Bastion of Darkness by R. A. Salvatore

  Praise for R. A. Salvatore’s

  Demon Wars series!


  “Unforgettable … Another rousing and masterful Demon Wars adventure … A must-read for all fans of Salvatore’s work.”

  —Realms of Fantasy


  “Absorbing … This is one of the finest books yet in Salvatore’s prolific career.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A gripping story … some of [his] best work.”



  “Salvatore’s best work since the Dark Elf series … An enthralling epic adventure story, it introduces memorable characters and an intricate scheme of magic the readers won’t soon forget. I am anxious for the next.”


  Books by R. A. Salvatore:

  The Demon wars Saga








  The Chronicles of Ynis Aielle






  Published by Del Rey Books

  Books published by The Random House Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.

  A Del Rey® Book

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group

  Copyright © 2000 by R. A. Salvatore

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Del Rey Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-77608-2




  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page


  Chapter 1 - The Swordsman and the Witch

  Chapter 2 - The Wraith

  Chapter 3 - Reflecting Pool

  Chapter 4 - An Evil He Couldn’t Know

  Chapter 5 - His Place and Hers

  Chapter 6 - The Black Warlock

  Chapter 7 - The Witch and the Wraith

  Chapter 8 - A Party of Two … er, Three … er, Four

  Chapter 9 - What Thief, This?

  Chapter 10 - By the Colonnae Trained

  Chapter 11 - The Warmth of Home

  Chapter 12 - The Benefits of Insubstantiality

  Chapter 13 - The Master

  Chapter 14 - Salazar

  Chapter 15 - The Witch’s Gift

  Chapter 16 - The Architect Tribe

  Chapter 17 - Rally Cry

  Chapter 18 - Tease

  Chapter 19 - Comrades of Convenience

  Chapter 20 - Thalasi’s Guest Chambers

  Chapter 21 - The Call of Duty

  Chapter 22 - Enemies Met

  Chapter 23 - The Last Battle

  Chapter 24 - The Lure of Power

  Chapter 25 - Charon’s Abode


  Mortalis - Prologue

  Chapter 1

  The Swordsman and the Witch

  HE LOOKED AT her perplexed, an expression of confusion that caught the young woman off her guard, and, with an ambush set so close at hand, surely unnerved her.

  “What do ye know?” Rhiannon asked, brushing her raven black hair from her face, her crystal blue eyes shining, flashing, to match the diamond that was set in her forehead—the mark of magic that identified her as a witch.

  “The day,” young Bryan of Corning replied absently, a wistful smile brightening his face. “This day.”

  “Ayuh,” Rhiannon prompted, glancing about nervously. “Are we not to fight them then?”

  “My birthday,” Bryan explained with a wry smile.

  Rhiannon’s face lit up, as much with relief that the lad had not seen any dangerous flaw with their ambush plan as with her sincere joy at the news of Bryan’s birthday.

  “Sixteen,” Bryan announced proudly. “Today I am sixteen years.”

  Rhiannon’s smile only widened, but behind it came an honest surprise. Sixteen? she echoed in her mind, over and over, incredulously. With his delicate features and shining hair and eyes, the same brilliant gray orbs of his elven father, Meriwindle, Bryan did indeed have the appearance of youth. But his heritage was half elven, and even Arien Silverleaf, who was eldar of the elves and had lived through centuries, appeared youthful. Rhiannon had spent three months beside Bryan, fighting talons along the southwestern fields of Calva and in the Baerendil Mountains, and never would she have guessed that this cunning warrior, this hero to so many of the folk who had been trapped on this side of the great River Ne’er Ending after the war, this strong young man who had slain so very many evil talons, could possibly be so young! Rhiannon herself had just passed her twenty-first birthday, and she had thought Bryan—so wise, so composed—to be at least her own age.

  “A birthday kiss?” the young man asked slyly.

  “Yer thoughts should be to the fight,” Rhiannon replied dryly.

  “A kiss for luck, then?”

  “A kiss for victory, when the day is won.”

  Bryan seemed satisfied with that. He gave a quick salute, then hoisted his shield, emblazoned with the crescent moon symbol of Illuma, the enchanted valley of his elven father’s people, and the bow that Rhiannon had created for him, and ran off to his appointed place.

  Rhiannon watched him go with mixed feelings, both for him and for her promise. She had indeed grown to love Bryan, to admire and respect him fully. And he had saved her life, she understood, for without his companionship, without him holding her hand and calling out to her, bringing her back from the depths of the darkest and strongest magic the young witch had ever known, she never would have survived the great battle with the Black Warlock, Morgan Thalasi. In that battle, young Rhiannon had come fully into her magical power, though that power and all the magic remaining in all the world paled beside the glory the four wizards of Ynis Aielle had known only a few short months before—before the power-hungry Thalasi had reached too far, had torn the very fabric of universal strength, had torn out the heart of the wizards’ secret domain.

  After that magical fight, Rhiannon and Bryan had run together, for they were on the western bank of the River Ne’er Ending, while their comrades remained on the eastern side. Neither was afraid, and each had come to trust and understand the other, and for Bryan, certainly, and even for Rhiannon, that had evolved into something deeper and more special.

