The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore




  BLOOD MELTS

  THE ARCTIC SNOW

  Wulfgar was heavily engaged with the remaining giant, easily maneuvering Aegis-fang to deflect the monster’s powerful blows, but he was able to catch glimpses of the battle to his side. The scene painted a grim reminder of the value of what Drizzt had taught him, for the drow was toying with the verbeeg, using its uncontrolled rage against it. Again and again, the monster reared for a killing blow, and each time Drizzt was quick to strike and dance away. Verbeeg blood flowed freely from a dozen wounds, and Wulfgar knew that Drizzt could finish the job at any time.

  But he was amazed that the dark elf was enjoying the tormenting game he played.

  THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT

  Homeland

  Exile

  Sojourn

  The Crystal Shard

  Streams of Silver

  The Halfling’s Gem

  The Legacy

  Starless Night

  Siege of Darkness

  Passage to Dawn

  The Silent Blade

  The Spine of the World

  Sea of Swords

  THE HUNTER’S BLADES TRILOGY

  The Thousand Orcs

  The Lone Drow

  The Two Swords

  THE SELLSWORDS

  Servant of the Shard

  Promise of the Witch-King

  Road of the Patriarch

  TO MY WIFE, DIANE

  AND TO BRYAN, GENO, AND CAITLIN

  FOR THEIR SUPPORT AND PATIENCE

  THROUGH THIS EXPERIENCE.

  AND TO MY PARENTS, GENO AND IRENE,

  FOR BELIEVING IN ME EVEN WHEN I DIDN’T.

  Whenever an author takes on a project like this, especially if it is his first novel, there are invariably a number of people who help him accomplish the task. The writing of The Crystal Shard was no exception.

  Publishing a novel involves three elements: a degree of talent; a lot of hard work; and a good measure of luck. The first two elements can be controlled by the author, but the third involves being in the right place at the right time and finding an editor who believes in your ability and dedication to the task at hand.

  Therefore, my greatest thanks go to TSR, and especially to Mary Kirchoff, for taking a chance on a first time author and guiding me throughout the process.

  Writing in the 1980s has become a high-tech chore as well as an exercise in creativity. In the case of The Crystal Shard, luck once again worked on my side. I consider myself lucky to have a friend like Brian P. Savoy, who loaned me his software expertise in smoothing out the rough edges.

  My thanks also to my personal opinion-givers, Dave Duquette and Michael LaVigueur, for pointing out strengths and weaknesses in the rough draft, to my brother, Gary Salvatore, for his work on the maps of Icewind Dale, and to the rest of my AD&D® game group, Tom Parker, Daniel Mallard, and Roland Lortie, for their continued inspiration through the development of eccentric characters fit to wear the mantle of a hero in a fantasy novel.

  And finally; to the man who truly brought me into the world of the AD&D game, Bob Brown. Since you moved away (and took the pipe smoke with you) the atmosphere around the gaming table just hasn’t been the same.

  —R.A. Salvatore, 1988

  PRELUDE

  he demon sat back on the seat it had carved in the stem of the giant mushroom. Sludge slurped and rolled around the rock island, the eternal oozing and shifting that marked this layer of the Abyss.

  Errtu drummed its clawed fingers, its horned, apelike head lolling about on its shoulders as it peered into the gloom. “Where are you, Telshazz?” the demon hissed, expecting news of the relic. Crenshinibon pervaded all of the demon’s thoughts. With the shard in its grasp, Errtu could rise over an entire layer, maybe even several layers.

  And Errtu had come so close to possessing it!

  The demon knew the power of the artifact; Errtu had been serving seven lichs when they combined their evil magics and made the Crystal Shard. The lichs, undead spirits of powerful wizards that refused to rest when their mortal bodies had passed from the realms of the living, had gathered to create the most vile artifact ever made, an evil that fed and flourished off of that which the purveyors of good considered most precious—the light of the sun.

