Thursday, March 31, 2011

IX. The Glorious Nightmare

            Now, the Trumpeter didnt know that what he was seeing and feeling before was unreal.  The fine-cut architecture of the upper apartments looked clear and true, the sounds of the Fencer battling his way to freedom rang out loud, and that smell of frost and ancient magics held just as heavy in the fortress of Vael where he pushed the alabaster witch from the arch as it did in the fortress where he hid from the redoubled efforts of the guards.  Imagine his disappointment in seeing Icle shatter only to find out, in a blink, that she was whole and lived.  Still, this act of violence had broken the mind trap and he had gone fleeing into the depths of the palace, a score of guards giving chase.
            In order to sequester himself away from such scrutiny the Trumpeter couldve fled into the cubist quarters of the palace itself, that part of the fortress which rose above the diorite cliff overlooking Nock, but he chose to keep going down into the great rock, to the passages he knew.  It probably wasnt much safer down there, but his mind spun in strange revolutions most times and only revolved faster and faster after encountering the Diorama.
            When the galleries became lit by that strange ambient radiance once more the Trumpeter knew he was back in the laboratories.  Amongst the empty arcades and corridors his mind found the space it needed to resolve certain mysteries concerning the city, the fortress, the witch and the steel despot on his throne of snowflakes.  The Trumpeter would often stop with sudden understanding only to be spurred on once more by the cries and clatter of the guards which harassed him.  Between these forces of revelation and persecution he soon became lost.
            New passages beaconed, twisting, turning things more organic than constructed.  Strange, considering the architectural progression upwards of natural caverns into worked rooms.  A sound of confined steam and a beating nock, like that of the citys clock, resounded from this new way.  At last, in a room directly below the grand arcade, where the Fencer had been caught and the Trumpeter discovered the alabaster witch meditating, his revelations culminated. 
            By now the walls were almost completely crystalline, veins of chalcedony and amethyst shooting through the more crude quartz and cubic metal.  The chamber was festooned with brass fittings, conduits for the natural forces being fed up to the clock above.  The thing wasnt too far off by the sound.  Dominating the center, inset against the coarse rock, was a partially exposed sphere of an enormous geode, within which vivid redness gleamed.  The Trumpeter didnt have long to consider this as he sought about for a place to hide from the guards only a few seconds behind.

            There is a shape to all our minds, like a gem, and everything we know or think or feel is a facet, began Icle as if she was explaining the simplest thing in the world.  I reach out and pluck facets.
            You cant do that with stone, said the Fencer abruptly.
            Of course not, its just a way of speaking.
            Inside himself the Fencer grumbled at this travesty of simile, spoken at him as if he was a child without the reason to turn about words and judge their value, but he let his temper cool.
            These facets grow, like the crystals down in the laboratories, all funny shapes and lovely colors, she continued, lost in the telling.  And that is where you were, in a new mind, an empty shell, something known as a Diorama.  I grew the place, you populated it with what you knew, and I filled in the rest.  If I could I would make entirely new minds with thoughts I liked and shapes that pleased, or simply replace the worn, Winter-addled brains which surround me with creations of my own...
            I think he understands now, recommended Vael.
            Not at all.  Not one bit, started the angry Fencer.
            Oh, there is much, much more to it than that, said the girl with a smile.
            Like how it all falls apart when you die in them, like in a dream?
            I cant die- began the girl but Vael tapped her shoulder, cutting her off.
            You say you know whose dream that is, said Vael, pointing to where Dhala lay on a white cloth in front of the throne, red eyes smoldering from the black crystal of the sword. 
            I only met him once and only for a short time, said the Fencer as he thought back to those few minutes after he murdered the mute and released the Stranger.  In his mind the man stood out with a frightful clarity.  He wasnt much out of boyhood but quite tall.  His hair had the mark of the gift, like a clear sky at dusk, and his eyes were crimson.  If I were a superstitious idiot from my village I would call him a god and like a lost deity this person, this entity, was quite powerful indeed.  He threw me about like I was a bit of flotsam, could vanish without a trace and, well, I couldnt see properly because of the brightness.
            Now look who’s failing the language, chided Vael, sensing a weakness in the narrative.  “Go on.”
            The Fencer pursued the memory and was in the forbidden lands again.  A sorcerous cloud, part of the imprisoning magics which had kept the demon safely tucked away for so long, drifted apart to reveal the endless tide of Lemur-men bearing down on them.  He turned to glare at the Trumpeter, whose music had summoned the horde, but with a jarring paradox realized that his companion was gone.
