Posted on February 5, 2010 by Flames
Walk the line between magic and madness in Erin M. Evan’s passionate story about the dragons of the City of Splendors…
Tennora would give anything to be a wizard. And Clytemorrenestrix, a strange woman with uncanny blue eyes, whose name means “She Will Thunder in the Sky,” and who claims to be a dragon, promises to make her just that–in return for aid in returning her to her true form. But soon after Tennora seals the deal, a bounty hunter presses a note into her hands claiming the dragon woman is actually a human–a violent, criminally insane human who murders those who fail her.
The God Catcher is gripping tale of identity, intrigue, and obsession set in the classic City of Splendors and presented by Forgotten Realms campaign setting creator and celebrated author Ed Greenwood. You don’t want to miss out on this exciting glimpse into what the latest edition of the Realms has to offer.
The God Catcher is available now at Amazon.com.
Flames Rising is pleased to offer a short excerpt from this new Forgotten Realms novel.
The God Catcher by Erin M. Evans
“What sort of neighborhood is this?”
“A good one,” Tennora assured her aunt, though it was hardly a neighborhood—more the accidental square created where Sul Street met a funny little jog off Market Street that to Tennora’s knowledge had no agreed-upon name. A hearth-house, a dry goods store, and a few far-shippers were tucked into the surrounding buildings, but the tenement the locals called the God Catcher was the neighborhood.
“Doesn’t look that way to me,” Tennora’s uncle Eckhart said, peering over his wife’s rounded shoulder. He snorted through his thick moustaches. “Or sound like it.”
“I promise,” Tennora said, “this isn’t normal. It’s a very nice neighborhood.”
But of course, the one day she’d managed to set aside for her aunt and uncle, to prove to them once and for all that she wasn’t living in the midst of criminals and coin lasses, everything had to fall apart. Tennora had planned everything carefully—she always planned carefully. She’d spent the whole morning trying to make certain the visit would be as uneventful as possible. Set the table ahead of time and arranged the chips to all face her own seat.
Beaten out the rug beneath the table. Spent an hour assembling little morsels of bread and salty ham so that her aunt wouldn’t notice she was out of butter. Cooked and cleaned and pressed so that everything would go well.
“How could that happen?” Tennora said.
“Spellplague,” she spat, and then drank from her mug as if to rinse the taste of the word from her mouth.
It wasn’t fair, Tennora thought, to hold her accountable for the madwoman standing in the street and screaming up at her apartment.
“What is she saying?” Aunt Aowena asked. “Plaque Clock? Brack Rock?”
“I believe it’s ‘Blacklock,’ ” Tennora said, stifling a sigh. “Aundra Blacklock. The landlady.” She pointed up at the arm of the God Catcher, stretched out above them.
Years before, Tennora’s apartment had been part of a glorious statue controlled by the Lords of Waterdeep. The Walking Statues were famed for protecting the City of Splendors against invaders.
Then the Spellplague erupted and drove the statues mad. The God Catcher had been headed to crush the market, the very heart of its city, when a wizard—the Blackstaff, they said—turned the ground beneath it into mud. Its leg sank, and the statue collapsed, its arm reaching up toward the heavens, and froze. The leg remained, a passage into the sewers below. The body curled over its other knee had been built over with new construction, and a set of stairs wound its way up the outstretched arm. But the calm stone face regarding the sphere, the muscles of its shoulder, and the long column of its pale gray arm remained visible.
Twenty feet above the statue’s open palm a sphere without a visible door floated—the home of Aundra Blacklock, proprietor and sorceress, and the source of the madwoman’s ire.
“She could at least enunciate.” Aunt Aowena sniffed.
“If that is the sort of person your landlady is acquainted with,” Uncle Eckhart said, “I shudder to think of the sort of ruffians she’s rented to.”
“No offense, dear,” Aunt Aowena added.
“I don’t believe they’re acquainted,” Tennora said. The woman had the red-faced, uncomprehending look of pure rage that the mysterious Aundra Blacklock frequently inspired in people who didn’t know better. Aundra kept to herself, unapologetically so.
