I removed the following excerpt from Wyldling Snare because I wanted to restrict the narrative to three points-of-view. However, I feel that it provides a taste of this novel without revealing too much of the plot. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.
The golden shafts of suns-light streaming through the interrupted canopy deep in the untamed depths of the Darkenwood Forest remained unappreciated by the panting, dark-featured figure that creeped across the drawbridge of the ancient fortress. Once inside the castle walls, a pair of sinewy arms applied themselves to the wheel that lowered the gate over the entrance. Wraithlike, the dark figure darted down a passageway when the fortress was barred against the outside world, relieved to be out of the daytime light and heat.
Although he detested the necessity to venture underground, the assassin was grateful to be deep in the hollow heart of the fortress where the shadows lay thickest, coiling sinuously like living things, so that he could finally remove the talisman that maintained his disguise. Torches seemed to march along with him in an eerie procession down the chilly, winding corridors, nearly stifled in the pulsing, oily blackness. And yet, life dwelled there within the stronghold, though a fusty odor of mildew and decay clung to its walls, its many chambers and its tunnels and dungeons. A colossal survivor of a long-forgotten age, the castle clung to its molding foundation, whereas its kin had long since declined into the ruined, crumbling corpses of an extinct race.
Running his tongue over his fangs, the assassin slunk along the narrow, dank hallway that led to a heavy oak door pitted with gouges and reinforced with steel bands. Hackles raised and pelt rippling with anxiety, he tried not to think about the foul denizens inhabiting the lower levels of the fortress, the ones who whispered and taunted and promised delights. He set his jaws into a terrifying rictus to scare off the shadows around him; however, they would approach, and test his control yet again. After what seemed an age to the assassin, he stood before the huge door, motionless, uncertain of his welcome. He had not yet succeeded in his primary objective. In the dimness behind him, he could hear the steady drip of water as it seeped through cracks in the superstructure. He twitched his whiskery mustache and raised a hand to scratch at the door.
“Well, enter, you idiot! You’ve been standing out there long enough.”
The assassin’s tail went rigid behind him, and his fur stood on end at the sound of the angry voice, loud and clear even behind the huge door. He snarled at himself, gathering his courage, and then shoved a shoulder against the door, pushing it open with enormous effort. He had been sent to gather intelligence and he would report the information he had gleaned – just as he had been instructed. It was good to serve a master; in addition to the talisman that allowed him to move unregarded amongst the Kadorei, Milord gave him potions that kept the crimson madness at bay.
At least, they had used to.
Slipping through the opening, he yanked his tail inside as the door slammed shut like the valve of a diseased heart. He wrinkled his snout at the mingled scent of burnt candle wicks, ancient mildew and rancid sweat laced with rotgut spirits as he blinked his dark eyes at the unaccustomed light, dim though it was. Guttering tapers held the deepest shadows at bay in the corners, held upright in pockets of their own melted wax.
A tall, dark-bearded man with a thin face and sharply pointed ears hunched over a huge, leather-bound tome that covered the entire surface of the wax-smeared worktable. Candles of varying thickness and heights surrounded him, the light they provided tumbling down and around the folds of his silky, blue-black robe like water off a waterfowl’s wings. Even in the dim, golden light it was easy to see that his skin was not simply corpse-pale, but as gray as old ashes. He smelled of persimmons and frustrated rage.
Off in a dark corner, the assassin perceived a figure in dirty gray robes sprawled out upon a shabby divan, drinking out of a bottle and swaying in time with the ribald ditty that he softly sung. He smelled sour, of rotgut whisky, festering secrets and bitterness. The assassin’s eyes passed over him; that one was no threat in his present condition and was easily dismissed.
Now that he was within the confines of the chamber and away from the whispering, beguiling shadows, the assassin could wait patiently, even if he was uncomfortable deep in the bowels of the moldering fortress. It had been almost a fortnight, and the crimson madness was stirring again. He could feel it burning like acid at the back of his throat and tickling at the base of his skull. And the shadows kept whispering…whispering…
His fingers twitched. Joints popped and crackled. He felt his claws lengthen.
The tall, dark-robed man continued to ignore him for a moment longer, obviously intent on his reading, seemingly a harmless scholar. Weak and vulnerable. Easy prey.
The assassin knew better. Oh yes, for his sins, he did know better.
Trembling, the assassin cleared his throat. “Milord?” he said.
Now the man turned from his volume and regarded him imperiously down his nose, one dark eyebrow raised. “You have news to report?” he replied in the assassin’s natal language.
The assassin hated that little tickle of dread at the base of his skull, but he would endure much worse in order maintain his tentative grasp on sanity. “Yes, milord,” he said. “As instructed, I have been watching and listening.” He avoided looking directly into the man’s eyes. To do so would be to challenge him. It was much the same amongst his own people.
“Good,” the man said without a trace of emotion in his voice. “Continue.”
“The boy is in the woods now,” he rasped. “He is on his way to that…that wall…but he is not alone this time.” Dare he trust that calm tone? The quiet mien?
“He returns to it,” the tall man said, one hand absently stroking his short, spade-shaped beard. His eyes glittered in the candlelight. “Yes. I can profit from this…”
Gathering courage, the assassin stepped closer. How the crimson tide burned inside of him, wracking him! He must feed it, and soon. “Milord…” he said. “Perhaps I overpower the companion, bring the boy to you…and when you are done with him, I devour him?”
“Silence!” With a casual wave of his hand, the tall man sent the assassin flying into the wall, knocking off his wide-brimmed hat. He had not physically touched him, but the tattoos on his hands were writhing like a tangle of black, spiny worms.
“Your orders,” he continued in his resonant voice, “are – as they have always been – to watch and listen. You have done well in eliminating the old man. When the time comes, I will give you further instructions regarding his ward.”
Suddenly the thin face – twisted with rage and black symbols crawling across ashen skin – and its fierce eyes filled the assassin’s entire field of vision. A visceral pain clawed through the assassin’s insides, and in spite of himself he doubled over, whimpering and groaning. After what seemed to be seasons passed, the agony disappeared as if it had never been. He straightened up again, his yellow eyes flashing with indignation and resentment.
“This is the order of the Dreadlord,” the man said, once he saw that he had the brute’s full attention. “You are not to molest the boy in any way. Do not disobey me in this. You have caused enough trouble already in sating your…hungers. If you compromise your mission, there will be a very object lesson in store for you. Do I make myself clear, eresh’gulkah?”
Eyes wide, the assassin choked down his terror and mortified anger at the Nehmwight appellation for slave. He managed a curt nod. “I am your eyes and ears, milord,” he choked out. “Your very obedient…slave.”
The tall man rewarded him with an enormous, shark-like grin. “Very good,” he purred, tossing a small metal flask to the assassin. “Here is your medicine. Now, leave us.” Seemingly of its own accord, the huge door creaked open behind the assassin.
Trembling, the assassin clutched the potion to his chest. Backing away, he snatched his hat off the floor and scuttled out of the room. The door slammed shut behind him and narrowly missed crushing his tail as he fled.