The Darkness Before the Dawn by Ryan Hughes

Chapter One The air was thick with the smell of burning caravan. The enormous house-sized wagon had met its end in the deep desert, and wood, leather, dead bodies, and anything else not valuable enough to carry away now joined together in a crackling bonfire. Athas’s coppery sun, slipping behind the western horizon, tinted the roiling column of smoke bloody red, sending a signal across dozens of miles of desert: Here there be death. The fifty or so Jura-Dai elves who cavorted before the flaming wreckage of the enormous wooden merchant wagon didn’t seem to care. Their brightly colored cloaks and shirts and loose, blousy pants flapped gaily as they spun and danced in the flickering light, and their voices rose in laughter and song. Of course, they were the victors. The losers—slave runners who had made the mistake of taking one of the tribe captive—were inside the caravan, the smoke of their flesh and bones adding to the wagon’s in a single enormous funeral pyre. The few who hadn’t died in battle had been driven along with the slaves the elves had freed out into the d
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