Authors: Troy Denning
Troy Denning resides in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, though he spends most of his time
wandering through the various fantasy worlds mysteriously locked inside his computer's
video monitor. Needless to say, his life has been much more colorful since the advent of
When he isn't roaming the Athasian deserts or tramping through the forest of Toril, Troy
enjoys many hobbies, including home maintenance (honest), all forms of skiing, hiking,
mountain climbing, and kyuki-do-a form of tae-kwon-do incorporating judo, boxing, and
hapki-do. He has worked in molybdenum mines, seedy nightclubs, and other high-risk jobs
such as game design and editing.
Dedication: For Michael T. Griebling, never forgotten.
Many people contributed to the writing of this book and the creation of the series. I
would like to thank you all Without the efforts of the following people, especially, Athas
might never have seen the light of the crimson sun: Mary Kirchoff and Tim Brown, who
shaped the world as much as anyone, Brom, who gave us the look and the feel, Jim Lowder,
for his inspiration aid patience, Lloyd Holden of the AKF Martial Arts Academy in
Janesville, WI, for contributing his expertise to the fight scenes, Andria Hayday, for
support and encouragement, and Jim Ward, for enthusiasm, support, and much more.
Out of the corner of her eye, Neeva glimpsed the crimson flash of a sun-spell. Despite the
impending victory of her militia, she felt the cold hand of panic dosing around her heart.
The flare had come from the direction of the Sunbird Gate, which guarded all the hidden
treasures of the village-most especially her young son, Rkard.
To her dismay, Neeva was in no position to rush to his aid. She stood atop the mountainous
shell of a dead mekillot, using nothing more than a pair of short swords to fight three
men armed with lances and daggers. In the narrow streets of Kled, her militiamen were
mercilessly butchering the raiders who had come to take slaves from their village. The few
invaders who escaped the dwarves' bloody axes were fleeing toward one of the many breaches
in the town wall, opened at the start of the assault by the mighty reptile upon which
Neeva now stood. Considering the speed with which the slavers had struck, the battle was
going extremely well, but that did little to cheer the worried mother.
“Enough of this!” Neeva growled, hurling one of her swords at the nearest attacker.
The steel blade split the man's sternum with a muted crack and sank deep into his chest.
The militia commander did not wait to see him fall. Instead, she dropped to a knee and
spun, extending her other leg to its full length. As the next slaver stepped forward to
attack her back, Neeva's ankle smashed into his knee and swept him off his feet. She
continued her spin, slicing the man's throat before he hit the ground. The third slaver's
lance came darting for her breast. She batted the point aside with her free hand, then
drove her sword deep into the man's stomach.
Neeva freed her swords from the bodies of the dying slavers, hardly hearing their groans
of agony. Her eyes were already searching the streets for her husband, hoping Caelum had
been the one who had cast the sun-spell at the Sunbird Gate. She found him on the opposite
side of the village, too far away to have caused the flash.
Confident that her militia could finish routing the slavers without her direction, Neeva
slid down the mekillot shell. She scrambled over the rubble of several crushed huts, then
slipped into a narrow street and ran for the Sunbird Gate. Twice, she paused to kill
panicked raiders who stumbled across her path, but, in her hurry to reach the gate, she
allowed several more to escape.
Fifty yards from her destination, she glimpsed a trio of inixes scurrying down a parallel
street, their serpentine tails whipping from side to side and smashing holes into the
stone huts that lined the avenue. The lizards were about fifteen feet long, with
ash-colored scales, stocky legs, and beaks of bone that could bite a woman in two. On the
shoulders of each beast sat a lance-bearing driver, while cargo how-dahs, huge boxes made
of sunbleached bone, were strapped to their backs.
Neeva knew instantly that the slavers had not chosen her village by chance. Whoever had
planned the attack knew of Kled's secret wealth and where to find it, for the howdahs of
the first two inixes brimmed over with riches stolen from behind the Sunbird Gate: bronze
armor, steel axes and swords, even the golden crowns of ancient kings. It crossed the
commander's mind that the slave-taking had been nothing more than a diversion for the
inix-mounted thieves, but she quickly rejected that idea. The raiders' losses were too
severe to be a mere distraction.
