Rosemary Jones: Cold Steel and Secrets Part 2

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Rosemary Jones Cold Steel and Secrets Part 2
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    Cold Steel and Secrets Part 2
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Cold Steel and Secrets Part 2: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“Arklem Greeth!” exclaimed Montimort. “That is a dark name out of Luskan’s past. But the villain has been dead a century or more!”

“So should his beloved be, but the grave won’t hold Valindra and she’s pushing into the city, poking into the shadows, sending her spies to snatch my treasures,” Karion crooned to no one in particular. “Pretty little moon elf, grasping with her cold dead hands. But she can’t take it from me! My pets will protect me.”

Whatever crawled along the edge of the room had acquired a companion. The crooked shadows cast up the wall looked like no creature that Sarfael knew.

“Cousin, we have come about the crown,” Elyne said.

Karion’s eyes narrowed and the faintest smile curled his thin lips. He beckoned to them all to come closer. Standing next to him, Sarfael became aware of a certain dank odor of decay, a grave-mold smell that evoked past adventures with Mavreen. A whiff of the necromancer hung around the old man.

“I don’t have the crown,” whispered Karion with exaggerated care. “I have the box.”

“A box!” exclaimed Montimort. “What good is a box?”

Karion grinned with a distasteful display of yellowed teeth. “It hides a crown that is not there.”

“What?” Elyne looked bewildered.

“Come, come,” Karion’s expression turned gleeful. Suddenly seeming delighted to have them in his home, the aged seer ushered them back upstairs, passing through the dark hallway with its dozens of painted portraits, all staring down with suspicious eyes.

Behind them, Sarfael heard a skittering sound. He glanced back more than once, but could not see what followed. Yet he was convinced that it was not rats.

Clutter filled the room upon the first floor. All the detritus of the city’s past seemed to have washed into Karion’s chamber: bits of old clockwork, elaborate sconces obviously ripped from some mansion’s wall, ornate chairs missing their seats, and more.

“It looks like the Driftwood Tavern,” exclaimed Montimort.

Sarfael raised an eyebrow at him, and Montimort explained that the remnants of Neverwinter’s past decorated the inner rooms of the tavern for the patrons’ delight.

Karion overheard him and scowled. “The proprietor, Madene Rosene, is a thief and cheat,” he huffed. “Why, she’s refused many a fine treasure from me, saying that it’s not fitting for her place. But the woman uses doors for tables!”

Elyne shot a look at Sarfael and Montimort that was obviously meant to silence them both. Then she turned to Karion. “You wanted to show us a box,” she reminded him.

“They made it in the dark days when Alagondar was wounded,” Karion said. “When the Neverwinter Nine needed to send the crown from Highcliff to the castle, but they dared not risk it upon the road. The box appears empty, it is empty, and if captured by enemies, can do no harm. But with the right incantations, the crown appears within.”

Karion dived into a pile of bric-a-brac, shoving aside a rolled-up carpet and sending two brass vases rolling with a clatter across the floor. With a grunt, he emerged with a carved wooden box clutched in his grimy hands.

“Can I see it?” Elyne said, reaching out with gentle hands.

With some reluctance, and no little urging from Elyne, Karion allowed her to take the box from him to show to the others. Painted red writing was scrawled across every side of the dark wood, words sloping up and down or twisting around themselves in concentric circles. In the center of the lid, a single emerald gleamed.

“It’s Thayan,” Sarfael said, and he could not keep the revulsion completely from his voice. He had no love for the handiwork of those necromancers. Clever as their artifacts might be, they all carried a trace of human blood and terrible suffering. The memory of Mavreen’s face contorted in a final scream of dead rage still haunted him.

“It’s a spell,” said Montimort, twisting the box in his hands, “but it’s a puzzle too. You need to know where to start and stop. There must be a key to this.”

“I don’t see a keyhole,” Elyne said. The lid fit so tightly on the top that only the faintest line showed against the black wood.

Montimort shook his head. “No, a key word, the one that you begin with. Or it could be a letter or a symbol. These old puzzle boxes are highly prized and rare these days. They were made in pairs, one to go on a ship, one to stay back in Luskan. If you read out the ritual in the correct order, an item is transferred from one box to the other.”

“A way for pirates to send treasure home,” Sarfael guessed.

“Exactly. But it could only be a small prize. The boxes cost a treasure to build. Often they were the size of a ring or gem. And only one or two people would know the correct order of the spell. Usually the captain and somebody trusted on shore.”

“This one is linked to the crown.” Karion scowled at them with sour dislike, his mood having changed again. “The boy’s a Luskar,” he said to no one in particular. “A Luskar rooting among my treasures.”

“How does it work?” Sarfael asked. Karion’s intent stare at Montimort made him uneasy.

“Only box of its kind,” Karion said. “He was clever, the Red Wizard who built it, clever enough to link it to the crown so it could call it from wherever it was hidden. But it was a trick too, a trick on those who hired him. He meant to use the box to steal the crown for himself. They caught him and killed him. So he never got a crown. Still he hid the box before he died. Nobody could find it, nobody but me and my little friends. The Luskar’s right. You have to know the order of the words as much as the words themselves. Speak as you must, proper beginning to final ending, and the crown is yours.”

Sarfael listened to his tangled explanation with scant attention. The scrabbling sound had grown louder. He turned to face the doorway. In the shadowed hallway, things scurried back out of the light.

Inside the room, Karion tried to snatch the box back from Montimort and the boy danced out of his reach. Elyne stepped between the two, trying to soothe the old man. “Cousin, we will take this to those who might unlock its secrets. I promise you that it will be used for the glory of Neverwinter. Your name will be remembered forever as the man who restored the crown to the city.”

Karion shook her off and his eyes rolled back in his head. “No heir for the crown, no crown for the heir,” he screamed, spittle flying everywhere. “Liars rise, true hearts fall. Look to the Wall, for the dead swim out of the river. The dragon’s shadow falls across Neverwinter. She’s greedy, grasping, intent on choking the life out of us all, that wicked Valindra!”

“Easy, easy,” Elyne tried to maneuver Karion into the one intact chair in the room. “Montimort, run to the kitchen and fetch the wine. He’s having one of his fits.”

“Don’t!” Sarfael stopped the boy. “Don’t go out there.”

“What?” Elyne turned.

A half-dozen disembodied hands launched themselves through the doorway, springing through the air to fasten upon Montimort and drag him down. The dead claws tore at the boy’s clothing and hair as he twisted and shouted beneath them. Others tried to pull the box away from him.

“Drop it!” Sarfael commanded Montimort, but the boy clutched the box tighter and tried to roll away from his attackers.

Behind him, Elyne gave equally urgent commands to her mad relative, but the old man folded himself tight in his chair, muttering, “Boy’s a Luskar. Pirate thief. My box, mine!”

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