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Bruce R Cordell

Plague of Spells

CHAPTER ONE

28 Tarsakh, the Year of Blue Fire (1385 DR)

The storm blew in from the east.

The storm's leading edge spread wide to shadow the Dragon Coast. It dripped cold rain and threw a pall across the sun. Behind this sullen herald churned the storm's bruised core, rumbling with elemental rage.

Rain, hail, and freezing winds burst into the port city of Starmantle.

In the first moments of the downpour, city dwellers attempted to go about their business. But the rain came stronger, and the chill deepened into an out-of-season wintry onslaught. Even sailors used to nature's fury dashed for cover. People exclaimed in shock and discomfort as needle-sharp sleet sought cracks in roofs, walls, and clothing.

Starmantle, Dragon Coast

The streets rapidly emptied. A man skidded in fresh mud and fell. A street merchant struggled to pull down the awning of his cart against the rising wind that tried to tear it away. Broadsheets and trash cavorted through the air. The fishy smell of the port town was overwhelmed with the tang of the thunderstorm.

A short woman holding a blue shawl over her head stumbled and nearly fell when her boot slid on rain-slick paving stones.

Raidon Kane reached out and steadied her. She nodded thanks, and then hurried away, still seeking shelter. She and Raidon were alike, both caught out in the sudden, freezing deluge without a cloak.

Raidon returned his attention to the narrow cobbled way at his feet. The rain and sudden chill made the paving stones more than slick-in some places moisture and the plunging temperature conspired to spin icy traps for the unwary.

He frowned, one hand shielding his eyes from stinging rain. He wondered from where the winter storm had come, so far into the reign of Greengrass. His voyage across the Sea of Fallen Stars had seen mild days and cool nights. When he'd made landfall earlier that day, a balmy spring sun smiled from the east.

Raidon's fare for passage had required that he help the crew wrestle its cargo of iron ingots, spell-preserved cream, and Rethild-weave silk onto the pier. He'd sweated and labored with the others under a wide sky bereft even of haze. And now, freezing rain, hail, and possibly snow?

Raidon pulled a silver chain from beneath his shirt. The stone of his amulet dangled from it. A leafless white tree was etched into the stone, surrounded by a field of heart-breakingly pure blue. The symbol was the Cerulean Sign. Overlapping inscriptions so small they could easily be mistaken for texture covered the remainder of the amulet in a language he didn't know.

The stone warned him of aberrations and distortions of the natural order by dropping precipitously in temperature.

In the wind, Raidon could barely feel his hands, let alone whether the stone was colder than the air. Yes, it was chilled, but in warning? Or because the wind whistled with the bite of a frost giant's breath?

He squinted at the symbol through a flurry of ice crystals, looking for any discoloration in tree or border, or for any change in the tiny script crabbing the stone's remaining surface.

The Cerulean Sign betrayed no change. The blue of the border was as startling and sky bright as ever, while the tree at the center glimmered white as a star. Which meant the sudden onset of inclement weather wasn't due to aberrations.

The Sign's lack of response didn't rule out any of a host of ether malign possibilities, of course. It was entirely possible some wizard or priest of the natural world was casting foul-weather rituals with a nefarious end in mind.

But Raidon's amulet wasn't keyed to respond to such mundane possibilities. Evil born in mortal hearts, no matter the depth of its wickedness, was of a lesser order than the abominations he watched for. Whatever the weather's origin, he judged it beyond his concern.

He released a relieved sigh.

A who-knows-how-long delay to ferret out and dispatch some local monstrosity was not in the offing. His schedule would not be disrupted. His daughter, Ailyn, expected to see him in Nathlekh in just five days, and he had vowed not to disappoint her again. She was too young to understand the long absences required by his ever wider searches.

Raidon slipped the amulet back beneath his shirt.

The amulet was a family heirloom left to him by his mother, a fey woman of Sildeyuir. In the years since he'd taken up the birthright, he'd walked much of Faerыn looking for some trace of her. He'd found hints, stories, and long-stale traces but never his mother or even her grave.

Instead, Raidon discovered a terrible peril. A danger too few recognized to actively resist. Except for him, with the aid of his mother's amulet, a relic Cerulean Sign.

A cruel gust of wind cut through his reverie.

Zai zi, it was cold! His silk shirt offered next to no protection. A late-season snowstorm was well and truly begun. Even if birthed by nothing more than nature's random temper, the storm blew with a cold that was becoming dangerous.

Down a side street, he spied a wildly swinging placard in the shape of a white boar, with a flagon emblazoned upon it. Maybe someone inside would be willing to part with a cloak thicker than his own silk jacket. At least he could take a moment to warm up and perhaps wait out the freezing wind and icefall.

Raidon entered the tavern. The place was nearly filled with patrons who'd had the same idea as Raidon. A great fire burned in the hearth, and warm mead was being served at half price.

The tavern's layout reminded Raidon of a pub he'd visited in Amn a few years ago. He recalled how his amulet had become as ice against his chest when he talked to the pub's proprietor. Something foul lurked nearby. That night, the proprietor tried to brain him in his sleep with an iron chamber pot.

Thanks to the amulet, Raidon had been expecting trouble. He had punched the proprietor's sternum, breaking it, while simultaneously sweeping his attacker's legs, knocking the man to the floor. Examination of the proprietor with the aid of his amulet showed him to be in the thrall of a mind flayer, an aberration out of the deep earth scheming in the sewers below the city.

Raidon shook his head to clear the memory. Nothing like that was occurring here.

He sat down at the end of one of the long common tables.

The half-dozen men and women already seated ignored him. server came up, a teenage boy with unkempt hair. The boy glanced at Raidon, then said, as if asking a question, 'We have West Lake Dragon Well?'

The boy had correctly teased out his human Shou ancestry from his fey blood.

Raidon smiled his gratitude and nodded. He added, 'Please bring me a pot. I would love to sample your West Lake Dragon Well.'

'Very good!' The server scampered off through the crowd.

Both Starmantle and Westgate had seen a flood of Shou across the Sea of Fallen Stars from Thesk and points farther east along the Golden Road. Both cities strove to become the destination port of choice for the immigrants. This rivalry was just one more avenue through which each city sought to capture the trade moving across the sea. The custom provided by the constant influx of Shou was considerable.

All of which meant that Raidon could now anticipate enjoying a cup of fine tea in a tavern that ten years earlier likely was known only for its mead and ale. Times change. Thankfully, the locals had figured out the quickest way to a Shou's heart was through a proper tea service.

The boy returned soon enough with an oven-fired clay pot and a mismatched, slightly cracked teacup.

Raidon suppressed a frown at the presentation and even managed to tap three fingers on the table in thanks.

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