When the gods return to claim their world, the Five Realms will fall, in this earth-shaking epic fantasy thriller following on from the author's seminal debut, Lost Gods
For centuries the Five Lands have been at peace, but now a nameless enemy is tearing apart their borders. When a young assassin, Neythan, is summoned to Súnam, he expects to help uncover the enemy, but is instead confronted with secrets from his forgotten childhood, all somehow linked to the ancient scroll he has always carried. As the invasion continues, and the supernatural forces responsible are unveiled, Neythan must learn the truth about the power that lies in his blood... before it is too late.
File Under: Fantasy [ Monsters and Men | False Myths | Priest-Killers | Unravelling Truth ]
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
MICAH YONGO is a UK-based journalist, writer and videographer. When he's not writing articles he can be found lamenting the often rainy weather in his beloved hometown of Manchester, working on his true passion - fiction writing - or blogging about the varied things that make the world tick, and those who live in it.
Read an Excerpt
When Neythan was a boy he'd awake to the sound of the irhzán, a kind of long ended flute with cuttings of willowcane enclosed in the mouthpiece. He'd listen to the burred woody sound drifting up through the morning and gliding along the edges of the dawn as the sunlight nudged above the mountains. The day, just starting, would be silent but for those long meandering notes, wandering haltingly like the storytelling voice of an elder by campfire. His mother would find him listening as he stared out through the window of their hut toward the east where the mountains stood caped in shadow by the sun's ascent, no more than dark crooked shapes against the horizon, the sky behind ablaze, nascent day spreading out from some vast hiding place beyond the blackened ramparts and beckoning him, to see if he could search it out beyond the mountains, to see whether day was a place rather than a time, or both.
"What else do you remember?"
Neythan glanced up from the ground and peered at Filani through the smoke of the campfire as he kindled it. It was late, or perhaps by now it was early. He shrugged. "Little. No more than scraps. In Ilysia it was forbidden to talk of life before the Brotherhood. The Shedaím was to be our only kin, thoughts of all else were to be buried ... I remember once, I asked Josef and Daneel where they'd lived before being brought to the mount. When Tutor Hamir heard of it he beat me so hard I couldn't sit for a week. I was six, I think ..." He tossed another chopped bough onto the fire and poked at the smouldering pile as the flames curled around it. Caleb, still asleep, coughed where he lay on the other side, snoring as usual whilst Filani's niece, Nyomi, slept on her back beside him, undisturbed.
"Strange now I think about it," Neythan said. "How easily it happens, I mean. How quickly you let go. There was a time I'd think only of home, being back in Eram. Not an hour would pass without my thinking of it. The sea. The fish. Mother. Father ... A few moons in Ilysia and it fades. A while more and you can scarcely remember their faces. In time they are no more than ghosts. It's as if they never existed at all."
"And yet they did," Filani said. "And still do, within you." She glanced up at him. "The sha keeps all things. It never forgets. I will help you. You will see."
But she just did that thing of pretending not to hear, busying herself with the frayed hem of her skirt. It was beginning to get light again, the sky turning dim emerald; the sun, hours from rising, trying to compete with the moon for what was left of the night.
They'd journeyed for more than a week through the sands of the Havilah to the edge of Súnam after fleeing the elders' temple. And then on through the sweaty clamour of its jungly forests, the ground growing increasingly lumpy from the crowded undergrowth and tree roots until in the end Filani thought it best to untether the animals and leave the unwieldy cart behind. And so they did, and continued on with just the mule and camel as Filani and Caleb rode with the provisions slung across the burdened beasts' backs whilst the rest of them went on foot.
For most of the way here Neythan had distracted himself with the strange sights and sounds of the jungle: the bright sappy leaves and thick lazy insects and flowers and birds he'd never seen before, each stranger than the last, as though everything had grown gaudy and mad in the sun's wild white glare. Tiny sparrow-like birds with shimmering yellow breasts. Long-limbed monkeys climbing through almost luminous greenery. Green lizards. Yellow frogs. Purple ants. Even the dirt was different, a bold silty red, as though worn rusty by the sun's stifling heat as beneath it all the loud continuous croak of insects filled the silence.
