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James M. Ward, Anne K Brown

Pools of Darkness

PROLOGUE

'Not again! It won't happen again!'

Eyes ablaze with uncontrolled fire, the god sprayed bolts of lightning on all who cringed before him. Those that missed showered through the sky and onto the innocent and unsuspecting population of Faerun. Merchants, farmers, and mothers with small children ran for cover.

'I've played by the rules. I've organized, I've attracted worshipers, I've even granted a few of them special privileges! I'm getting nowhere in this realm and I'm fed up.'

The god slammed his fist on the arm of his throne. As he glared at those assembled around him, his eyes sent waves of fear among the creatures who looked on.

'Something must be done! I will not lose one more worshiper! What is it going to take for those pathetic humans to respect and fear me? Any ideas?' he hissed.

Those in the audience chamber cowered. Many found themselves unable to meet his gaze. This being might have been attractive if not for his terrific temper and uncontrolled wrath. A handsomely sculpted face, broad shoulders, and a graceful gait could not conceal the anger and chaos that dwelled within.

No one answered the lord, though they all knew someone was going to pay for the silence.

Boom!

A blast from a smoldering censer above the god's head transformed seven high priests into piles of smoking ash. The aroma of burned incense overpowered the chamber.

Crackle!

Withering beams of darkness sprayed from the god's hands and dissolved six huge pit fiends from the planes of Gehenna into swirls of dust rolling across the polished granite floor.

Ssst!

A split-second of concentration changed five of the god's powerful evil wizards into pillars of salt in five different cities around the realm.

The god ranted, shouted, raved. No creature in the chamber could escape the tirade.

Several huge, warty fiends, more animal than human, foresaw their immediate futures and threw themselves at the feet of the god, shouting in unison.

'Bane, redeemer, boss, exalted one, you gotta get tough with those bums. You got the power. You got the magic. You just gotta make 'em notice you.'

'Notice me? Isn't it enough that my agents create strife throughout Faerun? Isn't it enough that the hatred they foster has corrupted whole cities? What does a god have to do to get a little attention down there?'

Bane again slammed his fist on his throne. The intense rumbling of the chamber sent nearly every two- legged creature in the room crashing to the floor.

'You're doin' it right, but you need a new approach,' the fiends groveled. 'We'll help ya, and we'll get some wizards and some demi-powers to help ya. Before you know it, you'll have all the power and followers you want. All it takes is a little godlike act directed at some of those cities. We got a plan…'

'Why didn't you say so before? I've been waiting for you so-called advisors to advise me! Get on with it!'

Bane slammed his fist on his knee, and a female sorceress who had tired him for a long time was struck by a lightning bolt. When the smoke cleared, nothing remained but a few scraps of charred silk from her gown.

The warty fiends leaned in close, but not too close, to their raging lord.

'Well, boss, this is how we see it…'

1

City in Turmoil

What started as a day of humid sunshine smelling of damp earth and the scent of things green and growing turned quickly into a day of severe, threatening weather. By noon, the brilliant blue sky was obscured by ominous, dense clouds. Black, boiling thunderheads followed, moving in with unnatural speed.

The citizens of Phlan had endured worse, and they took the storm in stride. Livestock was corralled, shutters bolted, and children were ordered to play indoors.

By suppertime, the countryside was drowning in torrential rains and hail. Intense winds blew clapboards off houses, tore branches off trees, and knocked over anything that wasn't securely fastened to the ground. Worst of all was the lightning that ripped through the sky and the thunder that shook buildings to their very foundations. Not even the oldest citizens could remember such a day. The druids who had predicted the sunny weather that morning were completely confused by the change in conditions. Nothing in their divinations had even hinted at bad weather.

As evening wore on, the storm's intensity grew. Lightning strikes set fire to a half-dozen homes, although the flames were drowned by the driving rains. Small trees were uprooted and tossed about like kindling.

Despite the late hour, few residents slept. Those who were safely home and not assigned to guard duty on the city's walls found it impossible to sleep amid the clamor of rain and thunder and the buffeting winds. Most whiled away the hours in front of fires. The only thing to do was to wait for the storm to blow itself out.

Even with a full contingent of guards on the walls and most of Phlan's citizens wide awake, few were aware of a strange, magical force creeping over the city. From far across the continent, an invisible, silvery energy was forming a misty ring outside Phlan's impenetrable stone walls. The energy gradually grew and melded into shimmering tentacles, burrowing under the walls and around fieldstone foundations. As the force swelled, it formed a magical network beneath every structure in Phlan, wrapping around cellars and encircling storage pits. The invisible stranglehold tightened under the city as the storm pounded from above.

In one of Phlan's most famous residences, a sorceress paced the floor. A purple nightdress swished about her legs as she moved from window to window in the dimly lit room. From the top floor in her tower, she could normally see the entire city, but tonight the driving rain obscured lights in homes only fifty yards away. Blasts of lightning were the only reassurance that the rest of Phlan hadn't blown into the Moonsea.

'Come to bed, Shal. The storm will blow over whether you're awake or not.' The voice of the wizard's sleepy husband drifted from beneath warm blankets, tempting her weary body.

The sorceress gripped the window sill. Her fingertips whitened as her grasp grew tighter. Frustrated, she stalked across the room to flop down on the bed.

'I can't sleep! This storm has my brain all stirred up. I feel as if I have thunder and lightning rattling through my veins.' Shal rolled onto her side to face her husband.

Tarl propped himself up on one elbow. 'I think you and the rest of the wizards in town should arrange a place to meet during storms like this. Then you can climb the walls together. Or levitate. Or fly around the room. Or-'

Tarl's words were snuffed out by thunder. Shal jolted, then sighed. 'Magical powers are a wonderful thing, but when one's body is a channel for energy, storms like this can be brutal. You're lucky that clerics don't have this problem.' The sorceress rolled over and buried her head under the pillow.

Tarl clamped his eyes shut as a lightning bolt tore across the sky. Blinking from the glare, he lifted a corner of the pillow and spoke softly to his wife. 'Can I make you some tea or warm some milk… hey! What's the matter?' He pushed away the pillow and gently pulled Shal close. Enormous tears rolled down her face, and her body shuddered. Tarl shifted to sit up, holding his wife and rocking gently.

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