of THE HELIX FROM BEYOND
from Kothar of the Magic Sword
Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
He stood on a flat rock, above a rolling grassland that stretched away toward low hills and a forested slope in the distance. Closer, where he stood with the cloak flapping in the warm wind, rocks were piled high as though a giant hand had flung them together in a playful mood.
The sky was yellow here, and the wind seemed to whisper as with many soft voices. Almost, it seemed he could understand those voices. They warned him, they counseled him, but he could not understand their words, only the mood they wrote across his mind with their faint suspirations. A shadow moved along the ground. Looking up, he saw a giant eagle soaring along on the wind currents, with widespread wings.
Kothar shook himself.
There was a black tower in the distance, and a narrow roadway leading to it, past the rock pile where the barbarian stood. He moved down, walked along to the road. There would be someone in the tower, he hoped, who could tell him where he was and how to get back into the room with the helix.
It seemed he had walked for only a little while, then the tower loomed before him, squat and low, with the mark of ineffable age on its dark stones. There were no windows in the tower, none that he could see, at least.
Only a great oaken door, hung with an iron knocker, showed that there was any way in or out of that tower.
Kothar gripped the knocker, banged it hard. The door opened soundlessly. A woman in a tight black kirtle stood there, her face white as chalk, her lips the color of fresh red blood, her eyes behind long black lashes and thin brows like burning black coals. She did not seemed surprised to see him, her lips curled into a faint smile.
“Whom seek you, stranger?”
“The emperor of Avalonia, Kyros. He has my sword Frostfire. I would win it back from him.”
The woman stood back, nodding. “Enter, then. I am Leithe, of this land Nirvalla. I know of Kyros and his golden galley, where he keeps the helix.”
Kothar moved into the hall, his bare feet touching the curious stones that formed the tower floor. Though they appeared cold, the flaggings, each one marked with a magical sign, were quite warm and comfortable. The walls were draped in thick brocades of scarlet and black, with the signs of the Seven Sisters of Salathus worked into their materials. An iron torchiere on the wall held a length of glowing wood that gave off a surprising amount of bluish light.
The woman walked ahead of him, her round haunches swaying with catlike grace as she led the way into a room beyond the hall. Here was set a long banqueting table, with crystal goblets and platters of earthenware.
“Eat, stranger. While you dine, I will tell you a little tale,” Leithe murmured, moving to the table, lifting the cover from a platter and revealing steaming meat, gesturing at a salver piled with bread, removing the top of a plate that held several cheeses.
She poured red wine into a crystal goblet for him as Kothar seated himself on a bench. Her black eyes studied his great body, nodding from time to time as she mentally assayed the strength in his rolling muscles. “You may be the one,” she told him as he reached for meat and bread. “Long have I waited for you to come walking down that road.”
“The one for what?” the Cumberian asked, between bites.
“The man to break the spell of Thaladomis.” Kothar blinked, head lifting with surprise. “The emperor’s magician? What’s he got to do with Nirvalla?”
The woman seated herself at the table, reached for a crystal goblet and sipped at the red wine it contained; Her eyes brooded as she looked back into the past.
“This world of Nirvalla was created by the arch-mage Phronalom.
“Phronalom was the greatest wizard of his time. Only the almost mythical Afgorkon was his better, it is said. Phronalom lived in the kingdom of Althasia, long and long ago, perhaps forty thousand of your years.”
The barbarian nodded, wiping his wine-wet lips with the back of his hairy forearm. “I’ve heard of Althasia and of Phronalom. They tell fairy tales about them in Vandacia.”
The woman began to talk. Althasia in those days was a world of tyrants and warlords, of armies marching to conquest, of soldiers in little bands breaking into the homes of citizens, carrying them off with their wives and children to serve the desires, of King Drongol. To King Drongol, his people existed only to pleasure his royal whims and fulfill the needs of his kingdom.
He established breeding farms where his most valiant warriors acted as studs to the healthiest and loveliest women of the kingdom. Children and more children, demanded the king. Male children, to train as warriors, female children to bear more future warriors.
Phronalom lived in Althasia, content with his magic and his beloved wife, Ayatha. Ayatha was reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world at that time. On her, King Drongol cast a wanting eye. Not for himself, he had concubines by the hundreds to assauge, his lusts; he wanted Ayatha for his breeding farms, for she was as wise as she was beautiful. By his spells, Phronalom learned of this plan, and decided to thwart it. None could match him for his esoteric knowledge, his understanding of necromancies and the darkwisdoms. Though King Drongol had surrounded himself with wizards, Phronalom was the greatest of them all.
On a wild night, when lightning shredded the sky with yellow flashes and the rains poured down like the tears of the gods, Phronalom summoned up the demon spirits who served him. On these incubi, he asked a simple question. How could he escape the evil schemes of Drongol?
