Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Cremator’s Tale”
By Steven H Silver
This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Steven H Silver and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by New Epoch Press.
An explosion appeared high above Pargama’s Tower, illuminating the entire city of Espin as if the noon sun had suddenly appeared. Heat from the explosion swept through the narrow, winding streets of the city, accompanied by a strong wind, giving the citizens a brief taste of the summers suffered by distant Karstarkon.
Hoggar, staggering home from Rathskill’s tavern, was blown sideways by the blast and instantly sobered up. He looked at Pargama’s Tower and saw the last remnants of the explosion fade to nothingness. A shower of brilliant stars rained down on the stone tower, leaving small green spots in his vision. He sat down on a rainbarrel and waited for his eyesight to clear.
An explosion at Pargama’s Tower always meant work for him, Espin’s chief cremator. Some idiot apprentice had managed to blow himself up and Hoggar would have to go into the magical building to retrieve the remnants. At least an explosion meant the victim probably hadn’t been turned into a snake or a jeeter, or… something.
While he sat, Hoggar pulled a small bag from his waist and took out a pinch of fine gray powder. He placed it in the hollow formed when he extended his thumb. “Lord Reyjnayak, look after the souls of those who have recently come into your care. We shall all eventually come to dwell at your court beyond Granhouck.”
As he finished speaking the ritual phrase, Hoggar blew the fine dust from his hand, allowing it to scatter and mix with the mud and dirt which coated the city. Although many would only have seen the cremator performing a standard ritual, Hoggar had a lot of fear and respect for Lord Reyjnayak. Hoggar saw Lord Reyjnayak’s work every day as he cremated young and old, rich and poor. The Lord of Death and Fire played no favorites.
Once his vision cleared, he resumed his walk back to his house at the edge of Espin’s largest ash pit. The return of the chill autumnal air sent a shiver through his body. The streets, lit only by irregular torches and light spilling from a few scattered windows, seemed even darker than before. Hoggar looked up in hopes of seeing brilliant Brighouck in the sky, but he knew that Bokmal’s larger moon wouldn’t rise for quite some time. Granhouck, the ghost moon, was somewhere above the horizon, but the moon was so faint that it was hard to see even at the best of times. Still half-blinded by the explosion, Hoggar had no chance to see the dim moon which served as a gate to Lord Reyjnayak’s realm.
The ash pit, home to innumerable remains since Espin was founded, towered over Hoggar’s home. Many of the more superstitious believed the ash pit was haunted by the spirits of the dead, although Hoggar always explained the reason the dead were cremated was so their spirits couldn’t come back to life. The ignorant merely claim spirits could lurk around the crematory trying to find their way back into their no-longer existent bodies.
Ōjín, one of Pargama’s slaves, was standing near the entrance to Hoggar’s house when the cremator arrived. The slave rushed forward to greet the cremator before he could even enter his yard.
`“My master, Pargama the Great, sends greetings to you and wishes you to his tower to come.”
“I saw. Another apprentice has blown himself up. Can’t your master wait until morning?” Hoggar yawned to indicate that he felt it was too late to do any work.
“I was to tell you that this is urgent and Imuhagh’s remains must be collected and back to the ash pit tonight be brought. My master asked me this bag to you give to ensure you come.”
The weight of the bag told Hoggar it was filled with coins. He entered his house and lit the small oil lamp he kept near the door. Copper and bronze gleamed, sparkling with the brighter glint of a few silver coins. The bag contained enough money to cover at least five normal cremations. And the apprentice had already been cremated by the accident which took his life.
Hoggar kept a small bag near the door containing everything he needed for this sort of accident. Pargama’s apprentices were accident-prone enough to make it a good idea. Since Imuhagh had already incinerated himself he wouldn’t have to call any of his corpsehandlers, or share payment with them.
“Imuhagh did cremate himself in the accident?”
“Yes. The explosion was very large. It will be a long time before Pargama’s other apprentices can the experiment room again use.”
