DargonZine 9, Issue 5

Shadowstone Part 4

Naia 13, 1014


This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Shadowstone

Naia 13, 1014.

Second bell.

The Refuge of Thornodd’s Raiders, in the Hills outside of Port Andestn, Duchy Monrodya.

 

Panic gripping him, Chandras darted immediately to the nearest group of raiders, keeping track of what the grey-eyed man by the doorway was doing. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he quickly checked all 4 of the raiders in the group he had approached (no grey eyes!) before disturbing their conversation. In a low voice, he said, “Pardon me, but who is that standing by the doorway there?”

 

One of the raiders started to say, “Oh, that’s …” in a normal tone of voice, but Chandras said “Shhhhh! Not so loud, please!”

 

The raider frowned, but complied. In a softer voice, he said, “That’s Sennex.”

 

“Have you known him long? Was he with you when you planned your raid on the mining camp?”

 

“Why? What does it matter?”

 

“Just tell me, please!”

 

The raider shrugged and said, “Well, I’ve known him for years — he was a Raider before I joined.

 

“And, no he wasn’t with us then. In fact, we found him wandering in the hills as we were returning from that raid. He said he remembers being knocked unconscious by those Minions, and then he woke up in a ravine, tied hand and foot. He got himself loose, and was trying to find his way to the Refuge when our group stumbled across him. We figured he must have fallen from the horse of the Minion who was carrying him.”

 

“Yeah, or maybe he was lying,” Chandras said. He shook his head, and stopped whispering, even though the group of raiders continued to look at him strangely for asking such odd questions. “Do you have any extra weapons I could borrow? I suddenly feel like I need to go armed.”

 

He was led through one of the sleeping chambers to a small storage cave, where he picked up a sword. He contemplated trying to find armor that fit him from among the extra pieces lying there, but he had no real intention of going into battle — the sword was for a more immediate use.

 

When he returned to the main chamber, Thornodd was just reentering it as well. Chandras quickly checked for Sennex, and found him across the room from the opening with a strange satisfied smirk on his face. Chandras edged his way closer to the grey-eyed man as Thornodd gathered everyone around the table again. Chandras noticed that Jerek had also returned, and he had a large open book in his hands that he was reading very intently.

 

Thornodd had a very serious look on her face as she regarded her gathered raiders. Chandras watched carefully, and saw that Sennex was careful to avert his eyes from the Captain as her gaze swept around the table. His suspicions completely confirmed, Chandras stepped back a little from the table so that he was mostly behind the grey-eyed man. And he raised his new sword, ready for the right moment.

 

It came sooner than he had expected. Thornodd started speaking abruptly with, “We have had a visit from our guest’s unhuman friend. She appeared out of thin air in front of Jerek and I and told us three things — three very important things. These were …”

 

Chandras decided that Mistress Olmehri didn’t need to know more. He shouted, “Wait, Captain Thornodd! There is a traitor in your midst!” And he thrust his sword into Sennex’s back as hard as he was able.

 

Everyone turned and looked in Chandras’ direction at his shout, and everyone gasped as about a foot of blade suddenly protruded from Sennex’s stomach. And everyone took a step back when the spy just laughed. Even though Chandras had been half expecting it, he cried out when he felt the sword begin to move in his hand of its own accord. The blade moved sideways surprisingly quickly, and in moments it exited from Sennex’s side. It fell out of Chandras’ limp hand and clattered to the floor, startling everyone into sudden motion.

 

Sennex turned to run, still laughing superiorly. Almost everyone rushed the man and bore him to the floor. It wasn’t easy — Sennex pushed and shoved, tossing raiders left and right, but eventually by weight of numbers the spy was pinned down.

 

Thornodd walked over and looked down at the still struggling man. Chandras followed her and watched her examine Sennex, staring into his eyes. She nodded in resignation, and said, “Take him into the farthest chamber and bind him with chains. You needn’t be gentle — this is not our friend Sennex.”

 

Ten raiders wrestled Sennex to his feet and started dragging him away while others went to fetch the chains. As he was dragged out of the main chamber he shouted, “The Mistress knows everything! You cannot win!” He started to laugh again, a loud, insane laugh that echoed around the chamber and only slowly faded away.

