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Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road, page 1

 

Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road
 



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Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road


  LEGENDARY HEROES

  THE LEGENDS OF THE DEVAS—ANGELS GIVEN MORTAL

  FLESH, BOUND TO JUSTICE, FIGHTING IN UNENDING WARS

  IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR DEAD GODS’ WILLS—AS ONLY

  THE FORGOTTEN REALMS® AUTHORS CAN TELL IT.

  DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, D&D, FORGOTTEN REALMS, WIZARDS OF THE COAST, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. ©2011 Wizards.

  STRANGE SPIRITS HAUNT

  THE SHADOWFELL PLAIN

  Ilvani stood alone on the plain. She was barefoot and wore no cloak, but this wasn’t unusual. What struck Ashok was her swaying stance and the knife she held in her hand.

  The scream echoed again, closer, and the Guardians bared weapons.

  THEY DRIVE THE SHADOWBEASTS TO ATTACK

  “Ilvani,” he called.

  She didn’t answer. She continued to stare into the dust clouds and listen to the nightmare’s screams. Cold wind gusted across the plain and blew grit into Ashok’s eyes.

  “Come back to the city with me. Whatever’s happening, we’ll help you, I promise.”

  “I couldn’t get them out. My fault,” she said. She’d slashed the long sleeves of her dress. Blood-caked scraps dangled from her elbows. Dozens of ugly cuts covered her forearms. Ashok seized her wrist—she dropped the bloody knife—to see how deep the wounds went.

  “Ilvani, why did you do this? I’ve never seen you cut yourself before.”

  “You’ve never seen me at all.”

  THEY WANT THE WITCH OF IKEMMU

  Suddenly he stopped. The shallower cuts on her left arm—she hadn’t made them at random. Ashok saw symbols, repetitive patterns, but they were nothing he could decipher. He started to ask her about them, but a loud scream shattered the air and made Ashok spin. He grabbed again for a weapon that wasn’t on his belt.

  The nightmare was almost on top of them.

  THEY DIDN’T COUNT ON ASHOK

  Also by

  JALEIGH JOHNSON

  UNBROKEN

  CHAIN

  Throughout the Shadowfell live the strange shadar-kai, a people of shadow who live only as long as they can find sensations in their gray and fading lives—people like Ashok, a chainfighter. But in the city of Ikemmu are those who have learned to use their fierce need for adrenalin and danger to better their city and their civilization.

  ED GREENWOOD PRESENTS WATERDEEP

  MISTSHORE

  Icelin thinks she has escaped the horrors of her past—until they come hunting her, forcing her to go to ground. But when things go from bad to worse, and her friends start paying for her mistakes, Icelin learns she has to embrace the talents she fears, accept the past she runs from, and confront those threatening her future.

  UNBROKEN CHAIN: THE DARKER ROAD

  ©2011 Wizards of the Coast LLC

  All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork contained herein is prohibited without the express written permission of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  Published by Wizards of the Coast LLC. FORGOTTEN REALMS, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, D&D, WIZARDS OF THE COAST, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries.

  All Wizards of the Coast characters and their distinctive likenesses are property of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

  Cover art by: Raymond Swanland

  eISBN: 978-0-7869-5919-8

  U.S., CANADA, EUROPEAN HEADQUARTERS

  ASIA, PACIFIC, & LATIN AMERICA Hasbro UK Ltd

  Wizards of the Coast LLC Caswell Way

  P.O. Box 707 Newport, Gwent NP9 0YH

  Renton, WA 98057-0707 GREAT BRITAIN

  +1-800-324-6496 Save this address for your records.

  Visit our web site at www.wizards.com

  v3.1

  Welcome to Faerûn, a land of magic and intrigue, brutal violence and divine compassion, where gods have ascended and died, and mighty heroes have risen to fight terrifying monsters. Here, millennia of warfare and conquest have shaped dozens of unique cultures, raised and leveled shining kingdoms and tyrannical empires alike, and left long forgotten, horror-infested ruins in their wake.

