The last of the renshai, p.1

The Last of the Renshai, page 1

 

The Last of the Renshai
 



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The Last of the Renshai


  “YOUR PEOPLE KNOW ME AS THE EASTERN WIZARD.”

  Mitrian gasped. “Eastern?”

  Shadimar made a reassuring gesture. “By name, not affiliation. I do not side with your father’s enemies. The Western Wizard and I protect the Westlands. Come, Mitrian. I’ve called you here for a reason. Is it true you will soon own a sword?”

  “Yes. But how did you know? How do you know my name? And what do you mean, you called me here?”

  “I have dealt with Rache and your father. Little escapes me. Time’s growing short, Mitrian. I offer you the adventures you seek and a spell for your sword. If you accept my bargain, neither the sword’s edge nor its sheen will dull. Come. At least see what I offer.”

  “Why would you magic a sword for me?”

  “I mentioned a bargain, not a favor. Understand, I will extract payment for the only magic sword of the Eastern, Western, and faerie worlds. This sword will offer a heritage of blood and glory dedicated to the battle goddess, Sif. It will become your destiny to fight in the Great War, to. . . .”

  “War,” Mitrian whispered. “You promise adventure?”

  “No!” The Wizard’s shout shattered her reverie. “I guarantee a sword worthy of adventure. You must create it. . . .”

  DAW Books Presents

  the Finest in Fantasy by

  MICKEY ZUCKER REICHERT

  FLIGHTLESS FALCON

  SPIRIT FOX (with Jennifer Wingert)

  THE LEGEND OF NIGHTFALL (Book 1)

  THE RETURN OF NIGHTFALL (Book 2)

  The Books of Barakhai:

  THE BEASTS OF BARAKHAI (Book 1)

  THE LOST DRAGONS OF BARAKHAI (Book 2)

  The Renshai Trilogy:

  THE LAST OF THE RENSHAI (Book 1)

  THE WESTERN WIZARD (Book 2)

  CHILD OF THUNDER (Book 3)

  The Renshai Chronicles:

  BEYOND RAGNAROK (Book 1)

  PRINCE OF DEMONS (Book 2)

  THE CHILDREN OF WRATH (Book 3)

  The Renshai Saga:

  FLIGHT OF THE RENSHAI (Book 1)

  FIELDS OF WRATH (Book 2)

  The Bifrost Guardians Omnibus Editions:

  VOLUME ONE:

  GODSLAYER

  SHADOW CLIMBER

  DRAGONRANK MASTER

  VOLUME TWO:

  SHADOW’S REALM

  BY CHAOS CURSED

  Book One of

  The Renshai Trilogy

  MICKEY ZUCKER REICHERT

  Copyright © 1992 by Miriam S. Zucker.

  All Rights Reserved.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-66387-5

  Cover art by Jody A. Lee.

  Interior map by Michael Gilbert.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 869.

  First Printing, January 1992

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  For Janny Wurts,

  who helped make the dream a reality,

  and for

  The Thomas Jefferson Medical Class of 1985 who waited so patiently,

  each believing in his own way.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I would like to thank the following people for their contributions over nine years:

  Sandra Zucker, Gary Reichert, Mimi Panitch, Sue Stone, Pat LoBrutto, Sheila Gilbert, and Ray Feist for recognizing a pearl in an oyster and encouraging me to find it.

  To Joel Rosenberg and Barry Longyear for a well-timed slap. Also, Jonathan Matson and Dave Hartlage for their usual, thankless, heroic time and effort.

  But not to Dr. Mark Fabi, the only man in the world to fight me, sword to nunchaku, on an anatomy table.

  In an age of change

  When Chaos shatters Odin’s ward

  And the Cardinal Wizards forsake their vows

  A Renshai shall come forward.

  Hero of the Great War

  He will hold legend and destiny in his hand

  And wield them like a sword.

  Too late shall he be known unto you:

  The Golden Prince of Demons.

