Kingsblood Sample Chapter I
A King Among Thieves
“Scream,” came a callous voice.
The man’s heart jumped.
“Scream,” the voice said again. The shadowy figure leaned forward from a chair beside the bed. Those piercing yellow eyes carved into the man’s soul.
The man tried to scream again, but it came out as nothing but a miserable muffled shriek. He trembled and stared at the door, eyes wild with desperation, but no one came. There was no escape. Not from the hands of this assassin. An Unseen killer whose very name had become intertwined with fear.
Shade grinned darkly at his latest victim. He leaned further in. “Your guards are right outside your door, Oisleean,” he whispered in the Shamite’s ear, “they could still save you if only they could hear you, so, scream.”
Oisleean struggled for words, for the familiar peal of sound off his tongue, but nothing came. The shadow of one of his bodyguards in the hallway shifted in the torchlight that shone from under the door. The man whimpered.
“What’s the matter, Shamite?” the Dark Elf mocked him, “Don’t you want to live? You can scream, can’t you?”
The Shamite thrashed his arms and legs, but his restraints held fast.
“Muffle Juice,” Shade said. He leaned back in his chair. He shook a half-empty vial of an amber-colored goo. “It’s a wonder back in my own dark country. Sprinkle a dash of freshly ground Mummel Flower in molasses and you have the world’s only known mute agent. It finds much use in the dungeons of Aaagdensool when our ears tire of our victims’ screams of horror.”
Oisleean yanked so hard at his binds he burned his wrists.
Shade watched him and chucked softly. His victim had not come to terms with the hopelessness of his situation. He supposed he could not blame the man. After all, few men understood the many secrets of Jui-Sae. Muffle Juice caused aphonia—a bilateral disruption of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which supplies nearly all the muscles to the larynx. In layman’s terms, it strips the voice box of all sensation and motor function. Of course, he would not bore his victim with some dry old scientific explanation. The inability to call for help in the company of one’s executioner was terrifying enough.
“You really should hire better help, Oisleean,” Shade mused, “one of these days someone dangerous might come looking for you.”
Oisleean whimpered at the cold hard door.
“Oh don’t feel so bad,” he patted the man’s chest. He tucked the vial away and retrieved a dagger.
Oisleean watched in arrested horror as the assassin played the blade over his fingers. The razor edge flashed in the darkness reflecting off the moonlight that poured in through the window. The Shamite gasped.
“You see, I’m not usually so sophisticated in my methods of execution. Slide an acute piece of metal into a vital organ and the victim will die quick and without much fuss,” he continued as he rubbed the razor sharp edge against his thumb, “crude, but effective. Assassins have neither the time nor the creative vision to entertain so elaborate deaths as, say, your common serial killer.”
The man stared vacantly at Shade.
Shade leaned forward in the chair. He traced the tip of the blade across the man’s smooth features. The Shamite shook even more violently. The Dark Elf’s voice died to a hiss, “But I’m afraid your lifestyle has made it personal.” The assassin flicked the blade drawing a trickle a blood from the man’s cheek.
Oisleean breathed out a short hoarse soundless scream. He kicked and yanked at his binds, but he could not escape. He wept hot desperate tears.
Shade stood up and casually paced the room. “You see my father was quite an accomplished thief,” he said softly, but his voice had not lost its hard edge, “he acquired a mass of wealth before he died, just as you. He grew rich robbing the helpless, the blind, the foolish,” he paused and turned around, his glowing eyes ablaze with anger, “he too preyed on weak-willed women and fathered many orphans. He too surrounded himself with thugs and filled his bed with whores, but in the end nothing could save him.”
The Shamite blubbered like a pathetic wretch.
The assassin stopped and leaned over the bed. He brought the blade to the Shamite’s neck to ensure he kept the man’s rapt attention. “Do you know the difference between me and you, Oisleean?”
Oisleean flailed and kicked desperately at his restraints.
“I no longer prey on the weak,” Shade whispered in the man’s ear, “I have evolved, moved onto larger, more worthy prey. I am now the hunter of hunters, the killer of killers—the very top of the food chain.”
The Shamite shut his eyes tight. He held his breath and prepared himself for the killing blow. Two tears squeezed from his eyelids.
Shade traced the tip of the blade down the man’s neck and across his chest. He paused at the man’s ribs. “Arctavian sends his regards.”
The man shuddered and gasped.
“Tisk, tisk, Oisleean,” Shade whispered in the Shamite’s ear, “you could have gotten away it. A young naïve lovesick daughter. An only child. A perfect target. You could have swindled her out of her father’s inheritance, and left, moved onto to the next town, like you always do, but that wasn’t enough for you. Not this time. Instead, you had to murder her and dump her out on the streets like a common whore.”
