House of Secrets

by Chris Hoekstra

"Okay, what the hell is this?" asked Rickkter as he walked in through the door, holding up a scroll in one paw.

"Where the hell have you been?" snapped Charles. "I've been waiting close to an hour for you to get here."

The raccoon folded his arms across his chest. "I was rather busy. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to catalogue, index, and sort through seven years of material accumulated from places spanning the length and breadth of this continent." He sneered a little. "Besides, when I saw that the message Kee gave me was from you, I wasn't especially anxious for this meeting."

Charles gritted his teeth and clamped his eyes shut as he tried to regain control of his anger. As much as he couldn't stand Rickkter, he had as much to lose if Yonson was as dirty as Charles figured.

"Nor I you, but this is too important. It concerns both of us."

Rickkter's expression said that he didn't believe a word Charles was saying. "How so?"

Charles too a deep breath and glared at the Kankoran. "When you came here I agreed to spare your life, and you to spare mine. We would not reveal the secrets of the pasts that we both keep." He paused for a moment to make sure Rick was listening. "Have you met the new ambassador?"

"I heard there was one. I try and stay out of politics as much as I can."

"Well, I think you might want to pay attention to this one. Like us, he is a southern mage. More importantly, he's from the Chateau Marzac."

Rickkter's whole demeanor took on a very subtle change. For several seconds he just stood and stared at the rat. "You're lying," was the fist thing that came to his lips. "Either that, or you have the poorest sense of humour I've ever had the displeasure to see. No one goes to Marzac and comes out alive."

"Sondecki don't lie in such matters, as you well know. And this is not a joking matter."

"Yes, and that's the whole problem. You're CERTAIN he's from Marzac?"

Charles nodded his head. "That's what he says. He claims that it was exorcised."

Rickkter crossed the space between him and Charles in about a second. His entire demeanor had changed, and the Sondeckis couldn't detect even the faintest hint of the old arrogance.

"That's not possible. Mages and clerics have been trying that for ages. No one's succeeded, and few have ever returned to report the failure." The warrior cocked his head to the side a little. "Did he say how it was done, by any chance? I've got to hear that."

"He said several priests cast an elaborate exorcism upon the Chateau."

"No Lightbringers?"

"No, only the ecclesia was involved." Rickkter sat on a nearby desk and rubbed his muzzle as he thought it over. "You don't believe in the power of Elie, Rickkter?"

"I know something of the Lightbringer power. And I know the history of the magic at Marzac. And, quite frankly, I don't believe that any exorcism could remove that taint."

"Then you wouldn't trust someone from Marzac?"

Rickkter shook his head. "Not even as far as I could throw them."

"Good. Because that's what I wanted to talk to you about. We both know that neither you nor I will betray the other because we each have so much to loose. Yet this Yonson is very different. He is a purple weathermonger, and I have no clue as to his history or former allegiances."

"Marzac managed to get a purple as an ambassador?" asked Rickkter as he frowned. "How did they manage to steal him away from his enclave for that?"

"I haven't the slightest clue. But I felt I had to warn you about him. And I want to ask you to stay away from him. If he finds out about either of us, things to could go to hell very, very quickly around here."

"Don't you think you're overestimating the seriousness of his finding us out?" Charles just stared at Rickkter, his black eyes saying everything. "Perhaps your right."

"Good," said Charles. "Now, if you'll please leave, I have to get ready for the jousting tournament. I've wasted enough time already."

"Well, there is one more thing we need to discuss." Rickkter's expression had resumed it facade of barely contained contempt. "What are you doing taking on a student?"

Charles slowly turned and approached his nemesis. He stopped less then a foot from the Kankoran. "We agreed that we wouldn't interfere with what the other is doing."

"And you think that your taking on a student isn't going to tip off Yonson? Great Maker, you have that ferret running around in uniform! And around here, yellow stands out like a sore thumb. Assuming you have his attention, Yonson will no doubt find him very fascinating. He might not be sure WHAT kind of mage you are, but since you aren't a normal one, it is going to perk his interest. Which, if I remember correctly, is precisely what you wanted to avoid."

