I started writing this just before I went to university, but didn't really get around to finishing it off until a year after I finished. I've been re-writing it and editing it since then, and at some point it's going to an agent. Here's the first chapter.
Sav woke with the first light of dawn. This was unusual in itself, but since it was still his stag night when he got home, and presumably went to sleep, Sav wasn't expecting to wake up until at least his third alarm clock went off. There also seemed to be something wrong with his bed - or sofa, or chair, or even floor, depending on where the gits he liked to think of as friends had actually dumped him. With a surprisingly clear head, he found himself comparing the surface underneath him to that of the floor in various places in his flat. In most of it, there was nice thick carpet. In a couple of rooms, there was nice shiny lino. Nowhere in his flat, or anywhere in his block of flats, or anywhere in any of his friends' flats, could Sav remember such a hard, splinter-filled, un-sanded wooden surface.
He gave into puzzlement, and opened his eyes to try and find out where he was, thinking he might have been really unlucky last night, and ended up in the cells.
Not the cells. Far worse than the cells. He sat bolt upright in panic and looked around, trying to spot a landmark he recognised. From the look of the place, he doubted very much that he was still in Britain - the scenery and the buildings reminded him of what a village in Romania might look like.
"At last, we though you were going to sleep all day," said a voice behind him.
Sav swung himself round - he realised he had been flat out on some sort of table in a courtyard - and faced the speaker. He was one of a group of about half a dozen tough-looking men wearing cloaks and carrying swords. Sav was just about to start gibbering in panic when he noticed a weathervane in over the man's shoulder. His eyes widened. He turned his head to look at the rising sun. He checked the weathervane again. He passed out.
Sav woke up with the sun in his eyes. His friends had probably dumped him on the sofa with the curtains open. His head ached something rotten. The sofa really was unconfortable. It was no use, he was going to have to get up and take an aspirin, then go to bed, if there was still time before he had to be up to start getting ready to go to church.
"Come on, wakey wakey, sleepyhead. If you stay like that much longer, you'll miss the start."
Sav didn't recognise the voice, but he sat up anyway, dragging his eyes open. "Would you mind getting an aspirin for me?" he asked. And he saw where he was for the second time.
He was on a large wooden table. The table was in a courtyard. The courtyard was in some run-down area of a poorly-built town that didn't seem to have heard of bricks, and had a thing for dirty whitewashed timber-frame buildings. The sun was rising in the west. And we was being addressed by a tough-looking man carrying a sword.
"Naahahhh! Aaaah! Bu' yu... A' the... I..." He tried fainting again, but someone caught him.
"Oh, no you don't, not again," said the man. "We've had enough waiting around already, and everyone's nearly here now, so come on, get yourself together."
The person who had caught Sav helped him to his feet. He looked hard at the man who had been speaking to him - about his height, thick-set, tanned (although weathered might be a better term), brown hair, blue eyes, Roman nose, scarred face, wearing Lincoln Green, with a sword strapped across his back and a dagger in his belt. He smiled and introduced himself. "My name's Garth. Don't worry, you're not the first Tourist who's been struck by nerves just before hs first journey. What's your name?"
Sav's brain latched onto something he thought he recognised. "Er, Sav. Sav Hedges. It's short for Sacheverell. Bit, stupid, isn't it?"
"Doesn't sound too stupid to me," Garth said, proffering his hand, "you should see some of the looks Alycantae gets when she tells them her name." He indicated the person who had caught Sav, and was still supporting him slightly.
Sav turned to see a tall, lightly tanned young woman wearing a yellow tunic belted at the waist, hanging from which was a long slim sword. Her high-cheekboned face and startlingly green eyes gave her a very piercing air, but her disarming smile distracted Sav from it. He grinned, retrieved his hand from Garth, and shook the young woman's. "Alycantae?"
She nodded. "Hi."
"It's not a common sort of name where she comes from," Garth explained.
"No, I can, well, it wouldn't be, would it?" Sav managed, turning back to face him. He decided to be a bit more positive about things. "Look, I don't know if you can help me or not, but I really need to be in Ipswich in a couple of hours, and could really do with knowing where I am so I can make arrangements to get there."
