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As the “gripping”* epic from the author of Sword of the North continues, the Grim Company must battle a dangerous new enemy that is determined to destroy all of humanity...
In the City of Towers, former rebel Sasha and her comrade Davarus Cole struggle to keep the peace between the warring mages who vie for dominion. But when the White Lady sends Davarus south to the Shattered Realms to seek allies among the fallen kingdoms, he finds that his hardest battle may be one fought within. The godly essence now residing within him offers power that could be used against the Fade—but with every death that feeds It, Cole risks losing a part of himself.
An association with a Fade officer grants the Halfmage Eremul a position of privilege among Dorminia’s new masters. He witnesses firsthand the fate that awaits humanity. But with his magic pitiful in the face of the Fade’s advanced technology, the Halfmage must rely on his wits alone to save whom he can…
And in the frozen north, the legendary warrior Brodar Kayne fights a desperate battle for his people. He is running out of time: an ancient evil sealed beneath the mountains is about to break free, an evil that is older than humanity, older than the Fade, older even than the gods—and it will not stop until the entire world is drowned in blood…
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
Luke Scull is the author of the Grim Company novels, including Sword of the North and The Grim Company. He is a video-game designer and has worked on numerous bestselling fantasy role-playing game franchises. He was born in Bristol, England, and now divides his time between the UK and Argentina.
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
The sinister glow in the distance was gaining on him again.
His breath rasped in his chest. Blood ran down his bald head, matted his beard. There were other things in these ruins-twisted creatures that fed on human flesh. The first time he'd encountered them they'd been feasting on the corpses of Fivebellies' men. Pulling snaking entrails from chewed-open stomachs, scooping out clumps of gore from shattered chests and chomping on it like wild animals devouring prey.
The flesh-eaters had thought they'd spied fresh meat when he entered their domain. They'd rushed him, screaming for blood, mouths slavering thick drool: denizens of the darkness that hadn't seen the sunlight in years, if at all.
He'd left them broken on the ground, their stunted, twisted bodies hacked apart by his steel axes. They quickly discovered their mistake in seeing him as prey. Now they ran when they saw him. Feared him as much as they feared his pursuer. The gholam was relentless.
Then again, so was he.
He ghosted down streets that hadn't seen a living soul pass through in centuries. The dust was thick everywhere, made it impossible to hide his tracks, but that didn't worry him. His pursuer didn't hunt by smell or scent or sight. You couldn't lose something like that. Instead you went somewhere it couldn't follow. You trapped it.
Or you killed it.
He hadn't eaten or slept since entering the ruins and it was an effort to keep on moving, but he refused to feel sorry for himself. You make a promise, you stick to it. He'd said he'd buy them time to escape and that's what he would do. Difference between a man and a cunt is that a man sticks to his word.
He loped through the darkness, a single torch lighting his way, listening for sounds of the gholam's approach. Their game of cat and mouse had plunged them ever deeper into Mal-Torrad. He had to be close to the prison now. Close to somewhere the god-forged entity giving chase might be halted, if only for a while.
Structures of dark granite rose around him, as harsh and angular as the axes on his back. The underfolk hadn't been much for fancy designs. The buildings got bigger the lower he delved, giant stone rectangles with rusted iron doors that hadn't been opened since the civil war that had torn the kingdom apart. The orange light of his torch illuminated piles of gold glittering in the streets alongside countless squat skeletons: all that remained of the strange people who had called this city home. Didn't make much sense to him, but then, not much in this world did.
Finally, he spotted what he was searching for. A palace, fronted by two huge statues of crowned underfolk who might've been the likenesses of their king and queen. He headed toward the grand structure, sticking to the cover of the nearby buildings. His keen eyes noted the runes etched onto their doors, the scorch marks on the stone beneath his boots. A campfire had been lit here only a month past. Whoever had freed the gholam had entered the palace. Chances were the prison was within.
He stalked through the palace courtyard. Shadows flitted around the statuary lining the square and he could hear their chattering, their gibbering speech rising, getting higher, excited.
They were working themselves into a frenzy. Preparing to attack. He ignored them, focused instead on the great iron gates ahead of him. They stood a little ajar.
He rested his torch against a wall and squeezed himself between the gates. The metal bit into his flesh but he ignored the pain, wedged himself firmly between them and pushed with all his strength. Teeth grinding together, every muscle in his body standing taut, he forced the gates apart with a screech that seemed to shake the very walls of the palace.
