Tome of the Undergates
|Series:||The Aeon's Gate: Book 1|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Sword and Sorcery|
|Avg Member Rating:||
The debut novel from an extraordinarily talented twenty-five-year-old author. Fantasy's next global star has arrived.
Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the Shict despises most humans, and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out.
Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century.
In the span of a breath, colour and sound died on the wind.
The green of the ocean, the flutter of sails, the tang of salt in the air vanished from Lenk’s senses. The world faded into darkness, leaving only the tall, leather-skinned man before him and the sword clutched in his hands.
The man loosed a silent howl and leapt forwards. Lenk’s sword rose just as his foe’s curved blade came crashing down.
They met in a kiss of sparks. Life returned to Lenk’s senses in the groan of the grinding blades. He was aware of many things at once: the man’s towering size, the sound of curses boiling out of tattooed lips, the odour of sweat and the blood staining the wood under their feet.
The man uttered something through a yellow-toothed smile; Lenk watched every writhing twitch of his mouth, hearing no words behind them. No time to wonder. He saw the man’s free hand clutching a smaller, crueller blade, whipping up to seek his ribs.
The steel embrace shattered. Lenk leapt backwards, feeling his boots slide along the red-tinged salt beneath him. His heels struck something fleshy and solid and unmoving; his backpedal halted.
Don’t look, he urged himself, not yet.
He had eyes for nothing but his foe’s larger blade as it came hurtling down upon him. Lenk darted away, watched the cutlass bite into the slick timbers and embed itself. He saw the twitch of the man’s eye – the realisation of his mistake and the instant in which futile hope existed.
And then died.
Lenk lunged, sword up and down in a flashing arc. His senses returned with painful slowness; he could hear the echo of the man’s shriek, feel the sticky life spatter across his face, taste the tang of copper on his lips. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes, the man knelt before his own severed arm, shifting a wide-eyed stare from the leaking appendage to the young man standing over him.
Lenk’s sword flashed again, biting deeply into meat and sliding out again. Only when its tip lowered, steady, to the timbers, only when his opponent collapsed, unmoving, did he allow himself to take in the sight.
The pirate’s eyes were quivering pudding: stark white against the leather of his flesh. They looked stolen, wearing an expression that belonged to a smaller, more fearful man. Lenk met his foe’s gaze, seeing his own blue stare reflected in the whites until the light behind them sputtered out in the span of a sole, ragged breath.
He drew a lock of silver hair from his eyes, ran his hand down his face, wiping the sweat and substance from his brow. His fingers came back to him trembling and stained.
Lenk drew in a breath.
In that breath, the battle had ended. The roar of the pirates’ retreat and the hesitant, hasty battle cries of sailors had faded on the wind. The steel that had flashed under the light of a shameless staring sun now lay on the ground in limp hands. The stench ebbed on the breeze, filled the sails overhead and beckoned the hungry gulls to follow.
The dead remained.
They were everywhere, having ceased to be men. Now they were litter, so many obstacles of drained flesh and broken bones lying motionless on the deck. Pirates lay here and there, amongst the sailors they had taken with them. Some embraced their foes with rigor-stiffening limbs. Most lay on their backs, eyes turned to Gods that had no answers for the questions that had died on their lips.
His thought seemed an understatement, perhaps insultingly so, but he had seen many bodies in his life, many not half as peacefully gone. He had drawn back trembling hands many times before, flicked blood from his sword many times before, as he did now. And he was certain that the stale breath he drew would not be the last to be scented with death.
‘Astounding congratulations should be proffered for so ruby a sport, good sir!’
Lenk whirled about at the voice, blade up. The pirate standing upon the railing of the Riptide, however, seemed less than impressed, if the banana-coloured grin on his face was any indication. He extended a long, tattooed limb and made an elaborate bow.
‘It is the sole pleasure of the Linkmaster’s crew, myself included, to look forward to offering a suitable retort for,’ the pirate paused to gesture to the human litter, ‘our less fortunate complements, of suitable fury and adequately accompanying disembowelment.’
‘Uh,’ Lenk said, blinking, ‘what?’
