Tendrils of Darkness — Epilogue
Epilogue With No Man’s Land finally behin...
Tendrils of Darkness — Epilogue
Epilogue With No Man’s Land finally behin...
Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 50: Final Confrontation
Final Confrontation Years of sentinel train...
Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 49: Secrets Revealed
Secrets Revealed Circling Copius, the owlbe...
Cahrin opened her eyes. It was early—too early. Not even dawn yet. Norweegee sat nearby on the bed eyeing her. He wanted something. She could feel it in her core.
She sensed Norweegee’s state of mind a great deal lately. Just the other day, she had woken up famished only to realize Norweegee’s stomach was rumbling, not hers. Master Ulfin had always communicated with the creature telepathically, but that was because Norweegee was his familiar and they shared a summoner’s link to one another. So strong was it that should the master die, the familiar would follow the same path—or at least, that was how it was supposed to work.
Somehow Norweegee had survived Master Ulfin’s death. Stranger still, he stayed in this world. Creatures from Otherworld needed an anchor, or they faded away. Their summoner provided them a temporary one. So with Master Ulfin dead, what was keeping Norweegee here?
“Okay, okay,” she groaned.
She had tossed and turned most of the night, awakened abruptly in the budding hours of morning, and now, to top it off, was feeling pathetic—a disgrace to her people, too hesitant to strike out at her most dire enemy when the opportunity arose. Her behavior was not becoming of a chieftain’s daughter. She was turning weak like a ghasiv. And here she was sleeping inside the walls of Asormo, the two-faced city. How can I be such a traitor? Schie Bura was surely watching in disappointment from his place in Nebra, where the great owl Ofunu had taken him.
She let her eyelids close, wishing herself back to sleep. The bed began bouncing, and she opened her eyes to see Norweegee hopping up and down a hand’s width from her head. This was going to be impossible to ignore.
She rolled to her feet with a scowl as she left the bed’s embrace. It was soft and inviting, similar to the one she had slept in at Master Ulfin’s. She berated herself for becoming accustomed to such comforts. The mountains of the north provided ice and rock to lay upon and, if one was lucky, a layer of animal skin. A bed such as this only served to encourage laziness, which outside of warring was what the ghasiv were most known for.
Her father once said to her that the ghasiv were like snow finches, blessed with the whole sky at their disposal yet constantly fighting with each other over territory, food, and prospective mates, continually unhappy with what they had. In her six years of roaming southern Draza, Cahrin had never met a ghasiv content with how things were, even though the most wretched among them had more opportunities for a warm meal and a safe place to sleep than Schie Bura himself.
It all begged the question: Why she was here to begin with? Maybe it was because she had nowhere else to go. Her clan thought she was dead. Someone hired an assassin to make sure of it. And her poor master was himself dead. She was a nomad like the rest of her people, but instead of roaming the treasured mountains of Ked’coon, she drifted between ghasiv cities, trying to find her way. This particular city had a history with her people, one full of treachery and betrayal. She glared at the ceiling and walls, and for a moment she felt as if she were in the belly of a beast. And it was mocking her.
“You’re a worthless pile of rock, and you smell like ghasiv.” She spat, wishing with all her might that Asormo might be razed.
She clenched and unclenched her fists until her anger subsided, then wrapped a fur-collared robe around herself.
“Let’s go,” she said to the xaffel. What she wanted to say was let’s go home.
Norweegee sped about the room in delighted fashion and made a final leap to Cahrin’s shoulder as she opened the door.
She started down the corridor in the direction she sensed the xaffel wanted. They made several turns, coming to a hallway with a large set of intricately carved double doors. She guessed by its ornate appearance that it led to the bedroom of the king and queen. She made to pass by when one side opened before her.
She sucked in a quick breath. “Zeph Greymoon! I thought even you had better judgment than this.”
He shut the door gently while putting a finger to his mouth to silence her. “Keep it down. You’ll wake the queen.”
“And so what if I do? Is she going to be unhappy you’re not staying for breakfast?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You risk our safety and our mission with your careless act. Where’s the king?”
“Don’t ask me. Probably out fixing stones, for all I know.”
The door opened again and the queen stared crossly out. Her long, beautiful hair was frizzled, and her bedroom robe was tied closed unevenly.
