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Authors: Mel Odom

Under Fallen Stars

BOOK: Under Fallen Stars
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Under Fallen Stars

Mel Odom

 

Forgotten Realms - The Threat from the Sea Trilogy - Book Two

1999

Scanned, formatted and proofed by Dreamcity

Ebook version 1.0

Release Date: December, 10, 2003

Prologue

Seros (The Sea of Fallen Stars)

15 Tarsakh, the Year of the Gauntlet

Flyys raked his webbed hands through the water and kicked out with his finned feet. The young triton knifed through the shallows of the ocean but knew it wasn’t enough to escape his pursuers. Even though he tried not to, he glanced over his shoulder.

The morkoth swam after him. There were six of them now; too many for him to try to fight in the ocean. All of them were vaguely humanoid in shape, with bulbous heads that reminded Flyys of locathah, except for the squidlike beaks that filled their faces. The huge eyes on either side of their heads focused on him, moving independently. The dorsal fins on their backs looked like knife blades on edge.

They each had four arms, two of those arms equipped with thick pincers that identified them as the morkoth warrior class. Six tentacles flared out from their lower bodies, then pushed against the water. They looked deep purple in the light of the shallows, and iridescence flowed over them where the light struck, turning them almost pearl pale. Every now and again, the morkoth pulled the ocean brine through their gills and used it to propel themselves in the same manner as squid.

Flyys knew they could have easily overtaken him but had chosen to wear him down. His only solace was that they were evidently loathe to die capturing him. He knew he couldn’t get away unless Persana chose to favor him. The Guardian of the Deep, creator of the triton people, couldn’t ride with every tide, though. Sometimes those tangled nets Persana cast upon the water required sacrifices be made by his people so that greater works might be wrought. Persana was a master architect, not only of structures, but of fates as well. The young triton’s belief told him this was so.

Glancing desperately at the ocean floor less than twenty feet below, Flyys searched for inspiration. Here in the shallows the morning sunlight gleamed down to the brackish silt below. Colorful fish, their hues given more life by the sun, darted in all directions as he neared them, but all of them avoided the greenish-gray claw coral mounds sprouting from the ocean bed.

The surface dwellers called the claw coral “hydra’s stone” because of the seven collective offshoots that grew from its center. Sharply edged facets covered every inch of those coral fingers and even the slightest touch could open flesh to the bone. A number of the undersea races in Seros used claw coral to make weapons.

Spotting a thick copse of the claw coral ahead, Flyys turned and swam for it. Ahead lay only open water and certain capture before he could ever get out of the shallows and into deeper Seros.

Little more than five feet long, the young triton knew he wouldn’t be a match for the morkoth warriors. One on one he felt confident he could have held his own, but the morkoth didn’t fight that way. Flyys had heard stories that the morkoth in the outer seas lived solitary lives, much different than the morkoth who dwelled in Seros. In the Sea of Fallen Stars, they lived in the Arcanum of Olleth, on the lowest reaches of the Hmur Plateau along western Seros, a community that fought and conquered together.

He grabbed fistfuls of water again, altering his swimming stroke into a finfirst descent in the middle of the claw coral he’d chosen as his impromptu fortress. He drifted down to the soft silt below, carefully avoiding the sides of the claw coral. He nestled quietly into the coral like a hermit crab taking on a new shell, then he waited.

He gazed up, wishing he wasn’t so frightened. A warrior wasn’t supposed to be frightened, but he’d barely made it through his training before he’d been sent on his first mission.

His shoulder-length dark blue hair was tied back in a ponytail to keep it from his brilliant blue eyes. His skin was only a few shades of blue lighter. He was broad across the shoulders from living in the sea, and wore a shell-covered cloth girdle fitted with a belt because he’d been in the shallows, where surface dwellers, uncomfortable with nakedness, might see him. Still, he had appreciated the pockets in the girdle for carrying some small shells he’d found along the way.

Flyys drew the tapal from his belt as the morkoth gathered overhead. The weapon was uniquely triton. Formed of crystal, it was shaped into a curve like a surface dweller’s fishhook. Two handles, set in the middle of the tapal and inside the curved end, allowed usage of either end of the weapon. A trained triton warrior could use the tapal as a long sword, dagger, or spear by spinning it around in his hands.

