The Chaos Curse by R. A. Salvatore



  A strange feeling came over Kierkan Rufo. He looked at his bare arms, held them up in front of his face, as though he’d realized for the first time that something very unusual had happened to him.

  “Blood?” he asked, and sent a plaintive look Druzil’s way.

  Druzil’s bulbous eyes seemed to come farther out of their sockets as the imp recognized the sincere confusion on the dead Rufo’s face. “Do you not understand what has happened to you?” Druzil cried.

  Rufo went to take a steadying breath, but then realized he wasn’t breathing at all. Again that plaintive, questioning look fell over Druzil, who seemed to have the answers.

  “You drank of Tuanta Quiro Miancay,” the imp squealed, “the Most Fatal Horror, the ultimate chaos, and thus you have become the ultimate perversion of humanity!”

  “What are you talking about?” asked a horrified Rufo, the dead priest’s blood spewing from his lips.

  Druzil laughed wickedly. “You are immortal,” he said, and Rufo, stunned and confused, finally began to catch on. “You are a vampire!”

  “… one of the best storytellers to grace the printed page with his wonderful words.”

  —Todd McFarlane

  “… breathes new life into the stereotypical creatures of the milieu: the motivations of his villains make sense without violating the traditions of the game. His heroes face dilemmas deeper than merely how to slay their foes.”

  —Paul Brink, School Library Journal on The Thousand Ores

  “We’ve talked a lot over the years about what makes a good fantasy. It’s a hard definition to settle on, but I think Bob’s fantasies are good because he makes you believe so completely in his characters and story.”

  —Terry Brooks






  In Sylvan Shadows


  Night Masks


  The Fallen Fortress


  The Chaos Curse



  The Ghost King

  October 2009

  To Ann and Bruce,

  for showing me a different way

  of looking at the world.


  Dean Thobicus drummed his skinny fingers on his desk. His chair was turned so that he faced the window, not the door, pointedly looking away as a nervous, wiry man entered his office on the library’s second floor.

  “You … you asked …” the man, Vicero Belago, stuttered.

  Thobicus lifted a trembling, leathery hand to stop him. Belago broke into a cold sweat as he stared at the back of the old dean’s balding head then looked to the side, where stood Bron Turman, one of the library’s headmasters and the highest ranking of the Oghmanyte priests, known as Lorekeepers. The large, muscular Turman merely shrugged, offering no answers for Belago.

  “I didn’t ask,” Dean Thobicus corrected Belago. “I commanded you to come.” Thobicus swung around in his chair, and the nervous Belago, seeming small and insignificant indeed, shrank back near the door. “You do still heed my commands, do you not, dear Vicero?”

  “Of course, Dean Thobicus,” Belago replied. He dared come a step closer, out of the shadows. Belago was the Edificant Library’s resident alchemist, a professed follower of both Oghma and Deneir, though he formally belonged to neither sect. He was loyal to Dean Thobicus as both an employee to an employer, and as a sheep to a shepherd. “You are the dean,” he said. “I am but a servant.”

  “Exactly!” Thobicus snarled, his voice hissing like the warning of an angry serpent.

  Bron Turman eyed the withered old dean with suspicion. Never before had the old man been so animated, so agitated.

  “I am the dean,” Thobicus said. “I assign duties to the library’s staff, not Ca—” Thobicus bit back the rest of his words, but both Belago and Turman caught the slip and understood the implications.

  The dean spoke of Cadderly.

  “Of course, Dean Thobicus,” Belago said again, more subdued.

  The alchemist realized he was in the middle of a power struggle, one in which he might either play a part, or pay a price. Belago’s friendship with Cadderly was no secret. Neither was the fact that the alchemist often worked on unsanctioned, privately funded projects for the young priest, often for the cost of materials alone.

  “You have an inventory document for your shop?” Thobicus asked.

  Belago nodded. Of course he did, and Thobicus knew it. Belago’s shop had been destroyed less than a year before, when the library was in the throes of the chaos curse. The library’s deep coffers had funded the repairs and the replacement ingredients, and Belago had given a complete accounting.