The Shamite trembled with violent sobs.
Shade turned the blade suddenly. He drove it deep into the man’s spleen.
Oisleean’s eyes shot wide open. He opened his mouth and cried out in voiceless pain. He managed a faint indistinct scream, barely a whisper.
The assassin yanked the blade out. The Shamite would bleed out in a matter of minutes. The Dark Elf retrieved a long rolled up cloth from the back of his belt-pouches. He quickly unwrapped the cloth revealing a black rose native to his homeland. He laid the rose on the Shamite’s chest and closed the man’s fingers around the stem.
Oisleean shook violently as his life slipped away.
The Faelin turned his back in remorseless indifference. “Consider it his bride price,” Shade said coldly. He walked over to the window. He climbed up onto the windowsill and disappeared. Just then a bloodcurdling scream rang out loud and clear from the bedroom cutting deeply into the night. Shouts of alarm sounded as Oisleean’s bodyguards barged into the bedchamber. The Dark Elf grinned darkly. It appeared the Muffle Juice had finally lost its effect…
Shade strolled across the Ice Marshes with four fat new purses of bloodstone at his belt. The girl’s father had paid him double their original agreement and so the assassin knew he had done his work well. He strutted at a leisurely pace; having finished the job he saw no reason to hurry. The midmorning summer sun shone down hot on the brown marshlands. The Ice Marshes did not live up to its wintry name during the warmer seasons. Swamp plants and flowers were in bloom. Yet the Faelin still undertook the marshes with a degree of measured care.
The assassin swatted his arm as he felt the sting of another mosquito bite. The blood popped as he squashed the insect. Blast. He wished there was a time of day the marshes weren’t plagued with pests. Still, there was far much more to worry about. He saw several Coldwater Crocodiles sun-bathing their brown scales on muddy banks. He kept to the hammocks and the shallow swamp-water filled swales where he could see the bottom wasn’t more than a few inches. Muckhog trails were harder to track in the warm months since they didn’t tend to travel in large numbers.
Shade took ample care in his steps. Even though the ice was gone, the bog land still offered many surprises. Sticky sphagnum mats were difficult to walk on. Many shrubs and low lying plants bore poisonous thorns. Deposits of undecomposed vegetation such as peat and muskeg made for surprise sinkholes. The Coldwater Crocodiles tended to find easy meals in such environmental pit traps.
But there was also much beauty. He saw small Mudcrabs lift up their shells and flee his huge footsteps as he splashed through the swales. He saws frogs hop back into deeper waters. Snakes slithered among the reeds. Mudlarks with long beaks fluttered among the Baldcypress Trees to feed on insects. Moss, floating sedge and water lilies floated on the murky waters, a few plants even budding with flowers.
The assassin’s mind drifted back to his most recent kill. True, Warlord Lewd’s job presented the most challenge he had encountered in years, but this latest mark held a deeper meaning to it. Of course, he had made a much grander display of Oisleean’s death than his typical job, but in a small way he couldn’t help but feel he had accomplished some good through it. Oisleean had betrayed and murdered an innocent girl.
Shade had acted as the sword of justice in her father’s hands. The assassin had done what her father should have done, would have done, had society allowed him to act on his desire for vengeance without causing his family further harm. Shade was a hard Faelin, but he secretly hoped he handed back the girl’s father a small piece of his shattered heart. This world was a better place without Oisleean.
Shade wondered at whether he should make a new living working at nobler kills. He could slay all those who preyed on women and abused children. The assassin’s fingers traced unconsciously to a locket he hid under his leather vest. He rubbed the locket before he realized what he was doing. It was a secret he showed to no one. A secret he would take to his grave. A secret he would kill to keep safe. He paused and stared down at the brass locket. It was charred and blackened. He could still see the crumbled ashes preserved behind the glass. It had once contained a portrait of his mother.
He had never discarded it. He often wondered why he still wore it. Perhaps, it was his only connection to the living, to remembering what it was like to care for someone. Perhaps, he yet still had a softer side buried somewhere down deep under his hard callous. He wasn’t sure he liked that. No, it was much more he realized. It was the line. The line that kept him from becoming a monster like his old master, Sadora. The line that had caused him to flee his own dark country. The line that kept him from mindlessly butchering women and children. The memory came flooding back to him like it was yesterday…
Shade could still feel their blood on his hands. He stared down at his clean black gloves and wondered when the feeling would ever go away. He had washed his hands a thousand times over again, but still the cloying stick of blood never left his soiled fingers. He could still see their faces and hear their cries of terror. Not the Faelin, but the Faelinas and the children. He just couldn’t do it anymore. He shook out his hands as if he could rid him of the guilt that followed him like a shadow out of Jui-Sae.
