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Lawrence Watt-Evans

The Unwelcome Warlosk

Dedicated to John Betancourt for his help in keeping Ethshar alive

Chapter One

Hanner the Warlock looked at the tapestry without really seeing it; that constant nagging whisper was distracting him. He closed his eyes for a moment to clear his thoughts, but that only seemed to make it worse. He clenched his jaw, shook his head, and balled his hands into fists.

“Is this not what you had in mind, Chairman?”

The wizard’s voice brought Hanner back to reality for a moment. He opened his eyes and forced himself to focus on the tapestry.

The silky fabric hardly seemed to be there at all; the image woven into the cloth was so detailed, so perfect, that he seemed to be looking through the tapestry into a world beyond, rather than at the material itself. In that world gentle golden sunlight washed across a green hillside strewn with wild flowers beneath a clear blue sky above. In the distance he could make out a cluster of handsome golden-tan buildings, though details were vague.

“Does it work?” he asked.

The wizard beside him glanced at the tapestry. “It does,” Arvagan said. “My apprentice tested it before I sent for you. The tapestry that can return you to Ethshar is hanging in that house there, on the right.” He pointed, but was careful to keep his finger well back from the cloth — the slightest contact would trigger the tapestry’s magic and pull him into that other world.

“The tapestry that comes out in the attic of Warlock House?”

“Precisely.”

“These tapestries will both work for warlocks?”

The wizard hesitated. “I think so,” he said at last. “You understand, without a warlock’s cooperation we have no way of testing it. Divinations are unreliable where warlocks are concerned. We know some tapestries work for warlocks — in fact, we’ve never found one that doesn’t — and I don’t see any reason these wouldn’t, but magic is tricky.”

That brief hesitation had been enough for the Calling to once again start to work on Hanner. He had turned his head away from the tapestry as if to listen to the wizard’s reply, but then the motion had continued, and now he was staring over the wizard’s left shoulder, to the north, toward Aldagmor.

He needed to go there, and soon. He needed to forget about all this Council business, forget about the wizards and their tapestries, forget about schemes to avoid the Calling. He needed to forget about Mavi and their children, and about his sisters and his friends, and about the other members of the Council of Warlocks, and just go. Whatever was up there in Aldagmor, it needed him, and he needed to go to it...

“Chairman?”

Hanner bit his lip. What he needed, he told himself as he forced himself back to reality, was a refuge where he couldn’t hear the Calling and couldn’t feel its constant pull.

That was what these tapestries were supposed to provide. That was what he had paid the Wizards’ Guild the insane sum of eight thousand rounds of gold to obtain, a fortune that had completely wiped out his own assets, and half the Council’s money as well.

Not that money would matter to him in Aldagmor...

“I’m sorry,” he said. “What were you saying?”

“I was saying that we do not actually know whether this tapestry will do what you wanted. We don’t understand your magic, any more than you understand ours, and we have no way of testing how those two magics will interact, other than sending a warlock through the tapestry. We know that warlocks have used other tapestries safely, but wizardry can be...erratic. We can’t promise what this tapestry will do until a warlock tries it.”

“You haven’t tested that?”

“Chairman Hanner, you specifically forbade us from telling any other warlock anything about this project. That was part of our contract, and we have abided by it.”

“Of course,” Hanner said. “I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. So you don’t know whether I will be able to hear the Calling from that other world?”

Arvagan sighed. “Chairman, we have no idea what the Calling is. We don’t know how it works, or whether it extends into the new universe we created for you — assuming we did create it, and not just find it; we don’t really know that. We know that you can breathe the air there, and drink the water, and that my apprentice suffered no ill effects from doing so. We know he chewed on a blade of grass and wasn’t poisoned. We know that the village in the tapestry was uninhabited when he got there, though we can’t say with any certainty whether its builders, if it was built, might still be around somewhere. We know he says that he walked three or four miles around the area without finding any people, or any animals larger than a rabbit, or any edge to the world he was in. But that’s about it as far as our knowledge goes. We don’t know whether warlockry will operate there. We don’t know whether there are natives dwelling somewhere in that world. We don’t even know how long the day is there — he didn’t stay long enough to determine that. Creating or finding new worlds is an unpredictable business, Chairman; we told you that when we first agreed to this.”

“You did,” Hanner admitted.

This had been a tremendous gamble, paying the wizards to open a way to another world, and there was only one way to find out whether it had worked, or whether he had thrown away an immense fortune for nothing. All he had to do was reach out and touch the tapestry, step into it, and he would be in that other world, that beautiful refuge.

He started to raise his hand, then stopped.

“Not here,” he said. “I might not...”

He didn’t finish the sentence; when he realized what he had been going to say, he forced himself to stop.

He had been about to say he couldn’t use the tapestry because it might cut him off from the Calling, but that was what he had wanted; that was the whole point. This tapestry was intended to let warlocks escape from the doom that eventually befell them all.

Every warlock knew that the farther he was from Aldagmor, the weaker the Calling was — and the weaker his magic was, as well, but that was only a secondary consideration. That weakening had given Hanner the idea to find, or make, a place so distant from Aldagmor than the Call couldn’t reach it at all.

The Calling touched every corner of the World; warlocks had established that. From sun-baked Semma in the southeast to frozen Kerroa in the northwest, there was no place in the World where a warlock was safe. So, obviously, the warlocks needed a refuge that wasn’t in the World at all, and that meant they needed wizardry. The only three kinds of magic that could reach out of the World into other places were demonology, theurgy, and wizardry — herbalism, witchcraft, ritual dance, and the rest were limited to everyday reality.

The gods didn’t recognize warlocks as human beings, and had trouble even acknowledging their existence, so theurgy wasn’t going to help. The Nethervoid, where demons originated, wasn’t anywhere anyone would ever want to go, and trusting demons was usually a stupid thing to do, so demonology was out, too. That left wizardry. Wizards had various spells that could reach other planes of existence. It wasn’t clear whether these spells opened a path to places that had existed all along, or created new places out of nothing, but they could definitely provide access to other worlds. Hanner had even visited one, long ago, and found that warlockry did not work there, and that presumably the Calling did not reach it.

So here it was, the wizardry he had asked for — a Transporting Tapestry to another world that just might be the refuge the warlocks needed.

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