Anna Smith Spark reads Iananr’s The Bound One’s first chapter from In the Shadow of their Dying

If you’ve been keeping an eye on Tor.com or Daniel Green’s YouTube channel, or any of our social media, you’ll know that our grimdark fantasy horror novella, In the Shadow of their Dying by Anna Smith Spark and Michael R. Fletcher is releasing on the 19th of March, 2024. And since then, I have been harping on about my love of this novella, and how amazed I was by one character in particular: Iananr The Bound One, a demon enslaved to protect a king. As I said on last week’s interview with The Beard of Darkness, reading Iananr’s perspective is an experience. And, thanks to Anna’s narration, it’s an experience that you can share a little of today!

Before you get stuck in to Iananr’s chapter, you can check out the first chapter over on Track of Words, featuring Sharaam’s third best assassin, Tash.

In the Shadow of their Dying: Chapter Two – Iananr The Bound One

Iananr The Bound One is a special character delivered by an incredibly unique author. In the below video, Anna brings her character even more to life with her narration of chapter two of In the Shadow of their Dying.

Pre-order In the Shadow of their Dying by Anna Smith Spark and Michael R. Fletcher

With release day on the 19th of March, there are currently two formats available for pre-order over on Amazon: Kindle and paperback. There will also be a hardcover with the art laminated onto the hardcase being uploaded closer to the release date.

Support our release and pre-order In the Shadow of their Dying, below:

Prefer to read this chapter? Here you go!

Find it.

Kill it.

It ran. It ran from me. Filth thing, with its filth purge perfume scent, white face thing like a fish belly, maggot eyes thing vile thing, it ran away. Nothing gets away.

I am a hunter. I am bound to my duty. With smoke and chains and words my master bound me, I lay in sleep, warm in warm soft blood-fire dozing dreaming, the old times when we were all that lived to walk the earth, I dreamed of that time, the yearning for it growing, hot pulse in my crotch. My master gathered smoke and chains in the darkness, spoke words of power, summoned me, chained me, bound me, and I am bound to hunt and kill. Weak disease thing my master. Bound me. Trapped me.

It ran. It cannot escape me.

I slide down into the darkness of the streets of Sharaam, unpronounceable name in their ugly babbling tongue. It means ‘City of the Great’, my master told me proudly, as though that might mean something to me. Pitiful buildings of crude stone crouched on rot-mud. They shit into the filth, they bury their dead in the filth, they need the rot-mud to live. They raise their buildings, think them beautiful, and now they die here fighting over them. They are pathetic things. They deserve butchery and slaughter, in the times long past they ran to our call, we controlled them. If I was free of these word-chains, I would kill them.

My master bound me with word-chains to its weak vile will. I am a hunter. Kill.

“They will try to harm the king. You will not allow them to harm the king. You will stop them.” Words like wounds opening. Itching burning scoring across this body until it is done.

“If the king dies, Iananr…”

Bound. Kill it. Now. Hunt. Go.

* * *

Iananr moved through the city of Sharaam. Wandering. Walking. Frail on heavy legs. The awkwardness of this body. Unpleasant to move. Unpleasant to see. Not been out in the city before, beyond the walls of the castle they bound her in. Staring and strange. Looking for the colour trail her prey had left behind it, running. The narrow city streets in the rain-shadow, the stones of the buildings glistening with rain, the buildings and the sky and the city walls all blurring. The red light of fires, the city burning, making the world darker, making her vision flicker. Patterns like blood clots where alchemical workings poured and splashed. Over that, the other world that was easier to see, but in which the city itself could not be seen. She had to hold her eyes open to see all of it. There: traces, ebbing colours, ink-in-water, the prey, running. Down a narrow street, all rubble and garbage. Round a corner, scramble over a broken-down wall, down a wide street with the wind blowing rain full in her face. A troop of soldiers went past her, heading for the walls. Rain dripping down their armour. Death clawing beating at them. A roar from off to the east, a missile hitting the walls or the gates. In her other eyes she saw it flash like spark light. Green and silver. Taste of magic. She saw the stone of the walls shriek.

