Organized by Storytellers On Tour, along with several other bloggers and bookstagrammers, we present to you Shadow of the Wicked, Douglas W.T. Smith‘s Dark Fantasy novella. Make sure to check out their posts as well! And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!
Douglas W.T. Smith is an Australian author of speculative fiction and short stories. His short stories have been published in a variety of magazines such as Movement, SuckerCo, Tertangala, and Needle in the Hay. Smith was shortlisted in the 2015 Historical Faction Award and the 2015 Science Fiction Award. His first book, Shadow Of The Wicked, was self-published in July, 2021. When Smith isn’t enjoying the Australian outdoors with his wife, son and dog, he loves to share his writing journey and insightful writing advice on his blog. To follow, visit www.dwtsmith.com.
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Twin brothers–a sorcerer and a warrior–are each tortured for their opposing convictions. Jaromir wakes up chained to a table filled with dread, while Talmage is thrown into an underground labyrinth. Both brothers must escape from their wicked fate, identify their outgrown relationship, and swallow their pride, before it’s too late.
If one of them fails; they both suffer.
Excerpt from Shadow of the Wicked by Douglas W.T. Smith
The fireplace crackled and radiated an ominous ambience in the room. Jaromir’s closest comrades sat at the round table in front of him. He stood over a map of the Three Kingdoms with a candle in his hand, shadows danced across the parchment from the flickering flame, and three pints of ale weighed it down around the edge.
“I need a message delivered.” Jaromir stared at his comrades.
Shaydin and Kadir sat next to him, glancing at the map.
“Is that why you called us over here?” Shaydin asked, his husky voice tried to whisper, in case anyone was listening outside Jaromir’s home. His long brown hair tied into a topknot, and the leather armor reflected the obscure oranges and yellows from the candles in the room.
Jaromir nodded, brushing his wispy hair off his face.
“I thought you looked paler than you usually do,” Kadir commented, grabbing his pint, and taking a sip out of it. The froth hung to his short beard, imitating his curly blonde hair. “Where does it need to be taken?”
“Does Talmage know?” Kadir leaned over the table.
Jaromir shook his head. “I can’t trust him.”
“He’s your twin. You can trust him,” Shaydin assured him.
Jaromir placed the candle on the table and cleared his throat. He looked over his shoulders down the hallway to see if his wife could hear him. She was out of earshot. “You know we haven’t spoken for years. I don’t know who he could tell.”
“Then there’s your answer.” Shaydin grabbed his pint, his hand enclosed by a gauntlet. “If it’s too important for anyone else to know, you can’t trust us either. We don’t mind telling a few tales after a few of these.” He winked at Jaromir and took a sip.
“I know you two won’t tell the wrong person.” Jaromir glanced at the other comrade. “I can trust both of you. Kadir, you’ve saved my life countless times from our enemy and what has Tal done for me?”
“It’s not that I’ve forgotten who saved whose life, but I feel caught between you and Talmage,” Kadir admitted. “He needs to be a part of our order, or I’m not your messenger bird anymore.” He took a sip from his ale and wiped the froth of his beard. “You call it Brother-in-Arms, but where is your brother?”
Shaydin stepped around Kadir and grabbed Jaromir’s shoulder. “Don’t listen to him. We’ll fight by each other’s sides until the day we die, whether we’re killed by delivering messages or wicked sorcerers.” He faced Kadir. “It’s what we signed up for when he asked us, all those years ago. Kadir, you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Jaromir.” Shaydin glared at him. “So, shut your mouth and let him speak.”
“Keep it down. Zylah could be listening to us.” Jaromir hushed him. “This message needs to be delivered at haste.”
Shaydin and Kadir looked at each other.
“You can trust us,” Shaydin said.
Kadir sighed and nodded. “When do you want us to leave?”
“I’ll meet you in two days’ time in Tarnsby, but you need to leave at first light,” Jaromir smirked.
A cold breeze slammed the front door. Jaromir glanced at it, lifting his head from the round table. He had been staring at the map since his comrades left. Jaromir studied the villages and wondered if his plan to cross The Cleave unnoticed and reach the other kingdoms would come to fruition. He left the dining room and crept to the front door.
