Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 34: The Price of a Queen
The Price of a Queen Selgrin had dec...
Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 34: The Price of a Queen
The Price of a Queen Selgrin had dec...
Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 33: Troll
Troll It seemed like a good idea at ...
Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 32: Mountain of a Thousand Caves
Mountain of a Thousand Caves “Now ...
“Feralintero was once the greatest city of trade within a thousand leagues,” Sel said. “Of course, the dogar are natural merchants. Before the Great War, our caravans would travel to all the major cities trading wares.”
Since their departure, Daen found there was little else Sel wanted to talk about outside of his people and their capital. Even Zeph had trouble deterring him, though that didn’t stop him from trying.
“I find one of the ways I can tell a person is getting”—Zeph cleared his throat—“advanced in years is when they keep talking about the good old days.”
“You should try speaking with the sinestre,” Sel said. “Some of their people still remember the real good old days, before humans came to Draza.”
Because horses were not permitted within the walls of Feralintero, they were making the journey on foot. The roads were flat and free from shrubs, making travel easy on their legs and spirits. If Daen had a complaint, it was that the lack of natural scenery made them more focused on each other than the journey.
“I understand that when trade was good, our two kind got along quite well,” he said in an attempt to keep the peace.
Selgrin grimaced. “Until Azren came along and convinced the dogar to join him. After the war, it wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. The humans weren’t willing to trust the dogar with their coin any longer.”
“But the war ended forty years ago,” said Daen. “Surely a dogar merchant would not find it so difficult among humans now.”
“They don’t string us up on sight anymore, I’ll give you that. But the golden age of trade is long gone. That’s not to say you won’t see the occasional dogar merchant here or there. I would even bet a few of the independent human merchants are dogar in disguise, despite that being prohibited. Of course, now it’s all about the merchant consortiums.”
“Seems pretty foolish for the dogar to join with Azren,” said Zeph.
Selgrin grunted in assent. “You better believe it was.”
“So why’d they do it? It’s not like all of them are as thick-skulled as you, right?”
“It isn’t that simple. We’re a just people governed by a Senate. Whatever they decide, everyone goes along with.”
“I hope that Senate of yours was run out of town after that piece of divine wisdom,” said Zeph.
A pained expression crossed Sel’s face. After that Sel was not so keen to keep up the conversation, giving Daen time to reflect on why the Council would want them dead and what lengths they might go to. Could the Council have been responsible for the poisoned berries? No—they couldn’t have known he and Zeph were headed there or that the lord would even serve them the berries. Speculation was getting him nowhere.
He was still turning over the possibilities that night during first watch when he detected a whispering emanating from the plains around them. Resting a hand on the shaft of his axe, he waited for the indistinguishable murmurs to get louder. They did, but only for a moment or two until they settled to a low pitch again, like clothes on a line rustling in an onslaught of inconsistent gusts. It kept him on edge for hours until he finally woke Selgrin for his watch.
“Anything out of the ordinary?” Sel asked.
Daen wasn’t sure what out of the ordinary was anymore. If he told Sel he was having conversations with Elise in his dreams, the dogar would think he was crazy. “Only the wind, I suppose.”
Selgrin snorted. “You kidding me? The air’s as still as dead fish this night.”
“What do you make of it, then?”
“Not sure I’m with you.”
“It sounds like a thousand voices all muttering under their breaths at once.”
“Ah . . .” Sel nodded knowingly. “A lot of folk don’t know this, but this patch of plains we’re passing through is considered the toe of No Man’s Land. More corpses are found here than anywhere else on Draza. It’s said that there are some who can hear the dying gasps of those laid to rest. Guess you have the gift.”
“That or perhaps my hearing is better than an old goat like you.”
“That’s a middle-aged goat, and if you find me so ill-suited for watch duty, I’d just as soon go back to sleep.”
Daen was already slipping under his blankets. “Night, Selgrin.”