The demons told him he must build a helix. The helix would be the doorway into a world that the helix itself, by means of the necromantic spells and cantraips by which it was formed, would create. Into that world—Nirvalla—Phronalom and Ayatha could flee, and with them such retainers and acquaintances as might choose to make the journey.
In his sorcerous sanctuary, Phronalom performed the rites to make the helix. It took seven hours, even with the demons of Ebthor and Nixus to help him. During these seven hours, the soldiers of King Drongol came for Ayatha. To the pounding of their spear-butts on the door, Phronalom finished his incantation,
The golden helix glowed for the first-time.
Into Nirvalla, this land of magical enchantment, stepped Phronalom and his wife, with many of their servitors and their acquaintances. It was a lush, young world, as Yarth itself might have been before the coming of man. The winds were sweet, the grasses rich and lush, the trees heavily leaved so that when the wind stirred them their branches made music like that of a thousand harps. The water of this magical world was sweet, the meats of its animals tasty.
Here lived the great mage, happily untouched by human hates and greeds and lusts. The land he gave freely to his friends. There was so much of it, no man or woman would be crowded, and with his cantrips, Phronalom could always extend its borders.
“There is no age in Nirvalla, no Time,” smiled Leithe, refilling their crystal cups. “For close to forty thousand of your years we have dwelt here, in a kind of paradise.
“We can conjure up what we want, out of the very air, for Nirvalla is a land of sorcery, and that very sorcery seems to be alive in the air.”
Kothar swallowed his wine and pushed away his empty platter. His hand went automatically to where Frostfire usually hung in its scabbard, but when his fingers closed on empty air, he frowned.
“What of Kyros? How did he get the helix?” he asked.
Leithe smiled sadly. “Thaladomis is a mighty mage. He was born in Vandacis, in that land which was known once as Althasia. He had heard of the great Phronalom, and devoted his early years to tracking down old parchments and palimpsests which told of his enchantments. In dusty cellars and forgotten tombs he came upon these relics of a forgotten age.”
Studying the scrolls, Thaladomis realized that he could himself venture into Nirvalla, perhaps even steal the helix. However, he was magician enough to know that the helix would be guarded by terrible spells, and first he must find a way to counteract those sorceries.
Long he hunted, until at last, beside the white dust of what had been a skeleton centuries ago, he came upon a length of parchment which, protected by necromancies, had endured through the years. The parchment told how each member of the little group who had gone into Nirvalla with Phronalom and Ayatha wore magic cloaks that protected them from the baneful influence of the helix.
Creating such a cloak for himself with the aid of certain demons who hated the demons of Ebthor and Nixus, Thaladomis went himself into Nirvalla. He found the helix, and spoke the word that would enable him to touch it.
With the helix, Thaladomis went from Nirvalla into his own world. The prize was his, but when he had finished gloating over it, Thaladomis realized he was no better of than he was before. He could go in or out of Nirvalla, but what good would that do him? He was a man who enjoyed life, the kisses of women and their caresses, the taste of rare foods and fine wines, and the helix would give him none of these.
Still, there must be a man in his world who would pay him well for the helix, for the privilege of going into Nirvalla and enjoying its eternal youthfulness. For two years, Thaladomis pondered, then he decided on a prospective buyer, at the suggestion of a merchant named Nestorius.
Avalonia was the richest kingdom in all Yarth. The emperor Kyros was its richest man. To Kyros then, went Thaladomis, with the helix. He permitted Kyros to don the cloak and walk into the hidden lands, and when he emerged, Kyros was exultant. He offered Thaladomis a fortune in gold and jewels, he built Thaladomis a palace only slightly less luxurious than his own. The magician was given his pick of the beautiful women of his court.
Leithe laughed harshly. “That fat man, coming here and going when and where he would, in perfect safety! Phronalom does not dare harm him, for fear Thaladomis might destroy the helix in retaliation.
“And if that happens—“
“Nirvalla is no more!”
Leithe stared down into her empty goblet, turning it around and around with her slender fingers. “You might think forty thousand years is a long time, stranger. It is no more than the winking of an eyelid to us who enjoy the pleasures of Nirvalla.”
Her black eyes rose to study his big, muscular body. “We have all we want here, except age and misery. If I want a youth for my enjoyment, all I need to do is—” Her slim white fingers made certain signs in the air. A young man in a short chiton stood before them, golden locks on his head, a small harp in his hands. Leithe stared at him with warm eyes.
“Vathik,” she smiled. “He loves me. And he plays the harp beautifully, almost as well as fabled Otheron.” Her fingers wriggled, the youth disappeared. Leithe sighed. Kothar grinned at her bent head. “I can see why you enjoy this kind of life—but it isn’t for me. I’d rust from idleness. Give me Frostfire and a way back to my own world and time, and I’ll be grateful.”
