Wednesday, January 25, 2012


“Actual life was chaos, but there was something terribly logical in the imagination.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


“Let me add, however, that in every idea of genius or in every new human idea, or, more simply still, in every serious human idea born in anyone’s brain, there is something that cannot possibly be conveyed to others, though you wrote volumes about it and spent thirty-five years explaining your idea; something will always be left that will obstinately refuse to emerge from your head and that will remain with you for ever; and you will die without having conveyed to anyone what is perhaps the most vital point of your idea.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (Ippolit)

Monday, January 9, 2012


“There are many ideas that have always been around and all of a sudden become new ideas.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Devils (Aleksei Nilych Kirillov)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chapter Eighteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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Gildegarde Brisbane II took to his Knighthood like a fish takes to water. In the first year of his service he spent more time in the field than he did at the Castle, scouring the land for monsters and enemies of the King. In a short time, his reputation grew to fantastic proportions and even those who thought he had lucked out in life due to his birthright began to find respect for him. Many wondered when his quest for victory would end and, as accomplishment piled on top of accomplishment, they began to think of him as invincible. But all this was not done without reason. Brisbane had a plan, and these adventures in the field were part of it. He was training himself in battle, not against men, but against monsters. For when he felt he had gained enough skill, he fully intended to ride to Dragon’s Peak and take on Dalanmire, the monster who had killed his father and raped his land.

+ + +

The journey continued south at dawn. As the third day wore on, the Crimson Mountains loomed closer and the party eventually left the Windcrest Hills and entered the beginning foothills of the mountain range.

Brisbane, more so than usual, avoided all contact with Dantrius, seriously worried about what the mage might do. Physically, he was no match for Brisbane and even a sneak attack from him would most likely fall in Brisbane’s favor. But it was Dantrius’ magic which Brisbane feared. Roystnof had said Dantrius was just as powerful a wizard, if not more, as he was, although Dantrius’ magic was of a different nature. Brisbane thought about the level of power Roystnof had at his command, the lightning bolts especially, and then shivered to imagine a power like that brought against him.

At one point during the third day of their journey, Brisbane told Shortwhiskers what had happened between him and Dantrius, interested in seeing what the dwarf’s reaction would be to Dantrius’ threat. Shortwhiskers laughed a great deal, obviously amused by what Brisbane had done with the burning log, but eventually he calmed down and was able to see the seriousness of the situation.

The threat did not sit well with Shortwhiskers, for he knew how devious Dantrius could be, but even so, he had trouble imagining this grudge being held for any great length of time. If someone had done that to him, Shortwhiskers said, he would probably be mad for a time, too, but eventually he would see the error of his ways and, after the pain had gone away, forgive the person. Of course, Shortwhiskers conjectured, if it had really been his turn to stand watch, he would have gotten up and done it in the first place. Shortwhiskers told Brisbane to try not to worry about it and together they would keep an eye on Dantrius.

Brisbane also told Stargazer about the situation and she seemed to agree for the most part with Shortwhiskers. It had perhaps been a foolish thing for Brisbane to do, she said, but she couldn’t imagine an ordinary person holding a serious grudge about it. But Stargazer also conceded that Dantrius was no ordinary person and, to him, revenge over things like this probably had a somewhat sweeter taste. She also advised Brisbane to sleep with one eye open.

Brisbane was walking off by himself considering what his friends had said when an unusual idea overcame him.

Angelika? he thought, reaching out to the consciousness living in his sword.

Yes, young Brisbane? came the immediate reply.

Brisbane was a bit surprised he had reached her. He had never initiated any contact with her before; she had always been the one to speak to him first. If he could reach her at any time and carry on conversations with her in his head, there was no telling what effect it would have on their already awkward relationship.

What do you think of all this? Brisbane thought.

Fear not, young Brisbane. He cannot harm you while I am at your side. My eyes are always open. I can warn you of any action he might take against you.

This did little to assuage Brisbane’s fears. Angelika, he thought, is Dantrius evil? The sword always seemed to know when evil was about.

It is hard to tell with humans, Angelika replied. They are not creatures of pure good or pure evil like others in the universe. Dantrius is capable of doing evil.

Angelika’s words bothered Brisbane and he began to feel ill as he always did when she spoke to him. There was something unnatural about the connection Brisbane didn’t like, something cold and alien.

Do you want to kill him? Brisbane thought.

Angelika’s reply was delayed. In due time.

