The Alamber Sea, Sea of Fallen Stars.
4 Flamerule, the Year of the Gauntlet
A man’s dying scream drew Pacys’s attention. To his right, the Sharksbane Wall extended across the sea floor until it disappeared in the gloom. Below and to the left, for as far as Pacys could see, the wall lay in ruins. Chunks of stone and coral lay in a fan shape, as if a huge hammer had shattered the wall.
“Marthammor Duin,” Khlinat breathed somewhere above and behind the old bard, “watch over them what wander far and foolishly.” The dwarf was thick and broad. Unruly gray whiskers stuck out around his wide face and his hands caressed the hafts of the two hand axes at his waist. He kicked out with his good foot. A gray-green coral peg took the place of his lower right leg.
Elf, merman, and sahuagin all warred below. From this distance, they looked tiny against the wall, but Pacys felt their terror and courage. Those emotions transmuted to musical notes in his mind. He carefully braided and twined them, piecing together the songs that haunted him.
The hum of sahuagin crossbow strings rolled over the sharp clash of coral tridents against stolen or salvaged spears.
Even the whisk of the sea devils’ barbed nets echoed across the terrain, picked up by the old bard’s heightened senses.
For the moment, Pacys was the battle. He was the life and death of every one of the hundreds of warriors at the Sharksbane Wall. He wore only a sea elf’s diaphanous gown of misty blue. The magic of the emerald bracelet on his wrist allowed him to breathe underwater and kept him comfortable even from the occasional chill. Though he kept his head and jaw shaved, his silver eyebrows hinted at his age. The bard was seventy-six years old, still vigorous but in his waning years.
“Hallowed wall, prized from death,
Built on blood and mortised by fear,
Stood broken, shattered, crumbled,
No longer protecting those here.
The loyal warriors warred, sinew against sinew.
They fought, and they died,
Clamped tight between unforgiving fangs
Of those who followed the Taker’s dark stride.”
It wasn’t a song of victory. Despite the excitement at having found another piece of the song he’d searched for, the old bard’s heart grew cold and heavy.
His trained eye noted the whitish colors of the rock, nearly a dozen hues that he could pick out at a glance, all colored by pearled iridescence from the millennia the wall had stood. The blue sea had texture, the color of a sky rent by gentle summer rains. The uneven terrain at the foot of the Sharksbane Wall spilled in dozens of cliffs and gullies where schools of brightly colored fish cowered.
Through it all, clouds of blood twisted and spun, caught by the shifting ocean currents and the movements of those who fought and died. Even though the bracelet gave him the ability to breathe underwater, it didn’t remove the harsh metallic taste of iron.
In the land engagements he’d witnessed, Pacys had smelled the stench of battle, spiced by the fear and anger of the men and women who sold and bought lives with a sword stroke. But here, in the underwater realm of Seros, the kingdoms scattered across the bottom of the Sea of Fallen Stars, death had flavor.
Pacys steeled himself, gaining control over his lurching stomach. Bright blue light flared like a dying star to Pacys’s left. The old bard turned and spotted Taranath Reefglamor, Senior High Mage among the High Mages at Sylkiir. The old elf mage wore his silver hair loose. Blade thin, his blue and white flecked skin hung loose on him. The pointed chin and pointed ears made his face seem harsh and angular. He thrust a hand out at a knot of a dozen nearby sahuagin that swam toward them.
In the blink of an eye, shark’s teeth seemed to form in that part of the water. The teeth were etched in silvery gleams, bare sketches that still left no doubt as to what they were.
The cone of shark’s teeth grew to twice Pacys’s height in width and nearly five times that in length. The sorcery ripped through the sahuagin, shredding flesh and breaking bone. Severed limbs and heads exploded out from the corpses, and mutilated torsos came apart in chunks.
Surviving sahuagin swam at them, clutching their tridents to their chests. Fangs filled their broad mouths to overflowing, showing bone-white and ivory against the teal and pale green of their skins. Fins stuck out from their arms and legs, sharp-edged appendages they used to slice open their prey.
Built broad and squat, hammered into near indestructibility by the pressure of the uncaring ocean, the sahuagin moved gracefully through the water. Webbed feet and hands pulled at the sea. Their magnetic black eyes sucked the light from the depths, black holes that held no mercy.
Pacys brought his staff up. There wasn’t time to run.
“Die hu-maan!” the lead sahuagin snarled.
“Friend Pacys!” Khlinat cried.
From the corner of his eye, Pacys watched the dwarf struggling to swim through the water to reach his side. They’d met in Baldur’s Gate, at the time of the attack that destroyed the city’s harbor, and they’d remained together since.
Pacys struck with the staff, lodging it in the tines of the trident his opponent carried. The old bard pushed away from the attack.
The sahuagin flew past him, streaking toward the dwarf who was clawing up to an even keel.
Pacys reached into the bag of holding at his waist, took out a piece of slate and a fingernail clipping, and held them in his fist.
Pointing with the forefinger of the fist that held the ingredients to his spell, Pacys scribed a powerful symbol in the water that flared pale violet for a moment. He mouthed half a dozen words, then felt the explosion in his fist as the spell claimed the materials in his hand.
