Game of Thrones Season 2: First publicity photo

Oh man, only a few more weeks to go!!!

And don't forget: HBO's Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season in DVD (Canada, USA, Europe) and Blu-ray (Canada, USA, Europe), will hit the stores on March 6th, 2012. Only a few more days to go!

The extras:

Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions include the first season’s 10 episodes, plus (descriptions are the official text):

Complete Guide to Westeros

“An interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands featured in season one.”

Making Game of Thrones

“An exclusive 30-minute feature including never-before-seen footage from the set and interviews from the cast and crew.”

Character Profiles

“Profiles of 15 major characters as described by the actors portraying them.”

Creating the Show Open

“An inside look at the creation of the Emmy-winning opening title sequence for Game of Thrones.”

From the Book to the Screen

“Executive producers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and author George R.R. Martin talk about the challenges of bringing Martin’s epic fantasy novel to life on HBO.”

The Night’s Watch

“An in-depth look at the unique order of men who patrol and protect the Wall, a 700 foot ice structure that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the darkness beyond.”

Creating the Dothraki Language

“An insightful glance into the comprehensive language created for the Dothraki people in Game of Thrones.”

Audio Commentaries

“Seven audio commentaries with Cast and Crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, and more.”


Blu-ray Complete Guide to Westeros

“An interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands featured in season one, PLUS 24 exclusive histories of the Seven Kingdoms as told by the characters themselves.”

In-Episode Guide

“In-feature resource that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations, and relevant histories while each episode plays.”

Anatomy of an Episode

“An in-episode experience that explores the creative minds and colossal efforts behind episode six, ‘A Golden Crown.’”

Hidden Dragon Eggs

“Find the hidden dragon eggs to uncover even more never-before-scene content.”

Connection between the upcoming Prometheus and the Alien series

Looks like there is a connection between Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus and the Alien series, after all. . . =)

Musical Interlude

Most Metallica fans these days don't even know who Cliff Burton is. . . :/

This is the song that made me fall in love with the band. A pity they went commercial. . .

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Orson Scott Card's classic, Ender's Game, for only 5.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Mark Hodder contest winners!

Our three winners will get their hands on a copy of Mark Hodder's Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, compliments of the folks at Pyr. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Doug Sturtevant, from Chandler, Arizona, USA

- Patrick Boyle, from Bristol Pennsylvania, USA

- Rich Rockwood, from Fishers, Indiana, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of Melanie Rawn's TOUCHSTONE

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, I have three copies of Melanie Rawn's Touchstone for you to win. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying. Cade combines the talents of Merlin, Shakespeare, and John Lennon: a wholly charming character in a remarkably original fantasy world created by a mistress of the art.

Although Touchstone can stand alone, it is the first book of a brilliant, utterly engaging new fantasy series from the author of the bestselling Dragon Prince series

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "TOUCHSTONE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist 3.0

Hey guys,

So things are settling down a bit...

I was extremely fond of the previous template and I'm kind of sad to see it go. But I like this one (some of you may recall that I selected this Notebook template for my Survivor/Koh-Lanta blog last year), and it looks as though this could be the new look for Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. We'll have to wait and see...

To my detractors, sadly the new look won't change anything. So yes, you can expect the same kind of crappy content you have come to hate with a passion, day in and day out.

But now comes what I dread the most: Updating the blogroll and all the other features of the Hotlist. It's been a few years since the last update and I need your help.

What SFF blogs of interest do you feel should be added to my own blogroll? What's missing from the "Speculative Fiction Authors," "Publishers," "SFF Resources," and "Message Boards" sections? I have to admit that I've been out of touch with these things for too long.

What else would you like to see added to the Hotlist?



More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition for 9.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

This new edition includes the fiftieth-anniversary fully corrected text setting and, for the first time, an extensive new index

Win copies of Kameron Hurley's GOD'S WAR and INFIDEL

Seeing the book nominated for the Nebula award piqued my curiosity about Kameron Hurley's God's War (Canada, USA, Europe). And thanks to the folks at Night Shade Books, I have a copy of both God's War and its sequel, Infidel (Canada, USA, Europe) up for grabs.

Here's the blurb for God's War:

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn't make any difference...

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there's one thing everybody agrees on--

There's not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war--but at what price?

The world is about to find out

And here's the trailer:

Here's the blurb for Infidel:

The only thing worse than war is revolution. Especially when you're already losing the war...

Nyx used to be a bel dame, a government-funded assassin with a talent for cutting off heads for cash. Her country's war rages on, but her assassin days are long over. Now she's babysitting diplomats to make ends meet and longing for the days when killing people was a lot more honorable.

When Nyx's former bel dame "sisters" lead a coup against the government that threatens to plunge the country into civil war, Nyx volunteers to stop them. The hunt takes Nyx and her inglorious team of mercenaries to one of the richest, most peaceful, and most contaminated countries on the planet -- a country wholly unprepared to host a battle waged by the world's deadliest assassins.

In a rotten country of sweet-tongued politicians, giant bugs, and renegade shape shifters, Nyx will forge unlikely allies and rekindle old acquaintances. And the bodies she leaves scattered across the continent this time... may include her own.

Because no matter where you go or how far you run in this world, one thing is certain: the bloody bel dames will find you

And here's the trailer:

You can read sample chapters from both novels here.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "INFIDEL." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

A Stark and Wormy Knight

Tad Williams is renowned for his huge doorstopper SFF yarns. Hence, it's always somewhat surprising to realize that the author is also a prolific short fiction writer. And since it's often too much of a bother to try to keep track of all the anthologies in which his short stories and novellas are published, I always relish the chance to sit down and read a collection such as A Stark and Wormy Knight.

Here's the blurb:

Tad Williams is an acknowledged master of the multi-volume epic. Through such popular series as Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and Otherland, he has acquired a huge and devoted body of readers who eagerly await each new publication. A Stark and Wormy Knight offers those readers something both special and surprising: a virtuoso demonstration of Williams’s mastery of a variety of shorter forms.

The range of tone, theme, style, and content reflected in this generous volume is nothing short of amazing. The title story is a tale within a tale of dragons and knights and is notable for its wit and verbal inventiveness. “The Storm Door” uses The Tibetan Book of the Dead to forge a singular new approach to the traditional zombie story. “The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint” offers a brief, independent glimpse into the background of Williams’s Shadowmarch series. “Ants” provides an ironic account of what can happen when a marriage goes irrevocably wrong.