Charles growled a little, biting angrily on his chew stick. He hated it when Rickkter was right. "Garigan is my student, and my concern. And speaking of him, I want you to stay away from him. He is hot headed and temperamental, and I don't need you provoking him."

"Me?" asked Rickkter with mock innocence.

"Yes, you," retorted Matthias, jabbing a claw at Rickkter. "You are NOT to interfere with my training of him in any way, is that clear? You are to stay away from him. And if you don't, then you'll face my wrath."

"Is that a threat?"

"It's a promise," snapped Charles. "And don't think you can stop me either. You know what a Sondecki is capable of." The gaze he levelled at the raccoon was proof enough that his words were true. "Now, as I said, I have to get ready for the tournament. Will you please leave?"

Rickkter gave a sarcastic bow of departure, his arms spread wide and his eyes never leaving the rat. Charles really hated Rickkter at times. But they were both Keepers now, and he felt it best to warn the raccoon. Bah, he had done his part. If Rickkter choose to cross paths with Yonson, it was his own funeral.

Donning his dress tunic, Charles Matthias swiftly headed out to find Sir Saulius and begin the jousting tournament.

It wasn't often that Misha had reason to frequent Metamor's extensive library. But today was special. He had something very unusual to look up.

"Hello, Fox. I was wondering if you could help me find a few things."

"Ah, Misha. It's not often that I've seen you in here. Especially with the Summer Equinox festival going on right now."

"Actually, that's the reason I'm here now. I figured no one else would be here either, and I wanted to make this a, uh, private inquiry. Frankly I'm surprised to find you here."

Fox grimaced a little. "I was never one for large crowds. But I will certainly be delighted to help. You're actually the first person I've seen all day. What is it that you desire?" inquired the smiling librarian.

"Oh, not a lot. I was wondering if you had any information on the Ka'ri that I could look at. I've found a reason to be interested in them lately."

Fox shock his head in disgust, his eyes rolling back. "That's it. I'm going to join you, as I want to see what makes people so interested in them. Did you know that you're the sixth person asking for that material in the last few weeks?"

Misha's brow creased in puzzlement. "Who were the others?"

"Wanderer came in with Brian a few weeks back. Jon was in three days later asking for the same material. He was followed the next week by Oren and Pascal. I know where these books are off by heart now. And after all these similar requests, I want to see what has people so interested in some obscure eastern tribe, that until last week was completely unknown to me."

The two foxes went amongst the maze of shelves to the far end of the library. Cutter selected three tomes from one shelf, two more from another, and passed the load to Misha. They next went over to a section that contained maps, the librarian quickly finding the one he desired. The pair laid the material out at one of the free tables, with a quick touch of his paw to the base Fox activated the mage light that sat upon it.

"Okay, let us see what we have here." He picked a book from the pile and opened it to a remembered page. "I've heard that this book contains the best material on them."

Misha leaned over next to the librarian, reading what was in the book.

Ah, there it was; Ka'ri. According to this book they're a semi- nomadic people... they stay within a set area of the Bandi desert, but move around it a lot... they are fierce warriors, allowing none into their territory.... all are skinned, with the skins acting as both markers and warnings on the edge of the Ka'ri's territory....' So far this book wasn't telling Misha anything he didn't already know.

"I don't see what the big deal is," said Cutter with a puzzled expression. "This just sounds like a normal desert tribe. Perhaps a little more fierce then others, but nothing spectacular."

Misha thought for a moment, going over what Rickkter had said about them. It came to him suddenly. "Magic. What does it say about their magic?"

"Magic, magic..." muttered Cutter. "Nothing in this one." He picked up another text, checking the index before going to the relevant section. Misha found it unreadable, but Cutter didn't.

"Ah, yes. This one has something on that." He scanned the section. "It seems that they use the shamanistic magic common to that area of the world, only their warriors have an added twist to it. Now, shamanistic magic is heavily related to the earth and nature, as you might know. The Ka'ri are supposedly very good at controlling these flows. It is rumoured that their shamans can--"

"Forget the shamans," Misha interrupted, "what does it say about the warriors?"

