'No longer will you ignore the very purpose for which you were given life! You shall know your transgressions and remember them for all time. You have sinned against your liege and you will he punished.'

Bane felt the coils of darkness approach.

'The thief!' Mystra shouted. 'Let us discover the identity of the thief for you and return the tablets!'

Tyr, God of Justice, raised his arms imploringly. 'Let us not pay in kind for the foolishness of but one of our brethren, Lord Ao!' Darkness, like the lash of a whip, slashed across Tyr's face, and he fell back, screaming and clutching at his now useless eyes.

'You see nothing but the salvation of your own skins!'

The gods were silent, and the dark bands darted between them, drawing the gods closer to each other, as if herding them together to create a single target for Ao's wrath. The gods cried out — some in fear, some in pain. They were not accustomed to such treatment.

'Cowards. The theft of the tablets was the final affront. You will return them to me. But first, you will pay the price for a millennium of disappointment.'

Bane stood his ground against the bands of energy, and suddenly the biting strands of darkness erupted into blinding flames of cold blue light that seared him. He turned from the light and caught a glimpse of Mystra as she, too, held her ground, a slight smile etched across her features. Then the bands caught Bane, and his world became pain such as only a god could imagine or endure.

After an eternity of torment, all the gods were caught in the dark bands of power and drawn tightly together. Only then did the deities find movement and thought once again possible.

And fear. This they knew intimately.

Finally, Lord Talos managed to speak. His voice was weak and hoarse, his words escaping in frightened gasps. 'Is it over? Could that have been all?'

Suddenly the pantheon seemed to vanish and the gods, still bound together, found themselves staring full into the face of what frightened each the most — chaos, pain, love, life, ignorance. And each god saw his or her own destruction there, as well.

'That was but a taste of my anger. Now drink deep from the goblet of a true god's rage!'

A sound was heard then unlike any other.

The gods screamed.

Mystra struggled to retain some vestige of control as she found herself plummeting through a fantastic vortex that defied reality. She suffered unbearable pain as godhood was ripped from her. But the Goddess of Magic was not alone in her torments. All the gods, save Helm, were cast from the heavens.

After a time, Mystra awoke in the Realms. She was startled to find that her form had been reduced to its primal essence. Her body was little more than a glowing mass of blue-white light.

'You will take an avatar.' Ao's voice resounded in her mind. 'You will possess the body of a mortal and live as a human. Then perhaps you will appreciate what you once took for granted.'

Then she was alone.

The fallen goddess hovered for a moment as Lord Ao's words turned over and over in her mind. If she had to take an avatar, possess a body of flesh and blood, then Ao really did intend on keeping the gods out of the Planes. Though Mystra had suspected Ao would punish his servants for their failings — and she had even planned for the event by secreting a shard of her power in the Realms — the goddess simply couldn't comprehend the loss of her status, the loss of her beautiful palace in the heavens.

Mystra looked around and came as close to shuddering as she could in her formless state. The land around her would be quite attractive to mortals: rolling hills stretched out around the Goddess of Magic, and an ancient, crumbling castle dominated the horizon to the west. Yes, most humans would find this scene peaceful, Mystra thought, but it is a repulsive eyesore when compared to my home.

Nirvana, the plane of ultimate Law, held Mystra's domain. It was a perfectly regimented, infinite area where light and darkness, hot and cold, were ideally balanced. Unlike the chaotic landscape of the Realms, Nirvana was structured like the insides of a huge clock, with equal, ordered gears meeting in ideal junctions. On each of these gears rested the realm of one of the lawful gods that inhabited the plane. Of course Mystra saw her realm as the most beautiful in Nirvana, in all the Planes, in fact.

The Goddess of Magic studied the ruined castle for a moment, then silently cursed Ao. Even when that ruin was newly built, it was but a closet in my home, Mystra thought bitterly, and the image of her magnificent shimmering palace came unbidden to her mind. The castle that filled her realm was built of pure magical energy, drawn directly from the weave of magic that surrounded Faerun. Like everything else in Nirvana, the palace was perfectly structured and eternal. Its towers were all the exact same height, its windows the same dimensions. Even the magic-woven bricks that made up the castle were identical to one another. And in the center of Mystra's home stood her library, which contained every book and scroll, listing every spell ever known in the world, and some that had not yet been discovered.

Mystra turned her gaze to the dark storm clouds that filled the sky. 'I will have my home again, Ao,' she said softly. 'And I will have it soon.'

As the Goddess of Magic stared at the rolling clouds, she caught a glimpse of something glowing in the air. When she tried to focus on the beam that seemed to hang from the clouds, she felt dizzy. I'm still addled from Ao's attack, she thought, and tried again to see what was flickering from the sky to the ground near the ruined castle. In a moment, her vision cleared and she recognized the wavering image before her.

A Celestial Stairway.

The stairway, which changed its shape continually as Mystra watched it, was a common path for the gods to travel between their homes in the Planes and the Realms. Though Mystra had rarely used the bridges to Faerun, she knew that there were many of them throughout the Realms and that they led to a nexus in the heavens. The nexus, in turn, led to all of the gods' homes.

The stairway changed from a long wooden spiral to a beautiful marble ladder as Mystra, still bleary-eyed, watched it. Then the goddess suddenly realized why it was so hard for her to focus on the Celestial Stairway: It was only visible to gods or mortals of very great power. She was now neither.

That realization spurred the fallen goddess to action, and she set about to recover the shard of power she had hidden with one of her faithful in the Realms in the hours before Ao's summons. Mystra started to cast a spell to locate her cache of power. Even in her nebulous form, the Goddess of Magic easily completed the complicated gestures and spoke the incantation necessary for the spell. But when she was done casting, nothing happened.

'No!' Mystra cried, and her voice echoed over the hills. 'You cannot rob me of my art, Ao. I will not stand for this!'

The goddess tried to cast the spell again. A pillar of green energy erupted from the ground and moved quickly to engulf Mystra. She screamed as the energy struck her insubstantial form. Bolts of green light shot through the misty blue-white cloud that was the Goddess of Magic, causing Mystra to scream in pain. Her vision rested on the black clouds swirling around the glowing Celestial Stairway in the seconds before she lost all consciousness.

At the top of the stairway, at the nexus of the Planes, Lord Helm, God of Guardians, watched as Mystra was knocked unconscious by the misfired spell. Helm was still bruised and bloodied from Ao's wrath, but unlike the other gods, he still retained the form he usually took in the Planes: A huge, armored warrior, with unblinking eyes painted on his steel gauntlets.

Helm's eyes were clear, but they reflected his sadness as he turned and looked up at the pulsating black cloud that hung over him. 'What of my punishment, Lord Ao?'

There was silence for a time. When Ao spoke, Helm nodded slowly. The answer to his question was not unexpected.



In Zhentil Keep, the heaviest rainfall the city had suffered in almost a year engulfed the narrow streets, but

Вы читаете Shadowdale
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату