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A Clear Sign



Rodford Edmiston

(An excerpt from a proposed novel)
        Attisa wandered the Drow city, ignoring the annoyed and accusing looks of the people passing her. She was too busy wrestling with a dilemma to pay them any attention. Her contact here, the elf who had worked so well with her, was missing, almost certainly the victim of a kidnapping. He was just as certainly still alive; she could feel it, through that odd bond they had formed. Which faction had kidnapped Delenor was irrelevant. That he needed rescue was obvious, but it was unlikely to happen unless she performed the act herself... and that would screw the treaty negotiations royally. Of course, without Delenor those negotiations would, at best, be drawn out by years to an ultimately unsatisfying result. Even if she rescued him, he could still be taken off the negotiations on a pretext. The current ruling family might well be the ones responsible for his disappearance, and if so he could even be declared a traitor, accused of slanting the negotiations in favor of Olympus. They could claim that he was cooperating too closely with Attisa, out of hope for personal gain. In that case, she would have to offer him asylum, and matters would really get complicated.

        She sighed, wishing she could talk this over with someone. Unfortunately, there was no one here she had found worthy of trust except Delenor, and using mindspeech to seek advice from someone back on Olympus was not recommended for a number of reasons. She wanted to rescue her friend, but was her emotional motivation reason enough to jeopardize the treaty?

        Carefully, Attisa weighed the facts for and against taking direct action... and achieved a zero sum. There simply wasn't enough hard data to make a decision rationally, and she feared that her lack of objectivity was making her biased in any case. In the end it all boiled down to one question, and she would have to answer it by herself, as best as she could, using her own judgement. So, she thought, do I rescue Delenor?

        An odd movement ahead caught her eye, and she raised her head. The crowd had parted for a moment, and there stood Stickmaker, just ten feet away. He smiled, and nodded; then the Drow, oblivious to his presence, crowded back in. By the time Attisa reached the spot he was gone.

        I can hardly ask for a clearer sign than that! Attisa decided, as she hurried back to her room. She had never told anyone about Stickmaker, and her memories of him were buried in a place where they couldn't be brought forth against her will without killing her. That had to have been him, and it therefore had to be important for her to rescue Delenor. If Stickmaker himself took the trouble to give her such an encouragement, she was certainly not going to ignore it!

        Attisa rushed into her room, closed the door and activated her wards and guards. Then she stood for a moment, reaching out with her mind. This would probably be detected, but she expected to be on her way before anyone could react. Contact was made, and immediately, she felt the familiar weight of her armor, as it settled onto her body. She couldn't Call power here; the Drow were very careful about who had access to magic. That meant she was limited to her personal store. However, the armor, besides the obvious function of providing physical protection, also had its own store, freely available to her. With that much power she ought to be able to do a great deal of rescuing.

        A few more moments of preparation, and she was ready. Attisa sat at the table, leaned her weight on it, closed her eyes, and called to him.

        "Come on, just a few sips," chided Brentnor, smiling as he held the gourd of foul water to Delenor's lips. "You know we can't let you get too dehydrated."

        Nearby, the torturer's immediate superior, the wizard Pegmantine, scowled as he watched the elf on the rack refuse to drink, his eyes stubbornly closed.

        "He's always been like that," muttered Pegmantine. "Ready to give his all for a principle. He gets some notion in his head, and nothing can move him. He has no pragmatism whatsoever, just this odd obsession with various abstract concepts."

        Brentnor started to answer, but was interrupted.


        It was faint, like the echo of a distant, desperate cry, but seemed to carry vast weight.

        "What in the lower hells was that?" gasped Pegmantine. This dungeon was sealed against any form of spying or skrying or mindspeech. It was a mystical dead zone - or was supposed to be!

        "Attisa," whispered Delenor, opening his eyes in wonder.

        She appeared like a slap of thunder, a tall, blond woman in full armor and holding a sword at the ready, all surrounded by a glowing yellow shell of magic. Brentnor swore, and ran towards the stairs, calling for help. Pegmantine raised his hands and cast his most powerful quick attack spell, only to see it glance off that yellow shell without causing any harm. Attisa raised her left hand and loosed a bolt that struck flesh from bone, and Pegmantine's smoking corpse collapsed to the floor.