 

It took a while to get everyone back around the table. The raiders who had bundled Sennex away took their time to make sure he was well secured. Thornodd detailed one raider to go up to the Lookout to make sure that their watcher was fine and that no sign of the Minions could be seen. Other errands were run, checking defense positions, checking stores in case they got caught in a siege situation, and Jerek took the opportunity to continue his reading. But eventually, everyone (except the lookout) was back around the table in the main chamber. Thornodd, with a grim look on her face, began, “We have certainly had undoubtable proof of our guest Chandras’ stories. And while I would prefer to simply pack up and leave for safer climes, both Chandras’ stories and the few words Kimmentari herself spoke to me suggest that there is more at stake here than we can simply walk away from.

 

“As I was about to say before the spy was revealed, Kimmentari told Jerek and I three things. One was where to find the book he was looking for, and even the legend to read about. Another was to believe Chandras’s stories, something that none of us should have trouble with now. And the third thing was, to quote, ‘Remember Masrobak’.”

 

There were murmurs around the table, as if most of the raiders knew why the mention of the Duke of Monrodya’s son was significant. Chandras didn’t, but he put that question aside to ask another. “Did you see the pattern, what Kimmentari called the Dance, as she spoke? It made everything so clear, when she spoke to me.”

 

Thornodd shook her head, and Jerek echoed it. “She only briefly mentioned the Dance of Thyerin as a preface, an explanation of why she was here. But though her music was incredible, there were no images of the clarity that you mentioned. Vague suggestions, shadowy shapes, an idea of the loom and the threads … but that was all.”

 

“Ah,” he said, wondering why his perception had been so much more precise. “Go on.”

 

“Jerek, have you learned anything about this Shadowstone that is of use to us?”

 

Jerek looked up from the book and said, “Yes and no. Kimmentari said that the legend in this book was not terribly accurate; that we could use it as a guide if we didn’t try to extract details from it. Trouble is, it is difficult to figure out what information we are supposed to accept and what we should discard.

 

“Still, comparing this legend against Chandras’ story does help. I believe that this Shadowstone is a relic created back in the mists of time by a race so ancient that the Araf don’t even remember them. It has the ability to bind the essence of a person to itself completely. After being bound, the one who controls the stone is able to command and control that essence, and give it what is called a Shadow body that is practically indestructible as we have seen.

 

“There is a cost — the controller of the stone must continue to provide essences at an ever increasing rate, or be slowly consumed instead. And the danger seems to be this: if the controller of the Shadowstone is completely consumed, the stone will take over the duties of feeding itself, and if that happens it will be virtually unstoppable — if this part of the legend is accurate.

 

“While there is still a controller, there would seem to be several weaknesses to exploit. One is that killing the controller will return the stone to its inert state, which will release the essences bound to it. Unfortunately, while the stone is active, the controller is able to cause the Shadow body of any and all of the bound essences to appear upon command — in other words, the controller has an indestructible army of guards to protect himself, or herself in this case.

 

“The other weakness I could find was that of the essences themselves. For one, the power available to the stone seems to be directly related to how many essences are bound to it. For another, being bound to the stone does not kill the person — in fact, they become effectively immortal in that their bodies will not naturally die, though they are not invulnerable like their Shadow forms are, and the essence cannot exist without the natural body. The legend suggests that if the natural body is restored to consciousness, then the stone’s hold over the essence is reduced — perhaps to the extent that the controller will no longer be able to summon the Shadow form of that essence to her defense. It’s not much, but its something.”

 

There was a short period of silence as everyone mulled over the deluge of information. Finally, Thornodd spoke. “The Mistress Olmehri and her Minions are bringing down some kind of ‘doom’ on Port Andestn, and it seems to fall to us to attempt to forestall this fate. I know we’ve never been a force for ‘justice’ before, but it would seem that we are all that is available, and I find myself compelled to action.

 

“So, we have to eliminate the Shadowstone’s threat, and to do that we must kill Olmehri. But to do that, we must first deal with her shadow army as well as any other magical defenses that both Olmehri and the stone might use against us. And one way is to reduce the stone’s power, which conveniently happens to be related to the number of essences it controls.”

