Authors: Raymond E. Feist
Book Three of the Darkwar Saga
With thanks for sticking around and
keeping your sense of humor
As always, I could not have completed this work, another chapter in the vast Riftwar Cycle, without the foundation given to me by the original creators of Midkemia.
Again, my family and friends, for providing much-needed balance in my life and keeping me sane, or as close to it as I’ll get.
Jonathan Matson, who has been a rock upon which I have built a career and without whose sage counsel and patient attention I would not have come half as far.
And, especially, I wish to thank my editors at HarperCollins, Jane Johnson, Jennifer Brehl, Katherine Nintzel, and Emma Coode, for always understanding, especially in times of difficulty, that it’s about the work and for showing their willingness to adjust to chaotic times and provide vital support to me. I hope your faith in me remains justified and your passion for the work never flags. I absolutely could not have done this without you.
Raymond E. Feist
San Diego, California, 2007
The searing agony that seized her mind relented for the briefest moment, and in that instant she found what she had been seeking. The preponderance of her awareness was occupied with the battle of wills with her captors, but a tiny fragment—a disciplined fraction of her consciousness—had been readied. Over the days of interrogation and examination she had used every respite to partition off this one sliver of her intellect, to somehow overcome the blinding pain, and observe. During the last four encounters with the Dasati Deathpriests she had achieved that detachment and willed her body to withstand the pain. It was there, she knew, inflamed nerves protesting about the alien energies cours
ing across the surface of her mind, probing it, seeking insights into her very being, but she had learned to ignore physical pain centuries before. The mental assaults were more difficult, for they attacked the root of her power, the unique intelligence that made her a supreme magician on her home world.
These Dasati clerics lacked any pretense of subtlety. At first they had ripped open her thoughts like a bear pulling apart a tree stump looking for honey. A lesser mind would have been savaged beyond recovery on the first assault. After the third such onslaught, Miranda nearly had been reduced to idiocy. Still, she had fought back, and knowing there was no victory if there was no survival, she had focused all her considerable talents first on endurance, then insight.
Her ability to shunt aside the terrible assault and focus on that tiny sliver of knowledge she had gained kept her sane. Her determination to overcome her captivity and return with that knowledge gave her purpose.
Now she feigned unconsciousness, a new ploy in her struggle with her captors. Unless they possessed finer skills than she had so far encountered, her charade was undetected: to them she appeared incapacitated. This counterfeit lack of awareness was her first successful conjuration since her captivity began. She risked just enough body awareness to ensure that her breathing was slow and shallow, even though she suspected the Deathpriests who studied her still knew too little about humans to understand what physical signs to observe. No, her struggle was in the mind, and there she would eventually triumph. She had learned more about her captors than they had about her, she was certain.
Individually the Dasati were no match for her, nor even for one of her more advanced students back home. She had no doubt without the snare concocted by Leso Varen to disorient her, she would have easily disposed of the two Deathpriests who had seized her. But Varen was a force to reckon with, a necromancer with centuries of experience, and she alone would be hard-pressed to best him: three times one of his bodies had been killed to her knowledge, by multiple foes and taken by surprise, but
still he survived. Between Varen and the Deathpriests, she had been quickly overwhelmed.
Now she knew the Deathpriests for what they were, necromancers of a sort. Throughout her life, Miranda had chosen to ignore clerical magic, as was common for most magicians on Midkemia, as being some sort of manifestation of the gods’ powers. Now she regretted that oversight. Her husband, Pug, had been the only magician with whom she was familiar who had some insight into clerical magic, having made a point to learn as much about it as he could, despite the tendency of the various orders to be secretive. He had learned a great deal about this darkest of magic because of his repeated encounters with the Pantathian Serpent Priests, a death cult with their own mad ambitions. He had confronted several attempts on their part to wreak havoc throughout the world. She had listened indifferently to several discussions on the subject, and now she wished she had paid closer attention.
However, she was learning by the minute; the Deathpriests were clumsy and imprecise in their investigation and often revealed as much about their own magical nature as they learned about hers. Their lack of subtlety worked in her favor.