"Sorry, I've never heard of Ipswich. But this is the courtyard of The Burning Antelope, in the city of Gan'ash, and we're all about to embark upon The Dragon's Quest, part one - including you, I'm afraid, so whatever you've got planned in Ipswich is just going to have to wait, I'm afraid."
"Where? The what? It bloody isn't! I'm getting married!"
"Not this time, I'm afraid," came a voice. Garth and Sav turned to look. Just coming in the gates of the courtyard was a man who could pass as Garth's twin, even down to the clothes they wore.
"As I live and breathe, Borymor!" exclaimed Garth, rushing to greet him. "I didn't think to see you on another Tour, not after what happened with The Wizard's Quest!"
"They're hard to give up," shrugged Borymor. "Who's this?"
"Oh sorry," Garth said. "Sav, this is Borymor, a great friend of mine, and an old Companion."
"Hi," Sav managed. Now he could see them next to each other, he could see the differences between them. The newcomer was blond, had a black cloak, wore his sword by his side, and wasn't scarred. Garth had dark hair, his cloak was the same colour as his shirt, and he wore his longer sword across his back. "What did you mean about 'not this time'? Of course I'm getting married! If I can get to the church on time!"
"Not if you're on a Tour, you're not," Garth told him. "Doubtless your bride-to-be will have been informed, and will be thanking her lucky stars that she may have narrowly avoided widowhood."
"Widowhood!? Just what is going on here? No - no forget that. I'm hung-over, I've no idea where I am, but I know where I've got to get to. So, if you'll kindly tell me who put you up to all this, I can walk right out that gate to find a telephone box, call a taxi, and get myself home by the fastest means possible!"
"A what box?"
"Call a what?"
"Oh come on! How backwards is this place? We can't be outside Europe, there wasn't enough time to get anywhere else! If you're not going to help, I can do it myself - I'm going to call a taxi, it can take me to the airport, I'll get the first plane home, and pray Emma doesn't think I've jilted her at the altar."
Neither Borymor nor Garth had moved from out of the gateway. Garth turned to his friend and said, "you know, I think he's been Brought."
"It's been a long time since anyone was Brought," said Borymor. "Not since The Quest of Sand nearly two hundred years ago. That was a Pentology, lasted well over ten years."
"Nein, nein, das kann nicht richtig sein. Es gab eine Bringung vor vierzig Jahren, mit der Suche der Ringe. Sie war einen Tetralogie". Sav turned in time to see Alycantae speaking, a slightly smug expression on her face.
"True," said Garth, obviously in agreement with whatever it was she had said.
"What's true?" asked Sav, turning back round, "what did she just say?"
"Du meinst, dass du noch keinen ▄bersetzerzauber bekommen hast?" Alycantae asked.
"It would appear not," remarked Garth.
"What did she say? What would appear not?" Sav was getting worried and confused (and slightly dizzy with all the turning he was doing). By now, most of the other occupants of the courtyard had gathered round to watch - evidently, Sav's situation was more interesting than what they had been talking about.
"The first time Alycantae spoke," Borymor began, "she reminded us that there was a Bringing forty years ago for The Quest of the Rings, which was a Tetralogy. She then asked, seeing as you couldn't understand her, had you not been the recipient of a translator spell? The answer is obviously 'no'."
Sav boggled at them. "What are you on about?" he demanded.
"You'd better sit down," Garth told him, "this may take some explaining."
"Well, it had better not take long, I'm getting married in a few hours!"
"No, you're not," Garth said. "You see, you've been Brought."
"To here. Never mind where 'here' is in relation to Ipswich," Garth held up his hands to forestall Sav's interruption, "the answer is as meaningless as the question. All that can be said for certain is that you are now here, and you are here for a purpose, and you cannot leave until you have fulfilled that purpose."
"And all I know for certain, is that I'm supposed to be getting married to a gorgeous woman called Emma at eleven o'clock this morning at St. Thomas' church, Ipswich, and either I'm having a mental breakdown, or this is an hallucinatory effect of the stag-night, or still part of it for all I care, but I do know that this isn't part of the schedule I had worked out for my wedding day! Now will someone please tell me what is going on in words of one syllable, in a language I can understand!" he finished in a growl.
"Simple," said a new voice. "You've been Brought."
