White Tower, The

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The White Tower
Elric of Mississippi
1673-1724 (T173-T197)

By Rob Pierce

Contents

Description

The White Tower ... is not of this Earth. Theorists believe that the Tower was (is?) effectively a "ship" adrift in hostile "waters" (planes). Only, where a naval ship rides the boundary between the water and air, the White Tower rides the boundary between dreaming and waking.

The Captain of the Tower possesed the agency to set and release anchors so that the Tower could stop at places and conduct mapping expeditions. Other crew members possesed other agencies that would help them complete their mission. Something went wrong, however, and they drifted from their native plane to ours, and to our world in particular. They drifted across Earth from Asia to Europe and finally to Africa, where they "dropped anchor" so that they could "reset their guidance systems" for lack of a better term.

Captains were dying in attempts to save the Tower, and one broke with tradition and designated his successor rather than follow the usual succession. This inspired a coup, and the new Captain was ... imprisoned. What the coup plotters had not realized, however, was that their scouts had seen enemies approaching - beast men - intent on attacking and capturing the Tower. With the Captain out of the way the Tower could not pull up its anchors and was thus put in grave danger[1]. By the time the Captain had been rescued the beast men's assault had already begun and there was no time to properly retrieve the anchors that had been set - so they were cut loose.

The Tower's presence had attracted the attention of more than just the beast men. Expeditions on the part of terrestrial nations had been conducted, though for the most part futilely. Others, including Elric of Mississippi and the Bull Worshippers (an Amerikan cult who are followers of the Lords of Discord) had better success in finding and catching up with the Tower. When the Tower cut loose its anchors, the Bull Worshippers captured the terrestrial manifestation of one[2] ("an ornament, about the size of your forearm, fashioned from some black metal chased with silver"), and (apparently) reconnected it to the Tower, preventing the Tower's escape from the beast men's assault.

While the beast men continued their assaults on the Tower, Elric managed to breach the Tower's defenses and boarded it. Neither the Tower, nor Elric have been heard from since...

Enterprising merchants in Hosogawa Borneo reportedly have an exclusive license to produce White Tower™ action playsets for the export trade to China, Japan and Persia (T185).

See also Ice, The.

1. It's not entirely clear whether the danger was due to simply being in hostile "territory", being cut off from reinforcements, being lost, or whether they are weaker in this plane and their adversaries stronger.
2. The Tower had a set anchors - plural. It is not clear if this one ornament represented all of the anchors or only one of them.

The History

The White Tower's arrival caught the interest of at least three parties: a gaunt albino bearing a deadly black sword, one Elric of Mississippi; animal-mask wearing followers of the Lords of Discord - the Bull Worshippers of Noquet; and, soulless beast-men that were as unafraid of directly attacking the Tower as they were unafraid of Elric.

First "sightings" of the White Tower occurred in the Australian outback in 1673 (T173). The Tower was then reported to be in the Gobi desert, though a Ming expedition to find it reported no trace of it (1678, T175). Another expedition, this one by emissaries of the Pure Realm, also could find no trace of the Tower (1680, T176), but did return with a "small golden flute of delicate and alien manufacture." By that time reports of the Tower began showing up in Europe. Over the following years reports drifted through the Balkans (T177) and into Trans-Asia (T178) and back to Southeast Asia (T179). The last known reports (T180-T187) came exculsively from Africa, where local governments showed a complete lack of interest in investigating the phenomenon.

Elric and the Bull Worshippers came into conflict in 1680 (T176) when he defended a group of scholars from attack. They both reappeared years later (T180) in a tavern confrontation that saw Elric steal a crystal that could predict the Tower's movements (T180). Related reports regarding him and animal-masked men appear in the Afriqan and possibly the Lybian fax (T182), and again in the Mali and Afriqan faxes (T183). The beast-men, who had already been pursuing the Tower, took to pursuing Elric as well (T182). The Tower's inhabitants, desperate to escape the beast-men's attacks cut loose their primary anchor (T184), but the masked-men found it and somehow used it to prevent the Tower's escape. Elric, meanwhile, had slain his beast-men pursuers, and thought he would have to find other means to reach the Tower (the supposedly destroyed Ship That Sails Over Land and Sea). But, the masked-men's success in preventing the Tower's escape allowed him to continue to try and board the Tower directly.

With the Tower stuck in one location, the beast-men set about besieging it for four years (T185-T186). When the seige took a rest, the Tower's Captain began to attempt some feat of magic only to have the process hijacked by an external intruder (T187). Elric (presumably) had used the invocation to board the Tower and neither he nor the Tower has been heard from since.


Unknown
T173
Australian Outback
The White Tower people continued to avoid all contact with their neighbors.


Unknown
T174
Gobi Desert
The Captain viewed the dull red landscape below the Tower with interest. Word had come from one of the skyriders that strangers had been sighted again in the wasteland. Still, nothing could be seen and he sighed with boredom. The sound of the cone-banners flapping in the hot breeze was loud in the silence.


The Event
T175
From the top of the Proscenium, the Captain watched as the squadron of Surveyors unstrapped themselves, ascended the glazed sandstone steps, and bowed to the Presence looming above him. After these rites were completed, the watch-captain of the Surveyors spoke:

"Arbiter, it appears that the strangers have gone."

The Captain nodded.

"That is good", he replied, "but continue to watch."

The Surveyor turned and left. The Captain watched him depart and fingered his Instrument thoughtfully.

Later, the Captain was in the Chamber of Sight, meditating, and suddenly leapt to his feet, alarmed, as the Warning Bell was sounding - and not with its usual high chimes, but with a deep ringing toll. The Captain rushed to the high, narrow, windows that looked out upon the Courts of the Morning to see attendants below staring up in awe at the Bell, which was ringing by itself. In time, it stopped, and did not ring again. This worried the Captain even more.


T175, Ming Empire
At the end of 1678, Lord Lien returned from his expedition into the north. He reported that the Gobi lands were now quiet and that he could find no trace of the White Tower. "It appears", he reported, "that the legendary White Tower is just that - legendary."


T175, Khemer
Some of Bao Dai's troops encamped in the ruins of ancient Angkor (near the broad artificial lake) reported a deep booming sound coming out of the earth, like a giant hammer striking metal of infinite depth. After a time these sounds stopped.


The Assesment
T176
Europe
As the Speaker stood to speak, a hush fell over the Kybernetium. His expression somber, the leader of the Surveyors raised his Instrument to the Presence that brooded above the chamber, then addressed the small assembly.

"We explored the limits of the convergence, but it appears that its locus shifted after the Event, and we found no trace of the lost Observer or his craft. Finally the convergence dwindled, shifted farther to the west, and we had to return lest we be stranded ourselves."

"And the others?"

"Vanished as if they had never been."

The Captain bowed to the leader of the Surveyors, then turned to question the Heirarch of Inquiry.

"The colors remain the same as before?"

"Yes, Arbiter. They remain as you saw and we measured them from the Courts of Sunset; characteristic, perhaps, of some great and recent convusion of this earth."

"And the Bell?"

"It has not spoken since the Event."

The Captain stood.

"Arbiter?" asked one of the attendants.

"I see no choice. I must consult the Labyrinth, to see if the pattern has shifted. I see no other way we can hope to gain insight into this matter. Instruct my successor to prepare himself in the likely event that I fail to return"

The assembly fell silent, moved by his sacrifice, as the Captain departed the chamber.


