Read Downshadow Online

Authors: Erik Scott de Bie

Downshadow

BOOK: Downshadow
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Forgotten Realms

Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep: Downshadow

By Erik Scott de Bie

PROLOGUE

Black rain lashed the city, pounding away at ragged cobblestones and blurring the glow of street lamps to a haze. Buildings that towered majestically by day became, by drenching night, idols of stone and shapeless mountains. Such a rain dampened the City of Splendors, changing its romantic luster into something much colder—much darker.

Such a rain made the city resemble the world below. Beneath the slick streets, in the nefarious passages of a legacy of old Faerűn, lay Downshadow. Under the city, under the mountain, sprawled treacherous halls that knew no light except that which men made.

Once, this labyrinth had been called Undermountain, the dream of a mad wizard called Halaster, and the deeper levels still teemed with his warped whims and creations. The shallow stretches, however, had become a home for the cruel, the desperate, and the scarred.

Some said Downshadow tainted its inhabitants; some claimed the reverse. Regardless, what once had been dungeon was now desperate homeland—where once had been monster, now was man.

In one unlit chamber, a man crouched amid a circle of foes, flaming steel in hand. Leering faces surrounded him, half-illumined in the light of his sword. Blood and sweat dripped from his worn leathers. Numbness choked his arms and legs but he gave no sign of it. His left hand held him aloft, and his body was tensed like a cornered wolf. His head was bent and his sword low, but he was not broken. A knight in shadow.

A darkness, he thought. I will make for myself a darkness in which only I exist.

Six men stood around him, growling and glaring. At first, ten had threatened, but now the other four lay crumpled and moaning

against the walls. Shadows flickered among them, cast by the glow of the brilliant sword, which dripped silver fire onto the floor.

He’d given them a chance to surrender, and they’d laughed.

Now, their mirth had faded. The biggest tough—a burly wretch whose hoglike features and olive skin spoke of ore blood—spat on the stone floor at the downed man’s hand. The yellow spittle landed on his steel gauntlet.

“Picked the wrong gang to push, crusader,” said the half-ore. He slapped the haft of his nail-studded morningstar with his free hand. “Drop the steel and we kill you quick.”

The man smiled through the slit in his full helm. Numbness crept through his body, and his lungs burned as though he breathed smoke. But he would not fall.

“Take it from him, Dremvik! Take it!” others of the gang shouted.

Yes, the knight thought as he focused past the pain in his lungs. Take it.

The leader—Dremvik—was a tyrant, the knight knew, but he wasn’t stupid. Warily, the half-ore feigned a stomp on the knight’s sword hand and kicked instead at the helmed face.

Rather than counter, the knight dropped his sword on the ground and jerked his thick gray cloak over it, stealing its light from the chamber and blinding them all. He shifted toward the kicking foot and pounced, wrapping his arms around the half-ore’s leg.

Cries went up in the darkness but the knight ignored them. He wrenched to the side, toppling Dremvik to the ground with a satisfying thump of head against stone, and sprang away.

“Help!” Dremvik moaned. “Kill the bastard!”

“Get ‘im!” one of the thugs cried, and they all started stomping and kicking. “Get
im!”

The half-ore bellowed. “Not me, you bastards, not—” Then a boot crunched his face and ended his commands in a moan.

Deprived of their leader, lost in the lightless chamber, the thugs scrambled, lashing out at anything and everything that touched them. One squealed as a club smashed his head against a wall, and he fell nerveless to the ground. Jabbing knives opened flesh and wrenched

forth screams—none of them the knight’s cry. Finally one of the thugs managed to jerk the cloak away, revealing the sword and returning light to the chamber. The four remaining toughs looked around, trying to reason where their quarry had gone.

The knight, clinging to the wall just above their heads, whistled. They looked up to see his pale eyes blazing down at them. The eyes seemed to have no color, like diamonds.

“Four left,” he said, and he leaped into their midst.

His booted feet took one in the face, and he lunged off the falling man to slam his iron-wrapped fist into a second’s face. The two fell in opposite directions, and the knight whirled in the air to land on his feet, knees bent, near his sword.

An axe chopped toward him, but he tipped up his sword with the toe of his boot and flipped it into his hands in time to block the strike. He bent under the force, compressing through his knees—one hand on the hilt, one halfway up the long blade. The axe-man—a gigantic brute whose size bespoke ore and even ogre blood—held him in place, straining.