"Warriors... Ah, okay, here we go. It seems that they can confuse their tracks. They use their magic to camouflage their passing. Since the Bandi is a veritable wasteland, all loose, dry rocks, canyons, and sand for the most part, this isn't considered that great an accomplishment. Some of the greatest trackers in the world have still been able to trail them. It's just that the magic pushes the skills of the tracker to the very limits. It doesn't seem to be able to completelyn erase passage, only remove the prominent markings, or at least the majority of them. There are some things that can't be hidden, and the magic sometimes won't have enough time to work properly, righting what was disturbed, before the person has moved out of range."

That fit quite well with what Misha suspected and knew. "Does it say how that is done?"

Cutter looked over the section a little more. "Nope. Just some of the effects." He pointed a claw at one paragraph. "This is an excerpt of the testimony of a tacker who was able to follow a Ka'ri youth. Now, it seems that it was over a sandy section of the desert. Very desolate, rolling dunes of seeming endless sand. According to the tracker, where the warrior had passed by his footprints seemed to fill in behind him, like he hadn't even been there. The dunes held no trace of his passing, and if it wasn't for the fact that I had kept him in sight, I would have swore he was never passed that way.'"

That fit,' though Misha. Rick did have evasion capabilities similar to them, and he DID say that he learned with the Ka'ri. But that first part was still niggling at him. It wasn't the fact that Rick could do it that concerned him, it was why he was even able to lean it in the first place!

Fox had been looking at his fellow vulpine as Misha was leaned back, stroking his whiskers in a contemplative fashion. Something dawned on the other fox, and he turned back to the librarian.

"How did you get all this information on the Ka'ri? If they are as territorial as you say..?"

Cutter selected another book. "Actually this isn't a lot of information in all these books. Most of it consists of overlapping and repetitive things. Though each book, I've heard, contains something that the others do not. This one contains your explanation.

"As you should know, expeditions into hostile territory are rarely done without the protection of a large group. Despite this precaution though, few have ever survived expeditions into Ka'ri territory. Mostly junior officers, or support staff. Other testaments come from neighbouring tribes and centers of population. Some of the survivors even suspect that they were left alive for the sole purpose of carrying warning to the outside world."

That puzzled the Long Scout. "Why is that?"

"It's the battle tactics that the Ka'ri employ that cause it. They don't go about the business of dealing with outsiders like others do. Firstly, all their attacks are usually hit and run. A small band of warriors come in, kill one or more people, then vanish into the canyons or surrounding landscape. Attacks often come at night or in confinned spaces. And they are very selective in their tactics. First, they kill anyone of rank, or who appears to be leading the party. That serves to disrupt the rest of the party, giving the Ka'ri many more chances to do their work. Sentries are another favourite target. Sentry duty is the absolute last thing you want to pull in the Bandi.

"When the expedition eventually clues in on the amount of trouble they are in, they are often quite deep into Ka'ri territory. Their forces are continually picked apart until the survivors have made it past the markers. The Ka'ri warriors are described as wolves at the hunt. They harry their prey, only nipping at his flanks. This weakens their opposition -- as the higher ones in charge are the first to die -- and after a while of this, the warriors have weakened their target to the point where a final take down is easy. Or so that is what is reported of the survivors."

Misha went over all of it. And it all fit. The unconventional tactics, the camouflage cloak, the way in which he took out the Lutin encampment. It sounded exactly like Rickkter was one of the Ka'ri. Only... they never came out of the Bandi, and they allowed none into their land. So that would mean that he was telling the truth when he said he only trained with them. But where did that place him?

"Okay, Fox. Now what I want to know is about alliances with the Ka'ri. Who works with them? Or perhaps trades. Anything."

Fox's ears twitched in a puzzled manner. "No one does. They are feared by all. The T'yoga, the Eridanus, and even the Yezidees wouldn't dare to get involved with them."

That wasn't right.... how had he become involved with them then? Misha decided to try a different tactic for that one.

"I want to look at the map of that part of the world. Does it contain the names of tribes, and other places and peoples on it?"

Cutter smiled a predatory grin as he moved a few books over. "I though you might want that. Wanderer also requested a similar map." The librarian unrolled the map over the table. "This is the best I can do. It's quite old, but up till lately it hasn't gotten any use. This is the area that you're interested in; Ka'ri territory."