It took some time before exhaustion overcame the crying whispers. When it did, he dreamed of Elise in the cavern with the undead. She lay on the ground calling his name while soldiers of Nalesc pulled him roughly away.
The next day, Zeph took on the mantle of conversation with a seemingly endless prattle of commentary while Sel marched them onward in a hurried pace. Daen’s troubled sleep, or lack thereof, left him lagging as he admired the giant rock formations that towered and twisted above them. They looked despairing and beautiful all at once.
They reached the dogar capital city by late afternoon. Nestled below the jagged-faced Riverrock Crag, Feralintero hid behind rounded earthen walls, fortified with lances that rose to chest level.
“There it is,” said Selgrin proudly.
Zeph peeked over his shoulder. “Looks like a crusty old kidney that’s grown spikes.”
“As your mother exclaimed when you were born, Zeph, looks ain’t everything.”
“Sel,” Daen asked, “what are those lances for?”
“Those were put in long ago to keep the welanobs out.”
Daen looked at him blankly.
“They’re large worms that burrow around this area. Peaceful creatures, but occasionally one goes into a frenzy and tears up everything in sight. Though it’s a rare occasion to see a welanob these days.”
By the size of the lances, nearly three dogar in length, the term “large worms” must have been an understatement. “What happened to them?”
“It’s well before your time and even mine, but I imagine the history books still tell of the Kobold Invasion.”
Daen nodded. Even on the Isle of Nalesc, the incursion of the kobold horde was notorious.
“What’s often left out is on their way to lay siege to Camere, the kobolds came through No Man’s Lands in unstoppable numbers. The king of Durfolk, Roland the Second, was as pigheaded as they come, so despite the odds, he stayed and prepared for war. Many of the king’s army fled south, including all his advisors except the great Ebenezer Garsapian. Ebenezer’s father was a merchant who had dealt with the dogar regularly, so he knew all about the welanobs.”
Sel leaned in close, taking his voice down a notch, as if speaking too loud might bring a giant worm to them. “Ebenezer met the kobolds near where we now stand. Using elemental magic, he created something of a quake. Hundreds of welanobs emerged from the earth in a frenzy, thrashing and attacking anything in their way. The welanobs were all killed eventually, but not before the kobolds sustained devastating losses. Some said their resolve was the biggest casualty. While the kobold army continued onward to Camere, it took but two failed offensives before they retreated back to where they came from, tails between their legs.”
“What happened to Ebenezer?” asked Zeph.
“Mauled by a welanob.”
Daen frowned. “How tragic.”
“War always is, no matter who wins.” Selgrin’s grim countenance betrayed he knew this from experience. “At least Ebenezer gained some monuments for his trouble. Remember all those brownish rock formations on the way here? Welanob carcasses, or what’s left of them. Their hardened shells will continue to litter these plains long after we’re all dead.”
Zeph stared back slack-jawed. He too must have noticed the hundreds of formations they had passed on the way here. What that battle must have been like . . .
The wooden gates to Feralintero stood open before them with four guards barring entry. “Look, the Dersimeysous,” one exclaimed, before he was hushed by another.
A guard poked his spear toward them as they approached. “Halt. State your name and business.”
“Selgrinostair Nalestrad and two human companions. We’re just visiting.”
“What makes you think we’re going to let you back in?”
“Have I been banned?” Selgrin asked bluntly.
“Well, no,” admitted the guard.
“Then step aside, or have Dronilowyn strike you down.”
The guard looked to be considering the alternatives before motioning him forward. “You can go. But the outsiders have to stay here until your return.”
“You and I both know you can’t keep them from entering. It’s part of what we dogar agreed to.”
Daen stood by, ready to recount the terms of the Treaty of Vermouth if need be.
Selgrin continued. “Now if you want to call for the Chamber Head to sort this out, I’m happy to oblige.”
The guard gave a loud snort and grumbled something under his breath about “we dogar” before stepping out of the way.