“It’s just the wind.” His wife appeared. Her curly reddish-brown hair swayed behind her. She opened it and looked out the front of their home. “See, there’s nothing.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Jaromir rushed and slammed the door shut. “You don’t know what or who is out there.”
“What could be out there?” she asked, narrowing her dark eyes at him.
“There are things you couldn’t imagine.” Jaromir inflated his chest, returning a deep glare with his icy blue eyes.
“We live in the inner wall of Valenor. Nothing like that would ever happen here. Kadir or Shaydin must’ve left it open.”
Jaromir rubbed his wispy beard. “Possibly, but sorcerers and shapeshifters could easily sneak in the shadows. It’s only a matter of time before they do and before he does.”
“Who’s he?” Zylah asked with a high-pitched voice.
Jaromir rubbed the purple scar stretching down his arm. “You know who I’m talking about. The person that killed my parents and gave me this scar.”
Zylah placed her hand on his shoulder as he his sleeve, staring at the scar in the candlelight. “Did you know you share that same scar with Talmage?”
“Unfortunately, it’s one of the things we share.”
“You know, Pius will never come for us,” said Zylah, letting of his shoulder.
“He’s out there, and no one will be safe until he’s dead.” Jaromir walked back into the room and picked up the candle.
“We’re safe now.”
For now. Jaromir thought as she disappeared out of his sight. He hovered the flickering light over the west coast of Valenor and lowered it onto Tarnsby. A red cross marked over it, as several other places had across Esterford.
Jaromir let out a deep sigh and lifted his head. Before him and above the fireplace, an ancient sword glistened in the flickering light. It was passed down from the emperor, and it watched over the dining space. He had received it for his years of honorary duty as the Knight Commander of the Empire Order, and none of his family were there for him. He clenched his fist and faced his wife. Her long curly hair hung in front of her as she entered and studied the map. Her tawny brown skin sparkled as if she had just bathed.
Zylah entered the room. “Have you heard from Talmage?”
“No, I haven’t.” Jaromir resumed looking at the map spread across the table.
She thumped her hand onto the map. “Have you tried to contact him?”
Jaromir shook his head and cleared his throat.
He straightened his back and glanced at his wife. He stood a foot taller than her and doubled her width. “Don’t act surprised.”
“When did you last speak to him?” She inflated her chest.
Jaromir embraced another argument. Now that his guests were gone, the truth of their relationship would resume. “I don’t know,” he snapped back.
“Every time you invite your companions over, you never invite your brother,” her voice grew louder. Her veins throbbed in her neck and her eyes narrowed in the soft light. “When was the last time you spoke to him?” she demanded him to answer.
His lips were dry. “I need a drink,” Jaromir muttered.
“You gave up on that, just like your brother,” Zylah inflated her chest and defended Talmage.
“You don’t know how hard it is to not drink when you’re pestering me.” Jaromir dismissed her comments.
“Then answer the question!”
“It was at Agustin’s burial.”
“That was two years ago!”
“I tried to contact him after it.” Jaromir couldn’t contain his anger. “He never returned any of my letters. Before that, he’d become someone other than my brother. I couldn’t be around him anymore. If anything, I made the greatest choice to stay out of his life. Our young brotherly bond faded with our age.”
Zylah took deep breaths and closed her eyes. Finally, she said with a calm tone. “Did you know Bethany took her life?”
“Who told you that?” Jaromir asked, his mood instantly shifted.
“Talmage.” Zylah turned and left the room.
Questions rushed through his thoughts. He wanted to ask all of them at the same time. Had she been talking to him? Where did she see him? But instead, he chased after her and grabbed her shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me this?”
“You don’t care about anyone but yourself!”
“When did this happen?”
“Two months ago,” Zylah said, shrugging his hand off her.
“I’m going to find him.” A sense of urgency ran through Jaromir to find his brother.
It was true, he hadn’t spoken to his brother for years, but he felt guilty and ashamed for not being there for him when his wife died. Maybe something happened to her. As he grabbed his sword and slid on his armor, he remembered Bethany wasn’t at Agustin’s burial. A more profound feeling of remorse and shame pressed on him as he concealed his body with a long woolen cloak.
