A Dance of Ghosts


By David Dalglish

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From USA Today bestselling author David Dalglish
The underworld trempbles at the rise of the sun. . .

In book #5 of the Shadowdance series. . . a night of fire and blood heralds Muzien the Darkhand’s arrival to Veldaren. With him comes the might of the Sun Guild, eager to spread their criminal empire.

Left blind after being attacked by the Widow, Alyssa Gemcroft struggles to hold together the remnants of the Trifect as the Sun Guild’s arrival threatens to shatter whatever future her son might have left.

Veldaren’s only hope is in the Watcher, but Haern is no longer there. With his father, Thren Felhorn, he is traveling to the Stronghold, an ancient bastion of the dark paladins of Karak. Will they find the answers they seek? Or will the Stronghold be their final destination?

Killer or savior; the line can no longer remain blurred.

Fantasy author David Dalglish continues his tale of retribution and darkness in this never-before-released novel in the Shadowdance series, following A Dance of Shadows.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of A Dance of Chaos

A Preview of The Black Prism

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The wagons, all three of them full of men and women laughing and calling to one another, rumbled along on wooden wheels down the road that split the forest. So far, it seemed none realized they were being watched.

"I don't see why we must hide," Thren whispered beside Haern as they crouched together against the trunks of trees fifteen feet out from the road.

"Caution over haste," Haern said. He gestured to the dark gray clothes and long cloak each of them wore. "Besides, neither of us is inconspicuous."

As Thren shrugged, Haern returned his attention to the three wagons, particularly the men and women visible at the front or walking alongside. They'd passed so many already, yet if there were even more…

"They're with the Sun Guild," Thren said, his voice slowly growing louder as the wagons continued. "If that is what you're searching for, then stop bothering. Their earrings mark them clearly as such."

"Damn," Haern muttered, thudding his forehead against the rough bark of the tree, feeling it scratch his skin. "How many will he move into our city? A thousand? Ten?"

"A hundred thousand if need be," Thren said, drawing his two short swords and calmly walking toward the road. "That's how Muzien works. The idea of failing doesn't even enter his head."

Haern reached out to grab his arm, hesitated just before. Thren paused and looked his way, and there was a fire in his glare at the very idea that Haern might try to stop him.

"What is it?" Thren asked, pulling his gray hood up over his blond hair. "Since when are you one to shy away from bloodshed?"

"We have no reason to fight."

Thren laughed.

"Those wagons are full of killers and thieves that will make life miserable for everyone in your precious little city. We're doing the world a favor. Now either stay and watch, or take the east flank. Your choice."

Haern watched his father break out into a sprint, racing just outside the limits of the road so the trees still blocked sight of him with their low branches and their wide green leaves. Despite his speed, he was still a whisper compared to the cheer coming from the wagons. Haern estimated at least twenty total in the group, perhaps more if anyone were inside wagons and hidden by the sun-bleached tarps. Twenty dead, and all for what? Wearing the wrong earrings?

They're not innocent, Haern told himself as he drew his own swords and dashed to the other side of the road, rushing through the trees while eyeing the rapidly approaching wagons. The people in the Sun Guild were flooding into his city, taking over the various drug trades, demanding protection money from every street they controlled. They were threatening the peace he'd bled for. That was what he told himself as he watched his father come leaping out of the woods, spearing a raven-haired woman through the neck as she walked alongside one of the horses. That was what he repeated in his head as the driver of the wagon fell, intestines spilling out beneath him before he hit the dirt.

Not innocent.

From the other side, Haern emerged, his sabers feeling heavy in his hands. The party was letting out confused cries, many making mad dashes for wherever it was they'd stashed their weaponry. Haern knew the early period was when they'd need to score the most kills. If the survivors could band together, form a perimeter…

One saber cut through the heel of a fleeing man, and his other lashed out, opening the neck of a man who'd come rushing in with his own sword raised. A turn, a step, and the wounded man on the ground died with his lungs pierced through the back. As the blood flowed, Haern let out a grim chuckle.

