to leave. As he was leaving, a man in a dark robe approached him.

     

    "I have a proposition for you," he said in a sibilant voice.

     

    "Who are you?"

     

    "A friend."

     

    "Fine. Say what you've come to say."

     

    "Not here. Too many ears. Follow me."

     

    "Alright."

     

    Giving a meaningful look to his disguised guardsmen, he followed the man out of the inn. They walked into an alleyway, his guards discreetly following.

     

    "What is it you came to say?"

     

    "Roband of Dharmon says hello."

     

    "What?"

     

    That was the last word he ever uttered. A wire garrote slipped around his neck from behind. He had never seen the hidden man, and now he never would. His guards rushed up and dispatched the two, but it was too late. The king of Avernum was lying on the ground, his lifeblood pumping out of his throat.

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