Sav slammed his head down onto the tabletop in frustration, and instantly regretted it. He sat up and faced the newcomer, hands on his forehead. "Yes, we've established that, but what the Hell does that mean? Have I been kidnapped, or..." he trailed off as he managed to get a clear look at the latest addition to the crowd in the courtyard. She was a young woman dressed all in grey. She couldn't have been older than Emma's 21, and was easily just as beautiful. She had flaming red hair piled on top of her head, with just enough hair and not enough piling for a few strands to fall in front of the second pair of dazzling green eyes Sav had seen that morning.
"Melinda, I don't believe you've met Sav," Garth said, rising. "Sav, this is Mage Melinda of Caysib. Melinda, this is Sav Hedges, a Brought One."
"Who seems to be taking it badly," Borymor added.
"Shall I tell the whole story then?" Melinda asked.
"How long is it going to take?" Sav asked. The sun was noticeably above the horizon by now, and the daylight was beginning to lose its' thin, watery appearance.
"How long it will take no longer matters to you. For your fiancÚ, and for everyone else who knows you, barely a second will pass before you go back - whenever you go back."
"Probably," Melinda admitted, "You really have nothing to worry about, though, time-wise. You'll be back in time for your wedding, that's a certainty."
"Oh, good," Sav muttered, rising, "I'd better get going now, then, hadn't I?"
Borymor pushed him back down. "Sit down!"
"I think I'd better start at the very beginning," Melinda sighed. The people around them got themselves comfortable - recounting How It All Began was always a popular pastime for adventurers, as there were so many versions.
"In the Beginning," Melinda began, "there was the Word..."
"No, it was the Speech," interrupted Garth.
"No it wasn't, it was the Conversation," Broymor contradicted.
"As you can tell, several religions dispute this..."
"Not to mention philosophers."
"Anyway, part of the Speech, or Converstation, or whatever, involved the Tours. Tours are the name given for them in every version, but most people know them better as Quests - usually to find something or somewhere..."
"Or maybe to find some forgotten wisdom. And once you've found this place..."
"Or knowledge!" snapped Melinda, "Then you have to do something with it - usually kill someone, or return the thing or person to their rightful place..."
"Or use whatever it is to Save the World," Garth said. "I've done that twice," he added.
"Even," Melinda continued. "Anyway, the Tours were placed under the control of the Management. It's generally agreed that they contributed to the Speech..."
"... even if they didn't actually take part in it. No one knows exactly who or what did the talking, but the Management were subordinate to them, just as Gods are subordinate to the Management. Virtually everything is subordinate to the Management - they select who Mentors each Quest, how many set out, how many parts it is, what it's for, and so on."
"Generally, the more parts, the more danger," Garth began, but Melinda continued quickly.
"Unologies are rare, and generally mildly cataclysmic..."
"Mildly cataclysmic?" asked Sav.
"Yes, but only over a certain area. Unologies sometimes have a Sequel as well, and that usually just deals with the aftermath and the power vacuum, but Sequels are very rare. The most common are Trilogies - each part has a gentle start, with a more and more cataclysmic ending with each part..."
"Then there are Tetraologies, which are basically Trilogies with a partially unrelated first part, concerned with taking out a major Evil power base, or somesuch, that could be a serious hindrance come the final part."
"And then there are Pentologies, which are the longest, the most dangerous, and usually the most cataclysmic as well."
"You're talking about books," Sav realised. "Series' of books!"
"Yes - they're called Trilogies and so on, because complete written records of each Tour always appear after the conclusion of each part, in book form, in an important library somewhere in Fantasyland."
"Fantasyland? This place is called Fantasyland?"
"Yes. The world is known as Fantasyland, to scholars at any rate, and other people who know that the lights in the sky aren't purely for telling the future by. Anyway - each Tour is obliged to start with a Mentor - sort of like a guide, who knows how everything's supposed to go - but it doesn't have to end with a Mentor. Once on the Quest, you have to find various Quest Objects to complete the Tour, and then kill the mastermind behind all the attempts to stop you..."
"Usually a Dark Lord or Witch King set up specialy by the Management for the occasion," chipped in Garth.
"Quest Objects can be anything," added Borymor, "Jewels, rings, stones, swords, hidden kingdoms, lost temples or valleys, a birthright, even spells."