Who was he kidding? The combined wrath of the Watcher and Thren Felhorn had descended upon the Sun guildmembers. There would be no survivors.

"Fall back!" a man yelled, heavyset and with dirty hair hanging over his face. He seemed to be the only one aware of what was going on, and Haern set his sights immediately upon him. His foe wielded a long blade in his left hand, his other ushering people toward the third wagon. Two more had joined his side by the time Haern came crashing in, whose haste nearly cost him dearly. The two others, each holding a short sword, tried to rush him simultaneously, their blades slashing. Haern skidded to a stop out of reach, and he flung himself to the right, smashing away the pathetic attacks to create an opening. The third man, however, had far more skill than the other two and anticipated the maneuver. Out lashed his sword with his long reach, its aim for Haern's chest.

Fighting off panic, Haern whirled the saber in his right hand about, and he let his weight drop unsupported. The thrusting blade batted upward, and Haern fell, tilting his head back and watching the blade stab mere inches above him. Landing hard on his knees, he rolled once to put his feet beneath him, then lunged. His skilled foe was already pulling back, but the other two were not so lucky. Haern struck down the first, rammed his knee into the second, disarming him with a slash to the wrist, and then cutting him down as well.

"You'll die for this," the dirty-haired man said, still retreating toward the back of the wagon. "You're messing with the Sun Guild; don't you get that?"

The threat had only the opposite effect on Haern. Instead of frightening him, he felt relief. They had made no mistake when guessing their allegiance.

"You're about to be dead men, and you waste your last words on empty threats?" Haern asked.

The man grinned, and from around the corner stepped two women, each armed with small crossbows. Before the man could even open his mouth to give the order to fire, Haern was already flinging his cloak into the air to obfuscate his movements. Instead of dodging to either side, he rushed low and straight at them, and when he heard the surprised cries of the three, he dropped into a roll. He heard the twang of crossbow strings, and he tensed on instinct, waiting for the piercing pain of a bolt. None came. He pulled out of the roll, and then his sabers did their work. The man died, having survived for only three exchanges of their blades. One of the women dropped her crossbow to draw a dagger, the other still frantically trying to reload.

"Drop your weapons," Haern told them.

They had no chance to respond. Blades pierced both their chests, and they gasped before they fell. Thren Felhorn stood behind them, his swords and clothes caked with blood.

"Drop your weapons?" Thren asked, swinging his short swords in a futile attempt to fling the blood off them. "Did you plan on taking prisoners?"

Haern looked around for any more to fight, but the three wagons had been abandoned.

"Does it matter?" he asked.

"You hesitate to kill women," Thren said, shaking his head. "The ones immersed in the lives we live are just as dangerous as any man. You'll get yourself killed someday if you let such a weakness linger."

"Perhaps." He sheathed his blades. "Did you kill the rest?"

Thren gestured north, toward the forest.

"About five or six managed to flee. I'm sure they'll come back for the wagon in a day or two, see what's left of it. We have nothing to fear from those cowards."

Haern was less ready to be so dismissive, but he did not argue the point. Instead, he stood and stared at the bodies bleeding out before him as his father walked over to the nearest covered wagon and tossed aside one of the flaps. One of the women was not yet dead, but her eyes were glassy, her breath coming in rapid, shallow gasps. Her fingers were near her face, digging into the loose earth as her hands convulsed at random intervals.

"We needed to refresh our supplies, so meeting them was fortunate," Thren said, and Haern heard rattling as he pushed aside unseen things to search through the wagon's contents.

"Aye," Haern said, kneeling down before the woman. He reached into his belt, withdrew a dagger he kept for emergencies. The woman continued to gasp, slower now. Feeling like he'd swallowed a rock, Haern forced her eyelids closed with his left hand, then stabbed with his right. Unlike his father's strike, his pierced the heart directly. He left the blade in there, not wishing to increase the pain any further, and instead watched and waited. The woman let out a gasp, but it sounded more surprised than anything. And then the breath leaked out of her, the movement of her chest stopped, and her fingers curled in tight and moved no more.