  “As do I,” Thobicus remarked. “I know everything that belongs there. Everything, you understand?”

  Belago, finding strength in honor, straightened for the first time since entering the room. “Are you accusing me of thievery?” he demanded.

  The dean’s chuckle mocked the wiry man’s firm stance. “Not yet,” Thobicus answered. “You’re still here, and thus, anything you might wish to take would also still be here.”

  That set Belago back, and his ample eyebrows furrowed.

  “Your services are no longer required,” Thobicus explained, still speaking in an awful, cold, casual tone.

  “But … but Dean,” Belago stuttered. “I have been—”


  Bron Turman straightened, recognizing the weight of magic in Thobicus’s voice. The burly Oghmanyte headmaster was not surprised when Belago stiffened suddenly and fell back out of the room. With a look to Thobicus, Turman quickly moved to close the door.

  “He was a fine alchemist,” Turman said, turning back to the large desk. Thobicus had turned to once again stare out the window.

  “I had reason to doubt his loyalty,” the dean explained.

  Bron Turman, pragmatic and no real ally of Cadderly, didn’t press the point. Thobicus was the dean, and as such, he had the authority to hire or dismiss any of the lay assistants as he saw fit.

  “Baccio has been here for more than a day,” Bron Turman said to change the subject. Baccio was the commander of the Carradden garrison, come to discuss the defense of the city and the library should Castle Trinity strike at them. “Have you spoken with him?”

  “We won’t need Baccio and his little army,” Thobicus said with confidence. “I shall soon dismiss him, too.”

  “You have word from Cadderly?”

  “No,” Thobicus answered. They had heard nothing since Cadderly and his companions had gone into the mountains earlier that winter. But as the young priest’s power continued to grow, many of the Deneirrath at the library had voiced concern over a feeling of being pushed away from the light of Deneir. Once, Thobicus had commanded the most powerful divine magic, but even the simplest spell, like the one he had used to dispatch poor Belago, seemed to come hard to his thin lips.

  “Very well,” Thobicus conceded after he’d turned to face Turman’s stare. “Tell Baccio I will meet him this evening. But I maintain that his army should hold a defensive posture and not go traipsing through the mountains.”

  Bron Turman was satisfied with that. “But you believe that Cadderly and his friends have succeeded,” he said.

  Thobicus did not respond.

  “You believe that the threat to the library is no more,” Bron Turman stated. The burly Oghmanyte headmaster smiled, a wistful look in his large gray eyes. “At least, you believe that one threat to the library is no more,” he added.

p; Thobicus steeled his gaze, his crow’s-feet coming together to form one large crease at the side of each orb. “This does not concern you?” he warned.

  Bron Turman bowed, respecting the words. “That doesn’t mean I don’t understand,” he said. “Vicero Belago was a fine alchemist.”

  “Bron Turman …”

  The headmaster held up a submissive hand. “I am no friend of Cadderly’s,” he said. “Neither am I a young man. I have seen the intrigue of power struggles within both our sects.”

  Thobicus pursed his thin lips and seemed on the verge of explosion, and Bron Turman took that as a sign that he should be leaving. He gave another quick bow and was gone from the room.

  Dean Thobicus rocked back in his chair and pivoted once more to face the window. He couldn’t call Turman out on his outwardly treasonous words. The man’s reasoning was undeniably true. Thobicus had been alive for more than seven decades, Cadderly for just over two, yet for some reason the old bureaucrat could not understand, Cadderly had found particular favor with Deneir. But the dean had come to his power painstakingly, at great personal sacrifice and at the cost of many years of almost reclusive study. He was not about to give up so hard-fought a position. Thobicus would purge the library of Cadderly’s allies and strengthen his hold on both orders, Oghmanyte and Deneirrath. Headmaster Avery Schell, Cadderly’s mentor and surrogate father, and Pertelope, who had been like Cadderly’s mother, were both dead, and Belago would soon be gone.

