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Authors: Paul S. Kemp

Shadowrealm

BOOK: Shadowrealm
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Forgotten Realms

The Twilight War, Shadowrealm

By Paul S. Kemp

CHAPTER ONE

1 Nightal, The Year of Lightning Storms

(1374 DR)

For hours I pace the dark halls of the Wayrock's temple. The anxious stomps of my boots on stone are the war drums of my battle with myself. Nothing brings peace to the conflict in my head. Nothing illuminates the darkness, dulls the sharp, violent impulses that stab at the walls of my self-restraint. The Shadowwalkers trail me, as furtive as ghosts. I catch only glimpses of them from time to time but I know they are there. Perhaps Cale asked them to watch over me. Perhaps they have taken that charge upon themselves.

Later, I sit in the dining hall of the temple and eat the food the Shadowwalkers set before me. I wonder, for a moment, how Riven gets food to the island, then wonder why I care.

Eating is mechanical, unfeeling, an exercise in fueling the soulless shell of my body. It brings me no pleasure. Nothing human does, not anymore. The Shadowwalkers see to my needs, my meal, would see to my safety, were it necessary, but say little. They, creatures of darkness themselves, see something in me greater than mere darkness. They see the looming shadow of my father, the black hole of his malice, the dark hint of what I am becoming. I see it in their averted gazes, their quiet words in a language I do not understand. They are not afraid, but they are cautious, seeing in me one past redemption, one whose fall cannot be arrested but whose descent must be controlled lest I pull others down with me.

And perhaps they are correct. I feel myself falling, ever faster, slipping into night.

I consider murdering them, making them martyrs to the cause of being right. They would die, gurgling on blood, but content as they expire in the knowledge that they were correct about me.

"You're right," I say to them, and grin. My fangs poke into my lower lip, draw blood.

Their slanted eyes look puzzled. They speak to one another in their language and the shadows around them swirl in languid arcs.

I need only learn where they sleep, take them unawares, slit throats until I am soaked in blood....

I realize the path my mind has taken, how tightly I am holding my feeding knife. With effort, I put the feet of my thoughts on another path. I bow my head, ashamed at the bloodletting that occurred in my imagination.

My mind moves so seamlessly to evil.

I am afraid.

"I am not a murderer," I whisper to the smooth face of the wooden table, and Nayan and his fellows pretend not to hear the lie.

I am a murderer. I simply have not yet murdered. But I will, given time. The good in me is draining away into the dark hole in my center.

My soul is broken. I am broken.

I am my father's son.

I consider killing myself but lack the will. Hope, for me, has become the hateful tether that keeps me alive. I hope that I can live without doing evil, hope that I can heal before it is too i late. But I fear my hope is delusion, that it is only the evil in me preventing suicide until I am fully given over to darkness, when hope will no longer be relevant.

I feel the Shadowwalkers watching me again. Their gazes stir the cup of my guilt, my self-loathing.

"What are you looking at?" I shout at Nayan, at Vyrhas, at J. the small, dark little men who presume to judge me.

They look away, not out of fear, but out of the human habit of averting the gaze from the dying.

I hate them. I hate myself.

I hate, and little else.

Staring at the walls, at the shadow shrouded men who think me lost, I realize that hope, whether real or illusory, is not reason enough to live. It will not sustain me. Instead I will hold on for another reason—to take revenge for what has been done to me. Rivalen Tanthul and my father, both must be made to pay, to suffer.

For an instant, as with every thought, I wonder which half of me has biithed such a desire. I decide that I do not care. Whether it is a need for justice, vengeance, or simple bloodlust, it is right and I will do it.

I look at my hands—they show more and more red scales every day—and realize I have used my knife to gouge spirals into the wood of the table, lines that circle and circle until they disappear into their own center.

I stab the knife into the spiral, filling it with violence.

Nayan steps across the room in a single stride, emerges from the shadows beside me, puts his hand on my shoulder. His grip is firm, not friendly, and I resist the urge to cut off his fingers. "You are not well," he says.

I scoff, my eyes still on the table. "No. I am not well."

He will get no more from me and knows it. Shadows curl around him, around me. His grip loosens.

"We are here," he says, his eyes on me.

I nod and he moves away, his expression unreadable.

