Dancer’s Lament: Chapter 3

At the heart of Quon Tali lies the powerful city-state of Li Heng, which has for centuries enjoyed relative stability under the guidance of the powerful sorceress known as the Protectress. She is not someone likely to tolerate the arrival of two particular young men into her domain: one determined to prove he is the most skilled assassin of his age, the other his quarry—a Dal Hon mage who is proving annoyingly difficult to kill. The sorceress and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions, so how could two such troublemakers upset her iron-fisted rule?

And now, under a new and ambitious king, the forces of Itko Kan are marching on Li Heng from the south. His own assassins, the Nightblades, have been sent ahead into the city, and rumors abound that he has inhuman, nightmarish forces at his command. So as shadows and mistrust swirl, and monstrous beasts that people say appear from nowhere run rampage through Li Heng’s streets, it seems chaos is come—but in chaos, as a certain young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity…

Ian C. Esslemont’s all-new prequel trilogy takes readers deeper into the politics and intrigue of the Malazan Empire from its very beginnings. Dancer’s Lament, the first book in the series, is available May 31st from Tor Books. Read chapter three below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one.

 

 

Chapter 3

The red-headed girl’s name was Rheena. She and her two loyal followers, Shreth and Loor—Loor being the younger—played thieves’ games long familiar to Dorin. He recognized buttoning, fishing, and the crooked cross. Rheena picked the marks and usually served as the distraction. She sometimes asked for coin, or she’d catch a man’s roving gaze and offer herself. During the negotiations the mark would get run into by Shreth, or the two lads would start a fight right on top of him. She also proved a shrewd judge of character as, after eyeing one finely dressed fellow, she immediately started yelling that the bastard had felt her up. Under the surrounding hostile stares the embarrassed mark practically begged her to take a quarter-round to go away.

But theirs was a dangerous game. The streets were crowded with revellers and she made a mistake with one big fellow, who snatched Loor’s quick hand and twisted, sending him on his way with a kick. Shreth swung at him but was quickly laid out with a blow to the head. The man snatched Rheena by the arm and dragged her into an alley. Loor picked up a board but Dorin pulled him back, motioned for him to wait, and followed them himself.

In the narrow way the fellow had her up against a wall, one hand clutching her throat, the other holding her up by her crotch. Dorin cleared his throat. The fellow turned his head; his gaze was full of lazy confidence. ‘Who the fuck are you?’

Dorin motioned up the alley. ‘Put her down and walk away.’

The man dropped Rheena to the cobbles where she lay gasping for breath. He pointed a stubby finger at Dorin. ‘Dumb-fuck kids. Shouldn’t play with grownups.’

Dorin flexed his wrists to allow the thin blades he carried there to ease into his palms. The light in the alleyway was dim and flickering as revellers passed on the street waving torches and lanterns, but a change in the man’s expression told Dorin he’d seen them and knew what they meant. ‘Not worth it,’ Dorin told him. ‘Plenty of other girls out there. Walk away.’

A strange sort of knowing smile crept up the fellow’s lips and he opened his arms wide. ‘You gonna kill me, little man?’

‘No.’

‘No? Why not?’

‘I don’t kill for free.’

The other man frowned at that, stroked his chin with a wide paw. ‘Hunh. Makes sense.’ He kicked Rheena, who’d sat up. Shreth and Loor pressed up close behind Dorin, snarling their rage. ‘You, girl,’ the fellow demanded, ‘who do you work for?’

Rheena was rubbing her neck. ‘Fuck off.’

‘It ain’t Odd-Hand, I’m sure of that.’

Rheena started, surprised, and dropped her hand. ‘Tran,’ she spat, resentfully.

The big fellow grinned without humour. ‘Thought so. Well, you tell Tran to keep his brats off our streets. Right?’ ‘Fine!’

‘Good for you. Not so stupid after all.’ He brushed his hands together. ‘Now run along.’

Still unsteady, Rheena climbed to her feet. Shreth and Loor rushed forward and helped her limp away. Dorin did not move.

‘You too, knife-boy.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Unimportant, lad. This is just business. Now g’wan.’

Dorin decided to let it go. He backed away, all the while keeping his eyes on the other man. The fellow—an enforcer?—watched him go, his amusement quite obvious.

Out on the street, Dorin asked, ‘What was that all about?’

Rheena waved it off. ‘Just a little border scuffle.’

