Extinction


Chapter Thirty-one



Pharaun peered in the direction Valas was pointing and at last saw what had prompted the mercenary's warning. Far across the Lake of Shadows, a storm was churning the surface. The water twisted in an enormous circle, as if flowing down a drain. Above the whirlpool was a waterspout that must have been a hundred paces high. The top of it bobbed up and down against the ceiling, scattering clouds of bats with each touch.

The storm was still some distance away but was approaching rapidly. Pharaun measured its progress as it passed through one of the beams of sunlight, and estimated its advance at the speed of a riding lizard run-ning full out. Already he could hear the low rush of spinning water. That the storm was magical he had no doubt. Had it always been there - or had something triggered it? Their use of the portal, perhaps?

The others had spotted it as well. Quenthel stared at the storm with a clenched jaw, the serpents at her hip softly swaying. Jeggred turned his head from side to side, sniffing the humid air. Danifae took one look at the storm, then glanced out of the corner of her eye at Quenthel, Valas, and Jeggred in turn. Pharaun noted where those glances lingered: on the amulets each wore that would allow them to either levitate up through one of the holes in the cavern ceiling or - in Valas's case - step through the dimensions to escape the storm.

Catching her eye, Pharaun held his hand up in a reassuring ges-ture and signed,Wait.

Then he turned to Valas and asked, "Did the rogue who told you about the portal mention anything about this?"

Valas shook his head. "He didn't linger here. As soon as he reached the cavern he levitated straight up and out." As he spoke he glanced up at the nearest of the sunlight-limned holes in the ceiling as if measuring the distance to it. Then he gave a resigned sigh and stared grimly at the approaching storm.

Quenthel, meanwhile, had turned her attention to the wand Danifae had recovered from the treasure vault and was experiment-ing with different command words. Jeggred, crouching beside her, pawed at her sleeve and muttered something - and received a back-handed slap for disturbing his mistress. The draegloth prostrated himself at her feet, whimpering his apologies. Quenthel ignored him and continued to try to find the wand's command word.

Pharaun rolled his eyes. At the moment, the storm was a more pressing problem than trying to find the ship of chaos, but Quen-thel's muttering was getting on his nerves.

"It's probably a word in the duergar tongue," he told her. "Try 'trea-sure,' or 'seek' or something like that. And turn the wand around - you have to hold the forked end for it to work."

Quenthel's serpents hissed with irritation, but she did as he sug-gested, turning the wand and switching to the guttural tongue of the duergar. Meanwhile, the storm whirled ever closer. The sound of it had grown loud enough thatthey had to raise their voices slightly, and its breeze stirred Pharaun's hair.

Danifae shifted nervously.

"If we're still herewhen the storm hits, we'll be smashed against the rocks," she said.

"Or drowned," Valas muttered, glancing below at the waves that were already starting to lap against the bottom of the cliff.

"You're forgetting my teleport spell," he told them. "One quick incantation, and we'll be back in the World Above. The only ques-tion is, where to go?"

Valas squinted against the swirl of mist that was starting to strike the ledge.

"In a few moments," the scout said, "anywhere is going to be bet-ter than here."

Beside him, Quenthel gave a gasp of satisfaction as the wand came to life in her hands. The end of it trembled and jerked back and forth like the head of a lizard that smelled blood, and a loud whine filled the air. As Quenthel moved the wand in a wide, horizontal arc the whining noise rose, then fell - then rose again as she swung the wand so that it pointed at the waterspout.

As the storm grew nearer, filling the air with a spray of water and an even louder roar, she shouted exultantly, "There! The ship of chaos is inside the whirlpool!"

Pharaun squinted at the storm.

"Yes," he told Quenthel. "I can see it now."

And there really was something there - a dim, dark shape at the eye of the storm. For once, the high priestess seemed to have got-ten something right. Belshazu had told them the ship was lost in a "terrible storm" and they were looking at just that - a storm that had raged for centuries.

The ship of chaos might have been whole when the surviving de-mon swam away from it, but after centuries of being buffeted by wind and water it seemed unlikely that it would still be intact. The storm had yet to hit them fully, but already the wind of it was tearing at Pharaun'spiwafwi and pelting him with spray. Just being at the outer edge of the storm was like being struck, repeatedly, by water thrown from a bucket. Pharaun pulled hispiwafwi tighter around him, mak-ing sure it covered the backpack in which his spellbooks were stored.

