Brandon Sanderson's WORDS OF RADIANCE

The second volume in the Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance, is already available on the other side of the pond and has been sighted in stores in Canada. It will be released in the USA in a few days. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive sequence began in 2010 with the New York Times bestseller The Way of Kings. Now, the eagerly anticipated Words of Radiance continues the epic story and answers many of your questions.

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes." Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

The doors of the Stormlight Archive first opened to us with The Way of Kings. Read that book – now available in all formats – and then Words of Radiance, and you can be part of the adventure every dazzling step of the way.

There are 14 sample chapters from Words of Radiance available online and you can find links to each of them on the author's website.

Extract from Robin Hobb's upcoming FOOL'S ASSASSIN

The folks at have just posted an extract from Robin Hobb's forthcoming Fool's Assassin! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Follow this link to read the sample chapter.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Until March 15th, you can download the first volume of Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya, the excellent The Winds of Khalakovo, for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo. . .

The second installment, The Straits of Galahesh, is also available for 0.99$ here, as is the third volume, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh here.

In addition, you can also download Beaulieu's collection of short fiction, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten, for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

With The Winds of Khalakovo, Bradley P. Beaulieu established himself as a talented new voice in epic fantasy.

With his premiere short story collection, Beaulieu demonstrates his ability to weave tales that explore other worlds in ways that are at once bold, imaginative, and touching.

Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten and Other Stories contains 17 stories that range from the epic to the heroic, some in print for the first time.

Godzilla Official Trailer

Because we really needed another reboot. . . I would like to think that it can't be worse than the last version, but we'll have to wait and see. . . :/

Win a copy of James S. A. Corey's STAR WARS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES

I have three copies of James S. A. Corey's Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves for you to win, compliments of the folks at Del Rey. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—writing as James S. A. Corey—make their Star Wars debut in this brand-new epic adventure featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa. The action begins after the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "THIEVES." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Winter is coming. . .

Roll on April 6th!!!!

Did you get your Game of Thrones, Season 3 boxset (Canada, USA, Europe)??

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download a number of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthologies, edited by Jonathan Strahan, for only 2.99$!

- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 2
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 3
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 4
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 5

Cover reveal and extract from Joshua Palmatier's SHATTERING THE LEY

Joshua Palmatier's forthcoming Shattering the Ley will be released in July. And thanks to the folks at Daw Books, here's the awesome cover art and an extract to whet your appetite for the book! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day.

At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen and unnatural assasins.

When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined . . . and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction -- or its salvation.


“I shouldn’t be here,” Kara Tremain murmured to herself, even as she turned the final street corner and came within sight of the stone walls of Halliel’s Park. She halted and bit her lower lip, her body trembling with a strange mixture of apprehension and danger and excitement. The leather belt that held her schoolbooks hung heavy on her shoulder and she twisted the strap beneath her hand. She glanced up and down the street, catching glimpses of the park’s open gate through the throng of people and wagons that passed by as the city of Erenthrall bustled around her. One of the ley-powered floating carts skimmed by, Kara’s skin prickling with ley energy, and she frowned after it, distracted—the carts weren’t typically seen in the Eld District; no one here could afford them—but her attention didn’t waver for long. A flash of power from one of the lit globes above the park’s entrance drew her gaze back to the gates.

It was mid-afternoon. Her morning classes had ended nearly an hour before. Her father had wanted her to come directly home to help him with one of his projects. But the park. . .

The stone walls called to her with a low, persistent hum. They drew her, pulled at her, as if she were flotsam caught in the river’s currents. She didn’t understand what it was, but knew that it made her different—from her fellow classmates, from her friends, even Cory. She didn’t want to be different . . . but the hum thrilled her at the same time, made her catch her breath, made her feel alive.

With a huffing sigh she edged down the street until she was opposite the gates, then halted again. The globes above, hovering over the edges of the rough stone arch, brightened as she drew closer. The arch had been carved ages ago, when Erenthrall had been nothing more than a Baron’s keep at the confluence of the two rivers and a few scattered homes for the villagers, but Kara knew the area had been considered special long before that. She’d tried to find out as much as possible about the park from her instructors at school and her parents, without asking so many questions she’d draw attention to herself. As far as anyone she’d asked had known, the park had always been there, before even the Barons took control of the surrounding lands. It hadn’t always been walled in, hadn’t even really been a park, but it had been considered sacred.

Inside the heavy wrought-iron gates she could see the same paths and stone sculptures she’d seen the last hundred times she’d come to stand outside the entrance. One of the gardeners—a man with a short, trimmed, brown beard streaked with gray like his hair, wearing worn gray robes stained heavily with dirt—knelt in the earth, stones piled around him on all sides. Kara stepped back until she struck the stone of the building behind her, her books gouging into her side, and watched as the man arrayed the stones before him, then straightened and stared at them with a frown before shaking his head and tearing them apart again, stacking them in a different pattern.

On his fourth try, as he turned and reached for a fist-sized stone behind him, he caught sight of Kara.

She froze, her heart thudding once hard in her chest as the man’s eyes caught hers. Creases appeared in his forehead as he leaned back, stone in hand, and considered her. His lips pressed together tightly. He began to raise one hand, but a shudder of apprehension ran down through Kara and she lurched to one side, back scraping against the granite of the building as she pushed away and joined those walking along the street. She didn’t know what he’d intended to do, but she knew she should be getting home, that her father would be surprised she was so late, perhaps even angry. She hurried down to the far corner, the pull of the park lessening with each step, but before she turned she glanced back, expecting to see the gardener coming after her, or at least watching her from the gate.

He wasn’t. He stood at the entrance of the gate, but his gaze was locked on the white ley globes floating up above.

They’d dimmed again.

Before he could turn and catch her watching, Kara slid around the corner and headed toward the marketplace. People jostled her from all sides, the streets of Eld district narrower than nearly all of the rest of Erenthrall except for East Forks, Tallow, West Forks across the rivers, and Confluence where the two rivers met. Kara brushed up against one of the brown-skinned women from the Demesnes to the west, the tassels of her finely embroidered shawl catching in Kara’s hair as she passed. The woman glared, tugging her shawl back into place, but her expression softened as she realized Kara wasn’t a thief. Then she was lost to the crowd as Kara skirted a group of black-clothed Temerite men. The scent of their cologne hit like a brick and Kara dodged further away, nose wrinkled.

Then she reached the market.

Hawkers shouted into the afternoon sunlight, holding up beaded necklaces, swaths of cloth, or skewers of meat as the buildings fell away into an open square. Patrons—mostly people from Erenthrall and the Baronies, but also from the western Demesnes, the mustachioed Gorrani men from the south, and more of the eastern Temerites—touched the wares with doubtful grimaces, questioning the quality of the cloth or the origins of the pottery before beginning to haggle. The peddlers had tents or carts and were generally respectable, so only a few of the Dogs—the Baron’s guardsmen—patrolled the square. Near its center, a lone man in the white robes of a follower of the Kormanley railed against the Baron’s continued desecration of the ley, begun over fifty years ago with the creation of the Nexus. Everyone cut a wide path around him, leaving him isolated near the remains of the old stone fountain. Even as Kara passed, ignoring his tirade, she caught sight of three Dogs converging on the man, their dark brown and black uniforms standing out in the crowd. She ducked her head as one of them brushed past her, scarred face set in a scowl. She didn’t look back as the Kormanley priest’s shouts escalated and were cut off. Everyone around her averted their eyes as the sounds of the Dogs beating him filled the plaza.

An old woman, mouth pressed into a thin line of distaste, murmured bitterly under her breath, “The priests know the Dogs will find them. Why do they continue to defy the Baron?” She shook her head and made a clicking noise with her tongue, but kept her back turned from where the Dogs had pulled the priest to his feet and were hauling him off.

“It’s the sowing of the new tower tonight,” the produce monger before her said gruffly. “That’s what’s brought them out. They’ve been riled up for weeks now.”

“The Baron won’t stand for it,” the old woman said. “He’d kill them all if he could find them.”

Kara paused, the muttered words sinking into her gut with a cold shiver of uneasiness. She glanced back toward the man in white, hanging slack between the arms of two guards as they dragged his limp body through the throng. His black hair obscured his face, but she could see a string of drool and blood hanging down from his mouth. Blood stained his white robe in strange splatters, bright in the sunlight. The Dogs hauled the priest into a side street and they vanished.

Everyone on the square went back to haggling, errens and wares exchanging hands.

