Çeda is the youngest pit fighter in the history of Sharakhai. She’s made her name in the arena as the fearsome White Wolf. None but her closest friends and allies know her true identity. But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged aeons ago by the god of chaos.
The ehrekh are desert dwellers, but for centuries Rümayesh has lurked in the dark corners of Sharakhai, combing the populace for human “jewels” that might interest her. Some she chooses to stand by her side, until she tires of them and discards them. Others she abducts to examine more closely, leaving them ruined, worn-out husks.
Çeda flees the ehrekh’s attentions, but that only makes Rümayesh covet her more. Rümayesh grows violent, threatening to unmask Çeda as the White Wolf—but the danger grows infinitely worse when she turns her attention to Çeda’s friends.
As Çeda fights to protect the people dearest to her, Rümayesh comes closer to attaining her prize, and the struggle becomes a battle for Çeda’s very soul.
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Part One: Irindai
Çeda found Brama by the river.
She watched from within a stand of cattails, where she hunkered low, cool river water lapping at her ankles.
Brama was playing in the water with a dozen other gutter wrens—playing!—apparently without a care in the world after he’d nicked her purse. She felt the anger roiling inside her like a pot boiling over. He’d probably come straight here to brag to his friends, show them what he’d done and challenge them to do the same, then demand tribute like some paltry lord of mud and fleas.
The lot of them were playing skipjack along the Haddah’s muddy banks. One by one, boys and girls would run to the lip of the bank and leap onto a grimy piece of canvas pulled taut as a drum by seven or eight of the older children, who would then launch the little ones into the air. They would flail their arms and legs mid- flight, screaming or yelling, before splashing like stones into the Haddah, water spraying like diamonds in the dry, desert heat.
Lip curling, Çeda watched as Brama was launched in turn. He barked like a jackal and flew through the air to crash into the water, arms and legs spread wide. After, he waded back to the canvas and relieved one of the others so they could make a run of their own— he same pattern he’d followed every other time he’d jumped into the river.
When he reaches dry ground, Çeda told herself.
With a measured pace, Çeda pulled out a locket on a silver chain from inside her dress. She pried the locket open, its two halves spreading like wings to reveal a dried white petal with a tip of palest blue. After taking the petal out, she clipped the locket closed and placed the fragile petal beneath her tongue. Spit filled her mouth. A shiver ran down her frame as the flavor of spices filled her. Mace and rosemary and a hint of jasmine and other things she didn’t have words for.
The petal had been stolen from the adichara, a forbidden tree that bloomed only once every six weeks under the light of the twin moons. When gathered on such nights, they were imbued with breathtaking power. Part of her hated to use even one of the petals on Brama, but her anger over what he’d done was more than strong enough to smother any reluctance.
As the effects of the petal spread, granting a barely contained verve to her limbs, she stuffed the locket back inside her dress and scanned the river. Colors were sharper now. She could hear more as well, not only the children in the river but the very breath and rattle of the city. It took effort in the early moments of imbibing the petals to concentrate, but she was used to doing so, and she focused her attention on those near and around Brama. A clutch of children were playing downriver, some trying to spear fish, others wading and laughing or splashing one another. Most likely they wouldn’t interfere. There was one who gave her pause, though, a dark- skinned Kundhunese boy with bright blue eyes. He stood apart from the others, and seemed to be watching Brama and the children with almost as much interest as Çeda. She would swear she’d seen him before, but just then she couldn’t remember where or when it might have been.
She worked at the memory, scratching at it, but like chasing a stubborn sliver it only sank deeper in her mind, and soon Brama was handing over his section of the canvas to a girl with a lopsided grin.
The moment Brama gained the bank, Çeda parted the cattails and marched forward. “Brama!”
He turned, staring at her with a frown. Her identity was still hidden by her white turban and veil, so he wouldn’t know who she was, but she could see in his eyes that he recognized the flowing blue dress she’d been wearing early that morning.
He scanned the area to see if anyone else was with her. “What do you want?”
“There’s something you stole from me,” she called, “and I mean to have it back.” Çeda didn’t know Brama well. He was a boy who liked to traipse about Sharakhai’s west end, bullying some, shying away from others. He was an opportunist and a right good lock- lip if rumor was true. She might have gone all her days and never thought twice about Brama but that morning he’d stolen something from her: a purse she was meant to deliver to Osman—a shade, as it was known in Sharakhai. It was as simple a task as Osman had ever given her—hardly more than a prance across the city—and she’d bungled it, but she’d be damned by Bakhi’s bright hammer before she’d let a boy like Brama get away with it.
