Paul Kemp: Shadowrealm

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Paul Kemp Shadowrealm
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Paul S. Kemp



1 Nightal, The Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR)

For hours I pace the dark halls of the Wayrock's temple. The anxious stomps of my boots on stone are the war drums of my battle with myself. Nothing brings peace to the conflict in my head. Nothing illuminates the darkness, dulls the sharp, violent impulses that stab at the walls of my self-restraint. The Shadowwalkers trail me, as furtive as ghosts. I catch only glimpses of them from time to time but I know they are there. Perhaps Cale asked them to watch over me. Perhaps they have taken that charge upon themselves.

Later, I sit in the dining hall of the temple and eat the food the Shadowwalkers set before me. I wonder, for a moment, how Riven gets food to the island, then wonder why I care.

Eating is mechanical, unfeeling, an exercise in fueling the soulless shell of my body. It brings me no pleasure. Nothing human does, not anymore. The Shadowwalkers see to my needs, my meal, would see to my safety, were it necessary, but say little. They, creatures of darkness themselves, see something in me greater than mere darkness. They see the looming shadow of my father, the black hole of his malice, the dark hint of what I am becoming. I see it in their averted gazes, their quiet words in a language I do not understand. They are not afraid, but they are cautious, seeing in me one past redemption, one whose fall cannot be arrested but whose descent must be controlled lest I pull others down with me.

And perhaps they are correct. I feel myself falling, ever faster, slipping into night.

I consider murdering them, making them martyrs to the cause of being right. They would die, gurgling on blood, but content as they expire in the knowledge that they were correct about me.

"You're right," I say to them, and grin. My fangs poke into my lower lip, draw blood.

Their slanted eyes look puzzled. They speak to one another in their language and the shadows around them swirl in languid arcs.

I need only learn where they sleep, take them unawares, slit throats until I am soaked in blood…

I realize the path my mind has taken, how tightly I am holding my feeding knife. With effort, I put the feet of my thoughts on another path. I bow my head, ashamed at the bloodletting that occurred in my imagination.

My mind moves so seamlessly to evil.

I am afraid.

"I am not a murderer," I whisper to the smooth face of the wooden table, and Nayan and his fellows pretend not to hear the lie.

I am a murderer. I simply have not yet murdered. But I will, given time. The good in me is draining away into the dark hole in my center.

My soul is broken. I am broken.

I am my father's son.

I consider killing myself but lack the will. Hope, for me, has become the hateful tether that keeps me alive. I hope that I can live without doing evil, hope that I can heal before it is too late. But I fear my hope is delusion, that it is only the evil in me preventing suicide until I am fully given over to darkness, when hope will no longer be relevant.

I feel the Shadowwalkers watching me again. Their gazes stir the cup of my guilt, my self-loathing.

"What are you looking at?" I shout at Nayan, at Vyrhas, at the small, dark little men who presume to judge me.

They look away, not out of fear, but out of the human habit of averting the gaze from the dying.

I hate them. I hate myself.

I hate, and little else.

Staring at the walls, at the shadow shrouded men who think me lost, I realize that hope, whether real or illusory, is not reason enough to live. It will not sustain me. Instead I will hold on for another reason-to take revenge for what has been done to me. Rivalen Tanthul and my father, both must be made to pay, to suffer.

For an instant, as with every thought, I wonder which half of me has birthed such a desire. I decide that I do not care. Whether it is a need for justice, vengeance, or simple bloodlust, it is right and I will do it.

I look at my hands-they show more and more red scales every day-and realize I have used my knife to gouge spirals into the wood of the table, lines that circle and circle until they disappear into their own center.

I stab the knife into the spiral, filling it with violence.

Nayan steps across the room in a single stride, emerges from the shadows beside me, puts his hand on my shoulder. His grip is firm, not friendly, and I resist the urge to cut off his fingers.

"You are not well," he says.

I scoff, my eyes still on the table. "No. I am not well."

He will get no more from me and knows it. Shadows curl around him, around me. His grip loosens.

"We are here," he says, his eyes on me.

I nod and he moves away, his expression unreadable.

I know his true concern-he fears I may be a danger to Cale and Riven, the Right and Left hands of Mask. He is right to fear, and once more I want to murder him for being right.

I close my eyes, put my thumb and forefinger on the bridge of my nose, try to find a focus, peace from the swirl of thoughts.

I cannot control my mind. It is an animal free of its cage of conscience.

Tears well in my eyes and 1 wipe at them furiously, hating my weakness.

I feel a faint twinge deep in my consciousness and it sits me up straight in my chair. It is vaguely familiar. The twinge distills to an ache, then an itch. At first I think it must be a false memory, another symptom of my mental deterioration, but it lingers, not strong, but steady.

I recognize it, then, and it sends a charge into me.

It is the mental emanations of the Source. Distant, faint, but undeniable.

The Shadovar have reawakened it.

The familiar hunger comes over me, another empty hole that I need to fill, this one born of addiction. Surrendering to the need seems fitting and I do not fight it. The mental connection opens and I gasp at its feel. My body shudders.

I sigh, satisfied, for a moment at peace. I wonder how the Netherese keep the Source's damaged consciousness functioning without me.

The question frees a flood of memories. I recall the dark-skinned servant creatures of the Shadovar, the krinth, whose minds I broke, whose consciousnesses I altered, whose minds I turned as brittle as crystal. Useful for a time, but fragile. I remember their wails as I pried away the layers of their simple minds, the blood leaking from their ears. I feel shame, but the shame manifests as a giggle.

The Shadowwalkers eye me, concerned at my outburst. The shadows cloaking them do not hide their mistrust.

"What is it?" Nayan asks in his accented common. He looks as if he might attempt to restrain me.

Contact with the Source reawakens my desire to use my mental powers despite the damage done to my mind by my father, despite the jagged edges of my brain that make the use of mind magic like walking on broken glass. I consider scouring Nayan's mind clean, but resist the impulse.

"It is nothing," I say, but it is not nothing.

I no longer care if using the Source consumes me. With its power, I might yet have my revenge. It will kill me, but I would rather die an addict than live as I am.

Wouldn't I?

The need for revenge grants me certitude.

I will use the Source's power to make Rivalen Tanthul and my father pay.

Then I will die.


Cale, Riven, and Abelar materialized in the darkness on a rise overlooking the Saerbian refugee camp at Lake Veladon. Tents congregated on the shore like fearful penitents. The glow of campfires lit the camp here and there. The reflected light of Selune's Tears made fireflies on the mirror of the lake's dark water.

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