Read Dagger's Point (Shadow series) Online
Authors: Anne Logston
Mundania Press LLC
Published by Mundania Press
By Anne Logston
Copyright © 1995, 2013 by Anne Logston
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Cover Art © 2013 by Skyla Dawn Cameron
eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-59426-966-0
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-59426-968-4
First Mundania Edition • March 2013
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Shadow, a skilled elven thief, returned to the trade city of Allanmere after over three centuries’ absence. She was reunited with her old friend and companion Donya, who turned out to be the only child and Heir of the city’s High Lord and Lady. Shadow quickly became embroiled in the growing conflict between the city’s Council of Churches and its Guild of Thieves, both of whom seemed very interested in a magical silver bracelet with the power to undo any lock, which Shadow had stolen from a young lord. Her own Guildmaster seemed to have paid the notorious assassin Blade to follow and then to kill Shadow. Shadow foiled the assassin and uncovered and stopped a plot by Bobrick, the assistant to Vikram, head of the Council of Churches, to assassinate Vikram, seize power in the Council of Churches, and discredit and destroy the Guild of Thieves to seize power in the city, in the process causing Bobrick’s death and having to fight and kill her treacherous Guildmaster. Shadow reluctantly assumed the seat of Guildmistress of the Guild of Thieves.
A year later, Shadow was in the process of rebuilding the Guild of Thieves and trying to stay out of trouble with the Council of Churches. She learned, however, that a valuable magical gem, the Eye of Urex, had been stolen from the Temple of Urex, a theft so difficult that suspicion naturally fell upon Shadow herself, and Guild War once again threatened Allanmere. Shadow learned that the gem had once belonged to a powerful mage, Baloran, who had created and owned the Eye during the Black Wars, and speculated that Baloran himself had reclaimed it; Shadow also discovered a link between Baloran and the mysterious assassin Blade. Blade had once stolen a magical dagger from Baloran, only to fall under his curse, condemning her to living on the life energy of others forever. Shadow confronted Blade and enlisted her help in recovering the Eye of Urex in exchange for Baloran’s whereabouts. Blade agreed, and the two embarked on a perilous journey across the swamp north of Allanmere, the Dim Reaches, to find Baloran’s keep. During the journey, an uneasy friendship grew between Shadow and Blade. Unknown to Shadow, however, her friend Donya, fearing for Shadow’s life, had gathered a troop of guards to force Baloran into giving up the gem before Shadow got there. Instead, Donya was captured and magically enslaved by one of Baloran’s minions, and when Shadow and Blade made their way into Baloran’s keep, he captured them as well. Shadow learned that Blade was the one who had stolen the Eye of Urex, attempting to get Shadow to locate Baloran for her, and hoping that the gem might be used to buy from Baloran a release from her curse. Instead, the gem was destroyed, and Baloran revealed that it had contained the spell which would have freed Blade from her curse. With Donya and Blade’s aid, Shadow escaped, killing Baloran with Blade’s soul-drinking dagger and almost being killed herself in the process.
The Guild continued to thrive under Shadow’s leadership, and the elven voice in the city continued to grow. But with it grew an anti-elven faction among the human population of the city, fearing that human influence would decline. Shadow accompanied Donya to the Planting of the Seed, an elven spring festival, where Donya planned to consult with the elders about a poacher recently captured in the Heartwood. The poacher, who was apparently ill, was of a race no one had ever seen before, with six digits on each hand and foot and unable to speak any language anyone understood. Donya decided to take the stranger back to Allanmere for healing. Shadow, Donya, an elf named Mist, and the stranger returned to Allanmere only to find a strange disease breaking out in the city. With rest and a translation spell, the stranger, Farryn, told them that he had come from the great mountains to the north. His people’s valley home was being harassed by northern barbarians who had brought a debilitating sickness among them, and Farryn had journeyed south to where some of his folk, the Kresh, had once settled in the hope of finding a cure. Donya and Shadow realized that those barbarians were the same race who had almost destroyed Allanmere in the Black Wars. Farryn himself had carried the Crimson Plague to the Heartwood, where the elves, themselves immune, had carried it to the city, where it proved fatal to humans. Shadow, Donya,
Farryn, Mist, and Argent journeyed into the swamp to find ruins
Shadow had seen there a year earlier, which she believed to be signs of Farryn’s people. Donya spent a single night with Farryn, and later herself contracted the Crimson Plague. The adventurers found a temple Farryn’s kin had left behind, but it was long abandoned. Farryn passed through a magical Gate within the temple to ask his god for aid and returned, but his god Adraon had offered Farryn either a cure for the debilitating disease or a spell to close the pass through which the barbarians came, and Farryn had chosen the spell. Shadow also passed through the Gate and was tested by the god; she battled Adraon and stole the plague cure, bringing it back through the Gate in time to cure Donya. Farryn returned to his people and Shadow, Donya, Mist, and Argent returned to the city with the plague cure, only to find that Donya’s father, High Lord Sharl, had died while they were gone, and High Lady Celene immediately abdicated the throne of Allanmere to Donya. Donya asked Argent to marry her for political reasons, and he accepted.