 

“So, we need to get into the compound and rescue those bodies,” said Jerek. “Just like before. Let’s see … ah, I suppose I could produce a philtre that should wake the dead — not literally, of course — when smelled. Then we’d need someone to get the philtre to them …”

 

“Sounds like a start,” said Thornodd. “We have two objectives — disrupt the power of the stone so that the defenses available to Olmehri are reduced, and eliminate Olmehri herself.

 

“Seems to me we need to divide into three groups. One to attack the compound and try to divert some of the Minions away from Olmehri and the stone. A second group will have to find wherever the original bodies are stored and revive them, and lead them away from the compound. And the last will have to be the one to attempt to kill Olmehri.

 

“These latter two forces will have to be small, since there are so few of us in the first place and we need as many as possible in the diversionary attack. I think that Jerek and I should be the ones to attempt to take Olmehri’s life. Volunteers for the second team?”

 

Chandras had been thinking throughout Thornodd’s speech, and as soon as she asked, he said, “I’ll volunteer, Captain. I’m pretty good at sneaking into places, and I’ve already been inside the compound. I have an idea of where the bodies are.”

 

“Thank you, Chandras. Any others?”

 

“Excuse me, Captain,” said Chandras, “but I think I should go alone. One person has more of a chance to move unseen than two, and I don’t think you’ve got any rooftoppers among you any longer. If Jerek’s philtre will get them on their feet and moving, I think I can do the rest by myself.”

 

“But, Captain,” spoke up one of the raiders. “I don’t object to trusting our guest with a vital part of the mission, but it only makes sense to have someone along who can watch his back, at the very least.”

 

Thornodd thought for a moment, then said, “That makes sense, but so does Chandras. He has experience watching his own back, I think. All right, Chandras, you are team two. Okay then, everyone else will provide the diversion. Let’s begin the planning.

 

“Jerek, if you would get started putting together those explosive packs, and anything else you can muster to add to the confusion we need to generate. Any suggestions for how we can seem to multiply the number of people actually attacking?”

 

As the tactical discussion continued, Chandras pulled away a bit. His planning skills didn’t lend themselves to squad movements, and besides, he had other things on his mind. Like how to get in to the compound, and back out unseen. And what he needed to do when he found the bodies.

 

Naia 13, 1014.

Seventh bell.

Corridom Silver Mine, just outside of Port Andestn, Duchy Monrodya.

 

Chandras crouched in the shadows where the wall met the cliff on the opposite side of the box canyon from where he had entered the compound before, and waited for the attack to begin. He looked up at the top of the wall he was about to scale, and was again surprised that there weren’t sentries patrolling it constantly. After all, Olmehri certainly had the troops to spare. But there once again seemed to only be guards at the top of the gatehouse towers.

 

The first explosion startled him even though he had been expecting it. Fire blossomed on top of the same tower as before, this time destroying the forward parapet. Chandras thought he saw a body fall outwards, but he wasn’t sure in the flickering firelight.

 

The shout that arose from within the compound was almost immediately drowned out from a much louder sound from the walls of the box canyon outside the compound. Jerek had used some of his improvised magic to produce makeshift implements that would take in the screams and shouts of the diversionary group, and then copy, amplify, multiply, and send out those sounds over and over until their magical energy ran out. Chandras saw several people appear on the wall by the guard tower nearest him and look out, trying to find the source of all that noise. He turned in time to see the initial charge by the diversionary team, again aided by some of Jerek’s magic that seemed to quadruple the number of people running towards the walls. The people who had been on the wall vanished, probably to inform those within that there was a massive attack coming. Chandras took the opportunity to begin climbing.

 

This side of the compound wasn’t in any better repair, and he climbed the cliff and wall easily. He checked the state of the attack and the defense, making sure it was safe before actually climbing onto the wall’s walkway. There was no convenient building in this corner of the compound, so he just climbed down the inside of the wall, using the cliff when he needed to.

 

Once safely on the ground again, he took to the shadows and moved over to the corner of the nearest building and looked into the compound. Apparently, no ceremony had been going on, because the dais was empty, and there were people pouring out of certain buildings and heading for the wall. His path was clear to the opening he had seen the victims of the ceremony carried to the day before, so he started to make his way carefully over to it.