Had he time and wit enough about him to decipher the tattooed man’s expression, he would, he assured himself, have come up with a more suitable retort.
‘Do hold that thought, kind sir. I shall return anon to carve it out.’
Like some particularly eloquent hairless ape, the pirate fell to all fours and scampered nimbly across a chain swaying over the gap of quickly shifting sea between the two ships. He was but one of many, Lenk noted, as the remaining tattooed survivors fled back over the railings of their own vessel.
‘Cragsmen,’ the young man muttered, spitting on the deck at the sight of the inked masses.
Their leviathan ship shared their love of decoration, it seemed. Its title was painted in bold, violent crimson upon a black hull, sharp as a knife: Linkmaster. And in equally threatening display were crude scrawlings of ships of various sizes beneath the title, each one with a triumphant red cross drawn through it.
Save one that bore a peculiar resemblance to the Riptide’s triple masts.
‘Eager little bastards,’ he muttered, narrowing his eyes. ‘They’ve already picked out a spot for us.’
He blinked. That realisation carried a heavy weight, one that struck him suddenly. He had thought that the pirates were chance raiders and the Riptide nothing more than an unlucky victim. This particular drawing, apparently painted days before, suggested something else.
‘Khetashe,’ Lenk cursed under his breath, ‘they’ve been waiting for us.’
‘Were they?’ someone grunted from behind him, a voice that seemed to think it should be feminine but wasn’t quite convinced.
He turned about and immediately regretted doing so. A pair of slender hands in fingerless leather gloves reached down to grip an arrow’s shaft jutting from a man’s chest. He should have been used to the sound of arrowheads being wrenched out of flesh, he knew, but he couldn’t help cringing.
Somehow, one never got all the way used to Kataria.
‘Because if this is an ambush,’ the pale creature said as she inspected the bloody arrow, ‘it’s a rather pitiful excuse for one.’ She caught his uncomfortable stare and offered an equally unpleasant grin as she tapped her chin with the missile’s head. ‘But then, humans have never been very good at this sort of thing, have they?’
Her ears were always the first thing he noticed about Kataria: long, pointed spears of pale flesh peeking out from locks of dirty blonde hair, three deep notches running the length of each as they twitched and trembled like beings unto themselves. Those ears, as long as the feathers laced in her hair, were certainly the most prominent markers of her shictish heritage.
The immense, fur-wrapped bow she carried on her back, as well as the short-cut leathers she wore about what only barely constituted a bosom, leaving her muscular mid section exposed, were also indicative of her savage custom.
‘You looked as surprised as any to find them aboard,’ Lenk replied. With a sudden awareness, he cast a glance about the deck. ‘So did Denaos, come to think of it. Where did he go?’
‘Well . . .’ She tapped the missile’s fletching against her chin as she inspected the deck. ‘I suppose if you just find the trail of urine and follow it, you’ll eventually reach him.’
‘Whereas one need only follow your stench to find you?’ he asked, daring a little smirk.
‘Correction,’ she replied, unfazed, ‘one need only look for the clear winner.’ She pushed a stray lock of hair behind the leather band about her brow, glanced at the corpse at Lenk’s feet. ‘What’s that? Your first one today?’
‘Well, well, well.’ Her smile was as unpleasant as the red-painted arrows she held before her, her canines as prominent and sharp as their glistening heads. ‘I win.’
‘This isn’t a game, you know.’
‘You only say that because you’re losing.’ She replaced the bloodied missiles in the quiver on her back. ‘What’s it matter to you, anyway? They’re dead. We’re not. Seems a pretty favourable situation to me.’
‘That last one snuck up on me.’ He kicked the body. ‘Nearly gutted me. I told you to watch my back.’
‘First, when we came up here.’ He counted off on his fingers. ‘Next, when everyone started screaming, “Pirates! Pirates!” And then, when I became distinctly aware of the possibility of someone shoving steel into my kidneys. Any of these sound familiar?’
‘Vaguely,’ she said, scratching her backside. ‘I mean, not the actual words, but I do recall the whining.’ She of...
Copyright © 2010 by Sam Sykes
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