A blade stabbed the knight through from behind, but he barely felt it. The studs in his leather deflected the thrust just enough that it opened his ribs but missed his lung.

The knight twisted, throwing the axe wide, and slammed the pommel of his sword into the half-ogre’s jaw as he stood. The big creature stumbled back and the warrior followed. The blade slid from his back with a splash of blood but not so much as a grunt came from his throat. The knight shoved the half-ogre against the wall and elbowed him in the ear.

The brute went down and the knight pivoted to face the one who’d stabbed him. With a gasp, the man looked down at his treacherous sword.

The knight smiled behind his helm.

As the thug lunged, the knight twisted his sword point down, then stepped forward to thrust from above. His block and his counter were a single movement; every parry was an attack unfolding. The silver-burning blade glided through the man’s chest, dropping him to his knees.

The knight had miscalculated, though, for his sword wedged in the man’s ribs and resisted when he tried to pull it free. He gripped it firmly and tugged it loose, but too slowly.

A club struck his face. It snapped his head back and sent him staggering. The sword fell from his numb fingers. The club-wielding dwarf sported a wide red mark on his face in the shape of the knight’s gauntlet.

Then a larger body crushed him against the wall—the half-ogre. He felt the pressure but little of the pain. Trapped fast against the heavier brute, he could only struggle to no avail.

Two thugs still stood: the dwarf, who clutched a broken jaw, and the half-ogre, who didn’t seem much hurt. The man who had caught both feet with his face wasn’t getting up, and the backstabber was choking and gasping. All told, he’d downed eight of the gang of ten.

The knight made a note to take more care with those of ogre blood.

“Damn, damn!” moaned the dwarf, his words wet in his mouth. “Bastard done break me face, Rolph. And stuck Morlyn for good an’ all.”

The enemy he had skewered coughed and moaned. Blood trickled from his wound but did not gush. The knight knew he wouldn’t die of that injury, but he wouldn’t be fighting any time soon.

“What we do with ‘im?” asked the half-ogre. He squeezed the knight’s helm against the wall until it started to give.

“Break ‘is head off?” suggested the dwarf.

At that moment silence fell and there was a sense of suction from high in the chamber—above and between them. The dwarf opened his mouth but the chamber exploded in blue light, blinding them, bathing them all in a light brighter than the sun.

When the knight could see, he blinked at a woman floating in midair—a woman cloaked in crackling, blue-white flames. They did not burn her, but seemed to clothe her. Her feet trod upon nothing but air, and long hair floated around her. He could make out little in that bright light—everything was blue and white and dazzling.

She blazed like an angel of Celestia, he thought. Like & goddess.

She was saying something, but the words were nonsense to his ears.

She screamed and sobbed in a tongue that sounded like the blackest whispers from the foulest dreams. Her eyes scanned things he could not see, and she seemed to be fighting invisible demons.

Then, just as abruprly, she vanished. The light died as though it had never been.

“What?” said the dwarf.

At that moment, the half-ogre howled—the bellow starred low, then grew in volume and pitch until it became a scream. The beast clutched at himself where the knight had kneed him in the groin. The half-ogre tipped and fell with a tremor that shook the underground chamber.

The dwarf started to cry out but the knight slammed him against the wall and pressed his empty sword scabbard under his chin.

“Don’t!” the dwarf gurgled, but the knight just shook his head.

His voice was cold as ice and sharp as lightning. “Run.”

“Uh?”

“Run,” the knight said. “Leave your friends—they belong to justice now. I have told the City Watch where they will be found. Go, and warn those like yourself.”

The dwarf blinked rapidly.

“The Eye of Justice watches Downshadow.” He pressed the dwarf harder. “Tell them.” “I don’t understand!”

The knight’s glare gleamed in the dwarf’s terrified eyes like sunlight off ice.

“Tell them Shadowbane waits.” He narrowed his eyes. “Tell them I wait for them.”

And with that, he jerked the scabbard away and sent the dwarf scrambling with a shove. Without even looking back, the thug vanished into the everlasting night, choking and sputtering.

The world seemed so heavy—and cold. Shadowbane watched the dwarf flee down the tunnel, then turned his head heavenward.

A bowshot above, through thousands of tons of stone, rain would be falling on Waterdeep. Rain that would shatter against his steel helm.

