It's Brent Weeks meets China Mieville in this wildly imaginative fantasy adventure featuring high action, elegant writing, and sword and sorcery with a Chinese flare.
At the end of The Scroll of Years, the poet Persimmon Gaunt and her husband, the thief Imago Bone, had saved their child from evil forces at the price of trapping him within a pocket dimension. Now they will attempt what seems impossible; they will seek a way to recover their son. Allied with Snow Pine, a scrappy bandit who's also lost her child to the Scroll of Years, Gaunt and Bone awaken the Great Sage, a monkeylike demigod of the East, currently trapped by vaster powers beneath a mountain. The Sage knows of a way to reach the Scroll -- but there is a price. The three must seek the world's greatest treasure and bring it back to him. They must find the worms of the alien Iron Moths, whose cocoons produce the wondrous material ironsilk.
And so the rogues join a grand contest waged along three thousand miles of dangerous and alluring trade routes between East and West. For many parties have simultaneously uncovered fragments of the Silk Map, a document pointing the way toward a nest of the Iron Moths. Our heroes tangle with Western treasure hunters, a blind mystic warrior and his homicidal magic carpet, a nomad princess determined to rebuild her father's empire, and a secret society obsessed with guarding the lost paradise where the Moths are found -- even if paradise must be protected by murder.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
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THE SILK MAP
A GAUNT AND BONE NOVEL
By Chris Willrich
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2014 Chris Willrich
All rights reserved.
FOOLS OF FIVE-TOE PEAK
In hindsight, it was perhaps foolish to awaken the sleeping demigod.
Gaunt, Bone, and Snow Pine might have turned back after the third warning, but there was something about the trio of skull-adorned markers, embellished with old bloodstains and croaking unkindnesses of ravens that had aroused their professional ire. The road to Five-Toe Peak had been a route to inspire either despair or stubbornness. The three rogues were constitutionally inclined toward the latter. Of the former they had a sufficiency.
Thus they'd taken in stride the forest of the poisonous Zheng-bird, and the crags of the one-footed booming Kui-monsters, and the wasteland of elephant bones sliced with the tracks of giant Bashe-snakes who consumed elephant flesh.
Now, although Snow Pine was a child of the East, she'd long since stepped beyond the realms of her personal knowledge, and likewise passed the perimeters of scholarship and hearsay and drunken ranting. For they now skirted those mountains that defined the southern boundary of the Braid of Spice, which led to the dubious Western lands. Gaunt and Bone themselves hailed from the exotic empires of the sunset, where pale-skinned folk like themselves were the norm. But they'd taken the sea-route to the East, and knew even less than Snow Pine of this frontier.
Thus none of them knew what to make of the first marker, rising from its skulls.
It was a large boulder chiseled with the characters of the Tongue of the Tortoise Shell, the language of Qiangguo. The inscriptions were darkened with a suspicious-looking substance. By now, after a long sojourn in the Country of Walls, Gaunt and Bone could read them along with Snow Pine. This didn't put any of them at ease.
THE GREAT SAGE IS BUSY. COME BACK IN TEN THOUSAND GENERATIONS.
Around the stone, arranged rather like bulbs in a flower garden, lay the craniums of monkeys.
"At any rate I assume they're monkeys," said Persimmon Gaunt, considering the one in her palm. Her sun-bronzed skin and tattooed face (portraying a web-shrouded rose upon her right cheek) might lead a quick observer to judge her some barbaric marauder. In fact she was a poet and a scholar and—as circumstances warranted—wily tomb-plunderer and thief.
Her husband Imago Bone scrambled onto a neighboring boulder and perched there, scanning the land. "Do you think, as we are not monkeys, the message doesn't apply?" He was a lean fellow, veteran of many a mansion-theft and crypt-crawl, with scars upon either cheek, one from blade, one from flame. There was something jovial about even his fiercest scowl, something sinister about even his warmest smile.
Gaunt snorted. "You look rather like a monkey to me, up there." Her tone was not entirely warm.
