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But now the game was back on and, what’s more, he’d won!

Admittedly these Sartan were strangers, every one of them. He had no idea how they came to be here, or why, or what had happened to those he’d left behind. But these people were Sartan and they were alive!

Unless, of course, he was truly insane.

There was one way to find out. Alfred hesitated, not certain he wanted to know.

“Remember what you said about retreating from the world? About no longer getting involved in other people’s lives? You could leave, walk out of this chamber without looking back.”

“But where would I go?” he asked himself helplessly. “This is my home, if anyplace to me is home.”

Curiosity, if nothing else, propelled him to act.

Alfred began to chant the runes, singing them in a high-pitched nasal voice. As he chanted, his body swayed and he moved his hands in time to his rhythm. Then, lifting his hands, he traced the sigla in the air and, at the same time, formed their intricate patterns with his feet.

The body that was so incredibly clumsy when left on its own filled with magic and Alfred became, for an instant, beautiful. Grace flowed through every limb, radiance touched his sad face, bliss lit his smile. He gave himself to the magic, danced with it, sang to it, embraced it. Round and round the mausoleum he solemnly whirled, coattails flying, frayed lace fluttering. One by one, crystal doors opened. One by one, those in the chamber drew their first breaths of air of an outside world. One by one, heads turned, eyes opened, gazing in wonder or confusion, loath to leave the sweet dreams that had entertained them.

Alfred, lost in the magic, noticed nothing. He continued his dance, weaving gracefully back and forth across the marble floor, feet moving in prescribed patterns. When the magical spell was cast, the dance coming to its end, he moved slower and slower, continuing the same graceful gestures, but smaller in scope. At last, he ceased to dance and, lifting his head, gazed about him, far more bewildered than those who had just risen from their dreams. Several hundred men and women, all clad in soft white robes, had gathered in silence around Alfred, politely waiting for him to complete his magic before disturbing him. He came to a halt and they waited another respectful moment, to give him time to let go of the bliss and return to reality, tantamount to falling into an ice-cold lake.

A man, the same Sartan who had been in Alfred’s crystal chamber, stepped forward. He was obviously the acknowledged spokesman of the group, for the others gave way deferentially, regarded him with trust and respect. He was, as Alfred had seen already, a man in early midlife, and it was easy to see, from his appearance, how the mensch had once mistaken the Sartan for gods. His face was cast in strong lines; intelligence molded the features and lit the brown eyes. His hair was trimmed short and curled over his forehead in a fashion that was familiar to Alfred, yet he couldn’t quite recall where he’d seen it.

The strange Sartan moved with a casual grace the clumsy Alfred envied.

“I am Samah,” said the man in a voice that was rich and mellow. He bowed in respectful greeting, an old-fashioned, courtly gesture that had gone out of style long before Alfred’s childhood, but had been occasionally practiced among the elder Sartan.

Alfred made no response. He could do nothing except stare, transfixed. The man had given his Sartan name![5] This either meant that Samah trusted Alfred—a stranger, an unknown—as a brother or that he was so supremely secure in his own magical prowess he had no need to fear another gaining ascendancy over him. Alfred concluded the reason must be the latter. The man’s power radiated from him, warming the wretched Alfred like the sun on a winter’s day. In ages past, Alfred would have given this man his own Sartan name without a thought, knowing that any influence such a man as this must have over him could only be good. But that had been an Alfred of innocence, an Alfred who had not seen the bodies of his friends and family stretched out in their crystal coffins, an Alfred who had not seen Sartan practicing the forbidden black art of necromancy. He longed to trust them, he would have given his very life to trust them.

“My name is ... Alfred,” he said, with an awkward bob.

“That is not a Sartan name,” said Samah, frowning.

“No,” Alfred agreed meekly.

“It is a mensch name. But you are a Sartan, are you not? You are not a mensch?”

“Yes, I am. That is, no, I’m not,” Alfred floundered, rattled. The Sartan language, as the Patryn language, being magic, has the ability to conjure up images of the worlds and environment of the speaker. Alfred had just witnessed, in Samah’s words, a realm of extraordinary beauty, a realm made entirely of water, its sun shining in its center. A world of smaller worlds—landmasses encased in bubbles of air, landmasses that were themselves magically alive though now they slept, drifting in their dreams around the sun. He saw a Sartan city, his people working, fighting . . . Fighting. War. Battle. Savage monsters crawling from the deep, wreaking havoc, bringing death. The vastly conflicting images came together with a crash in Alfred’s head, nearly depriving him of his senses.

“I am head of the Council of Seven,” began Samah. Alfred gaped; the breath left his body as completely as if he’d been knocked flat on the floor.

Samah. Council of Seven. It couldn’t be possible. . . .

It occurred to Alfred, eventually, by the man’s frown, that he was asking a question.

“I—I beg your pardon?” Alfred stammered.

The rest of the Sartan, who had been standing in respectful silence, murmured, exchanged glances. Samah looked around, quieted them without speaking a word.

“I was saying, Alfred"—Samah’s tone was kind, patient. It made Alfred want to burst into tears—“that, as head of the Council, I have the right and the duty to ask questions of you, not from mere idle curiosity, but, considering these times of crises, out of necessity. Where are the rest of our brethren?” He glanced about eagerly.

“I ... I am alone,” Alfred said, and the word alone conjured up images that made Samah and all the rest of the Sartan stare at him in sudden, aching silence.

“Has something gone wrong?” Samah asked at last.

Yes! Alfred wanted to cry. Something has gone dreadfully wrong! But he could only stare at the Sartan in dismayed confusion, the truth thundering around him like the fearsome storm that rages perpetually on Arianus.

“I ... I’m not on Arianus, am I?” Alfred squeezed the words out of the tight feeling in his chest.

“No. What put such an idea into your head? You are on the world of Chelestra, of course,” said Samah sternly, his patience starting to wear thin.

“Oh, dear,” said Alfred faintly, and in a graceful, spiraling motion, he slid gently and unconsciously to the floor.


Adrift, Somewhere, The Goodsea

My name is Grundle.[6]

When I was a child, that is the first sentence I ever learned how to write. I’m not certain why I wrote it down here, or why I begin with it, except that I have stared at this blank page for a long time now and I knew that I had to write something or I would never write anything.

I wonder who will find this and read it? Or if anyone will. I doubt that I will ever know. We have no hope of surviving our journey’s end.

(Except, of course, the perverse hope that a miracle will happen, that something or someone will come to save us. Alake says that to hope for such a thing, especially to pray for it, is wicked, since if we were saved our people would suffer. I suppose she is right, she being the most intelligent among us. But I notice she continues to practice her exercises in summoning and conjuration and she would not do so if she was practicing what she counsels.) It was Alake who recommended that I write the account of our voyage. She says our people may find it, after we are gone, and take some comfort in it. Then, of course, it is also necessary to explain about Devon. All of which is true, but I suspect she gave me this task so that I would leave her alone and quit pestering her when she wanted to practice her magic.



Since the Sartan language is magic in and of itself, Sartan have two names: a private name which is magical and could possibly give another Sartan power over them and a public name that tends to nullify magic.



Dear Stranger, a journal kept by Grundle Heavybeard, princess of Gargan.