            Not exactly like you imagined it? said the unwelcome voice of the Stranger.  “She’s changing some things.”
            Turning, the Fencer saw the horrible man once more, the blue hair and red eyes, but here the creature was different, exaggerated.  Here he was taller, lankier, hungry angles and long, claw-like fingers.  From an inhuman face large eyes stared out and his mouth widened into a laconic smile.  The shifting gown had become a cloak of blinking eyes.
            This is where you convince me to save you and your friend, said the Stranger.  I raise my hand, like this, and make it all go away.
            After a fashion, began the Fencer, realizing the surrounding fiction.  Events are conspiring differently than I remember.  This is because what we sense, the time and place, are like a cloth of memory worn by a statue; the flesh beneath isnt real.
            Real enough for me, smiled the Stranger, at peace with the simulation.  A Diorama is built from the mind, in part from memory; tell me, what do you remember of me?
            The Fencer glanced back at the incoming horde of Lemur-men in order to avoid those crimson eyes, that unsettling image of a creature more magic than man.  Yet even here he was disappointed.  Where there shouldve been a horde of hopping horrors from the Wondering Mountains only two figures approached.  One white.  One silver.
            Yours was inhuman strength, and destruction, I suppose. 
            The images of Icle and Vael grew closer.  Shafts of cloudy radiance broke through the dwindling azure cloud of disassociation roiling above.  On the first iteration of this scene he had received some measure of relief in seeing the rare sun, but now the Fencer felt unnerved by the presence of the Stranger, in the whole constructed travesty of memory.  He only hoped that he could point the youth in the right direction when the time came.
            Yes, said the Stranger after a moment, a hint of sadness in his voice.  Do you know what else?
            No, Im not sure.
            Then I can do anything.
            The thing of dusk and red parted the clouds with a sweep of his hand and let the full jarring brilliance of the late sun into the dream.  By the time the two arrived the sky was clear and bright.
            So this is he? asked Vael with his hand on his sword.
            Dont speak as if Im not here, spat the Stranger getting off to a good start.
            Then what about the blade in the Fencers hand? asked the armored man, switching strategies.  Its of you, is it not?
            It is nothing, a merest nothing.  Here it is but a copy.  I could make a thousand of those things and happily too; Ive had enough of nightmares.
            Something feels strange, stated Icle.  She listed to one side as if drunk on the dreamscape. 
            Not to worry, said Vael with a smile to his vat-grown accomplice, He just said that he is nothing.  This Diorama is formed from the sword itself and all things in it, himself included.  Only we have matter outside this nightmare.
            Carefully, quietly, the Fencer had begun to distance himself from the meeting.  The parties involved were so intent on their conflict that they didnt notice.  Besides, he had already seen the outcome.
            Ive always been fond of paradox, smiled the Stranger.  Tell me snow maiden, what can you do?  Or show me, yes, that would be far superior.
            I dont take my directions from hallucinations or from dreams, said the girl with an inebriated grin.
            Quick as a mountain wind the Stranger lashed out.  Icle ducked instinctively but she wasnt the target.  Vael only managed to free a few inches of his swords steel before his head spilled into bloody mist.  The Fencer turned just in time to see the duel.

            The Trumpeter had seen the Fencer venture similar schemes, as it was an act which could only be dreamed up by such a savage and inchoate mind.  Now the musician had a use for such a gambit. 
            He ran from the great chamber and its empty sphere using one of the side ventricles to loop his pursuers back around to passages he remembered.  He was beginning to grow winded, it being so long since he had much of a rest, while the guards at his back seemed hardy and fiendish runners.  With tired joy he at last discovered the sort of room he was looking for.
            It was a simple thing, full of porcelain vats like those he had been forced to bath in back at the inn.  Despite such amenities the chambers important traits were its length and the limitation of two exits, both long narrow tunnels. 
            He took a chance and brought the whole train of guards back through this designated spot, closing the loop.  When he was clear of the passage and sure of pursuit, due to the curses being flung, he took a deep breath, turned, and sent a blast out of the trumpet.
            With a pitch-perfect thunderbolt of noise the passage collapsed in a haze of stone dust and rubble.  If the men were to follow, they must first retrace their steps back along the full circuit, leaving him plenty of time to ease back into hiding. 
            The Trumpeter did a little dance of victory and almost had his head chopped off.  One of the damned guards had turned around and lay in wait amongst the shadows!