Nearly twenty years after the Crimson Plague had come to Allanmere, the city was almost split as humans and elves struggled against each other for power, the anti-elven faction led by Ankaras, High Priest of the Temple of Baaros. Jaellyn, Donya and Argent’s oldest daughter, was to be declared Heir, which was the cause of some conflict in the city because of her strange single birth and unusual appearance and the fact that any magic in her vicinity usually went awry. Jael sneaked into the Temple of Baaros to spy on one of its rituals, accidentally warping the magic and causing another entity to be summoned instead of the god Baaros. Shortly thereafter a mysterious young lord came to Allanmere to reform the Temple of Baaros, and he immediately showed an interest in Jael. Jael learned that her magic-warping effect was due to a missing part of her soul, and later discovered that she was in fact Donya’s daughter by Farryn, not Argent, and partly of Kresh blood, and that Kresh were given their souls at adulthood instead of being born with them. Meanwhile, Jael and Tanis, her friend and an acolyte at the Temple of Baaros, investigated a series of gruesome murders in the city in which Anka-ras might be involved. The new High Priest of the Temple of Baaros, Urien, turned out to be a servant of the Greater Darkling Eiloth and planned to sacrifice Jael. Jael escaped and killed Urien, then began making plans to search for her Kresh father and gain the missing part of her soul.
Jael dodged desperately, the breath rasping in her lungs, sweat dripping into her eyes. The sword whistled past, missing her by only a finger’s breadth. Wearily she attempted to parry, but the attacker drove her to her knees. Jael forced her sword up one more time, but her opponent’s heavier blade rang against it, and Jael’s sword dropped from numb fingers. The great sword flashed down relentlessly.
“Yeow!” Jael cried, both hands clasping her side, where she could feel the bruise already forming. “What’re you trying to do, cut me in half?”
“I’m not, but sooner or later someone will,” Donya said grimly, lowering her blunt-edged practice sword. “And if you keep thinking instead of acting, they’ll do it, too.”
“I’m doing everything you told me,” Jael exploded. She tore the light practice helmet off her head and threw it to the hard-packed soil. “I kept moving, guard up, watched your eyes and—”
“You can’t parry directly,” Weapons Master Rabin told her, joining them on the practice ground. “Her sword’s too heavy; the impact alone will take your sword right out of your hands, just like it did. Angle your blade more and
her stroke aside, don’t meet it head-on. If your blade wasn’t made of such strong stuff, that stroke would’ve broken it right off.”
“If my blade wasn’t guarded, I’d have broken
right off,” Jael argued, folding her arms resentfully. It was bad enough to have her mother, the High Lady of Allanmere and the most formidable swordswoman Jael had ever heard of, pounding away at her on the practice ground, but two teachers at a time was
“A fancy sword’s no substitute for skill,” Donya told her sternly. “Rabin’s right. You usually do better than this, Jaellyn, with that sword. Stop trying to meet me straight on. Now put your helm back on and try again.”
“Oh, please,” Jael groaned. “I’m tired.”
“And I suppose you’re going to tell all your opponents that, and they’re politely going to say, ‘Oh, sorry, let’s take a break and let you catch your breath before I kill you’?” Donya said sarcastically. “If you waste your wind early on in a fight, you’ve got to learn to go on without it.”
“Come on, Doe, that’s enough,” Shadow said, making them all jump. As usual, no one had seen or heard the elven thief approach; now she was sitting cross-legged on the practice ground wall, delicately scratching one pointed ear with her dagger’s tip. “You already killed her; no need to trounce the corpse.”
“I’m trying to keep her from
a corpse,” Donya said flatly, scowling at Shadow for interfering.
“Well, if you’ll let me borrow the corpse for a few hours, I’ve got a couple of maps to show her,” Shadow said good-naturedly. “And Tanis is sitting up in the dining hall too scared to come out here and tell Jael he’s arrived.”
“Scared of what?” Donya said impatiently.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Shadow chuckled. “Maybe scared of a High Lady swinging a sword almost as tall as he is and wearing a scowl fit to fell a dragon, let alone a poor human apprentice thief. Come on, Jael; in the face of certain death I always find it wise to retreat and leave the purse for another day.”
Jael eagerly unbuckled and tossed aside her padding, but she unguarded and wiped her sword with more care before she sheathed it. She didn’t need High Lady Donya to tell her to be careful with that blade; the strange pale metal was so hard and the edge so fine that a clumsy movement could easily take her fingers off. Her mother was still scowling, but Rabin gave Jael a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she followed Shadow out of the practice field.
