Read D& D - Greyhawk - Night Watch Online

Authors: Robin Wayne Bailey

Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Fiction

D& D - Greyhawk - Night Watch

BOOK: D& D - Greyhawk - Night Watch
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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With a choked cry, Acton Kathenor sat bolt upright in his bed and stared into the gloom that filled his sleeping chamber. A cold fear-sweat trickled down his face and chest, down his arms and back. The sheets beneath him were soaked. The thin blanket that had covered him was a tangled knot between his old legs. He sucked in a desperate breath, held it too long, and let it go explosively. He squeezed his eyes shut, then snapped them open again.

The dream. He’d had a dream. Already it was fading from his conscious mind. He tried to grasp it, tried to call it back, for he knew somehow that it was important, but it slipped away like a mist, or a shadow, leaving only a reasonless unease.

The old man threw aside the blanket and, grabbing his bedpost to steady himself, rose to his feet. He drew another breath and stood there, waiting for the trembling to leave his limbs. A dim lamp flickered in the drawing room beyond his sleeping chamber. He lurched to the doorway and leaned against the jamb. Dim though the light was, it was grateful relief from the darkness of his bedroom. He drank in the light as if it were water, as if it could quench his fear.

Leaning over the small table where the lamp sat, he stared at the flame, feeling the heat play upon his face. Of a sudden, something moved there, something black and shadowy. A fragment of his dream flashed through his mind again. He snatched at it, but it was already gone.

He backed away from the lamp, one aged hand clutched over his heart. The flame offered no solace now. It seemed dirty somehow, as foul as the darkness of his bedroom. Snatching a thin night robe, Kathenor left his quarters. He eased open the door to the outer hallway, then padded down the empty corridors as quietly as his bare feet could carry him.

An unnatural silence filled the Temple of Boccob. What time of night was it? Acton Kathenor wondered. Surely there should be an acolyte or two awake, even if it was a very late hour, indeed. He encountered no one else, though, as he hurried through the temple’s labyrinthine passages.

Acton Kathenor forced himself to be calm. Why should a dream so upset him, especially a dream he could not remember? Because that, in itself, was an oddity, his inner voice answered. He always remembered his dreams. They were a source of great creative power for him. The smallest details he always remembered. He had trained himself to remember.

A wind blew through a temple crenellation suddenly and wrapped itself about Kathenor. It fluttered his sleeves and crept up under his robe. It followed him through a passage and up a narrow, winding stairway, which was unlit by cresset or torch. It teased the nape of his neck and rumpled the few hairs he had left on his head.

The stairs led to the rooftop of the temple’s highest tower. Thrusting open the door with both hands, Acton Kathenor emerged into the night. The checkered marble tiles were cool and smooth against his feet, though the air was summer warm. He went straight to the low wall that ringed the rooftop, and gazed outward.

The stars burned like diamonds against the rich velvet of the heavens. A slender waxing moon limned the dark silhouettes of Greyhawk’s highest buildings with silver fire. The roofs of the university, imposing in their nobility; the more distant Citadel, way up in the High Quarter, rising like a stern parent over the rest of Greyhawk; the watch-tower atop Duke’s Gate; these sparkled under the generous moon.

The rest of the city, though, belonged to the shadows. It spilled below him in all directions like a black vomit. Not even the wind could mask its stench. Little of the moon’s light penetrated the twisting streets and alleys, and few windows in any dwelling, as far as Kathenor could see, betrayed the fire of any lamp or candle.

Without meaning to, Boccob’s priest shivered again. “Necropolis,” someone had nicknamed this city, and certainly tonight, Acton Kathenor understood why. Something rode the air, some force. He knew it as surely as he knew his name. He had sensed the thing in his dream state, though it eluded his conscious mind.

Some shadow eclipsed the moon, causing him once more to look up. Not a shadow, he discovered to his surprise, but a flock of birds, huge black birds. Their eerie calls reached him faintly, the only sound he heard in the night.

