Read an Excerpt
Dusk settled down about the Four Lands, a slow graying of light, a gradual lengthening of shadows.
The swelter of the late summer’s day began to fade as the sun’s red fireball sank into the west and the hot, stale air cooled. The hush that comes with day’s end stilled the earth, and leaves and grass shivered with expectation at the coming of night.
At the mouth of the Mermidon where it emptied into the Rainbow Lake,
Southwatch rose blackly, impenetrable and voiceless. The wind brushed the waters of the lake and river, yet did not approach the obelisk, as if anxious to hurry on to some place more inviting. The air shimmered about the dark tower, heat radiating from its stone in waves, forming spectral images that darted and flew. A solitary hunter at the water’s edge glanced up apprehensively as he passed and continued swiftly on.
Within, the Shadowen went about their tasks in ghostly silence, cowled and faceless and filled with purpose.
Rimmer Dall stood at a window looking out on the darkening countryside, watching the color fade from the earth as the night crept stealthily out of the east to gather in its own.
The night, our mother, our comfort.
He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, rigid within his dark robes, cowl pulled back from his rawboned, red-bearded face. He looked hard and empty of feeling, and had he cared he would have been pleased. But it had been a long time since his appearance had mattered to the First Seekera long time since he had bothered even to wonder. His outside was of no consequence; he could be anything he chose. What burned within mattered. That gave him life.
His eyes glittered as he looked beyond what he was seeing to what one day would be.
To what was promised.
He shifted slightly, alone with his thoughts in the tower’s silence.
The others did not exist for him, wraiths without substance. Below, deep within the bowels of the tower, he could hear the sounds of the magic at work, the deep hum of its breathing, the rumble of its heart. He listened for it without thinking now, a habit that brought reassurance to his troubled mind. The power was theirs, brought from the ether into substance, given shape and form, lent purpose. It was the gift of the Shadowen, and it belonged to them alone.
Druids and others notwithstanding.
He tried a faint smile, but his mouth refused to put up with it and it disappeared in the tight line of his lips. His gloved left hand squirmed within the clasp of the bare fingers of his right. Power for power,
strength for strength. On his breast, the silver wolf’s-head insignia glittered.
Thrum, thrum, came the sound of the magic working down below.
Rimmer Dall turned back into the grayness of the rooma room that until recently had held Coll Ohmsford prisoner. Now the Valeman was goneescaped, he believed; but let go in fact and made prisoner another way. Gone to find his brother, Par.
The one with the real magic.
The one who would be his.
The First Seeker moved away from the window and seated himself at the bare wooden table, the weight of his big frame causing the spindly chair to creak. His hands folded on the table before him and his craggy face lowered.
All the Ohmsfords were back in the Four Lands, all the scions of
Shannara, returned from their quests. Walker Boh had come back from
Eldwist despite Pe Ell, the Black Elfstone regained, its magic fathomed,
Paranor brought back into the world of men, and Walker himself become the first of the new Druids. Wren Elessedil had come back from Morrowindl with Arborlon and the Elves, the magic of the Elfstones discovered anew, her own identity and heritage revealed. Two out of three of Allanon’s charges fulfilled. Two out of three steps taken.
Par’s was to be the last, of course. Find the Sword of Shannara. Find the Sword and it will reveal the truth.
Games played by old men and shades, Rimmer Dall mused. Charges and quests, searches for truth. Well, he knew the truth better than they,
and the truth was that none of this mattered because in the end the magic was all and the magic belonged to the Shadowen.
It grated on him that despite his efforts to prevent it, both the Elves and Paranor were back. Those he had sent to keep the Shannara scions from succeeding had failed. The price of their failure had been death,
but that did little to assuage his annoyance. Perhaps he should have been angryperhaps even a little worried. But Rimmer Dall was confident in his power, certain of his control over events and time,
assured that the future was still his to determine. Though Teel and Pe
Ell had disappointed him, there were others who would not.
Thrum, thrum, the magic whispered.
And so . . .
Rimmer Dall’s lips pursed. A little time was all that was needed. A
little time to let events he had already set in motion follow their course, and then it would be too late for the Druid dead and their schemes. Keep the Dark Uncle and the girl apart. Don’t let them share their knowledge. Don’t let them join forces.
Don’t let them find the Valemen.
What was needed was a distraction, something that would keep them otherwise occupied. Or better still, something that would put an end to them. Armies, of course, to grind down the Elves and the free-born alike, Federation soldiers and Shadowen Creepers and whatever else he could muster to sweep these fools from his life. But something more,
something special for the Shannara children with all their magics and
He considered the matter for a long time, the gray twilight changing to night about him. The moon rose in the east, a scythe against the black,
and the stars brightened into sharp pinpricks of silver. Their glow penetrated the darkness where the First Seeker sat and transformed his face into a skull.
Yes, he nodded finally.
