The Fallen Fortress by R. A. Salvatore




  BETTER FOR CADDERLY IF HE HAD

  FALLEN TO THE STORM

  Ghost could have rematerialized and torn the man apart, but he enjoyed the sensation of toying with his prey, longed for the smell of terror, even more than the actual killing. Ghost felt stronger for it, as though he had somehow fed off the horrified man’s screams.

  But it was over and the man was gone, and the other was long dead and offered no more sport.

  Ghost wailed again as the thin sliver of his remaining consciousness considered what he had become, considered what wretched Cadderly had created. Ghost remembered little of his past life, only that he had been among the highest paid killers in the living realm, a professional assassin, an artist of murder.

  And now he had become an undead thing, a hollow, animated shell of malignant energies.

  “… 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 Orcs

  “The Orc King finds Drizzt’s whirling scimitar blades tackling both familiar foes and refreshingly ambiguous moral challenges … The story line marks the continuation of Salvatore’s maturation as a writer, introducing more complex themes into a frequently black-and-white fantasy landscape.”

  —Kirkus

  This is pure sword and sorcery reminiscent at times of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

  —Don D’Ammassa on Promise of the Witch-King

  R.A. SALYATORE’S

  THE CLERIC QUINTET

  BOOK I

  Canticle

  BOOK II

  In Sylvan Shadows

  BOOK III

  Night Masks

  BOOK IV

  The Fallen Fortress

  BOOK V

  The Chaos Curse

  September 2009

  TRANSITIONS

  BOOK III

  The Ghost King

  October 2009

  To Nancy,

  for showing true courage.

  PROLOGUE

  Aballister walked along Lakeview Street in Carradoon, the wizard’s black cloak wrapped tight against his skin-and-bones body to ward off the wintry blows whipping in from Impresk Lake. He had been in Carradoon less than a day, but had already learned of the wild events at the Dragon’s Codpiece. Cadderly, his estranged son and nemesis, had apparently escaped the band of assassins Aballister had sent to kill him.

  The wizard chuckled at the thought, a wheezing sound from lips withered by decades of uttering frantic enchantments, channeling tingling energies into destructive purposes. Cadderly had escaped? Aballister mused, as though the thought was preposterous. Cadderly had done more than escape. With his friends, the young priest had obliterated a contingent of Night Masks, more than twenty professional killers, and had also slain Bogo Rath, Aballister’s second underling in the strict hierarchy of Castle Trinity.

  The Carradden were abuzz with the exploits of the young priest from the Edificant Library. They were beginning to whisper that Cadderly might be their best hope in dark times.

  Cadderly had become more than a minor problem for Aballister.

  The wizard took no fatherly pride in his son’s exploits. Aballister had designs on all of Erlkazar, the command to conquer given to him by an avatar of the goddess Talona. Just the previous spring, that command appeared easy to fulfill, with Castle Trinity’s force swelling to over eight thousand warriors, wizards, and Talonite priests included. But then Cadderly had unexpectedly stopped Barjin, the mighty priest who had gone after the heart of civilization in the sparsely-populated baronies, the Edificant Library. Cadderly had led the elves of Shilmista Forest to a stunning victory over the goblinoid and giantkin forces, chasing a sizable number of Castle Trinity’s minions back to their mountain holes.

  Even the Night Masks, possibly the most dreaded band of assassins in the Heartlands, had not been able to stop Cadderly. And winter fast approached, the first snows had already descended over the mountains, and Castle Trinity’s invasion of Carradoon would have to wait.

  The afternoon light had grown dim when Aballister turned south on the Boulevard of the Bridge, passing through the low wooden buildings of the lakeside town. He crossed through the open gates of the city’s cemetery and cast a simple spell to locate the unremarkable grave of Bogo Rath. He waited for the night to fully engulf the land, drew a few runes of protection in the snow and mud around the grave, and pulled his cloak up tighter against the deathly cold.