‘Who was he?’

‘He works for Urquart.’

Urquart. Pung’s main rival for control of all the city’s black market and thievery. Rafall, he knew, worked for Urquart.

Rheena suddenly laughed uproariously. She tossed her flamehued hair, the familiar fey light once more shining in her eyes. ‘Forget all that!’ She held out a fistful of coins. ‘Let’s get shit-faced drunk!’ Shreth and Loor howled their enthusiasm, joining their voices to the surrounding roar of revelry and singing.

* * *

With dawn, Dorin slid out of the dive where Rheena and her small loyal crew had finished their drinking. As the coin dwindled, the quality of the dives had slid precipitously, until they’d crashed in this dingy basement among snoring drunks. Dorin didn’t even think it a true business, just an abandoned room where you could find watered beer and the cheapest of narcotic chew and stale old d’bayang powder.

His head throbbed from the one tankard of disgusting beer he’d nursed and the smoke he couldn’t avoid inhaling. He rubbed his stinging eyes and headed off for the main street of the Outer Round. He circled pools of spilt beer and vomit, and stepped over unconscious revellers. Shop-owners tossed trash and the contents of night buckets into the streets. Hengans walked the streets holding their heads and groaning. He overheard stories of one large gang of celebrants, overcome with alcohol and confidence, that sallied out into the field in the pre-dawn. They’d been armed only with what they could pick up, and made a charge for the Kanese camp. Cooler heads had prevailed, however, or perhaps it was the chill prairie wind in their faces, or rumours that Ryllandaras had been seen in the vicinity, but they thought better of the assault and retreated. The mounted Kanese pickets had kindly allowed them to go with only a few jabs of their lances to hurry them along.

What made everyone twice as sick was the news on all tongues of the Crimson Guard’s being seen riding out of the north gate, the Gate of the Plains, that very morning. Evidently, as he and Rheena had deduced, they’d not come to rescue Heng but to escort a Grisian royal brat on yet another of those idiotic campaigns to hunt down the man-beast, Ryllandaras.

Walking the main way, Dorin found he was close to Ullara’s family stable. He jiggled the few poor coins in his pouch—his share of the remaining takings, hardly worth his bother, but she could clearly use them.

Though it was light, he risked the climb up the side and ducked into the open gable window. Within, the usual crowd of birds of prey roosted. They stirred uneasily at his entrance, but soon calmed and returned to cleaning their feathers. The night-hunters among them eased back into sleep. Dorin peered about for the gigantic raptor he’d glimpsed on earlier nights but saw no sign of it. Not surprising, as he doubted it could even fit through any of the windows. He bunched up some straw and lay back to join the other night-hunters in their rest.

* * *

He awoke to the birds’ muted mutterings and yawned, stretching. It was mid-day.

‘Good morning.’

He turned over. Ullara was sitting on a box, feet tucked up beneath her, watching him.

‘Morning.’

‘You were working last night,’ she said.

He nodded, then frowned; that hadn’t been a question.

She jumped up. ‘I’ll get some tea.’

‘Well… my thanks.’

‘Thanks?’ Her brows shot up. ‘Again? Your manners are improving.’

He searched for a response but she was gone down the trapdoor. Alone with the birds, he studied one stately russet plains falcon—the namesake of one of the Seti tribes. It returned his gaze with the cutting superiority that only a bird of prey can manage. Ullara returned with a cup of weak green tea, and a bowl of yogurt and bread.

‘My mother makes the yogurt,’ she explained. ‘We have goats.’

Dorin sat cross-legged and scooped up the mix. ‘It’s very good.’

‘Thank you, Dan—’ She stopped herself, blushing.

‘What was that? Dan?’

She plucked at her threadbare tunic, her head lowered, obviously mortified.

He cleared his throat. ‘You don’t have to say…’ Her hair, he saw, had dirt and straw clumped within, and hadn’t seen a brushing in a good long time.

She dared a quick glance up, her lip in her teeth. ‘I… I name all my… rescues.’

It seemed to him that she was going to say something different there, but he did not comment. He waited, instead.

She gestured to the tall plains falcon. ‘That’s Prince.’ She pointed to a savage-looking split-tail hawk. ‘Keen.’ A huge dozing tuft-eared owl, ‘Biter.’ Several more names followed: ‘Swift, Watcher, Fury, Red, Cutter.’

Dorin nodded to each then returned to Ullara. ‘And me?’