Haern pulled free the dagger and stood. As he cleaned it on the bottom of his cloak, he glanced over his shoulder, caught his father watching him.

"That wasn't necessary," said Thren.

"I disagree. Did you find anything useful?"

Thren gestured for him to come closer and look for himself.

"Plenty of food and drink," Thren said as Haern glanced inside. "But it looks like it was only for the crew manning the wagons. I thought there'd be some crimleaf in here, maybe some wines laced with Violet, but instead we have only these…"

He pushed aside the lid to a crate, reached inside, and lifted out a thick stone slab. It was roughly the size of his chest, and by the strain on his muscles, it was clearly heavy. Thren dropped it down on the wood, and at sight of the mark carved onto the front, he turned and spit.

"Egotistical bastards," Thren said. "They can't mark territory like any other guild. They have to carve it into the very stone of the walls and street."

Haern reached down, his fingers tracing the four-pointed star of the Sun Guild, deeply cut into the tile with a skilled hand and then painted a soft yellow. The sight of it grew a pit in the center of Haern's stomach as he wondered what all transpired in Veldaren during his absence. He'd hoped that after they drove out the first wave of members, plus killed the priest, Laerek, who'd been helping the Sun Guild move into the city, they would have earned a respite. Apparently, that was not the case.

"How many are there?" Haern asked, looking further into the wagon.

"Ten in this wagon alone," Thren said. "The Darkhand plans on taking over the entire city, by the looks of it. These stones will signify their territory, and I have a feeling that in a few months, it will be impossible to cross a single street without seeing one."

"Darkhand?" Haern asked.

Thren shook his head.

"Leader of the Sun Guild. Don't worry about him for now. We have our own matters to attend. There's cheese wrapped up near the front, plus some butter and lard. Grab your pack and get to it while I load up on whatever oats they had. If we're to have a city left waiting for us by the time we're done, we need to reach Luther and the Sanctuary as soon as possible."

With their supplies now refilled, the two walked until nightfall, then found a spot safely far enough from the road to build a fire and eat the small portion of smoked pork they'd taken. Haern sat opposite his father, trying to do his best to relax and forget the previous hours of the day. He'd gone through far worse during his scouring of Veldaren. Why should a simple caravan bother him so much now?

Thren, meanwhile, looked the happiest he'd been since their trip began. Cleaning a bit of pork from his teeth, he tossed a scrap too burnt and hard to eat into the fire and stared at Haern, who shivered, feeling as cold as ever beneath that gaze. Haern shifted side to side, trying to find a way to make the carpet of leaves beneath him into something more comfortable.

"That hood," Thren said, breaking a silence that had lasted more than an hour. "Who did you get it from?"

Haern tugged once on its side, and he huddled closer to the fire.

"What does it matter?" he asked. "It's only a hood."

Thren shook his head, clearly disappointed.

"I'm no fool. No matter the time of day, there's always a shadow that falls across your face. Sometimes I can see your eyes; sometimes I can't. And your voice, it's not like it should be. It sounds more like you're whispering, except it's loud as you need it to be for me to hear even if I'm five feet away or five hundred. There's magic in it, and you're not the kind of man who wields a wand or a staff, Watcher. You deal in steel, which means the magic came from someone else. I'm only curious as to who. It's an effective trick, albeit a simple one."

Haern drummed his fingers on the hilts of his sabers, pondered over how to answer.

"I took it from a man I killed," he said at last.

"Do I know him?"

He shook his head.

"An elf from afar. He thought to control a city with his blades. I showed him otherwise."

Thren let out a chuckle, and he lay back against one of the trees that surrounded their camp, with the hope that their trunks and leaves might hide the light of the fire from travelers.

"So you took it as a trophy?"

