Myth of The Dragon Book 1: In The Shadow of Ziammontienth
Slipping from building to building hidden in shadows. Kaylin and her crew are after more than just a warm meal.
1 – Darkness blanketed the city. The moon hung thin and low and did nothing to illuminate the thoroughfares. Occasionally, light would flicker from inside a bar and spill out into the streets.
The land rippled in the dark folds of rough hilltops and the jagged edges of rock formations almost invisible against the sky. A single road led through them and twisted as though it tried to evade the monsters that roamed toward the beast blotting out the stars.
That stretch of road was called the Kill Zone for a reason.
Few ventured there and fewer still reached the vast expanse of ruins at its end. These were barely visible on a night like this, but the campfires of a hundred tribes lit its square hollows and straight walls, and more pinpricks of light dotted the flanks of the mountain above.
The mountain dominated the valley and rose taller than the unbroken range that enclosed the area, but it wasn’t whole. Some said it had always had two peaks and others insisted that it was once whole and a dragon had broken it in two.
No dragon prowled the valley now, but myriad monsters emerged from the mountain depths and hunted any foolish enough to dare the ruins or slopes above.
Those two peaks rose spear-like to threaten the sky and gave the mountain its name—Twin Spears. The ruins at its feet were known as Tolan’s Doom, although the city’s residents simply called it the Doom.
It was both a name and a prophecy for those who moved toward it.
The city overlooking the Kill Zone and the ruins at its end was a different matter. Known as Tolan’s Waypoint, it marked the only entry to the valley and was the last chance for provisions for those stupid or desperate enough to venture farther.
Most came on the promise of treasure—and very few returned.
The monsters saw to that as they prowled through the devastation like soldiers on patrol. The Waypoint’s walls and guards kept the brutes out of the city and from spilling into the plains beyond. But even in the valley’s newest—and only—city, there were other dangers.
On nights when the moon was but a sliver, the rooftops became a highway. Shadows flitted over them.
Those of most concern were humanoid in form, their movement swift between the patches of dark thrown by chimneys or that pooled in angular valleys. Now and then, one would peer at the city walls to make sure the guards were facing out and not in.
The last thing those who ran the peaks needed was for the alarm to be sent to Dreamers’ Corner. The guards patrolling this area were alert enough.
They didn’t need a reason to be additionally vigilant.
Occasionally, one of the shadows descended to the gutter-line and their eyes gleamed with reflected light as they scanned the streets below. Most were empty but a few held patrols.
What those hiding in the shadows sought lay closer to the center of the section and not there, where the merchants and craftsman had set up shop.
One figure moved ahead of the others, slid down the roof pitches with ease, and used their momentum to leap the narrow streets dividing the buildings. Slender in build and dressed in dark but tattered clothing, the figure kept her cloak’s hood low as she ran along the next roof ridge.
A disguised grunt was all that was released as she jumped from one ridge to the next.
The hood concealed her face, but the clothing did nothing to conceal her form.
The figure relied on the darkness to do that.
A close observer would have noted that it was a young woman who leapt from the closed shopfront of True Shot the fletcher’s, to the still-warm slates of the Steel & Shields.
She paused and turned to survey the streets below, disappointed by their emptiness. No would-be adventurers were dossing in the streets or returning to the boarding houses set away from the more popular and expensive inns around Orcs’ Head Square.
It was typical that on a night when they needed them most, the usual drunkards simply weren’t around to hand their tithes and tips to those who needed them more.
The cloaked head moved to look down the street. “I guess we’ll have to find the not so usual drunkards,” she muttered, scampered up the weaponsmith’s roof, and slid into the valley where the workshop roof joined that of the smith’s living quarters.
She hoped none of the apprentices were having a sleepless night. It would only take one to realize that the soft sounds overhead weren’t rats and for the smith to call the guard.
Moving silently, she ran along the ridge line, threw herself across the intervening street, and twisted in mid-air to reach the roof of the Clawed Cup.
When she landed above the kitchen gable, she dropped swiftly to her knees in case her movement had drawn attention. She rose into a crouch, pulled her hood lower, and moved to the shadows of the closest chimney.
This time, she didn’t settle against it.
The Clawed Cup served meals late into the night and the ovens were still active. The sweet smells of roasting pig made her stomach grumble. Annoyed, she told her body to shut its whining down.
She looked back as her accompanying shadows descended the weaponsmith’s roof to the alley below. A moment’s wait was enough to confirm that they reached the street in one piece and undetected before she turned and ran half-crouched along the ridge line toward the tavern’s entrance.
When she reached the front of the building, she dropped onto her belly, edged closer to the eaves, and peered over.
