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"In Search of Varoka"by George E. Hrabovsky
[Note: This story is dedicated to my wife Heather, who lost her battle with breast cancer on 27 November 2000. She had a character in my game named Varoka, a Manusan Mystic. I offer this story in her honour to the list, a sort of peace offering. Heather, if you can read this, all my love...]
He felt terrible pain as he awoke from a horrible dream. The pain was in his wrists, his ankles, his head, and his side. There was a rushing noise in his ears. He had the presence of mind not to move.
Krasnov listened past the sound of blood in his head. There was a soft footfall nearby. Looking out from nearly closed eyelids he saw the rough outline of a goblin peering at him in a nearly dark room. His hands were chained to the wall behind him, he decided; his feet were shackled together in front of him. Then he remembered and he had to fight against the urge to start.
They had been ambushed. How? How could anyone ambush them when they were in the presence of Prince Etienne d'Ambreville? It made no sense. Where were they? He had no idea, only that they were not here.
Silently Krasnov checked his cuffs to see if the bits of wire he kept there were in place. They were. He tried to pick the lock. It was painstaking work. Whenever he made the slightest sound he stopped and waited for the goblin to do something. The first couple of times the goblin had come over and poked him with the small spear the thing carried. That explained the pain in his side.
Finally he managed to pick the locks. He made a sound and waited for the goblin to come over. As the creature made its thrust Krasnov grabbed the spear just behind the head and twisted it away from him. He used his momentum and threw both of his feet up in the air so that the chain wrapped itself around the goblins neck. It happened so fast the thing had no time to scream. There was only the sound of its neck breaking, like dried wood.
He pulled out his proper picks and removed the shackles from his feet.
His head pounded terribly and thought he was going to pass out again. He felt the blood matting down the hair on the back of his head and knew he had been badly hurt. "Varoka, I need your healing now," he whispered to himself.
Krasnov had to find her. It was not only a matter of honour, she was both his employer and his friend. Besides, she was a Manusan Mystic, and she was a Dame of the Court of Karameikos.
The Vistani assassin found that the spear was the only weapon the goblin had that was worth anything. He would find her. That was all there was to it.
For the tenth time he took refuge from a wandering patrol. He marvelled that no one had yet noticed his escape. Krasnov suppressed a gasp of disgust as the thing shambled down the corridor past his hiding place. It was black, wet-looking, and had horrible red veins covering its skin with a mass of tiny feelers that moved as wheat blown in the wind. He had seen one once before, but then he had not been alone; and it was not after him. Krasnov was grateful that Varoka had placed the spell of concealment upon him, for he was sure that the things would find him otherwise.
He was in a large tower, of that he was sure. He knew that there was only one place with towers like this; Glantri. It explained how the Prince had been taken too. He feared for his friend though. She had been brought here to reveal the enemies of the Prince. It now seemed that one of the Prince's enemies had found them instead.
He was heading down again when he rounded a corner and nearly ran into a man wearing a bright blue robe, with a green sash. The man reached for a wand in his sash. Krasnov struck him a sharp blow with his right palm just under the man's left eye. The mage slammed into the wall behind him, and started to fall down the stairs. Krasnov grabbed him, noticing a door ajar just to his right. He took the man inside.
He breathed a sigh of relief; his guess had been right. It was the wizard's dormitory. The Vistani closed the door behind him and set the man d own on his bed. He quickly bound the man with wire and used his own sash as a gag. The man came out of his stupor. Krasnov found a curvy dagger on a small table and held it to his captive's neck. "I am going to give you a chance to live. Tell me what I want to know and I will let you be found like this in the morning."
The man was sweating quite terribly. Krasnov wondered what it was about the dagger that made the man so fearful. He nodded slowly, never taking his eyes off the weapon. Krasnov noted with some satisfaction the his left eye was swelling shut.
"Good, tell me where you have the Darine woman."
The man seemed about to object when Krasnov touched the dagger to his throat. His eyes went wide and he went quite still. Slowly he nodded.
With his free hand Krasnov pulled the gag down. "Well?"
The man had a thick accent, but spoke in passable Thyatian, "At the top of the stairs."
"What is there?"
"A ritual chamber."
Kransov's hopes sank, "Guarded?"
"Of course, two Malfera."
Krasnov almost closed his eyes in near despair. He struck the bound man on the side of the neck and put the gag back. He crossed the room, opened the door and went out, still holding the dagger. In the stairway, he picked up the man's wand. He remembered the lessons Varoka had taught him. He found a hiding place and began to meditate. He learned a bit about the wand, enough to be able to use it. Krasnov descended to the stairway and looked up at the place he had to go.
Krasnov stood in the shadows just outside the door. Within he could hear a chanting, almost screaming, voice. He worked the lock silently. It took him a long time. He heard a shuffling noise behind him, and knew he had been discovered. He had no choice, if he stopped now there was no chance to save her. He felt the last pin drop into place and he turned the lock. It opened.
He turned, nearly in time. He felt a hot pain throughout his left side.
Krannov gasped as he went to one knee. He raised the wand and felt the surge of power as Varoka had taught him. There was a loud crash that he felt as much as heard. The thing had been propelled off the side of the staircase.
He didn't wait to see what had happened to it.
The Vistani turned swiftly and ran into the room, prepared for the worst. He was staggered by what he saw before him. The first sight that greeted his eyes were the dead-looking eyes of Prince Etienne d'Ambreville, looking out from within a man-sized crystal. A cloaked figure, all in light blue with both a green and orange sash turned suddenly to face him. Krasnov ducked behind a table, and the man couldn't see him.
So long as he lived Krasnov would remember that look. There was anger at the interruption. Then a dawning realisation of terror. The figure turned as the black designs on the floor began to glow with a sickly green light.
Krasnov saw Varoka, bound upon an altar. The realisation hit him that she was to be sacrificed to some thing! The Vistani aimed as carefully as he ever had in his life and threw the dagger. The weapon embedded itself in the bonds the held her hands.
His employer used the dagger to cut herself free. Krasnov moved forward to help her as the door was wrenched off its hinges. It was another Malfera, he turned and fired the wand into it. The horror stumbled backwards, recovered and moved forward again. Krasnov fired again and again as it moved forward.
Krasnov heard a sound from behind him that made him want to faint. He dared not look, but it made the Malfera stop and trumpet out a sickening sound in its own right. He fired again, and the beast dropped.
The Vistani turned and nearly went mad. He moved forward, avoiding gazing into the swirling darkness that was engulfing the blue-clad wizard.
Varoka had pulled herself off the altar and was crawling towards him.
Krasnov felt wind tear at him and he too fell. He held out his hand to grab Varoka. She was only four feet from him. Three feet. Two feet. Then the wizard gave a cry of hopeless desperation and managed to grab her feet.
Krasnov lay there stunned as the wizard and his beloved Varoka were slowly being drawn into the darkness.
"Runnnn!" She screamed at him.
He felt the tears on his cheeks, he could not speak past the lump in his throat. He screamed as he started crawling forward.
She saw what was doing, of course. He knew that she would never allow it. He had to try anyway. Krasnov actually leapt forward. But not before she allowed herself, and the frantic madman that held her, to descend into the darkness.
Just before they disappeared, Krasnov saw a face in the darkness. He had heard the whispered tales of the scholars, it was the Dark Man himself. He knew she was lost.
Scene 3: He makes his way to the top of the tower and there he discovers that a ritual has taken place. Etienne has been imprisoned, and Varoka vanishes, being carried away by a dark force.