Illmoor has seen many heroes: Groan, the muscled mercenary who became king; Jareth Obegarde, a mysterious and quick-witted half vampire; and Jimmy Quickstint, a former thief and professional gravedigger who has embarked on more than a few dangerous adventures. But when the ancient and powerful Vanquish rises in Illmoor after an eon in waiting, the continent seems doomed. Towns across the kingdom are in ruin, destroyed by a marching zombie horde controlled by the terrible Vanquish. And there’s nothing the few remaining defenders of Illmoor can do about it.
That is, unless they can find an equally ancient and powerful force to combat the one that has set their homeland aflame. This ragtag band of Illmoor’s most dubious heroes must join together one final time to bring the kingdom’s last great hope for survival into the battle—before it’s too late.
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The Coldstone Conflict
The Illmoor Chronicles
By David Lee Stone
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2006 David Lee Stone
All rights reserved.
It was evening in Dullitch, and a sudden, terrible storm was assaulting the city. Lightning danced from the sky, followed by cracks of thunder so deafening that the city's doomwardens had taken to their pulpits, and were proclaiming the end of creation.
Up at the palace, a determined multitude of guards, maids and cooking staff were deserting the grounds. This exodus was not the result of the storm, but due to the major explosion that had preceded it, ripping through the palace's upper floor and throwing everyone into a blind panic. Rumors of Viscount Curfew's death were already circulating widely.
Yet none of the citizens could possibly guess the true horror of the scene taking place inside the throne room at that very moment.
There was a gasp, and two enchanted swords clattered onto the stone floor.
Gape Teethgrit looked down at the sword protruding from his stomach, and his ever-present smile contorted into shock.
"G-g-groan," he spluttered, staring up at the blood-red eyes of the thing that had until recently been his only brother. "What have you ..."
His voice trailed off ... and he slumped to the floor. Beside him lay the equally still body of a dwarf. Gordo Goldeaxe, famed mercenary and long-time partner of Groan Teethgrit of Phlegm, stared into the void of infinity, blood still trickling from his lips.
"Excellent, master! Excellent!"
A disfigured face emerged from the shadows of the room, followed by a stooped frame that insinuated itself forward. The figure was wrapped in a black cloak, still clutching at the bloody stump where its right hand had been. Sorrell Diveal, fell sorcerer and a highborn lord of Illmoor, hurried over to kneel before the giant form of Groan Teethgrit.
"Lord Vanquish, god of gods, I bow before thee in supplication.
Indeed, I already feel myself becoming more powerful again in your presence. I beg you to grant me—"
"I grant you nothing."
The voice was no more than a whisper, a rasp, but it spoke of an evil so great as to be unimaginable.
Diveal looked up, sharply.
"B-but I granted your desires, master! I gave you freedom!"
"The barbarian did that."
Vanquish closed Groan's mighty fist and looked at it, as if examining a rare treasure.
"Strong," said the god. "So ... strong. I need more like him if I am to return to power. People will listen to and obey strength ... not the whining of a spindly wretch like yourself.
Groan and his friends will ... broaden my influence."
"B-but you killed his friends, my lord."
Vanquish turned away from Diveal and crouched over the fallen warriors. Then, running his hands along the mortal wounds that had claimed both lives, he began to speak in a low and arcane voice. There was a sudden pulse of sound, and red light streamed from the barbarian's fingertips, surrounding the corpses and causing them to shake uncontrollably.
"Servants of the Sword," came the deadened voice once more. "Heal ... breathe ... rise in my service."
The body of Gordo Goldeaxe twitched, and its eyes flicked open. They were larger than they had been in life, and black of pupil. Beside him, Gape was approaching the same state.
"You now possess the souls of two creatures that failed in my service long ago. This is a second chance for you, my friends ... rise now ... and do not fail me again."
The two warriors brought themselves, slowly and awkwardly, to their feet.
"They will make great soldiers in our army," Diveal tried again, pulling himself up and forcing a hopeful smile. "Great soldiers indeed."