The assassin wandered through the rocky terrain of the far northern black forests of Jui-Sae. The black barked ominous trees swayed in the late night wind. The red, cobalt and silver moons of Covent cast a slight sheen that emanated off the rustling black leaves. The leaves gleamed with a secret beauty like torchlight reflecting off of onyx stone.
Shade saw his life reflected in the faces of these trees. Tree trunks along the borders of Jui-Sae were scored with eerie symbols made to resemble black magic, though in reality they held no power. The Faelin scarred the trees near enemy borders in an effort to scare trespassers off. He felt like his life too had been scarred. Its dark and midnight beauty long lost.
Shade cast an anxious glance back over his shoulder. He kept his hood and cloak pulled tightly over his head. Master Sadora, Shadowlord over all Unseen, would be looking for him by now no doubt. Search parties and other members of Sadora’s secret circle would have surely been dispatched. He did not have much time before the local Unseen Guardians received word for his capture. He could feel their eyes on him now. He was being tracked as was commonplace of most Faelin wanderers when infringing on the border woods. Faelin never traveled outside their borders. He feared they might mistake him for a deserter, or worse, a fugitive.
Shade had defied a direct order from Master Sadora. The Shadowlord had ordered him to murder in secret a Faelin noble family for the last time. Sadora may have trained him to become a cold, hard remorseless killer, but he had to draw the line somewhere. He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing their faces and these were good Faelin, Faelin of far nobler caste and character than his dark master.
The assassin found it ironic that he felt only a twinge of regret on his way out of left Jui-Sae. He feared he would miss home, but he didn’t. In a small way the assassin would always consider it an honor to have trained under the most legendary Unseen alive. Sadora had even given him the new name of Shade, which granted him the right of nobility in Jui-Sae. He would have lived proudly under this name for the rest of his life, if only he could face himself in the mirror every day.
Shade had at first envisioned himself to be an instrument of death forged for the mortal enemies of Jui-Sae—the Quaelinari, not for eliminating Sadora’s political rivals and their entire families. He even grew tired of the endless war. The Elf Wars had waged for over two thousand years. He had not known one day, not one day in his entire life without the war hanging over his head. He yearned to strike out west where he could start afresh and shape his own destiny.
Shade had considered going to the Faelin king and exposing Sadora’s many dark plots. After all, King Solshistaar was reputed to be a Faelin of upstanding moral character, but the Shadowlord was too close to his royal ear. The assassin had no other choice, but to run. He had just one last personal responsibility to take care of before he left Jui-Sae.
Shade paused as he pulled an overgrown branch out of his way. The black trees thinned out into cloistered groves. Human bones littered the rocky turf, the bones of thousands of trespassers. The southern alpine ridge of the Sunchild Chasm lay beyond. The ridge looked small when compared to the whitecapped Dragontooth Mountains behind it. He was in the last clusters of the forest and the trees thinned out so much he could see the black grass fields that lay beyond the northern border of Jui-Sae.
The Dragontooth Mountains crawled up the even grander shoulder of Mount Haven. Mount Haven’s mighty peak disappeared somewhere above the clouds. The great mountain cast all the land in shadow. He saw the distant flicker of torchlight from the high walls of the human city of East Falguard at the mountain’s base, but he was not heading to the human city, at least not yet.
Shade glanced back behind him. He breathed out a long sigh of relief when the Unseen Guardians did not follow him. They must be planning on catching him upon his reentry into the forest, but he had no intention of returning, not this time. He made for a mountain basin and finally passed out of the forest. He wound down a short ravine and came upon another town in the gorge. It was a Faelin town alright, but one so far off the map it wasn’t counted in the yearly census.
Nefar bustled with rough-looking, ugly and scarred Faelin. Crude flat-roofed Ebonwood shacks plagued Nefar’s dirt streets. Mangy flea-bitten dogs ran about barking, but no children played. The Faelin, mostly thieves and serfs, wore boiled leathers and carried many arms. The streets were but trampled dust and dried dung. No crops grew as Shade would describe this town as a hunting and gathering culture, if of course the chief game were other persons. King Solshistaar would never have allowed such a town to exist inside the black forests. He would have razed it to the ground not only by Jui-Sae’s strict anti-thievery laws, but for its inhumane living conditions. It looked like a human hamlet.