Melinda silenced the pair with a glare and a small flick of her wrist. Alycantae spoke. "Tourteilnehmer wissen in der Regel, dass Sie Tourteilnehmer sind, wissen aber nie, wer sie begleitet, wer sonst am Ausgangsort anwesend sein wird, ob es Freiwillige gibt, oder ob irgendjemand Geholt wurde."
"What?" asked Sav.
Melinda translated. "Tour Companions usually know who they are a few days beforehand, but never who each other will be, and they don't know who else will be at the Starting Point, whether anyone will volunteer, or whether anyone has been Brought."
"Well, I've been Brought, and you still haven't really explained how or why yet, have you?"
"Bringings are very rare," Melinda told him. "If there is a Bringing, it usually means that the Dark Lord set themselves up, and that they are a very dangerous threat to the continued existence of Fantasyland itself. The Tour isn't just part of normal Management-run Tours, it's a special one that has to succeed. No one really understands how Brought Ones are selected, or how they arrive in time for the important Quests, but nevertheless, it happens."
Garth found his voice and started speaking again. "Don't worry though - we know from previous Brought Ones, that unless you die..."
"Which is rare," Melinda put in.
"... you return home at the end of each part of the Tour, and no time at all has passed in your own world while you've been here."
Borymor also found his voice. "When it's time for the next part of the Tour, you get Brought back to the Starting Point of the next part at the appropriate time."
"The appropriate time!?" Sav yelled. "For me, the appropriate time is two hours before I'm due to be married! Now you tell me that I'm going to be stuck here for months or even years? No way! Get me out of here!"
But no-one could get Sav out of there. They tried to explain and calm him down for the next hour, during which time Sav tried bribery, cajolery, threats, and even hysterical panic, to get someone to send him Home. By the time a disembodied voice echoed around the courtyard, Sav had exhausted all his options and seemed to be quite calm - or at least resigned to the situation.
After an hour or so, a disembodied voice boomed out, "Tourists of the First Dragon's Quest will be seen by Bremen the Adept in the market at once." Sav barely had time to look round to see where the voice was coming from, when everyone in the courtyard was enveloped in a searing white light, and they found themselves at the centre of the town market, with an old man in swirling white robes, long white beard, and a voluminous crimson cloak, standing on a soapbox with green fire dissipating from around his hands.
"Greetings, Tourists," he said in a rolling voice more suited to long speeches about destiny than anything else. "I am Bremen the Adept, " he continued, "and I am your Tour Mentor." He checked a piece of parchment that he pulled from his belt. "Now, there should be thirty-seven of you, including two with magical ability." He did a quick head-count. "There appear to be thirty-nine of you. Who are the volunteers?"
Borymor stepped forward. "I am Borymor, and I'm the only volunteer on this Tour. The thirty-ninth person was Brought." He indicated Sav, who stepped forward.
"Can you get me out of here?"
"Ah, yes, I should have expected something like this at some point," Bremen said, half to himself. "No, I cannot get you out of here, not until you complete your Quest. So the sooner we start, the sooner you can go Home." He extracted another piece of parchment from his belt. "Right, everyone with full equipment stand over there, anyone without it stand over there. Full equipment for this Tour is: Translation spell, cloak, saddle roll or bag, waybread, waterbottles, dagger, sword or other main weapon, boots, clothes, horse. Forget the horse, I'll deal with that. Well, come on, get moving!" Only Sav stood where those without full equipment were to stand. "Only you? Good grief, the Brought Ones these days, I don't know. Alright - we're in the market, go shopping!"
"Alycantae, go with him, he'll need someone who knows what they're on about to help him. Got a Translation spell?"
Bremen shook his head and muttered under his breath and pointed at Sav. "Is that better? Was there anyone you couldn't understand before?"
"Ehm - Alycantae."
"Say something, Alycantae."
"Oh, ha ha. Well go on, get going!"
"Got any money?"
Bremen tossed him a bulging money pouch. "Spend it wisely. Melinda, go with him, you can vet his sword for him. We meet at the west gate in two hours!" And so saying, Bremen got down from his soapbox and marched off.