"Your army," the sorcerer corrected himself. "I meant to say your army, of course."
Vanquish smiled, and it was revealed that Groan's gleaming teeth had rotted and turned black.
"I seek not soldiers, wretch ... but lieutenants to command my army."
"Lieutenants?" Diveal shook his head. "What lieutenants do you need? You have me! I know I'll be a little preoccupied with the running of Dullitch, but really, I—"
You are not WORTHY to run Dullitch and your preoccupations mean less than nothing to me ..."
"But you said ... you promised ... I fulfilled my task ..."
"Your task, dustling, is to decide where you want to be buried."
Vanquish raised Groan's mighty sword and hurled it across the room. The blade spun several times and then stopped, frozen, a mere centimeter from the sorcerer's chest. It clattered onto the stones.
"I am not without power myself, master," Diveal muttered, quickly casting an enchantment to slow the blood flow from his wrist. "P-please reconsider ... I am your most faithful servant. You asked me to disguise myself as Curfew and, with your help, I did it! You asked me to kidnap and replace the viscount; I obeyed! You told me how you were to be freed; I made it happen! I—"
"You DARE to challenge me." The voice of Vanquish now felt to Diveal like a cold laceration.
"N-no master! Of course not ... yet I must defend myself if you—"
"Defend yourself, then."
It happened in a split second.
Vanquish released a breathtaking stream of magical energy from outstretched fingertips, lightning tendrils that poured through the air and crashed, ablaze, with an equally powerful stream that flew from the opposite direction.
The two figures circled each other, lightning bleeding into lightning, fire against fire.
Mere shadows in the dazzle, Gape Teethgrit and Gordo Goldeaxe stood, jet eyes blank, awaiting instruction from the voice that had called them back. They longed to meet their master's attacker ... but the icy strength of the dark god's calm held them back.
There was a sudden blinding surge of light ... and the fires died away. Vanquish had broken off the assault.
Sorrell Diveal was stepping away from his master, eyes wary, remaining hand outstretched before him.
"Dullitch, master: Dullitch is all I ask ... it's all I've ever wanted! They wouldn't give it to me! They gave it to Modeset and then Curfew! Don't you deny me the city as well ... I beg of you!"
Vanquish curled his lips into an even darker smile.
"If you love this city so much, Sorrell, then allow me to make you a permanent part of the palace."
He raised one of Groan's great hands, and a jet of flame spewed from it. The flame grew on the air, swirling into a great, tumultuous ball of fire that cannoned toward the sorcerer at great speed.
Diveal leaped back and threw up his hand: a wall of ice materialized along his section of the wall, blocking the fireball but melting away in the process.
"Enough!" Diveal screamed, spit glistening on his withered mouth.
"You're just like them, denying me my city ... my birthright! You're ... you're ..."
"You have little or no concept of what I am. Your magical tricks, impressive though they may be, are only afforded from the power I have already given you."
"Not true! I trained as a sorcerer in Shinbone years before—"
"You use dark magic against me ... yet all dark magic used in this land is mine: I infused the very SOIL with it! What will you do when my little sparks desert you, maggot?"
Diveal backed into a chair, his eyes darting left and right for some means of escape.
"They'll rise up against you," he whined. "The troglodyte that escaped my blade, the vampire and his friends. They'll rise up against you and you'll need someone who can—"
"I have all the strength I will require," said Vanquish, a grim finality edging into his voice. "Soon, all who have stood against YOU will bow before me ... along with the pathetic inhabitants of this decrepit city. All will know the wrath of Vanquish ... as will you."
A circle of dark water appeared in the air behind Sorrell Diveal, rippling and shimmering as it took form. Even as the sorcerer moved away from it, the circle became a void ... a gaping maw.
"The Dark Doorway invites you, Sorrell. Go and rule for an eternity ... in Limbo."
Vanquish turned to his newly resurrected servants.