He stood panting and stared into the darkness between the open gates. There was a skittering sound behind him as one of the flesh-eaters, braver than the rest, made a move. He spun and caught the creature mid-leap, his hand closing around its throat and locking tight. It snapped at him, yellow fangs straining for his fingers, its luminous eyes near bursting with hatred.
He stabbed with the fingers of his free hand, forcing the creature's eyes back through their sockets and into its brain. Then he smashed its head against the iron gates until it was bloody pulp, and with a snarl flung the corpse back among the statuary. He heard the gnashing of fangs as its kin fell upon it.
He retrieved the torch and entered the palace halls.
The scorch marks on the ancient, dust-blanketed carpet guided him through the interior. He passed through the throne room, pausing for a brief moment to stare at the scene within-a slice of history frozen in time. Two skeletons sat on the thrones upon the dais, short and squat like the rest of the underfolk but wearing crowns atop their heads. Both underfolk had daggers protruding from their chests; the metal had long begun to rust. As he lifted first one crown and then the other to stare at the desiccated features beneath, he saw that they had once been male and female. King and queen.
Other skeletons littered the throne room: some were so small that they could only be those of children. A death pact between the ruling families, then. Else a ruthless coup in which none had been spared.
He spat and turned away. Some mysteries were better left unsolved, he reckoned.
The gholam's trail descended three more floors. He could hear the flesh-eaters piling into the palace above, the patter of clawed feet on the rafters.
On the fifth and lowest floor, he reached the prison.
It resembled a giant maze. The walls were thicker than a man was tall and covered in runes, as were the floor and ceiling. The runes glowed with magic; the whole prison throbbed with it. As he stalked through the corridors, he saw that certain runes had been intentionally hidden, concealed by a spongy material that clung to the stone like tar. He reached out and tore some off. Examined it with a deep frown and eyes as dark as coal.
It was flesh-the hide of one of the flesh-eating humanoids, stripped straight off the body. Whoever had freed the gholam had disabled the runes keeping it imprisoned, through the grimmest of means.
The light suddenly shifted and a malevolent glow washed through the prison. He spun, saw his implacable hunter as it began to flow toward him, leaving scorched stone in its wake. The gholam was shaped like a man but there was nothing human about the shadow wreathed in its infernal flame. Only the promise of obliteration in its embrace.
The gholam seemed to strike an invisible barrier. The runes covering the walls flared a bright blue and sparks hissed through the air. The gholam tried to move forward once again, only to bounce off something. The living weapon paused for a moment and then flowed back the way it had come, disappearing down another corridor. Seeking an alternative way to reach its target. Seeking a gap in the rune magic.
He knew what he needed to do. He began to sprint. As he ran he tore off the flesh covering the runes and replaced it elsewhere. Time and again the gholam got close, and time and again he exposed the runes and their warding magic seconds before its ruinous embrace could engulf him. Until at last there was no more room in which to run. His back was against a wall, the gholam opposite him, barely six feet between them. The warding runes wouldn't let the god-forged horror reach him, but the thing filled the corridor, directly in his path, impossible to pass.
He was trapped.
With nothing else to be done, he sat down on the stone floor. This wasn't the kind of death he wanted, boxed into a corner and waiting for thirst or starvation to take him. Still, it was what it was. He'd kept his word. Kayne and the foundlings ought to have reached safety by now-if anywhere was safe from the unholy fucker opposite him.
He lost track of time as he sat there. The gholam didn't move. A day or a week might have passed.
He was starting to lose consciousness, his body beginning to close down. It didn't hurt much, but then, pain had never hurt him. Not like the hurt of betrayal. Of being stabbed in the back by the only man he trusted.
Suddenly the gholam turned. Spun and flowed away as though it had given up the chase, or somehow found another target. Neither seemed likely to him, but he wasn't about to question his luck.
He waited a few hours to see if it would return. When it didn't, he climbed unsteadily to his feet, using the wall to support himself. The torch had long since died: the only light came from the soft blue glow of the runes around him.
He walked haltingly back through the prison, his vision blurring, making it hard to get his bearings. He came to a crossroads and stopped, blinking. An approaching cacophony of noise reached his ears: a rising tide of chattering, whooping, gnashing fangs. The flesh-eaters had come for him. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds, crowding the passageways on every side, clutching makeshift daggers of stone.
