Echoes of the Fourth Magic by R. A. Salvatore




  A Del Rey® Book

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group

  Copyright © 1990, 1998 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. Originally published in slightly different form by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Books, USA Inc., in 1990.

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

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  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 98-96407

  eISBN: 978-0-307-77606-8

  First Ballantine Books Edition: November 1998

  v3.1

  To the memory of Geno Salvatore, my dad,

  and to my wife, Diane.

  Their inspiration and unconditional support

  made all of this possible.

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  There are so many people I wish to thank, too many to list here, for their help and support over the course of this project. My special thanks to Dave, Jean, Kent and Sheila for lending me the benefit of their experience and expertise in those areas in which I needed help the most.

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Prelude

  Chapter 1. The Passage of the Unicorn

  Chapter 2. Riddles Beyond the Blackness

  Chapter 3. To the Tick of a Different Clock

  Chapter 4. Eulogy

  Chapter 5. The Wrath of an Angry God

  Chapter 6. Ynis Aielle

  Chapter 7. In the Halls of the Colonnae

  Chapter 8. The Desolation of Thalasi

  Chapter 9. Blackemara

  Chapter 10. Belexus

  Chapter 11. The Emerald Room

  Chapter 12. The Witch of the Wood

  Chapter 13. City on the Mountain

  Chapter 14. Ardaz

  Chapter 15. Luminas ey-n’abraieken

  Chapter 16. Patience

  Chapter 17. Clas Braiyelle

  Chapter 18. Caer Tuatha

  Chapter 19. Shadows of the Throne

  Chapter 20. Treachery Unmasked

  Chapter 21. The Lines Are Drawn

  Chapter 22. Under a Starry Sky

  Chapter 23. The Wizard Unveiled

  Chapter 24. Jericho

  Chapter 25. To the Victor

  Chapter 26. The Challenge

  Epilogue

  A Note on Language

  Glossary

  Other Books by This Author

  Prelude

  JEFF DELGIUDICE AWOKE in the stillness of night; perhaps it was the absence of sound itself that had stirred him from his peaceful slumber. For this enchanted valley, Illuma Vale, home of the elves of Ynis Aielle, was rarely silent, full of song and the music of nature: the wind blowing down off the Great Crystal Mountains, singing through the trees and tree houses; the dance of a mountain stream, leaping stones and calling its partings as it flowed through the vale.

  Del slipped out of his bed and moved to the window. A quiet blanket of snow lay deep all about Illuma Vale, though the winter season neared its end. Even from this vantage point, in the dim light of night, Del could feel the enchantment of the place, the magic of the elves, and though he was troubled, that magic did find a tiny corner of his heart, bringing some measure of comfort and warmth.

  He knew that he would not be able to find sleep again this night. Every night he awoke, or couldn’t get to sleep at all, his anxiety building as winter’s grip lessened. Soon the mountain trails would be open again, back to Avalon.

  Avalon.

  How many months had it been since he had walked the wondrous paths of that blessed forest? Since he had heard the song of the Emerald Witch, the mysteries of the melody sweeping through him like the veils of a gossamer gown? After the Battle of Mountaingate, the worst day of Jeffrey DelGiudice’s life, he had tried vainly to find his way back into the enchanted forest, even going so far as to travel around the Southern Crystal Mountains to seek a different route.

  But Brielle, with her confusing magic, had shut him out.

  Del had sought out the rangers, pleading with them to guide him into the wood. But, alas, they had no answers for him.

  Summer turned to autumn, autumn to winter. And the snows had forced Del from Mountaingate, back to Illuma Vale, and had then shut the trails behind him.

  Still, Del should have enjoyed these times. The scars of the battle were fading and the elves had returned to their dance and merriment. The harsh winter could not daunt their eternal play, and now, with the season turning again and the coronation of the new King of Pallendara fast approaching, their joy seemed tenfold.

  But an awkward perception, the feeling that he was trapped in a land where he did not belong, had grown like a cancer within Del. He could not escape the fact that he was from a different world, a long lost world, one of ambition and responsibility, and though he had always rebelled against those aspects of his society, the tendencies of his former life were painted indelibly on his mind. For all that he might agree with them in principle, the trivial frolicking of the elves did not satisfy his needs.

  And his restlessness, he feared, might bring his dangerous knowledge crashing down on this innocent world.

  His depression had only deepened with the wintry season. A beard now adorned his face; he wouldn’t be bothered with shaving, and he rarely left his room, for interaction with the elves only reminded him that he was not of this place called Aielle, was not, for all his desires, kindred spirit to the new world he and his companions had found on their emergence from the sea.

  He dressed and moved to Billy Shank’s room and could not help but smile at the contented snores of his friend. Billy had grown to be at home here. His friendship with the daughter of the lord of the elven people had blossomed into something more, something wonderful.

