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Authors: Scott Ciencin

Shadowdale (6 page)

BOOK: Shadowdale
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Most disturbing of all to Cyric, there were hundreds of signs that not all was right in the Realms. And Cyric had witnessed his share of odd events since the night of Arrival.

One night he was summoned to a feasthall named the Gentle Smile, where he was forced to protect a cleric of Lathander who was on his way back to Tantras. The cleric had innocently attempted a spell to purify a rancid piece of meat he had been served, and although the spell had no effect, mass hysteria had broken out amongst the other diners who feared that the cleric had somehow poisoned all the food in the hall with his “unblessed magic.”

One afternoon, at an outdoor marketplace, two magic-users became entangled in an argument that led to a battle in which magic was loosed. By the look of surprise on the faces of both mages, their spells had not acted in the manner that had been expected — one of the magic-users was carried off by an invisible servant, and the other watched helplessly as a blanket of webs fell from the sky, encompassing the length of the market. The strong, sticky strands attached themselves to everyone and everything in sight. Almost all of the merchandise in the marketplace was ruined, and because the webs were highly flammable, Cyric and his fellow guardsmen spent the better part of two days hacking away at the unusually strong webs in an effort to free the innocents who had been trapped.

Cyric broke from his reverie as he rounded a corridor. A young couple started as he surprised them. They fumbled with the key to their room and Cyric passed them by, recognizing the young man as the son of a guardsman who spoke endlessly of the trials his son put him through. The girl with the young man must have been the “harlot” the boy’s father had forbidden him to see.

Cyric pretended he hadn’t recognized the boy, although he had registered the waves of fear that emanated from the young man. Cyric envied their strong feelings. Nothing in his life had stirred his emotions, for better or worse, in quite some time.

Come around, man, Cyric thought. This is the life you’ve chosen.

Or the life fate has chosen for you, he quickly added.

He entered his room by thrusting his weight against the door, causing it to swing open wide and slam against the wall. Someone in another room pounded on the wall in response to the noise.

No one behind the door, else they would have been caught by its flight, Cyric thought as he entered quickly. He kicked the door shut at the same time he rolled onto his bed, prepared to withdraw his short sword, ready to fend off any intruders who might be clinging to the ceiling, preparing to drop down on him.

But there was no one.

He bounded from the bed and kicked in the door to the closet, listening for the shout of surprise that would erupt when an unseen attacker suddenly realized Cyric had rebuilt the door to collapse inward.

And still there was no one.

Cyric contemplated the task of resetting the door and decided it could wait until after dinner. He checked on the weaponry he had secreted in the recesses of the closet; his hand axe, daggers, bow, arrows, and cloak of displacement had not been touched. He checked the hair he had attached to the window frame and saw that it had not been broken. Finally, he relaxed slightly.

Then Cyric noticed the shape, roughly the size of a man, that suddenly appeared outside the window. The window imploded and Cyric flung himself backward, attempting to avoid the flurry of razor-sharp glass fragments that rained into the room.

Cyric heard his assailant drop down into the room before the last of the shattered glass fell. He imagined his opponent only moments before, waiting in the room above Cyric’s, listening for the sounds of the former thief’s arrival. Cyric cursed himself for adopting a routine; it was obvious the assailant must have been watching Cyric for days.

A slight rush of air at his right alerted Cyric to danger as he rose. He moved to the left, barely avoiding a knife thrust to his back. Without turning. Cyric crashed his elbow into the face of his foe, then dove across the bed to the opposite side of the room. His short sword was in his hand before he landed, facing the direction of the shattered window.

There was no one in the room. Through the destroyed window frame, Cyric observed the rope his attacker had used. It swung back and forth like a pendulum, entering the room, then exiting again. Yet the man who had used it was nowhere to be found.

A rush of air again alerted Cyric, and he moved quickly. In the wall beside him he saw a dagger materialize.

Invisibility, Cyric noted calmly. Yet something was wrong. Invisibility only protected its user until he attacked. In this case, his adversary had become invisible as he attacked.

Cyric knew he had very little chance of survival. Still, a grin wider than any he had known in recent times spread across Cyric’s face.

