New York Times bestselling author Tracy Hickman and award-winning video game designer Richard Garriott begin their epic fantasy Blade of the Avatar series with The Sword of Midrasa thrilling prequel to the Shroud of the Avatar video game.
The world died during the Fall.
Abandoned by the mighty Avatars and their Virtues, the people who remained were left defenseless in an untamed land. That is, until the Obsidians came. Through dark sorcery and overwhelming force the Obsidian Empire brought order to chaos, no matter the cost.
Aren Bennis is a Captain in the Obsidian Army who has seen enough of what a world without Virtue looks like and is willing to do whatever it takes to establish a lasting peace. But after finding a magical sword that only he can wield, a sword his trusted scout, Syenna, claims is a blade once used by the legendary Avatars, Aren is thrown into a far more unfamiliar battle. One fought with whispered words and betrayal instead of swords and arrows.
Running out of allies, Aren's only hope for survival is to discover the true nature of the ancient weapon he wears at his side. In order to do that, Aren will have to turn to the empire's enemies and, in doing so, he will discover what order at the hands of the Obsidians really means.
About the Author
TRACY HICKMAN has been publishing game designs, books, and stories for more than thirty-five years. In addition, he is a New York Times bestselling coauthor of many novels, including the original Dragonlance Chronicles. Hickman lives in Utah.
RICHARD GARRIOTT DE CAYEUX is a video game designer, collector, and private astronaut. In 2006 Richard was awarded with two industry honors for his work in the games business: selection into The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards.
Read an Excerpt
The Sword of Midras
A Shroud of the Avatar Novel
By Tracy Hickman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Portalarium, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Aren Bennis, captain of the Westreach Army of the Obsidian Empire, looked out for the heads of his archer ranks toward the remains of the city of Midras.
"Why does bringing order demand such a mess?" he mused as he scanned the splintering stockade wall for the remaining defenders behind it. "Such a beautiful, glorious mess."
The city — or what passed for a city in these times, Aren corrected himself ruefully — lay under the pall of a large column of smoke billowing from the still burning barracks on the far side of the city. The smoke rose to mar the otherwise clear sky overhead. Aren could see the forward lines of battle against the stockade wall that stood between him and the interior of the city beyond. This was the third breach in the defenses he had commanded that day. Parts of the city were already being looted because of his two previous successes. Now, once more at his orders, the satyrs had regrouped into a concentrated force and were tearing down another section of the defensive wall. The fauns were grouped here as well in support of the satyrs, their special song loosening the mortar between the timbers. They had been the key to the fall of Midras, penetrating the timbers that stood against them in a number of places. It allowed the main force of human warriors to sweep through the breach and collapse the city defenses. Now the city had fallen to them as the captain knew it would.
The captain knew nothing of the city's history nor did he particularly care. He could see there were walls and columns that predated the Fall in various places about the city. One area of these on the eastern side looked as though the ruling warlord of the city was trying to restore it to some semblance of its original form. Now the building was a ruin again following their assault. The warlord had been dislodged. Blood soaked the ground, and the city was being pillaged. Securing the city from vengeful pockets of warriors, under the mistaken belief that they could still win a victory through resistance, would be difficult and long — Aren had seen that time enough before — but the rule of order and law under the Obsidians had once more reclaimed part of the world from ignorance and the petty squabbles with its equally petty neighbors.
It was a beautiful day.
The call came from behind him, barely carrying over the clash of steel, the death cries, and the battle shouts that filled the air. Aren turned only slightly in response, not wanting to miss the battle raging before him. "What is it, Halik? I'm a little engaged at the moment."
Nik Halik saluted after the manner of the Obsidians, slamming his fist against the center of his breastplate. "General Karpasic sends his compliments —"
"Nik, General Karpasic never sends a compliment," the captain observed, his eyes still on the battle. "At least not without demanding payment for it."
"Of course," Nik replied with a shrug of his steel pauldrons at both shoulders. Halik had dark, close-shorn hair and preferred to keep his face shaved bare. His dusky complexion only made his smile brighter. "Did you think our glorious commander would send me out here just to tell you how pretty you are?"
"So you've come to tell me the general thinks I'm comely?" Aren snorted. "Now we both know how much that's worth!"
"So you'll be asking me for a receipt?" Nik flashed an easy smile as he patted down the breastplate. "Oh, must have lost my parchment and quill during the battle. You'll just have to take my word for it then. ... The general sends his compliments, and you'll owe him for it on account."