Ravens squawked at them. Snow Pine shook her head at her friends. She was a wiry bean-pole of a woman, with short, straight black hair, wearing a gray tunic that seemed to defy any attempt to scrutinize her, as a nondescript boulder might shelter a glittering chameleon. Her eyes regarded all the wild nature about her coolly, trying to peer beyond surfaces into the interplay of contrasts that gave birth to the physical world. Such meditations helped soothe her in the midst of trouble.
But of late Gaunt and Bone seemed to exemplify that clash of contrasts, and their arguments did not inspire calm.
"You two can always head back to civilization," Snow Pine ventured. "I won't be offended. Whatever the Great Sage is, he—or she, or it—belongs to these lands. Like me. This might be something I should try alone."
Gaunt shook her head, though her expression softened. "Our child is just as imprisoned as yours. Together we've braved the Ghast Emperor's tomb, and the Goldfish Kingdom, and the Geomancer Gangsters, seeking an answer. We must dare the demigod. You said it's our last hope."
As she spoke Bone looked west toward the rising mountains, and toward the tangle of alpine forest blazing green like a jade necklace entwined with pearls of clouds, and toward the sun plunging behind those clouds toward the fabled cities of Madzeu and Qushkent and Anoka—and toward many other sights in that moment that weren't the eyes of his wife.
"I said," Snow Pine replied, "the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, is the last chance I know of. There could be others in the wide world. I can only offer the knowledge I've got, such as it is. And my knowledge is fading as fast as that path ahead."
"We might as well continue, Snow Pine," Bone said mildly, scrutinizing the five-peaked range blazing like an icy weapon ahead. "We can help you dodge a few more monsters, if nothing else."
"All right," Snow Pine said.
"All right, all right!" mocked a raven, before Gaunt threw a monkey skull.
* * *
After they had frightened away the nine-headed Jiufeng-bird by mimicking barking dogs, and fled from the gibbering Fei Lian that seemed a mix of serpent, stag, leopard, bull, and sparrow, Snow Pine led them gasping to a second marker, appointed much as the first.
GO BACK. THE GREAT SAGE DECLINES ALL VISITORS.
"Hell," Bone said.
"Hell!" a raven agreed.
"These surroundings lie," Gaunt said.
"Oh?" Bone asked.
"They indicate great antiquity and neglect, Bone. Yet these markers have a perfect grisliness to them. Too perfect. I don't trust the sudden appearance of ravens."
"Hell!" said another bird.
"You feel we're being mocked," Bone said.
"I do," said Gaunt. Snow Pine thought Gaunt was studying Bone for signs of mockery of his own. Gaunt continued, "This Great Sage must maintain the warning through some magic. The demigod may even be aware of our approach. I find this annoys me."
Snow Pine said, "You'll keep going, then?" "Of course," said Gaunt, and "Indeed," said Bone.
In truth, Snow Pine felt better for their companionship. Still, she hoped they could rise above their own troubles when they ascended the mountains.
The third marker did not manifest until they had reached the very slopes. By then the proliferation of bizarre wasteland creatures had acquired a certain charm. Not all were harmful. The trio marveled at strange, one-horned, goatlike creatures climbing the foothills, their shaggy coats rippling golden in the wind; and at a pair of one-eyed, one-winged birds with clawed feet intertwined, such that they formed one unit.
"Now there's matrimony for you," Bone said, whistling. "If either withdraws, both tumble."
"Pecking each other's still possible," Gaunt said.
"As well you would know," he muttered.
"I beg your pardon."
"Well, you have been throwing me looks like daggers the entire journey."
"Well, what do you expect? We're on a quest to rescue our son. And yet you act as if we're on a picnic."
He waved a hand airily. "A picnic among monsters and monkey skulls, Gaunt?"
"That's it, that's just it! You mock everything. Nothing's sufficiently serious for the untouchable thief Imago Bone."
"Says the poet Persimmon Gaunt. Who would rather wallow in despair than take action. Who thinks words matter more than deeds."
