Robert Salvatore: The Ghost King

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Robert Salvatore The Ghost King
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    The Ghost King
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The Ghost King: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Don't miss the gripping conclusion to Salvatore's best-selling Transitions trilogy! When the Spellplague ravages Faerûn, Drizzt and his companions are caught in the chaos. Seeking out the help of the priest Cadderly-the hero of the recently reissued series The Cleric Quintet-Drizzt finds himself facing his most powerful and elusive foe, the twisted Crenshinibon, the demonic crystal shard he believed had been destroyed years ago.

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Athrogate bellowed all the louder and clamped his powerful legs tightly on the demon-boar. Seeming no less crazy than its bearded rider, the boar charged straight at the walking horde, and the dwarf sent his morningstars spinning. All around him they worked, heavy glassteel balls smashing against bone, breaking off reaching fingers and arms, shattering ribs with powerful swipes.

The boar beneath him gored, kicked, and plowed through the mindless undead that closed in hungrily. Athrogate drove his heels in hard against the boar’s flanks and it leaped straight up and brought forth the fires of the lower planes, a burst of orange flame blasting out beneath its hooves as it landed, boiling into a radius half again wider than the dwarf was tall and curling up in an eruption of flame. The grass all around Athrogate smoked, licks of flame springing to life on the taller clumps.

While the flames bit at the nearest skeletons, they proved little deterrence to those coming from behind. The creatures closed, showing not the slightest sign of fear.

An overhead swing from Athrogate brought a morningstar down atop a skull, exploding it in a puff of white powder. He swung his other morningstar in a wide sweep, back to front, clipping three separate reaching skeletal arms and taking them off cleanly.

The skeletons seemed not to notice or care, and kept coming. Closing, always closing.

Athrogate roared all the louder against the press, and increased the fury of his swings. He didn’t need to aim. The dwarf couldn’t have missed smashing bones if he tried. Clawing fingers reached out at him, grinning skulls snapped their jaws.

Then the boar shrieked in pain. It hopped and sent out another circle of flames, but the unthinking skeletons seemed not to notice as their legs blackened. Clawing fingers raked the boar, sending it into a bucking frenzy, and Athrogate was thrown wide, clearing the front row of skeletons, but many more rushed at him as he fell.

* * * * *

Jarlaxle hated this kind of fight. Most of his battle repertoire, both magical and physical, was designed to misdirect, to confuse, and to keep his opponent off-balance.

You couldn’t confuse a brainless skeleton or zombie.

With a great sigh, Jarlaxle plucked the huge feather from his hat and threw it to the ground, issuing commands to the magical item in an arcane language. Almost immediately, with a great puff of smoke, the feather became a gigantic flightless bird, a diatryma, ten feet tall and with a neck as thick as a strong man’s chest.

Responding to Jarlaxle’s telepathic commands, the monstrous bird charged onto the field and buffeted the undead with its short wings, pecking them to pieces with its powerful beak. The bird pushed through the throng of undead, kicking and buffeting and pecking with abandon. Every attack rattled a skeleton to pieces or smashed a skull to powder.

But more rose from the torn soil, and they closed and clawed.

On the side of the ridge, Jarlaxle casually slipped a ring onto his finger and drew a thin wand from his pack.

He punched out with the ring and its magic extended and amplified his strike many times over, blowing a path of force through the nearest ranks of skeletons, sending bones flying every which way. A second punch shattered three others as they tried to close from his left flank.

His immediate position secured, the drow lifted the wand, calling upon its powers to bring forth a burst of brilliantly shining light, warm and magical and ultimately devastating to the undead creatures.

Unlike the flames of the magical boar, the wand’s light could not be ignored by the skeletons. Where fire could but blacken their bones, perhaps wound them slightly, the magical light struck at the core of the very magic that gave them animation, countering the negative energy that had lifted them from the grave.

Jarlaxle centered the burst in the area where Athrogate had fallen, and the dwarf’s expected yelp of surprise and pain—pain from stinging eyes—sounded sweet to the drow.

He couldn’t help but laugh when the dwarf finally emerged from the rattle of collapsing skeletons.

The fight, however, remained far from won. More and more skeletons continued to rise and advance.

Athrogate’s boar was gone, slain by the horde. The magic of the figurine could not produce another creature for several hours. Jarlaxle’s bird, too, had fallen victim to slashing digits and was being torn asunder. The drow lifted his fingers to the band on his hat, where the nub of a new feather was beginning to sprout. But several days would pass before another diatryma could be summoned.

Athrogate turned as if he meant to charge into another knot of skeletons, and Jarlaxle yelled, “Get back here!”

Still rubbing his stinging eyes, the dwarf replied, “There be more to hit, elf!”

“I will leave you, then, and they will tear you apart.”

“Ye’re askin’ me to run from a fight!” Athrogate yelled as his morningstars pulverized another skeleton that reached for him with clawing hands.

“Perhaps the magic that raised these creatures will lift you up as a zombie,” Jarlaxle said as he turned his nightmare around, facing up the ridge. Within a few heartbeats, he heard mumbling behind him as Athrogate approached. The dwarf huffed and puffed beside him, holding the onyx boar figurine and muttering.

“You cannot call another one now,” Jarlaxle reminded him, extending a hand that Athrogate grasped.

The dwarf settled behind the drow on the nightmare’s back and Jarlaxle kicked the steed away, leaving the skeletons far, far behind. They rode hard, then more easily, and the dwarf began to giggle.

“What do you know?” the drow asked, but Athrogate only bellowed with wild laughter.

“What?” Jarlaxle demanded, but he couldn’t spare the time to properly look back, and Athrogate sounded too amused to properly answer.

When they finally reached a place where they could safely stop, Jarlaxle pulled up abruptly and turned around.

There sat Athrogate, red-faced with laughter as he held a skeletal hand and forearm, the fingers still clawing in the air before him. Jarlaxle leaped from the nightmare, and when the dwarf didn’t immediately follow, the drow dismissed the steed, sending Athrogate falling to the ground through an insubstantial swirl of black smoke.

But Athrogate still laughed as he thumped to the ground, thoroughly amused by the animated skeletal arm.

“Be rid of that wretched thing!” Jarlaxle said.

Athrogate looked at him incredulously. “Thought ye had more imagination, elf,” he said. He hopped up and unstrapped his heavy breastplate. As soon as it fell aside, the dwarf reached over his shoulder with the still-clawing hand and gave a great sigh of pleasure as the fingers scratched his back. “How long do ye think it’ll live?”

“Longer than you, I hope,” the drow replied, closing his eyes and shaking his head helplessly. “Not very long, I imagine.”

“Bwahaha!” Athrogate bellowed, then, “Aaaaaaaah.”

* * * * *

“The next time we face such creatures, I expect you to follow my lead,” Jarlaxle said to Athrogate the next morning as the dwarf fiddled once more with his skeletal toy.

“Next time? What do ye know, elf?”

“It was not a random event,” the drow admitted. “I have been visited, twice now, in my Reverie by a beast I had thought destroyed, but one that has somehow transcended death.”

“A beast that brought up them skeletons?”

“A great dragon,” Jarlaxle explained, “to the south of here and …” Jarlaxle paused, not really certain where Hephaestus’s lair was. He had gone there, but magically with a teleportation spell. He knew the general features of that distant region, but not the specifics of the lair, though he thought of someone who would surely know the place. “Near to the Snowflake Mountains,” he finished. “A great dragon whose thoughts can reach across hundreds of miles, it seems.”

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