darkened blade_ A fallen blade novel - Kelly McCullough


I speak to the dead. Usually they don’t answer me back. Usually . . .

This time was different.

It’s been nine years since the death of Namara and the destruction of her temple. Nine years that saw my few remaining fellow Blades driven and harried before the forces of the archpriest called the Son of Heaven. Nine years of death and darkness and retreat. But only recently have I learned the real reasons for the fall of my goddess and her temple. . . .

My goddess was murdered by her peers for the crime of caring more about justice than the safety and comfort of those who inhabit the Empire of Heaven.

We were assassins once, killers in the service of Justice who used magic and the sword to bring death to those high lords of the eleven kingdoms who considered themselves above the law. Where courts and trials could not reach the great, we could. And they hated us for it. Us and our companion shadows, the elemental creatures of darkness known as Shades who conceal and complete us.

We knew of the hate of the mighty, and their fear, and we welcomed it. It was a sign that no one was beyond the reach of justice. What we didn’t know was that the gods themselves were also frightened, for Namara had made the swords that she gave us into a tool that might slay even a lord of Heaven, and that was the true reason for our fall. I know it now, but what to do with the knowledge? That is the question that had me calling out to the dead. That is the question that had brought me an answer.


The bar was the Gryphon’s Head, a place I knew as well as I knew the dark parts of my own soul. It was the place where I had plumbed the depths of despair back in the days when I was trying to drink myself into the grave so many of my fellows had already entered. But this time it was different. None of the regulars were in evidence, not even Jerik, the bartender, who was one of my few true friends in the world.

No, tonight, the Gryphon was peopled with the dead. When I walked through the door, the first person I saw was Alinthide Poisonhand, whom I had loved from afar as a boy and who had died trying to kill a king. She nodded to me, but she said no words, merely pointing to an empty table by the back wall. It was my usual place, and the only table without a full complement of the fallen. Most of the closer dead were Blades and priests—those I had known at the temple in my youth.

But not all. At another table sat two kings that had fallen to my swords, forever changing my name from Aral Brandarzon to Aral Kingslayer, as the world knew me now. They glared hate at me, Ashvik and his bastard half brother Thauvik. Nor were they alone. Nea Sjensdor sat with them, Lady Signet, and preceptor of the Hand of Heaven—the order of sorcerers that had destroyed my temple—and another I had slain. There were more, for somehow the taproom of the Gryphon’s Head now looked both exactly as it ought and seemed to stretch out to encompass hundreds of tables.

Here were all my dead. Those I had loved. Those I had hated. And those who had meant nothing to me at all. These last were perhaps hardest to face, for I had killed many over the years, most for no more reason than that they had stood in the way when there were those I needed to slay. I will not attempt to excuse their deaths. Not here, and not when I, in my turn, stand before the lords of judgment. I did what I felt was right at the time, and I will pay the price when it comes due.

Slowly, I walked through the ranks of the silent dead, approaching the place that waited for me. There were only two chairs there, though five could have sat at the table comfortably. That, too, was in keeping with my past experiences, for once I had called the Gryphon’s Head my office and used that table to conduct my business. One chair was mine, and one belonged to my client, whoever that might be at the time.

I paused then, looking for my shadow and, with it, my familiar Triss. For Blades are sorcerers as well,