The Shadowmask by R. A. Salvatore

  Also by R.A. Salvatore

  The Legend of Drizzt®




  The Crystal Shard

  Streams of Silver

  The Halfling’s Gem

  Starless Night

  Siege of Darkness

  Passage to Dawn

  The Silent Blade

  The Spine of the World

  Sea of Swords

  Also by R.A. & Geno Salvatore

  The Stowaway

  Stone of Tymora, Book I

  For all the teachers who helped shape my life.


  Part One


  Light poured into the tiny, dirty chamber, waking me from my sleep. I looked up and shaded my eyes. Sunlight shone directly in through the short passage that led to the beach outside. But I couldn’t tell if it was morning or evening, if we faced west or east.

  At that moment, it hardly seemed to matter. A tall man stood in the doorway, leaning slightly to his right, awkward on his wooden peg leg. With a shuffle and a clomp, he stepped into the room. The door swung shut behind him, snuffing out all the light save what little came in through the crack at the bottom of the portal.

  “Ye got more story to be telling me, or is this the day I be killing ye?” he asked gruffly. He placed something between his knees—a torch, I guessed. I heard the scrape of flint across tinder as he tried to light the thing.

  “You’re planning to kill me when I finish the story?” I asked.

  “Yar, probably so. The boys don’t like holding prisoners fer too long, seeing as it means we can’t be out sailing.”

  “Out plundering and murdering, you mean.”

  “Call it what ye will,” he said with a chuckle.

  “If you’re going to kill me anyway, why should I continue the story at all?”

  The pirate laughed. “Ye’ve seen men die before, whelp. Ye know what tha’s like. Ask any o’ them what they’d’ve done fer one more day! I be sure telling an old salt like me a bit o’ story wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

  Steel clicked against flint once more, and a few sparks flew out, revealing the old pirate’s face and the horrible gold-toothed grin splayed across it. But the sparks didn’t take on the torch, and again he was in shadow.

  “This coming from a man who wouldn’t know,” I said. “You’ve never cared about death, not your own nor anyone else’s.”

  “Strong words, whelp,” he snarled. “But ye’re off yer mark. I had me day o’ dying once, and I were bargaining much as I could, with any who’d listen. And only by the grace o’ the gods did I live.”

  Again sparks flew as steel struck flint. The pirate’s smile was gone, his face flat in the eerie light. But again the torch did not light.

  “And I see you’ve paid the debt you promised them,” I said sarcastically.

  “That I have, that I have!” the pirate replied. “I swore I’d live each and ev’ry day as if it were my last. And I ain’t missed one yet. Now, I’m offering ye a chance, boy. Either this day is yer last, or ye tell me the next part o’ yer story.”

  A third time flint and steel struck and sparks flew. Finally the oil-soaked rag of the torch caught a spark and lit.


  “Where is the stone?” the raspy voice whispered from above me.

  I scrambled back on all fours. Asbeel’s boot paced me. I felt the dull impact in my midsection, but I hardly noticed the pain through the mental fog that clouded my memory. Where had the stone gone?

  “Where is it?” Asbeel’s boot lashed out again.

  A black mask of carved obsidian, a shadow beneath the hood of a flowing black robe, leered at me from my mind’s eye. She spoke, her voice so soft, so gentle. Her voice … I had heard it only once, yet it felt so familiar.

  The boot leaped at me again, aiming for my head. I brought my arms up, absorbing the brunt of the blow, but the force was still enough to send me into a roll. The wall of the narrow alley met me halfway through the tumble, and the impact knocked the breath from my body.

  I turned my gaze upward, following the arc of the muscled leg hidden beneath black breeches; to a leather vest, and the red-tinted arms crossed in front of the chest; to the leering face, angular and bald, its red eyes glowing with angry fire. And beside the creature’s head, the hilt of a sword, a horrible creation of jagged metal—an evil blade to match the demon’s evil soul.

