Read chapter Three from The Druid Stone

Chapter 3

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

the druid stone gardner f fox ebook pulp paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library historical romance sword and sorcery erotica sleaze

Click here for an Amazon Kindle eBook

  Grayness.  And a kind of death.

  This was his first impression after the blackness.  His eyelids rose upward, seeming almost to creak from long disuse.  He was staring at a room that was rimed with dust and the debris of centuries.  The dust lay over books piled on table and faldstools; it coated the suits of armor and the weapons that hung from pegs in a wall not far away.

  The greystone of the chamber blended with the dust, and through a window, he could look out upon part of a dark and forbidding landscape where trees were black skeletons against a faintly yellow sky.  I know this place, this darkened chamber. It is called Malifarr, in the world of Dis. And he wondered at the knowledge and how it might have come to him.

  He was standing with his back against a cold stone wall.  He shivered, he moved, he lifted a leg and took one step forward.  Dust rose from his dried, crumbling garments. Good God! If his clothes were so old—and they were alien, different, he could see at a glance, lifting an arm to display a sleeve which had once been red velvet—he should be dead.

  He felt dead.  Perhaps in some strange way he had been dead and was now restored to life.  Yes, that must be it. He, Kalgorrn of High Mayence, was—

  Brian Creoghan jumped.

  Kalgorrn of High Mayence?

  A shudder ran across his body as he stood there swaying.  He put his hand to his face, ran quivering fingertips across the unfamiliar broad brow and jutting jaw, firm wide lips and straight nose.  These were not his features! Before God, where was he? What was he?

  A mirror, yes.  A mirror would tell me.

  He turned to search an now he was more of this vast stone room, saw a prie-dieu on a raised wooden dais, a thick volume open on its face, saw glass cases with shapes human and inhuman inside them, all covered with the dust, all bent forward a little as if with the weight of years.  Shelves rimmed the walls and on those shelves were vials and flagons, each of them marked by strange sigils, each half seen through spider webs and dust.

  He stumbled forward, caught at a big chest when he might have slipped and fallen.  He clung there, shaking. He was weak, weak! He lifted a hand, stared at it. It was big, heavy with muscle.  He was Kalgorrn! His body was the body of a giant, a warrior. All Dis know of Kalgorrn.

  And what is Dis, Brian Creoghan?

  Mad!  Of course, that was it!  He was helplessly mad. Something back there in the MacArt museum room where stood the druid stone had caused his brain to snap its mooring.  Or perhaps he only dreamed. Yes, that might be it. He dreamed.

  Well, then.  A dream world explain everything.

  It was not quite that easy.  He knew too much about himself, knew too much about this desolation in which he stood.  This dust and desertion was the work of—of—

  Kalgorrn scowled blackly.  He should remember that name.  Gods, how he should remember! The rage that swelled his veins, that made his right hand ball into a massive fist,  that caused his flesh to quiver, told him this was no dream. Nay, by the silver rings of Nalda!

  He strode forward more purposefully, and as if his blood were newly warmed, it pounded through his body, bringing him life and vitality.  His flesh no longer creaked, it moved as once it was wont to move when he had been Lord of High Mayence. He found the mirror covered over with dust and bat drippings and he cleaned it with a segment of his once-red velvet sleeve.

  Kalgorrn saw a tall man, dark of face and flesh, with thick black hair hanging downward to his shoulders.  His garments were old, old! The cracking leather belt held empty chains from which a scabbard should have hung, and in the scabbard, the sword Shadowmaker.  A chuckle rumbled up from his heavily thewed neck. Shadowmaker was gone, these many years.

 He put his hands  to the red velvet tabard and tore it.  The dried-out stuff shredded in a cloud of old dust, making him sneeze.  Naked he stripped himself and naked he ran his palms over warm, living flesh.

  At least, I am alive again!  Those damned sorceries of…of…

  He turned in the chamber, feeling a cool wind sweep in through the bifore window, chilling him.  The dust lifted, stirred, eddied about the dried books and the weapons rusting in their cases. Vainly he hunted for new garments, for something with which to protect himself from that breeze.

  It was then he heard the voice.

  “Kalgorrn!  Oh, thanks to Nalda!  It is you, Kalgorrn? Alive—and well?  Yes, yes, I can see you. Ah, how good you look, old friend!”

  “What the devil?” he breathed, turning to stare into the darkened corners of this tower room.  “Who speaks to me?”

  There was laughter, soft laughter that brought the hairs up standing on the nape of his thick neck.  Wanton laughter, jeering laughter, laughter that was tender and yet mocking.

  “Have you forgotten me already, man of blood?”

  He grinned wryly.  “I should know you.  I think I do know you.  But I’ve been so long—asleep?—that I cannot say your name.  Speak it for me.”

  “Liar!  You know!  Fann of Malifarr!”