I know his true concern—he fears I may be a danger to Cale and Riven, the Right and Left hands of Mask. He is right to fear, and once more I want to murder him for being right.

I close my eyes, put my thumb and forefinger on the bridge of my nose, try to find a focus, peace from the swirl of thoughts.

I cannot control my mind. It is an animal free of its cage of conscience.

Tears well in my eyes and I wipe at them furiously, hating my weakness.

I feel a faint twinge deep in my consciousness and it sits me up straight in my chair. It is vaguely familiar. The twinge distills to an ache, then an itch. At first I think it must be a false memory, another symptom of my mental deterioration, but it lingers, not strong, but steady.

I recognize it, then, and it sends a charge into me.

It is the mental emanations of the Source. Distant, faint, but undeniable.

The Shadovar have reawakened it.

The familiar hunger comes over me, another empty hole that I need to fill, this one born of addiction. Surrendering to the need seems fitting and I do not fight it. The mental connection opens and I gasp at its feel. My body shudders.

I sigh, satisfied, for a moment at peace. I wonder how the Netherese keep the Source's damaged consciousness functioning without me.

The question frees a flood of memories. I recall the dark-skinned servant creatures of the Shadovar, the krinth, whose minds I broke, whose consciousnesses I altered, whose minds I turned as brittle as crystal. Useful for a time, but fragile. I remember their wails as I pried away the layers of their simple minds, the blood leaking from their ears. I feel shame, but the shame manifests as a giggle.

The Shadowwalkers eye me, concerned at my outburst. The shadows cloaking them do not hide their mistrust.

"What is it?" Nayan asks in his accented common. He looks as if he might attempt to restrain me.

Contact with the Source reawakens my desire to use my mental powers despite the damage done to my mind by my father, despite the jagged edges of my brain that make the use of mind magic like walking on broken glass. I consider scouring Nayan's mind clean, but resist the impulse.

"It is nothing," I say, but it is not nothing.

I no longer care if using the Source consumes me. With its power, I might yet have my revenge. It will kill me, but I would rather die an addict than live as I am.

Wouldn't I?

The need for revenge grants me certitude. I will use the Source's power to make Rivalen Tanthul and my father pay. Then I will die.

Cale, Riven, and Abelar materialized in the darkness on a rise overlooking the Saerbian refugee camp at Lake Veladon. Tents congregated on the shore like fearful penitents. The glow of campfires lit the camp here and there. The reflected light of Selune's Tears made fireflies on the mirror of the lake's dark water.

Thunder rumbled behind them, in the east, heralding a storm. Rain was coming.

Cale's shadesight cut through the darkness and he saw the nearest team of armed and armored watchmen before they saw him. He hailed them and word that Abelar had returned spread like wildfire through the camp.

A few members of Abelar's company met them, armor chinking, smiles in their eyes. Displaced Saerbians followed more slowly, fear in theirs. Most stared at the shadows around Cale, at the hole in Riven's face where his eye should have been, and spoke in hushed whispers.

Cale's shadow-sharpened hearing caught snippets of their conversations.

"Saved Elden Corrinthal, they say, but what is he? Shadovar?"

"Servant not of Lathander but a dark god..." "Leave off, they are friends..."

Regg emerged from the press, his mouth a hard line behind his beard. Battle scars lined the rose of Lathander enameled on his breastplate. His face looked worn, creased with concern. He greeted Abelar with an arm clasp, but greeted Cale and Riven with a nod and an uncertain smile.

"You're well," he said to them all, but with his eyes on Abelar.

Abelar laughed, a single guffaw as coarse as a wood rasp.

Concern wrinkled Regg's brow. "Forrin?"

"Dead," Abelar answered, his voice hollow.

The Saerbians nearby who heard the news raised fists, called Forrin's death deserved. That news, too, would spread quickly.

"Is the war over then, Abelar?" asked a heavyset matron, her graying hair disheveled, her clothing road-stained.

"No, Merdith, it is not." To Regg, Abelar said, "Where is my son?"

"With Jiiris. He fell asleep in your father s arms and we put him in your tent."

Abelar nodded, thanked Regg.

Regg put a hand on Abelar's shoulder. "Whatever happened, Abelar, the Morninglord—"

Abelar shook his head, the gesture as sharp as a blade. "It is night, Regg. No more of Lathander just now."

