Eric Scott De Bie Shadowbane PROLOGUE 17 KYTHORN, THE YEAR OF DEEP WATER DRIFTING (1480 DR) Mercifully, the sun sank beyond the distant horizon, letting cool night reclaim the Sword Coast. For Duran Ironhand, who had pulled the short stick and was stuck with this fool's errand into Luskan, it was a relief after hours of steaming heat. Twilight brought its own dangers, however, particularly in Luskan. Monsters, Duran preferred: a monster was honest in its vile goals-predictable. Most of the perils lurking in the shadows wore the faces of men and carried jagged steel. Duran kept one hand on his coin purse and the other on the war pick at his hip. Still, Luskan did boast fine sunsets. The stinking smoke had tainted the air, and when the sun shone Amaunator sank into sleep, the clouds blazed with vibrant light. Duran could not really say how it all worked-the-blue-haired lady had tried to explain it, but to no avail. The wizard tagging along with Clan Ironhand had a kind way about her, but her words often made his head hurt. His partner is rubbed his hands together. "Hope they hurry up. I need a piss. "The two dwarves stood outside the tavern. Their contact was a big man in a gang called the Dead Rats. The dodgy tluiners were known on the streets of Luskan for being untouchable, unless one fancied a quick and bloody death in the shadows. No one could say for certain if they were fully men or partially beasts. Luskan had not always been so wretched. As little as twenty years ago, when Duran had a visit to the city, it could still be called a civilized place. Shops opened at dawn, folk in the openly in the streets, and taverns served ale late into the night. Now, however, the gangs-each of them led by one of the so-called High Captains-had abandoned any semblance of order or governance. More shops closed every day. Taverns still remained open but, like as not, a man who drank too much would be stabbed walking out of one. Three men came out of the shadows. Duran fumbled for his war pick, but Roluf caught his hand. "Jumpy, eh?" He said. "That's our man." Their contact was a hulking creature, heavyset in a city. Must be a ferocious fighter to feed himself so well, Duran thought. Despite his build, he had beady, glittering eyes and a narrow face. The Dead Rats had a look, after all. "You got what we need?" Roluf asked. The bulky rat drew his lips back from yellow teeth. "You got the blades, I got the gold." Roluf nodded to Duran and the dwarf grimaced. He did not like it, but was dealing with the Dead Rats of Luskan created important coin flow for the clan. He opened his pack for inspection. Dwarven blades gleamed inside of it-four long daggers hammered from Sundabar steel. It was not really fine dwarven steel from Mithral Hall, but at least the Ironhands did not cut their product with inferior metals. Times were tough in the Year of Deep Water Drifting, and many smiths in a similar position used adulterated iron from one of the human lands of the north-or worse, the orc kingdom of Many-Arrows. The Ironhands had some pride, even if they had become glorified arms dealers. The blades sparked approval in the eyes of their contact, who would not know good steel from orc shit anyway. The gold the Rats carried-four trade bars, one for each dagger-was certainly good. A ridiculous sum in fact, but as Lord Naros had argued, what use had the Luskar for gold? They needed tools that shed blood, and that Clan Ironhand could provide. The deal was made with hands shaken and goods exchanged. "Now then," Roluf said. "I'm for a piss-less you want to come with?" Instead of snickering, the Dead Rat nodded soberly and touched his laces. "Sign of trust," said the man. "Hrmf-well then." Roluf glanced at Duran and nodded. "Men who share blood, women, and a wall." "Just do not watch." The two men went back to the corner in the alley behind the tavern, leaving the Dead Rats. "Hail," the dwarf said. The men's eyes are flicked and their noses are twitched. "Right then." Duran leaned on the grimy wall of the tavern and lit his pipe. He looked west into the darkening sky and tried to ignore the chirping of the twilight insects and the rustling trash all around them. . The streets come alive when darkness falls. Death stirs as knives flash and blood flows. The night is our time. Five jabber in the alley. We watch. One of them rises to leave the others-he has drunk too much of the sweet liquid that fills their cups. A second one joins the first, leaving only three behind. We creep forward. We hunger "Agh!" Roluf shouted. Duran realized his focus had wandered, and he snapped back to the world. Dozing in Luskan was a bad idea. "What's wrong?" He called, his hand on his war pick. "Sommat stlarning bit me!" Roluf called from the alley. Hands went to blades in anticipation, but to no end. A furry beast came rushing from the shadowy alley, squeaking as it ran from Roluf. The two gang members grinned, sharing some jest at his expense. "Godsdamned rat," Duran said.
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