Ordinarily, when Shadow was back in Allanmere she preferred to stay at an inn near the center of town, convenient to the taverns and the market and only a short distance from the Thieves’ Guildhouse where she still liked to visit. This time, however, the ex-Guildmistress had accepted Donya and Argent’s offer of a room at the palace; impoverished as usual, the elven thief had maintained that she’d only be in Allanmere for a few days, and what with spending most of that time with Jael, she’d rather pocket what she had time to glean from Allanmere’s market than spend it on an inn. Jael had chuckled at that, knowing Aunt Shadow far too well—after one or two forays into the market or the Mercantile District, the elf would be laden with gold enough to live in luxury until she lost it again on a bad fall of the dice or spent it on wine or some fellow with a handsome face and a sad story. In the meantime, the elf’s empty pockets and tales of her adventures won her a comfortable suite of rooms at the palace, all the fine food and wine she could swallow, and likely a heavy purse slipped quietly into her pack when she left.
At the moment, however, Shadow’s bed, table, and press were strewn with maps—fine leather maps, rough-tanned hides, expensive parchment, and even a few clumsy bark scratch-maps. Shadow cleared the table with one sweep of her arm and rifled through the collection impatiently, looking for the particular one she wanted.
“Where did you get all these?” Jael asked curiously. “The palace archives? You must’ve cleaned the place out.”
“Mapmakers’ Guild,” Shadow corrected. “Run downstairs and fetch Tanis, will you? Whatever I tell you, you’ll have forgotten it in half a day.”
Jael grimaced but obediently trotted through the drafty corridors and stairwells to the dining hall, where she found her friend Tanis nibbling at cheese and bread and looking thoroughly ill at ease alone in the cavernous room. He smiled with relief, however, as Jael entered the room.
“There you are,” he said, running his fingers through tumbled dust-blond hair in lieu of a comb. “I thought maybe your mother was hacking you to pieces on the practice ground again.”
“She was,” Jael said ruefully. “Can’t you smell? So where was my partner to rescue me, huh?”
“What do you expect from an ex-priest turned apprentice thief?” Tanis protested. “Do you want me to give the High Lady of Allanmere a lecture on the virtue of mercy, or maybe pick her pockets?”
“That chicken’s all feathers and no meat,” Jael said sourly. “You’re better with a sword than I am, and you know it.”
“Not anymore, not when you’re using that sword,” Tanis corrected, nodding at Jael’s scabbard. “I’m out of practice, and you’ve become Baaros-blessed
with that thing. Once we’re out of town, you’re going to be giving
lessons, don’t think you’re not! But in the meantime, I thought you might like a last evening in the market before we leave. I heard somebody’s got dragon roasting at the west end of the market.”
“I’d love that,” Jael said eagerly. The thought of roast dragon dripping with spicy sauce made her mouth water. “But before we go, Aunt Shadow’s got some maps she wants us to look at.”
“When did Shadow get back into town?” Tanis asked in surprise, following Jael. “Guildmaster Aubry didn’t say anything, and she always visits the Guild when she’s around.”
“Yesterday morning,” Jael told him. “She sneaked into the palace by the secret back entrance as usual. She’s only passing through on her way south, but wanted to see me before we left. Besides, her purse is empty and she needs to run the market.”
Tanis shook his head.
“How the former Guildmistress of the Guild of Thieves and the best thief I’ve ever heard of always manages to be so poor, only Baaros knows,” he said. “I’m hardly out of my apprenticeship, but I’ve always got a few coins in my sleeve to get by on.”
“Aunt Shadow would rather live like a High Lady for three nights than ‘get by’ for a year,” Jael laughed. “And if you’ll tell
she’s the best thief you’ve ever heard of and flash those big blue eyes at her, she’ll probably give you whatever coin she’s got left. Plus teach you a few of her tricks, if you’re lucky.”
When they arrived in Shadow’s room, however, Shadow seemed completely absorbed in the scroll she’d spread out over the table.
“Pour yourself a goblet and come look,” she said.
There were a dozen partially filled jugs of wine to choose from amidst a jumble of empty jugs, bottles, and wineskins. Tanis and Jael exchanged a grin, and Tanis poured a goblet full of wine before joining Shadow at the table. Jael filled her own cup from the water pitcher.
“I knew when I went north last year that I wouldn’t find anything,” Shadow said, tapping a dot that marked the city of Ramant near the far north edge of the map. Beyond that point, only a jumble of mountainous peaks had been marked on the map’s edge, and Shadow herself had drawn in a winding road and the suggestion of a valley village amidst the peaks. “Twenty-two years ago Jael’s father, Farryn, returned to his people in the far northern mountains. He said they’d go west to find the other clans of the Kresh, from which his own clan had separated centuries earlier. What with all the trouble he said his folk had had up there in the mountains, earthquakes and rockfall and barbarians from the lands north of the mountains, I knew they’d have left not long after he returned to them. If so, they’d be long gone after two decades. So I didn’t bother chasing off into the mountains; I started looking for rumors in Ramant, and I found them.