  But they had gone beyond even their own considerable powers. The forging actually consumed the seven, Crenshinibon stealing the magical strength that preserved the lichs’ undead state to fuel its own first flickers of life. The ensuing bursts of power had hurtled Errtu back to the Abyss, and the demon had presumed the shard destroyed.

  But Crenshinibon would not be so easily destroyed. Now, centuries later, Errtu had stumbled upon the trail of the Crystal Shard again; a crystal tower, Cryshal-Tirith, with a pulsating heart the exact image of Crenshinibon.

  Errtu knew the magic was close by; the demon could sense the powerful presence of the relic. If only it could have found the thing earlier…if only it could have grasped….

  But then Al Dimeneira had arrived, an angelic being of tremendous power. Al Dimeneira banished Errtu back to the Abyss with a single word.

  Errtu peered through the swirling smoke and gloom when it heard the sucking footsteps.

  “Telshazz?” the demon bellowed.

  “Yes, my master,” the smaller demon answered, cowering as it approached the mushroom throne.

  “Did he get it?” Errtu roared. “Does Al Dimeneira have the Crystal Shard?”

  Telshazz quivered and whimpered, “Yes, my lord…uh, no, my lord!”

  Errtu’s evil red eyes narrowed.

  “He could not destroy it,” the little demon was quick to explain. “Crenshinibon burned his hands!”

  “Hah!” Errtu snorted. “Beyond even the power of Al Dimeneira! Where is it, then? Did you bring it, or does it remain in the second crystal tower?”

  Telshazz whimpered again. It didn’t want to tell its cruel master the truth, but it would not dare to disobey. “No, master, not in the tower,” the little demon whispered.

  “No!” Errtu roared. “Where is it?”

  “Al Dimeneira threw it.”

  “Threw it?”

  “Across the planes, merciful master!” Telshazz cried. “With all of his strength!”

  “Across the very planes of existence !” Errtu growled.

  “I tried to stop him, but …”

  The horned head shot forward. Telshazz’s words gurgled indecipherably as Errtu’s canine maw tore its throat out.

  Far removed from the gloom of the Abyss, Crenshinibon came to rest upon the world. Far up in the northern mountains of Faerûn the Crystal Shard, the ultimate perversion, settled into the snow of a bowl-shaped dell.

  And waited.

  f I could choose what life would be mine, it would be this life that I now have, at this time. I am at peace, and yet, the world around me swirls with turmoil, with the ever-present threat of barbarian raids and goblin wars, with tundra yetis and gigantic polar worms. The reality of existence here in Icewind Dale is harsh indeed, an environment unforgiving, where one mistake will cost you your life.

  That is the joy of the place, the very edge of disaster, and not because of treachery, as I knew in my home of Menzoberranzan. I can accept the risks of Icewind Dale; I can revel in them and use them to keep my warrior instincts finely honed. I can use them to remind me every day of the glory and joy of life. There is no complacency here, in this place where safety cannot be taken for granted, where a turn of the wind can pile snow over your head, where a single misstep on a boat can put you into water that will steal your breath away and render muscles useless in mere seconds, or a simple lapse on the tundra can put you in the belly of a fierce yeti.

  When you live with death so close, you come to appreciate life all the more
.

  And when you share that life with friends like those that I have come to know these last years, then you know paradise. Never could I have imagined in my years in Menzoberranzan, or in the wilds of the Underdark, or even when I first came to the surface world, that I would ever surround myself with such friends as these. They are of different races, all three, and all three different from my own, and yet, they are more alike what is in my heart than anyone I have ever known, save, perhaps, my father Zaknafein and the ranger, Montolio, who trained me in the ways of Mielikki.

  I have met many folk up here in Ten-Towns, in the savage land of Icewind Dale, who accept me despite my dark elf heritage, and yet, these three, above all others, have become as family to me.

  Why them? Why Bruenor, Regis, and Catti-brie above all others, three friends whom I treasure as much as Guenhwyvar, my companion for all these years?