Tennora could count on one hand the number of times she’d spoken to the raptoran landlady—once when she’d rented the apartment in the God Catcher’s shoulder, and twice when Aundra had flown down to Tennora’s window to pick up the rent payments in the early evening hours. If the woman wanted Aundra’s attention, she was going to be waiting.
The madwoman scooped up a piece of broken pavement from the street and hurled it at the God Catcher. It hit Tennora’s neighbor’s shuttered window. Aunt Aowena squealed, and Tennora fought the urge to scream.
“Why don’t we just sit back—” she started to say.
“Ah!” her uncle interrupted. “There’s the Watch. About time.”
A carefully prepared highsunfeast lay forgotten on the table.
But, Tennora thought, perhaps it was not all bad. The disturbance outside had interrupted her aunt’s latest attempt to convince Tennora to return home with them to the North Ward.
“You’re not truly happy here,” Aunt Aowena had said, ignoring the cashew soup Tennora had spent most of the morning preparing.
“How could you be? Shabby, shabby place. The air has to be terrible on your poor lungs.”
“I’m certain the air is quite the same here as in the North Ward,” Tennora said.
Aowena ignored her. “I’ll tell you what—Eckhart and I are looking for a tutor for your cousins. You can move back in with us and we’ll even give you spending coins, like a little salary. How does that sound?”
“It’s very kind,” Tennora replied, even though it wasn’t kind in the least. It was an easy way for her aunt to educate Tennora’s four cousins and an easier way to slip her back into the house. “I know I can always count on you, Aunt Aowena, but—”
Her aunt clapped gleefully. “You can move into the Griffon Room! And we’ll introduce you to all the best young men—don’t want to be a tutor forever, do we now?”
Tennora’s thoughts unavoidably slid to the last young man she had been introduced to. Ballinton Marchenor, a third son of that family, an officer of the guard who spent the better part of the last evenfeast she’d attended regaling her with the geography of the sewers he patrolled. He had been very eager and sweet, called her Lady Hedare as he was supposed to, and took her hand with an earnestness that suggested he didn’t do that often. Tennora had found it too cruel to tell him that while she was sure he had many nice qualities, he was an utter bore and still smelled of the sewers.
She concentrated very hard on not making a face. “That is kind of you as well. But I’m afraid my studies—”
“Tut! There’s no point to a lovely young girl with your means wasting her time with wizardry. I always told your mother—”
That was when the madwoman started screaming, and although it didn’t seem like a charitable thought, Tennora was glad the madwoman had saved her the unbearable chore of explaining to Aunt Aowena that she didn’t want to live in the North Ward and teach arithmetic to her snotty cousins while empty-headed young men squired her around ballrooms. That she wanted to continue studying wizardry in her apprenticeship
at the House of Wonder.
It also saved her the embarrassment of admitting she wasn’t studying wizardry anymore, that her apprenticeship had been ended.
“They’re not going to—” Aowena broke off with a squeal. “Oh Eckhart, they’ve got their swords out!”
“There, there, my dear. They won’t do anything upsetting.”
Judging by the way Aowena squealed again and covered her eyes, Tennora suspected the Watch couldn’t cross the square without being “upsetting” to her aunt.
Add it to the list of things that upset her, Tennora thought, along with me moving away, learning something useful, having friends I wasn’t introduced to at a party at the Roaringhorns’, and wearing my hair like this. Ever since Tennora’s parents had died of a featherlung epidemic when she was fifteen, she had been struggling to find a way to please her aunt and uncle without making herself miserable. The idea of telling Aunt Aowena about losing her place at the House of Wonder, a school for wizards, made Tennora wish she could trade places with the madwoman.
She leaned over Aowena’s shoulder to look out the window.
It was a grayish, drizzly day, and the silvery armor of the Watch seemed faded and insubstantial in the gloom. The captain of the patrol was inching toward the woman. She slung another pebble up at the God Catcher.
“All right, mistress,” the captain called. “Put your hands on top of your head and come along quietly. No need to disturb the God Catcher further.”
The woman turned to him with a contemptuous grace and looked the captain over as if sizing him up. She was too far away and spoke too softly for Tennora to hear what she said next, but the captain stepped back as if jolted and shouted an order to surround and subdue the madwoman.