The first job was to get Sav fitted up with some decent travelling clothes - he was still wearing his jeans and shirt from last night, so he bought a second shirt, a thick green cloak, and a pair of sturdy leather boots to replace his comparatively flimsy shoes. The other equipment he needed was also fairly easy to get. They bought a dagger from a blacksmith last, and Sav was just about to ask about the swords he had on display, when Melinda and Alycantae pulled him away.
"What? I thought I needed a sword?"
"You do need a sword," Alycantae told him, "but not one of those."
"Why not? They looked alright."
"Looking alright and being alright are two different things," Melinda said. "This is the first time you've been on a Tour, so you need all the help you can get."
"And that means a really good sword," Alycantae finished. "Most swords are plain boring swords with no powers or anything, but because Tours are so tough, someone inexperienced needs something that can give them an advantage."
"Do you mean a magic sword?" asked Sav.
"For certain values of magic, yes," replied Melinda. "Once you've got a bit of experience at being a Tourist, you can probably downgrade to a normal sword, but it's best if you start off with a magical sword."
They arrived at a small stall with a Dwarf in charge, and several impressive-looking swords on display behind the counter. There was a well-used testing post to one side.
"How can I help?" asked the stallholder.
"A sword for the gentleman, please."
"Any particular kind?"
"One that kills things," Sav said.
"They all do," replied the Dwarf. "Do you want one with runic re-inforcement, a soul-sword, a feeding-sword, a signal sword, a decorated sword, or a Sytemry blade?"
"What's the difference?"
"He's a Brought One," Alycantae explained, "you'd better take him through them all."
"Right," said the Dwarf. "Okay - a runically re-inforced sword first." He picked up a rather plain broadsword with a runic inscription down the first foot of its' blade. "This is a typical example. Most runes indicate what enemy it was designed to kill best, such as Dragons or Goblins, but some do indicate what sort of magic the blade possesses."
"Although, if you've got an Orc-sword and you're attacked by Humans, it's not much help," Alycantae pointed out.
"And the magic can be despicable enough to actually heal your enemy," Melinda added.
The Dwarf hurriedly put down the sword, and picked up a slightly smaller sword with a dull grey blade. "A soul-sword, like this," he said, "often have souls of their own, but some do contain souls of famous warriors." He raised his voice a little, "all of them tend to be a bit self-opinionated and boisterous, but they do noticeably improve your weapons prowess."
"Unfortunately," Melinda added, "they have a tendency to be bloodthirsty and arrogant, and to override their wielder at inopportune moments."
The Dwarf replaced the sword, and then showed them a shortsword in a metal scabbard. "This is a feeding-sword. It's a blood variety, and it will drain an enemy entirely of blood if you pierce their skin. The other varieties eat lifeforce and souls, and they all tend to get rather possessive of their owners."
"That's because they tend to get hungry quickly, and are only useful in long battles," Alycantae told Sav. "The better fed the sword, the better your swordsmanship, so getting tired in combat is not a problem. However, if it goes long enough without food, it'll start feeding off the onwner."
The Dwarf brought forward another shorsword for their inspection. "A signal sword - basically, whenever enemies are around, it will let you know, by glowing, singing, or maybe by dripping blood, depending on who made it."
"They are very specific about who is an enemy, though. You don't want your sword glowing, screaming or dripping when you're trying to get the King of the Elves to put you up for the night."
"There are a few that turn icy cold," the Dwarf told them, "but they are very rare indeed - and you'd need a glove with them." He returned the shortsword to the rack, and came back with a brightly-polished longsword with a jewel-encrusted hilt. "This is a prime example of a decorated sword," he said. "Not many Tourists like to use them, as they're usually just showy flimsy things. The position and type of jewels give them powers, though, which are usually useful."
"They're not," Melinda snorted. "Most decorated swords come from defeated Dark Lords, and their powers are usually either as defunct as their previous owner, or just as evil and still active. Best to steer clear of them unless you get given one by someone you know."
The Dwarf harrumphed and returned the bejewelled sword to where it came from, then leant on the counter. "That only leave Sytemry blades."
"What are they?"