Not that it mattered. At night the distractions peeled away anyway, leaving Neythan's mind to wander through the small hours, leaning inevitably toward the memory he'd been trying to avoid. The sight of Master Johann's slim dark eyes blinking slowly as his tired mouth hung ajar, mouthing Neythan's name as he lay bleeding beside him on the dusty canvas of the temple floor. Like a suffocating fish. Hands clutching the wound in his gut, the wound Neythan had put there. The wound that–
Neythan followed Filani's gaze down to his bandaged hand where, weeks before, a blind elder had thrust a dagger through to pin him to the floor of the temple of the very Brotherhood that had raised him. His fingers were twitching, again. He held them still with his other hand and folded them into a fist, and then glanced up at Filani watching him.
"The one thing you are not, is fine, Neythan."
"It will pass."
"Yes ... you have been saying so for nearly two weeks now." She gestured at Arianna, sleeping a few feet away with her shoulders hunched beneath a ragged blanket. "Ten days and she was well. With you the elder's fever persists."
Neythan coughed, as though to demonstrate.
"Your struggle to sleep," Filani went on. "The dreams you have when you do. These things are why you must remember."
"I don't see how remembering life before Ilysia has anything to do with it."
"It has everything to do with it. You will find no rest until you do. It is as I have said, Neythan. The sha keeps all things ... but sometimes it seeks to tell them."
"And that's what this is? My not sleeping?"
Filani shrugged, scraping her teeth with a narrow twig to clean away a lodged crumb.
"And you can help?"
"There are ways ..." She turned to the fire. It was warming now, beginning to grow. "Tomorrow, when we come to Jaffra at last, and speak to the chieftain and elders concerning the scroll. Afterwards, when we have rested, I will help you remember." She looked up at him from the flames. "You will not be whole until you do."
They came to Jaffra before noon of the following day. Neythan couldn't help but be stunned by the size of the place. The settlement was broad and sprawling, with narrow streets lined by high walls that turned the city to a kind of labyrinth. Tall palm trees speared the horizon above the pale stonework and straw-thatched roofs. Above it all loomed a high pyramidal tower of whitewashed stone that seemed to mark the city's centre.
"It's a ziggurat," Filani explained. "A way for the priests to speak with gods, or so the tradition goes." To which Neythan nodded numbly, eyeing the surroundings. He'd imagined the Summerlands to be little more than plain and dusty, an unending horizon of white cracked earth lying neat and still and naked as bone beneath a blue and silent sky, perhaps a village here or there, like the Salt Lands they'd journeyed through further north, only warmer. Instead the settlement before him sprawled out, bold and broad, as large as Hanesda probably, and just as busy.
People moved along the narrow, walled streets in both directions. Tall-necked women with gleaming black skin ambled by with baskets and jars of clay propped elegantly on their heads. Others wore long wrap-around skirts, intricately woven, arms swaying slowly as they strode along the road. Children scampered and giggled along the walls. Cattle groaned as they were led slowly through the scrum. Whilst above it all, perched on a yard-wall opposite, a dirty-turbaned old man slapped a drum, his eyes closed, his naked narrow torso swaying as his palms flashed rapidly above the skin.
Every street they turned into was the same, the whole place crammed ready for trade. The market, if there was such a thing here, rather than being gathered in one place instead sprawled out along the various broadways wherever the tall walls were wide enough. Frontages sat splayed with the wares of their occupants – wickerworkers, bayweavers, sandal-makers, spice-sellers – all lining the wider streets on both sides, and then, as they turned into another road, a tanner. Neythan's nose wrinkled at the tired reek of meat as he eyed a pair of scraggly rawhides draped over a bench fronting the house wall.