  When the lights of the city went down and the streets grew quiet, the wizard began his incantation, his summons to the netherworld. It went on for some time, with Aballister attuning his mind to the shadowy realm between the planes, attempting to meet the summoned spirit halfway. He ended the spell with a simple call: “Bogo Rath.”

  The wind seemed to focus around the withered mage, collecting the nighttime mists in a swirling pattern, enshrouding the ground above the grave.

  The mists parted, and the apparition stood before Aballister. Though less than corporeal, it appeared quite like Aballister remembered the young Bogo—straight and stringy hair flipped to one side, eyes darting inquisitively, suspiciously, one way then the other. There was one difference, though, something that made even hearty Aballister wince. A garish wound split the middle of Bogo’s chest. Even in the darkness, Aballister could see past the apparition’s ribs and lungs to its spectral backbone.

  “An axe,” Bogo’s mournful, drifting voice explained. He placed a less-than-tangible hand into the wound and flashed a gruesome smile. “Would you like to feel it?”

  Aballister had dealt with conjured spirits a hundred times before and knew that he couldn’t feel the wound even if he wanted to, knew that what he saw before him was simply an apparition, the last physical image of Bogo’s torn body. The spirit couldn’t harm the wizard, couldn’t even touch him, and by the binding power of Aballister’s magical summons, it would answer, truthfully, a certain number of Aballister’s questions. Still, Aballister unconsciously winced again and took a cautious step backward, revolted by the thought of putting his hand in that wound.

  “Cadderly and his friends killed you,” Aballister began.

  “Yes,” Bogo answered, though Aballister’s words had been a statement, not a question.

  The wizard silently berated himself for being so foolish. He would only be allowed a certain number of inquiries before the dweomer dissipated and the spirit was released. He reminded himself that he must take care to word his statements so that they couldn’t be interpreted as questions.

  “I know that Cadderly and his friends killed you, and I know that they eliminated the band of Night Masks,” he declared. The apparition seemed to smile, and Aballister was uncertain as to whether or not the clever thing was baiting him to waste another question. The wizard wanted to go on, but he couldn’t resist that bait.

  “Are all …?” he began slowly, trying to find the quickest way to discern the fate of the entire band of assassins. Aballister wisely paused, deciding to be as specific as possible to end that part of the discussion efficiently. “Which of the assassins I sent after Cadderly still live?”

  “Only one,” Bogo answered obediently. “A traitorous firbolg named Vander.”

  Again, the inescapable bait. “Traitorous?” Aballister repeated. “Has this Vander joined with our enemies?”

  “Yes—and yes.”

  Damn, Aballister mused. Complications. Always there seemed to be complications where his troublesome son was concerned. “Have they gone for the library?” he asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Will they come fo
r Castle Trinity?”

  The spirit, beginning to fade away, did not answer, and Aballister realized that he’d erred, for he’d asked the apparition a question that required supposition, a question the spirit of Bogo Rath had not the knowledge to positively answer.

  “You are not dismissed!” the wizard cried, trying desperately to hold onto the less than corporeal thing. He reached out with hands that slipped right through Bogo’s fading image, and reached out with thoughts that found nothing to grasp.

  Aballister stood alone in the graveyard. He understood that Bogo’s spirit would come back to him when it found the definite answer to the question. But when would that be? Aballister wondered. And what further mischief would Cadderly and his friends cause before Aballister found the information he needed to put an end to that troublesome group?

  “Hey, you there!” came a call from the boulevard, followed by the sounds of boots clapping against the cobblestone. “Who’s in the cemetery after nightfall? Hold where you are!”

  Aballister hardly took notice of the two city guardsmen who rushed through the cemetery gate, spotting him and making all haste toward him. The wizard was thought of Bogo; of dead Barjin, once Castle Trinity’s most powerful cleric; and of dead Ragnor, Castle Trinity’s principle fighter. More than that, the wizard thought of Cadderly, the perpetrator of all his troubles.

