(This story is a sequel to "Scion of the Black Tower")
Alzarra Dragonhand came over the sea and to the faded city of Knar, riding the prow of a black ship with her dark sword at her side. She was tall; lean and hungry like a sea-wolf. Her skin was dark and her black hair was braided like a knot of serpents. Her left hand was armored with black scales, and thus was given her name, a name feared in a hundred cities and hunted across the endless expanses of the old empires.
The ship rode the gentle wind in between the towering pillars that guarded the harbor. Long ago there had been a great sea-gate in this place, but now the stone was stained green with age and crumbled down into ruins that slumbered like the shapes of ancient glory hidden beneath burial shrouds. Ahead of her she saw the city itself arising from the cold mists, like a shadow in a forgotten dream.
It was familiar to her, though she had never seen it before. Every line and arch and tower looked right to her eye. The city was dark in the overcast day, hollow with shadows and empty places. The waters of the sea gathered at the edge of the docks green with weeds and choked by refuse. The smell of neglect and rot drifted over the slack tide, and the waves were marked by the slumped ruins of proud buildings now long subsumed into the sea, crumpled beneath the march of the waters.
Knar was a dying city. Once the outpost of a great empire, it remained like a single bone of a rotted body thrust up from the earth. Roads and walls and kingdoms died away and yet it remained. Much of it was abandoned, with far too few people still dwelling in the rotted stone towers and the open-roofed ruins. The great edifices were stained with algae and lichens, dripping with moss in the constant wetness of the climate. Knotted trees sprouted between the stones, and vines crawled and hung everywhere she looked.
Alzarra stepped off the boat when it drew up to the ancient jetty. The waterfront markets were sullen and gloomy, the narrow pathways choked by hooded people going silent about their way. She drew her own cloak over her shoulders and her hood up over her head. But she made no effort to conceal her scaled arm, as indeed she never would. It was the mark of her destiny, and she would not hide it.