Selgrin led them through the city with unflinching purpose. Streets sprawled out from one winding main route, intersected by side routes that all appeared to be dead ends. The dogar homes they passed were narrow and uniform in appearance. If not for the elaborate designs painted on them, they would have been nearly indistinguishable. One bore a steely blue spiral interrupted by its door and a window. The design on another looked like a giant web with a hairy black spider crawling down the roof. Zeph twisted this way and that, not to miss a single sight.
They attracted plenty of stares of their own. At first, Daen assumed the attention was because they were outsiders. But as more and more eyes followed them down the streets, he realized the bulk of the spectators were looking at Selgrin, though it was hard to tell in what regard he was held. Children pointed, while adults watched discreetly with what Daen thought was a mixture of disgust and reverence.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Zeph, craning his neck to see a home painted to match the horizon at dusk.
“We’re going to see an old friend of mine. If the Afflicted One is active in Feralintero, she’ll know.”
“Old friend or old flame?”
Daen intervened before Sel could retort. “Can you explain the history behind the markings on the buildings?”
Sel shot an annoyed look at Zeph before responding to Daen politely. “The city was planned all at once, with saving materials and effort in mind. It’s not like you humans do it, one poorly built structure at a time. The markings are a way to show something about ourselves. You see that one?” Selgrin pointed to a residence painted with feathers. “It belongs to the swiftest dogar in all Feralintero—or at least he used to be. He also keeps birds.”
“How about over there?” Zeph was looking at a structure painted completely black.
“The previous home was burned to the ground while those inside slept. It was rebuilt and painted to resemble burnt wood as a reminder. That was a long time ago, but as far as I know, nobody has lived there since.”
They entered an area where the street widened and arches stretched from one side to the other. The arcade bustled with people, shops, and rolling carts stretching for several hundred feet. The aroma of baked goods mixed with the familiar smells of fresh cloth and polished leather. They were about to leave the small slice of mercantilism behind when three boys came running toward them.
“Dersimeysous! Dersimeysous!” they shouted excitedly.
That word again. Daen had heard the guard at the gate say it when they were first spotted.
Two of the boys were at that rambunctious age, always itching to start something their parents would not approve of. The third, about half their years, stood quietly a step behind.
“Can you change into something for us?” asked one of the older boys through huffed breaths.
“How about a snake?” asked his companion.
“A snake, Branel? I’d like to see something big—really big.”
Selgrin wore an uncharacteristic grin on his face. “Sorry lads, but I don’t change shapes for entertainment.”
“Please, sir, my brother Nathaniel here, he does nothing but talk about you and what stuff you can do.”
“Is that so?” Selgrin asked the pint-sized youth, who was now pulling on his older brother’s arm. He dropped to one knee to converse at eye level. “So, Nathaniel, what would you like to see me change into?”
The boy stood gawking until his brother shook him lightly. “Don’t be rude, Nathaniel. He’s talking to you.”
Nathaniel cast his eyes downward, his voice trembling. “How—how about a kitty cat?”
“Oh, c’mon,” said Branel. “Pick something better than that.”
“A kitten or a grownup cat?” asked Selgrin gently.
Nathaniel nestled against his older brother for security.
“So be it. Now, don’t you blink.”
He shrank and transformed within moments. Hands and feet became paws. Silky black hair grew from all parts of his body. When the spectacle was complete, a sleek cat with intelligent eyes stood in his place.
“Whoa!” said Branel.
But it was Nathaniel’s awestruck face Daen found priceless. Nathaniel bent down and scratched the cat’s back. “Did you see that, Patrin? It’s a real live kitty cat.”
“I sure did,” said Patrin. “Doesn’t look nothing like the Dersimeysous though, does it?”
Nathaniel’s eyes lit up. “I wonder if he can still talk. Dersimeysous, can you say anything?”
The cat meowed.
“Cats can’t make human sounds, Nathaniel,” said his brother.
