A Place Where There Is No Darkness

Old Books & Anchovies

by Chris Hoekstra

Jon and Rickkter proceeded to the store rooms in the lower levels of the Keep. Rickkter insisted on stopping back at his quarters to retrieve a small carrying bag After descending through increasingly danker and darker levels, they reached their destination. "Wow," reflected Rick as he stared at the doors as they made their way into the blackness. "This... could take some time..."

Jon gave him a small chuckle. "Oh, come on Rick! All these aren't mine. I only have two that are reserved for personal use. The others house various things. Heck, some haven't even been opened since the Keep was first inhabited. Most of them just contain the miscellaneous junk that compiles around any place of this size."

"Actually I meant that it'll take me a while to go through them all. Assuming I am permitted to stay here" He looked back briefly at his tour guide. "I always like to know everything about the places where I stay. You never know when it'll come in handy." Rickkter waved his finger in the air in a distracted manner. "Um, you do know where the ones with the books are, correct? I'll want to have a look at them soon."

"Oh, of course. There are only a few, and I know them all. As for your idea about getting to know the lay of the Keep, you're going to hate this place. Something in the magic gives the Keep the property of changing its interior to suit the needs of the inhabitants. We've never run out of rooms, and whether it was the labs, or even the Mule, it just seemed to sort of appear. This place is remarkable in its capacity for disorientation."

Jon pointed at one of the multitude of identical doors. "We're here. This is the first of them, where I keep the more interesting items." Reaching for his belt, he unhooked a large ring of keys. "Now if I can only remember which it is..." mumbled the artificer as he sorted through them.

Rickkter removed a slim leather pouch from one his back pockets. "I think I can speed this up a bit." He crouched in front of the door, opening the pouch to reveal an assortment of lock picks. Rick squinted at the lock, considering how best to attack it. "This doesn't look too hard. A simple betty should do the trick." He removed one of the picks and began to fiddle with the lock.

"Look, it'll only take me a moment to find the right one, and you shouldn't be doing that anyway."

The lock made an audible click. "Voila! Not my best time, but still well within acceptable limits." He stood and pushed open the door. "Coming?"

"How..?"

"It's not that difficult. I learned how to do it a number of years back, when my quarters at one of the libraries I was staying at were ransacked." He smiled at Jon. "I let the thief live in exchange for teaching me everything he knew about locks. It's a talent that's served me very, very well in the recent past." He turned and disappeared into the store room. "As I said Jon. I've been many places, and know a great many things..."

The deer quickly followed the human. "You never said that."

"Didn't I? Eh, must have slipped my mind." He pointed at one of the vases on an upper shelf. "What is this? The characters look a bit familiar."

"It's Caledonian."

Rick snapped his fingers, pointing at the artifact. "You're right! I should have recognized the writing. There aren't many more languages as strangely written as that one."

"You'd be surprised what passes for writing in some times and parts of the world." Jon chuckled a little as the pair went deeper into the storeroom.

Rick's gaze wandered the myriad of items. "Tell me about it. I have examples with me that date back a little over two thousand years. I took up languages due to my extensive travels and because I needed them to work with the ancient magic. I've spent the last two years rooting through old storage rooms much like this one, trying to find something to save me. Can we make this quick, because I really want to get my hunt started? I know the Duke gave me two days starting tomorrow, but I need all the time I can get."

"I said I know of several rooms, so don't worry, this won't take all that long. Actually, most of those rooms are packed to capacity and it would be suicide to open any of them. You'd die under the ensuing avalanche."

The warrior grinned. "It's nothing I haven't faced a few times before. Some universities are utterly horrible in the way they store their books. I have also found that I have an unusually high quantity of luck when it comes to turning up interesting tomes. In my last few years of travels I've actually managed to unearth copies and parts of some of the more renowned magical texts know to exist. Perhaps we'll run across something of interest?" he added with a twitch of his eyebrow.

Jon began to point out some of his collection's prizes as Rickkter and he wandered further into the room, Rick scratching his chin and humming to himself along the way. Jon pointed out such things as a tablet from Tulon, a piece of a plate from the Mijae dynasty, a Malachitian talisman. Even a few staffs that he hadn't fully explored. Rickkter seemed especially fascinated by a highly polished metal one with gold accents and runes that had the mounting at the top broken off.

"Hey, what are these?" asked Rick as he picked up one of two bracers from a shelf. The bracers are of a very light weight, dark metal, inlaid with various designs, all over soft black leather. Unlike some, these bracers were large enough to afford full coverage of the forearm.

"I found those shortly after coming here, in what use to be an old armoury. It's since been converted into the Writers Guild headquarters. I've always liked the design, so I kept them."

"Very nice. Mind if I try them on?" Jon gave him a nod to go ahead, so Rick rolled up the left sleeve of his light jacket and strapped one on. Jon's attention was once again drawn to the burn scar that started about midway up. "I like the material. Even thought they've been down here for a while, the padding is still very comfortable." He flexed his arm a little. "Good tension on the leather bonds, and allows full movement of the--"

Rickkter was halted in his appraisal when something unexpected happened. With a series of small clicks, like small metal plates unfolding, and sliding back and forth, the bracers expand to cover his entire arm, up to the elbow and including the hand. From the bottom expanded several large, hooked, spikes. They started a few inches behind the wrist and grew in length the further back they went. The hand itself was sheathed in a series of smaller plates covering a mail inner lining. Atop each knuckle sat one to two-and-a-half inch curved blade, almost like claws.

"What the hell was that?" howled Jon as he backed up. "They've never done that before! I've handled them plenty of times, heck I even wore them once or twice before I changed."

Rickkter examined his now armor-clad arm. "Great Maker," he whispered. "This is amazing. I've only seem armor like this once before."

"Where?" demanded the shaken artificer.

"I can count, on one hand, the number of times I've been truly afraid in my life. This was one of them. It was about fourteen, fifteen years ago. I don't know his real name, but everyone called him Vathek Eridanus. You don't want to know the translation of that name. His armor was like this, only his was an entire suit."

Rick ran his fingers along one of the spikes. "His arms were like this, as were the hands. On the biceps were bands of spikes for slashing opponents in close-in fighting. The breastplate looked like a second skin. The helmet had a crest of spikes built onto it like those on the arms. I saw him standing atop a hill, amid the troops. His cape was billowing out behind him in the wind, and the sun glinted off his black, polished armor. Vathek Eridanus was no ordinary soldier, either. His shield was a large disk with a serrated edge. And he didn't use a sword or an axe, he used a gigantic cleaver. If he wasn't on the side I was fighting for, I would have run off the battle field, screaming in terror. Almost did, as it was. You don't want to know what he was like in battle. He's about the only warrior I would never want to meet on an opposing side."

Rickkter plinked one of the spikes to ascertain if they are in fact solid. "How much you want for them?"

Jon was busy recovering from the story. "Um... they're not really for sale..." "Fifteen Garretts. Right now."

"I don't think..."

"Thirty-five."

"Well..." Jon winced noticeably. "I... I just can't. It was one of the first things in my collection. I don't think I could part with it, even for that sum."

Rick rolled the wrist and the arm up close to his body, the spikes flexing to avoid harm to the user. "I must have them. They are of unparalleled workmanship and design. You can't use them, and I can. I must make them mine." He looked around the cramped room once more. "How much of this stuff have you yet to translate?"

"More then I would like," grumbled Jon, folding his arms in across his chest. "Actually I have yet to do over half of this room's contents. The second store room is even worse. I haven't had the time for most it, and there are still a few artifacts and scrolls that I have no idea what language they've been written in, much less what they have to say. Why do you ask?"

"This is my final offer. Eighty-five Garretts, and my services as translator for a period of one year." Jon's jaw dropped at staggering amount of the offer. "In my travels I've seen a lot of obscure languages. I can read a good deal of the current ones, and a good number of the dead ones. Some, I would wager, are the ones you can't. You might be thinking, what if I don't live to make this a reality? If that happens then, you get the bracers back and keep the eighty-five Garretts. If I'm exiled... well, you just get to keep the money. So what do you say?" He extended his right hand to deer artificer. "Deal?"

Jon took a few seconds to form the words. "Um... okay, sure. For that much I can get some very interesting trinkets to replace those. And if you're as good a translator as you say..." He quickly clasped Rick's hand. "Deal, my friend."

"Excellent." Rick turned his attention back to his armor clad left arm. "Now how do I get this thing off?"