"Throw him in," he snarled, and strode from the room, dropping Groan's sword in the process.
Gordo and Gape padded forward, surrounding the sorcerer, who was forced to take a step in the wrong direction.
"Get away from me!" he screamed. "Get away from me!"
Gape lunged at the sorcerer, his black orb eyes reflecting the terror on Diveal's tortured face. Sorrell evaded the attempt to snatch him, but tripped over Gordo, who had approached from the opposite direction. Together, driving aside kicking and flailing limbs, they lifted the sorcerer into the air and carried him, screaming, toward the shimmering portal.
"No! No! Noooooooooo! "
Diveal was thrown bodily into the inky depths of the swirling pool ... where his voice was quickly consumed by the bubbling darkness beyond.
Gape and Gordo stared blindly at each other, then turned and padded out of the room in pursuit of their master.
The dark portal began to disintegrate, fading from the room like a shredding mist.CHAPTER 2
Vanquish stalked through the palace, walking awkwardly at first as he became used to Groan's tempered stride. A grim smile parted the barbarian's lips as the dark god made his way through the palace's upper floors.
At length, he paused in a narrow doorway, where a middle-aged man with a long moustache sat hunched over a pile of scrolls.
"You ..." he commanded, pointing a hand that quickly developed elongated fingernails in a gnarly crackle of dark energy. His blood-red eyes blazed defiantly, even in the washy light of the afternoon sun. "RISE."
The man jumped up from his chair and immediately looked around for a sword. Unfortunately, in doing so he locked eyes with the intruder ... and felt his will drain away.
"You are General of the Dullitch Army."
"I-I am. We're frantically trying to discover the source of the explo—"
"Very good. I am now King. You will not defy me."
"N-no, Your Majesty. N-never, but Viscount Curfew—"
"Is no more. You recognize me?"
The general seemed to break momentarily from his reverie in order to squint at the intruder.
"Y-you are King Teethgrit, ruler of Phlegm."
"King Teethgrit, indeed? I am a legend here, on this plane?"
"What? Oh, er ... yes, Your Majesty. You are known far and wide for your incredible strength and courage."
"B-but if I may say so, Your Majesty, the people of Dullitch will not—"
"Then they will be subdued. ALL OF THEM."
The general bowed his head, eyes once again locked on the red orbs that fixed him to the spot.
"You will gather together all senior guards present in the palace and bring them to the great courtyard. You will not ask why. You will not explain your actions to anyone. You will simply follow these instructions unswervingly ... and with purpose."
Again, the general bowed his head.
"I will, Your Majesty."
Vanquish stood aside and watched as the little man dashed from the room and bolted off in the direction of the great hall. Then he moved into the general's office and began carefully inspecting its contents. Evidently, it had once been the home of the palace wizard, as it contained all manner of flasks and bottles, along with rows of books stacked haphazardly on rickety shelving.
Vanquish ran his newly grown talons along the display and selected three very different looking containers. There was a miniature box, an ornately decorated flask with a cork stopper and a squat, circular jar.
Taking the deepest of breaths, Vanquish unclasped the box, lifted its lid and exhaled into it. At first, there was only the rush of expelled air, but then a wispy mist emerged from the dark god's mouth and drifted into the box. Vanquish left the lid open for a time, examining the swirling mist within. Then he closed the lid and replaced the box carefully on the shelf before turning his attention to the remaining containers.
This time, however, his breath was spent in a different way.
The hum was low, a negative wall of sound that rumbled through the palace, causing dust to drift down from the ceilings.
Vanquish abruptly ceased his efforts ... and waited.
After a few minutes, Gape and Gordo appeared outside the room, both shuffling toward the doorway like mindless zombies.
"Expel your souls into these." Vanquish gestured at the remaining containers. "Just open the lids, blank your minds and breathe out ... you'll find it happens naturally. Tonight, we will begin to hunt down and destroy all those who witnessed my possession of the barbarian ... and all those who would stand in defiance of my rule."