Kara turned to find the old woman watching her through squinted eyes. “Oh, don’t let it worry you, poppet. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

But Kara could hear the lie in her voice. When she reached out as if to stroke Kara’s hair, Kara ducked and pushed past a Gorrani, the hilt of his ceremonial sword gouging into her side. He shouted at her in his own guttural language, angry and harsh, Kara catching only a few words, but she didn’t stop. Her chest ached and she didn’t know why. She’d never thought much about where the Dogs took those that they grabbed. Her father had told her they were taken to the Amber Tower, to the Baron’s court where they were judged and held accountable for their crimes. But that wasn’t what Kara had heard in the old woman’s voice. She’d spoken as if the priest were already dead.

Kara fled the square, slowing only when the raucous noise of bartering faded and she found herself on the streets near her home. The crowd thinned as the storefronts of the market area succumbed to residential buildings, the granite facades of the shops becoming the smaller brick houses of the laborers and servants that dwelled in Eld. Kara turned the corner and headed down her own street. She could see the myriad buildings of the University from here, surrounded by high stone walls, nestled on the top of the hill in Confluence. The slate expanse of the Tiana and Urate rivers cut toward it from the northwest and northeast. Beyond, East Forks and Tallow were a dark cluster of docks and cramped buildings covered over with a fine gray haze, the Butcher’s Block filled with smoke farther south. West Forks and Tannery Row hung with a similar haze, all of the districts beyond hidden from sight by the smoke and the rises in the land. Only a few steeples and the ley towers that marked the nodes of the ley network broke through the layers.

She hesitated on the steps of her apartment building, gazing out over the lower end of Erenthrall. She knew her father was waiting for her, but even now, the park pulled at her, faintly. A mere whisper. And there was the disturbing image of the priest, blood trailing from his mouth, the words of the old woman. . .

What did happen to the priests after the Dogs captured them?

Sighing, she pulled her schoolbooks off her shoulder and stepped up to the door of the building, shoved it open, and trudged up the stairs beyond the small foyer inside to the third floor, pausing only momentarily on the second floor where Cory lived. The door to her own flat was open and she could hear her father humming to himself as he worked. He sat at his desk, two small ley globes—all they could afford—hovering over him. One of them flickered fitfully, but he didn’t seem to notice, his attention caught by the gutted clock, its gears and intricate metal workings spread out on the black cloth that covered his workspace. The main housing of the clock—a darkly stained cherry piece that gleamed beneath the lights, its face white, surrounded by a band of gold—sat to one side. Its hands had been removed and its face looked barren, even though it was decorated with silver clouds.

Tables and chairs filled in the rest of the main room of the flat, with an open arch leading to the kitchen area and another door to one side where Kara and her parents slept. A few battered and misused clocks stood on the tables or were mounted on the wall, although nothing like the quality of the one her father was currently working on. Kara listened a moment, but the rest of the flat was silent; her mother hadn’t returned yet from her position as a servant at the Baron’s personal estate in Grass. Her father must have started cooking already, for the heady scent of roasting meat drifted out from the kitchen.

Kara tossed her books on the table inside the door, removed her shoes, and turned to find her father watching her, his face stern. The humming had stopped.

“I thought I told you to come home immediately after classes today. Your friend Cory’s been home for almost an hour already.”

Kara shuffled in place. “I came home through the marketplace.”

Her father frowned, creases appearing in his forehead beneath the patch of gray hair that had cropped up over the last few years. His hazel eyes caught her own, held them for a long moment, searching, and then he grunted.

Kara heaved a mental sigh of relief. He wasn’t truly angry.

“So,” he said, half turning back to his table. “I’d wanted you to help me with this clock. Some of the pieces are so small I thought your nimble fingers would be helpful, and then I thought you and I could take a special trip, but now. . .”

Kara took an involuntary step toward her father, then caught herself. “Where?” she asked, trying to sound casual, even though she could feel her blood pulsing in her arms, tingling in her fingers. She almost asked if he would take her to Halliel’s Park. She knew people could visit, that’s why the gates had been open, but she’d never dared to enter on her own, not with the gardeners constantly watching. If her father went with her, maybe she could see what was inside that pulled at her.

But her father shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll have time now. I need to get this clock finished.” He turned back toward her, put his narrow working glasses on, and looked at her over their thin metal rims.

“I’ll help,” Kara said, and grabbed one of the chairs from the table in the kitchen. Her father made room for her at his side, muttering, “Careful!” as she bumped the table. Then she leaned forward and stared down at what seemed like hundreds of pieces, most gleaming in the ley light. They’d been arranged in a clear pattern and had already been polished, gears and arms of all sizes and shapes. In the center sat the metal case that would slide into the back of the wooden house. Numerous gears had already been set in the case, which rested on its face, and after a quick glance at what remained, Kara could see what needed to be done next. This one was fairly basic, completely mechanical, without relying on any use of the ley at all.

Reaching out, she said, “This one goes in next.”

It hadn’t been a question, but her father nodded. “If you can get the next few gears and the arm into the casing, I’ll screw it into place.”

Kara reached out and picked up one of the many-sized tweezers off to one side, then carefully plucked the gear from the smooth black silk and slid it into the casing. Her hands shook slightly, but when she let go with the tweezers the gear slipped into place on the small metal post. She had to nudge it to get the teeth to mesh correctly before it dropped down. Her breath fogged the bright metal of the already assembled clock as she reached for the next gear and she realized she’d been holding it unconsciously. Behind, her father grunted once in approval, then moved into the kitchen. She heard pots clattering, the scent of cooked meat and vegetables growing strong enough to make her stomach growl, and then she became absorbed in the inner workings of the clock. Her father came by once in a while to check on her, but she barely noticed.

She was vaguely aware of her mother returning, standing over her as she worked. Then her mother kissed her on the side of the head and joined her father in the kitchen. Kara listened to the soft background murmur of their conversation without really listening. The ley globe above her flickered again and, frowning in irritation, she reached out and touched it, the pale light steadying and strengthening. Leaning over the casing again, she began twisting a screw into place but realized that her parents had fallen abruptly silent.

She glanced up to find them standing in the door to the kitchen watching her intently. Her mother’s mouth hung slightly open, eyes widened, but it was her father’s troubled frown that sent a sliver of fear into her gut. “What did I do wrong?” She glanced down at the gears of the clock, nearly finished now, then back at her parents. If she’d ruined the clock, the patron who’d hired her father to fix it would make him pay for it and they couldn’t afford that.

Her father grabbed her mother’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly before smiling and stepping forward. “Nothing, Kara, nothing. Everything’s fine. Are you almost finished?”

Kara glanced back at her mother—mouth now closed, but worry lines still surrounding her pale gray eyes—and then her father put his hand on the top of her head and drew her attention back to the clock.

“Ah, only a few more pieces left to go,” he said. “It looks like we’ll be able to go on that little trip after all. Let’s get this finished up, and then we can all have some dinner.”

At the thought of the mysterious excursion, Kara dismissed her mother’s concern—she was always exhausted after returning from work—and with her father’s help, placed the last of the inner workings of the clock inside the casing. They slid the casing into the wooden housing, attached the hands and spun them to the appropriate positions, then set the clock in motion before screwing the flat metal plate into place on back. Her father mussed her hair, then retreated to the kitchen with her mother and a final, “We can’t leave until your homework is done.”

Kara rolled her eyes, sat for a long moment listening to the clock’s motion, imagining the hidden gears inside ticking in precise, rhythmic steps. But finally she sighed, slid off her chair, and grabbed her books.

She had most of her work done—all except the rote mathematics—when her mother called her in for dinner. Her parents chatted as she wolfed it down, barely tasting it, watching the tension ease from her mother’s shoulders, until at one point her father said something stupid about the Baron’s court, his arms thrown wide as he flourished a mock bow while still sitting at the table, and she burst out in laughter, shaking her head. Her father caught her eye and she leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek before rising and setting her plate and utensils in a bucket, to be washed at the public fountain.

“Will you be coming with us?” her father asked.

Her mother considered for a moment, turning to catch Kara’s eye, then smiled and shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m too tired. The Baron’s steward had us working like dogs today to get ready for the ball tonight. Most of the outlying lords are attending, as well as a few other Barons, which meant we had to get the tower and the surrounding grounds into tip-top shape.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t need you for the events tonight.”

“Ha! I’m glad I pulled the short stick on that one. I get to prepare for it, sleep during the celebration, and then clean up afterwards.” She made a face and sighed dramatically. “No, you two go and Kara can tell me all about it afterwards.”

“All right then,” her father said, glancing toward Kara with raised eyebrows and a stern expression. “Homework all done?”