"Not a trophy," Haern said harsher than he meant. "A warning, for myself."

"And what kind of warning might that be? Not to be weaker than your opponent?"

Haern let out a sigh, and he stared into the fire instead of answering. How could he explain to his father that the reason he'd taken the hood was as a reminder to never believe as the elf, Graeven, had believed? To feel he was a god among mortals, controller of all their fates?

"A warning against what I might become," Haern said. "I'd rather not discuss it."

"Of course, of course," said Thren. He pulled his own hood back, used it as a cushion between the harsh bark of the tree and his head. "The perfect, noble Watcher. Never a man who could bribe him, never a whore who could seduce him. The way my men describe you would make you a god of death and shadows. Fear is a weapon you wield with skill, so spare me vague sentimentalism about warnings and reminders. You wear it to frighten your prey; just admit as much. It's sad to see someone living a lie."

Haern stood, and his hands fell to his sabers. He had no intention to draw them, but he wanted to deny the casual dismissal, to say or do something to somehow show his father the seriousness in which he took his words. Instead, Thren ignored him completely, closing his eyes as if to sleep.

"You're not going to wear that hood the whole trip, are you?" Thren asked.

Haern froze.

"I might," he said.

"It's been three weeks, and I've never once seen you pull it down. Do you fear me seeing your face, Watcher? And must I call you by such a stupid title?"

"You wish to know my face and name?" Haern asked. "What makes you think I'd be foolish enough to give either?"

Thren opened an eye.

"You freely travel with me, rely on my skills in combat to keep you alive, and sleep opposite of me by a fire. If I wanted to kill you, I'd have done so already. If you thought I would kill you, you'd have already tried to kill me, or at least run off to infiltrate the Stronghold on your own. So, please, let's drop at least a little of the suspicion, hrm? Besides, you don't have to give me your true name. Any other name would be preferable to 'Watcher.' "

Haern took a step back at the rebuke, then glanced around. So many times he'd endured such rants while growing up, and it did to him now what it always did to him then: made him feel like a complete fool. His fears were naïve, his wisdom unfounded. And sure enough, he'd hidden his face all during their travel southwest, down through the green lands of the Kingstrip and past the hills of Omn as they made their way toward the Gods' Bridges.

He sat back down, taking meager comfort that his father could not see the way his face blushed or how frustrated he was. Of course, Thren would still sense it, read it from the way he sat, the gestures his hands made, the tiniest of inflections in his voice. But at least it'd be somewhat less obvious. He thought to give a false name but decided keeping such a thing straight in his head was pointless. Haern was a common enough name, and already it was a disguise, a burial of the Aaron he had been.

"Haern," he said, crossing his arms. "For now, call me Haern."

"Very well, Haern. Care to tell me how you really obtained that magical hood?"

Haern tried to think of where to start, where was appropriate. In the distance, a coyote sounded, and the noise emphasized to Haern just how far from home he was, how distant the walls of Veldaren. Where he sat, there were only the woods, the animals, and Thren Felhorn… and his father more closely resembled the animals than any fellow human he'd normally associate with. The howl continued but was not taken up by any other animals, and that made it seem all the more lonely. When it stopped, Haern began.

"I went south to Angelport at the request of a friend," he said. "An elf was using my old mark as a way to mock his victims as well as pay homage to my own reputation in Veldaren. This elf was killing anyone he needed to bring the entire city crumbling down. He thought war would purge the evil from it, a desperately needed cleansing at the hands of his race. The reason I took that hood was to remind myself to never, ever believe as he did. My skills, my blades, they can shape the future, but it is never my place to do so as if I were a god."

He fell silent, and in the center of his chest, he felt a pressure growing, a strange anxiety. He knew what it was, but that just made it all the stranger. He wanted to know what his father thought of it. Why, he could not say. The man was a monster, he knew that, he truly believed that. But for some reason, that didn't seem to matter.