"We've got to get a look inside that whirlpool," Quenthel shouted, oblivious to the drops of water striking her face.

"And how do you propose we do that?" Pharaun asked. "Dig our claws into the rock and hang on, as Jeggred's doing, then dive into the eye of the storm?"

To his surprise, Quenthel nodded vigorously.

"Yes," she replied. "Valas can do it."

The mercenary's eyes widened.

"Dispel your polymorph spell," Quenthel shouted back. "Valas can swim into the whirlpool and take a look."

Valas's eyebrows rose even higher.

"Swim?" he protested, staring at the violently spiraling water. "Throughthat?"

He folded his arms across his chest, ignoring the angry twitching of Quenthel's serpents as she drew her whip. His eyes - which for once he did not lower under her glare - said it all. He'd rather die by her lash than embark on such a suicidal mission.

Danifae, meanwhile, gripped Pharaun's arm.

"We're wasting time," she whispered. "Leave these fools behind. Cast your teleportation spell."

Pharaun plucked her hand free - earning a wrathful glare from the battle-captive - and he reached into a pocket of hispiwafwi. Pull-ing out his last pinch of seeds, he held them tightly between thumb and forefinger, wary lest the storm pluck them away. Squeezing past the others, he walked to one end of the narrow ledge to a spot he judged to be well beyond the portal.

"I've got a better idea," he told them all.

Releasing the seeds, he barked out the wordsof his spell and stabbed a finger toward the rock. A tunnel opened in the wall - at an angle, running in the direction the wind had carried his seeds. Stepping inside it, he motioned for the others to join him.

They needed no urging. The storm was upon them, whipping their hair andpiwafwis and soaking them with sheets of water. Stum-bling along the slippery ledge, they hurried inside, Quenthel and Jeg-gred shoving their way past Danifae and causing her to slip on the bat guano that had been soaked by the storm. Pharaun reached out to steady her, but Valas was quicker. Grabbing Danifae's arm, he shoved her forward into the tunnel.

Pharaun tried to convey his apologies in a glance, but Danifae ignored him. Sighing, he waved the others to the back of the tunnel, then pulled out his cone of glass. Pointing it at the open mouth of the tunnel, he hurriedly cast a second spell. A blast of bitterly cold air erupted from the glass cone, turning the water that was spraying into the tunnel into pellets of hail. A sheet of water crashed full-on into the ledge outside??- and was instantly turned to solid ice, sealing the tunnel. Pharaun held the spell for a moment or two longer, until the ice wall had thickened sufficiently, then he lowered his hand.

Turning to Quenthel, he bowed, then swept a hand in the direc-tion of the plug of ice.

"Won't you step up to the viewing platform, Mistress?" he asked. "I'm sure the ship of chaos will be along directly."

Quenthel stared at him for a long moment as if trying to decide whether or not she was being mocked. Her whip vipers snapped at each other, then relaxed. Nose in the air, Quenthel strode past Pharaun and stared out through the ice, leaning this way and that as she tried to see beyond the water that crashed against the other side of it. The air inside the tunnel was bitterly cold, and her breath misted in the air. She shivered in her wet clothes. Even so, the high priestess peered with rapt attention - then stiffened.

At that, the others crowded forward. Even Jeggred loped up to crouch and peer out past his mistress's legs.

"That figure," Quenthel gasped. "What is it?"

Pharaun leaned forward for a better look. The wall of ice he was staring through was half as thick as his forearm was long, and be-yond it was the waterspout, several paces thick at that point and filled with whirling spray. Dimly, at the very eye of the storm, he could see a twisting shape. It was proportioned like a drow, with head, arms, and legs, but twice the height of the tallest female and with a whiplike tail. It appeared to be naked, its skin a pale gray. Pharaun thought it was flailing against thewind, raking the air around it with wide sweeps of its claws, but then he realized that it was spinning in place. The creature itself wasn't moving - not a muscle. It looked as though it had been rendered immobile by magic, by a spell that must have been cast centuries before.

Beside him, Danifae gasped.

"The uridezu," the battle-captive whispered.

Pharaun nodded.

"And the ship!" Valas exclaimed, standing on tiptoes to peer down over the lip of the ledge outside and pointing.