  Red Fann!  Gods, how could he have forgotten?  Tiny windows were opening in his mind, psychic baffles that were letting in memory so that the big man with the heavy muscles and the thick black hair upon his body groaned and lifted his fists and pressed them hard against his temples.

  “Red Fann,” he whispered.  “Aye! And—and Thasaikor!”

  Thasaikor, lord of the seven secrets, ruler of the Lankkhan lands, of the Pont marshes and the fen world close by the Sea of Eternity.  Thasaikor, who wanted Fann dead but could not kill her, who also wanted Kalgorrn dead but could not penetrate the sorcerous spells with which Red Fann had surrounded them both.

  “You remember now?”

  “I am beginning to remember.”

  “Good.  Then come, free me!  Quickly, Kalgorrn. I am impatient to know your kiss as once I knew it long ago!”

  His laughter rumbled.  “Where are you, witch woman?  Where have you hidden yourself, in this monument to Time?”

  “Find me, Kalgorrn! she called.

  He searched the great chamber, his hands curiously gentle with the ancient tomes and the stoppered beakers holding rare liquids still fresh inside them, lifting and putting them to one side.  He did not know where she might be, this witch-woman whom he loved. He would not put it past her to appear as a bat, or a toad, or possibly some misshapen nightmare out of chaos.

  Then he saw the book.  It was a thick volume with wooden covers bound by an iron clasp.  Dust lay upon it as it lay upon everything else in this tower chamber.  Kalgorrn grinned. Trust the witch-woman to hide away in her own tome on magic.

  His hand touched the iron lock, pushed it away.  He lifted the wooded cover that was bound in human skin, and studied the illumined page that bore the title Magus Malificus.  The book was illustrated, he knew.  He began turning its pages until—

  “Witch-woman,” he breathed.

  The illustration was of a witch rubbing salves and unguents into her naked flesh, on the eve or a Sabbat.  The belladonna and the mandragora would help her to fly to meet her master, the one who must be Nameless. The witch was very lovely, with long red hair halfway down her back and with green eyes that slanted sideways in a gleeful stare.

  Aieee!  This was Fann.

  Fann the lovely, Fann the enchantress.  Kalgorrn felt his heart lurch and turn over in his rib case.  Red Fann, who held his heart in her pale white hands, Fann who had fought beside him against dread Thasaikor—and lost.

  “What now witch?”

  “Say the words, Kalgorrn.  Quickly, quickly! I tire of my imprisonment here for so many years.  I would stride beside you, taste your kiss, know the strength of our arms about me.”

  “As I would myself,” he growled.  “But—what words?”

  “Alfar Meminoth, rubal trod,” she began in a singsong chant.  “Kotun warminos, polan jodd!”

  She went on and Kalgorrn repeated the words in the same intonation, for while he was no warlock, he understood well enough that the inflections of a spell might be as important as the words themselves.  He stared at the paper figure of Fann and chanted as she led him with her voice. Then the paper woman was gone, erased completely from the illustration.

  A woman sobbed in the tower room.

  “Kalgorrn, Kalgorrn!  It has been so long!”

  She came running, hurling herself into his embrace.  They kissed a long time, until the woman pushed away and stood flushing, her long red lashes downcast like any maiden.  Then her hands came up to push back her thick red hair.

  “Why did you wake?” she wondered.

  That part of him which was Creoghan had no answer, except to speak of the druid stone and Ugony MacArt.  But the part which was Kalgorrn simply shook his head back and forth.

  “The spell that kept us here for—oh, the stag-god alone knows for how long!—must have been broken by some power we don’t know about,” he said.  “But it makes no difference. We are awake now, you and I, and Thasaikor shall soon know it too.”

  “Who is Thasaikor?  I think I know but—”

  Pity gleaned in her green eyes.  “Poor Kalgorrn! You took the brunt of his spells, didn’t you?  To save me? It affected your memory.”

  Fann stared around the tower chamber, sighing.  “Such a long time has gone by. Centuries, perhaps even a millennia.  And there is so much to do.”

  She stepped over a jar that held musty specimens of witch lore and paused before the volume with the wooden covers.  Her hand turned the pages.

  “Thasaikor is lord of Pont and Lankkhan as you are lord of High Mayence.  Long ago Thasaikor made a bargain with Afgorkon, promising him that if he helped Thasaikor rule our land and the land beyond the Veils,  Afgorkon should be revered in that world called Earth as he is here in Dis.”

  Her eyes lifted and looked at him.

  “Afgorkon is evil, Kalgorrn.  You know it. I know it. Thasaikor knows it too, but Thasaikor lives only for wealth and power.  He invoked Afgorkon and with his powers, overcame us both, imprisoning us here for all eternity.”

  “I should have thought of he’d kill us.”

  “And so he would, had I permitted it.  But you fought Thasaikor and Afgorkon, giving me the time I needed both to save you and myself.”

  She smiled ruefully.  “There is probably little left of High Mayence, which was your domain long ago.  Thasaikor will have exacted vengeance on your people.”