"You see, Neythan?" Filani said, walking beside him. "The world is bigger than the Sovereignty. There are more lands than just the Five." She smiled, nodding at the surroundings. "As you can now see."
Neythan nodded again, taking it all in – the people, the clothing, the smells – all of it so different and exotic and yet, in a way, strangely familiar too. Both his father and uncle were Súnamites, and although Uncle Sol had rarely spoken of his homeland, Neythan couldn't help but feel a sense of kinship with it, as though a part of him had always been waiting to come here – waiting to return home.
"Master Sol never said how pretty this place was," Arianna said, as though hearing his thoughts. She was at his shoulder, examining a set of peculiarly carved trinkets hanging from a nearby tree. There were more of them along the road, strange objects hanging from the gables of shack doors and houses; little bars of sculpted wood, no bigger than a finger, each one tethered with tufts of feather and straw bindings and bits of bone. Others tied with bird skulls and silver trinkets, or twigs bound together in strange latticed shapes; all hanging like wind-chimes from the rim of doorways or the boughs of cypress trees by the roadside.
"They are tokens," Filani said. "Keepsakes." She pointed at a cradling of twigs with chunks of moss and straw tucked into it, hanging in the shape of an uneven pyramid from the bough of a tree overhanging a wall on the street. "That one is for Talagmagon. She governs the harvests." She pointed to another icon beside it, a column of carved wood hanging by two twisted threads of yarn. "This one is Ishmar, the Rainspeaker. She both commands the rain and speaks through it. In rainy season the priests will interpret her words, tell what sacrifices should be brought to ensure the health of their crops."
She glanced back, saw the uncertain smile on Arianna's face, the mild frown on Neythan's. "There will be many things here that will seem strange to you. But remember, we are all foreigners in another's home. Your own customs were once just as strange to me."
They rounded a corner further up the road into a narrow, cobbled walkway with terraces on either side and the beginnings of a half-built gangway arching overhead. Fewer people here. Filani's fingertips brushed the painted stones of the walls where faded pictograms of black two-headed serpents and what appeared to be a bear chased each other, merging into a winding medley of colour. Neythan glanced over the images, wondering what story they told, and of what god. "How long since you were last here?" he said.
Filani looked at the painted wall and smiled. "Too long ..." Her gaze turned to the street ahead of them, her smile fading as she considered the clutch of shanty housing at the other end. "But not long enough ... Come. We are close."
As they stepped into the adjoining street Arianna laid a hand on Neythan's shoulder and nodded. Neythan followed her gaze to an old skinny man ahead of them. The stranger was standing in the road, allowing the ongoing tide of people to pass around him as he stared at Filani and the rest of the group. The man said nothing, his coffee-dark body just turning slowly as he continued to watch them pass by on the opposite side of the road.
In the next street Caleb noticed a woman staring at them, flat-eyed as a goat, before turning to whisper to a friend beside her who duly left off from what she was doing to join her companion in watching them as they walked. Caleb came alongside Filani and leaned down from the mule. "Foreigners not so common a thing here as they are in the Sovereignty I take it."
"We're nearly there," Filani said.
By the time they'd reached the next street a small group had gathered; people who'd drifted idly into their wake or kept pace from the other side of the street, following along, their gazes fixed unabashedly on the strangers.
Arianna was beginning to get agitated. "Why are these people following us?"
But Filani didn't answer. They walked on toward a growing mob – twenty, thirty perhaps, it was hard to tell. Dark sun-baked figures filled across the narrow passage to bar the other end as more climbed along the tops of the walls on either side.
Filani heard the scrape of Arianna's blade pulling loose from the sleeve. She turned to face her.
Arianna glanced at the men on the walls. The crowd was growing.
"We are near to the heart of the city," Filani said.
"This place is sacred. The ziggurat is just beyond those walls. You must draw no weapon here."
"Why are they following us?"
"They are following me."