Leithe lifted her head, staring at him. “You could be the one,” she said at last. “You see, when Thaladomis stole the helix, he was forced by the very nature of the demoniac magic that went into the creation of the helix to cast a spell in its place.
“By his spell, Thaladomis placed Ayatha herself in thrall for the helix. If the helix is returned to Nirvalla—Ayatha dies!”
Kothar growled, “Then how in the name of great Dwalka can I help? How can anyone help?”
A scarlet fingernail traced a little sign on the bare wooden tabletop. “There is a way,” murmured Leithe. “It needs a brave man, a man with a crazy, mad kind of courage. But it can be done.”
“The spell involves the demon Warrl. By trickery, Thaladomis imprisoned Warrl inside a great ruby on which the necromancies that control the return of the helix to Nirvalla as well as the life or death of Ayatha are engraved. Shatter that ruby—and you release the demon inside it and render useless the incantations that prevent the return of the helix. Shattered, the ruby spell that decides whether Ayatha lives or dies is also rendered null and void. The trouble is—no one knows where the ruby is hidden but Thaladomis himself.”
Kothar nodded, “That’s easy to understand—but first I must find Kyros.”
The woman frowned. “Why Kyros? He is nothing!”
“He carries Frostfire,” Kothar grinned coldly, showing his big white teeth. “And I mean to have my sword back.”
Leithe laughed softly. “I can show you a dozen swords, give them all to you—come with me!”
She rose with a supple twisting of her slim body beneath the clinging black stuff of her gown. A beautiful woman was Leithe the enchantress and at another time, Kothar told himself, he might be interested in teaching her how a man who did not disappear at the flick of the fingers might please her fleshly needs far better than Vathik.
Following her twitching buttocks out into the hall and up a flight of wooden steps, Kothar came to the round tower room where Leithe performed her own incantations. There were vials and parchments here; in the cabinets about the walls were the dried wings of bats, the hairs of cats, the many artifacts needed for her spells. On several prie-dieux were open volumes containing the lore of a thousand wizards.
On a golden tripod, set into a velvet-lined ring, was a large silver ball. The surface of the globe was highly polished, so that it hurt the eyes to gaze upon it. Leithe crossed to the ball, touched it with her fingers; Kothar saw that high gloss vanish so that the ball became transparent as crystal. In it, little black wisps of smoke appeared to float.
“Gaze, stranger!” Leithe whispered.
There was a tiny sword inside the globe, a great, two-handed weapon with a glittering blade that glistened as if sunlight touched it. “Jortos swung that blade, Jortos the hero of Alvia, in his defense of his homeland. It is yours, if you say the word.”
Her fingers moved again and the two-handed sword was replaced by a curved scimitar with a red velvet wrapped hilt in which gleamed a blue jewel. “Salamor used that sword when he destroyed the demon gods of Oasia. If you want it, nod your head.”
“Frostfire was made by Afgorkon,” the barbarian rumbled. “Afgorkon gave it to me to help Queen Elfa. I feel naked without it. I want only Frostfire.”
“And Kyros carries that sword?” Leithe asked. Her palm went down on the globe, pressed it. Her blued eyelids closed so that her lashes made little black fans on her cheeks. She seemed almost not to breathe, to be no mores than a wax manikin of a woman for a few seconds.
“Look,” she breathed.
Inside the globe, Kyros sat on a flat rock that bordered a limpid pool in which naiads swam, laughing and sporting with one another. Two of them, naked, were holding bunches of purple grapes to Kyros’ lips, bidding him swallow this fruit of Nirvalla.
Leithe whispered, “The grapes give him youthfulness to carry into his world. He has been here before, that man. He is almost as deadly as Thaladorhis, for he intends to bring soldiers here—and to make Nirvalla his own where he will rule forever.
“He is a wicked, evil man. He would destroy our peace.” Leithe sighed, nodding “Yes, perhaps it is best that you go to Kyros and take Frostfire away from him.” She held up a warning finger. “But I must tell you one thing. You can not kill Kyros in Nirvalla. He is protected by the same spell that keeps us all young. There is no death here, and the man who tries to kill another—dies himself.”
Kothar growled, “By Dwalka! You try a man’s patience with all these limitations on what a man may do. Very well I’ll heed—you but can I choke him, just a little?”
The woman laughed, throwing back her head. “Yes, Kothar—choke him, but not unto death!” Her right hand lifted. It made signs at the giant barbarian. Kothar felt cold, as if he were embedded inside the great glacier that lay astride parts of Cumberia and Thuum in his northland home. In that cold, his chains turned to powder, blew away.
He gasped for breath—
Kyros was five feet away, nibbling at the grapes the naked naiads fed him. In its jeweled scabbard, Frostfire lay propped between his knees. Kothar tensed on the rock where he stood, about to make his leap.