The area was done over in a light brown blot. It enclosed an area between a small mountain range and a great canyon to the west and east. A river flowed down the middle of it. Its northern and southern boarders were less determined by geographical landmarks, but looked more so to be ones of intent. The map held the name Ka'ri in large letters at the center of the blot, its translation underneath the main title in italics. Apparently Ka'ri meant "witnesses of time", or so the map said.

Misha scanned that area quickly before beginning to look over some of the names surrounding the blot. None really held his attention, at least until he reached the south-western portion.

"What's this one?" he asked, trying to see if by brushing it with his finger he could reveal what was obscured. The map looked to have been heavily bent at that point, obscuring most of the name.

Fox Cutter hummed as he leaned closer. "I can't make out the first part. The translation looks like something, chaos'.... bringers of chaos', I think. It's very hard to tell. Someone did a number on this map a long time ago. Look at some of these creases!"

Damn. "Bringers of Chaos" held no meaning for Misha. And neither did the other names of the immediate area. Expanding his search of the map, he was met with the same outcome.

"What else can you tell me about them, Fox?"

"Just what's in these books. I'm afraid we're very limited in areas of knowledge concerning that part of the world. But before we go on, can you tell me why you -- and everyone else -- is so interested in the Ka'ri?"

Misha debated what he was going to say, finally settling in the truth. "Rickkter. He claimed to know a lot about them. But what he said, how he came across the knowledge, doesn't seem to fit with either what I know personally, or what these books tell me. He's quite an enigma. He also likes his secrets, and I didn't think he would take well to my coming right out and asking about it."

"I can see your point. He's friendly to you when he wants to be, but he truly isn't a person you would want to cross."

The two vulpines spent another hour going over all the books once again. Misha reflected that Fox was right, all the information they contained was overlapping. When it was done, all Misha could take away was that he was right about Rickkter on some level. The mage uhadn trained with the Ka'ri somehow, and he knew of their tactics and tricks very well. But while solving that part of the puzzle, Misha was left pondering hown it had been ever done.

"Excuse me, Ambassador!"

Ambassador Yonson turned around at the sound of his name to see a darkly clad gray raccoon coming down the hall towards him. "Excuse me, Ambassador. May I have a word with you?"

Yonson stopped and waited until the raccoon caught up to them. "May I help you?"

Rickkter had quite deliberately ignored what Charles had told him. Well, not exactly ignored. It was more that he wanted to verify what was said. And the most expedient way was to got right out and ask about it. Plus, there were other things that he needed to find out about this man, if he at all could.

"Well, I believe so," said the darkly clad raccoon. "I only wish to introduce myself. I am called Rickkter."

Recognition quickly spread across the Ambassador's face. "Ah, yes. I've heard things about you. I don't remember you from the initial meeting with the rest of the court."

"Well, I try and keep out of politics as much as possible."

"It can be a rather hectic game at times, can't it?"

"Most assuredly. But from what I heard about you I regret not taking the opportunity to meet you before now. I also wanted to speak with one of the few other people crazy enough to come here of their own free will." Yonson laughed politely at that. "In addition, I heard you were a southern mage. What style, if I may ask?"

"Weathermonger. As everyone knows."

Rickkter nodded. He was simply playing the part. "What rank?"


"Purple? My, how did you ever become an ambassador? Aren't most enclaves rather possessive of mages that high in rank?" This was the information that Rickkter really wanted to find out about this man. Mages do not leave enclaves for political posts, that much he knew for certain.

"Well, my current employer, the Marquis du Tournemire, was very persuasive with them. They struck a mutually beneficial agreement, and I gained his employ in the bargain. That was several years ago. I've done numerous jobs for him since then, but this is by far the most fascinating."

Rickkter nodded a little. "Which enclave was that, exactly, Ambassador?"

"Before I answer, I would like to ask you a few questions," said Yonson in an even tone. "I've heard you are also southern. And a battlelord at that."

Rickkter smirked and shook his head in a disarming manner. Damn it. So much for his hope to play on Yonson's ignorance of the Keep's inhabitance. Oh well, it was probably never a good idea to start with. "I'm sure that what you've heard about me is exaggerated, Ambassador. You know how things can get blown out of proportion."

