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info & synopsis
Title: The Deadbringer
Series: The Ellderet Series, # 1
Author: E.M. Markoff
Publisher: Tomes & Coffee Press
ISBN: 099719510X (ISBN13: 9780997195101)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Formats: Paperback, E-Book, Kindle Unlimited
Cover Artwork: Pink Pigeon Studio
Release Date: May 22, 2016
FINALIST MEDAL IN FANTASY from Next Generation Indie Book Awards, 2017
In the aftermath of the Purging, the Deadbringers are no more. The Ascendancy has positioned itself as the land's dominant power by exploiting the people's fear of the Deadbringers' innate abilities to summon souls and reanimate the dead. Yet its hold is not complete, for in the North the Bastion stands in the way of the Ascendancy and its iron-willed elite soldiers, the Sanctifiers.
But, somehow, a single Deadbringer has managed to survive. Kira Vidal, a boy of fifteen, has remained hidden, living peacefully with his uncle in the northern city of Opulancae under the Bastion's protection. But it seems their luck is at an end when rumors begin to spread, and a strange man shows up at their door, seeking the forbidden services of a Deadbringer.
Aware of the dangers should word of his nature reach the Ascendancy, Kira makes a promise to himself to protect his beloved uncle at all costs, even if it means pursuing the limits of his powers ... and learning painful truths.
E.M. Markoff is a Latinx writer who was raised on a steady diet of Mexican folklore, anime, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films, and unrestricted access to comics and books. Growing up, she spent many days exploring her hometown cemetery, where her love of all things dark began.
Upon coming of age, she decided to pursue a career as a microbiologist, where she spent a few years channeling her inner mad scientist. Despite enjoying her time in a lab coat, she always had a love of writing short stories and so, one day, she set the first word to paper and never looked back. Her debut novel, The Deadbringer, is the first book in The Ellderet Series and won a Finalist medal in the Fantasy category in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Currently, with the aid of her feline companion, she is working on the second novel in The Ellderet Series.
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The Deadbringer Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Shining City
THE DAY HAD dawned gray, as it had for the past week, thick with storm clouds barring the sun. The gentle rains of summer had been late. Now, well into the fall, as if seeking to make amends for its tardiness, the rain turned dirt into mud that splattered onto everything, turned streets into shallow streams that carried away the filth that had piled up over the long, dry summer. But the dreary weather did not deter the bustle of Opulancae.
Kira Vidal looked up at the midmorning sky with slightly uptilted, emerald-gold eyes and let the rain briefly wash his pale face. It felt cold and refreshing, just like the touch of the dead. Laughing softly, the tall youth turned his attention back to the bustle of the city and resumed his trek against the human current, his dapple gelding following close behind. He pulled forward the hood of his woolen traveling cloak, revealing long gloves that followed the length of his arms. Aside from the cloak, his clothing was entirely of supple black leather: long boots that climbed to his knees, sturdy pants, and a loose vest with ivory buttons.
He was eager to be done with his errands in the newer part of Opulancae so he could ride to the Old Town to visit Elia. And he was growing tired of seeing the long-worn signs nailed throughout the city warning that Ro’Erden and Deadbringers were not welcome. He continued on, placing an order for slate and fieldstone at one shop and an order for rough lumber at another. As was customary, he paid half of the cost up front and would pay the other half when the materials were delivered.
“How’s your uncle?” asked the second shopkeeper, as he gathered the gold from the counter.
“He’s well,” Kira replied cordially. Though young, his voice was rich, with just the slightest rasp. Lowering his hood, he took a leather tie from an inside pocket and began securing a cascade of raven hair that fell to his waist. It was damp and beginning to feel unpleasant resting against his back.
“Say, by any chance, was your parlor the one that buried Mrs. Stone?”
