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Shadowrealm Preview: Shadows Deepen

Posted on September 22, 2008 by Flames

There are two other Shadowrealm Previews (Riven & Cael and Abelar Corrinthal) here on Flames Rising. We also have an interview with Paul S. Kemp that tells us a bit about the novel. Shadowrealm is book three of the Twilight War and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Today we have another snippet from Paul Kemp for our readers to explore. This snippet Cale, Riven, Mags, and…someone else…

Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp

Cale wandered the island as the setting sun ducked under the horizon and painted the shimmering surface of the Inner Sea in red and gold. The cries of gulls gave way to the steady heartbeat of the surf on the shore. Night crept out of its holes and hollows and slowly stretched its dark hand over the island, a sea-beset, solitary dot of rock.

He eventually found himself atop the low hill where they had buried Jak. A few of the stones marking the grave had fallen from the cairn. He replaced them, missing his friend, missing . . . many things. To one side of him the night-shrouded sea stretched out to the limits of his vision, black and impenetrable; the other side, the shadow-wrapped spire of Mask.

He crouched with his forearms on his knees and stared at Jak’s grave. Patches of grass dotted the soil and poked up through the loose rock. Shadows curled around Cale, languid and dark. The wind blew and he fooled himself into thinking he smelled tobacco from Jak’s pipe rather than sea salt. He felt eyes on him and looked to the temple. The Shadowwalkers congregated there on the drawbridge, in the shadow of the spire, watching him. He did not welcome their regard.

They thought he was one thing; he was striving to be something else. He feared their reverence would root him in place, make him what they wanted.

Desiring privacy, he enshrouded himself in shadows and sank into their dark coils. He thought of his friend and sought words, found them, and confessed.

“I am trying to keep my promise, little man, but it is hard.”

The rush of breakers sounded in the distance. He had murdered the Sojourner to the same sound. Murder came easy to him, easier than it should for a hero. He felt saturated by darkness, permeated by it. There was no separation between him and it. He looked at his shadowhand, a tangible reminder that he would always exist fully only in shadow, complete only in the night. He reached into his pocket, felt there the small river stone the halfling boy had given him.

“You told me once that what we do is only what we do, not what we are. I think you were right, little man, but I wish you had been wrong.”

He shook his head, looked through the shadows with his shadesight, out across the dark, inscrutable sea.

“You would smile at the things I’ve done, Jak. But I feel . . . nothing. Something in me has changed, is changing, and what I am would not make you smile.”

Shadows boiled from his skin, swirled. He imagined it to be whatever was left of his soul, squirming from his flesh to flee the corrupted vessel in which it was forced to reside.

Looking back over recent months, he saw that he felt only anger with any acuteness. Other feelings were faint, blunt, sensed as if through a haze. He had loved Varra but only from afar—love without passion. He had saved the halfling boy from trolls, saved Abelar’s son, tried to save Varra, was still trying to save Magadon, but all of it felt false, deeds done more out of duty than a genuine sense of compassion or love.

He was becoming more and more shadowstuff with each day, more inhuman. His promise to Jak was the only thing that tethered him to the humanity of his past.

“I am not a hero. It’s not in me, Jak.”

There were other things in him, darker things, things that good deeds could not efface, things that graveside confessions could not expiate. The shadowstuff was not merely part of him; it was consuming him. He saw in Rivalen Tanthul his own future—thousands of years lived in darkness.

“I’m tired,” he said, and meant it.

Around him the shadows took on weight, substance, presence. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and he felt only mild surprise when the darkness whispered in his ear with the mocking voice of his god.

“Tired? Already? But things have only just gotten started. Try running for thousands of years. Then speak to me of tired.”

Cale did not turn, did not rise, refused to bow. His heart raced but he stared at Jak’s grave and kept a tremor from his voice.

“You are not welcome here, not now.”

“Why? Because you are communing with your dead friend instead of your god?”

“Yes. You are unwelcome.”

“So you said, but you called me. I heard you.”

Perhaps Cale had. He did not know anymore. Perhaps his soul whispered to the darkness in a voice the rest of him could not hear.

“Since when do you answer my call? You are a liar.”

Mask chuckled. “Quite so.” The god’s tone changed, took a threatening cast. “But speaking of liars. You have been a naughty priest, talking with archfiends.”

