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The Demon Spirit
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The Demon Spirit

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Author: R. A. Salvatore
Publisher: Del Rey, 1998
Series: The DemonWars Saga: Book 2
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Genres: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Elbryan and Pony--soul mates from childhood who grew even closer over time--fervently hope that the tide of darkness is at last receding from the land of Corona. Yet if evil is on the retreat, why are hordes of goblins and bloody-capped powries slashing their way ever-deeper into civilized lands?

A sinister threat now looms over Corona, for the power of the demon dactyl was not entirely vanquished by the sacrifice of the monk Avelyn Desbris. Instead, its darkness has infiltrated the most sacred of places--as a once-admired spiritual leader rededicates his life to the most vicious, most insidious revenge against the forces of good. There may be no stopping the spread of the malignant evil . . .


Excerpt

Elbryan Wyndon collected his wooden chair and his precious mirror and moved to the mouth of the small cave. He blinked as he pulled the blanket aside, surprised to see that the dawn was long past. Climbing out of the hole seemed no easy task for a man of Elbryan's size, with his six-foot-three-inch muscular frame, but with the agility given him in years of training with the lithe elves of Caer'alfar, he had little trouble navigating the course.

He found his companion Jilseponie, Pony, awake and about, gathering up their bedrolls and utensils. Not so far away, the great horse Symphony nickered and stomped at sight of Elbryan, and that image of the stallion would have given most men pause. Symphony was tall, but not the least bit lanky, with a powerful, muscled chest, a coat so black and smooth over those rippling muscles that it glistened in the slightest light, and eyes that projected profound intelligence. A white diamond-shaped patch showed on the horse's head, above the intelligent eyes, but other than that and a bit of white on the forelegs, the only thing that marred the perfect black coat was a turquoise gemstone, the link between Symphony and Elbryan, magically set in the middle of the horse's chest.

For all the splendor, though, the ranger hardly paid Symphony any heed, for, as was so often the case, his gaze was locked on Pony. She was a few months younger than Elbryan, his childhood friend, his adult wife. Her hair, thick and golden, was just below her shoulders now, longer than Elbryan's own light brown mop for the first time in years. The day was lightly overcast, the sky gray, but that did little to dim the shine of Pony's huge blue eyes. She was his strength, the ranger knew, the bright spot in a dark world. Her energy seemed limitless, as did her ability to smile. No odds frightened her, no sight daunted her; she pressed on methodically, determinedly.

"Do we look for the camp north of End-o'-the-World?" she asked, the question shattering Elbryan's contemplation.

He considered the thought. They had discerned that there were satellite camps in the region, clusters of goblins, mostly, supplied by the larger encampments set up in what used to be the three towns of Dundalis, Weedy Meadow, and End-o'-the-World. Because the towns were each separated by a day's walk, Dundalis west to Weedy Meadow, and Weedy Meadow west to End-o'-the-World, these smaller outposts would be key to regaining the region--if ever an army from Honce-the-Bear made its way to the borders of the Wilderlands. If Elbryan and Pony could clear the monsters from the dense woods, there would remain little contact between the three towns.

"It seems as good a place as any to start," the ranger replied.

"Start?" Pony asked incredulously, to which Elbryan could only shrug. Indeed, both were weary of battle now, though both knew that many, many more fights lay before them.

"Did you speak with Uncle Mather?" Pony asked, nodding toward the mirror. Elbryan had explained Oracle to her, that mysterious elven ceremony in which someone might converse with the dead.

"I spoke at him," the ranger replied, his olive-green eyes flashing as a shiver coursed his spine--as always happened when he considered the ghost of the great man who had gone before him.

"Does he ever answer?"

Elbryan snorted, trying to figure out how he might better explain Oracle. "I answer myself," he started. "Uncle Mather guides my thoughts, I believe, but in truth, he does not give me the answers."

Pony's nod showed that she understood perfectly what the young man was trying to say to her. Elbryan had not known his uncle Mather in life; the man had been lost to the family at a young age, before Olwan Wyndon--Mather's brother, Elbryan's father--had taken his wife and children to the wild Timberlands. But Mather, like Elbryan, had been taken in and trained by the Touel'alfar, the elves, to be a ranger. Now, in Oracle, Elbryan conjured his image of the man, an image of a perfect ranger, and when speaking to that image, Elbryan was forcing himself to uphold his own highest ideals.

"If I taught you Oracle, perhaps you could speak with Avelyn," the ranger said, and it wasn't the first time he had suggested as much. He had been hinting that Pony might try to contact their lost friend for several days now, ever since he himself tried, and failed, to reach Avelyn's spirit at Oracle two days after they had started south from the blasted Barbacan.

