Read Dragonlance 08 - dragons of the highlord skies Online

Authors: Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman

Dragonlance 08 - dragons of the highlord skies

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Dragons of the Highlord SkiesThe Lost Chronicles Volume 2Margaret Weis & Tracy HickmanThe Companions are back and so are their enemies in the second volume of the Lost Chronicles!Kitiara discovers that a former lover, Tanis Half-elven, and his friends were responsible for the death of Highlord Verminaard. This revelation puts Kit in danger, for Emperor Ariakas hears of the connection and suspects Kit of having arranged the assassination. He orders his witch, the exotic Iolanthe, to spy on Kit, who clinches her own doom by becoming obsessed with finding Tanis, an act that convinces Ariakas that she is indeed a traitor. But Kit is not one to take a sentence of death easily.Kit’s rival, Laurana, begins her own journey to destiny as she travels to Icereach with Sturm, Flint, Tasslehoff, and three Solamnic knights led by Sir Derek Crownguard. The knights are on a quest for the fabled dragon orb that will be the salvation of Solamnia. What none of them know is that they are all being led into a deadly trap laid for them by the winternorn, the dark elf wizard Feal-Thas.But it is Kitiara who faces the greatest challenge. To save herself from Ariakas’ death sentence, she vows to Takhisis that she will spend the night in Dargaard Keep, the dread castle of the death knight, Lord Soth. As she and Skie fly to challenge the death knight, Kit is well aware that in three hundred years, not one person who has ever faced Lord Soth has survived the ordeal.

