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Shadow Prowler
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Shadow Prowler

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Author: Alexey Pehov
Publisher: Tor, 2010
Original Russian publication, 2002
Series: The Chronicles of Siala: Book 1

1. Shadow Prowler
2. Shadow Chaser
3. Shadow Blizzard

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Sword and Sorcery
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Synopsis

After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world...and by the king's court jester (who may be more than he seems... or less).

Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.


Excerpt

1 NIGHT

Night is the best time for my kind. When I appear in the street, ordinary people have long been asleep in their warm, soft beds. Old drunks out drinking late won't brave the city's impenetrable darkness. No, they would rather spend an uncomfortable night in a tavern.

Night. Silence. Only the hollow echo of the municipal guard patrol's footsteps bounce off the walls of the old houses and ripple on along Avendoom's dark streets, dead and empty until morning.

The soldiers hurry along, walking quickly. In the darkest alleyways they break into a run. I can easily understand how these valiant servants of the law feel: no, it's not people they're afraid of--any madcaps who might summon up the impudence to attack the guardians of public order will be given short shrift with their heavy battle-axes. What makes them afraid is something else. There are other creatures lurking in the shadows of the stone buildings. Creatures that creep out into the open at this uneasy hour for their nocturnal hunt. And may Sagot help the men of the watch if those vile beasts are feeling hungry.

The shades of night are a refuge for all: for the good townsfolk, fearfully hiding themselves away from dangerous men; for the petty thieves whose one wish is to clean out the respectable citizens' purses as quickly as possible; for the robbers just waiting for a chance to make use of their knives. And, of course, for the demons living in those dark shades, who are only too happy to prey on good citizens, petty thieves, and robbers alike.

Fortunately, I have yet to run into the demons who have appeared in the city since the Nameless One began stirring in the Desolate Lands after centuries of calm. And that's why I'm still alive.

Shortly after they pass me, the watchmen's footsteps fade into silence on the next street.

On the orders of Baron Frago Lanten, the head of Avendoom's municipal guard, all patrols have been tripled in strength. The rumor is that the artifact that has until now held the Nameless One in the Desolate Lands is weakening, and soon he will burst through into our world from that icy desert covered with eternal snow. War is approaching, no matter how hard the Order of Magicians and the multitudes of priests try to put it off. It's simply a matter of time. Six months, or perhaps a year--and then all those things they used to frighten us with when we were children will be upon us. The Nameless One will gather together an army and come to us from behind the Needles of Ice, and the horror will begin. Even here, in the capital, you sometimes come across devotees of the Nameless One. And I'm far from certain that the Wild Hearts of the Lonely Giant Fortress will be able to hold back the hordes of ogres and giants....

Once again I have gone unnoticed. My thanks to the shadow of night. The shadow is my helpmate, my lover, my companion. I hide inside her, I live with her, and she is the only one always ready to shelter me, to save me from the arrows, from the swords that flash balefully in the moonlit night, and the bloodthirsty, golden eyes of the demons. No one else cares for Harold... maybe Brother For.

"Shadow is the sister of darkness," says Brother For, Sagot's kindly priest. And where there is darkness, the Nameless One is never far away.

What absolute nonsense! The Nameless One and the shadow? Entirely different things. You might as well compare an ogre and a giant. The shadow is life, freedom, money, and reputation. Shadow Harold knows about such things firsthand. For a shadow to appear there has to be at least a scintilla of light, and to compare it with darkness is stupid, to say the least. But of course, I don't tell my old teacher that. You don't go teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.

It's quiet. So quiet you can hear the moths scrabbling at the coolness of the night with their fragile little wings. It's a long time now since the watch patrol passed me and it's high time for me to be going about my business, but somehow I'm feeling extracautious to night.... Some premonition makes me remain in cover, beside the wall of the building that is submerged in gloom.

There were no suspicious sounds to be heard in that narrow little street with the old stone houses that could remember the old Quiet Times. Nothing but a painted tin sign above the baker's shop creaking in the faint wind. The slow-stirring grayish yellow mist for which our capital is famous lay thick across the rough stone paving of the road, chipped and battered by the cart wheels. They say the mist was a trick played by some half-trained wizard back in the distant past. But ever since then not one of the kingdom's archmagicians has been able to rid the city of the consequences of his innocent prank.

