Mad Shadows

Mad Shadows

by Joe Bonadonna


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450276177
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/05/2011
Pages: 332
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

First Chapter


The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser
By Joe Bonadonna

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Joe Bonadonna
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-7615-3

Chapter One

Mad Shadows

For Lilia Maura Smith

At first, I thought they were mummies. But the three shriveled husks of desiccated flesh lying in Pig Alley were simply three dead men who had been sucked dry to the bone by—well, I really wasn't sure what had done it.

A crowd as thick as flies on a dung heap gathered at the mouth of the alley, straining their necks to see the bodies. A dozen Knights of the Purple Hand, the royal constabulary in the city of Valdar, kept them at bay. The soldiers were well-armed and mounted on huge unicats. Unicats make me nervous. Their fur stinks, they're usually ill-tempered, and that long horn on their heads could skewer a man from bowels to brains. I prefer a horse or even a good, honest muledog.

I ignored the crowd and knelt to examine the bodies more closely.

There were no apparent wounds or any sign that the dead men had been physically harmed. Yet their flesh felt as dry as dust and had more wrinkles than the sheets on a harlot's bed. Long beards, gray robes and turbans, and a five-pointed star tattooed on the left side of their necks marked them as Ashammic goldwalkers. Bankers, goldsmiths, and jewelers often hired Ashammites as couriers: they were honest to a fault and masters of the sword. Ashammic priests paid big money to the Guild of Thieves for protection throughout the kingdom of Rojahndria. No cutpurse in his right mind would dare assault them ... and yet, three swords lay scattered about the alley, the blades bent and twisted. Something had attacked these men, and they had fought to the death.

I rose slowly to my feet and reached for the dowsing rod I carried in an archer's quiver slung across my back. It was a Y-shaped yew branch, and I held it by its bottom stem, pointing the upper two forks at the bodies while I walked a slow circle around them. Almost immediately the rod began to vibrate, and I felt a surge of heat and energy course through my arm.

These men hadn't been murdered by anything human. I should know. I've had enough dealings with the occult and the arcane.

My name's Dorgo Mikawber. Folks call me the Dowser.

The sound of pawbeats broke my concentration. I lowered the dowsing rod and turned to see Captain Cham Mazo of the Purple Hand riding toward me on a huge, black and crimson warcat. Behind him rolled the bone carriage: the grave diggers had come to cart off the dead.

Captain Mazo reined in his mount. The morning sun sparkled on the spirals of his warcat's bronze-like horn. A large crossbow and a box of quarrels hung from his saddle. His men swore that he was the best marksman in the kingdom.

He pointed to my dowsing rod. "Does that witchbone really work? Or is it just for show?"

"That's a trade secret," I told him.

He grinned, showing off his perfect white teeth. His black skin gleamed like polished ebony in the sunlight. I was on fairly good terms with him, all things considered. We'd each served with the 7th Mercenary Legion, the Wandering Swords, though not at the same time.

"His Majesty wants this tidied up quick and sweet," he said.

I'd been on the street and delving into the matter for only an hour or so, and already the king was trying to shove his big nose up my ass.

"If the king is so anxious for results, tell him to consult his astrologer," I said. "Better yet, he should drag the queen's fortune teller out of her bedroom and ask him for help."

Mazo gave me one of his disapproving looks. His warcat pawed the cobblestones. The captain hadn't been himself since his only daughter ran off with some impoverished troubadour.

"One day that tongue of yours is going to cut your own throat, Dowser."

I sighed and replaced the dowsing rod in its quiver. "There's a lingering trace of odylic power emanating from these bodies," I said. "You know, magic. What kind, I don't know. Could be from the creatures that killed these men."

"These Shadows the whole city's been wagging their tongues about?"

"Yes. They're not made of flesh and blood and bone."

Shortly after midnight, Valdar had been overrun by strange creatures—living shadows, it was reported—that had committed a series of gold robberies throughout the city. How they did it was truly bizarre, for these things actually ate the gold. Only a few citizens had been attacked and slain by these creatures; those who offered no resistance were left unharmed, though a little spooked. By the time the sun rose, the Shadows had vanished.

I'd been rudely awakened shortly after dawn by Captain Mazo pounding at my door. He'd come to tell me to get up, hit the streets, and find out who or what was behind the night's strange occurrences—by order of His Majesty the King. What I'd soon found was a city gripped by terror, the people in fear for their lives and their fortunes, and a trio of mummified men.

Mazo glanced at the grave diggers as they loaded the last of the three bodies into their carriage, and then drove away. The crowd began to disperse.

"All these creatures are after is gold?" he asked.

I nodded. "And the Devil take anyone who gets in their way." I yawned. I was tired. Tired and hungry. "Even a lonely gold coin in an old whore's purse isn't safe from these things. They're like bloodhounds. They can smell gold and track it down."