INTRODUCTION

The Story Thus Farany years after the War of the Lance, one of the Aesthetics, a woman named Lillith Hallmark, devised the idea of inviting the children of Palanthas into the Great Library to hear accounts of Krynn’s history. Lillith was at the time one of the most powerful and influential of the Aesthetics, second only to Bertrem, and though many of the other Aesthetics were alarmed at the prospect of sticky fingers and runny noses and shrill voices disturbing their studies, Lillith had her way.Lillith Hallmark never married—some say she bore in her heart a secret sorrow—but she was fond of children and she was an excellent historian. Even many of the parents who brought the children stayed to listen.Since it could be that you, our readers, have not read the stories of our heroes in a long time—or perhaps you have never read anything about them before picking up this book—we decided it might be wise for us to listen in on Lillith’s story this day. She is going to be telling the children the story of two women of importance in the life of one of the heroes—Tanis Half-elven. The women, Laurana and Kitiara, are featured in the book you are holding.Before launching into her tale, she is giving a summation of what has gone before. Let us listen in.“Seven friends swore an oath to meet in Solace after a five year absence, during which they went on a search ostensibly for some sign of the true gods, but in reality, they sought themselves. These seven were Tanis Half-elven, the twin brothers Raistlin and Caramon Majere, the dwarf Flint Fireforge, the irrepressible kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot, the knight Sturm Brightblade, and Kitiara uth Matar, half-sister to the twins.“Sturm and Kit traveled north to Solamnia, both of them seeking information about vanished families. The others went their separate ways. All of them returned to the inn at the appointed time except Kitiara, who sent a message saying she could not come. Tanis, who was in love with Kit, was saddened and deeply disappointed.“The arrival at the inn of a mysterious woman bearing a blue crystal staff plunged the remaining six friends into an adventure known asDragons of Autumn Twilight. Their journey took our heroes from Solace to the haunted city of Xak Tsaroth, where the true gods manifested themselves and gave them the Disks of Mishakal. The disks were said to bear the knowledge of the true gods, but none could read them. They set out to find someone to translate them.“Returning to Solace, Tanis met an old friend, an elf named Gilthanas. Tanis and Gilthanas had been raised together, and they had once been close, though time and circumstance had since severed those ties. All of them were taken prisoner by the army of a vainglorious hobgoblin Fewmaster named Toede. Locked up in prison wagons, the slaves were being transported to the city of Pax Tharkas when they were freed by a small band of elves (contrary to the story the Fewmaster would later tell!).“Tanis recognized one of the elves as Porthios, brother to Gilthanas. Hearing that the companions claimed to have found evidence of the true gods and that they brought healing back into the world, Porthios took Tanis and his friends back to Qualinost. Here Tanis met again a young woman to whom he had once been engaged, daughter of the Speaker of the Suns, Laurana. She loved Tanis, but he no longer loved her. His love for Kitiara still burned inside him and he broke off their engagement because of his divided heart—though her brothers and father had not approved anyway, for Tanis had human blood in his veins.“The elves persuaded Tanis and his friends to go to the city of Pax Tharkas, ruled by Dragon Highlord Verminaard. Tanis and his friends planned to start a slave revolt, hoping to keep the dragonarmies, which threatened the elves, from launching an attack on the elf kingdom, allowing the elves to escape safely into exile.“The friends, accompanied by Gilthanas as guide, set out for Pax Tharkas. Hurt by Tanis’s rejection, Laurana ran away from home to be with him. He tried to send her back, but she willfully refused. On their way to Pax Tharkas, they were joined by a man named Eben Shatterstone, who claimed to be running from the dragonarmies, but who was, in reality, a spy for the Dragon Highlord Verminaard.“The heroes sneaked into Pax Tharkas and mingled with the slaves. Here they met a man named Elistan. He was dying of a wasting disease when Goldmoon, a new follower of the goddess of healing, Mishakal, prayed to the goddess on his behalf. Elistan was cured, and asked to know more about these gods. Goldmoon gave him the Disks of Mishakal and found that he was able to read them. He became a cleric of Paladine and worked to bring knowledge of the true gods to the rest of the people enslaved in Pax Tharkas.“Tanis and his friends led the slaves in revolt and killed Verminaard. Eight hundred men, women and children fled south and managed to evade pursuit. They holed up in caves, hoping to be able to spend the winter there.“Meanwhile, an aurak draconian masquerading as Verminaard marshaled a force of red dragons and set off in pursuit of the former slaves, who were forced to flee the valley and seek refuge with the dwarves in their lost kingdom of Thorbardin. These adventures are related in the bookDragons of the Dwarven Depths.“During this time, Laurana continued traveling with the group. Danger, sorrow, and fear forced her to grow up. The once-spoiled and willful girl grew into a serious, thoughtful young woman. She used the skills she had learned in her father’s court to assist Elistan in his work, and Tanis found himself charmed by this beautiful young woman, so different from the girl he’d known. He began to fall in love with her and became torn. Which woman did he truly love? As for Laurana, her love for him never wavered.“After much hardship and peril, the heroes found and restored the Hammer of Kharas to the dwarves. In return, the dwarves permitted the refugees to remain in Thorbardin until they could find safe passage to new homes. Tanis and his group set out to the seaport city of Tarsis, there to buy passage on the white-winged ships for the refugees, who sought a new homeland. Their trek and adventures along the way are described inDragons of Winter Night.“As for Kitiara uth Matar, she followed a different path from that of her friends. Whereas they walked the path of light, she walked a path that led to darkness. She joined the dragonarmies of Queen Takhisis, and it was not long before Kitiara’s skill and ambition caused her to rise to become Dragon Highlord of the Blue Dragonarmy, known to most of Ansalon as the Blue Lady.“The individual adventures of Kitiara and Laurana and what happens to them at this point in time have never been told—until now. In the bookDragons of the Highlord Skies, the two women in the life of Tanis Half-elven each go on separate journeys whose perils will lead both of them to face their greatest challenges. I myself play a small part in this tale.“It all begins …”