He paused for a moment and closed his eyes. He was so tired he could hardly stand. Might be quicker to just lie down and let them get it over with. But he still had one promise left to keep.
His eyes snapped open. He unharnessed his axes. Readied himself.
The Wolf bared his teeth.
Acts of Mercy
The winter wind howled through the meandering streets of the city, dusting the tall figure making his graceful way toward the harbor with fresh snow. He paused for a moment and tilted back his head, blinking obsidian-dark eyes against the spiraling flakes settling on his face. They were almost invisible against his ivory skin. A cloak of midnight blue billowed around his slender form, marking him as an Adjudicator-an elite officer among the invading army.
Isaac had walked these streets many times before, but only since the First Fleet's arrival had he done so without needing to conceal his true nature. The ability to beguile the lesser races was a rare skill he shared with his sisters: a blood-talent handed down by Zakarian, one of the original Pilgrims now lost to the Void. As he resumed his trek to the harbor, Isaac offered silent thanks for the Pilgrims' great sacrifice. A sacrifice made to prevent the extinction of their kind.
Humanity will receive no such reprieve, the Adjudicator thought grimly. He recalled when the land this gray city was built upon had been untamed wilderness. The kingdom of Andarr had been a handful of primitive huts when Prince Obrahim called the Great Migration and the fehd withdrew west. Isaac's kind had left the flourishing young race of man much of their knowledge. It was an act of monumental generosity, a parting gift for a people who would inherit a continent much changed following the titanic conflicts between the elder races.
Two thousand years later, the humans had sailed across the Endless Ocean and sought out their benefactors. Isaac's own sister, Melissan, had offered succor to the voyagers. She even consented to allow two of the fehd to accompany the humans back across the ocean. Aduana and Feryan were eager to learn about the lands over which their people had once held dominion.
Isaac's breathing quickened in anger. His hand inched toward the crystalline longsword at his waist; a weapon sharper than that forged by any man. He forced himself to calm, willed his anger to melt away like the snow flecking his golden hair. Such emotions were the mark of the lesser races. He was a fehd-and more, he was an Adjudicator.
He stared south beyond the harbor. Toward the flooded ruins of Shadowport where his kin had been imprisoned and tortured. Aduana and Feryan had been little more than children by the standards of his people, barely a few centuries old. The Magelord Marius had subjected them to horrors unimaginable.
Even across the vast distance of the Endless Ocean, Isaac and his kin had felt the deaths of Aduana and Feryan. Only a handful of the ageless fehd had perished since the Great Migration; now two had been murdered in the darkest of circumstances.
Two decades of mourning had followed. Two decades of grief before thoughts turned to vengeance.
Isaac stared at the humans cowering on the streets as he passed them on the way to the docks. Most were afraid to even glance in his direction. Some sobbed, while others turned and ran. Few had any place in which to seek refuge: rows of burned-out buildings led all the way to the docks, homes and offices reduced to blackened shells of melted stone by the First Fleet's artillery. Beyond the harbor, entire districts had been destroyed in the days following the arrival of the fehd army. A third of the city's population was newly homeless.
Dorminia's resistance had proved pitiful. The city's Magelord was dead and gone, its ruling council massacred by Isaac's sisters in public view. None among the humans could stand against even a handful of regular fehd soldiers, let alone elite Adjudicators. Their swordsmanship had been refined through centuries of practice. Their empathetic projection was strong enough to reduce hardened warriors to quivering heaps. And the weapons his people possessed were beyond anything humanity could muster in defense. Isaac and his sisters were as gods among these short-lived creatures. Gods, or something close to it.
Isaac felt the briefest flicker of sympathy when he saw the children draped in rags huddling in the ashes of what had once been their homes. The oldest of humans seemed to him ephemeral creatures, their life spans a cruel joke. But these children, they were half-dead already.
You chose, he reminded himself. You spent four years among these humans, judging them. Your verdict was harsh but it was just. Nothing less than utter annihilation. A purging of every human on the continent. Beginning here, in this place men called the Trine.
The ten ships that comprised the First Fleet filled Dorminia's harbor. They were gunmetal behemoths all, each of them larger than the biggest human warship ever constructed and propelled not by oar or sail but by great engines that had eaten up the expanse of the Endless Ocean with ease.
Isaac's sisters, Melissan and Nymuvia, were waiting for him on the flagship's deck. The dark blue cloaks that marked them as Adjudicators fluttered behind them in the winter flurry.