The wind whines and howls with bitter breath. Lightning snarls and barks. Rage is an animate force upon the plain of glittering stone. Even shadows are afraid. At the heart of the plain stands a vast grey stronghold, unknown, older than any written memory. One ancient tower has collapsed across the fissure. From the heart of the fastness comes a great deep slow breath like that of a slumbering world-heart, cracking the olden silence. Death is eternity. Eternity is stone. Stone is silence. Stone cannot speak but stone remembers. So begins the next movement of Glittering Stone....The tale again comes to us from the pen of Murgen, Annalist and Standard Bearer of the Black Company, whose developing powers of travel through space and time give him a perspective like no other. Led by the wily commander, Croaker, and the Lady, the Company is working for the Taglian government, but neither the Company nor the Taglians are overflowing with trust for each other. Arrayed against both is a similarly tenuous alliance of sorcerers, including the diabolical Soulcatcher, the psychotic Howler, and a four-year-old child who may be the most powerful of all.
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About the Author
Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of SF and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his SF novels is A Passage at Arms.
After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.
Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of Science Fiction and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his science fiction novels is A Passage at Arms.
After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.
Date of Birth:July 9, 1944
Place of Birth:New York City, New York
Read an Excerpt
The Old Man looked up. His quill twitched, betraying his irritation at being interrupted. "What is it, Murgen?"
"I went for a walk with the ghost. That earth tremor we felt a while ago?"
"What about it? And don't give me none of that around-the-bush crap OneEye's always handing out. I don't have time for it."
"The farther south you go the worse the destruction is."
The Old Man opened his mouth, closed it to think some before he said anything else.
Croaker, the Old Man, the Captain of the Black Company, the right-now-bygod military dictator of Taglios and all its tributaries, dependencies and protectorates, does not look the part. He is in his middle fifties, possibly closer to sixty. He stands more than six feet tall. He has grown slightly heavy during four years spent mainly in garrison. He has a high forehead with a feeble crop of hair farther back. Lately he has been affecting a beard on his chin. It is grizzled. So is what hair still lurks upon his head. His icy blue eyes are deeply set, giving him a hard, scary look, like some kind of psychopathic killer.
He does not know. Nobody ever told him. Sometimes he is hurt because people back off. He does not understand why.
Mostly it's his eyes. They can be really spooky.
He considers himself just one of the guys. Most of the time.
If he understood it he would use his impact to its limit. His belief in the value of creating illusions in the minds of others borders on religious conviction.
He stood up. "Let's go for a walk, Murgen."
In the Palace it is always best to be moving if you want to keep your conversations your own. The Palace is vast, a honeycomb networked with a labyrinth masking countless secret passageways. I have been mapping those but could not winkle them all out in a lifetime — even if we were not heading south any day.
The point is, there is always a chance our friends will be listening to anything we say.
We have been very successful at driving our enemies out beyond arm's reach.
Thai Dei picked us up at the doorway. The Old Man grimaced. He has no personal prejudice against my bodyguard and brother-in-law but he abhors the fact that so many Company brothers have acquired similar companions, none of whom are bound to his direct command. He does not trust the Nyueng Bao. He never has, never will and cannot explain clearly why.
He does understand that he was not there in hell's forge when the bonds were hammered into existence. He will stipulate that. He has done his time in other hells. He was suffering one at that time.
I made a small gesture to Thai Dei. He dropped back a step, symbolically acknowledging our need for privacy rather than actually accepting it. He would hear everything we had to say anyway.
So every word we said would be spoken in the dialect of the Jewel City Beryl, which lies six thousand miles beyond the edge of any world Thai Dei can even imagine.
I wondered why Croaker bothered walking when he was going to use an alien tongue. No Taglian would understand a word. "Tell me," he said.
"I walked with the ghost. I went south. I made the routine checks. I was just following the daily ritual." I understood his desire to walk. Soulcatcher. Soulcatcher understood the Jewel Cities dialects. She would have more trouble eavesdropping if she had to find us first.