            Apoplectic with infantile rage the Trumpeter did little other than duck and scramble to get away from his attacker.  It was all so unfair.  The plan shouldve gone perfectly.  With an inward sigh he supposed he had to do something about the man trying to kill him.
            The guard was frustrated enough; a lifetime of abuse had made the Trumpeter a slippery opponent and no matter how well-aimed the thrust or swing the swordsman only met air and the tangling scarf worn by the yelping loon.  The Trumpeter even felt a twinge of sorrow when he brained the fellow with his instrument; the man had tried so hard.
            Freed of pursuit, for the time being, the musician set about to orchestrate a new plan.  Double checking the routes linking the geode chamber to the upper works of the fortress, he made note of alternate paths to take if need be.  Then he set off on another gamble, confident the Fencer could get himself out of whatever trouble was being dreamed upstairs.
            In more formal settings magicians would settle disputes of power with an exchange of baleful energies.  These duels were a show of creativity, wit, intellect and decorum.  But the truth of the practice was more visceral.  When mages unfurled the full tapestry of their will the results were messy and beautiful.  Strange new life would emerge from the mingling of unfocused energies and whole lands had been destroyed, changed, or brought into existence through collateral magics.  The Fencer had no chance of escape.
            Before her master had even hit the icy ground, Icle pulled the cold from the snow and the rage from her heart.  All things were weapons when properly manipulated and she mixed these two parts into a wave of thrashing, feathery blades which tore at the space where the Stranger stood.
            At the same moment, the blue-haired magician vomited out a swarming, eyeless horde.  Acid from their dripping tentacles caused the ground to smoke and an acrid stench stung the air.  The basin was a flurry of obscene movement as these first conjurations deflected each other.  Already the next moves were being worked; no time could be spent with the past.
            Icle sculpted a bolt of ice which dove at the Strangers heart but with a word he turned it to a pale worm which hungrily turned back upon the girl with its leech-like mouth.  At a command the air around the alabaster girl combusted in smoke and flame, shattering their first creations, which still fought upon the ice, but she rose unharmed from the explosion on a mountain of shimmering ice.  All this in a second, as fast as thought, raw cunning meeting cool thought, emotion crashing against intellect.
            Awful things fluttered in the air, born of half-finished spells, purest will and most terrible nightmare.  Finding himself beset by hungry things, which clutched and clawed and bit and gibbered, it was all the Fencer could do to stay alive, if such a state mattered in this place.  He had made it to the slopes of the basin and used the advantageous height to hew and chop the more insistent abominations, but he knew he wouldnt last long against the massed contents of imagination spilled onto the canvas of even this mock reality.
            The Stranger was at play in this world of mutable forms.  He had grown here into something far beyond what either Icle hoped or the Fencer expected.  While Icle was competent and forceful, the Stranger was unrestrained and imaginative.  His was a blast of perfumed blossoms which twisted gravity about them to shatter Icles protective mountain, and the moaning arthropods which ate light only to spit it back out as great gouts of blackish flame. 
            As they plucked various qualities of the world apart in their frenetic war the sun was turned into a spear of fission-heat and the moon into a shield of purest force.  The stars rained as tears and the mountains bled. 
            At one point the Fencer managed to scamper up the steep incline of the mountains, leaving most of his mindless attackers behind, only to have the range rise up beneath as the Stranger pulled the whole surface of the world upwards, like a man tugging at a tarp.  Up and up they went, past the clouds, past the atmosphere, to where the cold lay, the true cold of the outer dark.  Dhala.   
            Here the monstrous Stranger smiled in the surreal dusk of the nightmare while the Fencer and Icle struggled for breath under a starless black void.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

VIII. Vael

            “I try to be reasonable, said the man the Fencer was quickly beginning to identify as Lord Vael, ruler of the steam city of Nock, master of the fortress that surrounded them.  While the despot spoke in his silken-sharp voice the Fencer struggled against his captors and himself, with equal parts failure.  Against the guards he was ineffective because his strength required a sword in his hand, and with himself he was in turmoil because the well-spoken man of the keep was making a claim on reason, and that was supposed to be his attribute.  The concept that others might share this value for rational thought enraged him.
            I let you wander about Nock with a magic blade at your side without being brought in by the lamplighters, continued Vael as they passed through galleries and passages illuminated by the lingering enchantments of their former master.
