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Authors: Kirchoff, Mary

The black wing

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Dragonlance - Villains 2 - The Black WingDragonlance - Villains 2 - The Black Wing

Dragonlance - Villains 2 - The Black Wing Kirchoff, Mary

I must thank Jim Lowder for his enthusiastic encouragement and for his honest friendshipbeyond the convenience of proximity; Harold Johnson for his sourcebooks and accessibility;Karen Boomgarden and Barbara Young for their thought-provoking discussion of “badgerness”;and Joan Cooper for the patient flexibility that gave me peace of mind, as well asstretches of blessed silence. And, as always, Steve Winter, for the late-night discussionsand tinkering without which I would never be able to successfully complete thesesoul-taxing tomes.

Dragonlance - Villains 2 - The Black WingPrologue

Like switchblades snapping open one by one, the black dragon's pearly talons flexed.Khisanth's foreclaws lingered on the tooled leather binding of the spellbook she'd foundin the ruins that were Xak Tsaroth. Sighing, the dragon slapped the tome shut; shecouldn't bear to memorize another spell today. She set the book at her horned feet andhopped down from the stone altar. The dragon's wings stretched open with a muffled sound,leathery sheets billowing in the wind.

Khisanth's eyes had aged from tawny yellow to angry red in the dark confines of the sunkencity. Her orders were to guard a staff she was to neither touch nor see. Unbeknownst toHighlord Verminaard of the Green Wing, Khisanth had seen the staff. More than a littlecurious, the dragon had once shapechanged into a mouse and taken the gully dwarves' oddlift to the upper level of the ruins. No draconians would report to Verminaard that amouse had slipped through the golden doors to the Hall of Ancestors. Inside, Khisanth hadfound a statue of a woman. Held in her marble arms was a staff of plain, unimpressivewood. Some sense had stayed Khisanth's hand from touching it. She had no desire to add astick to her hoard, anyway.

What a waste of time and talent this assignment is, she fumed. Khisanth had once led theinfamous Black Wing, but her time in the Dark Queen's army was a distant memory, beforeher reassignment to this hole. In fact, it was the reason for it. Her demotion was justanother indignity in a long life that deserved greatness, but had received only betrayaland deception. Khisanth was bored enough to contemplate walking from the huge, domedchamber that was her underground lair to engage one of her draconian minions inconversation. But she spotted in the dim light a filthy gully dwarf. The witless creaturein the floppy shoes was getting dangerously close to the shiny piles of gems and othertreasures. Khisanth lashed out with a claw and snapped up the wide-eyed creature before iteven knew the dragon was near. Popping the morsel into her jaws, Khisanth closed her eyeslanguorously as she savored the crunch of moist bones. The dragon spit out the shoes.Underground there were only shoes. No hooves of wildebeests. No elk horns. Khisanth'sever-hungry stomach growled, as if it, too, remembered when the dragon had freely huntedthe forests of Endscape. The entire Khalkist Mountain range had been her larder. Then,with one swipe of the mightiest hand, her rank, her freedomeverythinghad been taken away.The black dragon's mind frequently wandered to the people and events that had led her tothis low point. It comforted her to realize that she'd slain nearly everyone who had everthwarted her. Khisanth had high hopes for getting revenge on the ones who had eluded hergrasp in recent years. A dragon's life was long, and one day, she would claw her way outof this predicament, too. In her time, Khisanth had known the innermost thoughts of onlythree other beings: a dragon and two odd little creatures, whose lives she had valued. Andone other, the dragon amended: a human knight named Tate. She had killed him, too. All ofthem were dead now.... Strangely, their deaths were tied to the destiny that the goddessTakhisis herself had laid on Khisanth, a destiny that had yet to be realized. And neverwill be, the dragon told herself sullenly. Here I am, confined to Xak Tsaroth, while thewar is just beginning to rage across the world. Nothing interesting will ever happen here.Khisanth pushed aside the bitter thoughts. She'd been trapped underground once

before. Then, too, she'd thought she would never see the light of day again. It had been atime long ago, even before Takhisis had pronounced her destiny....