The thief moved quickly, cutting an area before him with his blade at all times, connecting with nothing but air, shifting direction constantly. With his free hand, Cyric picked up stray items in the room and tossed them in random directions, waiting to hear something hit the unseen assassin.

The edge of the bedspread pulled slightly, and a thread from it rose up into the air, seemingly attached to nothing, yet obviously hooked to the clothing of the invisible enemy. Cyric turned his back on his attacker and moved away, then suddenly fell into a crouch.

The attacker’s thrust was high, and Cyric quickly reached up and felt his fingers tighten on a human arm. He rose up and threw the man over his shoulder with ease and heard a knife skitter across the floor, then saw it materialize.

Cyric brought his knee down over his attacker’s throat and slid his blade in beside it.

“Show yourself,” Cyric commanded.

“Have to wait,” a muffled voice said.

“What?”

“Have to wait for the spell to fade. Takes a bit once I’ve stopped attacking. Anything to do with magic works a bit strangely these days, you know. If it works at all.”

Cyric frowned. Despite the fact that the voice was muffled, it had a familiar ring to it.

A moment later, the spell faded and the man was revealed. His face was wrapped in some type of fabric that seemed to have been reinforced by steel mesh, and most of his leathers had been similarly enshrouded. The only other noticeable detail was the blue gemstone that sat in a ring upon his finger. Cyric unwrapped the fabric from the man’s face with his free hand.

“Marek,” Cyric said in a whisper “After all these years.”

Cyric stared into the older man’s eyes and Marek began to laugh — a hearty, good natured roar. “Always the ill-tempered student, Cyric. Even to your mentor.”

Cyric tightened his grip, and Marek looked to the ceiling. “Young fool,” he said hoarsely. “If my intent had been to take your life, your last breath would have been drawn days ago. I merely wished to prove to myself that you still possessed the skills I taught you, that you were yet worthy of my attention.” Marek grimaced. “An old man’s folly, if you will. You might well have killed me in my foolishness.”

“Why should I believe you, the master of lies?”

Marek let out a dispassionate wheeze. “Believe what you like. The Thieves’ Guild wishes you back where you belong, back with your own kind.”

Cyric attempted to hide his reaction, but he could not quell the smile that crossed his lips and betrayed him to Marek.

“You have had these thoughts as well,” Marek said, pleased. “I have observed you, good Cyric. The life you lead isn’t worthy of a dog.”

“It’s a life,” Cyric said.

“Not for one with your gift. You were shown the way, and you elevated it to undreamed-of heights.”

Cyric’s smile broadened. “Once the lies begin it is as a dam bursting, is that it? I was a fair thief. My absence was noticed by few. This is only a point of pride for you. In fact, I would wager the Guild knows nothing of this visit.”

Marek grimaced. “How long can this charade last?”

“That depends,” Cyric said, and pressed the blade tightly against his former mentor’s throat.

Marek looked down at the knife. “Will you kill me, then?”

“What?” Cyric grinned. “And waste the sharp edge of my blade on such as you? Nay, I believe Arabel will have use for your talents. I may even reap a decent commission in the process.”

“I’ll expose you!”

“I’ll be gone,” Cyric said. “And no one will believe you, nor care to find me even if they do. Our kind is rarely in demand once our secrets are out.”

“Others will come,” Marek said. “Sell me into slavery and others will come.”

“Then you would prefer I kill you?”

“Yes.”

“All the more reason not to,” Cyric said and rose up and away from Marek, the game at an end.

“I taught you too well,” Marek said, then stood to face his former student. “The Guild would take you back, Cyric. Even though you didn’t even try to take my ring.” Marek winked. “Stole it from a sorcerer, along with a cache of items I don’t pretend to understand.”

There was a knock at the door. “Yes?” Cyric shouted, taking his eyes from Marek for only a heartbeat. Cyric heard the sound of glass crunching. When he looked back, Marek was nowhere to be seen. Cyric rushed to the window and caught sight of Marek on the street below. The older man seemed to dare Cyric to follow him.

The knock at the door was repeated.

“A summons from Kelemvor and Adon to meet at the Pride of Arabel Inn at your earliest convenience.”

“And your name?”

“Tensyl Durmond, of Iardon’s Hirelings.”