“You haven’t cared about him, and now all of a sudden you chose to find him?” Zylah chased after him.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Jaromir muttered.
“Do you think he’ll forgive you?”
Jaromir stopped. After all this time we’ve been apart, would he forget our quarrels?
“You don’t know where he is.” Zylah rushed to the door and stood before him, blocking his way.
“I have a faint clue where he’ll be.” I know where I’d be if I didn’t give up drinking.
“You can’t just leave me here alone. What about the sorcerers and shapeshifters, like you said?”
Jaromir adjusted the cloak over his head. “If someone comes here, use the sword above the fireplace, but you should be safe. We live in the inner wall. Nothing like that will ever happen.” He smirked at her and ran outside.
The thick rain droplets thud onto his cloak. He ran across the puddled stone path. The street was empty, and the night was loud. He turned and saw Zylah standing at the front door of their home. Candlelight’s flickered on the window of the second level. She must have left one up there, but he didn’t remember her going upstairs all night. He shrugged the thought and made haste for his brother. The stacked houses clasped the shadows, hiding the contents of the narrow alleyways. Jaromir held the pommel of his sword. An icy shiver ran down his spine. He could feel people watching him from between the buildings. He picked up his pace. There’s only one place Tal would be. He distracted the unknown with his task. He had always put his tasks and objectives above all. In his line of work, he knew emotions could never hinder his goal.
It was one of the rules of his order. Never let emotions cloud your sense of judgment.
Jaromir peered out of the corner of his eye. He caught a glance of a boot tuck in the shadow of a wall as a flash of lightning lit the sky. Jaromir ran in the downpour. Gusts of wind swirled in the streets as he paced down the cobbled stone roads. The taste of fresh cool water filtered from his hood as he came around the street corner to face The Amalgamate. A tavern that linked through the city wall. He spun around, and three cloak figures stood before him.
“If you can’t be stealth in this weather, you’ll be more useful dead.” The cloaked man that stood in the middle held out his hand.
Sparks of lightning shot out from his fist. Flying past Jaromir’s cheek, slicing it open. Steam rose in the crispy night from his wound.
“Things are more interesting now. I don’t think you know who I am.” Jaromir smiled at them, even though they wouldn’t be able to see his facial features. “I am a man that has been eliminating magick users, like you three, for a very long time. I am the night’s shadows that’ll make sure the new day will be welcomed with a bright light. Our world will be a better place, once you’re gone.”
The tallest dark figure stepped forward. “You’re missing something, old man.” His shrill voice whispered in the rain.
“What’s that, you vile piece of shit?”
“There are six of us.”
Jaromir’s heart dropped. He spun around and caught a glance of an iron staff smacking him to the ground. After all his years of studying and training, his heightened senses had failed him. His vision faded as black boots splashed in the puddles closer to him.
The blurred face crept down in front of his. “We finally meet, Jaromir.”
“Water?” A harsh voice asked, casting a shadow over Talmage.
He lifted his head and opened his weary eyes. A broad man with thick hairy arms leaned on the bar, blocking the light from the tavern.
The man slid the pint of water to Talmage. He accepted with a grunt. His hand shook the glass as he sipped the cool liquid, soothing his parched throat.
“Thank you, but an ale would have sufficed, Haggith.” Talmage grinned.
“You’ve had your belly full for tonight. Finish that and head on home.”
Talmage gulped the water and slammed the glass on the wooden table. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He stood from the stool and stumbled towards the door.
“This won’t fix your problems.”
“I know it doesn’t fix it, Haggith, but it eases my pain.”
Talmage staggered out of the Amalgamate tavern. The clouds above rumbled as if they were furious at him. He hadn’t seen his brother after Agustin was murdered, and his wife had taken her own life. Whenever someone came close to him or he began to love, they would disappear.
After Agustin died, Jaromir never returned his messages. He visited their homestead numerous times, and Zylah said he was out, but Talmage saw his brother peering from one of the windows in their manor.
One fateful night another sorcerer had invited Talmage to reside with him. He continued his magick training, and the sorcerer showed him everything, putting him through tormenting trials of relentless and exhausting lessons. The sorcerer took Talmage under his wing, but as he mulled over his haunting past with pints of ale, every night, Talmage believed magick had cost him his wife, Bethany. He had kept it all a secret and told her he had been training with his brother.