“Oh!” Aowena cried, her eyes riveted on the advancing guards.
“It’s just too terrible to watch!”
The Watchmen slipped through the crowd, ordering the bystanders to step back and clear a path. The woman seemed to coil, preparing for the attack, relishing it—though Tennora suspected that was only her imagination. Who would relish such a thing?
The patrolman behind the woman sprang forward and twisted her arm behind her back. The woman slipped from his grasp, fluid as an eel. A second patrolman with ginger hair peeking out from his helmet snatched her around the waist and tried to lift her off her feet—and got a heel to each knee for his trouble. He dropped her but managed to hold tight to her waist.
“She ought to be ashamed of herself!” Uncle Eckhart said.
“Making such a scene! Didn’t her mother ever teach her to respect her betters?”
It would be more useful, Tennora thought as the madwoman twisted against her captor, if her mother had taught her to fight off an attacker. The guard holding the madwoman had positioned himself perfectly for a sharp punch to the kidney—She caught herself in the midst of the thought.
I would never do that, she reminded herself. Just because she’d made a point of learning to protect herself when she’d moved deeper into the city and away from her family’s guardsmen didn’t mean she fantasized about using those skills.
Except, a little part of her said, you just did.
The first guard and one of his comrades—a woman with a brown braid down her back—grabbed the madwoman by the wrists. The captain shouted for her to stop resisting and come along. The madwoman’s laughter rang through the courtyard.
She broke the woman’s grip and sprang backward. She cast a hand high over her head. And then she vanished.
The Watchmen all fell back, staring at the empty space. Something powerful had just happened, to be sure. Tennora leaned out the window, scanning the crowd for any sign of the woman—there were spells that let a body move through the air with a thought, but not too far. The Watch seemed to be thinking the same thing. They spread through the crowd, searching the bystanders. She might have been invisible. A disturbance in the air, a phantom brush against an arm, the sound of fabric sliding against itself—there were clues, to be sure, but no one seemed to notice anything amiss.
Only that the woman was gone—no trace, no trail, no aftereffects.
A shiver ran up Tennora’s spine. Something powerful indeed.
“Well,” Aowena said. “I do hope she’s learned her lesson. Now, what were you saying about your studies, dear?”
An hour later, after the street had calmed down and the Timehands chimed tharsun, Aowena and Eckhart finally went home to the North Ward, thanking Tennora for the visit and reminding her that the position of tutor was still available.
“But don’t count on it forever, dove,” Aowena said, handing the coachman her handbag. “I do need to fill it soon.”
“Never mind her,” Eckhart said once Aowena had stepped into the coach. “You’re always welcome to come home, tutor or not.”
“Oh!” Aowena cried, sticking her head out of the window. “I nearly forgot! We have a trunk for you. I told them to send it this morning, but you know how the servants can be.”
“Oh, they found it tidying up the Phoenix Room—that was your mother’s room, remember, dear?” Aowena’s tones had not, to the casual observer, changed, but to Tennora’s practiced ear the enmity Aowena had felt for her late sister-in-law rang clear. “It was pushed back under the bed, behind all her boxes of clothes.”
“What trunk?” Tennora asked again.
“Just some old things of your mother’s,” Aowena said. “I thought you might like to have them. It should come by this evening.”
Tennora tried not to look too surprised. Those things of her parents’ that hadn’t been destroyed to ward off the disease were kept at the Hedare family manor—where they belonged, according to her aunt and uncle. She had some few relics of their lives: a portrait of her mother, her father’s silk handkerchief, the quilt that had lain on their marriage bed. The trunk was likely full of odds and ends, bits of junk that her mother had wanted out of sight and out of mind. Probably trinkets of her life before she’d married into the noble family.
Still, it had been hers.
Tennora agreed to watch for the errand boy and no, she wouldn’t let anyone else into her home. She kissed her aunt and uncle on the cheeks, went back to her apartment, locked the door behind her, and sat down in front of the window to watch the rain that had started pouring down in earnest. A fitting complement, she thought, to the past two days. She tugged at a loose thread at the hem of her skirt.
All her worries came back to her in a rush: There would be no more lessons. There would be no more chances. She closed her eyes, the afternoon that had ruined her life running through her mind.