  No, Thobicus would not give up his position.

  Not without a fight.



  Kierkan Rufo wiped the stubborn mud from his boots and breeches, and muttered quiet curses to himself, as he always did. He was an outcast, marked by an ugly blue-and-red brand of an unlit candle above a closed eye, which lay on the middle of his forehead.

  “Bene tellemara,” whispered Druzil. A bat-winged, dog-faced, scaly creature barely two feet tall, the imp packed more malicious evil into that tiny frame than the worst of humankind’s tyrants.

  “What did you say?” Rufo snapped. He glared down at his otherworldly companion. The two had been together for the last half of the winter, and neither much liked the other. Their enmity had begun in Shilmista Forest, west of the Snowflake Mountains, when Druzil had threatened and coerced Rufo into serving his wicked masters, the leaders of Castle Trinity—when Druzil had precipitated Kierkan Rufo’s fall from the order of Deneir.

  Druzil looked at the man and squinted from the flickering light of the torch Rufo held. The human was over six feet tall, but bone-skinny. He always stood at an angle, tilted to the side, and that made him, or the world behind him, seem strangely incongruent. Druzil, who had spent the past few months wandering through the Snowflake Mountains, thought Rufo resembled a tree on a steep mountainside. The imp snickered, drawing another glare from the perpetually scowling Rufo.

  The imp continued to stare, trying hard to view the man in a new light. With his stringy black hair matted to his head, those penetrating eyes—black dots on a pale face—and that unusual stance, Rufo could be imposing. He kept his hair parted in the middle, not on the side as it had always been, for Rufo could not, on pain of death, cover that horrid brand, the mark that had forced him to be a recluse, the mark that made every human shun him when they saw him coming down the road.

  “What are you looking at?” Rufo demanded.

  “Bene tellemara,” Druzil rasped again in Abyssal, the language of the lower planes. It was a profound insult to Rufo’s intelligence. To Druzil, schooled in chaos and evil, all humans seemed fumbling things, too clouded by emotions to be effective at anything. And Rufo was more bumbling than most. However, Aballister, Druzil’s wizard master, was dead, killed by Cadderly, his own son, the same priest who’d branded Rufo. And Dorigen, Aballister’s second-in-command, had been captured, or had gone over to Cadderly’s side. That left Druzil wandering alone on the Prime Material Plane. With his innate powers, and no wizards binding him to service, the imp might have found his way back to the lower planes, but Druzil didn’t want that—not yet. In the dungeons of the very building through which they stalked, rested Tuanta Quiro Miancay, the chaos curse, among the most potent and wicked concoctions ever brewed. Druzil wanted it back, and meant to get it with the help of Rufo, his stooge.

  “I know what you are saying,” Rufo lied. Then he mimicked, “Bene tellemara,” back at Druzil.

  Druzil smirked at him, showing clearly that the imp really didn’t care if Rufo knew the meaning or not.

  Rufo looked back at the muddy tunnel that had gotten them under the cellar of the Edificant Library and said, “Well, we’ve come this far. Lead on and let us be out of this wretched place.”

  Druzil looked at him skeptically. For all the talking the imp had done over the last few tendays, Rufo still didn’t understand. Be out of this place? Druzil thought. Rufo had missed the whole point. They would soon have the chaos curse in their hands, why would they want to leave?

  Druzil nodded and led on, figuring he could do little to enlighten the stupid human. Rufo simply didn’t understand the power of Tuanta Quiro Miancay. He had once been caught in its throes—all the library had, and nearly been brought down—yet, the ignorant human still didn’t understand.

  That was the way with humans, Druzil decided. He would have to take Rufo by the hand and lead him to power, as he had led him across the fields west of Carradoon and back into the mountains. Druzil had lured Rufo back to the library, where the branded man didn’t want to go, with false promises that the potion locked in the dungeon would remove his brand.