  But for all the young witch’s love of Bryan, Rhiannon could not forget another, Andovar, the proud ranger of Avalon, her friend and her love who had been slain on the northern fields. Grief prevented the young witch from giving her heart to Bryan, and so soon after Andovar’s demise, Rhiannon wasn’t sure that the wound to her heart and soul would ever, ever heal.

  So she watched Bryan go, and then let her promise fly away, replaced by thoughts of the more pressing situation fast approaching. The great river had been flooded by the magic of Rhiannon’s mother, Brielle, the Emerald Witch of Avalon, and of Istaahl, the White Mage of Pallendara. That watery deluge, the swollen river rushing down north from Brielle’s land and the sea itself sweeping in at Istaahl’s call from the south, had, in effect, ended the bat
tle, stranding Morgan Thalasi and the bulk of his remaining talons on the western banks, while the combined armies of elven Illuma and the human kingdom of Calva had made short work of those unfortunate talons caught on the eastern side. The stalemate had continued as fall turned to winter, but though the eastern fields of Calva, the forest of Avalon, and the mountain valley home of the elves known as Lochsilinilume were safe now, many monsters dominated the western fields and mountains.

  That was where Rhiannon and Bryan fit in, combining their talents—his with sword, hers with magic—to hinder and destroy many of the rogue monster bands, to nip at what remained of the Black Warlock’s army, playing their part in driving the beasts ever farther to the west, back to the swamp and the dark passes of the dreaded Kored-dul Mountains.

  Rhiannon brushed a finger over her lips and nodded, accepting this fate, her expression turning grim as she, too, moved into position. Once set, behind a large stone overlooking the pass, the witch sent her thoughts out to her friends.

  She and Bryan would not fight alone this day.

  Strong and handsome Benador, with fair hair and dark eyes, the king of Calva, trotted his stallion up and down the riverbank, taking care not to move too close to the steep embankment, which was slippery with snow. To those who had known him before the battle, Benador looked haggard now, but even so, he did not appear as old as his forty years. He had grown straight and strong in Avalon, secretly and under the protection of Bellerian, lord of rangers. He had been trained in the fighting arts by Bellerian’s son, the famed hero Belexus, perhaps the greatest warrior in all the world. But now King Benador had seen his first real battle, the most vicious conflict Ynis Aielle had ever known, and the images of the aftermath of that brutal struggle, the thousands of dead, the fields soaked with blood, and the fall of these four bridges, marvelous and magical constructions of Aielle’s greatest age, weighed heavily upon him.

  More than anything else, it was the bridges, he decided. The blood would wash away, and men die in their time, but the Four Bridges of Calva, each construction a gift of one of the four original wizards, had been meant as everlasting. A spur still stood on the western side of the river where the northernmost bridge had stood. That had been Thalasi’s bridge, taken down not by the flood-waters of Brielle and Istaahl, but by the thunderstroke of the fourth wizard, the Silver Mage Ardaz, who had stood tall and fearless against the horrid wraith that had served as Thalasi’s general.

  King Benador looked long and hard at that spur, as he often did when taking his morning ride, remembering the fateful day when all the world had been turned upside-down. He hoped the spur would hold fast through the ages, a battered reminder of what had once been, and of what must never be again. Then the king turned his stallion about and passed to the south, toward the foundations of the southernmost bridge, the one the Calvans were now painstakingly reconstructing. The finest masons, architects, engineers, and craftsmen of Benador’s realm had come to aid in the work, but the king held no illusions that their combined efforts, however wondrous, would even come close to the majesty that had been the bridge of Istaahl the White.

  No matter, King Benador told himself. The new bridge would be functional, would get him and his army across the river that they might finish off the remnants of the Black Warlock’s army and pay Morgan Thalasi back dearly for the horrors he had brought upon them.

  Benador prayed for that chance.

  Bryan crouched low behind the ridge of a snowdrift, eagerly watching the approaching talon band, biting back the disgust and revulsion he always felt when looking upon the hideous creatures. They had mottled green skin and scraggly, uneven clumps of dirty hair, and their faces were purely horrible, with sloping foreheads and large, flat noses and pointy yellow teeth—yellow to match the sickliness that showed in their eyes—that seemed too numerous and too long to fit under their lips.

  He rubbed his hands together often and blew in his cupped palms to keep his fingers nimble. The difficulties of the last months had hardened him to battle and to the weather, but the tips of his fingers had not yet grown accustomed, had not yet grown callused, to the use of a bow. Still, the young man had quickly become a fine archer—and how could he not be with such a bow as the one the witch’s daughter had presented him! He looked to the wood now with the highest admiration, awed by the beauty of the weapon’s delicately curving lines, the weave of its dark and light contours, all of it so perfectly smooth. This was no sculpted piece, but rather a created piece, a living piece, as though a tree had presented its child to the daughter of Avalon that she might train it in the ways of archery. The bow showed no marks of axe or knife, no scrapings at all, just a delicately curving piece of supple wood, polished by the light touch of magical Rhiannon.