  The demon. Asbeel. He had pursued me across the length of the Sword Coast. His sword. That same blade had felled my mentor Perrault.

  Time moved more slowly, all sensations becoming more distinct: the loose sand of the alley; the rough stone of the wall behind me, unfinished and easy to climb; the sky above, lightening with the sunrise, taking away the demon’s advantage of darkness. Without realizing I had moved at all, I found my hand resting on the hilt of my own weapon, the stiletto Perrault had once wielded. The fog lifted from my mind; my vision was suddenly remarkably clear.

  Asbeel spoke again. “Where is the—”

  “I do not have it.” My voice did not crack, did not waver at all. “And neither shall you.”

  I jumped to my feet, and my hand snapped forward, bringing the narrow dagger to bear in front of me. The momentum of my sudden motion rolled down the blade, lengthening the weapon into a fine saber. I fell into a lunge as the sword tip leaped for Asbeel’s black heart.

  But Asbeel simply stepped backward.

  I teetered at full extension, my trailing foot against the wall, the tip of my sword a foot from Asbeel. My moment of vengeance turned to defeat; my elation turned to fear. My mind raced as I tried to recall the swordfights I’d read about or seen. My feet scrambled to form an L shape, and I struggled to hold the sword vertically in front of me.

  Asbeel reached up to his shoulder. Somehow he found a handle to grip among the sharp, twisting spikes on his sword. The wickedly serrated, curved blade slowly rose from behind him. As soon as its tip cleared its sheath, the whole blade burst into red flame. Still moving slowly, deliberately, Asbeel gripped the hilt in both hands and tapped the dull edge of the blade to his forehead in a mock salute.

  The blade’s fire danced wildly, mesmerizing, tantalizing, beautiful and horrible all at once. My heartbeat drummed in my ears.

  With a snarl, the demon leaped forward. He swung his sword in a wide arc. The fire seemed to hang in the air behind the curved blade.

  But I was ready. I brought my sword to bear against his in a textbook-perfect parry.

  Or so I thought.

  The sheer force of the demon’s blow nearly ripped my saber from my hand. I tried to roll with the momentum of the strike, to absorb some of its power. I could not hold my footing, and my skull cracked hard against the ground.

  I felt warmth on the back of my head, a trickle of blood. A wave of dizziness washed over me. I could not catch my breath. The demon would be upon me before I could right myself.

  But the killing blow did not fall.

  After what seemed an eternity, the world stopped spinning. I rose unsteadily and turned to face Asbeel. The demon had not moved. He matched my stare, but in his eyes I saw not rage, only amusement. Again he tapped his sword to his forehead, saluting me, mocking me.

  “You wear his clothes, boy,” said the demon. “But you do not honor him with your fighting.”

  “You know nothing of honor,” I growled.

  “I know your mentor would be ashamed to see you fight so wretchedly.”

  “The only thing he wouldn’t like,” I said calmly, “is that I bothered to talk to you.” I lunged forward suddenly. Steel clashed against black iron, but my blade cut nothing but air.

  I retracted my arm quickly and struck again. I did not
fully commit myself, but shortened my lunge. When the demon brought his blade across to parry, I rolled my wrist, twisted my saber around the demon’s sword, and pushed my leading leg forward, extending my arm to its full length. My sword’s tip reached out for Asbeel’s chest, stretching, reaching. …

  Asbeel’s empty hand shot across his chest and grabbed my sword by the blade. My sword slipped a bit. Its perfect edge drew a line of blood across the demon’s hand, but he did not seem to notice.

  “You do not deserve that sword, boy,” he said with a wicked laugh. “So I shall take it from you.”

  I gritted my teeth and yanked at the sword. I felt its edge dig in to the demon’s flesh, but he only tightened his grip in response. The sword would move no further.

  I wanted to release the sword, to leap at Asbeel’s smug face, to punch him, kick him, whatever I could do to fight back. But the idea of my sword—Perrault’s sword—in that beast’s possession, even for a moment, made me ill. How many times had I seen Perrault use that sword—for show more often than for combat— twirling it about expertly, mixing the straight lines of lunges with dazzling curving strikes, the blade’s magical blue flame trailing behind it.

