Steven Schend: Blackstaff Tower

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Steven Schend Blackstaff Tower
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    Blackstaff Tower
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Steven E. Schend


Blackstaff Tower

Prologue

The North has sinfully warm days late in the year, which some call elf summers, that merely bulwark the wary for the inevitable chills of winter to come.

Malek Aldhanek, My Travels, the Year of the Gem Dragons (812 DR)

20 Marpenoth, Year of the Ageless One (1479 DR)


"Are you sure you need to do this right now, Samark?" The young woman's short black hair rippled in the light breeze, never obscuring her bright indigo eyes. "I know it's important, but it's too nice a day. Why spoil our picnic by rifling through that tomb? Stay here, where it's warm and bright."

Vajra Safahr stretched languidly on the blanket. She luxuriated in the sun and playfully clamped her toes on the edge of Samark's robes. "Aren't there better things we could do with such a marvelous day?" She let one dusky shoulder slip free from her gray tunic as she leaned toward Samark and winked.

The old man, Samark "the Blackstaff" Dhanzscul, smiled. The smile contorted three parallel scars running from his right cheekbone down to his jaw. "Tempting, lass," he said. "Deliciously so. Hold those thoughts. My task here won't keep me long. Especially with such a motivation putting wings to my aged feet."

Samark turned to face a hillock covered in vines. The flat-sided boulder he approached showed a few graven letters through thick crawling ivies. Samark placed his left hand flat atop the near-hidden

KH, and the crystal atop the twisted metal staff in his right hand flashed a bright green. He uttered a few syllables and stepped through the stone as if it were air.

The small tomb smelled dank and close. The green light from Samark's staff lit up the tiny space. Dust and cobwebs covered every surface and cloaked the wizard as he stepped inside. Magic crackled in the air, reacting to his presence, but it subsided after he whispered, "Suortanakh."

The old man walked down three steps and knelt at the bier dominating the tomb's floor. Complex marks tiled its sides, all glowing a dim blue beneath a spider-spun shroud. The gray carving of a tall man with a full beard rested atop the stone sarcophagus, his hands holding a glass globe atop his chest. After a brief prayer, the old man sent a pulse of magic into the globe held by the effigy. The energy cleared the webs off the glass globe, and it shimmered with emerald-toned magic.

Samark rested his left hand on the glass and said, "Aegisbiir n 'varan colroth aegtsmiir! "

His ring and the globe both flashed. The omnipresent illusions of dust and webs dissolved, as did the illusory walls of the tomb. The tomb revealed itself to be the entry chamber atop a long stair that led down into a chamber far more vast than the hillock outside. At the top of the stairs, bright silver bars prevented entry. Samark willed his staffs crystal to glow brighter. The brilliance made the staffs carved metal claw appear to hold a small emerald sun.

Samark leaned heavily on the staff as he walked up to the silver metal bars where the back wall once stood. He placed his left hand flat on a featureless metal plate where a lock might normally appear, and the crystal on his staff pulsed. The bars and the plate grated into the ceiling and floor. Samark shuffled down the stairs. During his descent, he glanced toward the chamber on his left, a gallery of sorts at the foot of the stairs. Twenty-five items rested atop short white marble columns, each amid a bright spotlight. A realistic centaur reared atop the nearest column, carved from a single gourd-sized ruby. Beside it, an undulating ribbon of gold and platinum turned and twisted end over end on its velvet pillow. Beside that, a crown carved from thick bone and set with sapphires seemed to hug shadows to itself, despite the bright light overhead. The rest of that chamber held more than a dozen rods and staves standing on end with no visible supports, as well as eight swords of various makes, all unsupported. Samark walked past the chamber, turning his glance toward the opposite chamber.

Inside this room, a septet of bookshelves all loomed a man's height above his own. As he crossed the threshold of the room, he spoke to the empty air. "Diolaa siolakhiir. Melkar of Mirabar's Journal. Alsidda's Tome. Te'elarn'vaeniir. Love at Last." In response, four books pulled themselves off their separate shelves, floated across the open air, and landed gently in his hand. Tucking the books under his left arm, he turned and walked out to the foot of the stairs and turned toward the far end of the room.

Samark moved slowly down a long hall lined with portraits. As he walked, torches flared to life two paces ahead of him, lighting the paintings and the names embossed in brass on their frames-Rarkin, Strathea, Larnarm, Rhinnara, Phesta, Kitten, Brian, Sammereza, Durnan, Mirt, Ruarn, Pellak, Shilarn, and at least a dozen more. He chuckled as he walked, and muttered, "How many knew the regard with which the Blackstaff held them, I wonder? So few Lords gained Khelben's respect, let alone that of the other Blackstaffs…"

At the tunnel's end, Samark entered a tall triangular chamber, two statues flanking him on either side. He bowed his head in reverence, scanning the names of each statue and whispered to each, "Greetings, honored Open Lords. Lord Caladorn Cassalanter. Lord Piergeiron Paladinson. Lord Lhestyn Arunsun. Lord Baeron Silmaeril." Samark stopped, turned to the point of the room, and raised his eyes. "Honored greetings, Open Lord Ahghairon."

This statue gleamed brightest and tallest, its height dwarfing the other four in this chamber. Samark marveled at the workmanship.

He sought but never found a chisel mark anywhere on the robes, staff, or even the intricately tangled beard of the bald wizard before him. His eyes darted to the gold ring encircling Ahghairon's left index finger and the sapphires-among-silver amulet resting on his chest-the only things not carved from the marble cliffs of Mount Khimbarr.

Samark set down the books and released his staff, which floated beside him. The wizard wove a complex series of gestures and a longer series of arcane words as he walked sunward around the statue three times. On the completion of his third circuit, he proclaimed, "Aonaochel. Enakhel adomanth, adoquessir, adofaer. Lakrhel eislarhen aonaoch." The metal ring and amulet both shimmered and reappeared on Samark's person, albeit scaled down to fit his human form.

Samark smiled, knelt at the foot of the statue, and said, "Thank you, Great Protector. I do thy bidding and that of our predecessors in all your names."

Vajra Safahr sighed as she watched her mentor dissolve into the tomb. She wondered how that old man made her heart beat so fast, and her mother's words returned to her. "Never question love-it makes its own rules each time anew." Waterdeep, Crown of the North, was a tolerant city, but a few still saw their partnership as odd, both due to their ages and because Vajra was a dusky-skinned Tethyrian, not a native Waterdhavian. Even so, none questioned that Vajra Safahr was the Blackstaff's Heir in duty and love.

Vajra rolled onto her back and stared up at the clear sky. After three years in the Sword Coast North, she knew that they had precious few days left before Auril drew a perpetual gray blanket across the skies for the winter months. Vajra could have gone inside with Samark, but she preferred the sun and leaf-scented wind to the dank.

As she lay there, movement seized her attention. A stone arced across her line of sight and fell directly in front of her at the edge of her blanket. She sat up and peered closer it.

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