  Del thought of the upcoming coronation in the southland, and of the bond that would strengthen between the races, human and elf, and he smiled again. He and his companions had found this new world in turmoil, and despite all, had indeed done some good. “Bear witness for me,” he whispered into Billy’s ear, and he left the grand house.

  Bordering on desperation, he made his careful way up the invisible stair to Brisen-ballas, seeking Ardaz, the one man who might understand his troubles.

  But the wizard was nowhere to be found.

  So Del wandered under the crisp, star-bright skies of winter’s last night. He could not deny the truth of his fears and his feelings, yet he could not escape who he was, the conditioning implanted upon his heart and soul by the years of growing up in a far different world.

  He thought back across
those centuries as he drifted aimlessly about the elven valley, considered again the amazing course that had brought him to this special place, a winding path that had traded technology for magic, pragmatism for mysticism, humanism for spirituality.

  What a wonderful journey indeed! Del only wished that it had led him to a better place within himself …

  Chapter 1

  The Passage of the Unicorn

  THE UNICORN RAN deep, ran smooth, gliding with the ease of an eagle on wing. But no hunter this; she was a ship of peace, the pride of the National Undersea Exploration Team, NUSET, pelagic counterpart of NASA, and the one, soon after the turn of the second millennium, to garner more of the government funding. The disaster at the space station, with seven astronauts dead, a shuttle and the multi-billion dollar station lost, had curtailed NASA’s budget tremendously and dampened the nation’s taste for space exploration.

  But scientists had found it easier to sell the public on exploration of the seas, the last great unexplored expanse on the planet. Particularly after yet another disastrous El Niño year, with the warm Pacific water brewing a long series of disastrous storms sweeping across the continental United States; public opinion rang out favorably for the fledgling NUSET.

  And the Unicorn was the result. Every member of NUSET looked upon her with satisfaction and deep respect, for this submarine was the epitome of technological achievement. More than that, in accordance with the legend of her mythical namesake, the Unicorn had become a symbol of hope for the future of mankind amidst the constant threat of technological annihilation. For NUSET was an organization openly and honestly dedicated to the peaceful application of science. Any nation, friend or foe, could, for a modest fee, sign on to share in the wealth of information the project meant to collect. Any nation. And that, more than anything else, was the true victory of the Unicorn.

  More than five miles of water now separated this splendid example of the new generation of submarine from the sunlit surface. All was dark here and quiet, save the gentle hum of the ship’s engines and the ping-poc of the hull-insulator hydraulic system beating back the tremendous ocean pressure. Powerful searchlights cut a swath of illumination through the lightless waters as this lone sphere of civilization prowled the Atlantic’s depths.

  On the surface she had bobbed nervously about, each swell threatening to spin her over, but in this watery environ, she swam swiftly and effortlessly. Here she was made to be at home, graceful and swift, and yet for all of her detailed and near-perfect designs, here she remained a stranger.

  Morning sparkled in bright reflections on the glassy surface, but this depth knew only night. So began the Unicorn’s thirty-second day out of Woods Hole, her first without a dawn. Down she had gone. Down from the curious Russian trawler; from the humming propellor of a private plane—suspected of being a spy plane out from Cuba; from the beating of the Navy helicopter’s gigantic blades. Down from the clamor of a mechanical world, deeper than any hint of the sun could reach, deeper even than the fish dared swim.

  Jeff DelGiudice lay back on a weight-lifting bench and clasped the metal bar. “Five miles up and a thousand across,” he mumbled, his thoughts inevitably drifting back to Woods Hole and Cape Cod and the woman he had left behind. Again, as always, he found himself examining his relationship with Debby, trying to find some answers to his unresolved emotions. He cared for her—deeply—and he could admit that to himself openly. Yet, though he was afraid to admit it, their love wasn’t the passionate desire that he had fantasized about. That special spark, the tingling excitement that brightened even the blackest moods, simply wasn’t there. Ever the resigned pragmatist, though, Del wasn’t sure it could be there. He and Debby were as content as they could be, he supposed; for the realities of his world, the constant little pressures and petty headaches, had dulled his ability to hope. In truth, Del doubted the existence of ideal romantic love. That was the substance of a poet’s pen, not the reality of the world.

  And yet, despite that pragmatic contentment, again he had run away.

  But even this escape was a lie, and little protection from the profound sadness within the man. He had never learned the joy of existence, the simple pleasures of perception and experience; and that, more than Debby, was his true frustration. Instinctively Del perceived an emptiness, a void within himself that craved fulfillment, but his materialistic and fiercely competitive world gave him no comfort.

  “Lift, lift,” Del repeated over and over. No good. Every time the ping-poc of the hydraulic system sounded, his concentration broke and he remembered Debby and those haunting questions. He slipped his hands from the bar in frustration.

  On the forward bridge, navigator Billy Shank’s brown eyes intently studied his instruments. “Any minute now, Captain,” he said, his voice edged with excitement.