“About twenty years ago a legend sprang up,” Shadow continued, drawing a gold pin from the tall coil of her black braid and idly scratching one delicately pointed ear with it. “There was talk about a mysterious band of people who would abruptly appear in an area, stay for a night or two, and just as abruptly disappear. No one had traded with them, no one had spoken with them, and if anyone saw one of them alone and approached, he’d just disappear. Like magic.”
“Disappear?” Tanis repeated. “Like a mage, you mean?”
Shadow turned to glance with surprise at Jael.
“You never told him?”
“Jael told me that her true father—that Farryn—was one of these Kresh folk,” Tanis told her. “That’s why she can melt stone sometimes, right?”
Jael rolled her eyes. Shadow grinned sympathetically, but made no effort to explain for her.
“I’ll tell you the whole thing again later,” Jael sighed. “We’re going to have months of evenings to talk over campfires. Can we just look at the maps now, please?”
Tanis raised his eyebrows in surprise, but turned back to the map to examine the spot where Shadow’s finger still rested.
“So you didn’t go north of Ramant?” he asked.
“I didn’t go, no,” Shadow confirmed. “Luckily or unluckily, I arrived in Ramant just in time for the first winter storms, so I had weeks to question the merchants as they came in. A few of the mountain nomads who had come to Ramant to trade were snowed in, too, and like most folk, they were willing to talk with a few mugs of ale in their belly and a few coins in their purse. They knew of the Kresh, all right, although they called them by another word in their own language—windwalkers, or something very like it—but the nomads said they’d left about twenty years before, just picked up and left, leaving behind everything they couldn’t easily carry on their backs. There was some fine scavenging in their old village, and the nomads still use the houses occasionally, so the story hasn’t gotten old and stale yet.
“As I said, I talked to some of these nomads. Nobody knew where the Kresh had gone, but it wasn’t hard to puzzle out. North was impossible. Once there had been a pass through the mountains leading to the frozen lands, and the northern barbarians occasionally tried to fight their way through that pass and invade the southern lands—you two remember this from your histories of the Black Wars. But a huge rockfall had completely blocked the pass only a year or two before Farryn left his valley, so they couldn’t have gone north—and even if they could, why would they walk right into their enemies’ land? South was impossible, too, or they’d have been seen; the land’s too settled here for them to pass completely through without stopping somewhere. East’s the same, only worse, and before they got too far, they’d just run into the sea. So that only left west, the way Farryn said they’d go.”
Jael leafed through the other maps scattered around the room.
“None of these maps show the lands very far west of Allanmere,” she said.
“No; the west, after a point, has hardly been settled,” Shadow told her. “There aren’t many merchant trains to or from the western lands, either, and it was hard getting much news. But when spring came and I was able to move on, I found the stories I’d been looking for.
“Western folk called them ‘ghost people.’ Sometimes folk would see their fires, hear their songs from a distance, and in the morning they were gone as if they’d never been there, no tracks leading to the campsite or away from it. Sometimes folk even saw them traveling, mere flickers of movement like the beat of a dragonfly’s wing, running so fast and so light they could dance right across a lake’s surface like that same dragonfly.” Shadow shook her head. I’d give a good many Suns to have seen it myself.”
The elf sighed regretfully and turned back to the map.
“Here, here, and here,” she said, tapping three points on the map. “Here’s where I heard the stories. It wasn’t city folk who had seen them, of course—Fortune knows the Kresh would’ve avoided the cities—but cities are where the stories live, in taverns and inns and brothels, and that’s where I went hunting them. The Kresh traveled fast, but they were limited by the young, the old, and the sick, and they had to hunt occasionally, and when they stopped, they were seen. Now look at this.”
Shadow picked up a strip of thong and laid one end of it on the spot she’d marked in the northern mountains. “Put your finger on that.” She stretched the thong westward; the three cities she had indicated formed an almost straight line under the thong’s length.
“Allowing a bit for the fact they were seen outside the cities, the Kresh traveled in almost a perfectly straight line,” Shadow told them. “Not straight west, but west and south a bit from the mountains north of Ramant. Drawing a line along that trail, you can get a pretty good prediction of their course beyond that. I’ll draw that on a traveling map for you. At some point you’ll begin reaching lands that aren’t mapped, and this may be the only thing you have to guide you. Fortune knows that even if they’d left tracks, two decades would have eaten the traces. Whenever you can find a city or a village, find the old folk and ask about the rumors. As long as you’re on the right track, there’ll be someone who saw them.”