The Crystal Shard 4. The Crystal Shard

The Crystal Shard 4. The Crystal Shard

There was only blackness.

Mercifully, he couldn’t remember what had happened, where he was. Only blackness, comforting blackness.

Then a chilling burn began to grow on his cheeks, robbing him of the tranquility of unconsciousness. Gradually, he was compelled to open his eyes, but even when he squinted, the blinding glare was too intense.

He was face down in the snow. Mountains towered all about him, their jagged peaks and deep snow caps reminding him of his location. They had dropped him in the Spine of the World. They had left him to die.

Akar Kessell’s head throbbed when he finally managed to lift it. The sun was shining brightly, but the brutal cold and swirling winds dispelled any warmth the bright rays could impart. Ever was it winter in these high places, and Kessell wore only flimsy robes to protect him from the cold’s killing bite.

They had left him to die.

He stumbled to his feet, knee deep in white powder, and looked around. Far below, down a deep gorge and moving northward, back toward the tundra and the trails that would take them around the foreboding range of impassable mountains, Kessell saw the black specks that marked the wizards’ caravan beginning its long journey back to Luskan. They had deceived him. He understood now that he had been no more than a pawn in their devious designs to rid themselves of Morkai the Red.

Eldulac, Dendybar the Mottled, and the others.

They’d never had any intentions of granting him the title of wizard.

“How could I have been so stupid?” Kessell groaned. Images of Morkai, the only man who had ever granted him any measure of respect, flashed across his mind in a guilt-driven haze. He remembered all the joys that the wizard had allowed him to experience. Morkai had once turned him into a bird so that he could feel the freedom of flight; and once a fish, to let him experience the blurry world of the undersea. And he had repaid that wonderful man with a dagger.

Far down the trails, the departing wizards heard Kessell’s anguished scream echoing off the mountain walls.

Eldulac smiled, satisfied that their plan had been executed perfectly, and spurred his horse on.

* * *

Kessell trudged through the snow. He didn’t know why he was walking – he had nowhere to go. Kessell had no escape. Eldulac had dropped him into a bowl-shaped, snow-filled depression, and with his fingers numbed beyond feeling, he had no chance of climbing out.

He tried again to conjure a wizard’s fire. He held his outstretched palm skyward and through chattering teeth uttered the words of power.

Nothing.

Not even a wisp of smoke.

So he started moving again. His legs ached; he almost believed that several of his toes had already fallen away from his left foot. But he didn’t dare remove his boot to verify his morbid suspicion.

He began to circumnavigate the bowl again, following the same trail he had left behind on his first pass. Abruptly, he found himself veering toward the middle. He didn’t know why; and in his delirium, he didn’t pause to try and figure it out. All the world had become a white blur. A frozen white blur. Kessell felt himself falling. He felt the icy bite of the snow on his face again. He felt the tingling that signaled the end of the life of his lower extremities.

Then he felt…warmth.

Imperceptable at first, but growing steadily stronger.

Something was beckoning to him. It was beneath him, buried under the snow, yet even through the frozen barrier, Kessell felt the life-giving glow of its warmth.

He dug. Visually guiding hands that could not feel their work, he dug for his life. And then he came upon something solid and felt the heat intensify. Scrambling to push the remaining snow away from it, he managed at last to pull it free. He couldn’t understand what he was seeing. He blamed it on delirium. In his frozen hands, Akar Kessell held what appeared to be a square-sided icicle. Yet its warmth flowed through him, and he felt the tingles again, this time signaling the rebirth of his extremities.

Kessell had no idea what was happening, and he didn’t care in the least. For now, he had found hope for life, and that was enough. He hugged the crystal shard to his chest and moved back toward the rocky wall of the dell, searching out the most sheltered area he could find.