"I heard that upon your arrival here you killed of a modest raiding party single handed, then later called down a fire spell that would leave most white firemasters in awe."

Blast! This guy knows a hell of a lot more then he's letting on as well,' thought the raccoon. If there was one thing Rickkter hated, it was facing someone as equally prepared as himself.

"Well, that second incident was is a matter of some exaggeration. And I almost killed myself casting it. In fact, I was so burned out I was unable to use magic for close to a week. In fact, I've only recovered fully within the last few days."

"And speaking of enclaves, what was yours? Battlelords are limited to the diverse ones only, and somehow I doubt they would let youn go."

"I wasn't that high a rank," said Rickkter, his voice taking on a frosted tone.

"Come now. Even a battlelord of the blue is a formidable opponent. And from what I've found out about you, I would estimate you are at least a purple. Probably even black."

"You're too kind," glared Rickkter.

"What enclave were youn from, if I may ask?" inquired Yonson.

"You still haven't answered me in regards to that," retorted Rickkter.

"Since you were asking all the questions to begin with, I believe you should volunteer this before I do." Yonson cocked his brow a little. "It would only be fair."

Damn it! That was checkmate. There wasn't a chance in hell that Rickkter was telling Yonson about his past with the Order of the Ebon Dragons. Never mind that the Dragons were rather reclusive, their name was still well known in certain circles. In all likelihood those were the same circles that the ambassador travelled in. Rickkter figured he might as well back out now, before anything else could go wrong.

He smiled a little at the Yonson, even though he felt like ripping out the man's spine. "I'm sorry, but I see that that shall remain my secret for a while longer. You should realize one thing about the place, Ambassador; It's a house of secrets. Almost everyone has them. And around here, who's going to notice one more?"

That got Yonson smiling, albeit in a more malevolent way then Rickkter would have liked. He had the raccoon right where he wanted him. "Perhaps you would care for a duel then? I've not had the pleasure of sparing with a fellow southern mage in some time, and I've never had the pleasure of challenging a battlelord. Even on as... low rank' as yourself."

Rickkter grimaced a little, his ears turning back ever so slightly. This was what he had wanted, just not how he wanted it. And of course he couldn't turn it down. That would mean loss of face, not to mention other things. "Since you offer, I accept. Name the time and place."

"I assume this place has arenas for the mages?"

"It does. A level down from the main gym."

"Excellent. I'll meet you down there in a half hour, after I've done away with a few small matters. I trust you will have all the arrangements made by that point." Yonson didn't even give Rickkter a chance to acknowledge before he turned his back and started down the hall. "Half an hour, warrior. Don't be late! I despise tardiness."

True to his word, ambassador Yonson precisely at thirty minutes after his departure. Rickkter was standing in the middle of the stone circle trying to determine the best way to deal with this unusual individual.

The training arena at Metamor were pretty much the standard style seen the world over. A stone circle surrounded by stone pillars covered in antimagic runes and enchantments. The arena was designed so that none of the magic thrown around inside its protective walls would go any further.

"Good to see you're on time," smiled Yonson as he took his place in the circle. "But, uh, where is your staff? Don't battlelords often carry war staffs with them for such affairs as this?"

Rickkter grimaced, his long whiskers highlighting the action. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say that a large mechanical fox decided to use it as a chew toy a little while back. I've not had the opportunity to replace it yet."

"Ah, I understand," said Yonson as he leaned a little on his own staff.

Rickkter was very interested in that staff. It was made from blackened wood that appeared to have been struck by lightening. Knowing what he did about the creation of such artifacts, he could guess that it had then been purified by the weathermongers more adept at enchanting than at summoning, the enclave's resident spell shapers. The whole staff was decorated entirely by weather symbols, the individual glyphs glowing softly as he held it. They gleamed the color of his rank, purple.

But of course Yonson should not even possess such an artifact. >From the quality of the workmanship, it looked like it should belong to a black, if not the white of his particular enclave. That he should possess such a weapon was quite unsettling.

"About that staff of yours, Ambassador; where did you get it? It looks to be one of fine quality."

Yonson ran his hand lovingly down the blasted wood. "It was given to me upon my appointment to Marzac. Our white felt that I might have use of it there." Yonson frowned a little. "But since you do not have one of your own, then I won't use mine either. Just so that things are fair for both of us."

