of a dying star.

Learning to play xorvintaal had stripped away what magic he'd had-what magic all his fellow players, the taaldarax, had. It was one of the oldest rules of xorvintaal — to gain, first you must lose.

But only Dareun wielded the star's powers. He had an edge.

It's also not about throwing away the claw test. You should be cautious, Magaolonereth said. You're angering other taaldarax. You'll draw their eyes to you. I say this not as a rival, but as your sire's clutchmate. You must pay attention.

Everything you say is as a rival, Dareun thought. There were good reasons Dareun had not accepted the tutelage of Magaolonereth. But after a calculated and contemplative pause, he said, Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I will step back and observe. Plan my next move more carefully.

With luck Magaolonereth would spread that information. The old ones would be distracted, sending their lovacs and their minions after his minor hoards and holdings-or more likely still, pointing unsuspecting, greedy fools to them. All in the hopes of crippling Andareunarthex and forcing him to yield.

He would keep them busy-his own lovacs had been warned of possible attacks.

Which left plenty of time for Andareunarthex to make a move no other player would expect. He stirred the water of the scrying pool with a claw.

Most prudent, Magaolonereth said. We'll await your return to the game.

When the ripples settled, the image of a city by the sea surrounded by a high wall and crowned by the peaks of many towers appeared. He thrashed his tail again.

I promise you won't be waiting long, Dareun said, and then bid his uncle farewell. It was time to move pieces into Waterdeep.


'Heavens to Hells,' Lady Aowena Hedare cried. She leaned out of the window that overlooked the street of the God Catcher. 'What sort of neighborhood is this?'

'A good one,' Tennora assured her aunt, though it was hardly a neighborhood-more the accidental square created where Sul Street met a funny little jog off Market Street that to Tennora's knowledge had no agreed-upon name. A hearth-house, a dry goods store, and a few far-shippers were tucked into the surrounding buildings, but the tenement the locals called the God Catcher was the neighborhood.

'Doesn't look that way to me,' Tennora's uncle Eckhart said, peering over his wife's rounded shoulder. He snorted through his thick moustaches. 'Or sound like it.'

'I promise,' Tennora said, 'this isn't normal. It's a very nice neighborhood.'

But of course, the one day she'd managed to set aside for her aunt and uncle, to prove to them once and for all that she wasn't living in the midst of criminals and coin lasses, everything had to fall apart. Tennora had planned everything carefully-she always planned carefully. She'd spent the whole morning trying to make certain the visit would be as uneventful as possible. Set the table ahead of time and arranged the chips to all face her own seat. Beaten out the rug beneath the table. Spent an hour assembling little morsels of bread and salty ham so that her aunt wouldn't notice she was out of butter. Cooked and cleaned and pressed so that everything would go well.

It wasn't fair, Tennora thought, to hold her accountable for the madwoman standing in the street and screaming up at her apartment.

'What is she saying?' Aunt Aowena asked. 'Plaque Clock? Brack Rock?'

'I believe it's 'Blacklock,'' Tennora said, stifling a sigh. 'Aundra Blacklock. The landlady.' She pointed up at the arm of the God Catcher, stretched out above them.

Years before, Tennora's apartment had been part of a glorious statue controlled by the Lords of Waterdeep. The Walking Statues were famed for protecting the City of Splendors against invaders. Then the Spellplague erupted and drove the statues mad. The God Catcher had been headed to crush the market, the very heart of its city, when a wizard-the Blackstaff, they said-turned the ground beneath it into mud. Its leg sank, and the statue collapsed, its arm reaching up toward the heavens, and froze. The leg remained, a passage into the sewers below. The body curled over its other knee had been built over with new construction, and a set of stairs wound its way up the outstretched arm. But the calm stone face regarding the sphere, the muscles of its shoulder, and the long column of its pale gray arm remained visible.

Twenty feet above the statue's open palm a sphere without a visible door floated-the home of Aundra Blacklock, proprietor and sorceress, and the source of the madwoman's ire.

'She could at least enunciate.' Aunt Aowena sniffed.

'If that is the sort of person your landlady is acquainted with,' Uncle Eckhart said, 'I shudder to think of the sort of ruffians she's rented to.'

'No offense, dear,' Aunt Aowena added.

'I don't believe they're acquainted,' Tennora said. The woman had the red-faced, uncomprehending look of pure rage that the mysterious Aundra Blacklock frequently inspired in people who didn't know better. Aundra kept to herself, unapologetically so. Tennora could count on one hand the number of times she'd spoken to the raptoran landlady-once when she'd rented the apartment in the God Catcher's shoulder, and twice when Aundra had flown down to Tennora's window to pick up the rent payments in the early evening hours. If the woman wanted Aundra's attention, she was going to be waiting.

The madwoman scooped up a piece of broken pavement from the street and hurled it at the God Catcher. It hit Tennora's neighbor's shuttered window. Aunt Aowena squealed, and Tennora fought the urge to scream.

'Why don't we just sit back-' she started to say.

'Ah!' her uncle interrupted. 'There's the Watch. About time.'

A carefully prepared highsunfeast lay forgotten on the table. But, Tennora thought, perhaps it was not all bad. The disturbance outside had interrupted her aunt's latest attempt to convince Tennora to return home with them to the North Ward.

'You're not truly happy here,' Aunt Aowena had said, ignoring the cashew soup Tennora had spent most of the morning preparing. 'How could you be? Shabby, shabby place. The air has to be terrible on your poor lungs.'

'I'm certain the air is quite the same here as in the North Ward,' Tennora said.

Aowena ignored her. 'I'll tell you what-Eckhart and I are looking for a tutor for your cousins. You can move back in with us and we'll even give you spending coins, like a little salary. How does that sound?'

'It's very kind,' Tennora replied, even though it wasn't kind in the least. It was an easy way for her aunt to educate Tennora's four cousins and an easier way to slip her back into the house. 'I know I can always count on you, Aunt Aowena, but-'

Her aunt clapped gleefully. 'You can move into the Griffon Room! And we'll introduce you to all the best young men-don't want to be a tutor forever, do we now?'

Tennora's thoughts unavoidably slid to the last young man she had been introduced to. Ballinton Marchenor, a third son of that family, an officer of the guard who spent the better part of the last evenfeast she'd attended regaling her with the geography of the sewers he patrolled. He had been very eager and sweet, called her Lady Hedare as he was supposed to, and took her hand with an earnestness that suggested he didn't do that often.

Tennora had found it too cruel to tell him that while she was sure he had many nice qualities, he was an utter bore and still smelled of the sewers.

She concentrated very hard on not making a face. 'That is kind of you as well. But I'm afraid my studies-'

'Tut! There's no point to a lovely young girl with your means wasting her time with wizardry. I always told your mother-'

That was when the madwoman started screaming, and although it didn't seem like a charitable thought, Tennora was glad the madwoman had saved her the unbearable chore of explaining to Aunt Aowena that she didn't want to live in the North Ward and teach arithmetic to her snotty cousins while empty-headed young men squired her around ballrooms. That she wanted to continue studying wizardry in her apprenticeship at the House of Wonder.

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