Gray ash spilled from his hand as a shimmering wall formed in the water before him. A dull roar blasted out from the other side of the shimmering wall.
The sahuagin trapped there writhed in agony. The sahuagin, like many sea creatures, had lateral lines that ran the length of their bodies. Those lines sensed vibrations in the water, and the roar was agony to them.
Pacys swam for Khlinat.
“Foul devilspawn,” Khlinat roared in a voice only a dwarf in full battle frenzy could muster. “I’ll keelhaul ye and have yer guts for garters, I will. I’m one of the Iron-eater clan, one of the fiercest, fightingest dwarven clans ever blessed by Marthammor Duin!”
“Die!” the sahuagin replied in its raspy voice.
The bard gripped his staff in the middle and twisted. Foot-long, razor-edged blades shot from both ends.
The sahuagin released its hold on Khlinat’s hand axe, then ran its talons down the dwarfs arm.
Yelping with pain and surprise, Khlinat brought his knees up, then shoved his claw coral peg into the sahuagin’s chest. The peg burst through the sahuagin’s back. Blood roiled out and settled in a cloud around the creature’s upper body.
“I done for ye,” Khlinat declared, putting his other foot on the sahuagin’s face and kicking out. “Behind ye, song-smith, and be right quick about it, too.”
Moving with the fluid grace of a dancer, Pacys whipped the staff around. The razor-edged blade sank into the sahuagin’s shoulder next to its thick neck.
The creature’s momentum and speed shoved Pacys back and down as he held onto the staff. The old bard ripped the staff free, and let his momentum carry him around. The staff flashed as the sahuagin swam over his head. The keen blade ripped across the creature’s stomach, spilling its entrails in a loose tangle.
Two sahuagin who’d been close to the one Pacys disemboweled were overcome by the bloodlust that fired their species. Their predatory instincts sent them after the easier prey of their own kind rather than the bard. Their jaws snapped and clicked, biting into the tender flesh released into the sea. They followed their dying comrade toward the seabed below.
Pacys moved the staff in his hands, keeping himself loose, but his head played the song that would be part of the fall of the Sharksbane Wall. It was not a song of victory. The music was a dirge, a song of defeat and death.
A dozen sahuagin surrounded the bard and the dwarf. Pacys swam toward Khlinat, putting his back to the dwarfs.
One of the sahuagin in front of the bard lunged forward.
“I’ve got ‘im, songsmith,” Khlinat said. “Mind you watch yerself.”
The dwarf sliced his right axe across, shearing off two of the sahuagin’s fingers. Before Khlinat could recover his balance, another sahuagin threw one of the barbed nets over him.
Khlinat bawled in rage and pain. He slid his fingers through the openings in the net and tried to pull it away, but succeeded only in sinking a dozen or more of the bone hooks into his own flesh.
Pacys ripped free the keen-edged, dark gray coral knife from his belt and raked the blade at the net strands, parting a handful of them.
A sahuagin swam across the top of the net, grabbed the loose line floating at the top of the seaweed hemp, and dragged Khlinat easily after it.
Another sahuagin swam up from under the net and rammed its trident into the old bard’s right thigh. The sahuagin swam backward and yanked hard on the cord. The pain hit Pacys with blinding intensity.
Suddenly, a fan-shaped spray of bright red, gold, green, and red-violet lanced through the water. Pacys experienced a sudden vertigo, then the feeling passed and he only felt slightly dizzy. The sahuagin pulling him lost its bearing and started flailing helplessly in the water.
The old bard recognized Reefglamor’s voice and turned in time to see the Senior High Mage swim toward him. A group of mermen and sea elves were with him. They moved among the disoriented sahuagin and stabbed their swords and knives through the creatures’ gill slits, then ripped all the way through, bleeding them out.
Reefglamor laid his hand on the trident that impaled Pacys’s leg. He spoke a few words, and a pale green fire leaped from the High Mage’s fingers and quickly enveloped the offending trident. In the next heartbeat, the trident was gone, leaving only gray-black ash to drift along the ocean’s currents. Two mermen freed Khlinat from the net.
Further down below, the battle raging across the fallen section of the Sharksbane Wall continued.
“We are losing this fight,” Reefglamor stated in a low voice.
“Yes,” Pacys agreed reluctantly.
“Senior,” Pharom Ildacer called. His fondness for food and drink made him more round than most sea elves. Black strands still stained his silver hair and he wore a deep purple weave. Anxiety colored his features. “We can’t stay. The guards here can’t hold their positions.”
“I know,” Reefglamor said. “Gather who we can, and let’s save as many of them as we are able.”
Ildacer nodded and swam away.
The music inside Pacys’s head continued, mournful and hollow. He was certain the song would stand in the memories of its listeners as strongly as the fall of Cormanthyr and the flight of the elves.
“There! Do you see it then?” one of the nearby mermen asked, pointing with the trident he held. “That’s the Taker’s ship.”
Pacys spotted the great galley cutting through the water. It was strange to see the big ship completely submerged, yet moving like a great black shadow.
And somewhere aboard her, Pacys knew, the Taker savored his victory. The threat from the sea was a threat no longer, and death now traveled through the world of Seros, powered by sharp fins and devouring fangs.