            You are most kind, said the Fencer, calming down, focusing on the memory of his cold weapon, currently held by a worried looking guard who kept it wrapped in cloth and held away.  If you wanted to continue along that line of courtesy I wouldnt complain at all.
            You are my guest; I wouldnt think of abandoning you until the proper social forms have been observed, said Vael, obviously enjoying himself.  Up and up the lord took them through the dungeons and into the keep proper. 
            The Fencer wondered what these forms might entail.  There was little precedent for torture back in the village of the narwhal hunters.  If you had a grievance with someone you either worked out your problems or there was clear, simple violence.  Life in Ahgren, and now in Nock, added whole new layers of complexity to human interaction. 
            He sighed audibly as they entered a prominent room of extreme cold; an ornate throne molded to the far wall added a familiar touch.  The thing seemed grown from some peerless white stone, the surface of which showed a collage of snowflake-feathers and icicle veins.  The arctic breath of Winter sailed in through the open arcades which made up the walls on either side.  Through these portals distant mountain tops graced the cloudy night sky, giving some sense of altitude.
            Here they let him redress in his sealskins while Vael explained things.  The alabaster girls eyes danced with excitement as she played with the Fencers old iron collar.
            The world is empty, the young lord began.  There is no magic left, Sol saw to that.
            Who is this Sol that you addled northerners talk about? spat the Fencer.  Everyone with a spark of memory knows that the Red Demon took all the witches and monsters and dragged them to a place beyond the stars.  The Uplifting.
            Everyone doesnt know that and Im not sure you do either, pressed Lord Vael who seemed a good fit in the snowflake throne, his bleached pet sitting on the floor at his left side, grinning. 
            It was true; his reason demanded he treat it as such.  The Fencer had been very young when the event occurred and only vaguely did he remember that green-haired witch who lived in a cave halfway up the Wondering Mountains.  There came tales of the red demon casting down gods, enslaving magi, causing the earth to swallow up priests.  Yet, considering how isolated and xenophobic the village was, it certainly didn’t fit.  Still, the witch vanished at that time. 
            Nobody does, the man on the throne finally pronounced.  Each city and village, each band of nomads and tribe of brigands, they all have different stories to tell of the Uplifting.  All, as far as I determine, mix truths and falsehoods to varying degrees.
            That means not all the magic is gone, stated the Fencer feeling the lean of the conversation.  Lord Vael opened his mouth, not out of surprise but more because this southern outcast had jumped ahead of his finely choreographed reasoning by several steps.
            Which brings me to this weapon, said Vael, catching up.
            Of mine, continued the Fencer.
            Its a thing of magic, Vael said.  Though I dont know much more.
            I dont understand it, said the alabaster girl, speaking at last.
            Its cold, smiled the Fencer.  The guards had let him go at this point, but stood just outside of easy reach and yet close enough to draw and be upon the prisoner should he abuse his liberty.  I call it Dhala.
            If it was of cold, I would be able to understand it, stated the girl who looked up at Vael.  He lies.
            Not much we can do about that, responded the man in the throne who smiled in return.  The girl closed her eyes.
            Where did you learn to swing a sword? asked Vael.
            I ate a butterfly, or so the scholars in Ahgren tell.  Looked like a snowfly to me.
            The guard closest to the Fencer had been having trouble with the cold and now a full body cough wracked through him.  In one motion the fencer drew the doubled-over mans sword and was out the closest arch in the arcade. 
            Once again he returned to the familiarity of Winter and its freezing breath.  He clambered down a facade of archway-laden floors, there being many more layers to the fortress than he remembered seeing from his journey into Nock.  Shouts from the guards followed on one side, night stars shone on the other. 
            Men in armor waited at the cubic tumble of roofs that was the architecture of Lord Vaels fortress.  A ledge nearby them looked out over the hundreds of meters leading down to slumbering Nock.  Strange, they seemed to be two of the men he had left dumbfounded back in the throne room.  The Fencer leapt the final few meters, much to their surprise. 
            The first opponent tumbled off the edge after a few savage swings; the second attempted a vicious lunge but merely charged off under his own power.  Their screams fell away into the steam clouds of the city below.
            From above, framed by the blocky strength of the palace, Lord Vael laughed.  The Fencer glanced down.  The city was suddenly concealed by a boiling veil of steam so potent that it seemed the whole palace floated on clouds.  A similarity to Summer rung out in the adventurers mind as he jumped from block to block and roof to roof, looking for some path out of the crazy jumble of towers and balconies.  Lord Vael simply receded back into the throne room, and stepped out of a darkened portal next to the Fencer.