Jon could only chuckle. "Not my problem. They're yours now." He watched Rick stare at the bracer intently for a few moments, before the gauntlet retracted into its previous shape. The process almost looked like the plates dissolved, then reformed into the plating covering the original bracers, taking the excess mass with them.

"Ah, the third trigger. Let's see what the one for the other way is." After a few moments the bracer re-expanded to cover Rickkter's arm in the same dark plate mail. It then dissolved back into its original shape. "Fifth. Unusual. Usually it's the other way around."

"Amazing. Can use all six of the triggers?"

There were six well-known magic triggers that are used in artifacts and weapons of high magic. They are called triggers due to the fact that the user must "trigger" them in order for the artifact to perform the related function. Three were still used in the modern weapons, and the first two did not require any real magic at all to use them. The requirement for magic increased as one moved up the scale. Expander bows were usually one or two. Runic items, the ones that were still around, were almost always five or six and require advanced magical knowledge to use to their full potential.

"That I can. I was trained very well in the use of magical weapons. This little item here works on triggers three and five. Normally it should be the other way around, because you should be more worried about getting it off, then on. Perhaps it has a signature spell on it to act as a back up for that..."

"Signature spell? That one I've never heard of before."

"Yes, signature. Like the one on that amulet of yours." Rick got a quizzical look on his face and took a few steps towards Jon. On the way, he removed the bracer and placed it and its mate in his little carry-on. "As a matter of fact, that spell you have is somewhat usual. Mind if I take a closer look at that amulet?"

"Don't see why not." Jon lifted the amulet for Rickkter's cursory examination. Licking his thumb, Rickkter attempted to get a better look at the faded words engraved into it. His face acquired a confused, puzzled expression as he looked over the bizarre lettering. "By the way, what exactly is a signature spell?" Jon asked.

"It's a spell that works by measuring the subject's signature life force." Rickkter pulled the latch around to the front. "You see, when the latch is closed, the spell is triggered. It then seals the clasp with the subject's life force, bonding the subject to the spell as long as there is energy for the spell to feed off. Yours is something like mine."

Reaching into his tunic Rickkter withdrew a small talisman suspended from a thick gold chain. It was about an inch and a half in diameter of a very, very deep black stone. Almost like charcoal when the ember had been broken in half. It enclosed a deep red ruby, and had raised gold lettering along the rim. "The difference is that yours can be removed. When I die, the spell goes with me, along with this."

"I've never seen writing like that."

"It's rarer then a virgin in a brothel, my friend. Almost no one has. Perhaps a handful in this world, at the most. Now, I was wondering. What does your amulet do?"

Jon turned back to the door, trying to avoid knocking several things over with his antlers. "Come out into the hall and I'll show you. It's a little too small in here for that, and besides we've seen everything of interest."

When they get into the hallway, Jon re-locked the door to the storeroom. "Hold onto your hat Rickkter. You've not seen anything like this before." With a slight twist Jon turned the ruby in it's setting, changing it to an emerald green. As the magic of the transformation took hold, Jon saw Rickkter's eyebrows shoot up, his face take on a cast of someone who just saw something they didn't expect and were duly impressed. Twenty seconds later when the transformation was complete, where Jon was once standing, now stood a six foot tall lizard.

"That is... the damnedest thing I've ever seen."

"...and you've been many places, and know many things," Jon concluded for him. Rickkter's laughter echoed up and down the empty hallways. "Come on Jon, we've got the rest of the search to get on with. Onwards, fair artificer. Let us discover a cache of tomes to pillage."

Jon roared with laughter, the laughter coming out as a real roar from his ample mouth. "One track mind, Rick?"

Rickkter had staggered back from the roar, having covered his ears to muffle the sound. "No, just a very limited window of opportunity. And you and I really must talk about that form some more when we have the time for it."

Jon only shook his massive head, taking up the amulet in his razor sharp claws. With a twist he returned back to his normal. The warrior and the artificer resumed their journey through the sub-levels of the Keep, trying to find what they sought.

"I was wondering, Rick," said Jon as they strode the corridor. "You mentioned you were trained in the use of magical items. Were they constructed, enchanted, Runic, or all of those?"

"All of them. From a very early age I was trained in the use of weapons in combat. All weapons, but specifically magical ones. I grew up in a rather militant life, and trained for a few years under a weapons master. His name was Kasim. He was a little old man, and you wouldn't know of his abilities if you looked at him. Even after all my years of work, I doubt that I could match the skills he had when he died."

"Ah, I see. It must have been a very comprehensive training to allow you to trip the triggers like you did in there. I kind of regret the fact that I don't know such things. It would aid me immensely in researching different magical artifacts."

"I find that their use can be taught. Has no one given you a proper magic education yet?"

Jon winced slightly. "Well, no. I never had any real talent for magic."

"Yet you still posses a collection of some rather intriguing artifacts. So what have you been doing with them all this time? Simply collecting them for the sake of having?"

"I suppose you could say that. I see something I just can't pass up, I acquire it, then it usually sits gathering dust until I can make the time to give it a proper examination. I'm almost as bad as our Dr. Channing."

Rickkter gave a few tight coughs. He grimaced as he tapped his chest. "I've dealt with people like you before. You often have no idea what it is you posses." The mage clapped his hands in front of him. "Then I'll see what I can do about it, my friend. A little magic education in addition to my services as translator."

Jon flicked his ears in the deer equivalent of a human raising their eyebrows. "What's with all the generosity? You don't expect to be around later to fulfill all these bargains?"

The warrior smirked. "I figure, why not? It'll either give me something to do after the change, or, as you said, I won't be around to fulfill it. I have close to five years of accumulated material to sort through, catalogue, and work with, anyway. Besides, what you have in there holds some intriguing possibilities."

"I'll take your word for it," Jon assured him. Rickkter and Jon walked up to one of the many identical iron bound portals. "Here's one that should suit you, Rick. One of a bunch that's packed to overflowing with books. Or... at least I think it is. You should be really careful if you're going to open it. Could avalanche and possibly kill you."

"Ah, I wouldn't worry about that," commented Rick, as he placed his hand upon the heavy door. "It's stable. No danger of a collapse. I can feel the flows, and they're steady."

"If you say so," confessed Jon, as he fussed for the right key on the ring of a hundred similar ones. "But you're opening it, not me. I don't want to take the chance."

Rick stifled a small cough. "All right, Jon. But I tell you, it's perfectly stable."

"Fine then, here you go," said Jon as he gave the warrior the key ring.

"Perfectly stable..." reiterated the mage as he took the keys.

Jon watched as Rickkter rattled, what he hopped, was the right key in the stiff lock. "Yeah, sure, whatever. I'll help dig your body out afterward." It was only a few seconds before the door has been unlocked and opened to reveal its hidden contents.

"Told you so," said Rickkter, in a playfully condescending tone.

The mage brushed the thin layer of dust and cobwebs off the books stacked up against the door. "Now let's see what we've got here... interesting stuff. Looks to be a few hundred years old from the condition of the bindings on most." As Rick looked over the titles, it seemed as though nothing really caught his attention.

That was until he reached the bottom of the stack. All of a sudden he practically jumped from his crouched position, going down on all fours and brushing frantically at a book at the bottom of the pile. "No, no, it can't be..." he whispered as he gave his fingers a quick lick in a bid to dislodge some deeply embedded dust and grime, an attempt to reveal the tomes title. Jumping back up, Rickkter began to frantically pull books from the top of the stack. "I need your help with this Jon."

"What is it?" asked the bewildered artificer as he accepted an armful of books that Rickkter passed him.

"Hm. Fuclelli. Been ages since I've seen a book of his poems," commented Rickkter to a thin book he was holding. "I'm taking this one." Tossing it to a separate spot on the ground, he continued to pull out books, completely ignoring Jon's question.

He eventually reached the desired target, a think, heavy bound, leather tome. Its front was covered in runes, and it was closed with a heavy lock. Rickkter held it as though it were a cross between a royal crown and a newborn child. He ran his hands lovingly over the heavy leather cover. "Ohhh.... I can't believe it... and completely intact to..."

"What is this thing?" grumbled Jon, setting down the last armful of books.

Rickkter didn't even bother to move his eyes from the tome's dark brown cover. "It's called the Tamar Manuscripts. It's an incredibly rare and powerful book of magic. I've been to many places of learning, and I've only seen, perhaps, fifty pages from it. Only twenty of those we're fully intact, and completely legible. This is a find of colossal proportions. I've never heard of an intact copy, anywhere! Among mages, it's legendary. Many have heard of it, almost none have seen the few fragments that exist." He held the book in front of his face with both hands. "And here I hold the whole thing!" he almost shouted, following it with a bout of maniacal laughter.

