Authors: Jeff LaSala
The shrouded figure strode gracefully past him as though she hadn’t heard him at all. Steel blades, as long and slender as rapiers, appeared in each of her mailed fists. Whether an act of magic or mere sleight of hand, the weapons looked real enough.
“Stand down!” Tallis said, hoping to halt the intruder as well as alert the family to the danger.
The shrouded figure did not heed him.
“Who dares?” came a furious voice in the next room.
Responding to the alarm, a well-dressed steward appeared in the doorway with a half-drawn blade of his own. The cloth-wrapped intruder thrust both rapiers into the man’s torso—one in his stomach, the other near his collar—making not even a grunt in the motion. Sputtering blood, the steward toppled. The intruder stepped into the room beyond without hesitation.
Then came the screams.
THE DARKWOOD MASK
The Inquisitives • Book 4
©2008 Wizards of the Coast LLC
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To Marisa, the angel in my armor.
You gave me the will and the means to write again.
This book wouldn’t be half as interesting without the etymological and artful prodding of my brother, John (who is weird). My appreciation and gratitude also go out to Josh “Irrational Number Man” Wentz and Marcy “Miredhel” Rockwell for their moral(e) support and omnipresent counsel; to fellow inquisitives Paul Crilley and Ed Bolme for cross-promotion and encouragement; to Keith Baker, for fielding so many questions; and to the New York City subway system, in whose tortuous tunnels much of this book was written.
And thank you, Mark Sehestedt and Erin Evans, for giving me this opportunity, seeing it through with me, and making it all so much fun.
he room was small, bereft of furniture and adornment, save for a single high-backed, velvet-padded chair. The man sitting in it stared out, unseeing, through the window. His head was propped up, the lids of his eyes half open, admitting only a trace of gray light from the rising dusk.
Unaware of his surroundings, the time of day, or his own fate, the man stared forward, reliving the cycle again, the memory as present as if it were happening again right there in the small, stark room.…
Rejkar One stares at me as I work, his aventurine eyes uncomprehending. Over the last eight hours, I have watched their translucency increase and an almost imperceptible green light grow from within. Both are indicative of the sentience struggling to take hold within the artificial mind
I labor to give the titan more
I clean the shallow runes along the ocular cavities with a small brush. Between the gaps in its mask, I touch the darkwood fibers to test their resilience. These I have already dusted with trace amounts of ground Irian crystal. Routine maintenance is vital at this stage
I feel strangely outside myself this day, somewhat detached as I explore this moment. Perhaps it is simply the importance of what I am doing and the perspective it gives me. I hear the shivering roar of the forge behind the titan, but I have learned to ignore the distraction. We all have. Today the forgemaster and his team have halted their usual work to produce a lot of thirty standard units. The demands of the world outside have increased, the need for more manpower dire
I think of Aarren again as I work, a great man, despite his excoriation. His mastery of the intelligent mind, his respect for its fragility, overshadows my own. What his father Merrix had created—warforged titans like the one before me—Aarren perfected with the man-sized, more adaptable units, but some of us have not given up yet on improving the titans, the true “children” of the Orphanage. Marrying Merrix’s work with his son’s genius has been the mission of this facility for years. We have made progress, and I am proud for my part in it
Imagine it—with sentient, rational constructs of such great strength at hand, the war could be forced to a speedy conclusion at last
“Master, you must take some rest.” At the base of the maintenance ladder beneath me, I hear the concern in my assistant’s voice. Does he not understand how diligent I must be in my work today?
“One hour more,” he says. “Take some rest in an hour. I will take your place then, Master.” He
“That will do,” I call down to him
I return to my work, confident I will not be interrupted again
Sar, the 7th of Sypheros, 998 YK
allis surveyed the cityscape one last time.
Night was absolute in Korth, the pearly face of Zarantyr veiled by storm clouds. It was a good time for this kind of work. Tallis watched from his position along the parapets of one of the city’s towers, clad in his customary black, masked and ready. The arches and linear designs that gave each building below him its own identity were lost in the darkness. Only an array of glowing needlepoints—wisplights at the intersections and residential firelight in the windows—riddled the gloom.
Along the main avenues, individual torches marched in long-established patterns—the noctivagant patrols of the White Lions. Tallis knew Korth’s garrison well. They were a predictable, if tenacious lot—dangerous only in numbers or if encountered unexpectedly. The only watchmen concerning him tonight were those guarding tonight’s mark.
He produced a pair of wire-framed spectacles set with dark lenses. When he settled them over the holes of his leather mask, what few colors remained of the night faded into shades of gray. The shadows nearest him vanished altogether, making every crevice and
crenellation within a stone’s throw sharp in arrant contrast.
For that brief moment, Tallis envied the dwarves—even goblins and orcs, for that matter—for their natural darkvision. Sharp as his eyes were, he could not see in the dark. Less fortunate criminals—like him—had to pay hard-earned gold for devices like this one.
He set his eyes upon the adjacent tower, an edifice of black stone that rose more than ten stories higher than his current vantage. Known as the Ebonspire, it catered to the noble and the privileged, housing esteemed citizens and honored guests alike. It was also considered nigh impenetrable.
Tallis intended to prove such disinformation to be simply that.
The sentries and magic wards that guarded the tower’s occupants ensured that whatever he was after had better be worth the risk. To Tallis, it was well worth both the risk
the expense. He’d nearly exhausted his magical resources just getting this far, but at least he’d saved gold by using a simple mask. Powerful wards placed by House Medani denied all the Ebonspire’s entrants the ability to disguise their true appearances with magic. It was said even changelings could not use their innate shapeshifting within.