He knew he would barely feel it, thanks to the spellplague.

He felt, instead, only a creeping numbness—the absence of feeling. The surfaces of his thighs and arms had become like natural armor, like frozen leather greaves and bracers. It left his flesh filled with senseless nerves. His fingers, however warm, perpetually felt frostbitten to his touch, and his legs, as much as he pushed them, felt disconnected. His skin felt like dead flesh.

The spellplague had stolen feeling from Shadowbane, as it had stolen so much from the world. In time, it would take his life as well. He could only hope it would give him long enough.

“Long enough,” he whispered, “to do what I must.”

He thrust the scabbard through his belt, turned down another passage, and ran through the darkness below the world.

ONE

24 Tarsakh, the Year of the Ageless One (1479 DR)

Araezra Hondyl sighed heavily, smiled, and silently counted to six. The ranking valabrar of the Waterdeep Guard despite her tender twenty-odd winters, she exercised the iron-clad control of her passions that had secured her so many early promotions.

Despite her firm grip on the reins, patience was fleeing her. She put her fingers to her temple where, Kalen saw, a vein had risen beneath her skin.

“Once again.” Her long tail of braided black hair trembled under the strain. “Slowly.”

Kalen Dren, vigilant guardsman and Araezra’s chief aide, took notes in his small, tight script, spectacles balanced on the end of his nose. His plume scratched quickly and efficiently, and his face remained carefully neutral. He had his duties as a scribe and fulfilled them scrupulously. Not that they were on official business, exactly, but it was his job.

Araezra’s best friend, Talanna Taenfeather, loitered casually nearby. She had bent to examine some of the wares in a shop window. The “fashion” spikes wired out of her orange-red hair bobbed behind her head as she nodded and murmured to herself. She wore the uniform of her office but was off duty, and was present for the same reason as Araezra: to part with coin. They’d stopped after morning patrol out of South Gate, only to find a situation requiring their attentions.

“A fine sun that brings you through my door, lady,” said Ellis Kolatch, a greasy, unpleasant man who sold jewelry and fine silks— also knives, flints, and small crossbows, if the rumors were to be

believed. “And timely, for I have need of the Watch!”

“Guard,” Kalen corrected indifferently, but no one seemed to hear. He continued scribbling down the merchant’s words and those of the accused thief: a small half-elf boy.

“I tell you, this little kobold pustule is stealing from me,” Kolatch said. “He’s been in here twice in the last tenday, I swear—him, or someone like him. Always some half-blood trash that’s lashed me with his tongue an’ stolen my wares!”

“Blood-blind pig!” The half-elf grinned like the scamp he was. “I’ve never been in this place afore—you must think all the pointy ears be the same, aye?”

“You!” Kolatch raised his fists threateningly.

“Goodsir.” Araezra’s voice snapped like a whip. “Have peace, lest I arrest you.”

Nothing about the valabrar’s fine face—widely and fairly thought to be one of the best in all of Waterdeep—suggested impatience. Here was the controlled seriousness that had won her the respect and love of the Guard, the Watch, and much of Waterdeep. One who knew her well, as Kalen did, might see her fingernails straining and failing to pierce her gauntlets as if to draw blood from her palms.

“Aye, my apologies.” Reining himself, Kolatch put his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. “I am sorry, gracious lady Watchman.”

“Guardsman,” Kalen murmured, but kept writing.

The distinction meant less and less, these days. The City Guard had become a division of the Watch, and while the guardsmen might be—as professional soldiers—better armed and trained than the average Watchman, the names meant little to the ordinary citizen. Kalen, who had been an armar in the Watch proper two months before, didn’t mind.

Araezra had commissioned him as her aide based on his record as a lion who had to be lectured more than once regarding his “impressive but nonetheless embarrassing zeal.”

Now things had changed, though she couldn’t have known they would do when she called him to service. His debilitating sickness had

been his first confession, and he knew he’d become a disappointment to her: he was a kitten and not a lion.

BOOK: Downshadow
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Blood Mate by Kitty Thomas
Coming Attractions by Bobbi Marolt
Los hijos del vidriero by María Gripe
Code of Siman by Dayna Rubin
A Game of Vows by Maisey Yates
Dragon's Kiss by Tielle St. Clare
One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke
Stricken Resolve by S.K Logsdon