Domination 01 ch08 Short Stories

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Short Stories

This next story is an extract from the science fiction novel called the Illustrated Roger Zalazny. I found it quite interesting and have read a few of his novels before. Anyway enjoy...

Shadow Jack by Roger Zalazny

I passed through mountain fastnesses, skirting the realm of a certain Lord Belring, whose reputation I'd no desire to test. It was unfamiliar territory for me, and when I saw the grinning warning below a gargoyle-mounted keep, I decided I had no need to pursue and acquaintance there either. but there was a stirring on the ugly farm above me. for a moment, I simply watched, uncertain whether my eyes were playing me fair... A moment only. I enjoy a grisly spectacle as well as the next man, but I'd no desire to become the object of one. When the things went airborne, I hit for cover, with an eye for the shadows that would shield me. I located a small patch of gray as they swooped toward me and circled above. My images darted within that place - but it was not all that large, and the shadow itself was wavering as their wings beat above me. there were too many of them. Enough to strike at each flickering jack and the one substantial one. When the arms I could not avoid came at me, I let go my images and drew the remaining force the shadows had lent me back into myself. I have always preferred stealth to violence. It is indecent to be outweighed , outnumbered and still have to fight. Violence, like decease or bad debt, is better to give than receive. I believe that my strength surprised them. Unfortunately, their massed bodies totally obliterated the shadow and I was reduced to my own resources. These, too, I spent... but it was not my death that they sought. I did not know whether to be heartened or totally apprehensive at this. I struggled on, hoping for an opening for flight, for another patch of shadow, to no avail.

Half-senseless, I was taken, borne aloft, flown through the darkness to that dark height from which the things had come. As we dropped toward it, I could see that it was old, and I could taste the flavours of the delicate sorceries brewed within it. when I was hauled into the presence of the chef. I had to admit that it was an improvement over the gnarled wizards I occasionally encountered...

"So you are Shadow Jack," she said. "I know your reputation. I apologize for the means by which I sought your acquaintance... I have to admit I find your appearance more pleasing than I had anticipated. I am Vara Lylyra," she said, bidding her stony sentinels return to their niches. "this is my place of power. I detected your approach but recently, and had to move quickly. I will show you about - there are matters I wish to discuss". The tour eventually took us to her bed chamber, and I wondered as to priorities - discussion first, or? "I require the services of the very finest thief available," she said, "to steal the eye of Iskat." "oh?" I said, as she moved nearer, flame and sword-metal masked by perfume and softness. "what is the eye of Iskat?" "it is a gem of wondrous potency," she replied. "it enhances one's natural powers enormously. It is currently in the possession of Lord Belring of the corners. he keeps it in his court of the hundred towers. Do you know it?" "I have heard of it," I replied. "each tower is said to contain a bell which begins ringing if someone sets a foot within it. an effective system." "Yes, that is the place," she said, moving even nearer. "I would like you to go there and fetch it for me." "I have also heard something about a guardian in that place..." "True," she said, embracing me lightly. "the old sorcerer has created some sort of brittle beast-man called The Vorkle. It tends to be somewhat transparent and difficult to see. but you, of course, are now forewarned..." "the jewel is hidden in one of the towers?" "I believe so, though I cannot tell which. That is the task I would set you, Jack. have you an interest in it?" I looked into her eyes. "I have an interest" I said. "Jack, darling - you will be going on my errand then?" she whispered, when I thought her mind might be on other matters. "I will be going," I said.

Later when I was certain she was asleep, I set about doing just that - going. I gathered my garments and departed the chamber. from my quick tour of the place, I recalled a window situated opposite a crag, beyond which I might make my escape. I was not anxious to mess with transparent beings in dark places, overseen by a sorcerer with a reputation of madness. No... I made my way to that place, and from the lining of my cloak I withdrew the fine, stout line which had served me so well in the past. From a sheath in my boot came the collapsible grapple which I snapped open and tied into place. It was time to bid the keep of Lylyra good-bye. Despite the manner of my arrival, my brief stay was hardly unpleasant. If the lady had only wanted something simpler. I could have been persuaded to remain longer... My cast went true, falling into a tight cleft. The grapple seated itself securely when I drew back upon the line. Then it was only a matter of securing my end to the bollard-like projection which had caught my eye earlier. The rest was straight from thieves' college, where I had once taught entry and egress 701... As I mounted the line regarded the wavering prospect, I was struck by the fact that it was a lot dimmer than it had been moments before. Mists had risen among the rocks. No matter. I could still see the line. I could trust my balance... But as I advanced, the mist continued to rise until it boiled about me. I wondered at the unnatural speed with which this occurred. Something was definitely amiss in the area through which I moved. There was a break in the mists ahead - somehow, I had been turned about! the road led to wings and a nasty expression! Vara shook her head and regarded me almost wistfully. "this, thief, is how you keep your word? I am disappointed. Pity. I would rather you served me willingly. Guards! Show him to a cell!" as I was introduced to my new lodgings, Vara regarded them with disapproval. "It is said that you have a way with shadows," she stated. "Something must be done to prevent your employing them here." she raised her hands. As she spoke, her form began to glow. waves of light swept over her, collecting finally about her hands. I was half-blinded by the brilliance of her working, and I sought to shield my eyes from the light. Blazing bands took form about me, removing any possibility of my making contact with shadow. "Is mine not a lovely light?" she said smiling. "These are fetters you cannot slip. I will leave you now to contemplate your ways. Adieu." Whenever I am spoken of in shadow. I know what is said... in the shadowy confines of her chamber. Vara regarded me in her crystal and muttered her displeasure at the faithlessness of men. Then her eyes grew bright. "a doppelganger!" she said, clapping her hands. "I will send his double - with all his skills and none of his mischief!" then she began a fresh spell, and I felt a pang in my breast as she did so. this was dangerous magic indeed - for the duplicated. The longer a doppelganger exists, the weaker his principle becomes, until finally... it would be identical to me in physical respects, though lacking those charming intangibles which make me what I am. I worried within my fetters of light. I could begin to fade as it exerted itself, lapsing finally into total nothingness...

