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Authors: Gary Gygax

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Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 1 - Anubis Murders

BOOK: Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 1 - Anubis Murders
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DANGEROUS

JOURNEYS

The Anubis Murders

by

Gary Gygax

DEATH IN YS

"Another rotten night!" The complaint was loud and harsh, but the November wind whipping across the ocean and into the city on the high spit of land tore the sound into shreds.

"Only a pair of fools like us would put up with this duty," the second man agreed, drawing his heavy cloak of maroon-and-blue wool closer. The air was cold and damp, the cloth was heavy with salt spray, and the act was more for comfort than effect. "We should have joined one of the free companies."

"And die in the godsforsaken forests in Teu-tonia? Yer a damn fool, Olio!" the taller man said.

"I may be a fool," the shorter city watchman allowed with a snarl, "but it was your foolin' round with that doxy of the sergeant's that got us posted to this duty!"

"Now just take that and—"

The second man grabbed his comrade's arm. "Quiet!" His fingers bit into the man's flesh, even through the outer garments. "I heard some-thin' weird . . ." He trailed off, listening. "There, Alaine. It was a howling sound. Did you hear?"

"It's the wind."

"No, it wasn't like that. It was real eerie," Olio said so softly that his companion could hardly discern the words above the stormy night. "Damn! Look there—what's that?!"

Alaine took his companion's arm and turned him away from the shadows near the high wall which marked the boundary of their watch. "Who gives a rat's ass?" he growled, and headed back toward the narrow streets and alleys of Ys' waterfront slum district. "Anything goin' near
that
place can pass, as far as I'm concerned."

Olio hesitated for a moment, peering beyond the grim wall—and a brief shower of purple sparks danced around the high tower. The watchman averted his eyes quickly, made a sign to ward off evil, and hurried after his comrade. The thugs and thieves of the harbor were at least known entities. Olio scurried to catch up with the long-striding Alaine. "What should we report?" he asked breathlessly.

"You can report whatever you like," Alaine said with a shrug, "but all I seen was a couple of mongrel dogs sniffin' along the street, and all I heard was the wind."

"There was a half dozen of them things, Alaine. Black as soot and big!"

"Black? There wasn't enough light to tell red from brown, stupid! I saw plain old wild dogs, smallish ones mostly, in fact. Since when's stray curs in Ys somethin' to run and report?" He paused and stared at Olio. The smaller man started to say something, stopped, and looked resigned. "That's that, chum," Alaine said when he saw his comrade's uncertainty. "We need to stay the hells away from anything out of line now so's we can get reassigned to better duty before winter, right?"

"Sure . . ." Olio agreed uneasily.

"Come on, then! Let's check up on what's doin' at the Sailor and Sirene. There's always a good excuse for checkin' on a dive like that, and the mulled wine's good there, too." Olio needed no further urging, and the two patrolmen garbed in the uniform of the Watch of Ys headed up a twisting alleyway and out of sight.

Hot eyes of orange-red followed their progress, but when the pair disappeared around the curve of the narrow passage, the orbs winked out as if someone had shuttered them. Soft pads made no sound on the rounded cobbles, and the clicking of long nails was lost in the shrieking of the wind.

Six dog-like animals trotted along the road, keeping close to the buildings which lined it. The street rose toward a long spit of land, a rocky promontory which thrust out into the cold waters of the ocean. Though all of Ys was built on a peninsula, this portion of the ancient city jutted off spur-like, due west, as if determined to separate forever the wild waves of the Lantlan Ocean from the choppy waters of the Channel of Avillon. The out-thrust ridge was walled by both natural cliffs and human construction. Where it met the land to the east, Ys proper, it was also shielded by thick granite. Squat, square towers and crenelated battlements marked the place where the city ended and the isolated tongue of stone stabbed forth into the ever-gray waters. As the six creatures came to the massive barrier and closed gates, twice their number came forth to meet them.

There was no light save the little illumination from the distant stars. The low clouds parted and the faint rays glimmered on the damp old stones, the dark iron, and the creatures that resembled dogs. But dogs do not have eyes of lambent fire. And these creatures exchanged no whines, yelps or barks. The six black things sat on the stones, and the dozen who emerged from the deep blackness near the wall joined them. The whole pack sat absolutely still and silent for the space of a hundred heartbeats, then rose and slunk off. Some went north toward the wave-dashed rocks of the shore; others stole belly-low toward the southern verge of the high spit of land. There were darker shapes in the black waters of both places, lupine heads which barked wetly and were answered from shore. Six of the soot-hued things sat before the closed gates of the citadel on the promontory, silent and unmoving.

Perhaps those glowing orbs were able to pierce the iron-bound timbers which sealed the fortress from the rest of the ancient Bretton city. Ys boasted thirteen towers along its walls; thirteen and the great landward gate which was a mighty castle itself. The thick old wall dividing city from promontory was as different from its neighbors in construction as were the squat towers beyond it from the ones which guarded the citizens of Ys. The city walls had been assailed by barbarians, pirates, imperial legions, and once even a ravening humanoid tribe, but not even the latter had dared to assault the citadel crouching on the cliffs of the westernmost peninsula. That place was the Academie Sorcerie d'Ys. Even berserkers preferred the prospect of hails of crossbow bolts and boiling oil to what awaited the uninvited in that place. There dark dweomercrasfters gathered, necromancy was commonplace, and sorcerous conjuration a staple. If the black things squatting outside the gate to the Academie Sorcerie quailed at what lay beyond the portal, none showed such fear.