T176, Pure Realm
The acolyte, unaccustomed to attendance upon so great a lord was clearly nervous as he abased himself before Master Fo.

"What did you find?" asked the Abbot kindly, for while the affairs of state were pressing, and he begrudged time he must spend upon this audience, he remembered that he too had been a lowly acolyte once.

"I accompanied the fleet as I was instructed," said the acolyte, "and then set off overland to the place identified by Father Ju."

"And?"

"I found no sign of any Tower, but I did find... this."

As the acolyte reached inside his robes, Master Fo braced himself for an attack, for in this world of illusion, treachery could be anywhere; even inside the chambers of the Temple. But the acolyte did not withdraw a weapon. Instead he drew from his robes a small golden flute of delicate and alien manufacture.

EDITORS NOTE: The flute is the Captain's Instrument?


T176, Shawnee Empire
A band of Bull Worshippers of Noquet, ranging far from their usual haunts, attacked a company of scholars who had recently returned from an investigation of the ruins of Chapultipec, in the woods of Cayuga. Fortunately, the bestial savages were driven off by the notorious albino mercenary Paleface Blacksword, sometimes known as either Albert or Elric of Missouri, who they had engaged as a bodyguard for their protection. Otherwise, things were quiet in these parts.

EDITORS NOTE: Cayuga is the region south of Lake Ontario.


The Vigil
T177
The Balkans
Now it was the Lead Surveyor's turn to maintain the vigil. He sat in the position of meditation by the arched grey entrance to the labyrinth, but his mind was not at peace. Ambiguous though the signs might be, one thing was clear: their options were dwindling, and his own options could dwindle still further if the event that he feared took place. He relaxed his gaze, and his breathing, and made the sign of the entrance of Hermes. Looking within, he tried to find some kind of harmony. Then his attention was distracted by a faint clatter within the archway.

He looked down on the dark grained floor before him and saw the thing that he had dreaded most. It glistened whitely, as well it might.

The Hierarch of Artifice met him as he ascended the tight spiral of the stairs, his sandals echoing softly on the metal plates.

"The Skyrider? But, the Captain..." the Hierarch's voice trailed away as the Surveyor held up the pale white sigil. The Hierarch leaned back against the curving wall in exhausted despair, then bowed his head.

"Arbiter."

"Yes. Now."

"Will you wish to call the Assembly? After you have taken - that - to the place where all things must go?"

The new Arbiter sighed.

"Yes, I suppose so. I suppose I must."

Suddenly, the deep booming sound of the gong in the Courts of the Morning echoed through the walls; it's slow ringing echoing in their bones. Each looked to the other in horror, their fear plainly writ on their faces.

"Again?" whispered the Arbiter. "What doom is this that comes upon us all?"

Frantic, they rushed up the stairs, heading for the Chamber of the Presence. Their breath came in harsh, desperate, gasps. Behind them, forgotten, the fingerbone spun slowly in the air, finally falling between the slats of the stairs.


T177, Swedish Empire of Russia
Prince Snorri regarded the Severskii woodsman in perplexity, then turned once again to the translator.

"You're sure of what this man says?"

The translator spoke a few sharp words, then listened with evident aggravation to the torrent of gibberish that the hairy native offered in reply.

"It's difficult to be certain of anything in this atrocious language," said the translator, "but if I understand this ... man ... correctly, he continues to refer to some strange object or objects in the sky."

"Can't he tell us anything about the nature of these 'objects'?" asked the Prince. Then, seeing signs of terminal frustration on the face of the translator, he waved his hand in dismissal. As the translator left the tent in relief, Snorri turned to his aide.

"So, Piotr, we have a new mystery."

"It appears so, milord."

"Could it have anything to do with our old one?" mused the Prince, his long narrow fingers idly tapping on the camp-table. Outside the silk hangings at the door to the command tent, birds warbled in the late Russian spring afternoon.

"It is impossible to tell."

"Do the surgeons have anything more to say about the dead man?"

"No, milord. Only what they have already told us. The cast of his features, such as remain, and the garments that he wore under his cloak suggest that he came from the distant east; perhaps from China. His limbs were frostbitten, which suggests that he wandered in the wilds for some time."

Piotr motioned to the camp-table.

"He clutched these parchments, and it appears that he was killed by a blow to the skull from either a falling object or a falling rock."

"Hmn," muttered the Prince, picking up the parchment. On it was crudely sketched a mountain, or pillar, or tower in pale colors. "A fall..."

EDITORS NOTE: Might the Chinaman have been killed by the terrestrial manifestation of the "fingerbone"? He certainly seems to have been successful at tracking the Tower.


T177, Ming Empire
Lord Pi-Yen Lien, now a court official of the third rank, but still responsible for affairs related to the barbarian nations beyond the northwest frontier, glared at the messenger.

"So, Fah-Hian refused to turn back?"

"Yes, Most Munificent Lord, perhaps he thought to succede where..."

"Where I failed?" roared Lien.

"No, Lord!" replied the messenger, a tremor of fear in his voice. He abased himself further so that only the tattered back of his red silk robe was visible.

"Then perhaps it is best that Fah-Hian has passed away," suggested Lien silkily, "it is certain that he passed away, isn't it?"

"Of course, Lord. The object of Fah-Hian's quest was, as you most assuredly established yourself, nothing more than a legend, and he could not have survived alone in that cold and barren waste."

Lien nodded to himself in agreement, though his brow was troubled. Distracted by the words of the functionary, he did not see the saffron-robed figure drift away from the hangings covering the door into the garden.

EDITORS NOTE: A saffron-robed Pure Realm monk listening in on the conversation?


T177, Papacy
After several months of illness, His Holiness recovered enough to return to normal duties with the Church. Never officially removed from the Papacy, his Holiness had been administering to the faithful by pronouncements from his quarters. Upon returning to full duty, Clement arranged a meeting with his trusted inner circle, known as the "Twelve Bishops", and their assistants. This meeting was called to discuss new alliances and the return of Papal influence into the Amerikas.

After many years of attempting to make inroads into the Asian populations, and overtures to the Great Master Fo, his Holiness decided to concentrate on matters closer to home, more specifically, the peoples of North Amerika.

This decision angered many of the "Twelve Bishops", who believed that the spread of Catholic doctrine was crucial to the well-being of the planet and that the natives of the West could remain beyond the light of the Church.

During a noon recess for nourishment, Clement began to pale and perspire heavily. Assistants brought water, but the Pope collapsed at the base of a statue of the Holy Mother.

Bishop Adrian rushed to the side of the stricken pontiff and was able to hear Clement utter a few words before he slipped into a coma of some kind. Adrian, visibly shocked, instructed Papal security forces to remove the Pope to his bedchambers. Bishop Adiran then hurried down into the great hall of the private apartments and was noticed speaking to an unidentified, robe-clad, figure. The only words that could be discerned were "dagger" and "the White Tower".

The master of the fleet was immediately informed of the situation and late that same day; three groups of warships were dispatched from the Harbor of St. Peter. One group sailed west, one to the east and one to the south. Local merchants reported that the ships sailing to the west included the Master of the Fleet, as well as a large quantity of heavy wooden crates.