"How do you know it's really the Manuscripts?" asked the artificer.

"Because it's written right here on the cover and the spine," pointed out the wizard. Jon rolled his eyes at the utter simplicity of the answer.

Rick began prying at the lock. "And now to open it, see what it contains. Do you have some tools on you, Jon

"Sorry. Afraid not."

Rickkter snuggled it underneath his arm. "Then can you show me to the workshops, or someplace where they do have them?" Jon saw an almost frenzied twinkling in the wizard's eyes.

"I thought you wanted to do research?"

"Yes, but I need to get this open first. And for that I need the proper tools!" demanded Rickkter, a look of maniacal desire on his face.

"All right, if you insist. Hey! We have to clean this up first," Jon told him, pointing to the piles of books on the floor, when Rickkter started to leave.

"Oh, of course you're right. How stupid of me." Placing the thick book aside, Rickkter helped his friend restock the storeroom. He hefted his book of poetry at Jon. "Hurry up then. Mustn't dottle with such trivial matters."

After cleaning up the mess in the storeroom, the two Keepers returned topside. Jon quickly explained that the workshops were situated in town, so that was where the pair headed off to. As they are making their way through the market place, Rickkter's senses were drawn to the lovely aroma of baked bread.

"Oh... damn it." Rickkter had fallen back several paces and was looking between Jon and the bakery. "Um, look Jon, I'm going to grab a quick bite to eat. I know the way I work, and with this book and all the other things to dig through the next two days, this most likely is going to be the only chance I'm going to have to get anything to eat. I'll be out in a moment, so don't worry about me. Why don't you have a look around, try and find something to spend all your new found wealth on." Without so much as another word, Rickkter vanished into the shop. Jon was about to follow, only to be called over by a pair of well armed guards.

"Can I help you with something?" inquired the tomcat from behind the counter, of the darkly clad stranger who was purloining the selection of breads. It was getting a little late in the day, and he hadn't been expecting many more customers.

"Uh, yes you can. Just give me one of those bagels. Something quick," he said, drumming his fingers in a nervous and impatient manner. When the tomcat passed over the pastry, Rickkter took a large bite, barely stopping to chew. "This, this is good. You make this?"

The cat gave the stranger a slight grin. "No. I could never make anything that good. I'm just an apprentice. Gregor is the real cook. I'm Brennar. And you owe me three coppers for that."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you Brennar." Reaching into his pocket, Rick took out a silver and flipped it to the tomcat. "Keep the change.

"You know, I sympathize with your situation," Rickkter said around another mouthful of bagel. "I have been through three apprenticeships in my life. I am never going to do another one. The last was the best, actually, because I knew what to expect, but it was still horrid. Let me guess. Gregor has you doing all the menial jobs, cleaning the pots and pans, sweeping the floors, gathering supplies, minding the store, all that, right?" The tomcat gave him a quick nod. "Don't worry about it. It'll change soon. It may take some time, but he'll eventually let you do some real work. It's inevitable."

"Actually he already is. I made some very lovely, unleavened rocks on my first try. Or at least that's what they tasted like. Since then... well, I'm told I'm improving."

Rickkter choked a laugh out around his bagel. "That's exactly what I told my alchemy master upon relieving the man of most of his facial hair." The pair laughed a little. "Well I'm sure you'll get the hang of it eventually. You should have seen me during my training as a mage. I was downright horrible at the start. Couldn't cast any of the spells to save my life, always mixed up the ingredients for preparing them, too. I was chewed out more times then I care to remember. But I eventually came around. Took about a month, but I did it. And I'm sure you will too."

"I hope you're right. I'm getting sick of doing all the lowly work."

Rickkter popped in the last of his meager dinner and gave his hands a quick brushing off. "Well it's been a pleasure Brennar. Hope your situation improves soon, and I look forward to seeing you around." He flashed the apprentice a quick smile. "But if all goes well, you might not recognize me at that point."

"What do you mean?"

"Ah, it's a long story," explained Rickkter, heading out the door, as he waved off Brennar. "I've already explained it several times today. Catch you around."

"Have a good meal?" asked Jon, as Rickkter came sauntering out of the shop.

"But of course. And now I'm ready to go with you to crack the lock on the greatest magical trinket I've ever laid hands on. And then to the library. That's all, nothing more." He caught a glimpse of a pair of the Keep's guards eyeing them from across the way. They had been in conversation with the artificer when Rick had come out of the bakery. "As I said Jon, you don't have to worry about me. Like I already told you, I'm harmless."

"You never said that."

The warrior gave the deer a look of mock innocence. "Oops. Must have slipped my mind."

"That attitude is going to get you no where with the Duke, Rick. And you're already on thin ice as it is. Come on, this way."

The pair continued their journey through the market towards the workshops. Along the way they saw, coming up the street, a pair of female warriors. Both were armed to the teeth, though not nearly as impressive as Rickkter had been, and engaged in conversation.

"Oh, hello my dears. How are you, this fine day?" asked Rickkter of the passing amazons, a lecherous grin on his face. As they passed by, the closest one decided to take a shot at Rick, to demonstrate her opinion of such comments. Without even taking his gaze off the warrior's face, he effortlessly caught her fist in his hand. "Now is that any way to treat a guest?" Placing a quick kiss on the gloved hand he gave her a wink and a disarming laugh. That made her smile, and she walked off laughing with her companion.

"You do know that those use to be men at one point, don't you?" asked Jon.

"Oh, of course. I just couldn't help myself. Can't say no to lovely ladies."

"Well you had best pop your eyes back into your head. We're here."

While Metamor did have a lot of craftsmen and specialists in it, there was often the need and inclination of some of the inhabitants to do some tasks themselves. Thus the problem was solved by a communal workshop. While the tools it contained were of lower quality then most of the specialists, they adequately preformed the jobs they were used for. Today it was quite, only one person making use of the tools. It turned out to be one of the Keep's scouts, Misha.

"How are you doing, Misha?" inquired Jon to the red-tailed fox. "What are you doing here? I though you would still be out on patrol. I also figured you had your own stuff."

"I got called in an hour ago. Apparently they found whomever it was we were looking for. I just decided to come in here and do a little work. As for your question, I do have my own tools. It's just that me and Will needed...." he trailed off sniffing the air. He continued the sniffing as he walked over to Rickkter. The warrior had developed a one-sided grin as he watched the fox approach. "All right. Who are you, and what are you doing here?" Misha's face had developed a dangerous cast to it.

"I am the one that has been causing you boys so much trouble, as I'm sure you realize. I am called Rickkter by those who know me, Rick by my friends, and assorted names, titles, and lamentations by my enemies. And you, I believe, are the scout that managed to get the closest to me. It's an honor to meet one of your skills. What is your name?"

"I'm called Misha Brightleaf."

"Anything besides that?" asked Rick, with a cocked eyebrow.

"Nothing that you need to know, just yet. Now tell me how you managed to elude me that one time and baffle the other patrols all those other times."

"Because the world is made of energy. I see -- perhaps perceive is a better word -- the primal energy that makes up the universe. I feel the energy flows, the ties and bands, the currents that make up all that is around us. All the universe is energy, and I am one with this energy. I have and activated enscrollment that allows me to see these flows and change their patterns with a great deal of accuracy. My scent and tracks are but two of them. All I did was smooth over the flows as I passed by. As far as the forest was concerned, I was never there."

"What's an 'activated enscrollment'?" asked Jon.

Rickkter shook his head as he went over to the workbench. "You're really getting your money's worth out of me, today." Rickkter took out the large tome from his bag and placed it on the table, then started looking over the tools.

"All right. You have three general styles of enscrollments. Activated, continuous, and triggered," he lectured, flipping up a finger for each. Misha remained silent during the proceedings.

"Continuous means that it's working all the time. Rare to see in use due to the amount of energy they consume. Triggered means that they are one shot use. You trip it, it works once, then it must be recharged. Usually a teleportation spell, or something of that nature. Activated means that the user can turn the enchantment off and on at will, as often, and for as long, as they want to. Most of these enchantments have an automatic recharge feature that replenishes them when they're not in use." As he was lecturing, Rickkter had selected several chisels, two large hammers, and a crowbar. "Now if you'll pardon me for a little while, I have a lock to crack."