  The guardsmen were nearly upon Aballister when he began his chant. He threw his arms out high to the sides as they closed in and started to reach for him. A cry of the final, triggering rune sent the two men flying wide, hurled through the air by the released power of the spell, as Aballister, in the blink of an eye, sent his material body cascading back to his private room in Castle Trinity.

  The dazed city soldiers pulled themselves from the wet ground, looked to each other in disbelief, and fled back through the cemetery gates, convinced that they would be better off if they pretended that nothing at all had happened in the eerie graveyard.

  Cadderly sat upon the flat roof of a two-story wing of the Edificant Library, watching the sun spread its shining fingers across the plains east of the mountains. Other fingers stretched down from the tall peaks all around him to join those snaking up from the grass. Mountain streams came alive, glittering silver, and the autumn foliage, brown and yellow, red and brilliant orange, seemed to burst into flame.

  Percival, the white squirrel, hopped along the roof’s gutter when he caught sight of the young priest, and Cadderly nearly laughed aloud when he regarded the squirrel’s eagerness to join him—a desire emanating from Percival’s always grumbling belly. He dropped his hand into a pouch on his belt and pulled out some cacasa nuts, scattering them at Percival’s feet.

  It all seemed so normal to the young priest, the same as it had always been. Percival skipped happily among his favorite nuts, and the sun continued to climb, defeating the chill of late autumn even so high up in the Snowflakes.

  Cadderly saw through the facade, though. Things most certainly were not normal, not for the young priest and not for the Edificant Library. Cadderly had been on the road, in the elven wood of Shilmista and in the human town of Carradoon, fighting battles, learning firsthand the realities of a harsh world, and learning, too, that the priests of the library, men and women he’d looked up to for his entire life, were not as wise or as powerful as he’d once believed.

  The single notion that dominated young Cadderly’s thoughts as he sat there on the sunny roof was that something had gone terribly wrong within his order of Deneir-worshipping priests, and within the order of Oghmanyte priests, the brother hosts of the library. It seemed to Cadderly that procedure had become more important than necessity, that the priests of the library had been paralyzed by mounds of useless parchment when decisive action was needed.

  And those rotting roots had sunk even deeper, Cadderly knew. He thought of Nameless, the pitiful leper he’d met on the road from Carradoon. Nameless had come to the library for help and had found that the priests, Deneirrath and Oghmanyte alike, were, for the most part, more concerned with their own failure to heal him than with the consequences of his grave affliction.

  Yes, Cadderly decided, something was very wrong at his precious library. He lay back on the gray roof and casually flipped another nut to the munching squirrel.

  ONE

  NO TIME FOR GUILT

  The spirit heard the call from a distance, floating across the empty grayness of a reeking and forlorn plane. The mournful notes said not a discernible word, and yet to the spirit they seemed to speak his name.

  Ghost, it called to him, beckoned him from the muck and mire of his eternal hell.

  Ghost, its melody called again.

  The wretch looked at the growling, huddled shadows all around him, wicked souls, the remains of wicked people. He, too, was but a growling shadow, a tormented thing, suffering his eternal punishment for a life villainously lived.

  But he was being called, being carried from his torment on the notes of a familiar melody. Familiar?

  The thin thread that remained of Ghost’s living consciousness strained to better recall, to better remember its life before that foul, empty existence. Ghost thought of sunlight, of shadows, of killing….

  The Ghearufu! Ghost understood. The Ghearufu, the magical item he’d carried in life for so many decades, called to him, was leading him back from the very fires of the Nine Hells.

  “Cadderly! Cadderly!” wailed Vicero Belago, the Edificant Library’s resident alchemist, when he saw the young priest and Danica at his door on the huge library’s third floor. “My boy, it’s so good that you have returned to us!” The wiry man virtually hopped across his shop, weaving in and out of tables covered with beakers and vials, dripping coils and stacks of thick books. He hit his target as Cadderly stepped into the room, throwing his arms around the sturdy young priest and slapping him hard on the back.