  Kalgorrn growled low in his throat.  A little of his old memory was coming back to him.  He had been a baron in the land of Dis that was adjacent to, and once a part of, Earth itself.  What had they called it long ago? Eden? Aeden? Some such name. It made no difference. The people of Dis went freely into Earth, to the lands of the Egyptians and the Dravidians, to the Muans and the Atlanteans.  They mated with the women, they fathered children.

  And then the wizard Riskol had sought to open up the gates between Earth and Dis, had sought a common ground on which to spread the worship of his master, Azazzael, whom some thought to be a god.  The result had been an explosion of forces on a cosmic scale, that resulted in the closing of the ancient gateways and a separation between Dis and Earth which was to be eternal.

  But the very explosion which had caused the Veils to close had opened little doorways here and there between the two worlds; and the people of Earth, remembering the old days when life had been so easy, when the men of Dis had been like gods, teaching and instructing, sought once again to penetrate the barriers between them.  They built stone monuments here and there, and made sacrifice, and now and then wise men found those doors and besought the people of Dis to step once again upon Earth.

  A few had gone.

  For the most part, however, the Disians had learned their lesson, if the Earth people had not.  There was a power—somewhere—in some space and some time—that was beyond even the necromantic arts of an Afgorkon or even the fabled Omborion.  This power commanded that the gateways be closed. To disobey was tempt annihilation. Yet Thasaikor had dared, Thasaikor had summoned up Afgorkon, and so Thasaikor now ruled Dis with an iron hand.

  And Kalgorrn and Fann, who had fought him, had been chained forever by his sorcerous spells in a sleep that had no ending.  Ah, but their sleep had ended.

  “Why?”  Fann asked, looking over the tome at him.  “Why did it end, Kalgorrn?”

  “I had a dream.  I dreamed I was man of Earth, someone named Brian Creoghan.  I touched a druid stone and—and my ka fled out of me, came here with you.  It is nonsense.”

  “Perhaps not.  Perhaps the life force in us of Dis goes also to the land called Earth, at times.  It must be so.” Her hand touched her broad, low forehead, moved across it fleetingly.  “I—I seem also to have certain recollections.”

  Her shoulders lifted, shrugged.  “No matter. We are awake now, you and I, and there are ways for us to take up the fight with Thasaikor once again.  This time we shall win.”

  “Without an army?  Without my sword Shadowmaker?”

  “I shall help you gather an army and recover Shadowmaker for your hand.  Last time I underestimated Thasaikor. I shall not do so again.”

  The face of Red Fann was as if carved from ivory, pale and angry.  Her thick red mane fell about her white shoulders and her green eyes glowed with theurgic fury above her curling scarlet mouth.  She shook herself, turned back to the book of magic.

  Her head bent.  She began to read the curious words that ran like sigils out of Hell across the parchment page.  The fingers with which she gripped the book showed white with the intensity that shook her body.

  “Great Alth, father of all, Alth who is the beginning and the end, who is also Time and that which we call space, Alth who is all, hear my plea!”

  She went on, whispering the words as if not daring to speak such a conjuration aloud.  Kalgorrn brooded at her, understanding that he alone was nothing before the dark power which served Thasaikor, understanding at the same time that he was also a necessary part of this twin thaumaturgy by which Fann sought to fight the Lord of Lankkhan.  A witch she was, a warrior he was, and the two must fit together as one perfect weapon.

  His big hand opened and closed.  If only he held Shadowmaker in that grip, if his sword might serve him now as it had served him so long ago!  Fann had promised that she would get Shadowmaker for him. Ah, but how? The spell that had imprisoned him in the tower chamber had also ripped his sword from his paralyzed hand.

  Thasaikor would have hidden Shadowmaker well.

  So lost in his broodings was Kalgorrn that only now was he aware that the room was changing all around him.  No longer was the pallid light visible beyond the bifore window. The sun shone golden there, and the formerly barren trees were heavy with leaves and fruit.  This was Dis, the glorious, he was seeing ,not the Dis which looked so much like the edge of Hell.

  Inside the room, the dust was vanishing.  A freshness came into the chamber on the wings of sunlight and fresh air.  The dust was gone. Wood shone and metal glinted with newness. The glass jars, the parchment rolls were no longer moldy, and the stone walls were hung with splendid draperies.

  The garments hanging on their pegs did not rot now.  They were crisp, as if newly off the weaving loom. The mail shirt which Kalgorrn had worn into battle, blazed with brilliance and the leather on which the mail was sewn was soft and supple.

  Red Fann shivered and hung her head.

  The spell by which Thasaikor had imprisoned them in the black tower was ended.  The sun of Dis shone in golden warmth, the chirp of birds and the hunting cry of a falcon could be heard in the forests.

