DRAGONLANCE LEGENDS

Volume 1

 

Margaret Weis was born and grew up in Independence,

Missouri. Her first book, a biography of Frank and Jesse

James, was inspired by her childhood fascination with their

graves at a local cemetery. She graduated in creative writing

from the University of Missouri and worked for a publisher

for fourteen years, during which time she advanced to

the position of editor. She then accepted a job as fiction

editor with TSR, Inc., where she now works. Besides the

Dragonlance Chronicles, the Dragonlance Legends and the

Dragonlance Tales, she has published a great many books

for younger readers and is working on her own science

fantasy trilogy as well as a fantasy trilogy, with Tracy

Hickman, entitled The Necroclast. She lives in Wisconsin

with her two children and three cats.

 

Tracy Hickman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1955.

He served as a missionary in Indonesia for nearly two years

before returning home to marry his childhood sweetheart.

He now combines being an author with being a games

designer with TSR, Inc., and is the creator of the complete

Dragonlance(TM) package, including games, books and minia-

tures. The Dragonlance Chronicles were his first novels. He

lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their two children.

 

LEGENDS

 

Volume 1

 

TIME OF

THE TWINS

 

Poetry by Michael Williams

 

Illustrations by Valerie Valusek

 

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

 

To Samuel G. and Alta Hickman

 

My grandpa who tossed me into bed in his own special way

and my grandma nanny who is always so very wise. Thank

you all for the bedtime stories, life, love, and history. You

will live forever - Tracy Raye Hickman

 

This book about the physical and spiritual bonds binding

brothers together could be dedicated to only one

person - my sister. To Terry Lynn Weis Wilhelm, with love

- Margaret Weis

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the work of the follow-

ing:

 

Michael Williams - for splendid poetry and warm friendship.

 

Steve Sullivan - for his wonderful maps. (Now you know

where you are, Steve!)

 

Patrick Price - for his helpful advice and thoughtful criticism.

 

Jean Black - our editor, who had faith in us from the begin-

ning.

 

Valerie Valusek - for her exquisite pen and ink drawings.

 

Ruth Hoyer - for cover and interior design.

 

Roger Moore - for DRAGON(R) articles and the story of Tas-

slehoff and the woolly mammoth.

 

The DRAGONLANCE(TM) team: Harold Johnson, Laura Hick-

man, Douglas Niles, Jeff Grubb, Michael Dobson, Michael

Breault, Bruce Heard.

 

The 1987 DRAGONLANCE CALENDAR artists: Clyde

Caldwell, Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, and Jeff Easley.

 

The Meeting

 

A lone figure trod softly

toward the distant light. Walking unheard, his footfalls were

sucked into the vast darkness all around him. Bertrem indulged

in a rare flight of fancy as he glanced at the seemingly endless

rows of books and scrolls that were part of the Chronicles of

Astinus and detailed the history of this world, the history of

Krynn.

"It's like being sucked into time," he thought, sighing as he

glanced at the still, silent rows. He wished, briefly, that he were

being sucked away somewhere, so that he did not have to face

the difficult task ahead of him.

"All the knowledge of the world is in these books," he said to

himself wistfully. "And I've never found one thing to help make

the intrusion upon their author any easier."

Bertrem came to a halt outside the door to summon his cour-

age. His flowing Aesthetic's robes settled themselves about

him, falling into correct and orderly folds. His stomach, how-

ever, refused to follow the robes' example and lurched about

wildly. Bertrem ran his hand across his scalp, a nervous gesture

left over from a younger age, before his chosen profession had

cost him his hair.

What was bothering him? he wondered bleakly - other than

going in to see the Master, of course, something he had not

done since... since... He shuddered. Yes, since the young

mage had nearly died upon their doorstep during the last war.

War... change, that was what it was. Like his robes, the

world had finally seemed to settle around him, but he felt

change coming once again, just as he had felt it two years ago.

He wished he could stop it....

Bertrem sighed. "I'm certainly not going to stop anything by

standing out here in the darkness," he muttered. He felt uncom-

fortable anyway, as though surrounded by ghosts. A bright

light shone from under the door, beaming out into the hallway.

Giving a quick glance backward at the shadows of the books,

peaceful corpses resting in their tombs, the Aesthetic quietly

opened the door and entered the study of Astinus of Palanthas.

 

Though the man was within, he did not speak, nor even look

up.

Walking with gentle, measured tread across the rich rug of

lamb's wool that lay upon the marble floor, Bertrem paused

before the great, polished wooden desk. For long moments he

said nothing, absorbed in watching the hand of the historian

guide the quill across the parchment in firm, even strokes.

"Well, Bertrem?" Astinus did not cease his writing.

Bertrem, facing Astinus, read the letters that - even upside

down - were crisp and clear and easily decipherable.

This day, as above Darkwatch rising 29, Bertrem entered my

study.

"Crysania of the House of Tarinius is here to see you, Master.

She says she is expected...." Bertrem's voice trailed off in a

whisper, it having taken a great deal of the Aesthetic's courage

to get that far.

Astinus continued writing.

"Master," Bertrem began faintly, shivering with his daring.

"I - we are at a loss. She is, after all, a Revered Daughter of Pal-

adine and I - we found it impossible to refuse her admittance.

What sh -"

"Take her to my private chambers," Astinus said without

ceasing to write or looking up.

Bertrem's tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, rendering

him momentarily speechless. The letters flowed from the quill

pen to the white parchment.

This day, as above Afterwatch rising 28, Crysania of Tari-

nius arrived for her appointment with Raistlin Majere.

"Raistlin Majere!" Bertrem gasped, shock and horror prying

his tongue loose. "Are we to admit hi -"

Astinus looked up now, annoyance and irritation creasing

his brow. As his pen ceased its eternal scratching on the parch-

ment, a deep unnatural silence settled upon the room. Bertrem

paled. The historian's face might have been reckoned hand-

some in a timeless, ageless fashion. But none who saw his face

ever remembered it. They simply remembered the eyes - dark,

intent, aware, constantly moving, seeing everything. Those

eyes could also communicate vast worlds of impatience,

reminding Bertrem that time was passing. Even as the two

spoke, whole minutes of history were ticking by, unrecorded.

 

"Forgive me, Master!" Bertrem bowed in profound rever-

ence, then backed precipitately out of the study, closing the

door quietly on his way. Once outside, he mopped his shaved

head that was glistening with perspiration, then hurried down

the silent, marble corridors of the Great Library of Palanthas.

 

Astinus paused in the doorway to his private residence, his

gaze on the woman who sat within.

Located in the western wing of the Great Library, the resi-

dence of the historian was small and, like all other rooms in the

library, was filled with books of every type and binding, lining

the shelves on the walls and giving the central living area a faint

musty odor, like a mausoleum that had been sealed for centu-

ries. The furniture was sparse, pristine. The chairs, wooden

and handsomely carved, were hard and uncomfortable to sit

upon. A low table, standing by a window, was absolutely free

of any ornament or object, reflecting the light from the setting

sun upon its smooth black surface. Everything in the room was

in the most perfect order. Even the wood for the evening fire -

the late spring nights were cool, even this far north - was

stacked in such orderly rows it resembled a funeral pyre.

And yet, cool and pristine and pure as was this private cham-

ber of the historian, the room itself seemed only to mirror the

cold, pristine, pure beauty of the woman who sat, her hands

folded in her lap, waiting.

Crysania of Tarinius waited patiently. She did not fidget or

sigh or glance often at the water-run timing device in the cor-

ner. She did not read - though Astinus was certain Bertrem

would have her offered a book. She did not pace the room or

examine the few rare ornaments that stood in shadowed nooks

within the bookcases. She sat in the straight, uncomfortable,

wooden chair, her clear, bright eyes fixed upon the red-stained

fringes of the clouds above the mountains as if she were watch-

ing the sun set for possibly the first - or last - time upon

Krynn.

So intent was she upon the sight beyond the window that

Astinus entered without attracting her attention. He regarded

her with intense interest. This was not unusual for the histo-

rian, who scrutinized all beings living upon Krynn with the

same fathomless, penetrating gaze. What was unusual was

 

that, for a moment, a look of pity and of profound sorrow

passed across the historian's face.

Astinus recorded history. He had recorded it since the begin-

ning of time, watching it pass before his eyes and setting it

down in his books. He could not foretell the future, that was

the province of the gods. But he could sense all the signs of

change, those same signs that had so disturbed Bertrem. Stand-

ing there, he could hear the drops of water falling in the timing

device. By placing his hand beneath them, he could cease the

flow of the drops, but time would go on.

Sighing, Astinus turned his attention to the woman, whom

he had heard of but never met.

Her hair was black, blue-black, black as the water of a calm

sea at night. She wore it combed straight back from a central

part, fastened at the back of her head with a plain, unadorned,

wooden comb. The severe style was not becoming to her pale,

delicate features, emphasizing their pallor. There was no color

at all in her face. Her eyes were gray and seemingly much too

large. Even her lips were bloodless.

Some years ago, when she had been young, servants had

braided and coiled that thick, black hair into the latest, fash-

ionable styles, tucking in pins of silver and of gold, decorating

the somber hues with sparkling jewels. They had tinted her

cheeks with the juice of crushed berries and dressed her in

sumptuous gowns of palest pinks and powdery blues. Once she

had been beautiful. Once her suitors had waited in lines.

The gown she wore now was white, as befitted a cleric of Pal-

adine, and plain though made of fine material. It was

unadorned save for the belt of gold that encircled her slim

waist. Her only ornament was Paladine's - the medallion of the

Platinum Dragon. Her hair was covered by a loose white hood

that enhanced the marble smoothness and coldness of her com-

plexion.

She might have been made of marble, Astinus thought, with

one difference - marble could be warmed by the sun.

"Greetings, Revered Daughter of Paladine," Astinus said,

entering and shutting the door behind him.

"Greetings, Astinus," Crysania of Tarinius said, rising to her

feet.

As she walked across the small room toward him, Astinus

 

was somewhat startled to note the swiftness and almost mascu-

line length of her stride. It seemed oddly incongruous with her

delicate features. Her handshake, too, was firm and strong, not

typical of Palanthian women, who rarely shook hands and

then did so only by extending their fingertips.

"I must thank you for giving up your valuable time to act as a

neutral party in this meeting," Crysania said coolly. "I know

how you dislike taking time from your studies."

"As long as it is not wasted time, I do not mind," Astinus

replied, holding her hand and regarding her intently. "I must

admit, however, that I resent this."

"Why?" Crysania searched the man's ageless face in true per-

plexity. Then - in sudden understanding - she smiled, a cold

smile that brought no more life to her face than the moonlight

upon snow. "You don't believe he will come, do you?"

Astinus snorted, dropping the woman's hand as though he

had completely lost interest in her very existence. Turning

away, he walked to the window and looked out over the city of

Palanthas, whose gleaming white buildings glowed in the sun's

radiance with a breathtaking beauty, with one exception. One

building remained untouched by the sun, even in brightest

noontime.

And it was upon this building that Astinus's gaze fixed.

Thrusting itself up in the center of the brilliant, beautiful city,

its black stone towers twisted and writhed, its minarets -

newly repaired and constructed by the powers of magic -

glistened blood-red in the sunset, giving the appearance of

rotting, skeletal fingers clawing their way up from some unhal-

lowed burial ground.

"Two years ago, he entered the Tower of High Sorcery,"

Astinus said in his calm, passionless voice as Crysania joined

him at the window. "He entered in the dead of night in dark-

ness, the only moon in the sky was the moon that sheds no

light. He walked through the Shoikan Grove - a stand of

accursed oak trees that no mortal - not even those of the ken-

der race - dare approach. He made his way to the gates upon

which hung still the body of the evil mage who, with his dying

breath, cast the curse upon the Tower and leapt from the upper

windows, impaling himself upon its gates - a fearsome watch-

man. But when he came there, the watchman bowed before

 

him, the gates opened at his touch, then they shut behind him.

And they have not opened again these past two years. He has

not left and, if any have been admitted, none have seen them.

And you expect him... here?"

"The master of past and of present." Crysania shrugged. "He

came, as was foretold."

Astinus regarded her with some astonishment.

"You know his story?"

"Of course," the cleric replied calmly, glancing up at him for

an instant, then turning her clear eyes back to look at the

Tower, already shrouding itself with the coming night's

shadows. "A good general always studies the enemy before

engaging in battle. I know Raistlin Majere very well, very well

indeed. And I know - he will come this night."

Crysania continued gazing at the dreadful Tower, her chin

lifted, her bloodless lips set in a straight, even line, her hands

clasped behind her back.

Astinus's face suddenly became grave and thoughtful, his

eyes troubled, though his voice was cool as ever. "You seem

very sure of yourself, Revered Daughter. How do you know

this?"

"Paladine has spoken to me," Crysania replied, never taking

her eyes from the Tower. "In a dream, the Platinum Dragon

appeared before me and told me that evil - once banished from

the world - had returned in the person of this black-robed wiz-

ard, Raistlin Majere. We face dire peril, and it has been given to

me to prevent it." As Crysania spoke, her marble face grew

smooth, her gray eyes were clear and bright. "It will be the test

of my faith I have prayed for!" She glanced at Astinus. "You

see, I have known since childhood that my destiny was to per-

form some great deed, some great service to the world and its

people. This is my chance."

Astinus's face grew graver as he listened, and even more

stern.

"Paladine told you this?" he demanded abruptly.

Crysania, sensing, perhaps, this man's disbelief, pursed her

lips. A tiny line appearing between her brows was, however,

the only sign of her anger, that and an even more studied calm-

ness in her reply.

"I regret having spoken of it, Astinus, forgive me. It was

 

between my god and myself, and such sacred things should not

be discussed. I brought it up simply to prove to you that this

evil man will come. He cannot help himself. Paladine will bring

him."

Astinus's eyebrows rose so that they very nearly disappeared

into his graying hair.

"This 'evil man' as you call him, Revered Daughter, serves a

goddess as powerful as Paladine - Takhisis, Queen of Dark-

ness! Or perhaps I should not say serves," Astinus remarked

with a wry smile. "Not of him...."

Crysania's brow cleared, her cool smile returned. "Good

redeems its own," she answered gently. "Evil turns in upon

itself. Good will triumph again, as it did in the War of the Lance

against Takhisis and her evil dragons. With Paladine's help, I

shall triumph over this evil as the hero, Tanis Half-Elven, tri-

umphed over the Queen of Darkness herself."

"Tanis Half-Elven triumphed with the help of Raistlin

Majere," Astinus said imperturbably. "Or is that a part of the

legend you choose to ignore?"

Not a ripple of emotion marred the still, placid surface of

Crysania's expression. Her smile remained fixed. Her gaze was

on the street.

"Look, Astinus," she said softly. "He comes."

 

The sun sank behind the distant mountains, the sky, lit by

the afterglow, was a gemlike purple. Servants entered quietly,

lighting the fire in the small chamber of Astinus. Even it burned

quietly, as if the flames themselves had been taught by the his-

torian to maintain the peaceful repose of the Great Library.

Crysania sat once more in the uncomfortable chair, her hands

folded once more in her lap. Her outward mein was calm and

cool as always. Inwardly, her heart beat with excitement that

was visible only by a brightening of her gray eyes.

Born to the noble and wealthy Tarinius family of Palanthas,

a family almost as ancient as the city itself, Crysania had

received every comfort and benefit money and rank could

bestow. Intelligent, strong-willed, she might easily have grown

into a stubborn and willful woman. Her wise and loving par-

ents, however, had carefully nurtured and pruned their daugh-

ter's strong spirit so that it had blossomed into a deep and

 

steadfast belief in herself. Crysania had done only one thing in

her entire life to grieve her doting parents, but that one thing

had cut them deeply. She had turned from an ideal marriage

with a fine and noble young man to a life devoted to serving

long-forgotten gods.

She first heard the cleric, Elistan, when he came to Palanthas

at the end of the War of the Lance. His new religion - or per-

haps it should have been called the old religion - was spreading

like wildfire through Krynn, because new-born legend credited

this belief in old gods with having helped defeat the evil

dragons and their masters, the Dragon Highlords.

On first going to hear Elistan talk, Crysania had been skepti-

cal. The young woman - she was in her mid-twenties - had

been raised on stories of how the gods had inflicted the Cata-

clysm upon Krynn, hurling down the fiery mountain that rent

the lands asunder and plunged the holy city of Istar into the

Blood Sea. After this, so people related, the gods turned from

men, refusing to have any more to do with them. Crysania was

prepared to listen politely to Elistan, but had arguments at

hand to refute his claims.

She was favorably impressed on meeting him. Elistan, at that

time, was in the fullness of his power. Handsome, strong, even

in his middle years, he seemed like one of the clerics of old, who

had ridden to battle - so some legends said - with the mighty

knight, Huma. Crysania began the evening finding cause to

admire him. She ended on her knees at his feet, weeping in

humility and joy, her soul at last having found the anchor it had

been missing.

The gods had not turned from men, was the message. It was

men who had turned from the gods, demanding in their pride

what Huma had sought in humility. The next day, Crysania left

her home, her wealth, her servants, her parents, and her

betrothed to move into the small, chill house that was the fore-

runner of the new Temple Elistan planned to build in Palanthas.

Now, two years later, Crysania was a Revered Daughter of

Paladine, one of a select few who had been found worthy to

lead the church through its youthful growing pangs. It was well

the church had this strong, young blood. Elistan had given

unstintingly of his life and his energy. Now, it seemed, the god

he served so faithfully would soon be summoning his cleric to

 

his side. And when that sorrowful event occurred, many

believed Crysania would carry on his work.

Certainly Crysania knew that she was prepared to accept the

leadership of the church, but was it enough? As she had told

Astinus, the young cleric had long felt her destiny was to per-

form some great service for the world. Guiding the church

through its daily routines, now that the war was over, seemed

dull and mundane. Daily she had prayed to Paladine to assign

her some hard task. She would sacrifice anything, she vowed,

even life itself, in the service of her beloved god.

And then had come her answer.

Now, she waited, in an eagerness she could barely restrain.

She was not frightened, not even of meeting this man, said to

be the most powerful force for evil now living on the face of

Krynn. Had her breeding permitted it, her lip would have

curled in a disdainful sneer. What evil could withstand the

mighty sword of her faith? What evil could penetrate her shin-

ing armor?

Like a knight riding to a joust, wreathed with the garlands of

his love, knowing that he cannot possibly lose with such tokens

fluttering in the wind, Crysania kept her eyes fixed on the door,

eagerly awaiting the tourney's first blows. When t-he door

opened, her hands - until now calmly folded - clasped

together in excitement.

Bertrem entered. His eyes went to Astinus, who sat immov-

able as a pillar of stone in a hard, uncomfortable chair near the

fire.