As she charged it with the errand I had declined, I realised that I would have to escape soon. I would have to escape, pursue it and be merged with it. As it tore off through the night heading for the court of the hundred towers, I hit upon a dangerous course of action. I struggled to recall the spell Vara had used to bind me... it came back to me then, and I rehearsed it in my mind. I know of no way to diminish the light-bands. But I might be able to overload the spell by reinvoking it. I began to speak and the brightness increased about me. Vara would soon become aware of my tampering with her working, but it might not matter by then. Vara had to know what was occurring. By the time they reached me, it was too late. The rings had wavered and broken and the cell was filled with pure light. If the final flare did not hurt me, it would certainly slow them down. I heard them enter, cry out and fall aside as the spell was shattered and I found myself still standing. Weak, though I was very weak as I rushed from that place and made my way out of the castle. The gargoyles sought me, but I had already reached a well-shadowed vicinity. None could find me there against my will. When they finally gave up, I continued on my way toward the corners - a place where several kingdoms abut - near where Lord Belring holds his court.

Monolithic, I regarded the heaped campaniles of the court, the great bells visible in many of them. a few had begun ringing, indicating that my double had commenced his search. Somewhere within that place was the other jack, and I had to find him before The Vorkle did – find him, while avoiding The Vorkle myself - and figure a way to achieve our merger. I made my way into the court. I scanned the skyline in that direction and caught a glimpse of a figure strangely like myself leaping from one tower to another. I began the pursuit. By now, the ringing of the bells was a palpable thing. Each new voice increased the din to the point where my ears began to throb. The matter would have to be concluded soon - I was aching. I followed him. He was faster now, my weakness a sign of his strength. If only I could reach him, speak with him. But he could not hear me, even if I were to risk a shout. Another bell joined the chorus as I drew nearer. My eardrums seemed to be bursting. I threw myself down and tried to block out the sound of the latest bell. My double had escaped. I saw a movement. an almost-thing. a blurry patch of something at the window... It had to be The Vorkle. Approaching, strong and silent and lethal I had to regain my footing, flee. I struggled to rise, staring at the approaching creature, I summoned my remaining strength and drew myself to my feet. It moved more quickly than I had thought it would. One moment it was on the other side of the room, the next it was almost upon me, glassy arms outstretched, fingers flexing, translucent muscles bulging with each movement. I swirled my cloak as I cast about for the readiest retreat. My eyes fell upon the stairway leading to the bell tower. I whirled and raced in that direction, feeling rather than hearing my pursuer, close behind. When I came to the room where the great bell was hung I sighed, for there shadows, and more shadows. I drew the shadows about me like an extra cloak and released them again. They spread about the room, image after image of myself, each fleeing, dancing, and darting in a different direction. For a moment The Vorkle stood like a ice sculpture, baffled at the display. but then he moved, turning - first one way, then another - flailing his arms, reaching out, grasping after, seeking to destroy one of my images after another. The huge bell swung to and fro, its peals deafening me to any noise the creature might be making. I moved my images faster and faster, twisting, spinning, and tumbling before him, about him. He turned and turned, seeming to grow more bewildered with each pass. Between the pealing and this action, however, I felt my strength begin to wane once again. Was I - the real me - becoming as transparent as this creature I faced? His confusion increased as I moved my shadow-puppets with the last of my strength, but the bell! For a moment I grew dizzy from the strain. I must have stood revealed for only an instant, but in that moment The Vorkle saw me and turned. he turned and took a step. I would like to take credit for the planning of it, but it was pure chance that bore the confused creature to that position at that moment. The bell had sung to, but it was the fro that got him. With a sound like the crashing of a wine rack the bell tolled for him indeed. As I regarded the creature's remains, the skin on my neck crawled, as though I, myself, might at that moment be an object of scrutiny... and why not?