"Uh—" Snow Pine began. "Friends—"
She'd known them before they'd lost their son, and it hurt her to see them argue thus. She, who'd likewise lost a daughter, understood their grief.
But unlike Gaunt and Bone, Snow Pine had no spouse in which to seek solace or blame. She was a widow at nineteen. She sometimes wished her friends, in the midst of their bickering, would remember that.
She blinked at something salty she'd no time for. As her vision refocused on the foothills, she sucked in her breath.
"You've had decades to grow up," Gaunt was saying. "Don't you think it's time you got started?"
"Do you know where all injustice begins? It begins with someone declaring themselves a grownup."
"You speak of injustice, O thief?"
"Have you managed to overlook just how we've been maintained, O poet?"
"Friends!" Snow Pine repeated more urgently. "I think I know those horned goats. Unless I'm crazy, they're xiezhi. Empathic beasts. And they hate arguments ..."
The xiezhi, their golden coats flowing, their hooves echoing like mad machinery through the foothills, were charging down in their dozens from the heights.
"Oh," Bone said.
"Will they attack?" Gaunt asked.
"It's said," Snow Pine said quickly, "they'll gore the person in the wrong, in any dispute. Unless either of you wants to live like a one-winged bird ... run!"
The three of them bore weapons, of course—Bone his many daggers, Gaunt similarly armed and with a short bow besides, and Snow Pine a curved dao-sword of Qiangguo. But they were none of them warriors. Snow Pine was perhaps the closest to a true combatant, with her hardscrabble upbringing and a little training from fighting monks and a warrior-woman of the wulin.
Now, if that wulin were here, perhaps they'd have a chance. But Snow Pine couldn't leap halfway to the clouds, nor shatter bones with her hands, nor disrupt the life-force of her foes. And Lightning Bug was as dead as Snow Pine's husband.
The ground ahead pitched and twisted with lurches and curves of granite, covered here and there with pebbles and fine silt. The treeline loomed on the right with its deceptive promise of sheltering woods but also gangs of tripping roots, trapping shrubs, swatting branches. The steep leftward slope looked ready to crumble into a minor avalanche at the first footfall.
A narrow path of firm untangled ground lay between. It led into a defile between vast rocks leaning like giants' abandoned playthings.
As they entered the passage, it bent left, and there they met a third marker, rising up from its own batch of skulls.
GO BACK AND HONE YOUR READING SKILLS. THE GREAT SAGE DOES NOT WANT YOU!
Ten crows flitted and squawked around the plinth. Each bird possessed three legs, and even with angry xiezhi on their tail, something about the birds made Snow Pine silent and wary.
But Gaunt and Bone gasped outrage at the marker.
"If there was any chance," Bone said, "that I would not ... bother the Great Sage ... that chance is done."
"Indeed," Gaunt said, "he has earned my spite ..."
"If you want to hide on a mountain ..." Bone said.
"Then hide on a mountain!" Gaunt finished for him. "Don't put up signs saying, 'Ha, ha, behold, I am hiding on a mountain.'"
"'Look at me, look at me, how reclusive I am!'"
They chuckled bitterly, leaning against one another. "We'd best prepare to be gored," said Bone, drawing a pair of daggers.
"Ha, yes," said Gaunt, with something near giddiness, as she prepared to fire an arrow.
As the spouses and their bewildered companion peered back along the path, they saw the horde of xiezhi sweeping toward them, horns aimed toward the defile like cavalry spears, less than a minute away.
Snow Pine drew her sword, and Bone's daggers were already out. For whatever good they would do. At least first blood would go to Gaunt, who raised her bow.
Looking at Gaunt's face, Snow Pine recalled the saying that dangerous as a tigress was, she never harmed her own cubs.
The xiezhi were in a sense between Gaunt and her cub. Snow Pine would not want to be them.