When Neeva saw the contents of the third lizard's howdah, all thoughts of the slavers'
motivations slipped from her mind. Instead of treasure, this beast carried two men. One
was a burly human dressed in polished leather, holding a steel long sword that he had no
doubt stolen from Kled's armories. The other, a hateful-looking half-elf with a short
black beard and sharp features, wore a billowing robe and carried no weapon. Instead, he
held the struggling form of a young boy. Although the child was only five years old, he
already stood as tall as most dwarves, with a thick-boned body covered in sinew and
muscle. Completely bald, he had a square jaw, angry red eyes, and pointed ears that lay
close to his head.
“Rkard!” Neeva gasped, sprinting down the alley after her son's kidnappers.
She had no need to ask herself why the raiders had taken her son instead of filling the
third howdah with more treasure. The boy was a mul, a human-dwarf crossbreed who would
bring a small fortune in any city with a slave market. Blessed with the powerful frame of
his dwarven father and Neeva's human agility, he would be sent to the gladiatorial pits
and cultivated into an arena champion. Having spent her own childhood in the pits, Rkard's
mother knew firsthand the horrors that would await him there.
Neeva reached the end of the alley and leaped the inix's whipping tail. She plunged a
short sword through the scales on the beast's flank and used it to pull herself atop its
rear quarters. The lizard roared in pain and tried to whip its head around to snap at her,
but the driver thrust the tip of his lance toward the thing's lidless eye.
“Forward, Slas!” he cried, and the creature continued to scurry down the avenue.
Neeva yelled, “Rkard, be ready!”
The boy stopped struggling and raised one small hand toward the sky. At the same time, the
armored raider leaned out of the howdah, slashing at Neeva's head with his steel sword.
She blocked with her free sword, then circled the blade over the top of her attacker's
weapon to disarm him. Unfortunately, the slaver was no stranger to a fight. He pulled his
sword away before she could whip it from his hand.
“What's wrong with you, Frayne?” demanded the half-elf holding Rkard. “Kill the wench!”
no wench,” Neeva growled, gaining her feet. “And that boy will be no one's slave!”
The angry mother pulled her first sword from the inix's flank and launched herself at the
howdah. She attacked with a double chasing pattern, slashing at Frayne's longer weapon
with first one blade, then moving forward to slice at his vulnerable face or throat with
the one trailing. The astonished slaver had no choice but to give way, and Neeva leaped
over the howdah's wall with her third series of thrusts.
Frayne stepped forward to take advantage of the temporary lapse in Neeva's attack,
thrusting at her abdomen. She twisted her body in midair and snapped her front foot around
to kick the slaver in the head. His blade slipped harmlessly past her midriff, and he fell
against the far side of the howdah, barely raising his weapon in time to block a
down-stroke that would have split his skull.
With the grace of an elven rope-dancer, Neeva landed between Frayne and the half-elf
holding Rkard. Her son's captor, she noted, had slipped one hand into the pocket of his
robe, no doubt to retrieve the components of a magical spell. He was so concerned with
Neeva that he did not notice her son's small hand glowing red with the power of the
Neeva pointed a sword at each of the men's throats. “Let my son go,” she said. “He's of no
value to dead men-and rest assured, you won't leave Kled alive.”
“I'm afraid that isn't your choice,” said the half-elf, withdrawing his hand from his
Rkard thrust his glowing hand toward his captor's face. Neeva looked away long enough to
beat Frayne's guard down. A red light flashed behind her, then the half-elf screamed in
surprise. She glanced back and saw the sorcerer's hands over his blinded eyes. Then she
separated his head from his shoulders with a vicious slash.
By the time Neeva returned her attention to Frayne, the raider's sword was already slicing
at her unprotected knees. She jumped the slash, bringing one of her blades around low and
the other high to block the expected backstroke. To her surprise, the slaver did not
follow up his first attack. Instead, he reached up and grabbed the side of the howdah
wall, trying to pull himself to his feet again.