"What do you suggest we do?"

"Enforce a curfew. No one on the streets after midnight. To be safe, no one should carry gold or wear anything made of gold. All gold should be buried. These Shadows seem to be unable to sniff it out if it's underground."

"But you don't know where these creatures came from? How they got here?"

"No, I don't."

"Any idea how we might get rid of them?"

"I don't know that, either."

"What do you know?"

"I know that if the king had given the wizards a tax break, their guild wouldn't have packed up and left Valdar, and I'd still be in bed, dreaming of better days."

"I can't argue with you on that, Dowser."

"By the way, Captain. Did His Majesty mention anything about my fee? As you can plainly see, I'm but a fistful of coppers away from moving into the Court of Miracles."

Mazo looked me over. I could imagine the picture I presented. The week-old beard on my face failed to hide the scar across my left cheek. My black hair was long and shaggy, and my nose was crooked from one too many brawls. My blue shirt and black tunic were faded and frayed. The leather trousers I wore had more patches than a leaky fishing boat. I wore a ragged belt with a near-empty money pouch, an old cavalry saber in a worn-out scabbard, and a pair of battered boots.

"This whole city is aware of your financial plight," he said. "However, the king has consented to reward you—after these creatures have been disposed of."

"Most considerate of him, I'm sure."

The captain's scowl was a sudden cloud on a sunny day. "One other thing, my friend. Your license to operate in Valdar expires in one week. See that you renew it on time this year."

I returned his scowl with a smile. "You're a real swine, Mazo. But I love you anyway." * * *

Years ago, I used to earn my daily bread by dowsing for water. I had also tried my hand at smuggling, spying, and the theater. Once I even played the part of Shay, in Quiversword's The Merchant of Valdar. However, my present occupation lay in discreet investigations, such as recovering stolen goods, runaway husbands, and missing heiresses. But I have a certain knack for running afoul of anyone having anything to do with witchcraft, necromancy, or any other form of magic. The special dowsing rod I use in my work had been a gift from a Yongarloo shaman.

I was currently gadding the cobbles without any future prospects and was suffering from an embarrassing lack of funds. The sum total of my present wealth was two marks in gold, one in silver, and a handful of copper coins. I was counting on earning my usual fee from the king so I could settle a few debts, pay my taxes, and renew my license. I could go without eating for a few days.

In short, these were lean times for Dorgo the Dowser.

The day grew hot as sunhigh approached. My skin and bones seemed to melt as I questioned anyone who had encountered these Shadows and had lived to tell the tale. But I learned little more than I already knew—which wasn't enough to fill a thimble.

The Shadows first appeared on the final chime of midnight. Like wolves tracking their prey, they followed the scent of gold to wherever it might be found. They attacked swiftly from out of the darkness and gorged themselves on the precious metal before darting back into the night. Weapons were useless against them, and anyone who tried to fight off the Shadows wound up looking like the victim of a vampire with a really big thirst.

People were attacked and robbed on the street if they carried coins or jewelry made of gold. No one was safe, not even indoors. Homes, churches, taverns, bordellos—all were invaded by the Shadows in their hunt to satisfy their raging hunger. They slid down chimneys, drifted through opened windows, or crawled under doors like black smoke. They devoured family heirlooms and priceless artifacts. Buildings with fixtures, latticework, and other contrivances of gold used for decoration had sustained costly damage. The Purple Palace had also been violated and stripped bare of all its art objects and ornamentation made of gold.

And then, come first light, the Shadows vanished from the city.

By noon, most of the people of Valdar had managed to overcome the shock of the previous night's events. But the fear that threatened to paralyze the city was still present. I saw it in the faces of those I spoke with or passed on the streets. I saw it building like a groundswell, a tidal wave of growing panic. Merchants boarded up their shops. Residents secured their doors and shutters. Many talked of leaving Valdar until the crisis had passed. I knew all too well what might happen if the Shadows struck a second time—and I had no doubt they'd strike again, come midnight.

I had already ruled out the possibility that the Shadows were not true supernatural entities, such as ghosts. What spirit ever had an appetite for gold, much less a need for food and drink? No, these creatures were demonic in nature and could only have been summoned by ritual and incantation, as I first surmised when I used my dowsing rod on the dead goldwalkers. Magic was indeed involved ... but what kind? Witchcraft? Sorcery? Wizardry? Finding that out might be the key to learning how to dispose of the Shadows.

While strolling down Jester Lane, I came upon an old beggar I knew. Around his head he wore a dirty rag covering his eyes; he held a tin cup in one gnarled hand and a wooden cane in the other. Filthy as a mudbug, his shirt and knee length trousers were only slightly more substantial than a leper's rags. He was a satyr from the mysterious land of Khanya-Toth, as were all the halflings living in Valdar. As he sang the lament of his misfortunes, his scratchy voice uttered words that dripped with woe. He was quite good at it, too.