"The mage, Raistlin Majere," Bertrem said. His voice cracked

on the last syllable. Perhaps he was thinking about the last time

he had announced this visitor - the time Raistlin had been

dying, vomiting blood on the steps of the Great Library.

Astinus frowned at Bertrem's lack of self-control, and the Aes-

thetic disappeared back through the door as rapidly as his flut-

tering robes permitted.

Unconsciously, Crysania held her breath. At first she saw

nothing, only a shadow of darkness in the doorway, as if night

itself had taken form and shape within the entrance. The dark-

ness paused there.

"Come in, old friend," Astinus said in his deep, passionless

voice.

 

The shadow was lit by a shimmer of warmth - the firelight

gleamed on velvety soft, black robes - and then by tiny spar-

kles, as the light glinted off silver threads, embroidered runes

around a velvet cowl. The shadow became a figure, black

robes completely draping the body. For a brief moment, the fig-

ure's only human appendage that could be seen was a thin,

almost skeletal hand clutching a wooden staff. The staff itself

was topped by a crystal ball, held fast in the grip of a carved

golden dragon's claw.

As the figure entered the room, Crysania felt the cold chill of

disappointment. She had asked Paladine for some difficult

task! What great evil was there to fight in this? Now that she

could see him clearly, she saw a frail, thin man, shoulders

slightly stooped, who leaned upon his staff as he walked, as if

too weak to move without its aid. She knew his age, he would

be about twenty-eight now. Yet he moved like a human of

ninety - his steps slow and deliberate, even faltering.

What test of my faith lies in conquering this wretched crea-

ture? Crysania demanded of Paladine bitterly. I have no need

to fight him. He is being devoured from within by his own evil!

Facing Astinus, keeping his back to Crysania, Raistlin folded

back his black hood.

"Greetings again, Deathless One," he said to Astinus in a soft

voice.

"Greetings, Raistlin Majere," Astinus said without rising. His

voice had a faint sardonic note, as if sharing some private joke

with the mage. Astinus gestured. "May I present Crysania of

the House of Tarinius."

Raistlin turned.

Crysania gasped, a terrible ache in her chest caused her

throat to close, and for a moment she could not draw a breath.

Sharp, tingling pins jabbed her fingertips, a chill convulsed her

body. Unconsciously, she shrank back in her chair, her hands

clenching, her nails digging into her numb flesh.

All she could see before her were two golden eyes shining

from the depths of darkness. The eyes were like a gilt mirror,

flat, reflective, revealing nothing of the soul within. The

pupils - Crysania stared at the dark pupils in rapt horror. The

pupils within the golden eyes were the shape of hourglasses!

And the face - Drawn with suffering, marked with the pain of

 

the tortured existence the young man had led for seven years,

ever since the cruel Tests in the Tower of High Sorcery left his

body shattered and his skin tinged gold, the mage's face was a

metallic mask, impenetrable, unfeeling as the golden dragon's

claw upon his staff.

"Revered Daughter of Paladine," he said in a soft voice, a

voice filled with respect and - even reverence.

Crysania started, staring at him in astonishment. Certainly

that was not what she had expected.

Still, she could not move. His gaze held her, and she won-

dered in panic if he had cast a spell upon her. Seeming to sense

her fear, he walked across the room to stand before her in an

attitude that was both patronizing and reassuring. Looking up,

she could see the firelight flickering in his golden eyes.

"Revered Daughter of Paladine," Raistlin said again, his soft

voice enfolding Crysania like the velvety blackness of his

robes. "I hope I find you well?" But now she heard bitter, cyni-

cal sarcasm in that voice. This she had expected, this she was

prepared for. His earlier tone of respect had taken her by sur-

prise, she admitted to herself angrily, but her first weakness

was past. Rising to her feet, bringing her eyes level with his, she

unconsciously clasped the medallion of Paladine with her

hand. The touch of the cool metal gave her courage.

"I do not believe we need to exchange meaningless social

amenities," Crysania stated crisply, her face once more smooth

and cold. "We are keeping Astinus from his studies. He will

appreciate our completing our business with alacrity."

"I could not agree more," the black-robed mage said with a

slight twist of his thin lip that might have been a smile. "I have

come in response to your request. What is it you want of me?"

Crysania sensed he was laughing at her. Accustomed only to

the highest respect, this increased her anger. She regarded him

with cold gray eyes. "I have come to warn you, Raistlin

Majere, that your evil designs are known to Paladine. Beware,

or he will destroy you -"

"How'?" Raistlin asked suddenly, and his strange eyes flared

with a strange, intense light. "How will he destroy me?" he

repeated. "Lightning bolts? Flood and fire? Perhaps another

fiery mountain?"

He took another step toward her. Crysania moved coolly

 

away from him, only to back into her chair. Gripping the hard

wooden back firmly, she walked around it, then turned to face

him.

"It is your own doom you mock," she replied quietly.

Raistlin's lip twisted further still, but he continued talking, as

if he had not heard her words. "Elistan?" Raistlin's voice sank

to a hissing whisper. "He will send Elistan to destroy me?" The

mage shrugged. "But no, surely not. By all reports, the great

and holy cleric of Paladine is tired, feeble, dying...."

"No!" Crysania cried, then bit her lip, angry that this man

had goaded her into showing her feelings. She paused, drawing

a deep breath. "Paladine's ways are not to be questioned or

mocked," she said with icelike calm, but she could not help her

voice from softening almost imperceptibly. "And Elistan's

health is no concern of yours."

"Perhaps I take a greater interest in his health than you real-

ize," Raistlin replied with what was, to Crysania, a sneering

smile.

Crysania felt blood pound in her temples. Even as he had

spoken, the mage moved around the chair, coming nearer the

young woman. He was so close to her now that Crysania could

feel a strange, unnatural heat radiate from his body through his

black robes. She could smell a faintly cloying but pleasant

scent about him. A spiciness - His spell components, she real-

ized suddenly. The thought sickened and disgusted her. Hold-

ing the medallion of Paladine in her hand, feeling its smoothly

chiseled edges bite into her flesh, she moved away from him

again.

"Paladine came to me in a dream -" she said haughtily.

Raistlin laughed.

Few there were who had ever heard the mage laugh, and

those who had heard it remembered it always, resounding

through their darkest dreams. It was thin, high-pitched, and

sharp as a blade. It denied all goodness, mocked everything

right and true, and it pierced Crysania's soul.

"Very well," Crysania said, staring at him with a disdain that

hardened her bright, gray eyes to steel blue, "I have done my

best to divert you from this course. I have given you fair warn-

ing. Your destruction is now in the hands of the gods."

Suddenly, perhaps realizing the fearlessness with which she

 

confronted him, Raistlin's laughter ceased. Regarding her

intently, his golden eyes narrowed. Then he smiled, a secret

inner smile of such strange joy that Astinus, watching the

exchange between the two, rose to his feet. The historian's

body blocked the light of the fire. His shadow fell across them

both. Raistlin started, almost in alarm. Half-turning, he

regarded Astinus with a burning, menacing stare.

"Beware, old friend," the mage warned, "or would you med-

dle with history?"

"I do not meddle," Astinus replied, "as you well know. I am

an observer, a recorder. In all things, I am neutral. I know your

schemes, your plans as I know the schemes and plans of all who

draw breath this day. Therefore, hear me, Raistlin Majere, and

heed this warning. This one is beloved of the gods - as her

name implies."

"Beloved of the gods? So are we all, are we not, Revered

Daughter?" Raistlin asked, turning to face Crysania once more.

His voice was soft as the velvet of his robes. "Is that not written

in the Disks of Mishakall Is that not what the godly Elistan

teaches?"

"Yes," Crysania said slowly, regarding him with suspicion,

expecting more mockery. But his metallic face was serious, he

had the appearance, suddenly, of a scholar - intelligent, wise.

"So it is written." She smiled coldly. "I am pleased to find you

have read the sacred Disks, though you obviously have not

learned from them. Do you not recall what is said in the -"

She was interrupted by Astinus, snorting.

"I have been kept from my studies long enough." The histo-

rian crossed the marble floor to the door of the antechamber.

"Ring for Bertrem when you are ready to depart. Farewell,

Revered Daughter. Farewell... old friend."

Astinus opened the door. The peaceful silence of the library

flowed into the room, bathing Crysania in refreshing coolness.

She felt herself in control and she relaxed. Her hand let loose of

the medallion. Formally and gracefully, she bowed her farewell

to Astinus, as did Raistlin. And then the door shut behind the

historian. The two were alone.

For long moments, neither spoke. Then Crysania, feeling

Paladine's power flowing through her, turned to face Raistlin.

"I had forgotten that it was you and those with you who recov-

 

ered the sacred Disks. Of course, you would have read them. I

would like to discuss them with you further but, henceforth, in

any future dealings we might have, Raistlin Majere," she said in

her cool voice, "I will ask you to speak of Elistan more respect-

fully. He -"

She stopped amazed, watching in alarm as the mage's slender

body seemed to crumble before her eyes.

Wracked by spasms of coughing, clutching his chest, Raistlin

gasped for breath. He staggered. If it had not been for the staff

he leaned upon, he would have fallen to the floor. Forgetting

her aversion and her disgust, reacting instinctively, Crysania

reached out and, putting her hands upon his shoulders, mur-

mured a healing prayer. Beneath her hands, the black robes

were soft and warm. She could feel Raistlin's muscles twisting

in spasms, sense his pain and suffering. Pity filled her heart.

Raistlin jerked away from her touch, shoving her to one side.

His coughing gradually eased. Able to breathe freely once

more, he regarded her with scorn.

"Do not waste your prayers on me, Revered Daughter," he

said bitterly. Pulling a soft cloth from his robes, he dabbed his

lips and Crysania saw that it came away stained with blood.

"There is no cure for my malady. This is the sacrifice, the price I

paid for my magic."

"I don't understand," she murmured. Her hands twitched, as

she remembered vividly the velvety soft smoothness of the

black robes, and she unconsciously clasped her fingers behind

her back.

"Don't you'?" Raistlin asked, staring deep into her soul with

his strange, golden eyes. "What was the sacrifice you made for

your power?"

A faint flush, barely visible in the dying firelight, stained

Crysania cheeks with blood, much as the mage's lips were

stained. Alarmed at this invasion of her being, she averted her

face, her eyes looking once more out the window. Night had

fallen over Palanthas. The silver moon, Solinari, was a sliver

of light in the dark sky. The red moon that was its twin had not

yet risen. The black moon - She caught herself wondering,

where is it? Can he truly see it?

"I must go," Raistlin said, his breath rasping in his throat.

"These spasms weaken me. I need rest."

 

"Certainly." Crysania felt herself calm once more. All the

ends of her emotions tucked back neatly into place, she turned

to face him again. "I thank you for coming -"

"But our business is not concluded," Raistlin said softly. "I

would like a chance to prove to you that these fears of your god

are unfounded. I have a suggestion. Come visit me in the Tower

of High Sorcery. There you will see me among my books and

understand my studies. When you do, your mind will be at

ease. As it teaches in the Disks, we fear only that which is

unknown." He took a step nearer her.

Astounded at his proposal, Crysania's eyes opened wide.

She tried to move away from him, but she had inadvertently let

herself become trapped by the window. "I cannot go... to the

Tower," she faltered as his nearness smothered her, stole her

breath. She tried to walk around him, but he moved his staff

slightly, blocking her path. Coldly, she continued, "The spells

laid upon it keep out all -"

"Except those I choose to admit," Raistlin whispered. Folding

the blood-stained cloth, he tucked it back into a secret pocket

of his robes. Then, reaching out, he took hold of Crysania's

hand.

"How brave you are, Revered Daughter," he commented.

"You do not tremble at my evil touch."

"Paladine is with me," Crysania replied disdainfully.

Raistlin smiled, a warm smile, dark and secret - a smile for

just the two of them. It fascinated Crysania. He drew her near

to him. Then, he dropped her hand. Resting the staff against

the chair, he reached out and took hold of her head with his

slender hands, placing his fingers over the white hood she

wore. Now, Crysania trembled at his touch, but she could not

move, she could not speak or do anything more than stare at

him in a wild fear she could neither suppress nor understand.

Holding her firmly, Raistlin leaned down and brushed his

blood-flecked lips across her forehead. As he did so, he mut-

tered strange words. Then he released her.

Crysania stumbled, nearly falling. She felt weak and dizzy.

Her hand went to her forehead where the touch of his lips

burned into her skin with a searing pain. "What have you

done?" she cried brokenly. "You cannot cast a spell upon me!

My faith protects -"

 

"Of course." Raistlin sighed wearily, and there was an expres-

sion of sorrow in his face and voice, the sorrow of one who is

constantly suspected, misunderstood. "I have simply given you

a, charm that will allow you to pass through Shoikan Grove.

The way will not be easy" - his sarcasm returned - "but,

undoubtedly your faith will sustain you!"

Pulling his hood low over his eyes, the mage bowed silently

to Crysania, who could only stare at him, then he walked

toward the door with slow, faltering steps. Reaching out a skel-

etal hand, he pulled the bell rope. The door opened and

Bertrem entered so swiftly and suddenly that Crysania knew he

must have been posted outside. Her lips tightened. She flashed

the Aesthetic such a furious, imperious glance that the man

paled visibly, though totally unaware of what crime he had

committed, and mopped his shining forehead with the sleeve of

his robe.

Raistlin started to leave, but Crysania stopped him. "I-I

apologize for not trusting you, Raistlin Majere," she said softly.

"And, again, I thank you for coming."

Raistlin turned. "And I apologize for my sharp tongue," he

said. "Farewell, Revered Daughter. If you truly do not fear

knowledge, then come to the Tower two nights from this night,

when Lunitari makes its first appearance in the sky."

"I will be there," Crysania answered firmly, noting with plea-

sure Bertrem's look of shocked horror. Nodding in good-bye,

she rested her hand lightly on the back of the ornately carved

wooden chair.

The mage left the room, Bertrem followed, shutting the door

behind him.

Left alone in the warm, silent room, Crysania fell to her

knees before the chair. "Oh, thank you, Paladine!" she

breathed. "I accept your challenge. I will not fail you! I will not

fail!"

 

Behind her, she

could hear the sound of clawed feet, scrapping through the

leaves of the forest. Tika tensed, but tried to act as if she didn't

hear, luring the creature on. Firmly, she gripped her sword in

her hand. Her heart pounded. Closer and closer came the foot-

steps, she could hear the harsh breathing. The touch of a

clawed hand fell upon her shoulder. Whirling about, Tika

swung her sword and... knocked a tray full of mugs to the

floor with a crash.

Dezra shrieked and sprang backward in alarm. Patrons sit-

ting at the bar burst into raucous laughter. Tika knew her face

must be as red as her hair. Her heart was pounding, her hands

shook.

"Dezra," she said coldly, "you have all the grace and brains of

a gully dwarf. Perhaps you and Raf should switch places. You

carry out the garbage and I'll let him wait tables!"

Dezra looked up from where she knelt, picking broken pieces

of crockery up off the floor, where they floated in a sea of beer.

"Perhaps I should!" the waitress cried, tossing the pieces back

onto the floor. 'Wait tables yourself... or is that beneath you

now, Tika Majere, Heroine of the Lance?"

 

Flashing Tika a hurt, reproachful glance, Dezra stood up,

kicked the broken crockery out of her way, and flounced out of

the Inn.

As the front door banged open, it hit sharply against its

frame, making Tika grimace as she envisioned scratches on the

woodwork. Sharp words rose to her lips, but she bit her tongue

and stopped their utterance, knowing she would regret them

later.

The door remained standing open, letting the bright light of

fading afternoon flood the Inn. The ruddy glow of the setting

sun gleamed in the bar's freshly polished wood surface and

sparkled off the glasses. It even danced on the surface of the

puddle on the floor. It touched Tika's flaming red curls teas-

ingly, like the hand of a lover, causing many of the sniggering

patrons to choke on their laughter and gaze at the comely

woman with longing.

Not that Tika noticed. Now ashamed of her anger, she

peered out the window, where she could see Dezra, dabbing at

her eyes with an apron. A customer entered the open door,

dragging it shut behind him. The light vanished, leaving the

Inn once more in cool, half-darkness.

Tika brushed her hand across her own eyes. What kind of

monster am I turning into? she asked herself remorsefully.

After all, it wasn't Dezra's fault. It's this horrible feeling inside

of me! I almost wish there were draconians to fight again. At

least then I knew what I feared, at least then I could fight it with

my own hands! How can I fight something I can't even name?

Voices broke in on her thoughts, clamoring for ale, for food.

Laughter rose, echoing through the Inn of the Last Home.

This is what I came back to find. Tika sniffed and wiped her

nose with the bar rag. This is my home. These people are as

right and beautiful and warm as the setting sun. I'm sur-

rounded by the sounds of love - laughter, good fellowship, a

lapping dog....

Lapping dog! Tika groaned and hurried out from behind the

bar.

"Raf!" she exclaimed, staring at the gully dwarf in despair.

"Beer spill. Me mop up," he said, looking at her and cheer-

fully wiping his hand across his mouth.

Several of the old-time customers laughed, but there were a

few, new to the Inn, who were staring at the gully dwarf in dis-

gust.

 

"Use this rag to clean it up!" Tika hissed out of the corner of

her mouth as she grinned weakly at the customers in apology.

She tossed Raf the bar rag and the gully dwarf caught it. But he

only held it in his hand, staring at it with a mystified expres-

sion.

"What me do with this?"

"Clean up the spill!" Tika scolded, trying unsuccessfully to

shield him from the customer's view with her long, flowing

skirt.

"Oh! Me not need that," Raf said solemnly. "Me not get nice

rag dirty." Handing the cloth back to Tika, the gully dwarf got

down on all fours again and began to lick up the spilled beer,

now mingled with tracked-in mud.

Her cheeks burning, Tika reached down and jerked Raf up

by his collar, shaking him. "Use the rag!" she whispered furi-

ously. "The customers are losing their appetites! And when

you're finished with that, I want you to clear off that big table

near the firepit. I'm expecting friends -" Tika stopped.

Raf was staring at her, wide-eyed, trying to absorb the com-

plicated instructions. He was exceptional, as gully dwarves go.

He'd only been there three weeks and Tika had already taught

him to count to three (few gully dwarves ever get past two) and

had finally gotten rid of his stench. This new-found intellectual

prowess combined with cleanliness would have made him a

king in a gully dwarf realm, but Raf had no such ambitions. He

knew no king lived like he did - "mopping up" spilled beer (if

he were quick) and "taking out" the garbage. But there were

limits to Raf's talents, and Tika had just reached them.

"I'm expecting friends and -" she started again, then gave

up. "Oh, never mind. Just mop this up - with the rag," she

added severely, "then come to me to find out what to do next."