"Thought I told you to ease up. You're spending too much time out there. It'll hook you. It's too easy to shake loose from the ache. That's why I don't go anymore."
I masked my pain. "That's not a problem, boss." He would not believe me. He knew just how much Sarie meant to me, how much I missed her. How much I hurt. "I'm handling it. Anyway, what I want you to know is, the farther south you look the worse the damage done by that earthquake gets."
"Am I supposed to be concerned? Dare I hope that you'll tell me the Shadowmaster's house fell in on his head?"
"You can hope all you want but you won't hear it from me. Not now. His faults don't include being a bad architect."
"I had a feeling you wouldn't tell me what I wanted to hear. You're no fun at all that way."
Part of my job as Annalist is to remind my superiors that they are not gods. "It didn't happen this time. Overlook came through almost unscathed. But Kiaulune was destroyed. Thousands were killed. The way disasters go, thousands more will die from hunger, disease and exposure." The heart of winter was fast approaching.
Kiaulune is the southernmost city of men. Its name means Shadow Gate. When he came out of nowhere two decades ago and made himself master of the province, the Shadowmaster Longshadow changed the name to Shadowcatch. Only the peoples of the Shadowlands, who are inclined to avoid the Shadowmaster's displeasure, actually employ names enforced upon them by their enslavement.
"Is that good news?"
"It'll sure slow down construction work on Overlook. Longshadow won't like it but he's going to have to take time out to help his subjects. Otherwise he'll run out of people to do his work for him."
Our parade continued slowly through busy hallways. This part of the Palace had been given over to the war effort completely. Now people were packing. Soon we would be heading south, bound toward a major and possibly final collision with the armies of the Shadowmasters. Most of our forces were in transit already, a slow and difficult process. It takes ages to move large numbers a great distance.
The men in these offices had been laying the groundwork for years.
Croaker asked, "Are you saying we don't need to get in any big hurry?"
"There's no need now. The quake crippled him."
"There wasn't any pressing need before the quake. We could've gotten there before he finished his oversized sand castle."
True. We were starting the campaign now mostly because the Captain and his woman were so thirsty for revenge.
Add the name Murgen to that list. My taste for vengeance was newer and bloodier. My wife was a more recent victim.
Longshadow and Narayan Singh would pay for Sarie's death. Especially Narayan Singh.
You living saint of the Stranglers, your nightwalking companion now hunts you, too.
"Something that hurts him doesn't really change anything at our end."
I agreed. "True. Though it does give us more flexibility."
"Yet it makes sense to jump them while they're stunned. How widespread was the damage? Was it just Kiaulune?"
"There's heavy damage everywhere south of the Dandha Presh. It gets worse as you go farther south. Those people won't have much energy to spend trying to stop an invasion."
"All the more reason to stay on schedule. We'll stomp them while they're down."
The Old Man was bitter and vindictive. Comes with the job, I guess. And because of all the evils done to him.
"You ready to travel?" he asked.
"Personally? Me and my whole household have our preparations made. You name the day and we'll be on the road." My own bitterness leaked through.
I kept telling myself not to let the need for vengeance sink roots too deep. I dared not let it become an obsession.
Croaker pursed his lips, sour for a moment. My household includes not only Thai Dei but Sarie's mother, Ky Gota, and Uncle Doj, who is not really anybody's uncle but is a family attachment nonetheless. Croaker refuses to trust them. But he does not trust anybody who has not been a brother of the Company for years.
Proof was immediate. "Murgen, I want you to add the Radisha to the list of people you check regularly. I'm betting that as soon as we clear the city wall she'll start fixing to break our hearts."
I did not argue. It seemed likely.
All through our history the Black Company has suffered the ingratitude of our employers. Usually those blackguards received ample cause to regret their villainy. This time there was a good chance we could subvert the effort before the Radisha Drah and her brother, the Prahbrindrah Drah, could deal us any major treachery.