Misha walked up to the table and leaned up next to Rickkter. He had been studying the other warrior, ignoring the lecture. The scout was already somewhat versed in basic magical dealing. His brother was a sorcerer, and a rather powerful one at that. His sister was also very fluent in magic. "You know lock picks tend to do a better job then crowbars, when it comes to opening those things."

"I know that." Reaching into his back pocket he retrieved his pick set. Flipping open the leather cover, and selected a pick. "Watch and learn something of magical wards, my acclaimed scout." As soon as the pick got within an inch of the keyhole, the metal molded right over the opening. As soon as it was withdrawn, the hole reopened.

"This is a common defense on many books of high magic," Rickkter explained. "It senses any intrusion that isn't a key designed for the lock, and closes itself off. An ingenious precaution."

"Okay, now I understand what you meant when you said the picks wouldn't work on that lock," Jon spoke up. "But where the heck did you learn how to crack magical locks? It doesn't seem like the type of skill a warrior or mage would be so well versed in, and after what you've already told me of yourself, I'm quite eager to hear it."

Rickkter turned to the deer artificer. "It's quite simple, Jon. You don't actually think that all those rooms, books and scrolls I've been looking through for the last two years have all been open to my inquiries, do you? Many of the rooms had been locked for years. Most of the books and scrolls hadn't been filed because they couldn't be opened. So if I wanted to see what was in them, then I needed to open them. I learned a good number of methods of circumventing magic defenses when I trained as a mage, and picked up quite a few more in my travels. Over the last two years I've had many chances to further hone that knowledge."

"So how do you plan to deal with this lock?" Jon asked him.

Rickkter pulled up a stool. "I plan to go around the defense. I'm going to suspend the magic, then pick the lock. That doesn't work, I break it off. That's usually how I handle such situations, though I'm rather hesitant about breaking it off. You never know what kinds of wards are placed on it to prevent such actions." Rickkter picked the book off the table and began a close examination of the rivets and fasteners with a knife he retrieved from a hidden pocket.

"Look Jon, this is a busy place. If I'm keeping you from something, just say so. I'll behave myself while you're gone. Just give me the directions to the library for later. If this really is the Manuscripts, I want to check on a few things afterwards. You can always leave Misha to watch after me."

"Okay, you're right. Now that you mention that, there are things that I need to take care of. Since the Duke ordered me to look after you, that means I won't have time for other things, and need to arrange suitable replacement. I'm suppose to be working, not playing tour guide," Jon said with a quick laugh. "Look, just don't kill Misha, and I'll see you in the library in a little while." Jon gave Rickkter as accurate directions as Metamor's geometry allowed and left him in the care of the Long Scout.

"So what do you think of your new assignment?" Rick inquired of the fox.

"Frankly, I don't trust you, and I don't like the idea of you wandering around the keep by yourself." To drive the point home he pulled his lip back in a snarl revealing a mouth full of sharp, white teeth. "Besides I want to see how your going to do that."

"Ah, the paranoid sort. I like that. Shows good judgement. You can watch if you want, just stay out of my way." Rickkter put the tome down and began chanting, waving his hands over it in a ritualistic manner. As he worked, a set of glowing bluish-purple lines began to materialize. The longer Rick chanted, the more lines appeared.

"What is that?" inquired the perplexed fox.

"The shield spells surrounding the book. Good thing is, they, and this book, are over fifteen hundred years old. That means I can peal them back without too much difficulty. In fifteen hundred years far more powerful stuff has come along, and I know how to break most of that. Hell, you should have seen the tome I cracked just last month. You notice how this has lines? Well, that one was a virtual blanket of shields. Took me a full day to burrow past the defenses on that one. Unfortunately, I never got to see what it might have contained."

He turned the book around to get a better look at the lock. Before Misha's eyes the purple lines changed shape and re-wove at the guidance of Rickkter hand, and sometimes apparently of their own accord. Rick took up a pick and begins to fiddle with the latch. Misha's curiosity overcame his sense of foreboding, and he moved behind Rickkter to get a better view. He listened to some small clicks as the pick was deftly manipulated. Then all of a sudden there was a swelling of the lines around the lock, and a bright flash of yellow light before something went flying past his head, ruffling the fur at the top.

"Damn it!" shouted Rickkter. "Where the hell did that thing go?" He got up and began to examine the wall opposite the workbench. "There it is... how did you get up there?" Rickkter inquired to the lock pick, which had become lodged at least an inch into one of the wooden beams that made up the shop's ceiling.

"Ashes! What happened? How did it get there?!"

"Stupid spell. I should have know that it would have been better designed then that." Rickkter jumped up and snagged the pick, pulling it out of the beam. "Essentially I fumbled. That spell is a lot slipperier then I had anticipated." He heaved a sigh as he inspected the slightly mangled pick. "This was one of my better ones, too. I hope I can salvage it later."

"So you're a mage, a tracker, and either a locksmith or a thief. Interesting combination." Misha had resumed his seat a little down the bench, and out of range of Rickkter's potential flying projectiles. Rickkter recommenced his intensive study of the offending lock and its resident magic. "I've seen a lot of trackers do some strange things, but I've never heard of manipulation of energy fields. Were did you learn it?"

"You're just full of questions, aren't you?" asked Rickkter. By that time he had selected a new pick and was trying to decide how best to tackle the lock, now that its magic was back under his control. "If you must know, I showed promise for magic at an extremely young age. Something to do with my father teaching me, I think. I was sent to train, by the sect that I lived with, with one of the resident desert tribes that lived out near our temple. They were called the Ka'ri. They taught me everything I know about tracking and survival in the wilderness. If you can survive in the Bandi desert, you can survive anywhere. Their shaman taught me something of manipulating the fields to cover sent and tracks. I later honed that skill further."

"I know a little of the Ka'ri. I know they don't accept outsiders into their territory. All are killed, their skins hung on poles on the boarder of their land as a warning to others."

Rick pulled back as the magic swelled again in agitation at the pick's intrusion. "Well with us, they've had a centuries long agreement. We provide protection against specific groups of outsiders, they in return train some of our warriors. More then fair, for them. Satisfied with that answer?"

"Not particularly."

"Too bad." Rick returned to his attack on the lock. "I have no more to tell you." He tried re-weaving the magic for a few minutes. "How long have you been at Metamor?"

"Oh, several years." Misha pushed off the bench, walking around the room. "You know, I've generally been farther north then any of the others. I've seen many strange creatures and a multitude of strange phenomenon. Yet, in all my time here, and working with other armies, I've never managed to loose anyone like I did you." He laughed at a rack of saws. "Manipulation of energy fields, hun? I know a bit of magic myself. Mind showing me that trick some time?"

"Don't feel bad about loosing me. I've had the pleasure of frustrating some of the best in the world. Only properly trained mages, and a few sects of warriors who use similar magic, have been able to track me. There are a few creatures of magic who can see through my tricks as well. And as for my evading you, I used a teleportation spell." He smiled up at the fox. "I cheated."

"You're a piece of work, Rickkter," said Misha as he shook his head. "I find the creature aspect very interesting. What kind were you speaking of?" He wanted to try and see if he might be able to detect a weakness in the warrior. "Usual assortment of nasties. Dragons, waternixes, wraiths, night wisps, werewolves..."

"Werewolves? Never tangled with one," Misha commented. "And besides, most of those other things are just legends. They don't exist."

Rickkter turned an angry glare to the fox. "Don't doubt me. I have three sets of scars on my back, along with a multitude of others, which say otherwise. A werewolf once jumped me, and if I wasn't wearing full plate mail, I would have been killed instantly. As it was he merely knocked me over, my body not being able to support the weight. I was caught totally unprepared."

"So what happened to it?" asked Misha, a mocking look on his face.

"Simple. I fought it. It was a battle of titanic proportions. Second greatest I've ever fought. He inflicted quite a few wounds on me before I was able to put him down. Few wounds, hell. I had to get a bloody new suit of armor when he was done with it. Plates, mail, those claws went through it all. I would hate to ever meet one without full body armor. There are some injuries that even magic can't fix." Rick gave the pick a few deft turns. "I still have the hide, as a matter of fact. Made a nice ceremonial dress out of it."

"So what do these things look like? Would be nice to know in case I run into one."

"Just picture one of the local wolf morphs, like Wanderer," grunted Rickkter, "only about a foot to two feet taller and another one to two hundred pounds of pure muscle. Give it the ability to tack you by either your sent or shadow, see in pitch blackness as though it were daylight, and equip it with the cognitive facilities of a human. Then top off with a truly nasty disposition."