Once they left Hoggar’s house, neither man spoke as Ōjín led the way through Espin’s streets. Hoggar’s first view of Pargama’s Tower was when the two men entered into King Desweu Square. The square, in front of the Courts of Justice, was the only place in Espin kept lit throughout the night. Because it was wide-open, well-lit and in front of the courts, Desweu Square, named for the king who founded the courts, was considered to be the safest place in the entire kingdom. It also gave the best view of Pargama’s Tower.
As he always did when he entered Desweu Square, Hoggar stopped to enjoy Pargama’s Tower rising majestically above Espin. In a city where the tallest building was three stories, Pargama’s Tower rose nearly five times that height, its tapering marble walls glistened in the light from Desweu Square. Floating in the blackness above the tower, invisible to all observers, was a small laboratory where Pargama and his apprentices performed their most dangerous experiments. It was in that room that the explosion took place earlier in the evening, far removed from both city and tower.
“My master awaits. We must hurry, before Granhouck its height reaches.” Ōjín pulled on Hoggar’s arm while looking up. Hoggar followed his gaze but couldn’t see any sign of the dim grey moon.
The oaken doors of Pargama’s Tower were twelve feet high. Thin strips of red light criss-crossed the doors, sparkling where they met, forming magical reinforcements. As Ōjín approached the doors, they magically opened and Hoggar found himself inside Pargama’s Tower.
Each time Hoggar came to Pargama’s Tower, the interior changed. This time, the front doors opened into a vast hall, decorated in the style of Queen Fashish. Short chairs were scattered around the room. In the center was an enormous fireplace, open to the four cardinal directions, a huge blaze providing the room’s heat and only illumination. Tapestries in brilliant colors focusing on key moments in Pargama’s life decorated the walls.
The wizard sat calmly in the only normal-sized chair in the room. His back was to the fire and he was using its flickering light to read a scroll. From where Hoggar stood, he could see the wizard’s profile: his famous chin, small nose and bushy eyebrows.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Lord Cremator.”
Hoggar realized that Ōjín had disappeared before Pargama spoke, leaving him alone with the wizard.
“I could hardly refuse your hospitality… or custom.”
Pargama rose from the chair and walked away from Hoggar. As he walked, he spoke softly, expecting Hoggar to follow and hear his words.
“One of my dim-witted apprentices was working in the secluded laboratory this evening. I regret to say he is no longer in this world.”
“He has joined Lord Reyjnayak beyond Granhouck.”
“Yes.” Hoggar could hear the sneer which must have been on Pargama’s face. “Anyway. I have an important experiment which must be performed when Granhouck reaches its zenith and need Imuhagh’s remains collected by then.”
As Pargama spoke, the two men climbed the tower’s stairs, winding in a tight circle around the inner core of the tower. Eventually the two men stood at the heavy metal door at the uppermost reaches of the tower.
“You should have no problem collecting Imuhagh, but if you do, please ring the bell you’ll find on the table inside. Ōjín will come to give you assistance.” Without waiting for a response, Pargama turned and descended the stairway.
Hoggar hated having to pass through the doorway. The magic which would transport him to the laboratory was always disconcerting. He raised his foot and felt his body tingle, each hair on his arms bristled and his stomach felt as if he were falling. When his foot fell on the landing on the other side of the door, the sensations ceased and he found himself within the familiar walls of Pargama’s secluded laboratory.
The walls were charred black. The floor was littered with broken furniture and glass. A few pieces of human bone could be seen around the room, but it was obvious that most of Imuhagh’s body had been burnt to ash. Hoggar dropped his bag onto the floor and reached to his belt for the small bag. Removing some more powder, he began the ritual to Lord Reyjnayak.
Taking out a small brush, Hoggar sprinkled a light frosting of dust from his bag across its edge. Pointing the brush to Lord Reyjnayak’s realm in the sky, he began to chant.