Right now the Radisha and Prince have to restrain themselves. As long as Longshadow survives, the Company will remain their lesser fear.
I asked, "You looked at those books yet?" "Which books?"
He could be exasperating. I snapped, "The books I risked my precious ass to steal back from Soulcatcher the other night. The lost Annals that are supposed to tell us why every damned-fool lord and priest in this end of the world is scared shitless of the Black Company."
"Oh. Those books."
"Yeah. Those ..." I realized that he was ragging me.
"I haven't had time, Murgen. Although I did find out that we're going to need a translator. They aren't written in modern Taglian."
"I was afraid of that."
"We're taking the ghostwalker south with us."
The sudden shift surprised me. Lately he has been so paranoid he will not mention Smoke, by name or otherwise, for any reason, even in a non-Taglian language.
There is always a crow around somewhere.
I replied. "I assumed we would. The resource is too valuable to leave here."
"We don't want anyone to know if we can help it."
"The Radisha already wonders how come we find him so interesting that we'll take care of him and keep him alive. She no longer thinks there's any chance he'll recover. If she puts much thought into it she might start adding things up." He shrugged. "I'll talk to One-Eye. You two can smuggle him out when nobody's looking."
"One more thing to do in my copious spare time."
"Hey. Enjoy it while you can. Soon we'll get to sleep for ages."
He is not a religious man.CHAPTER 2
"I got to do everything," One-Eye grumbled. "Anything that's got to be done, just stick it on old One-Eye. He'll take care of it."
I sneered. "That's only if you can't find Murgen first."
"I'm too old for this shit, Kid. I ought to be retired."
The little black man had a point. According to the Annals he is about two hundred years old, still alive mostly because of his own clever sorcery. And good luck beyond what any human being deserves.
The two of us were inside a dark circular stairway, lugging a body down on a litter. Smoke did not weigh much but One-Eye made the job a pain in the ass anyway. "You about ready to trade off?" I asked. I had the uphill end. I am more than six feet tall. One-Eye goes five feet if you stand him on a thick book. But he is a stubborn little shit who can never admit that he is wrong.
For some reason One-Eye had it in his head that the downhill end of a litter would be the easy one to handle on a stairway.
"Yeah. I think. When we get down to the next landing."
I grinned in the darkness. That would leave us with just one story to go. Then I grumbled, "I hope that damned Sleepy is on time."
Though barely eighteen Sleepy is a four-year veteran of the Company. He went through the fire of Dejagore with us. He still has a tendency to be late and a little irresponsible but, hell, he is still awful young.
Youth made him the best man to be driving a wagon around Taglios in the middle of the night if you did not want to attract attention. A Vehdna Taglian, he could pass as an apprentice easily. He could not be expected to know what he was doing. Apprentices do what they are told. Their masters seldom feel obliged to explain to them.
The kid would have no clue what he was up to tonight. If he arrived on time he would not guess his part for years. He was supposed to wander off before the wagon acquired its mysterious burden.
One-Eye would take over after we loaded Smoke. He would explain, if he found himself in a position where that became necessary, that the corpse back there was Goblin. No one would know the difference. Smoke had not been seen at all for four years and seldom publicly before that. And Goblin had not been around for a while because the Old Man sent him off on a mission weeks ago.
Anybody running into One-Eye would know who he was right away. He is the most recognizable member of the Company. His ugly old black hat gives him away even in the dark. It is so damned filthy it glows.
I exaggerate only slightly.
People would believe One-Eye because everyone in Taglios knows the nasty little runt runs with a toad-faced little white wizard called Goblin.
The trick would be to distract them from Smoke's skin color. Or One-Eye could put a glamor on him and make him actually look enough like Goblin to deceive the Taglian eye.
Eventually somebody would discover that Smoke no longer was in the Palace. Probably later. By accident. When somebody stumbled through the network of confusion spells surrounding the room where Smoke had lain hidden for years.