"Pretty dangerous creature."

Rickkter removed the pick and gave the lines another reworking. "Oh, they are. Also very low in numbers, and extremely territorial."

"So how did you manage to run into it?"

"I was doing... extermination work at the time. Got a thousand gold to rid a local baron of the beast. It wasn't nearly enough in my opinion." He paused and turned to the fox. "Say, have you ever encountered anything like that in all your time as a scout? I mean, I've told you quite a bit of myself. What do you have to offer in return?"

"Well. There was this one time." Misha took a few moments to compose himself. He began with a slight sigh. "I was about a week's ride or so to the north. Somewhere on the far side of the Sea of Souls. The day was slightly overcast and the woods dense, so the light was exceedingly poor. Up in that area of the woods, there is a peculiar phenomenon. An almost total absence of sound." The fox paused to gather his words. "It was approaching dusk, and I was on the lookout for Lutins, as usual in such an area, when all of a sudden the forest around me suddenly went dead. And I mean dead. There seemed to be a pall of foreboding over the whole place.

"Picking up the pace I decided to hightail it out of there. I had Grandpa's axe with me, so I wasn't worried about anything that I might run into. By that point the absolute silence was getting to me. I knew of a small network of caves that would allow me to cut through the mountains and get the hell out of the small valley that I was in with the greatest possible speed. These caves were once an old labyrinth, I think. The walls are carved in strange symbols, hieroglyphs, and murals in places. I have no idea why it would even be there, myself.

"I had a small portable mage light that I had had made years back. It provided adequate illumination for me as I made my way though. The thing was, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being followed. It wasn't very close, but it was there. After about an hour of searching, I was certain that I was near the exit to the passages, so that was of course the most opportune time for my pursuer to strike.

"My first indication was that my light went dark. I know what you're thinking, I have no idea how it happened either," answered Misha of Rickkter's quizzical expression. "I stood there in the dark for a few seconds trying to get the infernal thing to work again, when I was first hit by the smell. Whatever came for me that day stank to the high heavens.

"I abandoned my efforts with the light and tried to make it for the exit, my axe gripped in both hands and my senses going into overdrive as I tried to locate whatever was making the horrid slithering sound I heard."

"I know that feeling well," said Rick. He had stopped his work on the lock. "It was exactly the same when the werewolf came for me twelve years ago. I wasn't the warrior I am today, and it could elude and hide itself from my magic. But, go on."

"Well, when it attacked, it was more luck then anything else that saved me, I think. The smell of the thing was practically making me gag at that point. I felt something narrowly miss my head, and another two go off to my side. I reacted out of instinct and lashed out with my axe. I could feel that I hit two of the things, and felt their blood splatter all over me.

"Have you ever heard a rabbit's death scream, Rickkter? Because that's the closest parallel I can draw for you. It was this high pitched, incredibly evil and vile sound that came out of the darkness. I felt several of what must have been the thing's feelers whip by me and return to the main creature. Sensing that it was tending to its wounds, I turned and ran as fast as I could for where I figured the exit should be. I didn't stop running until I was simply too tired to go on any further.

"I know what you're thinking. A highly trained scout running through the woods like a mad man, it doesn't seem possible. Well Rickkter, I can tell you that if you were in that labyrinth, in the dark like I was, smelling that God awful stink, and feeling that aura of pure and utter evil, you would have run too.

"When I stopped running, I saw just how bad I hurt it. Remember how I said that I cut two of its tendrils off? Well when I got out into the moonlight, I discovered that I was covered with some kind of thick, yellow ichor. I had to burn the cloths before the night was out, they got to smelling so bad.

"Since I got back, no one has used the labyrinth as a shortcut again, and any scout that goes into that area diligently avoids the valley, especially at night."

The two said little for the next while. Rickkter eventually returned to his work on the lock and its magic, Misha resuming his intense watch. After a little while, Rick gave up on the picks and tried out the chisels and crowbar on the joint in the latch of the book. Neither had any real success. After some extensive cursing, mostly in foreign languages, he returned to the picks. During the course of about a half-hour or more, Rickkter lost two more picks to the book's spells. After seeing that the last had been driven clear through the wall of the workshop, he finally snapped.

Letting out a scream of frustration, Rickkter grabbed his bag and up-ended it on the worktable. He lacked the necessary time to work on this stubborn book! Grabbing a twenty-inch knife he whipped it out of its wooden sheath. The blade was a small sword with a serpentine dragon carved into the blade under the hilt. Tossing the sheath back on top of the bag, Rickkter stalked back over to the innocent looking tome, a look of unbridled rage on his face.

He began a series of angry chanting, waving the blade rapidly and savagely over the book. As the blade came into contact with the glowing purple lines, they turned red and shattered. Misha came to attention at this display. As he watched as the number of lines slowly diminished. They were replaced, though not as fast as Rick scythed through them. After a few minutes of vicious slashing, Rickkter reversed the blade, raised it over his head, and with a loud scream born of frustration, plunged it downward at the book. Misha was forced to turn away from the blinding light and lay his ears back to diminish the ear splitting crack. When he turned back, he saw that the tome had lost its latticework of lights and had Rickkter's blade embedded through the joint of the clasp, which was askew from the blow.

"Ashes! Think that you could have been any more brutal?"

Rickkter was standing back from the tome, panting with frustration as he admired the blade sticking up from it. He turned away from the fox to muffle a small coughing fit.

"That was just a small show of temper," croaked Rick, after a few more coughs. "I can always rebuild the clasp later. In fact, I was planning on it. I'm just glad the book is still intact. I've had them turn to piles of dust or ash on me when I tried that stunt. Remember that first one I spoke about? When I set off the defenses, there wasn't enough ash left to fill a shot glass." He grabbed a large hammer and wound up. Giving a full body swing he made contact with the blade's hilt, sending the sword soaring one way, the broken clasp the other.

"If you can't go around it, destroy it," quoted Rickkter. He went over to the book and flipped it open to a random page.

"Too bad it took your sword in the process."

Rickkter looked up from the strange script. "Where did you get that idea?" Going over to the other side of the room he retrieved his blade. "As you can see, perfectly fine." Indeed it was. Not a scratch or dent anywhere on it.

"That's just amazing. So what's in this thing that you wanted to get at so badly?" Leaning up against the workbench he found the book an incomprehensible mosaic of letters and diagrams.

"It's called the Tamar Manuscripts. And this is the only known, fully intact, copy in existence. Least as far as I know." He slid the book and the contents of his bag back where they came from and began to replace the tools in their proper place.

"Now that that's done, I need to go up to the library and check some things. I know of several books that contain information supposedly copied from the Manuscripts. I intend to verify that this is true. I also want to give this one, and several other ones I have, a though reading. Then I have many, many other things to occupy my attention."

Rickkter headed out of the workshop, only to stop half way there and turn back to the fox. "Well, Misha I'm done here. Aren't you suppose to be watching my back?"

Misha grumbled as he joined up with Rickkter. He was not about to let a man like Rickkter around on his own, and he had promised Jon. "All right, I'll show you where it is."


Rickkter entered the Keep's library. Just like Pascal's lab, it exemplified all the points that he admired. It was an expansive room, three levels in height. The shelves were about twelve feet tall, and arranged in an almost maze like pattern. Rickkter liked it already. He ambled over to the reception desk, closely followed by his escort, looking over the rows of books as he passed. He gave the desk a quick rap to get the librarians attention. The librarian turned out to be another fox, much to Rickkter's chagrin.

"Yes?" asked the fox, his glasses positioned slightly down his muzzle, an unamused expression on his face.

"Greetings," said Rick to the curt librarian. "My name is Rickkter and I'm looking for some books of magic. I need copies of the Eye In The Triangle, Des Magi Arcanum Scriptorus by Giovanni Kevar Jesarlak, The Winstone Shards by Searsight, The Daemonolatreia by Hilderbrandtova, Liber Haphelum by Sertak de Mederios, The Book of Enoch, Chemicus Alminus by Wayne Bacon, Magnorum Chemistrum by Marum Tavarax, Fulcanelli: Master Alchemist, and if you have them, The Book of Dzyan, The Suielman Legacy by W. Frazer, The Mysteries of the Monolith by Geoffrey Muskovak, and Mysteriis Metaphysical by Cornelius Agrippa. Also I have high need of your medical texts concerning ailments of the chest and lungs."

"You realize that you've just named almost all of the Keep's restricted list, don't you?"