My double was somewhere near. If Belring had seen the destruction of his guardian, he would doubtless be heading to brew some new mischief. I had a picture of him as he had been described to me - stocky and strong. If just a few minutes of his music had affected my mind so, I wondered what they might have done to his over the years. Within a mirror he conjured up a duplicate, his warped sense of humour doubtless drawing delight from my difficulties. No true doppelganger this lethal image, however. The new double was formed of elements which would prove instantly fatal to me were I to merge with it. As he summoned it forth from the mirror, my thinning blood ran even colder. How could I possibly distinguish it from the other?

Somewhere in shadow, I heard him speak my name again as he sent it forth to work my confusion. The thing was on its way, to complete the work The Vorkle had started. Had he only known how weak I had actually become, he might have saved his efforts. Yet I struggled on, down mazes of corridors - seeking. My only hope now seemed to be to locate the eye of Iskat. I might be able to employ it on my own behalf. I came at last to a huge room filled with bells and chimes of every sort. There, I was forced to rest for a moment. they were all ringing - no - something strange... no good. I'd a strong feeling it was in this room , and that I was missing something obvious. I would listen again, at each separate bell. It seemed the only thing left to try... as I regarded them, I wondered how near my doppelganger might be. I wondered, too, where the other double was. then, then, then... it struck me. A tiny bell near at hand was swinging but not ringing. Could its clapper have been set so as not to strike the shell? Of course - and the reason for that would be to protect something precious against fracture. I seized it and drew upon the clapper...success!! ...and as I turned, feeling victory glowing in my hand, I beheld both of them - my two doubles: the first wanting the jewel, the other my life. Both advanced upon me in a menacing fashion. Both raised their hands and became like magnets, drawing upon the energies that held me together. I had been a fool even to wonder whether I might reason with my own. There could be no truce here... but I was too weak to resist. Their combined forced left me barely able to move. Not even the jewel could help me now. I fell to the floor and the stone rolled from my hand. There was one thing left that I could trust. The jewel occupied the same patch of shadow into which I had let my arms fall. This much I had gauged correctly. A moment later, and the boot of one of my double came down beside it. Therefore the one wanted my life, the other the stone. Now I knew which was which, as he reached for it, there in the same piece of shadow I occupied. He was about to be enlightened or should I say enshadowed? My hands were not where they had seemed. One took his ankle as the other recovered the jewel. Then drawing upon the shadow force, I summoned back that part of myself which had gone into the making of the doppelganger. It vanished as the energies returned to me. My strength recovered, I rose then to confront the double Belring had cast. The jewel pulsed in my hand as the shadow forces swirled within me. The double drew back as if it had been burned. It turned then and headed for the stair. It was harmless to me now, and it reminded me too much of someone I knew for me to pursue it. I watched it flee. Somewhere, Lord Belring would soon be aware that I had his jewel and had avoided his final trap. It was not difficult to guess at his reaction, which is why I hurried. I made for a section of wall at the edge of the court where a long streak of shadow permitted a drop I could not have made otherwise. It was so good to be substantial again, I decided as my feet hit the ground. Darkness and silence floated outside the keep of Lylyra. The heavy shadows were my friends. Even within, they helped me. I slid like a ghost past the guards. Then I headed up to the lady's chamber for a final call. Are you watching, morning star? Not even the dust stirs about me. I made a small noise as I entered the chamber, intentionally. She was awake in an instant. "Jack? there in the shadows? it could only be you." "you have returned, as I knew you would. Come to me, for I have missed you." "it is good that you are back, I intend for you to remain here." "yes, hold me, dear Jack. I will see that you remember this moment for as long as you live..." "hello, Vara," I said, emerging from the shadow as my image faded. "phantom!" she responded. I watched the shadow image fall. She rose quickly. It was time for me to move. "I brought the eye of Iskat, as you requested, my dear." "you see, I want you to remember this moment as long as you live." "Dwindle, compress, darken." "As hard and as black as your heart, my dear, though you'll still give a lovely light" I am certain Vara would have appreciated the finesse with which I managed that final encounter - were she able to view it dispassionately, that is. Had she possessed a somewhat different temperament, I am certain that I could have enjoyed her company for a long while. but then, of course, such a woman would not be Vara and I could conceivably find myself wishing for someone like the original. It was probably better for both of us that the only change the jewel could effect was a matter of form.

- Jack, you're getting sentimental. life, after all, is a place where we steal for pleasure and profit, each in our own way, and we, of course, are but shadows who have stolen a little of light... Vara would be back. I was rather sure of it.

The End

Well, what a great story!! I just love that style!! If you have any cool stories for this mag then just send them to the editorial address.

Please also include the book you extracted it from and author, or just make your own and I'll see if its good enough to be published. Send it on paper please. Anyway we are finished here, before you press fire remember... With violence I find that its better to give that receive...

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