The walls surrounding this place of darkest magick were strong in many ways. The strange carvings covering the gray-brown blocks of stone were enchanted. The leering faces, twisted forms, and oddly disquieting sigils hewn into the hard granite were but outward manifestations of the tastings laid there to ward off foes. The forces of magicks cast layer upon layer were as thick as the stone, as impervious to attack. Furthermore, the shieldings and guards were woven so as to cover the air above the college of magicians, the rocky earth below, and even extend to the waters which dashed themselves on the cliffs of the westward-jutting spur. Antipathy, aversion, and terror too were bound into the blocks which faced the city. But these castings had no effect upon the dark, dog-like things as they sat nearly touching the rock and stared with unwinking eyes of flame at the twin gates.

There were no sentries on the walls; the sor-cerous inhabitants of the citadel-college were confident that no living guards were needed. Perhaps they were correct. The dog-things were outside, and inside all was tranquil. A straight avenue ran almost the entire length of the peninsula. There was first an outer yard. It had gatehouses and two small buildings set in each corner of the east wall facing the inner towers of the yard's west curtain wall. This place, with grass and flowers and shrubs, was as far as any stranger was ever permitted, unless that outsider happened to be a mighty prince or master of magicks. At night, phosphorescent shapes flitted around the gardens. Even insects were fair game to these vampiric wraiths, and nothing living moved in this outer courtyard after the setting of the sun. There was another gatehouse, the second, set in the inner wall, and the avenue ran straight through it, too.

Beyond was a much larger space, where side streets angled off, and old buildings were scattered along the thoroughfares and byways. The whole was not larger than six or seven city blocks, if a rambling place such as Ys might be said to have blocks. The Academie Sorcerie was comprised of structures large and small: shops, schools, dormitories, laboratories, private dwellings of the demonurges, and the huge buildings where the promontory met the sea. Southward was a massive shell keep. To the north, a pair of wide towers were bridged by a long hall.

The college of magick awakened as the ancient city to its east prepared for sleep. Though many dim streets and alleys in Ys spawned night life, most of its inhabitants were abed by midnight. On any given night, the inside of the Academie Sorcerie was alive with traffic. Most was underground, filling the honeycomb of passages and hand-hewn chambers beneath the upper world. The upper buildings were filled too, but with students and scholars, not the workers and servants who made up the majority of the subterranean complex. Lectures and classroom teaching, study in quiet halls or the several libraries, experiments in laboratories, contests of a magickal nature—these activities (and the normal ones of eating, drinking, and socializing) all occurred at night. A hundred conjurers and spellbinders dwelled in the place, and a thousand others served their needs. That population excluded the demonurges and their servants, for those august ones lived apart. The two great fortresses to north and south of the peninsula belonged to the masters of sorcerous magicks, and no lessers entered those sanctums without invitation.

"Who seeks entry?" asked a brass imp's head set into the iron door of the northernmost tower of the twin fortresses.

A cowled figure, short and broad, stood alone before the imp. With a short baton of thick bone, the cloaked man drew a burning rune in the air. As the figure thus conjured burned whitely, he said, "All-master Marcellus."

The imp's brass face contorted as if in pain as the brightness struck its surface. The door fairly flew open, soundlessly, as the high-pitched voice squeaked, "Pass, Great Nethercraefter Marcellus," and then swung shut so quickly as to nearly catch the all-master's trailing garment.

This was the eleventh night of the dark month of November. It was a high festival night at the Academie Sorcerie. That and more. Many of the greatest of the thaumaturge noirs were to come to the college to join in the celebration. The greatest of the great were to conjoin to call up a mighty elemental prince, bind that entity, and compel it to labor on their behalf. Not even the demonurges of the academy could manage the summoning and force obedience without assistance from outside. The diverse and disparate heka-wielders of Brettony and Francia who worked in the Black Arts were more prone to disrupt each other's work than to aid and abet one another. Here, though, was an undertaking which was bound to profit all concerned. None dared to violate the truce of Beltaine, the immunity of the college's sanctuary, and no secret formulae or arcane knowledge would be revealed by participation. Each of the masters involved would benefit by exacting from the summoned entity a service which they could not otherwise extract. The whole was a known magickal operation, but it required tremendous power—the power of combined dweomercraefters of the highest skill and ability.

Hundreds of neophytes and initiates held revels above and below. Most would never progress beyond those stages and eventually would go forth as petty practitioners of cantrips and other small magicks to earn modest livings. Some few would join the apprentices now overseeing the whole of the Beltaine festival at the college. These journeymen sorcerers had earned the right to remain as long as they desired. Of course, most could not progress beyond a moderate level of heka-binding capacity. Demand for their talents, however, was high. Lesser nobles were always seeking those able to command magickal forces for castle and court. Cities demanded their services. Merchants needed magickal work of all sorts, from goods production and care, to service in ship or caravan train. There was private practice, too, and the moderately skilled practitioner, even one who utilized the dark arts, could expect to become wealthy and respected in but a few years of setting up shop and plying the magickal powers gained at the Academie Sorcerie d'Ys. A handful of doddering and decrepit demonurges were around to oversee all of this, for combined with students and staff, almost two thousand people were there, all in high spirits.

The most promising apprentices and most of the demonurges were gathered in the same twin-towered fortress where so-called All-master Mar-cellus had recently entered. The masters were there to assist their exaulted brethren in the great ceremonial ritual which was to occur that very night, precisely at the stroke of midnight. For hours the castings and summoning would continue—four hours, to be exact. It was demanding, exhausting, and dangerous. But with such skilled practitioners, masterful support, and two-score lessers to draw upon for energy, there could be no question of failure. In truth, the chosen apprentices were eager for the operation to commence, for if they did well this night, one or more of them could expect promotion and access to the great store of magickal knowledge reserved for perusal by the demonurges.

BOOK: Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 1 - Anubis Murders
6.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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