Russ T. Howard
The Ultimate Helm
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with its, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting.
And cometh from afar.
Wordsworth To strive.
To seek. To find. And not to yield.
“… which the Spelljammer has seen many times before in its ageless travels. It is, instead, the coming of the one called the Cloakmaster that will herald a time of darkness unparalleled by any other. According to the scrolls of the Ancient Ones, war shall be called upon all, and the Cloakmaster’s shadow will fall across the spheres. “Alas, the scrolls of the Ancient Ones were lost in the wars after the Blinding Rot, and the sinister purposes of the Cloakmaster are known no longer…”
He stood on the upper deck of the nautiloid Julia, facing into the endless flow, where the course of his destiny had finally led him. The colors, the radiant brilliance of the phlogiston, flared against the ship's protective bubble of air and illuminated his taut features, the square jut of his lightly bearded chin, the corded muscles along his tanned arms. His long brown hair waved in a slight breeze caused by the ship's great speed through the flow. With each eruption of light, his swirling cloak changed its color, from purple, to deep blue, to crimson; and as the nautiloid sailed ever closer to its goal, the cloak grew wanner, more comfortable around his shoulders, as though it had always belonged there. Perhaps this ages-old cloak- which had been worn through the millennia by elves and orcs, reigar and wizards, had been hoarded by a golden dragon, and had been fought over in the Battle of Thrandish. where five thousand humans and unhumans had died for the control of a long-forgotten sphere-had always and ultimately been his alone to bear. The master of the cloak. Teldin Moore was sailing to his destiny. He shivered at the enormity of the sphere before him. He was here! Finally! He pulled the cloak around him, gazed out over the prow of his nautiloid, and wondered at the twists of destiny that had started him on a simple quest and had ultimately pulled him to this place, an unimaginable distance from his home on Krynn, and to an unimaginable life for a groundling farm boy. This was the Broken Sphere. Teldin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It waited for him out there, in the rainbow swirl of the flow: a glimmer of barely reflected light against the cracked, black wall of the sphere. The Spelljammer.
He felt it singing to him, seducing him like a siren, singing a song of wonder, of endless delight and exploration. Of worlds and places uncharted, undreamed of. Of a universe all his own. Of life.
Why me? he almost said out loud. He looked down at the bronze medallion that the beautiful kender Gaeadrelle Gold-ring had given him. She had stolen it from an ogre during an attack of the Tarantula Fleet, and had given it to Teldin to help him on his quest for the legendary Spelljammer. A gleaming disk of untold power, it now hung around his neck, and he could feel its history, its antiquity, resonating in his fingertips. Who am I to have been called out here? I only wanted answers… What is this cloak? Why can't I take the fhTng off? And what does it want with me?
He sighed. I only wanted some answers. Now they have led me to a sphere so ancient that it has become only a myth-a legend forgotten even by the races who had lived there. Teldin sighed. Why me? He touched the disk and felt its inner warmth humming through his fingertips. To most, the bronze disk appeared to be just another artifact, a worthless ornament, scratched and dented by the blades of warriors long dead. Its face presented a complicated maze of lines and patterns, intertwined to form geometrical shapes that seemed to flicker and appear when the light fell properly upon its surface. As such, it was simple trickery, an optical illusion: jewelry, perhaps, for a child.
But the amulet had survived for millennia. Its makers had been forgotten by all but the gods, and its inherent powers, weakened as they were by the unimaginable passage of time, were still formidable. If the amulet were clasped in the hand of a brave warrior and turned so that the light of the eternal phlogiston could shine upon it properly, its bearer could make out a secret image, a symbol that had survived the ages, perhaps the symbol of its creators: a three-pointed star, burning fiercely against the night-black maze of lines and curves and angles.
The disk blazed in Teldin's hand. The star was a brilliant pinpoint, filled with the power and light of a million suns. He covered it with one hand and stared into the flow, where a lightning bolt erupted near the Spelljammer and flashed against its pale skin.
He gasped involuntarily as the electric power of the amulet coursed up his arm, and the nautiloid disappeared from under his feet to send him swimming alone through the chromatic sea. His mouth hung open as his eyes, the Spelljammefs eyes, were filled with a panoramic vista of the Broken Sphere, an immense black wall extending a billion miles out of his field of vision. Inside, wisps of phlogiston spiraled into the sphere's dying sun and exploded impotently in a reduced image of the sun's nova an eon ago, when the system's shell was shattered and sent hurtling into the flow.
Teldin shuddered. Images came unbidden to his mind: the wave of a mighty wing, the star-bright opening of a portal in a crystal shell; the immeasurable rush of phlogiston into the sphere, then into the sun. Then an immense explosion as worlds rocked, their atmospheres evaporated, their lands scorched, in a single blast of fire. And the crystal sphere blew away like an eggshell.
He fell to his knees and released the amulet. This close to its bond mate, the power of the amulet was increased, and its images became more tangible, more visceral, affecting all of his senses. He breathed deeply, taking huge gulps of air as the terror, the remembrance of a million deaths a million years ago, flooded over him, causing him to cry out in pain. His ship sailed ever closer to the Spelljammer, an innocent murderer of worlds,
He tasted the wind rushing over a world, a paradise of low ering trees ami mountain ranges reaching for the sky Coin nil mi r. came the name to his mind, an ocean world where saurians and great beasts swam the pure waters, making songs and sealing them in bubbles of air, bound with spells ol permanence so that their legacy would live on for their children Resancl. came another.
He could smell meal cooking and merchants shouting, selling their wares, in the Citadel of Trekar, on an island of gold on the world of-BedevanSov.
He was there, on-Asveleyn-as a contingent of armed men swarmed out of the hills of Stog to defeat a screaming band of ores.
He was Jezperis, a warrior, reveling in the softness of Velina, his woman, as she lay in his arms, sweating and thrusting together under the twin moons of-Ondora.
And then, in a searing flash of heat and pain, the worlds were killed.
With an effort of will, Teldin suppressed a cry and pulled himself away from the memories of people long dead, long remembered in the Spelljammer's unconscious self.
The great ship's song still sang through him, a song of blood and loneliness, of a destiny now within his reach. Their lives, like the lines woven on the amulet, were intertwined, forever linked by a pattern set into motion