Kara hesitated, but knew she could handle the mathematics easily tomorrow if she got called to recite answers, so grinned in excitement. “All done.”

“Then let’s go.”

Kara jumped off her chair and skipped toward the door, her father following more sedately behind her.

“Take a jacket!” her mother called from the kitchen. “It’ll get cold up there tonight!”

“You heard your mother,” her father said gruffly, then shooed her into the bedroom.

She flung the lid of the trunk containing her clothes back and rummaged through the layers, pulling the length of her gray jacket free and slipping into it as she half ran back to the open door. Her father ushered her out, then down to the street, heading uphill, away from the University and Confluence and northward toward the new heart of Erenthrall and the Stone district. Away from Halliel’s Park. Kara hid her disappointment, frowning as she tried to figure out where they were going. Others were on the street, headed in the same general direction—parents, with their children chasing each other through the streets, screaming. Her father nodded to a few of the other adults, chatting quietly. The Baron’s Dogs stood at every corner, eyeing the growing crowds, but generally hanging back. Kara thought of the priest in the market square that afternoon and shivered, pulling her long jacket tight against herself, but she didn’t see any of the white robes of the Kormanley anywhere.

A moment later, she caught sight of Cory’s dirty blond hair and small form next to his own father ahead of them. She shouted, “Cory!” and caught up with him as he turned.

The look of confusion on his face broke with a smile as he saw her and, as their fathers shook hands, he urgently whispered, “Do you have any idea where we’re going?”

“No idea. But it must be outside since my mother demanded I wear a jacket.”

Cory snorted and tugged at his own short coat. “I think it has something to do with the sowing of the tower. My parents have been talking about it for days. They haven’t sown a new tower in twenty years.”

Kara smacked her forehead, even though her parents hadn’t mentioned the tower much. “I should have thought of that! My mother’s been working her fingers to the bone at the Amber Tower. If it is the tower, then that explains why we’re heading toward Stone. We wouldn’t be able to see into Grass from Green or Leeds.” And of course they wouldn’t be able to get into Grass and see it close up, not with the lords and ladies from across the plains coming to the city to witness the event. Kara felt her excitement escalating, heightened by Cory’s and the general feel of the crowd around them, like the energy in the air before a storm. She practically bounced on her toes.

Everyone was converging on Minstrel’s Park, situated at the top of the highest hill in Eld, at the border of the Stone district. Her father wormed his way through the crowd, trying to reach the highest point possible, although it was already packed with people, blankets thrown out on the ground, some with picnic baskets and wooden folding chairs or stools. The park was riddled with trees and a few of the kids Cory’s age had shimmied up the branches and were perched with legs hanging down from above. Low stone walls divided the park up into sections, with obelisks at various points reaching to the darkening sky. It was nearing sunset, clouds skidding toward the east now tinged a burnished yellow.

Her father halted near one of the obelisks and Kara and Cory climbed up onto the wall so they could see above everyone else. The excitement built as the sun sank into the horizon and night settled, broken by the ley lines scattered throughout the city. From atop the wall, Kara could see the white bands of light forking in all directions, like a spider’s web, its center in Grass beneath the heights of the Amber Tower and the myriad other towers than had been sown around it since it was first raised. They couldn’t see the Nexus, but they could see the reflected white light from the towers. Even from this distance, it hurt to look directly toward the source, the light too intense. That light radiated outwards, from ley tower to ley tower throughout the city and beyond, to Tumbor and Farrade and all of the other cities across the continent.

As the sun burned itself out in the west, the light from the ley lines intensified, flaring once before settling back to normal. Kara followed the rivers of light with her eyes for a moment, then turned her attention back toward the still visible towers in Grass. “Where do you think the new tower will be sown?”

“I don’t know.” Cory craned his neck, eyes darting back and forth across the distance, face anxious. He was at least half a foot shorter than Kara, and at ten, a few years younger. “Do you see anything yet? Have they started?”

“Calm down, Cory,” his father growled. “You’ll know when it starts, trust me.”

And then, abruptly, the light of the Nexus intensified even more, forcing Kara to shield her eyes with one hand. A collective gasp went up from the crowd as the ley lines throughout the city’s districts fluctuated and dimmed, as if the Nexus were drawing energy toward it. Cory reached out and grabbed her upper arm and squeezed, but her own adrenaline dulled the pain. Her heart throbbed in her throat, in her arms, and her skin prickled, all of the little hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. A tingling sensation washed through her from head to toe, as if energy were passing through her and being sucked into the ground. She shuddered, drew in a sharp breath, tasted something on the air, thick and metallic, coating her tongue like molasses or blood. She fought the urge to spit it out, even as the energy spiked, feeding down and down into the earth—

Far out in Grass, the light of the Nexus flared, a fountain of white light spewing skyward, cascading back down, throwing all of the myriad towers in all shapes and sizes into stark relief, windows and balconies and terraces like black orifices in their sleek, multi-colored sides. Kara saw people—lords and ladies and the upper echelons of Erenthrall—on some of the balconies, tiny figures ducking back and away from the sheaths of light seething upwards like a geyser.

Then Cory shouted, “Look!” He jerked forward, dragging Kara with him, his fingers digging in even deeper on her arm. Everyone around them stilled, drew in a collective breath and held it.

From the depths of the ley light, a thousand tendrils spiraled upwards, writhing like vines stretching toward the darkness of night. As they rose, they wove together, the base growing more and more solid. Leaves sprouted from the vines, growing thick and large, and as the hideous speed of the growth began to abate, the leaves began folding inwards and flattening themselves against the outside of the forming tower like a skin. It rose, higher than most of the towers around it, but not as high as the Baron’s Amber Tower, the top bulging out as the tendrils wove together, forming what looked like a giant seed pod with holes pierced through its center. Leaves began encasing the seed pod, leaving the holes empty. As the growth halted, the top of the tower solidifying into a thin spire, Kara thought she saw a bluish glow emanating from the holes, pulsing like the coals of a banked fire.

And then the gouts of white fire surrounding the towers of Grass began to abate, sinking back down into the depths of the inner city, the network of ley lines throughout the districts increasing in intensity as it did, until everything had returned to its regular glow.

The crowd in Minstrel’s Park remained silent for a long moment after, the newly sown tower shimmering a light forest green, appearing smooth from this distance, but threaded with veins, like those of a leaf held up to sunlight. Then, as if at some unspoken signal, people began to clap, men slapping each other on the back, conversations breaking out everywhere, punctuated by laughter.

Kara’s father turned to her, smiling widely, then said in a muffled voice, as if he were speaking through layers upon layers of cloth, “What did you think? That’s not something we’re likely to see again in my lifetime.”

Kara opened her mouth to tell him she could barely hear him, but a sudden wave of weakness passed through her. The tingling sensation against her skin had halted, but she felt drained, as if the stone and earth beneath her feet had sucked the life out of her. She felt her knees buckle, heard her father gasp in horror, heard Cory cry out, her arm wrenching as his hand was pulled away.

Her vision began to darken into a narrow tunnel of pulsing, jagged, yellow light, and the world receded. But before she could collapse, her father’s hands caught her and drew her to his chest.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic, first volume in the excellent Liveship Traders series, for only 3.79$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships--rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown's oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her--a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea's young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.

But the fate of the Vestrit family--and the ship--may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles...and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will...

Win a copy of Mark Smylie's THE BARROW

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Pyr, I have two copies of Mark Smylie's The Barrow up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they've struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin's sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "BARROW." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Paula Brackston's bestselling The Winter Witch for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston transports readers to the windswept mountains of Wales in The Winter Witch, an enthralling tale of love and magic.

In her small early nineteenth century Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She is small and quick and pretty enough to attract a suitor, but there are things that set her apart from other girls. Though her mind is sharp she has not spoken since she was a young girl. Her silence is a mystery, as well as her magic—the household objects that seem to move at her command, the bad luck that visits those who do her ill. Concerned for her safety, her mother is anxious to see Morgana married, and Cai Jenkins, the widowed drover from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumors that swirl around her, seems the best choice.

After her wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving her mother, and wary of this man, whom she does not know, and who will take her away to begin a new life. But she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the wild mountains that surround it. Here, where frail humans are at the mercy of the elements, she thrives, her wild nature and her magic blossoming. Cai works to understand the beautiful, half-tamed creature he has chosen for a bride, and slowly, he begins to win Morgana’s affections. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her man, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything in this beautifully written, enchanting novel.

You can also get your hands on Richard Kadrey's latest Sandman Slim title, Kill City Blues, for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Another day, another apocalypse.