  Blue flame …

  A brilliant line of cerulean fire pierced the dark air, engulfing my sword from crosspiece to tip—and Asbeel’s clawed hand with it.

  Asbeel’s unearthly scream cut the stillness of the dawn. The alley became a clutter of motion as rats and bats fled its shadows. I wanted nothing more than to turn and follow them. But I stood my ground.

  Asbeel’s face twisted in pain. After a long moment, he released the sword, and I stumbled back.

  For the first time, I had the upper hand against the beast. I took a step toward him, then another. I would kill Asbeel with the sword of my fallen mentor. I was worthy of the weapon.

  I lunged ahead one final time, lunged right past the demon’s outstretched arms, lunged right at his black heart.

  But as my sword reached the demon, he disappeared.

  Asbeel’s fist clubbed the back of my head. I tumbled forward, away from him, yet somehow I landed right at his feet. He kicked at me several times. At last I managed to scramble away.

  I pulled myself up to all fours and took an awkward half-running, half-leaping step, propelling me over the short stack of crates separating the alley from the market square.

  But he was already there as I landed. He stood over me, his sword upraised.


  The word was whispered, but its effect was immediate. The demon and I turned in unison to face a hooded figure emerging from the shadows across the square.

  She wore a black robe, her cowl pulled low, her face hidden in shadow. No, not shadow, but a shadow-mask, black as night and carved into an expressionless human face. A cold chill ran down my spine. It was the same woman, the same creature, who had assaulted me the previous night, the same being who had stolen from me that which was most precious.

  “Child, come to me,” the woman said, beckoning. I took the first steps to oblige, relieved to step away from the demon and be rescued from the impossible fight. But I stopped after a few short paces.

  The demon cackled behind me. “You call to him now, do you? Twice you abandon him, yet now you call to him?”

  “Ignore him,” she said sweetly. “Come to me.”

  Every instinct I possessed cried out that I should go to her. But somewhere in my rational mind I remembered her words from the previous night, and how I had fallen asleep against my will. Was there magic in the words she uttered?

  How else could she have stopped Asbeel so completely, just as he was readying a killing blow? Or was she in league with the demon, tricking me into letting my guard down so he could kill me with ease? What more could she want from me, given that she had the stone?

  I flexed the fingers of my left hand instinctively, and a slight tingle traced its way from my fingertips to my heart, to the hollow of my chest where the stone had once rested in its leather pouch.

  I yearned to be reunited with that stone, wanting it back with every fiber of my being. It had been my curse. Before I returned to Memnon, I had intended to be rid of it. It was powerful, to be sure, and the luck it provided had saved my skin more than once. But its power was not the reason I craved its return. It was my destiny, my legacy, the only thing that remained of my family. And yet the masked woman had the stone. She had stolen it from me, and it belonged to me, not to her.

  I raised the sword, still burning a fiery blue. “Where is it?” I asked her. “Where is the stone?”

  Again Asbeel cackled. “Yes, do tell,” he said sarcastically.

  “Begone, wretch!” Gone was the woman’s whisper, replaced by a roar as loud as a riled bear’s. A group of ravens lifted off from the rooftop above me, their wings shining in the light of the new dawn.

  I heard a faint popping sound. When I turned, Asbeel had disappeared.

  I dropped to a crouch and brought my sword above me. I looked up, scanning the rooftops for the demon. I was certain he would be swooping in to attack me at any moment. But the first rays of sun broke over the horizon, illuminating the sky, and no dark shadows floated there.

  Asbeel was simply gone.

  I glanced back at the cloaked woman just in time to see her fade into the shadows of the market’s eastern edge.



  I flew through the winding, narrow streets of Memnon, following the slightest flicker of darkness. The masked woman’s black cloak seemed always but a few yards in front of me, just on the edge of my vision. Every turn I took, every new street I entered, there she was, just rounding the next bend.