She heard her captor leave, but kept her eyes closed as she slowly let her consciousness return to the upper levels of her mind, every instant clinging to the insight she had just achieved. Then clarity returned. And with it, pain. She fought back the urge to cry out, and used deep breathing and mental discipline to manage the agony.
She lay up on a slab of stone, but stone that had its own evil nature, a sense of energy alien to Miranda. Simply touching it was uncomfortable, and she was strapped to it without benefit of clothing. She was drenched in perspiration and nauseous. Her muscles were threatening to cramp, and with her limbs restrained, the additional pain was unwelcome. She employed every trick at her disposal to control the urge, calm herself, and let the pain flow away.
For almost a week she had undergone the Dasati examination, enduring humiliation as well as pain, as they sought to
learn as much about her and the human race as possible. She was secretly grateful for their heavy-handed approach for it provided her with two advantages: they had no experience with human guile and they vastly underestimated her.
She put aside her speculation on the Dasati, and turned her attention to escape. Once trapped by Leso Varen and the Deathpriests, she had quickly realized that her best course of action was to give her interrogators just enough truth to make credible everything said. Varen, his malignant consciousness currently inhabiting the body of the Tsurani magician Wyntakata, had not appeared since she had been taken, a fact for which she was grateful, as he would have given the Dasati a far greater advantage in dealing with her. She knew he had his own mad agenda and had only been in league with the Dasati for as long as it suited him, and cared nothing for the success of their insane ambitions, only for his own.
She opened her eyes. As she expected, her Dasati captors were gone. For an instant she had worried that one might have lingered quietly to observe her. Sometimes they spoke to her in a conversational manner as if chatting with a guest, at other times they subjected her to physical violence. There seemed little pattern or sense to their choices. She had been allowed to keep her powers at first, for the Deathpriests had been supremely confident and had wished to see the scope of her abilities. But on the fourth day of her captivity, she had lashed out at a Deathpriest with the full fury of her magic when he had presumed to touch her naked body. After that, they had reined in her powers with a spell that had frustrated every attempt at using her magic.
The screaming nerves of every inch of her body reminded her that they were still in torment. She took a long, deep breath and used all her skills to lessen the pain until she could ignore it.
Miranda took another deep breath, and tried to see if what she had just learned from her captors was true or merely grasping at vain hope. She forced her mind to work in a new fashion, applying a minor spell, saying it so softly there was barely any sound. And the pain slowly leached away! At last she had discovered what she had sought.
She closed her eyes, reclaiming the image she had gained while being tortured. She knew intuitively that she had found something critically important, but she was still uncertain of exactly what it was. For an instant she wished she could somehow communicate with Pug or his companion, Nakor, for both had keen insights into the nature of magic, down to the very bedrock of the energies used by magicians—what Nakor insisted on calling “stuff.” She smiled slightly and took another deep breath. She would have laughed had she not been in so much discomfort.
Nakor would be delighted. Her newfound intelligence on this realm of the Dasati was something he would take great pleasure in: the “stuff” of this realm was similar to those energies familiar to every magician on Sorcerer’s Isle, but it was…How would Nakor put it? she wondered. It was
. It was as if the energies wanted to move at right angles to what she knew. She felt as if she were learning to walk all over again, only this time she had to think “sideways” to move forward.
She reached out with her mind and let mental “fingers” touch the buckles of her restraints. It took almost no effort for her to unfasten them. Quickly she freed herself.
Sitting up, she flexed shoulders, back, and legs, feeling circulation returning and a soreness that seemed to run to her marrow. Miranda had lived a lifetime measured in centuries, but she looked no more than forty years of age. She was slender, but surprisingly strong, for she took delight in walking the hills on Sorcerer’s Isle and taking long swims in the sea. Her dark hair was dusted with a little grey, and her dark eyes were clear and youthful. The effects of magic, she had come to believe, gave a long life to certain practitioners.
She took another deep breath. The churning in her stomach subsided. At least the Dasati hadn’t used hot irons or sharp implements, being content for the time being merely to beat her when they thought it might provide better information.