  Everyone knows Bruenor as blunt—that is the trademark of many dwarves, but in Bruenor, the trait runs pure. Or so he wants all to believe. I know better. I know the other side of Bruenor, the hidden side, that soft and warm place. Yes, he has a heart, though he tries hard to bury it! He is blunt, yes, particularly with criticism. He speaks of errors without apology and without judgment, simply telling the honest truth and leaving it up to the offender to correct, or not correct the situation. Bruenor never allows tact or empathy to get in the way of his telling the world how it can be better!

  But that is only half of the tale concerning the dwarf, on the other side of the coin, he is far from blunt. Concerning compliments, Bruenor is not dishonest, just quiet.

  Perhaps that is why I love him. I see in him Icewind Dale itself, cold and harsh and unforgiving, but ultimately honest. He keeps me at my best, all the time, and in doing that, he helps me to survive in this place. There is only one Icewind Dale, and only one Bruenor Battlehammer, and if ever I met a creature and a land created for each other …

  Conversely, Regis stands (or more appropriately, reclines), as a reminder to me of the goals and rewards of a job well done—not that Regis is ever the one who does that job. Regis reminds me, and Bruenor, I would guess, that there is more to life than responsibility, that there are times for personal relaxation and enjoyment of the rewards brought about by good work and vigilance. He is too soft for the tundra, too round in the belly and too slow on his feet. His fighting skills are lacking and he could not track a herd of caribou on fresh snow. Yet he survives, even thrives up here with wit and attitude, with an understanding, better than Bruenor’s surely, and even better than my own, of how to appease and please those around him, of how to anticipate, rather than just react to the moves of others. Regis knows more than just what people do, he knows why they do it, and that ability to understand motivation allowed him to see past the color of my skin and the reputation of my people. If Bruenor is honest in expressing his observations, then Regis is honest in following the course of his heart.

  And finally there is Catti-brie, wonderful and so full of life. Catti-brie is the opposite side of the same coin to me, a different reasoning to reach the same conclusions. We are soulmates who see and judge different things in the world to arrive at the same place. Perhaps we thus validate each other. Perhaps in seeing Catti-brie arriving at the same place as myself, and knowing that she arrived there along a different road, tells me that I followed my heart truly. Is that it? Do I trust her more than I trust myself?

  That question is neither indictment of my feelings, nor any self-incrimination. We share beliefs about the way of the world and the way the world should be. She is akin to my heart as is Mielikki, and if I found my goddess by looking honestly into my own heart, then so I have found my dearest friend and ally.

  They are with me, all three, and Guenhwyvar, dear Guenhwyvar, as well. I am living in a land of stark beauty and stark reality, a place where you have to be wary and alert and at your very best at all times.

  I call this paradise.

  —Drizzt Do’Urden

  hen the wizards’ caravan from the Hosttower of the Arcane saw the snow-capped peak of Kelvin’s Cairn rising from the flat horizon, they were more than a little relieved. The hard journey from Luskan to the remote frontier settlement known as Ten-Towns had taken them more than three tendays.

  The first tenday hadn’t been too difficult. The troop held close to the Sword Coast, and though they were traveling along the northernmost reaches of the Realms, the summer breezes blowing in off the Trackless Sea were comfortable enough.

  But when they rounded the westernmost spurs of the Spine of the World, the mountain range that many considered the northern boundary of civilization, and turned into Icewind Dale, the wizards quickly understood why they had been advised against making this journey. Icewind Dale, a thousand square miles of barren, broken tundra, had been described to them as one of the most unwelcoming lands in all the Realms, and within a single day of traveling on the northern side of the Spine of the World, Eldeluc, Dendybar the Mottled, and the other wizards from Luskan considered the reputation well-earned. Bordered by impassable mountains on the south, an expanding glacier on the east, and an unnavigable sea of countless icebergs on the north and west, Icewind Dale was attainable only through the pass between the Spine of the World and the coast, a trail rarely used by any but the most hardy of merchants.

  For the rest of their lives, two memories would ring clear in the wizards’ minds whenever they thought about this trip, two facts of life on Icewind Dale that travelers here never forgot. The first was the endless moaning of the wind, as though the land itself was continuously groaning in torment. And the second was the emptiness of the dale, mile after mile of gray and brown horizon lines.