“But he understood me. I know it. Watch this. Dersimeysous, shake my hand please?”
Sure enough, the cat lifted a paw to the boy’s outstretched hand.
“I shook the hand of the Dersimeysous!” Nathaniel exclaimed.
Daen smiled. A pang developed in his gut. How I miss my own brothers.
“Patrinosid and Nathanielnous Henetraub! Come here this instant! You, too, Branelprim, or your mother’s going to hear about this,” called a middle-aged woman from a balcony up ahead.
“We’d better go, Nathaniel,” Patrin said. “She sounds mad.”
“But I wanna see him switch back,” remarked Nathaniel, giving the cat one last scratch.
“Get yourselves away from the Dersimeysous!” hollered the woman. “Who knows what he’ll change into next.”
Patrin took hold of his brother’s hand. “Ma’s right. He could turn into a lion and eat us both.”
“He wouldn’t do that,” said Nathaniel.
“Ma says he’s done worse.”
Selgrin began shifting.
“See, he’s going back. Back to regular.” Nathaniel pointed, as if his brother wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.
“C’mon, Nathaniel.” Patrin pulled his brother away. Twisting his head as they ran toward home, he called out. “Thank you.”
Selgrin looked like himself again, squinting as he stood unsteadily. “See you lads around.” He grinned forlornly as the boys entered a home together, speaking excitedly. Spectators had filled the arcade to gawk. A random insult comparing the Dersimeysous to the backside of a horse wiped any last semblance of happiness from Sel’s face. “Let’s move on.”
After a suitable distance, Daen said, “I have never heard of another dogar who could change into animals. Do they call you Dersimeysous because of this?”
“You could say that.”
“What’s the name mean?” asked Zeph.
“Think of it as a title. Like a duke.”
“A duke? C’mon, Sel, I’ve seen the way these people look at you. It’s as if the duke is your lackey’s apprentice . . . bastard son.”
Selgrin paused in the middle of the road. “There is a story behind the name. If you promise not to ask me any more questions, I’ll tell it.”
“Okay, then.” He kept his voice low. “Long before you humans arrived, when the most extreme shape-changing my people could do involved gorging themselves until their stomachs swelled, there was an ancient creature known as a doppelgänger. It was the only of its kind on Draza able to match the appearance of another. It would do so in order to lure its prey to a quiet location and then devour them.
“One night, the doppelgänger appeared as a young dogar man and persuaded a woman to take a moonlight walk with him. There was an instant attraction between them, and when it came time to feast, the doppelgänger couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he revealed his true nature and asked the woman to stay with him as a companion. Reviled by the creature, she refused, swearing she would rather be dead than to stay. But the doppelgänger couldn’t let her go any more than he could end her life.
“For thirty nights she asked to be killed or set free, and for thirty nights he refused her. On the thirty-first night, she waited until her captor was asleep before picking up a heavy stick and bludgeoning him in the head as he slept. The moment she did so, she realized the terrible mistake she had made. The connection between them could not be denied. Killing the doppelgänger was akin to destroying a piece of herself. During his death throes, the woman stayed, sobbing, holding the creature near to her. As a final act, the doppelgänger bestowed his abilities to the woman so she would forever remember him.”
“So it was a gift,” said Daen.
“More like a curse, at least at first. For whatever reason, other dogar unrelated to the woman began to develop the ability to change their shape. It was unnatural. Rules were put in place outlawing the use of shape-shifting. These dogar were marked and mistreated. But then war came, and those with shape-shifting abilities proved useful. One dogar among them was the first to gain voice mimicry. He assassinated the leader of our enemy, took his place, and called for peace when the annihilation of our kind seemed imminent.”
Selgrin headed toward a beige house at the very end of the street. It was dappled with black paint, as if someone had flicked a giant paintbrush at it. “Can either of you guess the name of this dogar who saved our people?”
Daen followed close on Selgrin’s heels. Now he understood. “Dersimeysous.”