Then, something else snatched his attention away from the birds. From the corner of his left eye he barely caught a streak of light incising its way earthward. For the briefest instant, it flared with a wondrous radiance, but that glory faded and winked completely out before the bolt quite touched the border between heaven and earth.

“A shooting star!” Acton Kathenor whispered, clutching the edge of the wall, though there was no one to overhear. He slammed a bony fist weakly down on the stone, gathered his robe about himself, and left the' rooftop. I might have been the only one in all of Greyhawk to see it, he told himself. Surely it was a sign from divine Boccob to his high priest!

He descended the stairs as quickly as he dared in the dark, running one hand along the wall to steady himself while he gathered the folds of his robe in his other hand to keep from tripping on them. The wind brushed against him again as he reached the bottom stair and passed the open window.

The flames in the lamps and cressets flickered strangely. The corridors swirled and twisted, suddenly unfamiliar. Acton Kathenor groped and stumbled his way along, panic swelling in his breast. He reached the massive doors of the temple’s great hall, where assemblies were held and instruction was given to novitiates. Against tradition, the doors stood half open when they should have been closed tight. On either side of the doors, torches burned in sconces on the walls. Kathenor seized one and pushed the doors wider.

The hall was dark, and he lifted the torch higher, casting a circle of amber light. He moved at its center, hurrying toward the huge roanwood chair on its small dais at the far end of the hall. From there, he delivered his teachings and lectures each morning when the hall was full. He gave the chair only a cursory glance as he passed behind it and parted the colorful arras that hung upon the rearmost wall. A small corridor there led to yet another chamber. He opened its door and stepped inside.

Only he, Acton Kathenor, was ever allowed to come to this room alone. It was his sanctum, his private place of meditation. There was no solace waiting for him here, though, not tonight. Hands trembling, he set his torch in a sconce near the door and moved to the center of the room.

A great brass cauldron stood on an iron tripod base at the chamber’s center. Bands of runes were raised in relief around the cauldron’s belly. They danced in the sputtering torchlight, seeming to move in an unnatural ring-around-

the-rosy. Kathenor caught his breath and covered his mouth with one hand as he watched the arcane choreography. Still, he summoned his courage and bent over the cauldron. There was no seeing down into the huge kettle, however. Its top was covered with a grand, perfectly fitted mirror of rare, polished glass.

Kathenor stared at his own frightened face. Then, another fragment of his dream flashed through his mind as, for an instant, the image darkened and clouded over and something else swirled there. He whirled with a tiny cry, thinking something had followed him here, even to his sanctum, and that it had crept up on him from behind, revealing itself in the Eye of Boccob. But nothing was there.

He couid wait no longer. He had to know what was happening, what force had disturbed his sleep with such a troubling dream. The Eye of Boccob would show him. Boccob was an indifferent god, taking little interest in the affairs of men. Yet, to his high priest he had given this mighty scrying glass. With it, nothing could long escape the notice of Acton Kathenor.

He went to a long, narrow table, which stood along one wall, and took from a drawer several sticks of incense: myrrh for memory, cinnamon for expanding awareness, rose because it was favored by Boccob himself. Kathenor carried these to the torch and ignited them, and sweet smoke quickly began to curl about the room. To each of the cardinal points he went and shook the sticks, mingling their odors as he offered short prayers. That done, he went to the mirror and circled it three times, offering more prayers. Finally, he stood still, turned the sticks upside down, and began to draw circles above the glass, faster and faster, as if he were stirring the images reflected there.

The glass began to cloud once more, and the images spun as if the whole thing had turned to water. A vortex formed at its center, sucking the smoke down into it. Acton Kathenor gave a high-pitched scream and dropped the sticks. They quickly vanished, drawn down into whatever

was forming in his cauldron. The mirror-water turned black and glistened.