“Why are you arguing outside the royal bedchambers at this hour? And what in the name of Brekad is that?” She pointed at Norweegee. The pink creature was shifting his weight in agitation, one claw holding onto Cahrin’s ear, the other curled up in a fist.
Cahrin returned a scathing look. “Perhaps you should be more concerned that the king will learn of the company you keep.”
Queen Pandare’s eyes narrowed.
Zeph grabbed Cahrin by the wrist. “We apologize profusely, Your Majesty. This hairless extremity is a pet from the north. I hear they’re quite useful, especially when there’s no other food about. As far as my friend here, she had a little too much to drink last night and is just feeling the aftereffects.”
The queen continued to stare at her suspiciously, though Cahrin could hardly guess why. “Now I know who to leave off tonight’s guest list.”
“Rightly so, Your Majesty,” said Zeph. Cahrin would have given a bitter retort had Zeph not made a short bow and began pulling her away.
Once they rounded the corner, he turned on her. “What was that about? Now she’ll be suspicious.”
“Of what?” She dug her nails into Zeph’s hand until he let go of her. “You have some explaining to do.”
He walked until they came to an area across from the Great Hall overlooking the atrium. Zeph told her in hushed tones about the previous evening, starting with coming upon Queen Pandare and the man in gray as they left her bedchamber and how he had snuck into the room and hidden under the four-poster bed. He related what he overheard, including one vital detail that made her stomach roil.
Kreeb—my nemesis has a name.
“When the queen was doubtlessly asleep, I slipped out and would have made an unassuming escape if it weren’t for some cheeky Northerner.”
Cahrin was skeptical. “And that’s the extent of it?”
“You have been known to exaggerate—or conveniently leave out certain facts.”
“Not this time, Cahrin.”
“Assuming you’re not making most of it up, what would the queen’s role be in all this?”
“She is either with Azren or placing bets on both sides of the coin.”
She shook her head distractedly. Norweegee was tugging at her internal strings while jumping up and down on the railing separating them from the atrium below.
“I like you far better in my pocket than acting out like some young whelp craving attention,” she scolded. “What is going on with you?”
“I think he spotted breakfast,” said Zeph.
Norweegee’s eyes were desperate. His paunch jiggled with each leap.
But Cahrin sensed his fear as if it was her own. She shrunk away from the railing. “There’s something in the atrium that’s bothering him.”
It looked like the start of a normal day. Although still dark out, vendors were already setting up shop. One merchant was laying out dyed cloth while another pulled open doors to reveal rows of baskets. A peddler arrived with fresh bread and began working the other vendors. The fear ebbed, leaving Cahrin feeling guilty at having rebuked Norweegee.
“What’s that?” Zeph gestured to an enormous crate that sat underneath the shadow of the walkway circling the atrium.
She had to admit it seemed peculiar. Its sides were made from dark, gnarled wood, and it was massive, at least a dozen feet tall and about a third that wide.
They padded down the stairs to the atrium. Cahrin could see the so-called Great Hall from below, though the only way to get to it was back up the stairs and through two rooms. It wasn’t the safest place for the king to dine, but he had told her he liked to be among his people. She thought that sounded unusual for a ghasiv king.
No one in the atrium seemed to have any insight about what was in the crate or how it had gotten there. The only tidbit they could glean was that it had not been there yesterday. As Cahrin approached it, Norweegee sprang away. The poor little guy wouldn’t get anywhere near it, and he continued to bounce up and down at a dizzying pace. If it hadn’t been for a fist-sized lock, Cahrin might have satisfied her curiosity with a peek inside.
Zeph caught her interest. “Even if I had my tools with me, that would be no easy lock to pick.”
“Whatever is inside is obviously quite valuable to someone.”
“Valuable—and drives your Otherworld rodent to madness. I’ll put my coin on a load of angry badgers.”
She ran her hand along the rough wood. “It’s mysterious, to say the least.”
They stared at the towering crate in silence.
“I’m going back to sleep,” Zeph said finally.
She nodded in agreement. Milling around the atrium wasn’t accomplishing anything. On their way up the stairs, a last glimpse of the gnarled wood nestled among the shadows sent a shiver down her spine. Probably just a consequence of Norweegee’s anxiety. But there was something ominous about the crate, something she had a feeling they would discover soon enough.
Her head hit the pillow before she even realized how exhausted she was. Trapped in sleep, her darkest memories became a vivid reality.
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.