While Haern had thought Thren would immediately mock him, instead, his father stayed relaxed by the fire, leaning against his tree. His left hand slowly picked at a leaf beside him, systematically stripping it so only the stem remained.

"Humility is rarely a virtue I practice," Thren said when the leaf was naked. "I'll admit there are times when accepting your own limitations can save your life, as well as lead to necessary growth in skill, but you taking that hood for such reasons is nothing more than a self-serving lie."

Haern opened his mouth to ask why, then closed it. Thren would tell him why, of course. He always did. Better to remain silent, hide behind the shadowed mask so his father would not see just how deeply his words stung.

But for once, Thren did not continue. His own face had grown distant, his gaze elsewhere.

"Why?" Haern asked when it was clear he would not continue.

Thren looked up, and there was something hidden in his face, something… proud.

"Because you are a god among the people of Veldaren," Thren said. "You command the fear and loyalty of so many, it makes a mockery of our own king. With your blades, you have shaped Veldaren's future more than any other man and woman alive. Yet that power scares you, doesn't it, Haern? Better to tell yourself you aren't that powerful. Better to tell yourself it isn't your place to make such decisions over the lives of others. You're a giant stooping down to pretend to be a man. You convince no one but yourself."

"You would call me a fool?"

"No. I merely question the man who is afraid to be everything he was meant to be."

The comment stung far worse than it should have. Haern knew who his father had intended him to be. He'd wanted a perfect killer, denied friends, starved of affection, left without faith or family. Only the skills to take a life, and the ruthless training to lead his father's guild. Haern was never meant to be anything other than an echo of Thren living on after his father's death.

"Who are you to decide what I was meant to be?" Haern asked him, unable to keep the bite from his voice.

"Just a man slowly getting older," Thren said, laying down and closing his eyes to sleep. "But I know denial when I see it. All I said was that you are a god among the people of Veldaren. Never once did I say how you should wield that power."

The darkness was deepening, the sound of the cicadas growing loud enough to overwhelm. In that midnight cacophony, Haern pulled his knees to his chest, crossed his arms over them, and stared at the man that had been his father.

"Why did you never kill me?" he asked, softly enough he wasn't even sure if Thren would hear. But he did hear, and after a moment, he answered.

"My men whisper that I couldn't even if I tried. Your reputation has surpassed mine, or have you not noticed?"

Haern swallowed, and he felt naked as he spoke.

"For years, I struck at your guild, killing those loyal to the Spider. I ended your war with the Trifect, effectively putting all thief guilds on a leash, and no matter what Deathmask tells me I know it was against your wishes. Yet night after night, I prowl, and never once have you tried to bring me down. No ambushes. No plots. Tonight, you ask me for my name… have you not once searched for it? You ask of my face… have you never looked for those who have seen it? I know you, Thren. I know you were never afraid of me, so why was I left alone? Why did you not crush me when you had the chance?"

On and on droned the cicadas.

"Your inaction can only be two things," Haern whispered. "Either I meant something to you… or nothing at all."

A lengthy silence, followed by a sigh.

"You presume much," Thren said without ever opening his eyes. "You want to know why I never did? Because I didn't want to."

"That's not a reason."

"You're right," Thren said, rolling over and putting his back to Haern. "It's not a reason. It is the reason for all we mere mortals do, and it is the only one I've ever needed in my life. Perhaps you'd best learn that yourself."

Haern rose from the fire and stalked off into the forest. He'd done it before when they first traveled, needing space, needing a winding path between him and the fire so he might sleep feeling safe. The following morning, he'd find Thren waiting for him on the road west, tired and in a sour mood. He always did.

Picking a tree at random, he put his back against it, wrapped his cloak about himself, and tried to sleep. Sleep didn't come easily, and it wasn't that much of a surprise. Instead, he heard his father's voice echoing in his ear, again and again.

You convince no one but yourself.

… no one but yourself…

… no one…

At last he slept, and his dreams were of Robert Haern, teaching him in the darkness.