She hid her face once more, whispered, hushed, ‘Dancer.’

He raised a brow at that; he had indeed been forced to train for a time as a dancer—for flexibility and speed. And his teacher had always treated duels as a dance as well. ‘Well, thank you, Ullara.’ His hand rested on his coin-pouch and he jumped, remembering. ‘Oh, yes. This is for you.’ He held it out.

She eyed it but made no move to take it. After a moment, he laid it on the boards of the floor amid the straw and bird shit. ‘It isn’t much… I just thought…’

‘Thank you. My little brother is sickly, and we can’t… my thanks.’

‘I see. Well. I ought to be going.’

‘Yes.’ Again, so sad. How was it that he seemed only to make her sad? She reached to take up the bowl and his breath hissed from him in shock. ‘Your hands!’

She tried to hide them but he was far quicker and took both, turning them over. The flesh of the fingers, backs and palms was cracked so severely that dried blood filled most of the deep crevasses and much of the ridged flesh was white—dead and hardened. ‘You work with lye and other such chemicals?’

‘It is my job to clean all the tack, and treat the leather for softness.’

‘It’s eating your flesh to the bone—you will lose your fingers.’

She yanked her hands away. ‘I’ll not let my mother do it! Nor my sisters!’

He raised his own hands in open surrender. ‘No—I’m not suggesting. I’m just… Here.’ From his shirt he drew another pouch and pulled out a packet wrapped in waxed parchment. ‘Use this.’

‘What is it?’

‘A healing unguent. Here—let me.’ He urged her to give him her hands. She extended them like a scared, wary animal, and he kneaded the honey-thick preparation into them. It softened with the heat, like a wax. He rubbed her fingers, careful to get it between.

‘This is alchemy,’ she said, her voice rising in alarm. ‘You bought this.’

‘Yes.’

She almost succeeded in yanking her hands from his. She hissed, ‘We—I—cannot afford this!’

‘Never mind. Consider it a gift.’ He returned to rubbing her hands. ‘Relax now.’ He hardly had to say it, as her shoulders had fallen, easing, and her eyes slowly shut. A dreamy smile came to her lips as he worked the unguent into the wounds.

‘This is infused with Denul magics,’ she murmured, seeming half awake.

‘Yes.’

‘You are wasting it on me.’

‘No. This is what it is for. Now… better, yes?’

‘Yes,’ she said, her voice barely audible. ‘Better.’

‘I’ve got to go. Will I see you again?’

She shook herself, blinking and straightening. ‘Yes. Certainly.’ ‘Good. Now, take care of yourself.’ He rose, and, peering down at her, fought an urge to take her head in his hands and press a kiss to her forehead and whisper It will be all right. You will see. Everything will be all right. He shook himself instead and retreated to the window, waved, and started down the side of the stable. As he made the alley, it occurred to him that perhaps their roles were now reversed—he the rescuer and she the wounded trembling bird.

Alone, Ullara remained sitting. She allowed her eyes to close once more and tucked her hands under her chin and held them there, rocking. A smile came to her lips again, only this time much more fierce. She curled up among the scattered straw and breathed in the scents rising from her oh so warmed hands.

* * *

Silk knew of three hidden entrances to the catacombs far beneath Heng. One was through the sewers behind the palace, another was via a tunnel accessible along the riverside, while the third was theoretical: a door barred and secured in the very wall of the Outer Round. He opted for the riverside. He owned several river crafts and selected the one he used for his more clandestine journeys; one little more than a long narrow dugout. He unmoored it and paddled out among the forest of pilings that supported the countless docks, wharves, and waterside businesses.

Since he was out on the Idryn, he decided to swing by someone, who, if not really a friend, could be described as a compatriot. For while all Heng knew there were five city mages in the Protectress’s employ, what those five knew was that, in truth, there were far more than that. He idled for a time close to the shore of the muddy ochre course that was the Idryn here on its slow way to Cawn and the Bay of Nap. After tracing the flats among the shadows beneath the wharves high overhead, he spotted a hunched shape seated on a rock amid the mud, bare feet caked in the green-grey muck, hair a frighteningly tangled mass. The shape was hardly recognizable as female, but he knew her. She was holding up one of the exceptionally large Idryn crayfish by one claw.

‘Ho! Liss!’ he called.

The old woman peered up, squinting. ‘Who’s there? Is that that slick and smarmy fellow?’