Rickkter only sighed, holding his face in his hand. "Look. I'm a highly trained mage. I've used those books before, heck I even own copies of some of them. I just don't want to go to the trouble of unpacking them right now. All I need is to use them for some reference work. I won't be taking them out of the library, and I already know their contents. Just give me what you've got."

The fox shook his head in denial. "Sorry. I can't do that. I need the authorization of Magus, or one of the other ranking mages, to let you see Daemonolatreia, The Mysteries of the Monolith, The Shards, and Mysteriis Metaphysical. The others I can permit you to use, but not those. We don't even have copies of The Book of Dzyan, or Eye In The Triangle, and I've never heard of the Book of Enoch."

"Damn it!" swore Rickkter. "Those first few are the ones that I need the most. I'm telling you that I've used them before, and I just need them to reference some important material. Is there anyway that you can give them to me?"

"If you've used them, then you know why access is restricted to them. The medical texts and the other magic books aren't a problem. You're going to have to do without the rest for now."

"You're not listening to me. I'm qualified to use them, and I need them. Now. Don't make this any harder then it has to be," said Rickkter, as he glared over the desk.

"Is there a problem here, Fox?" growled a deep voice behind Rickkter. When the warrior turned around, he found himself face to chest with a large brown bear. Chris could put on an imposing figure when needed.

"I don't think so, Chris," said the librarian, who was apparently named Fox. "I was just explaining a few of the finer points of our lending policy here at Metamor to our new guest, Rickkter."

Rickkter gave the bear a wary glance, before turning a complacent one on Fox. While Rick's face showed acceptance, his eyes showed extreme irritation.

"Of course, my good book keep. I think that I can make do with those texts you mentioned. Though now I have to go and unpack my own personal copies of a few of the other. While a nuisance, I suppose I can get past that.

"I will be spending a great deal of time here in the next little while. If you could please gather the texts I requested, and have them at an out of the way table awaiting my return, I shall be back within the hour."

"Of course. Your books will await your return." The fox's own eyes showed that he knew that what Rick was doing was an act, and he didn't miss the look in Rick's eyes for a second. "Chris, will assist you with that," he said, gesturing to the bear morph. "His knowledge of the contents of these books exceeds my own, and I believe he'll be of greater assistence to you." Rickkter gave the librarian a quick smile of sarcastic thanks before leaving the room.

"You're lucky," said Misha as he trailed after the mage. "I have to live with that."

"That was rather confrontational of you, Fox," commented Chris upon Misha's departure. "Something bothering you?"

"Nah, it's just that I'm just having a rather bad day today, that's all. Haven't you had one of those days? One where no matter what goes on, it almost always seems to go wrong? Where you've woken up with a foul mood for no reason? That, and I didn't really like his attitude."

"I suppose we all have our bad days," concurred Chris with a shrug of his shoulders.

The entrance of Jon next disturbed Fox's attention. "Hello, Cutter. Um, I was wondering if you could tell me where I could find someone? He's a little over six feet tall, dressed all in black-"

"-with black hair, beard, a fox escort, and a hell of an arrogant disposition. I know who you're talking about. Rickkter said he would be back within the hour. He had to go get some books. Do you know what Misha is doing acting as his escort?"

Jon winced slightly. "Uh, yes I do. You see, I made some promises that I couldn't keep if I was forced to tag along with Rick. So I had to go and explain them, and I asked Misha to watch him. I didn't think anything bad could happen. After all, Misha is a trained scout."

"Well, so far it looks like they're just being testing each others patients. I think that Misha is going to want a hefty return for this favor, Jon."

The deer winced once more before thanking Fox. Somehow he knew that Brightleaf was going to be calling in that favor in terms of work on their mutual project. That mechanical contraption that Misha had dug up was almost nearing completion, but there was still a lot of work to be done. And somehow Jon could guess who it was going to be doing it.

True to his word, Rickkter was back within the hour. He stormed in with a rather ugly expression, Misha trailing behind him. Rickkter paused to make a quick survey before locating Jon. As he was making his way to the artificer, he stopped to wave the thick book he was carrying at Cutter.

"I told you I had a copy of it!" Even at the distance separating them, Fox could clearly make out the distinct glyphs of the cover of Mysteriis Metaphysical. The mage swiftly strode over to where Jon was conversing with Chris. "Ah, Jon. Good to see you finally made it back. I might need some help with this." He turned to the large brown bear. "That is if my books are ready."

"Aye, they are. This way."

Misha spoke up. "Well, if you're not needing me any more, then I'll be on my way." He turned to Jon. "You're going to owe me for this one, my friend."

"I know, I know..." muttered the artificer.

Rickkter called back to the departing scout. "A moment, Misha. If I can find the time, I was wondering if I could join you for breakfast tomorrow? I do so hate to dine alone."

"Are you sure you want to risk it?" asked Misha, with a mischievous grin. "Some of us animal morphs have peculiar eating habits, to put mildly."

"Bah. You'd be surprised what I've eaten. I'll see you at the mess?"

"Sounds good."

"Excellent. I'll find my way somehow. See you there."

Rickkter noticed the lessening sunlight from the libraries windows. "Let us get started, Chris, Jon. I'm on a schedule, and I can't afford to indulge in any more delays. I'm going to be needing that information now."

"If you'll follow me then," said Chris as he escorted Rickkter and Jon up the stairs over to one of the tables on the third level. The bear placed the few books and scrolls he had recently retrieved with the small pile already on the table. Rickkter sat on the same side as the tutor and began to unpack his very full carrying bag, Jon taking a seat on the other side of the table. "If you need any more assistance, either myself or Fox will be available to help you."

"All right, thank you," mumbled Rickkter, as he began to organize his tomes. He began to sort through the piles, arranging the books of magic around a large tome with a broken clasp. The medical texts were moved to the side for apparent later reference.

"An' for what d'ye need all of this?" asked Chris, noticing a few of the titles. He moved closer to Rick to look at one of the books the warrior had unpacked.

"Reference material," said Rickkter, as he removed a pen and ink bottle from his pack, propping up a medium sized black bound book against a few other. He turned it to a blank page, then moved his focus to the thick central book.

"This is The Winstone Shards, if I'm not mistaken," said Chris, as he opened the black leather bound cover of a book to Rickkter's left. Being incredibly careful with the text, as it smelled of extreme old age, Chris turned it to a random page. Pulling out his monocle, the tutor bent over the book to read the passage, which was done in a dark green ink like the rest of the book. "How recent an edition is this?"

"Not all that recent. It was done in Searsight's own hand." Chris almost dropped his monocle. "So as you can guess, I am rather protective of it," said the mage, as he closed the cover for the bear morph.

"I apologize if I intruded on your work," said Chris, as he began his retreat. "Wait... uh, could you come back here for a moment?" asked Rickkter.

"Yes? What is it that you request?"

"That monocle you wear. May I see it? The spell it has on it looks quite interesting."

"Only if you tell me what it is you're here to research," said Chris.

"I suppose I could," agreed Rick after a momentary pause.

"What would it be then?"

"You see this book here?" said the warrior, as he tapped an open page of the large tome at the center. "This is supposedly the Tamar Manuscripts. I actually pulled it out of one of your storerooms in the basement. I had a vested interest in rooting through it. Supposedly the Manuscripts are the original source for the anti-magic aura enchantment described in The Shards, a backdraft counter from Eye In The Triangle, along with an artifact transmutation spell from the Monolith. Other titles supposedly hold other spells, and I mentioned only one of a handful from each tome. I want to see if all that I've heard of this tome holds true. Even if it doesn't, a book this old usually contains some kind of interesting information."

"I've never heard of Tamar. And I thought that was Mysteriis Metaphysical you had there," he mentioned, gesturing to a text that Rickkter was looking through.

"It is."

"What language is that?" The book was written in strange pictographs in vertical columns.

"Krovikan."

"I've looked over Mysteriis Metaphysical once before. It's written in Aramic." "Aramic? That must be the Remeris translation you have here. It's quite comprehensive, but I find that the original Krovikan text has a few things Remeris choose to leave out."

"Don't tell me that this is an original as well!"

"Well, no. I just copied it, line for line, from one of the few still surviving first editions. It took me a little over a fortnight. Now that monocle you wear, if you please."

"First, one last question. Where does one find books like you have here? It's not like you can just walk into a local book dealer and say, 'excuse me, kind sir, but do you happen to have a copy of The Winstone Shards?'. Ashes," said the shocked tutor, gesturing to the books laid out on the table, "most of these titles deal with ancient spells. I know from experience that more then a few of them are outlawed in several kingdoms, all copies that existed there burned to ash centuries ago. How could you ever come across such things?"