The shopkeeper continued as if Kira had added a why after the no. “Rumor’s been going around saying that she was murdered and that it was her daughter who did it. Thought maybe the body passed through your parlor and that you could say whether it looked like a murder.” He leaned over the counter. “I hear she looked like animals had torn her apart, and that the city authorities might petition the Bastion for aid.”
“No, I know nothing of it,” said Kira, repressing a sigh. He hated gossip.
He had indeed heard others whispering terrible rumors as he went about his errands, though it was the truth that their parlor had tended no one by that name. But he had learned that it was best to feign complete ignorance, as it kept his name and his uncle’s out of the rumors. He doubted the Bastion—the ruling power in the North—would intervene in local affairs for something as common as murder. Taking his leave before the shopkeeper had a chance to ask anything else, he swiftly mounted his horse and rode off toward the river road and the Old Town.
HAD KIRA WALKED that day, he would have been able to reach the Old Town by descending the narrow flight of stairs that had been carved from the side of the high bluff that lined the river, upon which the newer sections of Opulancae had been built. But he had ridden and, since his horse could not sprout wings and fly like a bird or the long-dead winged serpents, he had been forced to take the river road, which went by roundabout way down the bluff to the river’s embankments.
The Silver River had reached out beyond those embankments, submerging the ancient flood plain where the Old Town had long ago risen. Murky waters reached up to the dapple’s cannons and sloshed wildly as it trotted along. Kira’s heart ached with sadness as he neared the Old Town, for it had suffered from the heavy assault of rain, and the runoff pouring down the bluff from the surrounding city had only served to augment the damage. The ground beneath the town was a sea of knee-high water, and the modest wooden dwellings propped up on wooden stilts were islands.
Despite their misfortune, the people waved upon seeing him and shouted out greetings. They had learned to endure the many changes that life by the river brought with it. What they had not learned to endure was the harsh nature of Opulancae itself—the city their river had helped foster. The Old Town was a poor, largely ignored place.
Kira dismounted and offered to help where he could, but there was little he could do that the people had not already taken care of. Still, he helped carry a bale of wool from a home that had sprung a leak, and then helped sort out the damaged material from the undamaged. For the people of the Old Town, it was vital to take care of the few goods they had.
“Here to see Elia?” asked one of the townsmen.
Kira smiled. “Yes. Was her home damaged by the rain?”
“No, but we checked it ourselves. Just to make sure, you know?”
“Oh, yes! She will never admit to needing help.”
The other man laughed heartily. “That she won’t! Go on, boy, we’ve kept you long enough. I’m sure she’s heard you’re here and is waiting for you to arrive. Say hello to your uncle for me.”
Bidding them farewell, Kira sloshed along with his horse in tow until he reached a wooden house built upon thick wooden stilts, surrounded by hanging baskets filled with aromatic herbs. Thankful that his height and long boots had kept him mostly dry, he stepped out of the water and onto the steps that led to the porch surrounding the house. His uncle had built the porch so Elia could hang her baskets to keep them from being damaged or washed away.
He approached the door and was about to knock when it suddenly swung open. A slightly hunched, elderly woman barely reaching his chest looked up at him with pursed lips. Soft gray curls crowned her head. She motioned for him to enter.
“Foolish boy, coming here with the rain. That uncle of yours knows full well that the river tends to overflow during the rainy season. Next time I see him, we’re going to have a long talk.” She waved her frail-looking hands in the air, displeased.
Kira had spent a few years as a child in the Old Town, and its people, in particular Elia, the old herbalist, held a special place in his heart. She had always been very kind to him and had taken it upon herself to be a very active part of his upbringing—much to his uncle’s dismay.
“Though late this year, it is indeed the rainy season. Regardless, I wanted to see you.” He placed a gloved hand over her head and gave her a kiss through it.
She brushed his hand away. “Don’t give me that ‘coming to see me’ business. You young folk already have enough on your shoulders without wasting your time on a bag of bones like me.”