"Me no drink?" Raf began, then caught Tika's furious glare.

"Me do."

Sighing in disappointment, the gully dwarf took the rag back

and slopped it around, muttering about "waste good beer."

Then he picked up pieces of the broken mugs and, after staring

at them a moment, grinned and stuck them in the pockets of his

shirt.

Tika wondered briefly what he planned to do with them, but

knew it was wiser not to ask. Returning to the bar, she grabbed

some more mugs and filled them, trying not to notice that Raf

had cut himself on some of the sharper pieces and was now

 

leaning back on his heels, watching, with intense interest, the

blood drip from his hand.

"Have you... uh... seen Caramon?" Tika asked the gully

dwarf casually.

"Nope." Raf wiped his bloody hand in his hair. "But me know

where to look." He leaped up eagerly. "Me go find?"

"No!" snapped Tika, frowning. "Caramon's at home."

"Me no think so," Raf said, shaking his head. "Not after sun

go down -"

"He's home!" Tika snapped so angrily that the gully dwarf

shrank away from her.

"You want to make bet?" Raf muttered, but well under his

breath. Tika's temper these days was as fiery as her flaming

hair.

Fortunately for Raf, Tika didn't hear him. She finished filling

the beer mugs, then carried the tray over to a large party of

elves, seated near the door.

I'm expecting friends, she repeated to herself dully. Dear

friends. Once she would have been so excited, so eager to see

Tanis and Riverwind. Now... She sighed, handing out the

beer mugs without conscious awareness of what she was doing.

Name of the true gods, she prayed, let them come and go

quickly! Yes, above all, go quickly! If they stayed... If they

found out....

Tika's heart sank at the thought. Her lower lip trembled. If

they stayed, that would be the end. Plain and simple. Her life

would be over. The pain was suddenly more than she could

bear. Hurriedly setting the last beer mug down, Tika left the

elves, blinking her eyes rapidly. She did not notice the bemused

gazes the elves exchanged among themselves as they stared at

the beer mugs, and she never did remember that they had all

ordered wine.

Half blinded by her tears, Tika's only thought was to escape

to the kitchen where she could weep unseen. The elves looked

about for another waitress, and Raf, sighing in contentment,

got back down on his hands and knees, happily lapping up the

rest of the beer.

 

Tanis Half-Elven stood at the bottom of a small rise, staring

up the long, straight, muddy road that stretched ahead of him.

The woman he escorted and their mounts waited some distance

behind him. The woman had been in need of rest, as had their

 

horses. Though her pride had kept her from saying a word,

Tanis saw her face was gray and drawn with fatigue. Once

today, in fact, she had nodded off to sleep in the saddle, and

would have fallen but for Tanis's strong arm. Therefore,

though eager to reach her destination, she had not protested

when Tanis stated that he wanted to scout the road ahead

alone. He helped her from her horse and saw her settled in a

hidden thicket.

He had misgivings about leaving her unattended, but he

sensed that the dark creatures pursuing them had fallen far

behind. His insistence on speed had paid off, though-both he

and the woman were aching and exhausted. Tanis hoped to

stay ahead of the things until he could turn his companion over

to the one person on Krynn who might be able to help her.

They had been riding since dawn, fleeing a horror that had

followed them since leaving Palanthas. What it was exactly,

Tanis - with all his experience during the wars - could not

name. And that made it all the more frightening. Never there

when confronted, it was only seen from the corner of the eye

that was looking for something else. His companion had sensed

it, too, he could tell, though, characteristically, she was too

proud to admit to fear.

Walking away from the thicket, Tanis felt guilty. He

shouldn't be leaving her alone, he knew. He shouldn't be wast-

ing precious time. All his warrior senses protested. But there

was one thing he had to do, and he had to do it alone. To do

otherwise would have seemed sacrilege.

And so Tanis stood at the bottom of the hill, summoning his

courage to move forward. Anyone looking at him might have

supposed he was advancing to fight an ogre. But that was not

the case. Tanis Half-Elven was returning home. And he both

longed for and dreaded his first sight.

The afternoon sun was beginning its downward journey

toward night. It would be dark before he reached the Inn, and

he dreaded traveling the roads by night. But, once there, this

nightmarish journey would be over, He would leave the

woman in capable hands and continue on to Qualinesti. But,

first, there was this he had to face. With a deep sigh, Tanis Half-

Elven drew his green hood up over his head and began the

climb.

Topping the rise, his gaze fell upon a large, moss-covered

boulder. For a moment, his memories overwhelmed him. He

 

closed his eyes, feeling the sting of swift tears beneath the lids.

"Stupid quest," he heard the dwarf's voice echo in his mem-

ory. "Silliest thing I ever did!"

Flint! My old friend!

I can't go on, Tanis thought. This is too painful. Why did I

ever agree to come back? It holds nothing for me now... noth-

ing except the pain of old wounds. My life is good, at last.

Finally I am at peace, happy. Why... why did I tell them I

would come?

Drawing a shuddering sigh, he opened his eyes and looked at

the boulder. Two years ago - it would be three this autumn - he

had topped this rise and met his long-time friend, the dwarf,

Flint Fireforge, sitting on that boulder, carving wood, and

complaining - as usual. That meeting had set in motion events

that had shaken the world, culminating in the War of the

Lance, the battle that cast the Queen of Darkness back into the

Abyss, and broke the might of the Dragon Highlords.

Now I am a hero, Tanis thought, glancing down ruefully at

the gaudy panoply he wore: breastplate of a Knight of Solam-

nia; green silken sash, mark of the Wildrunners of Silvanesti,

the elves' most honored legions; the medallion of Kharas, the

dwarves' highest honor; plus countless others. No one -

human, elf, or half-elf - had been so honored. It was ironic. He

who hated armor, who hated ceremony, now forced to wear it

as befitting his station. How the old dwarf would have

laughed.

"You - a hero!" He could almost hear the dwarf snort. But

Flint was dead. He had died two years ago this spring in Tanis's

arms.

"Why the beard?" He could swear once again that he heard

Flint's voice, the first words he had said upon seeing the half-elf

in the road. "You were ugly enough...."

Tanis smiled and scratched the beard that no elf on Krynn

could grow, the beard that was the outward, visible sign of his

half-human heritage. Flint knew well enough why the beard,

Tanis thought, gazing fondly at the sun-warmed boulder. He

knew me better than I knew myself. He knew of the chaos that

raged inside my soul. He knew I had a lesson to learn.

"And I learned it," Tanis whispered to the friend who was

with him in spirit only. "I learned it, Flint. But... oh, it was bit-

ter!"

The smell of wood smoke came to Tanis. That and the slant-

 

ing rays of the sun and the chill in the spring air reminded him

he still had some distance to travel. Turning, Tanis Half-Elven

looked down into the valley where he had spent the bittersweet

years of his young manhood. Turning, Tanis Half-Elven looked

down upon Solace.

It had been autumn when he last saw the small town. The

vallenwood trees in the valley had been ablaze with the sea-

son's colors, the brilliant reds and golds fading into the purple

of the peaks of the Kharolis mountains beyond, the deep azure

of the sky mirrored in the still waters of Crystalmir Lake. There

had been a haze of smoke over the valley, the smoke of home

fires burning in the peaceful town that had once roosted in the

vallenwood trees like contented birds. He and Flint had

watched the lights flicker on, one by one, in the houses that

sheltered among the leaves of the huge trees. Solace - tree

city - one of the beauties and wonders of Krynn.

For a moment, Tanis saw the vision in his mind's eye as

clearly as he had seen it two years before. Then the vision

faded. Then it had been autumn. Now it was spring. The

smoke was there still, the smoke of the home fires. But now it

came mostly from houses built on the ground. There was the

green of living, growing things, but it only seemed - in Tanis's

mind - to emphasize the black scars upon the land; scars that

could never be totally erased, though here and there he saw the

marks of the plow across them.

Tanis shook his head. Everyone thought that, with the

destruction of the Queen's foul temple at Neraka, the war was

over. Everyone was anxious to plow over the black and burned

land, scorched by dragonfire, and forget their pain.

His eyes went to a huge circle of black that stood in the center

of town. Here, nothing would grow. No plow could turn the

soil ravaged by dragonfire and soaked by the blood of inno-

cents, murdered by the troops of the Dragon Highlords.

Tanis smiled grimly. He could imagine how an eyesore like

that must irritate those who were working to forget. He was

glad it was there. He hoped it would remain, forever.

Softly, he repeated words he had heard Elistan speak, as the

cleric dedicated in solemn ceremony the High Clerist's Tower to

the memory of those knights who had died there.

"We must remember or we will fall into complacency - as we

did before - and the evil will come again."

If it is not already upon us, Tanis thought grimly. And, with

 

that in mind, he turned and walked rapidly back down the hill.

 

The Inn of the Last Home was crowded that evening.

While the war had brought devastation and destruction to

the residents of Solace, the end of the war had brought such

prosperity that there were already some who were saying it

hadn't been "such a bad thing." Solace had long been a cross-

roads for travelers through the lands of Abanasinia. But, in the

days before the war, the numbers of travelers had been rela-

tively few. The dwarves - except,for a few renegades like Flint

Fireforge - had shut themselves up in their mountain kingdom

of Thorbardin or barricaded themselves in the hills, refusing to

have anything to do with the rest of the world. The elves had

done the same, dwelling in the beautiful lands of Qualinesti to

the southwest and Silvanesti on the eastern edge of the conti-

nent of Ansalon.

The war had changed all that. Elves and dwarves and

humans traveled extensively now, their lands and their king-

doms open to all. But it had taken almost total annihilation to

bring about this fragile state of brotherhood.

The Inn of the Last Home - always popular with travelers

because of its fine drink and Otik's famous spiced potatoes -

became more popular still. The drink was still fine and the

potatoes as good as ever - though Otik had retired - but the

real reason for the Inn's increase in popularity was that it had

become a place of some renown. The Heroes of the Lance - as

they were now called - had been known to frequent this Inn in

days gone by.

Otik had, in fact, before his retirement, seriously considered

putting up a plaque over the table near the firepit - perhaps

something like "Tanis Half-Elven and Companions Drank

Here." But Tika had opposed the scheme so vehemently (the

mere thought of what Tanis would say if he caught sight of that

made Tika's cheeks burn) that Otik had let it drop. But the

rotund barkeep never tired of telling his patrons the story of the

night the barbarian woman had sung her strange song and

healed Hederick the Theocrat with her blue crystal staff, giving

the first proof of the existence of the ancient, true gods.

Tika, who took over management of the Inn upon Otik's

retirement and was hoping to save enough money to buy the

business, fervently hoped Otik would refrain from telling that

story again tonight. But she might have spent her hope on bet-

 

ter things.

There were several parties of elves who had traveled all the

way from Silvanesti to attend the funeral of Solostaran -

Speaker of the Suns and ruler of the elven lands of Qualinesti.

They were not only urging Otik to tell his story, but were tell-

ing some of their own, about the Heroes' visit to their land and

how they freed it from the evil dragon, Cyan Bloodbane.

Tika saw Otik glance her direction wistfully at this - Tika

had, after all, been one of the members of the group in

Silvanesti. But she silenced him with a furious shake of her red

curls. That was one part of their journey she refused ever to

relate or even discuss. In fact, she prayed nightly that she

would forget the hideous nightmares of that tortured land.

Tika closed her eyes a moment, wishing the elves would

drop the conversation. She had her own nightmares now. She

needed no past ones to haunt her. "Just let them come and go

quickly," she said softly to herself and to whatever god might be

listening.

It was just past sunset. More and more customers entered,

demanding food and drink. Tika had apologized to Dezra, the

two friends had shed a few tears together, and now were kept

busy running from kitchen to bar to table. Tika started every

time the door opened, and she scowled irritably when she

heard Otik's voice rise above the clatter of mugs and tongues.

"... beautiful autumn night, as I recall, and I was, of course,

busier than a draconian drill sergeant." That always got a

laugh. Tika gritted her teeth. Otik had an appreciative audi-

ence and was in full swing. There would be no stopping him

now. "The Inn was up in the vallenwood trees then, like the rest

of our lovely city before the dragons destroyed it. Ah, how

beautiful it was in the old days." He sighed - he always sighed

at this point - and wiped away a tear. There was a sympathetic

murmur from the crowd. "Where was I?" He blew his nose,

another part of the act. "Ah, yes. There I was, behind the bar,

when the door opened...."

The door opened. It might have been done on cue, so perfect

was the timing. Tika brushed back a strand of red hair from her

perspiring forehead and glanced over nervously. Sudden

silence filled the room. Tika stiffened, her nails digging into her

hands.

A tall man, so tall he had to duck to enter the door, stood in

the doorway. His hair was dark, his face grim and stern.

 

Although cloaked in furs, it was obvious from his walk and

stance that his body was strong and muscular. He cast a swift

glance around the crowded Inn, sizing up those who were

present, wary and watchful of danger.

But it was an instinctive action only, for when his penetrat-

ing, somber gaze rested on Tika, his stern face relaxed into a

smile and he held his arms open wide.

Tika hesitated, but the sight of her friend suddenly filled her

with joy and a strange wave of homesickness. Shoving her way

through the crowd, she was caught in his embrace.

"Riverwind, my friend!" she murmured brokenly.

Grasping the young woman in his arms, Riverwind lifted her

effortlessly, as though she were a child. The crowd began to

cheer, banging their mugs on the table. Most couldn't believe

their luck. Here was a Hero of the Lance himself, as if carried

on the wings of Otik's story. And he even looked the part! They

were enchanted.

For, upon releasing Tika, the tall man had thrown his fur

cloak back from his shoulders, and now all could see the Man-

tle of the Chieftain that the Plainsman wore, its V-shaped sec-

tions of alternating furs and tooled leathers each representing

one of the Plains tribes over which he ruled. His handsome

face, though older and more careworn than when Tika had

seen him last, was burned bronze by the sun and weather, and

there was an inner joy within the man's eyes which showed that

he had found in his life the peace he had been searching for

years before.

Tika felt a choking sensation in her throat and turned

quickly away, but not quickly enough.

"Tika," he said, his accent thick from living once more

among his people, "it is good to see you well and beautiful still.

Where's Caramon? I cannot wait to see - Why, Tika, what's

wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing," Tika said briskly, shaking her red curls

and blinking her eyes. "Come, I have a place saved for you by

the fire. You must be exhausted and hungry."

She led him through the crowd, talking nonstop, never giv-

ing him a chance to say a word. The crowd inadvertently

helped her, keeping Riverwind occupied as they gathered

around to touch and marvel over his fur cloak, or tried to shake

his hand (a custom Plainsmen consider barbaric) or thrust

drinks into his face.

 

Riverwind accepted it all stoically, as he followed Tika

through the excited throng, clasping the beautiful sword of

elven make close to his side. His stern face grew a shade darker,

and he glanced often out the windows as though already long-

ing to escape the confines of this noisy, hot room and return to

the outdoors he loved. But Tika skillfully shoved the more exu-

berant patrons aside and soon had her old friend seated by the

fire at an isolated table near the kitchen door.

"I'll be back," she said, flashing him a smile and vanishing

into the kitchen before he could open his mouth.

The sound of Otik's voice rose once again, accompanied by a

loud banging. His story having been interrupted, Otik was

using his cane - one of the most feared weapons in Solace - to

restore order. The barkeep was crippled in one leg now and he

enjoyed telling that story, too - about how he had been injured

during the fall of Solace, when, by his own account, he single-

handedly fought off the invading armies of draconians.

Grabbing a panful of spiced potatoes and hurrying back to

Riverwind, Tika glared at Otik irritably. She knew the true

story, how he had hurt his leg being dragged out of his hiding

place beneath the floor. But she never told it. Deep within, she

loved the old man like a father. He had taken her in and raised

her, when her own father disappeared, giving her honest work

when she might have turned to thievery. Besides, just remind-

ing him that she knew the truth was useful in keeping Otik's tall

tales from stretching to new heights.

The crowd was fairly quiet when Tika returned, giving her a

chance to talk to her old friend.

"How is Goldmoon and your son?" she asked brightly, seeing

Riverwind looking at her, studying her intently.

"She is fine and sends her love," Riverwind answered in his

deep, low baritone. "My son" - his eyes glowed with pride - "is

but two, yet already stands this tall and sits a horse better than

most warriors."

"I was hoping Goldmoon would come with you," Tika said

with a sigh she didn't mean Riverwind to hear. The tall Plains-

man ate his food for a moment in silence before he answered.

"The gods have blessed us with two more children," he said,

staring at Tika with a strange expression in his dark eyes.

"Two?" Tika looked puzzled, then, "oh, twins!" she cried

joyfully. "Like Caramon and Rais -" She stopped abruptly, bit-

ing her lip.

 

Riverwind frowned and made the sign that wards off evil.

Tika flushed and looked away. There was a roaring in her ears.

The heat and the noise made her dizzy. Swallowing the bitter

taste in her mouth, she forced herself to ask more about Gold-

moon and, after awhile, could even listen to Riverwind's

answer.

"... still too few clerics in our land. There are many con-

verts, but the powers of the gods come slowly. She works hard,

too hard to my mind, but she grows more beautiful every day.

And the babies, our daughters, both have silver-golden hair -"

Babies.... Tika smiled sadly. Seeing her face, Riverwind fell

silent, finished eating, and pushed his plate away. "I can think

of nothing I would rather do than continue this visit," he said

slowly, "but I cannot be gone long from my people. You know

the urgency of my mission. Where is Cara -"

"I must go check on your room," Tika said, standing up so

quickly she jostled the table, spilling Riverwind's drink. "That

gully dwarf is supposed to be making the bed. I'll probably find

him sound asleep -"

She hurried away. But she did not go upstairs to the rooms.

Standing outside by the kitchen door, feeling the night wind

cool her fevered cheeks, she stared out into the darkness. "Let

him go away!" she whispered. "Please...."

 

 

Perhaps most of all,

Tanis feared his first sight of the Inn of the Last Home. Here it

had all started, three years ago this autumn. Here he and Flint

and the irrepressible kender, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, had come

that night to meet old friends. Here his world had turned upside

down, never to exactly right itself again.

But, riding toward the Inn, Tanis found his fears eased. It

had changed so much it was like coming to some place strange,

a place that held no memories. It stood on the ground, instead

of in the branches of a great vallenwood. There were new addi-

tions, more rooms had been built to accommodate the influx of

travelers, it had a new roof, much more modern in design. All

the scars of war had been purged, along with the memories.

Then, just as Tanis was beginning to relax, the front door of

the Inn opened. Light streamed out, forming a golden path of'

welcome, the smell of spiced potatoes and the sound of laugh-

ter came to him on the evening breeze. The memories returned

in a rush, and Tanis bowed his head, overcome.