“There is no host like you, Lord Reyjnayak, who welcomes his children back home when they have wandered far enough on this land, separated from their dear parent. I am proud to help your son, Imuhagh, late of Espin, return to your house, where the doors are always open and there is always a warm cup waiting. Please watch over his voyage and ensure he makes his way to your loving arms.”
Hoggar lowered his brush and swept the floor, walls, and ceiling. Eventually, he had a small pile of beige dust that was all that remained of Imuhagh in the center of the room. He looked around and saw a thin coating of grey and black dust which his brush had failed to pick up and smiled. Although he knew he was the best cremator in Espin, it was always nice to be able to look around at a job well done.
“You are leaving quite a bit of dust behind,” Ōjín said. The servant had come in some time during the ritual.
“I’m not a maid. I leave behind the natural dust that settles. My concern is merely the ash which once made up the wizard,” Hoggar replied.
As Hoggar placed a final bone on the pile, he felt a strange lightness in his head. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingertips to his temples, hoping the dizziness would pass.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring down at the pile. To the left of the pile, he saw himself, fingers still pressed to his temples.
Hoggar watched himself walk over to the door and open it. A voice, almost, but not quite the same as his, called, “Master! Could you come up here?”
Within moments, Pargama appeared in the room. From where Hoggar floated, disembodied, he could see the perfectly round patch where Pargama’s head pushed through his hair.
“The experiment was a success?”
Hoggar had never heard the wizard sound so excited.
“I am here. I think we can say it was successful,” responded the voice that wasn’t Hoggar’s.
“We’ll see if it is permanent. I know…”
Pargama’s voice faded as he and Hoggar’s body left the laboratory.
Hoggar tried to follow them, but he couldn’t control his own movements. He simply floated above the center of the room directly above the pile of dust and bones which had once been Imuhagh’s body.
“Lord Reyjnayak! I have been delivered into the hands of your enemies who wish to thwart the ways of the gods and deny themselves your hospitality. Please aid me. If it is truly my time to accept your invitation, I will come to your palace beyond Granhouck, but if my invitation is not yet prepared, please allow me to return to the ash pits of Espin.”
Lord Reyjnayak gave no more indication he heard this heartful prayer than he had for the innumerable other prayers Hoggar had offered in his lifetime.
As the first rays of light began to appear over the horizon, a wind arose off the Neemenlor, raising waves in Espin Bay and jostling the ships against the quays. Hoggar could hear the creaking of the ships from where he hung motionless in Pargama’s Tower. He could see a piece of parchment on one of the work tables flutter with a breeze, as if it were trying to take wing like a bird. Although Hoggar couldn’t feel the wind, the motions of the paper let him know that the wind was growing in strength. At almost the same instant the paper finally blew from the table, Imuhagh’s dust began to swirl and Hoggar sensed that he was moving. The room around him seemed to spin as Imuhagh’s dust rose in a vortex and was carried out the windows of Pargama’s Tower.
Far below him, Hoggar could make out the beggars and merchants claiming their spaces in Desweu Square. At the same time, Hoggar was still in Pargama’s Tower, looking at the charred bones and ash lying on the floor, too heavy to be moved by the wind.
As the ashes and dust to which Hoggar was now tied were scattered by the winds, Hoggar covered all Espin. He felt an amazing sense of freedom, even as he realized he couldn’t control where he was going.
Hoggar found himself looking down on King Kreegull, asleep on his back, his mouth open with a thin line of drool creeping from the corner. Next to the king, Queen Borala was curled on her side, her back to the monarch.
He saw bakers moving around their shops, kneading the dough they would turn into breads to sell. Apprentice smiths stoking their masters’ fires. The ordinary sights and sounds of Espin preparing to greet the day. Sights and sounds Hoggar usually slept through. Eventually, the dust blew beyond the walls of Espin. Farmers yoked their oxen to ploughs, preparing to work their fields.