James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has managed to get out of Hell, renounce his title as the new Lucifer, and settle back into life in L.A. But he also lost the Qomrama Om Ya, an all-powerful weapon from the banished older gods. Older gods who are returning and searching for their lost power.

The hunt leads Stark to an abandoned shopping mall—a global shopping paradise infested with Lurkers and wretched bottom-feeding Sub Rosa families, squatters who have formed tight tribes to guard their tiny patches of retail wasteland. Somewhere in this kill zone is a dead man with the answers Stark needs. All Stark has to do is find the dead man, recover the artifact, and outwit and outrun the angry old gods—and natural-born killers—on his tail.

But not even Sandman Slim is infallible, and any mistakes will cost him dearly.

Myke Cole contest winner!

Thanks to Myke Cole's generosity, our winner will receive a signed copy of Shadow Ops: Breach Zone! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Will Bryan, from Leary, Georgia, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Fear is the oldest human emotion. The most primal. We like to think we’re civilized. We tell ourselves we’re not afraid. And every year, we skim our fingers across nightmares, desperately pitting our courage against shivering dread.

A paraplegic millionaire hires a priest to exorcise his pain; a failing marriage is put to the ultimate test; hunters become the hunted as a small group of men ventures deep into a forest; a psychic struggles for her life on national television; a soldier strikes a grisly bargain with his sister’s killer; ravens answer a child’s wish for magic; two mercenaries accept a strangely simplistic assignment; a desperate woman in an occupied land makes a terrible choice…

What scares you? What frightens you? Horror wears new faces in these carefully selected stories. The details may change. But the fear remains.

Night Shade Books is proud to present The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four, a new collection of horror brought to you by Ellen Datlow, winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

You can also download Mark Teppo's Earth Thirst for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Earth is dying. Humanity–over-breeding, over-consuming—is destroying the very planet they call home. Multinational corporations despoil the environment, market genetically modified crops to control the food supply, and use their wealth and influence and private armies to crush anything, and anyone, that gets in the way of their profits. Nothing human can stop them.

But something unhuman might.

Once they did not fear the sun. Once they could breathe the air and sleep where they chose. But now they can rest only within the uncontaminated soil of Mother Earth—and the time has come for them to fight back against the ruthless corporations that threaten their immortal existence.

They are the last guardians of paradise, more than human but less than angels. They call themselves the Arcadians.

We know them as vampires. . .

And you can also download E. J. Swift's Osiris for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Nobody leaves Osiris. Osiris is a lost city.

She has lost the world and the world has lost her…

Rising high above the frigid waters, the ocean city of Osiris has been cut off from the land since the Great Storm fifty years ago. Most believe that Osiris is the last city on Earth, while others cling to the idea that life still survives somewhere beyond the merciless seas. But for all its inhabitants, Citizens and refugees alike, Osiris is the entire world–and it is a world divided.

Adelaide is the black-sheep granddaughter of the city’s Architect. A jaded socialite and family miscreant, she wants little to do with her powerful relatives–until her troubled twin brother disappears mysteriously. Convinced that he is still alive, she will stop at nothing to find him, even if it means uncovering long-buried secrets.

Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee quarantined with thousands of others in the city’s impoverished western sector, sees his own people dying of cold and starvation while the elite of Osiris ignore their plight. Determined to change things, he hopes to use Adelaide to bring about much-needed reforms–but who is using whom?

As another brutal winter brings Osiris closer to riot and revolution, two very different people, each with their own agendas, will attempt to bridge the gap dividing the city, only to find a future far more complicated than either of them ever imagined.

Osiris is the beginning of an ambitious new science fiction trilogy exploring a near-future world radically transformed by rising seas and melting poles.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 17th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is down one position, ending the week at number 14. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale maintains its position at number 1.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is three one positions, ending the week at number 4.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game maintains its position at number 9.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down one position, ending the week at number 12.

Miles Cameron contest winner!

Thanks to the folks at Orbit Books, our winner will receive a copy of Miles Cameron's The Fell Sword. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Michael Carter, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Kameron Hurley's The Body Project, a novelette set in the same world as the excellent Bel Dame Apocrypha series, for only 1.29$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Nyx and her ragtag team of mercenaries investigate the death of a man she used to serve with at the front, a man who's supposed to have died years before - and a thousand miles away - from where she finds his body.

A novelette set in the same world as the award-winning GOD'S WAR trilogy.

If you haven't given the Bel Dame Apocrypha a shot yet, you need to read God's War ASAP!

Win a copy of Dave Hutchinson's EUROPE IN AUTUMN

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Solaris Books, I have three copies of Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Rudi is a cook in a Kraków restaurant, but when his boss asks Rudi to help a cousin escape from the country he’s trapped in, a new career – part spy, part people-smuggler – begins. Following multiple economic crises and a devastating flu pandemic, Europe has fractured into countless tiny nations, duchies, polities and republics. Recruited by the shadowy organisation Les Coureurs des Bois, Rudi is schooled in espionage, but when a training mission to The Line, a sovereign nation consisting of a trans-Europe railway line, goes wrong, he is arrested and beaten, and Coureur Central must attempt a rescue.

With so many nations to work in, and identities to assume, Rudi is kept busy travelling across Europe. But when he is sent to smuggle someone out of Berlin and finds a severed head inside a locker instead, a conspiracy begins to wind itself around him. With kidnapping, double-crosses and a map that constantly re-draws itself, Europe in Autumn is a science fiction thriller like no other.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "AUTUMN." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Django Wexler's John Golden: Freelance Debugger for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

JOHN GOLDEN IS A DEBUGGER: he goes inside the computer systems of his corporate clients to exterminate the gremlins, sprites, and other fairies that take up residence. But when he gets a frantic call from Serpentine Systems, a top-of-the-line anti-fairy security company, John finds out he's on much more than a simple smurf-punting expedition. With the help of his sarcastic little sister Sarah (currently incarnated in the form of a Dell Inspiron) and a paranoid system administrator, John tackles Serpentine's fairy problem. But the rabbit hole goes deeper than he thinks, and with the security of all of the company's clients in danger, there's more at stake this time than John's paycheck!

The JOHN GOLDEN series is from the creative mind of DJANGO WEXLER, author of the 'flintlock fantasy,' THE THOUSAND NAMES and THE SHADOW THRONE ("Shadow Campaign" series from Ace/Roc) and THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY by Kathy Dawson Books. Django says, "This book [Freelance Debugger] is intended for SF fans with a sense of humor, and people familiar with IT and technical support will probably get an additional layer of fun out of it. I think World of Warcraft gamers will especially enjoy book two, 'Heroes of Mazaroth,' out later this year..."


I had a feeling that Reamde would be a doozy as soon as I read the synopsis months before the book was actually published. This looked as though it would be another crazy, erudite, complex, and totally fucked-up novel like only Neal Stephenson can write them. The rave reviews that followed in the wake of its release made me realize that I was right. And weighing in at a slim 1044 pages, I knew that this would be another Stephenson title I'd be bringing with me on a trip. So when the trade paperback edition came out (the hardback edition weighs like 10 pounds and there's no way I was carrying that with me for weeks), I bought a copy and promised myself that it would go in my suitcase as soon as I booked another vacation. When Southeast Asia beckoned, Reamde was immediately thrown among the stuff I was bringing with me overseas.

I started the book during my 8-hour train ride between Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. And this mammoth doorstopper lasted me for about two weeks, all the way to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Reamde is intelligent, high-octane entertainment. I agree with the critics that claim that had it been written by any other author, this novel would have been a train wreck. But with Neal Stephenson, it's just business as usual.

Here's the blurb:

Neal Stephenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Anathem, returns to the terrain of his groundbreaking novels Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon to deliver a high-intensity, high-stakes, action-packed adventure thriller in which a tech entrepreneur gets caught in the very real crossfire of his own online war game.

In 1972, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming clan, fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. A skilled hunting guide, he eventually amassed a fortune by smuggling marijuana across the border between Canada and Idaho. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T’Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of fans around the world.

But T’Rain’s success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing REAMDE, a virus that encrypts all of a player’s electronic files and holds them for ransom. They have also unwittingly triggered a deadly war beyond the boundaries of the game’s virtual universe—and Richard is at ground zero.

Racing around the globe from the Pacific Northwest to China to the wilds of northern Idaho and points in between, Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the twenty-first century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists. Above all, Reamde is an enthralling human story—an entertaining and epic page-turner from the extraordinary Neal Stephenson.

