Chad Grayson

Preview of Curse of the Onyx Heart

Tilii Eldarion rarely ventured into the human district, but this morning he had a reason. One of the library’s patrons, a certain Mister Edgerton Sharpe, had a rare book he wanted to donate to the collection. He was house-bound due to an injury to his legs, and Librarian Silverthorn hadn’t wanted to trust this errand to a messenger, so Tilii, her trusted assistant, had been dispatched. Tilii didn’t mind. If he kept his hood up, no one would notice he was an elf. Not that it would be a problem in a city like Bright Harbor, but tensions in the human district were running high—something about a murdered councilor.

He’d taken the book from the old man, who had wanted to talk, and was making his way toward the university district — which operated independently, but technically belonged to the elves — when he found himself stopped by a crowd of people who were blocking the main thoroughfare, spilling out from the plaza. A man was standing on a box in the middle of the plaza, shouting into the crowd.

“We cannot let those who would be our overlords select our leadership! The Council should not be allowed to choose a replacement. We must demand a new election now! To preserve our own hegemony!”

There were some shouts in support, then a couple of people began to chant, “Maitland! Maitland!”

So, that’s why the man had looked familiar. Edrick Maitland was the printer Librarian Silverthorn had worked with over the course of the last few years, replacing much of the library’s collection with new, press-printed books, letting the old hand-printed ones go into storage where they could be better preserved.

Since he couldn’t move, Tilii watched the speech for a while. He couldn’t hear much of it over the murmuring of the crowd, but the implication was clear. Councilor Antares had been murdered by persons unknown because he was about to stand up to the elven members of the council, who had long ruled capriciously. And now, they wanted to appoint his replacement, when the human way was to hold an election and let the people decide.

Tilii almost laughed out loud. Let the people decide. People like this mob?

He knew, intellectually, that was how humans had selected their members of Bright Harbor’s grand council for hundreds of years. But it had never made much sense to him. Crowds of commoners given the power to make important decisions for themselves without training or even proper information. It made no sense.

Their elven leaders had been trained since birth to serve the people and could be counted upon to make good decisions. The elven elders, led by the great houses, appointed their leaders, who were usually bonded to lives of service. Like his father, who was an elder of Endurion, on the other side of the continent of Amalgra. The dwarves had a competition of skilled craftsman, their works judged for complexity and innovation. That made less sense than the elven way, but at least you were getting someone you knew was smart. For the halflings, their leaders were chosen after several days of competitions, both physical and mental. And the Orcs selected theirs through trial by combat. All of those methods made more sense than the humans, who let people make impassioned speeches, and then let other people vote on who gave the best speech. That was insane.

But that was, apparently, what Edrick Maitland was calling for. Tilii had thought him a more sensible man than that. Eventually, Maitland concluded his speech, and the crowd started to disperse, allowing Tilii to pass through into the university district. There, near the entrance plaza, was a building with the sigil of The Mages’ Guild etched into the glass of its window. Someday, Tilii hoped, he would be a member of that guild. Maybe that would make up for all his failures back in Endurion.

The streets were thick with pedestrians here as well, though most of the traffic was moving in the direction he wanted to go, so he made quick progress. He walked into the heart of the university plaza, to a large building made of stone, its windows covered in real glass. He pushed his way through the door and into the library proper. He stopped for a moment, removed his cloak, and hung it up on the hook that had been placed there for just such a purpose.

“You’re late. I thought perhaps I was working alone today.”

Tilii’s face colored as he recognized the voice. He tried to calm himself before facing her. Lydara. She was in the blue robes of a junior librarian, her short dark hair pushed skillfully back behind her ears. She was giving him that smile that made him want to come unglued, but he schooled his reaction and replied calmly, “Master Silverthorn wished for me to pick up a rare book in the human district. A donation.”

He held the book up and walked back toward the librarian’s office, hoping he looked official and impressive. The stacks were about shoulder-height, filled with books on the main floor. There were other floors, and hidden archives, but the main collection was here. Tilii had nearly reached the librarian’s door when he heard a loud thudding noise that sounded like a book being dropped on the floor. Who would do such a thing? He had to put a stop to it. He followed the noise to the middle of the room, where a young man was pulling books off the shelves and making a pile of them on the floor. Tilii got ready to yell at him. You don’t treat books that way, you just don’t!

“What are you doing?” Tilii asked, his voice almost a snarl. The young man pulled back, holding a large volume in his hand. These were all, fortunately, the newer printed books, which were not as susceptible to damage as the hand-copied tomes, not to mention more easily replaceable.

“Do you work here?” The young man asked. He was about a head taller than Tilii, about average height for a human, but as Tilii got a look at him, he realized he was not human—at least not entirely.

“Let’s see, blue robes, library seal on the chest. Of course I work here.”

The man scanned him, then smiled sheepishly. “Yeah. Sorry. I’m just … I’m looking for something and having trouble finding it.”

Tilii sighed. “And you’re authorized to use the library? Are you a student?” He scanned his clothes for the first time. He was wearing a martial tunic and pants. The tunic was white, with a flaming eye stitched in the center. The uniform of a paladin of the Order of the Burning Eye. So, not a student. Also, probably not authorized.

The young man shook his head. “I do have permission. My commanding officer sent me.”

“Do you have a note?”

“A note?”

“A note from your superior, preferably signed by our librarian. You can’t just come in here and throw books around.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time sorting through everything.”

He had the height and slightly broader features of a human, but his ears were pointed like an elf’s. A half-elf then? Did that make any difference?

“Can you even read?” Tilii asked him.

The young man took in a breath, then seemed to count before letting it out. “Of course I can read,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Well, why are you throwing books on the floor?” Tilii went to the books and started picking them up. “What’s your name, anyway, so I know who to report.”

“My name is Ethan Brade,” the young man said. “Are books on the floor really such a big problem?”

“Are you joking?” Tilii gasped, incredulous. “Do you know what dust does to books?”

“I’m sorry?” Ethan said. “I just needed a place to put them.”

Tilii sighed. “Well, Evan, there is a table just over there you can stack them on.” He pointed toward the end of the aisle.

“Fine,” Ethan said. “Is there somebody who can help me find something? Someone besides you, since I seem to have offended you so badly.”

“First, I need to make sure you belong here,” Tilii said. “Come with me to see the librarian.”

Tilii did not miss the way Ethan rolled his eyes when he said, “Fine.”

get the book here!

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