Shade kept his hood and cloak drawn about him. Memories stirred within him, but he forced them back down. He knew better than to show weakness here. He knew because he had grown up here. He squinted his glowing yellow eyes into razor thin slits. He could not afford to betray his identity, at least not yet.
The people eyed him as the strange cloaked figure strolled casually into town. Two old hags studied him. They crinkled their old brows and whispered about him under their breaths. He feared they had recognized him and quickened his pace. Shade walked past a bearded, one-eyed Faelin geezer. The old geezer spit in his path. The assassin would have killed the Faelin for the insult, but he would not risk exposing himself just yet.
The assassin strolled up to a ramshackled hovel of a tavern. The building was shaped like a dome and looked more like a wolves’ den, a fitting name as the tavern had been named The Rabid Moon. The sign of a wolf howling in front of a blood red moon hung from a single hinge. Shade shook his head. They still haven’t fixed that? He had spent much time here in his youth, before his life had been shaped with direction. He pushed through the double doors and stepped inside. The doors made that familiar creak he always remembered, but he entered here a reborn Faelin.
His eyes passed over the many brigands who remained enamored in their drinks, drugs and harlots. No one even noticed his entrance. Harlots danced on tables and conned brigands out of the day’s loot. Shade scowled. As a child, he had not realized how differently the Faelin in Nefar lived when compared to the rest of Jui-Sae. Now that he had returned, their wildly undisciplined and lewd behavior disgusted and enraged him. He wanted to slay them all for their inexcusable weaknesses and then he laid eyes on what he had come for…
A lean bearded Faelin thief in hard black leathers lounged among a rabble of broad-shouldered thieves and the choicest of harlots. They laughed and drank on cushioned seats with violet velvet pillows…the best seat in the house. The bearded Faelin’s hair had turned a glorious illustrious white with age, though he was far from wise. His name was Shadowfinger and his eyes were yellow like Shade’s own.
Shade smirked sarcastically. He watched the table at a distance. Shadowfinger acted like a king among thieves. He had one harlot down on her knees scrubbing his filthy leather boots. Two more in each arm. His goons appeared to watch him awkwardly, though he did spare them one or two of the uglier ones.
The thief laughed brazenly and threw back another mug of ale. His right-hand thug poured him another drink. A second waved a barmaid over. Shade shook his head. He knew the legend of Shadowfinger to be a cock and bull story that had passed down through generations. The real Shadowfinger had died generations ago and become widely feared for preying on travelers in the Sunchild Chasm.
Shade felt a bolt of rage shoot through his veins every time Shadowfinger laid a finger on another harlot. He was angry because he knew this Shadowfinger to be nothing but an opportunistic coward. Worse, he was Shade’s father. The assassin clenched his fists. He could feel the blood pounding in his heart. It had been the first time in decades he struggled to remain in control. He had to fight against every word, every unspeakable act his father had committed against him as a boy.
Shadowfinger had called Shade a mistake all his life. He had referred to him as a byproduct of some random biological mischief. His mother had warned Shade at an early age to stay away from his father, but he didn’t listen. He wanted to meet his father, to know the Faelin called Shadowfinger. The assassin still remembered the night he went to see his father without her permission. Shadowfinger had lashed out and tried to kill him. He would have succeeded had Shade’s mother not shown up. She threw herself in front of her son.
Shade still remembered backing slowly away in shock as his mother underwent a savage beating. He remembered the anger and horror of watching her battered as she screamed for him to run. She came home that night bloody and beaten. It had been Shade’s fault. He never forgave himself for that day.
Shade never dared go see his father again, at least not publicly. He used to watch Shadowfinger and his harlots in this very tavern, in a far corner of the room, hooded and cloaked just as he was now. He remembered his first virgin squeeze of a dagger before he possessed the knowhow to use it. He recalled fantasizing his father’s murder over and over again, but he never had the guts to budge from his seat. He was nothing, but a terrified boy back then wetting his pants under a shadowy cowl.
Shade used to think it was cowardice which held him back, but now, seeing the instrument he had become, he wondered whether it had been survival instinct. He remembered the anger and disgust he felt with himself as his mother grew very sick and yet he did nothing. He recalled the many nights he sat starving by her bedside as she withered and became bedridden. He bore in mind the animosity he felt building in his heart as he watched his mother slowly die before his very eyes.
One night he went into town to steal a loaf of bread. He bumped into his father in the flea market. Shadowfinger had heard about his mother’s illness. He did not so much as threaten the young boy. He just coldly laughed in his face. Shade had gotten on his knees and begged his father for the silver to treat her, but the coldhearted thief ripped the locket off his neck and cast it into a brazier. Shadowfinger had turned and walked callously away.