Cale’s breath caught. His heart lurched. The darkness around him roiled.

“You thought I did not know? Tut, tut. I see clearly into darkness and there’s no darker place than your soul.”

The words mirrored Cale’s own thoughts, but he summoned what defiance he could. “Then you know what I promised him and what that means for my promise to you.”

The shadows darkened, tightened around him, their embrace a restraint rather than an embrace. Mask spoke with a voice as hard and sharp as a vorpal blade.

“Those promises are yours to keep, priest. I will hold you to your word.”

Cale managed a half turn of his head, but saw only shadow, darkness. “You are a bastard.”

“Yes”

“I hate you.”

Mask chuckled. “It is not me that you hate. I understand your true feelings all too well.”

Cale refused to follow the words where they led. Irritation made him rash. “Do you still have that hole I put in your armor? Show yourself and I’ll give you another.”

Mask’s chuckle faded. “I keep it as a souvenir of our meeting. Do you still have that hole I put in you?”

Cale tensed. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

Cale did. The shadows were hollowing him out, turning him into a shell of a man.

“I’d do it again, too.”

“That’s why you’re a bastard.”

“Among other reasons,” Mask said. “Some men in your situation would be grateful to me. What I gave you allows you to save those you want to save, to harm those you want to harm. I made you more than a man.”

But I can’t save myself, Cale wanted to scream. His anger boiled over, exploded out of him in a burst of words and darkness.

“This,” he fought through the restraints and held out his arms as the shadows roiled around his flesh, “has not made me more than a man. It’s made me less.”

Mask said nothing for a moment, then, “You understand that much sooner than I did.”

The words startled Cale. He started to stand but the shadows solidified, held him still, a penitent before Jak’s grave.

“Who are you?” Cale asked. “What are you?”

Mask sighed. “I am what I am. Once a man, then a god, then a herald of something . . . awkward. But always a thief and a debtor. Same as you.”

Cale did not feel up to parsing the words of his god. “I am tired.”

“So you said.”

“You are, too, yes?”

Mask said nothing.

Cale continued, “Tell me what is happening.”

“The Shadowstorm is come. Our debts are coming due. You understand well about debts. You’re as Sembian as anyone actually born there.”

“What kind of debts? Who pays?”

Mask spoke softly. “Old ones. And we all pay. It is not for me to break the cycle. Perhaps another will, in another place, another time.”

“What do you mean?” Cale asked.

“You keep your promise to me, priest, or the Shadowstorm will swallow all of Sembia. So complain to your dead friend, then go to what used to be Ordulin.”

“Used to be?”

“See it through, priest. Things are almost at an end.”

Cale’s anger forced shadows from his skin. He picked up a stone from Jak’s cairn, balanced it in his palm. He held Aril’s stone in one hand, Jak’s in the other.

“I will see it though. But not for you.”

He felt Mask at his side, felt the god’s breath on his cheek.

“I know. That is why I chose you for this. I want to tell you something, something I have said too rarely to those I’ve . . . harmed.”

Cale froze, fearful of what would follow. Shadows leaked from him in pulses, an echo of his racing heart.

“I’m sorry,” Mask said.

Cale heard sincerity in the words. He tried to turn, but failed.

“You said you were a herald? Of what?” A thought crossed his mind, then, an awful thought. “Do you . . . serve her?”

But the moment was lost. Mask was already gone. The sound of the distant surf returned. Cale remembered to breathe. It took him some time to recover and when he did, he put a hand on Jak’s grave.

“I will do what I can, little man.”

When he dissolved the shadows around him, he found the Shadowwalkers no longer on the drawbridge. He stood and rode the shadows into the temple. He turned his form to shadow, invisible to ordinary sight, even that of the Shadowwalkers, and walked the halls seeking Magadon. He found the mind mage alone in a small, stone-walled meditation chamber, balled up in the corner. Faint starlight shot through a high, narrow window and divided the cell in half, light and dark, a line separating Cale from Magadon.

Stress lined the mind mage’s face; his hands were fists. A vein pulsed in his temple, the visible manifestation of the storm raging behind his closed eyes. He murmured to himself. Cale could not understand the words.

Cale shed his shadows, turned visible.

“Mags.”

Magadon shook his head, murmured louder, wrapped his arms more tightly around his legs, as if trying to hold himself together.