  “Put the signal from the screen to the rest of the monitors on the ship,” said Captain Mitchell, a giant, scowling man. His voice and visage held rock steady, but the simmering glow in his eyes betrayed his calm facade.

  The alarm blasted just as Del finally managed to start his lift. The weights crashed back to the rack and Del scrambled across the room, his mind whirling. He charged into the hall, colliding with a crewman. His panic changed to embarrassment when he saw the cooler of beer.

  “Carry on,” Del said, waving his hand impatiently, as if he had known all along.

  “Look at those legs!” came a voice from behind, that of Ray Corbin, the Unicorn’s second in command.

  “Ray,” Del replied, watching the easy saunter of his approaching friend, the one man Mitchell had personally requested for the crew.

  The irony of that fact was never lost on Del, for Mitchell and Corbin were far from alike. Intensity, Mitchell’s trademark, was certainly not a prominent trait of Ray Corbin—the crew had even tagged the man with the nickname of Lay-back Ray. Still, everyone on the crew understood Mitchell’s choice. A quiet, unassuming first officer virtually guaranteed the dominating captain uncontested control.

  Or did it? Del often wondered. Truly Ray Corbin would not openly oppose Mitchell; dogfighting wasn’t a part of his makeup. But Corbin was an officer sympathetic to the needs of the people around him, and he realized the pressures that a tyrant like Mitchell could exert on a crew. Del thought of him as the Unicorn’s Mr. Roberts, playing around the hard edges of Jimmy Cagney. And Del’s role in this movie script? He knew it all too well, knew why Ray Corbin had pulled quite a few strings to get him into the project. Corbin needed a foil for Mitchell’s dominance, a release valve for the inevitable tension, and he found it in a man recommended by an old skipper of his. Corbin’s secret weapon was Jeff DelGiudice, the Ensign Pulver to Corbin’s Mr. Roberts.

  “You going up front?” Corbin asked.

  “You think I’d miss this?” Del replied. “Probably the only excitement we see on this tub for the next eight months.”

  “You want excitement?” Corbin remarked, smiling widely. “Wait until Mitchell sees his junior officer in gym shorts on the bridge.”

  Del understood that smile well, for he, too, could easily picture the scene on the bridge, the captain’s face burning bright with rage.

  “But you do have cute legs,” Ray Corbin finished.

  “He won’t mind just this once,” Del said unconvincingly. “Besides, they’re Navy issue.”

  “The legs?” Corbin quipped, heading down the corridor.

  Both of them were handed a plastic cup of beer when they entered the control room. Most of the staff and several crewmen were there, all holding foam-tipped cups and staring intently at the viewing screen. Mitchell sat straight-backed in his chair, a microphone buried in one of his huge paws and beer surrounded by the other.

  “Refrigerator with a head,” Del mumbled when he viewed the square-bodied captain. Mitchell gave his two officers a quick glance, but immediately returned his attention to the screen.

  Del breathed easier that his outfit had apparently gone unnoticed.

  Suddenly
the screen brightened as the searchlight reflected back off the ocean floor. Buried for centuries untold under an inconceivable tonnage of water, the pressed stretch of mud and rock offered little artistic inspiration, but to the men of the Unicorn the view proved grand indeed.

  Mitchell cracked a rare smile as he clicked on the com. “The deepest spot in the Atlantic, gentlemen,” he said, lifting his glass of Old Milwaukee beer in a toast. “The floor of the Milwaukee Deep.”

  A tiny sip later, Mitchell’s perpetual scowl returned. “She’s all yours, Mr. Corbin,” he said as he headed for the door. “And get rid of the beer. All of it.”

  Corbin shrugged impotently to the disappointed crew and motioned for one of the seamen to collect the drinks.

  Del was as thrilled as anyone aboard to finally realize the goal of their months of preparation, but a five-second toast and a sip of beer wasn’t exactly his idea of a celebration. “Big deal,” he grumbled, errantly believing the captain to be out of earshot.

  The room hushed instantly when Mitchell’s crew-cut head popped back in the door, the burly captain eyeing Del for a long, long while.

  “Mr. DelGiudice,” he began, his voice teasingly calm. “Since you found this celebration inadequate, you’re invited to join me in my quarters in ten minutes for a private party.” His grin became an ugly grimace. “In uniform!”

  Del just sighed helplessly as Corbin strolled over to pat him on the shoulder. “Maybe he didn’t like your legs.”

  Billy Shank bit his lip and tried hard not to laugh.

  Two uneventful days passed as the Unicorn crawled along the floor of the Atlantic. Forty-eight hours of prowling showed nothing but rocky abutments and flat bottoms, captured in relentless progression on the ship’s monitor, making Del feel like a cartoon character running past the same background scenery again and again. He was on the bridge most of the time, pulling extra duty at the personal request of Captain Mitchell.

  Good behavior reward, he supposed.

 
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