Lieutenant Halik was wearing his full battle armor as he approached. Aren looked him over once with approval. The lieutenant wore the armor of a Westreach warlord that looked nearly identical to Aren's own: blackened plates trimmed in bright silver, with bloodred accents.
Aren smiled at the memory of the original design, when he had first seen the sketches made over a year ago by General Karpasic. The helmet looked like it had more horns and spikes sticking out of it than a thistle. The shoulder pauldrons and gardbraces were similarly sculpted into spikes and points and, it seemed, at every other available point. It looked impressive and fear-inspiring, but it was completely impractical in battle. A warrior would not be able to exit his own tent in such a ridiculous contrivance, let alone engage in combat. True, an enemy's weapon could easily get caught up in the pointy bits, and he might even do himself harm should he be so foolish as to impale himself on his opponent. More likely, however, the enemy weapon would simply do more damage by directing the blow into the armor rather than away from it. Aren managed to work with the armorers and, in the end, convinced Karpasic that a design with fewer spikes and more deflecting curves would be more effective. The one concession was a single large and spikey gardbrace attached to the pauldron of the right shoulder, which became a symbol of rank among the warlords based on the shape and design. Aren made certain that the gardbrace could be detached during combat. Warriors could then at least shed this spiked contrivance when necessary. Only General Karpasic's armor was ornamented with six such ornate gardbraces, with three at each shoulder. Aren knew they were showy and practically useless — not unlike the general himself.
Aren smiled with satisfaction as he saw that Halik's armor was stained, and a number of blade strikes marred the finish. Aren had no use for army staff who kept their armor bright.
Which explained why his own armor was so badly damaged.
"I'd rather not owe the general anything for his compliments, on account or otherwise. You don't suppose the general would consider our ledger balanced now that I've taken the city for him?" Aren mused as he turned toward a message runner who was rapidly approaching from his left.
"No more than he credited you with the previous two cities, or any of the engagements in between," Halik rejoined. "His ledger is a bit one-sided."
"Elf of Blood-Cleaver Legion reports that the tower ruin on the left flank has been occupied by enemy archers, sire!" the runner reported slightly out of breath. "The elf requests the captain order the support of the west-flank archer units for his assault to retake the tower!"
"Tell the elf to pull his forces back westward along the battle line until they are out of range of the tower," Aren said pointedly to the runner. "He is to support the breaching force until we're through the stockade wall."
"But, sire," the runner replied, his eyes blinking nervously as he spoke, "the elf said he has orders from the general to take the tower and eliminate the threat."
Halik rolled his eyes.
"What the elf has not appreciated is that we don't need to take the tower," Aren replied, his voice attaining a dangerous, calm quality as he spoke. "If we isolate the tower by breaching the wall first, then we completely take them out of the battle and make them irrelevant to our victory. Tell the elf, further, that he will take the tower as instructed by the general — but only after the wall is breached and the city is secure. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sire!" the runner replied.
"Then get back to the elf with my orders before he charges the tower without permission and gets a lot of my forces killed without reason."
"Yes, sire!" the runner said again with more conviction, before turning and running westward back into the conflict.
Halik cleared his throat loudly. "The general sends his compliments and requests that you —"
"Nik, my time is occupied at the moment with keeping this army together and seizing the city," Aren said as he rubbed his tired brow with his fingers. "What does the general want?"
"Simple" — Halik sighed — "he asks that you accompany me to the command tent."
"The command tent?" The captain could barely accept the possibility. "When?"
"I'm conducting the battle right now!"
"And your fine work is appreciated so much" — Halik nodded — "that he wants you to stop doing it and report in person on how well it is going."
Aren closed his eyes, trying to keep his temper in check. "He means it, doesn't he?"
"Oh yes." Nik nodded. "And, uh, we're already late."
"Captain Hart!" Aren yelled.
Hart was Aren's second in command of the assault. Aren believed that what Hart lacked in creativity, he made up for in determination. Though they were of equal rank, Hart always deferred to Bennis's judgment on the field of battle.
"Yes, sire!" Hart reported.
"You are in command," Aren said as though the words tasted of bitterness in his mouth. "Continue to concentrate on breaching the wall, then have the force move into the city in pursuit of the defenders once the breach is complete."
Aren turned to Lieutenant Halik. "Let's go. Hopefully, this won't take long."
"You never know with the general," Nik observed.
"Yes, you never know." Aren sighed as he turned away from the battle and stalked off toward the north.