"Mercy on a miserable old beggar! Pittance for a poor blind satyr!"

I watched him work the crowd, a master at his trade. But he was no common beggar, this satyr with one broken horn. He stood quite prominent in the hierarchy of the Court of Miracles, that secret location where the city's beggars dropped their disguises and set their crutches aside, where most of their afflictions were miraculously healed.

I crept up behind him and shouted, "What news, Praxus?"

He almost jumped out of his rags. "Damned you are, Dowser!" he said, spinning around on his hooves; he spoke with a slight trace of a brogue. "It's blind I am, not deaf in the ears."

"A charlatan and an old goat, that's what you are," I said.

"And it's high time you were showing your sorry face, you lazy bugger. How's tricks?"

"I'm expecting something to turn up any day now. But if my luck fails to take a turn for the better, I'll be sharing that cup with you."

"Ah, the elusive fortune. It remains ever beyond the reach of thy fingers." Praxus laughed heartily. "You were always one to live betwixt the kettle and the flame, Dowser me darlin'."

"Only you can turn a pauper's life into something poetic."

"It is, after all's said and done, me stock and trade." He hacked up a mouthful of phlegm and let fly. "By the way, I've been wanting to have a word with you, lad."

"How much will it cost me?"

"More than a penny, less than a crown. It's about them Shadow things."

"Indeed." I looked around. There were too many big ears out and about, so I grabbed Praxus by the front of his tattered shirt and dragged him down the street to a nearby alley.

"Careful there, Dowser. That's me best shirt."

I let go of his shirt and grabbed his arm, instead.

In his youth, Praxus Odetti had been Valdar's most celebrated pugilist, equally proficient with hooves and fists; he retired undefeated from the arena shortly after I came to Valdar, but I did get to see his last few bouts. He lived in a run-down tenement, yet he was far from poor. In fact, under an assumed name, he owned a massive country estate and private club outside the city. The Hoof and Horn Club, it was called. This villa provided a home and medical care for aging and disabled centaurs, minotaurs, satyrs, and unicorns who had retired from racing and fighting in the Crimson Sand arena. Most of the money he earned from begging went to his fellow K'Tothians. I'd met him through a mutual friend who managed a few minotaur wrestlers.

Two cockrats the size of sea turtles scattered as we entered the alley. A drunkard lay snoring in a puddle of his own urine. I kicked him awake and told him to vanish. The alley didn't stink half as bad as he did. Praxus and I walked to the end of the alley, where I let go of his arm.

"What do you know about the Shadows that I don't know?" I asked.

Praxus removed the rag from around his eyes. He squinted in the sunlight, and then gave me a wink. "You know that abandoned building on Murderer's Row? The one with the flight of steps on the outside that leads up to the roof?"

"The old caravansary. I know it. Keep talking."

The old satyr told me that, while walking home after spending a few hours at the Satin Cat in the arms of two lovely fauns last night, he spotted three men on the roof of the old caravansary.

"I thought little of it at the time, and proceeded on me way, counting what coins I had left in me cup," he said. "That's when Hell opened its gates."

Thunder exploded, lightning flashed, and a great wheel of green fire appeared in the sky above the caravansary, he continued. There was a buzzing sound so loud, he feared he'd go deaf.

"Me poor old heart skipped a beat or two as them Shadows just sort of popped into the sky out of nowhere. That's when I turned and ran like the Devil himself was after me arse."

Praxus had been quick-hoofing it when he slipped and fell in some muck, and dropped his cup. As the Shadows descended upon the coins scattered over the cobblestones, he saw the tenebrous creatures swallow up the gold pieces, leaving the silver and copper untouched.

"And that's when I ran home and hid under me bed."

"You and everyone else in Valdar," I said.

"Where were you when all these shenanigans were going on?"

"Sleeping one off. Not that it's any of your concern. What else you got?"

When the first pale light of dawn crept in through his shutters, Praxus managed to gather his courage and take to the streets again. Out of curiosity, he returned to Murderer's Row, where he saw the Shadows hovering in the sky above the caravansary.

"Them things floated in the air and then just sort of vanished as the sun breached the rooftop—just like that!" he said, snapping his fingers. "Quite a thing to see, actually."

"What of those three men? Did you see them again?"

"I did not."

"Could you recognize them if you saw them in daylight?"

"I could not."

"What about the Shadows? What did they look like?"

"What do you think they looked like, you blockhead?" Praxus scratched the coarse hair between his two horns. "They were alive, lad. What more do you need to know?"

Other than the unknown trio Praxus had seen, I was fishing without bait. But the seed of an idea did plant itself in my brain.