Under a small overhang, huddled in a small area where the heat of the crystal had pushed the snow away, Akar Kessell survived his first night in the Spine of the World. His bedfellow was the crystal shard, Crenshinibon, an ancient, sentient relic that had waited throughout ages uncounted for one such as he to appear in the bowl. Awakened again, it was even now pondering the methods it would use to control the weak-willed Kessell. It was a relic enchanted in the earliest days of the world, a perversion that had been lost for centuries, to the dismay of those evil lords who sought its strength.

Crenshinibon was an enigma, a force of the darkest evil that drew its strength from the light of day. It was an instrument of destruction, a tool for scrying, a shelter and home for those who would wield it. But foremost among the powers of Crenshinibon was the strength it imparted to its possessor.

Akar Kessell slept comfortably, unaware of what had befallen him. He knew only – and cared only – that his life was not yet at an end. He would learn the implications soon enough. He would come to understand that he would never again play the role of stooge to pretentious dogs like Eldulac, Dendybar the Mottled, and the others.

He would become the Akar Kessell of his own fantasies, and all would bow before him.

“Respect,” he mumbled from within the depths of his dream, a dream that Crenshinibon was imposing upon him.

Akar Kessell, the Tyrant of Icewind Dale.

* * *

Kessell awakened to a dawn that he thought he would never see. The crystal shard had preserved him through the night, yet it had done much more than simply prevent him from freezing. Kessell felt strangely changed that morning. The night before, he had been concerned only with the quantity of his life, wondering how long he could merely survive. But now he pondered the quality of his life. Survival was no longer a question; he felt strength flowing within him.

A white deer bounded along the rim of the bowl.

“Venison,” Kessell whispered aloud. He pointed a finger in the direction of his prey and spoke the command words of a spell, tingling with excitement as he felt the power surge through his blood. A searing white bolt shot out from his hand, felling the hart where it stood.

“Venison,” he declared, mentally lifting the animal through the air toward him without a second thought to the act, though telekinesis was a spell that hadn’t even been in the considerable repertoire of Morkai the Red, Kessell’s sole teacher. Though the shard would not have let him, Kessell the greedy did not stop to ponder the sudden appearance of abilities he’d felt long overdue him.

Now he had food and warmth from the shard. Yet a wizard should have a castle, he reasoned. A place where he might practice his darkest secrets undisturbed. He looked to the shard for an answer to his dilemma and found a duplicate crystal laying next to the first. Instinctively, so he presumed (though, in reality, it was another subconscious suggestion from Crenshinibon that guided him) Kessell understood his role in fulfilling his own request. He knew the original Shard at once from the warmth and strength that it exuded, but this second one intrigued him as well, holding an impressive aura of power of its own. He took up the copy of the shard and carried it to the center of the bowl, setting it down on the deep snow.

“Ibssum dal abdur,” he mumbled without knowing why, or even what it meant.

Kessell backed away as he felt the force within the image of the relic begin to expand. It caught the rays of the sun and drew them within its depths. The area surrounding the bowl fell into shadow as it stole the very light of day. It began to pulse with an inner, rhythmic light.

And then it began to grow.

It widened at the base, nearly filling the bowl, and for a while Kessell feared that he would be crushed against the rocky walls. And, in accordance with the crystal’s widening, its tip rose up into the morning sky, keeping the dimensions aligned with its power source. Then it was complete, still an exact image of Crenshinibon, but now of mammoth proportions.

A crystalline tower. Somehow – the same way Kessell knew anything about the crystal shard – he knew its name.

Cryshal-Tirith.

* * *

Kessell would have been contented, for the time being, at least, to remain in Cryshal-Tirith and feast off of the unfortunate animals that wandered by. He had come from a meager background of unambitious peasants, and though he outwardly boasted of aspirations beyond his station, he was intimidated by the implications of power. He didn’t understand how or why those who had gained prominence had risen above the common rabble, and even lied to himself, passing off the accomplishments of others, and, conversely, the lack of his own, as a random choice of fate.

Now that he had power within his grasp he had no notion of what to do with it.

