Subject: [FFML] [Amber] Dog of War
From: "Matthew Miller" <mille2ml@gmail.com>
Date: 2/7/2007, 7:09 PM
To: ffml@anifics.com

The Amber chronicles are the creation of Roger Zelazny, may he rest in
peace. If you haven't read it, you should. Buy the Great Book of
Amber. It is so worth it. This work of fiction is not for profit.

I'm trying to get the original style down. Remember, the Merlin saga
didn't even mention Corwin for fifty odd pages, so this may start a
little odd. Like I said, I'm trying to mimic Zelazny's style.

Dog of War

I was sitting at a table playing cards when something crashed into my
conscious and yanked. I fell backwards, dropping aces, out of my chair
and rolled once before the floor seemed to turn mushy under me and I
was falling. There were lights and colors, strange smells and the
sounds of piping. Something strange was pulling me, keeping my
attention down as I fell. The lights and feelings didn't change, and
there was nothing to compare myself to, but the sensation of movement.
A shape flashed past me, a woman, dark and hard eyed, and the yank
stopped. She was gone in the lights behind as I plummeted into the
light in front.

I hit the ground and rolled. Without standing I looked around, seeing
the large, open plain covered in knee height grass and a scared horse.
The horse's nostrils were foamed, and it reared at me. I had to get up
to leap backwards, and that's when the bullet hit the side of my head,
killing me instantly. It hurt.

The End

Epilogue

I woke up. My arms were bound, there was a burlap bag over my head,
and the air was thick and insufferably hot. Fortunately, my hands were
bound behind me and my clothing had been taken. I started picking at
the small bump in my skin. Soon it came loose and inside the mess was
knife blade, half the length of my finger. I cut myself free.

I was in a coffin. To my left was a furnace door, and a fat, sweaty
man was tossing wood onto it from a pile. The furnace door was
suspiciously wide, and radiated the heat and noise of the blasting
fire. I rolled out of the coffin and stood up behind the fat guy. I
grabbed a piece of wood and hit him with it in the base of the skull.
He dropped.

The fire in front of me roared. Inside was a metal grate, a few feet
wide and long enough to hold a coffin. Through the grate, flames were
leaping and rising, not yet strong enough to incinerate me but
growing. The heat was unbelievable, burning my face and fingers, but
not warming. There was something chilling, terrible about the fire.
Burning to death would probably be the worst way to die. Intense, full
body pain like hell, blinding light, and no place to hide. In spite of
the fire, I froze. Without looking away, I retreated backwards until
my back hit the coffin and then I covered my face. I was staring
forward through my hands, unable to see the burning but knowing it was
there.

My fingers found the hole in my head. Tentatively, I poked at the side
of my skull. I could stick all my fingers in and touch soft, squishy
matter. On the other side of my head was a small, neat hole. I pulled
my hands down and stared at them. Little flecks of gray matter were in
the tips, with the blood and hair.

"This isn't possible," I said aloud. I tried to figure out what was
going on. There was something about a card game, falling, and then
searing pain. But before that, nothing. Not a blank wall but an
emptiness. It was like trying to see beyond my peripheral vision.
There just wasn't anything there.

The guy on the ground groaned. He was trying to roll over. I snapped
back and looked around.

There were half a dozen coffins stacked against the walls, and one on
a table besides mine. Inside was a corpse. His skin was waxy and blue.
I prodded him a few times but his body was stiff and he stayed dead.
There was no one else in the room, which looked like a basement or
cellar.

The guy had managed to roll onto his hands and knees and leveraged
himself upright. He shook his head, trying to clear it, and that
obviously brought a spasm of pain. He winced and looked up, directly
into my eyes.

"You're dead!"

"Yes," I agreed. "I am. And you will be. Who shot me?"

"I saw the hole in your head! I put the bag over you so I wouldn't
have to see it. I'm sure of."

"You mean this hole?" I turned so he could see it again, and he gasped.

"How?"

"Black magic." Probably, I thought. The hell if I knew but I was not
about to give that away. Besides, who argues with black magic? "Who
shot me?"

"There's no such thing as-" He didn't finish because I hit him when he
started arguing about black magic.

"Who shot me?"

"Orpheus!"

"Where am I?"

"Castle Orpheus.

"Why?"

"Orpheus wouldn't believe you were dead until he dragged your body
back and had you burned. He'll be here to witness it when the fire's
hot enough."

"Good plan." I approved. "Now, Orpheus is going to see a body burning
so unless you want to be it, burn that guy now and tell Orpheus it's
me."

The guy was scared, and talking fast and sloppy. His eyes were getting
wider and wider, and I wanted him to calm down before started
screaming. With something to do, he turned and began throwing wood on
the fire without looking at me, working franticly.

I looked myself over. I was naked, probably as a result of being
searched, and there was a good sized hole in my chest that sucked as I
breathed. Someone had been very thorough. I touched the side of my
head, and put my fingers part of my skull should have been. The hole
was still there.

There was a longish robe and boots in the corner of the room that I
put on. The only door was letting in flurries of snow, so no one
should be suspicious if I stayed bundled up. I peaked through the
crack, and saw a tall man with several attendants coming.