Gape and Gordo said nothing. They simply staggered into the room and began to follow their master's instructions.
"Goooood." Vanquish allowed himself a smile. "Now I must go. I have two very old ... friends to summon." Dullitch was in the throws of a chaotic uproar.
Thanks to the determined efforts of the secret army, rumors of Curfew's death were spreading like wildfire. In the east of the city, Effigy Spatula, who was still believed to be dead by his friends in the secret army, moved liked a poisoned dart between the houses, banging on carefully selected doors to alert the more vocal citizens that their beloved leader was nothing more than a cowardly impostor. In the west quarters, Nazz, together with Obegarde and Jimmy Quickstint (whose magical disguises had unfortunately worn off), peppered the crowds with accounts of Groan Teethgrit's greedy capture of the throne, being careful to leave out the fact that he had been possessed by a dark god in the process. These revelations, together with a few pointed suggestions that the taxes might be rising, quickly mobilized the people of Dullitch into a seething mass of agitators.
It took less than an hour for two vast crowds to appear on either side of Oval Square, both seemingly astonished to see the other.
"Effigy!" Nazz yelled, his voice filled with emotion. The big ogre was staring over the front rank of heads and pointing at the opposite mob. "Jimmy, Obegarde, look! It's Effigy: he's alive!"
The vampire squinted at the distant figure, and nodded in amazement. Jimmy Quickstint, on the other hand, wasted no time in catching up with his friend.
"Effigy," he spluttered, arriving in front of Spatula as the two crowds merged. "Y-you have to listen. Diveal survived the explosion—"
"Then the time for listening is over, old comrade. Now is the time for action. Together, we have rallied the people! Now we are ready to fight!"
"But we must get word to Burnie. The situation has—"
"Burnie already knows about Diveal."
"But you don't understand!" Jimmy pointed back at the palace, spittle flying from his mouth as he spoke. "Groan Teethgrit is in there, and he's joined forces with Diveal!"
"What? The barbarian king of Phlegm?"
"Yes!" Jimmy nodded. "And Diveal has put a spell on him or something. I watched Groan strike down his best friend with my own eyes! What are we going to do?"
Effigy signaled to the crowd for silence.
"Groan has joined forces with Diveal?" he asked, his brow furrowed.
"Well, not voluntarily, but ..."
"Either way, they are invaders ... and they have taken the throne of our city. Well, worry not; soon, both Groan and Diveal will be crushed under the banner of the People's Army of Dullitch. We don't tolerate "invaders" in this city, be they necromancers or barbarians."
"OK, but Groan Teethgrit—"
"I know; the man's a legend." Effigy waved the thief into stunned silence. "But he's crossed the line, Jimmy. And now both he and Diveal must pay the price for their despotism. The people will finally have their say!"
The freedom fighter raised a large cone to his mouth. "EVERYONE TO THE PALACE. BRING DOWN THE GATES. CHARGE FOR YOUR FREEDOM! CHAAAAAAAARGE!"
Effigy's words ringing in their ears, the crowd rushed, en masse, at the palace gates, which were soon trampled beneath them. Thousands of armed and screaming justice-seekers hurtled toward the palace, and stopped dead ... as a grim silence fell over them.
Effigy Spatula lowered the cone and gasped at the sight that greeted them.
Two obsidian dragons had swooped from the stormy sky to land—great wings folding up behind them—on the lower battlements of the palace.
Effigy swallowed as the crowd before him began to gasp.
"What in the name of ..."
The sky over Dullitch turned black ... and several streaks of lightning lashed the ground. As a fine rain fell from the sky, the only remaining sound was that of a child crying, far off in the distance.
Excerpted from The Coldstone Conflict by David Lee Stone. Copyright © 2006 David Lee Stone. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsSelected Dramatis Personae,
Previously, in the Illmoor Chronicles,
Part One: The Great Escape,
Part Two: Moltenoak,
Part Three: The Coldstone Conflict,