Brisbane tried to break the connection, having some initial trouble coming away from her commanding presence, and had to concentrate much harder on coming back to himself. Eventually, he severed the link and Angelika fell from his mind. He immediately felt better, but he knew he would worry over what she had said for a long time to come.

But that was not the most disturbing thing that happened that day. As they followed the curves of the Mystic, they wove in and around a lot of hills, and the way ahead could often not be clearly seen. At regular intervals they sent someone up to the top of the closest hill to scout the area for possible unfriendlies. This quickly became a tiresome duty as no one spotted a potential threat to their safety since leaving Queensburg.

It was near the end of the day, and they were pushing ahead to cover some more distance before nightfall, when they rounded the contour of a hill and nearly stumbled into the midst of a large party of orks.

There was no hope to elude them; the orks spotted Brisbane and his friends immediately, and they all took up weapons and rushed at them. The orks were fearsome creatures, humanoid in appearance, the shortest being a full six feet, burly, and having ugly pig faces, complete with small tusks, atop their broad shoulders. Their skin color was a sickening brownish-green with their snouts and ears a tender shade of pink. They all wore sloppy suits of mismatched armor, were all armed with rusty swords, and each bore a round black shield with a single red eye painted upon it for decoration. There were eight of them in all.

Brisbane and his friends had no choice but to fight them. Shortwhiskers called out to Brisbane to follow him and he charged into battle, leaving the wizards and Stargazer behind. Brisbane unsheathed Angelika and joined the dwarf.

They crashed into combat with the two orks who led their own charge and were able to stop their forward progress. The other six, however, simply flowed around them and closed on the rest of the party. Brisbane was sure he couldn’t get them all, but Angelika encouraged him to concentrate on one at a time, and promised she would make sure each strike he made was a mortal one.

Brisbane thrust aside the attack of his opponent with his shield and thrust Angelika deep into the ork’s exposed abdomen. As he pulled his sword free and the ork collapsed to his knees. Brisbane swung Angelika again, for good measure, and nearly separated the ork’s head from his body. The ork fell over dead and Brisbane quickly turned back to the party.

What he saw amazed him. One ork already lay dead, his head charred and blackened as if it had been left in a fire. Two others were attacking Stargazer, but the woman was adequately fending them off with her long staff for the time being. The other three were standing in a moment of indecision as they faced what had amazed Brisbane more than anything else.

There was not one but five figures of Dantrius, five exact copies of Illzeezad Dantrius standing in a line, each with his fists on his hips and each laughing at the orks’ surprise. As the opponents stood there, Roystnof pointed his finger at one, sending a fiery missile out of his hand to crash into the head of the ork. The missile exploded and dropped him with nothing but a blackened stump above his neck.

Shortwhiskers finished off his ork and, with Brisbane, rushed back to the party to help. Stargazer cracked one of her combatants against the side of the head. The ork fell to the ground, dead or unconscious, and she slipped back into her defensive posture with the other ork. It was obvious to Brisbane she had used her staff in combat before. The metal hand that topped it made it a rather effective mace.

Each ork facing the five Dantriuses chose one and swung their rusty swords at the figures. The Dantriuses offered up no defense, still laughing with their fists planted on their hips. The ork blades passed effortlessly through the figures and they blinked out of existence. There now remained only three copies of Dantrius.

Brisbane and Shortwhiskers arrived and they cut down the two orks facing the Dantriuses. Roystnof turned and fired another of his magic missiles at the remaining ork on Stargazer. As with the others, the glowing arrow struck the unsuspecting ork and burst into a flash of fire, killing him instantly.

Brisbane could not believe it, but all eight orks lay dead at their feet and none of them had received so much as a scratch.

The deed is done, Angelika tolled in Brisbane’s head. Praise Grecolus for his wisdom and Brisbane for his courage.

The first thing Brisbane did after sheathing Angelika was to go over and see if Stargazer was all right. She assured Brisbane she was fine and Brisbane told her how surprised he was at the way she had used her staff.

“You’re not the only one who has gone off on adventures before,” she reminded him and gave him a hug.

Shortwhiskers came over to search the bodies of the orks. As he was checking the one Stargazer had smashed with her staff, he announced that he was not yet dead.

The rest of the party came over, Roystnof and the three copies of Dantrius, to decide what should be done. The ork was bleeding profusely from a nasty head wound, which was very messy and probably accompanied by a shattered skull.

“Put him out of his misery,” the three Dantriuses intoned as one, more disgust than compassion in their voices. “He’ll die soon anyway.”