The Templars were put on immediate alert, and it was believed that couriers left the Azores to bring the word of these events to the masters of the Benedictine, Franciscan and Jesuit orders - all of whom were absent at this time.


T177, Hideyoshi Nisei Shogunate
Residents of Onora are still talking about a duel between the noted swordsman Nitobe Muneyoshi and the famous albino mercenary Alfred of Missouri. "Never have I seen a blade so weilded," said one onlooker, "and a western longsword at that! Who would have suspected such skill in a barbarian?" According to another onlooker, "Muneyoshi could have felt no dishonor to fall in the face of such skill. But if the sword is truly the mirror of the warrior's soul, what does that man's dark blade say about his?"


The Succession
T178 Trans-Asia
In the stillness of her chambers, the Mistress of Perception looked up at the Arbiter.

"Must you you take flight tomorrow?" she asked imploringly.

He gazed back in sorrow, and saw that there were tears on her cheek. He reached out softly to brush them away.

"Conditions will be strong, and the voice of the Assembly was explicit. Nor had they any choice. You listened to my testimony.

"You also heard the Bell."

"But you know what will happen!" she cried. "Only one outcome is possible!"

She reached up to hold his hand.

"Even so," he replied. "Still, have we any choice? This thing must be, unless the shape of the world changes beyond recognition."

"Must you sacrifice yourself to no purpose?"

The one who had been a Surveyor paused, as if gathering his resolve, then stared at her intently. His words, though somber, seemed to hold some special meaning.

"Unless the shape of the world changes beyond recognition."

She returned his gaze. Her eyes widened in horror. She clutched his fingers, glanced down, then shuddered as if she realized what it was she held.

"Love?" she whispered, "Surely you can't mean..."

Gently he disengaged his hand. Then he rose from her couch and walked to the divan. In the soft light of the moon, she felt more than ever that he looked like a fallen god. As she watched, he reached down to pick up the Sigil that appeared atop the pile of clothing they'd discarded with such tenderness such a short time ago. Then he turned around to face her.

"You know what will become of this after I Fall."

"It will pass to your succesor; the one who met you as you returned from the Gateway. The Heirarch of Artifice will become the next Captain."

"Even so. Unless I pass it on myself before I depart."

"But if you take flight without it..."

He looked down at his hands, and grimaced.

"I know. But if I bestow it as I intend, the shape of the world will indeed change."

She stared at him in horror.

"No! You can't! It has never been done before! Nor even imagined!"

In three quick steps, he crossed the chamber and pressed the Sigil into her hand. He spoke the ancient words as it started to fade.

"...of shadows and light," he finished. "There, now it is part of you."

"But... without it... you'll be lost!"

"Love," he replied earnestly, "I was lost already. I was lost when I began the vigil. Before that, I was lost when we came to this place. As the Tower will be lost if we continue as we have. Now I will still be lost, but there's a small chance that the Tower can be saved."

She met his gaze, nodded, then closed her eyes as if in pain.

They embraced wordlessly. For the little time that remained.


T178, Javan Empire
The affairs of state weighed heavily on Wili Hepakur, King of Java, Emperor of the Maori, the Sea Spear. Besides the threats on his borders, aye, on his very life, he also had to confront his late brother's incredible revelation regarding the identity of their prisoner. Could it be true? If it was, how could he turn this to his advantage? Or was it really an advantage at all? Perhaps it would be best to contrive her 'escape', and wash his hands of this matter.

Thus it was that when he fell asleep, that night of the 18th, the mysterious White Tower was far from his mind. Far from his mind, that is, until the dream.

In his dream, he stood at the edge of a cleared field, northeast of Sunda. He recognized this field at once; it was the site of his long-intended Faire. In the real world, that Faire was now jeopardized by this War of Purity that Oceanics were fighting everywhere. But in this dream, the clouds of war were absent and he stood deep in conference with the Royal Architects.

It seemed they wished to direct his attention to a structure, that was enclosed within the walls of a fort that they proposed to build at the edge of the clearing. Seemed, that is, for try as Wili might, he could not make out their words. That this structure was important to them was very clear. The attention they had lavished upon their plans for the structure and the landscaping around it, even the trench in which this small bunker-like redoubt was to be protected from some unimaginable storm, were all testimony to that importance. But what was the purpose of this structure? In his dream, he asked them, but though their lips moved, and they gestured with great animation, he could not hear a word they said.

Then it came to him, as if in a vision. In this dream within a dream, he saw, inscribed on a panel within the building, the sigil that he had come to associate with the legendary White Tower, surrounded by stars. A small group of men, philosophers, perhaps, or scientists, stared at the engraving intently, as if the sigil was some avenue of communication. Wili felt a shock of recognition. Then he awoke covered in sweat.

Wili arose, walked to the window, gazed at the night sky, and considered the implications of his dream. The Faireground was already in progress and the fort, too. The addition of the redoubt would be easy enough to add to the plans. Same, too, for the men to staff it and the maintenance costs. They would be part of the budget for the entire complex. Yes, it would be easy, perhaps best, to keep this aspect of the project a secret and keep that staff under his direct control. But to what end? What was the meaning of his dream, and what could he hope to accomplish? He regarded the stars, but the stars gave no answer.

Meanwhile, in her cell, Tina! dreamt of her father and the lush green gardens of Fusan.

Thus is was that within days of these events, construction began on new additions to the fairegrounds at Merak on the Sunda Strait. At the same time strong fortifications were raised to cover the passage of the strait with great cannon. Many people came to look upon the edifice being raised in the fairegrounds. It glittered in the sun like a beacon.


A Journey
T179
Southeast Asia
Night was upon the Tower.

In the gardens that flanked the Court of Sunset, the Captain stood by a pool of deep azure water. Her robes swirled idly about her long dark legs, tugged here and there by the breeze. The scent of hyacinths and roses was heavy in the air. Long she stared down into the waters of the pool. At last the glittering white marble edging disappeared from her sight, leaving only an infinity of darkness with a quivering, palpable, surface between her and the void. In that abyss, at last, there was motion.

Moonlight was washing over the ebony strands of her hair in long slow waves when the Hierarch of Artifice came upon her. The first pink tendrils of dawn were etching the sky to the east, though in the gardens full night still held sway. He bore a lantern of crystal and brass, wrapped in a garland of white flowers. In this light he found her and stopped in sudden shock. Trembling, his gnarled, scarred hand reached out to touch the side of her neck.

Then he breathed a heavy sigh of relief - she, at least, still lived. Making the sign of blessing, he drew a ladle of water from the pool and trickled only the slightest of drops into her parted lips. After a long moment, the eyes of the Captain opened and looked up to the moon, riding high above.

"We ride the barrier between dreaming and waking," she whispered, so softly that the Hierarch strained even to make out so much. "Always in twilight, fleeing before the dawn, chasing the night."

"It is so," he answered, relieved beyond words that the weight of Captaincy was not yet his.

Her dark eyes turned upon him.

"It is time to wake those who are sleeping."

The words smote the Hierarch like a heavy sledge and he could no longer stand. The metal tiles of the garden floor were cold.


The Arrival
T180
A Desert in Africa
The Captain glanced about the chamber. Once this had been a place of serenity, its walls enriched by carvings and softened by elaborate tapestries, but now, in this time of crisis, it seemed that the serenity had vanished. Where had it gone, she wondered? Had it fled before the stern countenance of her companions, or was it a casualty of something darker: that other Chamber, perhaps, whose existance had never been established, but whose existence she no longer dared to doubt. She sighed and turned to her companions.

