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Dimly he remembers the starving raiders who massacred his village—and the Isle Knights who happened by in time to save him and his brother in a charge of gleaming steel. He grew up in the Dark Quarter, the reeking slums of nearby Lyos, where meals consisted of rat-meat and nights were spent hiding from thieves and child-rapists. For years, he survived by joining gangs and robbing graves. In time, he became a sellsword. But he never forgot his childlike dream of becoming an Isle Knight… even after he learned that the Isle Knights were not half as noble as he believed.
Once, he was the fiercest and most revered of the Housecarls—those muscular, gray-skinned warriors whose long axes protect the Dwarrish king in the smoke-darkened mead halls of Tarator. But then, he committed the gravest of sins in the eyes of his people: he fell in love with another man. Worse, that man was the king’s son! Beaten and banished, Jalist came to roam the wilds of Ruun as a sellsword, whereupon he met a pair of ragged orphans in the Dark Quarter: Kayden and Rowen Locke.
Among the few Shel’ai spared the knife at childbirth, he was taken beyond the protective shade of the Wytchforest and left to die. Luckily, he was found by another Shel’ai who took him to live among Humans. For a time, it seemed that the villagers had grown to accept them—until a plague roused old suspicions, and Kith’el’s benefactor was killed. Kith’el changed his name to Shade and extracted fiery revenge… then found his taste for blood had grown unquenchable. In time, he was found by Fadarah, who recruited him to be his right hand man. He also fell deeply in love with another of Fadarah’s disciplines: a beautiful young woman named Silwren.
In an era where Shel’ai are most often killed at birth, or in rare instances banished and left to die, Silwren’s fate was rarer still: actually cared for by her parents, until their fellow Sylvs put them to death. Silwren fled and was found by Fadarah, who stoked her desire for revenge until Silwren was the first to volunteer for Fadarah’s most desperate mission. Along with a few others, she delved into an ancient, incredibly powerful source of magic, the hope being that her own magic would be heightened to such a degree that none would ever dare threaten the Shel’ai again. Unfortunately, the Nightmare proved that with great power comes even greater madness. And Silwren began to doubt.
Once the most loyal and thoughtful of Fadarah’s disciples, transformed by Namundvar’s Well into a kind of Dragonkin… a super-powerful sorcerer roiling with so much stolen magic, now, he is little more than an attack dog, a mindless burning thrall who tears down city walls with a wave of his scarred and twisted hand.
Even among the Shel’ai, he is an anomaly: half-Sylv, half-Olg, the product of a brutal rape, double-cursed by the dragonmist in his eyes. For years, he wreaked vengeance on the ferocious Olgrym by murdering their warriors and chieftains… and tattooing their names to his body. In time, though, he came to recognize that their strength could be yoked to his own dark purposes. Now, driven by the certainty that the Shel’ai will only be safe when all of Ruun is under their control, he has hatched a complex plan tinged by desperation—or madness.
Like Rowen, she came of age in the slums, but sought to escape a childhood that was the stuff of nightmares—first, by joining a prestigious brothel; later, by joining the Iron Sisters, a fearsome cadre of female knights who fear nothing, least of all men. But when the Iron Sisters are all but wiped out by the Dhargots, she finds herself at a dangerous—and lonesome—crossroads.
A famed swordsman, sworn to serve the fading king of a fading realm. As the leader of the Lancers, he must decide what to do when Ivairia, his homeland, is threatened by an army it cannot possibly beat alone.
The youngest of three Dhargothi princes, cursed with a conscience, his loathing for his bloodthirsty, rampaging siblings is matched only by his timidity… and his love of food and wine.
Twisted and deformed by the same magic that transformed Iventine into the Nightmare—and made El’rash’lin finally realize the folly of Fadarah’s plan—he now finds himself trapped between worlds, rejected and feared by friends and enemies alike.
A living legend, the dark-eyed peasant-woman who became an Isle Knight. Former trainer of both Rowen and Kayden Locke, political opponent to Crovis Ammerhel, and one of the few honorable Isle Knights left in the world.