Pharaun looked down at the point where the waterspout met the whirlpool. The ship was indeed there, its hull stuck fast in the water that formed the inner wall of the whirlpool and its masts angled in toward the eye of the storm. It was difficult to make out details through the wall of ice and the spray whipping horizontally past out-side, but Pharaun could see enough to confirm that it must, indeed, be the ship of chaos.

The hull was bone-white in color, as were the three masts, from which hung tattered sails.

Quenthel laughed, shattering the tense silence.

"I've done it!" she said. "The ship of chaos is mine." Abruptly, she turned to Pharaun. "Prepare a binding spell."

"The demon already appears to be 'bound,' " observed Pharaun, nodding at the scene outside the ice wall. "Albeit not in the conven-tional manner. My guess is that it was caught in a temporal stasis spell - a powerful one that I'll have to break once I've imposed a binding of my own. And there's the little problem of the storm."

Quenthel flicked wet hair out of her face, then glowered down the ship of chaos, still whipping around in circles in the whirlpool.

"We're not teleporting away," she told him, a dangerous light in her eye. "Not now, when we're so close."

"No," Pharaun sighed. "I suppose not. But to be quite frank, I'm not sure what to do next. The storm's obviously magical. If a spell created it, the incantation was powerful - and permanent. Even I couldn't control that volume of water - which means any spell I cast won't be powerful enough to dispel the storm."

Valas scratched his head, then said in a thoughtful voice, "Could wesail the ship out of the storm?"

"Possibly," Pharaun said, thinking aloud. "Or rather, the uridezu could. But assuming I'm able to dispel the magic that froze the de-mon in time there's still the matter of binding it to my will."

"That's easy," Quenthel spat. "Just pull the demon out with one of yourgrasping-hand spells."

Pharaun sighed. The spell Quenthel had mentioned was unnec-essary. The binding spell itself would draw the demon to the deck. The problem lay in the ship itself. Pharaun had pictured it wrecked on shore or perhaps resting quietly at the bottom of the lake - not half awash and buffeted by spray and wind. Drawing a pentagram on the deck of the ship would be an impossible task.

There was an alternative to using a magic diagram, but it pre-sented its own problems. He could render the demon's image in miniature, either on vellum or in the form of a statuette. The latter could easily be done - he had wax and an opal in his enchanted pockets - but as soon as he placed the statuette on the deck, one sweep of a wave would wash it overboard. And how, in the name of the silent Spider Queen, was he going to come up with a length of chain?

Then he remembered the amulet that had protected Valas from the wraiths. Its chain - having faded to the color of lead, a most suit-able material indeed - still hung around his neck.

Pharaun nodded at the amulet and said, "I believe I'm correct, Valas, in assuming your amulet is no longer functional?"

Valas gave Pharaun a wary frown but nodded.

"May I have the chain it's hung on?" Pharaun asked, holding out a hand.

Valas complied - taking care to keep the amulet hidden inside his tunic as he slid it off the chain. Pharaun could guess why. Judging by its sun shape, it had been created by surface elves. And not just any surface elves, but those who worshiped Labelas Enoreth, Lord of Longevity. If Quenthel saw the mercenary wearing it, her fury would be unbounded. She'd rather have lost a valuable ally to the wraiths than admit that an amulet created by "sunspit" was anything other than an abomination.

As Valas handed Pharaun the chain, Danifae leaned closer to the wall of ice, her breath fogging in the chilled air.

"Careful," Pharaun cautioned. "Don't touch the ice with your tongue."

She gave him a disdainful look, then indicated the storm outside with a jerk of her chin.

"If you're going to try to bind the demon, you'd better get start-ed," she told him. "The whirlpool is starting to move away."

Nodding, Pharaun squatted and began his preparations. From the pockets of hispiwafwi he took a lump of beeswax he'd picked up in Menzoberranzan, months before, from a trader from the World Above; and a black opal the size of his little fingernail, shot through with veins of red. He warmed the beeswax by working it with his hands, then he sculpted the softened lump, modeling the arms, legs, tail, and snout of an uridezu demon. The statuette was crude, but it would suffice. Slicing open itschest with a fingernail, Pharaun pushed the opal inside, then pinched the wound shut. He wrapped Valas's chain around one of the statuette's legs, securing it there by joining two links together.

"There," he said, nodding in satisfaction at the chain that bit slightly into the wax statuette's ankle. "That should hold him long enough to get us to the Abyss."

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