The warrior gave the bear a playfully demented look. "I've been a scholar of ancient magic and occult literature for years. Ever since my early twenties. And in that time I've made much of that hobby. A few books like Mysteriis Metaphysical and Des Magi Arcanum Scriptorus, I've acquired in my travels. The copy of Eye in the Triangle here, I found in the basement of a university that I visited six months ago. My job pays, or should I say paid, exceedingly well. Some I've traded for. Over the years I've possessed a great deal of the old books."

Rick picked up a newer tome from the congregation on the table. As he began to turn through it, Chris saw that it was some kind of a personal spell book. "In many cases when I came across a spell that I thought looked interesting, or I that I might have some use for, I copied it down." He tapped the header of one spell. "Like this one. Right out of the seven scrolls of Haphelum. A few of the rest... are a very different story."

Rickkter turned back to his tomes. "Suffice it to say that I salvaged them from a destroyed library. It was an extensive place once, and these were all that were in legible condition. Now, if you please, I would care to see your half of the bargain before getting down to business."

Chris carefully removed the monocle and chain, passing it to the warrior. Rick accepted the accessory and ran his fingers along the length of the chain. "Very interesting spell you've structured into the chain. Teleport?"

"Aye. When the spell is cast, it is anchored to a fixed location, and held by a trigger. As long as the chain remains intact, the spell is inactive. Snapping the chain activates the spell and sends the wearer to the predetermined location. I've only had to use it once, but it works very well." "Impressive. But, if that's all it does, why wear it all the time?"

"Because that isn't all it does. It also improves my vision when I wear it."

Rick gave quick look through the device. "Oh, yes. I can see what you did here. Very interesting. What's the receiver spell?"

"It doesn't need one," said Chris in a satisfied tone.

"Doesn't need one?!" exclaimed Rick, still gazing through the monocle. He turned a surprised gaze to the tutor. "You mean this works as is?"

"To an extent, yes. I crafted the spell myself out of several sources and my own knowledge. It improves my vision to almost normal quantities. The color is still giving me some difficulties, though."

Rickkter handed it back with an impressed look on his face. "I would be very interested in learning how you did that. In the east and south it's always done as a two part spell. The monocle would contain the sending spell, and you would have a receiver spell implanted in your head. The receiver would take the information that the sender gives it, and use that in conjunction with your own eyes and memories, to tick your mind into thinking it sees color and in proper focus again. I've never had to use one myself, but I understand they suppose to restore almost full vision."

"Well I've taken enough of your time as it is. If you require further assistance, just ask. I'm sure I can find what you request." The bear lumbered down the steps of the third level leaving the mage and the artificer to their research.

The pair at the table was silent as Rickkter started looking over the Manuscripts, trying to determine how it was organized. Jon had picked up a random book and was trying to understand the different passages. Neither were succeeding to any grand degree.

"Um, Jon. If you want to, I suggest you go and find something to read. I would suspect that a place like this has a good selection of fine literature. Perhaps you might want to use this time to enjoy it. This is about all I intend to do for the next while. And if you're just going to sit there and observe me, this is going to be a very long watch for you."

Jon nodded his head as he looked out over the railing of the third floor. The table they were sitting at was perched in the middle of the edge of the third floor. Actually a good position, as anyone in the whole library could see them. "You wouldn't run off on me while I was gone, now would you?"

Rickkter idly turned a page in the book. "Where would I have to go?"


"...A small seal of blue sapphire, fashioned in the seal and cut of royal Caiphul is thus invulnerable to any malign enchantment, spell, rune, cantrip, curse or sending, of whatever potency, nature, or degree..."

Rickkter raised his head from the passage in the Tamar Manuscripts and blinked out at the darkened library. He noticed that Jon had fallen asleep in a near by chair, a good sized book resting on the white-tail buck's chest.

'Damn,' he though. 'How long have I been at this?' A click of his pocket watch showed that it was nearing three in the morning. 'Waayy too long,' he reflected, as he stood and stretched, cracking his back in the process. It was then that he realized that nature was calling and he had to relieve himself. Deciding not to disturb his escort, Rick headed for the stairs. Besides, he remembered there was a lavatory near the library anyway.

He walked silently down the metal steps, as his profession was one where stealth was mandatory and it came by reflex in response to the darkness. Walking past the dim mage lights, he came to the great doors. Gripping one handle, he lightly threw his shoulder into it in order to gain exit. The problem was that the door was not in a moving mood, and the latch indicated its status as locked by its refusal to also give.

'Okay, we do this the hard way,' considered Rick, as he felt around for his picks.

"Oh, shit," he softly cursed, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. He remembered that he dropped off the picks when he went to get the books with Misha. Seeing that a key was going to be his only civilized way out, Rick went over to the main desk of the library to search for it.

"Now... if I was a key... where would I be?" Rick mumbled, as he began to open a few upper drawers of one of the desks. Not finding them during his quick look through the piles of papers and assorted junk, he moved to the inner office. Rickkter used his magic to light one of the lamps in the room, then checked around the small office before trying the desk.

Padding softly up to the desk, Rick was preparing to open the middle drawer when the toe of his boot set down on something. The warrior-mage instantly jumped back at the round of vicious growling and barking that exploded from under the desk. The moment Rickkter hit the floor he was in a defensive posture, a small sphere of charged magical energy forming at his drawn back right hand.

Rick's face acquired a look of puzzlement as the red and white face of a fox poked its head out from under the desk. The fox gave the warrior an ugly look before darting around to the far side of the desk.

Standing up a little straighter at the odd spectacle, Rick was amazed when he saw the form of the vulpine librarian rise up from behind the desk and rest his elbows on the desk. "Would you mind telling me what you're doing poking around my desk in the middle of the night?"

"Fox?" asked Rick with an incredulous look.

"This is my office, that is my desk," said Fox, looking briefly around the darkened room. "Who else would it be?"

"Well... um, I'm sorry to intrude, but I was looking for the key to the main doors. It appears that I was locked in for the night."

"Geeze... okay. I suppose I can let you out for the night," said Fox as he came around to the side of the desk. He began to look in one of the lower drawers for the promised key. The librarian smiled a little at the irony of a fox letting a man out for the night.

"Oh, I have all intentions of coming back," Rick told him. "I just needed to find a lavatory. I figured that it would be a little more civilized then letting it fly out one of the windows."

"All right, here you go." Fox slapped the key into Rick's outstretched palm. "Just leave it on the main counter when you get back, and don't forget to lock up behind you. Last thing I need is any more unexpected visitors stepping on my tail tonight."

"You, uh, sleep here regularly?" asked Rick, waving around the key as he stood silhouetted in the door.

"Yes, I do. It's my own little eccentricity, and I would like to indulge in it a little more before the night is out."

"I just wish I had a place like that here. I'm going to be spending a good deal of time on that one book, to say nothing of the medical texts. But I'll leave you to your slumber then, good book keep," concluded Rick, as he backed out the door.

"Wait, wait," said Fox, lightly rubbing the fur between his ears. "The third, bottom shelf on the reception counter. If you check there, you'll find that it's stocked with a number of small bottles with a strange looking green liquid. It's something Pascal makes and sells here. It's suppose to keep you awake. If you're going to be at this for some time, you might want to look into grabbing a few. If you do, I'll tally up the total for you in the morning."

"Well, thank you again. I won't disturb you any more." Rick gave the tired fox a salute with the key as he closed the door. "Pleasant dreams."

'Fat chance of that now,' though Fox as he dropped back to his lower form and curled up under his desk.


Rickkter walked into the mess hall the next day, quickly scanning the faces for a familiar one. Not finding the desired face, he activated his truesight enchantment. The world instantly dissolved into a storm of light and energy. Rickkter enjoyed a quick rush as his other senses were sent through the roof, and his perception of the surrounding world was increased a thousand fold. He could pick out each individual being, and feel all the cosmic flows of energy within a one hundred-foot radius. Even though the enchantment wasn't even working at a quarter power, the sensations were near overwhelming.

He quickly located the individual he wanted. Rick reflected that the residual magic from when he shattered the lock on the Manuscripts did wonders for tagging people. Dropping the truesight, he walked over to one of the serving tables, grabbed a plate of what looked most edible, and crossed over to where Misha and a friend were seated next to one of the room's windows. He noticed that Brian was at a near by table.