“The more of our lot the Tsarii kill now, the more glory there’ll be for us that’s left when we take them down,” the soldier that would die first said to its comrades. “Doing us that survive to kill them a fucking favour, yeah? Rewards and promotions all round.”

“Yeah!” shouted the one that was longing to die.

They walked faster when they saw Iananr. Sensed something. She turned her head to watch them splashing away through the rain.

Voices. Strain to hear them. Understand them.

“When this is over… when this is over, I’m going to sleep for a bloody week.”

“When this is over… when this is over, I’m going to stay indoors by a fire for a fucking month.”

“Remember last summer, when we were all worried about a sodding drought?”

Iananr thought: They are… afraid. Of dying.

Strange.

Tumbled buildings, houses with barred windows, everywhere the smell of smoke. A white face stared down at her from a hole like the hole in a skull, disappeared back. Another face, beside it, staring up at the sky. There were leaves around the window they looked from. Plants growing there. And a shopfront below, boarded up, full of shining gold all scattered. A faint ghost hint of a man’s blood. There had been joy here. The women up above had been weeping. Things had been done.

Iananr smiled a pleasure smile a hunger smile. Enjoy it. Feel. Things hungered here. This place was how our whole world was.

Word-chains. Find it. Hunt it. Follow the trail. Go on. She walked through streets where the people of the city had been dying. Through streets where they crouched alive in fear. Soldiers in the walls, staring out, coughing, searching, “When will they come? Oh gods, oh gods, when?” Barricades in the streets, broken by the army outside’s bombardment. Pools of petty magic, alchemical sweetness, stop and taste it, drink. Everything shattered up.

Green fire and blue fire and great lumps of stonework. Killing things and hurting things. The army outside the walls hurled them at the city and the city howled on and on. She almost understood it. The fear in the people of the city, in the army outside, the shame, the horror, the desire. Iananr thought: They enjoy it.

A man came up to her. Not a soldier. Came close to her. Looked at her with bared teeth. There was violence in it. Wet hunger. It wanted. Like the hands that had pawed over the scattered bloodied gold in the boarded-up ransacked shop.

Strain to hear it. Understand it. “Hey, girl,” it said. “What you got?”

It moved itself at her and she reached out at it. Unloosed herself. Clawed at it. It was so weak.

Iananr thought: It wants to hurt this body. Why should it want that?

She felt the last of it at her feet dying. It had hurt as it died, and that as always surprised her. Why should it feel? She squatted next to its body, reached out plump fingers, touched it. The eyes staring up towards her. The mouth open. Red skin visible inside the mouth. She placed her face very close to it. Breathed it in. Warm inside her. Sweet and fresh and good. Lapped the blood carefully. Sweet. Opened her mouth, her real mouth, opened up rows and rows and rows of teeth. She sighed with almost-pleasure when she had finished. A little dry patch of colour, vivid, on the bare ground. She breathed out with a hiss and the colour was gone. All gone. Nothing left of the dead thing. Never been.

Iananr went on.

The prey’s trail went off to the west, away from the walls. Sadly, she turned to follow it. Down a smaller street, lined with houses piled in together; she could feel people and rats and lice, see the walls of the buildings itching with life. The street opened into a courtyard, a well at the centre. Iananr snorted in disgust at the feel of the water. Pain worse than the itch of the word-chains. Cold pain. Felt her mouth writhe, could almost taste the water. The prey’s trail went up to the well, hung around the well bucket. Iananr edged around the walls of the courtyard, keeping away. There was a tree growing in the courtyard and that also confused her, confused her vision. Not good to try to look at, even now with the life running out of it. It was very bright, like a tower of fire, it confused her, cast shadows in the city world and the real world. She went past it quickly, holding her breath to stop herself having to breathe the feel of it. It would be good if the war machines could hit it, splinter and burn it.