“Exactly, though now the name’s more of a title given to dogar who show unique abilities.” He stopped at the entrance to the black-dappled house. “And here we are.”
“So how many of you are called Dersimeysous?” asked Zeph.
“I thought you promised to be done with the questions.”
Zeph smiled slyly. “You can’t blame me for trying.”
“Sure I can—and I can hold a grudge longer than your lifespan.” Selgrin gave a short rap on the door and then, in a shrewd move, paused long enough to have the last word on the subject. “There is only one Dersimeysous at a time. When I die, another will be born.”
Daen’s eyes widened. He had known Sel was different, just not how unique he was among his kind.
“But—” began Zeph.
The door creaked noisily inward, answered by a slender woman with chestnut hair streaked modestly with gray strands that matched the color of her large, serious eyes. Her look of surprise was immediately replaced by one of caution.
“Quickly, inside,” she said, looking in both directions before closing the door behind them.
“That’s no way to greet an old friend,” groused Selgrin.
“I think you use the word friend rather loosely. What’s it been, forty years? I didn’t know you were still alive.”
“Forty years is not so long.”
She lead them to a sparsely decorated sitting room. “The way you speak, you sound like one of the elders.”
“The elders? I seem to remember it was you that were two years ahead of me in school.”
“True, I was in your brother’s class. Who would have thought he would turn out to be the special one?”
Ouch. Daen caught Sel flinch but he didn’t lash out. “May we have a seat?”
“I suppose. But first I should like to learn the names of those you’ve brought inside my home.”
“Of course. Daen Cernver and Zeph Greymoon, this is Maya Perindroo.”
“It’s Mayalordrel,” she corrected. Glancing from Daen to Zeph, she continued, “I am afraid Selgrinostair has spent too much time around you humans. Everything’s shortened—shorter names, shorter pleasantries, shorter lifespans.”
Selgrin’s expression reminded Daen of a sucker-punched trainee. “It was always Maya before.”
“We were children then. Those days are long past us. Please, all of you, be seated.” Mayalordrel gestured toward a wooden bench fit with pillows bearing the same speckled pattern as the house.
Daen and Zeph sat. It wasn’t until Mayalordrel had settled across from them did a deflated Selgrin collapse into his seat.
He was interrupted by an anxious rapping at the door.
“Come in,” Mayalordrel called. Daen heard her mutter under her breath, “Everyone else is.”
A wiry dogar with long, thin arms that draped his sides like bookends appeared in the doorway.
“Senator Perindroo, I have just learned that the Dersimeysous has returned,” he said.
“Thank you, Klymestere,” Mayalordrel shifted her gaze to Selgrin. “I’ve been informed.”
He straightened. “Quite sorry, Dersimeysous.” He bowed at the waist to further demonstrate his regret at the interruption.
“That’s enough, Klymestere,” said Mayalordrel crossly. “You can go.”
Klymestere backed out of the room.
“Senator, eh?” said Selgrin.
“It’s only a title. It is what you do with it that matters.” The stare she gave him was scathing. “Why did you return, Selgrinostair? Are you here to stab your people in the back again for a handful of coin?”
Stab his people in the back? Daen had no idea what she was talking about.
“I may be a coward, but I’m no traitor,” said Selgrin.
“Believe what you will if it helps you sleep at night, just don’t count on me to forgive you.”
“I’m not here for that. I want to know if the Afflicted One is alive and looking to ally himself with the dogar.”
“I am not at liberty to talk about such matters,” she replied coldly.
“C’mon, Maya—lordrel. It’s not like I won’t figure it out. I just would rather hear the truth of it from someone I trust.”
Daen could have sworn he saw a glimmer behind Mayalordrel’s cold, gray eyes. She nodded. “I guess inside these city walls, it’s hardly a secret. A servant of Azren has been here. He wants the dogar to join his master once more. This time, though, our people are solidly against him.”