She had been in the library of Master Rhinzen Halnian’s tower, researching for a test on enchanted objects. Carefully balancing on a wobbly step stool, she scanned the shelves for a book she’d found mentioned in a footnote—Ritual Development and Magical Restraint. Not a book she needed, to be fair, but the footnote—itself in a book she had not strictly needed to be studying—implied intriguing information about how imbuing magic in items often created drawbacks if the ritual was more powerful than the caster intended. Master Halnian’s test wouldn’t ask anything about magic item creation, she was sure, but Tennora’s curiosity begged to be sated.
Behind her someone cleared his throat. Startled, Tennora looked down at a handsome young man wearing blue robes similar to her own.
Cassian Lafornan was a fellow apprentice to Rhinzen Halnian.
If there was a better-looking young man anywhere in Faerûn, Tennora hoped they kept him locked away somewhere to avoid riots. He had soft brown hair and hazel eyes so bright and warm, Tennora felt as if she were melting when he looked at her.
She had not—of course—told Cassian any of that.
“Coins bright, Cassian. You scared me. Can I help you?”
At that moment the stool wobbled. The young man reached out to steady her, grabbing her hands. Warmth flooded Tennora.
“All right there?” Cassian asked, giving her a charming smile.
“Yes!” Tennora said. “I mean, thank you. This old stool is . . .They should replace it.”
Cassian gave her a curious look, and Tennora blushed as he helped her down.
“I was just looking for a book,” she said, mentally kicking herself.
What else would she have been doing up there? Bird-watching?
“Do you really need another?” Cassian asked, casting an eye at the table Tennora had been using for her research. Books lay open on still more open books, hanging over every edge. “You have nearly the whole library there.”
Tennora smiled nervously. “Well, there are a lot of references and . . . I just like books?”
He smiled back. “You certainly do. Master Halnian sent me. He wants to have a word with you. He’s in his study.” Cassian looked at the mountain of books. “He sounded urgent.”
“I’ll just . . . clean them up later,” Tennora said. “Thank you. For telling me.” Before he could answer, Tennora rushed out of the library.
Bloody Sune’s spit, she thought, pressing a cool hand against her face. Why did he make her act like she had all the social graces of a hobgoblin? Tennora knew she was pretty enough, knew she had plenty of interesting things to say—yet when faced with Cassian . . . she might as well be a hobgoblin.
In the hallway, she passed another student, an elf girl called Shava carrying a tray of used glasses and half-finished sweetmeats away from Master Halnian’s study. Tennora stopped her.
“Is he upset?” she asked.
“Not a bit,” Shava said. “He seems to be in a better mood than usual.” A weight came off Tennora’s shoulders.
Remembering that feeling of relief, Tennora cringed.
The door to Master Halnian’s study was open. Her master stood in front of a row of windows that faced the sea and was high enough in the tower to spy the gray edge of the water and catch the smell of the salt breeze if the windows were open. Shelves of books and strange artifacts lined two walls. Behind Master Halnian’s divan he kept an array of particularly precious items behind glass—a sword with an amethyst in the hilt carved like a sleeping face, a crown made of silver bones, a collar set with a moonstone the size of Tennora’s fist that Master Halnian had said was a piece of the Songdragon’s armor from the Wailing Years.
They all scintillated with waiting magic.
On the wall farthest from the windows, the symbol of the dead goddess still traced the stones—a ring of seven stars around a plume of red. As she often did, Tennora took a moment to study it, reverence in her memorization of the fading paint and chipped stones.
“Master Halnian?” Tennora said. “You wanted to see me?”
The eladrin wizard turned abruptly. “Tennora. Please sit,” he said with a smile. She slid into the chair opposite him. “Tennora,” he said, taking a seat behind his desk. He said her name like a sigh. Tennora’s heart squeezed—she was in trouble.
She ran through the last tenday—nothing stood out. But the look of concern on Master Halnian’s face was unavoidable.
“Tennora, there’s no easy way to say this. I’m afraid I’m going to have to release you from your term of study,” he said.
The words struck her like a slap to the face. “I-I’m sorry?”