  Kalgorrn reached for breeks and mail shirt, for a leather belt and a sword.  The sword was not Shadowmaker, but it would serve until Fann learned where Thasaikor had hidden it.  He dressed swiftly, watching the woman as she too reached out for garments, a pale fawn skin jerkin and skin-tight leggings and donned them, then slipped her feet into riding boots.  As she straightened, her hands went to her long hair and twisted the heavy strands together on top of her head.

  “Thasaikor—or his sorcerers—will soon discover that the spell of Afgorkon had been broken,” she told him.  “He will send his servants to search for us. So we must ride to Wynthane wood for the sword Shadowmaker, that was forged by the dwarf Grom from the sky-metal that fell in Dis long ago.  Ah, that touches you, does it? Good! You need Shadowmaker as I need my magic spells. If we are to stop Thasaikor!”

  She was turning, moving off across the tower room, stepping over the coffers and caskets that held her magical artifacts to lift down a cowled cloak and throw it about her shoulders.  For a moment she let her green eyes assess the piled tomes and manuscript scrolls, the jars and alembics containing the ingredients needed in her conjurations, which had all been restored, by her magic, to their former potency.  There were flowers in the chamber too. They had been withered stalks short minutes before and were in full bloom now that Afgorkon’s spell had been lifted. The flowers—black, red, purple-petaled and heavy with ripeness—turned toward the woman as she passed and called out to her in thin, piping voices.

  Kalgorrn shook his shoulders.  He was no wizard; he was a warrior.  He relied on steel rather than on spells.  To see flowers turn and newness come where had been only the signs of age, distressed him, though Alth knows he should be used to Fann by this time!

  He moved after her, big and thickly thewed, yet oddly light on his feet, the sword in its scabbard close to his right hand.  His eyes roved the corridor beyond the tower room, saw it hung with draperies on which were sewn the pictured thaumaturgies of Red Fann and her mother Leithe, and her mother before her.  No human hand had woven the rich tapestries, they had been wrought by magic, as had so much else of what was here in this great tower.

  Down a spiral staircase of carved wood they went swiftly.  The wood was scented and exotic, imported from some far distant clime, and had the power of removing spiritual impurities which might otherwise interfere with the incantations performed in the topmost tower room.  An arrow slit in the wall let in the rays of pallid light to show gargoyles and efreets carved in such lifelike attitudes that they seemed frozen forever in the middle of a breath.

  Fann stepped into the lower hall.

  And out of the shadows near its door came a mummied something that screamed and waved a terrible war-ax high above its head.  Its cerements flapped to the speed of its racing feet. an odor of the charnel house came with it, and there was a faint smell of embalming powders.

  Fann stood rigid in shocked surprise.

  Kalgorrn reacted with the instinctive speed of the true fighting man.  Fann might be a witch but she was still a woman. The lych came straight for her with the ax held high for the killing stroke, and her knowledge of magic fled from her mind.

  Kalgorrn leaped to stand before her, blade up and parrying.

  Steel sword blade rang on ax-edge with a metallic clang.  The blade dipped to strike sideways, was met and thrust aside by whirling ax  Kalgorrn found himself staring into the dead, rotting emptiness of what had been a human face, into black eye sockets behind which were molding bones and bits of hair.  The flapping of its burial garments as it moved was like the voices of dead ghouls whispering in the wind.

  Ax and sword flew like shuttlecocks on a loom, back and forth and in and out and the ringing of the steel was a cacophony of death.  Kalgorrn was big; Kalgorrn was thewed like a colossus; yet the sweat came onto his brow and an ache into his muscles as he fought.

  It was not only an ax and a dead thing he battled here, but magic as well.  The lych had risen from some lonely grave, had come at the bidding of the warlocks who served Thasaikor to try and stop them in their escape.  Thasaikor could not see them, but the dead man could, through the magic of Thasaikor, and in one way or another the Lord of Pont and Lankkhan was determined to be done with them.

  His sword flashed in a hissing stroke.  Through rotted cerements and what had been human flesh and bone it clove and the mummified lead of the lych flew through the air.  A human being would be dead before that stroke, yet the headless torso of the lych fought on.

  It was vastly unnerving to see the headless body battling him.  The blood went cold in his vein channels and the sweat dripped from his face as Kalgorrn moved his sword in great swipes and slashes, jumping to elude the return strokings of the ax  No ordinary life force held the thing erect and fighting before him. Only black magic could do that, worked by the sorcerers who took Thasaikor’s gold to serve him.

  Once a fold of the rotting cerement leaped onto his face, clinging like an animated human skin.  Kalgorrn bellowed, clawed at it, tossed it away just in time to meet the descending ax blade with his sword.  That stroke would have split his skull!

  His weapon flashed, cut sideways, touched the bony arm of the lych, sliced through rotting burial garments, through bone and few clumps of dried flesh still adhering to it.  The arm jumped sideways into the air, hung a moment and then fell to the floor.

