The Spell Sword
by Leigh Kimmel
Andrew Carr, a Terran, is the sole survivor of a mapping expedition that crashed in the high Hellers during a storm, and he does not expect to survive much longer. Much to his astonishment, his bitter thoughts are answered by a vision of a beautiful woman calling herself Callista. This revives him enough that he gets out of the wreckage of the plane moments before it tumbles off the precipice. He then drags himself off to some trees, where he digs a crude shelter in the snow and tends his wounds.
Meanwhile, Damon Ridenow is riding to Armida with an escort of Guardsmen. As he nears the darkened lands, he is overcome with a sense of menace, but cannot identify the source. He explains to his escort that he is coming at the request of his kinswoman Ellemir, who had called for him to hurry. They pause for the night, and while Damon is trying to determine the source of his anxiety, they are ambushed by invisible assailings. Telling himself that he will only be slaughtered if he stands and fights, Damon flees. He soon arrives at Armida, where Ellemir tells him that her twin sister Callista has vanished from her room while visiting Armida, her servants murdered. Ellemir cannot reach Callista telepathically.
Andrew makes his way back to civilization by foot. A snowstorm comes up, and he despairs of surviving until Callista appears to him and directs him to a travel shelter. While he sits out the blizzard for several days, Callista continues to appear to him. They talk, and he becomes fond of her.
Damon is also sitting out the snowstorm, albeit in more comfort at Armida. He has to calm Ellemir, who is nearly frantic with frustration at being unable to search for Callista. They talk about possibilities, and Damon finally decides to search on the overworld. He quickly instructs Ellemir on how to monitor him so he can go out of body safely, then seeks his former mentor, Leonie of Arilinn. She tells him that they also know, and have been unable to locate Callista. After offering him some possibilities, she points him in the direction of a new darkness on the overworld and gives him her blessing. Damon goes in that direction and is blocked. He fights and sees a terrible robed cat-creature. He is despairing of escape when Ellemir touches his starstone and brings him back. He is exhausted and only wants to rest. There is a knock on the door. It is Andrew, dazed and lost, and very astonished to see Ellemir, whom he takes to be Callista.
At first Ellemir refuses to believe Andrew's story, but Damon rebukes her for failing to be hospitable. They then see to getting Andrew some proper clothes and a meal. Over food they talk about the common humanity of Darkovans and Terrans, and the theory of the common origin of many of the Empire's human worlds. They then discuss their situation, pooling every bit of information they have about what has happened to Callista.
The next morning, Damon talks with Ellemir and decides he must train Andrew in the use of his newly-discovered laran. They go to look through Callista's belongings for an unkeyed matrix and end up finding Callista's own starstone still in her bed, left behind when she was kidnapped. Moments later there is a commotion in the courtyard. Dom Estaban, Lord Alton, has been brought back, badly injured after an ambush. His men tell a tale of invisible assailants, who turned out to be cat-men when they were slain. Damon then uses his laran to help close the wound of one of the guards.
Andrew is trying to sort out just what kind of world he's on. Callista comes to him and tells him more, and Damon's arrival makes it painfully plain that she can only reach Andrew. When she breaks the link and leaves, Damon gives Andrew some basic training in the use of laran. They then go on the overworld together to search for Callista. This triggers threshold sickness in Andrew, but Ellemir is able to briefly contact Callista. She apologizes for doubting Andrew.
The next morning, Damon gets the news that Dom Esteban is definitely paralyzed from his wound. They hold a desperate conference on how to rescue Callista, and decide that Andrew must remain behind in Armida, lest he come to harm and thus lose the only link they have to Callista. There still remains the problem of who has sufficient military skill to lead the fight against the cat-men. Esteban recounts a story of a man who used laran to enable his brother to fight in his stead. By Damon's leave, Esteban will use the Alton Gift of forced rapport to guide Damon's sword-arm, so that Damon may fight with the skill of this great swordsman.
The next day Damon and his men ride off, and Andrew watches in frustration. Not long afterward he makes contact with Callista once again. She chides him for jealousy and he comes to realize the impossiblity of hiding one's emotions among telepaths. He will instead have to learn to overcome his jealousy. She then teaches him how to go out of body and visit her on the overworld.
Damon enters the darkening lands and is ambushed by cat-men. Using his laran and the link with Dom Esteban, he is able to fight them off. They then ride through the worst of the blighted land, encountering a few wrecks of human beings that Damon once knew. They then have a confrontation with some Dry-Towners which turns out to be a set-up for an ambush by the cat-men. However, with the combination of Dom Esteban's skill with the sword and Damon's own ability, they prevail and head on toward the Caves of Corresanti.
At Armida, Andrew decides to seek Callista on the overworld. He contacts her as Damon enters the Caves and does battle with the cat-men. In the heat of battle, he wants to be with Callista and protect her so intensely that he teleports there and kills the cat-man who menaces her. Together, they help Damon destroy the Great Cat by taking canine form on the overworld. The battle over, they ride back to Armida while Andrew contemplates what this means for his future.
source file (Last modification: Wed Apr 21 17:21:45 1999)