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Paul S. Kemp, Lisa Smedman, Susan J. Morris, Bruce R. Cordell,Ed Greenwood, Jess Lebow,Mark Sehestedt, Elaine Cunningham,Mel Odom, Jaleigh Johnson, R.A. Salvatore, Richard Lee Byers

Realms of War

Contents

CONTINUUM

Paul S. Kemp

WEASEL'S RUN

Lisa Smedman

THE LAST PALADIN OF ILMATER

Susan J. Morris

BLACK ARROW

Bruce R. Cordell

TOO MANY PRINCES

Ed Greenwood

THE SIEGE OF ZERITH HOLD

Jess Lebow

MERCY'S REWARD

Mark Sehestedt

REDEMPTION

Elaine Cunningham

CHANGING TIDES

Mel Odom

CHASE THE DARK

Jaleigh Johnson

BONES AND STONES

R.A. Salvatore

SECOND CHANCE

Richard Lee Byers

CONTINUUM

Paul S. Kemp

The Year of Seven Tines (-365 DR)

Rivalen stood beside his mother at the edge of a forest meadow filled with violet flowers, deep in the wooded realm that once was the abode of the Arnothoi elves. The wind, bearing the woody, floral fragrance of late spring, stirred the leaves to whispers. Twilight painted the meadow with golden light.

A false face masked Rivalen's intentions. Only his hands spoke truth. In his left fist he cupped the smooth black disc that served as his secret holy symbol of Shar. In his right hand, hidden under his cloak, he held the cool, wire-wrapped hilt of a poisoned dagger.

The patch of avenorani flowers, deep violet petals surrounding the black core of the stigma, stretched out before them. The fading light turned them into an iridescent violet sea. A breeze caused the flowers to sway as one. They undulated like waves and cast a cloud of sparkling pollen into the twilight air. The silver motes tinkled like faint bells as they rained down.

'It is wondrous, Rivalen,' his mother said. She placed her hand on his arm. 'Your father will be so pleased when I bring him here.'

'Yes,' Rivalen said, though he knew his father would never see the meadow.

His father, Telemont Tanthul, the most powerful arcanist in Shade Enclave, had taken an interest in botany in recent years. Rivalen had lured his mother to the meadow in secret, with the promise of a unique gift to commemorate his father's imminent ascendance to the office of Most High, ruler of Shade Enclave.

His mother walked ahead of him, into the patch, amid the pollen, letting her fingertips graze the tops of the flowers. They shivered under her touch and sent more pollen into the air. The meadow looked otherworldly, a fey land of silver rain, tinkling bells, and murder.

Rivalen stared at her back, at the space between her shoulder blades. His grip on the dagger tightened. He tensed as he thought of lunging at her, of driving the blade into her pale flesh, but he hesitated and the moment passed.

She turned and smiled at him. She did not suspect his motives.

He had taken precautions to ensure his crime would not be discovered. He had transported them to the meadow from Shade Enclave, utilizing the Shadow Weave revealed to him by Shar. After the murder he would move his moth shy;er's corpse back to the enclave. The poison that stained his dagger, painstakingly crafted by his own hand in the quiet of his own manse, would leave no trace on her body and would make revivification impossible. After he healed his mother's flesh of the dagger's bite, it would appear that she had died in her sleep. Only Rivalen and Shar would know the truth. It would be Rivalen's Own Secret, and he would bear its weight.

His goddess had ordered the matricide in a vision. He did not know Shar's purpose and dared not inquire. The Goddess of Loss kept her own secrets and promised Rivalen nothing.

He licked his lips and tried to slow his heart. The hair on his arms stood on end. He told himself it was the magic in the air.

His mother turned a circle, still graceful and strong even in her middle years, even after birthing twelve children. She drew a deep breath of magic-infused air and laughed. Silver motes coated her embroidered velvet cloak, her dark hair, her pale flesh.

'The pollen tickles my nose.'

He smiled, another false gesture on a day of falseness.

She gestured him to join her. 'Come, Rivalen. You'd stand in the shadows of the trees when this beckons? Come out of the darkness. Come.'

He did not move. He preferred the darkness.

'I could lie here and sleep under the stars like an elf,' she said, her wistful expression that of the young mother he remembered from his youth. 'Your father will marvel.' She looked away and smiled distantly, as if imagining the pleasure the meadow would bring his father. 'The elves say that if you inhale enough pollen while standing in a field of avenorani, your wishes will come true. Your father scoffs at such tales but standing here now, I believe it to be so.'

His father was right to scoff. The Art of the elves had only enhanced the beauty and heartiness of the flowers, not granted them the power to grant wishes. The blooms flourished even in winter, changed color with the seasons, chimed in the rain, but nothing more.

'A legend,' he said.

Her expression fell, and she eyed him with concern. 'You are far too serious for so young a man. Have I raised so somber a son?'

'My studies require seriousness, Mother.'

'So they do,' she acknowledged with a nod. 'Your father drives you. But do not be so driven that the joy of life passes you by.'

He let his face offer the lie of another smile. Shar taught him that joy was fleeting, that love was a lie. 'Do not worry for me, Mother.'

She turned from him, and he began the murder.

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