And all the time, Hoggar remained in Pargama’s Tower looking down at Imuhagh’s bones. He remained in King Kreegull’s bed chambers. He quickly discovered that he couldn’t smell the bread baking, even as he remained in the bakery and was grateful he lacked his sense of smell when some of the dust blew through a dyer’s cottage. Wherever Imuhagh’s remains blew or remained, Hoggar was also.
“Lord Reyjnayak, you’ve allowed me to be scattered by the winds. Bring me, now, to a resting place from where I can return to your blessed company.”
The second day, he spent enjoying the voyeuristic opportunities his new form afforded him. Hoggar learned things about the King and Queen nobody else knew. He learned the secrets of the Tanner Guild. He saw where Lord Kauthil kept his jewels. The entire city and countryside were being fed into his brain and he was somehow managing to see and understand all as if each thing were the only stimulus.
By the fourth day, some of the novelty had worn off. Most of the dust had settled and in those cases his vantage point never changed. Sometimes a gust of wind or the breeze of a passing foot would stir the dust up and Hoggar would find himself with a change in perspective or a new view.
Eventually, Hoggar grew used to his condition and grew to despise the half-life in which he found himself.
The only real constant was Pargama’s Tower. When Ōjín removed Imuhagh’s bones, he left much of the ash in the room. Ōjín also dropped a small bone in the staircase as he left the secluded laboratory, giving Hoggar another point of view that didn’t change.
Hoggar’s body didn’t return to the lab until after the bones had been removed. Hoggar assumed that Imuhagh had been uneasy with the sight of his own remains, certainly as uneasy as Hoggar was at the sight of seeing his own body moving and talking without his presence within the body. When Imuhagh did return, it was with Pargama.
“I feel as if I should be able to access the cremator’s memories. They seem to be just out of my reach. But I can’t. It is almost as if he still retains them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The cremator is dead. Despite what the common people think, the dead are dead. They don’t remain around the ash pits. They don’t go off to the realm of Lord Reyjnayak. I know you believe in Nimok’s writings, but he was wrong about being able to gain memories with the completion of the transference.”
Imuhagh looked uneasy and Hoggar found himself wondering if the expressions which crossed his face were the same as the expressions when he had worn his own body.
“How do you know the dead don’t wait?” Imuhagh pushed Pargama, “You, yourself, said you weren’t really a necromancer and this was your first time experimenting with this type of magic.”
“I may not be a necromancer, but I’ve studied the great necromancers of the past.” Pargama walked to a small bookshelf which was protected by the same type of sorcerous intersections Hoggar had seen on the doors to the tower. He waved them away and removed a scroll from the shelf.
“According to Kajal of Namalantarkin,” Pargama said as he unrolled the scroll, “‘I have determined through carefully conducted experiments that as soon as a soul has left its body it ceases to be.’”
“But master, my soul left my body which had ceased to exist, yet it remained within your tower until another body was provided. Could not Kajal have made a mistake?”
From the way Pargama’s forehead wrinkled, Hoggar could tell that the idea of Kajal making a mistake, had not only never occurred to him, but wasn’t even possible, despite Imuhagh’s evidence.
“We took extremely precise precautions to ensure that your soul would be able to enter the cremator when he collected your remains. Otherwise, you would be with his beloved Reyjnayak and he would be living back near his ash pit.” Pargama slammed his fist down on the table, raising a small cloud of dust.
Part of Hoggar’s world started to spin as the dust cloud swirled in the air above the table. Imuhagh started to cough.
“Perhaps you can have Ōjín dust this place. That cremator didn’t do too good a job,” Imuhagh suggested.
The ash which entered Imuhagh gave Hoggar a unique view of the world. Imuhagh’s, or perhaps Hoggar’s, throat and lungs were dark and Hoggar quickly ignored the darkness the ash was sending to him.