 

The second explosion also caught him off guard, and he stumbled and fell — fortunately, completely in shadow, and silently too. He looked back and saw flames dancing across the top of the gateway arch. People were still coming out of various buildings, and the wall’s walkway was now about half-filled with Minions hanging over the parapet and screaming. Very few were actually firing ranged weapons though — maybe Olmehri hadn’t stocked any bows and arrows for her compound?

 

Chandras resumed his journey. No one seemed to be so much as glancing in his direction — the diversion was doing its job — but he didn’t want to take a chance, so he stayed as hidden as he possibly could. Even so, all of his efforts were almost for naught. As he reached the edge of the cliff opening he was heading for, he stumbled. He caught himself before he fell into a patch of light, and as he paused to catch his breath and still his beating heart, two Minion knights, fully armored and carrying large swords, charged out of the entrance and toward the wall.

 

He hadn’t thought of there being guards over the bodies. Why guard comatose bodies, after all? What boring duty. Of course, these guards were rather more loyal than normal, weren’t they?

 

Chandras waited for a while longer, constantly expecting more guards. Finally, he made himself move into the opening, trying to stretch his senses to their limit to find any further guards still at their posts before they found him.

 

The entrance opened onto a tunnel that just kept going on and on, no doors, no side passages, no nothing. Torches mounted on the walls every so often kept the way lit, but didn’t leave much of any place to hide. Eventually, Chandras stopped creeping forward and just started walking down the center of the tunnel.

 

***

 

Kimmentari appeared outside the walls of the compound just as the second explosion went off, so that almost no one noticed the splash of violet light. She turned and found Thornodd and Jerek staring at her from where they were waiting in the corner of the wall and cliff, getting ready to climb into the compound. She said, “Come with me. This will be easier.”

 

She waited until first Thornodd, and then Jerek, came over. She offered each of them an arm, and when they were holding on, she opened the entrance to the Merstaln and went in.

 

Their journey was very brief, only two steps, but as they emerged in a short alley between two buildings built against the cliff wall at the back of the compound, her passengers sagged on her arms, gasping and wheezing.

 

Kimmentari needed to wait for a little while anyway, so she didn’t begrudge her companions their recovery time. She needed to steel herself for the coming confrontation. Olmehri would have one more chance to renounce the shard of her own free will, but Kimmentari had little hope that her cousin would relent — she was too stubborn, too set on revenge and on getting her due. If Olmehri refused to see sense, Kimmentari was prepared to do what she had to. She only hoped the other dancers were, too.

 

Thornodd and Jerek had fully recovered by the time the last Minion had dashed out of the building that was Kimmentari’s destination. She said, “Olmehri is in that building, and is currently unguarded by Minions. Follow me, I will lead you to her. But be warned, she is not as defenseless as she will seem. Ready?”

 

The two humans nodded, and Kimmentari set off. In through the open door, through empty corridors, and finally into Olmehri’s throne room without a pause.

 

Olmehri looked terrible. She slumped in her throne, head bowed, eyes closed. It seemed to Kimmentari that her cousin looked thinner, her skin paler, her hair wispier than on her previous visit. The shard was taking its toll.

 

“Cousin!” she called out. Olmehri slowly opened her eyes and raised her head. Even her eyes seemed washed out, drained of their color and vitality. “Olmehri, renounce the shard. It is killing you!”

 

“No,” was the faint reply. “I am still in control, and I will succeed. I will never give it up!” Even when trying to shout, Olmehri’s voice was still a thin whisper.

 

“Then you must die, cousin. I am sorry, but if the Shadowstone succeeds in consuming you, it will be unstoppable.” Kimmentari turned to her companions and said, “Kill her.”

 

The Shadowstone’s wooden stand was right next to the throne. Olmehri only had to move her arm over a little bit before her hand rested on the stone, though it seemed to be a real effort for the half-Araf to accomplish it. But when she came into contact with the stone, vitality seemed to rush back into her and she straightened up, her eyes almost glowing with power.

 

She grinned evilly, and said, “You will have no easy time of that,” in a voice that was loud and clear and backed by music that almost sounded rich enough to be that of a full Araf. Kimmentari looked astonished at that, and Olmehri laughed. “Yes, cousin. Now you know why I dared the risks of the Shadowstone. It can give me my heritage — all the powers of a full-blood Araf!

