Excerpt from Chapter 1

I picked one of my favorite parts for everyone to preview. It still needs a little fine-tuning. Enjoy!

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“We’re more than smiths and thieves, you gotta know that. Some of the world’s best weapons masters are trained under us. We’re an underground army, a brotherhood. We’ve got divisions and stations in near every major city here to the far stretches and we’re expanding every day. You won’t find nothing like us, Ankenar. You think on that, ‘cause I’ve seen you and I know you’re looking for something. As one of us you’d get the connections you need.”

Before Ankenar could form a response a low rumble came from outside, causing the building to tremble. Ankenar’s nostrils flared as the smell of smoke wafted in from the streets. Something in the scent caught his notice- it was no ordinary smoke. A gleam of recognition came into his eyes and made him frown. He and Tanner both stepped to the window and looked out.

The building shook again, this time stirring some of the dust from the floor. Wooden beams groaned in protest. Outside the voices had turned from jubilance to confusion. A thick pale smog was beginning to fill the streets and rose steadily like floodwater. People coughed and a few screamed.

“Look.” Tanner pointed to one of the rooftops at eye level with the loft.

The rising moon gave everything a white radiance, making it was easy to see what Tanner meant to show him. There was movement – two creatures, humanlike but skeletal-thin and somehow distorted. They crawled across the rooftop with exaggerated, awkward movements. Everything they touched was left blackened as if burned.

Ankenar felt his heart plunge into his stomach. Without a word he pushed past Tanner and knelt before an old trunk in the corner of the loft, lifting the lid. Inside was an assortment of bladed weapons. He triggered a hidden apartment in the lid and removed an identical pair of short swords.  The weight they provided as he strapped them to his back gave him focus, allowing him to force back the sense of dread that threatened to drown him.

“Come away from the window before they see you.”

Tanner looked at him in confusion but did as he was told. “What are they?”

Ankenar closed the lid of the trunk as quietly as he could and rose to face Tanner. “Doesn’t matter, listen: Find your friends, your Guild or whatever. Get them out of town and be quick about it.” He paused as a violent tremor shook the city. “There’s no help for anyone who tries to be brave and stay behind.”

Outside the screams became more frequent. Sounds of chaos and confusion filled the city, relieved only when another quake passed underground. Buildings began to crumble under the strain and soon the smoke was mixed with sand and dust.

“Gods, Ankenar, what’s going on?”

“An army. More than that.” He pulled Tanner along as he rushed to the edge of the loft. Without hesitation he jumped to the floor then started running for the exit.

Tanner ran ahead and stood at the doorway, blocking Ankenar’s path. “No, if there’s an army we gotta fight. You can do stuff, right? I’ve seen it. You gotta help.”

Ankenar grabbed Tanner’s shoulders and gave him a rough shake, his eyes wide with urgency. “There’s no time! The city is already lost. There isn’t anything that can survive this – all you can do is run far and not look back.  You don’t understand: They’re here.”

They heard something land on the roof and shuffle across. A grotesque wheezing sound made Tanner step back. Smoke began to bleed in under the door from the alley outside.

Ankenar faced the ceiling and became still. He lowered his voice to a whisper, his hand on a knife at his belt. “Where are your friends?”

“They- underground,” he stammered. “Old network of tunnels. Nearest entrance is in the market square.”

The wheezing became louder as the shuffling sounds moved across the roof, nearing the window of the loft. The shouting from the streets became less of confusion now and more of panic.

“Right. Take us there.”

Both men pushed the large door aside and hurried into the smoke-filled Asantir. The haze stung their eyes. Lights from torches and buildings were blurred into dull orange and yellow glows that blended together to provide a dim illumination that lasted throughout. The air was hot and stuffy and they smelled the fires that were slowly claiming the city. Tanner led them out of the alley and down an empty street, walking with quick but unsure movements. Almost immediately they knew they were being followed. They heard the wheezing rasp of the creature as it struggled to catch up. They never looked back, they only ran.

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