Once again, the days settled into repetitiveness. Hoggar floated and rested in various locations around Espin. If he still had his body, he would have been able to extort a comfortable living with the information he learned, but he was unable to do anything with his knowledge. Increasingly, he found it more and more difficult to forget about the bit of ash which had settled, it seemed permanently, in Imuhagh’s lungs.
Granhouck was full again. Forty-three days had passed since Imuhagh’s death and Hoggar’s loss of his body. Without his eyes, Hoggar was able to track the faint orb better than he ever had when he had actively served Lord Reyjnayak. Hoggar was watching the Granhouck from thousands of vantage points when the Gate to Reyjnayak’s Realm reached its fullest extent.
“Master, I’ve gained some of the cremator’s memories. As a young boy, he had a pet cat. One day, it wandered off into the ash pits and the cremator went looking for it. He fell into a depression in the ash and was almost covered up. His father didn’t find him until the next day. He never did find the cat.”
Imuhagh’s voice was clearer than Hoggar could remember it being since the apprentice’s coughing fit. Imuhagh was so excited that he forgot his normal disdain for any who weren’t wizards.
Focusing his attention on the dust in Imuhagh’s lungs, Hoggar was surprised to discover light and shapes. There was color. He was looking across a long table laden with food. Pargama sat at the far end of the table, looking more regal than King Kreegull when he was leaving his chambers for court. Other apprentices lined the sides of the table, some eating the enormous helpings of food in front of them, others pausing in their meal to follow the conversation between Pargama and Imuhagh.
“Are you sure you have the cremator’s memories? Could you not merely be remembering something you overheard?”
Now the disdain re-entered Imuhagh’s voice. “Why would I care to overhear anything that peasant would have to say. Next you’ll accuse me of talking to your slave.”
“A wonderful idea. Ōjín! I require your services.”
The southerner appeared almost immediately and Hoggar caught the expression of disgust which washed over Imuhagh’s face in a reflection on the apprentice’s goblet.
“Peasants and slaves! Should I prepare to clean out the Espin middens after I finish dinner. Are you not worried that I might abscond with your silver?” Imuhagh asked.
“You call me master,” Pargama responded. “You came to my tower seeking an education in magic. In the years you have been here, have I not taught you that there are tools for every spell. You must not refrain from using those tools simply because they are distasteful.
“Ōjín, you’ve spoken to this cremator on many occasions. I want you to talk to Imuhagh and see if you can determine if he holds the cremator’s memories.”
“Of course, master.”
Ōjín led Imuhagh away from the table and proceeded to quiz Imuhagh about Hoggar’s life. Hoggar was amazed at how much the apprentice knew about his life. He was even more amazed at how much Ōjín knew about him. He had met and spoken to the slave several times, but had never really paid any attention to him as a man. Eventually, Ōjín finished asking Imuhagh questions.
“He’s in there,” the slave stated simply.
As the days passed, Hoggar focused more and more of his attention on Imuhagh. The clarity and ease with which he could sense what the apprentice was doing convinced the cremator that his fate was still linked to his old body.
For his part, Imuhagh was doing research into the necromancers Pargama has discussed and others. Pargama checked on his apprentice occasionally. While Imuhagh had decided he could re-shape his body now that he had access to Hoggar’s memories, Pargama was equally sure that the only way for Imuhagh to fully inhabit the body would be to excise those very memories.
“I don’t condone what you’ve done,” Pargama said to Imuhagh, but as long as you’ve done it, we must learn as much about the process as we can.”
Imuhagh answered, Hoggar’s own voice sounded mocking to his eyes, “What good is having knowledge if we don’t put it to use?”
“Knowledge is often its own reward,” Pargama responded, “And what use is power if it is not guided by a sense of ethics.”
“Practical. You’ve got to be practical, otherwise everything is just a theory,” Imuhagh made Hoggar’s voice say.