Silk raised his eyes to the wood decking above. ‘Must we, Liss?’

She made a show of addressing the crayfish. ‘Why does he wear that hollow pretty mask?’ She held the creature to her ear. ‘No! Not that monstrous, surely!’

‘Thank you, Liss. I’m sure the crayfish are full of insights.’

‘They are full of Hengan citizens—I’ll tell you that!’

He rubbed his chin. ‘Well… I’ll have to give you that one.’

‘Come to drop the mask, Silk?’

Smiling, he shook his head. ‘Just a greeting. On my way to see Ho.’

She shook the crayfish like a warning finger. ‘Watch out for Hothalar, my friend. He is a haunted man.’

Silk bowed in answer to the warning. Liss, he knew, went far back here in Heng. The sluggish current dragged him onward.

‘Have a care,’ she shouted. ‘I see trouble ahead.’

‘What? The Kanese?’

‘No. Send King Chulalorn my way and I’ll squeeze the ambition out of him—along with all his seed! No, something else.’

‘What?’

She called back, ‘Don’t know. Something sly, hidden. I see it in the corner of my eye.’ Silk bowed again in answer to the warning as the figure disappeared among the forest of pilings.

Later that afternoon he found the gated access, magically disguised in the dark under the decking and raised walkways. He drew up his dugout, and, with extreme distaste, squelched his way through the muck to the entrance, and unlatched the iron grating.

Many tunnels and rickety ladders later, he was within the stonewalled catacombs. In the utter dark, he summoned his Warren and a tiny flame flickered to life upon his upturned palm. It gave no heat, of course, just illumination, as Thyr was his Warren. Many, he knew, assumed that he was a mage of Mockra—one specializing in what some named the art of glamour. But in fact his allure came naturally rather than deliberately. Or perhaps he did somehow innately draw upon Mockra. He didn’t know. What he could do, however, through his years of discipline and study, was touch this one Warren of Thyr and even, in moments of his greatest inspiration, catch glimpses of a wellspring of might that lay beyond it.

The tunnel was a narrow semicircle of crudely dressed sandstone blocks. Narrow, but tall. Rats scampered from his light. He stilled, listening. All he heard was his heartbeat and water dripping. He picked a direction and followed it.

Beams of light streamed down here and there, illuminating short stretches of the anonymous stone tunnels. A stream of cascading water flooded one intersection. He stepped carefully through puddles for some time after that. At one point he thought he glimpsed a human figure moving among the shifting shadows and would have dismissed it as just such another but for a faint tapping that seemed to accompany the blurry disturbance.

‘Hello?’

The rippling, shifting darkness that might or might not be an actual person turned at a corner. Silk found the junction and cast his sorcerous light beyond. The tunnel lay completely empty and utterly quiet. He snorted at his overworked imagination and moved on, coming at last to a gate of very thick iron bars. It was locked and there was no way he could open it. However, the bars were quite far apart and he was very slim. He almost tore an ear off, but he made it through. His shirt was now frankly ruined, as were his trousers of fine imported Darujhistani silk. He brushed at his clothes, cursing Ho, then carried on. A few turns later he came to a tunnel faced by a series of iron doors. He studied the flagged floor. The dust was disturbed. Someone walked here regularly. He listened at the nearest door. All was quiet. Eerily so, as he was so far underground. Yet he thought he heard something. Movement.

‘Hello?’ he whispered.

The door struck him in the side of his head as something rammed or punched it from within. He staggered away, holding his head, cursing again. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded, ears ringing and head throbbing.

‘Lar!’ came in an animal-like growl. Or some sound resembling that. ‘Lar, Lar, Lar!’

‘Lar? Lar who?’

‘What are you doing here?’ a new voice rumbled from far down the tunnel.

Silk spun, hunching, his Warren readied. A dark shape came shambling up. It filled the tunnel completely from side to side and top to bottom—the giant form of Koroll. Silk straightened, eased the knot of tension in his shoulders and neck. ‘Greetings,’ he offered.

‘It is dangerous here,’ Koroll murmured, his voice low. He waved Silk back up the tunnel. ‘Come.’

* * *

Koroll unlocked the barred gate and had Silk shut it behind him. Then the giant led him on through the maze.