BOOK I

PROLOGUE

ver three hundred years had passed since he had last heard the sound of a human voice. Or rather, since he last heard a human speak. He had heard screams since then; screams from those who had come to Dargaard Keep to confront him, screams that ended in gurgling gasps as they choked on their own blood.Lord Soth had no patience with such fools. He had no patience with those who came seeking his storied treasure. He had no patience with those who come on gallant quests to rid the world of his evil, for he knew the truth (who better than one who had once ridden on his own knightly quests?). He knew the knights were self-serving, self-seeking, interested only in glory, in hearing their names spouted by the bards. He saw through the shining armor to the spots of darkness that stained black the white purity of their souls. Their courage leaked through those spots when he confronted them, oozed out of them, and they clattered to their knees, trembling in their shining armor, and begged for mercy.Lord Soth had none to give.Who had shown him mercy? Who had heard his cries? Who heard them now? The gods had returned, but he was too proud to beg Paladine’s forgiveness. Lord Soth did not believe forgiveness would be granted, and deep within, the death knight did not think it should be granted.He sat upon his throne inside the great hall of his ruined keep listening, night after endless night, to the spirits of the accursed elf women who were doomed to sing as he was doomed to hear the ballad of his crimes. They sang of a gallant and handsome knight whose wayward passions led him to seduce an elf maiden and get her with child. They sang of the betrayed wife conveniently removed, so the elf maid could be welcomed to Dargaard Keep. They sang of the new wife’s horror when she learned the truth and of her prayers to the gods, pleading with them that there was yet some good in Soth and begging them to grant him a chance for salvation.They sang of the gods’ answer: Lord Loren Soth would be given the power to persuade the Kingpriest to abandon his notion of proclaiming himself a god, thus averting the wrath of the gods. Soth could prevent the disaster of the Cataclysm, save the lives of thousands of innocents, leave his child a name of which he would be proud. They sang of Soth’s journey to Istar, determined to save mankind, though he himself would be lost. They sang of their part, these accursed elf women, who halted him on the road, telling him lies about his lover. They sang of secret trysts with other men and a child that was not his.They sang of Soth’s rage as he rode back to his castle, and of how he ordered his wife into his presence and there denounced her as a whore, her child a bastard. They sang of shuddering earth as the fiery mountain cast down by the gods crashed into Istar, causing the huge chandelier, resplendent with a hundred flaming candles, to fall from the ceiling and crash down upon his wife and child. They sang about how he could have saved them, but he was consumed with hate and the thirst for revenge and he watched his wife’s hair catch fire and heard his little child’s frantic screams as soft flesh blistered and bubbled. They sang, every night, about how he turned upon his heel and walked away.Last they sang—and he would always and forever hear his wife’s curse upon him—that he would live forever, a knight pledged to death and darkness, forced to dwell upon his crimes as time passed him by, his minutes endless as hours, his hours endless as years, his years hollow and empty and cold as only the unredeemed dead are cold.In all those years it had been so long since he had heard a voice speak to him that when one did, he thought for a moment it was a part of his black musings and he paid it no heed.“Lord Soth, I have thrice called out to you,” the voice said, imperious in tone, angry at being ignored. “Why do you not answer?”The death knight, clad in armor that was blackened by fire and stained with blood, peered out through the eyeslits of his helm. He saw a woman magnificent and beautiful, dark and cruel as the Abyss over which she ruled.“Takhisis,” he said, not rising.“QueenTakhisis,” she returned, displeased.“You are notmyQueen,” he said.Takhisis glowered down at him and her aspect changed. She transformed from a human female into an enormous dragon with five writhing, hissing, and spitting heads. She towered over him, a creature of terror, and each head shrieked at him in rage.“The gods of light made you what you are, but I can unmake you!” Takhisis hissed. The dragon heads with their dripping fangs darted at him, menacing him. “I will cast you into the Abyss and break you, smite you and torment you for all eternity.”The goddess’s fury had once shattered a world, yet Lord Soth did not quail beneath it. He did not fall to his knees or shake or shiver. He remained seated on his throne and gazed up at her with eyes of flame that burned calm and steady, unafraid and unimpressed.