* * *
Persimmon Gaunt was sighting along the arrow, thinking, I don't want to kill them. I don't want to kill anything, ever again. The xiezhi were beautiful things; while they'd initially resembled goats, their gait was reminiscent of cats, and their eyes had the mournfully intelligent gaze of hunting dogs.
A ruthless part of her mind offered answers. Lovely pretty killers. At most you'll slay one. They're herd creatures; one death may disperse them.
When did I become such a cold thing? she wondered.
She fired, aiming for the ground ahead of the lead xiezhi.
The arrow raised gray dust, and the lead xiezhi snorted and blinked and growled.
Such is the last act of the adventuress Persimmon Gaunt, said the cold voice.
"Climb!" she told the others, and took her own advice.
Somehow she managed to keep hold of the bow as she hauled herself onto the huge, roughly shaped boulders defining the defile.
She slipped once, before Bone caught her arm. Of course he was already up here.
"Thanks. Where is Snow Pine—no!"
Their companion had not climbed. She was instead walking into the gap, sword raised.
The xiezhi rushed her. They were elegant but stank. Like moralists. Gaunt readied another shot, knowing there'd be no time.
Her idiotic glorious thief leapt.
Once again he survived something he truly didn't deserve to and landed on the lead xiezhi's back.
He yanked on its woolly neck, and it lurched about toward the heights. Bone was nearly knocked off. Yet miraculously he kept his hold around the neck, flopping to the xiezhi's left side as it hurled itself upslope.
He was well on his way to climbing Five-Toe Peak without her. About half the herd followed him.
The rest crowded before Snow Pine, snorting, stamping, looking confused. Snow Pine yelled obscenities and swung her sword in the air. They would not attack nor back off.
Somehow neither Bone nor Snow Pine were yet dead. Goddess of Swanisle, Gaunt thought, I am not a lunatic, but I collect them.
For a moment Gaunt assumed the sun had emerged from behind the clouds. Her crisp shadow fell upon the herd of xiezhi as if Krummara the Dead Huntress, a goddess of the West, had manifested here in the remote East. The xiezhi pounding the ground beside Snow Pine reacted as much, charging after their fellows toward the heights. Then Gaunt recalled that save for the clouds attending the mountaintops, the sky was clear.
The blazing light shifted and split, and Gaunt's shadow divided and whirled.
Gaunt whirled as well, arrow at the ready.
The three-legged crows from the marker had taken to the air. Along with this new liveliness their eyes had seemingly caught fire. Dazzling energies twisted in complex knots as the crows whirled and squawked. Gaunt's vision was soon a weave of searing threads, the rest of the world but a shadowy suggestion beyond.
"Sun-crows!" Snow Pine was yelling. "That's impossible! Sun-crows!"
"Back off!" Gaunt shouted at the birds, hoping anything so supernatural would have the gifts of language and reason.
Crows squawked and swirled around her, and lashes of light burned her way.
She dodged in a way that might have impressed Bone—had he not been busy playing with xiezhi—and kept her perch and her grip on the bow. Her skin felt as though she'd napped uncovered in a desert. She ignored her pain and fired at a dark shape concealed in a skein of light.
The sun-crow screeched its pain, and dark feathers fluttered toward the defile.
"Crows!" Snow Pine called.
Your mastery of the obvious, Gaunt thought, drawing a fresh arrow, rivals my husband's.
But Snow Pine was not addressing Gaunt. "Crows, behold the lineal descendent of Yi the Archer, he who shot your ancestors out of the sky! See how her line has been hidden in a benighted sunless land, for behold her pale skin, nearly the color of death! Now the legacy of Yi comes again. Where once there were ten suns, only one remains. How will you fare? Flee! Flee!"
Gaunt, who'd trained as a bard, felt a twinge of jealousy: cheering on a combatant was surely her job, and Snow Pine showed a knack for it.
Nevertheless Gaunt was the one with the bow.
She fired again, and this time luck was with her, if not sight.
A crow cried its outrage and flapped away on a damaged wing. Gaunt barely noticed the whips of crackling energy that descended upon her boulder—she tumbled off in a low roar of pebbles and dust, landing inauspiciously on her face.