"You know why we are here," she began.

The Hierarch nodded, his ancient face haggard.

"Indeed," he replied. "The Succession was irregular, but it is all the more significant for that irregularity. By his terrible sacrifice, your ancestor proved his inspiration, which suggests that your tenure will be crucial. What do you intend?"

The Captain had lowered her gaze during these words, oppressed by the memory of another, happier, time. Now she lifted her head and gestured at the wall behind her.

"Regard the Atlas. It embodies the latest revelations of our Surveyors."

"Indeed," replied the Lieutenant of the Air. "I know it well. None better."

She gestured again.

"Regard the Atlas that preceded it, and the Atlases that preceded that one."

"They are different," answered the Lieutenant, "as we all know."

"And what does this suggest?"

"Mapping is a difficult art," snapped the Lieutenant, his face darkening. "The land is first hidden, then revealed by clouds, and from altitude its features can be hard to ascertain."

"Is this the only explanation? Remember how we came here."

"Surely you can't suggest..." began the Lieutenant. "Surely we have taken adequate measures..." His voice faltered.

"Perhaps those measures were not adequate," said the Heirarch of Artifice, leaning forward in his chair. "Surely we have learned, to our dismay, that the Laws of this place are different from the Laws of the Place we came from?"

The Lieutenant of the Air turned pale.

"But... then..."

"Exactly," answered the Heirarch, a note of resignation in his voice.

Just at that moment, a faint quiver shook the Tower. Above them, muted by distance, they heard the sound of a bell. The Hierarch nodded as if this was something he'd expected. The other occupants of the chamber looked up in surprise.

All, that is, but one.

"It is time," said the Captain, "time accomplish the thing we intended when we arrived."

"And then?" asked a Minister of Translation.

"When it is done, when conditions permit, we will send out Surveyors."

"But surely these are only temporary measures," persisted the Minister. "What happens when the Surveyors return and the Atlas is revised. What happens then?"

"Then?" answered the Captain. "It will be time to end a dream."

She turned to the Custodian. He raised his grizzled white eyebrows in inquiry. Then, as understanding dawned, his expression turned to horror.


T180, Shawnee Empire
It was night in New Rome. In a low tavern in a poor part of town, seven hardened mercenaries conferred in tones of triumph. As was the custom of small crystal.

"You gave him his reward?" asked a man who wore a mask that resembled the head of a pig.

"Surely!" crowed the first. He flourished his pistol, made a meaningful gesture, and the other men laughed. Their laughter was raucous and brutal; more like the grunting of beasts than the laughter of men.

"What does it show?" asked a man at the foot of the table. This man was more slender than the rest, seemingly more refined, and wore a mask in the shape of the elongated head of some fantastic insect, with a second set of jaws that protruded from the first.

"It seems," said the first man in whispers, "that the Tower will move to Africa!"

"Milords," interrupted a voice, "may I join you?"

The mercenaries turned and saw that the gaunt albino had crossed the room to stand next to their table.

"Piss off," said the man in the pig mask, "or you'll bleed your guts out right here on the floor."

"I think I'll stay," answered the albino. "I'd like a look at that trinket your friend is holding."

"It's your funeral, Paleface," grunted the pig, and the seven mercenaries reached for their weapons.

It should have been impossible for the albino to draw his longsword, let alone wield it in the confined space inside the tavern, but the sword seemed to leap into his hand as if it had a life of its own. A moaning noise filled the air: moaning and screams, as the sword drank the lives of the seven beasts.

Or perhaps it drank more than their lives.

"Cold," sighed the last one, the man who wore the lizard head, as the sword sank into his breast, "So cold!" The albino withdrew the sword without a word, sheathed it, and reached down to pluck the crystal from the man's nerveless fingers. He examined it briefly, nodded, then pocketed the shard and strode out into the night.


The Plot
T181
A Desert in Africa
The Captain waited with a small company by the Lower Portal. The tremors had ended and the soul-chilling cries, which had seemed to come, not from the air, but from the fabric of space itself, had faded to a terrible memory. At last the portal opened and a haggard figure emerged. His face was pale, his breath smoked, and his skin was white with frost. Clearly, this time the Manifestation had been one of cold.

"What transpired?" asked the Captain. Her voice, expression, and her very posture itself were an eloquent expression of her concern.

"You were right," answered the Custodian. "Our original Reference was insufficient, and allowed our Definition to drift. I have done what was necessary," he paused, his voice heavy with fatigue. "Once again, they sleep, and now our Definition is stable."

The Captain breathed a sigh of relief. "Then it is finished. Only time can tell what will happen next."

She turned to the Lieutenant of the Air. "Tomorrow, when conditions reach their peak, launch the best of your surveyors. It is time for us to measure the world about us."

Later that evening - much later - two men met in the shadow of a stair, as if by chance. One man was tall, with the expression of one who had watched the skies for a lifetime, but now his gaze was furtive and he glanced over his shoulder. The other man was a haggard, stooped as if by a heavy burden, and his skin still bore the marks of terrible cold.

"It is madness," whispered the first man. "Her plan will destroy everything we've hoped for."

"What can we do?" answered the second man, a note of resignation in his voice, "She carries the Sigil."

The first man lowered his voice.

"Perhaps this condition could be altered."

The second man seemed stricken with horror -- an ominous sign in one to whom horror was a daily occurence.

"You would oppose the Succession?"

A sly expression crossed the first man's face.

"Things have changed. Surely her Succesion was irregular. And remember, between us, we command certain ... Agencies."

"But..."

"Think about it. Take your time. We have plenty of time."

"But..."

"Think about it..."


The Coup
T182
A Desert in Africa
The last Surveyor finished his turn, aligned his craft, and completed his descent. Even as he alighted, acolytes were rushing to help with his harness. He accepted their assistance, made sure that his craft was secure, then descended from the platform.

He was surprised to meet, not the Captain of the Tower, but the Lieutenant of the Air. He was even more surprised at the Lieutenants companion; a haggard furtive figure who bore an air of experience and menace. The Custodian rarely ventured to the upper levels of the Tower.

"Your report," asked the Lieutenant. His voice, while filled with authority, sounded strangely insincere.

"The terrain remains stable," answered the Surveyor, "as it has for the past year. It appears that the Anchors remain secure."

"Indeed," muttered the Custodian. "As well they should be, given the price."

"Was there anything more?" asked the Lieutentant.

"Yes. Approaching from the South..." the Surveyor paused, uncertain.

"What is it?"

"I must ask. Where is the Captain? She should hear this as well."

"There has been... an adjustment... in the Succession."

"What!" cried the Surveyor. "How can this be? Has she relinquished the Sigil?"

"Quite the contrary," answered the Custodian, his voice rich with a dark humor.

"But... then... how?"

"The Sigil is not the only Agency of Power," said the Custodian. "I also control an Agency."

"But then... surely you haven't... how are we to..."

"Proclaim yourself," ordered the Lieutenant. "Are you with us?"

The Surveyor looked, and saw that the acolytes behind him bore arms. One of them looked at him, looked at the Lieutenant, and nodded. He thought franticaly, trying to grasp what this could all mean, understand the implications of the Custodian's actions, and fit them together with what he had seen on his reconnaisance.