Another door, this one a stone slab two hand-lengths thick, opened on to a much wider and taller complex of stone-walled tunnels. Silk found that he could now walk next to Koroll as the Thelomen-kind giant slowly strode along, rather like a rocking shack. ‘What was all that back there?’ he asked.

‘A prison.’

‘Yes. I gathered that. For whom? Or what?’

‘Things dangerous to Heng. Things that over the centuries Shalmanat has been forced to subdue.’

Silk felt the hairs of his arms and neck prickling as he considered this. Ye gods! Centuries! And what things might lie in those cells? Daemons? Creatures of other realms? Perhaps even murderous fellow mages… Silk shook himself as the cold subterranean air left him feeling chill and clammy.

Koroll led him into a broad chamber, round and dome-roofed, rather like some sort of ancient tomb. Silk was alarmed to hear chains—the reverberation of very large chains clunking and thumping in the dark. Reflexively, he raised the power of his light, revealing a tall block of stone at the chamber’s centre and his fellow city mage Mister Ho at its side.

Ho crossed his thick arms. His scowl had turned even more wary than usual. ‘What brings you down here, Silk?’

‘The view,’ Silk answered, absently. His gaze rose to where an equally large block of stone hung suspended over the first. It was held there by numerous thick chains all extending off into the dark where stone counterweights waited. A single chain led up into the gloom of the hidden roof, and there Silk thought he caught a faint glimmer of light. ‘What is this?’

‘A work in progress.’

The block was far wider and longer than any man. Silk rose on to his tiptoes to peer over the top. It was hollow, with thick sides. It resembled, to all appearances, an enormous… sarcophagus. As the thought came, Silk flinched away. What might it once have held? He shot a glance to Ho—one just as wary as his. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Preparing a prison.’

‘A prison? For whom?’ And the answer came as he asked and Silk’s hand went to his mouth. ‘No… it will never work.’

Ho sent a dark glance to Koroll. The look seemed to say Why did you bring this asshole here? Koroll sighed and grasped his staff in both hands, resting his weight there. Ho cleared his throat. ‘What do you want, Silk?’

Silk dropped his hand. ‘Help. I want help tracking someone down.’

Ho grunted his understanding of the request. ‘The assassin you mentioned?’

‘Yes. He’s good. Better than most who’ve tried to set up shop here.’

Ho brushed a hand along the glittering granite wall of the sarcophagus. ‘Not my specialty. Nor Mara or Smokey.’ He grunted a dry laugh. ‘Something of a hole in our defences, hey?’

‘I will help,’ Koroll rumbled.

Silk raised a hand in thanks. ‘With all respect, Koroll, you’re not very… stealthy.’

‘I will give you my nights,’ Ho said.

Silk was quite surprised. ‘You said it wasn’t your specialty.’

The fellow shrugged his meaty shoulders. ‘I’ll pull something together.’

Silk tilted his head in cautious agreement. ‘Very well. Tomorrow night, then.’

Ho nodded to Koroll. ‘Make sure he gets out.’

The giant murmured a rolling laugh and raised an arm, pointing to the door. Silk was irritated at such a dismissal, but something in the strange mage’s grim manner told him not to object. He bowed instead, mockingly, and followed Koroll. At the entrance, he paused, turning back. ‘By the way… I thought I saw someone else down here.’

Ho stood motionless, his thick arms crossed, his gaze steady, almost suspicious. ‘That’s impossible. No one else could ever find their way down here.’

Silk gave a shrug, saluted, and headed out.

All the way back through the tunnels, he wondered whether he had discovered the truth of things. Was Ho simply Shalmanat’s warder-in-chief? And this huge stone sarcophagus. Did they really imagine it could possibly succeed? After all, how could they hope to lure the man-beast down here?

* * *

A voice whispering from across the fire woke her. That and the sense of a presence—at long last. She started up from beneath her blanket, blinking, and wiping at her eyes. The fire was a mere orange blur of embers. The stars through the overhanging branches glowed much brighter. At first she thought no one was there, but then the faintest of ghostly waverings, as of a mirage, betrayed a presence. A very weak and tenebrous breath of one.

She recognized the unwelcome essence. ‘Errant,’ she growled, making no effort to conceal her distaste.

‘Good to see you too,’ came a wavering ghostly response. ‘Sister. Cold night, isn’t it?’

She smiled thinly. ‘What do you want?’

The figure across the embers was of a man, seated cross-legged. Yet the bushes behind showed through quite clearly. ‘Want? Why must I want something? Could this not be purely social?’