 

“Yes, all of that *and* the power of the stone itself. You will be the ones to die!” She laughed as four Minions armed with swords appeared in the room and immediately attacked Thornodd and Jerek. “You, cousin,” Olmehri said, eyes locked on Kimmentari, “will be mine to destroy.”

 

***

 

Chandras finally came to the end of the tunnel and found himself in a large room filled with shelves. If he hadn’t been expecting something like it, he probably would have turned and run, because on the shelves were the bodies of the Shadowstone’s victims. Row after row, shelf after shelf — there had to be at least a hundred bodies laid out, looking like they were sleeping. The room looked like a nightmare version of a mortuary.

 

He stepped over to the nearest body, and removed the bottle that contained the potion Jerek had mixed from his belt pouch. He had been thinking about what he had to do ever since he volunteered for this task, and he still hadn’t quite made up his mind. The potion would rouse these people, weakening the Shadowstone’s hold over them and thus its power. But he had also noted a phrase that Jerek had used when recounting the legend of the Shadowstone — that the essence which the stone trapped would vanish if the physical body died. And if disturbing the link between stone and essence by awakening the bodies would weaken the stone, how much more disruption would occur if the essence went away completely?

 

He wasn’t too surprised that no one seemed to consider that as an option since the raiders’ purpose was to save their captured fellow raiders. But Chandras wasn’t one of Thornodd’s Raiders. As far as he knew, none of his friends were in this room. Which should make that option easier to enact, if he could just make up his mind which option to choose.

 

***

 

Kimmentari prepared herself for Olmehri’s magical attack as she watched the Raider Captain and her magician battle with the indestructible Minions. And then, unbidden, the dreams that had involved her in this dance in the first place sprang into her head. She saw them both — the one where the innocents were rescued, and the one where they died. She knew that the resolution of the dreams was close — would the right conclusion be reached?

 

Then Olmehri launched her first magical assault, and Kimmentari’s attention was fully diverted to the here and now, which was for the best anyway. She had done all she was able to do to — set the right events in motion — and it was out of her hands now.

 

She deflected the assault and was preparing a return blow when one of the minions shrieked as if in mortal pain. All eyes turned to him as he staggered, then fell to his knees before Olmehri. “Help me!” he pleaded to her, before he faded away and vanished.

 

***

 

Chandras was surprised by the blood. Perhaps he had seen too many blades go into bodies bloodlessly in the past couple of days, but when he slit the man’s throat he just hadn’t expected to get drenched in blood. By the gods, there was a lot of it in a body, wasn’t there? He was glad he hadn’t managed to stab Malkhas! And then he began to laugh as he looked around the huge rough-cut stone chamber and the five score or more bodies stacked neatly on shelves all around it. The laugh got more and more hysterical as he realized that somewhere in here was the real Malkhas, and that he’d finally get to do what he had set out to do in the first place.

 

Eventually, he calmed himself down. There seemed to have been no reaction to the first death, but there would be one eventually. He felt in his belt pouch for the philtre bottle he had put back there. He shook his head briefly at the thought of trying to lead a hundred rambling zombies out of the compound to safety. Obviously an impossible task. His decision had been as much due to that thought as to the realization that even weakened, the forces at Olmehri’s command would overwhelm the remnants of Thornodd’s Raiders easily. Olmehri had to be eliminated, and only eliminating her source of strength completely was going to accomplish that.

 

He moved to the next body in a daze. Now that the decision was made, could he go through with it? The first man hadn’t made a sound, or twitched, or anything. If not for the blood, Chandras thought he might even be able to imagine that it had been the throat of a dressmaker’s dummy that he had cut. But there was blood. Blood on the man. Blood on his hands and chest. Blood on the shelf. Blood on his knife. Blood, blood, blood …

 

Chandras lowered his knife to the throat of the second man, and wondered whether he had the resolve to do this 99 more times …

 

***

 

“He’s gone!” said Olmehri, looking at where the guard had been. She looked up at Kimmentari, and said, “You wouldn’t! You couldn’t!”

 

“I didn’t, cousin. It surprises me, too. Chandras has come to this measure by his own decision. You are defeated.

 

“But you could still renounce the shard. If you free the essences it has trapped, and then give up its power, you could still survive. Rest and recuperative magic could restore you to your former health, though it is likely that the abilities you have augmented with the shard’s power would be stripped from you completely. Just say the words, cousin. Please?”