  A LAND OF MAGIC

  When the goddess of magic was murdered, a magical plague of blue fire—the Spellplague—swept across the face of Faerûn, killing some, mutilating many, and imbuing a rare few with amazing supernatural abilities. The Spellplague forever changed the nature of magic itself, and seeded the land with hidden wonders and bloodcurdling monstrosities.

  A LAND OF DARKNESS

  The threats Faerûn faces are legion. Armies of undead mass in Thay under the brilliant but mad lich king Szass Tam. Treacherous dark elves plot in the Underdark in the service of their cruel and fickle goddess, Lolth. The Abolethic Sovereignty, a terrifying hive of inhuman slave masters, floats above the Sea of Fallen Stars, spreading chaos and destruction. And the Empire of Netheril, armed with magic of unimaginable power, prowls Faerûn in flying fortresses, sowing discord to their own incalculable ends.

  A LAND OF HEROES

  But Faerûn is not without hope. Heroes have emerged to fight the growing tide of darkness. Battle-scarred rangers bring their notched blades to bear against marauding hordes of orcs. Lowly street rats match wits with demons for the fate of cities. Inscrutable tiefling warlocks unite with fierce elf warriors to rain fire and steel upon monstrous enemies. And valiant servants of merciful gods forever struggle against the darkness.

  A LAND OF UNTOLD ADVENTURE

  DEDICATION

  To Elizabeth, Gary and Kelly, for offering

  equal parts friendship, inspiration, and support.

  Mixed and served with coffee, of course.

  The bonds that join the shadar-kai of Ikemmu are complex and cruel at times, much like the bond between the shadar-kai and the shadows. Are they capable of strong emotions? Most certainly. Fear, rage, hope, love—all these belong to the shadar-kai, and they feel them more intensely than I’ve seen in most of the other races. Rage cuts deeper, love burns so brightly that it tears at the flesh. Of course they feel, but there is no gentleness to temper their emotions. If you name a shadar-kai your friend, you will have a companion to walk the darkest roads with you to the end of your days.

  If you can survive the pain.

  —Tatigan Carrlock, Collected Observations of Ikemmu, the Year of Deep Water Drifting (1480 DR)

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  PROLOGUE

  THE VILLAGE OF TINNIR, RASHEMEN

  4 MARPENOTH, THE YEAR OF DEEP WATER DRIFTING (1480 DR)

  THE BODY IS HERE, SISTER,” SAID THE ETHRAN, THE VILLAGE healer. “Bhalla be merciful, the blood—”

 
; “Be quiet,” Sree hissed. “You’ll wake the child. I’ll not have her remember her mother this way.” However, Sree did smell the blood. Behind her mask, the reek of it mingled in her nostrils with the scent of cold earth.

  The house was an old stone nub set into the side of a low hill. Heather roots poked through the ceiling. Wisps of smoke and ash rose from a dying cookfire, and by the light of the gray-gold embers, Sree saw the body of Yaraella lying on her back in the corner of the main room.

  Slack fingers cradled an ivory-handled knife protruding from her abdomen. The blood pool had soaked her thick brown braid and spread to the threshold of the small bedchamber Yaraella shared with her daughter, Elina.

  “Wait outside,” Sree instructed the ethran.

  Sree stepped over the coagulating pool and entered the bedchamber. Yaraella’s child was barely four years old. She slept soundly, buried underneath thick wool blankets with only her tiny nose and a thick mop of brown hair showing.

  Bhalla, show mercy, Sree prayed silently, echoing the ethran’s words. Let her sleep through this nightmare.

  The witch lifted the sleeping child and the blankets from her bed and carried her quickly from the hut. The little girl sighed once and buried her face in Sree’s shoulder. She didn’t wake.

  Outside, the horizon shone gray with predawn light. The air tasted of frost, and Sree’s boots crunched on the white-tipped grass. Reina, the ethran, was waiting. Though she was not yet a hathran like Sree, the younger witch wore a mask at Sree’s command. Pain and grief lay heavily on the village tonight. The witches would show neither emotion.