Two of the longer entries show Williams working, with great facility, within the fictional creations of other writers. “The Thursday Men” is a hugely entertaining foray into the world of Mike Mignolla’s Hellboy comics. The wonderfully titled “The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee” is both a first-rate fantasy and a deeply felt homage to Jack Vance’s immortal Dying Earth. Two other pieces offer rare and hard-to-find glimpses into other facets of Williams’s talent. “Bad Guy Factory” is the script for a proposed series of DC Comics that never came to fruition. “Black Sunshine” is the immensely readable screenplay for a movie that remains, at least for the moment, unproduced. One can only hope.

These and other stories and novellas comprise a stellar collection that really does contain something for everyone. For longtime Williams readers, and for anyone with a taste for literate imaginative fiction, A Stark and Wormy Knight is a welcome—and indispensable—volume

The first short story, "And Ministers of Grace," was first published in the Warriors anthology, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I loved it then and I loved it the second time around. The interplanetary confrontation between Archimedes and Covenant, the first a bastion of science and the other a bastion of religion, truly captured my imagination. It's probably the very best short story ever written by the author, and here's to hoping that Williams will one day reveal more about Lamentation Kane and his universe.

"A Stark and Wormy Knight" didn't work for me at all. Williams wanted to explore how dragons felt about the knights trying to slay them. It's told in a weird and humorous and playful style that may or may not appeal to readers.

"The Storm Door" is about zombies and the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. An original and pretty damn good read!

"The Stranger's Hands" was another miss for me. Williams wanted to show how good and evil are not always as clear as we would like to believe, and how personal relationships in fantasy stories are often under-examined. It's a cute wizard tale, but it fails to make an impression the way other stories did.

"Bad Guy Factory" is the first issue of a series Williams proposed to DC Comics at the time he was working on Aquaman. It's based on the premise that all those villains have to get their training and equipment somewhere. It's interesting but short, and the absence of the appendices prevents readers from understanding everything and really getting into it.

"The Thursday Men" was originally written for a Hellboy anthology. It's an entertaining supernatural/ghost story featuring the inimitable Hellboy, called upon to deal with a haunted house. Good stuff!

The space opera short story "The Tenth Muse" is another engrossing read that sadly ends too quickly. I wonder if there was a wordcount limit precluding Williams from fleshing out this one as much as it should have been, for the ending is a bit rushed. A good First Contact tale which could have been excellent.

"The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee is an homage to Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Most of you are aware that I could never get into Vance's signature work. Hence, it's no surprise that that this novella did nothing for me.

"The Terrible Conglagration at the Quiller's Mint" was originally written when the entire Shadowmarch project was still an online serial. Fans of the series will realize that it drops a number of hints regarding the history of the land and its people.

Black Sunshine is a fucked-up screenplay about 70s music and an acid trip that went wrong. It's a cool piece, though you never really know what the hell is going on. But it does make sense in the end. By far the weirdest thing Tad Williams has ever written. . .

"Ants" is a very good Twilight Zone story about a marriage that went down the crapper. The graphic violence was unexpected, but it was necessary for the tale to make sense and end in a surprising way.

In terms of themes, tone, and style, A Stark and Wormy Knight explores the length and breadth of Tad Williams' fertile imagination. Entertaining, imaginative, and fun, this collection should satisfy the author's legions of fans.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress.

A Stark and Wormy Knight is already available in ebook format here.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 20th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is up one position, ending the week at number 5. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is down two positions, ending the week at number 13. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

James Luceno's Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is down five spots, finishing the week at number 23. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Robin Hobb's City of Dragons debuts at number 24. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is down two positions, ending the week at number 25.

In paperback:

Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches is down six spots, finishing the week at number 19 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up two positions, ending the week at number 19.

George R. R. Martin's A Storms of Swords is up two positions, ending the week at number 20.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is up four spots, finishing the week at number 21.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up nine positions, ending the week at number 21 (trade paperback).

Patricia Briggs' River Marked is down seven spots, finishing the week at number 24.

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is up four positions, ending the week at number 27.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is up one spot, finishing the week at number 31 (trade paperback).

Game of Thrones Season 2: First Look Trailer

Spring can't come soon enough!

Exclusive extract from Melanie Rawn's TOUCHSTONE

Thanks to the author and the folks at Tor Books, here's an excerpt from Melanie Rawn's return to high fantasy, Touchstone. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying. Cade combines the talents of Merlin, Shakespeare, and John Lennon: a wholly charming character in a remarkably original fantasy world created by a mistress of the art.

Although Touchstone can stand alone, it is the first book of a brilliant, utterly engaging new fantasy series from the author of the bestselling Dragon Prince series



And then one early autumn dawning he was in a coach, clattering out of one of the Palace's lesser courtyards, and the Winterly had begun.

There was no one to see them off except Lord Kearney Fairwalk, and it turned out that he wasn't there to see them off but to accompany them. Mieka wondered when this had been decided, then shrugged. He didn't much care whether His Lordship came along for the ride or not. And perhaps Cayden's mood would improve, what with Fairwalk chattering away as usual about how clever Cade was at rearranging and rewriting lines, and urging him to work up some truly original things soon. This was what Mieka had been demanding forever, with not much result. If Fairwalk could manage it, he wasn't going to complain.

His Most Gracious Majesty had fastidious notions about the behavior of his players while on a Circuit—even when in the privacy of the coach he provided. It was, after all, his coach. Framed on the door just beneath the window was a set of printed guidelines for comportment.

Abstinence from liquor is requested. But if you must drink, let it be no more than one bottle each day, and shared amongst you.

No unsanctioned passengers are permitted. This includes relations, friends, acquaintances, business associates, strangers, flirt-gills, and all manner of trulls.

At all stops, refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.

Blankets and carriage-robes are provided for your comfort. Do not abuse the privilege by hoarding the majority of them to yourself. The offender will be made to ride with the coachman.

Do not snore loudly.

In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will result in injuries and leave you at the mercy of the elements, highwaymen, and hungry wolves.

Should the coachman judge a passenger guilty of any of the following offenses, that person shall receive chastisement as the coachman determines.

1. Foul language
2. Drunkenness
3. Incivility
4. Indecency
5. Incorrectness of attire
6. Damage to His Gracious Majesty's property
7. Endangering the horses, the coachman, the outrider, fellow passengers, the citizenry, or the peace of the Kingdom

Rafe read the whole of it out loud as the coach pulled away from the Palace gates, and finished with, "They musta known you were comin', Mieka."

It instantly became Mieka's objective to pull off each and every one of these infractions and get away with them unscathed. He kept his resolve to himself for the moment, however, because Cayden would simply have murdered him.