"Somebody" would be the Radisha Drah. She and Uncle Doj are the only people besides me and Croaker and One-Eye who know Smoke is still alive, if unutterably lost in the land of coma.
He is more useful now than he ever was when he was conscious and the secret court wizard.
Smoke had been as thoroughly craven as it is possible for a human to be.
We reached the landing. One-Eye damned near dropped his end of the litter. He was in a hurry to take a break. "Let me know when you're ready," I told him.
"You don't got to go smart-assing me, Kid." He muttered a few words in a dead tongue, which was totally unnecessary and entirely for show. He could have said the same thing in Taglian and have achieved the same result. Which was that a globe of shimmering swamp gas materialized above his ugly hat.
"Did I say anything?"
"You don't got to talk, Kid. You're grinning like a shiteating dog." But he was puffing too hard to keep it up. "Old fart's heavier than he looks, isn't he?" He was. Maybe because he was all lard after four years asleep, getting his sustenance as soup and gravy and any other sludge I can spoon down him.
He is a mess to take care of. I would let him croak if he was not so damned useful.
The Company wastes no love on this man.
Maybe I like him better unconscious than conscious, though we never butted heads personally. I have heard so many horror stories about his cowardice that I cannot say much in his favor at all. Well, he was a modestly effective fire marshal when he was awake. Fire is an enemy Taglios knows far more intimately than any remote Shadowmaster.
If he had not been such a chickenshit and gone over to Longshadow he would not be in the sad shape he is now.
* * *
For reasons unclear even to One-Eye, Smoke's comatose spirit is anchored to his flesh very loosely. Making a connection with his ka, which is what they might call it around here, is easy. It takes instructions well. I can connect with him, detach from my flesh and ride him almost anywhere, to see almost anything. Which is why he is so special to us today. Which is why it is so critical to keep everything about him under wraps.
If we succeed in this dark war, victory will come largely because we can "walk with the ghost."
"I'm ready to go," One-Eye said.
"You come back fast for an old fart."
"You keep running your jaw, Kid, you're never gonna get a chance to find out what it's like to be old enough to deserve respect but not to get none from pups like you."
"Don't go picking on me because Goblin ran out on you."
"Where the hell is that stunted mouse turd, anyway?" I knew. Or thought I knew. I walk with the ghost. One-Eye did not need to know, though, so I did not clue him in. "Lift the damned litter, limberdick."
"I just know you're going to enjoy life as a polecat, Kid."
We hoisted the litter. Smoke made a gurgling sound. Foamy spit dribbled from the corner of his mouth. "Hustle up. I need to get his mouth cleaned out before he drowns himself."
One-Eye saved his breath. We clumped down the stairs. Smoke began making strangling noises. I kicked the door open and went through without looking outside first. We got into the street.
"Put him down," I snapped. "Then cover us while I take care of him." Who knew what might be watching? Taglian nights conceal countless curious eyes. Everyone wants to know what the Black Company is doing. We take it as a given that some of those are people we do not even know yet.
Paranoia is a way of life.
I knelt beside the litter, tipped it a little and turned Smoke's head. It flopped like he had no bones in his neck. Smoke gurgled and hacked some more.
"Hush," One-Eye said.
I looked up. A tall Shadar watchman was headed our way, carrying a lantern. One of the Old Man's innovations, the nighttime foot patrols have crippled enemy espionage efforts. Now our creativity was about to turn around on us.
The turbaned soldier walked past so close his grey pants actually brushed me. But he sensed nothing.
One-Eye is no master sorcerer but he does a hell of a job when he concentrates.
Smoke made that noise again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "She Is The Darkness"
Copyright © 1997 Glen Cook.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Do not buy the electronic version of this book. The electronic version of Glittering Stones II actually contains the text of Glittering Stones I. I ended up buying the two ebooks that make up this title separately. (B&N will not let me give this book a rating).