  Kalgorrn breathed prayers to Nalda, goddess of warriors.

  His blade leaped outward, dropped in a great slashing stroke.

  Through skull and neck bones, into ribbed chest and rotting belly meat his edge went flying, until its point clanged loud upon the floor tiles.  A moment stood the dead thing, quivering, headless, and with only one arm.

  Then it divided in half, one part falling to the left, the other to the right.

  Ah, but the ax—

  The ax lunged for Kalgorrn by itself.

  Kalgorrn rasped a curse.

 “Must I chip the weapon into pieces as I did its wielder?” he bellowed, and contented himself with parry after parry until his arm grew weary and his back was set against the cold stone of the tower wall.

  And then—

  Words flew from the lips of the witch woman at his elbow.  She had crowded herself between his wide back and the stone wall to avoid being cut down by the ensorcelled ax  Long had she stood rooted, staring in awed disbelief. But then she had stirred, spoken, lifting a hand and pointing.

  The ax fell, to clang with hollow echoes on the floor.

  Kalgorrn drew the sleeve of his jerkin across his sweat wet forehead.  “By Kai of the Hundred Eyes, that was tight just then.” He drew a deep breath, asking, “Will we have to fight against—dead things—every step of the way?”

  Red Fann shrugged.  “Ask Thasaikor! But once you have Shadowmaker in your fist, magical things will have no power against you.  Then Thasaikor can defeat you only by human contact, man against man, blade against blade.”

  Kalgorrn shook himself like a big cat stretching.  “It’s good to know, that last. I ache to get at Thasaikor.  I am in debt to him for the many years he kept me in your tower.”

  Even as Brian Creoghan I can understand the hate and fury in this man, this Kalgorrn.  In some way I do not understand, we are one, he and I. Once, long ago, I may have been him, and died in that tower, yet now I am restored to life.  It is almost as if the working of the orderly universe had broken down.

  Fann ran ahead of him, down the tower hall toward the great bronze doors that gaped wide, affording a view of lush meadowland with tall green grasses waving in the wind sweeping across this corner of the world called Dis.  The darker green foliage of the mighty trees which coated the rising slopes of distant hills, made a framework for the blue sky beyond. The air was fragrant with flower smells and the odor of blooming things, it was cool and made the blood to pump in the veins of a man.  Kalgorrn was glad to be alive, to be free of the spell that had gripped him for Nalda knew how many centuries. He moved to stand beside Red Fann.

  “What now, witch woman?”  he wondered.

  “Horses from the stables.  The white mare for me, the black stallion Erebon for you.”

  Erebon!  He had forgotten his warhorse as he forgotten so many other things.  Was it because he was also Brian Creoghan, and the memories of Earth crowded out those of Dis?  No matter. Red Fann would remember, and tell him.

  They ran together toward the stone stables where the mare and stallion had slept s they had slept for so many years.  A hundred? A thousand? What was Time where magic was involved? Kalgorrn heard a whinny and the stamp of hooves on plankings.

  “I come, old friend,” he roared.

  His big hands reaches the mare so that Fann might swing up into the kak.  His own ivory-plated saddle, white on white leather, he dropped over Erebon while the horse threw up its head as if scenting blood and the sounds of coming battle.  Then his foot was in a stirrup and he was rising easily to the seat worn smooth by years of long galloping.

  Fann shouted, stabbed the mare with her toes.

  She was off across the meadow, riding fast, the wind whispering in her long red hair, blowing it free to fly behind her like a scarlet spray.  Kalgorrn came a neck behind, letting the mare set the pace. Red Fann knew where she might find Wynthane wood, and the mare obeyed the witch woman.

  A dead thing came screaming from the underbrush to their right, running swiftly, but not swiftly enough, for the mare and the black stallion appeared to fly as they skimmed across the grasses, leaving the lych far behind.  There might be magic in the white mare and in Erebon, Kalgorrn thought, that let them outrun such a thing.

  The forests were before them, and in the midst of the tree boles, a narrow lane pocked and pitted with the marks of forgotten hoof beats.  Along the path raced Fann with Kalgorrn pounding at her heels. Two against a world; tow against an army of wizards and warlocks. The odds might have numbed Kalgorrn were it not for the enchantress who rode ahead of him.  Her slimly curved body was a magnet that drew his love and his devotion, that spurred his warrior’s pride to feats of daring which—alone—he might not have attempted.

  Yet he knew that to wrest a victory from Thasaikor he must dare sword and dare sorcery, or he and Fann would never again be free.  And there was a further reason why they rode so wildly through the woods of Wynthane, another cause for which they battled so desperately.  Kalgorrn did not know what that cause for which they battled so desperately. Kalgorrn did not know what that cause might be—his wits were so addled with the intrusion of another self into his psyche that he could not think—but it was a cause greater even than their own more selfish one.  They rode to save…to save…

  Fann cried out, reining up sharply.