Brisbane looked closely at the ork’s pig-like face and let his mind wander. This was the first time he had ever met any orks and he had said hello by killing them. This fact alone did not bother him so much. After all, it had been the orks who had initiated the aggression, but it left Brisbane a little upset at the way things worked in the world. All he knew about orks came from what he had heard people say about them, some of them reliable and some of them not. He had heard many conflicting stories about their nature, their origins, and their motivations. What it all boiled down to was that he knew almost nothing about orks, and what he did know was most likely hopelessly tainted by prejudice and unfounded opinion.

But now, here he was, participating in a vote to decide whether an ork should be killed or left to die what was probably many miles from home. The vote went around the circle, the dwarf making doubly sure Dantrius got only one vote for his three copies, and not one of them, not Shortwhiskers, not even Stargazer, suggested they try to help the wounded ork.

They all agreed to put the ork out of his misery and when the vote came to Brisbane, he only nodded his head and walked slowly away. They all moved on to explore the orkish campsite and left Shortwhiskers behind to finish the deed and to take any valuables the ork might have had.

“What’s the matter, Brisbane?” the three copies of Dantrius mocked. “Get squeamish at the sight of blood?”

Brisbane looked at the three men. “How long is that spell going to last, Dantrius? One of you is quite enough.”

“My magic powers can last forever,” they said with some pride. “This particular spell will last until someone strikes down my duplicates.”

Brisbane drew Angelika. “Do you mind if I have the honor?” he asked the Dantriuses. “I think I would derive some sort of symbolic pleasure from it.”

The three smirked. “I’m sure you would. Go right ahead.”

Brisbane swung Angelika in a great overhead arc and sliced her through one of the Dantriuses. The sword met no resistance and the figure vanished in the blink of an eye. Two Dantriuses remained.

“Very good,” the remaining two said. “You’re quite good at instilling fear in me.” Their tone was far from complimentary.

“One down,” Brisbane said as he stepped up to the next Dantrius.

The others in the party stood silently by as this little game went on. Brisbane thrust Angelika through the chest of one of the remaining figures, again meeting no resistance and dispelling the phantasm.

“Thank you very much,” Dantrius said. “You can put your sword away now.”

“Two down,” Brisbane chanted mechanically, ignoring Dantrius’ words. “And one to go.”

Brisbane brought Angelika up to strike the last Dantrius. Frightened, the mage let out a little squeal and skipped back a few paces. Brisbane, laughing at the joke he had played, brought his sword harmlessly down and sheathed her. Dantrius burned Brisbane with a look of utter hatred and was about to say something nasty when Roystnof stepped in.

“But how did you know he would save the real one for last?” he asked Dantrius. “What would have happened if Gil had struck the images in a different order?”

Dantrius turned away from Brisbane. For a moment he looked at Roystnof with a look of utter contempt on his face. If his glare could have spoken in that moment, Brisbane thought, it would have called Roystnof an ignorant fool and dismissed him like a backward child. But the look lasted for only a moment, and it was quickly replaced by a face exuding with friendship and equality.

“It’s worked into the spell,” Dantrius explained. “My life force is actually split between all the images. When one of the images is destroyed, my life force is redistributed amongst those remaining. When the second to last image is destroyed, my entire life force enters the final one. Simple.”

“Simple,” Roystnof repeated, obviously thinking the process was something more.

Dantrius began walking towards the ork campsite and Roystnof trotted after him. Brisbane looked around and saw Shortwhiskers watching the wizards leave.

“You know, Gil,” the dwarf said quietly. “I used to think Roystnof was about the smartest person on earth. But why he follows such a jackass around is beyond me. Doesn’t he see that Dantrius thinks he’s a fool?”

Brisbane shrugged. “I don’t know. Roy told me he knows what kind of snake Dantrius is, but they learn so much from each other that the relationship is worth it.”

Shortwhiskers spat. “If Roystnof still has things to learn, then we are all but school children.” He, too, then marched off in the direction of the ork campsite.

Stargazer came up to Brisbane and slipped her hand into his.

“I’m scared, Allie,” he said. “I really am. I’m afraid for our safety. That Dantrius is gray skies and some day he’s going to rain all over us.”

“He is an evil man, Gil,” she said, moving close to him. “Have you talked to Roystnof about him?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “He says he knows what he’s doing and that he can handle Dantrius.”

“I hope he’s right,” Stargazer said.