On the other side of the courtyard a building was burning, was broken open, it must have been hit by one of the missiles thrown by the army outside the walls. There was a child’s body on the ground in front of it. A girl child, the thing like a face all burned. Broke up the colour lines of her true seeing. Her prey had stepped over the child and had felt pain then. The child had perhaps come from the house.

Her prey had gone down a narrow alley. She could not see the sky at all here, the buildings bent over towards each other, falling into each other. Her feet slipped on the wet ground. Everything here was rot and filth. People had died in this alley, many of them, once. There were bones there beneath the ground. Coming loose as the rain fell and the earth turned to black mud; they would float upwards in the mire, be revealed. Dry bones that yearned to feel rain and sun and air.

The city would fall before that. Other deaths would choke the alley. The buildings would fall over all of it.

Something stopped her moving. A crawling shrieking burning pain in her arm. Revulsion. Her mind and her vision white with disgust. A man, burned like the child, a wound on it, clutching at her arm.

“Help me.” Slurred speech. “Please.”

She shouted, “Get away from me.” Hard to speak in this word-language. Too crude and too complex. The man was pulling at her arm, shouting, blood pouring out of it. Stopping her from following her prey. It stank of dying: stop and watch it stop and watch it, this whole filth city, everywhere she went there was dying, it drummed in her. Be loose here, wander, stand on the walls, watch and feel the dying. Taste it, sense it. Pleasure heat building up in her, spread herself out over the city feel it take it taste it wallow in it. Hot pain of the man’s hand gripping her. Disgusting.

“Help me. Please.” The other hand flapping towards the well. “Water. Please.”

Word-chains closing on her. The prey. Kill it. Find it. The prey’s scent trail fading now. Caught up in the dying around her, the burning house, the well and the tree that sickened her. Too many smells and senses. Getting blurred. I’m tired, master. I was sleeping. Eternities passed and I slept. This place is no longer a world for me. Too much. Too different. I crouch as a guardian, I am a watcher in the night; implacable I watch over my charge, protecting it, shielding it. I am like a shield I am like armour, I do not need to rest. I sit beside it to protect. If the word-chains break I will… Oh, my master, oh my charge, I watch for a flaw in the word-chain, if the word-chain breaks I will glut myself on you, I will have such pleasures with you. Feel it. Clutch it. Rub at it. Wet in my body, spreading. This false body. My real body. Sweet pain filth. But it’s not real. Pretending. Wet pleasuring fades to shame. Protect. Guard it. I am bound I cannot kill them. Find the prey. Kill the prey.

“Help me.”

Iananr shook its flesh hand off her body. “Get away.” She said in the word-language voice, “Where is it? Where is it?”

It drew back from her. Seemed to see her. It was oozing with fear now. White fear running down its face and hands. “Oh gods… gods… mercy.” The last word a scream.

It sees me.

The scream was beautiful music. The idiot thing her prey had not understood her, wrapped up in its dreams, blind to everywhere that was not itself. This man saw and understood. She had trampled a world filled with screams once, when all was younger. Human voices pleading, and she had danced over them, filled herself with them, soaked them into her skin. Garbed herself in human screams.

The word-chains bit into her. The trail. Follow the prey’s trail. She twisted back and forth, searching. Smell and sight and feel. The smell of it, the traces of it, colour-taste in the air. This world and the real world. These eyes and her real eyes. Where is it gone? It cannot escape me. Flickerings in the air, faint scent-memories: it was here, the last time the sun was risen, or the night before that, or the night before that again. She could see the shadow of it, where it had walked in the past, where it might walk in the future. The trail it left now was lost.

My master will be angry. Will punish me.

Filth shame ruin rage wet pleasure, that she was reduced to fear of punishment.

“Your duty is to protect King Inshiil, Iananr. Your one duty. Whatever comes, a lone man or the whole Tsarii army, you will protect him. I bind you to him. Do you understand? If you understand, Iananr, nod your head.”