Shade burnt his own hands trying to retrieve that locket. He finally threw enough dirt on the coals to snuff out the flames and retrieved it, but the brass was too hot. He watched as her picture burned to ashes before his very eyes.
Shade would never forget that night. It would be the blow that drove him to join the ranks of the Unseen. Shadowfinger had the coin to treat her, but he chose to let her die. The old thief had falsely assumed that the boy would simply shrivel up and die like an unwatered shoot, but he underestimated one vital component. He underestimated Shade. And now Shadowfinger would be commanded to answer for everything he had done.
Shade approached his father’s table, his black cloak still pulled tightly about him and his hood still over his head. His father and his goons stopped chatting. The harlots stopped fawning over him for just a moment. The coins stopped rolling across the table. They stared up at him with sharp dangerous eyes, a hint of shock dawning over their faces. Who was this bold outsider who dared disturb them?
“Beat it, stranger, if you value your neck.” Shade’s father shrugged and went back to coddling his harlots. He flirted and laughed with the whores, unaccustomed to the possibility that this stranger might linger.
Shade did not move.
“Not sure this one is much on brains,” a blonde whore said still staring at him.
Shade’s father glared back in annoyance. His thugs’ hands went to their weapons, but they did not rise. “I said beat it, loafer!” Shadowfinger growled. He cast a goblet of wine Shade’s direction. The goblet hit the floor and splashed onto the assassin’s cloak. The red liquid soaked into the dark cloth like blood.
Shade pulled back his hood and allowed them to lay eyes on his face. His razor-sharp yellow eyes pierced the obscurity of the tavern. The glow of his eyes was far more pointed than his fathers, like daggers, sharpened over years of hard use.
The band of thieves gasped.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here, boy,” one of them said.
Shadowfinger looked up once again. He recognized the knowing tone in his lackey’s voice. His eyes shot wide open. “Drell?” He turned and rose. “It’s you, isn’t it?
Shade made no reply. He no longer answered to that name. That boy was long dead. He died at his mother’s bedside many years ago.
Shadowfinger stalked around him, studying him. His father’s hand went to his own dagger, but he hesitated. Something about the way Shade looked at him made him tremble.
“My how you have grown, you just haven’t grown smarter, eh, coming here?”
Shade wordlessly unbuckled his cloak and let it drop to the floor. His father and his ruffians held their breath. The entire tavern went dead quiet. He relished the shock and sudden fear that ghosted across the thieves’ hard-edged faces. They stared at the arsenal of knives sheathed into his embroidered soft leather armor. They stared at the crest on his chest emblazoned with the all too recognizable symbol of a gleaming eye hovering in the branches of a black tree.
“An Unseen?” his father stammered, “My bastard son, an Unseen?”
Shade watched with satisfaction as the goons’ hands shied off their weapons.
Shadowfinger reeled too hard to notice. He ran his finger across the crest on his son’s chest that identified him to be of a secret order of Unseen only breathed in legend. “The Sada’odan,” his father mused, “but how? You are not noble-born.”
“You must’ve lied. HA!” Shadowfinger laughed and clapped him on the back, “Learned a trick or two from your old relic, did ye now?”
“Good, made me eat crow, did ye?’ he actually smiled, ‘You’re a survivor and now that I see the grown Faelin you’ve become I can’t help but feel a burning sense of pride. We could use a Faelin with talents such as you. Put er’ there, Son.” He extended his hand, at long last an offer of acceptance.
Shade plunged a dagger into his father’s heart so fast the thieves blinked. The harlots screamed, but his father’s cronies did not even raise a finger to save him. Shadowfinger slumped up against his son and slid to the floor. He stared up at his killer who watched him die with the same cold indifference he had shown Shade’s mother. Shade studied his father’s morbid, betrayed expression. He waited until the death throes stole over Shadowfinger and the glow of his father’s eyes faded out.
‘Some king,’ Shade thought in disgust. He turned coldly and strode away. The entire tavern stared at him as he walked out. They all remembered him…that foolish boy that used to fill the tavern with the reek of his own urine. Their perception of him was forever altered. They recognized death itself reflected in the face of the boy they once knew. He would forever walk into their darkest nightmares.
Shade smirked darkly. It had not been what he expected. No one stopped him. No one cared. None dared try. He would grow quite accustomed to that feeling. He would go out west and make a name for himself. Not some ballooned mantle that could be passed on from one spineless brigand to the next, but a name of his own invention. He would birth a dark legend the world would not soon forget…
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