I found the structure of this book to be akin to that of the immensely enjoyable Cryptonomicon. There are many unrelated storylines, both past and present, that are somehow brought together as the plot progresses. Several times as you go through Reamde, you shake your head, wondering what this is all about. But you need to trust Neal Stephenson and keep on reading, knowing that it will all make sense in the end. And it does! For all of its gargantuan size, I found Reamde to be what could well be the author's most accessible work in years. Russian gangsters, spies, survivalist religious fucktards, Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Chinese hackers, computer geeks, gamers; these are all themes that most people are at least a little familiar with. Still, Stephenson had no choice but to rely on a number of massive info-dumps to familiarize readers with the ins and outs of the online role-playing game industry. Other than that, however, Reamde makes for some smooth reading and is the kind of book that you could even lend to your mom and she would easily make sense of it. And since this one has such crossover appeal, I was surprised not to see Reamde being promoted more heavily beyond the scope of the speculative fiction sphere of influence.

As is usually the author's wont, Reamde is populated by a cast of colorful and disparate protagonists. And I have a feeling that it's this superior characterization that cements everything together and prevents Stephenson's latest from being the aforementioned train wreck it could have been. Whether good or bad, the men and women found in this book are an entertaining and interesting bunch. And with Stephenson's witty sense of humor, they all come alive and leave their mark on this enormous tale. Understandably, it is more or less Richard and Zula who share the spotlight from beginning to end. And yet, Reamde would never have been as awesome without the unforgettable presence of Ivanov, Sokolov, Csongor, Marlon, Olivia, Yuxia,  Abdallah Jones, and all the others.

As weird as it sounds, although we are talking about a 1000+ pages work, there is not a dull moment found between the covers of Reamde. Probably due to the fact that it's build upon a myriad of different plotlines and that somehow they all gradually come together, Stephenson's latest is a page-turner. Chapters are never all that long and the various POVs keep the perspective changing all the time, always forcing you to read a little more to find out what happens next.

Neal Stepheson's narrative is quite evocative, creating an imagery that truly captures the imagination. Whether it's the rugged wilderness of Northern British Columbia or the chaotic streets of Xiamen, the author makes you feel as if you were there. Considering that this novel takes place in a panoply of different locations, that's quite an accomplishment!

It's somewhat difficult to sum up Reamde in a few words. It's an intricately crafted multilayered plot which is nevertheless easy to follow. It's a fast-paced techno-thriller. It's something that incorporates countless elements from pop and geek cultures. It's also an intellectual read filled with social commentary. It's witty, it's funny, it's balls-to-the-wall action scenes. Overall, Reamde demonstrates once again just how much of a master storyteller Neal Stephenson truly is. My only complaint would be that I sort of saw the end (partially, mind you) coming. Other than that, Reamde is a great read!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Game of Thrones, Season 4: Trailer 2

Can't wait!

Paul Kearney contest winners!

Our three winners will get their hands on a copy of Paul Kearney's A Different Kingdom, courtesy of the folks at Solaris. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Minesh Gadhvi, from London, England

- Michael Carter, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

- Mitja Lisjak, from Stanjel, Slovenia

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

Empires are built by young men, Culum. They're lost by old men.

JAMES CLAVELL, Tai-Pan (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Anne Lyle's The Alchemist of Souls for only 1.39$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods--and a skrayling ambassador--to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador's bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally--and Mal his soul.

Extract from Mark Smylie's THE BARROW

Here's an excerpt from Mark Smylie's The Barrow, courtesy of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they've struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin's sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed.


Her breathing was hard but measured by the time the group reached the rocky outcroppings near the top of the summit. She looked up at the stone circle above them and slowed, watching Guilford’s crew disappear into the earth one by one. The entrance into the earth looked to her like it must have been a natural fissure in the rock at some point. But the carved narrow arch, eight feet in height, that became visible through the split in the rock was clearly made by men. She saw that Guilford’s crew was about to leave her behind and sped up, sliding her rapier and one of her point daggers out of their sheaths as she did. She caught up with Gap Tooth and Porter just as they slipped through the entrance, and she barely had time to think before she was through the arch into the darkness.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. Gap Tooth had a torch out in one hand and a heavy axe in the other, and that helped a bit, but not much. She could see several torches appearing and disappearing ahead of them as they moved through the earth. In the flickering torchlight she could see that they were in a narrow shaft that appeared to have been carved out of the rock itself, and she felt more than saw the packed earth under her boots. Behind her the entrance was a bright vertical crack in the dark; the wind whistled past the opening, making it sound like someone was whispering behind her, and she suppressed a quick shudder. The group was moving forward and she followed. She saw the torches ahead of her lowering into darkness, and soon she was at the top of a narrow stone stair leading down into the earth. Gap Tooth went ahead and she had to be careful following, as his torch was right below her and it sputtered and coughed smoke and embers into her face if she was too close behind. The stairwell was steep and narrow, and it almost felt like it was more like a ladder made of stone; if there had been defenders below it would have been a tough fight. The ceiling of the stairwell was close enough that she could put her hand against it to help brace her way down.

They hit the bottom of the stairs and found themselves in a small room, a landing of sorts. Arches were set in the four walls, one being the arch they had descended into the room through, and the other three opening onto stone stairs leading downwards. Each arch was set with human skulls along its entire curved length, and each skull was marked on the forehead with an ugly black rune. She didn’t know magic, not the way that Stjepan and Harvald did, but she instinctively knew the runes were bad runes. Her left hand, holding the dagger, went to her chest, and she felt for the amulet tucked under her doublet with a couple of spare fingers: a bit of amber with an insect trapped inside it, set in a gold chain and enchanted. It had been a gift from Stjepan, back when she’d first done a job with him. “To ward off black magic and the Evil Eye,” he’d told her. And she’d believed him.

She watched and listened as Stjepan talked with Harvald and Guilford on the other side of the small (and now very packed) room. Everyone was crowded in on each other, trying to stay in the center, trying to stay away from the stairwell openings. Too close, she thought. No room to fight swords here, daggers only.

“. . . No, the spirits here are long gone,” Stjepan was saying as he con sulted a map in his hands. “The account we found in the archives said that during the Wars of the Throne Thief an expedition mounted out of Truse had come here, and that a company of priests and magisters led by none other than the knight Sir Olsig had worked a great ritual and driven all the trapped guardian spirits out.” “The Ghost Killer himself. Trust us, if there were still ghost wardens present here, we’d already be in big trouble by now,” said Harvald. He looked around at the arches, eyeing the skulls that decorated the arches with a kind of wary nonchalance. “Can you imagine the struggle to purify this place? All these skulls . . .”

Guilford shuddered. “Who were they, do you think?” he asked. “Victims of the Nameless Cults? Or adherents, letting themselves be bound here as guardians?”

“Doesn’t really matter,” said Harvald with a shrug. “The end result is the same.”

Stjepan moved in front of the archway to the left of the one they had entered from and slipped the folded map back into his stiff square satchel. He pulled out a piece of chalk and marked the side of the arch with an arrow pointing down. “This one, according to the map in the archives,” he said to the group. “I’ll go first. Follow the downward arrows, then reverse them if you have to get out.” He gave them all a wry half-grin, and Erim watched as he took a torch and started down the narrow, steep staircase.


Her whispers grew more urgent now. Once long ago this had been a place of great power, until the book-men had come from their tower on the Plain of Stones and rendered this sacred place silent with violence and the curses of their false Divine King. Long years it had taken the Faithful to restore the temples and shrines, and her chest swelled with pride to think of what had been accomplished; but with that pride came despair, as well. If only she’d had a few more years, or had known how to bind the guardian ghosts. The Nameless at Dyre Callum had promised to teach her the ritual, but always they delayed, and raised the price, and now it was too late. And so she whispered what she knew, and called for His help.


Downward they’d gone, hitting on three landing rooms like the first one above them, and on each landing Stjepan had picked out and marked an archway down; after the first one on the left, he picked out three on the right. Some of the landings had other stairs going up rather than just the one they entered through. Erim started to have an inkling that the whole hill must have been honeycombed with stairs and rooms going up and down. By the fourth landing, she could feel the weight of the earth around and above them, all those narrow steps winding back up through the dark, and she could feel the panic starting to eat in the back of her throat. The air here was totally still, dead. She could see it in the wide eyes and sweating brows of the other men as well. The descent had started to take its toll on them.

“Two hundred and six,” she heard old Jon Pastle whisper.

“What?” hissed Porter.

“Two hundred and six steps, so far,” old Jon whispered back. “I counted ’em.”