Cade's temper had not significantly improved with the waning of the summer and the preparations for the Winterly. Well, they were all nervous. Rafe kept fidgeting his fingers with the bracelet of heavy copper links Crisiant had recently given him; he'd be writing her ten letters a day, Mieka was convinced of it. Jeska had spent the first hour of the journey trying to read the folio of playlets he had memorized long ago, then given it up when the swaying of the coach began to upset his stomach. Cayden wore an expression as if just last night he'd seen an Elsewhen that included six months of lice-infested beds every night, ice-encrusted shaving water every morning, horrible food, and blashed beer. Fairwalk occupied himself with the itinerary, making notes and muttering into his lace-frothed neck-band. He would be traveling with them until word got round that anything but the finest treatment given to Touchstone would distress His Lordship most severely. Nobody said anything to anybody else for three solid hours.

Mieka was bored.

Thus he simply couldn't pass up the chance to mark off one of The Rules when it presented itself.

The coachman had called a halt beside a summer-parched stream so that the passengers could stretch their legs. On a walk round the vehicle, he found that one of the leather lashings that secured the boot had flapped loose. Cade blanched; his precious glass baskets and withies were packed in there. Mieka took one look at the coachman, who was puce in the face and speechless with fury, and saw his chance.

"Who the unholy fuck was the fritlaggering fool back at the Palace who did this?" Mieka snarled. "Is this the King's best coach and the King's best driver, or is it not?" And then he let loose with a string of insults, invective, abuse, and just plain profanity regarding the sanity, antecedents, personal habits, and sexual practices of whatever idiot was responsible for securing the straps back in Gallantrybanks.

Mieka's cussing vocabulary had been faithfully gathered since the age of six. His sources included everyone from dockworkers to his own brothers, with contributions from his father (when referring to great-great-grandmother). He used almost all of it in the space of two minutes. It was Auntie Brishen's view that a gentlemen ought to be able to swear fluently that long without repeating himself. Mieka did her proud.

Then he conjured up a look of absolute horror, turned to the coachman, and began stammering apologies.

The man smiled all over his weathered, snub-nosed face. "Not a worry be in your head about it, lad. That's the best I've heard since me brother caught his wife with the stable boys."

Mieka's turn to stare. Boys, plural? The impulse to enquire further was squelched when Cade yelled, "Mieka! Shut up!"

After assisting in securing the boot, they all climbed back into the coach. Everybody was staring at Mieka. Perfect.

"Cade," he asked sweetly, "lend me your new pen?"

Lady Jaspiela Silversun, giving in with surprising grace to the inevitable, had gifted Cayden with a beautiful new writing instrument that owed nothing to any duck or goose or swan every hatched. It was a slender, elegant thing made of golden oak, and instead of the sharpened end of a feather, at one end was a silver nib to dip into an inkpot. It was absolutely the latest innovation, according to Prince Ashgar, who, according to Lady Jaspiela, had suggested it to her husband as an appropriate present. (Mieka knew the instant she said it that the gift was to please the Prince and not her son; he kept this to himself, and his opinion about persons who gave presents only when prompted).

Once the mystified Cade had produced the requested pen and ink from his satchel, Mieka crouched on the floor beside the rules and crossed out the words Foul language.

Rafe was suddenly howling with laughter. Jeska, shoulders shaking, put his head in his hands and groaned. Lord Fairwalk looked bewildered.

But it was Cayden's face Mieka watched as he slid back into his place on the brown leather seat. A confusion of emotions played over the long, tense face, tightening wide mouth and thick brows, bunching the muscles of jaw and forehead. Finally—finally—he gave a great roar of laughter.

Satisfied, Mieka folded his arms and beamed at them all. "One down, six to go!"

* * *

The first stop on the Winterly was the university town of Shollop. Very pretentious, very grand, and very full of students who, after a month in classes after the summer holiday, were more than ready for renewed carousing. There were artists of all sorts, from painters who relied solely on paint and painters who worked with magic, to musicians, sculptors, imagers, poets, and crafters and designers of everything from glassware to jewelry. Added to these were scholars of history and literature, languages and the law. Cayden was, predictably, intimidated. This did not sweeten his temper. By the night of their performance before the Shollop Marching Society (a private show arranged by Fairwalk; the official venue was the Players Hall on the university grounds), Mieka had once again had enough of his tregetour's sulks.

So instead of breaking a withie or two, he decided—with Rafe's amused connivance—on a more interesting approach.

The Marching Society's venue had at one time been a greenhouse where the university's naturalists and the university's cooks battled constantly over how much space would be given to the exotic plants brought back for study from distant lands and how much to vegetables. Then an obscenely wealthy nobleman had left his entire fortune to Shollop for "the Health and Comfort of the Kitchens." Gleefully in possession of a large new winter gardening location, the cooks had abandoned the old greenhouse to the naturalists. These worthies had petitioned the king, saying that this precedence of scholarly bellies over scholarly brains was an outrage. So His Gracious Majesty, who at the time had just begun his fascination with plants and beasts (and, eventually, people) from faraway regions, "encouraged" his nobles to contribute to the cause.

Thus the old greenhouse had been abandoned, and the Marching Society had bought it up for practically nothing, and the only reminders of its previous function were the odd-looking plants in crumbling pots scattered about amid the tables, and a lingering odor of fertilizer.

When Touchstone investigated the venue on the afternoon of their show, Mieka formed the opinion that the place needed a good airing out. Rafe agreed.

So at the end of the riotous "Troll and Trull" they shattered one wall's top row of glass panes.

The students loved it. The authorities were not as pleased. It was left to Lord Fairwalk to adjudicate the matter—and keep Touchstone out of the local lock-up—while Cade, Mieka, Rafe, and Jeska were treated to as many free drinks as they could swallow.

Mieka fell into bed shortly before dawn, quite drunk and entirely delighted with his success, for Cade had lost his diffidence around these young men—his own age, most of them—who knew so much more about so many more things than he did. He'd actually enjoyed himself. Just like old times—if old included a few months ago. Not that Mieka had understood five words in twenty of most of the conversations Cade had been drawn into. But it was enough for him that the drinks were free, and excellent, and that Quill had had a good time.

He hadn't reckoned on the next morning's hangover.

They were due to depart for Dolven Wold that afternoon. Rafe always woke early by long habit, professing himself incapable of sleeping much past the usual hour when his parents began the day's baking. He was hoping to get over it. Jeska, now that he no longer had to fit bookkeeping into his days whenever he could, was catching the knack of sleeping in. Since leaving school at the age of fifteen, Mieka never got out of bed until late morning unless physically yanked from the blankets. But even he was up and about before Cade that morning.

The rest of Touchstone had gathered in the empty taproom, waiting for Fairwalk to tell them it was time to pack up and get ready to leave. Rafe was, predictably, writing to Crisiant. They'd only been gone fifteen days and this had to be at least his fifth letter to her. Mieka had every respect in the world for the girl, and liked her as much as she'd let him, but it just wasn't decent for even a bespoken to have this kind of stranglehold on a man. Jeska was playing a rousing game of slapcards with the innkeeper's daughters—aged six and nine, giggly around this young man they already recognized as stupendously good-looking. Hells, any female out of nappies saw it. Mieka kept eyeing the bar. His breakfast ale had worn off and he was just about to head back upstairs for the bottle in his satchel when Cayden stumbled into the room.