            Sorcery! exclaimed the swordsman, readying his stolen blade to meet the steel his captor brought down on him.
            Oh, quite, said the ruler of Nock.  So this is the cold you spoke of before?
            Indeed, the world was growing colder and stranger ever second.  The stars glared from their heavenly perches and grew red and hungry as the sky froze.  A terrible cold, that cold which the Fencer felt when he grasped his Dhala, tightened around the throat of the world.  In this absolute and unnatural temperature he could feel his movements slow, his thoughts freeze. 
            At first he played the game of swords perfectly with the lord of the keep, meeting strike for strike, but as the affliction progressed he went increasingly on the defensive.  Vael never weakened, never faltered for a moment.  His was an experienced hand, always a smile on his face.  Victory was as certain as the chill in the air.
            Then a cry from above.  There was the girl and the Trumpeter, smiling while he pushed the struggling witch out the high arch.  Her scream was silenced when she hit some buttress of masonry and shattered.
            The Fencer blinked back to the throne room, Lord Vael seated, the girl at his side, all the guards and all their swords in proper hands.  Night time shone deep blue outside the arches of old Glyms fortress.
            The mad musician is in the keep, find him! shouted Vael as the same illusion which had overcome the Fencer melted from his mind. 
            He was close enough to be a part of the Diorama, added the girl.
            The Fencer felt he should be thankful to hear that the Trumpeter was still alive and causing trouble but the potency of the hallucination he had just experienced filled him with dread.  Every breath, every cut and bruise felt true, even now he rubbed at the place on his arm Vael had cut open in the duel.  Even more frightening was the cold, the sensation of Dhala which had filled him so utterly.  It was as if reality itself was being undone and remade. 
            So that is what you meant by cold, said the girl thoughtfully.  You have many words for that phenomenon, which is why I didnt understand the sword before, but now I do.
            “But do you understand it fully?” the armored lord asked.  To this the girl was silent and thoughtful, a bit petulant by the look in her eyes. 
            Just as you accused, continued Vael to his guest.  Sorcery.
            You keep dangerous company, said the Fencer, gauging the position of the guards once more.  He walked over to the arch and saw that the scale of the keep had been much exaggerated by the dream he had just experienced.  I understand it is customary to behead witches and bury them at crossroads.
            Why do you say that? asked Vael.
            How many mages do you keep in your employ?  The Fencer met the mans cold eyes with his own.
            Icle accompanies me for now, that is all, responded Vael trying to feel around the Fencers question.
            Strange, thought the swordsman, the despot seemed to be telling the truth.  Cleas death was making less and less sense.
            She is not like us, not in the normal sense of the word, not even like those from Summer.  When I claimed the keep after Sol destroyed Glym I pulled her from a vat deep in the laboratories.  She is made from snow and her heart is ice.  Along with these attributes she has certain talents.
            Who was Glym?  The Fencer had to buy more time for the Trumpeter; at this moment he had to trust in his friends capabilities, it was the only way to freedom he could envision.
            It was at that moment that a frightfully tall man, head shaved clear, wearing a garment of frost appeared in the room.  He moved his hands and with a shrieking sound the guards, Vael, and closed-eyed Icle froze, along with the very air around them.
            The Fencer didnt miss the chance.  Careful to avoid the jagged protrusions of ice he snatched up his sword and spun to face the legendary Glym. 
            Under the focused attentions of the long lost mage the Fencer felt an intense fear.  The air screamed as all heat bled away from the mans very presence and a countenance both serene and jagged played upon his face. 
            Once I was abandoned but the cold that was supposed to kill me became me, said Glym with a voice balanced and hypnotic.  I lived as a wild beast for a time but then the master came.  Over the decades he taught me some portion of the signs and motions of the Art, then I killed him for the rest.  I built my home in this place because a great power was here, one I intended to harness, though the process would take centuries.
            All the while the magician spoke he moved with slow steady steps towards where the Fencer stood.  The swordsman gripped and re-gripped his blade many times.  He could feel the words worming into his mind, chilling him.  Only some stubborn quality within himself or the black sorcery of his weapon kept his mind from growing cold and still.
            Now you have something most curious, said Glym.  I would have it.
            Sensing the sorcerers tug on the blade before the effect could fully coalesce the Fencer took the telekinetic momentum and pushed forward.  A sudden wall of ice stopped the cunning lunge inches from Glyms heart.  With a swing the Fencer collapsed the whole barricade and circled about his foe.
