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Mel Odom

The sea devil's eye

Prologue

The Alamber Sea, Sea of Fallen Stars.

4 Flamerule, the Year of the Gauntlet

A man's dying scream drew Pacys's attention. To his right, the Sharksbane Wall extended across the sea floor until it disappeared in the gloom. Below and to the left, for as far as Pacys could see, the wall lay in ruins. Chunks of stone and coral lay in a fan shape, as if a huge hammer had shattered the wall.

'Marthammor Duin,' Khlinat breathed somewhere above and behind the old bard, 'watch over them what wander far and foolishly.' The dwarf was thick and broad. Unruly gray whiskers stuck out around his wide face and his hands caressed the hafts of the two hand axes at his waist. He kicked out with his good foot. A gray-green coral peg took the place of his lower right leg.

Elf, merman, and sahuagin all warred below. From this distance, they looked tiny against the wall, but Pacys felt their terror and courage. Those emotions transmuted to musical notes in his mind. He carefully braided and twined them, piecing together the songs that haunted him.

The hum of sahuagin crossbow strings rolled over the sharp clash of coral tridents against stolen or salvaged spears.

Even the whisk of the sea devils' barbed nets echoed across the terrain, picked up by the old bard's heightened senses.

For the moment, Pacys was the battle. He was the life and death of every one of the hundreds of warriors at the Sharksbane Wall. He wore only a sea elf's diaphanous gown of misty blue. The magic of the emerald bracelet on his wrist allowed him to breathe underwater and kept him comfortable even from the occasional chill. Though he kept his head and jaw shaved, his silver eyebrows hinted at his age. The bard was seventy-six years old, still vigorous but in his waning years.

'Hallowed wall, prized from death,

Built on blood and mortised by fear,

Stood broken, shattered, crumbled,

No longer protecting those here.

The loyal warriors warred, sinew against sinew.

They fought, and they died,

Clamped tight between unforgiving fangs

Of those who followed the Taker's dark stride.'

It wasn't a song of victory. Despite the excitement at having found another piece of the song he'd searched for, the old bard's heart grew cold and heavy.

His trained eye noted the whitish colors of the rock, nearly a dozen hues that he could pick out at a glance, all colored by pearled iridescence from the millennia the wall had stood. The blue sea had texture, the color of a sky rent by gentle summer rains. The uneven terrain at the foot of the Sharksbane Wall spilled in dozens of cliffs and gullies where schools of brightly colored fish cowered.

Through it all, clouds of blood twisted and spun, caught by the shifting ocean currents and the movements of those who fought and died. Even though the bracelet gave him the ability to breathe underwater, it didn't remove the harsh metallic taste of iron.

In the land engagements he'd witnessed, Pacys had smelled the stench of battle, spiced by the fear and anger of the men and women who sold and bought lives with a sword stroke. But here, in the underwater realm of Seros, the kingdoms scattered across the bottom of the Sea of Fallen Stars, death had flavor.

Pacys steeled himself, gaining control over his lurching stomach. Bright blue light flared like a dying star to Pacys's left. The old bard turned and spotted Taranath Reefglamor, Senior High Mage among the High Mages at Sylkiir. The old elf mage wore his silver hair loose. Blade thin, his blue and white flecked skin hung loose on him. The pointed chin and pointed ears made his face seem harsh and angular. He thrust a hand out at a knot of a dozen nearby sahuagin that swam toward them.

In the blink of an eye, shark's teeth seemed to form in that part of the water. The teeth were etched in silvery gleams, bare sketches that still left no doubt as to what they were.

The cone of shark's teeth grew to twice Pacys's height in width and nearly five times that in length. The sorcery ripped through the sahuagin, shredding flesh and breaking bone. Severed limbs and heads exploded out from the corpses, and mutilated torsos came apart in chunks.

Surviving sahuagin swam at them, clutching their tridents to their chests. Fangs filled their broad mouths to overflowing, showing bone-white and ivory against the teal and pale green of their skins. Fins stuck out from their arms and legs, sharp-edged appendages they used to slice open their prey.

Built broad and squat, hammered into near indestructibility by the pressure of the uncaring ocean, the sahuagin moved gracefully through the water. Webbed feet and hands pulled at the sea. Their magnetic black eyes sucked the light from the depths, black holes that held no mercy.

Pacys brought his staff up. There wasn't time to run.

'Die hu-maan!' the lead sahuagin snarled.

'Friend Pacys!' Khlinat cried.

From the corner of his eye, Pacys watched the dwarf struggling to swim through the water to reach his side. They'd met in Baldur's Gate, at the time of the attack that destroyed the city's harbor, and they'd remained together since.

Pacys struck with the staff, lodging it in the tines of the trident his opponent carried. The old bard pushed away from the attack.

The sahuagin flew past him, streaking toward the dwarf who was clawing up to an even keel.

Pacys reached into the bag of holding at his waist, took out a piece of slate and a fingernail clipping, and held them in his fist.

Pointing with the forefinger of the fist that held the ingredients to his spell, Pacys scribed a powerful symbol in the water that flared pale violet for a moment. He mouthed half a dozen words, then felt the explosion in his fist as the spell claimed the materials in his hand.

Gray ash spilled from his hand as a shimmering wall formed in the water before him. A dull roar blasted out from the other side of the shimmering wall.

The sahuagin trapped there writhed in agony. The sahuagin, like many sea creatures, had lateral lines that ran the length of their bodies. Those lines sensed vibrations in the water, and the roar was agony to them.

Pacys swam for Khlinat.

'Foul devilspawn,' Khlinat roared in a voice only a dwarf in full battle frenzy could muster. 'I'll keelhaul ye and have yer guts for garters, I will. I'm one of the Iron-eater clan, one of the fiercest, fightingest dwarven clans ever blessed by Marthammor Duin!'

'Die!' the sahuagin replied in its raspy voice.

The bard gripped his staff in the middle and twisted. Foot-long, razor-edged blades shot from both ends.

The sahuagin released its hold on Khlinat's hand axe, then ran its talons down the dwarfs arm.

Yelping with pain and surprise, Khlinat brought his knees up, then shoved his claw coral peg into the sahuagin's chest. The peg burst through the sahuagin's back. Blood roiled out and settled in a cloud around the creature's upper body.

'I done for ye,' Khlinat declared, putting his other foot on the sahuagin's face and kicking out. 'Behind ye, song-smith, and be right quick about it, too.'

Moving with the fluid grace of a dancer, Pacys whipped the staff around. The razor-edged blade sank into the sahuagin's shoulder next to its thick neck.

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