But, perhaps fortunately, he did not have time to dwell upon

the past. As he and his companion approached the Inn, a sta-

bleboy ran out to grab the horses' reins.

 

"Food and water," said Tanis, sliding wearily from the saddle

and tossing the boy a coin. He stretched to ease the cramps in

his muscles. "I sent word ahead that I was to have a fresh horse

waiting for me here. My name is Tanis Half-Elven."

The boy's eyes opened wide; he had already been staring at

the bright armor and rich cloak Tanis wore. Now his curiosity

was replaced by awe and admiration.

"Y-yes, sir," he stammered, abashed at being addressed by

such a great hero. "T-the horse is ready, sh-shall I bring him

around n-now, sir?"

"No." Tanis smiled. "I will eat first. Bring him in two hours."

"T-two hours. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Bobbing his head, the

boy took the reins Tanis pressed into his unfeeling hand, then

stood there, gaping, completely forgetting his task until the

impatient horse nudged him, nearly knocking him over.

As the boy hurried off, leading Tanis's horse away, the half-

elf turned to assist his companion down from her saddle.

"You must be made of iron," she said, looking at Tanis as he

helped her to the ground. "Do you really intend to ride further

tonight?"

"To tell the truth, every bone in my body aches," Tanis began,

then paused, feeling uncomfortable. He was simply unable to

feel at ease around this woman.

Tanis could see her face reflected in the light beaming from

the Inn. He saw fatigue and pain. Her eyes were sunken into

pale, hollow cheeks. She staggered as she stepped upon the

ground, and Tanis was quick to give her his arm to lean upon.

This she did, but only for a moment. Then, drawing herself up,

she gently but firmly pushed him away and stood alone, glanc-

ing at her surroundings without interest.

Every move hurt Tanis, and he could imagine how this

woman must feel, unaccustomed as she was to physical exer-

tion or hardship, and he was forced to regard her with grudging

admiration. She had not complained once on their long and

frightening journey. She had kept up with him, never lagging

behind and obeying his instructions without question.

Why, then, he wondered, couldn't he feel anything for her?

What was there about her that irritated him and annoyed him?

Looking at her face, Tanis had his answer. The only warmth

there was the warmth reflected from the Inn's light. Her face

itself - even exhausted - was cold, passionless, devoid of -

what? Humanity? Thus she had been all this long, dangerous

 

journey. Oh, she had been coolly polite, coolly grateful, coolly

distant and remote. She probably would have coolly buried

me, Tanis thought grimly. Then, as if to reprimand him for his

irreverent thoughts, his gaze was drawn to the medallion she

wore around her neck, the Platinum Dragon of Paladine. He

remembered Elistan's parting words, spoken in private just

before their journey's beginning.

"It is fitting that you escort her, Tanis," said the now-frail

cleric. "In many ways, she begins a journey much like your

own years ago - seeking self-knowledge. No, you are right, she

doesn't know this herself yet." This in answer to Tanis's dubious

look. "She walks forward with her gaze fixed upon the heav-

ens." Elistan smiled sadly. "She has not yet learned that, in so

doing, one will surely stumble. Unless she learns, her fall may

be hard." Shaking his head, he murmured a soft prayer. "But we

must put our trust in Paladine."

Tanis had frowned then and he frowned now, thinking about

it. Though he had come to a strong belief in the true gods -

more through Laurana's love and faith in them than anything

else - he felt uncomfortable trusting his life to them, and he

grew impatient with those like Elistan who, it seemed, placed

too great a burden upon the gods. Let man be responsible for

himself for a change, Tanis thought irritably.

"What is it, Tanis?" Crysania asked coldly.

Realizing he had been staring at her all this while, Tanis

coughed in embarrassment, cleared his throat, and looked

away. Fortunately, the boy returned for Crysania's horse at this

moment, sparing Tanis the need to answer. He gestured at the

Inn, and the two walked toward it.

"Actually," Tanis said when the silence grew awkward, "I

would like nothing better than to stay here and visit with my

friends. But I have to be in Qualinesti the day after tomorrow,

and only by hard riding will I arrive in time. My relations with

my brother-in-law are not such that I can afford to offend him

by missing Solostaran's funeral." He added with a grim smile,

"Both politically and personally, if you take my meaning."

Crysania smiled in turn, but - Tanis saw - it was not a smile

of understanding. It was a smile of tolerance, as if this talk of

politics and family were beneath her.

They had reached the door to the Inn. "Besides," Tanis added

softly, "I miss Laurana. Funny, isn't it. When she is near and

we're busy about our own tasks, we'll sometimes go for days

 

with just a quick smile or a touch and then we disappear into

our worlds. But when I'm far away from her, it's like I suddenly

awaken to find my right arm cut off. I may not go to bed think-

ing of my right arm, but when it is gone...."

Tanis stopped abruptly, feeling foolish, afraid he sounded

like a lovesick adolescent. But Crysania, he realized, was

apparently not paying the least bit of attention to him. Her

smooth, marble face had grown, if anything, more cold until

the moon's silver light seemed warm by comparison. Shaking

his head, Tanis pushed open the door.

I don't envy Caramon and Riverwind, he thought grimly.

The warm, familiar sounds and smells of the Inn washed

over Tanis and, for long moments, everything was a blur. Here

was Otik, older and fatter, if possible, leaning upon a cane and

pounding him on the back. Here were people he had not seen in

years, who had never had much to do with him before, now

shaking his hand and claiming his friendship. Here was the old

bar, still brightly polished, and somehow he managed to step

on a gully dwarf....

And then there was a tall man cloaked in furs, and Tanis was

clasped inside his friend's warm embrace.

"Riverwind," he whispered huskily, holding onto the Plains-

man tightly.

"My brother," Riverwind said in Que-shu, the language of his

people. The crowd in the Inn was cheering wildly, but Tanis

didn't hear them, because a woman with flaming red hair and a

smattering of freckles had her hand upon his arm. Reaching

out, still holding fast to Riverwind, Tanis gathered Tika into

their embrace and for long moments the three friends clung to

each other - bound together by sorrow and pain and glory.

Riverwind brought them to their senses. Unaccustomed to

such public displays of emotion, the tall Plainsman regained his

composure with a gruff cough and stood back, blinking his

eyes rapidly and frowning at the ceiling until he was master of

himself again. Tanis, his reddish beard wet with his own tears,

gave Tika another swift hug, then looked around.

"Where's that big lummox of a husband of yours?" he asked

cheerfully. "Where's Caramon?"

It was a simple question, and Tanis was totally unprepared

for the response. The crowd fell completely silent; it seemed as

if someone had shut them all up in a barrel. Tika's face flushed

an ugly red, she muttered something unintelligible, and, bend-

 

ing down, dragged a gully dwarf up off the floor and shook him

so his teeth rattled in his head.

Startled, Tanis looked at Riverwind, but the Plainsman only

shrugged and raised his dark eyebrows. The half-elf turned to

ask Tika what was going on, but just then felt a cool touch

upon his arm. Crysania! He had completely forgotten her!

His own face flushing, he made his belated introductions.

"May I present Crysania of Tarinius, Revered Daughter of

Paladine," Tanis said formally. "Lady Crysania, Riverwind,

Chieftain of the Plainsmen, and Tika Waylan Majere."

Crysania untied her traveling cloak and drew back her hood.

As she did so, the platinum medallion she wore around her

neck flashed in the bright candlelight of the Inn. The woman's

pure white lamb's wool robes peeped through the folds of her

cloak. A murmur - both reverent and respectful - went

through the crowd.

"A holy cleric!"

"Did you catch her name? Crysania! Next in line..."

"Elistan's successor..."

Crysania inclined her head. Riverwind bowed from the

waist, his face solemn, and Tika, her own face still so flushed

she appeared feverish, shoved Raf hurriedly behind the bar,

then made a deep curtsey.

At the sound of Tika's married name, Majere, Crysania

glanced at Tanis questioningly and received his nod in return.

"I am honored," Crysania said in her rich, cool voice, "to

meet two whose deeds of courage shine as an example to us all."

Tika flushed in pleased embarrassment. Riverwind's stern

face did not change expression, but Tanis saw how much the

cleric's praise meant to the deeply religious Plainsman. As for

the crowd, they cheered boisterously at this honor to their own

and kept on cheering. Otik, with all due ceremony, led his

guests to a waiting table, beaming on the heroes as if he had

arranged the entire war especially for their benefit.

Sitting down, Tanis at first felt disturbed by the confusion

and noise but soon decided it was beneficial. At least he could

talk to Riverwind without fear of being overheard. But first, he

had to find out - where was Caramon?

Once again, he started to ask, but Tika - after seeing them

seated and fussing over Crysania like a mother hen - saw him

open his mouth and, turning abruptly, disappeared into the

kitchen.

 

Tanis shook his head, puzzled, but before he could think

about it further, Riverwind was asking him questions. The two

were soon deeply involved in talk.

"Everyone thinks the war is over," Tanis said, sighing. "And

that places us in worse danger than before. Alliances between

elves and humans that were strong when times were dark are

beginning to melt in the sun. Laurana's in Qualinesti now,

attending the funeral of her father and also trying to arrange an

agreement with that stiff-necked brother of hers, Porthios, and

the Knights of Solamnia. The only ray of hope we have is in

Porthios's wife, Alhana Starbreeze." Tanis smiled. "I never

thought I would live to see that elfwoman not only tolerant of

humans and other races, but even warmly supporting them to

her intolerant husband."

"A strange marriage," Riverwind commented, and Tanis

nodded in agreement. Both men's thoughts were with their

friend, the knight, Sturm Brightblade, now lying dead - hero

of the High Clerist's Tower. Both knew Alhana's heart had been

buried there in the darkness with Sturm.

"Certainly not a marriage of love." Tanis shrugged. "But it

may be a marriage that will help restore order to the world.

Now, what of you, my friend? Your face is dark and drawn

with new worries, as well as beaming with new joy. Goldmoon

sent Laurana word of the twins."

Riverwind smiled briefly. "You are right. I begrudge every

minute I am away," the Plainsman said in his deep voice,

"though seeing you again, my brother, lightens my heart's bur-.

den. But I left two tribes on the verge of war. So far, I have

managed to keep them talking, and there has been no blood

shed yet. But malcontents work against me, behind my back.

Every minute I am away gives them a chance to stir up old

blood feuds."

Tanis clasped his arm. "I am sorry, my friend, and I am grate-

ful you came." Then he sighed again and glanced at Crysania,

realizing he had new problems. "I had hoped you would be able

to offer this lady your guidance and protection." His voice sank

to a murmur. "She travels to the Tower of High Sorcery in Way-

reth Forest."

Riverwind's eyes widened in alarm and disapproval. The

Plainsman distrusted mages and anything connected with

them.

Tanis nodded. "I see you remember Caramon's stories about

 

the time he and Raistlin traveled there. And they had been

invited. This lady goes without invitation, to seek the mages'

advice about -"

Crysania gave him a sharp, imperious glance. Frowning, she

shook her head. Tanis, biting his lip, added lamely, "I was hop-

ing you could escort her -"

"I feared as much," said Riverwind, "when I received your

message, and that was why I felt I had to come - to offer you

some explanation for my refusal. If it were any other time, you

know I would gladly help and, in particular, I would be hon-

ored to offer my services to a person so revered." He bowed

slightly to Crysania, who accepted his homage with a smile

that vanished instantly when she returned her gaze to Tanis. A

small, deep line of anger appeared between her brows.

Riverwind continued, "But there is too much at stake. The

peace I have established between the tribes, many who have

been at war for years, is a fragile one. Our survival as a nation

and a people depend upon us uniting and working together to

rebuild our land and our lives."

"I understand," Tanis said, touched by Riverwind's obvious

unhappiness in having to refuse his request for help. The half-

elf caught Lady Crysania's displeased stare, however, and he

turned to her with grim politeness. "All will be well, Revered

Daughter," he said, speaking with elaborate patience. "Cara-

mon will guide you, and he is worth three of us ordinary mor-

tals, right, Riverwind?"

The Plainsman smiled, old memories returning. "He can eat

as much as three ordinary mortals, certainly. And he is as

strong as three or more. Do you remember, Tanis, when he

used to lift stout Pig-faced William off his feet, when we put on

that show in... where was it... Flotsam?"

"And the time he killed those two draconians by bashing

their heads together." Tanis laughed, feeling the darkness of the

world suddenly lift in sharing those times with his friend. "And

do you remember when we were in the dwarven kingdom and

Caramon sneaked up behind Flint and -" Leaning forward,

Tanis whispered in Riverwind's ear. The Plainsman's face

flushed with laughter. He recounted another tale, and the two

men continued, recalling stories of Caramon's strength, his

skill with a sword, his courage and honor.

"And his gentleness," Tanis added, after a moment's quiet

reflection. "I can see him now, tending to Raistlin so patiently,

 

holding his brother in his arms when those coughing fits nearly

tore the mage apart -"

He was interrupted by a smothered cry, a crash, and a thud.

Turning in astonishment, Tanis saw Tika staring at him, her

face white, her green eyes glimmering with tears.

"Leave now!" she pleaded through pale lips. "Please, Tanis!

Don't ask any questions! Just go!" She grabbed his arm, her

nails digging painfully into his flesh.

"Look, what in the name of the Abyss is going on, Tika?"

Tanis asked in exasperation, standing up and facing her.

A splintering crash came in answer. The door to the Inn burst

open, hit from outside by some tremendous force. Tika jumped

back, her face convulsed in such fear and horror as she looked

at the door that Tanis turned swiftly, his hand on his sword,

and Riverwind rose to his feet.

A large shadow filled the doorway, seeming to spread a pall

over the room. The crowd's cheerful noise and laughter ceased

abruptly, changing to low, angry mutterings.

Remembering the dark and evil things that had been chasing

them, Tanis drew his sword, placing himself between the dark-

ness and Lady Crysania. He sensed, though he did not see,

Riverwind's stalwart presence behind him, backing him up.

So, it's caught up with us, Tanis thought, almost welcoming

the chance to fight this vague, unknown terror. Grimly he

stared at the door, watching as a bloated, grotesque figure

entered into the light.

It was a man, Tanis saw, a huge man, but, as he looked more

closely, he saw it was a man whose giant girth had run to flab.

A bulging belly hung over cinched up leather leggings. A filthy

shirt gaped open at the navel, there being too little shirt to

cover too much flesh. The man's face - partially obscured by a

three-day growth of beard - was unnaturally flushed and

splotchy, his hair greasy and unkempt. His clothes, while fine

and well-made, were dirty and smelled strongly of vomit and

the raw liquor' known as dwarf spirits.

Tanis lowered his sword, feeling like a fool. It was just some

poor drunken wretch, probably the town bully, using his great

size to intimidate the citizenry. He looked at the man with pity

and disgust, thinking, even as he did so, that there was some-

thing oddly familiar about him. Probably someone he had

known when he lived in Solace long ago, some poor slob who

had fallen on hard times.

 

The half-elf started to turn away, then noticed - to his

amazement - that everyone in the Inn was looking at him

expectantly.

What do they want me to do, Tanis thought in sudden, swift

anger. Attack him? Some hero I'd look - beating up the town

drunk!

Then he heard a sob at his elbow. "I told you to leave," Tika

moaned, sinking down into a chair. Burying her face in her

hands, she began to cry as if her heart would break.

Growing more and more mystified, Tanis glanced at River-

wind, but the Plainsman was obviously as much in the dark as

his friend. The drunk, meanwhile, staggered into the room and

gazed about in anger.

"Wash ish thish? A party?" he growled. "And nobody in-in-

invited their old... in-vited me?"

No one answered. They were fixedly ignoring the slovenly

man, their eyes still on Tanis, and now even the drunk's atten-

tion turned to the half-elf. Attempting to bring him into focus,

the drunk stared at Tanis in a kind of puzzled anger, as though

blaming him for being the cause of all his troubles. Then, sud-

denly, the drunk's eyes widened, his face split into a foolish

grin, and he lurched forward, hands outstretched.

"Tanish... my fri-"

"Name of the gods," Tanis breathed, recognizing him at last.

The man staggered forward and stumbled over a chair. For a

moment he stood swaying unsteadily, like a tree that has been

cut and is ready to fall. His eyes rolled back in his head, people

scrambled to get out of his way. Then - with a thud that shook

the Inn - Caramon Majere, Hero of the Lance, passed out cold

at Tanis's feet.

 

CHAPTER 3

 

 

 

Name of the gods,"

Tanis repeated in sorrow as he stooped down beside the coma-

tose warrior. "Caramon..."

"Tanis -" Riverwand's voice caused the half-elf to glance up

quickly. The Plainsman held Tika in his arms, both he and

Dezra trying to comfort the distraught young woman. But peo-

ple were pressing close, trying to question Riverwind or asking

Crysania for a blessing. Others were demanding more ale or

just standing around, gawking.

Tanis rose swiftly to his feet. "The Inn is closed for the night,"

he shouted.

There were jeers from the crowd, except for some scattered

applause near the back where several customers thought he

was buying a round of drinks.

"No, I mean it," Tanis said firmly, his voice carrying over the

noise. The crowd quieted. "Thank you all for this welcome. I

cannot tell you what it means to me to come back to my home-

land. But, my friends and I would like to be alone now. Please,

it is late...."

There were murmurs of sympathy and some good-natured

clapping. Only a few scowled and muttered comments about

 

the greater the knight the more his own armor glares in his eyes

(an old saying from the days when the Solamnic Knights were

held in derision). Riverwind, leaving Dezra to take care of

Tika, came forward to prod those few stragglers who assumed

Tanis meant everyone except them. The half-elf stood guard

over Caramon, who was snoring blissfully on the floor, keep-

ing people from stepping on the big man. He exchanged glances

with Riverwind as the Plainsman passed, but neither had time

to speak until the Inn was emptied.

Otik Sandeth stood by the door, thanking everyone for com-

ing and assuring each that the Inn would be open again tomor-

row night. When everyone else had gone, Tanis stepped up to

the retired proprietor, feeling awkward and embarrassed. But

Otik stopped him before he could speak.

Gripping Tanis's hand in his, the elderly man whispered, "I'm

glad you've come back. Lock up when you're finished." He

glanced at Tika, then motioned the half-elf forward conspira-

torially. "Tanis," he said in a whisper, "if you happen to see

Tika take a little out of the money box, pay it no mind. She'll

pay it back someday. I just pretend not to notice." His gaze went

to Caramon, and he shook his head sadly. "I know you'll be

able to help," he murmured, then he nodded and stumped off

into the night, leaning on his cane.