  —Crypts of Kor N’rual

  CONTENTS

  Year 23 of the Reign of Buirane

  Prologue

  Part I—THE TOWN OF SANTAGITHI

  1. Master of Immorality

  2. The Weapon Master

  3. Garn’s Revenge

  4. Memories in Oilcloth

  5. Storm Master of the East

  6. The Demon in the Gems

  7. Foes and Friends

  8. The Chase

  Part II—PREPARATIONS

  9. An Act of Defiance

  10. Crests of Blue and Gold

  11. Golden-haired Demon

  12. White Assassins

  13. The Golden-haired Devils from the North

  14. Mountain Man

  15. Becoming Renshai

  16. Pudar

  17. Sterrane the Bear

  18. Wizard’s Work

  19. Kinesthe

  20. Ambush

  21. King Gasir’s Court

  22. The Source of Strength

  23. Corpa Leukenya

  24. War to the Death

  Part III—THE GREAT WAR

  25. Beneath the Banner of the Wolf

  26. The Flagstone Tomb

  27. Renshai Rage and the God of Wrath

  28. The Eyes of the Dead

  29. The Legend of Béarn

  Epilogue

  Appendix

  MEETING ON THE WIZARD ISLE

  Year: 11,194 (Year 23 of the Reign of Buirane)

  The Eastern Wizard, Shadimar, did not know how long he had sat with his elbows propped on the table in the Cardinal Wizards’ Meeting Room and his bony chin cupped into his slender, wrinkled palms; but his hands had gone numb and long since ceased to register the cottony cascade of his beard between his fingers. The movements or stillness of his three colleagues had grown familiar beyond notice, and the only true mortal in the room, the bard Davrin, sat on the floor in his usual deferential silence, his mandolin cradled in his lap.

  For the last seventy years, from the day Shadimar had become one of the four true mages, chronology had lost all meaning for him. At one time, a bird’s flight across a meadow seemed to take days while, at another, an infant might come of age between Shadimar’s breakfast and lunch. At first, these lapses had terrified him; a mad link in the chain of Eastern Wizards might harm the system that Odin the AllFather had created at the beginning of time and nurtured in the hundreds of centuries that followed. By his law, each of the four Cardinal Wizards selected his time to die in a glorious ceremony that passed his memories, and those of his predecessors, to his chosen successor. Thus, over time, the Wizards became stronger, more knowledgeable, and more powerful.

  So far, that system had operated with reasonable precision. The original Wizards had been weak, essentially oracles and prophets. With Odin’s guidance, they shaped and studied the world and its forces, found the best or most necessary courses of action, and created prophecies that their stronger successors would need to fulfill. Over eons, those visions had become clearer, and the abilities of the Wizards had grown to allow them to fulfill their own predictions. Now only the oldest and most unclear of the prophecies remained, spouted but little understood by the first Wizards, scrawled on cave walls, passed down in the legends of generations of mortals, or simply funneled through the memories of previous Wizards.

  Shadimar remained unmoving, recalling how his near-immortality had muddled his time sense, making him fear that his contribution to the line of Eastern Wizards would be insanity. But, drawing on the memories of his predecessors, he discovered that nearly all of them had experienced
a similar period of adjustment. Over the years, as he became more comfortable with his position as Wizard, Shadimar had grown accustomed to the leaps and pauses in time. He had learned to focus instead on the functions of the current Eastern and Western Wizards: to fulfill a handful of prophecies, to keep the mortal populaces believing in the gods and Wizards without violating Odin’s laws of noninterference, and spreading the cause of neutrality by mediating between the Northern and Southern Wizards, who championed good and evil respectively.

  The Southern Wizard, Carcophan, ceased his pacing and slammed a meaty fist on the tabletop. “Enough of this waiting. He’s not coming back. I say your man has failed the Tasks.”

  Startled from his reverie, Shadimar jerked erect in his chair, riveting his steely gaze on the keeper and sower of the world’s evil.

  In the seat directly across the empty table, Tokar, the Western Wizard, remained still. His gray mane of hair and beard framed creased features and knowing, dark eyes that remained distantly fixed. Only a brief downward twitch of his lips revealed that the oldest of the Cardinal Wizards noticed Carcophan’s interruption.