‘No it could not.’ Only the eyes, she noted, held any definite presence. They burned with an inner light. And the teeth gleamed where the lips were curled back in that familiar habitual sneer.

‘Very well, sister. I am here for the same reason as you.’

‘No you are not.’

A phantom shrug. ‘Close enough.’

‘And what is that?’

‘Come, come. You sense it just as I have. You, who remain so very much of this mortal realm. And I, whose aspect could not help but take note of any play.’

Though she was resolved not to allow this one to bait her, she roused, annoyed. ‘Play? This is no game, Errant.’

‘Everything is a game, sister.’

‘With you.’

‘Your mulish mundanity bores me.’

‘The oblivious arrogance of those who expect others to entertain them sickens me.’

The flickering ghost-image across the campfire smiled. ‘Good to see you have not lost your edge, sister.’

She did not answer. Crossed her arms.

The Errant let out the faintest of sighs. ‘Very well. I know when a throw is made. A gambit opened. It is my nature, of course. Our… cousins… have made another play. The enormous dusty wheels of fate are grinding into motion once again. What might this game bring? Who is to say?’

She smiled at his uncertainty. ‘They worry you, don’t they?’

‘Of course they do! They have withdrawn. We no longer know what they intend.’

She made a show of shrugging her insouciance. ‘I am not worried.’

‘If you concerned yourself with the larger picture of things, you would be.’

‘Do not condescend to me, Errant. You are not intelligent enough.’

The eyes glittered hungrily across the orange glow. ‘And do not provoke me, sister. You are vulnerable. A nudge here or there and you could find yourself dead.’

‘Says a pallid ghost with little to no influence.’

The sneering smile twisted into slyness. ‘Oh, I have influence… elsewhere.’

A new voice spoke at the dying fire. ‘Making up, are we?’

The shade that was the sending of the Errant flinched and vanished.

She inclined her head in greeting to the hooded figure now warming his hands at the embers. ‘Welcome, K’rul.’

‘Sister. And what did our poor misguided friend have to say?’

‘He has sensed it also. Ripples from the Azath. And the stone was cast here. I fear he will try to interfere.’

‘It is true that he yet remains capable of meddling. Strange how those least fit to hold or wield power lust after it the most.’ K’rul turned his hands in the warmth and she knew it as a gesture purely for her benefit. ‘That is a mystery that remains beyond even me. However, another is in place to keep an eye on the Errant.’

‘And what of our cousins?’ she asked.

A tilt of the head. ‘They, too, remain beyond me. Beyond us all. None have ever succeeded in penetrating their secrets.’

‘Some may have,’ she murmured, her gaze deep in the flickering glow of the fading embers.

‘Possibly. But they have not returned to us, have they? They have disappeared within. The Azath are like black pits that swallow all.’

‘Yet they repeatedly demonstrate this compelling urge to intercede. They have goals. And for that they require agents. Brother, I will try to plumb their intent.’

K’rul sighed, drew his hands back to clasp them across his lap. ‘A perilous path for you, sister. And for me as well, I fear. That aside, is it not the case that only you, who yet remain free among us, could do so? Our brother lies imprisoned within the consequences of his own designs, while I remain enmeshed within mine. Very well, sister. I honour your intent and will do what I can to aid it.’

She bowed her head. ‘Thank you, brother.’

K’rul raised a finger. ‘Have a care. I foresee that this involvement could cost everything.’

‘That is as it should be, else it would not be worthwhile.’

The hand withdrew. ‘Very well. May you choose the wisest of all the many ways, Sister of Cold Nights.’

The hooded shape faded away into the dark and she was alone. Wincing, she stretched out her legs, arched her back, and threw more branches upon the embers. As the fire grew, she shifted to sit cross-legged, set her hands palm up on her knees, closed her eyes, and cast her awareness towards the city to the south.

She was searching. Searching for a flavour. The faintest of brushstrokes. Something… inexplicable. And through the darkness there came rumbling about her the creaking and grating of titanic wheels, such as Errant had mentioned. Only now, reverberating among the Warrens and Holds, these vibrations were not the cogs of fate’s machinations but the wheels of a gigantic wagon accompanied by the rattling of chains. And stricken by a chilling dread, she shuddered.

Wheels. Wheels groaning in the dark.

Excerpted from Dancer’s Lament © Ian C. Esslemont, 2016

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