Paul S Kemp

Shadow witness



The month of Hammer, 1371DR, the Year of the Unstrung Harp

The dim light from the guttering torches in the stairwell stopped at the edge of the doorway as though blocked by a wall of magical darkness. Conscious of Riven beside him and unwilling to show the assassin the nervousness which had him sweating beneath his robes, Krollir stepped briskly through the doorway and into the summoning chamber. Riven followed, wary and apprehensive.

When both had stepped through the archway, Krollir turned and closed the door behind them. Instantly, darkness as thick and impenetrable as scribe's ink cloaked the room. The iron portal's immense latch fell into place with an ominous, resounding click.

Familiar from long habit, Krollir felt around in the blackness for the wrist-thick iron deadbolt, quickly found it, and slid it home. The shrieking grate of metal against metal set his teeth on edge. He quelled the apprehensive quaver that fluttered in his gut. I will succeed, he assured himself. I am the chosen of Mask.

Invisible in the darkness beside him, Riven's breath came harsh and rapid. Blindness apparently made the assassin nervous. He no doubt suspected an ambush.

Krollir smiled behind the black felt of his ceremonial mask. His lieutenant's nervousness amused him. Riven's breathing reminded Krollir of the frightened pant of a wary cur.

Despite Riven's earlier protests, Krollir had forbidden the assassin from bringing a torch or candle, even while descending the dimly lit stairs. Unsanctified light brought into the Shadowlord's summoning chamber spoiled its holiness. Only certain spells and specially prepared forms of luminescence could safely light this room. His thoughts turned to the candles he had specially prepared for this night. He had spent months painstakingly Grafting them and carefully instilling them with power.

Though blind in the darkness, Krollir knew his lieutenant well enough that he could imagine perfectly Drasek Riven's stance-a ready crouch with his back to the wall-his single eye darting about the darkness and both callused hands resting familiarly on his enchanted saber hilts.

Spitefully, Krollir let him simmer nervously in the soup of pitch darkness for a few extra moments. Let him wonder and fear, he thought. He had told Riven nothing; he required the assassin's presence but left his purpose unexplained. He enjoyed keeping his lieutenant off balance and making him nervous. Like all dogs born vicious, Riven occasionally had to be reminded of his master's authority.

The summoning chamber of Mask-Krollir's patron deity-fairly stank of power. Behind the stale must, the magical residue of past conjurations lingered in the dry air and ran tingling along Krollir's nasal passages. No doubt Riven sensed it too, in his own thick way.

Inhaling deeply, Krollir drank in the sheer energy of the room while letting Riven stew in the dark.

The sinister majesty of the summoning chamber served as a pointed reminder to the one-eyed assassin that Krollir Venastin-the Righteous Man-was not only the guildmaster of the Night Knives but also a powerful servant of Mask the Shadowlord. Krollir was a man not to be challenged, even by the most dangerous of dogs. Riven's nervousness indicated that he still grasped that point. The cur yet remained at heel.

Krollir allowed himself another satisfied smile that vanished when thoughts of his other lieutenant, Erevis Cale, entered his mind. Three days ago, he had sent word via messenger to Riven and Cale that they must attend him tonight. Riven had obeyed; Cale however, had sent the messenger back with word that he could not attend, that Thamalon Uskevren had an important business meeting that Cale could not miss without compromising his cover.

Krollir frowned thoughtfully. He fidgeted with a platinum coin in his robe pocket. Was Cale still loyal? The answer to that question was becoming increasingly unclear. Cale had an obvious fondness for the Uskevren, the noble family he was spying upon-an unfortunate but understandable fact-but did his ultimate loyalty still reside with Krollir and the guild?

Unsure of the answer and uncomfortable with the uncertainty, Krollir decided to put a tail on Cale. A guildsman to spy on the spy.

Though he highly valued Cale's intellect and ruthlessness-the bald giant had served the Night Knives well for many years with his cutthroat schemes-he nevertheless realized that those same qualities made Gale a potential loyalty problem-a potential rival for Mask's favor. Far more so than Riven. But would he dare an open challenge? Certainly Cale feared little'How about a blasted light?' Riven's hoarse, disembodied voice interrupted Krollir's chain of thought. 'It's as black as a devil's heart in here. I can't see a godsdamned thing.''

The tension in the assassin's voice dispelled the disquieting thoughts of Cale and returned a smile to Krollir's face. This cur, at least, remains obedient. Perhaps I should turn him loose on Cale he thought. That would make for an interesting dogfight.

Riven's breath continued to come fast. Krollir fancied he could hear the assassin's teeth grinding. He waited a moment longer before replying.

'Be at ease, lieutenant. You stand in the summoning chamber of Mask the Shadowlord, in the presence of Mask's most prized servant.' He smiled and mentally added, In the presence of he who soon will be Mask's Champion.

Riven replied through gritted teeth, 'Grand. But I still need to see.'

Krollir chose to ignore the assassin's sarcasm and softly intoned the words to a spell. Upon completion, a soft, diffuse glow filled the large chamber, enough light to create a patchwork of shadows but not enough to fully dispel the darkness.

The rough-hewn limestone walls of the chamber glowed softly in the pale light of the spell. Krollir turned to face Riven. As he had suspected, the assassin stood in a fighting crouch with both saber hilts clenched in white- knuckled fists.

'In this chamber, this light alone is acceptable to the Shadowlord.'

Riven nodded but made ao reply. His one good eye must have adjusted quickly to the darkness, for his gaze darted warily about the chamber, still suspicious. Krollir observed his hunting dog with professional detachment. He tried to follow Riven's thinking as the assassin's one-eyed gaze scanned the room.

The summoning chamber had but one means of entry and exit, something a professional like Riven necessarily disliked-predictable entry; predictable retreat. Thick hinges as long as daggers and bolts as thick as a man's thumb affixed the door to the limestone. The great slab of blackened, cast iron looked able to resist a siege engine.

In the center of the chamber, strips of platinum inlaid into the smooth, polished floor formed a triangle. Flesh-colored candles as thick as a man's forearm stood at each of its three corners. Riven would not know that the thaumaturgic triangle served to cage the extra-planar creatures that Krollir summoned to do his bidding.

He watched with a satisfied smirk-hidden by the felt cloth of his mask, of course-as Riven's gaze took in the binding triangle and summoning candles. The assassin's one good eye widened slightly, his fear of spellcraft evident in his expression.

I know you too well, lieutenant, Krollir smugly thought.

Riven understood little of spellcraft and its practice made him uneasy. As long as Krollir demonstrated the power of his magical arts from time to time, the assassin would never present a loyalty problem. Riven would never even aspire to become Mask's Champion.

A plain, mahogany lectern stood at the apex of the triangle. An open tome sat atop it, thick with knowledge and yellowed with age-the Shadowtome-a holy book of Mask that allowed Krollir to reach beyond this reality and summon…

'What are we doing here?' Apparently having recovered himself, Riven now sounded strangely calm, though

Вы читаете Shadow witness
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату