A Dance of Cloaks

Prologue

For the past two weeks the simple building had been his safehouse, but now Thren Felhorn doubted its safety as he limped through the door. He clutched his right arm to his muscular body and fought to halt its trembling. Blood ran from his shoulder to his arm, cut by a poisoned blade.

“Damn you, Leon,” he said as he staggered across the wood floor, through a sparsely decorated room, and up to a wall made of plaster and oak. Even with his blurred vision he located the slight groove with his fingers. He pressed inward, detaching an iron lock on the other side of the wall. A small door swung inward.

The master of the Spider Guild collapsed in a chair and removed his gray hood and cloak. He sat in a much larger room painted silver and decorated with pictures of mountains and fields. He removed his shirt, carefully pulling it over his wounded arm. He felt lucky the toxin was meant only to paralyze him. Most likely Leon Connington had wanted him alive so he could sit in his padded chair and watch while his ‘gentle touchers’ bled him drop by bloody drop. The fat man’s treacherous words from their meeting ignited a fire in his gut that refused to fade.

“We will not cower to rats that live off our shit,” Leon had said while brushing his thin mustache. “Do you really think you stand a chance against the wealth of the Trifect? We could buy your soul from the gods.”

Thren had fought down his initial impulse to bury a shortsword in the fat man’s throat. A terrible mistake in hindsight. They had met inside his extravagant mansion, another mistake. Thren vowed to correct his carelessness in the coming months. He had tried to stop the war from erupting, but it appeared everyone in Veldaren desired chaos.

If the city wants blood, it can have it, Thren thought. But it won’t be mine.

“Are you in here, father?” he heard his elder son ask from an adjacent room. Thren held his anger in check.

“And if I was not?” he asked.

His son Randith entered from the other room. He looked much like his father, having the same sharp features, thin nose, and grim smile. His hair was brown like his mother’s, and that alone endeared him to Thren. They both wore the gray trousers and cloaks of their guild. A long rapier hung from one side of his belt, a dagger from the other. Randith’s blue eyes met his father’s.

“Then I’d kill you,” Randith said, a cocky grin pulling up the left side of his face.

“Where is the mage?” the guildmaster asked. “Connington’s men cut me with a toxin, and its effect is troublesome.”

Troublesome hardly described it, but Thren wouldn’t let his son know that. His flight from the mansion was a blur in his memory. The toxin had numbed his arm and made his entire side sting with pain. His neck muscles had fired off at random, and one of his knees kept locking up during his run. He had felt like a cripple as he fled through the alleyways of Veldaren, but the moon was waning and the streets empty, so none had seen his pathetic stumbling.

“Cregon isn’t here,” Randith said as he leaned toward his father’s exposed shoulder and examined the cut.

“Then go find him,” Thren said. “And where is Senke? He was supposed to bring me word from Gemcroft.”

“Maynard Gemcroft’s men fired arrows from their windows as we approached,” Randith said. He turned his back to his father and opened a few cupboards until he found a small black