A Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance)


For the past two weeks the simple building had been his safe house, but now Thren Felhorn distrusted its protection as he limped through the door. He clutched his right arm to his body, fighting to halt its trembling. Blood ran from his shoulder to his elbow, the arm cut by a poisoned blade.

“Damn you, Leon,” he said as he staggered across the wood floor, through a sparsely decorated room, and up to a wall made of plaster and oak. Even with his blurred vision he located the slight groove with his fingers. He pressed down, detaching an iron lock on the other side of the wall. A small door swung inward.

The master of the Spider Guild collapsed in a chair and removed his gray hood and cloak. He sat in a much larger room painted silver and decorated with pictures of mountains and fields. Removing his shirt, he gritted his teeth while pulling it over his wounded arm. The toxin had been meant to paralyze him, not kill him, but the fact was little comfort. Most likely Leon Connington had wanted him alive so he could sit in his padded chair and watch his “gentle touchers” bleed Thren drop by drop. The fat man’s treacherous words from their meeting ignited a fire in his gut that refused to die.

“We will not cower to rats that live off our shit,” Leon had said while brushing his thin mustache. “Do you really think you stand a chance against the wealth of the Trifect? We could buy your soul from the gods.”

Such arrogance. Such pride. Thren had fought down his initial impulse to bury a short sword in the fat man’s throat upon hearing such mockery. For centuries the three families of the Trifect, the Conningtons, the Keenans, and the Gemcrofts, had ruled in the shadows. Over that time they’d certainly bought enough priests and kings to believe that the gods wouldn’t be beyond the reach of their gilded fingers either.

It had been a mistake to deny his original impulse, Thren knew. Leon should have bled out then and there, his guards be damned. They’d met inside Leon’s extravagant mansion, another mistake. Thren vowed to correct his carelessness in the coming months. For three years he’d done his best to stop the war from erupting, but it appeared everyone in the city of Veldaren desired chaos.

If the city wants blood, it can have it, Thren thought. But it won’t be mine.

“Is that you, Father?” he heard his elder son ask from an adjacent room.

“It is,” Thren said, holding his anger in check. “But if it were not, what would you do, having given away your presence?”

His son Randith entered from the other room. He looked much like his father, having the same sharp features, thin nose, and grim smile. His hair was brown like his mother’s, and that alone endeared him to Thren. They both wore the gray trousers of their guild, and from Randith’s shoulders hung a gray cloak similar to Thren’s. A long rapier hung from one side of Randith’s belt, a dagger from the other. His blue eyes met his father’s.

“I’d kill you,” Randith said, a cocky grin pulling up the left side of his face. “As if I need surprise to do it.”

“Shut the damn door,” Thren said, ignoring the bravado. “Where’s our mage? Connington’s men cut me with a toxin, and its effect is … troublesome.”

Troublesome hardly described it, but Thren wouldn’t let his son know that. His flight from the mansion was a blur in his memory. The toxin had numbed his arm and made his entire side sting with pain. His neck muscles had fired off at random, and one of his knees kept locking up during his run. Like a cripple he’d fled through the alleyways of Veldaren, but the moon was waning and the streets empty, so none had seen his pathetic stumbling.

“Not here,” Randith said as he leaned toward his father’s exposed shoulder and examined the cut.

“Then go find him,” Thren said. “How did events go at the Gemcroft mansion?”

“Maynard Gemcroft’s men fired arrows from their windows as we approached,” Randith said. He turned his back to his father and opened a few cupboards until he found a small black bottle. He popped the cork, but when he moved to pour the liquid on his father’s cut, Thren yanked the bottle out of his hand. Dripping the brown liquid across the cut, he let out a hiss through clenched teeth. It burned like