Humiliation. Rage. I scream and roar, thrash against the word-chains, spill myself in fire at it. It stands over me and it is afraid, I know it is afraid, it is shocked by my power, how close I am to shattering the bindings it has wrapped around me. I scream curses, I tell it what I shall do to it. What it will suffer, when the word-chains break.

“Your duty, Iananr. I command you.” Its voice is shaking. “I command you, Iananr.”

The word-chains lash at me. Burn me. They are too strong.

“My duty,” I whisper. “Master.”

It croons with pleasure. It is enjoying its fear of me, my rage-fear of it.

* * *

It must be here! The trail! The prey cannot escape! Iananr got down on her knees, awkward in this awkward flesh-rot disease body, sniffing the ground, staring, searching. The rainwater cold and vile, burning her real skin. Pain-flesh. Blind and haltered. No trace.

She went back to the dying man. Took it apart to sate herself. Calm a little of her anger. Bury her shame at failing. Layers and layers of blood and pain and dying. Sinking down into them. Such a weak thing, and dying; she stood in the filthy alley, on the bones of others long-dead, did not feel calmed or less ashamed.

The feel of the air was changing. The rain slacking. She felt less solid in the light. More confused. The city world was more real, her own world fainter. Harder to see and think. Go back to the palace, she thought. Guard the king. But her master would be angry.

“It’s lost, it’s gone, it won’t come back,” she said aloud in her own language in her own mouth. The tree in the courtyard snapped and shuddered at her voice, the branches rattled like bones, dead leaves falling, the water in the well hissed in steam.

She said aloud, “I have killed two of them already. This one is a coward, it will not come back to trouble the king again.” The child’s dead body and the man’s dead body jerked at her voice. Decay spreading over them, their faces crumbling away green and black. Perfume: half-unaware of what she was doing, she breathed deep, filled herself with the scent. Grave worms hatching and dying in the dead flesh. It called itself “the third best assassin”. She had heard it call itself that, loud in its head; it was proud-ashamed of the name. Both the pride and the shame she had tasted, smelled on it. It knew she had killed the others, “first best” and “second best”, “Qwneera” and “Geln” they had called themselves in their hearts as she killed them. It was afraid because she had killed better things than it. It was afraid of her.

The child’s body and the man’s body decaying at her voice. Writhing puddles of filth and grave worms. The worms sang of the pleasure of corpse-flesh. Their colour trails fading, every trace of them in this world eaten away by her voice.

The word-chains bit into her. Tight pain. Tried to enjoy it. Tried and tried, since her master had bound her. Hurt too deep, too much. Trapped.

Kill it.

* * *

A long walk, trailing through the streets. The rain became lighter. Felt like the breath of the woman Qwneera gasping out on her face warm and soft and hateful, as Iananr killed and consumed it. Made her skin itch. The things camped beyond the walls slacked off their killing games a brief while. People out on the streets, white-faced, wide-eyed, creeping out from their attempts at shelter now the bombardment was briefly at an end. Examining the damage done. Mourning the dead. They still tried to live, some of them, tried to buy and sell, visit their friends, prepare food to celebrate things. As if the city would survive. It delighted her. The sense of their hope. The beating dark beyond it of their knowledge they were lying to themselves. The certainty, beyond the despair, that they could not die even if every other man, woman and child in the city died, because…

A child stopped to stare at her from a doorway. She was going too fast. Moving out of step with the body that she wore. The child saw something wrong in her. She stared back at the child and smiled at it. Its eyes opened wide. Iananr beckoned it over. Another little girl, very thin.

“Where are your parents?” Iananr asked it carefully. Get the words right. Speak in the right tongue.

“Dead,” the child said. “A clay pot came down, really small thing, hit the house and they’re dead. Spare a coin? It won’t matter if you give me a coin, will it? In a few days when you’re dead and I’m dead.” It knew that. Young as it was. But it believed, also, young as it was, that if it said the city would fall, that it would die—it believed like so many of them that saying that truth could make it untrue.

