An outcast magician must risk his body and mind to save the world from horrifying demons, in the heart-pounding epic fantasy sequel to The Traitor God.
Tyrant magus Edrin Walker destroyed the monster sent by the Skallgrim, but not before it laid waste to Setharis, and infested their magical elite with mind-controlling parasites. Edrin's own Gift to seize the minds of others was cracked by the strain of battle, and he barely survives the interrogation of a captured magus. There’s no time for recovery though: a Skallgrim army is marching on the mountain passes of the Clanhold. Edrin and a coterie of villains race to stop them, but the mountains are filled with gods, daemons, magic, and his hideous past. Walker must stop at nothing to win, even if that means losing his mind. Or worse…
File Under: Fantasy [ In Your Head | Daemons & The Damned | Father Winter | Fighting Dirty ]
About the Author
CAMERON JOHNSTON lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He is a swordsman, a gamer, an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire.
Read an Excerpt
From the shadows of a doorway, I watched as Vivienne of House Adair – a middling House of waning influence – exited the rear of the building after a midnight tryst with her lover, a married warden captain. The hood of her cloak was up and her cheeks still flushed as she made her way down the back streets of the Crescent, intent on returning to the Old Town before her own husband became aware she was otherwise engaged. To my magically Gifted senses her unguarded mind radiated the fuzzy warmth of a lust well-satisfied.
If she was still fully human then she could spread her legs for whomever she liked; it was none of my business. But if she was infested with the same parasitic creatures that had dominated the traitor Heinreich and almost succeeded in destroying the city, then that unwitting warden was a source of information to use against us, and that was most certainly my business.
She was the least dangerous of the three magi I had marked as likely threats, an artificer more at home with her arcane apparatus of cogs and crystals than with battle. As a young and indifferent pyromancer blessed only with a truly extraordinary memory, her Gift would be weaker than mine by normal standards, but since I'd bathed in the blood of gods some of their potency had seeped into me and it would prove no contest unless I was foolish. Always a risk of that of course. Vivienne's knowledge of architecture and alchemy was what made her dangerous – and a likely partner in bringing down the Templarum Magestus. The Arcanum's seers had divined a number of unknown magi had collaborated in that betrayal and if you needed a magus to circumvent protective wardings and magic-strengthened stone then an artificer would be the obvious choice.
Those soaring spires at the heart of Setharis had fallen – and I was here to ensure that all involved paid a terrible price for their treachery.
I stepped out of the shadows to block her path, "Hello, Vivienne."
She started and loosed a little yelp. "Who–" The blood drained from her face as she realised who stood before her. Her Gift flew open and drew in magic, ready to fight even as her mental defences slammed shut on me. She straightened her back and stared me in the eye. "Edrin Walker. What are you doing lurking in the shadows? Up to no good I warrant."
Ah, it never got old hearing my name said like a curse. The stories told about what I'd done a few months ago had bubbled up like a blocked sewer, and every bit as foul. None of them came close to the truth. I fumbled a bent roll-up from my pouch to my lips, the last tabac to be found anywhere in the city. "Couldn't trouble you for a light could I?"
Her lips thinned and the end of my roll-up flared bright for a second, hotter than was necessary – a clear warning. I took a long drag and blew out acrid smoke. "What do I want?" I probed her defences, searching for any hint of wrongness, of anything other. "Tell me, Vivienne, are you still loyal to Setharis?"
She swallowed. Her hands trembling as her façade of strength cracked. She had probably leapt to the conclusion that I meant to blackmail her about her dalliances with men other than her husband. That was the last thing I cared about.
The cracks in her confidence let my Gift slip in. If I'd wanted to I could have torn her mind open and taken what I wanted. With Councillor Cillian's sealed writ giving me leave to do as I wished it wouldn't even get me killed once people found out. Tempting. So very tempting.
"What do you want?" She spat. "Gold?"
"Hardly," I replied. "I want to know about Heinreich. Tell me what you built for that traitorous cur."
She lurched back, forced to lean a hand on a wall to steady herself, doubled over, throat spasming and threatening to vomit. Her mind crumpled in on itself, oozing guilt.
"Did you think nobody would ever find out? Somebody always talks, even if you pay them off." Her workshop apprentices had suddenly become flush with coin and hadn't been shy in spending it. They hadn't spilled their guts willingly but I can be ever so persuasive.
She choked back a retch. "I ... I had no idea. Heinreich was so nice, so ... charming. How could I ever suspect what he ... It was not my fault."
I stabbed into her mind, making her gasp with shock, and waited for a response to what I was about to say.
Nothing. The name evoked no sudden firing of thought and fear. She had never heard the name before. Her mind ran clear of those creature's parasitic taint. She was no traitor, just another dupe.
She mustered enough bravery to look me in the eye again. "Are you here to kill me? If so, just get on with it."