"Answer quickly!" ordered the Lieutenant.

"I..." The Surveyor paused, then bowed his head in resignation. "Yes."

The Custodian stared at the Surveyor, as if trying to pierce the veil of his soul. The Surveyor, knowing what the Custodian was capable of, shivered.

"Very well," the Custodian said at last. "He seems sincere."

"You're certain?" asked the Lieutenant.

"As certain as I can be, short of certain measures, the consequences of which you now know."

"Indeed." The Lieutenant nodded to the Surveyor. "You may go."

Later that night, five men met in an abandoned loft.

"He must be mad!" said one.

"Everything has been mad since we came here," said another.

"They were worse than mad, to destroy the Sigil," said the Surveyor. "And with Anchors established! If they only knew what approaches!"

"I do not believe they destroyed either It or Her," said a quiet man.

"Then how?" asked the Surveyor.

"The Custodian has certain powers of Suspension," said the quiet man. "I know, for I was myself once a candidate for that post."

"Suspension? Is there any way it can be reversed?"

"Perhaps, but that would require a certain skill of navigation, which I do not possess."

"The Labyrinth?" asked the Surveyor in horror.

"Yes," answered the quiet man.

"I..." the Surveyor paused, "I will go."

"I will have to accompany you," said the quiet man, a note of resignation in his voice. "But first, tell me. You said that something approaches."

The Surveyor told them what he had seen.

"Then it is even more necessary that I accompany you," said the quiet man, his voice quickening at last. "I do not think that I will return, but even THAT is preferrable to what might happen if we remain here and do nothing."


T182, Empire of Afriqa
The captain of the garrison seemed out of place in the low and grimy tavern. The neatness of his weapons and armour were a stark contrast to his sordid surroundings. He stooped to gingerly touch one of the bodies, then turned to his sergeant.

"They were like this when you found them?"

"They were even colder, Milord, as if whatever took their lives stole the heat from their bodies as well."

"And the assailant?"

"There were some witnesses," the sergeant gestured to the surviving staff, a pair of bedraggled serving-girls who huddled terrified next to the bar. Now that the innkeeper's body had thawed, his blood dripped unnoticed upon their garments.

"They spoke of a ashy-skinned foreigner who carried a black sword."

"Such as made these wounds."

"Yes, Milord."

"And you already had this tavern under observation? Why?"

"Some of its patrons," the sergeant gestured randomly around at the scattered bodies, "were suspected of commerce with an... organization... in the desert to the north."

"An ... organization?"

"Cultists."

"So we have an albino with an infernal black sword who is involved with those of whom we do not speak."

"Yes, Milord."

"And in the far north, we hear of a fatal contagion that turns men's skin white."

"Yes, Milord."

"To the east, across the sea, there is supposed to be an island of monsters lead by a man with a 'countenace of pale bone'?"

"Yes, Milord."

"And finally, we hear tales from the distant east of a scarred student of forbidden knowledge, whose skin is pale and white?"

"Yes, Milord."

"I've had it up to here with supernatural albinos!" growled the captain. "The next supernatural albino ... no, make that any albino ... who sets foot in this city is to be shot on sight!"

EDITORS NOTE: What band of cultists inhabits the desert to the north? And which desert? The Kalahari is north from some parts of Sud Afriqa. Was this just a chance fight or...

Later that night, two bestial figures crawled from the river. They moved up the bank like shadows, their skin a deeper darkness against the blackness of the night. At the walls of the city they halted and flexed their talons.

"Inssside?" hissed one.

"Yesss. We will drink their sssoulsss, and with thossse the depthsss of their wisssdom."

The first one nodded, then paused and lifted its head, its snout widening to scent the fetid air.

"Wait!" he cried, "HE is here! With... IT! I sense it!"

The second one smiled, it's fangs a deeper richer black in the moonlight.

"Ssso! Eric of Mississippi over-reachesss himself. Thisss is our plane, not hisss! Sssoon we will have him, and THAT which he bearsss."

"And then?"

"Of course! What else? The Tower will be ours!"


T182, Emirate of Lybia
The traveller raised a leather-covered hand to shade his pink eyes and watched the distant vessel. It looked like any other ship. If one disregarded the fact that sea over which it sailed was not water, but sand. "So," he mused, "the Ship That Travels Over Land And Sea has a manifestation on this plane; a plane upon which neither of the Lords who covets it holds sway. A fortuitous circumstance, that I might turn to my advantage."

EDITORS NOTE: Elric spies the Papal Emissary Ship while watching the White Tower. It is not clear whether the Ship approached the Tower or was passing by enroute to someplace else.


The Rescue
T183
A Desert in Africa
She felt that she was flying, buffetted by the winds.

"How can this be?" she wondered. "I do not encompass this skill. I am not a Surveyor."

The winds howled, but gave no answer.

She looked at the land below. At first glance it seemed clear, as if it were a symbol, full of details that hinted at some terrible meaning. But when she tried to apprehend that meaning, to focus on those details, they slipped away and all seemed formless and void.

"What is this place?" she asked. "It seems like the inside of a dream, or one of the Shadow Worlds. How did I come here?"

The winds continued to howl, and then she realized that the winds had voices.

They were not winds at all.

"The Custodian!" she cried. "He must have done this! Only he has the understanding to bind and direct these Powers. And if the Custodian, of all our people, has chosen to bind and direct them to this purpose, that must mean ... we are lost!"

She grasped the Sigil, but she knew that this gesture was futile. Whatever its power elsewhere, in this Place, in this terrible Company, the Sigil could not help her.


In another place, the Lieutenant regarded the body of the guard. It lay on the cold metal floor before the Door to the Labyrinth. The guard's weapon lay beside him, undischarged. Above the body, a Form was fading. It was not a Form the Lieutenant recognized, but this was hardly necessary.

The Lieutenant turned to his companion. "The Librarian of the Outer Court?"

"Indeed," answered the Custodian. "He thought to become my Apprentice, long ago, but he was unable to assume the necessary attitude."

The Lieutenant repressed a shudder. "What became of him?"

"He chose a different Vocation: one better suited to his talents. Indeed, he was not untalented. While he could not face certain hard facts, he did learn some basic calligraphy. Not much, perhaps, but more than most minds could encompass. Enough, surely, to overpower a guard, pass through the Door, and perhaps even enough protect him once he was... inside."

"Could he succeed in his purpose?"

"No. I doubt he could even find her. Even if he did, there is no way they could ever find their way back from that place. Still, there is a chance they might do some small damage in the attempt, so perhaps I should follow and destroy him."

The Custodian raised his finger to trace a Glyph. The Lieutenant began to object, then realized it was too late. Already the thin wavering lines were beginning to glow.

"Are you sure this is wise?" he asked. "If he reaches her first, you will have to face the Sigil, and if you are destroyed, there will be no one to wield Custody when the moment arrives."

"The Sigil can not serve them if they don't know where they are, and who is there to tell them?" The Custodian gave a sharp laugh. "I hardly intend to! To learn where they are, they would need some skill in navigation, and neither of them is a Surveyor."


T183, Mali Ax Empire
Three dark beasts crouched in the ruin of the village, feasting on the remains of its defenders. Suddenly, one beast lowered the thighbone on which it was gnawing, lifted its muzzle, and sniffed the cold night air.