* * *
The column of smoke from the city was far behind them to the south as Captain Bennis and his companion approached the Westreach Army encampment. The sentinel guards recognized them both at once and let them pass the sentry line unchallenged. They both moved quickly between the warrior tents, mess kitchens, and weaponsmiths, toward the oversize tent near the center of the camp.
"How are the second-version elves in combat?" Halik asked as they walked toward the general's tent.
"Somewhat better than the first versions," Aren observed. It was good to talk about anything except the general and the meeting that was coming nearer with every step. "But they are still a problem."
"I thought the improved eyesight and reflexes would be an advantage," Halik said. "And their tactical savvy should be something you above anyone would appreciate."
"I do like the idea of their being able to demonstrate independent action as commanders of small units, but they're still too aggressive," Aren said, shaking his head. "That, and they're completely unstable. I'm getting reports daily of elves abandoning their commands, forming independent cells, and then attacking both their enemy and their own troops."
"How many elves do you have?" Halik asked.
"Eight," the captain replied. "It's all the Obsidians would send us, and I'm just as glad. I try to keep them separated in different groups as much as possible. It seems to help. I am more impressed with the satyrs and the fauns. At least they follow orders. The satyrs have limited use and have to be caged once the battle is over. The fauns are easier to manage, although you have to goad them into the fight. At least they have a calming influence on the satyrs. We were fortunate to figure that out."
"It's a mixed bag," Halik agreed. "Do you think these 'crafted warriors' are ever going to make a difference?"
"Is that what they're being called now?" Aren smiled. He could already see the guards standing to either side of the command tent's entrance. "I thought monsters was the accepted term among the rest of the army. The Obsidians may have a talent for crafting life into more useful shapes, but I'm not certain their efforts to create new forms of life are paying off on the battlefield."
"You mean like the undead?" Halik almost laughed.
"Now there's an example of misguided thinking," Aren replied, grimacing. "Sure, one could easily think that an army of warriors who were already dead would be invincible. The Obsidians let loose their great magic, and now the dead spring up where we wish to serve our cause. No one considered that the dead hate all the living and would attack both sides when the magic called them back to life. We only recently gained any semblance of control over them, only to discover that the dead are as stupid as posts when it comes to anything outside their own life experience. You can't command them or direct them to where you need them to go. As a weapon, they're nearly useless."
"The Obsidians have promised that the next incarnations of their wizardry would be functionally better," Halik said, though his tone belied his doubt.
"As they always do," Aren said, chuckling. "They love to shape new creatures first and then promise to fix the monsters later."
"Don't you have a friend among the Cabal of the Obsidians?" Halik asked. They were approaching the enormous tent of the army command. Pennants were flapping from the tent poles, clearly demonstrating that General Karpasic was holding court within. "Perhaps you could ask him when we might get a version of these creatures they like to summon that is actually useful in battle."
"Assuming I have a friend among the Obsidians," Aren replied as he stopped just short of the tent entrance, "would you really think it wise to ask a mutation sorcerer why the magic of his cabal is so flawed?"
"Don't want to be transformed, eh?" Halik laughed.
"I'd hardly be able to serve the empire as a frog, would I?" Aren said. He cast a cynical eye on the tent flap of the entrance. "Are you coming in with me?"
"In there? I'd rather hit my own head repeatedly with a large rock," Halik said. raising an eyebrow. "You wouldn't make that an order, would you, Captain?"
"No." Aren sighed with resignation. "But that large rock is sounding very attractive right about now."
Aren stepped inside the tent. He was momentarily blinded as the brightness of the day gave way to the dim confines of the command tent. His eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness inside.
General Milos Karpasic sat on his ornate chair opposite the entry flap. It was like Milos in a way, Aren thought: so large that its usefulness was literally outweighed by its inconvenience. The general had the porters for the army carry the monstrosity everywhere the army went and insisted on it being set up on its matching carpet almost before the tent pegs had stopped ringing from being driven into the unforgiving ground. The army did not eat until the general's "throne" was settled. The chair itself was designed to fit on a large wooden dais that elevated the eye level of the general above anyone who stood before him. Milos claimed that the presence of the chair struck awe into the hearts of those who came under the rule of the Obsidians, and that it was a symbol of inspiration to the troops under his command. Aren thought it simply demonstrated the arrogance of a man who preferred image over substance and truly believed there was no difference between the two.