Oh, I wanted to. Hundreds died when the Templarum Magestus was brought down, and it couldn't have been done without the help of her and others like her. My right hand clenched, itching to dig into her throat and rip it out. Instead I sighed and let my anger drain away. She was hardly the first or finest he had fooled. My mind's eye flicked back to Eva, her face frozen in shock as somebody she had once considered a friend turned his flames on her. Yes, that twisted wretch had fooled the best of us.
I grimaced as I forced my stiff hand to open. "Not today." I raked fingers through my mop of hair. "You will drag your sorry arse over to Councillor Cillian in the morning and detail exactly what you built for that bastard. Don't dare try to leave the city." My lips twisted into a vicious grin that suggested I really hoped she'd try. "I've been given a writ that says I can do whatever I sodding want with you." People were always more than willing to think the worst of me and her own imagination would supply horrific images of the very worst tortures, personalised just for her. Cillian would roast me over hot coals if I stepped too far over the line however, and others would also likely be far from happy with me, the kind of displeased that kept assassins in ale money.
Vivienne shuddered, then took several deep breaths and calmed as her training slid a measure of control back in place. She nodded, and if anything looked relieved that her dark secret had finally been exposed.
I didn't have time to interrogate her further, not tonight. "Go home to your family. You may yet escape this mess with your hide intact." I turned to leave.
"I'm so sorry," she said in a small, tortured voice. "It's been eating me alive ... I just, I needed to forget. Just for a while. I was such a fool to resurrect that madman Tannar's designs. Those alchemic bombs should never have been built."
The last smoke in this whole sodding city almost fell from my lips. "Bombs? Plural? You built more than one?" I spun back. "What do you–"
A flare of killing intent sent me diving and rolling. The cobbles where I had stood erupted into jagged spears of stone that punched Vivienne from her feet and turned her into a human pincushion. Spikes through her heart and skull gave her a mercifully quick death. She hung suspended in the air, hot blood steaming down the winter-cold stone that had killed her.
Shite. Tonight was not going to go my way ...CHAPTER 2
Nine hours earlier, I'd been surrounded by armed men and escorted to the Collegiate of the Arcanum for an urgent meeting with one of most important magi in the city. As usual, important people made you sit on an uncomfortable seat and wait an age for an audience, but at least I wasn't suffering alone.
After a while the sound of screaming becomes white noise, a buzzing annoyance in the back of your head no worse than a yapping dog or a drunkard's droning snore from the straw pallet right next to your own. I yawned, ignored the two armed wardens flanking me, and shifted on the hard wooden bench as I stared at the iron-bound doors in front of me. My eyes traced and re-traced the all-too familiar patterns of glimmering arcane wards worked into the oak. The Forging Room was far from my favourite place in the Collegiate, not least because I had been through this particular magical rite myself as an initiate. All magi had but nobody remembers it all, just the agony and the raw-throated screaming. And the needles, we mustn't forget the needles.
Inserted under the nails ... slid into the eyes ... piercing the tongue ... the other bits ...
I crossed my legs and pulled my great coat tight around me. I hated the bloody Arcanum – their brutal rules and rites had broken my old friend Lynas. He had never been the same afterwards. How dare they put innocent initiates through this! And yet ... I now understood and acknowledged the necessity of magically enforcing loyalty to Setharis. You can't begin turning people into living weapons and let them do anything they wish without a measure of control. After the catastrophe three months ago that we now called the Black Autumn, there could be no denying it. It didn't mean I liked it.
The door to the Forging Room finally creaked open and I sat up straight, wincing as my spine complained. Pain was now my constant companion.
A young magus poked her head out. Her chestnut hair was pulled into a neat tail and she wore plain brown robes entirely lacking the ornamentation and wealth worn by most others – the dark stains marked her as a healing magus of the Halcyon Order. Once their robes had been pure white, but now they all wore cheap robes of a more practical brown. Me, I couldn't stand robes and the status they proclaimed. Plain old peasant tunic and trousers had always suited me just fine.
Her eyes were wide and nervous. "Councillor Cillian bids you enter, magus." She swiftly stepped back to make way for me. There was no sneaking about as an unknown face for me these days – every fucker and their horse seemed to know who and what I was. I suppose that's what happens when you kill a god and save a city. Most seemed to doubt it was true that Nathair, the Thief of Life, had died at my hands, but many magi had heard enough rumours to make them nervous in my presence. And as for those that actually knew the truth of my part in it all, well, who could blame them for being afraid.
The sour stench of blood, sweat and piss mixed with vinegar assaulted me as I stepped inside, almost overpowering a sharp clean scent reminiscent of the aftermath of a lightning storm. Behind a wooden privacy screen, the room was ornate and bewilderingly complex. Copper pipes and bundles of golden wire covered one entire wall, humming with power like a hive of angry bees. Trapped inside glass jars, lightning crackled and spat. Brass cogs ticked and turned with mesmerising regularity. Five artificers wearing odd ceramic gauntlets sat studying arrays of glowing crystals and moving rods that flickered and dancing in tune with whatever was happening to the poor naked git strapped to the table in the centre of the room. To me it was all just pretty lights.