One night, nearly ninety days after Imuhagh had stolen Hoggar’s body, the cremator said his nightly prayer. “Lord Reyjnayak, although it appears you have forsaken me, I know it is not the case, for you eventually look upon all creatures of this world, great and small. Take me now into your embrace or let me return to the lands of mortal men, but please, Lord Reyjnayak, release me from this shadow life into which I have been trapped by those who would steal your power and judgment.” On finishing, he focused his attention on his sleeping body. Hoggar’s leg twitched in Imuhagh’s sleep.
The cremator thought about moving his leg again, and the leg moved again, a slight spasm, but enough to make Hoggar feel sure that he had caused the motion. His prayers, perhaps, were being answered. There was a cause for hope.
In the days that followed, Hoggar tried to control his body. He quickly learned that if Imuhagh was awake, there was nothing he could do, not a spasm, an itch, or a twitch. When Imuhagh slept, though, Hoggar could have an effect. At first it was just twitches, but he slowly gained more and more control. The night he made his body roll over he was ecstatic.
Even as he worked to exert physical influence over his body, Hoggar began to think about what he would do once he could move things in the physical world. Gathering as much of Imuhagh’s scattered ashes seemed like it would be a good first step. The spell he used to gather Imuhagh’s ashes into a pile in the first place seemed likely to work. Once that was done…
Progress was slow, but at least now Hoggar had a goal. He continued to work on his control over his body and was pleased on the day that Pargama spoke to Imuhagh at breakfast.
“I’m told you have begun walking in your sleep. Why is this happening?”
“Walking in my sleep? I’ve been having dreams lately about that ashman whose body I live in. Perhaps he walked in his sleep and I’m adopting the habits this flesh is heir to.”
“It is possible. Be careful. I’ll instruct Ōjín to watch out for you as you move around at night.”
It wasn’t much later that Hoggar learned how to use his body at will, although he had to be more subtle when Imuhagh was awake. Furthermore, just as Imuhagh was able to remember things that happened to Hoggar, Hoggar could look into Imuhagh’s memories. This was a link he had with the possessor of his own body that didn’t exist with any of the myriad other bodies with which his dust had come into contact.
Touching Imuhagh’s mind, however, was distasteful for Hoggar. Hatred and condescension filled every crevice, surrounding the magical knowledge Hoggar sought. Delving into Imuhagh’s brain left Hoggar wishing he could scour himself clean. Rather than move Imuhagh’s body around the tower, Hoggar steeled himself and focused on the sleeping apprentice’s brain.
He found himself buffeted by dreams. Imuhagh riding a great wyrm against Pargama and the forces of Espin, destroying the city and his master’s tower. A sense of power surged through the dream and Imuhagh-Hoggar found himself sitting on a throne of amethyst in Karstarkon, holding sway over both the Northlands and the Southlands. While Imuhagh clearly reveled in the power and approbation, it made Hoggar uncomfortable. And experiencing Imuhagh’s desires was doing nothing to successfully bring about his own. Hoggar dug deeper.
Hoggar also experienced the present through Imuhagh’s mind. Hoggar-Imuhagh was in Pargama’s workshop, the great wizard standing in front of him expounding on the importance of Granhouck’s position in the sky. Granhouck had to be at its highest point in the sky before Imuhagh could try to reform Hoggar’s body to look like the one Imuhagh had lost in the explosion.
Hoggar was surprised at how much of Pargama’s explanation he understood. Perhaps part of Imuhagh’s magical knowledge had flowed to Hoggar’s spirit. To alter the Imuhagh’s spell seemed like a relatively simple task, adding a few syllables to the spell, changing some of the motions. As far as he could tell, the most difficult part, once Hoggar could control his old body, would be the retrieving his spirit from the ashes scattered across the land.
The night finally arrived. Imuhagh retired early and Hoggar used his time to sort through Imuhagh’s memories figure out the best course of action. Granhouck would reach its height at the third hour past midnight and Hoggar knew Imuhagh had to cast his spell then and Hoggar would have to incorporate his own changes. If he failed, he would be lost forever.