"You?" Neythan said. "Why?"
The old woman hesitated. "You must trust me in this. Whatever happens, whatever is said, whatever is said of me, you must trust me. And you must not draw your weapons here. It is forbidden. Do you understand?"
Neythan looked at her, then the crowd, and then Arianna, who having eyed the mob once more was frowning doubtfully, offering Neythan a slow wag of her head.
Filani touched his arm. "Promise me, Neythan. No matter whatever is said. I know you do not understand now, but later, you will understand. You must trust me."
The shouts from the crowd were growing louder. Some had even begun to call out to Filani by name.
"There is no time to explain now, Neythan. I'd hoped to explain later. About all of this. But you must not draw your blade."
Neythan nodded uncertainly.
"No matter what."
Filani turned back to the road. The slanted pale stones of the ziggurat were visible above the wall to their left. Neythan could see where the street's walls widened beyond the mob, leading into a square to accommodate the huge structure's whitewashed steps. The people were chanting loudly now, clambering up onto the walls and huddling beneath the shade of a tall palm tree further along, jockeying for position like spectators before sport.
An old woman stepped out into the road from the foot of the palm tree ahead. Tall. Slim. Dressed in a sleeveless blue ankle-length shift. Expensive colour. A complicated pattern of scars marked her shoulders and neck beneath a thick, heavy-looking wig of narrow beaded dreadlocks capped with an elaborate covering of bejewelled woven yarn. Some sort of ceremonial accessory, Neythan guessed. Perhaps befitting a rank of some kind.
She approached slowly and came to a stop a few paces away. She stared for a few moments as the crowd watched on, and then, even more slowly, drew a few steps closer.
"So, it is true." The woman's lips hung wonderingly ajar as she gazed at Filani. "It really is you."
"I've come to speak with Ráham."
The woman laughed. "I should not be surprised, eh ... After all these years ..." the woman shook her head, "still the same. Still asking that the whole world listen to your tales and do as you want." She glanced at Neythan and the others. "And I suppose these are the latest to bow their ear to those tales."
"Listen to me, sister."
The woman recoiled, her face twisting. "Sister? Is that what you will call me?" The beads of her dreadlocks slapped gently against her shoulders as her head tipped to one side. "Sister?"
"I know it has been a long time, Sulari."
"Yes. It has." The woman prowled to one side to eye the others more closely, her gaze passing over Neythan, Caleb and Arianna, then lingering on Nyomi, before turning again to Filani with a short sour laugh. "You will die." She said it almost gently, and then nodded. "Yes," more certain now, leaning into the words. "You will die."
"We have found a Magi scroll," Filani said.
The woman hesitated only briefly. "And you thought it enough to bargain for your life?"
"I have come to seek the good of us all."
"Good? And what would you know of good?"
"If I am allowed to speak to Ráham, or perhaps Maríba, or one of the others to explain–"
"You are no priestess now, Filani."
"No. I know, but–"
"Yet you come here, of all places, to bargain with a scroll–"
"Not to bargain–"
"After all this time. And after all the trouble these writings have brought us–"
"You know as well as I that it–"
"All the trouble they have brought me."
"I have not come to fight, Sulari."
"No?" The other woman pouted mockingly. "Well. Sister. We do not always get what we want, eh. You taught me that truth well. Remember?" The beads of the woman's wig snapped around as she turned away to face the crowd and raised a hand to address them. "Your eyes did not deceive you, Jaffra," she shouted. "You saw this woman well. She is the one you thought. She is the accursed ..." She turned back to Filani, pointing. "You know what has been determined of old concerning her. You all know. Today Ishmar smiles on us, she brings her here to fulfil the debt that is owed."
Sulari lifted both arms and stepped slowly back, her eyes fixed on Filani, teary with hate.
Excerpted from "Pale Kings"
Copyright © 2019 Micah Yongo.
Excerpted by permission of Watkins Media Ltd.
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