"Greetings, my illustrious scout. Brian. How are you two this morning?" asked Rickkter as he stifled a yawn.

"Oh, I'm good," said the fox nonchalantly, as he popped a piece of breakfast into his mouth. "And I'm also surprised you showed up. I didn't think you would go through with it."

"Actually, you're right; I shouldn't be here. You're just lucky I finished wading through Tamar for useful information and turned up dry. No index, and I only managed to get half way though it all. What I read is interesting, but so haphazardly laid out. I can't believe they call that a book of high magic," he added, rubbing his tired eyes. "I also have a headache and need a break before plunging into the other books. I don't intend to stop till it's all over with."

"Say, I was wondering. Where is your escort?"

"Same place he was when he fell asleep on me last night."

Misha smiled. Not a lot, just a small, amused grin. "So do you think you can take an early morning breakfast with a group of animal morphs?"

"I've been almost everywhere in the world. Food wise, there is very little I've eaten."

"You weren't there when we met him, Misha," said Coe, as he turned around to the other three. "This is a man who calls himself Snake Eater."

"Care to tell me about that name?" asked Misha's companion, a wolverine, with a cocked eyebrow.

"Perhaps, but I don't even know who you are," said Rick, as he started his meal.

"I'm Andre. Captain of the guards."

"Pleasure to meet you then," smiled Rickkter around a bite. "I would love to, Andre, but I don't think the two of you could stomach it."

"I was a siege master before this," Misha informed him. "You can't imagine worse food then fresh rat."

"Actually, I like rat. Tasty. A few herbs and spices, wouldn't know it was any different from weasel."

"Weasel?" asked Misha with a disbelieving look. Rickkter noticed that a weasel morph two tables over had turned his head towards them. "Now you're kidding me."

Coe got up from his table. "That's it. I'm going to leave right now, before my meal decides to relocate itself. I'll see you three around, some time."

As he watched the raccoon depart, Rickkter decided that it was time to start the show. Time for a little one-upmanship.

"How the hell do you eat rat?" asked Andre.

"First you cut off the head and the tail, then you gut it," said Rickkter as he leaned over the table, a wide smile on his face. "Then it's all a matter of the sauce, am I not right, Misha? I mean, you don't just plunk down raw rodent on a plate, say 'here's your rat tartar. Would you like red or white wine with that?' Well, at least you don't do that anywhere besides here."

"This isn't going to get any better, is it?" asked Misha, cradling his forehead in his hand.

Rickkter let out a few deep, cackling laughs. "No, Misha, not at all. As Brian said, I am called Snake Eater. They were great meals in my youth." He got a far away look in his eyes as he commenced his narration. "Now, out in the desert there isn't a great deal to keep one alive. The oasis' are few and far between, and there's not much to eat besides the scorpions and of course the snakes.

"A point about the Bandi desert here. It's not your endless sand dunes rolling into oblivion. Rather it's a series of bone dry canyons and mountains. All wind swept rock and barren grasslands. To further complicate matters, the snakes are almost all of the poisonous variety.

"Usually we caught them at during the day when they rested. First we cut off the head and made sure we got the poison sacs from it. It was then divided among the party and roasted on sticks over a small fire. Of all the kinds there were, my favorite was viper. Some liked the tree snakes, others the asp, me I liked my vipers. I got the name Snake Eater because unlike many of my friends, I enjoyed dining on those slithering reptiles.

"You know, in that part of the world cobra is regarded as one of the highest deliquesces. I was part of a small delegation that was invited by one of the medicine men of a local tribe to a Cobra Feast. It was served in several portions. First was a salad with small bits of snake to garnish it. Next was kabobbed cobra chucks. Also very good. I was never able to find what spice they used, though.

"It kind of went down hill from there. After the kabobs I was eager for the next course. That was the cobra eggs. I never liked pickled eggs before, and I avoid them like the plague now. Those things were gamy as all hell, but I still sucked them down. Fortunately that's when the drinks arrived. Or I should say unfortunately. In one cup was this potent spirits that the tribe drank. In the other, cobra blood. I was never really a drinking person then, but after the blood I sucked those spirits back like a man dying of thirst!

"Last course was the worst, however. I think the medicine man was enjoying the show I had been putting on, because he was smiling with glee when the last course showed up. It turned out that they had figured out how to make some kind of frozen dessert, despite the fact that we were in a desert. Now I had had that stuff before, so I was relieved when I saw them bring it in. That was before I learned what it was garnished with. It turned out that the poison sac is considered the greatest part of the whole damn snake. When I gulped it down, right under the watchful eye of the medicine man, it hit like a lead brick. After breaking out all over in sweat for a few seconds, and getting a wonderful psychedelic display of dots floating before my eyes, it ended."

"You felt it pass?" asked Andre.

"Not quite. I passed out," said Rick, biting off a piece of bacon. "My instructor at the time carried me outside the hut. When I came to I could still here them laughing at me in there."

"Is that the worst you can do?" said Misha around his own breakfast. "I've eaten more disgusting things!"

"Oh, you want worse?" inquired Rickkter, cocking an eyebrow at the fox. "I can do you worse. Let us more out of the southern expanse and more to the main parts of the east. Scarabs."

"Scarabs?" inquired the fox, cocking an eyebrow of his own.

"Scarabs. You would know them better as beetles. Except in Napanee, Wijtgaart, and surrounding kingdoms, they look a little different. In those places they're about this big." He positioned his hands so that his index fingers were about six inches apart. "You eat them by cracking open the belly plate, then using that as a scoop to dig out the insides. They are quite good. It was several years ago when I last worked in that part of the world. Me and the sultan whose employ I was in, we use to stay up to the wee hours drinking, joking, and crunching our belly plates."

"Okay..." agreed Misha as he nodded his head. "I can see that. But I can do you one better. Dog."

"Dog?"

"Dog. I was on the receiving end of a siege once. When the food started running slim, we began to eat anything with meat on it. First the cattle, then the horses. It got so bad that even the pigeons started to go missing. But the worst was when one of my buddies came in carrying a dog he had just bagged."

"You didn't..." said Andre with a disbelieving look.

"Sure did. I hadn't had a decent meal for nearly a month. And that wasn't the only time I've dined on dog, either. I was forced to desperate measures a few times. I think that with my life, I could write a cook book for the Keep's library called Fifty Ways to Wok Your Dog."

"Not bad," conceded Rickkter with an impressed look. "I've also feasted upon man's best friend on a few occasions myself. My turn again."

The two went back and forth for a little while, the cuisine growing worse and more revolting. Tables around them began to slowly clear out, though Rickkter and Misha kept eating to show the other they could stomach what was being said. The culinary delights went from crocodile tail (Rick liked his roasted, baked, steamed, or salted), to braised chicken beaks, to maggots (Misha liked them in chili and garlic sauce). Andre finally gagged and left when the conversation turned into a debate over which type of fish had the better tasting eyeballs.

They cleared a few more tables when Rickkter loudly declared that grubs were better pan fried instead of sautéed, the way Misha preferred them. As their meal was drawing to an end, Rickkter decided that he was determined to win.

Leaning across the table, in a hunched over, conspiratorial fashion, Rick began his final narrative. He regaled the fox with a tale of the time that the high priest of Cayuga and him had feasted upon chilled monkey brains. He even went so far as to describe the fact that the brains were still in the monkey at the time, the skull forming a bowl from which the guests ate.

"I tell you, they taste like liver," said Rick, waving his arms for emphasis. "I mean, liver. Uuhh...." said Rick, as he made a face of mock revolt, sticking his tongue out in a playful way.

Misha finally winced in disgust at that last one. "Oh, that's too much. Why did you have to go there?" he asked as he pushed away his almost empty plate.

"Ah, the brains finally got you." Rick smiled as he pointed at the scout. "I figured they might. That's where most people stop. Personally, I figure that if you can get past them, then you've won."

"Well, I have to go now, Rickkter," said the red-tailed fox, as he stood up. "Me and my stomach both agree that you win." As he moved away Rick heard him mutter, "liver! Yuck!" and shake his head.

"Hey, Misha!" called Rickkter, to the back of the departing scout. "Mind if I join you for a drink some time later? At least let me buy you a meal to make up for this one."

Misha snorted, shaking his head as he smiled. "All right, Rickkter. I'll see you sometime."

"You won't regret it."

"You know, warrior, you're trouble," said the fox, shaking his finger at the grinning mage. "I like that."

Both parties laughed behind each other's back, as Misha departed the mess.

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