“What would be the difference between that tortured existence and the one I now endure?” he asked her quietly.The five heads ceased their attacks and hovered over him, five brains confounded. After a moment, the dragon disappeared and the woman returned, a smile upon her lips, her tone seductive, purring, persuasive.“I did not come here to quarrel, my lord. Though you have hurt me, wounded me deeply, I am prepared to forgive you.”“How have I hurt you, Takhisis?” he asked, and though there was nothing left of his face it seemed to her he smiled sardonically.“You serve the cause of darkness—” she began.Lord Soth made a gesture of negation, as much as to say he served no cause, not even his own.“—yet you hold yourself aloof from the glorious battle we are waging,” Takhisis said. “The Emperor Ariakas would be proud to have you under his command—”The flame of Lord Soth’s eyes flickered, but Takhisis was so caught up in the passion of her cause that she did not see this.“Yet here you sit,” she continued bitterly, “locked up in this blackened keep, bemoaning your fate while others fight your battles.”“From what I have witnessed, Madame,” Soth said dryly, “your emperor is winning his battles. Much of Ansalon is under his control now. You have no need of me or my forces, so take yourself away and leave me alone.”Takhisis regarded the death knight from beneath long lashes. The locks of her dark hair lifted and fell in the chill wind that gusted through the cracked and broken walls. The black tendrils reminded him of the writhing heads of the dragons.“True, we are winning,” Takhisis stated, “and I have no doubt but that we will ultimately prevail. However, I say this to you and only to you, my lord, the gods of light have not been crushed as swiftly and as easily as I anticipated. Certain … um … complications have arisen. Emperor Ariakas and my Dragon Highlords would be grateful for your help.”Certain complications, she had said. Lord Soth knew all about these “complications.” One of her vaunted Dragon Highlords was dead. The other Highlords each wanted the Crown of Power for himself, and while they drank wine from the loving cup in public, they spit it on the floor in private. The elves of Qualinesti had escaped the dragon armies sent to annihilate them. The dwarves of Thorbardin had defeated those same armies and driven out the darkness from beneath the mountain. The Solamnic knights had been defeated, but were not yet destroyed. They wanted only a champion to lead them and at any moment one might rise up from among their ranks.The metallic dragons, who had thus far remained out of the war, were starting to grow uneasy, to think perhaps they had made a mistake. If Paladine’s powerful dragons of gold and of silver entered the war on the side of Light, the red and blue dragons and the green and black and white would be in serious trouble. Takhisis needed to conquer Ansalon immediately, before the metallic dragons entered the fray; before the armies of Light, now divided, came to their senses and formed alliances; before the Knights of Solamnia found a hero.“I will make a bargain with you, Takhisis,” said Lord Soth.The Queen’s dark eyes flared in anger. She was not accustomed to making bargains. She was accustomed to giving commands and to being obeyed. She had to swallow her anger, however. Her most effective weapon was terror, and its cutting edge was blunted and useless against the death knight who had lost everything and thus feared nothing.“What is your bargain?”“I cannot serve someone I do not respect,” said Lord Soth. “Therefore I will pledge my loyalty and my army to the Highlord who has the courage to spend the night alone in Dargaard Keep. Or rather, let us say, the Highlord whosurvivesa night alone in Dargaard Keep. This Highlord must do so freely, not under duress from you or anyone else,” Lord Soth added, knowing how the goddess’s mind worked.Takhisis glared at the death knight in silence. If she had not needed him, he would have been crushed in the coils of her fury, torn apart by the claws of her rage, and devoured in the maw of her hatred.But she needed him, and he did not need her.“I will bear your message to my Highlords,” said Takhisis at last.“The lord must come alone,” Soth repeated, “and not under duress.”Takhisis did not deign to respond. She turned her back on him and swept into the darkness over which she ruled, leaving him to listen again and yet again to the bitter song of his tragic life.
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