Then it was true, thought Daen. Azren was preparing for a fight that no one expected would come again. It was the Great War all over again.
“So the Senate has voted to oppose an alliance?” Selgrin asked.
“I wish things were that simple. Azren’s supporters are spreading coin around like minerolla muffins. Tonight we vote, and the people will follow whatever the Senate decides.”
“And which way will the vote go?”
“How should I know?”
“You forget I’ve played these political games before. You probably keep a notebook already tallied.”
She lowered her voice. “Opposition to Azren is running one vote behind without accounting for Lofilyer, the Chamber Head. As you’re well aware, his vote counts twice. Up until now, he has remained mum on his intentions.” She leaned in close to Selgrin and whispered the rest in his ear.
Zeph squirmed to the edge of his seat trying to eavesdrop. Daen didn’t need to. He read Mayalordrel’s lips: Lofilyer would vote against an alliance with Azren.
Selgrin gave nothing away. “No matter the outcome, what you’re doing is good, but it’s not just about getting out from under Azren’s thumb. You have to convince the Senate to stand with the humans against his armies. Only then can we show all of Draza the true mettle of the dogar.”
She cocked her head and gave Selgrin a curious look. “You’ve changed, Selgrinostair. I think spending time away from Feralintero has done you some good.”
“So what if it has?” He sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
After an awkward silence, Mayalordrel said, “We’re having a rally at the Senate Stage at dusk. If things go our way, we’ll be celebrating all night long.”
Daen heard the lack of enthusiasm in her voice. The sacks under her eyes bore testament to countless hours currying votes.
She took a long breath before continuing. “You should come and bring your human friends. Your brother has paid for everything. Without his financial support, I don’t think we would have stood a chance.”
Selgrin’s features darkened. “I don’t have a brother anymore, Mayalordrel. The day I left Feralintero is the day I started over. No longer am I a senator, a brother, or even the Dersimeysous. I’m just a plain old dogar.”
Daen knew this to be more than idle words. Selgrin had mentioned none of it before today.
“But I might show up for the final vote,” he continued. “I would love to see some of the other senators stamp their feet in frustration—particularly Velotanin, if he’s still around.”
“He happens to lead those in favor of joining Azren.”
“Figured as much,” muttered Sel. “Well, we better be off.” He pressed his stump against the arm of the bench and used it to push himself to a standing position. Daen and Zeph followed his lead.
“It was a pleasure meeting you,” said Daen.
“Interesting, to say the least,” Mayalordrel replied. They were halfway out the door when she called out. “Be careful out there.”
Zeph turned back to give her a wink. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of him for you.”
Outside, they discovered a crowd had formed, and it wasn’t the pleasant kind. As soon as they appeared, insults were thrown, and the occasional spear pounded the ground.
“So where to now?” asked Zeph, seemingly oblivious to the jeers.
“We’re headed where we’re headed,” Selgrin said gruffly.
Daen strode out in front, hoping to clear a path. The crowd gave way to his broad shoulders, but not without angry looks and knuckles tightening around weapons.
“Deserter!” A random insult came out.
Sel and Zeph carried on as if they didn’t notice the menacing shouts or the violence held barely in check.
“You know, it would be quicker just to tell me where we’re going,” said Zeph.
“And then what would you have to nag me about along the way?” Selgrin replied.
Daen scanned the crowd anxiously.
“I’m sure I’d think of something.”
A long-haired dogar among the crowd flashed a knife. Trouble.
Selgrin abruptly turned into a building with blue and green swaths on its outer walls forming what looked like the flowing sea. Inside was a fish market, and much of the food was still alive, swimming in tanks of various sizes.
Daen glanced back to make sure none of the hecklers followed while Sel marched briskly toward an exit at the back.
“How ‘bout we just keep to ourselves and enjoy the walk?” suggested Selgrin.
“Or we can talk about your brother,” said Zeph, dodging between patrons. “I wonder if he shares your sense of humor.”
