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BEHIND A PALE MASK

by

Wayne Kyle Spitzer























































Copyright © 1992, 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover design Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to: HobbsEndBooks@yahoo.com



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



































































… being a tale from the self-exiled ferryman Dravidian's autobiography, Diary of a Ferryman; of those days when he did wander doomed Ursathrax alone with but the organic sword Rosethorn for companion—and a collection of maps bearing a secret knowledge as his guide.

Already the dying world about him had begun to show signs of a violent upheaval, quaking and changing almost as if in reply to Dravidian's own metamorphosis from ferryman to wanderer.

It would be an hour in which he inspired many enemies both above and below the earth, and in which he would gain his first real presentiments as to the role he would play in the shaping of Ursathrax’s future.

He was to encounter one such enemy in the starry tangle of the Tinsel Forest—in the form of the actor, Fenris-Wolf, who would be but one of many more to attempt the slaying of the dark-cloaked renegade known in some quarters already as:

Dravidian—pale-skinned ferryman, yellow-eyed lover, Servant of Death turned traitor.



Prologue



I was beginning to learn, at some cost, the difference between being a ferryman and a wanderer. As a ferryman, I'd suffered but sore shoulders and alienation. As a wanderer and a vagabond, I was to suffer blistered feet and trembling cold and fear as I had never known, only inspired.

But in the days of walking which followed Shekalane's disappearance, I had yet to experience those things which would later wake me shivering in the night, turning to Rosethorn for comfort—as I have turned to her always, whether I knew it or not—since that day she was delivered to me on the deck of the Vorpal Gladio. To the contrary, cavalier in the knowledge I'd nothing left to lose (including my own life), I had taken my leave of the place of Shekalane’s betrayal, and forged ahead into the moon-drenched night, having nothing, really, but the shadow of a plan, and hoping, mostly, just to keep moving and to perhaps thwart my inevitable capture a while longer.

I’d carried with me all my possessions, those being but the accouterments as ferryman worn upon my person, the organic sword Rosethorn at my hip, and the maps of Ursathrax stored so ingeniously in Jamais’s scabbard. My scythe, the platinum key, my gondola—even my familiar, Sthulhu—had all vanished with Shekalane.

Real fear would come later, when I had forged a future as well and had much to lose.

Still, the going had been perilous

Though I believed Shekalane had betrayed me, I 'd been unable to write off the possibility of her capture. And if she had been taken, then following the immediate banks of the River Dire could have likely led to my own capture, as well.

But in Ursathrax, one seldom had a choice—as I have said in previous chapters. In most places, there was but The River itself, a pair of slim banks, and then the East and West Walls looming straight up on both sides. So, I'd had to travel from the place of betrayal to the Tinsel Forest along those very banks, beating a path through the bramble whenever possible to avoid being spied from The River. I had heard distant sounds on several occasions, and it is possible that these might have been the splashing of oars. I’d noticed no lanterns, but this brought me little comfort. My pursuers would no doubt have doused them as to render themselves invisible to me.

After a time, the West Wall had gradually curved away, and I'd moved inland away from The River to find myself skirting the fringe of the Tinsel Forest. I'd maintained a course which ran parallel to The River, however, as the less populated regions of the Far south were still my objective, and I could see no reason to venture deeper into the forest of lights.

But after stopping to rest and consider the maps as to what lay ahead (using the glittering trees for illumination), I’d elected to change directions. Away from The River Dire, and straight for the West Wall.

I'd learned from the scrolls that something known as a “Relief/ Maintenance Lodge,” a term I'd never heard, lay just beyond the Tinsel Forest, where the West Wall began its rocky climb skyward. However, the map had not been entirely clear as to whether this lodge lay at the foot of the wall or stood near its summit.

The discovery had only reinforced my belief that I held in the scrolls a secret knowledge to which few in Ursathrax were privy, yet I did not equate it with survival or destiny yet. I knew only that this “Relief/Maintenance Lodge” would be a place of which few if any could be aware, and that it sounded like a place of rest and perhaps even fresh water, where I might replenish myself as well as Rosethorn—who's color would begin to fade all too soon—if in fact she survived the journey.

Again, as I have said in previous chapters, there were very few places along The River Dire where the land extended for any length before meeting the Barrier Walls. Jaskir, the city on whose shore I'd first betrayed my duty as ferryman, was one such place. The Tinsel Forest was another.

It is here, Dear Reader, that I begin the tale proper, recounted with as much honesty and clarity as a man such as I can ally. If it seems overly dramatic at times, I can only implore the reader to turn an eye toward their own past, to those times in which important events took place, and ask themselves if these events were dramatic to them. Life is drama, Dear Reader. And this bit of drama is but a bit of my own life.