Brisbane looked down into Stargazer’s face. “Allie,” he said. “Have you changed your mind about Roy? I mean, about his magic?”

Stargazer looked down at the ground. “I’m not sure, Gil. Since I’ve met you I’ve re-examined a lot of things I used to take for granted. I believe this is a healthy thing for me to do and, in most cases, it has only reinforced my faith in Grecolus. Your friend Roystnof, however, is still something that puzzles me. You say he does not worship Damaleous and, objectively, his use of magic is the only proof I’ve seen that he does. I suppose, I’ve come to question the validity of that proof. I am not decided. But even if Roystnof is a servant of evil, I sincerely hope no harm comes to him because I know you love him.”

Brisbane looked off in the distance at Roystnof. “I do love him,” he said, the words coming out of him with little control. “With the exception of Dantrius, I think I love everyone here.”

Stargazer eyed him sheepishly for a moment and then smiled wide. “Come on,” she said, starting to pull him along. “Let’s go catch up with the others.”

Looking back on it, Brisbane was pleased with Stargazer’s reaction to his roundabout admission of his love for her. He hadn’t meant to say it, but he was not unhappy he had. Although she hadn’t come right out and say she loved him, too, the indications were positive. She could have done any number of things to dispel from his mind any delusion he might have had about her loving him, but she hadn’t done any of them. Brisbane thought that was a good sign.

The search of the ork campsite was quickly conducted and it profited little of any worth. Shortwhiskers had turned up a few gold pieces on the bodies of the orks, and the campsite yielded a few more to his trained eyes, but nothing of any shocking value. But even this small amount of treasure was enough to set off an argument from Dantrius, who thought all gain should be divided among the party members immediately. Shortwhiskers, who was so used to packing what was found on the mules to be split up at a more convenient time, was actually accused of thievery by the quick-tempered mage. A long tirade between the two followed, comprised mostly of name-calling, and lasted until Roystnof put his foot down and demanded that the two pipe down before they brought the whole of the ork nation down upon them. Roystnof quickly called for a vote on the matter and all but Dantrius agreed to let Shortwhiskers collect the coins to be divided up later. Again, Dantrius was forced to drop his argument.

Also found in the ork camp was a small keg of ale which Shortwhiskers tasted and declared unfit for consumption, even by sewer rats. Brisbane noticed the dwarf lashed it to one of the mules anyway.

Brisbane asked Shortwhiskers what he thought orks were doing so close to the Mystic and the dwarf postulated that perhaps they were some sort of scouting party.

“Scouting for what?” Brisbane asked.

Shortwhiskers shrugged. “Slaves, maybe.”


Shortwhiskers nodded. “Oh yes. Orks are real big on slaves. They use them for all kinds of things. One of their favorite things to do with captured slaves is to torture them to death and then eat them.”

Brisbane’s stomach lurched. “They eat people?”

Shortwhiskers looked up at Brisbane. “Well, what did you think they did with the people they captured? And why do you think they keep capturing new ones? Orks have big appetites. I hear they like elf meat the best but it’s too hard to find.”

A strange mix of images flared up in Brisbane’s mind, all leaning on a cannibalistic theme. He thanked Shortwhiskers for the information and quickly walked away from the dwarf with one hand on his stomach.

Sunset was upon them but no one wanted to bed down in the same place the orks had been, especially with their dead bodies nearby, so they pushed on for an extra mile or two before setting up camp for the night. Brisbane drew no watch that night so he went to bed right after the evening meal and a cup of the ale declared unfit for rodents.

He was tired and fell asleep almost immediately, but before he did he spent some time in a half-awake half-asleep state where dreams are most disguised as reality. He thought about orks while in this state, their large humanoid bodies and their pig faces crowded around him in numbers unheard of. They eat human flesh, Shortwhiskers had said and Brisbane saw hundreds of them swarm out of the hills to descend upon Queensburg and drag screaming victims off to their skewer knives and fire pits. He saw the eight they had killed rise up and scream out at the injustice of their deaths, scrambling around frantically, begging for another chance to redeem themselves.

And lastly, before he fell completely asleep, Brisbane saw a single huge ork come walking over the hills, his head in the clouds and one great eye burning like a red beacon in the center of his brow, and crush each of the reborn orks beneath his massive feet.

Brisbane awoke briefly in the middle of the night, when Stargazer crawled into the tent after her watch, but he had already forgotten these images. Stargazer snuggled close to Brisbane, resting her head on his chest and draping a slender arm over his body.