The emperor looked slimmer, stronger, to his eyes, and he realized that the grapes were feeding his flesh with youth and strength. He was not so much the fat fop now as he was a younger, more vital man. The jewels he wore on his fingers, the great emerald hanging in its golden circlet from his throat, seemed almost put out of place.
Kothar began his leap. Kyros saw him from the corners of his eyes. He sprang aside, thrusting a naiad between himself and the barbarian. At the same time his right hand moved down to grip Frostfire’s hilt and yank free the blued blade.
The naiad screamed as her falling body hit Kothar just below the knees, toppling him forward. The barbarian fell heavily, almost at the feet of the youthful emperor.
Up came that great blade, poised to strike. Kothar cried, “Wait. There is a curse on that steel, Kyros!”
The wind had been knocked from his great body so that the Cumberian could only, lie there and drag in mouthfuls of air into his lungs as Kyros lowered the point of the blade and touched it to his throat.
“What curse, barbarian? Tell me before I slay you— and tell me also how you came into this, hidden land I paid Thaladomis well for that privilege! If every thief in Avalonia can cross over into Nirvalla, I’ll begin to think the mage cheated me!”
Kothar grunted against the point digging into his neck flesh. “I hooked the cloak with my chain, just as you disappeared. But that’s of no importance. What is important is the fact that no man who owns Frostfire can own any other wealth!”
The emperor laughed, quite good-naturedly. “Liar! See my jewels. Study the emerald eyeglass I carry about my neck. Men would die to own those things, they are worth small kingdoms, of themselves.”
“They are glass,” grinned Kothar. Kyros, slightly startled, glanced at his left hand where he wore three rings. At the same time he pressed the point deeper into Kothar’s throat, so that it drew a speck of blood from his sun-bronzed flesh.
“Liar! They are—”
Frantically, Kyros held his left hand higher so the yellow light of Nirvalla struck it, showed the jewels in his rings to be lusterless and dull. Flushing with disbelief, the emperor clawed at the great emerald in its golden filigree work at the end of his neck-chain.
And Kothar struck.
His arm hit the blade, knocked it sideways. He came rolling off a hip, driving his massively muscled body into the emperor’s legs. Back went Kyros, to thud down hard on the grassy bank. Before the man could move, Kothar leaped. His powerful fingers went deep into his fat throat as he flung himself astraddle across his body. Those mighty fingers tightened.
Kyros tried to scream, but could not.
His eyes bulged, his fat cheeks shook, his mouth was a huge, distorted circle of bluish-lips. The flabby hands that had been caressing the naked naiads were now writhing at the iron-hard wrists
bearing the weight of those suffocating hands deeper, deeper into his throat.
Then Kothar grinned, and let his fingers relax a little. Kyros made a whistling sound in his throat as he dragged air into his lungs.
The barbarian growled, “Do you want to die?” Frantically, Kyros shook: his head. “No,” he whimpered. “No, no—have mercy, Kothar!”
“I will have mercy, Kyros—if you tell me of the spell Thaladorhis wove to enable him to keep the helix out of Nirvalla.”
It was a long shot he was betting on, the Cumberian knew, but he understood men, and as sly a ruler as Kyros would never have committed his precious person into the safekeeping of as strange a world as Nirvalla without some assurance that he was safe. Kyros would have demanded, when he paid the price for the helix, reassurances that he would be unharmed in this magic land.
Thaladomis would have told him of the ensorceled ruby and of the spell the mage had put upon it which would make the helix safe from removal back into Nirvalla. The necromancer would have boasted of his slyness in hiding that jewel so its spell could not be removed but the emperor would have wheedled the information out of him. The flicker of understanding in Kyros’ eyes told him he was right.
Kyros panted, “I—I don’t know.”
Iron fingers tightened once again. Kyros beat the air with his plump, perfumed hands, making movements with his blue lips. “Wa—wait,” he gasped. “Perhaps I do remember.”
Kothar took away his hand. Kyros lay there gasping, moving his head from right to left and back again. There were big purple blotches on his neck.
“Thaladomis locked a powerful demon inside the ruby gem of Gwanthol,” Kyros babbled. “The jewel he hid in the—in the belly of Skrye, the great eagle of Nirvaha.”
“An eagle?” Kothar rumbled. Kyros nodded, smiling a wicked grin. “Yes, an eagle created by a spell of the magician, an eagle nothing can harm. Skrye flies high, barbarian—in the cold reaches of the clouds, where no man and no arrow can go.”
As if in mockery, an eagle screamed, high up where the sky made a blue vault, specked with distant clouds. Kothar knelt astride the emperor of Avalonia, and knew disgust. He could never hope to catch and slay that eagle. His keen eyes picked out the tiny white dot soaring there, and he sighed. His quest was hopeless.