Today, we present you with the exciting opening to Shadowsfall Legends: Pawn, Deception and Sacrifice. This story, written by Mur Lafferty is an exciting opener to the Shadowsfall Legend series. Without further ado, we present the opener to Pawn Deception and Sacrifice.
The baby in her arm shrieked, and all Valdia could think of was how she was going to get down the cliff face while holding the child. If it were just herself, she could nimbly drop down, slowing her fall with clever grabs onto rocky outcroppings, but there was no way she could do that with a baby in one arm. If the baby died while she was rescuing it, she would be reviled and possibly run out of the town of Sheol.
“Never mind that without me, they’d fall prey to the undead hordes that roam Shadowsfall in a week’s time,” she muttered to herself. She could barely hear her low voice over the infant’s cries.
Valdia held tightly to the ledge leading to the cave with her right hand and felt carefully for her next foot hold. It had seemed so much easier climbing up. But then she’d been solo, intending to rescue the kidnapped infant from the clutches of ghouls. She didn’t know why they needed it, but she was sure that ghouls couldn’t want it for any noble reason. She had accepted the gold from the tearful parents and gone on her way.
She broke the rule of free climbing and looked down, hoping to see the next foot hold for her to step down. She didn’t know what she expected, in this land of eternal night, there was little difference between day and night. As she started to feel around with her feet for another foot hold, a boot settled on her left hand. It was carefully placed, the intent was clearly to trap, not crush.
Valdia hissed and looked up. A very tall man stood above her, watching her.
“What do you want, Father?” she asked.
Lavin, the vampire, gave her a closed lipped smile. “Just a moment of your time.” The pressure on her hand increased. She was definitely trapped; she couldn’t enter combat with a child in her arms, even she knew that much about parenting.
“All right,” she said. “You have that.”
He removed his foot from her hand. She thought briefly about running, but gritted her teeth. She was a woman of her word, and besides, he was much, much faster than she was. She pulled herself up to the ledge and kicked aside an ichor-coated skeleton to face him.
The baby wailed. She made a face at it, but she held it tighter to her body. Valdia knew that this little bundle of annoyance was ill-bred for surviving on this dark plane. The little warmth the dim sun provided was fading fast as it would soon set. The sky was already beginning to change from its deep purple color of day to the all-consuming blackness of night.
“I can think of a quick way to silence it,” her father suggested mildly.
“No, thank you,” she said. She pulled her cloak up and over her armor, then settled the baby against her shoulder. It let out a very loud belch and then made a surprised whimper. Instead of screaming again, it reached out and grabbed the handle of Valdia’s wartrident.
“I can see you get your nurturing instincts from me,” Lavin said.
In the blessed quiet, she said, “What do you want with me, Lavin?”
“You’re an admirable warrior, Valdia. I’ve been watching you; I don’t know many in Shadowsfall who could defeat you. But I do worry.”
She snorted. “You worry? That implies you care, and we both know that is a lie.”
He frowned. “Yes, you have a point. You are a product of me, however, and carry my reputation with you.”
“I hunt people like you.”
His pale face broke into a wide grin, displaying his fangs. “Yes, but you do it so well. I don’t care who you fight for, only that you do it well, not stupidly. As long as you are feared then I can call you my daughter.”
“You have no idea how little that means to me.” She tried to pull her trident from the infant’s fist, but it would not let go, and she figured it was keeping the little rat occupied.
“It matters to me. And therefore I must warn you to think about why you are here, and what you are doing.” He extended his long-fingered hand, palm up, to the carnage around them. Dead ghouls and one gigantic spider littered the shallow cave; one body smoldered over a fire, giving off a ghastly scent.
“As you said, parenting wasn’t your strong point. But humans usually want their children safe,” she indicated the infant on her shoulder, which had brought the handle of her wartrident to its mouth to gnaw.
“That infant has no parents,” her father said dismissively. “If you were a true vampire, you would have known this the minute you picked it up.” He leaned forward and made a big deal of sniffing the top of the infant’s head. “You could smell his mother’s milk on him, if he had a mother. He hasn’t touched his mother in weeks. See?”
He pulled the boy’s shirt back and Valdia could see the small brand on the back of the child’s neck. “They brand orphans?”
“Some brand unwanted, yes. Humans can be so barbaric. So if this child doesn’t belong to this woman, why did she send you here?”
“She could still be an adoptive mother,” Valdia protested.
Her father nodded. “Yes. She could. By all means, I could be wrong. But when you got here, the child was unharmed. Did you wonder what a ghoul would want with a human baby in the first place? Could he have been bait?”
They both looked around at the carnage, and Valdia shrugged. “If so, they needed a stronger force at this end.”
Lavin pointed down the mountain toward the village, and said, “Then perhaps the child was a distraction, to get you away from the village?”