In-development from J. M. DeSantis (Dark Fire Press)
Current Excerpt may not entirely reflect the final edit of the book and is subject to change


Claude’s hand hesitated for a moment over the small, silver bell that rested upon the counter of the Green Ivy Inn.

“It dun’na bi’e, frien’,” said one of the parishioners who had taken notice of Claude’s sudden pause. “An’ neitha doe’ tha’ goo’ innakeep, tha’s a fac’.”

Claude’s eyes rested upon the man for only a moment, yet to Claude it felt as a great passage of time. He felt the throbbing of his heartbeat in his temples, and the collar of his shirt suddenly felt a size too small. His head began to ache, and he gulped hard. Did the parishioner notice? How long had he been standing like that?

A trickle of sweat began to run down Claude’s forehead, and he squinted as it worked its way down to his eye. And with that his lip curled, and Claude turned that curl into a smile. My, how good had had become at doing that.

He let out a slight chuckle to guard against the tremble he felt. The parishioner smiled back.

“Cheers,” said Claude.

“Sláinte!” returned the parishioner as he raised his glass and gulped down a mouthful of ale.

The place reeked of it, as though the very air inside the inn were dense with alcoholic humidity. Claude was surprised the candles on the walls and tables didn’t light the place aflame. Though he supposed the wood would not burn, so wet did it look from moisture that indeed it seemed alive still. The palm of his hand made a sucking sound as he pulled it away from the counter, and he was practically half-rats from the fumes alone. But Claude felt the smell was a great deal more pleasing than the rank stench of foetid fungus and rot.


The bell sounded quite different than the hollow, resonant bells of Areglos, yet the sound turned Claude’s stomach all the same. An acrid burn flowed up his throat. To his left, out of the corner of his eye, Claude took note of three other men some distance away, two of which were deep in conversation. Notably the third man, though sitting with the other two, was not at all engaged with his companions, but instead was looking straight at Claude. And more still, there was something about the man that Claude felt was out of keeping with the surroundings of this little town and its little inn.

Where the other men had great beards, unkempt hair, and simple clothes of some woolen stock, the third man, though he wore similar clothing, did not quite fit the part of being one of these backwoods folk. His clothes fit better than the others, in that they were tailored closer to form. His hair, also unkempt, did not look so much naturally dirty as much as it was styled to look so. He had no beard, and his eyes were keen. Intelligent. They stood out in a room full of sheep with dull, glintless gazes. The man seemed intently interested in Claude, like a wolf taking in its prey. Claude felt again the slight trickle of sweat upon his forehead.

Almost impulsively, Claude reached for the bell again, though he knew its sound would sicken him once more, when out of the door behind the counter came another potbellied, formidable man with thick muttonchops, no doubt to make up for what little hair grew above.

“Nah nee ta’ rin’ a’ain, ser,” the great innkeeper said. “Ai’s righ’ ‘ere. Ya’ shoul’a ken wees in ‘Amming a’e a mu’ sim’ler fol’ than you’s used inta’ big ci’y.”

Claude almost turned green. He noted the Wolf cock its head ever so slightly off to the left. But Claude barely missed a beat and let out a soft chuckle. Nothing else came up his throat, and he counted himself fortunate for that.

“City? What makes you think I’m from a city?”

“Oo, jes’ tha’ loo’ o’ya,” said the innkeeper. “Ya’ don’ qui’e ‘ave tha’ righ’…semmary…sembry…oo! Dammi’, Low’ll, w’a’s ta’ wor’ ya’ used?”

“Semblance.” It came from the Wolf.

“Sem’lace,” said the innkeeper with a nod and smile. “Yea’, tha’s ta’ un’. A fine wor’.”

Claude supposed he did look out of place here, as much perhaps as the Wolf stuck out. Though his beard was beginning to grow in and his clothes were torn and soiled from almost two weeks on the road, it couldn’t quite hide the make of his more refined clothing: a shirt, vest, slacks, and a coat—he’d long done away with his hat and scarf.

Two weeks…had it been so long? Two weeks ago. The day the resonant bells of Areglos rang for the first time in months. He felt his stomach turn again, but he smiled instead. He was getting better at this.

“Well, if you can point me to a tailor, I’m sure I’ll fit right in soon enough,” said Claude.

“An’ a bar’er, no dou’? said the innkeeper.

Claude raised his hand to his chin and rubbed the thickening hair. He had never worn a beard before, not even a moustache, despite its popularity amongst his friends and acquaintances. It was already getting too itchy to bear.

“No. I think I’ll keep the beard. Seems to be the fashion here in Hamming—”

“Hm. Righ’ Fashion,” repeated the innkeeper over Claude.

“—and if I’m going to properly become a Hammingman, I should do as the Hammingmen do.” And here Claude ventured a side-eye at the Wolf. He usually was not so brave, but he could not help but smile. Yet when he met the cold stare of the Wolf, he quickly looked away, a cold sweat stealing up the back of his neck. “It’s true. I am new to Hamming, but it seems like a nice place to settle down for a quiet life.”

“Aye,” said the innkeeper. “So’en yous ‘ave an ‘ome ‘ere in ‘Amming? Fammy?”

“No,” said Claude. “No family. All alone. That’s why I’m here. I’ll need a room for some days until I can find proper lodgings.”

“An’ a goo’ meal, I’ll wa’er,” said the innkeeper. He leaned on the counter and pointed at Claude. “Yous loo’ ‘alf s’arved, li’e summa mon’rel wu’f o’ ta’ wil’.”

Claude wasn’t certain he could eat just yet, starved though he was.

“Sure,” said Claude, digging in his pockets and placing a handful of coin on the counter. It sounded just a little too close to the sound of a bell. “Send something up if you would, mister…?”

“Ah! Mys mis’ake, la’,” said the innkeeper. “Bradaigh. Though, if i’s a twis’ o’ ta’ tongue fer ye, Brad’ll do.”

“Thank you, Brad,” said Claude with a smile. Brad smiled back. “Claude’s the name.”

“Goo’ te me’tcha,” said Brad, reaching his hand out to shake Claude’s. As he did, Brad pulled himself forward and looked over the counter. Claude nearly lost his balance, and had to brace himself against the sticky counter to keep from smashing against it. Brad’s smile faded, and he looked at Claude again. Claude’s face froze.

“Neh bags wi’ ye?”

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