Dragonlance - Villains 2 - The Black WingPart One Chapter 1

The gossamer wings of the tiny nyphids fluttered in silent syncopation as they hoveredabove the sleeping dragon's broad, curved spine. The darkness of the small pit wasilluminated by the melon-sized maynus that floated between them, blue lightning streakingwithin the glassy orb. Kadagan, the younger of the two nyphids, arched one dark,delicately curved eyebrow in surprise at the creature.

“We were right, Toad,” he breathed softly to his elder, glancing down the length of theblack-scaled dragon beneath him. The beasf s ribs, as wide as the hull of a ship, gentlyrose and fell. “It Çs a dragon. The rumors of their return are true. I thought they werebut stories told to children... like me.”

“What's that?” Kadagan asked suddenly, tilting his head toward Joad. His luxurious mane ofdark hair bounced on his slight shoulders. Listening to Joad's silent conversation,Kadagan's expression grew dark. “Yes, I know we've got to hurry. How dost thou propose wewake it up?”

Shrugging, Joad reached down with his slim index finger and lightly touched the dragon'sspine. Like flint on steel, the touch caused blue sparks to zag crazily in the blacknessof the stony pit. The dragon's limp body jumped once off the dirt floor, as if struck by athunderbolt, then settled back down with a loud wumppph. The nyphids winged their wayupward to the safety of a ledge, dimmed the maynus globe, and watched with stunnedfascination as the dragon awoke.

Khisanth opened one enormous golden eye in confusion. Drawing their first conscious breathin centuries, her lungs nearly exploded in a great, barking cough from the acrid taste ofscorched flesh and sulfur. The movement brought her sensitive snout scraping against roughstone. She opened her other eye and looked around.

Where am I? her sleep-fogged brain demanded. Water dripped and echoed hollowly nearby.What did I do to land myself in such an impossibly small cave? she thought, taking ruefulnote of the damp, stone walls just inches away on all sides. Her last memory came backslowly, murky and distant and dreamlike.

The geetna had brought her mountains of food in a similar chamber. Khisanth's crimsontongue slithered greedily over knifelike teeth as she remembered the way she had gorged.The geetna, a snaggle-toothed matron of the lizardlike bakali race, had encouraged her.“Eat, eat, Khisanth,” she'd said in the odd hisses, growls, and smacks that were thebakali language. Khisanth had always found its timbre oddly soothing, though she had onlyhalf heard the ancient one over her own noisy gulping of raw rodents. “It will be manycenturies before you feast again.” Where was her old geetna now? The tumble of memoriescontinued.

“I am too old for the Sleep,” the bakali had said, “and I would be of little use to ourqueen when she returns to raise her legions, as she has promised. But you, Khisanth, youare more cunning and perceptive than the other young dragons. You will see greatness donein her name.”

Khisanth had understood little of what her geetna was saying, until she saw the oldbakali's withered, leathery arm, more like a human's than a dragon's, lift high andsprinkle Khisanth's snakelike head with a glittering, silvery substance. The dust hadtickled her nostrils.

“There, I have done my last magic,” the elder bakali had sighed. “Sleep now, as it isordered, until Takhisis awakens you.” Soothed and sated, Khisanth had drifted intoslumber. The black dragon's eyes opened wide now in wonder. The Dark Queen herself hadawakened her! The geetna had said it would be so. That must mean Takhisis was raising herlegions. But why? Khisanth had been young before the Sleep, had known little of the worldbeyond the warren. How long had she slept?

Khisanth's stomach rumbled, finally awakened by the memory of her last gorge. The gnawinghunger drove all other thoughts from the black dragon's mind. Her flared nos- trilsdetected the meaty scent of rats. Rats and worms. Something nibbled at her tail. Shewriggled on her belly to thrash it away, but she discovered again that she could barelymove in the confines of the cave. The cavern of her memory was roomy; if, as shesuspected, this was that same cave of long ago, she had grown at least four-fold while sheslept.

Khisanth felt the persistent nibbling again. The dragon snaked a claw arm along her rightside, absently noting the tightly folded, leathery wings on her back. Snatching at theoffending rodent, she held it up at eye's height for inspection, taking pleasure in thestunned and terrified gleam in the raf s orbs.

“How long have you been chewing on me?” she asked aloud, surprised by the dark timbre ofher own voice. She tossed the rat into her waiting jaws, eyes closing as her sensesdelighted in the taste of flesh. But the morsel only whetted her appetite. Blood poundedin her head, and she could think of nothing but gorging.