There was a heavy weight to her brow that he had never seen before. “Did something happen?” She dismissed his question with a humph and took a seat at the dining table. Elia was rather proud, and he knew better than to press her. When she was ready, she would tell him what ailed her.
Opening the oiled-leather bag slung around his shoulder, Kira pulled out two square-shaped bundles wrapped in waxed paper. He placed them on the table and unwrapped them, revealing two small cakes. “I baked them myself. I used a bit more sugar than I would have liked—which means they are very sweet—but coffee should help wash them down.” He returned his hand to the bag and pulled out an assortment of glass containers. “I also brought more coffee and spices to replenish your stores, since I saw that you were running low.”
“It’s appreciated, but I’ve told you not to bring me such expensive things. I don’t like feeling like I’m a leech.”
“You’re not, and besides, I bought these with my money, not my uncle’s, so it’s my call how I decide to spend it.” She mumbled under her breath but said nothing more. Kira removed his damp traveling cloak, hung it on a hook near the door, and set about to making coffee. It was something he always did when he visited her.
Elia called to him from where she sat at the table. “Well, just make sure you make enough. No sense in just wetting your lips and then being left wanting more.”
He laughed warmly. Her sharp tongue was one of the reasons he adored her so much. His uncle, on the other hand, often commented that instead of age having claimed her posture, it should have claimed her tongue.
Once the coffee was brewed, he brought it over and laid out everything they would need to share the small meal. Elia took a bite of her cake. “Not bad. I wouldn’t advise dropping your trade as a mortician for that of a baker, but”—she closed her eyes and sipped her coffee—“your skill at brewing flavorful coffee is quite impressive. I’d like to think I had a hand in this, but I’m sure your uncle would say otherwise.”
“I’m sure he would if he could, but he’s more a tea drinker, so he would have to keep his opinions to himself.”
“As best he should.” She soaked a piece of cake in the coffee and idly nibbled it. Her words were slow and weighted. “Kira, do you ever think of your parents?”
“Every now and again. But honestly, I don’t—and can’t—imagine my life without my uncle. Although, I know he thinks of my mother, his sister. Every year, during the weeks leading up to my name day, he becomes very morose and tends to stare at me when he thinks I’m not watching.”
She frowned. “You don’t bear much of a resemblance to your uncle, except in height. He confessed to me that your mother died giving birth to you. But, I’m pretty sure he told you that?”
“Yeah, he did. But he simply refuses to speak of her. And of my father—my uncle never knew who he was.”
“Unsurprising. Many children born during the Purging don’t know their fathers.”
Kira quickly devoured his bit of cake and chased it down with a few sips of hot coffee. “My uncle does say that I didn’t get my eyes from his side of the family, so my father must have been from the Western Mountains. But he doesn’t ever talk about those years, though I have tried asking. I have to admit, I’ve always been curious to know what the Land was like during that time.”
“The Nightmare Lords damn those years. Nobody wants to remember them.”
A question came to Kira, one that he could not resist asking. “Elia, have you ever seen a Doll?”
She shot him a mischievous grin. “So, when you’re curious, this bag of bones is finally good for something, hmm?”
Kira felt the heat rise to his face. “That is not what I meant!”
She laughed, obviously satisfied with his reaction. Then, flatly, she said, “I have seen a Doll.”
“Should I say ‘no,’ instead?”
“No, no, no,” said Kira, rushed. “It’s just that I know my uncle has seen a Doll, but he won’t tell me. Or at least I think he has. Actually, I’m not sure.”
“Awfully curious, aren’t you?”
“Of course! I mean, it is a part of the history of the Land. I guess my problem is that I’m not sure if I believe what I’ve read concerning Deadbringers and their Dolls—that Dolls were no different from the soulless, reanimated Risen. That they were monstrous corpses.”
“If the Ascendancy heard what you thought of the printed words they spread as truth, you would not be sitting here. We may not be in the South, but watch that tongue of yours. I wouldn’t put it past the people of Opulancae to cry to the Bastion that you are a traitor.”