The Dark Uncle was obsessed with his Druid heritage. Send him something to play against that weakness, something that would confuse and frustrate him. Send him the Four Horsemen.
And the girl. Wren Elessedil had lost her protector and adviser. Give her someone to fill that void. Give her one of his own choosing, one who would soothe and comfort her, who would ease her fears, then betray her and strip her of everything.
The others were no serious threatnot even the leader of the free-born and the Highlander. They could do nothing without the Ohmsford heirs. If the Dark Uncle was imprisoned in his Keep and the Elf Queen’s brief reign ended, the Druid shade’s carefully constructed plans would collapse about him. Allanon would sink back into the Hadeshorn with the rest of his ghost kin, consigned to the past where he belonged.
Yes, the others were insignificant.
But he would deal with them anyway.
And even if all his efforts failed, even if he could do nothing more than chase them about, harry them as a dog would its prey, still that would be sufficient if in the end Par Ohmsford’s soul fell to him. He needed only that to put an end to all of the hopes of his enemies. Only that. It was a short walk to the precipice, and the Valeman was already moving toward it. His brother would be the staked goat that would bring him, that would draw him like a wolf at hunt. Coll Ohmsford was deep under the spell of the Mirrorshroud by now, a slave to the magic from which the cloak was formed. He had stolen it to disguise himself, never guessing that Rimmer Dall had intended as much, never suspecting that it was a deadly snare to turn him to the First Seeker’s own grim purpose. Coll Ohmsford would hunt his brother down and force a confrontation. He would do so because the cloak would let him do nothing less, settling a madness within him that only his brother’s death could assuage. Par would be forced to fight. And because he lacked the magic of the Sword of Shannara, because his conventional weapons would not be enough to stop the Shadowen-kind his brother had become, and because he would be terrified that this was yet another trick, he would use the wishsong’s magic.
Perhaps he would kill his own brother, but this time kill him in truth,
and then discoverwhen it was too late to change things backwhat he had done.
And perhaps not. Perhaps he would let his brother escapeand be led to his doom.
The First Seeker shrugged. Either way, the result would be the same.
Either way the Valeman was finished. Use of the magic and the series of shocks that would surely result from doing so would unbalance him. It would free the magic from his control and let him become Rimmer Dall’s tool. Rimmer Dall was certain of it. He could be so because unlike the Shannara scions and their mentor he understood the Elven magic, his magic by blood and right. He understood what it was and how it worked. He knew what Par did notwhat was happening to the wishsong, why it behaved as it did, how it had slipped its leash to become a wild thing that hunted as it chose.
Par was close. He was very close.
The danger of grappling with the beast is that you will become it.
He was almost one of them.
Soon it would happen.
There was, of course, the possibility that the Valeman would discover the truth about the Sword of Shannara before then. Was the weapon he carried, the one Rimmer Dall had given up so easily, the talisman he sought or a fake? Par Ohmsford still didn’t know. It was a calculated risk that he would not find out. Yet even if he did, what good would it do him? Swords were two-edged and could cut either way. The truth might do Par more harm than good . . .
Rimmer Dall rose and walked again to the window, a shadow in the
Night’s blackness, folded and wrapped against the light. The Druids didn’t understand; they never had. Allanon was an anachronism before he had even become what Bremen intended him to be. Druidsthey used the magic like fools played with fire: astounded at its possibilities, yet terrified of its risks. No wonder the flames had burned them so often. But that did not prevent them from refusing their mysterious gift. They were so quick to judge others who sought to wield the powerthe Shadowen foremostto see them as the enemy and destroy them.
As they had destroyed themselves.
But there was symmetry and meaning in the Shadowen vision of life, and the magic was no toy with which they played but the heart of who and what they were, embraced, protected, and worshipped. No half measures in which life’s accessibility was denied or self-serving cautions issued to assure that none would share in the use. No admonitions or warnings. No gamesplaying. The Shadowen simply were what the magic would make them, and the magic when accepted so would make them anything.
The tree-tips of the forests and the cliffs of the Runne were dark humps against the flat, silver-laced surface of the Rainbow Lake. Rimmer Dall gazed out upon the world, and he saw what the Druids had never been able to see.
That it belonged to those strong enough to take it, hold it, and shape it. That it was meant to be used.
His eyes burned the color of blood.
It was ironic that the Ohmsfords had served the Druids for so long,
carrying out their charges, going on their quests, following their visions to truths that never were. The stories were legend. Shea and
Flick, Wil, Brin and Jair, and now Par. It had all been for nothing. But here is where it would end. For Par would serve the Shadowen and by doing so put an end forever to the Ohmsford-Druid ties.
“Par. Par. Par.?”
Rimmer Dall whispered his name soothingly to the night. It was a litany that filled his mind with visions of power that nothing could withstand.
For a long time he stood at the window and allowed himself to dream of the future.
Then abruptly he wheeled away and went down into the tower’s depths to feed.