"He stopped!" it growled.

Its companions raised their heads.

"Yes," growled another. "He knows we're following him. What should we do?"

"Kill him," snapped the third, their leader, "as we always planned to do."

"But what about... the Sword?" asked the first beast.

"What about it?" replied the leader. "It drains souls, perhaps, but this is hardly a concern... to us." It made a harsh sound that might have been laughter.


T183, Emirate of Lybia
The pale man stood below the crest of a jagged mesa, safe from prying eyes, and regarded his goal. It's outlines were faint and obscure - another man might have seen nothing - but they rose towards the sky like some great tower. Above it, black dots circled as if searching the landscape for a threat.

Such as himself.

He reflected upon his journey. The desert had been terrible, but its passage had not been beyond his skill. Certainly it was nothing compared with the journey he'd endured to come to this world. By the same token, it was unlikely to surpass the skill of the ones he now knew followed him. Could he breach the walls of his goal before they arrived?

This seemed unlikely.

The alternative was conflict. An ambush, perhaps. He reached down reflexively and his long thin fingers brushed the hilt of the sword. It moaned faintly in response.


T183, Empire of Afriqa
The captain of the garrison regarded the ruins of the village with distaste. It had never been a prosperous place - just a mere fishing village on the shores of the Atlantic - and now the bodies of its inhabitants lay scattered about the wreckage of their burnt boats, tattered nets, and pathetic hovels.

"When did this happen?" he asked his sergeant.

"A few days ago, we guess, from the condition of the bodies."

The captain prodded a body with his toe. "This was one of the attackers?"

"We believe so."

The captain bent down, removed the mask, and regarded the face underneath.

"Pale, but at least it isn't another of those damned albinos. It looks like someone from the New World."

"So we believe. Our experts say the Kingdom of Colorado."

The captain examined the elaborately carved mask. "And they all wore helmets like these? Fashioned to resemble the heads of beasts?"

"Yes sir."

The captain threw the mask to the ground.

"I don't like it! First that stupid albino, then those three black beasts, and now this! We will have no more of these supernatural incidents! It reflects badly on our command!"

"Yes sir!"

EDITORS NOTE: The Tower is being pursued by Elric, who is himself being pursued separately by three black beasts and followers of the Lords of Discord.


Reversion
T184
A Desert in Africa
Read the Colorado entry below first, then return to here.

The Lieutenant regarded the Surveyor that stood at ease before him. Something about the man disturbed him. While the summons had been unexpected - another Surveyor had been scheduled to take this flight - his manner did not seem appropriate. The fellow seemed unconcerned, almost distracted.

Well, thought the Lieutenant, Surveyors are a strange lot. They must be, to face the demands of their Vocation. He gestured for the Surveyor to prepare himself. The Surveyor reached for his harness, then froze. A chime sounded in the high vaults of the Chamber of Flight and the man began to fade, leaving only a blurred blue glyph. This blinked mockingly before it too faded from sight.

The Lieutenant stared, astonished. The real Surveyor must have gone, while someone left an Image to hide his absence from the Muster.

The substitution had only been revealed by the change in the flight schedule - for no mere Image, however potent, could perform a Vocation.

Who possessed the skill to fashion an Image? The Custodian did, of course, but the Custodian had no motive for such a subterfuge. Then realization dawned and the Lieutenant's eyes grew wide with horror. There was one other who possessed some knowledge of calligraphy; the Librarian of the Outer Court. They'd dismissed him because he'd sought to plumb the Labyrinth, where he would most surely be lost...

"...unless he had a Surveyor to guide him!"

Though Lieutenant turned and dashed for the stair, but he knew it was already too late. Then the great gong sounded in the Courts of the Morning. His guards, aware that something was terribly amiss, cried out in terror.

They found them in the Hall of Insight. Their bodies still steamed and smoked, as if from some more than mortal chill, and the man seemed stooped from his ordeal, but the woman stood stern and undaunted. She held up her hand at their approach. The Lieutenant halted and bowed his head.

"Captain," he acknowledged.

"Yes."

"Then the Custodian..."

"He is gone. You have failed."

"And the Librarian?"

"He is gone as well. As you should know."

The Lieutenant raised his eyes to meet those of the Captain.

"Then ... how will we face that which approaches?"

"Neither you nor the Custodian had any inkling of what approaches!" the Captain said bitterly. "If you had, you would never have sought to usurp me!"

The Lieutenant gasped. "Have... They ... preceded us to this place?"

"Even worse. We must shift our position now."

"But it would take time ... hours ... to nullify the Anchors!"

"Then we must relinquish them."

"But who will ... whoever does this ... surely he will be destroyed!"

"Indeed. That is why we will need a volunteer. Someone, perhaps, who wishes to atone for some terrible crime."

The Lieutenant bowed his head again, then gathered his resolve. He would discharge this last duty to the best of his ability. Whatever his mistakes, he was still an officer of the Tower.

Later, as the tremors faded and the world beyond the Tower began to waver, the Surveyor stood next to the Captain. He was recovering from his ordeal, but the marks of the Labyrinth would never leave him, and his face, though still young, was lined as if by great age or pain.

"It is done," he said. "I wonder where we will find ourselves."

"There's no way to tell. And we'll have to spend power to remain with the Anchors gone."

"So many have given their lives for this? Is it worth it?"

The Captain turned to face her new Lieutenant. She seemed unmarked by her experiences, but he sensed that she'd endured far more than him. The concept filled him with awe.

"It must be worth it," she whispered. "The alternative ..."

BOOM

The Captain and her new Lieutenant were hurled to the metal tiles of the floor by the shock. All around them the air was filled with a grinding screech as the Tower itself bent and twisted. The air flushed with ozone and, distantly, the gongs in the Courts of Morning and Night rang discordantly.

Stunned by the blow, the Captain rolled over amid a pattering metallic rain of rivets sprung from the wall stanchions. Shielding her head with an unstable and wavering glyph, she lurched to the nearest window. The left side of her face twitched uncontrollably as she looked out upon a rolling sea of sandy brown desolation.

Behind her, the new Lieutenant blanched in fear. His long finger pointed out, into the wasteland. Far away, atop a curling dune, a single dark figure was silhouetted against the vast azure sky. The Captains's fingers dug into the casement of the window, blood seeping from under her nails.

"We have reverted," she whispered. "we have become anchored without Anchors. It is the end."


T184, Kingdom of Colorado
"I will try," muttered the priest, his voice slurred by the effects of strong drink, "but the subject has always been shrouded by mists, and the weapon he carries will make the scrying difficult."

"I did not hire you to 'have difficulties'," snapped the leader of the fighting men, "I hired you to get results. Where is he, and where are our brothers?"

Behind him his followers grunted assent. In the flickering light, the helmets they wore and the crudity of their garb made them seem like beasts.

"If the Church finds out what we're doing!..."

"Your church," replied the fighting man, "will never know."

The priest shuddered and turned towards the mirror. It remained blank, but he stared into its depths as if it held his salvation. Moments passed, then he spoke as in a trance.

"Three dark beasts lie dead upon the sand. Something else was here, something strange, but now it's gone. Your followers approach from the south. To the north, I see..."

"What?"

"Something moves within the mist! It turns! It sees me! It!

