Authors: Scott Ciencin
Copyright 1989 TSR, Inc. AH Rights Reserved.
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First Printing: April, 1989
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Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-51723987
All characters in the book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead are purely coincidental.
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Forester had lived in Shadowdale all of his life, and in the recent battle against the forces of Zhentil Keep, he had fought bravely to defend the bridge over the Ashaba River on the western edge of the dale. Now he toiled alongside his friends and neighbors, hefting bodies onto carts, trying to identify dead dalesmen. A cleric of Lathander who could write almost as well as Lhaeo, the scribe of the late Elminster, took down the names of the dead as the burly fighter called them out.
“Here’s Meltan Elventree, Neldock’s son,” Forester said flatly as he grabbed the dead boy by the arms. The fighter had ceased to feel miserable after he’d moved his dozenth corpse. Now, after having hefted over fifty dead bodies, including close friends and even relatives, Forester really only took particular notice when someone was noticeably heavy or light.
“Poor lad,” the cleric sighed. He moved his face close to the wax tablet he held and inscribed the name of the farmer’s son. “Neldock will be heartbroken.”
“He has another son,” Forester said coldly as he lifted the body into the rough wooden wagon that stood next to him. “You know, Rhaymon, I thought you’d handle this much better. Lathander is the God of Renewal, right? You should be happy all these men are getting a fresh start.”
Rhaymon ignored Forester’s sarcasm and read over the list on his tablet. “So many young lads,” he said softly. “So much wasted potential.”
After placing Meltan Elventree in the wagon, the giant-sized fighter stopped for a moment and wiped his long, stringy black hair out of his eyes. Like everyone else on the corpse detail, Forester was covered with sweat and blood and smelled of smoke and death. He brushed his calloused hands over his dull brown tunic and looked out over the scorched area around him.
A blue-gray haze hung over the forest outside the small town of Shadowdale. The fires that Lord Bane’s troops had started with their flaming arrows and foolish magic had been doused by a miraculous rainfall, but smoke still hung in the air. Forester didn’t even wonder about the huge eye that had suddenly appeared over the dale and shed a tear that saved the town and the forest from fiery destruction. After all, the gods now walked the Realms, and such wonders were almost commonplace. The tear from the heavens was no more or less awe-inspiring to the dalesman than the attack on the town had been, even though the God of Strife himself had led the enemy army to their doorsteps.
In fact, the residents of Shadowdale, like most of the men and women who lived on the continent of Faerun, felt numb, almost oblivious to the chaos that had surrounded them since the time of Arrival. On that day, all of the gods were cast out of the Planes and took over human hosts, or avatars, in various places throughout the Realms. Since then, everything that people had always regarded as constant had proved to be unstable.
The sun was erratic in its course. On some days, it didn’t rise above the horizon, while on others four suns would appear and rise into the air like fireworks. One moment snow fell from the sky, and the next it was literally raining cats and dogs. Plants, animals, and even people were totally unpredictable-sometimes mutating into beautiful, magical things, sometimes changing into terrifying abominations.
Worst of all, the ancient art of magic had become completely unreliable, even dangerous to those who tried to use it. The mages, who should have been the ones to rectify the mysterious chaos in the Realms, instead became feared harbingers of it. Most magic-users simply hid away to meditate about the problem, but those who were reckless enough to try to cast a spell - any spell - found that their art was more unpredictable than the sun. There were even rumors that Mystra, the Goddess of Magic, was dead and that the art would never again be stable throughout the land of Faerun.
Even the great Elminster, the most powerful mage in the entire Realms, had fallen victim to the chaos. He was dead, supposedly killed by two strangers to the dale who had been sent with him to defend the Temple of Lathander. People all around the small town were demanding that the strangers be punished for the murder, that Elminster be avenged. Unlike the chaos rampant in the world around them, this crime was something the people of Shadowdale felt they could do something about.
For most people now accepted the chaos as a part of their lives. It only took a few scant days after the fall of the gods for the men and women of Faerun to realize that they had little control over their world, so they had best get on with their lives. Farmers once again tried to grow their crops, and craftsmen returned to their trades - even though their plants now talked to them occasionally, or their tools suddenly turned to glass and shattered to pieces.
In Shadowdale, the dalesmen had learned of the impending attack from Zhentil Keep, their ancient enemies from the North, and fought the battle with the evil armies as they did any other. Many brave men had died, and had it not been for the Knights of Myth Drannor and the Riders of Mistledale, Shadowdale itself might have been overrun. But the dalesmen had somehow managed to drive the invaders off. Now, as with any battle, the survivors were left to bury the dead and repair the damages.
The trade road leading northeast from Shadowdale, little more than a well-used dirt path, was filled with townsfolk and soldiers as they solemnly moved into the forest to stack corpses and dismantle the traps they had set for the Zhentish. The road crawled through the worst of the scorched forest and, since it was the site of much of the daylong battle between the dalesmen and the army from Zhentil Keep, most of the destruction wrought by the combatants was centered upon it.
As some of the men from the dale used teams of draft horses to topple barricades, others, like Forester, handled the unlucky task of gathering the bodies of their comrades and loading them onto the wagons. Most of the wounded dalesmen had already been moved from the battlefield to a makeshift hospital in the center of town, but occasionally someone would start to clear a stack of bodies only to find someone alive underneath the pile.
Forester realized he was staring at a pile of bodies and shook his head, as if to dislodge any unwanted thoughts from his mind. The fighter rubbed his dirty, sweaty neck and turned to the next corpse.
“Hey, Rhaymon! I need your help to move this one,” the fighter called to the cleric. “He’s too heavy for me to lift.”