"Worry not, Ambassador," said Rickkter, an inspiration having struck him. "I have a backup." With a flick of his left wrist, the raccoon produced the six inch piece of steel he often kept on him. Holding it up to ensure that Yonson had a clear view, Rickkter gave the trigger a light click and extended the Sondeshike to its full six foot length. The raccoon carefully watched his opponents eyes as he twirled the staff over his hand then tucked it under his arm.

Good. Yonson knew exactly what it was. Now to elevate the man's level of interest and confusion.

"Shall we dance?" asked Rickkter, taking his pike in a more aggressive hold.

"We shall," replied Yonson, also shifting with his staff. The glow on the runes intensified as he began to circle Rickkter. Meanwhile, Rickkter carefully watched the ambassador's moves, trying to identify weaknesses early on.

Yonson was the first to actually give in and make the first magic offensive. He sent a few casual bursts of wind at the battlelord. Rickkter countered them effortlessly and sent out a few tendrils of his own magic. He was rather amused to notice that they were countered in the same fashion that they were cast.

The weathermonger stopped his circling and raised his staff over his head. With a quick incantation, he brought the tip down with a sharp crack. Instantly a revolving wall of wind sprang up along the perimeter of the arena. That startled Rickkter momentarily, as it wasn't a manoeuvre commonly used. Yonson had effectively redefined the fighting space to his own dimension, which could be altered at the whim of the weathermonger. A risky move, one only used by those supremely confident in their talents. And judging by the density and the speed at which it moved, it also effectively cut off all spectators from seeing what was done within.

Rickkter let his gaze wonder over the wall of moving wind once more, watching Yonson out of the corner of his eye. The instant Yonson moved his head to follow the raccoon's gaze, Rickkter lashed out with a handful of fire ribbons. Yonson barked an exclamation as he swept his arm before the swirling ribbons. The counter spell of air shattered the fire, creating a lovely panorama of red sparkles.

Of course distraction was the whole purpose behind Rickkter's ploy. It enabled him to get in close to Yonson, where hand-to-hand combat would be the determining factor, not magic. He brought his staff up and around quickly, hoping to catch the other mage unprepared. The crack of wood from Yonson's staff signalled that he hadn't, and that the fight was really on.

Rickkter had been trained by some of the best warriors, a sect of quasi-mercenaries called the Kankoran. They had taught him to be proficient in all manner of close combat weapon. His julan had even been a specialist with the staff, and thus he had leaned a great deal about this style of fighting.

But as good as he was, Yonson seemed just as capable. He countered all of Rickkter's strikes, even some of the more expert moves. Finally the raccoon managed to deliver one good, solid blow to the weathermongers temple that left him stunned.

But what should have been a blow to end the match hardly staggered the other mage. The blow knocked Yonson's head to one side, staggering him slightly. As he came back around, his hand was out like it was pushing. The wall of air hit Rickkter full force, tossing him to the other side of the arena.

When Rickkter landed, it was at a bad angle and his feet were unable to keep him upright and he consequently sprawled out on the stone floor. Sensing the incoming blow, Rickkter was quick to roll out of the way, in preparaction to unleash his own counterattack.

The raccoon sprang to his feet with a massive flame wave. The surge of fire howled as it made its way towards the other mage. The runes on Yonson's staff surged brightly as he gripped it in both hands and thrust it forward.

With a sundering impact, Rickkter's flame wave was shattered by a wedge of dense air. The rest of the fire dissipated quickly, the pull of the air wall consuming the excess flames. This time the battlelord decided to try another style, hitting Yonson with several air spells. The thing was each was from a different direction, and he anticipated one getting through. But Yonson was not a mage to be beaten at his own element.

The ploy didn't work as well as Rickkter wanted. Instead of blocking the spells, Yonson choose to deflect them by calling upon the wall of fast moving air he had been maintaining around the ring. Rickkter blanched and covered his face with one arm as the weathermonger called upon fierce, multi-directional streams of air to dissipate Rickkter's own attacks.

The purple snarled, sending a cluster quick lightening bolts of from his fingers. Rickkter jumped back and would have completely avoided the strike had he not been wielding his pike. As it was, the pike caught the edge of the bolts.