No!" The priest stiffened, "Not my soul! Not..."

The priest gave a cry, clutched his heart, and collapsed.

The fighting man regarded the body with disinterest, then turned to his followers.

"It seems this world has much to offer. Our quarry has done our Lords a great favor in leading us to this place. Their harvest will be rich! As for our quarry himself, his days are numbered."

"Lord?" grunted one of the mercenaries. "What of the Power he bears?"

"What of it? Embodied as a sword, it cannot strike at a distance, and he is but a single man. Our brothers are many, and carry guns, which can."


T184, Emirate of Lybia
As he watched, the outline began to fade. Soon it was gone as if it had never been. He nodded. It was as he'd expected when he saw the cable explode. It was certainly a setback, but other approaches were possible. This world was not limitless, and the Ship That Travels Over Land And Sea could plumb its limits with ease. Rumor claimed the Ship had vanished in a flash of light, but he suspected otherwise. Also, even if the Ship was truly gone, he knew how to locate the Shipwrights. He set off northwards, leaving three charred bodies on the sand behind him. A flat booming sound, as if from a great distance, halted him and as he turned something stupendous shimmered in the air in the far distance. His thin lips curled back in a vague resemblance of a smile.


The sergeant delivered his report. His voice was flat, expressionless, and gave no hint of the trepidation he must have felt to be the bearer of such tidings.

"We found three bodies. They were dark-skinned, and did not appear to be human, though it was hard to tell after so many days. They lay next to a pit."

"A pit?"

"Yes, sir. A deep pit, with a mound of sand around it, as if someone had turned the earth with a giant shovel. Inside we found something very strange. It was ... an ornament, about the size of your forearm, fashioned from some black metal chased with silver. It looked... I don't know... almost symbolic, as if it was a symbol of an anchor."

The lieutenant's voice was dry. "And what, pray tell, happened to this... symbol."

"We lost it, sir. On that very night, we were attacked and overwhelmed by a band of brigands wearing helmets shaped like the heads of beasts. Only I escaped to tell thee."


Anchored
T185
A Desert in Africa
The first attack had been driven off without losses. Skyriders and Surveyors slept while Riggers overhauled their craft. A few scars on the outer curtain were the only testimony of a battle whose outcome had never been in doubt. In the Courts of Morning, the mood was bright.

"Let them come," said the new Lieutenant of the Tower. "Their powers are weak in this world and our Captain's strategies are powerful."

"And if the inhabitants of this world learn of our presence and join the attack?" asked a Sergeant.

"Why should they attack us? We are not their enemies; quite the contrary! Even if they did attack, what could they accomplish? Without Power or Talent, they could not even breach the outer wards? And how could they even find us in the middle of this waste?"

Elsewhere in the Tower, the mood was not so positive. On a lower deck, in the chambers that had once belonged to the Custodian, the Captain spoke with the new Leader of the Surveyors.

"What was your opinion of the attack?"

"It was not intended to succeed. They merely wished to learn if we were able to flee. Now that they've established that we can't, the next attack will be stronger."

"And then?"

"We may beat off that attack. I suspect we will. But it will be followed by another, and that by another, until eventually we fall. We have lost so many Powers to misfortune and betrayal. Our only chance is flight, and that is impossible unless we can discover what Anchors us in this place."

"I believe I know," said the Captain. She gestured at a screen.

"I have no knowledge of Calligraphy," said the Surveyor. "What is the import of these Glyphs?"

"It is not the Glyphs themselves that concern me but the manner in which they were inscribed. They appear to involve an exchange of information."

"You mean?"

"Yes. They come from this world."

"How..."

"I'm not certain. Here the information appears as Glyphs, but in the outside world, at the proper station, the information could have been manifested as physical objects. If so, it would seem a cornucopia."

The Surveyor frowned, his fingers running lightly over the rows of glyphs. "Does anyone remain to us that can decipher such unknown glyphs?"

The Captain paused in thought. A slow smile broke through the clouds of her face. "Yes," she said, "my mother is well versed in ancient glyphs and languages."

The Surveyor stared at her in total amazement; "the Cook?!" he sputtered.


The Breach
T186
The third attack had been driven off, but the losses were severe. Twisted fragments of metal and stone littered the Courts of the Morning, where silent Attendants labored to remove a fallen Skyrider from the shattered remnants of his craft. As the Captain watched the Rider stiffened, cried out and was still. The Attendants bowed their heads, then continued on with their work.

The Captain turned to her Lieutenant.

"Your impression?"

"We can resist the next attack, and perhaps the one after that, but then I cannot say. If we remain here, eventually we will fall."

"Then we have no choice. We must consult ..."

"The Cook?"

"Yes," replied the Captain bitterly. "It does not seem that we've had many choices since we came to this world."

They found her near the foundations of the Tower, where everything was twisted and nothing was as it seemed. As always, the Captain gazed in awe at the familiar engines that hid such terrible secrets in their shadows. She reflected upon her mother's title. 'Cook.' How appropriate for one of her calling. Like so much about the Tower, it was so misleading and yet so descriptive.

"Hello, mother." Said the Captain into the humid darkness. In the shadows, something moved and then the gaunt shape of the Cook rose up into sight.

"Hello, dear. Would you like some pie?"

"No, mother, I've already broken fast today. Mother, how are your eyes?"

The Cook smiled, brushing her pale white hair back from her forehead. "I think I can still squint along, dear. It's been a long time since you've come to see me; how is the Captain?"

The Captain's lips tightened. Her mother was not a fool, though sometimes she played at it.

"The Captain that you're thinking of is dead, mother. I am the Captain now."

"Oh, that's nice, dear. Are you sure that you wouldn't like some pie?" The Cook turned on an overhead lantern which spilled a warm yellow glow over the little table set in the corner of the kitchen. The table was set with all the makings of a fine lunch - sandwich meats, fresh bread, condiments, a pitcher of iced tea. Bowls of olives and cut up carrots. The Cook sat down in her customary chair.

Defeated, the Captain sat as well, followed by the Surveyor. When her mother was like this, one had to adhere to the traditions. She began making a ham and cheese sandwitch on the fresh loaf, with lots of mayonnaise and mustard.

After some time, the Cook sighed in satisfaction and shook out her napkin. She glanced at her daughter, who was staring idly at the pots and pans hung from the ceiling. The Surveyor, oblivious, was polishing off a third double-decker sandwitch, mustard and horseradish oozing from the sides around the pickles.

"Something is bothering you, dear. What is it?"

The Captain looked at her at last.

"The Tower is under attack, mother, and we cannot move it. Something is anchoring us here, even though the Anchors have been destroyed. The screens in the Library show unknown glyphs, ones that have been appearing with increasing frequency. I believe that those glyphs correspond to physicalities without the Tower. You, best of all of us that remain, can read the old glyphs and signs."

The Cook pursed her lips. She was growing angry.

"What of the Custodian, or the Librarian? Are they slacking so to refuse to do their duty?"

The Captain put her head in her hands.

"Mother, the Custodian and the Librarian are dead. I had to kill them, or the Labyrinth took them. You are the only one of us left that has those skills. Please help me."

"I certainly shall not!" snarled the Cook, her eyes lighting up. "They denied me the position of Librarian before, when I was the best suited for it! Now they can ..."