Alyssa lay on a padded couch braced against a large oval window that opened out into a garden, not that she could see it. The colors of the petals were but memories now since Stephen Connington took her eyes. Sunlight shone upon her, the warmth comforting. Eyes closed, she did her best to absorb it, to remember brighter times. Before the loss of her sight. Before the dooming of her family line.

The door opened, and she heard footsteps of someone entering.

"Lady Gemcroft?" Victor asked after clearing his throat.

Alyssa held back a sigh as she tilted her face so that her glass eyes would be gazing in his approximate direction. A practiced smile twisted her lips. For a moment, she wondered if Victor had ever seen an honest smile from her. If not, would he ever know the difference? She doubted the glass eyes would ever help, either. Her servants insisted they were expertly crafted, pale blue with hints of veins in the corners, but she knew that whenever she wore them, people always sounded the slightest bit unnerved. Or perhaps that was only due to them not knowing how to appropriately behave in the presence of a blind woman who still wielded incredible influence and power. If she were a beggar on the street, she had a feeling every last one of her guests would know exactly how to treat her.

"Victor," she said. "Have you come to see me again already? I daresay any spare time of mine I find quickly occupied by your arrival."

She tried to keep the bite out of her words, but could tell she failed. Part of her had wanted to ask why he bothered coming to her so recently after his last visit. All of them, no matter how kind or earnest he behaved, always came down to the same purpose: he desired her wealth and her mercenaries to use in his ill-conceived scheme to clean up the streets of Veldaren.

"I hope you don't find the time ill spent," Victor said, and Alyssa chuckled.

"Ill spent? Of course not."

Her smile said otherwise.

"Is it all right if I sit?" Victor asked, and at her gesture he sat down in a chair opposite her. He made sure to make plenty of noise so that she might follow him, but she didn't bother. Instead, she turned back to the window, closing her eyes and placing her face back into the streaming sunlight. The warmth of the sun… if it hit her face just right, she could pretend to see its golden glow through her eyelids.

"Your beauty is radiant today," Victor said after a lengthy pause.

"So my servants tell me," she said. "Their word is all I have to go on now, and I must say, it makes the process of their powders and perfumes all the more tiresome."

"Even if you were to forgo it, you would still steal the breath of any man in this city."

Alyssa smirked, and her fingers idly tapped against the glass of the window.

"I doubt you've come just to flatter me," she said, refusing to look his way. "It's the Sun Guild again, isn't it?"

"It is," Victor said. "Their rapid expansion cannot be ignored any longer."

"You and the Ash Guild chased them out, I thought?" she said. She knew the answer, of course, but she felt it prudent to remind him of how he had already failed once in his goals. Maybe with enough attempts, some wisdom might break through that thick skull of his.

"It was only temporary," Victor said. "Muzien the Darkhand came soon after, and he brought a second wave of guildmembers that Veldaren's soldiers cannot, or will not, stop from overwhelming the remaining thief guilds."

"Fascinating," Alyssa said. "But I've ceased caring about what these wretched criminals do to one another."


  • "Fast, furious, and fabulous."—Michael Sullivan, author of Theft of Swords on A Dance of Cloaks
  • "[A] winning combination of A Game of Thrones, sword-and-sorcery RPGS, and vivid description...Dalglish puts familiar pieces together with a freshness and pleasure that are contagious."Publishers Weekly on A Dance of Cloaks
  • "Strong characterization as well as detailed action...a believable tale of a young man's coming-of-age and the difficult decisions he must make. His saga should appeal to fans of R.A. Salvatore and Richard Lee Byers."—Library Journal on A Dance of Cloaks

On Sale
Nov 11, 2014
Page Count
512 pages

David Dalglish

About the Author

David Dalglish currently lives in Myrtle Beach with his wife, Samantha, and daughters, Morgan, Katherine, and Alyssa. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 2006 with a degree in mathematics and currently spends his free time tanking dungeons for his wife and daughter in Final Fantasy XIV.

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