Snow Pine helped her up, and Gaunt reclaimed the bow. Yet there was no need. With much invective in the manner of crows, the flock relocated to a cliff a quarter-mile away.
"Their eyes are still burning," Snow Pine said.
"So are mine," Gaunt said.
"You probably can't see Bone on his way to us."
"No, but I think I hear him."
"Run!" Bone was shouting from somewhere upslope. "Run!"
"What is he fleeing from?" Gaunt said, squinting. "I can barely see him, running down the slope."
"He seems to have found more xiezhi," Snow Pine said.
"He has a talent for finding things," Gaunt said.
"Maybe we should take his advice."
It might have been the light still blazing within her eyes. It might have been the return of violence, yet again, to her life.
Something dark and stony rose within her mind, and she stepped forward, as Snow Pine had done.
"Gaunt!" Bone was shouting desperately. "Run!"
"Persimmon?" Snow Pine was saying.
"You do not need to run, my friend," Gaunt heard herself answer, setting down her bow. "I realize now you were in no danger." The shadowy form of Bone came toward her, on foot now.
"I know! That's why I blocked the gap. They were attracted by you and Bone."
"Gaunt!" Bone yelled, nearly in her face. She could barely see his beloved, vexing face. Golden forms rose behind him like a dark wave. She whispered a prayer that she was right and grabbed Bone, forcing him into a kiss.
"Mmmph?" he said.
"Shut up," she said, though it came out as "Shmp."
It was a good kiss. Standing at the edge of disaster was like that, sometimes.
Nothing gored them.
When she opened her eyes, she saw more, and perceived Bone's astonished face and a herd of golden beasts nuzzling the ground for feed.
Excerpted from THE SILK MAP by Chris Willrich. Copyright © 2014 Chris Willrich. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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.
Table of Contents
ContentsA Note on Distances, 9,
Prologue: Monkey Mind, 11,
PART ONE: BRAID,
Chapter 1: Fools of Five-Toe Peak, 19,
Chapter 2: The Secret History of the Sky Khanate, 47,
Chapter 3: In the Alley of the Scholars of Life, 67,
Chapter 4: Interlude: Confessions of a Magic Carpet, 83,
Chapter 5: Dolma, 99,
Chapter 6: Flint and Quilldrake, Limited, 111,
Chapter 7: Beyond the Jade Gate, 123,
Chapter 8: The Desert of Hungry Shadows, 133,
Chapter 9: The Haunted City, 155,
PART TWO: KNOT,
Chapter 10: Interlude: Testimony of a Traveler's Robe, 165,
Chapter 11: Cave of a Thousand Illuminations, 175,
Chapter 12: Daughter of the Sky, 189,
Chapter 13: The Question of Flight, 201,
Chapter 14: The Gift of the Great Sage, 215,
Chapter 15: The Gash in the Earthe, 239,
Chapter 16: Interlude: Observations of an Overcoat, 253,
Chapter 17: The Necropolis of Nine Years, 261,
Chapter 18: Interlude: Suspicions of a Strangling Cloth, 277,
Chapter 19: Deadfall, 279,
Chapter 20: Tower of the Beak, 285,
PART THREE: TANGLE,
Chapter 21: Xembala, 297,
Chapter 22: Trust a Fox, 319,
Chapter 23: Maldar Khan, 341,
Chapter 24: Ghost Dialogues, 365,
Chapter 25: Incarnations, 379,
Chapter 26: Karmic Burdens, 387,
Chapter 27: Bull-Demon Mountain, 391,
Chapter 28: Interlude: Epiphanies of an Emperor's Robe, 413,
Chapter 29: The Man Who Would be Sericulturalist, 417,
Chapter 30: Jaws of Victory, 419,
Chapter 31: Renunciation, 427,
Chapter 32: Steel of the Steppe, 435,
Chapter 33: Reunion, 439,
Epilogue: Journey to the West, 441,
About the Author, 445,
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