Steel manacles bound the young Gifted initiate's limbs to the table and leather straps held his head and body immobile for his own safety. His head was circled by an open helmet containing an array of needles, some of which were already embedded in his skull, connected to wires running back into the arcane machinery on the wall. A steel grate was situated directly below the table to deal with the subject pissing themselves from fear and pain. I shuddered, remembering that particular bit of humiliation only too well, and that was only a herald of far worse to come.
Cillian's demeanour was unusually severe today as she bent over the initiate and slid another needle in, this time into his chest and heart. She attached it to a wire and stepped back. The nearest artificer nudged a lever up slightly. The boy convulsed and screamed as magic I knew nothing about poured into him.
I winced, his panic and pain seeping into my mind through my cracked Gift. I couldn't keep the thoughts of others out entirely anymore, not after what I'd been through. The buzzing machinery gave off a whiff of magic that smelled reminiscent of my own. Not entirely surprising since all this weird and unsettling machinery was designed to do one thing – to burn loyalty to Setharis and the Arcanum into a Gifted mind. It was a relic built at the very founding of the Arcanum in the years following the destruction of ancient Escharr. Those refugee magi had created it using long lost knowledge for unknown reasons, and I had to wonder if this was one path of knowledge that they had purposely let fade away.
The initiate's eyes rolled to me, pleading to make it stop. Tears wet his cheeks.
"Ah, Edrin," Cillian said. "I am glad my messengers finally found you." I always forgot how tall she was, and how beautiful. She was wearing her formal azure silken robes and an elegant gold circlet to restrain her unruly mass of long dark curly hair. Her pale olive skin appeared sallow and waxy from exhaustion. Knowing her she hadn't stopped for more than a short nap every night for three months solid.
I eyed the torture table; there was no other suitable word for it. "Enjoying yourself are we?" Messengers she said! More like a pack of armed wardens hauling me straight to her whether I liked it or not.
She ignored my jibe entirely, which in all fairness is a wise tactic when faced with annoying people like me. Her lips pursed. "It is only a few hours until nightfall. I had not expected it to take quite this long to find you. I assume they checked all the ale houses first, then the brothels ... which were you in?"
"Neither. I was in a hospital."
She looked concerned for a moment, but I was an experienced magus and with magic we didn't have much need for powders and potions and healing in general unless it was from enormous trauma. If it didn't kill me outright I would generally be back on my feet in a ridiculously short time.
"I work there on occasion," I added.
Surprise flickered through her expression, but not as much as I might have expected given my blackened reputation. "Well well. It is good to see you putting your unique talents to use. Speaking of which, I have a task you are especially suited for."
A ruby began blinking in the machinery and she held up a finger. "Do not go anywhere. This may take a while."
She leaned over the delirious, moaning boy and began asking him questions:
"Are you loyal to Setharis and the Arcanum?"
"Would you ever take coin or favours from foreign powers?"
"Would you ever consider using blood sorcery?"
The questioning went on for an age, and whatever the machinery and needles did to him, they seemed to force truthful answers. When they uncovered an answer they approved of an artificer would pull a lever and his body would shudder with crackling energy, leaving him gasping and sobbing. They were burning it into his mind so that betrayal was not something he could ever seriously consider.
Once or twice they came across opinions or inclinations that they did not approve of and an artificer would lean forward to study the instrumentation and then call over to Cillian – who would then get to work inserting needles and applying shocks and pain and magical manipulations until those opinions were bent back toward compliance, then burned into place. I was living proof that it didn't always hold entirely, but then I was messed up in the head in all sorts of ways.
It would have been easier and less painful if I did it for them, but that was not a role I would ever volunteer for, and in any case the Arcanum would never trust a wastrel tyrant like me to make a proper job of it.
Cillian and her machines got to work on keeping away the Worm of Magic, that seduction to use more and more magic until all of your self-control was eaten away and your body and mind were warped into a mere shell for magic itself. My mouth went dry. This part was the worst. "Open your Gift," Cillian said, pressing a wooden rod wrapped in leather between his teeth and securing it there. "Let as much magic as you can flow into you." At this stage in his development nobody knew if the youth's Gift would mature enough to become a full magus, but they enforced their hidebound rules all the same. Better now than too late. When the artificers read certain arcane signs in the machinery they gave the word that the subject's Gift was straining, and then the real agony began. Needles jabbed and bottled lightning sparked into human skin, releasing a stench of burnt hair into the room. The machinery whined as magic poured into the boy's skull to stamp a single message into him: overextending your Gift was a very bad thing. This agony waits for you if you try! He screamed through the gag until blood mixed with the spittle.
My head throbbed from the poor bastard's ordeal, and I turned my back on them to study the walls until Cillian was done torturing him into unconsciousness. The artificer's machines had done their work for the day and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor bastard – he had no idea this was only the first of three sessions. In the morning he would be dragged back in kicking and screaming.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "God of Broken Things"
Copyright © 2019 Cameron Johnston.
Excerpted by permission of Watkins Media Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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