"Swords made by the famous Sytemry workshops of Meldereth. Highly magical, highly useful. They do four basic varieties - the Starsword, the Spiritsword, the Demonsword, and the Crystalsword. Starswords are made from Starsteel, which is much brighter and sharper than ordinary steel - it never loses its edge, and is so sharp it can cut through literally anything. You have to have a special scabbard to carry them in. Spiritswords are blades of pure lifeforce - also very sharp, and they look just like a bar of brilliant light, which changes colour depending on the mood of the wielder."
"They can be inconvient in battles, where the brightness can dazzle everyone for twenty yards," Alycantae pointed out. "But they're useful in dungeons and caves and at night and so on, for lighting the way."
"Indeed," said the Dwarf. "Demonswords are captured low-level demons that are forced into the shape of a sword blade. They are very sharp, can kill anything, and can provide some magical protection for the wielder. You need to know the name of the demon though, otherwise you might wake up one morning to find it gone, leaving just the hilt."
"Or worse," Melinda added, "it might attack you instead."
Sav shook himself. "Okay, what about Crystalswords?"
"Crystalswords are made to order by Mentors, Mystic Masters, or Elven Kings. They are the only ones who can give them to anyone else safely. They contain the souls or knowledge of a great Mage or Adept, which the wielder can use whenever he needs it. They are hideously difficult to make, especially at the right time, and are extremely rare and valuable. You're lucky if one gets made perhaps every hundred years."
"Exactly. So - what sort of sword can I interest you in?"
Sav went into a huddle with Melinda and Alycantae, and they spent some time discussing the various merits and drawbacks of each type of sword. Eventually, Sav turned, looked straight ahead, and said, "I'd like a Spiritsword please."
"Excellent choice," the Dwarf said, and disappeared into the shadowy recesses of the stall. He came back quickly carrying a long flat wooden box. He placed it on the counter and opened it. Inside was a shortsword in a silver scabbard. He drew it, and Sav was dazzled by the brilliant blue light it gave off. Melinda took it from the Dwarf and examined the hilt closely. She looked at the scabbard, then drew the blade and scrutinised that. Seemingly satisfied, she handed it to Sav to test for balance. It was amazingly light. "Try it out," the Dwarf encouraged.
Sav stepped back, made a few small practice swings, then swung at the testing post at head height. The blade embedded itself past the halfway mark without much effort. He looked at Alycantae and Melinda, who both nodded. He pulled the sword out of the post, turned to the Dwarf and said, "I'll take it."
"Give me one good reason why we should take you in our caravan?" a merchant was asking Bremen, ten minutes later.
"Because I'll fry you alive if you don't!" was the reply.
"No you won't. You're not allowed to use full-scale magic for violent acts. You don't scare me, wizard."
Bremen leaned closer to the man's face. "It won't be full scale, it will just be a minor adjustment of your average body temperature," he hissed. The merchant leaned back.
"Oh all right then! But I don't like taking Tourists, they're far too dangerous!"
"Don't worry, we'll be leaving you at the river Lavog. Where would you like us to ride?"
The merchant groaned - this was another Tour he wouldn't be able to turn away. He suddenly had a flash of his future life, and it wasn't very long. "At the back, well away from me. I've just come from Lispa Imperialis with The Castle Quest, and they were ambushed twice! Now, about money," he said. If he was going to die, it wasn't going to be as a poor mug, but a rich one. "There are forty on the Tour including yourself. Three magic users, so a total of thirty-seven to pay. At five groats per mile per head, fifty miles to the Smealt, another fifty along its far bank, and then another hundred to the Lavog, that makes thrity-seven lots of two hundred times five, a thousand, so that's a total of... 370 ducats. Cash, or do I bill the Management?"
"You don't get a penny. Our Tour is privileged to include someone who has been Brought, and that means we get free passage on all modes of Transport that any Tourist belonging to this Tour uses. Besides, the rate is only one groat per mile per head, so you were nearly 300 ducats out. I shall inform the Management..."
"All right, all right, free passage. We leave in an hour - don't be late or I'll go without you!"
Bremen smiled and turned to face the Tourists, who had been watching the confrontation with grins all over their faces. "The Dragon's Quest Part One will depart in the company of this caravan in one hour. Find yourselves a horse each, and work out a riding order, and get used to several hours in the saddle. We should reach the Smealt midday on the day after tomorrow, so be prepared for two nights in the open air."
© Brian Wakeling.