The silence alarms me. The only place that is ever this quiet is a rich man's vault after a visit from one of the city's bands of petty thieves.

The signboard creaks, the light wind swirls merrily, clouds drift lazily across the night sky. But I stand there, fused with the shadow of the building, trying not to move a muscle. My intuition and my experience of life compel me to listen to the night silence of the city. No street, not even the most deserted, could be as dead as this.

There should be sounds in the night. Rats rustling in the garbage. A drunk snoring away beside them, his pockets cleaned out by thieves who are already sheltering for the night in some dark, narrow hidey-hole. The sound of snoring from the windows of the gray houses. A dirty dog sneaking through the darkness. The heavy breathing of a novice thief lying in wait for his victim, clutching his knife in a palm sweaty from excitement. Sounds from the shops and workshops--even at night the laborious work continues in some of them. But there was none of this in the dark little street wreathed in its shroud of mist. There was nothing but silence, gloom, and a thickening atmosphere of danger.

The carefree, roistering wind ruffled my hair affectionately, but I didn't dare raise my hood. Some insistent hand seemed to hold me back.

Sagot! What is happening on this quiet little street of artisans?

In answer to my prayer the glorious god of all thieves seemed to make my hearing keener.

Footsteps. Hasty footsteps that even the creeping yellow-gray froth of the mist had failed to deaden. In a recess in the wall of the house opposite, I spotted a momentary flicker in the darkness.

Had someone else decided to hide here?

I peered hard into the ink-black night. No. I'd imagined it. I was too much on edge, anticipating non ex is tent problems. I must be getting old.

Meanwhile the footsteps grew louder and louder. The sounds came from the street into which the municipal guard patrol had turned only a few minutes earlier. I froze and tried to merge even deeper into the shadow, while the phantom of danger circled indolently above my head.

A man came round the bend at a fast walk, almost a run, and made straight for me. He had to be a fool or a brave man to be roaming through the darkness alone. Most likely a fool. Brave men don't live long in our world. But then, neither do fools, unless they work as jesters for our glorious king.

The stranger was coming closer. Tall and well dressed, even wealthy looking, his hand resting on the hilt of a rather good sword.

Once again clouds crept across the sky, covering the stars, and the gloom that was already total became absolutely impenetrable. Even when he drew level with me, I couldn't make out the stranger's face, although he was so close that if I'd wanted, I could have reached out my hand and lifted the bulging purse off his belt. But I'm no small-time pickpocket, I won't stoop to that--the impetuous years of my youth are long since over and gone, and in any case my instinct has already hinted that this is the wrong moment to twitch a single muscle, or even take a deep breath.

In the niche opposite me the darkness began swirling again, eddying chaotically and welling up into a dark flower of death, and ice-cold terror froze me to the spot. From out of the gloom, Darkness burst forth in the form of a winged demon with a horned skull for a head, and fell on its victim like an avalanche from the Mountains of the Dwarves, pinning him down with its prodigious weight.

The man let out a screech like a wounded cat and grabbed vainly at his useless sword, trying to draw it, but the Darkness crumpled up the nocturnal wayfarer, sucked him in, and devoured him, and then the creature, what ever it was, soared up into the sky, bearing away its fresh meat, and perhaps a soul as well. I slid slowly down the wall, trying to calm my breathing. My heart was pounding like a mad thing.

The demon hadn't noticed me, although I was directly opposite it all the time. But if I had made just the slightest movement! If I had even started breathing a little more loudly.... Then I was the one who would have been his prey.

I had been lucky. Once again I had been very lucky. A thief's luck is a fickle wench, she can turn her back on him at any moment, but as long as she is with me, I can carry on plying my trade.

In a dark corner of the next building a rat squeaked, followed by another. Up in the sky a bat flew past, hunting the late June moths. The danger had passed, now I could carry on along my way. I detached myself from the wall and set off, trying to stick to the darkest sections of the street.

Moving rapidly, but with my boots making no sound, I dashed from building to building, from shadow to shadow. I left the Street of the Bakers behind me, turning into the alleyway on the right. The mist was thicker here, it welcomed me into the soft embrace of its clammy paws, deadening my footsteps, concealing me from the eyes of humans and nonhumans alike.

The dark alleyway came to an end, and the dark...

Copyright © 2002 by Alexey Pehov


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