From his vantage point, Lord Dewer could clearly see the blackened rubble strewed across the Bard’s Quarter. Parts of it were still smoking, even though a full week had passed since the monstrous fish-eyed creature had died there. He was standing on an enormous glassy balcony, projecting out over the city like a stabbing finger from the very top of the Obsidian Citadel. Beneath him, Midnight Square was an ashy pit, the broken husk of the Bard’s Rest a pile of spent firewood crawling with the many workers attempting to repair it.
Few were granted access to this level of the citadel. Dewer began most of his days standing there, buffeted by the wind tearing through twin windowless archways that faced each other across the black stone floor. The mirroring balcony pointed towards the Salt Bell and the glistening roil of the Thet beyond. On a clear day, Dewer fancied he could see all the way to the Island Nations.
He turned as footsteps echoed from the stairs. The narrow staircase ended on one side of the round room, if a room was what you could call it as it had no roof, doors or windows. Karane rose into view from the dark hollow of the stairwell, the morning sun illuminating the wine-red leather of his vest.
“Good morning, Karane,” Dewer greeted him.
Karane stopped before his lord and nodded stiffly in reply. He was a quiet man. It was one of the reasons why Dewer had elevated him from his position as a lowly Salt Sword to join Critos as the second member of his personal guard. He was always thinking though. His large dark eyes were always moving, scanning faces, surveying the area, noticing tiny details that even Dewer himself would often overlook. Karane was not a man easily caught off-guard.
“How goes the repair work?”
“Slowly,” Karane said. “The masons have sent for more stone from Trappastina.” He was a good inch taller than Lord Dewer, a fact that seemed to trouble him as every time they spoke he inclined his head, letting his broad shoulders sag and his long dark hair, only partly tied back from his face, fall across his eyes.
“And the Salt Swords? How do they fare?” The wind rose for a moment, whipping about the scant walls of the open space with a mournful wail and lifting Karane’s hair to obscure his eyes completely. Dewer always felt an intense urge to smooth that wild hair back from the man’s face. His hand twitched at his side.
“Thankfully, casualties were few,” Karane replied, his voice rising as he struggled to make himself heard over the moaning of the wind. “Those that were injured have been administered to by the druids and are healing rapidly, which is just as well because Overseer Jewel has been on high alert.”
“Yes,” Dewer said, a small smile spreading over his face, “Jewel must be spitting feathers. He’s never had to deal with so large a threat within the city walls.”
“He has posted more Salt Swords along the wall and is manning the city gates at night. I believe he fears another attack.”
“I would be severely concerned if that happened,” Dewer replied, his voice dropping to a low threat. Karane straightened slightly before him. “Tell me, have we discovered the idiot druid who let a second creature get past them?”
Karane began to shake his head before remembering himself and answering loudly, “No. But we will. Critos is still interrogating druids as we speak.”
“That is good. If anyone can shake the truth from a person, it’s Critos.” Dewer paused, watching Karane’s face. The man was finding it hard to maintain eye contact with him. Harder than usual, anyway. He was holding something back. “What are you failing to disclose, Karane?” he asked him. This time he did lift a hand to the guard’s face, pulling a hank of flying hair back from his forehead so he could glare into his eyes. The taller man recoiled at his touch and Dewer pulled the handful of hair harder, twining the silky strands around his fingers tight enough to hurt. Karane refused to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging any pain, a feat as impressive as it was frustrating.
“You still have no idea what happened to my Thet-Terror, do you?” Dewer used his own affectionate term for the creatures, thrown up as they were from the boiling fissures of the ocean floor, yet his tone implied anything but affection. “This is my city, Karane,” he said, strengthening his grip on the hair in his hand, yanking it until the pale scalp beneath pulled taught and flared red. “Nothing should be happening within its walls that I don’t know about. I watched that creature explode. I watched its guts fly across Midnight Square like so much fetid confetti. Why can nobody tell me what happened? The druids should have re-captured it easily.” He released the handful of hair and Karane stumbled backward.
“We have found something,” Karane said, forcing the hand that had instinctively flown to his burning scalp back down to his side. “A broken piece of jewellery amongst the creature’s remains.”
Dewer watched him reach for a pouch hanging at his belt with mounting impatience, snatching the tarnished object from Karane’s hand when he finally held it out to him. “You wait until now to show this to me?” he screamed. The guard’s face remained passive but his wide eyes betrayed his apprehension.
Dewer held the object up to the light. At first glance it was unimpressive. A small grey pendant set with an ugly glass eye. The eye was dull and blackened by flame. Dewer was unable to make out what colour it had once been but one detail did catch his attention, a delicate engraved pattern of interlocking hoops encircling the grey pewter disk. He knew at once what manner of people had made those marks. The pendant was a spelled object crafted by the Asrai. Dewer’s hand closed over the disk, gripping it so tightly the brittle face of the glassy eye cracked.
“Have you heard tell of any unusual newcomers to the city?” he asked Karane, trying hard to speak with an even tone. He wanted to scream into the wind. To hurl the spent pendant into the Thet and Karane along with it. Asrai had dared to breach the walls of his city. “Newcomers with hair and skin as pale and cold as ice?”
“No Lord Dewer, but I will begin searching for such a people immediately.”
Dewer held up his free hand, making Karane pause while he considered the situation. “Keep this to yourself for now,” he said after a moment. “It would not do to let them know we’re looking for them before we are poised to strike.” He smiled up at Karane. A plan was forming, a path laid clearly before him. Control was his once more. “I think it is again time I consult with our visiting dignitary.”
Hello, I hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment. If you have any comments, I would really love to hear them! I just wanted to leave a short note to let you know there will be no chapter posted next Friday as I will be on holiday with my family. Maiden’s Moon will continue on the following Friday (November 2nd). If you want to read the rest of this chapter now (and find out who the Frost Prince is as well as getting to take a peek inside the dreaded Pit of Thorns), it’s currently posted on my Patreon where you can read chapters a week before the rest of the internet. Thank you for reading, see you in November!