  I had not come to Memnon looking for the woman. I had entered the city to save Sea Sprite and her crew—the crew I had put in danger. I had planned to pass through Memnon on my way to some place where I could safely be rid of the stone without fear that it would fall into the wrong hands—Asbeel’s hands. But she had found me and changed everything. As soon as she had wrenched the stone from my possession, I wanted nothing more than to hold it again.

  People filtered out of the low stone buildings that crammed both sides of the narrow lane. The bustle hardly slowed me, as I moved nimbly around the pressing crowd. Each building looked like the last, each beggar the same, as I dashed past them. The only constant in my vision was that fleeting speck of black, the flowing robe of the masked woman.

  A man cut in front of me, but I darted between his legs, and he seemed not to notice my presence. I flew as if nothing could stop me, desperate not to lose my target in the swarm of brightly colored robes and exotic headwraps. If I lost track of the masked woman I would be adrift in the winding, confusing streets of Memnon. And somewhere out there, Asbeel hunted me.

  I turned onto the next street, and there again was the flutter of the woman’s cloak, just rounding a corner. There the road widened and brightened. A thin bit of smoke wafted into the street, and the noise and bustle increased tenfold. I hastened my step, knowing, fearing, what lay around that corner.

  I reached the bend in a rush, and saw precisely what I had feared: an open market square, huge and packed with shoppers. Ahead, through the crowd, I saw her moving. The people hardly slowed her measured pace. I tried to push through the crowd, but it was no use.

  She was escaping.

  I could not follow.

  I was lost.

  I heard a flutter of wings behind me, and the crowd parted. Several voices cried out in a language I did not understand.

  I turned, moving purely on instinct, my stiletto out, ready to face Asbeel again. As would surely be my lot in life, until one of us was dead.

  But the wings did not belong to Asbeel.

  Nine ravens, black as midnight, stared up at me. Eight had formed a circle on the ground, their wings stretched, touching tip to tip; but each had turned its head to me. The ninth stood in the middle, its chest puffed out proudly, and opened its beak.

caw it did not. It spoke.

  “Flee,” said the bird. “Do not pursue.”

  I blinked a few times and looked around the street. No one around me seemed concerned by the strange events. They continued about their business, though they did give the birds a wide berth.

  I stared at the bird, and it stared back at me. Feeling quite foolish, I asked the most obvious of questions. “Do not pursue whom?”

  “Us.” The bird’s head twitched to one side.

  “Why would I pursue you? Who are you?”


  I could hardly find words. The situation seemed so ridiculous. “I’m not pursuing birds,” I said. “I’m pursuing a thief.”

  “No thief,” the bird said.

  “A woman took something from me without permission. That makes her a thief.” My eyes darted through the crowd’s sea of colorful robes, desperate to catch a glimpse of the dark cloak.

  The bird skittered toward me. “Savior. Do not pursue.”

  I stared directly into the raven’s beady eyes. “How do you know about … any of this?” I asked.

  “We see.”

  “You’ve been following me, haven’t you?”

  The raven nodded. The strange gesture sent a shiver up my arm.

  “Then you’re a spy, and no better than the thief.” I advanced a step and brandished my sword menacingly.

  The birds lifted off from the ground in a flurry of feathers, their wings beating at the air, throwing up a cloud of dust in their wake. Their caws—the cries of ordinary ravens, not words—faded rapidly into the distance.

  With the birds gone, the crowd of shoppers pressed closer to me. I sheathed my sword and let myself fall into the flow.

  I shook my head. Of all the bizarre creatures I had met on my journey, that had to be one of the strangest sights of all. A talking bird? At least it had not tried to hurt me. The bird—as odd as it was—seemed to want to help me, in its own strange way.

  But I would not heed its warning. I would not give up on the stone. True, I had little to go on. I knew nothing of the thief who had stolen it. I had no magic to aid me. And I knew no one who did.

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