  Ahead of them and straddling the path, stood a monster out of Hell.  It was as tall as a small tree and was scaled, and where eyes should have been were only red holes.  Smoke curled upward from its gaping jaws in which were set, shark-like, three rows of sharp teeth. The great head moved with reptilian ease back and forth, and always the thing hissed and wheezed.

  Fann wailed, “Were your blade Shadowmaker, I could help you, but where common steel is concerned, I am helpless.”

  Kalgorrn shuddered.  “I suppose Thasaikor raised that devil up from some nether world?”

  “Or one of his warlocks.  It is Sthloo the Unspeakable.”

  Sthloo, who dwelt in the gulfs of dimensional space.  Sthloo, whose eyes could swallow maidens. Sthloo, whose touch was frigid ice that paralyzed the blood in a man.  The monster hissed more loudly, lurched forward.

  The white mare reared and screamed its terror.  Even Erebon stamped the ground and shivered, sensing with animal wisdom that the creature before it was alien to its world.

  Kalgorrn shouldered the stallion past the mare, and drew his sword.  His eyes touched its gray length. It was such a puny weapon beside the scaled colossus advancing on him!

  His sword rose and fell, bounced harmlessly off the thick scales of Sthloo, who made a motion with his arm at Kalgorrn.  The warrior saw the sharp claws, the opening hand, and he knew that once those razor talons touched him he was a dead man.  He ducked. Curiously, the webbed hand missed him, passing over his head.

  The red eyes blazed and Sthloo hissed with anger.

  Sthloo stumbled forward clumsily, as if he walked in water.

  Kalgorrn called back over his shoulder, “Why is he so slow in his movements?  He seems to be sleepwalking.”

  “He comes from immeasurable distances.  It takes so much of his strength to keep him here in Dis that he lacks the ease of movement which he possesses in his world.”

  The sword fell again, bouncing harmlessly off the scaled head.  Kalgorrn yelled, “I’ll draw it with me into the woods. Ride on when it’s off the path.”

  He attacked savagely, weaving a steel web with his blade, luring Sthloo with him as he backed the stallion between the trees.  Sthloo stumbled after him, thick arms up and claws widespread to rend. Kalgorrn was discovering that it was not so easy to avoid Sthloo as he had thought.  The creature from the space gulfs moved sluggishly, it was true, but he brought with him a sense of utter coldness that stung the flesh and the bones of a man, so that after a time Kalgorrn moved but little faster than Sthloo himself.

  It became harder to wield the sword, it felt like a leaden bar in his fingers, and his eyelids grew heavy as if with sleep.  He could see the hoarfrost on the trees where Sthloo moved, and the icicles that were created as the moisture in the air condensed before that cold.  The ground was white with rime and there grew a tinkling of icicles hitting together when the wind moved.

  Somewhere, Fann was screaming.

  Sthloo was right before him.  He was opening his scaly arms to grip and tug him off Dis and back with him into the dimensional worlds.  The cold was painful now, inside him. His bones hurt, his flesh felt frozen solid. He could not lift his arms.  He and the black stallion were sheathed in frost.

  “Kalgorrn!  Kalgorrn!”

  To Fann, he must seem like a statue coated in ice and snow, unmoving, helpless before the monster.  His sword hung from his hand. That part of him which was Brian Creoghan writhed in helpless fury. Fight, man!  Fight! If you die, I die also, here in Dis! He tried to scream but could make no sound.

  Yet some echo of his anger blew a flame to life in Kalgorrn.  His foot moved, kicked Erebon. The stallion was not quite as helpless as Kalgorrn, for Sthloo was putting most of his attention on the man.  Back went the horse, one step, then two, as he retreated from the monster.

  A little of the cold seemed to fall away from Kalgorrn.  He stirred. He stared through the frost crystals coating his eyes.  Sthloo was still there, still before him, reaching out.

  “Faster,” he croaked to the stallion, “Faster!”

  The horse bumped into a tree bole, slid past it.  Now the most intense cold was even further away, so that the black stallion could wheel and turn.  It began to trot slowly and with effort, and the faster distance increased between it and Sthloo, the faster the horse could trot.

  Kalgorrn came out onto the road and Fann was there to reach down for the white leather bridle, to grip and yank at it as she toed the mare into a canter, the black stallion following.  Kalgorrn was still sheathed in hoarfrost, a white giant on a black horse, but the ice crystals were melting and his arm lifted and then his head turned.

  “By Nalda!”  he croaked. “That was another near thing back there.  I never felt the cold until it was almost too late. I thought Sthloo was a silly kind of threat, but now I know his danger.  He’s slow but he paralyzes his victims to no movement at all! Brrr! Go faster, my love!”

  Soon they were galloping down the forest road.  But when Kalgorrn, wet now fro melted ice, turned in the saddle to stare back, he saw Sthloo stumbling and staggering, following after until he became a tiny dot far behind them.