Her irises needed a moment to adjust.
Warm light spilled from the tavern’s windows and sounds of rowdy enjoyment drifted up with the stink of ale and additional aromas of well-cooked food.
The young woman’s rebellious stomach ignored her earlier command and rumbled. She swallowed against a sudden surge of saliva.
If she was quick—no, very, very quick—and lucky, they might all eat tonight. She only had to wait for the perfect moment.
The tavern door cracked open and bright light spilled into the street.
“And take your friend with you,” Grunder shouted. “I’ve a good mind to call the Watch.”
“No, no, no…” The voice that answered the barkeep sounded like its owner had enjoyed one too many ales. “Thatsh…” He paused for a moment before he continued. “It won’t be necesshary.”
A shadow swayed on the cobbles as the man who cast it was burdened by another whose arm he’d pulled over his shoulder.
Make that one dozen ales too many, the girl thought, her grin feral in anticipation.
Grunder had said “friend.” Did that mean there were only two? She crossed her fingers.
The shadow solidified and was then eclipsed by the figures of two solidly built men. Both wore chainmail tunics, leather breeches, and sturdy boots. Neither wore helmets—not that it would make a difference.
From the look of them—and of the two who followed—they were professional soldiers, mercenaries who hired out to protect adventurers who wanted to ensure that they survived the journey into the Doom.
All wore belt knives and two had swords strapped to their hips. One had a mace tucked crosswise through the back of his belt, and the fourth had an ax haft secured by a loop at his waist, the blade covered by a leather hood.
The girl stifled a soft groan and ducked her head in case they had heard it.
Her shoulders slumped. Why does it have to be mercenaries?
Unfortunately, they were still the best marks she’d seen all night.
A swift glance showed that the moon had almost reached its zenith.
They were probably the only marks she would see that night. Given the sounds rising from the tavern, the other patrons were likely to be there until dawn or would sleep on the tavern floor if Grunder let them.
She pushed to her feet with a sigh, retraced her steps, and stopped to mark the targets’ trail before they wove out of sight. Her heart sank when she noted their size and selected one slightly taller than the rest.
The chances were he was the leader and now her responsibility.
Her gaze followed them as they turned away from Orc’s Head square and along the road that would take them past Steel & Shields and possibly True Shot. Hidden in the shadow of her hood, a frown creased her brow. If they kept going that way, she had a very good idea of their destination.
Slowly, she moved forward and tracked their progress by their heavy tread and the jangle of their weapons. They reached the corner and continued, and the girl breathed a sigh of relief, hurried to the end of the roof, and increased her pace as she approached.
The mercenaries came into view, wove unsteadily past the front of True Shot, and continued. The girl smiled. There was only one doss house in that direction and she knew a shortcut.
After a low whistle, she stamped her foot hard on the roof, drew a deep breath, and raced forward. With a flick of her body, she hurled herself into a flip to adjust her trajectory to Steel & Shields’ roof. She landed, glanced back to find the eaves, then reversed and dropped over.
A gasp came from below, followed by a hastily muffled moan as she hung momentarily, bunched her legs, and pushed off the wall. Ignoring the sound, she twisted her body as she dropped toward the rear wall of the tavern.
She struck it with flat palms and the balls of her feet, pushed off again, and turned to alight on the cobbles facing away from it. As she landed, she bounced into a roll that brought her to her feet, and two swift strides took her into the shadows along the smith’s back wall.
“Kaylin!” Raoul’s harsh whisper greeted her from the dark.
She snapped her head toward it and raised her hand for silence.
It was not enough to keep them in the shadows. They all wanted to hear what she had in mind and she knew she had little time. Instead of pushing them away, she gathered them close and crept into the shadows in a corner of the smith’s yard.
“There are four of them,” she said and watched her friends’ eyes widen in alarm as she continued. “Most likely mercenaries, too.”
“And the good news is?” Raoul asked and his concern edged his question.
“They’re dead drunk.” She smiled.
“That doesn’t mean they’ll have forgotten how to wield their swords,” another of her friends retorted and she suppressed a sigh.
Trust Melis to point out the only real weakness in her plan. As she opened her mouth to reply, a deep baritone echoed down the street. They all froze, and the smallest of their crew jumped with fright. The fifth, Isabette, laid her hand on his shoulder.
“It’s fine, Piers. He’s singing.”
“A…are you sure?” Piers whispered. “Because he sounds like an ogre with a bellyache.”
“Pfft!” Isabette patted the cloth under her palm. “How would you know what one of those sounds like anyway?”
“I can imagine,” the boy retorted in a hissed tone.