“The Bastion is not the Ascendancy.”
“Humph. A horse is a horse even if you dress it in silks.”
“Fine, fine. Now tell me what Dolls looked like.”
Elia took a curt sip from her cup before speaking. “A Deadbringer’s Doll had fake eyes that never blinked and were vacant and glassy. Their skin was lusterless, and their lower arms and hands were often discolored, as if they had been dipped in a deep red dye. Not surprising, considering they were once alive. But no, the ones I saw were not ‘monstrous.’”
“And?” asked Kira, almost unable to hide his excitement.
“And what?” Elia said tartly. “I can only tell you what a Doll looked like, not how one was made.”
“Sorry. I let my curiosity get the better of me.” Elia took a deep breath, failing to repress a shuddering sigh. He eyed her quizzically. “What’s the matter? And don’t tell me ‘nothing.’”
She sighed heavily once more. “Must something be wrong? Can’t an old woman sigh if she wants to?” Rising from the table, she walked over to an ornate cabinet and retrieved a red lacquer box. Taking her seat once more, she opened the box and held out a blue amber comb.
“This was given to me by my partner when we first started seeing each other. When my daughter came of age I gave it to her. She left it behind.” Wetting her lips, she continued. “I’m old. I don’t have anyone to leave my belongings to, and of the little I own this is the most precious. I know you’ll take good care of it.”
He took the comb from her. Though delicate in appearance, it was firm and heavy. “Thank you. I’ll take good care of it.”
“Then it’s settled. Next time you visit me I want to see your hair set with that comb. Gods know you have more than enough hair to play around with. It might even help you find a pretty girl.”
Kira sighed, vexed. He was glad to see Elia back to her sharp self but wished she had chosen another topic. “It’s not that easy. You know that. Besides, I don’t want to fall in love and then wind up accidentally killing them. I’m not very skilled at controlling this ability of mine.”
“Nonsense! You’re here, after all. Assuming that touching problem of yours was passed down from your father—because your uncle surely doesn’t suffer from it—it didn’t stop him from seeking out and bedding your mother.” He winced, and she added, “Eutau wasn’t very pleased when I discovered what your touch could do.”
“No, he wasn’t. I think it was one of the reasons we moved away from the Old Town. He was afraid that other people would become aware of it and that my life would be in danger.”
Elia’s mouth twisted. “Your uncle can have a cruel tongue and a violent temper when he chooses to, especially when he believes your life is in danger. He’s very passionate about keeping you safe, but you can’t hide behind those parlor doors forever, even though I’m sure Eutau wishes you would.”
“He’s the only living person I can interact with normally without having to wear these gloves for fear that I might hurt him. I love him dearly and will be content with my life as long as he’s with me.”
“A sweet sentiment to have, but also a dangerous one. We are not gods, but mortals whose lives quickly dwindle. One day he will die, and you will find yourself all alone in that grand house surrounded by the dead. That is not life.”
Despite his better judgment, Kira smiled. “If my fate is to be surrounded by the dead, then so be it. As for my uncle, I’ll make sure he never dies.” Elia looked at him through narrowed eyes. “A joke, my dear lady,” he teased. “Besides, happiness isn’t dependent on finding a partner, and the people of Opulancae are not really my type.”
She laughed heartily. “By the gods, now that is something I can agree with.”
Kira would have liked to spend more time with Elia, but the afternoon was passing and his uncle would be waiting. He rose and bent down to kiss her farewell, but he was stopped by her wrinkled hand.
“None of this glove nonsense,” she said, protesting. “Either kiss me proper or don’t kiss me at all.” He concentrated and kissed a bed of gray curls. Her hair was soft and smelled like lavender.
He would leave money with the candlemaker’s son and see to it that she wanted for nothing and had plenty of everything, as he always did. Bidding her farewell, he took his cloak, mounted his horse, and rode away from the shallow sea that was the Old Town.