Regg looked as if Abelar had slapped his face. His arm dropped. Merdith gasped. Some of the other Saerbians nearby overheard Abelar's words, and uncertain, worried mutters moved through the throng.

"Abelar..." Regg began.

"Leave it alone, Regg," Riven said, and the softness in his tone surprised Cale. "Just take him to his son."

Regg's face flashed anger but only for a moment before he beat back whatever words he might have said. He started walking.

"Come. Your father will be pleased to see you, Abelar."

"And I him," Abelar said, and Cale thought his voice sounded like that of a man who had not slept in a tenday. "How fare matters here?"

"As it was when you... left. Watchmen guard the perimeter. Roen and the men lead patrols of the approaches. But we cannot remain here. If Forrin brings an army... I mean, if the army of the overmistress comes...."

"I know."

"Do you?"

Abelar nodded, his eyes focused on some distant point on the water of the lake.

To Cale and Riven, Regg said, "I will see to shelter for you two. Rain is coming."

As if to make his point, thunder shook the sky to the east. Distant lightning lit the clouds. The crowd murmured; some scrambled for the safety of their tents.

Cale shook his head. "Thank you, but unnecessary."

Regg grunted indifference, but Abelar pulled his eyes from the lake, stopped, and faced Cale. "Unnecessary?"

Cale nodded. "We must leave, Abelar. Other matters require our attention. There is... much afoot."

He thought of Kesson Rel, Magadon, his promises to Mask and Mephistopheles. Shadows swirled around him, agitated, dark.

Abelar looked stricken. The circles under his eyes seemed drawn with charcoal. He had left more than Forrin's corpse behind in Fairhaven.

"I have started down a path..." Abelar said. He looked past Cale to the sky, to the storm, as if there were hope there. Finding none, he trailed off.

"I know," Cale said softly.

Regg put a comforting hand on Abelar's shoulder but said nothing.

Abelar inhaled, straightened up. "There is much to be done here. The bulk of the overmistress's army remains in the field and we are too few to face it. These people need to be led to safety, Selgaunt or Daerlun. There is much afoot here, as well, and I would that you stay. Both of you."

The statement touched Cale. He liked Abelar. Jak would have liked him, too.

"I advise against Selgaunt," he said. "The Hulorn has allied with the Shadovar and is not to be trusted."

"Daerlun, then," Regg said.

"You served the Hulorn, yes?" Abelar said.

"I did, but no longer. The Shadovar have great influence over him now. I think you and your people will not be welcome there."

Abelar considered, nodded. "Daerlun, then. But I repeat my request—stay. Help us. Help... me."

In refusing, Cale felt as if he were betraying Abelar, but there was nothing for it. "We will return if we can," he said, and

clasped Abelar's hand. "I mean that. As for the path you are on, turn from it. It can be done."

Riven cleared his throat, shifted on his feet.

Abelat's face clouded and he did not release Cale's hand. "How do you know? Did you?"

The shadows around Cale roiled, crawled up Abelar's arm. The question might as well have been a punch. He shook his head.

"No. But my path is different. We're different."

They stared at each other, one once in service to the light and drifting toward darkness, one in service to shadow and just drifting. Thunder growled.

"Perhaps not as different as you think," Abelar said at last and released him.

Cale could say nothing to that.

"I owe you both much," Abelar said, adopting a formal tone. "Thank you for saving my son. You will always be welcomed by the Corrinthals."

Cale decided that the world dealt harshly with men like Jak and Abelar. It killed them or darkened them, but never left them in the light. The realization made him melancholy. He felt Riven's eye on him but ignored it.

"We should see your son before we go," Riven said.

Surprised, Cale turned and looked a question at Riven. Regg, too, seemed taken aback, to judge from his expression.

Abelar appeared unbothered. "Of course. Come."

A light rain started to fall as the men picked their way through the camp. The Saerbian refugees scurried for shelter. Fires sizzled, danced in the wind, expired.

Cale, Riven, and Regg pulled up their hoods. Abelar did not; he seemed to welcome the downpour. Cale knew why, knew, too, that rain could not wash away some stains.

BOOK: Shadowrealm
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