A landmark of wonder marked the very center of the City of Sails, a strange building that emanated a powerful aura of magic. Unlike any other structure in all the Forgotten Realms, the Hosttower of the Arcane seemed literally a tree of stone, boasting five tall spires, the largest being the central, and the other four, equally high, growing out of the main trunk with the graceful curving arc of an oak. Nowhere could any sign of the mason be seen; it was obvious to any knowledgeable viewer that magic, not physical labor, had produced this artwork.
The Archmage, undisputed Master of the Hosttower, resided in the central tower, while the other four housed the wizards closest in the line of succession. Each of these lesser towers, representing the four compass directions, dominated a different side of the trunk, and its respective wizard held responsibility for watching over and influencing the events in the direction he overlooked. Thus, the wizard west of the trunk spent his days looking out to sea, and to the merchant ships and pirates riding out on Luskan’s harbor.
A conversation in the north spire would have interested the companions from Ten-Towns this day.
“You have done well, Jierdan,” said Sydney, a younger, and lesser, mage in the Hosttower, though displaying enough potential to have gained an apprenticeship with one of the mightiest wizards in the guild. Not a pretty woman, Sydney cared little for physical appearances, instead devoting her energies to her unrelenting pursuit of power. She had spent most of her twenty-five years working toward one goal – the title of Wizard – and her determination and poise gave most around her little doubt about her ability to attain it.
Jierdan accepted the praise with a knowing nod, understanding the condescending manner in which it was offered. “I only performed as I was instructed,” he replied under a facade of humility, tossing a glance to the frail-looking man in brown mottled robes who stood staring out of the room’s sole window.
“Why would they come here?” the wizard whispered to himself. He turned to the others, and they recoiled instinctively from his gaze. He was Dendybar the Mottled, Master of the North Spire, and though he appeared weak from a distance, closer scrutiny revealed a power in the man mightier than bulging muscles. And his well-earned reputation for valuing life far less than the pursuit of knowledge intimidated most who came before him. “Did the travelers give any reason for coming here?”
“None that I would believe,” Jierdan replied quietly. “The halfling spoke of scouting out the marketplace, but I – ”
“Not likely,” interrupted Dendybar, speaking more to himself than to the others. “Those four weigh more into their actions than simply a merchant expedition.”
Sydney pressed Jierdan, seeking to keep her high favor with the Master of the North Spire. “Where are they now?” she demanded.
Jierdan didn’t dare fight back against her in front of Dendybar. “On the docks…somewhere,” he said, then shrugged.
“You do not know?” hissed the young mage.
“They were to stay at the Cutlass,” Jierdan retorted. “But the fight put them out on the street.”
“And you should have followed them!” Sydney scolded, dogging the soldier relentlessly.
“Even a soldier of the city would be a fool to travel alone about the piers at night,” Jierdan shot back. “It does not matter where they are right now. I have the gates and the piers watched. They cannot leave Luskan without my knowledge!”
“I want them found!” Sydney ordered, but then Dendybar silenced her.
“Leave the watch as it is,” he told Jierdan. “They must not depart without my knowledge. You are dismissed. Come before me again when you have something to report.”
Jierdan snapped to attention and turned to leave, casting one final glare at his competitor for the mottled wizard’s favor as he passed. He was only a soldier, not a budding mage like Sydney, but in Luskan, where the Hosttower of the Arcane was the true, secretive force behind all of the power structures in the city, a soldier did well to find the favor of a wizard. Captains of the guard only attained their positions and privileges with the prior consent of the Hosttower.
“We cannot allow them to roam freely,” argued Sydney when the door had closed behind the departing soldier.
“They shall bring no harm for now,” replied Dendybar. “Even if the drow carries the artifact with him, it will take him years to understand its potential. Patience, my friend, I have ways of learning what we need to know. The pieces of this puzzle will fit together nicely before much longer.”
“It pains me to think that such power is so close to our grasp,” sighed the eager young mage. “And in the possession of a novice!”
“Patience,” repeated the Master of the North Spire.
* * *
Sydney finished lighting the ring of candles that marked the perimeter of the special chamber and moved slowly toward the solitary brazier that stood on its iron tripod just outside the magic circle inscribed upon the floor. It disappointed her to know that once the brazier was also burning, she would be instructed to depart.
Savoring every moment in this rarely opened room, considered by many to be the finest conjuring chamber in all the northland, Sydney had many times begged to remain in attendance.