  “Sthloo will never give up,” Fann gasped.  “He will come on and on, always following us until the incantation that brought him here is lifted—or until he dies!”

  “Kill Thasaikor, kill Sthloo,” Kalgorrn growled.  

  “Easy said,” the witch woman cried, ducking her head to avoid a low branch as the white mare galloped.

  They rode now through the glades in the woodlands, openings where the light streamed in on feathery strands on air.  The muffled hoof beats of the horses sounded faintly, for all about them they could sense a stirring of life in the forests.  Once Kalgorrn thought he saw a woman with white skin and russet hair, half in and half out of a great oak tree, brown eyes wide and staring at them as they galloped.  A dryad? A spirit of the tree such as lived on Earth only in legend? He could not be sure, for just then he heard the wail of a syrinx, such a pipe as Pan played, and the music was wild, unearthly, whispering of things that were commonplace in Dis but would have been accounted as marvels, back in the other world.

  They pounded on, with Kalgorrn standing in the stirrups from time to time to stretch his muscles,  to remove the chill that still lingered deep inside his flesh and bones. Fann turned to laugh back at him and point, showing him a narrow roadway leading up a hillside into still darker woods.

  “Not far now, Kalgorrn!  Soon, soon!”

  The white mare flew, the stallion galloped.

  The roadbed narrowed as it lifted into the foothills, becoming a mere path, a length of bare dirt dried and hard where no living thing could grow.  The mare must walk here, and occasionally trot. It was slow going as they mounted upward past black flowers spackled with red drops like blood, that writhed and sought to touch these riders with their sucking discs, to drink their blood and leave them empty sacks of skin, dead along the road’s soft edge.

  Kalgorrn growled and loosed the sword in its scabbard.  He liked not the appearance of the dark flowers, they reminded him too much of Thasaikor.  Ah, now why was that? He did not remember Thasaikor, not clearly as he should. Looking at the flowers he showed his teeth and then he drew his blade and noticed that its edge was pocked where he had slammed his steel against Sthloo.  But the point was still sharp. Bending from the saddle, with that point he speared a flower and heard it scream in mingled agony and rage.

  Fann said, “Provoke them not, Kalgorrn.  They are wicked things, the dark flowers, and they serve well the demon of the pool.”

 “What demon?  Gods! Is Dis nothing but Hell-things and demoniac sorceries these days?”

  “Since Thasaikor rules Dis, yes.”

  A flower slipped downward off a tree branch, petals gaping wide.  Fann shrank back so Kalgorrn might reach over her to hack the green stem in half.  The dying petals screeched as they drifted ground-ward to be mashed under a might black hoof.

  “Damned thing.” the man said hoarsely.

  She nodded face white.  “It is no easy path I picked, yet it is the swiftest way of all to reach the pool.  Come!”

  They galloped on, but now Kalgorrn rode before, his sword ready to slash whenever a dark flower came too close.  A scream here, a wail there, told how his blade drank life as he moved it. Upward they mounted through these high hills until the bed of deadly flowers lay behind them, and the air shimmered and no breeze blew.

  Drawing rein at the crown of one slope, they sat their saddles and looked back the way they had come.  They could not see Sthloo as he was hidden by the trees, but a distant whiteness told where the incredible cold he brought with him was tinting the trees with frost.

  Fann shivered and lifting the cowl of her cloak, drew it up over her head.  She seemed frail and small to Kalgorrn suddenly, a brave girl fighting to save herself and her world from the mad greed of the Lord of Pont.  Her eyes touched his stare, smiled at what she read in his gaze, and reached between their saddles to squeeze his hand.

  “The pool is up ahead, Kalgorrn.”

  Her toe nudged the white mare to a run and she flew between the tree boles, disappearing into a thick white mist.  Her voice echoed laughter as once it did long and long go, and Kalgorrn grinned, lifting the black to a gallop. They thundered into and through the mists that swirled and whipped about them to the wind of their riding.

  The pool broke into view as the mists faded.

  It looked like any other forest pond to Kalgorrn, except that the waters were a sleek, oily black.  There was no living thing in those waters, as far as he could see, neither frog nor fish nor plant. They seemed dead, and yet there was a life within them that beat outward against all who approached.  Kalgorrn was no warlock, but he felt that force, and when he looked at Fann he saw that her face was white.

  Her fingers pointed, and now he saw the little islet in the middle of the pool and the sword that stood upright in a dead tree stump.  Hai! This was Shadowmaker, all forty inches of gleaming blade, its golden hilt in the shape of a cross, its pommel gripping a great yellow jewel.  His palm and fingers itched to hold the worn braiding of the handle, his arm ached to wing that blade aloft and roar out his battle cry.

  “None but Kalgorrn may take the sword,” Fann whispered.

  A wind touched the mist, making it assume the fantastic shapes as the dry branches of the dead trees around the pool scraped and rustled together.  It seemed to the man that he could hear the hollow thumpings of Sthloo as the demon-thing came closer, closer.