Help! Tanis thought wildly. We came seeking his help. Cara-

mon snored particularly loudly, half-woke himself up, belched

up great fumes of dwarf spirits, then settled back down to

sleep. Tanis looked bleakly at Riverwind, then shook his head

in despair.

Crysania stared down at Caramon in pity mingled with dis-

gust. "Poor man," she said softly. The medallion of Paladine

shone in the candlelight. "Perhaps I -"

"There's nothing you can do for him," Tika cried bitterly. "He

doesn't need healing. He's drunk, can't you see that? Dead

drunk!"

Crysania's gaze turned to Tika in astonishment, but before

the cleric could say anything, Tanis hurried back to Caramon.

"Help me, Riverwind," he said, bending down. "Let's get him

hom -"

"Oh, leave him!" Tika snapped, wiping her eyes with the cor-

ner of her apron. "He's spent enough nights on the barroom

floor. Another won't matter." She turned to Tanis. "I wanted to

tell you. I really did. But I thought... I kept hoping... He was

 

excited when your letter arrived. He was... well, more like

himself than I've seen him in a long time. I thought maybe this

might do it. He might change. So I let you come." She hung her

head. "I'm sorry...."

Tanis stood beside the big warrior, irresolute. "I don't under-

stand. How long -"

"It's why we couldn't come to your wedding, Tanis," Tika

said, twisting her apron into knots. "I wanted to, so much!

But -" She began to cry again. Dezra put her arms around her.

"Sit down, Tika," Dezra murmured, helping her to a seat in a

high-backed, wooden booth.

Tika sank down, her legs suddenly giving out beneath her,

then she hid her head in her arms.

"Let's all sit down," Tanis said firmly, "and get our wits about

us. You there" - the half-elf beckoned to the gully dwarf, who

was peering out at them from beneath the wooden bar. "Bring

us a pitcher of ale and some mugs, wine for Lady Crysania,

some spiced potatoes -"

Tanis paused. The confused gully dwarf was staring at him,

round-eyed, his mouth hanging open in confusion.

"Better let me get it for you, Tanis," Dezra offered, smiling.

"You'd probably end up with a pitcher of potatoes if Raf went

after it."

"Me help!" Raf protested indignantly.

"You take out the garbage!" Dezra snapped.

"Me big help...." Raf mumbled disconsolately as he shuffled

out, kicking at the table legs to relieve his hurt feelings.

"Your rooms are in the new part of the Inn," Tika mumbled.

"I'll show you...."

"We'll find them later," Riverwind said sternly, but as he

looked at Tika, his eyes were filled with gentle sympathy. "Sit

and talk to Tanis. He has to leave soon."

"Damn! My horse!" Tanis said, starting up suddenly. "I asked

the boy to bring it around -"

"I will go have them wait," Riverwind offered.

"No, I'll go. It'll just take a moment -"

"My friend," Riverwind said softly as he went past him, "I

need to be outdoors! I'll come back to help with -" He nodded

his head toward the snoring Caramon.

Tanis sat back down, relieved. The Plainsman left. Crysania

sat down beside Tanis on the opposite side of the table, staring

at Caramon in perplexity. Tanis kept talking to Tika about

 

small, inconsequential matters until she was able to sit up and

even smile a little. By the time Dezra returned with drinks, Tika

seemed more relaxed, though her face was still drawn and

strained. Crysania, Tanis noticed, barely touched her wine.

She simply sat, glancing occasionally at Caramon, the daric

line appearing once again between her brows. Tanis knew he

should explain to her what was going on, but he wanted some-

one to explain it to him first.

"When did this -" he began, hesitantly.

"Start?" Tika sighed. "About six months after we got back

here." Her gaze went to Caramon. "He was so happy - at first.

The town was a mess, Tanis. The winter had been terrible for

the survivors. Most of them were starving, the draconians and

goblin soldiers took everything. Those whose houses had been

destroyed were living in whatever shelter they could find -

caves, lean-to hovels. The draconians had abandoned the town

by the time we got back, and people were beginning to rebuild.

They welcomed Caramon as a hero - the bards had been here

already, singing their songs about the defeat of the Queen."

Tika's eyes shimmered with tears and remembered pride.

"He was so happy, Tanis, for a while. People needed him. He

worked day and night - cutting trees, hauling timber from the

hills, putting up houses. He even took up smithy work, since

Theros was gone. Oh, he wasn't very good at it." Tika smiled

sadly. "But he was happy, and no one really minded. He made

nails and horseshoes and wagon wheels. That first year was

good for us - truly good. We were married, and Caramon

seemed to forget about... about..."

Tika swallowed. Tanis patted her hand and, after eating a lit-

tle and.drinking some wine in silence, Tika was able to con-

tinue.

"A year ago last spring, though, everything started to

change. Something happened to Caramon. I'm not sure what.

It had something to do with -" She broke off, shook her head.

"The town was prosperous. A blacksmith who had been held

captive at Pax Tharkas moved here and took over the smithy

trade. Oh, people still needed homes built, but there was no

hurry. I took over running the Inn." Tika shrugged. "I guess

Caramon just had too much time on his hands."

"No one needed him," Tanis said grimly.

"Not even me...." Tika said, gulping and wiping her eyes.

"Maybe it's my fault -"

 

"No," said Tanis, his thoughts - and his memories - far

away. "Not your fault, Tika. I think we know whose fault this

is."

"Anyway" - Tika drew a deep breath - "I tried to help, but I

was so busy here. I suggested all sorts of things he could do and

he tried - he really did. He helped the local constable, tracking

down renegade draconians. He was a bodyguard, for a while,

hiring out to people traveling to Haven. But no one ever hired

him twice." Her voice dropped. "Then one day, last winter, the

party he'd been supposed to protect returned, dragging him on

a sled. He was dead drunk. They'd ended up protecting him!

Since then, he's spent all his time either sleeping, eating, or

hanging out with some ex-mercenaries at the Trough, that

filthy place at the other end of town."

Wishing Laurana were here to discuss such matters, Tanis

suggested softly, "Maybe a - um - baby?"

"I was pregnant, last summer," Tika said dully, leaning her

head on her hand. "But not for long. I miscarried. Caramon

never even knew. Since then" - she stared down at the wooden

table - "well, we haven't been sleeping in the same room."

Flushing in embarrassment, Tanis could do nothing more

than pat her hand and hurriedly change the subject. "You said a

moment before 'it had something to do with - '... with what?"

Tika shivered, then took another drink of wine. "Rumors

started, then, Tanis," she said in a low, hushed voice. "Dark

rumors. You can guess who they were about!"

Tanis nodded.

"Caramon wrote to him, Tanis. I saw the letter. It was - it

tore my heart. Not a word of blame or reproach. It was filled

with love. He begged his brother to come back and live with us.

He pleaded with him to turn his back on the darkness."

"And what happened?" Tanis asked, though he already

guessed the answer.

"It came back," Tika whispered. "Unopened. The seal wasn't

even broken. And on the outside was written, 'I have no

brother. I know no one named Caramon.' And it was signed,

Raistlin!"

"Raistlin!" Crysania looked at Tika, as if seeing her for the

first time. Her gray eyes were wide and startled as they went

from the red-haired young woman to Tanis, then to the huge

warrior on the floor, who belched comfortably in his drunken

sleep. "Caramon... This is Caramon Majere? This is his

 

brother? The twin you were telling me about? The man who

could guide me -"

"I'm sorry, Revered Daughter," Tanis said, flushing. "I had no

idea he -"

"But Raistlin is so... intelligent, powerful. I thought his

twin must be the same. Raistlin is sensitive, he exerts such

strong control over himself and those who serve him. He is a

perfectionist, while this" - Crysania gestured - "this pathetic

wretch, while he deserves our pity and our prayers, is -"

"Your 'sensitive and intelligent perfectionist' had a hand in

making this man the 'pathetic wretch' you see, Revered Daugh-

ter," Tanis said acidly, keeping his anger carefully under con-

trol.

"Perhaps it was the other way around," Crysania said,

regarding Tanis coldly. "Perhaps it was for lack of love that

Raistlin turned from the light to walk in darkness."

Tika looked up at Crysania, an odd expression in her eyes.

"Lack of love?" she repeated gently.

Caramon moaned in his sleep and began thrashing about on

the floor. Tika rose quickly to her feet.

"We better get him home." She glanced up to see Riverwind's

tall figure appear in the doorway, then turned to Tanis. "I'll see

you in the morning, won't 17 Couldn't you stay... just over-

night?"

Tanis looked at her pleading eyes and felt like biting off his

tongue before he answered. But there was no help for it. "I'm

sorry, Tika," he said, taking her hands. "I wish I could, but I

must go. It is a long ride to Qualinost from here, and I dare not

be late. The fate of two kingdoms, perhaps, depends on my

being there."

"I understand," Tika said softly. "This isn't your problem

anyway. I'll cope."

Tanis could have torn out his beard with frustration. He

longed to stay and help, if he even could help. At least he might

talk with Caramon, try to get some sense into that thick skull.

But Porthios would take it as a personal affront if Tanis did not

come to the funeral, which would affect not only his personal

relationships with Laurana's brother, but would affect the

treaty of alliance being negotiated between Qualinesti and

Solamnia.

And then, his eyes going to Crysania, Tanis realized he had

another problem. He groaned inwardly. He couldn't take her to

 

Qualinost. Porthios had no use for human clerics.

"Look," Tanis said, suddenly getting an idea, "I'll come back,

after the funeral." Tika's eyes brightened. He turned to Lady

Crysania. "I'll leave you here, Revered Daughter. You'll be safe

in this town, in the Inn, Then I can escort you back to Palan-

thas since your journey has failed -"

"My journey has not failed," Crysania said resolutely. "I will

continue as I began. I intend to go to the Tower of High Sorcery

at Wayreth, there to council with Par-Salian of the White

Robes."

Tanis shook his head. "I cannot take you there," he said.

"And Caramon obviously is incapable. Therefore I suggest -"

"Yes," Crysania interrupted complacently. "Caramon is

clearly incapacitated. Therefore I will wait for the kender

friend of yours to meet me here with the person he was sent to

find, then I will continue on my own."

"Absolutely not!" Tanis shouted. Riverwind raised his eye-

brows, reminding Tanis who he was addressing. With an

effort, the half-elf regained control. "My lady, you have no

idea of the danger! Besides those dark things that pursued us -

and I think we all know who sent them - I've heard Caramon's

stories about the Forest of Wayreth. It's darker still! We'll go

back to Palanthas, 111 find some Knights -"

For the first time, Tanis saw a pale stain of color touch Crysa-

nia's marble cheeks. Her dark brows contracted as she seemed

to be thinking. Then her face cleared. Looking up at Tanis, she

smiled.

"There is no danger," she said. "I am in Paladine's hands. The

dark creatures may have been sent by Raistlin, but they have

no power to harm me! They have merely strengthened my

resolve." Seeing Tanis's face grow even grimmer, she sighed. "I

promise this much. I will think about it. Perhaps you are right.

Perhaps the journey is too dangerous -"

"And a waste of time!" Tanis muttered, sorrow and exhaus-

tion making him speak bluntly what he had felt all along about

this woman's crazy scheme. "If Par-Salian could have

destroyed Raistlin, he would have done it long before -"

"Destroy!" Crysania regarded Tanis in shock, her gray eyes

cold. "I do not seek his destruction."

Tanis stared at her in amazement.

"I seek to reclaim him," Crysania continued. "I will go to my

rooms now, if someone will be so kind as to guide me to them."

 

Dezra hurried forward. Crysania calmly bade them all good-

night, then followed Dezra from the room. Tanis gazed after

her, totally at a loss for words. He heard Riverwind mutter

something in Que-shu. Then Caramon groaned again. River-

wind nudged Tanis. Together they bent over the slumbering

Caramon and - with an effort - hauled the big man to his feet.

"Name of the Abyss, he's heavy!" Tanis gasped, staggering

under the man's dead weight as Caramon's flacid arms flopped

over his shoulders. The putrid smell of the dwarf spirit made

him gag.

"How can he drink that stuff?" Tanis said to Riverwind as the

two dragged the drunken man to the door, Tika following

along anxiously behind.

"I saw a warrior fall victim to that curse once," Riverwind

grunted. "He perished leaping over a cliff, being chased by

creatures that were there only in his mind."

"I should stay -" Tanis murmured.

"You cannot fight another's battle, my friend," Riverwind

said firmly. "Especially when it is between a man and his own

soul."

It was past midnight when Tanis and Riverwind had Cara-

mon safely at home and dumped - unceremoniously - into his

bed. Tanis had never been so tired in his life. His shoulders

ached from carrying the dead weight of the giant warrior. He

was worn out and felt drained, his memories of the past - once

pleasant - were now like old wounds, open and bleeding. And

he still had hours to ride before morning.

"I wish I could stay," he repeated again to Tika as they stood

together with Riverwind outside her door, gazing out over the

sleeping, peaceful town of Solace. "I feel responsible -"

"No, Tanis," Tika said quietly. "Riverwind's right. You can't

fight this war. You have your own life to live, now. Besides,

there's nothing you can do. You might only make things worse."

"I suppose." Tanis frowned. "At any rate, I'll be back in about

a week. I'll talk to Caramon then."

"That would be nice." Tika sighed, then, after a pause,

changed the subject. "By the way, what did Lady Crysania

mean about a kender coming here? Tasslehoff'?"

"Yes," Tanis said, scratching his beard. "It has something to

do with Raistlin, though I'm not sure what. We ran into Tas in

Palanthas. He started in on some of his stories - I warned her

that only about half of what he says is true and even that half's

 

nonsense, but he probably convinced her to send him after

some person she thinks can help her reclaim Raistlin!"

"The woman may be a holy cleric of Paladine," Riverwind

said sternly, "and may the gods forgive me if I speak ill of one of

their chosen. But I think she's mad." Having made this pro-

nouncement, he slung his bow over his shoulder and prepared

to depart.

Tanis shook his head. Putting his arm around Tika, he kissed

her. "I'm afraid Riverwind's right," he said to her softly. "Keep

an eye on Lady Crysania while she's here. I'll have a talk with

Elistan about her when we return. I wonder how much he knew

about this wild scheme of hers. Oh, and if Tasslehoff does show

up, hang onto him, will you? I don't want him turning up in

Qualinost! I'm going to have enough trouble with Porthios and

the elves as it is!"

"Sure, Tanis," Tika said softly. For a moment she nestled

close to him, letting herself be comforted by his strength and

the compassion she could sense in both his touch and his voice.

Tanis hesitated, holding her, reluctant to let her go. Glancing

inside the small house, he could hear Caramon crying out in his

sleep.

"Tika -" he began.

But she pushed herself away. "Go along, Tanis," she said

firmly. "You've got a long ride ahead of you."

"Tika. I wish -" But there was nothing he could say that

would help, and they both knew it.

Turning slowly, he trudged off after Riverwind.

Watching them go, Tika smiled.

"You are very wise, Tanis Half-Elven. But this time you are

wrong," she said to herself as she stood alone on her porch.

"Lady Crysania isn't mad. She's in love."

 

CHAPTER 4

 

 

 

An army of dwarves

was marching around the bedroom, their steelshod boots going

THUD, THUD, THUD. Each dwarf had a hammer in his hand

and, as he marched past the bed, he banged it against Cara-

mon's head. Caramon groaned and flapped his hands feebly.

"Get away!" he muttered. "Get away!"

But the dwarves only responded by lifting his bed up onto

their strong shoulders and whirling it around at a rapid pace, as

they continued to march, their boots striking the wooden floor

THUD. THUD, THUD.

Caramon felt his stomach heave. After several desperate

tries, he managed to leap out of the revolving bed and make a

clumsy dash for the chamber pot in the corner. Having vom-

ited, he felt better. His head cleared. The dwarves dis-

appeared - although he suspected they were hiding beneath the

bed, waiting for him to lie down again.

Instead, he opened a drawer in the tiny bedside table where

he kept his small flask of dwarf spirits. Gone! Caramon

scowled. So Tika was playing this game again, was she! Grin-

ning smugly, Caramon stumbled over to the large clothes chest

on the other side of the room. He lifted the lid and rummaged

 

through tunics and pants and shirts that would no longer fit

over his flabby body. There it was - tucked into an old boot.

Caramon withdrew the flask lovingly, took a swig of the

fiery liquor, belched, and heaved a sigh. There, the hammering

in his head was gone. He glanced around the room. Let the

dwarves stay under the bed. He didn't care.

There was the clink of crockery in. the other room. Tika!

Hurriedly, Caramon took another sip, then closed the flask and

tucked it back into the boot again. Shutting the lid very, very

quietly, he straightened up, ran a hand through his tangled

hair, and started to go out into the main living area. Then he

caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror as he passed.

"Change my shirt," he muttered thickly.

After much pulling and tugging, he dragged off the filthy

shirt he was wearing and tossed it in a corner. Perhaps he

should wash? Bah! What was he - a sissy? So he smelled - it

was a manly smell. Plenty of women liked it, found it

attractive - found him attractive! Never complained or

nagged, not like Tika. Why couldn't she take him as he was?

Struggling into a clean shirt he found at the foot of the bed,

Caramon felt very sorry for himself. No one understood him...

life was hard... he was going through a bad time just now...

but that would change... just wait... someday - tomorrow

maybe....

Lurching out of the bedroom, trying to appear nonchalant,

Caramon walked unsteadily across the neat, clean living room

and collapsed into a chair at the eating table. The chair creaked

beneath his great weight. Tika turned around.

Catching her glance, Caramon sighed. Tika was mad -

again. He tried grinning at her, but it was a sickly grin and

didn't help. Her red curls bouncing in anger, she whirled

around and disappeared through a door into the kitchen. Cara-

mon winced as he heard heavy iron pots bang. The sound

brought the dwarves and their hammers back. Within a few

moments, Tika returned, carrying a huge dish of sizzling

bacon, fried maize cakes, and eggs. She slammed the plate

down in front of him with such force the cakes leaped three

inches into the air.

Caramon winced again. He wondered briefly about eating -

considering the queasy state of his stomach - then grouchily

reminded his stomach who was boss. He was starved, he

couldn't remember when he'd eaten last. Tika flounced down

 

in a chair next to him. Glancing up, he saw her green eyes blaz-

ing. Her freckles stood out clearly against her skin - a certain

sign of fury.

"All right," Caramon growled, shoveling food into his

mouth. "What'd I do now?"

"You don't remember." It was a statement.

Caramon cast about hastily in the foggy regions of his mind.

Something stirred vaguely. He was supposed to have been

somewhere last night. He'd stayed home all day, getting ready.

He'd promised Tika... but he'd grown thirsty. His flask was

empty. He'd just go down to the Trough for a quick nip, then to

... where... why...

"I had business to attend to," Caramon said, avoiding Tika's

gaze.

"Yes, we saw your business," Tika snapped bitterly. "The

business that made you pass out right at Tanis's feet!"

"Tanis!" Caramon dropped his fork. "Tanis... last night..."

With a heartsick moan, the big man let his aching head sink

into his hands.

"You made quite a spectacle of yourself," Tika continued, her

voice choked. "In front of the entire town, plus half the elves in

Krynn. Not to mention our old friends." She was weeping qui-

etly now. "Our best friends...."

Caramon moaned again. Now he was crying, too. "Why?

Why?" he blubbered. "Tanis, of all of them..." His self-

recriminations were interrupted by a banging on the front

door.

"Now what?" Tika muttered, rising and wiping her tears

away with the sleeve of her blouse. "Maybe it's Tanis, after all."

Caramon lifted his head. "Try at least to look like the man you

once were," Tika said under her breath as she hurried to the

door.

Throwing the bolt, she unlatched it. "Otik?" she said in

astonishment. "What are - Whose food?"

The rotund, elderly innkeeper stood in the doorway, a plate

of steaming food in his hand. He peered past Tika.

"Isn't she here?" he asked, startled.

"Isn't who here?" Tika replied, confused. "There's no one

here."

"Oh, dear." Otik's face grew solemn. Absently, he began to

eat the food from the plate. "Then I guess the stableboy was

right. She's gone. And after I fixed this nice breakfast."

 

"Who's gone?" Tika demanded in exasperation, wondering if

he meant Dezra.

"Lady Crysania. She's not in her room. Her things aren't

there, either. And the stableboy said she came this morning,

told him to saddle her horse, and left. I thought -"

"Lady Crysania!" Tika gasped. "She's gone off, by herself.

Of course, she would...."

"What?" asked Otik, still munching.

"Nothing," Tika said, her face pale. "Nothing, Otik. Uh, you

better get back to the Inn. I'll - I may be a little late today."

"Sure, Tika," Otik said kindly, having seen Caramon

hunched over the table. "Get there when you can." Then he left,

eating as he walked. Tika shut the door behind him.

Seeing Tika return, and knowing he was in for a lecture, Car-

amon rose clumsily to his feet. "I'm not feeling too good," he

said. Lurching across the floor, he staggered into the bedroom,

slamming the door shut behind him. Tika could hear the sound

of wracking sobs from inside.

She sat down at the table, thinking. Lady Crysania had

gone, she was going to find Wayreth Forest by herself. Or

rather, she had gone in search of it. No one ever found it,

according to legend. It found you! Tika shivered, remembering

Caramon's stories. The dread Forest was on maps, but -

comparing them - no two maps ever agreed on its location.

And there was always a symbol of warning beside it. At its cen-

ter stood the Tower of High Sorcery of Wayreth, where all the

power of the mages of Ansalon was now concentrated. Well,

almost all -

In sudden resolution, Tika got up and thrust open the bed-

room door. Going inside, she found Caramon flat upon the

bed, sobbing and blubbering like a child. Hardening her heart

against this pitiful sight, Tika walked with firm steps over to

the large chest of clothes. As she threw open the lid and began

sorting through the clothes, she found the flask, but simply

tossed it into a corner of the room. Then - at the very

bottom - she came upon what she had been searching for.

Caramon's armor.

Lifting out a cuisse by its leather strap, Tika stood up and,

turning around, hurled the polished metal straight at Cara-

mon.

It struck him in the shoulder, bouncing off to fall to the floor

with a clatter.

 

"Ouch!" the big man cried, sitting up. "Name of the Abyss,

Tika! Leave me alone for -"

"You're going after her," Tika said firmly, lifting out another

piece of armor. "You're going after her, if I have to haul you out

of here in a wheelbarrow!"

 

"Uh, pardon me," said a kender to a man loitering near the

edge of the road on the outskirts of Solace. The man instantly

clapped his hand over his purse. "I'm looking for the home of a

friend of mine. Well, actually two friends of mine. One's a

woman, pretty, with red curls. Her name is Tika Waylan -"

Glaring at the kender, the man jerked a thumb. "Over there

yonder."

Tas looked. "There?" he said pointing, impressed. "That

truly magnificent house in the new vallenwood"?"

"What?" The man gave a brief, sharp laugh. "What'd you

call it? Truly magnificent? That's a good one." Still chuckling,

he walked off, laughing and hastily counting the coins in his

purse at the same time.

How rude! Tas thought, absently slipping the man's pocket

knife into one of his pouches. Then, promptly forgetting the

incident, the kender headed for Tika's home. His gaze lingered

fondly on each detail of the fine house nestled securely in the

limbs of the still-growing vallenwood tree.

"I'm so glad for Tika," Tas remarked to what appeared to be a

mound of clothes with feet walking beside him. "And for Cara-

mon, too," he added. "But Tika's never really had a true home

of her own. How proud she must be!"

As he approached the house, Tas saw it was one of the better

homes in the township. It was built in the ages-old tradition.of

Solace. The delicate turns of the vaulting gables were shaped to

appear to be part of the tree itself. Each room extended off from

the main body of the house, the wood of the walls carved and

polished to resemble the tree trunk. The structure conformed to

the shape of the tree, a peaceful harmony existed between

man's work and nature's to create a pleasing whole. Tas felt a

warm glow in his heart as he thought of his two friends work-

ing on and living in such a wonderful dwelling. Then -

"That's funny," said Tas to himself, "I wonder why there's no

roof."

As he drew closer, looking at the house more intently, he

noticed it was missing quite a few things - a roof among them.

 

The great vaulting gables actually did nothing more than form

a framework for a roof that wasn't there. The walls of the

rooms extended only part way around the building. The floor

was only a barren platform.

Coming to stand right beneath it, Tas peered upwards, won-

dering what was going on. He could see hammers and axes and

saws lying out in the open, rusting away. From their looks,

they hadn't been used in months. The structure itself was show-

ing the effects of long exposure to weather. Tas tugged his top-

knot thoughtfully. The building had all the makings of the most

magnificent structure in all of Solace - if it was ever finished!

Then Tas brightened. One section of the house was finished.

All of the glass had been carefully placed into the window

frames, the walls were intact, a roof protected the room from

the elements. At least Tika has one room of her own, the ken-

der thought. But, as he studied the room more closely, his smile

faded. Above the door, he could see clearly, despite some

weathering, the carefully crafted mark denotating a wizard's

residence.

"I might have known," Tas said, shaking his head. He glanced

around. "Well, Tika and Caramon certainly can't be living

there. But that man said - Oh."

As he walked around the huge vallenwood tree, he came

upon a small house, almost lost amidst overgrown weeds, hid-

den by the shadow of the vallenwood tree. Obviously built

only as a temporary measure, it had the look of becoming all

too permanent. If ever a building could look unhappy, Tas

mused, this one did. Its gables sagged into a frown. Its paint

was cracked and peeling. Still, there were flowers in the win-

dowboxes and frilly curtains in the windows. The kender

sighed. So this was Tika's house, built in the shadow of a

dream.

Approaching the little house, he stood outside the door, lis-

tening attentively. There was the most awful commotion going

on inside. He could hear thuds and glass breaking and shouts

and thumping.

"I think you better wait out here," Tas said to the bundle of

clothes.

The bundle grunted and plopped itself comfortably down

into the muddy road outside the house. Tas glanced at it uncer-

tainly, then shrugged and walked up to the door. Putting his

hand on the doorknob, he turned it and took a step forward,

 

confidently expecting to walk right in. Instead he smashed his

nose on the wood. The door was locked.

"That's odd," Tas said, stepping back and looking around.

"What is Tika thinking about? Locking doors! How barbaric.

And a bolt lock at that. I'm sure I was expected...." He stared

at the lock gloomily. The shouts and yells continued inside. He

thought he could hear Caramon's deep voice.

"It sure sounds interesting in there." Tas glanced around, and

felt cheered immediately. "The window! Of course!"

But, on hurrying over to the window, Tas found it locked,

too! "I never would have expected that of Tika, of all people,"

the kender commented sadly to himself. Studying the lock, he

noticed it was a simple one and would open quite easily. From

the set of tools in his pouch, Tas removed the lock-picking

device that is a kender's birthright. Inserting it, he gave it an

expert twist and had the satisfaction of hearing the lock click.

Smiling happily, he pushed the paned glass open and crawled

inside. He.hit the floor without a sound. Peering back out the

window, he saw the shapeless bundle napping in the gutter.

Relieved on that point, Tasslehoff paused to look around the

house, his sharp eyes taking in everything, his hands touching

everything.

"My, isn't this interesting," went Tas's running commentary

as he headed for the closed door from beyond which came the

crashing sounds. "Tika won't mind if I study it for a moment.

I'll put it right back." The object tumbled, of its accord, into his

pouch. "And look at this! Uh-oh, there's a crack in it. She'll

thank me for telling her about it." That object slipped into

another pouch. "And what's the butter dish doing clear over

here? I'm sure Tika kept it in the pantry. I better return it to its

proper place." The butter dish settled into a third pouch.

By this time, Tas had reached the closed door. Turning the

handle - (he was thankful to see Tika hadn't locked it as

well!) - he walked inside.

"Hullo," he said merrily. "Remember me? Say, this looks like

fun! Can I play? Give me something to throw at him, too, Tika.

Gee, Caramon" - Tas entered the bedroom and walked over to

where Tika stood, a breastplate in her hand, staring at him in

profound astonishment - "what is the matter with you - you

look awful, just awful! Say, why are we throwing armor at

Caramon, Tika?" Tas asked, picking up a chain mail vest and

turning to face the big warrior, who had barricaded himself

 

behind the bed. "Is this something you two do regularly? I've

heard married couples do some strange things, but this seems

kind of weird -"

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot!" Tika recovered her power of speech.

"What in the name of the gods are you doing here?"

"Why, I'm sure Tanis must have told you I was coming," Tas

said, hurling the chain mail at Caramon. "Hey - this is fun! I

found the front door locked." Tas gave her a reproachful

glance. "In fact, I had to come in a window, Tika," he said

severely. "I think you might have more consideration. Any-

way, I'm supposed to meet Lady Crysania here and -"

To Tas's amazement, Tika dropped the breastplate, burst

into tears, and collapsed onto the floor. The kender looked

over at Caramon, who was rising up from behind the back-

board like a spectre rising from the grave. Caramon stood

looking at Tika with a lost and wistful expression. Then he

picked his way through pieces of armor that lay scattered

about on the floor and knelt down beside her.

"Tika," he whispered pathetically, patting her shoulder. "I'm

sorry. I didn't mean all those things I said, you know that. I

love you! I've always loved you. It's just... I don't know what

to do!"

"You know what to do!" Tika shouted. Pulling away from

him, she sprang to her feet. "I just told you! Lady Crysania's in

danger. You've got to go to her!"

"Who is this Lady Crysania?" Caramon yelled back. "Why

should I give a damn whether she's in danger or not?"

"Listen to me for once in your life," Tika hissed through

clenched teeth, her anger drying her tears. "Lady Crysania is a

powerful cleric of Paladine, one of the most powerful in the

world, next to Elistan. She was warned in a dream that Raist-

lin's evil could destroy the world. She is going to the Tower of

High Sorcery in Wayreth to talk to Par-Salian to -"

"To get help destroying him, isn't that it?" Caramon snarled.

"And what if they did?" Tika flared. "Does he deserve to

live? He'd kill you without a second thought!"

Caramon's eyes flashed dangerously, his face flushed. Tas

gulped, seeing the big man's fist clench, but Tika walked right

up to stand in front of him. Though her head barely came to his

chin, Tas thought the big man cowered at her anger. His hand

opened weakly.

"But, no, Caramon," Tika said grimly, "she doesn't want to

 

destroy him. She's just as big a fool as you are. She loves your

brother, may the gods help her. She wants to save him, to turn

him from evil."

Caramon stared at Tika in wonder. His expression softened.

"Truly?" he said.

"Yes, Caramon," Tika said wearily. "That's why she came

here, to see you. She thought you might be able to help. Then,

when she saw you last night -"

Caramon's head drooped. His eyes filled with tears. "A

woman, a stranger, wants to help Raist. And risks her life to do

it." He began to blubber again.

Tika stared at him in exasperation. "Oh, for the love of - Go

after her, Caramon!" she cried, stamping her foot on the floor.

"She'll never reach the Tower alone. You know that! You've

been through the Forest of Wayreth."

"Yes," Caramon said, sniffing. "I went with Raist. I took him

there, so he could find the Tower and take the Test. That evil

Test! I guarded him. He needed me... then."

"And Crysania needs you now!" Tika said grimly. Caramon

was still standing, irresolute, and Tas saw Tika's face settle in

firm, hard lines. "You don't have much time to lose, if you're

going to catch up with her. Do you remember the way?"

"I do!" shouted Tas in excitement. "That is, I have a map."

Tika and Caramon turned around to stare at the kender in

astonishment, both having forgotten his existence.

"I dunno," Caramon said, regarding Tas darkly. "I remember

your maps. One of them took us to a seaport that didn't have

any sea!"

"That wasn't my fault!" Tas cried indignantly. "Even Tanis

said so. My map was drawn before the Cataclysm struck and

took the sea away. But you have to take me with you, Cara-

mon! I'm supposed to meet Lady Crysania. She sent me on a

quest, a real quest. And I completed it. I found" - sudden

movement caught Tas's attention - "oh, here she is."

He waved his hand, and Tika and Caramon turned to see the

shapeless bundle of clothes standing in the door to their bed-

room. Only now the bundle had grown two black, suspicious

eyes.

"Me hungry," said the bundle to Tas accusingly. "When we

eat?"

"I went on a quest for Bupu," Tasslehoff Burrfoot said

proudly.

 

"But what in the name of the Abyss does Lady Crysania want

with a gully dwarf?" Tika said in absolute mystification. She

had taken Bupu to the kitchen, given her some stale bread and

half a cheese, then sent her back outside - the gully dwarf's

smell doing nothing to enhance the comfort of the small house.

Bupu returned happily to the gutter, where she supplemented

her meal by drinking water out of a puddle in the street.

"Oh, I promised I wouldn't tell," Tas said importantly. The

kender was helping Caramon to strap on his armor - a rather

involved task, since the big man was considerably bigger since

the last time he'd worn it. Both Tika and Tas worked until they

were sweating, tugging on straps, pushing and prodding rolls

of fat beneath the metal.

Caramon groaned and moaned, sounding very much like a

man being stretched on the rack. The big man's tongue licked

his lips and his longing gaze went more than once to the bed-

room and the small flask Tika had so casually tossed into the

corner.

"Oh, come now, Tas," Tika wheedled, knowing the kender

couldn't keep a secret to save his life. "I'm sure Lady Crysania

wouldn't mind -"

Tas's face twisted in agony. "She-she made me promise and

swear to Paladine, Tika!" The kender's face grew solemn. "And

you know that Fizban - I mean Paladine - and I are personal

friends." The kender paused. "Suck in your gut, Caramon," he

ordered irritably. "How did you ever get yourself into this con-

dition, anyway?"

Putting his foot against the big man's thigh, Tas tugged. Car-

amon yelped in pain.

"I'm in fine shape," the big man mumbled angrily. "It's the

armor. It's shrunk or something."

"I didn't know this kind of metal shrinks," Tas said with inter-

est. "I'll bet it has to be heated! How did you do that? Or did it

just get real, real hot around here?"

"Oh, shut up!" Caramon snarled.

"I was only being helpful," Tas said, wounded. "Anyway, oh,

about Lady Crysania." His face took on a lofty look. "I gave my

sacred oath. All I can say is she wanted me to tell her every-

thing I could remember about Raistlin. And I did. And this has

to do with that. Lady Crysania's truly a wonderful person,

Tika," Tas continued solemnly. "You might not have noticed,

 

but I'm not very religious. Kender aren't as a rule. But you

don't have to be religious to know that there is something truly

good about Lady Crysania. She's smart, too. Maybe even

smarter than Tanis."

Tas's eyes were bright with mystery and importance. "I think

I can tell you this much," he said in a whisper. "She has a plan!

A plan to help save Raistlin! Bupu's part of the plan. She's tak-

ing her to Par-Salian!"

Even Caramon looked dubious at this, and Tika was pri-

vately beginning to think maybe Riverwind and Tanis were

right. Maybe Lady Crysania was mad. Still, anything that

might help Caramon, might give him some hope -

But Caramon had apparently been working things out in his

own mind. "You know. It's all the fault of this Fis-Fistandoodle

or whatever his name was," he said, tugging uncomfortably at

the leather straps where they bit into his flabby flesh. "You

know, that mage Fizban - er - Paladine told us about. And

Par-Salian knows something about that, too!" His face bright-

ened. "We'll fix everything. I'll bring Raistlin back here, like we

planned, Tika! He can move into the room we've got fixed up

for him. We'll take care of him, you and I. In our new house.

It's going to be fine, fine!" Caramon's eyes shone. Tika couldn't

look at him. He sounded so much like the old Caramon, the

Caramon she had loved....

Keeping her expression stern, she turned abruptly and

headed for the bedroom. "I'll go get the rest of your things -"

"Wait!" Caramon stopped her. "No, uh - thanks, Tika. I can

manage. How about you - uh - pack us something to eat."

"I'll help," Tas offered, heading eagerly for the kitchen.

"Very well," Tika said. Reaching out, she caught hold of the

kender by the topknot of hair that tumbled down his back.

"Just one minute, Tasslehoff Burrfoot. You're not going any-

where until you sit down and empty out every one of your

pouches!"

Tas wailed in protest. Under cover of the confusion, Cara-

mon hurried into the bedroom and shut the door. Without

pausing, he went straight for the corner and retrieved the flask.

Shaking it, he found it over half-full. Smiling to himself in sat-

isfaction, he thrust it deep into his pack, then hastily crammed

some additional clothes in on top of it.

"Now, I'm all set!" he called out cheerfully to Tika.

 

"I'm all set," Caramon repeated, standing disconsolately on

the porch.

He was a ludicrous sight. The stolen dragonarmor he had

worn during the last months of the campaign had been com-

pletely refurbished by the big warrior when he arrived back in

Solace. He had beaten the dents out, cleaned and polished and

redesigned it so completely that it no longer resembled the orig-

inal. He had taken a great deal of care with it, then packed it

away lovingly. It was still in excellent condition. Only now,

unfortunately, there was a large gap between the shining black

chain mail that covered his chest and the big belt that girdled

his rotund waist. Neither he nor Tas had been able to strap the

metal plates that guarded his legs around his flabby thighs. He

had stowed these away in his pack. He groaned when he lifted

his shield and looked at it suspiciously, as if certain someone

had filled it with lead weights during the last two years. His

swordbelt would not fit around his sagging gut. Blushing furi-

ously, he strapped the sword in its worn scabbard onto his

back.

At this point, Tas was forced to look somewhere else. The

kender thought he was going to laugh but was startled to find

himself on the verge of tears.

"I look a fool," Caramon muttered, seeing Tas turn away hur-

riedly. Bupu was staring at him with eyes as wide as tea-cups,

her mouth hanging open.

"Him look just like my Highbulp, Phudge I." Bupu sighed.

A vivid memory of the fat, slovenly king of the gully dwarf

clan in Xak Tsaroth came to Tas's mind. Grabbing the gully

dwarf, he stuffed a hunk of bread in her mouth to shut her up.

But the damage had been done. Apparently Caramon, too,

remembered.

"That does it," he snarled, flushing darkly and hurling his

shield to the wooden porch where it banged and clattered

loudly. "I'm not going! This was a stupid idea anyway!" He

stared accusingly at Tika, then, turning around, he started for

the door. But Tika moved to stand in front of him.

"No," she said quietly. "You're not coming back into my

house, Caramon, until you come back one whole person."

"Him more like two whole person," mumbled Bupu in a muf-

fled voice. Tas stuffed more bread in her mouth.

"You're not making any sense!" Caramon snapped viciously,

putting his hand on her shoulder. "Get out of my way, Tika!"

 

"Listen to me, Caramon," Tika said. Her voice was soft, but

penetrating; her eyes caught and held the big man's attention.

Putting her hand on his chest, she looked up at him earnestly.

"You offered to follow Raistlin into darkness, once. Do you

remember?"

Caramon swallowed, then nodded silently, his face pale.

"He refused," Tika continued gently, "saying it would mean

your death. But, don't you see, Caramon - you have followed

him into darkness! And you're dying by inches! Raistlin him-

self told you to walk your own path and let him walk his. But

you haven't done that! You're trying to walk both paths, Cara-

mon. Half of you is living in darkness and the other half is try-

ing to drink away the pain and the horror you see there."

"It's my fault!" Caramon began to blubber, his voice break-

ing. "It's my fault he turned to the Black Robes. I drove him to

it! That's what Par-Salian tried to make me see -"

Tika bit her lip. Tas could see her face grow grim and stern

with anger, but she kept it inside. "Perhaps," was all she said.

Then she drew a deep breath. "But you are not coming back to

me as husband or even friend until you come back at peace

with yourself."

Caramon stared at her, looking as though he was seeing her

for the first time. Tika's face was resolute and firm, her green

eyes were clear and cold. Tas suddenly remembered her fight-

ing draconians in the Temple at Neraka that last horrible night

of the War. She had looked just the same.

"Maybe that'll be never," Caramon said surlily. "Ever think

of that, huh, my fine lady?"

"Yes," Tika said steadily. "I've thought of it. Good-bye, Cara-

mon."

Turning away from her husband, Tika walked back through

the door of her house and shut it. Tas heard the bolt slide home

with a click. Caramon heard it, too, and flinched at the sound.

He clenched his huge fists, and for a minute Tas feared he might

break down the door. Then his hands went limp. Angrily, try-

ing to salvage some of his shattered dignity, Caramon stomped

off the porch.

"I'll show her," he muttered, striding off, his armor clanking

and clattering. "Come back, three or four days, with that Lady

Crysle-whatever. Then we'll talk about this. She can't do this to

me! No, by all the gods! Three, four days, she'll be begging me

to come back. But maybe I will and maybe I won't...."

 

Tas stood, irresolute. Behind him, inside the house, his sharp

kender ears could hear grief-stricken sobbing. He knew that

Caramon, between his own self-pitying ramblings and his

clanking armor, could hear nothing. But what could he do?

"I'll take care of him, Tika!" Tas shouted, then, grabbing

Bupu, they hurried along after the big man. Tas sighed. Of all

the adventures he had been on, this one was certainly starting

out all wrong.

 

CHAPTER 5

 

Palanthas - fabled

city of beauty.

A city that has turned its back upon the world and sits gaz-

ing, with admiring eyes, into its mirror.

Who had described it thus? Kitiara, seated upon the back of

her blue dragon, Skie, pondered idly as she flew within sight of

the city walls. The late, unlamented Dragon Highlord Ariakas,

perhaps. It sounded pretentious enough, like something he

would say. But he had been right about the Palanthians, Kit

was forced to admit. So terrified were they of seeing their

beloved city laid waste, they had negotiated a separate peace

with the Highlords. It wasn't until right before the end of the

war - when it was obvious they had nothing to lose - that they

had reluctantly joined with others to fight the might of the

Dark Queen.

Because of the heroic sacrifice of the Knights of Solamnia,

the city of Palanthas was spared the destruction that had laid

other cities - such as Solace and Tarsis - to waste. Kit, flying

within arrow shot of the walls, sneered. Now, once more,

Palanthas had turned her eyes to her mirror, using the new

influx of prosperity to enhance her already legendary charm.

 

Thinking this, Kitiara laughed out loud as she saw the stir

upon the Old City walls. It had been two years since a blue

dragon had flown above the walls. She could picture the chaos,

the panic. Faintly, on the still night air, she could hear the beat-

ing of drums and the clear calls of trumpets.

Skie, too, could hear. His blood stirred at the sounds of war,

and he turned a blazing red eye round to Kitiara, begging her to

reconsider.

"No, my pet," Kitiara called, reaching down to pat his neck

soothingly. "Now is not the time! But soon - if we prove suc-

cessful! Soon, I promise you!"

Skie was forced to content himself with that. He achieved

some satisfaction, however, by breathing a bolt of lightning

from his gaping jaws, blackening the stone wall as he soared

past, keeping just out of arrow range. The troops scattered like

ants at his coming, the dragonfear sweeping over them in

waves.

Kitiara flew slowly, leisurely. None dared touch her - a state

of peace existed between her armies in Sanction and the Palan-

thians, though there were some among the Knights who were

trying to persuade the free peoples of Ansalon to unite and

attack Sanction where Kitiara had retreated following the war.

But the Palanthians couldn't be bothered. The war was over,

the threat gone.

"And daily I grow in strength and in might," Kit said to them

as she flew above the city, taking it all in, storing it in her mind

for future reference.

Palanthas is built like a wheel. All of the important

buildings - the palace of the reigning lord, government offices,

and the ancient homes of the nobles - stand in the center. The

city revolves around this hub. In the next circle are built the

homes of the wealthy guildsmen - the "new" rich - and the

summer homes of those who live outside the city walls. Here,

too, are the educational centers, including the Great Library of

Astinus. Finally, near the walls of Old City, is the marketplace

and shops of every type and description.

Eight wide avenues lead out from the center of Old City, like

spokes on the wheel. Trees line these avenues, lovely trees,

whose leaves are like golden lace all year long. The avenues

lead to the seaport to the north and to the seven gates of Old

City Wall.

Surrounding the wall, Kit saw New City, built just like Old

 

City, in the same circular pattern. There are no walls around

New City, since walls "detract from the overall design," as one

of the lords put it.

Kitiara smiled. She did not see the beauty of the city. The

trees were nothing to her. She could look upon the dazzling

marvels of the seven gates without a catch in her throat - well,

perhaps, a small one. How easy it would be, she thought with a

sigh, to capture!

Two other buildings attracted her interest. One was a new

one being built in the center of the city - a Temple, dedicated to

Paladine. The other building was her destination. And, on this

one, her gaze rested thoughtfully.

It stood out in such vivid contrast to the beauty of the city

around it that even Kitiara's cold, unfeeling gaze noted it.

Thrusting up from the shadows that surrounded it like a

bleached fingerbone, it was a thing of darkness and twisted

ugliness, all the more horrible because once it must have been

the most wonderful building in Palanthas - the ancient Tower

of High Sorcery.

Shadow surrounded it by day and by night, for it was

guarded by a grove of huge oak trees, the largest trees growing

on Krynn, some of the more well-traveled whispered in awe.

No one knew for certain because there were none, even of the

kender race which fears little on this world, who could walk in

the trees' dread darkness.

"The Shoikan Grove," Kitiara murmured to an unseen com-

panion. "No living being of any race dared enter it. Not until he

came - the master of past and of present." If she said this with a

sneer in her voice, it was a sneer that quivered as Skie began to

circle nearer and nearer that patch of blackness.

The blue dragon settled down upon the empty, abandoned

streets near the Shoikan Grove. Kit had urged Skie with every-

thing from bribes to dire threats to fly her over the Grove to the

Tower itself. But Skie, although he would have shed the last

drop of his blood for his master, refused her this. It was beyond

his power. No mortal being, not even a dragon, could enter

that accursed ring of guardian oaks.

Skie stood glaring into the grove with hatred, his red eyes

burning, while his claws nervously tore up the paving stones.

He would have prevented his master from entering, but he

knew Kitiara well. Once her mind was set upon something,

nothing could deter her. So Skie folded his great, leathery

 

wings around his body and gazed at this fat, beautiful city

while thoughts of flames and smoke and death filled him with

longing.

Kitiara dismounted from her dragonsaddle slowly. The silver

moon, Solinari, was a pale, severed head in the sky. Its twin,

the red moon Lunitari, had just barely risen and now flickered

on the horizon like the wick of a dying candle. The faint light of

both moons shimmered in Kitiara's dragonscale armor, turning

it a ghastly blood-hued color.

Kit studied the grove intently, took a step toward it, then

stopped nervously. Behind her, she could hear a rustle - Skie's

wings giving unspoken advice - Let us flee this place of doom,

lady! Flee while we still have our lives!

Kitiara swallowed. Her tongue felt dry and swollen. Her

stomach muscles knotted painfully. Vivid memories of her first

battle returned to her, the first time she had faced an enemy and

known that she must kill this man - or she herself would be

dead. Then, she had conquered with the skillful thrust of her

sword blade. But this?

"I have walked many dark places upon this world," Kit said

to her unseen companion in a deep, low voice, "and I have not

known fear. But I cannot enter here."

"Simply hold the jewel he gave you high in your hand," said

her companion, materializing out of the night. "The Guardians

of the Grove will be powerless to harm you."

Kitiara looked into the dense ring of tall trees. Their vast,

spreading branches blotted out the light of moons and stars by

night, of the sun by day. Around their roots flowed perpetual

night. No soft breeze touched their hoary arms, no storm wind

moved the great limbs. It was said that even during the awful

days before the Cataclysm, when storms the like of which had

not been known before on Krynn swept the land, the trees of

Shoikan Grove alone had not bent to the anger of the gods.

But, more horrible even than their everlasting darkness, was

the echo of everlasting life that pulsed from deep within. Ever-

lasting life, everlasting misery and torment...

"What you say my head believes," Kitiara answered, shiver-

ing, "but my heart does not, Lord Soth."

"Turn back, then," the death knight answered, shrugging.

"Show him that the most powerful Dragon Highlord in the

world is a coward."

Kitiara stared at Soth from the eye slits of her dragonhelm.

 

Her brown eyes glinted, her hand closed spasmodically over

the hilt of her sword. Soth returned her gaze, the orange flame

flickering within his eyesockets burned bright in hideous mock-

ery. And if his eyes laughed at her, what would those golden

eyes of the mage reveal? Not laughter - triumph!

Compressing her lips tightly, Kitiara reached for the chain

around her neck where hung the charm Raistlin had sent her.

Grasping hold of the chain, she gave it a quick jerk, snapping it

easily. Then she held the jewel in her gloved hand.

Black as dragon's blood, the jewel felt cold to the touch, radi-

ating a chill even through her heavy, leather gloves. Unshining,

unlovely, it lay heavy in her palm.

"How can these Guardians see it?" Kitiara demanded, hold-

ing it to the moons' light. "Look, it does not gleam or sparkle. It

seems I hold nothing more than a lump of coal in my hand."

"The moon that shines upon the nightjewel you cannot see,

nor can any see save those who worship it," Lord Soth replied.

"Those - and the dead who, like me, have been damned to eter-

nal life. We can see it! For us, it shines more clearly than any

light in the sky. Hold it high, Kitiara, hold it high and walk for-

ward. The Guardians will not stop you. Take off your helm,

that they may look upon your face and see the light of the jewel

reflected in your eyes."

Kitiara hesitated a moment longer. Then - with thoughts of

Raistlin's mocking laughter ringing in her ears - the Dragon

Highlord removed the horned dragonhelm from her head. Still

she stood, glancing around. No wind ruffled her dark curls.

She felt cold sweat trickle down her temple. With an angry flick

of her glove, she wiped it away. Behind her, she could hear the

dragon whimper - a strange sound, one she had never heard

Skie make before. Her resolution faltered. The hand holding

the jewel shook.

"They feed off fear, Kitiara," said Lord Soth softly. "Hold the

jewel high, let them see it reflected in your eyes!"

Show him you are a coward! Those words echoed in her

mind. Clutching the nightjewel, lifting it high above her head,

Kitiara entered Shoikan Grove.

Darkness descended, dropping over her so suddenly Kitiara

thought for one horrible, paralyzing moment she had been

struck blind. Only the sight of Lord Soth's flaming eyes flicker-

ing within his pale, skeletal visage reassured her. She forced

herself to stand there calmly, letting that debilitating moment

 

of fear fade. And then she noticed, for the first time, a light

gleam from the jewel. It was like no other light she had ever

seen. It did not illuminate the darkness so much as allow Kiti-

ara to distinguish all that lived within the darkness from the

darkness itself.

By the jewel's power, Kitiara could begin to make out the

trunks of the living trees. And now she could see a path form-

ing at her feet. Like a river of night, it flowed onward, into the

trees, and she had the eerie sensation that she was flowing

along with it.

Fascinated, she watched her feet move, carrying her forward

without her volition. The Grove had tried to keep her out, she

realized in horror. Now, it was drawing her in!

Desperately she fought to regain control of her own body.

Finally, she won - or so she presumed. At least, she quit mov-

ing. But now she could do nothing but stand in that flowing

darkness and shiver, her body racked by spasms of fear.

Branches creaked overhead, cackling at the joke. Leaves

brushed her face. Frantically, Kit tried to bat them away, then

she stopped. Their touch was chill, but not unpleasant. It was

almost a caress, a gesture of respect. She had been recognized,

known for one of their own. Immediately, Kit was in command

of herself once more. Lifting her head, she made herself look at

the path.

It was not moving. That had been an illusion borne of her

own terror. Kit smiled grimly. The trees themselves were mov-

ing! Standing aside to let her pass. Kitiara's confidence rose.

She walked the path with firm steps and even turned to glance

triumphantly at Lord Soth, who walked a few paces behind

her. The death knight did not appear to notice her, however.

"Probably communing with his fellow spirits," Kit said to

herself with a laugh that was twisted, suddenly, into a shriek of

sheer terror.

Something had caught hold of her ankle! A bone-freezing

chill was seeping slowly through her body, turning her blood

and her nerves to ice. The pain was intense. She screamed in

agony. Clutching at her leg, Kitiara saw what had grabbed

her - a white hand! Reaching up from the ground, its bony fin-

gers were wrapped tightly around her ankle. It was sucking the

life out of her, Kit realized, feeling the warmth leave. And then,

horrified, she saw her foot begin to disappear into the oozing

soil.

 

Panic swept her mind. Frantically she kicked at the hand,

trying to break its freezing grip. But it held her fast, and yet

another hand reached up from the black path and grabbed hold

of her other ankle. Screaming in terror, Kitiara lost her balance

and plunged to the ground.

"Don't drop the jewel!" came Lord Soth's lifeless voice.

"They will drag you under!"

Kitiara kept hold of the jewel, clutching it in her hand even as

she fought and twisted, trying to escape the deathly grasp that

was slowly drawing her down to share its grave. "Help me!"

she cried, her terror-stricken gaze seeking Soth.

"I cannot," the death knight answered grimly. "My magic will

not work here. The strength of your own will is all that can

save you now, Kitiara. Remember the jewel...."

For a moment, Kitiara lay quite still, shivering at the chilling

touch. And then anger coursed through her body. How dare he

do this to me! she thought, seeing, once more, mocking golden

eyes enjoying her torture. Her anger thawed the chill of fear

and burned away the panic. She was calm now. She knew what

she must do. Slowly, she pushed herself up out of the dirt.

Then, coldly and deliberately, she held the jewel down next to

the skeletal hand and, shuddering, touched the jewel to the pal-

lid flesh.

A muffled curse rumbled from the depths of the ground. The

hand quivered, then released its grip, sliding back into the rot-

ting leaves beside the trail.

Swiftly, Kitiara touched the jewel to the other hand that

grasped her. It, too, vanished. The Dragon Highlord scrambled

to her feet and stared around. Then she held the jewel aloft.

"See this, you accursed creatures of living death?" she

screamed shrilly. "You will not stop me! I will pass! Do you hear

me? I will pass!"

There was no answer. The branches creaked no longer, the

leaves hung limply. After standing a moment longer in silence,

the jewel in her hand, Kitiara started walking down the trail

once more, cursing Raistlin beneath her breath. She was aware

of Lord Soth near her.

"Not much farther," he said. "Once again, Kitiara, you have

earned my admiration."

Kitiara did not answer. Her anger was gone, leaving a hollow

place in the pit of her stomach that was rapidly filling up again

with fear. She did not trust herself to speak. But she kept walk-

 

ing, her eyes now focused grimly on the path ahead of her. All

around her now, she could see the fingers digging through the

soil, seeking the living flesh they both craved and hated. Pale,

hollow visages glared at her from the trees, black and shapeless

things flitted about her, filling the cold, clammy air with a foul

scent of death and decay.

But, though the gloved hand that held the jewel shook, it

never wavered. The fleshless fingers did not stop her. The faces

with their gaping mouths howled in vain for her warm blood.

Slowly, the oak trees continued to part before Kitiara, the

branches bending back out of the way.

There, standing at the trail's end, was Raistlin.

' "I should kill you, you damned bastard!" Kitiara said

through numb lips, her hand on the hilt of her sword.

"I am overjoyed to see you, too, my sister," Raistlin replied in

his soft voice.

It was the first time brother and sister had met in over two

years. Now that she was out from among the darkness of the

trees, Kitiara could see her brother, standing in Solinari's pale

light. He was dressed in robes of the finest black velvet. Hang-

ing from his slightly stooped, thin shoulders, they fell in soft

folds around his slender body. Silver runes were stitched about

the hood that covered his head, leaving all but his golden eyes

in shadow. The largest rune was in the center - an hourglass.

Other silver runes sparkled in the moons' light upon the cuffs of

his wide, full sleeves. He leaned upon the Staff of Magius, its

crystal, which flamed into light only upon Raistlin's

command - dark and cold, clutched in a golden dragon's claw.

"I should kill you!" Kitiara repeated, and, before she was

quite aware of what she did, she cast a glance at the death

knight, who seemed to form out of the darkness of the grove. It

was a glance, not of command, but of invitation - an unspoken

challenge.

Raistlin smiled, the rare smile that few ever saw. It was,

however, lost in the shadows of his hood.

"Lord Soth," he said, turning to greet the death knight.

Kitiara bit her lip as Raistlin's hourglass eyes studied the

undead knight's armor. Here were still the graven symbols of a

Knight of Solamnia - the Rose and the Kingfisher and the

Sword - but all were blackened as if the armor burned in a fire.

"Knight of the Black Rose," continued Raistlin, "who died in

flames in the Cataclysm before the curse of the elfmaid you

 

wronged dragged you back to bitter life."

"Such is my tale," the death knight said without moving.

"And you are Raistlin, master of past and present, the one fore-

told."

The two stood, staring at each other, both forgetting Kitiara,

who - feeling the silent, deadly contest being waged between

the two - forgot her own anger, holding her breath to witness

the outcome.

"Your magic is strong," Raistlin commented. A soft wind

stirred the branches of the oak trees, caressed the black folds of

the mage's robes.

"Yes," said Lord Soth quietly. "I can kill with a single word. I

can hurl a ball of fire into the midst of my enemies. I rule a

squadron of skeletal warriors, who can destroy by touch alone.

I can raise a wall of ice to protect those I serve. The invisible is

discernible to my eyes. Ordinary magic spells crumble in my

presence."

Raistlin nodded, the folds of his hood moving gently.

Lord Soth stared at the mage without speaking. Walking

close to Raistlin, he stopped only inches from the mage's frail

body. Kitiara's breath came fast.

Then, with a courtly gesture, the cursed Knight of Solamnia

placed his hand over that portion of his anatomy that had once

contained his heart.

"But I bow in the presence of a master," Lord Soth said.

Kitiara chewed her lip, checking an exclamation.

Raistlin glanced over at her quickly, amusement flashing in

his golden, hourglass eyes.

"Disappointed, my dear sister?"

But Kitiara was well accustomed to the shifting winds of

fate. She had scouted out the enemy, discovered what she

needed to know. Now she could proceed with the battle. "Of

course not, little brother," she answered with the crooked smile

that so many had found so charming. "After all, it was you I

came to see. It's been too long since we visited. You look well."

"Oh, I am, dear sister," Raistlin said. Coming forward, he put

his thin hand upon her arm. She started at his touch, his flesh

felt hot, as though he burned with fever. But - seeing his eyes

intent upon her, noting every reaction - she did not flinch. He

smiled.

"It has been so long since we saw each other last. What, two

years? Two years ago this spring, in fact," he continued, con-

 

versationally, holding Kitiara's arm within his hand. His voice

was filled with mockery. "It was in the Temple of the Queen of

Darkness at Neraka, that fateful night when my queen met her

downfall and was banished from the world -"

"Thanks to your treachery," Kitiara snapped, trying, unsuc-

cessfully, to break free of his grip. Raistlin kept his hand upon

Kitiara's arm. Though taller and stronger than the frail mage,

and seemingly capable of breaking him in two with her bare

hands, Kitiara - nevertheless - found herself longing to pull

away from that burning touch, yet not daring to move.

Raistlin laughed and, drawing her with him, led her to the

outer gates of the Tower of High Sorcery.

"Shall we talk of treachery, dear sister? Didn't you rejoice

when I used my magic to destroy Lord Ariakas's shield of pro-

tection, allowing Tanis Half-Elven the chance to plunge his

sword into the body of your lord and master? Did not I - by

that action - make you the most powerful Dragon Highlord in

Krynn?"

"A lot of good it has done me!" Kitiara returned bitterly.

"Kept almost a prisoner in Sanction by the foul Knights of

Solamnia, who rule the lands all about! Guarded day and night

by golden dragons, my every move watched. My armies scat-

tered, roaming the land...."

"Yet you came here," Raistlin said simply. "Did the gold

dragons stop you? Did the Knights know of your leaving?"

Kitiara stopped on the path leading to the tower, staring at

her brother in amazement. "Your doing?"

"Of course!" Raistlin shrugged. "But, we will talk of these

matters later, dear sister," he said as they walked. "You are cold

and hungry. The Shoikan Grove shakes the nerves of the most

stalwart. Only one other person has successfully passed

through its borders, with my help, of course. I expected you to

do well, but I must admit I was a bit surprised at the courage of

Lady Crysania -"

"Lady Crysania!" Kitiara repeated, stunned. "A Revered

Daughter of Paladine! You allowed her - here?"

"I not only allowed her, I invited her," Raistlin answered

imperturbably. "Without that invitation and a charm of ward-

ing, of course, she could never have passed."

"And she came?"

"Oh, quite eagerly, I assure you." Now it was Raistlin who

paused. They stood outside the entrance to the Tower of High

 

Sorcery. Torchlight from the windows shone upon his face. Kit-

iara could see it clearly. The lips were twisted in a smile, his flat

golden eyes shone cold and brittle as winter sunlight. "Quite

eagerly," he repeated softly.

Kitiara began to laugh.

 

Late that night, after the two moons had set, in the still dark

hours before the dawn, Kitiara sat in Raistlin's study, a glass of

dark-red wine in her hands, her brows creased in a frown.

The study was comfortable, or so it seemed to look upon.

Large, plush chairs of the best fabric and finest construction

stood upon hand-woven carpets only the wealthiest people in

Krynn could afford to own. Decorated with woven pictures of

fanciful beasts and colorful flowers, they drew the eye, tempt-

ing the viewer to lose himself for long hours in their beauty.

Carved wooden tables stood here and there, objects rare and

beautiful - or rare and ghastly - ornamented the room.

But its predominant feature were the books. It was lined with

deep wooden shelves, holding hundreds and hundreds of

books. Many were similar in appearance, all bound with a

nightblue binding, decorated with runes of silver. It was a com-

fortable room, but, despite a roaring fire blazing in a huge,

gaping fireplace at one end of the study, there was a bone-

chilling cold in the air. Kitiara was not certain, but she had the

feeling it came from the books.

Lord Soth stood far from the fire's light, hidden in the

shadows. Kit could not see him, but she was aware of his

presence - as was Raistlin. The mage sat opposite his half-sister

in a large chair behind a gigantic desk of black wood, carved so

cunningly that the creatures decorating it seemed to watch Kiti-

ara with their wooden eyes.

Squirming uncomfortably, she drank her wine, too fast.

Although well accustomed to strong drink, she was beginning

to feel giddy, and she hated that feeling. It meant she was losing

control. Angrily, she thrust the glass away from her, deter-

mined to drink no more.

"This plan of yours is crazy!" she told Raistlin irritably. Not

liking the gaze of those golden eyes upon her, Kitiara stood up

and began to pace the room. "It's senseless! A waste of time.

With your help, we could rule Ansalon, you and I. In fact" -

Kitiara turned suddenly, her face alight with eagerness - "with

your power we could rule the world! We don't need Lady Cry-

 

sania or our hulking brother -"

" 'Rule the world,' " Raistlin repeated softly, his eyes burn-

ing. "Rule the world? You still don't understand, do you, my

dear sister? Let me make this as plain as I know how." Now it

was his turn to stand up. Pressing his thin hands upon the desk,

he leaned toward her, like a snake.

"I don't give a damn about the world!" he said softly. "I could

rule it tomorrow if I wanted it! I don't."

"You don't want the world." Kit shrugged, her voice bitter

with sarcasm. "Then that leaves only -"

Kitiara almost bit her tongue. She stared at Raistlin in won-

der. In the shadows of the room, Lord Soth's flaming eyes

blazed more brightly than the fire.

"Now you understand." Raistlin smiled in satisfaction and

resumed his seat once more. "Now you see the importance of

this Revered Daughter of Paladine! It was fate brought her to

me, just when I was nearing the time for my journey."

Kitiara could only stare at him, aghast. Finally, she found her

voice. "How - how do you know she will follow you? Surely

you didn't tell her!"

"Only enough to plant the seed in her breast." Raistlin

smiled, looking back to that meeting. Leaning back, he put his

thin fingers to his lips. "My performance was, frankly, one of

my best. Reluctantly I spoke, my words drawn from me by her

goodness and purity. They came out, stained with blood, and

she was mine... lost through her own pity." He came back to

the present with a start. "She will come," he said coldly, sitting

forward once more. "She and that buffoon of a brother. He will

serve me unwittingly, of course. But then, that's how he does

everything."

Kitiara put her hand to her head, feeling her blood pulse. It

was not the wine, she was cold sober now. It was fury and frus-

tration. He could help me! she thought angrily. He is truly as

powerful as they said. More so! But he's insane. He's lost his

mind.... Then, unbidden, a voice spoke to her from some-

where deep inside.

What if he isn't insane? What if he really means to go

through with this?

Coldly, Kitiara considered his plan, looking at it carefully

from all angles. What she saw horrified her. No. He could not

win! And, worse, he would probably drag her down with him!

These thoughts passed through Kit's mind swiftly, and none

 

of them showed on her face. In fact, her smile grew only more

charming. Many were the men who had died, that smile their

last vision.

Raistlin might have been considering that as he looked at her

intently. "You can be on a winning side for a change, my sister."

Kitiara's conviction wavered. If he could pull it off, it would

be glorious! Glorious! Krynn would be hers.

Kit looked at the mage. Twenty-eight years ago, he had been

a newborn baby, sick and weakly, a frail counterpart to his

strong, robust twin brother.

"Let 'im die. 'Twill be best in the long run," the midwife had

said. Kitiara had been a teenager then. Appalled, she heard her

mother weepingly agree.

But Kitiara had refused. Something within her rose to the

challenge. The baby would live! She would make him live,

whether he wanted to or not. "My first fight," she used to tell

people proudly, "was with the gods. And I won!"

And now! Kitiara studied him. She saw the man. She saw -

in her mind's eye - that whining, puking baby. Abruptly, she

turned away.

"I must get back," she said, pulling on her gloves. "You will

contact me upon your return?"

"If I am successful, there will be no need to contact you,"

Raistlin said softly. "You will know!"

Kitiara almost sneered but caught herself quickly. Glancing

at Lord Soth, she prepared to leave the room. "Farewell then,

my brother." Controlled as she was, she could not keep an edge

of anger from her voice. "I am sorry you do not share my desire

for the good things of this life! We could have done much

together, you and I!"

"Farewell, Kitiara," Raistlin said, his thin hand summoning

the shadowy forms of those who served him to show his guests

to the door. "Oh, by the way," he added as Kit stood in the

doorway, "I owe you my life, dear sister. At least, so I have

been told. I just wanted to let you know that - with the death of

Lord Ariakas, who would, undoubtedly, have killed you - I

consider my debt paid. I owe you nothing!"

Kitiara stared into the mage's golden eyes, seeking threat,

promise, what? But there was nothing there. Absolutely noth-

ing. And then, in an instant, Raistlin spoke a word of magic

and vanished from her sight.

The way out of Shoikan Grove was not difficult. The guard-

 

ians had no care for those who left the Tower. Kitiara and Lord

Soth walked together, the death knight moving soundlessly

through the Grove, his feet leaving no impression on the leaves

that lay dead and decaying on the ground. Spring did not come

to Shoikan Grove.

Kitiara did not speak until they had passed the outer perime-

ter of trees and once more stood upon the solid paving stones of

the city of Palanthas. The sun was rising, the sky brightening

from its deep night blue to a pale gray. Here and there, those

Palanthians whose business called for them to rise early were

waking. Far down the street, past the abandoned buildings that

surrounded the Tower, Kitiara could hear marching feet, the

changing of the watch upon the wall. She was among the living

once again.

She drew a deep breath, then, "He must be stopped," she said

to Lord Soth.

The death knight made no comment, one way or the other.

"It will not be easy, I know," Kitiara said, drawing the dra-

gonhelm over her head and walking rapidly toward Skie, who

had reared his head in triumph at her approach. Patting her

dragon lovingly upon his neck, Kitiara turned to face the death

knight.

"But we do not have to confront Raistlin directly. His scheme

hinges upon Lady Crysania. Remove her, and we stop him. He

need never know I had anything to do with it, in fact. Many

have died, trying to enter the Forest of Wayreth. Isn't that so?"

Lord Soth nodded, his flaming eyes flaring slightly.

"You handle it. Make it appear to be... fate," Kitiara said.

"My little brother believes in that, apparently." She mounted

her dragon. "When he was small, I taught him that to refuse to

do my bidding meant a whipping. It seems he must learn that

lesson again!"

At her command, Skie's powerful hind legs dug into the

pavement, cracking and breaking the stones. He leaped into the

air, spread his wings, and soared into the morning sky. The

people of Palanthas felt a shadow lift from their hearts, but that

was all they knew. Few saw the dragon or its rider leave.

Lord Soth remained standing upon the fringes of Shoikan

Grove.

"I, too, believe in fate, Kitiara," the death knight murmured.

"The fate a man makes himself."

Glancing up at the windows of the Tower of High Sorcery,

 

Soth saw the light extinguished from the room where they had

been. For a brief instant, the Tower was shrouded in the perpet-

ual darkness that seemed to linger around it, a darkness the

sun's light could not penetrate. Then one light gleamed forth,

from a room at the top of the tower.

The mage's laboratory, the dark and secret room where

Raistlin worked his magic.

"Who will learn this lesson, I wonder?" Soth murmured.

Shrugging, he disappeared, melting into the waning shadows

as daylight approached.

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

Let's stop at this

place," Caramon said, heading for a ramshackle building that

stood huddled back away from the trail, lurking in the forest

like a sulking beast. "Maybe she's been in here."

"I really doubt it," said Tas, dubiously eyeing the sign that

hung by one chain over the door. "The 'Cracked Mug' doesn't

seem quite the place -"

"Nonsense," growled Caramon, as he had growled more

times on this journey already than Tas could count, "she has to

eat. Even great, muckety-muck clerics have to eat. Or maybe

someone in here will have seen some sign of her on the trail.

We're not having any luck."

"No," muttered Tasslehoff beneath his breath, "but we might

have more luck if we searched the road, not taverns."

They had been on the road three days, and Tas's worst mis-

givings about this adventure had proved true.

Ordinarily, kender are enthusiastic travelers. All kender are

stricken with wanderlust somewhere near their twentieth year.

At this time, they gleefully strike out for parts unknown, intent

on finding nothing except adventure and whatever beautiful,

horrible, or curious items might by chance fall into their bulg-

 

ing pouches. Completely immune to the self-preserving emo-

tion of fear, afflicted by unquenchable curiosity, the kender

population on Krynn was not a large one, for which most of

Krynn was devoutly grateful.

Tasslehoff Burrfoot, now nearing his thirtieth year (at least

as far as he could remember), was, in most regards, a typical

kender. He had journeyed the length and breadth of the conti-

nent of Ansalon, first with his parents before they had settled

down in Kenderhome. After coming of age, he wandered by

himself until he met Flint Fireforge, the dwarven metalsmith

and his friend, Tanis Half-Elven. After Sturm Brightblade,

Knight of Solamnia, and the twins, Caramon and Raistlin,

joined them, Tas became involved in the most wonderful

adventure of his life - the War of the Lance.

But, in some respects, Tasslehoff was not a typical kender,

although he would have denied this if it were mentioned. The

loss of two people he loved dearly - Sturm Brightblade and

Flint - touched the kender deeply. He had come to know the

emotion of fear, not fear for himself, but fear and concern for

those he cared about. His concern for Caramon, right now,

was deep.

And it grew daily.

At first, the trip had been fun. Once Caramon got over his fit

of sulks about Tika's hard-heartedness and the inability of the

world in general to understand him, he had taken a few swigs

from his flask and felt better. After several more swigs, he

began to relate stories about his days helping to track down

draconians. Tas found this amusing and entertaining and,

though he continually had to watch Bupu to make certain she

didn't get run over by a wagon or wander into a mudhole, he

enjoyed his morning.

By afternoon, the flask was empty, and Caramon was even

in such a good humor as to be ready to listen to some of Tas's

stories, which the kender never tired of relating. Unfortu-

nately, right at the best part, when he was escaping with the

woolly mammoth and the wizards were shooting lightning

bolts at him, Caramon came to a tavern.

"Just fill up the flask," he mumbled and went inside.

Tas started to follow, then saw Bupu staring in open-

mouthed wonder at the red-hot blacksmith's forge across the

road. Realizing she would either set herself or the town or both

on fire, and knowing that he couldn't take her into the tavern

 

(most refused to serve gully dwarves), Tas decided to stay out

and keep an eye on her. After all, Caramon would probably be

only a few minutes....

Two hours later, the big man stumbled out.

"Where in the Abyss have you been?" Tas demanded, pounc-

ing on Caramon like a cat.

"Jusht having a... having a little..." Caramon swayed

unsteadily, "one for the... road."

"I'm on a quest!" Tas yelled in exasperation. "My first quest,

given to me by an Important Person, who may be in danger.

And I've been stuck out here two hours with a gully dwarf!" Tas

pointed at Bupu, who was asleep in a ditch. "I've never been so

bored in my life, and you're in there soaking up dwarf spirits!"

Caramon glared at him, his lips pursed into a pout. 'You know

shomething," the big man muttered as he staggered off down the

road, "you're st-starting to shound a lot like Tika...."

Things went rapidly downhill from there.

That night they came to the crossroads.

"Let's go this way," Tas said, pointing. "Lady Crysania's cer-

tain to know people are going to try to stop her. She'll take a

route that's not very well traveled to try and throw off pursuit.

I think we should follow the same trail we took two years ago,

when we left Solace -"

"Nonsense!" Caramon snorted. "She's a woman and a cleric

to boot. She'll take the easiest road. We'll go by way of Haven."

Tas had been dubious about this decision, and his doubts

proved well-founded. They hadn't traveled more than a few

miles when they came to another tavern.

Caramon went in to find out if anyone had seen a person

matching Lady Crysania's description, leaving Tas - once

again - with Bupu. An hour later the big man emerged, his face

flushed and cheerful.

"Well, has anyone seen her?" Tas asked irritably.

"Seen who? Oh - her. No...."

And now, two days later, they were only about halfway to

Haven. But the kender could have written a book describing

the taverns along the way.

"In the old days," Tas fumed, "we could have walked to Tarsis

and back in this time!"

"I was younger then, and immature. My body's mature now,

and I have to build up my strength," Caramon said loftily, "little

by little."

 

"He's building up something little by little," Tas said to him-

self grimly, "but strength isn't it!"

Caramon could not walk much more than an hour before he

was forced to sit down and rest. Often he collapsed completely,