Maybe she found out I was a sorcerer, and that’s why she took her own life. The same dreadful thought repeated in his mind every night.
A flash of lightning disturbed his thoughts. For that moment, the disheveled homes and broken streets blazed in the divine light before it was swallowed by the night.
Talmage swayed along the building wall, using his hands to guide him. He glanced around to see if anyone was near him. After his drunken judgment, he muttered to himself. “Ardeat ignis.”
A small flame conjured in his hand. The dancing flames comforted him, warming his empty and restless soul. After all that had happened, magick had been the constant and stable thing in his harrowing life.
“Didn’t I teach you to keep it a secret?” A wispy voice crept from an alleyway.
Talmage flicked his wrist, and the flame extinguished. His eyes adjusted to the figure before him. “You scared me, Pius.”
“What if I was one of the guards or worse, your brother?”
Talmage staggered towards him. “My brother would never stand up to me.”
“Don’t be so confident. You’re lucky it was only me otherwise, all that I’ve trained you for would have been for naught.” Pius stood beside him.
Talmage felt his judging gaze scan over him. “Do you pity me?”
“I do not pity you. I hope you believe me when I say this, but your time as the next Sorcerer Monarch is in fruition with one last piece to move into position.”
Talmage stopped and leered at him.
Pius’ black messy hair concealed the wrinkles on his face. Under his hooded cloak, he wore his custom armor and a dagger on his waist. Another deep rumble in the disappointing clouds filled the ominous sky.
Talmage swallowed his fears. “Do you plan on killing me?”
Pius’ thin grin stretched across his face. “I don’t plan on killing you, Talmage. I wouldn’t have exhausted my skills to train you. No, that would’ve been a waste of time on both our behalf’s.” He glanced down at his dagger. “I can never be sure when I need protection in the city turmoil. I have many followers but even more enemies.” He tightened his hood around his neck.
“Then what is the last piece of your grand plan?”
“Your final test. Come with me.” Pius gripped his arm and dragged him into the alleyway.
Talmage narrowed his eyes at the buildings. His head swayed from the gallons of ale he consumed prior. He withdrew his hand from Pius’ long thin fingers. “Where are we going?”
“We’re almost here. Come.” He paced and urged Talmage deeper into the bending and tapering alleyway.
After a while, the pair of sorcerers emerged from the thin gap between the buildings and stood in front of a house. Under the moonlight, Talmage squinted with curiosity at the strange place. It had vines and trees choking the side and roof. It stretched into the darkness, and a great light flashed from a window gap.
“What was that?” Talmage swayed.
“Why are we here?”
Pius reached into his cloak and pulled out a small potion bottle. “Have this. It’ll help clear your mind from all that stinking ale.”
Talmage hesitantly received it. As he grabbed it, he studied the black smear on his palm from magick. He wiped it on his cloak. “Will this poison me?”
“It won’t poison you, Talmage. Like I said, it’ll clear your mind and ready you for your final trial.”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“Drink, and I will.” He smirked.
Talmage peered at him before he gulped the small liquid. The honey and a bitter lemon taste swirled in his mouth. He tapped the last drops of the bottle onto his tongue.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. That’ll be the last thing you have until you make it out.” Pius laughed. His wicked and sneering cackle pierced the calm thin air.
With a flash of panic, Talmage shoved his fingers down this throat. Pius clicked his fingers, and two large brutes appeared from behind him and grabbed his arms.
“Morten and Renold. Put him into place. The last piece is ready for our dominion.”
Talmage kicked and thrust his body, but the men held him back. “This isn’t worth it, Pius. Morten. Renold. Don’t listen to him.”
“Don’t disobey me, or it’ll be the last thing you do.” Pius lifted his hand to threaten his servants. The two brutes gripped harder around Talmage’s arm. “Trust me, Talmage, this will all be worth it.” His malicious laugh echoed in the alleyway.
Talmage felt his arms weakened, and his eyes grew heavy. He needed to scream for help and break free, but he couldn’t stay awake any longer. His neck flopped forward.
My brother could never stand up to me. His words faded into a chasm of darkness.
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