“Give up, longmane,” one of the morkoth advised, “and your death will be mercifully swift.”

Wishing he had a gallant reply readily on his lips, Flyys lifted the tapal in defiance. Sunlight caught the wide, curved end. “I know not to trust the word of kraknyth.” Kraken were mortal enemies of the triton, and the triton considered morkoth to be kraken-kin.

The morkoth undulated in the water, their tentacles splaying out and curling reflexively in the currents. They carried spears, but Flyys knew it was the savage beaks and pincers he most had to fear. Sunlight gleamed over their bodies, creating hypnotic patterns on their purple skin.

“We’ll have more time with you than we did with your fellow spies, longmane,” the morkoth warned.

The death screams of the three tritons who had taken him with them echoed in the young triton’s ears. They’d been discovered aboard a pirate ship near Dragonisle in the early hours of that morning. Junnas had immediately thrown Flyys overboard, instructing him to swim to Pumanath as quickly as possible and tell the nobles what they’d learned. Junnas and the others had stayed behind to die.

Flyys stared into the creature’s eyes, having to switch focus often as it turned its head from side to side to view him. The morkoth drifted down closer. The claw coral extended beyond the young triton’s reach even with the tapal.

“We can take time with your death,” the morkoth promised, its gaze drawing him in.

The promise sent a chill down the young triton’s back. Flyys remembered the stories he’d been told even as a child about the morkoth, about the ways they’d learned to rip flesh from their prisoners with their beaks and pincers, bringing death while extending the agony. They knew how an enemy’s body was put together, and how best to take it apart.

“You’ve allied yourselves with the Taker,” Flyys accused, glaring up at the morkoth. “According to the legends of Seros, there won’t be much time for anyone if he makes his way here.”

“He’s coming,” the morkoth said, shifting in the current again, “but the legends also say that the Taker will offer death only to those who stand against him. We shall stand with him.”

“The legends say he will bring nothing but death and destruction to Seros.” Flyys knew the legends, though he didn’t much believe in them. Even though he’d been sent to investigate the morkoth interest in the Taker, the tritons had their own agenda. Persana had given them the task of watching over the great evil that slept at the bottom of Seros.

“Wrong,” the morkoth said. “The Taker comes to reshape the destinies of everyone in and around Seros.” The head continued turning from side to side, more slowly now.

Flyys felt himself going limp. He chose to go with it, knowing it might be his only chance. A warm lassitude crept through his limbs, relaxing his muscles. He kept his gaze locked on the morkoth.

“Your best choice is acceptance,” the creature crooned. Its voice held a muted cadence that beckoned to the young triton.

Flyys relaxed his arms, letting the currents gliding between the edged fingers of the claw coral pull at him. The morkoth came closer. A tingle raced through the triton’s legs, then they turned numb. Fear made his heart hammer inside his chest as he continued to take bis chance against its hypnotic powers.

Swimming effortlessly, the morkoth descended till it could touch him. The creature slid its heavy pincer against the side of Flyys’s face. He felt the hard chitin graze his cheek with almost enough force to break his skin. Still, it wasn’t close enough. He stared into first one bulbous eye, then the other as the morkoth dropped down and seemed almost to embrace him.

Moving lithely, with all the skill he’d had the chance to acquire in his handful of years, Flyys gripped the tapal’s center handle and spun the weapon around so that it lay along his arm. Before the morkoth could move, confident that it had him in its thrall, the young triton raised his hands with the keen blade wrapped around the outside of his arm.

Flyys punched forward with all his strength. He felt the tapal’s blade bite into flesh, and blood swirled into the water around him, obscuring his vision. Still, he saw the morkoth’s head leave its shoulders and float away. The head glanced off one of the claw coral spires, shearing away flesh in a long strip. Before it had a chance to settle into the silt, the nearby small scavengers were already at work.

The other morkoth gathered, drawing closer.

Flyys shrugged the tapal through the water to spread the blood cloud out farther and tried not to be sick. The morkoth was his first kill. The young triton had never expected to experience the nausea that filled him as his gills drew in the bloodstained water. The taint of old copper raced through his breathing passages. He glanced up at the approaching morkoth group and set himself. The numbness that had threatened to fill his body had left as soon as the morkoth died.