Bleary-eyed, colossally hung over, snarling on his way to the kitchen—Mieka tried to make himself as small and unobtrusive as possible in his chair. Except for last night, Cade in general had been surly; today he was likely to be insufferable.

"What th'fuck d'ya mean, there's no breakfast?"

Rafe glanced up from pen and parchment. Jeska missed slapping the table and hit his own thigh instead.

"Closed until dinner?"

The kitchen door swung open in time to hear the innkeeper's condescending reply: "We get up in the morning around here, son."

Cade erupted from the doorway. His pale eyes fixed on Mieka. "Let's go!"

"Cade—" Rafe began.

"Find Kearney and tell him to order me a bath!"

Mieka traded winces with the fettler and scrambled after Cade out into the bright sunshine and muddy slush of the street. A block later they were outside a dry goods shop. Cade yanked open the door and snapped, "You got money? Go find me some milk."

"Er…Cade, what d'you want with—" But the rest of the question stuck in his throat when Cade glared at him.

So he went up the street, peering into each shop window, and finally located a place that sold cheese. His request was met with blank looks, and a lot of time was wasted as he explained he really did want the raw material, not the finished product, but eventually he emerged with milk (he had to pay for the covered jug, too). Cade was pacing outside the dry goods store, a heavy burlap sack in his arms.

Mieka caught him up, careful not to spill the milk. "Cade, what're you—"


Back at the inn, they blew past Fairwalk on the stairs. His Lordship mumbled about a hot bath waiting, but there was scarcely time because they really ought to leave, don't you see. Mieka scrambled up the stairs after Cade to the second floor garderobe's lovely big bathtub, filled as requested with steaming hot water.

Cade ripped opened the bag, dumped the contents into the tub, and pulled a spoon out of his pocket. The bag slapped to the tiled floor. Mieka saw the label for the first time: ten pounds of Bellytimber's Best Porridge Oats.

"'Twas the milk what made it Art," Mieka told Rafe and Jeska and the baffled Lord Fairwalk once they were in the coach. "Anybody else woulda been content with eating a few spoonfuls of plain porridge—even me!—but not Quill! Gods, it was beautiful!"

Rafe and Jeska collapsed, howling with laughter. Cade sat with arms folded, cool as a cloud.

His Lordship frowned. "But you don't mean to say—that is, he didn't actually—I mean—"

"Oh yes he did!" Mieka crowed.

"You! Stop! Stop at once! Don't you dare move those horses one step!"

It was the innkeeper, arms waving wildly, covered to the elbows in congealed porridge.

"I thought it would harden faster," Cade remarked.

Mieka shouted out the open window to the coachman, "Drive!" Then, with a polite, "Do pardon me an instant," he turned, and as the coach jolted forward unhitched his trousers and presented his naked backside out the window to the infuriated innkeeper.

This time Cade brought out pen and ink without being asked, and personally crossed off the words Incorrectness of attire.

"That's two," he said, and grinned.

Mega-gamer package winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, these three lucky winners will receive a mega-gamer prize pack:

- Greb Bear's Halo: Primordium (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Karen Traviss' Halo: Glasslands (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Tony Gonzales' Eve: Templar One (Canada, USA, Europe)
- David Gaider's Dragon Age: Asunder (Canada, USA, Europe)

The winner are:

- David Fortier, Hamden, Connecticut, USA

- Guillermo Cantu, from Houston, Texas, USA

- Chad Henderson, Raymond, Alberta, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

The Making of the Otherland MMORPG

The game looks pretty damn good thus far!

Quote of the Day

I regret--so many things. What do you do, when a mistake cannot be undone?

You make amends where you can. And if you can't. . . well. You keep going, and try not to make the same mistake twice

- COURTNEY SCHAFER, The Whitefire Crossing (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).

Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series

Joe Abercrombie podcast

The folks at Fantasy-Faction have a new podcast featuring Joe Abercrombie on their website.

Follow this link to hear Abercrombie talk about A Red Country, what should come next, and what's up with the Bloody Nine.

Game of Thrones Season 2: Invitation to the Set

Can't wait for the show to air!!!

2011 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced


Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is proud to announce the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards (presented 2012), the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.


- Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
- Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
- Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
- God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
- Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
- The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)


- “Kiss Me Twice,” Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2011)
- “Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WFSA Press; Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2011)
- “The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
- “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
- “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three, Panverse Publishing)
- “With Unclean Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2011)


- “Fields of Gold,” Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse 4, Night Shade Books)
- “Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2011)
- “Sauerkraut Station,” Ferrett Steinmetz (Giganotosaurus, November 2011)
- “Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders (, June 2011)
- “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers,” Katherine Sparrow (Giganotosaurus, July 2011)
- “The Old Equations,” Jake Kerr (Lightspeed Magazine, July 2011)
- “What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)

Short Story

- “Her Husband’s Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine, October 2011)
- “Mama, We are Zhenya, Your Son,” Tom Crosshill (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2011)
- “Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2011)
- “Shipbirth,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction, February 2011)
- “The Axiom of Choice,” David W. Goldman (New Haven Review, Winter 2011)
- “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2011)
- “The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

- Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
- Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
- Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
- Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
- Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
- Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
- The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

- Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor (Viking Juvenile)
- Chime, Franny Billingsley (Dial Books; Bloomsbury)
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Hodder & Stoughton)
- Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
- The Boy at the End of the World, Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
- The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
- The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books)
- Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson (Orchard Books; Carolrhoda Books)


Myke Cole contest winner!

Our winner will get his hands on a copy of Myke Cole's Shadow Ops: Control Point, compliments of the cool folks at Ace. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Doug Sturtevant, from Chandler, Arizona, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Musical Interlude

Who would have thought that a track featuring 2Pac and Elton John would be this good?

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Under the streets of London there is a world of which most people could never dream. When Richard Mayhew accidentally stumbles on this hidden city of monsters, saints, murderers and angels, he is catapulted from a safe and predictable world into one that is eerily familiar yet utterly bizarre.

Game of Thrones Season 2: Working as an Extra

Cool gig!

Exclusive extract from Bradley P. Beaulieu's THE STRAITS OF GALAHESH

Thanks to the author and the folks at Night Shade Books, here's an excerpt from Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Straits of Galahesh. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

It's the sequel to what I considered the 2011 speculative fiction debut, The Winds of Khalakovo. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire. Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past - and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr's lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram - a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless - bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans. From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo, comes Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya, The Straits of Galahesh.


Nikandr stood at the gunwales of the Chaika, staring at the horizon. It could barely be seen, but it was there—the island of Rafsuhan. Closer, less than a league from the Chaika’s position, was a small island—little more than an inhospitable piece of rock that refused to yield to the sea’s incessant waves.

These waters had been difficult to reach. As distant as the nearest spires on Rhavanki were, the ley lines were weak, and they succumbed all too often to random currents of aether, sending the ship twisting in the wind, or worse, dropping dangerously toward the sea. Still, it was better than open sea. There were still shallows that led eastward from Mirkotsk and the Northern Sea to the islands controlled by the Maharraht.

To the southwest, a silhouette against the bright yellow sunset, was the Strovya. Nikandr had ordered them to run as a decoy, hopefully pulling any ships away that might be watching. But so far the Strovya had not been approached. In fact, they’d not found any resistance at all, and so, as had been agreed, the Strovya would continue west to Mirkotsk and finally head south, toward Khalakovo, toward home.

“It isn’t too late to reconsider.”

Nikandr turned and found Jahalan approaching. His right leg ended in a wooden peg. The bottom of it was wrapped in triple-thick goat hide, and Jahalan had become quite accustomed to it, but even the small thump it made as Jahalan made his way across the deck reminded him of Ghayavand, where Jahalan’s leg had been wounded by the serpents and they’d been forced to amputate in order to save his life.

Nikandr forced himself to focus on the winds. Jahalan had long become used to the wound. Why couldn’t he?

“I cannot turn back,” Nikandr said when Jahalan finally reached his side. The winds were in their favor, so there was no need for Jahalan to guide them.

“You can. You just won’t admit it to yourself. Soroush will never turn, and neither will anyone else on the island.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“About the Maharraht?”

“About Soroush. He is a hard man, but above all he is loyal to his people.”

Nyet. He would sacrifice every last one of them if he could rid the islands of the Grand Duchy.”

“This is my point. He is no closer to that than he was when he joined them, and if he loses more of his people, his goals are even further away, perhaps even unattainable. As much as he hates me, as much as he loathes the notion of helping one of the Landed, he will join us.”

The ship was beginning to lower. Nikandr studied the smaller island they approached. It was still several leagues out from Rafsuhan, and it was an excellent place to hide the Chaika for the time they’d be on the island. It was craggy, with several small inlets where they could moor the ship.

“Even if you’re right,” Nikandr continued, “we cannot ignore the chance to learn more about the rift.”

“Small chance of doing that if you’re dead.”

“You don’t long for a chance to speak with them?”

“To what end? I don’t approve of the Maharraht or their methods, and given the chance, I will admit that I yearn to learn more of them, but I’m a realist. It may be that none of them will learn in this life, or even the next. A dozen cycles may pass before they’ve undone the damage they’re doing in this life.”

“So you’ve said, but is it ever too late to start?”

“I see,” Jahalan said. “You wish to be considered noble before you die.”

“I merely wish to do what I can.” Nikandr turned, trying to read his old friend’s mood. “If you’re so convinced this is the wrong path to take, why did you agree to come?”

Jahalan merely stared out toward Rafsuhan, a coal black rock against the indigo horizon.


He turned then and looked Nikandr in the eye. “When one knows someone as well as I know you, and they see how the winds of fate swirl around them, they wish to watch, and perhaps learn.”

“The winds of fate care not about me.”

Jahalan smiled. “There you are wrong, son of Iaros.” He turned and walked back to ward the starward mainmast, his leg thumping against the deck. “Come, we have work to do.”

The small island was much closer now. “Pull in the topsails,” Nikandr said to the boatswain, “and prepare to moor.”

Da, Kapitan!”

* * *

The following morning, under a gray and cheerless sky, Nikandr sat near the bow of the skiff as it bucked in the bitterly cold wind. They flew low to the water—so low that they were often struck by the salty spray. Nikandr refused to order them higher, though. He would not give the Maharraht warning if he could avoid it. Of the Maharraht, though, there had been no sign.

Jahalan and Anahid, one of Jahalan’s distant cousins, guided the skiff. Neither seemed on edge, but the streltsi that had come were watching the island with something akin to horror in their eyes. He didn’t much blame them. These were seasoned men, handpicked by Nikandr himself, and they had all seen battle, but it was one thing to fight the Maharraht in the shallows of home or another friendly duchy; it was quite another to search the Maharraht out on their own island, where they would defend it with a brutality and fierceness rarely seen, even among such ruthless folk.

Soroush sat aft, his hands tied to the thwart he was sitting upon. He wore a turban—something Nikandr saw no need to deny him—in the style of the Maharraht, the cloth ragged, the tail hanging down along his chest. His long black beard was more ragged than it had been after Mirashadal, and Nikandr wondered if he had been growing it in self-imposed penance. Perhaps he thought Nikandr’s arrival, and his subsequent release, had been the fates shining upon him once more. That was fine with Nikandr so long as it didn’t embolden him overly much. Nikandr watched him for some time, but not once did he look up. Instead, he kept his gaze locked on the island with an intensity that made Nikandr nervous.

They reached the rocky shores of Rafsuhan an hour after launching from the Chaika. They moored the skiff in a vale with a stream running down from the stark highlands. It was as good a place as any to begin their trek eastward toward Siafyan. It was one of two outposts on the island. Ashdi en Ghat was the larger of the two, but it was also the more militant. It was said that the leadership of the Maharraht were housed there. Those in Siafyan were still dedicated to the Maharraht cause, but they had come to realize that it may take years, generations, for them to reach their goal, and in that light they had forged from this cold, rocky island a village where they could raise their young, grow crops, and learn while they waited for their leaders to push the Landed from the islands once and for all.

Nikandr levered himself over the gunwales and down to the uneven terrain, watching himself carefully lest he twist an ankle on the sharp rocks. The beach, and much of the land leading uphill toward the peaks of Rafsuhan, was bleak and gray. It looked as if a host of drakhen had clawed their way up, the stone yielding and fracturing until all that remained was a sharp and deadly slope.

Soroush stared dispassionately as Nikandr approached the rear of the skiff. “Release him,” Nikandr said to Styophan, his most trusted man and the sotnik of the streltsi.

Styophan, a tall, well-muscled man, reached inside and began untying the ropes around Soroush’s wrists. With the cold wind gusting against the gray fur of his kolpak hat, Styophan worked at the knots. He did it casually while staring at Soroush, as if he wanted him to attack. Styophan’s father and brother had both been murdered in the same week, in two separate and largely unrelated attacks, one in the shipping lanes north of Khalakovo, the other in the shallow fishing grounds east of Ishal. Styophan had eagerly accepted the post when Nikandr had offered it to him, and Nikandr had nearly withdrawn it—he needed clear-thinking men on this mission, not those whose only goal was to taste the blood of the Maharraht—but in the end he’d decided to keep him. Styophan was too good of a soldier to leave behind.