"Demons need a point of entry and departure," I said, thinking out loud.

"What's that you say about demons?" Praxus cupped a hand over one ear. "Me eyes are still seeing what they should, but I fear me pointy ears may have heard better days."


Excerpted from MAD SHADOWS by Joe Bonadonna Copyright © 2010 by Joe Bonadonna. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Mad Shadows 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
SELindberg More than 1 year ago
Mystery for the Horror Fan -- Cozy Gothic Noir Joe Bonadonna's Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser is a great mashup of Horror/Fantasy/Film Noir. In Television terms, this would appeal to fans of the X-files, Supernatural, or Grim. Being a collection of tales, each serves as an episode. Expect: necromancy, mythogical creatures (i.e., all the hybrid horned creatures (satyrs, minotaur, etc.), pitted against our protagonist who is motivated to set things right (and make enough money to eat…and perhaps a sustained glance at a beautiful woman). Gothic Noir: With the exception of one tale, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser proved to be more “Crime & Sorcery” than “Sword & Sorcery.” Dorgo is not an official constable or justice keeper, but he is hired layman with investigative skills and a magical dowsing rod which he uses on occasion -- much less than expected given his name “Dorgo the Dowser.” Bonadonna brands his Dorgo tales “Gothic Noir,” which is fitting. Despite the weirdness of Valdar city and the threatening necromancy that abounds, we know Dorgo will survive and resolve any case as surely as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did. Speaking of Leiber, Bonadonna call’s out Leiber as an influence; Bonadonna's style is unique but he delivers the same entertaining blend of weird adventure dosed with humor.  Episodes: All are stand alone reads, except for the last one (“Blood on the Moon”) which leans toward being a sequel to the “Black Diamond.” Without spoiling, the first four are set in Valdar, and the final two explore some “old” territory…and we learn a bit about Dorgo’s past. 1-Mad Shadows  2-The Secret Of Andaro’s Daughter  3-The Moonstones Of Sor Lunarum -- For T.C. Rypel fans, you’ll enjoy a call-out to his Gonji: Red Blade from the East. 4-The Man Who Loved Puppets  5-In The Vale Of The Black Diamond  6-Blood On The Moon (an extension of #5) Orphan/Parent-Offspring Themes: The haunting dedication sets the stage for the themes of many of these stories: the dedication was extended to his parents and to “Mary Ellen Pettenon and the other 91 children and 3 nuns who became angles too soon in the Our Lady of Angels School Fire, December 1, 1958.” I learned on Facebook that Bonadonna is a long time Chicagoan, who was in the same school system and if his birthday was a few months different, he would have been in the building. In the book, we learn early on that Dorgo is an orphan, and many of the plots/character-motivations are based on family ties.  Echoes: Bonadonna’s Book of Echoes contribution to Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery was so good I tracked this collection down, and enjoyed this. I suggest you track more Dorgo/Bonadonna down too
dominatr37 More than 1 year ago
Review of “Mad Shadows” I recently read a book entitled “Mad Shadows,The Weird Tales of Dorgo The Dowser, by Joe Bonadonna. This was indeed a book filled with weird tales. There were monsters and imaginary creatures throughout, and every tale flowed into the next one, so there were common threads. The stories take place in an imaginary world much like our own, but not quite the same, as most fantasy/sword and sorcery tales do. Dorgo is almost a reluctant hero as he seems to take far more lumps then he gives out, and more times then not he has to be saved by one of the other characters, though in the end he always saves the day. There were several excellent stories within this tome, and it's very hard to pick a favorite, though the last one (A werewolf story) struck a resonance with me. I enjoyed this book very much, probably because it was so different then anything I had read in a long while. This was a good, enjoyable read, that I looked forward to picking up each day. Dorgo's world is a world of magic and monsters as well as less evil in nature. Centaurs and Satyrs play and work here as well as other, far less recognizable creatures. All in all this was an excellent fantasy book, and I enjoyed living in Dorgo's world , albeit briefly, very much,. Five stars!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mad Shadows is an intriguing mix of fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction, set in the 13th century of an alternate world called Tanyime. Dorgo the Dowser is a sword and sorcery hero who investigates crimes involving the dark arts with the aid of a unique dowsing rod, and this arcane tool gets him into plenty of trouble, too. There are six tales in this novel, and Dorgo encounters enough magic and murder, monsters and mayhem to satisfy any fan of sword and sorcery fiction. A motley crew of characters, outrageous plots are combined with the elements that made sword and sorcery, old gangster flicks and film noir so popular. Joe Bonadonna has channeled Robert E. Howard, Raymond Chandler, and H.P. Lovecraft into an exciting hybrid. Mad Shadows is a return to the grand old days of pulp fiction adventure.