Neeva started to move forward, but the inix suddenly lurched to a halt. “Mother!” cried
Neeva glanced over her shoulder and saw her son standing over the sorcerer's headless
corpse. The boy was pointing at the driver, who had left his place on the beast's
shoulders to dimb toward the howdah. In the street beyond him, the other two inixes, whose
drivers were paying no attention to the fight, were slipping out of Kled with their heavy
cargoes of dwarven treasure.
Neeva tossed her second weapon to her son. “You know what to do, Rkard.”
Not even waiting to see if the boy caught the weapon, Neeva stepped toward Frayne. The
slaver had returned to his feet, a confident sneer on his lips. “A child against a
lancer?” he scoffed. “That's as foolish as facing me with a single short blade.”
“Perhaps,” Neeva replied.
Although she did not allow it to show on her face, she felt more confident than ever.
Frayne was an adept swordsman, but his comment suggested that like so many who learned to
fight outside the arena, his attention was focused more on his foe's blade than on his
foe. When fighting
gladiator, a person could make no greater mistake.
Neeva flipped her sword about in a block-and-attack pattern, moving forward behind the
flashing blade as she knew Frayne expected her to. Determined to keep the advantage of his
longer blade, the raider shuffled to the side, only to have his move blocked when she
lunged forward and made a clumsy chop at his ribs. Taking the bait, Frayne whipped his
sword at her head in a brutal backslash.
Neeva threw her legs from beneath herself and wrapped them around the slaver's waist, at
the same time falling to her side. Frayne's blade sailed harmlessly over her head, then
she hit the howdah floor and rolled. The sudden twist swept the raider off his feet. He
landed flat on his back with her legs still wrapped around his waist. Neeva sat up,
pinning his sword arm to the floor with one hand and driving the tip of her own blade deep
into his gullet.
Neeva turned toward the front of the inix. She saw the tip of a lance coming straight at
her head as the driver leaped into the howdah. Her son picked that moment to rise from his
hiding place behind the wall, holding his sword in front of the slaver's belly. The
raider's momentum carried him onto the blade. He screamed in agony and dropped his lance,
burying Rkard beneath his bleeding torso.
Neeva reached out and finished him with a quick chop to the back of the neck, then rose to
her knees and rolled the corpse off her son. The boy lay atop the sorcerer's headless
body, covered in blood from head to foot.
“Rkard, are you hurt?” Neeva asked, going to his side.
The boy did not answer. His attention seemed fixed on the floor next to the sorcerer's
“Answer me!” Neeva said, pulling the mul into her arms.
“I'm fine, mother,” he said, holding his hand up to her face. “Look what I found.” Rkard
held a square crystal of blood-smeared olivine.
Neeva took the gem from his hand and wiped it clean. “Where did you get this?”
She had to work hard to keep from sounding angry.
Twice before, when she had still been a citizen of Tyr, she had seen such crystals.
“It fell out of the sorcerer's pocket,” Rkard explained. “Can I keep it?”
“I don't think so,” she replied.
Neeva held the crystal out at arm's length, and the tiny image of a sharp-featured man
appeared inside. He had a hawkish nose, beady brown eyes, and long auburn hair bound in
place by a golden diadem. It was Tithian, the man who had once owned her.
“Neeva!” he gasped. “How did you come by my gem?”
“I killed your sorcerer,” she growled. “You're next.”
Tithian frowned doubtfully. “Come now,” he replied in a smug voice. “I'm the king of Tyr.
That would mean war.”
“I doubt it,” Neeva scoffed. “After Agis and his council hear you've been taking slaves,
they'll want to cut your heart out themselves.”
With that, she closed her fist around the gem, cutting off her magical contact with the
Agis of Asticles stopped his. mount and wiped the grit from his stinging eyes, certain his
vision had betrayed him. A steady wind rasped across the Bali-can Peninsula, its hot
breath bearing long ribbons of loess from the Sea of Silt's southern estuary. To make
matters worse, dusk had settled over the rocky barrens an hour before, leaving the road
ahead swaddled in purple shadows and half-buried in drifts of plum-colored dust.
A short distance ahead, a craggy ridge formed a wall of black rock. It stretched for miles
in both directions, rising so high that Agis had to crane his neck to see the stars
glimmering above the summit. To his relief, the caravan trail did not climb the steep
hillside, but entered a narrow canyon slicing directly through the heart of the bluff.