While Styophan was somehow eager and calm, the five other streltsi were tense. They held pistols at the ready, alternating glances between Soroush and the boulders that loomed on the hillside above, as if at any moment the whole of the Maharraht would storm down to retrieve their leader.

“Easy,” Nikandr said to them.

The expressions on their faces softened, and their shoulders lost some of their pent-up tension, but it was clear they were still wound tightly.

Soroush waited to be untied, and then he looked to Nikandr.

“Please,” Nikandr said, “come.”

He swung himself over the gunwales and down to the stones, steadying himself before facing Nikandr. It was strange to see him with no stone in his turban. It made him seem impotent, somehow, unmanned, yet when Nikandr looked him in the eyes, there was a completely different story to behold. Gone was the man who had seemed out of balance during their conversation on the Strovya. In his place was a man who seemed sure of himself, as if he had been the one who had summoned Nikandr to these shores.

“I have not changed my mind,” Soroush said.

“I know,” Nikandr replied.

Soroush blew several times into his cupped hands, warming them. “Then why? Why bring me here where I’m so close to those who would kill you at but a word from me?”

“Because I must.” Nikandr turned and made his way toward the others, but when he heard no sounds of movement behind him, he turned. “Are you coming?”

Soroush stared, glancing toward the other skiff and then toward the harsh peaks above them. “I will not help.”

“As you’ve said.” Nikandr wanted Soroush to come, he was desperate for it, but in the end he could not force him. Soroush would come or he would not. Either way, there were many things to do while here, and he would prefer to be about it, one way or the other.

A moment later, he heard the sound of the rocks shifting behind him over the rush of the surf. He did not smile—the day was too grim for such things—but he was glad.

Nikandr ordered three streltsi and Anahid to remain with the skiff. After preparing shoulder packs with several days’ worth of food, they were off. Styophan led the way. Two streltsi brought up the rear with Soroush, leaving Jahalan and Nikandr at the middle of the line.

They wound their way up through the treacherous rocks. There was no trail. Styophan had a good eye for climbing, yet there were still many places where it took them long minutes of careful navigation. Nikandr was apt to look after Jahalan, but he found that despite any reservations he might have of the man’s climbing abilities, he was more than capable, wooden leg or no.

Soon the sounds of the surf were replaced with the sigh of the wind and the occasional call of the whistle thrush. Past midday, it began to snow. It was light, but after a while it made the going even more treacherous. One of the streltsi twisted his ankle, though thankfully it wasn’t bad. Too much more of this, Nikandr thought, and they would be forced to stop until the snow abated.

But soon the snow had reduced to only flurries, and an hour later they reached a shallow stretch of land that would take them to the foot of the nearest peaks. If his information was correct, Siafyan lay in a valley between the nearest of them.

Along a ridge line above them, Nikandr noticed what appeared to be a convenient hole in a pile of rocks, and the closer he looked, the more unnatural the formation looked.

He pulled his pistol and grabbed Styophan’s arm and pointed. A moment later, Styophan’s gaze hardened, and he waved the two streltsi at the rear of the line forward. Together, the three of them climbed in lockstep, one of them always at the ready, pistol drawn, watching the rocks, while the other two climbed, quickly but quietly.

Nikandr stood to one side of the nominal trail they’d been following. He held his pistol at the ready, but left the hammer uncocked.

Jahalan watched all of this impassively, while Soroush fixated on the rocks as if he was sure that any moment a horde of Maharraht would begin firing down on them.

The streltsi finally gained the ridge and were lost from sight. Several minutes passed, and Nikandr grew nervous, but then Styophan emerged above the rocks and waved his hand.

“Come,” Nikandr said, pointing Soroush to go on ahead.

After a brief pause, he complied, climbing ahead, and soon all of them had reached a narrow plateau that offered little in the way of protection except for the outcropping of rocks. Nikandr made his way there. It was certainly an outpost. The rocks, perhaps from some ancient fall, had positioned themselves in such a way that a small clearing had been created, as large as the interior of a skiff. The west-facing wall appeared to have been built by the hand of a vanaqiram, however. Stones had been fitted and fixed such that it offered good protection from the elements while providing an excellent view of the slope they’d just scaled.

There was evidence of a fire pit—caked soot and the charred remains of wood—and in a hole built into the wall they found several old apples, now shriveled and dark.

“Why wasn’t it manned?” Nikandr asked Styophan after checking to make sure Soroush was out of earshot.

Styophan appeared as confused as Nikandr. “I know not, My Lord Prince. Perhaps they did see us and left for reinforcements.”

Nikandr frowned and stared up at the two tall peaks, which now seemed much closer. “Perhaps, though they could have summoned any number of reinforcements by now. I imagine we’ll find another, larger outpost not far ahead.”

“As you say, My Lord.”

“Come,” Nikandr said, putting his pistol away. “Best we get moving.”

Less than an hour later they came upon a tower made from the same gray rock as was found on the climb up. It was nestled behind a copse of larch, and was well hidden, but the top of the rounded and elegant structure had a clear view of the narrow canyon they were about to enter.

Nikandr called a halt, and for a time they merely watched for signs of movement. When there were none, he called for everyone to move together.

When they approached the tower, they saw that the door at the lowest level was open. It swung lightly in the breeze, knocking softly against the jam.

Styophan looked back to Nikandr, confused.

Nikandr shrugged and motioned for the three streltsi at the rear to remain with Soroush, then he continued on, bringing Styophan and Jahalan with him.

It felt as though eyes were upon them, from the nearby trees, from the darkened windows of the tower, from the rocky slope above. They reached the door and stepped inside, and a sour stench assaulted them. Nikandr knew what it was immediately—he’d smelled it many times before. It was the smell of the dead.

There was no one on this lowest level, but there were several bunks and a table with chairs, all of them disheveled or overturned. A curving set of stairs hugged the inside of the tower to their left. They went up slowly, carefully, pistols drawn.

The second level had a store of goods and munitions—baskets of potatoes and more shriveled apples, several serviceable muskets and a few pistols, all of them mismatched.

It was on the third level where the smell became markedly worse. Nikandr hid his nose in the crook of his elbow, which did little to mask the smell but made it somewhat bearable. Styophan and even the stoic Jahalan were forced to do the same.

On the far side of the room, just below a shuttered window, were two bodies. One looked like he’d died from a wound to his gut. He looked to be in his mid-twenties. He was still propped up against the wall, his dusty, rose-colored robes stained dark with blood around his midsection and groin. His arms were wrapped loosely around his wound, as though he’d lost the energy at the very end to stem the pain and had finally relaxed, allowing death to take him.