  Red Fann said, “Yet even Kalgorrn will die in the waters of the pool of Umla Ko if they touch his flesh.  Thasaikor schemed well when he hid the sword Shadowmaker on that tiny island.”

  Kalgorrn swung down out of the kak.  He walked to the edge of those black waters and watched them for long moments.  They were still, thick, viscid. He felt their menace beat against him as if with unseen fists.

  “How deep are the waters?” he wondered.

  “Not deep.  Their menace is not the death of drowning but of—being eaten.  The pool is an unnatural form of life that draws its own life essence from the life of the things around it.  Look for yourself, Kalgorrn.”

  He saw for the time the brown and shriveled stalks which once had been plants and young trees all around the edge of the pool.  The dead branches of the larger trees still rustled dryly in the wind. Where once they had swayed with foliage and life, they loomed black and dead against the sky.  These waters were the heartland of a dead oasis in a living world, steadily and slowly sapping the elan vitae of everything that lived within its radius.

  Kalgorrn walked to a great tree, slapping it with his palm.  He drew his sword and began hacking at the dead wood, making chips fly in a shower about him.  When he was done, the tree crashed lengthwise into a tangle of dead growth and brown underbrush.

  The sweat came out on his face as he labored to cut off a twenty-foot length of the trunk.  Chips leaped and jumped. When he was done he stood puffing, staring down at the dulled, dinted edge of his sword.  Shadowmaker would not be so pocked. It s blade was out of the sky, therefore touched by the gods, since it had been forged from the metal of a meteorite centuries ago.

  He tossed the useless blade from him and bent to hoist up that length of fallen tree.  With it, he staggered to the pool and tossed it. The dead wood flew through the air, landed in the shallow waters with a splash.

  Slowly…it disintegrated.

  The log seemed almost to crumble in upon itself as the eerie power of the lake ate away at it.  Kalgorrn laughed…and cursed. With the sleeve of his jerkin he brushed as sweat on his face, then scowled more blackly than before.

  He turned and laid his stare across the forests and the mists, seeking for that which might withstand the power of the pool of life.  Ah, there! He moved forward slowly, and bent above a stone boulder. It was a thick, heavy rock, but Kalgorrn was mightily thewed. His back bent, arched, his great hands gripped, lifting.

  His face went red with strain and it seemed that his muscles creaked.  Yet the boulder came upward into the air slowly, slowly. Kalgorrn took a step forward, shifting the stone upward.  With it balanced upon his upraised palms he moved forward.

  At the edge of the pool he leaned forward.  He thrust with aching arms and tired muscles, yet the boulder leaped as if from a spring and fell eight feet away, almost halfway between the shore and the edge of the little islet.  Kalgorrn wondered if Red Fann had helped him in some manner with a spell.

  He stood puffing for a while, wiping away the sweat.  Then he moved back a few feet and made a running jump.  His body arched upward, feet thrust forward. He landed on the stone, slipped, skidded, then righted his big body.

  He stood a foot above the pool waters, staring at the islet.  All about him he could feel the menace of the black pond, as if it were stretching out invisible tendrils toward him, psychic whips that flailed and snapped, seeking a hold on his legs and torso.

  “Kalgorrn!  Sthloo comes!”  Fann called.

  He turned back toward the forest path along which they had galloped.  Sthloo was shambling forward, still at a distance, yet all about him the air was condensing into droplets of ice and falling, raining down upon the ground with silvery tinklings.

  Kalgorrn face the islet that held his sword, and jumped.

  His feet dug into soft loam.  He slid forward, sprawling, hands spread to break his fall.  Almost instantly he was on his feet.

  He put out his hand, wrapped his fingers about the worn braid of its hilt and yanked Shadowmaker free.  It came into his hand and glittered there, a beautiful, deadly thing that had drunk deep of the blood of men.

  And then—

  The mists rushed in on him.  He could see Sthloo shambling forward, see Red Fann on the white mare, hands folded over the saddle pommel as she craned her neck to watch Kalgorrn where he stood on the little islet with Shadowmaker in his hand.  Then the mists were all about him.

  He was choking, blacking out.  His knees buckled.

  He went down heavily into blackness.

***

  Out on the edge of No-when and No-where—

  Auxiliary motors hummed to life, their energies powering the machinery of the Cosmos so that the overload was distributed across a billion circuit breakers.  The interlocking gears moved, flew swifter as oscillographs fingered the trouble and triggered relay circuits to feed in more power.

  Power output that had been at null point began to flow at normal speeds.  Dimensio-spheres brightened. A tendril touched switches and levers. The machinery of the cosmos was back to normal.

  But damage had been done.  A major repair job might be necessary.  Only the oscillograms could tell, and they would be carefully inspected.

the druid stone gardner f fox ebook pulp paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library historical romance sword and sorcery erotica sleaze

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *