Dixie Lee McKeone
Tales of Uncle Trapspringer
The lobo wolf peered through the brush, his yellow eyes seeking enemies and prey, his sensitive nose sniffing for danger on the breeze. He crouched beneath the bushes on an unnatural rise of tumbled stones overlaid with earth and undergrowth and gazed at a place nature had no part in building.
Man-place, his senses warned him. A place of two-legs with their flying, wounding shafts. He had no concept of structures, but he knew straight walls were no part of nature; they were man-work. His experience also told him that man-work falling down, walls crumbling, was no longer the den of his mortal enemy. He had seen other places where nature was taking back what the tall two-legs had left when they moved on to new lairs.
Off to the right of where he stood peering through the bushes, he saw the dimness of a narrow entrance, almost obscured by creeping plants. The darkness within suggested it was covered above. It called to him, its shadowy depths promising safety from his enemies, even if he did not find food inside.
He crept through the brush, through the high weeds and across the new spring grass that separated the man-place from the forest, sniffing as he went. He discovered the three-day-old trail of a rabbit. Fresher was the trail of a mouse and the owl that had caught the rodent and made a meal of it, but no man scent. He stopped at the dark entrance and noticed the scent of more mice. He crept into the shadows of the ruin, found a bed of leaves that the wind had blown into the shelter and curled up to sleep.
The wolf felt safe because he knew the tall two-legs were gone.
He was wrong.
The ruin was not abandoned.
Two hundred feet below where the wolf slept, a heavy-boned man walked down the passage of an old, deep dungeon. As he passed down the corridor, torches set in wall sconces burst into flame as he neared them and magically died away after he had passed. The stones in the walls and the arched ceilings still emanated an aura of the pain and suffering that had taken place in the dungeons of Pey. The horror had been mortal and had no power to disturb Draaddis Vulter.
His torture came from a different source. Nothing fearful impeded his path as he walked to his work chamber, but he dreaded making the journey. Once there he could be subjected to horrors only the most twisted of minds could conceive, and his return trip would tax all his mental reserves.
He was paying the price of having offended his god.
The huge domed vault that served him for a laboratory had long ago been stripped of its tools of misery to make room for a different kind of evil. It was now the laboratory of the black-robed wizard. Draaddis would have preferred a tower, but to show himself openly would put his life in danger.
More than a century after the Cataclysm, wizards and clerics still hid and worked in secret. The people of Krynn had never forgiven the users of magic for the disaster that sundered the world of Ansalon. The knights, the wizards, and most of the clerics had not taken part in the destruction, but, in truth, they might have been able to prevent it.
The responsibility for the disaster belonged to the King-priest of Istar and his followers. The clerics of Istar had grown in power until neither the wizards of Krynn nor the priest-knights of Solamnia had been willing to openly oppose them. As time passed the Kingpriest and his followers grew enamored of their own holiness. In their conceit, they demanded an end to the balance of good and evil that held sway over Ansalon.
The Kingpriest of Istar challenged the gods.
The answer had been swift and catastrophic. The great lands of Istar, with its magnificent temples, sank beneath the Sea of Blood. All over Krynn mountains crumbled, new ranges rose, torn out of the earth by the anger of the gods. Seas flowed in and drowned great cities. Then, following the rending of the world, came war, plague, pestilence, and starvation, all riding on the winds of the immortal wrath.
In the minds of the citizens, the wizards and knights shared the blame. They had known the inevitable result of the Kingpriest's arrogance and had done nothing to stop him. The conclave of wizards had debated what details they could surmise of the imminent upheaval. They had decided not to interfere. The white-robed wizards dedicated to lawful practice, the red-robed neutrals, and the black, the followers of the evil Takhisis, were one in their desire to maintain the balance of good and evil.
The Cataclysm came and went, and Draaddis Vulter, the most powerful of his order, hid in secret and trod the passages of an old dungeon and used the torture chamber for his laboratory.
Shelves lined the walls and ancient books in their black bindings were strewn about carelessly on the work tables, as if pulled from the shelves, searched, and thrown down in anger and frustration.
Across the vaulted chamber other shelves held the results of vile experiments, grisly parts of what had once been living beings, denied a natural death. In one, an animal heart continued a slow, even beat. In another a scaled and clawed hand, severed at the wrist, grasped at the air as it pushed against the side of its glass container. Open crocks held working mixtures, their surfaces in slow and constant movement as bubbles broke the viscous surfaces and slowly popped, releasing noxious gases.
Draaddis Vulter ignored his abandoned or ongoing experiments and strode to the center of the room. He approached a stile, four feet high, covered with a black silken drape that was lavishly trimmed with gold. He lifted the drape, exposing an iridescent black globe two feet in diameter. From it emanated an evil that caused the wolf, in the ruins two hundred feet above, to whine in his sleep.
An eye appeared in the globe. Heavily lashed and slightly slanted at the outer corner, it was definitely a female eye. Draaddis gave a low bow.
'Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, Our Lady of the Dragons, Ruler of the Nine Hells, ' he murmured. 'Greetings. '
'Why have you called me, Draaddis?' — the voice was low and sultry, filling the wizard with shivers of fear and delight-'Have you found an answer?'
'Not one of my own making, my queen, but I may have discovered a way for you to enter this world. I wanted to lay my findings before you in the hope that your divine wisdom would help me decide if the discovery is what we seek. '
The single eye of the evil goddess brightened. More than a millennium had passed since Huma, riding the silver dragon Gwynneth, had used the dragonlances to drive Takhisis and her chromatic dragons from the world of Krynn. From the First Plane of the Infernal Realms, Takhisis could only peer through magically constructed windows like the globe. She lusted for the corruption she could create if she could reach the world of mortals again.
'Tell me, ' she demanded. 'Show me, '
'Ten days ago, while traveling on the shadow plane-'
'Ten days?' Takhisis hissed and the chamber floor suddenly flowed with serpents. They coiled on the tables and slithered down the stools, massing on the floor and crawling over each other to reach the wizard. Draaddis's tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He shuddered uncontrollably. They slithered up his legs, wrapped themselves around his arms, their fanged mouths struck at his face and neck. The fangs tore at his flesh and the poison from the fangs burned through his veins like rivers of fire.
He trembled violently and forced himself to remember illusion was the only power the goddess could use against him.
Shut them out. He ordered his mind to shut out what his eyes and nerves told him was true.
He found his voice and continued his explanation. He forced himself to think beyond the crushing, biting pain and the fire in his blood.
'And while on the shadow plane I chanced to meet another wizard, a young red robe, seeking a way to the