  The caravan’s destination marked the only varying features in all the dale—ten small towns positioned around the three lakes of the region, under the shadow of the only mountain, Kelvin’s Cairn. Like everyone else who came to this harsh land the wizards sought Ten-Towns’ scrimshaw, the fine ivory carvings made from the headbones of the knucklehead trout which swam in the waters of the lakes.

  Some of the wizards, though, had even more devious gains in mind.

  The man marveled at how easily the slender dagger slipped through the folds in the older man’s robe and then cut deeper into the wrinkled flesh.

  Morkai the Red turned on his apprentice, his eyes locked into a widened, amazed set at the betrayal by the man he had raised as his own son for a quarter of a century.

  Akar Kessell let go of the dagger and backed away from his master, horrified that the mortally wounded man was still standing. He ran out of distance for his retreat, stumbling into the rear wall of the small cabin the wizards of Luskan had been given as temporary quarters by the host city of Easthaven. Kessell trembled visibly, pondering the grisly consequences he would face in light of the growing possibility that the magical expertise of the old mage had found a way to defeat even death itself.

  What terrible fate would his mighty mentor impose upon him for his betrayal? What magical torments could a true and powerful wizard such as Morkai conjure that would outdo the most agonizing of the tortures common throughout the land?

  The old man held his gaze firmly on Akar Kessell, even as the last light began to fade from his dying eyes. He didn’t ask why, he didn’t even outwardly question Kessell about the possible motives. The gain of power was involved somewhere, he knew—that was always the case in such betrayals. What confused him was the instrument, not the motive. Kessell? How could Kessell, the bumbling apprentice whose stuttering lips could barely call out the simplest of cantrips, possibly hope to profit from the death of the only man who had ever shown him more than basic, polite consideration?

  Morkai the Red fell dead. It was one of the few questions he had never found the answer to.

  Kessell remained against the wall, needing its tangible support, and continued to shake for long minutes. Gradually, the confidence that had put him in this dangerous position began to grow again within him. He was the boss now—El
deluc, Dendybar the Mottled, and the other wizards who had made the trip had said so. With his master gone, he, Akar Kessell, would be rightfully awarded his own meditation chamber and alchemy lab in the Hosttower of the Arcane in Luskan.

  Eldeluc, Dendybar the Mottled, and the others had said so.

  “It is done, then?” the burly man asked when Kessell entered the dark alley designated as the meeting place.

  Kessell nodded eagerly. “The red-robed wizard of Luskan shan’t cast again!” he proclaimed too loudly for the likes of his fellow conspirators.

  “Speak quietly, fool,” Dendybar the Mottled, a frail-looking man tucked defensively within the alleyway’s shadows, demanded in the same monotonous voice that he always used. Dendybar rarely spoke at all and never displayed any semblance of passion when he did. Ever was he hidden beneath the low-pulled cowl of his robe. There was something cold-blooded about Dendybar that unnerved most people who met him. Though the wizard was physically the smallest and least imposing man on the merchant caravan that had made the four-hundred mile journey to the frontier settlement of Ten-Towns, Kessell feared him more than any of the others.

  “Morkai the Red, my former master, is dead,” Kessell reiterated softly.

  “Akar Kessell, this day forward known as Kessell the Red, is now appointed to the Wizard’s Guild of Luskar!”

  “Easy, friend,” said Eldeluc, putting a comforting hand on Kessell’s nervously twitching shoulder. “There will be time for a proper coronation when we return to the city.” He smiled and winked at Dendybar from behind Kessell’s head.

  Kessell’s mind was whirling, lost in a daydream search through all of the ramifications of his pending appointment. Never again would he be taunted by the other apprentices, boys much younger than he who climbed through the ranks in the guild step by tedious step. They would show him some respect now, for he would leap beyond even those who had passed him by in the earliest days of his apprenticeship, into the honorable position of wizard.

 
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