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Kyrbizmyth, a Hex to the South of the Overdark

A dark road is dangerous anywhere; but here, on the Well World, in a nontech hex whose diurnal creatures literally became comatose after sundown, it was moreso. The atmosphere was as close to average for the Southern Hemisphere as it could get, and, unlike many other places, almost any race could exist here—all easy prey. Internal defenses protected the Kyrbizmythians; one could not even touch them and hope to remain sane and whole. But nothing protected the traveler so foolish as to tread the well-marked but unlighted lanes after sundown.

The Tindler was such a fool. Resembling a giant armadillo with long, clawed hands used for walking and for grasping, he moved down the road, confident that his thick shell could protect him from any inhabitant of a nontech hex. His night vision would alert him well in advance of any traps.

"Help me! Oh, please! Someone! Help me!"

There it was again—a strange, high-pitched voice pierced the darkness. From its sound, it had obviously been processed by a translator. The Tindler, himself a far-traveling trade negotiator, used one. When both speakers wore them the voices sounded slightly more artificial.

"Help me! Please! Somebody! Help!" The mysterious voice pleaded just ahead of him. The Tindler grew wary, automatically suspecting a trap set by brigands reported to be in the area. Worse, he feared someone had somehow inadvertently touched one of the great trees that abutted one another across the whole hex. These were the immobile Kyrbizmythians themselves, who moved by swapping minds with one another and who would absorb the mind of anyone touching them without approval.

Suddenly he saw it, a tiny thing lying in the roadway. The creature was no more than seventy centimeters of bright-red fur tinged with gold. Its bushy foxlike tail was almost as long as its body, and its build was something like that of a small monkey. As the Tindler drew cautiously closer, the creature, a kind he'd never seen before, emitted a low moan; then he saw that one of its hind legs seemed set at an odd angle—almost certainly broken.

The Tindler's bulk made it impossible to conceal his presence; the little creature's head, lying in the roadway, turned and stared at him with beady little eyes from a curious face that resembled an owl's, complete to a tiny beak.

The Tindler stopped, looked around cautiously. Although his night vision was excellent, he could see no other life forms about except those of the hulking, ever-silent tree-creatures. From those he had nothing to fear if he stayed on the road.

Slowly the Tindler rumbled up to the stricken creature. Surely a being of his bulk had nothing to fear from one so tiny and frail.

"What's the matter, friend?" he called, trying to sound as concerned and helpful as possible.

The little creature groaned again. "Brigands, sir! Thieves and scoundrels set upon me a half-hour or so ago, took my pouch and everything, and twisted my leg right out of its socket, as you can see, leaving me to die here alone in the dark!"

The plight of the poor creature touched the Tindler deeply.

"Look, perhaps I can lift you atop my shell," he suggested. "You would be in pain, but it's not far to the Bucht border and a high-tech hospital."

The little creature brightened. "Oh, thank you so much, good sir!" it exclaimed happily. "You have saved my life!"

The two eyes at the end of the Tindler's long, narrow snout lowered to the little thing.

"Tell me," the Tindler asked, not a little nervous himself, "what did the monsters who would do this look like?"

"There were three of them, sir. Two of them were huge—and just about invisible. You couldn't see them until they moved!"

The Tindler thought that a little hard to believe, but so were the Kyrbizmythians. On the Well World, anything was possible somewhere.

"And the third?" the Tindler prompted. "Was it different than the other two? We have a long way to go, remember."

The tiny creature nodded, and tried to raise itself a little. It looked the Tindler straight in the eyes, only a fraction of a centimeter from its round nostrils. "It looked just like me!"

And before the great shelled creature could react, the owl-monkey held a strange-looking pistol in its prehensile left foot. The furry animal pressed the trigger, and an enormous cloud of a yellowish gas gushed out. The movement was too sudden and too close; the Tindler's nostril flaps didn't close in time.

As the Tindler lost consciousness, two huge shapes detached themselves from the landscape where nothing could be seen before and moved toward them.

The last he heard was the little one yelling to somebody, "Hey! Doc! Get ready! This one's got a translator!"


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