Brama’s eyes flicked to the children in the river. They were watching, not yet approaching, but it wouldn’t take long before they came to back him up. The moment his eyes were off her, Çeda drew her shinai, her curved wooden practice sword, from its holder at her belt. She didn’t like walking around Sharakhai with a real sword—girls of fifteen, even tall as she was, attracted notice when bearing steel—but few enough spent more than a passing glance at a girl wearing a shinai, especially in the west end where children practicing the dance of blades could be found on any street, alley, or open space one cared to look.
Brama’s eyes were only for Çeda now. He looked her up and down, perhaps truly noticing her frame for the first time. She was tall. She had more muscle than he might have noticed earlier. She was holding a sword with a cozy grip— lover’s grip, the bladewrights called it, the kind that revealed just how intimate a sword and its master were with one another— nd with the magic of the petal now running through her veins, Çeda was itching to use it.
Brama’s friends were stepping out of the water now, and it seemed to lend him some confidence, for he swelled, not unlike a man who’d had one too many glasses of araq, or like the dirt dogs in the pits often did when they knew they were outmatched. He stuffed one hand down his still- ripping trousers and pulled out a short but well-edged knife. “I’ve got nothing of yours”—he smiled as the other children fanned around and behind Çeda—“so why don’t you run off before that pretty dress of yours is stained red?”
Brama had muscle as well, but it was the rangy sort, the kind that felt good to thump with the edge of a wooden sword. “You stole a purse, cut from my belt as I strode through the spice market.”
“A thousand and one gutter wrens wander that market day and night. Any one of them might have stolen your purse.”
“Ah, but it wasn’t any one of them.” She lifted the point of her shinai and thrust it toward Brama’s chest. “The nick from your little knife wasn’t nearly as clean as you thought, Brama Junayd’ava. I saw you running like a whipped dog down the aisles, and I know you heard me calling.”
She thought he might be put off by the use of his familial name, but instead he squinted, as if he recognized her voice and was trying to place it. “I don’t know who it might have been, but you’re a fool if you think it was me.”
The circle around her was closing in now, some with river stones clutched in their scrawny hands.
Çeda took a half-step closer to Brama and dropped into a fighting stance. “This is your last warning, Brama.”
Brama merely smiled. “You should have run while you had the chance.”
Çeda didn’t wait any longer. She charged.
She brought her sword swiftly down against his hastily raised defenses. The wooden blade beat with an audible crack against his forearms, then his rib cage, then his knee— ot enough to break bones, though she could easily have done so, but certainly enough to send him crumpling to the ground.
Other children rushed in, but if her time in the pits had taught her anything it was how to maintain distance with the enemy, even many at once. She rushed past Brama’s fallen form, twisting and striking a girl every bit as tall as Brama across the face. Another came barreling after, but Çeda dropped and snapped her leg out, catching the girl and sending her tumbling off the bank and into the river.
The ones with the stones loosed them at Çeda as two more boys braved the range of her sword. One stone struck a glancing blow against her shoulder, another squarely against her ribs, but the effects of the petal deadened the pain. Four quick strokes of her shinai and the boys were howling away, shaking pain from their knuckles and wrists.
She was alone now. None would come near. Even the boy holding rocks the size of lemons remained still as a statue, the fear plain on his face.
Brama lay at her feet, cringing.
“Where’s the purse?” she asked him.
His face grew hard, his teeth gritting away the pain. “I don’t have it.”
“That wasn’t what I asked you, Brama.” She grabbed a hunk of his hair—“I said, where is it?”—and slammed his head onto the ground.
“I don’t have it!”
Somehow, his refusal made her go calm as the night’s cool winds. She let go of Brama’s hair and stood, staring down at him with her shinai still held easily in her right hand. “When are you going to learn, Brama?” She raised her sword, ready to give him something to think about before asking him the question again, but she stopped when she heard a piercing whistle from somewhere along the riverbank. She turned, but not before laying the tip of her sword over Brama’s kidney, a warning for him to lie still.
A man with broad shoulders wearing laced sandals and a striped kaftan was standing near the edge of the river, staring at her. The sun glinted brightly off the lattice of shallow waves behind him, so she didn’t at first recognize him—and why by the gods’ sweet breath would he be here in any case?—but soon she did recognize him.
The very man she should have delivered the purse to this morning.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an excellent introduction to the "Shattered Sands" which began with the "Twelve Kings in Sharakhai." At 228 pages, it's not a big commitment, yet it is amazing how much Beaulieu packs into so few pages. We really get a sense of who the main characters are, of the setting, and the beliefs and magic of the place. I loved the worldbuilding, and I found the plot very enjoyable. If you have been thinking of trying "Twelve Kings in Sharakhai" but not sure, this book should remove any doubts.