“Well,” Kaylin told them firmly, “if they’ve reached the singing stage, it won’t be long before they reach the sleeping or tossing their cookies stage. That means they will be very distracted. We don’t have to tell them they’re being robbed.”
She drew a small belt knife and wiggled it at them.
“So?” Melis demanded. “They’re mercenaries. What will we do if they catch us? It’s not like we can do much to overcome them.” She glared at Kaylin and pointed at Raoul. “A walking stick’s no match for a full-on mace.” Her finger moved to Isabette. “And a sling won’t do anything if they can close the distance, and as for these…”
She drew her little knife and twirled it a few times, and the light barely created a reflection. “They can’t get through anything more than leather and the blades are too short to do anything more than make the target angry.”
Kaylin sheathed the knife and rested her hand on her hip.
“Liss, are you honestly telling me you’re not fast enough to cut a purse-string and catch the coin before it hits the ground?” she challenged and the other girl narrowed her eyes.
“I’ll have you know I’m one of the fastest Hands there is,” she snapped and Kaylin nodded.
“I know,” she reassured the girl, “and it’s good to see you know it too. All we have to do is coordinate.”
She turned to catch Piers and Raoul in her sights. “And you won’t tell me you can’t tag-team a drunk, singing mercenary as easily as you do an overweight inobservant merchant?”
The boys’ eyes widened.
“Oh,” Piers said as his eyes gleamed and his gaze darted to his brother. “We can do that, can’t we, Ro?”
Raoul rolled his eyes. “Well, duh. That part we can manage just fine.”
“And me?” Isabette demanded and Kaylin rolled her eyes. The girl was the closest to her in age of any of them and as close to her second in command as she was likely to get.
“Are you fishing for compliments, Iz?” she asked sharply. “’Cos I could remind you that you’re two purses behind Liss and tell you I’m surprised you let her get so far ahead if you want me to.”
“Mean.” The other girl pouted. “You coulda said I could shoot a gnat out of the air or shatter a window pane at a hundred yards and was your best hope for a distraction.”
Kaylin grinned. “I could do that.”
A second voice joined the singing—a tenor if she wasn’t mistaken—and her grin faltered. She fixed the other four with her sternest look. If the mercs continued with that racket, they were likely to draw an audience—or the closest Watch patrol, which would be worse.
“Don’t make me remind you that Goss needs us. That if we don’t get him his medicine, he might die.”
They shook their heads, their narrow faces pinched with worry. She pressed her advantage.
“And do I have to tell you that none of us have eaten more than sweet stems for the last three days?”
At the mention of the wild delicacy that grew in any spare piece of soil it could find, her stomach rumbled and her mouth watered anew. She grimaced and hated herself for having to push them this way but without this effort, none of them would eat.
Kaylin swallowed when her nose reminded her of the food smells coming from the Cup’s common room.
“We need to eat,” she told them, “and none of us is strong enough to stand against one fully armed mercenary worth half a damn. We’ll have to go in fast—quiet and quick.”
She tugged the cloak shrouding Isabette’s face and indicated the wraps both Raoul and Piers wore. “It’s not like they’ll see your faces and even if they did, they are probably too drunk to remember you anyway.”
“Do you want to make a bet on that?” Liss demanded and Kaylin glanced toward the intersection from which the singing came.
“I have to,” she told them softly. “Goss is relying on me—on all of us—and we’re the only family he has. If we want to save him, we need to pull off a bigger score than the pennies we usually get.”
She looked around and exaggerated searching for something she couldn’t find. Finally, Isabette tired of her theatrics.
“What?” she asked impatiently.
“Oh… I’m looking for that handy noble not in their carriage and not traveling at a gallop—you know, like all the other nobles we’ve passed up.”
“What other nobles?” Raoul sounded confused and she put her hand on her hip and cocked her head.
“Exactly!” She pointed to the boy. “I haven’t seen one outside a carriage in weeks. How about you?”
Raoul shook his head and she imagined his cheeks reddening in the shadows.
Kaylin took a step toward him and lowered her voice to coax urgency. “Come on. I don’t like my chances if I try it on my own, but with the four of you, I know it can work. I have the fastest hands, best-aimed sling, and the best team of light-fingers I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet—and they’re all on my side. And I’d like to think Goss does, too.”
“But…mercenaries,” Liss protested and Kaylin laid a hand on her shoulder and shook her.
“Can you do it or not? Because you can head back and look after Goss if you want to,” she suggested.
Melis’ eyes flashed in the depths of her hood.
If you are wondering who this team is and how this attack is going to go down, then fear not because Myth of The Dragon Book 1: In The Shadow of Ziammotienth is available on all devices starting November 19th. Head on over and pre-order it today!