“Magadon.”

“Leave me alone!”

“Mags, it’s me. Erevis.”

Magadon opened his eyes, the movement so slow his eyelids could have been made of lead. The whites of the mind mage’s eyes glowed in the darkness.

“Cale.”

The mind mage’s voice sounded far away, and Cale wondered in what far realm his thoughts had been wandering.

Cale stepped into the cell, across the spear of starlight, and kneeled beside his friend. Magadon smelled of old sweat, a sick room. Cale put a hand on Magadon’s shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

The black dots of Magadon’s pupils pinioned Cale. “No.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

Cale stood, extended a hand to Magadon. “On your feet.”

Magadon took his hand, rose.

“I’ll fix this, Mags. I’m going now.”

Magadon licked his lips and blinked away sleep. “I want to come with you. I should be part of it.”

“You know you cannot be there. But I want you to link us and keep us linked. Can you? Or is it too much?”

Magadon consulted his will, nodded. “I can do it.”

“If you need me, if anything happens, if you . . . start slipping, you tell me.”

Magadon held his eyes for a moment then nodded.

“No farther, Mags.”

Magadon smiled, and Cale saw in it the last bit of hope wrung from the husk of his deteriorating mental state.

“There’s not much farther to fall, Cale,” Magadon said.

“Do it,” Cale said.

Magadon closed his eyes and furrowed his brow. He winced as a red glow flared around his head. Cale felt the irritating itch root behind his eyes, the effect of the opening mental connection.

It will need to be latent most of the time, Magadon projected.

Cale noted that Magadon’s mental voice sounded deeper than it had previously, more like his father’s voice.

If you need me, Cale said. Tell me and I’ll come.

Magadon nodded. Cale squeezed his shoulder and left him with his thoughts, with the war in his skull. The moment he left the cell, he felt the connection go latent.

Cale sought Nayan, found him sitting alone in a dining hall lit only by the two thin tapers melting away into their holders. Looking upon him sitting there, Cale decided that the Wayrock Temple had become a mausoleum, where the dead and dying sat alone in dark stone rooms.

The small man wore a loose shirt and trousers and a sense of purpose. He stood as Cale entered. A plate of bread and cheese sat on the table before him. Cale was distantly pleased that Nayan had not heard him approach.

“Sit,” Cale said. “Eat.”

Nayan tilted his head in gratitude. His body sat but his eyes never left Cale’s face.

“The Shadowlord visits you in physical form,” Nayan said.

“Sometimes.”

“You are blessed.”

Cale chuckled. “So you say. Nayan, I need you and the others to remain here and watch over Magadon.”

Nayan’s expression did not change, but the shadows around him surged. “You are leaving?”

“For a time. With Riven.”

“We would accompany you. Serving the Right and Left hands of the Shadowlord is what brought us here.”

“You will be serving me by watching my friend. He cannot be left alone. But he cannot come with me.”

Nayan studied Cale’s face, and finally nodded. “Where are you going?”

Cale thought about the answer for a moment. “To kill a god,” he said, and exited the hall to find Riven. He found the assassin in the central hall on the second story, his two dogs in tow. They wagged their tails at Cale but did not leave their master’s side.

A question lodged in the lines of Riven’s brow, then smoothed into an answer.

“Found something, after all, I see.”

Riven could read him — too well.

“Something,” Cale acknowledged, thinking of Mask, of Magadon, of Jak.

“What next, then?” Riven asked.

The shadows around Cale swirled. “We tell Abelar the nature of the Shadowstorm so he can get the refugees out of its path.”

“Then?”

“We kill Kesson Rel. Or die trying. Mags is nearly gone.”

Riven inhaled, nodded. “Plan?”

“Go to Ordulin. Find him. Kill him.”

Riven chuckled through his goatee. “Must have taken you a while to come up with that.”

Cale smiled despite himself. He still found the rare demonstrations of Riven’s humor as incongruous as beardless cheeks on a dwarf.

“That double of him that we fought back in the Calyx,” Riven said. “The real him will be stronger than that.”

Cale nodded. “I know.”

Riven looked away, nodding, finally bent down and pet his dogs, the gesture one of farewell. He stood.

“There’s nothing for it. Let’s gear up.”

Shadowrealm is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

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