“Aye, I was counting too,” said Llew the Stew. “Thought it was two hundred and four, meself, but close enough.”

“Fuck me,” someone moaned, but she couldn’t tell who it was.

Erim had never been good with numbers bigger than she could count on fingers and toes, thus ten times ten she could handle up to a hundred; so the idea of being two hundred and six steps below the earth was only slightly more scary than the idea of counting that high. Men who knew the lore of numbers, like Stjepan and Harvald, and could count and do addi tions in their heads, always impressed her; but then, Stjepan and Harvald were practically magicians. Llew the Stew used to be a steward, hence his name, so it made sense that he could do numbers; but she was a bit sur prised that old Jon Pastle could count in his head like that. Then again, he probably didn’t become old Jon Pastle without learning a few tricks. She wished she’d been smart enough to even think of counting the steps, though she wasn’t sure what good it did them.

Luckily this landing seemed different than the others. Instead of opening onto more staircases up and down, the archways opened onto straight level passages lined with stone slabs. Stjepan picked one, marked it, and slipped through it, followed quickly by the rest of them. Erim found herself last again, though being rearguard had now taken on a dif ferent tenor. Behind her stretched the inky blackness of empty tunnels and stairs up and down through the earth, and the darkness was starting to fill her with fear. She hurried to keep up with Gap Tooth and his sputtering torch as their short column moved through into a wider antechamber, with pillars carved out of rock and black arches opening into who knew what, and then a turn and out into a short passageway again. She was starting to get worried that if she panicked she wouldn’t know how to get out, that she’d forget to look for the markings and take a wrong turn. Or if the torches all went out; how would they even see the chalk marks?

Suddenly they slowed, and she almost ran right into Gap Tooth’s back. She wasn’t sure what was happening ahead, but the entire group was moving with caution, backs crouched, weapons and shields up. Instinctively she did the same, adopting a fighting crouch, dagger and rapier ready, side stepping her way forward. The moment she did she found herself calming, the familiar pose triggering a steady breath. Ah, right, that’s what training’s for, she thought to herself. It was an odd feeling—fear and excitement coursing through her, preparing her body for a fight or for flight, and yet at the same time the calm of her training settling in, centering her, making her feel safe and certain. I know what to do, she thought. I’ll just kill whatever comes in front of me.

And then she was moving in behind Gap Tooth into a large under ground chamber, and she straightened and let out a long slow breath of relief and wonder as she walked forward. The torchlight from the others spread out with them throughout the room, lighting its high walls and ceiling with flickering hues of red and black and orange and illuminating other archways opening out in its walls to other dark chambers. Several great columns flanked the central aisle of the chamber, carved with obscene images and strange, barbaric letters that she couldn’t read, and there were frescoes of some kind on the soot-darkened walls. But at that moment it wouldn’t have mattered, because she couldn’t take her eyes off the great bronze idol that grinned at them from the other side of the chamber.

Twenty feet tall it must have been, depicting the seated body of some demonic creature, the top of its head and horns almost reaching the ceiling. It cradled a massive brazier in its cross-legged lap with its hands, and there was a wide stone altar set before it. She brushed her hair out of her eyes so she could see it better, and wondered for a moment how they’d even gotten the massive idol into the chamber; perhaps the bronze had been poured and fired right there? Or perhaps some foul sorcery had moved it through the earth? She stared at its face, at a wide flat nose, a grinning mouth of ser rated teeth, two great spiraling horns jutting out and up from its forehead. Beneath heavy brows flickered two sources of reflected light: its eyes were great red gemstones easily the size of her head. Her eyes trailed down and she saw that the creature’s nipples were two large spikes jutting out from its chest, and that behind the brazier its long thin phalli emerged from its lap like a thick curved spear. Given the broadness of the idol—it was probably twenty feet wide at its base—the thinness of the phalli struck her as almost comical; but the bronze phalli had to be almost eight feet long, curving upward at an angle over the brazier to a sharp, barbed head. She swallowed hard and blinked.

“What the fuck is it?” she finally asked. It was the first time she’d spoken in hours, and she forgot to pitch her voice low as she usually did. She glanced around quickly, mentally kicking herself, but she saw that the others were so busy that they must not have noticed. Harvald and Stjepan were already hauling themselves up the side of the great bronze idol, and about half of Guilford’s crew were excitedly but quickly overturning urns and pots scattered along the walls and corners of the chamber, emptying the temple offerings into their bags and satchels, while the other half stood guard at dark entryways.

But Guilford heard her and responded, though if he noticed that she sounded more like a woman than usual he gave no sign. “One of the Rahabi, the evil spirits of the Underworld,” he said as he walked over to watch Harvald and Stjepan’s progress up the idol. He’d moved quick and one of his satchels was already heavy with coin and metal, poured out of one of the offering urns. “Might be a Bharab Dzerek, if I’m not mistaken. Spirits of iron and fire, amongst the guardians of the Six Hells, and often they are patrons to those in the Nameless Cults who worship Nymarga, the Mask of the Devil. For we are indeed in one of their temples.” He made a sign to ward off Evil, and she followed suit.

Harvald paused midway up the statue, using one of its spiked nipples as a foothold, and turned back toward them. “I’ve read about how they use an idol like this,” he said casually. “Some of their victims are slaughtered on the altar there. But for their special rituals, they impale their victims alive on this giant spear of a cock right here, and light the brazier up all nice and hot, and roast them over the fire.” He grinned, waving up at a set of chains and ropes and pulleys that hung in the dark up by the ceiling. “Barbaric, don’t you agree?” Something in his voice made her think that he didn’t really find it all that barbaric.

It was not hard to remember what she’d heard as a little girl about the Six Hells, back when she listened to the old wise women whispering in the herb gardens, back when she still went to the Divine King’s temples. The Old Religion of Yhera, the Queen of Heaven, did not agree on much with the younger cult of the Divine King, but they both agreed that there were Six Hells in the Underworld. They both agreed that Hathhalla, the lion-headed goddess of vengeance, had created and ruled the Six Hells, and that she had appointed Servant-Rulers for each of the Six Hells to act on her behalf.

On the first Five Hells there was common agreement about who ruled them and whom they were for. The Servant-Ruler of the First Hell was Amaymon, the Whisperer, the Prince of Intrigue and Secret Power. He was served in turn by the Baalhazor, great barbed and horned demons, and he ruled over a Hell reserved for the greedy and corrupted, such as thieves and grave robbers. The Servant-Ruler of the Second Hell was Geteema, who was once the beloved sister of Geniché, the Queen of the Earth and the Dead, before Geteema turned on the Queen of Heaven and waged war against the ancient people of Düréa. She was served by the Golodriel, winged demons with vulture heads, and ruled over a Hell reserved for the jealous, the covetous, and the ambitious. The Servant-Ruler of the Third Hell was Ishraha, the Rebel Angel, who had rebelled against the Divine King and been thrown down for his impudence. He was served by the Nephilim, great giants and hell-goblins, and ruled over a Hell reserved for betrayers, oath-breakers, and usurpers. The Servant-Ruler of the Fifth Hell was Irré, the Black Goat of the Wilderness, the Black Sun, the bow-bearer of plague and fire. He was served by the Bharab Dzerek, great demons of fire and iron (a statue of one of which she was apparently standing before), and ruled over a Hell reserved for the merciless, callous, and savage, such as murderers, pillagers, warmongers, and destroyers.

Most of the men she was with were destined for either the First or Fifth Hells, she would guess.

Both the Old Religion and the cult of the Divine King agreed that the Sixth Hell had no ruler, just an empty throne reserved for Nymarga the Devil for when his spirit finally passed into the Underworld. But after that they parted company a bit. In the folk lore of the Old Religion, Hathhalla had set a pack of the Tiranhim and Iyyim, wolf and jackal demons, to rule a Hell reserved for the eaters of unsanctified meat until Nymarga arrived to take his rightful place. But the temple priests of the Divine King rejected that interpretation of the Sixth Hell, as they rejected sacrificing meat to the old gods, and so they said instead that the Sixth Hell was for apostates, idolaters, and heretics who rejected the divinity of the King of Heaven and made sacrifices in the old way.

She’d eaten unsanctified meat in her time, so she sort of hoped the Divine King’s priests were right, but in Erim’s mind this argument was strictly for the temple priests and hidden priestesses; none of those Hells really mattered to her. The only Hell she cared about was the Fourth Hell, ruled by Ligrid, the Queen of Perversion. Ligrid was served by the Gamezhiel, demons of lust and sex that could seduce or rape the unwitting and unwilling, and Ligrid ruled over a Hell reserved for the depraved and lecherous, such as rapists and molesters. For the perverted, the licentious, and the wicked.