  “Take off my cloak,” Sree said. “Put it around the child. Cover her head with the hood, or the frost will have her ears.”

  Reina did as Sree told her, and when she’d properly swaddled the child, Sree handed her off to the ethran. Removing a folded piece of parchment from her pouch, Sree read Yaraella’s letter again silently. The parchment was ash-stained from lying too near the fire. Addressed to Elina, it was a short message, full of love. It would be years before the child could read it herself.

  “Why did she do it, Sister?” Reina asked. “She left her child behind, alone in the world.”

  “She is no more alone than you or I,” the hathran said calmly. “Elina will be cared for. I’ll see to it myself.”

  “But will she be like her mother?” Reina stroked the child’s back. “Bhalla forbid such a thing, if death be the result.”

  “We must not let it happen,” Sree said. Squinting in the dim light, she thought she saw something in the child’s hand. She folded back the hood of her cloak to see. The child clutched a small square object against her chest.

  “What is it?” Reina asked. “A doll?”

  Sree shook her head. “It’s a box.” Gently, she worked it from the child’s grip. The box was made of dark wood with purple heather flowers painted on the lid. Sree opened it and peered inside.

  “What’s in it?” Reina asked.

  “Nothing,” Sree said. No cherished treasures, no memories of the life the little girl had shared with her mother. Sree gripped the box tightly and then slid it into the pocket of the child’s sleeping shirt. “Whatever was in it is gone now.”

  IKEMMU, THE SHADOWDARK

  4 MARPENOTH, THE YEAR OF DEEP WATER DRIFTING (1480 DR)

  Ilvani fell asleep in her bed surrounded by carved wood and stone boxes, glass spheres, and even rags hastily bound with string—anything that would hold memories. Precious creatures they were, but easily lost. She had to keep them confined, or they would fly away on the wind. She’d already lost too many.

  Ilvani dreamed, and in her mind, she gasped at the vision rising before her eyes, a landscape she’d only ever beheld in books and paintings. She saw a vast pine forest in shades of deep green, the ground covered in snow. Clouds veiled the winter sun. What light there was reflected diamond bright off the snow. She stood on a path that wound through the trees and disappeared into shadow.

  She walked barefoot, wanting to feel the cold, soft snow beneath her feet, but the dream denied her these sensations. The air was full of silent expectancy. Without knowing how, Ilvani understood that someone waited for her here.

  A white rabbit appeared in front of her. When it saw Ilvani, the creature hunkered down in the snow, pressing its body flat against the ground until only its black eyes were distinguishable from the white blanket.

  Ilvani stepped forward and extended her hand to the creature. The rabbit jumped up on its hind legs, nose twitching, and vanished.

  “Where did you go, little snow rabbit?” the dreaming Ilvani said. Her words turned to fog on the air and disappeared. Another memory gone, but that didn’t trouble her. Only the vital ones were worth catching.

  “Will you help me?”

  The voice drifted down from the pines. Ilvani looked up and saw a young woman perched on a bare branch. Her tattered wool skirt bunched underneath her, exposing legs blue with cold and feet as bare as Ilvani’s. A thick brown braid lay against her neck. Her face was the color of the snow.

  Humans are so beautiful, Ilvani thought, but this one’s eyes give her away. They were glass spheres, black like the snow rabbit’s but empty.

  “I can’t help you,” Ilvani said. “You’re dead.”

  A trickle of blood ran down the woman’s leg behind her knee. It dripped from her heel and made a bright stain on the snow.

  “Won’t you help lift me down?” the woman pleaded. Her dead eyes filled with tears. She reached for Ilvani with strong, solid arms, arms she should have been able to use to lift herself down from the tree.

  Ilvani looked at her own arms. They were thin gray sticks, kindling from a dead fire. They had power but no strength. She already knew their limits. In a dark hole in the ground, she’d been tested and failed.