  Cadderly looked over Belago’s shoulder at Danica and gave her a helpless shrug, which she returned with a wink of an exotic brown eye and a wide, pearly smile.

  “We heard that some killers came after you, my boy,” Belago explained, putting Cadderly back at arm’s length and studying him as though he expected to find an assassin’s dagger protruding from the young priest’s chest. “I feared you would never return.” The alchemist also gave Cadderly’s upper arms a squeeze, apparently amazed at how solid and strong the young priest had become in the short time he’d been gone from the library. Like a concerned aunt, Belago ran a hand up over Cadderly’s floppy brown hair, pushing the always unkempt locks back from the young man’s face.

  “I’m all right,” Cadderly replied. “This is a house of Deneir, and I am a disciple of the Scribe of Oghma. Why would I not return?”

  His understatement had a calming effect on the excitable alchemist, as did the serene look in Cadderly’s gray eyes. Belago started to blurt out a reply, but stopped in mid stutter and nodded instead.

  “Ah, and lady Danica,” the alchemist went on. He reached out and gently stroked Danica’s thick tangle of strawberry-blond hair, his smile sincere. Belago’s grin disappeared almost immediately, though, and he dropped his arms to his sides and his gaze to the floor. “We heard about Headmaster Avery,” he said, his expression clouded with sad resignation.

  The mention of the portly Avery Schell, Cadderly’s surrogate father, stung the young priest profoundly He wanted to explain to poor Belago that Avery’s spirit lived on with their god. But how could he begin? Belago would not understand. No one who hadn’t passed onto the Fugue Plane and witnessed the divine and glorious sensation could understand. Against that ignorance, anything Cadderly might say would sound like a ridiculous cliché, typical comforting words usually spoken without conviction.

  “I received word that you wished to speak with me?” Cadderly said, in an effort to change the subject.

  “Yes,” Belago answered. His eyes widened when he looked into the young priest’s calming gray eyes. “Oh, yes!” he cried, as if he’d just remembered
something. “I did—of course I did!”

  Obviously embarrassed, the wiry man hopped back across the shop to a small cabinet. He fumbled with an oversized ring of keys, muttering to himself all the while.

  “You have become a hero,” Danica remarked, noting the alchemist’s movements.

  Cadderly couldn’t disagree with Danica’s observation. Vicero Belago had never been overjoyed to see the young priest before. Cadderly had always been a demanding customer, taxing Belago’s talents often beyond their limits. Because of a risky project that Cadderly had given the alchemist, Belago’s shop had been blown apart once.

  That had been long ago, however, before the battle in Shilmista Forest, before Cadderly’s exploits in Carradoon, the city to the southeast on the banks of Impresk Lake.

  Before Cadderly had become a hero.

  Hero.

  What a ridiculous title, the young priest thought. He’d done no more in Carradoon than Danica or either of the dwarf brothers, Ivan and Pikel. And he, unlike his sturdy friends, had run away from the battle in Shilmista Forest, fled because he couldn’t endure the horrors.

  He looked down at Danica again, her brown-eyed gaze comforting him as only it could. How beautiful she was, Cadderly noted, her frame as delicate as that of a newborn fawn and her hair tousled and bouncing freely around her shoulders. Beautiful and untamed, he decided, and with an inner strength clearly shining through those exotic, almond-shaped eyes.

  Belago was back in front of him then, seeming nervous and holding both his hands behind his back. “You left this here when you came back from the elven wood,” he explained, drawing out his left hand. He held a leather belt with a wide, shallow holster on one side that sported a hand crossbow.

  “I had no idea I would need it in peaceful Carradoon,” Cadderly replied, taking the belt and strapping it around his waist.

  Danica eyed the young priest curiously. The crossbow had become a symbol of violence to Cadderly, and a symbol of Cadderly’s abhorrence of violence to those who knew him best. To see him strap it on so easily, with an almost cavalier attitude, twisted Danica’s heart.

 
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