For people like her.

She stared at the phallic spear. She couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be suspended spread-eagled in the air and lowered onto that evil-looking tip. Which hole would they use as their entry point? Would it feel good at first, then turn to pain? And then the fire would come . . . if only they didn’t roast you in the fire ...

Erim shuddered, and almost sobbed, and she shook herself out of her fear and wonderment. Do something, she thought. Set yourself a task. She was about to go collect some loot—it was why she was there, after all—but then a glint of light off the altar top caught her eye. She stepped forward and inspected the altar before the huge idol; the surface of the altar was smeared and splattered with black ichors and dark dried liquid, but some of it looked fresh. She reached out with a finger to test some smears of liquid on the stone surface, and she experimentally tasted a drop off her finger. She spat to the side.

“Black-Heart. This altar’s been used recently. Blood. Probably human. This temple’s still active,” she called out huskily. Old Jon and Smitt perked up their ears at that and walked over, nervously standing beside their captain as they looked over the altar.

“I thought you said this temple was desanctified and purified by the priests during their raid,” said old Jon. “And that they’d left all the temple offerings behind, refusing to take the blood money.”

Stjepan had managed to work himself up on top of the idol’s head, and he was leaning over its brow, trying to get the gemstone out of its right eye with a small curved metal pry bar. He didn’t look away from his work as he responded. “Aye, so it said in the archives. But that was two hundred years ago. Plenty of time for the Nameless Cults to rededicate it. And to add to the offerings in the meantime.”

“Fuck me,” said Smitt angrily. “Boys, hurry it up!” he called out, and the men ransacking the temple offerings started to move faster.

“Shit, Harvald,” said Guilford. “I told you someone was watching us come in here.” He looked around in disdain. “Fucking hill people. All sorts of forbidden shit hidden up here in their caves and chasms, where the sunlight of our Divine King does not shine so brightly. An active temple? Getting in here was too easy. Where are the fucking guards? Where are the priests? Why no new guardian spirits?”

Harvald grinned casually down at them, perched on the shoulder of the great idol. “Come now, Guilford,” he called down. “The Nameless Cults might be forbidden but they can be found anywhere, even in the bright, prettily decayed streets of our beloved capital.”

“Aye,” agreed Stjepan, though he didn’t bother looking up from his work. “Even amongst the priests of the Sun Court of your Divine King.”

“You’re a heathen fucking Athairi bastard, Black-Heart,” Guilford replied, though there was no heat in his words and he grinned amiably.

“You keep your Old Religion shit to yourself.” “Stjepan may be Athairi and a heathen, but he’s our heathen,” said Harvald. He was the only one amongst them to always call Stjepan by his real name, Erim had noted.

Guilford gave a short bow. “Aye, one of the High King’s own fucking cartographers, at our service.”

“Aye, as long as all this remains our little secret,” Stjepan said. And with another grunt he succeeded in prying out the gemstone eye with a loud pop.


They moved in the dark with her now, her Nameless. Sharpened bone spears dipped in shit and poison, curved swords and wicked implements of pain and war, fierce masks of horn and brass, short horn bows pulled with fire-sharpened arrows; pride and despair filled her again. The roll of the bones had been bad, very bad, and so she whispered still, promising fresh blood and meat and spirits bound in chains, promising herself to her Liege for Him to do with as He pleased. She hoped that He heard her, hoped so very much that He did.


Harvald hefted the gem in his hand while Stjepan stuck his hand into the empty eye socket of the idol, searching.

“Look at the size of that gem,” Guilford said quietly.

Harvald smiled down at him. “Here, catch,” he said. He tossed the gemstone down to Guilford, and Erim’s eyes went wide and her heart leapt into her throat as it caught the torchlight in its blood-red facets tumbling through the air. In a flash she pictured it shattering against the stone floor, but it landed smoothly (albeit heavily) in Guilford’s hands. He grunted in surprise but didn’t drop it. Guilford weighed it for a second with a grin, then wrapped it in a soft cloth and slipped it into his shoulder bag, already crammed with cooper, silver, and gold coins. “As per our agree ment,” Harvald called down.

“What, you’re just giving it to him?” Erim said, her mind boggled.

Harvald laughed. “Ah, young impressionable Erim. Things are never what they seem. Never get distracted by the obvious bright bauble.” Stjepan, having not found anything in the hollow space behind the right eye gem, scrambled across the top of the idol’s head to its left gemstone eye and he began working to pry it out; Harvald followed across the idol’s face as he spoke, using its nose and teeth and brow as hand and foot holds. “There’s treasure, and then there’s treasure. The real treasure here isn’t these gems, but what we hope to find behind them.”

Guilford leaned closer to Erim. “Don’t listen to the University boys, kid,” he said conspiratorially. “They’ll just get you deep in the shit. Better to stick to the simple things in life. Gold, wine, women . . . and gems the size of your fucking head.” He winked at her and she felt a little warm inside.

“Maybe the gems are fake?” she asked him. “You know, made of paste or something?” She’d heard of clever men who could do that back in Therapoli.

“No, I’m pretty sure they’re real,” Guilford said. “Red topakh crystals out of the mountains on the other side of the Red Wastes. They’re not as valuable as you might think, but these two specimens will fetch a high enough price for me to be able to buy myself a house back in Vesslos’ Free Quarter.”

Stjepan pried out the second gemstone with another loud pop.


She could hear them now, in the great temple, defiling it. Rage built inside her, displacing the fear, the hopelessness, and she whispered fiercely, summoning Him up from the dark depths of Hell. Something was coming, she could feel it now, but would it be too late? Did He come himself, or send a blessed servant?


Stjepan handed the second gemstone to Harvald, who tossed it down to Guilford. Stjepan didn’t mind giving up the crystals as part of the pay for Guilford and his crew, who were worth every penny amongst the dangers of the Manon Mole, but he still felt a pang of regret as the gem sailed through the air, and he silently wished that Harvald were not so cavalier about it. “Here, a matched set,” Harvald called down as Guilford caught it. Harvald, coming from the landed Orwain family, holding the Barony of Araswell, could shrug off a thousand shillings or two with nonchalant ease, but that was several years’ wages for Stjepan and most of the men.

“You two are fucking crazy,” Guilford said, shaking his head as he wrapped the second gem in cloth and slid it into his satchel. He hefted the satchel over his shoulder, tying a spare strap across his chest to secure it. It was very heavy now, and he gave himself a small shake to try and settle all the weight he was carrying properly.

Harvald grinned down at them. “Maybe, but you’re right here under the ground with us, yeah?”

“Too true, too true,” Guilford laughed. “A baseborn fool am I, am I, sings the bard.”

Stjepan tried to ignore them as he fished around in the second eye socket, biting his lower lip. This hollow was a little deeper than the first, and his fingertips brushed against something hidden far back within it. “Definitely something . . . ah, got it!” he said, and he slowly pulled out a long slender copper tube faintly inscribed in runes. Holding it carefully, he inspected it with narrow eyes.

He could see three different runes etched repeatedly in the copper surface, all from the Labira Grammata, sometimes called the Witch Runes of ancient Ürüne Düré, sometimes the Riven Runes. One was a ward rune useful against magic and divination; the second was a rune of structure, to give strength to the scroll tube; and the third a hex rune. The second and third runes were inscribed in touching pairs, so that in some way their magic was combined. The hex rune gave him pause; often they triggered at the mere sight of them. But he was protected by his own charms and amulets, and had not felt or heard any of the usual signs that his own wards had been challenged by an active and dangerous spell. So something else, then, tied to the structure of the tube.

“Runes of warding against detection,” he said quietly to Harvald. “And against it being opened, I think. A hex of some kind on whoever does the deed.”

Stjepan moved back from the edge of the idol’s head so that Harvald could clamber up and look. The top of the idol’s head wasn’t perfectly flat, instead being slightly curved, but there was plenty of room for the two of them to settle in and spread out a bit. Harvald slipped a carefully wrapped torch from one of his satchels along with a small packet of powdered and enchanted ajuga flowers. He crushed the packet open in his palm and blew the contents onto the torch, and suddenly it bloomed with a heatless blue flame, lighting the top of the idol’s head so they could see what they were doing. Stjepan pulled a soft cloth from one of his satchels and set the scroll tube on it so it wouldn’t roll. The two of them looked at each other as they knelt and crouched over the scroll tube, Harvald with an irrepressible grin, Stjepan with a small smile finally tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Harvald reached into one of his satchels with his free hand and pulled out a small vial of clear elixir. Stjepan knew it would be a potent of the wormwood plant, prepared as a bane against enchantments. They started whispering the words of the cleansing rite together over the scroll tube, as Harvald poured a bit of the liquid in the vial onto it. “Demes matta, illume matta, porte a matta. Grammata illuso resistrata libri. Grammata libri. Porti ouset matta. Grammata illuso resistrata libri. Grammata libri!