  Involuntarily, she touched her hair. The pale red strands had grown back, but they were still uneven, wild. It sickened her to run a comb through them. The comb always turned to fingers, and the fingers reeked of dirt, sweat, and her blood.

  Ilvani dropped her hand to her side and waited until her trembling body calmed.

  Memories were strange and malicious creatures. The cruel ones refused to fade, and she’d never found a box that could hold them.

  “Are you all right?”

  Ilvani had almost forgotten the dead woman and her rabbit eyes. The dream went on without her. If she wanted it to end, she must play her part.

  She stepped to the foot of the pine tree and raised her gray arms. “Give me your hands,” she said. “I’ll help you, snow rabbit, but then leave me alone.”

  The woman clasped Ilvani’s forearms. A shock, like a spell gone awry, shot into her chest. Gasping, Ilvani dragged the woman from the tree, and they fell, stumbling, into the snow.

  Except it wasn’t snow. Ilvani looked around and beheld the vastness of the Shadowfell plain. Purple lightning cut the horizon, and the cloud scud seemed to fall out of the sky and drift along the ground. A dust storm approached.

  “Where are we?” the woman asked. She sounded frightened. She reached for Ilvani’s hand, but Ilvani slapped it away. “Can’t you help me, please?”

  Her voice was a needle in Ilvani’s skin. Pleading, crying, begging—none of it did any good. Help yourself or die.

  Shaking her head furiously, Ilvani suppressed a cry of her own. She wanted to go away, to hide in that safe place in her mind—the place where she made no memories. Her dreams never let her. In dreams, she faced everything.

  “Look at the sky!” the woman cried, pointing to the horizon.

  Ilvani looked, but she didn’t understand what she saw. The dust storm bore down on them, but at its center was a calm space, an eye in the vast, deadly squall. Within the eye a darkness formed, growing arms, legs, and a head. The dark figure walked toward them across the plain and dragged stinging, slashing death behind it.

  “Run,” Ilvani said. She grabbed the woman by the shoulder and tried to turn her, but the little rabbit s
at rigid in the grip of her own fear. The wind whipped up in a vortex, snatched the woman’s braid, and began to pull her bodily toward the eye of the storm.

  “Help me!” the woman shrieked, grabbing for Ilvani. The women locked arms again, but the force dragging them was immense. Yet it did not pull at Ilvani. The figure in the storm didn’t want her. It wanted the little snow rabbit.

  A red stain soaked the front of the woman’s dress. Ilvani felt the lifeblood flowing out of her. The woman whimpered in fear and pain.

  “Hold on!” Ilvani cried, but her voice got lost in the roaring wind. It didn’t matter. Her grip faltered, and the woman’s hands, slick with fear sweat, slipped down her arms. She screamed and screamed, but the storm tore her away from Ilvani. She flew through the air like a flailing doll and disappeared into the dark figure’s arms.

  The weight released, Ilvani fell to the ground. The woman’s blood covered her arms. She didn’t have time to wipe it off before the storm was upon her. The dust covered her body, blinding and choking her.

  Ilvani woke and screamed. She clawed at her hair and eyes, trying to scrape away dust that wasn’t there—more than dust. There were symbols, words whispered in a language she’d never heard before. They crawled over her skin, her ears, and into her mouth. She tried to speak, and the words that came out were in the same language. What was she saying? She screamed again and reclaimed the shadar-kai tongue.

  Fully awake, Ilvani looked down at herself. Blood streaked her palms where she’d dug sharp nails into her skin. One of her boxes, the Ashok box, lay in her lap. While she slept, her hand had instinctively clutched it. Unlike the others, this box contained something more than memories. It held tattered remnants of parchment and ashes—tools that had helped save a life.

  There was no dust storm, no snow rabbit. For a breath, all seemed right and normal—as normal as could be expected. Then she widened her gaze and realized she was not in her room at Tower Athanon where she’d fallen asleep.

 
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