 

“Never!” Olmehri growled. “And your plan won’t work either! I’ll just send my Minions to destroy this Chandras, to defend the vessels …”

 

Kimmentari was ready for this. When she had touched the shard on her last visit, she had learned what frequency it vibrated at. Now, she began to sing at a pitch that resonated in and around that frequency. Kimmentari’s song penetrated the shard, and only its magical nature saved it from being shattered immediately. But the song still had its desired effect — amplified and focused by the shard, Kimmentari’s song assaulted every one of Olmehri’s senses, confusing them, overloading them, making sure she stayed occupied enough that she couldn’t send the command through the stone that would doom Chandras.

 

***

 

Thornodd was as shocked as Olmehri when the minion vanished. That shouldn’t have happened, should it? If waking the original body of a Minion made the shadow body disappear, then their task would be easier than she had thought.

 

But Olmehri’s next words seemed to indicate that something more had happened. And then Thornodd realized what was happening — Chandras was killing the bodies, not waking them up! Her friends, her fellow raiders, innocent townsfolk being executed by that little thief!

 

Kimmentari began to sing then, throwing the room into confusion. Thornodd realized what Olmehri had said about sending her Minions to kill Chandras before he finished his job. It looked like Kimmentari’s one-note song was keeping Olmehri from following through on her threat: if she could send mental commands while writhing and screaming like that, she was far stronger than she looked. But the three remaining Minions seemed to realize what was required of them, and they turned and dashed for the door.

 

Thornodd reacted instinctively and tackled two of them while tripping a third. Jerek joined in as the Minions struggled to their feet, and soon a five-person melee was raging in front of the door. It was a terribly unequal match, since none of the cuts that either Jerek or she inflicted did any damage whatsoever. The Minions weren’t very good swordsmen, but they didn’t need to be since they couldn’t be hurt and didn’t tire.

 

Thornodd was staggering under the heavy blows of the Minions by the time the next one vanished with a cry as anguished as the first one’s had been. She had expected the battle to be a little easier, but the remaining Minions fought even harder to get through the door and rescue their Mistress before it was too late.

 

One kicked Thornodd in the shin at the same time the other slashed at her unprotected shoulder. Only the Minion’s lack of expertise saved Thornodd’s arm but the hard blow with the flat of the sword, combined with the kick, knocked her off balance. She fell hard, numbing her sword arm and when she looked back up she saw the Minion above her swinging his sword at her two-handed. She tried to lift her sword to block it, but she just couldn’t move that arm yet.

 

Thornodd was getting ready to greet her dead relatives when the Minion shrieked, faded, and vanished. The sword it had been holding flew off on a tangent, missing her completely. She closed her eyes for a moment, sucked in a deep breath of relief, and thought, ‘Guess I’m lucky Chandras decided on his more rash approach, or I’d be dead now.’

 

A cry from Jerek got Thornodd’s attention again, and she saw the last Minion dash past her magician friend who was clutching his arm, blood oozing through his fingers. She surged to her feet, concern on her face, but Jerek said, “I’m okay — it’s not as bad as it looks. We can’t let that one get away!”

 

They followed the Minion out into the hall, but the running figure was almost at the stairs. Despairing of being in time, Thornodd started after him, but a shouted, “Duck!” made her dodge to the side of the hallway. A ball of green light sped past her and struck the Minion just as he took his first step down. The ball of light exploded into mist that wrapped itself around the Minion and turned into a half-dozen rings of green light that immobilized the fleeing man and caused him to fall down the steps to the first landing. Thornodd checked on the struggling prisoner, who was unhurt by his fall and not going anywhere, before returning to Jerek to check on the condition of his arm.

 

The slash really wasn’t a bad wound, just bloody, and Thornodd wrapped it quickly. By the time she was done, the trapped Minion had vanished and the rings were lying on the landing and dissolving, their green glow fading away.

 

She and Jerek returned to Kimmentari’s side. Thornodd watched as the Shadowstone almost seemed to squirm in its stand, trying to defend its controller. The strange grey glow of the stone was visibly dimming as the essences it held were freed by Chandras’ work. Facet after facet went dim, and Thornodd could sense that it wouldn’t be much longer now.