And sent the charge right up the raccoon's arm.

Rickkter let out one high pitched shriek as the metal pike flew from his grip. Yonson was considerate enough to stop his offensive as the raccoon turned away from him and staggered away a few steps tightly holding his right arm. As he did so, Rickkter let out a very loud "YEEEAAGGGHHH!! DAMN!" before lapsing into strained mutterings and cursing.

"Are you all right?" inquired Yonson.

"Argh, god damn it!" groused Rickkter through his closed muzzle. "That hurt. A lot." He was still tightly clutching his arm, and his ears were almost flush with his head.

"I hope it's not too bad..."

Rickkter grunted. "Don't worry too much. This is the second time it's happened, and it was only the edge. Last time, I took it full force. This... just stings like a bitch, ahr..."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

The warrior mage shakily bent over and retrieved his pike with his left hand. After collapsing it back to its compact size, he hesitated for several moments while trying to decide how to restore it before just sticking it in a pocket. He staggered over to the doorway. "Don't worry about me. I'm a sucker for punishment, anyway. I just need to walk it off. Goodbye, Ambassador," he said in a tight voice as he staggered drunkenly out the door. Rickkter was not about to undignify himself by falling over in front of an opponent like Yonson.

The raccoon managed to get himself up to the next level before he felt the need to rest. Leaning heavily against the wall, he closed his eyes and tried to use his magic to eliminate the pain.

Damn, he had really underestimated Yonson. But then again, purples weren't suppose to have that kind of power! And that staff was no where standard issue for a purple, even one who would be going outside the enclave. So how in the nine levels of hell did he come across it?

The burning sting in his arm brought to mind another problem; the spells that he used. Being a warrior mage, Rickkter was used to getting a few bumps, bruises, and even the odd burn when he was sparing with other mages. Yet from the feel of the damage, that had not been a practice spell that Yonson had thrown. No, that one had held a decidedly lethal charge. If it had hit him full force, and if the Sondeshikes weren't magically dampened, then he probably would have been killed.

But why hadn't he gone through with it? Rickkter had turned his back on the weathermonger, a stupid mistake that would have gotten him killed anywhere else. So why had Yonson stopped just short of delivering the killing blow? Then there was the matter of explaing such an event. A six foot tall, flash fried raccoon would raise questions and have to be explained. So how had Yonson expected to pull that off..?

Rickkter's revere was interrupted by a voice from behind.

"My, my... how the mighty have fallen."

The raccoon turned and glared at the grinning ferret. "Garigan. What do you want?"

"Oh, I was just finishing another task for Charles, and look what I found." Garigan was grinning from ear to ear as he walked a little closer to Rickkter.

The raccoon turned and leaned heavily against the wall, still cradling his arm. He growled a little under his breath. He did NOT need this right now. Still, might as well make the best of it.

"I thought Charles told you to keep away from me. That I might be a hazard to your health. But, I do have a few things for you to tell that little cheese eater you call Master."

Garigan actually smiled a little at Rickkter's attitude. "And what would those be?"

The warrior mage pushed off the wall, grunting a little in pain. "First, you can tell him that he's right about Yonson; that man is far more then either of us imagine. That should please the rodent to no end, especially when he hears what happened to me. You can also tell him that Yonson now has someone else to focus his interests on. After showing him my, uh, little artifact, his attention will definitely be taken of your master."

The ferret shook his head, a disbelieving smirk still on his face. "Why are you doing this? If what Charles tells me is right, you'd just as soon see him dead."

Rickkter grumbled as he hobbled up to the Sondeckis. "Because as much as I hate it, I owe him my life. And you can tell him this is part of the repayment for that."

Garigan shook his head once more, the sardonic grin still on his face. His eyes were drawn to the raccoons arm. "Does that hurt?"

"Not as much as you would think," said Rickkter, limply holding up his arm for inspection. "I can drive a knife though it right now and not feel a thing."


Rickkter cackled malevolently as he staggered away. This was certainly a bad day. He just hoped that his arm was back in usable condition for the duels tomorrow. And he hoped to be able to track down someone able to give a massage and help with that.