Allen Varney, Writer and Game Designer

Piercing A Veil

An Earthdawn novel by Allen Varney


I came to the place of my birth, and cried, "The friends of my youth, where are they?" And echo answered, "Where are they?"
-- Arab saying

Intrantivere's failure to summon the Horror left the stadium audience covered with flecks of his bones and tiny freckles of intestine. Four groundskeepers commandeered a magistrate's palanquin and rushed the heroic weaponsmith, Denson, to the healers. Otherwise everyone seemed unharmed. When they understood that the Gray Owl Company had not only saved the tournament, but had foiled the arrival of a Horror in their midst, the people of Merron stood up in their seats and cheered. They applauded the remaining members of the Company for long minutes, until the heroes made a graceful exit and retreated to Delmo's to clean up.

Their battle with the evil magician had changed the Company, but it totally transformed their innkeeper. Delmo's earlier arrogance now gave way to servile courtesy. He moved them into his best rooms. He delivered clean sheets and perfumed soap. In his private dining room late that night, he served "Merron's new champions" his finest food, along with whole casks of ale and wine. "No cost to you," Delmo said fawningly. "I ask only that in your Company's future travels, you see fit to mention my humble inn."

"A good point," said Wulf. The nethermancer put down a crakbill drumstick. "Where do we go next?"

"Our separate ways," said Denson as he appeared in the doorway. The others gasped. Denson looked completely healthy, even more handsome than before the battle. His wounds had healed without scars, his stout arms looked stronger than ever, and the famous blond hair had grown back long and shining -- although where Intrantivere had laid his thumb on Denson's scalp, the hair grew out white.

Wulf, Han Lun, Grimborn, and Boffin stared. Like any good troubadour, Boffin found words first. "Well, I hope I come as close to death as you did, Denson," he said. "Fatality seems to agree with you."

"Miracle! Is great miracle!" Han Lun's fingers worked his onyx beads in the Meditation Pattern of Sublime Happiness.

For once Grimborn did not care if anyone caught him smiling. "Well met, Shieldmaker! I spoke those words to you in the Servos Jungle. Let me gladly repeat them now!"

Wulf's astonished gaze shifted from Denson to Grimborn. "I've never heard you say so many words in a row."

The dwarf smiled again. "Every few years I relax."

"What is reason of miracle, Denson-gen?" Han Lun asked. "How heal so fast?"

"Tender, caring attention." Denson reached back and pulled a slim young woman into the doorway. She wore the white robes of a healer, a questor of Garlen. Her hair shone lustrous blond, the same shade as Denson's. She looked up at him lovingly with owl-gray eyes. Denson said, "Meet Layla."

Everyone nodded politely. Wulf whispered to Boffin, "I swear, that man could find female companionship in a volcano."

The troubadour's violet eyes widened. "Don't give him ideas!"

"I heard that," said Denson. He and his newest friend joined them at the table. "You need no longer follow me into a volcano, nor any other danger. I am disbanding the Company."

Dismayed silence.

"We all knew this day was coming," the weaponsmith continued. "I have settled my old scores and have nothing left to prove. I plan to return to Bartertown -- perhaps Layla will travel with me. You have unfinished business there, I believe, Grimborn?"

The archer's smile tightened. "A few targets left to shoot."

"Come with us. But we all know Wulf must move on south. Alban has become a magistrate, and so he and Padia will obviously stay here in Merron. Han Lun, have you made plans?"

The magician's fingers flicked nervously along his string of beads. "I am go back to Cathay. Have find medicines, must save village."

Boffin scowled. "But -- after that ghoul tore your robe, I thought you'd lost those herbs --" Noticing the hem of Han Lun's black robe, he drew back. "Mended! When on Earth did you find time to sew up your robe?"

"Not fix. Robe fix self. Robe live, like you, like me."

Boffin scooted away to the edge of the bench. "Living robe. All right. I, uh, never -- all right. So you never lost those herbs?"

"Lost those herbs, yes. But small-little of herbs stay in robe lining. Robe use them, grow new plants."

"Oh, the robe grows plants, does it? Don't say it tells jokes and plays the lute, or I'll burn it to keep down the competition."

Now Wulf frowned. "If the robe mends itself, why do you stitch on it each morning?"

"Oh, yes, stitch." Han Lun nodded. "Meditation."

Boffin made choking noises. "Meditation, bleaagh! You sound like Alban. With all that time you two waste sitting, doing nothing, I could do something useful like -- um -- never mind, the idea of being useful appalls me."

Layla asked him, "Are you the troubadour who made that song about Intrantivere's bunions? I heard the boatmen singing it on the docks. Everyone laughed so hard! Have you made up any more?"

Boffin smiled radiantly. Wulf rolled his eyes and muttered, "Please, someone, hold him down."

No one did, and Boffin rose in his seat. "Why, inasmuch as you ask, I did just compose a little novelty about Intrantivere's henchman, a wretched little ork named Vilph. I sang it at the tournament tonight, and the magistrates loved it so much, they've offered me a position here." He cleared his throat. "I call the song `Little Vilph Soils His Robe,' and it goes something like this--"

Grimborn pointedly interrupted. "Speaking of Vilph, didn't Padia and Alban chase him a while ago?"

Denson reached for a bottle of firelight wine. "I sent them after him when I heard he planned some trouble in the airship yard. When did they get back?"

"I have not seen them." -- "Not see." -- "Probably off nuzzling each other."

Denson's eyes flashed. "I told them to meet us here before midnight! They didn't arrive while I was gone?"

Sudden dread showed on every face.

"Come, come," said Boffin in the silence. "That was just Vilph, the illusionist. Here now, even I fought him. He couldn't beat a tomcat."

They stared at each other, hearing the words ring hollow. Then, as one, the Gray Owl Company bolted from the dining room.

In the front room they stopped in their tracks. Padia Villandry stood there, carrying Alban Peyl in her arms. She looked unharmed, though her long hair had become tangled. Mud caked Alban's lean body from head to foot, and dried blood caked his thick black hair. As Padia drew near, the others saw what had happened to Alban's body, and they shied back.

Padia spoke weakly. "Still alive. He needs a healer. Vilph got away." When they took Alban from her, she sagged and sat on the floor, staring at nothing, her brown robe crumpled around her like a dead leaf.

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