 

***

 

It didn’t get any easier. Chandras had just as hard a time with the last slash as he had with the first. There was blood all over the room, but he had ceased to notice it. It was simply part of what he was doing — killing innocents in completely cold blood. He was surprised that his resolve lasted through every single body in the cavern.

 

He had executed Malkhas without even marking the event until he had moved onto the next body. A brief salute, a brief thought about Delebye and wondering whether she had really been worth all this, and he put it behind him. His world focused to the knife and the throats, as he systematically moved among the shelves and the bodies.

 

And finally, the last body was dead. Somewhere along the way, he had thought about and decided how he was going to deal with what he had done. He wasn’t the heroic type, to be able to put the killing behind him in the name of a just cause. He had done what he had to — he had no qualms about that. But he knew he didn’t have the stomach to face the inevitable nightmares.

 

He looked at the last body, a trickle of red running down her neck. ‘Almost finished,’ he thought. ‘Just one more.’ He sat against a wall, and said, “And she’ll never know what I’ve done for her.” Then, he completed his job of executions.

 

***

 

Kimmentari went silent when the shard went completely inert. The glow was gone, and the rip had shrunk to a very small slit that no longer glowed or pulsed. Olmehri slumped on her throne, still stunned from Kimmentari’s assault.

 

Thornodd looked hard at the stone, then turned to Kimmentari. “Is it done?” she asked.

 

“Yes, except for one last thing. The Shadowstone has been drained, but Olmehri is still linked to it. That link must be broken — when it recovers from the assault, it will absorb Olmehri’s essence and then it will become unstoppable. If you could …”

 

Thornodd caught her meaning, and nodded. Kimmentari turned away, but she still heard the sword piercing flesh. Hanging her head for a moment, she sighed, and then turned back to the throne. Not looking at the body, she removed the shard from its perch and secreted it away inside her sleeve.

 

“I’ll take care of disposing of the stone, Milady Thornodd,” Kimmentari said wearily. “You and your Raiders can go your own way now. You may wish to take over this compound, even. I would suggest that you brick up the passage to the storage chamber where the bodies are, in any case. It would make a fine tomb.”

 

“We will, Lady Kimmentari. And thank you for your assistance here. We couldn’t have done it without you.” Thornodd turned to Jerek, who had also reentered the room, and said, “Jerek, why don’t you go fetch Chandras and tell him it’s all over. Though I wish such drastic measures had not been necessary, we owe him a great deal and I want to congratulate him.”

 

“Your pardon, Milady Thornodd, but that won’t be necessary.”

 

Jerek and Thornodd turned to her, and Thornodd said, “Why not? Oh, he’s probably come out on his own. Well, I’d better find him — he still needs to be congratulated.”

 

“I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry, but he rests with the others in the chamber.”

 

“What? Why!? Did a Minion find out what was going on and get to him as he was killing the last one?”

 

“Chandras took his own life, Milady Thornodd. He did what needed to be done, but he couldn’t live with it having done it.

 

“Think on this: you killed my cousin, with little remorse. I understand that — she caused all of this, and she bore the responsibility. But what if it had been you instead of Chandras in the storage room? Could you have killed 100 or more seemingly sleeping people who had done nothing against you of their own volition? Do you then wonder at the path Chandras chose?”

 

Both Thornodd and Jerek looked stunned by Kimmentari’s questions. She walked past them into the corridor, and then into the Merstaln. She would store the Shadowstone in one of the wild places, where few ever went, and she would set wards that would warn her should someone find it and claim it again. She didn’t want this to happen yet again …

 

As she contemplated the future, she also contemplated the past. The dreams that had lead her here were firmly locked into their places in the Dance now, one accomplished successfully, one avoided successfully.

 

She had set out from home to see that the right dream came about. And she had fully expected that ‘right dream’ to be the one where the innocents were saved. She was glad she hadn’t shared that thought with anyone, though, since she had been wrong. The innocents had been beyond rescue from the moment that her cousin had captured them. If she had applied herself to bringing the dream she wanted to reality, instead of just guiding events so that the *right* dream became reality, then disaster might really have followed. She enjoyed living in the human world, but she had to remember not to become too human along the way.

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