“Hold for but a moment, good Tensyl, and I will have a gold piece for you.”

“Join us,” Marek called from the street. “Else your petty little life among the hard-working will be shattered in a fortnight. I’m not above exposing you to get what I want, Cyric. Remember this.”

“I’ll remember,” Cyric said softly, then turned his back and went to the door. “I always remember.”

Cyric opened the door to the boy, ignoring the gaping expression of surprise on Tensyl’s face as he saw the shattered window and the clear signs of a recent battle in the small room.

 

Convergence

 

Midnight’s head cleared quickly after she left the farm, and she got a ride into Arabel with a small caravan, which was a common sight on the road to the city, even in times of trouble. Still, none of the travelers she met could tell her anything new about the events of the past two weeks, though all had stories of magic gone mad or the unrest in nature. Once the caravan reached the city, Midnight went off in search of her own answers.

She spent the day wandering the streets of Arabel, attempting to verify Brehnan’s tales of the gods and the odd state of magic in the Realms. Midnight knew that she could spend as much time as she wanted in the search for answers, as she still had the handsomely filled purse she had earned with the Company of the Lynx. If she was prudent, the gold would last her at least three months.

Early in her search, Midnight found The Lady’s House, the Temple of Tymora, and paid her admission to look upon the face of the goddess. When her gaze met with Tymora’s, some strange emotion stirred within Midnight, and she suddenly knew, beyond any doubt, that this woman was the goddess-made-flesh. There was a feeling of affinity between them, as if on some primal level they shared a great secret or truth, although Midnight had no idea what this might he. Yet the most disturbing part of the exchange was the look the goddess gave Midnight just before the magic-user took her leave.

A look of fear.

Midnight hurried from the temple and spent the rest of the day exploring the city. She did not find a temple to the goddess Mystra, and when she finally braved a local tavern, her inquiries as to the whereabouts of the Goddess of Magic were met with blank stares or shrugs. It seemed not all of the gods had made spectacular entrances on the night of Arrival, as Tymora certainly had. In fact, some gods had not yet appeared at all.

Eventually, Midnight’s wanderings brought her to the Pride of Arabel Inn, just in time for eveningfeast. She stood on the doorstep and watched a gigantic black raven that circled like a vulture in the semi-darkness. Then she looked away from the creature and went inside. Taking a table near the back, Midnight ordered a tankard of her favorite beer and a hearty meal.

After a time, a small party of adventurers caught her attention, and although they were seated at the other end of the immense taproom, their conversation one of many in the rapidly filling inn, Midnight found her eyes drawn to the burly fighter and his companions again and again. Finally, she left her table and moved to the far end of the bar, where she could hear their words quite clearly.

“The walls live and breathe,” Caitlan Moonsong said. “They say no walls truly have ears? These do!”

“And this is to encourage us?” Adon said.

Kelemvor leaned back, downed his ale, and let out a belch. Adon glared at him. The Pride of Arabel was an expensive inn, and one in which a certain decorum had to be maintained. Visiting noblemen sometimes stayed at the inn if rooms became scarce at the palace, and visiting traders and merchants of only the highest rank could afford the prices at the Pride.

For bringing down the Knightsbridge conspiracy, Kelemvor, Cyric, and Adon had a standing offer to visit the inn whenever they so desired, free of charge. Although they had indulged separately, this was the first time they had visited the inn together.

As the adventurers sat, listening to Caitlan’s story, Adon noticed a pretty serving girl looking over and smiling at him.

The girl seemed familiar, but the cleric couldn’t place her.

“It’s not possible for a fortress to be alive,” Cyric noted.

“This one is! The walls can close in on you. The corridors can shape themselves just out of your sight to put you in a maze in which you’ll starve and die. The dust itself is enough to kill you — it has the power to solidify into daggers that can pierce your heart or a fierce warrior who never knows fatigue or exhaustion.”

Ah, then how did you escape, little one? Cyric wondered, a smile playing across his shadowed features. He sat with his back to the wall, another hard-earned lesson from his days of thieving, and one quite reasonably applied now, considering the battle with Marek had occurred less than an hour earlier.

BOOK: Shadowdale
7.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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