If she ever saw Nakor again she’d kiss him, for without his insistence that magic was somehow composed of a fundamental energy, she would never have understood what made it work differently here within the Dasati realm…
She was certain she was still on Kelewan, in the black energy sphere she had observed moments before she was captured. This “room” was nothing more than a small compartment and high above was an inky void, or at least a ceiling so high it vanished into the gloom. She glanced around, studying what she should see clearly, now that she wasn’t lashed to the slab. The enclosure was curtained off, but she could see the curve of the dome rising above her head, for the stanchions and rods holding the curtains were only about ten feet high. The material was uniformly dark grey-blue in color, if she could judge from the light in the room, a pulsing glow from an odd-looking grey stone placed upon a table nearby. She closed her eyes and let her mind extend and after a few seconds she encountered what could only be the shell of the sphere.
How then, she wondered, had the familiar rules of magic been replaced by Dasati rules? It was as if they brought their own world with them…
She stood up. Suddenly she understood. They weren’t just going to invade Kelewan; they were going to change Kelewan, convert it into a world in which they could comfortably live. They were going to colonize it!
Now it was imperative that she get free of this prison, find the Assembly at once and return to warn the Great Ones. The Dasati needed only to enlarge this sphere. It would not be easy, but it was straightforward. Given enough energy and this sphere would encircle the entire world, converting it into one like those in the second realm of reality, or at the least turn it into one like Delecordia, the world Pug found that somehow existed between the two realms.
She sent out her mental probes. Keeping them tiny and weak, preparing to withdraw them the instant they touched anything sentient, lest they alert a Deathpriest or some other Dasati that she was free.
She glanced around the room, saw her clothing tossed into a corner, and quickly dressed. While she had no problem appearing naked in the halls of the Assembly of Magicians, and while the Tsurani were far less concerned with nudity than many of the
cultures on Midkemia, there was something simply undignified about it.
Miranda hesitated. Time was pressing, yet she wished she could linger, investigate more, and return to the Assembly with better intelligence. For a moment she wondered if she could contrive a spell to make her invisible, so as to creep around in this…bubble. No, better to carry the warning and return with the might of the Assembly behind her.
She closed her eyes and probed at the shell above her. It was painful, and she quickly withdrew, but she had learned what she needed to know. It was the boundary between her realm and the Dasati realm, or at least the part they had carried with them to Kelewan. She would be able to traverse it, but she required more time to prepare.
Wondering how many captors were with her, she sent out a tiny fiber of perception, a minuscule feeler to sense life energy. It should arouse no notice if she managed it correctly. She felt a brushing of energy as faint as a dandelion seed carried by the breeze touching the cheek, and she recoiled instantly, lest she be noticed. That was one. Again and again she quested, until she was certain that only two Deathpriests were presently in the dome.
She took a deep breath, and readied herself. Then she hesitated. She knew the wise choice would be to flee, to find her way to the Assembly as quickly as possible and then return with a host of Black Robes to crush this intrusion into Kelewan. But another part of her wished to know more about these invaders, to better understand who they faced. A sense of dread in her completed the thought: in case Pug did not return from the Dasati world.
She was confident in her power that she could overcome both Deathpriests, and perhaps take one of them prisoner. She would welcome the opportunity to return the hospitality shown to her. She knew, however, that Varen had most likely returned to the Assembly, and when asked as to her whereabouts, would have simply said she had returned to Midkemia unexpectedly. It could take weeks for word to reach Kelewan that she hadn’t returned home and then the Assembly would begin inquiries into
her disappearance. One of the disadvantages of being who she was, of being an agent for the Conclave, was the secrecy associated with much of what she did. It could be a month or more before she was missed.
She studied the “wall” nearest to her. Probing gently with her senses, she tried to feel the rhythm of the energies. This would be a tricky proposition as she knew little of the surrounding terrain, and a long-distance jump to a familiar spot, say in the Assembly, through the dense magic sphere also presented unknown problems.
She decided it was wiser to jump a short distance away, to a rise she remembered because the lordsbush flowers were in vivid bloom, something she had noticed just before cresting the rise and seeing the sphere.
Then she felt a presence. At once she turned only to find a Dasati Deathpriest raising a device of some sort, pointing it toward her. She tried her best to apply what she had learned about magic here and sent out a spell which should have merely knocked him off his feet. Instead, she felt energies rush from her, as if yanked from her body, and saw the shocked expression on the alien face as he was slammed by an invisible force that propelled him through the curtain.