1



I secured the chart and returned it to my boot. I’d discovered a dirt path about a dozen or so miles into the forest, which seemed to have been running FarNorth to FarSouth before I'd met with it, and which now curved abruptly to run roughly west, where the great and distant West Wall loomed like a hazy giant. I had not been able to locate the trail on the map at all, and so I could only assume it had found its origin after the map had been quilled.

Besides the Tinsel Forest and the main roads connecting its few scattered townships (which I had to avoid at all costs), the scroll had shown nothing more in this area save the enigmatic and isolated Relief Lodge itself. The path began nowhere and went nowhere, for all I knew. I had but the West Wall to aim for, however, hence I wasn't particularly concerned by the matter. I could simply turn off the trail if necessary.

I did know the trees were still dotted with lovely lights, just as the night sky above them was still dotted with stars (and blemished with few holes), and so I followed the much-trodden path through the dark wood and twine and thought only of beauty and music as the great trunks passed me by. Fortunately, as I am not the sort of man inclined to croon to myself while in leave of others, the symphonies raged only in my mind, and my passage through the forest was silent.

A false summer had set in upon Ursathrax, and the forest was neither bitterly cold nor particularly warm. My garments were such that I was comfortable in this environment, which was indifferent in temperature just as it was indifferent to my presence.

Concealed like a chameleon in the shadow of my cloak's broad hood and my other accouterments as ferryman, all black as the night save perhaps a glimmer of pale bone at my face and hands, I felt a sense of conformity I had never experienced. Here, at last, a man born unto the ferrymen and fitted with mask and brand could indeed become invisible if he wished. And Dear Reader, if you have followed me this far into the chapters of this account, then you must surely know that I wished it beyond all imagining.

Relishing the thought, I no longer merely walked through that forest of lights, I in fact strolled. And as I strolled, I conducted an opera the likes of which Ursathrax had never heard (not even at the ill-fated Aria of Alta Forte), and of course never would, for it was the crude product of my happy delusion alone. As I have admitted often, I possess few talents beyond the turn of an oar or the use of a scythe.

And then I heard the distant chimes of real music and stopped dead in my tracks.

It sifted through the starry elms like an invisible fog as I listened, and, peering FarNorth, I noticed quite suddenly the glow of strung lanterns farther up the path.

I wasn't alone.

The thought was an alarming one, for the news of my treachery had undoubtedly spread in the weeks since Shekalane and myself had first fled our dark obligations. I could now look to strangers with only a profound sense of distrust.

Death may bring peace, but its shadow can only bring fear. And I was a shadow in more ways than how I moved through the forest unseen. I was a shadow of what I had been before Shekalane, for whom I'd let desire cloud duty and ceased to be a ferryman. Now I was anathema to both man and ferryman. No longer Death, merely its shadow. A symbol of fear but not authority. And in the final reckoning, men destroy but two things; that which they fear, and that which they feel they can.

Yet as I drew closer to the music and bobbing lanterns, I came to realize that what awaited at roadside was in fact a miniature bazaar. Such was the distance that I could discern few details. I saw only a garishly-painted coach with a tip-out canvas, and beneath the canvas a crude, wooden table which appeared cluttered and overburdened. Yet, oddly, there was no sign of a mule to pull the wagon.

I ducked into the shrubs and crept closer.

A moment later, peeking between two ferns (like the villain of a puppet show, I mused), I was able to observe a sole peddler sitting motionless behind the table, his head slung back in sleep and his regressed mouth hung agape. It was as if he'd nodded off while gazing at the glittering baubles suspended overhead.

The man seemed very old, indeed. His frail, knotted arms dangled impotently at his sides, the skin besieged with deep wrinkles and liver spots. His fingertips just slightly touched the head of the monkey at his feet, which cranked its music box intently and seemed oblivious to all else. I noticed that one of the peddler's fingers, the second to the smallest, had been severed at its base. It seemed cauterized and tied, but from a distance I could not be certain.

Considering his age and the depth of his slumber, I could not help but wonder what his reaction might be if he were to awaken suddenly and see me watching him from the parted brush, a white-faced demon cloaked in shadows. Hastily, I scanned the remainder of the area, hoping to find food or at least some clothing of a less conspicuous nature, but found nothing more than useless trinkets and strings of costume jewelry, which littered the long table and dangled from the edges of the dowel-stiffened canvas above it like wind chimes.

Then, as I was about to abandon the search, I spied the bloated belly of a wineskin hanging suspended from the rear of the wagon.

As if in thirst, Rosethorn seemed to quiver at my side. In the semi-light of the lanterns, it was difficult to judge whether her color had begun to fade or not. When her degeneration did begin, she would whither rapidly.

"Aye, Rosethorn," I whispered softly. "It may be water. We must get closer."


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