Written Images by Laura Seabaugh
A gust of wind swept through the clearing, stirring dust and fog from the earth. Kantile squeezed her claws around her perch as it swayed beneath her. Barren branches rattled and creatures of night fled from the disturbance in the air. In Kantile’s experience, the forest only reacted when dragons flew overhead, but this magic wasn’t like dragon magic. Dragon magic had the honesty of nature and physics, and life often responded with excitement. This magic caused the trees to shiver in revulsion.
The wind blowing into the clearing defied nature, and stunk like sorcery. Clouds of dust converged to form a figure cloaked in gray like those who’d been waiting for her. The forest settled as the figure started toward the coven on pointed boots.
Centuries ago, when the southern realm was a real kingdom, it mattered who came and went through the foothills. The kingdom of that age was peaceful, and the king was strong and righteous. Kantile had known him in his youth, but she’d only heard the stories of how he’d taken a mysterious woman from an unknown land as his bride. He must not have known the turmoil he’d invited into his homeland.
Now the city lay in ruin, and all the land of the kingdom was flat and gray. With the king’s death, his queen became the leader of the entire southern region. The people of the kingdom, who had blindly adored their queen, were soon smothered by her tyranny. Too late, they discovered that they’d all been deceived by a dragon. The dragon queen demanded taxes that the city couldn’t afford, and when they didn’t pay, her agents destroyed everything. More dragons flew in from the north and carved a dividing ridge out of the mountains, separating her domain from the rest of the world and sealing her subjects in with their fate.
Some of the people escaped, but those who didn’t lost their minds or otherwise vanished. Those who survived became dwarfed, mute, and savage. Over time, their eyes outgrew their faces, and they sprouted wings that looked like tree branches. They became a race called the Shadefaerie, and adapted to living in the ruins as scavengers. The kingdom wasted away in the shadow of a new capital called Isnile, where dragons treated humans like slaves. The queen ordered her lair to be built entirely of obsidian—a fortress to rise above all others. Kantile shuddered at the thought of the place, but from what Dren had told her, it wasn’t even there anymore.
As the door settled back into its frame, the trunk rattled against the wall and one of the bottles, which had already been off-set by the carelessness of someone tossing a bag of silver at it, tipped over the edge of the trunk and fell. Then, wondering what had caused such a clatter on a day when it wasn’t raining in the city of Vet Uman, and recognizing the musical ting of coins, Kantile opened her eyes.
Of course it was a bag of silver. The sound of a bag of silver wasn’t the same as the sound of a bag of copper or gold. Silver had a ring to it. Copper sounded flat, and gold was soft and sweet to hear. Kantile turned her head and squinted at the trunk across the room, blinking at the blurry haze before her eyes. The trunk was a shadow against the wall. The displaced bottle rocked back and forth on its side on the floor, and a drop of amber liquid dripped from its mouth with each tilt. Every drip, drip, drip cut through the city sounds, tapping the wooden floor like an impatient foot.