  To Shadimar’s right, the Northern Sorceress, Trilless, scowled with a revulsion aimed more at her impatient opposite than his sudden, violent gesture. She wore layers of silky white robes that frothed and folded around her slender frame, emphasizing her fair, Northern features and snowy hair. Pale from head to toe, she looked the epitome of the goodness she championed, almost to the point of caricature. Though the wait involved Tokar’s apprentice, it was Trilless who answered the Southern Wizard’s challenge. “Be patient, Carcophan.” She cut off the words abruptly, as if to stay a natural urge to address the Evil One with an insult. It would accomplish nothing, except to make her seem the pettier of the two. Odin’s laws forbade the Wizards from harming one another, especially on such impartial territory as the Meeting Isle, but the enmity between the Northern and Southern Wizards had grown beyond all proportion. “I’m more than twice your age, yet I still remember when I underwent the Seven Tasks. The gods never made them easy. Don’t begrudge Tokar’s apprentice the time he needs to think.”

  Shadimar nodded absently at the wisdom in Trilless’ words. As intermediaries between the gods and men, it fell to the Wizards to select their apprentices, to choose not only for power and dedication to their god-assigned causes, but for stability and strength of character as well. To aid in the judgment, Odin had designed a series of seven god-mediated tasks to assess the worth and survivability of apprentices. Failure at any one resulted in death. According to Shadimar’s predecessors, more than half of those sent to the Tasks did not return, yet Tokar’s chosen, Haim, was the first to be tested since Shadimar himself. The Eastern Wizard was not quite certain what to expect, but patience seemed crucial.

  Lost in his thoughts, Shadimar did not notice that Carcophan had come up beside him until the Southern Wizard stood only a hand’s breadth from Shadimar and spoke into his face.

  “And we wouldn’t have to sit here in dark ignorance if you had placed the Pica Stone in capable hands.” The Southern Wizard’s yellow-green eyes seemed to bore through his companion’s gray ones. “Through it, we could see every move that he makes, hear every syllable.”

  Rage suffused Shadimar, the tragedy of Myrcidë still raw enough to incite anger in him. Before the Eastern Wizard had chosen him as successor, he had lived among his people, a reclusive race of priests, oracles, and minor magicians. During his apprenticeship, a Northern tribe of warriors, called Renshai, had rampaged through the Westlands, devastating the Myrcidians and leaving the world with no wizards except the Cardinal four and a handful of charlatans and fakes. He had left the clairsentient Pica Stone in the hands of his people, believing it safe there. The Renshai had plundered the huge sapphire, and it would violate Wizards’ vows for Shadimar to take it back by force. He gathered breath to barrage Carcophan for his insensitivity.

  Before Shadimar could speak, a presence touched his mind. Though calm and peaceful, it startled him into silence. Only the Wizards could communicate in this fashion, and then only with other Wizards. Yet it was considered disrespectful to the point of assault to enter another’s mind without invitation.

  Tokar did not probe or search. His voice filled only a tiny, shallow portion of Shadimar’s mind. “Best not to imitate the Evil One’s weaknesses. You are above that.” Then the presence disappeared.

  Shock shattered Shadimar’s anger. Though Tokar had phrased his warning carefully, it still came as a surprise. It made sense for the oldest and wisest of the Wizards to advise the youngest and weakest, especially since the Eastern and Western Wizards shared the burden of balancing good and evil and protecting the peoples of the area known as the Westlands. Yet Tokar, like the Western Wizards before him, was the most powerful and aloof of the four. He had never previously chosen to communicate with Shadimar in this manner. The Eastern Wizard could only guess that the tension of discovering whether his chosen successor had passed the task touched Tokar more than his quiet exterior revealed.

  Subdued and forgotten on the floor, Davrin strummed a string of chords on his mandolin, the sound barely audible in the silence that followed Carcophan’s accusation. A square-cut shroud of gray-flecked brown hair hid the bard’s dark eyes and placid features. He had no purpose in the ceremony except to observe and record like his mother before him and her father before her.

  Put off by Shadimar’s lack of response, Carcophan whirled toward Trilless, with a suddenness that sent his salt-and-pepper hair whipping into a wild tangle.

  The Sorceress remained still, not sparing the Southern Wizard so much as a glance.