At midnight, Ōjín entered the room. He knelt beside the bed and struck a small metal tube to awaken Imuhagh. Imuhagh’s arm struck out toward Ōjín, who dodged it with a practiced deftness.
“The master your presence in the tower requires.”
Despite the animosity Hoggar knew Imuhagh felt towards Pargama, the apprentice wizard dragged himself out of bed. When Imuhagh reached the laboratory, Pargama was already there.
“With Granhouck high in the sky, it is time for you to reshape this body into your own form,” the ancient wizard said.
“I look forward to it.” Imuhagh said. “I have for too long had to live in this wretched body and have this peasant’s associates try to talk to me when I go about the city.”
“Three hours more and you’ll be rid of that burden, my apprentice.”
The two men worked together well, setting wards, grinding minerals for their spell, and getting everything ready. Hoggar tried to influence Imuhagh’s movements where he could, and he thought that he caused Imuhagh to misplace some things and once even pick up the wrong mineral.
Sooner than Hoggar would have liked, Pargama said, “All is prepared. Granhouck is almost in position. It is time to begin.”
Imuhagh began the incantation. Even after his strange experiences since Imuhagh stole his body, Hoggar wasn’t expecting the physicality of the spell, the sheer choreography that accompanied the words. When Imuhagh was concentrating on his movements, though, Hoggar found it too difficult to influence what his body did.
Words, however, were a different matter. As Imuhagh concentrated on the complex movements the spell required, he spoke, carefully, but without too much concentration. Hoggar was able to exploit that oversight, dropping in a slurred word here, and occasionally a completely different word. Instead of the paean to destruction Imuhagh intended, it became a prayer to Lord Reyjnayak.
As the incantation came to an end, Hoggar was able to see Pargama’s expression, a strange mix of horror and bemusement. Hoggar ignored it, concentrating instead on having Imuhagh reverse the sequence of their names in the final line of the spell.
There was a brilliant flash of darkness and the next thing he knew, Hoggar was lying on his back, staring at Pargama.
“Who are you?” the wizard asked.
In a dry voice, he croaked out his name. A sudden rush of memories washed over him and Hoggar could feel himself becoming whole.
Pargama broke into a smile.
“Welcome back, Cremator. When I saw that you were exerting some influence on Imuhagh’s actions, I wondered who would win in a contest of wills, the trained wizard or the body’s natural owner. I encouraged him to try to dispel you to learn the results.”
Hoggar knew he should be upset with Pargama, but he was too dazed to feel any spite towards the wizard. Instead he asked, “What happened to Imuhagh?”
“I believe you would say he lives now beyond Granhouck with your god.” Pargama turned his back on Hoggar, “If you haven’t already, I expect that you’ll soon find that your mind is no longer scattered to the four winds. You’ll be yourself again, for it is the nature of things that soul and body yearn to be joined. When you are recovered, though, I’d be very interested in hearing about what you experienced. I would hate for your knowledge to be lost, or for someone else to try this experiment.”
Hoggar carefully raised himself to a sitting position, his head spinning. “Just now, I need to return to the crematory and offer thanks to Lord Reyjnayak for my deliverance. Perhaps I’ll come back to discuss my torment with you, but I would be grateful if Ōjín could see me home.”
Pargama nodded and went to summon Ōjín. As Hoggar’s head stopped spinning, he realized that although he was alone inside his head for the first time since his ordeal began, he still had Imuhagh’s arcane knowledge. He wondered how he could use it to further serve Lord Reyjnayak.
Steven H Silver, an avid reader and reviewer, has spent a great deal of his non-professional life involved with books. Although as a child he had to store books in his dresser, his library now includes bookshelves with a ladder.
In addition to writing stories and poetry (and getting a few of them published), he’s edited three anthologies for DAW Books and two collections of Lester del Rey’s short fiction for NESFA Press. He launched ISFiC Press and spent eight years as the publisher and editor. Steven also publishes the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus.
Author photo by Dave Gallaher.