The other body was hidden in shadow further from the window. But when Nikandr approached, he sucked in his breath, unable to come closer. It was a woman. Her body was desiccated, blackened, shriveled like the apples still sitting in their baskets two stories down. Her arms were curled up near her head, and though Nikandr knew he could tell little from their dying postures, it appeared as though she’d died in much more pain than the man had.

These were not the most alarming, however. Near them, curled up into a ball, was the figure of a girl, perhaps ten or eleven years old. Her body was naked, and her skin was pale and sickly, but it was her face that drew the eye. She had no eyes to speak of. The skin had grown over, leaving her eyeless. Her jaw was elongated, and it was cast open, like the maw of a deep and dangerous cave.

“Ancients preserve us,” Nikandr whispered.

He’d seen the like before. He and Nasim and Ashan had been chased through the streets of Alayazhar by creatures such as this. Akhoz, Ashan had named them. They had lived there, he’d said, since the early days of the sundering, ever tortured, ever hungry.

For long moments he could only stare. How in the name of the mothers and fathers had these abominations reached these shores?

* * *

“Go,” Nikandr said to Styophan, “and bring Soroush.”

The officer’s gaze darted to Nikandr, then back to the bodies. He blinked, his eyes hard but conflicted, as if this had been exactly what he’d been hoping to see, but now that he’d come face-to-face with it he wasn’t so sure.

And then he caught Nikandr watching him, and he nodded and left.

As the footsteps upon the stairs faded, Jahalan approached the akhoz—his right leg thumping softly over the wooden flooring. He kneeled down by her side and leaned close, examining her face, her neck, her exposed hands.

“Are they the same as you saw on Ghayavand?” Jahalan asked. They had discussed his time on that island in detail many times. Jahalan remembered very little of that time, as feverish as he’d been after he’d lost his leg to the serpents, but by now he had a good understanding, at least of Nikandr’s view of those events.

“Very much the same. But how?”

“The rift, of course.”

“But even if it’s wider than the others we’ve seen, how could there be such a drastic change? We’ve seen only the wasting, never something like this.”

Jahalan leaned forward and sniffed the skin of the akhoz. “I cannot but think it has something to do with our heritage.”

“Or the way you commune with spirits.”

“Just so.”

“And what of her?” Nikandr asked as he squatted next to the woman. “It looks like the wasting, only much, much worse.” He couldn’t help but think of the gnawing feeling in his gut when he’d had the wasting before the ritual with Nasim had saved him. He wondered what might have happened to him—or Victania—had the rift been wider. Would he have ended up like this?

“It worries me greatly,” Jahalan said. “I only hope we can discover more.”

He meant, discover more without interference from the Maharraht, of course. “I’ll be back,” Nikandr said.

With a vicious chill overtaking him, Nikandr took the stone rungs of the ladder that led up to the roof. He slid open the wooden door and stepped out to open air. After pulling his soulstone out and kissing it, he spread his arms wide and opened himself to the elements. He could feel the havahezhan immediately. It rarely took long to summon, but here it was especially close—as near as it had ever been.

“Do you feel it too?” he asked the wind as it whipped his hair and his heavy woolen cherkesska.

He had never felt the aether, never experienced it directly, but at the moment he felt as though he knew the boundaries of it: as a blind man senses a tree, not by the sound of the wind running through its branches but by the feel of the wind as it coursed over the bark. He felt, in fact, as though he could reach out his hand and touch the world of Adhiya, as if he could part the veil and draw the hezhan forth—something only the most gifted of arqesh should be able to do.

Despite the harrowing ramifications, it was exhilarating.

Would someone like Ashan feel the same? Or would he be horrified?

He nearly asked Jahalan to come up to speak to him of it, but just then he saw Styophan leading Soroush and the streltsi toward the tower. He took the ladder down again, and soon Soroush was coming up the stairs. Styophan followed behind, bearing his pistol.

“Leave us,” Nikandr said.

Styophan paused, glancing at Soroush. He opened his mouth to protest, but Nikandr talked over him.

“Leave us.”

Styophan nodded and complied, his eyes hard as they bored into Soroush.

When he’d gone, Nikandr beckoned Soroush closer. Soroush did so, staring down at the body of the akhoz, not with horror, but with morbid fascination. He was transfixed. His jaw worked. His nostrils flared. “How long—” He composed himself before trying once more. “How long has the rift been here?”

“Over a year.”

He looked out to the window, which happened to be facing southeast, toward Siafyan. Then his attention was caught by Nikandr’s soulstone, which glowed softly in the relative darkness. He set his jaw, and a tear slipped slowly down one cheek.

“What would you have me do?”

Nikandr had thought he would feel relief if Soroush ever decided to help him, and yet he felt as though he’d lost something today—he and Soroush both—and he couldn’t manage to feel anything more than a profound sadness at the things that had come to pass, both here and elsewhere.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, motioning with one hand toward the dead.

Soroush did not reply, but the look in his tear-filled eyes hardened, as if Nikandr was somehow to blame.

“Come,” Nikandr said, motioning toward the stairs. “We’ll talk along the way.”

* * *

The sky was still overcast, and daylight was beginning to wane when they came across a defile that would lead them to the valley that housed Siafyan. There was still no sign of resistance. The wind poured through the defile with no mercy, pulling all the warmth from their bones. Even Nikandr was forced to pull his cherkesska tighter.

When they came to a bend, Nikandr heard sounds from above, from the top of the defile. He thought surely the Maharraht were there, ready to fire down upon them, but as they waited, pistols drawn, staring up at the cloudy sky while the walls of the defile seemed to close in on them, they heard nothing more.

At last, when the mouth of the defile was clear before them, they saw movement above. A boy, small and thin of frame, stared down at them, but as soon as the boy saw them look up, he retreated.

“Wait!” Soroush called in Mahndi.

But the boy did not return.

They moved faster after that, hoping to catch him if he was headed toward the village. Ahead, the defile was coming to an end. Nikandr could see the gray skies beyond and the heavily shadowed valley.

And then he saw smoke.

Soroush did too. As he walked, a look of concern came over him. He picked up his pace. Then, before Nikandr could stop him, he slipped past Styophan and began to run.

“Halt!” Styophan called, drawing his pistol.

But Soroush didn’t listen.

Styophan fired his pistol, rock spraying to the right of Soroush as he took a bend in the defile.

The other streltsi swung their muskets around.

“Hold fire!” Nikandr shouted as he ran forward.

Soroush, already well ahead, reached the mouth of the defile and darted to his right. Nikandr reached the mouth soon after. It was here that the valley opened up. It was dominated by a thick covering of larch that could easily hide those who wished to remain hidden. The trail out of the defile was little more than a switchbacked path that led down to the valley floor, and Soroush was already two turns of the trail lower.