“Hold!”

The great voice filled the surrounding area. Immediately, the morkoth drew back, opening the way for another morkoth which descended upon the young triton’s refuge.

Flyys studied the newcomer. The young triton’s fear tripled when he noticed the human-shaped hands at the ends of the morkoth’s four arms. Where the pincers signified the warrior class among the kraknyth, human-shaped hands nearly always denoted a morkoth mage.

Flyys’s education included lessons in spellcraft as well as warcraft. So far he’d only learned the spell for identifying magical things, to better search the wrecked ships that the surface dwellers lost in battles and storms. All Serosian races that worked magic raided the fallen ships surface dwellers didn’t ransack themselves, or lose in the currents. Flyys had been told his own magic was strong and that his potential would be marked by the mages in Pumanath.

“Ignorant whelpling,” the morkoth snarled in a voice hoarse with age. Taking a small piece of metal from the conch shell belted at its side, the morkoth mage gestured and spoke arcane words Flyys didn’t know. The metal flamed despite the surrounding water, disappearing into a haze of blackened bubbles that roiled to the surface.

Flyys felt the spell slam into his body, vibrating along his bones. He couldn’t move, couldn’t blink. At first he thought he’d been struck dead, then he realized his heart still hammered in his chest and his gills still drew in water.

“Get him,” the morkoth mage commanded.

One of the morkoth warriors swam down and wrapped two of its tentacles around Flyys’s upper body. Though he fought against the spell, the young triton remained bound.

Frozen in place, he watched helplessly as the morkoth swam to the surface with him.

The shadow of a ship lay heavily on the turquoise water, sketching its shape along the surface. He recognized it as a cog, a craft well designed for trading along the shores of Seros. Turned to float partially on his back, Flyys saw sailors clustered along the side. A net was quickly lowered, then he and the morkoth mage were drawn up.

The young triton fought to regain the use of his limbs, but couldn’t. He knew from his studies that the spell he was under wouldn’t last long, but it lasted long enough for the sailors to secure him to the mainmast with loops of rope.

As the sailors finished their knots, feeling returned to Flyys’s body. He pulled hesitantly against the ropes and found them too tight to escape. Under the glare of the morning sun and left out in the breeze, his skin started drying almost at once.

“Khorrch,” a man bellowed.

The morkoth turned and gazed up to the ship’s stern castle. “Yes, Vurgrom,” it replied in the human tongue.

Flyys spoke the language himself. Everyone who traded in Seros learned the human tongue. With the enmity that existed between the undersea cultures at times over Seros’s long past, it proved to be as common a tongue below the waves as above it. He also recognized the name.

Vurgrom the Mighty was chief of the pirates among the surface world. He was also the man Flyys and his companions had been sent to spy on. Though Vurgrom hadn’t been on board the ship they’d invaded during the night, his minions had been.

“This is one of them?” Vurgrom walked down the steps leading up to the stern castle. He stood tall and broad, with a huge chest that sloped down to a massive stomach. Still, he moved lightly enough on the ship’s rolling deck that Flyys knew the bulk would throw off most of his opponents. Vurgrom’s reputation was fierce and savage, built on the number of deaths he’d ordered over the years. Many of them he’d taken part in himself.

“Yes,” Khorrch answered.

The wind stirred the wild red hair on the pirate captain’s head, ruffled the long, untamed beard. He stopped in front of Flyys. “He knows where the Eye is?”

The young triton tried not to let the fear inside him show, but he knew that the morkoth mage and the pirate captain both sensed it in him. He swallowed hard, feeling his mouth and throat dry as his gills sucked in air instead of liquid.

“I believe he does,” Khorrch said. “When the Taker was banished all those thousands of years ago by Umberlee, stories and tales of him were passed among those who lived in the sea. No one race got everything, and each was given something to protect-something that would keep the Taker from regaining his full strength. Our legends of the Taker tell us the longmanes were given some of the secrets of the Taker’s missing Eye.”

Flyys struggled against the ropes that held him but still didn’t find any slack. Though he was not a great believer in the menace that the Taker represented-primarily because the evil his people guarded against was even larger-he preferred death to talking.

BOOK: Under Fallen Stars
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