“Who is it?” the cleric of Lathander asked softly. Ash and sweat covered his square jaw and wavy blond hair.
“I think it’s Ulman Ulphor. No, wait… it’s Bertil, not Ulman,” the fighter grunted as he took the sword out of the corpse’s hand and took a firm grip on the body. “I thought he wasn’t trusted with weapons.”
“He wasn’t,” the cleric sighed. “But everyone who didn’t leave town before the battle was armed.”
Rhaymon carefully placed the flat scrap of wood that held his wax tablet on the wagon, along with his stylus. The tablet held a list of the dead who had been identified, which Rhaymon composed in rough shorthand. Later he would transfer the list to parchment. That would normally be done in his room at the Temple of Lathander, but the temple had been destroyed in the battle. The cleric frowned as he thought of the ruined temple.
“Let’s get at it,” Forester snapped. “I don’t want to be out here when darkness comes.”
Rhaymon grabbed the rotund corpse by the feet and helped the fighter toss it onto the wagon. As the cleric picked up his tablet and stylus again, a howl echoed through the woods. Rhaymon looked around nervously, but Forester chuckled softly and wiped his hands on his tunic.
“It’s only a scavenger… some big cat or a wolf drawn by the smell of blood.” Forester shook his head and turned to the next body. When he saw that it was a young Zhentish soldier dressed in the black armor of the Zhentilar, elite army of Zhentil Keep, the fighter cursed. He dragged the body to the side of the road, where it would remain until the men collecting the corpses of the Zhentish picked it up. But as Forester turned back toward the cleric, the Zhentilar moaned softly.
“Damn!” Forester hissed. “He’s still alive.” He moved to the unconscious Zhentish soldier, took out his dagger, and slit the young man’s throat. “There’s another who won’t get away.”
Rhaymon nodded in agreement and motioned for another dalesman to come and move the wagon a little farther up the road. Forester sat on the back of the wagon as it lurched into motion, and the cleric walked wearily behind, checking and rechecking his list. Before they had gone more than a few yards, though, they heard a shriek from the area they had just cleared. Rhaymon turned in time to see a ghostly image of the Zhentish soldier Forester had just killed rise above its corpse.
“You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” the ghost cried, staring grimly at the man who had murdered him. “All the Dales will pay!”
Forester lost his balance on the wagon and tumbled into the road. Rhaymon tried to help the fighter to his feet, but before either of the dalesmen could flee, the ghost floated to their side. Forester looked up into the pale, angry eyes of the dead soldier and uttered a silent prayer.
Rhaymon, however, was not so quiet about it. “Begone!” the cleric shouted, holding his holy symbol - a rosy pink wooden disk - out toward the undead creature. “Lord Lathander, Morninglord, God of Spring and Renewal, help me to banish this undead creature to the Realm of the Dead!”
The ghost merely laughed, and Forester felt dizzy when he realized that he could see through the undead soldier to the charred ground and burned trees at the side of the road. He considered reaching for his dagger, but he knew that it would be of little use against a spirit.
The ghost smiled broadly. “Come, come, Lathanderite. The gods are here in Faerun, not in the Planes. Lord Myrkul doesn’t inhabit the Realm of the Dead now, so you shouldn’t expect me to run off to an empty hell. Besides, since I don’t see your god nearby, why do you expect your prayer to be answered?”
A small crowd of dalesmen had gathered around Forester, Rhaymon, and the ghost. Some had their weapons drawn, but most simply stood, watching the spectacle as they would a play at a fair. One man, a lean, hawk-nosed thief in a dark cloak, moved through the crowd to stand at Forester’s side.
“So what are you going to do to us?” Cyric asked the ghost, spreading his arms wide. “No one fears a live Zhentish soldier here. A dead one is even less of a threat.”
Forester looked up at Cyric. The dark-haired thief had been the fighter’s commander during the Battle of Shadowdale. Cyric was a brilliant leader and had rallied the dalesmen against a huge force of Zhentish cavalry - a force led by the powerful Zhentish wizard, Fzoul Chembryl. Though Forester considered Cyric a great man and a champion of the dale, there were many who thought him suspect because of his friendship with the cleric and magic-user accused of Elminster’s murder.
Rhaymon, who still held his holy symbol in front of him, and Forester, who still sat unceremoniously upon the ground, his hand near his dagger, felt a burst of cold air rush from the ghost as it moved toward Cyric. The crow’s-feet around the thief’s eyes deepened and multiplied as his eyes narrowed to slits. The ghost spread its arms wide to embrace Cyric as it moved toward him.
Cyric laughed as the ghost passed right through him.
“You’re not a real undead creature,” Cyric said through an evil grin. “You’re just another product of the chaos in the Realms.” The thief turned and started to stroll away.
The Zhentish soldier screamed once more, longer and louder than he had when he first emerged from his corpse, but no one paid any attention. Most of the dalesmen returned to their duties. A few headed back toward town. Rhaymon helped Forester up, and as soon as he was on his feet, the fighter ran down the road after Cyric. The apparition of the Zhentilar simply faded from view, whimpering and moaning as it disappeared.
“How… how did you know?” Forester gasped between panted breaths.
Cyric stopped for a moment and turned back to face the fighter. “Did you see anyone running away? Do you feel any older?”
A look of complete confusion crossed Forester’s face. “Older? Of course not. Do I look older?”
“No. That’s how I knew it wasn’t an actual ghost. A real ghost, created when a truly evil man dies, is so frightening that those who look upon it age ten years in an instant. Ghosts radiate fear, too.” Cyric shook his head when he saw that the fighter still didn’t understand.
“Since you didn’t look any older than you did when we were defending the bridge, and since none of the other dalesmen were running away, I figured it couldn’t be real.”