  Bryan’s gaze drifted lower, to the sword hanging on his hip. He hadn’t found much use of that weapon of late; no talon ever seemed to get close enough to him for melee combat. Truly the young warrior missed the dance of swordplay, but he agreed with Rhiannon’s assessment. This war they waged, this mission to aid any human survivors trapped on this side of the swollen river, was too important for them to take foolish chances. Their duty was to kill talons as quickly and efficiently as possible with the least chance of getting themselves wounded.

  Bryan patted his sword hilt, as if to reassure the weapon that he had not forgotten it, then fitted an arrow to his bowstring and peeked over the ridge again.

  A sleek white form, barely visible against the snowy background, darted by on silent, padded feet.

  Baerendil cougar, Bryan knew: a hundred and fifty pounds of fighting frenzy. Despite its proximity, the young man was not afraid, was not even uncomfortable. He knew that the cougar was guided by Rhiannon, and woe to the talon enemies.

  The witch’s daughter remained far back from the expected scene of the approaching battle, but Bryan knew that she would indeed play a vital role, directing her feline charges through a telepathic link. Her work in the matter would be limited really, simply to point out the enemy and beg the aid of her animal friends. As far as tactics went, no human, not even a wizard or witch, could hope to match the cunning of Baerendil cougars.

  The talon band, just under a score in number, noted the cat’s movement shortly thereafter, but paid it little heed. These talons had lived long in the Baerendils, and they knew that the cougars were usually solitary creatures, coming together only to mate or to battle over territory. While a lone talon might fall easy prey to such a beast, a group usually had little to fear.

  Of course, though the talons could not know it, this particular cougar was not acting alone. It had come to the call of Rhiannon, as had the dozen other cats even then moving silently into position behind the distracted monsters.

  Bryan eased his bowstring to rest and marveled at it all. The lone cougar darted from snowbank to snowbank, paralleling the movements of the talon band, demanding their attention. Finally the creatures decided to drive the pestering cat away, and threw a couple of spears in its general direction, hooting and hollering, kicking up snow and making a general ruckus. That only made the attack from behind even more of a surprise, as the dozen cougars, the hunting pride, leaped in at the talons as a wall of claws and fangs. Before the talons had even figured out what had hit them, half of them were dead or incapacitated, and those remaining were in no defensive position or formation. Some attempted feeble swings with spears that had been aimed the wrong way, but the cats were too close and too quick, springing past such tactics to bear their newest prey to the ground, where death found the talons, swift and sure.

  The remaining talons wisely ran off, sprinting every which way.

  But then Bryan of Corning went to work. Up came his bow, the half-elf taking a bead on one talon that was coming straight at him. The arrow hit the beast with such force as to knock it back two steps, where the dazed and mortally wounded creature was summarily buried by a cougar that had come in pursuit.

  Bryan dismissed the creature with hardly a thought, already tur
ning his sights upon the next target quickly, this talon running across his field of vision to the left. The young warrior pulled back his bowstring, holding the powerful draw perfectly steady and level, the arrow tip turning smoothly to follow the fleeing creature. Bryan noted the distance and the creature’s speed, then shifted his aim just ahead of it and let fly.

  Right through the lung, and the talon skidded down in a heap.

  Bryan sighed as he turned his attention back to regard the area of main fighting, to see that the battle was already over. Before him lay a scene of utter carnage, a massacre so complete that no cougar had even been slightly wounded. The young half-elf shook his head and patted his sword once more, a warrior’s lament. Somehow, with Rhiannon and her animal friends beside him, this was getting too easy. First the witch would speak with birds to learn the exact number and location of their enemies. Then she conferred with other animals—otters and raccoons, wolves and bears and cougars—to determine the best area in the region for their strike, then bade the deadliest of her friends to join in the attack.

  This was the third such rout in two weeks.

  Bryan shook his head again and gave a respectful glance at the closest cougar, lying flat on its belly, heavy tail twitching excitedly as it fed upon the talon Bryan had shot down in front of it.

  Then the half-elf turned to leave, and realized that he had gotten careless, that he had abandoned his own warrior instincts in the belief that they would not be needed.

  The talon standing right behind him brought its axe overhead and down hard, chopping at Bryan’s head. All the nimble half-elf could do was lift up Rhiannon’s bow in both hands over his head, hoping to slow the wicked weapon’s descent.

  To Bryan’s amazement, to the talon’s amazement, the bow stopped the axe blade cold, blocked it as surely as if it had hit a stone wall.

  Bryan didn’t pause to consider the implications. He put his right foot under him and came forward a rushing step, punching out with his left hand and pulling in with his right to turn the bow and the axe out wide. A final heave sent the axe flying wide, and Bryan pulled the bow in close, then jabbed out with its tapered tip, poking the talon hard in the face, sending it stumbling backward. The half-elf could have quickly finished the task then, by leaping forward and beating the creature senseless, but he hesitated and dropped the bow, drawing forth his sword instead and quickly pulling his shield over his forearm.

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