CHAPTER ONE: KING OF THE UNDERBRIDGE
Illion was a tiny kingdom, squished between Springshine Lake and the Dead Echo Mountains, where the barkeeps charged two legs for an ale and the horses rattled like bones. Alongside the daylit roads, beggars competed hotly for grossest deformity (A woman with a second shriveled head currently holds the title); after dusk, travelers were fined handsomely for not carrying a lantern. The stone-paved road was cracked by weeds and made a fine river whenever it rained. The trees howled at night, though that's only the manticores devouring another luckless traveler. Then there were the bark flies.
Jalin slapped the back of her neck and came away with a handful of green stinking goop that shimmered in the lanternlight. Not once in the last ten miles had there been any sign of intelligent life -- save that eerie drumming deep in the woods an hour back, which hadn't exactly been a hospitable sound.
The light of her lantern cast upon a pile of bones beside the road. The skull, jaw stretched wide, had been smashed in with a rock. She stared at it, and resigned herself to a night spent on a blanket in the middle of the road. She only hoped the merchant carts and smugglers were paying attention to obstacles in their path.