But Crenshinibon had waited too long to see its return to life wasted as a hunting lodge for a puny human. Kessell’s wishy-washiness was actually a favorable attribute from the relic’s perspective. Over a period of time, it could persuade Kessell to follow almost any course of action with its nighttime messages.

And Crenshinibon had the time. The relic was anxious to again taste the thrill of conquest, but a few years did not seem long to an artifact that had been created at the dawn of the world. It would mold the bumbling Kessell into a proper representative of its power, nurture the weak man into an iron-fisted glove to deliver its message of destruction. It had done likewise a hundred times in the initial struggles of the world, creating and nurturing some of the most formidable and cruel opponents of law across any of the universal planes.

It could do so again.

That very night, Kessell, sleeping in the comfortably adorned second level of Cryshal-Tirith, had dreams of conquest. Not violent campaigns waged against a city such as Luskan, or even on the scale of battle against a frontier settlement, like the villages of Ten-Towns, but a less ambitious and more realistic start to his kingdom. He dreamed that he had forced a tribe of goblins into servitude, using them to assume the roles as his personal staff, catering to his every need. When he awakened the next morning, he remembered the dream and found that he liked the idea.

Later that morning, Kessell explored the third level of the tower, a room like all the others, made of smooth yet stone-strong crystal, this particular one filled with various scrying devices. Suddenly, an urge came over him to make a certain gesture and speak an arcane word of command that he assumed he must have heard in the presence of Morkai. He complied with the feeling and watched in amazement as the dimension within the depths of one of the mirrors in the room suddenly swirled in a gray fog. When the fog cleared, an image came into focus.

Kessell recognized the area depicted as a valley he had passed a short distance down the trail when Eldulac, Dendybar the Mottled, and the others had left him to die.

The image of the region was bustling with a tribe of goblins at work constructing a campsite. These were nomads, probably, for war bands rarely brought females and young ones along on their raids. Hundreds of caves dotted the sides of these mountains, but they weren’t numerous enough to hold the tribes of orcs, goblins, ogres, and even more powerful monsters. Competition for lairs was fierce, and the lesser goblin tribes were usually forced above ground, enslaved, or slaughtered.

“How convenient,” Kessell mused, wondering if the subject of his dream had been a coincidence or a prophecy. On another sudden impulse, he sent his will through the mirror toward the goblins. The effect startled him.

As one, the goblins turned, apparently confused, in the direction of the unseen force. The warriors apprehensively drew their clubs and stone-headed axes, and the females and children huddled in the back of the group.

One larger goblin, the leader presumably, holding its club defensively before it, took a few cautious steps ahead of its soldiers.

Kessell scratched his chin, pondering the extent of his newfound power. “Come to me,” he called to the goblin chieftain. “You cannot resist!”

* * *

The tribe arrived at the bowl a short time later, remaining a safe distance away while they tried to figure out exactly what the tower was and where it had come from. Kessell let them marvel over the splendor of his new home, then called again to the chieftain, compelling the goblin to approach Cryshal-Tirith.

Against its own will, the large goblin strode from the ranks of the tribe. Fighting every step, it walked right up to the base of the tower. It couldn’t see any door, for the entrance to Cryshal-Tirith was invisible to all except denizens of foreign planes and those that Crenshinibon, or its wielder allowed to enter.

Kessell guided the terrified goblin into the first level of the structure. Once inside, the chieftain remained absolutely motionless, its eyes darting around nervously for some indication of the overpowering force that had summoned it to this structure of dazzling crystal.

The wizard (a title rightfully imparted to the possessor of Crenshinibon, even if Kessell had never been able to earn it by his own deeds) let the miserable creature wait for a while, heightening its fear. Then he appeared at the top of the stairwell through a secret mirror door. He looked down upon the wretched creature and cackled with glee.

The goblin trembled visibly when it saw Kessell. It felt the wizard’s will imposing upon it once again, compelling the creature to its knees.

“Who am I?” Kessell asked as the goblin groveled and whimpered.

The chieftain’s reply was torn from within by a power that it could not resist.

“Master.”