From nowhere the sounds of crying birds rose, thousands of birds, and winged shadows beat upon the chamber walls and darted about the room. Kathenor flung up an arm to protect his face, but the things had no substance. Gathering his courage, he bent once more over the cauldron. It belonged to him, after all. He was its master. He had to regain control of it.

He braced his hands on both sides of the cauldron and exerted his will, ignoring the shadow-birds that flew at him and beat intangible wings against his face and filled his ears with their shrill calls. Sweat broke out on his brow as he concentrated, and the trembling that filled him now was from exertion, not fear.

The waters stilled suddenly, and the mirror became a mirror once more. Acton Kathenor gave a gasp and sagged forward a bit. But he had succeeded. He peered into the mirror, and his image smiled wearily back. Then, another image began to form. Yes, the old priest thought with a sigh. Now the scrying glass would show him what he needed to know. He bent closer, full of growing excitement.

Dark wings spread upon the precious, far-seeing glass, and a terrible cry filled Kathenor’s mind. It was his dream; he recognized it now! Yes, this was it.

Only this was not a dream at all.

A pair of red-glowing eyes turned his way, eyes that burned with evil and malicious purpose. Acton Kathenor knew in that instant that he had been lured here, drawn to the mirror itself by a power greater than his own, a force of which he could not conceive.

He gave a choked scream as he felt the creature’s laughter. A web-work of cracks raced over the surface of the mirror. Before Kathenor could move, the Eye of Boccob exploded in a deadly glittering shower.

Garett Starlen woke with a start as his landlady gently shook his bed. Dumbly he stared at her wrinkled old face. Recognition came slowly as the details of the real world settled into place. He looked around the room, then back at his landlady. Gray and white strands of hair rose about her head like wisps of smoke, and the once bright topaz of her eyes had faded to milky blue. There was a hint of worry in her face.

“I called from the doorway,” she said softly, “but you didn’t stir.”

“That’s all right, Almi,” he answered vaguely. He was long past the time when a sudden wake-up could be dangerous for the person disturbing his sleep. He no longer even kept a knife under his pillow, though his sword was close at hand where it leaned against the wall.

“You work too hard, Garett,” Almi continued, shaking her head. She went to the small table that occupied the center of his single room, where she’d placed a tray containing several thick slices of buttered bread and a bowl of dark brown gravy made from beef drippings. There were two apples, also, and a cup of hot broth to drink.

Garett sat up, wrapping his sheet closer around his waist, as she brought the tray to him. The sheet was damp with his sweat, and it reminded him again of the dream that he couldn’t quite recall. He took the tray from her and balanced it on his thighs, lifted one of the slices of bread, and dipped it in the gravy, “ you’re too good to me, Almi,” he said as he brought the bread to his mouth. “Planning to raise my rent?” He chewed off a mouthful. The gravy was delicious, as always.

“Don’t you know?” Almi answered with a shrug as she backed toward the door, “'you already pay twice what I charge my other tenants.” She opened the door and stepped out onto the landing just beyond. The stars shone around her head, and the outline of several darkened buildings framed her. “By the way,” she said, hesitating. “It’s been dark for several hours. Can’t be long before midnight.” She left then, closing the door behind her.

Garett Starlen finished his meal, except for the apples, and set the tray aside. He paused a moment, then wiped the grease from his hands over the black mat of hair on his chest. Rising naked from his bed, he strode stiffly to a trunk on the far side of the room, opened it, and pulled out a pair of finely crafted trousers of black leather and a fresh red sleeveless tunic with a brightly sewn and highly stylized yellow star across the chest and back, which was the uniform of the City Watch. From beside the trunk he took up his boots and stamped his feet into them.

Back by his bed, he lifted the still half-full mug of broth and took a sip. He let go a little sigh of pleasure as the steam curled around his nose, and he put the mug down again. Almi’s cooking was one of the reasons he’d never married, he told himself. He’d never find a woman who could cook like his landlady.

BOOK: D& D - Greyhawk - Night Watch
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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