“Soroush, stop!” Nikandr shouted.

Soroush continued, refusing to look up.

Nikandr ran after him, taking care lest he slip over the edge of the narrow path. He could see the edge of the village now. The buildings, most of them wood, not stone, were less than a half-league ahead, but the fire was not coming from there. It was coming from a clearing in the forest not far from the base of the path.

By the time Nikandr reached level ground, Soroush was already lost in the woods. Nikandr pulled his pistol and watched as he ran, his breath huffing, his thighs burning. He pushed harder, hoping to reach the fire before Soroush.

As he approached, a scent came to him from the woods. It was the smell of burning flesh, and it was accompanied by the heartbroken sound of a grown man moaning and weeping.

When he reached the clearing, he stopped and was again forced to cover his nose and mouth. In the center of the clearing was a charred pile of bodies, all of them shriveled and blackened nearly beyond recognition. Soroush was on his knees before the horrific scene, his hands lifted to the sky, shaking, quivering. He though Soroush was simply crying from the pain of facing such tragedy, but he realized it was much more. This was a dirge for his people, an appeal for the dead. A lamentation.

Nikandr stood there, helpless, as this hardened man, this murderer of Landed men and women, cried for his people. Nikandr found himself filled with sympathy, but also with satisfaction. Satisfaction that Soroush now felt what he had felt, what so many of the Landed had felt for those who had fallen to attacks from the Maharraht.

He cursed himself a moment later for being so heartless. Whatever Soroush might have done, whatever the Maharraht had done to the Landed, women and children did not deserve to burn.

It seemed at first as if the entire village lay within this pile of charred remains, but then Nikandr forced himself to estimate their numbers and realized that there were only thirty, perhaps forty bodies. This village was one that could house three or four hundred. So where had they gone?

His men reached the clearing behind him. They had clearly been running, but they slowed as they came near, staring wide-eyed at the horror before them.

Nikandr went to Soroush. “Come,” he said.

When he did not, Nikandr laid a hand on his shoulder.

Soroush stood, slapping Nikandr’s hand away. He stood face-to-face with Nikandr, anger in his eyes—hatred and revulsion—and for a moment Nikandr thought Soroush might reach for his throat, but then he cleared the tears from his cheeks, took several deep breaths.

And trudged toward Siafyan without saying a word.

* * *

They reached the edge of the village near nightfall. The structures Nikandr had seen from the defile towered over him. They were not so much built as grown from the forest around them. The larch had been coaxed, bent and shaped by gifted dhoshaqiram into towers that interlaced with one another. Walkways crossed high above them, leading to empty archways that yawned in the coming darkness. The smell of the larch was strong here, but also floral, and pleasant, as if this too had been coaxed from the trees by the hand of the Maharraht. The wind was the only thing to be heard. No people, no children. No sounds of cooking or laughter or quarrels. Nothing save an exhalation as Siafyan and the forest around it prepared for the coming night.

They came to what Nikandr took as the central square. A fountain stood there—as was common in nearly all Landless villages—though no water emerged from it.

Perhaps he was respectful, or perhaps fear was preventing him, but Soroush seemed hesitant to approach—much less enter—the towers. Nikandr, however, thought it foolish to wait. There was no telling what might befall them during the night; better to investigate now than allow something to come upon them while they slept.

“May I enter?” he asked Soroush.

Soroush stared at the fountain. He pulled his attention from it—regretfully, it seemed—and met Nikandr’s gaze. After a moment of thought, he gave a motion of his hand, as if Nikandr were a child who had asked for a sweet.

Nikandr sent one of the streltsi and Jahalan to searching the lower levels of the village, and then he took to the towers himself, moving from room to room, which all seemed molded from the stuff of the trees themselves. The beautiful grain of the larch was revealed everywhere. Sculptures of stone and wood sat on shelves and mantles. Beds, chairs, blankets. All of it pristine.

All except the bark of the trees.

Nikandr almost didn’t notice, but as he was taking a winding pathway down from a tower to head back for the fountain, he steadied himself against the bark. It powdered beneath his touch. He stopped and stared, brushed more of the bark away. There was solid wood beneath, but it was clear that the trees themselves were beginning to desiccate.

He thought back to his time on Ghayavand. His ship, the Gorovna, had withered beneath his touch. It was a similar effect to this, though there were differences. This wood was still living, where the windwood of the ship was dead wood. Still, Nikandr was sure it had more to do with the nature of Ghayavand—the rifts it contained and the hezhan it housed—than anything else.

Nikandr caught movement from the corner of his eye.

Turning casually, he saw a form hidden behind one of the towers some distance away. He wasn’t sure, but he suspected it was the boy they’d caught watching them from the top of the defile.

He pretended as if he hadn’t noticed as he strode toward another of the massive towers.

But the boy sensed his intent. He ducked behind the tree and ran, his footsteps crunching softly against the cold ground.

“Stop! I won’t hurt you!” Nikandr ran after him, darting around the tree, losing him for a moment. But then he found him again, heading toward one of the tallest towers in the village. If he were to gain any height he could lose himself in the village for days.

Nikandr quickened his pace, but soon found that it wasn’t necessary. The boy was already losing speed. He was weak, perhaps from lack of food, perhaps from sickness. He paused as he gained the walkway circling up and around the tower, and then he collapsed.

By the time Nikandr came near, the boy had turned onto his back and was scrabbling away, fear plain on his face.

“Please,” Nikandr said, holding up his hands for the child to see. “I only wish to know what happened. Why are you—”

With night coming on, light was scarce, but Nikandr could see that he’d been mistaken. This was no boy at all; it was a girl. She wore a boy’s clothes, and her hair was wrapped up into a dark turban, but the set of her eyes, her lips, the line of her jaw. It was unmistakable now.

“Why are you here?” Nikandr asked.

She spoke in Mahndi. Nikandr knew the language well, but she was speaking so quickly, and her accent was thick enough that he couldn’t understand her.

He held up his hands to stop her. “Slower,” he said in Mahndi.

“I left when they began burning...” She waved toward the scene in the woods, the pile of smoking bodies. “They’d taken memma.”

“Why?” Nikandr asked. “Why were so many burned?”

“They’d been marked.”

“Marked by what?”

“By the taint. They said those who had been touched would die.”

“So they forced everyone there so they could burn them?”

She was already shaking her head. “Neh. They went—”

She’d spoken so quickly he couldn’t understand her last word. “They what?”

“They went willingly.”

Nikandr stared, confused, but then her words settled over him like a thick blanket of snow.

Willingly, she’d said. They’d gone willingly.

By the ancients, what was happening on this island?