  They went through several long, damp chambers, past rotting casks and crates from days long ago when the library was a much smaller place, and mostly underground, when those areas had been used for storage. Druzil hadn’t been there in a while, not since before the battle for Castle Trinity, before the war in Shilmista Forest. Not since Barjin, the Talonite priest, had been killed … by Cadderly.

  “Bene tellemara!” the imp rasped, frustrated by the thought of the powerful young cleric.

  “I grow tired of your insults,” Rufo began to protest.

  “Shut up,” Druzil snapped back at him, too consumed by thoughts of the young priest to bother with Rufo. Cadderly, young and lucky Cadderly: the bane of Druzil’s ambitions, the one who always seemed to be in the way.

  Druzil kept complaining, scraping and slapping his wide, clawed feet on the stone floor. He pushed through a door, went down a long corridor, and pushed open another.

  Then Druzil stopped, and ended, too, his muttering. They had come to a small room, the room where Barjin had fallen.

  Rufo pinched his nose and turned away, for the room smelled of death and rot. Druzil took a deep breath and felt positively at home.

  There could be no doubt that a fierce struggle had occurred there. Along the wall to Rufo and Druzil’s right was an overturned brazier, the remains of charcoal blocks and incense scattered among its ashes. There, too, were the burned wrappings of an undead monster, a mummy. Most of the thing had been consumed by the flames, but its wrapped skull remained, showing blackened bone with tattered pieces of rags around it.

  Beyond the brazier, near the base of the wall and along the floor, was a crimson stain, all that remained as testimony to Barjin’s death. Barjin had been propped against that very spot when Cadderly had accidentally hit him with an explosive dart, blasting a hole through his chest and back.

  The rest of the room showed much the same carnage. Next to Barjin’s bloodstain, the brick wall had been knocked open by a furious dwarf, and the crossbeam supporting the ceiling hung by a single peg perpendicular to the floor. In the middle of the room, beneath dozens of scorch marks, lay a black weapon handle, all that remained of the Screaming Maiden, Barjin’s enchanted mace, and behind that were the remains of the priest’s unholy altar.

  Beyond that …

  Druzil’s bulbous black eyes widened when he looked past the altar to
the small cabinet wrapped in white cloth emblazoned with the runes and sigils of both Deneir and Oghma, the brother gods of the library. The mere presence of the cloth told Druzil that his search was at an end.

  A flap of his bat wings brought the imp to the top of the altar, and he heard Rufo shuffling to catch up. Druzil dared not approach any closer, though, knowing that the priests had warded the cabinet with powerful enchantments.

  “Glyphs,” Rufo agreed, recognizing Druzil’s hesitation. “If we go near it, we shall be burned away!”

  “No,” Druzil reasoned, speaking quickly, frantically. Tuanta Quiro Miancay was close enough for the desperate imp to smell it, and he would not be denied. “Not you,” he went on. “You are not of my weal. You were a priest of this order. Surely you can approach—”

  “Fool!” Rufo snapped at him. It was as volatile a response as the imp had ever heard from the broken man. “I wear the brand of Deneir! The wards on that cloth and cabinet would seek my flesh hungrily.”

  Druzil hopped on the altar and tried to speak, but his rasping voice came out as only indecipherable sputtering. Then the imp calmed and called on his innate magic. He could see and measure all magic, be it the dweomer of a wizard or a priest. If the glyphs were not so powerful, Druzil would go to the cabinet himself. Any wounds he received would heal—faster still when he clutched the precious Tuanta Quiro Miancay in his greedy hands. The name translated into “the Most Fatal Horror,” a title that sounded delicious indeed to the beleaguered imp.

  The aura emanating from the cabinet nearly overwhelmed him, and at first, Druzil’s heart fell in despair. But as he continued his scan, the imp came to know the truth, and a great gout of wicked laughter burst from between his pointed teeth.

  Rufo, curious, looked at him.

  “Go to the cabinet,” Druzil instructed.

  Rufo continued to stare, and made no move.

  “Go,” Druzil said again. “The meager wards of the foolish priests have been overwhelmed by the chaos curse! Their magic has unraveled.”

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