The vision he presented now confirmed every opinion Aren had of the general. He sat wearing his "battle armor." The gardbraces mounted over the pauldrons on either shoulder were oversize and completely impractical, their sweeping points threatening to poke out the general's eye if he moved his head too quickly to either side. The ornate filigree on the breastplate, with the fanciful image of the head of a one-eyed dragon, shined even in the dim light within the tent. Every inch of the armor gleamed, and not a single scratch could be seen anywhere on its surface. His helmet, also forged to look like the head of the same one-eyed beast, sat on a stand to his right, which he had designed especially for the purpose. The black armor was framed by a luxurious crimson cape attached at his shoulders and flowing over the frame of the throne.
As for General Karpasic himself, he had a square face and, at first glance, no neck. He looked as though he were trying to pull his head back down between the shoulder gardbraces of his armor. His black hair he coifed back from the low slope of his extensive brow, and his dark beard and mustache were trimmed into a very controlled Vandyck-style. With small dark eyes and a playful smile he looked back at Aren, though Aren knew fully well how quickly that placid facade could be turned into tempestuous rage.
"Captain Bennis!" the general's voice boomed so everyone else in the tent could take notice that Aren had come at Karpasic's whim. "A triumph for the Obsidians once more! Have you brought us all news of our victory?"
Aren turned slightly, noticing that most of the command staff were standing near the sand table set up on the left side of the tent. Aren sighed inwardly. Schnell, Odman, Gerald, Gorn ... each of them should have been at their commands at the front, maintaining control over their forces still assaulting the city. But instead they had all been summoned, just as he had been, to the general's tent.
At least Aren was pleased to see that Syenna was there as well. The Midmaer woman was tall and sharp featured, with almond-shaped eyes that seemed to take in the world at a glance. Her skin was deeply tanned. She wore leather breeches — much to the disapproval of the general — and dressed more like a man than the custom of the Midmaer region usually dictated. She had long, honey-colored hair, bleached nearly white by the sun, and it reached her waist in a tightly woven braid down her back. Syenna had been the scout for the army of the Westreach since they rescued her from the trade caravan in the western Grunvald. Much to Aren's delight, the woman proved to be not only familiar with the land but remarkably knowledgeable of the region's stories and people. She also was the one person in the entire force who would argue with him when she thought Aren was wrong.
Excerpted from The Sword of Midras by Tracy Hickman. Copyright © 2016 Portalarium, Inc.. 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.
Table of Contents
Map of New Britannia,
PROLOGUE: The Destiny Pool,
PART I: THE OBSIDIANS,
CHAPTER 1: Midras,
CHAPTER 2: Ruin,
CHAPTER 3: The Blade,
CHAPTER 4: Messages,
CHAPTER 5: Dark Horizon,
CHAPTER 6: Desolis,
CHAPTER 7: Chamber of Souls,
CHAPTER 8: Treacherous Paths,
CHAPTER 9: Awry,
PART II: THE FALLS,
CHAPTER 10: Hilt,
CHAPTER 11: Mistral,
CHAPTER 12: Amanda,
CHAPTER 13: Councils,
CHAPTER 14: The Bearer,
CHAPTER 15: Bay of Storms,
PART III: THE SIEGE,
CHAPTER 16: Opalis,
CHAPTER 17: Crossroads,
CHAPTER 18: Innocents,
CHAPTER 19: Dispossessed,
CHAPTER 20: Unwilling Help,
CHAPTER 21: Practical Men,
CHAPTER 22: The Walls,
CHAPTER 23: The Gate,
CHAPTER 24: Collateral Damage,
PART IV: THE TIDE,
CHAPTER 25: Bargains,
CHAPTER 26: The Open Door,
CHAPTER 27: Epiphany,
CHAPTER 28: Thundering Silence,
Novels by Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Sword of Midras is an introduction to the world of New Britannia, the setting for Richard Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar. Having Tracy Hickman, world renowned author of the Dragonlance Saga, pen the prelude to that world is excellent strategy. A master wordsmith, he eases readers into the setting and makes them want more. Fortunately, more is coming! This is but the first of a trilogy of Blade of the Avatar novels, plus the game itself! As a fantasy novel, expect a mix of traditional fare and some twists. The protagonist, Aren Bennis, is a soldier for the evil empire. In the course of his duties, he discovers a crypt dedicated to a mythical group and stumbles across the titular weapon. From there, however, the fight changes from the battlefield of Midras to one of Aren's own conscience. The sins of his past continue to hound him, but he can perhaps see another path. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy stories. Its a quick read, and it will leave you wanting more. A longer review, specifically coming from backers of Shroud of the Avatar, can be found on the Digital Lycaeum: http://lycaeum.ultimacodex.com/the-sword-of-midras-released/