But Dendybar never let her stay, explaining that her inevitable inquiries would prove too much of a distraction. And when dealing with the nether worlds, distractions usually proved fatal.
Dendybar sat cross-legged within the magic circle, chanting himself into a deep meditative trance and not even aware of Sydney’s actions as she completed the preparations. All of his senses looked inward, searching his own being, to ensure that he was fully prepared for such a task. He had left only one window in his mind open to the outside, a fraction of his awareness hinging on a single cue: the bolt of the heavy door being snapped back into place after Sydney had departed.
His heavy eyelids cracked open, their narrow line of vision solely fixed upon the fires of the brazier. These flames would be the life of the summoned spirit, giving it a tangible form for the period Dendybar kept it locked to the material plane.
“Ey vesus venerais dimin doer,” the wizard began, chanting slowly at first, then building into a solid rhythm. Swept away by the insistent pull of the casting, as though the spell, once given a flicker of life, drove itself to the completion of its dweomer, Dendybar rolled on through the various inflections and arcane syllables with ease, the sweat on his face reflecting eagerness more than nerves.
The mottled wizard reveled in summoning, dominating the will of beings beyond the mortal world through the sheer insistence of his considerable mental strength. This room represented the pinnacle of his studies, the indisputable evidence of the vast boundaries of his powers.
This time he was targeting his favorite informant, a spirit that truly despised him, but could not refuse his call. Dendybar came to the climactic point in the casting, the naming. “Morkai,” he called softly.
The brazier’s flame brightened for just an instant.
“Morkai!” Dendybar shouted, tearing the spirit from its hold on the other world. The brazier puffed into a small fireball, then died into blackness, its flames transmuted into the image of a man standing before Dendybar.
The wizard’s thin lips curled upward. How ironic, he thought, that the man he had arranged to murder would prove to be his most valuable source of information.
The specter of Morkai the Red stood resolute and proud, a fitting image of the mighty wizard he had once been. He had created this very room back in the days when he served the Hosttower in the role of Master of the North Spire. But then Dendybar and his cronies had conspired against him, using his trusted apprentice to drive a dagger into his heart, and thus opening the trail of succession for Dendybar himself to reach the coveted position in the spire.
That same act had set a second, perhaps more significant, chain of events into motion, for it was that same apprentice, Akar Kessell, who had eventually come to possess the Crystal Shard, the mighty artifact that Dendybar now believed in Drizzt Do’Urden’s hands. The tales that had filtered down from Ten-Towns of Akar Kessell’s final battle had named the dark elf as the warrior who had brought him down.
Dendybar could not know that the Crystal Shard now lay buried beneath a hundred tons of ice and rock on the mountain in Icewind Dale known as Kelvin’s Cairn, lost in the avalanche that had killed Kessell. All that he knew of the tale was that Kessell, the puny apprentice, had nearly conquered all of Icewind Dale with the Crystal Shard and that Drizzt Do’Urden was the last to see Kessell alive.
Dendybar wrung his hands eagerly whenever he thought of the power that the relic would bring to a more learned wizard.
“Greetings, Morkai the Red,” Dendybar laughed. “How polite of you to accept my invitation.”
“I accept every opportunity to gaze upon you, Dendybar the Assassin,” replied the specter. “I shall know you well when you ride Death’s barge into the darkened realm. Then we shall be on even terms again…”
“Silence!” Dendybar commanded. Though he would not admit the truth to himself, the mottled wizard greatly feared the day when he would have to face the mighty Morkai again. “I have brought you here for a purpose,” he told the specter. “I have no time for your empty threats.”
“Then tell me the service I am to perform,” hissed the specter, “and let me be gone. Your presence offends me.”
Dendybar fumed, but did not continue the argument. Time worked against a wizard in a spell of summoning, for it drained him to hold a spirit on the material plane, and each second that passed weakened him a little bit more. The greatest danger in this type of spell was that the conjuror would attempt to hold control for too long, until he found himself too weak to control the entity he had summoned.
“A simple answer is all that I require from you this day, Morkai,” Dendybar said, carefully selecting each word as he went. Morkai noted the caution and suspected that Dendybar was hiding something.
“Then what is the question?” the specter pressed.
Dendybar held to his cautious pace, considering every word before he spoke it. He did not want Morkai to get any hint of his motives in seeking the drow, for the specter would surely pass the information across the planes. Many powerful beings, perhaps even the spirit of Morkai himself, would go after such a powerful relic if they had any idea of the shard’s whereabouts.
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