A ripping sound in the air cut her off. For an instant the entire Tower trembled, vibrating to some unknown note, then everything around the Captain, the Cook and the Surveyor was gone, leaving them sitting motionless in an abyssal void filled with infinite darkness. Then there was a popping senstation and they were once more in the Kitchen.

Even here in the deeps, the clamorous sound of the gongs in the Courts of Morning and Night were clear. Yet, the Captain did not blanch in full horror from that sound, but rather from the deep booming note that could only have come from the stone drum that sat square in the center of the Court of Noon.

"A thousand hells!" hissed the Cook, "a Breach has opened and a big one at that!"

EDIT0RS NOTE: Princess Abei, her army, and her own black sword (very akin to Elric's) disappear on the Pedestal of the Shrine to the White Tower on a quest to rescue King Wili's daughter Shir'le. Shir'le disappeared upon the same pedestal 2 turns ago - the same turn that the Tower became anchored without Anchors. Could Abei's passage from the Pedestal be the cause of the breach? Or are these events simply co-incidental? I'm inclined to say co-incidental.


Contact
T187
A Desert in Africa
The Captain of the Tower stood in blessed silence on the deck that stood outthrust from the Pinnacle of the Tower. In the shelter of the doorway behind her, the Surveyor squatted, idily fingering a blow-pipe gun. Far below her feet, the Captain could see the milling activity in the Court of Noon. The great stone drum that had been a fixture of the Court for uncounted years lay in shattered pieces; hundreds of the Servants, under the direction of the Cook, were carefully scraping up the rock-dust, pebbles and larger shards of the ancient device. Each particle was carefully placed in cannisters of lead hauled from the storerooms beneath the Kitchen. From the height, they were only ants swarming on a hill of sand. A light wind whistled through the Captains earrings.

"Why have the gongs stopped?," wondered the Surveyor. "The pale man has neither reappeared, nor have the beast-men attacked. One would think that they would come against us again, seeing our great weakness. Everything is quiet."

The Captain seemed not to hear, then turned, her eyes dark with a brooding sadness. Thoughts of her mother lay heavily upon her.

"All these long years, she was eaten by bitterness at being denied what he skills should have won for her ... now that I have ascended to an equal place, she will not have it. She spurns me and mocks the fate that has brought us here." The Captain looked up, brushing the long, raven-dark, hair from her eyes. "Dear Surveyor, we will have to attempt this thing ourselves. Summon my mother to the Library. She, at least, will witness this."

Some time later, a dolefull crowd gathered in the dim recesses of the Library. Upon the polished sheets of glass that were the font of the Librarians art, strange glyphs constantly appeared in hissing amber light, then faded away again. This was the sole illumination in the room. The Captain, clad in the common-seeming robes of the Librarian, stood before the main sheet. It towered above her, a dark green-gold hue, some twelve feet in height, suspended by thin metal cables. Though her heart was cold as ice with fear, and she struggled to keep her hands and knees from shaking, the Captain raised her arms in the first passes of the Invocation of the Reading.

Standing among the few on-lookers; the Surveyor, the watch-captains and the Kitchen Staff Supervisor, the Cook muttered to herself, her fists clenching and unclenching in barely controlled rage. The sight of her daughter standing in the raiments that she once coveted herself was too much for her mind, long tortured and twisted by the maelific powers that prowled and hissed amongst the pots, pans and heavy bread mixing machines. The Captain finished the first set of invocations.

The pane cleared, leaving only a heat-shimmer on the surface of the glass. The Captain drew a breath, then began the first Act.

Flickering, a single amber-gold glyph rose out of the depths of the pane. As its form became clear, the Captain stepped back a little in puzzlement. It was the Anchor glyph. Behind her, in the little crowd, there was an equal hiss of astonishment from the Cook.

"You said that the Anchors had been destroyed!" snarled the Captains' mother, "That sigil indicates that the primary Anchor is in full effect. Idiots! If we would leave this place, you've only to ..."

She stopped in her tirade. A constellation of lesser glyphs had faded into view as well, several hundred in number, arranged in a particular pattern around the main symbol. In their kind and number, the Cook knew them, each one and in full measure. Her face blanched ashen and then a attained a gaunt hollowness. She raised a trembling finger in a ward and a sigil sighed into being in the air before her.

But it was too late. The Captain had continued her Invocation, all unaware of her mother's sudden actions behind her. She intoned the second Act and the air around the pane suddenly thickened into a fluid haze and then, with a mighty rush of wind and the sharp crackle of ozone, there was a presence in the pane, a figure.

A figure that staggered forward out of the rippling glass, smoking with vapors like a captive of the Labyrinth, and fell to the floor at the feet of an astonished Captain.

EDITORS NOTE: The Captain began some kind of incantation - to seal the breach? to read the glyphs? - that provided an opening that Elric took advantage of. An opening that makes it possible for him to come through the pane. The constellation of glyphs seen by the Cook is likely the sum of the Powers embodied in his sword.

Does the Tower survive? What did Elric want from the tower, and did he get it? Did he assist the Tower in its defense, or did he simply loot it and then escape?


Unknown (Departure ?)</br> T197</br> Java & Above The Uttermost Desert

Java (From the Turn 197 Entry)</br> Meanwhile, in the White Tower, asleep on her metal bed, Abei dreamed of home.


Above The Uttermost Desert</br> Clean unbroken white stretched from horizon to horizon, unmarked by man or the creatures of the air or land. Distantly, to the south, where the faint smudge of a mountain range rose out of the plain, there was a trace of cloud. The air itself, cold past measuring, glittered with a preternatural clarity.

“I have never seen the curve of the hemisphere so marked.”

The Captain turned, her mouth turning up a little in the ghost of a smile. Like the man that had climbed up out of the Pylon of Watch, she wore a thick coat lined with soft tan fur and goggles of smoked green glass. Her breath puffed in the air, sparkling as the light from the plain caught it.

“Even here, there is beauty,” she said.

The Surveyor smiled back and rubbed his nose, nodding.

“Even so, Captain. The Cook said to tell you that she is done. All is in readiness.”

The Captain nodded and turned, one last time, to look out upon the plain and the perfect blue bowl of the sky. The Surveyor clattered down the stairs, his boots ringing on the iron steps.

Tucking a loose strand of her long hair back into her hood, the Captain rotated one of the ceramic wheels set into the base of the Window. Even in the extreme cold, the mechanism worked fluidly, sliding the membrane of the window closed, folding in on itself like the wings of a dragonfly. The clear cold light muted and then, as the last, outer, layer slid over the port, there was darkness.

The Captain descended the steps as well, though she walked quietly, letting the feel of the Tower fill her, seeping out of the quiet air.

It is time to go, she thought to herself.

EDITORS NOTE: This appears to mark the end of the Saga of the White Tower, but as with all parts of the story questions remain, What happened to Elric? What happened to the forces that accompanied Abei? And perhaps most importantly will the White Tower return?

The Captains

  • Mistress of Perception 1695-1701 T184-T187
  • The Custodian 1691-1694 T182-T183
  • Mistress of Perception 1685-1690 T179-T181
  • Lead Surveyor 1681-1684 T177-T178
  • Unknown 1673-1680 T173-T176

The Player

  • T173-T191? (1673-1710?) Paul Gazis

Last updated: 7 September 2001 (T199 - 1728)

© 2001 Robert Pierce

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