"Push him in, now." I ordered. "I'm going to be watching. You breath
one word of this, you mention me, if you imply I'm not in that fire in
any way, I will kill you and then find you in the next world and do
worse."

"Yes." He nodded franticly. The table holding the two coffins was on
wheels, and he rolled it to the door of the furnace. There were
several piles of firewood and a good sized pile of uncured furs. I hid
behind it.

The door swung open and five men came in. The leader had a sword on
his hip and a hunting rifle on his back, while the other four had
swords and pistols. The fireman was just finishing pushing the coffin
in.

"Is that him?" the leader asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Why is he burning already?"

"Because he scared me, sir. There was something unnatural, something
evil about the way he was dead, and I couldn't bear it."

"All dead men are the same." The leader snorted.

"Not that one." There was real fear in him, and the leader, Orpheus I
presumed, noticed it. The fireman's eye's were wide he was twitching
slightly. He was also making eye contact with desperation, scared to
let his eyes wander anywhere about the room.

"Coward," Orpheus muttered. "I didn't think you would ever believe
this childishness."

"Neither did I," the fireman said, truthfully and with feeling.
Orpheus scowled at him.

"We saw the hole in his head, sir," added one of the guards. "I put my
sword through his chest myself. He's dead."

That guy also needed to die. I decided to rush the lot of them. What
was the worst they could do, shoot me again? Stab me? Kill me?

"He was summoned by the witch when she fled." Orpheus replied. "I
don't make any assumptions about witches."

I stopped and settled back down.

"Look, the coffin's coming apart." A different guard pointed into the
fire. I looked in and the fear hit me, knowing it have been me in
there. What if I didn't stay dead for that either? Could I burn and
return, an eternity of fire and pain that even death couldn't stop?
The prospect was too hideous to contemplate, but I couldn't stop
thinking about it. Forever in the fire, forever in the searing, the
agony, the heat and the pain, that was the ultimate fear.

"He's already afire. See, his limbs are burning off." One guard
observed detachedly.

I shut my eyes and forced thoughts of fire out of my head. Orpheus had
four guards. If I was lucky I could drop one before the rest saw me.
The fireman would either run or fight with insane desperation. If he
stayed, that would be five on one, four of them armed and probably
competent. If I lost I would be killed again, and it took me a while
to come back last time. I would be fed to the flames, and that could
not happen.

I was starting to panic again, so I opened my eyes and fixed them on
the leader. He was taller than the others and had a short blond beard
and hair. Somewhere in early middle age, his face was beginning to
wrinkle at the edges of his eyes and mouth. He looked like a hard man,
and the careful way he had tried to assure himself I would stay dead
supported that.

They watched the cremation for a while. The guards were talking among
themselves in low tones. One finally referred to the leader as
"Orpheus, sir" and I locked his name to his face. Orpheus didn't
speak, he just watched the flames. When at last he was convinced I was
gone, he turned and without a word walked out into the night.

"Well done." I stood and walked back to the fireman. He stared at me.
"Now spit and speak the name you were born with."

He had to work his mouth and tongue for a while, since his mouth was
dry. Finally he got enough saliva to let a drop dribble to the floor
and said "Oman."

"Do you swear on your life that is you own, true name?"

"Yes," he whispered.

"Then by your name I can find you. Should you speak of me, I will
know, and I will destroy you. I bond you to your silence, Oman, I bind
you from speaking of me." I said it on a whim, but the words seemed
heavy and potent in the air. He shook violently as I said them, and
then went limp and almost fell over. I turned, swirled the cloak, a
walked outside.

Outside it was biting cold. The snow was about two feet deep in most
places, but there were paths stamped from doorway to doorway. The door
led to a small courtyard. Around were buildings but very few people.
The buildings were backed by a high wall broken with towers and one
deep gatehouse that looked like a tunnel. Nowhere looked more or less
inviting that anyplace else, but one place had no smoke rising from it
and the pathway to it had a light, undisturbed dusting of snow. I went
to the door, pushed it open like I knew what I was doing, and went in.

The room was large, and filled with shovels, plows, and bags of seed.
One wall was hung with disorganized tack and gear. The place smelled
of the earth and cow dung. A short search yielded some horse blankets
and pair of farmer's pants, which I put on.

My head and chest had both started to hurt, so after rubbing some
feeling back into my fingers and toes, I opened the cloak and checked
myself. The blood about my chest wound had frozen to the skin, making
it difficult to breath. I stared at it in shock. While I watched, it
thawed, and I began to drip blood into the floor. Another search
turned up a reasonably clean strip of cloth, so I bound my chest and
wrapped my head in that.

It had felt cold outside but not murderously cold. If it had been cold
enough to freeze blood that quickly, it must be truly frigid. Or my
blood had grown cold. I felt my skin. I didn't feel cold or warm.

So I must be dead. I had a fatal head wound, a fatal chest wound, and
Orpheus, who seemed a thorough individual, was content that I had
gone. I checked my pulse. Nothing. I stopped breathing, and waited.
After a while, nothing happened, and I felt fine. I was dead.

Well, according to Orpheus I had been summoned by a witch. I had no
reason to doubt his honesty, so that meant I was a bad guy. Orpheus
had shot me, and I intended to have violent, painful revenge. There
were no twinges of conscious. Moral and philosophical questions
solved, it was time for business.

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