"I do not need it," Pony said softly, turning away, and for the first time Elbryan realized how disheveled she appeared.

"You do not believe in the ceremony," he started to say, more to prompt than to accuse.

"Oh, but I do," was her quick and sharp retort, but she lost momentum just as abruptly, as if fearing the turn in the conversation. "I ... I might be experiencing much the same thing."

Elbryan stared at her calmly, giving her the time to sort out her response.

As the seconds passed into minutes, he prompted, "You have learned Oracle?"

"No," she answered, turning to look at the man. "Not quite the same as your own. I do not seek it. Rather, it seeks me."

"It?"

"It is Avelyn," Pony said with conviction. "He is with me, I feel, somehow a part of me, guiding me and strengthening me."

"As I feel about my father," Elbryan reasoned. "And you about yours. I do not doubt that Olwan is watching over ..." His voice trailed away as he looked at her, for Pony was shaking her head before he finished.

"Stronger than that," she explained. "When Avelyn first taught me to use the stones, he was badly injured. We joined, spirit to spirit, through use of the hematite, the soul stone. The result was so enlightening, for both of us, that Avelyn continued that joining over the weeks, as he showed me the secrets of the gemstones. In a mere month my understanding and capabilities with the stones progressed far beyond what a monk at St.-Mere-Abelle might learn in five years of training."

"And you believe that he is still connecting with you in that spiritual manner?" Elbryan asked, and there was no skepticism in the question. The young ranger had seen too much, both enchanting and diabolical, to doubt such a possibility--or any possibility.

"He is," Pony replied. "And every morning, I wake up to find that I know a bit more about the stones. Perhaps I dream about them, and in those dreams see new uses for any given stone, or new combinations between them."

"Then it is not Avelyn, but Pony," the ranger reasoned.

"It is Avelyn," she said firmly. "He is with me, in me, a part of who I have become."

She went quiet, and Elbryan did not respond, the two of them standing in silence, digesting the revelation--one that Pony had not made even to herself until this very moment. Then a smile spread across Elbryan's face, and Pony gradually joined him, both taking comfort that their friend, the Mad Friar, the runaway monk from St.-Mere-Abelle, might still be with them.

"If your insight is true, then our business becomes easier," Elbryan reasoned. He held his smile and offered a wink, then turned, moving to pack Symphony's saddlebags.

Pony didn't reply, just methodically went about closing down the campsite. They never stayed in a place more than a single night--often not more than half the night if Elbryan determined there were goblin patrols in the area. The ranger finished his task first, and with a look to the woman, to which she responded with an assenting nod, he took his sword belt and wandered away.

Pony hurriedly finished her task, then silently stalked after him. She knew his destination to be a clearing they had passed right before they set camp, and knew, too, that she would find ample cover in the thick blueberry bushes on its northeastern end. Stalking quietly, as Elbryan had taught her, she finally settled into place.

The ranger was well into the dance by then. He was naked, except for a green armband set about his left biceps, and was holding his great sword Tempest, which had been given by the Touel'alfar to his uncle, Mather Wyndon. Gracefully, Elbryan went through the precise movements, muscles flowing in perfect harmony, legs turning, body shifting, keeping him always in balance.

Pony watched, mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the dance, which the elves called bi'nelle dasada, and her love's perfection of form. As always when she spied on Elbryan's dance--no, not Elbryan, for in this fighting form he was the one the elves had named Nightbird, and not Elbryan Wyndon--Pony had pangs of guilt, feeling quite the voyeur. But there was nothing sexual or prurient here, just appreciation of the art and beauty of the interplay between her love's powerful muscles. More than anything, she wanted to learn that dance, to weave her own sword in graceful circles, to feel her bare feet become so attuned to the moist grass below them that they could feel every blade and every contour in the ground.

Pony was no minor warrior herself, having served with distinction in the Coastpoint Guards. She had battled many goblins and powries, even giants, and few could outfight her. But in looking at Elbryan, the Nightbird, she felt herself to be a mere amateur.

That dance, bi'nelle dasada, was perfection of the art form, and her lover was perfection of bi'nelle dasada. The ranger continued his slashing, weaving maneuvers, feet turning, stepping to the side, front, back, body going down low and then rising in graceful sequences. This was the traditional fighting style of the day, the slashing routines of the heavy, edged swords.

But then, abruptly, the ranger shifted his stance, heels together, feet perpendicular to each other. He stepped ahead, toe-heel, and went into a balanced crouch, his...

Copyright © 1998 by R. A. Salvatore


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