            An upraised hand and a bolt of alabaster frost crackled through the air, sending the swordsman reeling back, out of the room and down a grand stair.  The energy of the attack wriggled, bending and lashing out like a venomous serpent.
            The castle grew deathly cold.  When the Fencer at last rested at the bottom sounds of ice forming filled the air with shrieks.  Glym looked down from the top of the room.
            What you hold is most unprecedented; a bit of Winters nature which eludes my classification, he said.
            A trinity of desire struck the Fencer as he scrambled weakly on the icy floor.  First Wolgloss had wanted Dhala, then Vael desired the weapon, and now this ancient sorcerer, the master of the very heart of Winter demanded the thing, this cursed thing.  So often he wished to be rid of it and yet he could never bring himself to lose such a useful item.  With it he was the Fencer, without, well, he had no thoughts on the matter.  There was even a hint of gratitude as he considered how it had saved him from the Lemur-men back on the Wondering Mountains.  What a curious place the object occupied in his heart while it seemed such a covetous treasure to those with ambition in theirs.
            The fortress of Glym contorted as it grew by the power of the mages will.  Outside, the sun rose early, reflecting off a thousand new spires of frozen glass.  Fell creatures wandered the hallways where the icy remnants of Vaels men stood in silent, impotent sentry.  Glym was returned.
            Sure, you can have it, said the Fencer, at last getting to his feet where he tested to make sure his head was still on his shoulders.  An idea had formed and he wanted to be sure the gamble he was about to take was sound.  For my freedom and that of my musician.
            Glym nodded and the Fencer handed it to him.  If he believed in any gods or demons he wouldve prayed to them at that point; instead he bit his lip and cursed the Trumpeter for getting away.
            How interesting, said the ancient mage as the icicle sword touched his waiting hands.  Like the immaculate cold of the space between stars but contained, crystallized, of Winter, yet...colored by something else.
            By now the Fencer was up the stairs and heading to the throne room.  Some portion of his psyche wondered that it would be the same when he returned, but the frozen court which attended the room waited as they did upon the advent of Glym. 
            There is something curious too, continued the sorcerers drifting voice as the Fencer went to his gruesome task.  He now struggled to break free a resident of the throne room.  I see a lady of rainstorm hair and golden eyes.  She holds the words of the world in her mouth and the mountains fear for their truth.
            Lugging his frozen burden down the stairs to where Glym stood enraptured by the enterprise of discovery the Fencer saw that a change had undergone the mage.  The man of brilliant whites and pale blues was now stained by the frozen nightmare of Dhala.  An entity of amethyst tentacles and golden proto-eyes boiled from the mass of his form while his lips kept chanting with the exuberance of knowledge.
            It wasnt a moment too soon that the Fencer hefted up the frozen form of Icle and hurled it upon the unsuspecting archmage.
            Like a puzzle being unsolved the pieces of shattering Icle and molten Glym scattered across the great hall of the fortress while outside the arched portals spires and minarets tumbled.  The sun cracked, the tundra heaved and in a hurricane of violence the world of Winter ended in the blinking of an eye, Icles eye.
            Again the company stood in the throne room.  The lord of the keep, thawed and thoughtful, leaned back in the seat of frost.  The guards congratulated themselves on not dying this time as Icles sorceries melted from the minds of those in the room.  The girl herself removed her slight hand from where it touched Dhala in front of her.
            Its too much for me, admitted the alabaster girl with a sigh.  Cold is the power which is locked inside the sword, but the matter itself is that of a nightmare made physical through some form of alchemy which is beyond my experience.  The nightmare is potent, strange, personal, in this proximity there is a pathos which trembles with a strange strength.  I feel hints of a woman of power.  If I knew whose nightmare it was...
            I do, said the Fencer, another gambit on his mind.  But first, tell me how you work this enchantment of yours.
            Its a simple thing, for me at least, began Icle after a nod of approval from Lord Vael.
            The Fencer did his best to soak in the girls words, though the topic was strange, difficult to grasp.  He considered it necessary though, on my levels.  He hoped for the illumination of certain mysteries which had dogged him ever since he was chased from his village.  Also there was a chance that he might win his freedom or buy enough time for the Trumpeter with this ruse.  And then there was Winters Riddle itself; he could never ignore some path of esoteric knowledge which might lead to a solution, either personal or global, to the cold, with no better example evident than his nightmarish weapon which lay on the ground in front of the throne.