A coin appeared in Iananr’s hand. Gold. She dropped the coin into the child’s palm and its eyes widened.

Iananr touched the child’s face. The child’s eyes closed. Opened again.

Red gleam in its eyes. It smiled at Iananr. Licked its dirty, thin lips. Walked away down the street.

I should not have done that.

But…

Pleasing.

And the bombardment of the city was starting again. The army outside grinding them down. For… something. Bright light, green and blue fire. A shriek, a scream, from far off beyond the walls she felt a shout and a cheer of triumph. Iananr walked carefully on.

* * *

In an alleyway, Iananr stopped walking. Voices and shouting, food smells, sweat. A gathering place. A woman asleep in the gutter, grey hair in a pool of piss.

Here!

Faint. Rippling. Scent-trails, colour-trails, tracing out. Unspooling. Faint as whispers. Almost lost in all the rest. Here! It was. It will be. It knows this place.

Two men talking, around the corner. Strain to hear them. Piss stink of them. The ghost of the scent trail on them. Hope! Pitiful, in one such as her kind. We did not have to hope once, we did not have to search, we were everything. They were talking, plotting, pissing out into the dirt. “We’ll meet back here.” And they had the scent, the colours, faint on them. Kill them. Make them tell. In her shame she wavered. Make them tell! They can’t know, they won’t know, the prey has escaped her. She’s failed. Wading through the world unmatched and now she has failed in it. She spat and tore and pleasured herself, running liquid shame in the blind weight of her false masker’s body. It crushed at her, shamed her, how little and nothing it felt. The men went off, the ghost of the scent trail, her delusion that they knew her failure.

They knew. They knew.

Ran. Fled after it. One of them. It knew. Traces in it, scent-trails. It knew. She came up on it and it wheeled round at her, big thing like a wall, all pounded meat.

“What? What do you want?” Ugly sneer look on its face.

It had killed things. Iananr thought: Blood and death. Killing. Oh, it enjoys it.

Iananr thought: Axe.

It said, “What?” in its ugly tongue.

Say it in this word-language. Hard. Too complex, too simple. She said, “I am… looking… for a… a man.”

“Aren’t we bloody all, woman? Now get out.”

She said, “Tell me.” Looked at it. There, in its mind. It knew the prey. The prey’s colour trail, coiling, touch it, smell it, taste it.

The man swayed. “Tash,” it said. Slow fearful voice. Didn’t say. Thought it. These creatures’ thoughts were so loud like speaking in their crude ugly word-language. “Tash.”

She saw the thing’s face in its mind. The third-best assassin. The prey.

Tash.

“Where? I’m looking for it. Lost it. Where is it?”

“I don’t… don’t know.”

“Where is it?”

Colour traces in its head. Its bowels opened. It came down its leg with a gasp and a grunt and a stink. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Kill it. She stripped her claws to gut it, flay it, take it inside her and make it tell. The trail traces over it. It knows the prey. It can tell. It can tell.

Its head moved. Looking.

Lips moving. Telling her. Cum shit piss dripping down it.

“The Bucket.”

What?

I don’t understand. These things, their world, anything. We moved and curled through our eternities. We raised palaces of our flesh, our filth, our love. We did not need cities, buildings, we were all the world, everything in the world was of us, the world was our need our glory of ourselves we did not have these walls these things. We did not need almost to speak. Its head jerked, its arms flailing. “The Bucket… Tash… I don’t know…”

It was pointing back the way it had come. Jerking. Dead arm bones flapping dead skin. Kill it. Enjoy it.

She let it go, dropped it. It fell and flapped, croaking. Gasped for breath.

“Nothing,” she hissed in her own voice. “Nothing happened here.” Shimmer around it. The air cold and hot. It staggered up on legs as heavy as her own. Reeled and stumbled, blinked. Straightened. Stared around it. Not seeing her. Its head twisted back and forth. Set strong. It walked out away from her with the city shuddering ruin. Strong and steady, confident of itself, swinging the weapon at its hip.