Still lying, curled, on the cool cave floor, Khisanth rose slowly, carefully, onto hermassive elbows and tried to turn her whole body about. But her new size would allow noshifting in the egg-shaped cave, just long enough and wide enough to contain her. Thelong, sloping tunnel to the surface was blocked by new, jagged projections of rock, shinywith dripping water. They rose from the floor and ceiling like teeth in an ancientdragon's slathering maw. She would not be leaving by the same route she had arrived.

Driven by hunger, Khisanth let loose a horrific, braying wail of frustration that rent thestill air. Her mouth was filled with a hot, acidic-tasting liquid that roared past herteeth in a powerful stream, splashing the cave wall before her. The dragon felt a slow,painful warmth spreading on her right claw arm and looked down, where green, glowingdroplets sizzled through the dusty black scales to the flesh beneath. Angry at herself forforgetting her ability to breathe acid, she snatched up a claw full of sand and rubbed iton the wounds. The sizzling stopped, replaced by numbness both there and in her head.

There has to be another way out of here, she told herself stubbornly. Khisanth's great,golden eyes turned upward for the first time. Expecting a rocky dome, she was surprised tosee no ceiling at all. Her cave stretched upward like a chute beyond her field of vision.The air above lightened gradually, giving Khisanth hope for an opening to the surface.

Suddenly, the dragon's sensitive eyes and ears perked up. To her surprise, she both

saw and heard movement on a rocky ledge above. “Is that you, Dark Queen?” Khisanth gulpedwith a shaky voice. She instantly wished she sounded more reverent and less timorous.“Thou must be speaking Dragon with that deep voice, because I cannot understand,” someonesaid casually, the words floating down to the dragon's ears. “It is too much to hope thouunderstands Nyphid. Wouldst thou know the Old Common tongue?” Khisanth understood thespeaker's formal, stilted words, but she had never heard the language called anything butCommon. When had it become old? Craning her heavy head back, Khisanth squinted upward,straining for a view of the voice's owner. A ball of bright white light stabbed her in theeyes. The dragon slammed her leathery lids shut against the pain and tore her gaze away.“Thou shouldst not look into the maynus globe,” said the voice from above, now closer.When at last the burning light disappeared from her mind's eye, Khisanth opened her lids,searching about with an angry squint for the speaker. Her expression softened slightly tosurprise. Hovering above her just beyond the reach of her claw arm were not one, but twosmall creatures, sheer wings fluttering like thin crystal between their shoulder blades.Belted green tunics covered their slight frames down to their deeply tanned calves. Pokingfrom their cuffs were slender hands with tapered fingers. Their hair, one's chestnut, theother's silver-gray, seemed to glow around the edges as if lit from behind. Their faceswere an even deeper bronze and filled with gentle grace. Their most remarkable andriveting features, though, were their piercing blue eyes. The color of lightning, thoughtKhisanth. “What are you?” she breathed, not quite in awe, but distracted by their auranonetheless. “Pixies?” The chestnut-haired one scoffed and rolled his blue eyes. “Pixies!Humph. They are pointless and flighty.” His chest swelled. “We are nyphids. I am known asKadagan, and he” the young one pointed to his elder “is Joad. Our full designations wouldbe indecipherable to thine ears. Hast thou a title?” “You mean a name?” the dragon asked,mildly perplexed. When Kadagan nodded, Khisanth became downright confused. “I'm calledKhisanth. Didn't she give you my name?” Kadagan and Joad exchanged puzzled looks of theirown. “Aren't you agents of the Dark Queen?” Kadagan's vivid blue eyes clouded over, and heshook his head. “We serve no queen.” 'Then who are you?“ Khisanth demanded, her voicerising in pitch and intensity at the same time that her eyes flattened into suspiciousslits. The feeling of wonder the nyphids had first inspired quickly dissolved intovexation. Even the nyphid's awkward speech was beginning to grate on Khi-santh's nerves.”As I said, we are nyphids,“ Kadagan supplied again, oblivious to the dragon's irritation.He looked at the other of his kind, dark head tilted as if listening; Khisanth heardnothing, though. ”Yes, I believe that is the proper way to approach her.“ He turned hisblue eyes on Khisanth. ”We woke thee for a business proposition.“ Khisanth frozemomentarily, then slowly tilted her head back to consider the nyphid. ”You woke me? Thenthe queen had nothing to do with that either?“ ”Joad jolted thee awake with his finger,"Kadagan offered. Khisanth closed her eyes and tried to still the anger that was risingwith each word the nyphid spoke. She felt choked by chatter, by questions, by this pit.Nothing was turning out as promised by her geetna. Nothing that had happened since she'dawakened made sense. Except the rat. She understood gorging. The hunger flared in