        Brentnor, seeing this, started up the stairs. Attisa raised her hand again, only this time a rope of golden light closed the distance and wrapped around the elf, dragging him to her. She caught him with her left hand, holding him off the stones with no apparent effort.

        "Who do you work for?"

        "Attisa, no," croaked Delenor. "He won't talk; none of them will. You have to leave here."

        "All right," she told him, tossing the torturer aside and walking quickly to the rack. "But I'm not going alone."

        As much as she would have liked to stay and level this place, she had already used a profligate amount of power, and still had much to do. A quick gesture, and the straps holding her friend came loose. Attisa sheathed her sword and lifted him into her arms, feeling sick as she realized the injuries which had been done to him. She concentrated, focusing on her room, and the specially guarded circle she had made there. There was contact, and she made the distance go away.

        Nearly exhausted now, she placed Delenor on her bed and sat on the floor beside him. A quick inspection showed that he wasn't as badly hurt as she had first thought. She commented on this, as she brought him water, the pitcher lifting from its stand and lofting across the room to her hand.

        "They gave me food and water between sessions, and even some water during," he explained, after quenching his thirst. "They even called in a healer twice, when they went too far. They wanted me to last."

        That roused her anger again, and Attisa used the emotion to help her prepare a strong healing spell. She began the spell, then recalled it, wasting a small portion of the energy, when she realized that he was resisting the magic. This was a natural ability of his kind, and something she had thought was under conscious control.

        "You have to trust me, Delenor. Relax, and don't fight this."

        "I can't," he said, quietly. "It is in our nature to not trust others, to depend only on ourselves. I just can't let down my guard, not for you, not for anyone."

        "Delenor, haven't you ever wondered why you are so different?" she asked, desperate to convince him. "Most Drow suffer a hereditary madness, a sort of paranoia. A few, like you, escape this, but are still pressured by the culture the others have developed to act like them. The truth is that you don't have to! You can be what you want; you aren't bound by a crippled heritage, the way they are!"

        She almost had him, but not quite, and they didn't have a lot of time.

        "I can't change what I am," he said, in a strained voice.

        "Delenor, I won't hurt you. I can't. I love you, and you love me. That's why I found you so easily! When you heard my call, you answered, and guided me to you!"

        "I couldn't have," he gasped, denying it. "I didn't have the strength!"

        "No, but I did. When you heard me, you caught my mindcall and drew strength from it. We have already shared power." She cupped his head in her hands. "Please, Delenor. They will be here soon, and I need you well to help me."

        Some great inner battle was taking place, that much was obvious, though the outcome, and even the nature, were not. Finally, he sighed and sank into the bed, not relaxed but completely exhausted.

        "Try," he whispered.

        She cast the spell again and, glory be, there was no resistance. The operation took longer than any healing spell the elf had ever heard of, but when she had finished he felt wonderful, without even that lagging sensation normally associated with magically aided healing. In fact, he felt so good that he impulsively jumped to his feet and glanced at his body, then laughed as he saw no sign of injuries.

        "Oh, my," said Attisa, who was kneeling almost directly in front of him. "What they say about elf males is true!"

        Delenor suddenly realized that the tattered remains of his clothing had fallen away, leaving him naked. He froze.

        "Uh...," he said, completely nonplused, "I, uh..."

        "What's behind you?" asked Attisa.

        "The bed?" said Delenor.

        "That's right. And what's on the bed?"

        "A blanket!" he cried in relief. He quickly wrapped this around himself, while Attisa rose to her feet.

        "Be careful," she told him. "The spell I used is known as the Warrior's Second Wind. It is a complete restoration for now, but you will very tired later. If you exert yourself you will be exhausted, and some of your wounds may even reappear."

        "I understand," he said, nodding. "And Attisa... Thank you."

        "A Drow saying thank you?" she gasped, in mock astonishment. "Now I have seen something even my Grandfather hasn't!"

        There was a loud and forceful knocking on the door, and the time for joking was over.



This document is Copyright 1999 to Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: stickmaker@usa.net by those wishing permission to repost this.