  Carcophan edged toward her, presumably to agitate. But before he could take a second step, a door that had not existed a moment before opened in the far wall, and Tokar’s apprentice appeared through it. Haim’s normally rosy Pudarian features looked a waxy yellow. Though only in his mid-twenties, he now had white hairs hanging conspicuously among his dark curls. He seemed to have aged a century since the combined Wizards’ magics had sent him to the Tasks earlier that same day. He tottered forward, eyes moist and features shaken.

  Shadimar recalled his own success with the Tasks of Wizardry, remembered feeling triumphant, confident, and revitalized at the conclusion, despite the difficulty of the challenge. Scanning the memories of his predecessors, Shadimar found the same remembrance of their own trials. Concerned by Haim’s weakness, Shadimar frowned, glancing at his colleagues questioningly.

  Tokar and Trilless had raised icy lack of expression to an art form. Reading nothing on their faces, Shadimar turned his attention to the least patient Wizard. He glanced at Carcophan just in time to see the keeper of evil draw a dagger from the folds of his cloak. Carcophan lunged at the returning apprentice.

  Haim recoiled with a gasp. Slowed by fatigue, he did not move quickly enough. Carcophan’s knife jabbed through his robes at the level of his heart.

  Instinctively, Haim clasped his chest, staring at the Southern Wizard in wide-eyed horror. He fell to one knee.

  But the knife emerged bloodless, as Shadimar knew it must. There could be no wound. Those who survived the Seven Tasks could not be harmed by any object of Odin’s world. Like the Cardinal Wizards, nothing short of the conjured magical creatures called demons or the Swords of Power could harm Haim; though, until Tokar’s passing, Haim could still fall prey to mortal illnesses and old age.

  Carcophan returned his knife to its hiding place. Turning on his heel, he calmly returned to his seat at the farthest end of the table from Trilless, chuckling beneath his breath along the way.

  Haim rose with a slow shakiness that caused Shadimar to worry that the youth had survived the attack, only to die of fear. Trilless scowled, but she did not come to the aid of Tokar’s apprentice. Any lessons or comforting must come from the Western Wizard.

  The room lapsed into uncomfortable silence. Concerned by the weakness and insecurity of the one who would become trained to the position of Western
Wizard, Shadimar discarded propriety and extended his mind to touch Tokar’s. He hoped to catch a thread of the reason why Tokar had chosen Haim as his successor.

  But Shadimar’s projection entered only the most superficial corner of Tokar’s mind, neatly enclosed by mental defenses he could never hope to defeat, even if he had wanted to enrage his stronger ally.

  What is it you wish from me, Shadimar? Tokar kept his thought as patient as his person, yet the undertone rang through clearly. Shadimar’s entrance into his mind was an ill-mannered intrusion.

  Shadimar kept his answer general, not wanting to speculate too much while linked with Tokar. I only wondered if there were things I should know about Haim. He emphasized the pronoun to explain his use of nonverbal communication.

  I think not. There was veiled annoyance beneath the response that quickly turned to bland caution. I know him well enough to see things you do not. Haim is young. I have three or five decades to work on experience and confidence. The Western Wizard made a subtle, dismissing gesture that bid Shadimar leave his mind.

  Shadimar obeyed, not wholly satisfied with the explanation. As he withdrew, he thought he caught a faint feeling of doubt, but he could not be sure whether it came from the Western Wizard or as backlash of his own concerns. Tokar’s composure did little to ease Shadimar’s mind; tranquillity was the Western Wizard’s trademark. Should the newest in the line of Wizards prove too weak, the memories of his predecessors might overwhelm him. Of them all, this was especially true of the Western line. For reasons Shadimar could not fathom, Odin had decreed that it would always have the most power, while the Northern and Southern lines should stay equal, and the Eastern should remain the weakest.

  Perhaps Tokar wants his successor to be feeble, so that he can overpower Haim from within and remain in control past his time. The thought seemed ludicrous. Why would he do such a thing when he could simply wait to choose an apprentice and remain in power several more centuries? Tokar had served as Western Wizard for longer than six hundred years; but according to Shadimar’s inherited memories, others had remained in power nearly a millennium. Since each Wizard chose his own time of passing, there was no specific criterion for such a decision. At some point, each Wizard simply found the time right to expire, and only a rare one had lost his life early to demons or to one of the Swords of Power.

 
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