in Quentaris - Michael Pryor
In Nightmare, I wanted to explore the dark side of Quentaris. The
city has suffered giant monsters, dragons, headless skeletons and
other bizarre threats, but I wanted to look at something more insidious,
something that was unsettling on a more individual level.
At the same time, I wanted to continue to look at Nisha’s sometimes
troubled personal life, especially her feelings about her past and
how she fits into the ‘family’ of the Old Tree.
On top of this, I wanted to explore the Old Tree Guesthouse more fully.
The inns and taverns in this sort of society were hives of industry,
full of people and life, with so much going on at all times –
it seemed like it deserved a closer look.
Arna Greentower and her Old Tree Guesthouse are experiencing difficult
times. Employees mysteriously disappear, deliveries go astray and
business is faltering. Arna’s foster-daughter Nisha, a fire
magician, and her friend Tal are determined to uncover the secrets
behind a forbidden room in the guesthouse and the memory-eating powers
of its menacing occupant. But he is only one of Arna ’s enemies.
Former business rival and fugitive Gorv Vildish is back in Quentaris
and looking for revenge.
Michael Pryor is the popular author of many award-winning novels and
short stories, including Quentaris in Flames, Beneath
Quentaris and Stones of Quentaris. Michael currently
lives in Melbourne with his wife Wendy and two daughters, Celeste
That night, the drums began first.
It was a heavy rhythm, the heartbeat of a great beast. It rolled over
the crowd and echoed around the courtyard of the Old Tree Guesthouse,
but the drummers could not be seen.
The people edged together, huddling, looking for the source of the
sound, eyes shining red, catching the light from a single lantern
hanging over the entrance to the courtyard.
The beat pounded on. The men, women and children gathered in the courtyard
licked lips, clenched fists, prepared themselves as best they could.
Fear was among them.
As one, they cried out when the lantern erupted, becoming a sheet
of flame, a curtain of flame, a wall of flame that consumed the buildings
on the eastern side of the courtyard. Dazzled, they threw up hands
to ward off the heat that clawed at them. They backed away from the
flames, seeking escape, and smoke rose up through the leaves of the
old tree that looked down on them all.
Through it all, the drums grew louder and louder, until those cowering
in the courtyard put their hands over their ears.
Suddenly, a figure stepped through the flames and stood on a low platform
in front of the crowd. The drum that hung from his neck was nearly
as tall as he was and his hands were alight.
Sparks flew as he struck the drum. He gazed at the crowd and grinned,
fiery-handed. Then he began to drum faster. The beat was wild and
swooping. It was the noise of wild things, of unruly times where disorder
was just around the corner.
The people in the crowd held their breath and wondered. What were
they seeing? A fire elemental? A demon? A fire magician?
‘Hah!’ the drummer shouted and the tempo lifted again.
A dozen other drummers stepped through the curtain of flame as if
it wasn’t there, their hands alight, hammering at their drums.
The faces of the drummers were shiny with sweat as they stood with
their backs to the fire. The tendons and muscles on their arms stood
out as they pounded. The sound surged over the crowd, a fierce wave
that made the people stare and wonder.
Nisha Fairsight sat on the roof of the stables, facing this spectacle,
her back to a brick chimney. She was frowning, concentrating hard,
her attention on the leader of the drummers. She wielded her fire
magic with utmost care.
‘Come on, Tal,’ she muttered, ‘you didn’t
go on this long when we rehearsed.’