“I don’t believe this is the proper . . . path for you. I know you are very passionate about learning the Art,” he said. “But I simply cannot condone keeping you here. You see, when Lord and Lady Hedare first brought you to me, I had thought . . . well, my dear, you have a certain grace in your physical movement. It does not translate to your casting.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the practice of the Art should be like a dance, an opera, a synergy of motion and sound and magic. What we have left is fragile and fickle. It deserves care and focus. You, my dear—how shall I put it? You yank on the threads of the Weave as if they were leashes and the spells errant hounds.”
“But . . .” Tennora said. “But isn’t there anything I can do? I mean, I’m studying very hard—”
“Yes, yes,” Rhinzen said. “You’re a very intelligent girl. Very quick. But being clever is only a part of mastering the Weave.”
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be teaching me?” Tennora asked. “I can sense it—I can—it’s just that sometimes the spells don’t quite work right. That happens to everyone.”
“You more than most,” Rhinzen said. “I am glad to see your eyebrows have grown back, by the by.”
Tennora blushed. “It wasn’t so bad as all that.”
Rhinzen stood and paced behind her, studied his artifacts.
“The matter is simple, my dear. Some of us are gifted with an understanding of the Weave. And some of us are not. That is the way things are, and neither you nor I can change that any more than we can make ourselves dwarves!”
“But I . . . I know I can. I just need—”
“Waterdeep needs quality wizards. What would we have done if Ahghairon’s spells didn’t work quite right? Where would we be if the Songdragon’s armor had been enchanted by mere amateurs?”
Exactly where we are now, a small voice in the back of Tennora’s mind said. The Spellplague came, with or without you.
Out loud, she said, “Master Halnian, I promise you I do not take this lightly. Give me another chance. Please. I have wanted to be a wizard all my life.”
“Tennora, please.” The eladrin set a hand on hers. “Make certain you tidy the library before you leave.”
And that had been that. She was unsuited to the Art. She had wasted whole years trying. It didn’t matter how much she wanted or tried or studied. Master Halnian wouldn’t take her back. Everything she’d loved, everything she’d studied for so long, had been pointless.
She thought of her fellow students—especially handsome Cassian. He’d go on to great things, probably marry some elf girl with no hips, Tennora thought bitterly. One who could cast a fire spell without burning anyone’s eyebrows off.
She watched the rain fall and the clouds drift by, becoming darker and stormier with each passing sigh. It was as if her life had stopped.
Her stomach gurgled as if to remind Tennora that her life had not stopped and that she still had to figure out what she was going to do next. A meal, a pint, and some sympathy seemed like an excellent plan to start with, and Tennora rose from her seat to look out the window.
The view encompassed the square and its jumble of ancient and rebuilt architecture. People tended to forget anything was even there, sandwiched as it was between busier streets. Tennora adored it. The history of Waterdeep peeked out of every corner.
Where other areas of the city had been rebuilt with care, the street of the God Catcher made do with what it could, picking up bits and baubles from the ruins. A section of cobbles made from a fallen tower, the window arch still intact. A wall that jutted proudly between two buildings, surpassing and supporting them both. An ornate street lamp, just in front of the hearth-house, that hadn’t been lit in a century.
Tennora squinted into the rain.
Under the street lamp, the madwoman waited.
Something about her made Tennora want to close the shutters and crawl back into bed. If Tennora went out, the madwoman would seize her, she felt sure. She might scream a banshee’s scream, and then rip her—Tennora shook her head. What in the Nine Hells was getting into her? She looked at the woman standing in the rain. Just a woman—she didn’t even seem to carry a weapon. Though whatever she’d done earlier had clearly been some sort of spell. . . .
The hearth-house—and a hope for capping off the dreary day with a better evening—waited beyond the dark street lamp and its mad sentinel. If Tennora moved quickly and kept her distance, she could probably avoid speaking to the woman at all. She was quick. She knew how to avoid people, how to slip by with a demure smile and be on her way. It wouldn’t be difficult at all. She buckled her stormcloak and snuffed out the candles—and with them the concern lingering in the back of her mind.
She left it and slammed the door shut behind her.
* * *
The God Catcher is available now at Amazon.com.
This preview for was provided and published with express permission from Wizards of the Coast.