her stomach, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. “Listen,” she growled,squinting against the soft light of the glowing globe. “We are both victims of some cosmiccase of mistaken identity. You're not who I thought you were, and I'm definitely notinterested in any business deal with pixies. Get away from me now, and I'll overlook thetrouble you've caused me.” “Nyphids,” Kadagan corrected. “And thou shouldst hear ourproposition first.” His soft features were pulled into a frown. “We would like thee torescue Dela.” Khisanth shook her head like a dog with a burr in its ear. “Huh?” “Dela. Mybetrothed, the daughter of Joad. The last female of our race. She” The nyphid's voicecaught in his throat. “She was captured by humans, and” “That's all very interesting toyou, I'm sure,” cut in Khisanth. “But as you might have noticed, I'm having difficultiesof my own.” She looked up, considering the climb before her. The nyphids' glowing globeallowed her to see farther into the gloom, but she still could not detect any opening. Thenyphid followed her gaze, then took quick stock of her size. “How didst thou come to be insuch a tight spot?” he asked artlessly. Without waiting for an answer, he added, “Joad andI could assist” Khisanth cut him off with a raw, vicious chuckle. “You can't retrieve thispixie friend of yours from some humans, but you think you can help me climb out of thispit?” Laughing humorlessly, the dragon dipped her head to look for toeholds in the base ofthe rocky walls. “We would not have awakened thee if we could not help thee from thispit.” “You'd be better off not to mention waking me!” growled Khisanth. Blood boiled ather temples, and she flexed her foreclaws. “There is only one thing of interest to me atthis moment: getting out of this hole so I can gorge.” Khisanth's leathery lips pulledback in a threatening sneer. “In fact, if I could reach either of you now, I would eatyou. You'd scarcely be a mouthful,” she said archly, “but if you don't cease your chatter,get away from me, and take that blasted, blinding ball with you, I'd settle for a snack.”The nyphids fluttered up and away from the angry dragon, drawing the maynus globe withthem. “Yes, she is most excitable and stubborn,” said the dark-haired one to hiscompanion. “Fare-thee-well, then,” he called. With a silent fluttering of wings, the pairrose together through the still air, beyond Khisanth's sight. “Call and we will assistthee.” “Never!” she growled, her own throaty, guttural word nearly deafening in theconfines of the cave. Instead of their departure calming her, it made Khisanth livid. Shewas a member of the most powerful race that ever lived, and she couldn't get away aseasily as two puny pixiesnyphids. Whatever! She would die before she called for theirhelp, as if they had any to give! She would claw her way to the top, if she had to. Rageborn of desperation made the dragon lash out wildly, wings straining upward, rocks tearingat the tough leather webbing. Her claws raked uselessly at the walls, the dirt-and-sandfloor, until her own dark blood ran freely from countless cuts and abrasions. The smell ofthe blood jolted Khisanth's rumbling stomach. She licked her bleeding cuticles, savoringthe meaty taste. It calmed her nerves. Think. Turn your energies from rage to survival,Khisanth told herself. If you continue as you are, you'll surely die. Taking the smallestoutcroppings of rock into her talons, the young dragon pulled herself up with her shortforearms. But her appendages, grown during centuries of sleep, were as atrophied andundisciplined as the flabby, humanlike arms of her old bakali nursemaid. More often thannot, her grip faltered, and she caught short her fall by digging her hind feet into thewalls. She progressed by sheer force of will, two steps taken for every one secured.

Khisanth had no concept of time. Having slept underground for most of her life, she wasunaware that the dim light from above waxed and waned in a regular cycle. Moments weremeasured in steps taken, brief rests stolen, feedings missed. She could have been draggingherself upward for as little or as much time as she'd slept, for all she knew or cared.