Stjepan could feel a bit of pressure building up behind his ears, as though he had climbed to a great height, and they both started repeating the words of the spell faster and faster as the pressure built. Stjepan started to feel dizzy, and fear gripped him that whoever had made the inscriptions had done so too well. But then the runes on the tube began to glow, faintly at first, then more strongly as though they were etched in liquid fire. The runes grew very bright, and for a moment Stjepan thought his head might burst, and then all of a sudden the runes fizzled and popped with smoke. They both froze in mid-syllable for a moment, and then relaxed as the runes dimmed.

Stjepan waved away the smoke as Harvald grinned and laughed.

“What’s in the tube, then?” called up Erim.

“If we’re lucky, a map,” Stjepan said with a slight cough.

Erim peered up at them. “What? A map? A map is worth more than these gems?” she asked. Guilford chuckled.

“Well, that depends on what the map is to,” Stjepan said. “How’d we get here, to this treasure, young Erim?”

Erim paused, thinking for a moment. “Well . . . a map, yeah?” she finally called up to him.

“Yes, copied from the cartographer’s archives at the High King’s Court,” Stjepan said as he inspected the ends of the tube until he found the seam of the cap on one end. “And how do we get to the next treasure?” Stjepan slowly uncapped the tube, and paused, holding his breath. When nothing happened, he relaxed and let out a long sigh. He tilted the tube and carefully slid out a rolled piece of parchment.


Slowly, slowly, her Nameless slid forward, filtering through the outer chambers, bristling with death and vengeance. Firelight flickered ahead from the great temple, and glistened off barbed points and horns and chains. Her fevered whispering dropped low. If only the roll of bones had not been so bad, she would have been filled with joyful gladness at the slaughter that was about to commence.


Erim smiled brightly. “Another map,” she said. “That map.”

Stjepan unfurled the parchment paper on top of the bronze idol’s head as gingerly as he could. He had spent a long time handling maps and papers that were centuries old and practically disintegrated in his hands, and he had no desire for their prize to be snatched away from them now that they were so close. But he was happily surprised that the parchment appeared to be soft and supple. As it opened, his tone became almost reverent. “For the likes of us, the map is always the thing,” he said quietly. “It leads us to the next prize, the next journey, full of possibilities and promise.” Stjepan spread the parchment out, slowly revealing a set of symbols, drawings, letters, and diagrams.

What a thing of beauty, he thought. His face relaxed into a smile for the first time in days, and he lost his train of thought staring at the map.

“Every map is a chance to remake ourselves and our fortunes, find a way out of the lives that imprison us,” Harvald said, picking up where Stjepan had left off, his tone almost as reverent. Almost. “And this map . . . if it’s what we think it is . . . this one could be a map to end all maps.”

“They’re fucking dreamers, kid, always looking for the treasure that will let them write their names in the history books,” said Guilford. He clapped a hand onto Erim’s shoulder. “Trust me, keep your eyes on the prize in your hands, the one you can actually touch, not the one in your mind’s eye that you can only get in your dreams.” She swallowed hard, looking up at his handsome face, feeling the warmth of his hand on her shoulder. Part of her wanted to melt inside. He didn’t seem to notice, and he turned and looked up the idol. “What’s this map supposed to be to, then, Black-Heart?”

“The Barrow of Azharad,” said Stjepan in a whisper, staring at the map. Harvald opened his mouth as if to stop him, and then just winced when he realized it was too late, and hoped that no one had heard what Stjepan had said.

But if a pin had dropped in that chamber then, it would have been as loud as a clarion bell.


She froze, hearing the words spoken in the great temple, and her Nameless froze with her. She had heard the words in the tongue of the lowlanders, the Middle Tongue: the Barrow of Azharad, one of them had said. She’d heard him as clear as day. And she was filled with rage and wonder and disbelief. Could it be true? Could such a Secret have been hidden inside her own temple all this time? She suddenly understood why the Servant of the Bright King was there. But in an instant she also knew she would have no part of the great endeavor, and she felt a hollow pit opening inside her, the rage and wonder turning to despair and giddy hope; she stifled a sob, and cursed the uncaring bones.


“What’d he fucking say?” hissed the Stick, standing tall and straight and with a frown on his face. They were all standing and looking up at the top of the idol now, the urns and offering pots forgotten.

“The Barrow of Azharad,” said Guilford quietly. His grip on Erim’s shoulder had suddenly gone hard, his fingertips digging into her flesh even through the doublet, but he didn’t realize what he was doing. She bit her lip against the pain, and against something else. Erim was a bit confused; she could sense the others in his crew coming closer, the sudden tension in the chamber.

“The Barrow of Azharad,” Guilford said again, and laughed suddenly. He’d heard any number of men, in any number of taverns and street corners, claim they were going after that barrow. Hell, he’d had any number of peddlers offer to sell him a map to it. Or to the tomb of Palé Meffiré and her enchanted horn, to the Barrow of Githwaine the Last Worm King, to the secret hiding place of the Throne Thief, to any of dozens of legendary hoards and treasures. And he’d known better each time, had laughed and moved on. But Harvald and Stjepan were different. Stjepan was different.

Stjepan didn’t bullshit.

Particularly there, in that place. Deep under the ground, standing before a great bronze idol of one of the Bharab Dzerek, with the blood of who knew how many victims smeared on its altar and its great phallic sacrificial spear, Guilford could feel it in his bones. There was no way Stjepan would bullshit him. Not about this. And he knew that map was real. He could feel it in his bones, and he laughed the laughter of a man who suddenly real ized he was going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams. “You’re . . . you’re going after Gladringer. You’re going after fucking Gladringer,” Guilford said, having to repeat it to himself in order to get his head around the idea.

“Well,” said Harvald faintly, smiling and trying to make the best of a bad situation. “If the map is real.”

“You fucking cheap bastards!” Guilford roared, suddenly very angry. Erim thought he was about to rip her arm right off. She hadn’t felt him draw it but his broadsword was in his free hand, the tip pointed up toward Harvald and Stjepan up above them. She wasn’t sure what to do. “You think to foist us off on these fucking coins and a pair of gems while you go after the sword of the fucking High Kings?”

Stjepan snapped out of his reverie and in an instant realized the mistake he had made. Cursing inwardly, he stood up on top of the idol, his head almost touching the ceiling, and looked down on Guilford and the others gathering on the other side of the great brazier below them. “Don’t worry, Guilford,” he said calmly. “You and your crew can be in on that job too. My word on it.”

“Black-Heart, you better fucking believe—”


She could hear the dissension in the great temple before them, and she took a deep breath and a step forward. This was their moment. As she did, so did her Nameless, and one of them accidentally let the barbed metal tip of his spear catch on a low-hanging arch. She whirled on the Nameless responsible, fixing him with the Evil Eye, but the damage was done.

She cursed the bones. They were always right.


Guilford cut himself off before finishing his sentence; almost everyone on the temple floor turned to the left as one and raised their shields and weapons.

The sound they’d all heard from the dark of the outer chambers, despite their fixed attention on the sudden prospect of fame and fortune, had been unmistakable.

The sound of metal scraping against stone.

Everyone froze, poised as though prepared for war and listening, staring at the yawning black arches that were visible beyond the columns on the left flank of the chamber. Gap Tooth Tims was closest to the arch from whence the sound had seemed to come. He swallowed hard, then inched forward until he reached the line of columns. He paused there, one of the thick massive columns by his left shield side, almost using it as cover as he peered intently into the dark arches beyond. He raised his shield, an old steel heater that had kept him safe through many a fight, until the top was almost level with his eyes, and lay the tip of his broadsword to rest on top of the heater, pointing into the inky blackness beyond the arch.

Erim found herself holding her breath along with everyone else as they watched his progress. She felt a sudden pang. Gap Tooth was her line mate. She should be backing him up. But Guilford hadn’t let go of her shoulder, in fact he had pulled her back until she was almost behind him and he had practically placed himself as a shield between her and the arches. It was an oddly chivalric gesture, and for a moment she wondered: does he know?

And then Gap Tooth was turning and yelling “We are discovered!” and she didn’t have time to think about anything else but death.