Nothing.

Iananr turned the way it had been pointing. The alley she had found it in. And beside that… Windows. Lights. A doorway. Bustling, buzzing, talking, laughter, singing. The door opened, light showed, a smell of meat cooking, a voice shouted for more drink. A party of people in the street approached:  two women arguing, a man with a third woman on its arm, pawing at it, it giggled and wriggled back.

An inn.

Another doorway, in the alleyway. Just near where the two men she had followed had stood to piss. The confusion of their trails, and its trail, the prey’s trail, and the piss-stink, and the women still lying there, its grey head in the men’s trickling piss. Iananr watched.

There. The man had pointed there. She took a few steps towards it. The walls and the doors of the inn shook, the army outside loosing something that made the city walls tremble. She could feel the dust of it. Taste the dust. Taste the soldiers up there shaking. In her real eyes she saw the soldiers swimming in petty magics, thrashing, shrieking.

The alley door opened, a man stared out into the street wiping its hands on its clothes. Big and heavy. Greasy grey smears on its hands. Dead flesh beneath its fingernails. Looked out towards the city walls and sighed.

“Gods, gods, help us,” it muttered to itself.

“We’re running out of lamp oil,” a voice shouted to it.

“Then they’ll have to drink in the dark,” it shouted back. “If we’re any of us still alive by then.”

Calm, on the surface. Thrashing terror beneath, choked down. But calm, on the surface, in both of them. Almost becoming used to this. Unreal. Just another normal thing.

“Do you know?” it shouted back to the other voice, “we’ve made more money in the weeks since the Tsarii came than we have in the last three months?”

Two soldiers went past her towards the city walls filthy with sweat and ashes, grey with fatigue. One’s arm was bandaged. Iananr stood waiting. The wounded man reeked of grief and bitterness. Wanted to go back to being a soldier. The other man reeked of grief and bitterness. Wanted to go back to being a man of peace. Pleasure hate drifted warm over her. Taste of their rage at dying. Sweet. Heat in her crotch, mounting in her. Writhe in it. Sink into it. Maggot pleasure burrowing into their death-grief. Once her kind ruled all this world, breathed in these agonies, we bent these filth-creatures to us. For eternities, we sank into their pain and their shame and their sorrow, opened ourselves into them. We swam in their deaths. Taste it. Smell it. The army outside the walls. The people gathered here waiting. All the shadows of their dying. Such pleasure she has not felt for so long.

Her master: “When the Tsarii come, Iananr, if you are good, I might let you wander. Loosen the chain a little while. Yes?”

People coming in and out of the inn doorway. Talking. Laughing. Sighing. Hopeful terrified resigned to their deaths. Sweetness of murderers, killers, fighters, liars; desperate broken bodies; hearts running with hate and fear and love. Soar on wings of their pain. Crawl in mounds of their decay. Hot pleasure, rippling over her. Glut herself. Gorge herself. Sink herself into their deaths. It reeked of dying. It sang of dying. It shimmered with putrid death rot. Let me love you, let me touch you, let me be you. Whole landscapes of pain in their hot dying breath. A woman praying with every breath for its lover’s life. A man longing to die fighting, after things it has done it tried not to accept about itself.

But not the prey. It won’t come here. It’s fleeing you. It’s escaped. Stab of self-loathing. It escaped me. Such shame.

Find it.

Soldiers up there on the walls, dying. Soldiers in the lines beyond, the besiegers, dying of boredom and disease. She hid herself in the dirt, screamed in her own tongue in her own mind with frustration and need and rage.

Find it. Word-chains making her ache with grief. Find it. Kill it.

Scent trails. Something moving. Footsteps.

Hope. Pitiful, in one such as her kind.

A name in the air, a word, a knowing.

Tash.

The inn door opening. Warm and noise. A voice shouting for another drink. A woman’s loud laugh.

It’s here. It’s gone inside.

The prey.

Find it. Kill it.

Iananr pushed the door open and went in.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

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