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James Wyatt

Storm dragon

PART I

When the Eternal Day draws near, when its moon shines full in the night, and the day is at its brightest, the Time of the Dragon Above begins. Showers of light fall upon the City of the Dead, and the Storm Dragon emerges after twice thirteen years. Tumult and tribulation swirl in his wake: The Blasphemer rises, the Pretender falls, and armies march once more across the land.

CHAPTER 1

A distant rumble of thunder.

Thunder is his harbinger and lightning his spear.

Gaven stared up into the darkness of his cell, trying to clear his mind. Trying not to sleep.

He remembered perching on a cliff face, watching a storm blowing over the sea, brooding on those words. No. That had not been him. That was the other.

Wind is his steed and rain his cloak.

The words whispered in his mind in a voice that was not his. They filled him with foreboding. Echoes of a coming doom. His skin prickled. Another peal of thunder, more distant. Sleep closed in around him.

“No no no-no sleep,” he murmured. He forced his eyes open.

The Storm Dragon rises.

“Make it stop make it stop make it stop.” The prayer that had been his constant companion for twenty-seven years.

He remembered standing in the stone courtyard, head thrown back, arms spread to the sky, and singing to the storm. Exultation. Lightning danced along the high tower walls, and thunder beat a cadence for his song. Until the dwarf guards tackled him, wrestled him to the ground, and beat him into unconsciousness.

… the endless dark…

The darkness swallowed him, drawing him into nightmare.

He lay entombed in the depths of Khyber. Creeping things crawled and slithered over his body. The legs of a centipede undulated across his face, his lips. He tried to lift his head, to raise a hand, to scream. He couldn’t move, couldn’t draw breath.

A spear of blinding light shot up from the ground, impaling him before it broke through the ageless stone above him, soaring up and up until it reached the sky, stabbing through a storm cloud to touch the heights of Siberys.

Khyber and Siberys. The Dragon Below and the Dragon Above. A bridge of light joined heaven and earth.

… a ray of Khyber’s sun erupts to form a bridge to the sky…

On every side, creatures began to move-writhing, snaking, quivering. Eyes stared at him from the darkness, dimly reflecting the light. Eyes that formed no intelligible faces, leering from quivering masses of amorphous flesh or glowering alone in bestial skulls. Mouths gaped at him, toothy maws biting, serrated sucking parts trying to bore into his flesh. Tentacles grabbed at him, coiling around his limbs and probing his head.

The Storm Dragon descends into the endless dark…

A tentacle worked its way into his mouth, smothering his scream.

The waves of the Lhazaar Sea crashed against the rocks at the base of the walls of the fortress. The walls rose hundreds of feet, unbroken by windows or balconies. Four towers stood at the corners of the fortress, and a watchtower at the center pierced the night sky. This was Dreadhold: the greatest prison of the Five Nations, kept by the dwarves of House Kundarak to hold the world’s most dangerous criminals-the most bloodthirsty, sadistic, and evil villains to plague civilization. Its impregnable walls also contained those who posed a significant threat to the fragile peace-or to the interests of the dragonmarked houses-but who could not be executed.

Gaven slept fitfully in his cell, the roar of the breaking waves far below nothing more than a faint whisper through the stone. His eyes shot open, and he sat up with a gasp, staring around at the utter blackness of the tiny room. He threw off his threadbare wool blanket, oblivious to the chill, and groaned. Though he couldn’t see them, he felt the walls closing him in, and the moist air stifled him. He staggered off his bunk and fell into the cell’s iron door, fumbling around with his hands until he found a shutter at the level of his chest. He slid it open, and a few beams of light, gray and cold, spilled into the room, shining on the sheen of sweat that covered his face. With the light came the merest breath of fresher air, and he gulped it like a drowning man.

Gaven slumped backward against the door and sank to the floor. His thin shirt did little to shield him from the cold, but the iron felt good against his back. Amid the silence of the prison night, the door at his back and the stone floor beneath him reminded him where he was, which actually reassured him. His eyes darted around as if he were still in the throes of the nightmare that had awakened him. Everywhere his gaze fell, writing covered the walls and floor.

“Gaven!” A hoarse whisper came across the hall. “What did you see?”

“The hordes of the Soul Reaver,” Gaven rambled, making no effort to lower his voice. “Wild. Gibbering. Swarming out of the earth.” He pressed his palms to his eyes. “Brilliant light, spilling up from the depths-a ray of Khyber’s sun, a bridge to the sky.”

“What else, Gaven? Tell me what else you saw!”

The lingering memories of his nightmare started to fade, replaced by a memory of the old man’s mouth pressed against the shutter in his own cell across the hall. Gaven had seen him-out in the yard, in the library, always under the watchful eyes of the dwarf guards-but the image of his mouth was fixed in Gaven’s mind. Pale, cracked lips surrounded by white hair, a tongue occasionally darting out to moisten them. That image merged in Gaven’s mind with the vision of the Soul Reaver’s hordes-tentacles, eyes, gaping mouths-and sent a wave of nausea through him.

“Tell me what else,” the old man rasped.

But the vision had faded. In its place came words, something he had read once-or had he? Gaven could no longer tell which memories were his.

“When the Eternal Day draws near,” he recited, “when its moon shines full in the night, and the day is at its brightest, the Time of the Dragon Above begins. Showers of light fall upon the City of the Dead, and the Storm Dragon emerges after twice thirteen years.”

“The Storm Dragon will come for us, Gaven.”

Gaven’s laugh was utterly without humor. He stumbled to his feet, bracing himself against the doorframe. Black hair fell over his face, but he didn’t bother pushing it back. He reached into a pocket in his thin breeches and found the tiny steel stylus the guards had allowed him, then stood shakily on his bunk. He stretched as high as he could toward the ceiling, and scratched what words he could remember into the stone, describing the gibbering hordes, the brilliant bridge from earth to sky. The Time of the Dragon Above and the Time of the Dragon Below. Showers of light falling to earth, and brilliant beams of light rising from the earth.

He was still writing when the room shook, throwing him from his bunk and sending him sprawling to the floor. In the dim light spilling through the shutter in his door, he saw a crack form in the ceiling and begin to spread. The shaking resolved into a rhythmic pounding-something large smashing against the tower.

“Gaven!” the old man across the hall yelled, in a hoarse voice Gaven had never heard before. “They’re coming! They’re here for us!”

Gaven curled up on the floor of his cell and shielded his head with his arms as shards of masonry fell from the

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