Selgrin sighed heavily without slowing his pace. “I need to get some new clothes. Happy now?”
“Is that before or after we visit your brother?”
They emerged from the back of the fish shop into a peaceful, bright street. Daen’s eyes roved for danger.
“Leave it alone, Zeph,” Selgrin snapped.
But he wouldn’t. “It’s been forty years, Sel. Don’t you miss doing all those brotherly . . . things?”
“I don’t know, like sticking food in each other’s ears.”
“Don’t remember ever doing that.”
“Popping the heads off bugs together?”
Selgrin shook his head.
“You must have at least called each other by catchy nicknames. I hear that’s a brotherly rite of passage. Bet you by went Stink-Eyed Pete.”
“Enough of this.” Selgrin plowed forward in anger.
“Actually, I think Selgrin the Sourpuss may suit you better,” Zeph hollered, and then more softly, “I wish I had a brother.”
Daen recognized the truth of it all over his face. What orphan wouldn’t?
Daen recognized the truth of it all over his face. What orphan wouldn’t? As the youngest in a family of seven sons, Daen had had more than his share of brotherly love before he’d left Nalesc. That was then. Five years was a lifetime to be away from the places and people he’d grown up with. It was too bad he wouldn’t be returning anytime soon. More than family waited for him in Nalesc.
Sel led them to an intersecting avenue where the street widened considerably—and the number of dogar staring at them multiplied. Daen braced himself for the possibility of another belligerent mob.
Selgrin took on a conciliatory tone with Zeph. “Haven’t you ever been so angry at someone that you just didn’t want to see or talk to them for a while?”
“Yeah, for a day maybe.”
“Mayalordrel has a point—you humans have no concept of time. My people are known for their long memories.”
“So you would think they’d remember what happened the last time they sided with Azren.”
“Being around me, Zeph, you might not realize most dogar are set in their ways. They’d rather attempt a failing strategy twice than come up with another.”
“You don’t say?”
Only Daen seemed to follow the sarcasm.
Selgrin paused in front of a giant storefront as if to verify he had the right place. Towering double doors stood wide open beneath a sign reading Yiltoline Cloth with intricate characters etched underneath the words.
“I was wondering,” Zeph said to Sel, who rolled his eyes in preparation for another onslaught of curiosity. “Why are all the signs written in Drazan Common? Don’t your people have your own written language?”
Sel looked relieved at the straightforward question. “We’re a race of traders. The dogar adopted Drazan Common as our primary language many, many years ago. I’m not old enough to have learned ancient dogar. But the signs continue to use it so that the elders—”
He crashed to the ground under the impact of a flying tackle. Daen wheeled around. It was the long-haired dogar from before.
“Filthy scum,” he shouted from atop Sel. Well-muscled and young, he held a fistful of Sel’s tunic in one hand and a knife over the bridge of Sel’s nose in the other.
Daen froze. Any sudden move could risk injury to Sel.
“My father’s dead because of you,” said the man, lowering the dagger toward Sel’s eye.
Gawking dogar began to draw near. Daen recognized some from the earlier crowd, and a new wave of slurs joined calls for the offender to put Selgrin down for good.
What is the source of all this animosity? Whatever Selgrin had supposedly done, he could never have hurt so many people intentionally.
“Go ahead then, finish me,” said Selgrin.
And the crowd agreed.
Tendrils of Darkness: Book 1 of The Black Trilogy comes courtesy of a partnership between Will Spero and Best Fantasy Books. Enjoy a new chapter every Sunday available right here.
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.
Will Spero grew up in a world of Dungeons and Dragons, David Eddings and The Princess Bride. A time when heroes were meant to be, well, heroic, and villains had the blackest of hearts. These early indulgences to his imagination might explain why he made a career out of embellishing the ordinary (a.k.a. “marketing”). Will enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids as well as a lap-sitting terrier. When he is not conquering the world of the mundane, he writes fantastical stories for any who wishes to read along.