The old Imperor was dead at last. His popular soldier grandson, known as Shandie, had succeeded him... Hadn't he? No, he hadn't. The man who sat the opal throne was not Shandie, but an illusion created by the mad dwarf, Xinixo. Year after year he had stealthily been ensorcelling sorcerers, turning them into loyal minions. Now, wielding their combined power, he was irresistible. He ruled the Impire, so he ruled the world. He would continue to rule it for centuries. Anyone who knew the truth or opposed him in any way, he would destroy or enslave. That especially included his old enemy, King Rap of Krasnegar. And Shandie, the rightful Imperor, of course. And all their supporters, their friends, their families. All of them! First he had to catch them. With his infinite magic, that ought to be easy. Rap and Shandie had other ideas, but even they could see that their cause looked hopeless.
A paranoid ex-sorcerer attempts to take over a world of imps, fauns, dwarves, trolls, pixies and other races in this sequel to The Cutting Edge . After the death of his father, young Imperor Emshandar V (known to all as Shandie) is urged to flee by the dwarf warlock Raspnex, a member of the council that controls magic in the Impire. Raspnex warns that his nephew Zinixo has enthralled an army of sorcerers to help him take over the Impire and then the world. Joined by King Rap of Krasnegar, who has lost much of his power, Shandie, his family and a small band of followers escape, planning to foment a counterrevolution with a new Protocol governing magic. The group splits up: Shandie heads to Krasnegar to find Rap's prescient 14-year-old son, whose fate is mysteriously linked with that of the Imperor; Rap tracks rumors about slaves and a possible liberator; Lord Umpily noses around the capital; and Sir Acopulo searches for the other council members. Duncan plots a lively adventure with appealing protagonists capable of carrying the tale through the next two planned volumes.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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September 02, 2008
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Excerpt from Upland Outlaws by Dave Duncan
"Ghosts?" said the old woman. She raised her lantern and peered up into the dark. "Something bothering you tonight, Ghosts?"
Wind wailed in the high rafters and stirred the hems of the dust sheets shrouding the furniture. Casements rattled far off. The hall was very high, rising clear to the roof of the house. The faint glow of the lantern did not reach up there, but she needed no light to know of the staircases and balconies, the great fieldstone chimney at one end, the minstrels' gallery at the other, and all the grimy windows. She sensed something fretting, something intangible up there in the dark, listening amid the cobwebs and the beams.
"What ails you tonight. Ghosts?" She cackled.
Casements tapped in the darkness. Wind howled around a gable. Underfoot, little gray balls of dust rolled away out of sight.
The woman shivered, as the cold sank into her old bones. She tugged her shawls tighter with knotted fingers and began to hobble along the hall. The golden glow of her lantern reflected back from high windows and threw her shadow on the dust sheets. Often in ages past this hall had rung with the laughter of joyous parties, with music, and dancing, and feasting. No one but she had trodden these boards in many years.
Again she sensed the watchers, the listeners. She felt their hatred, their anger.
"No one coming tonight, Ghosts!" she cried. Her thin voice could barely raise an echo over the wind. "Snowing outside, Ghosts. Heavier than ever. Rare to see such snow, and three weeks yet till Winterfest! But he won't come tonight!"
Only the wind, others would have said, but she knew better.
Then she paused, head cocked, straining dull ears.
"Ah!" she said. "Bells?" She waited. Yes, again she heard that heavy note, carried on the wind. "So that's it? That's what disturbs your sleep, is it?" She cackled once more, reassured. "He's gone! The Evil has his black soul tonight, then? Small wonder you stir tonight, Ghosts!"
She paused, listening to the darkness. "The other one won't come tonight, Ghosts. Too snowy tonight." She felt resignation for an answer, overlying the triumph. Reassured, chortling to herself, she turned and hobbled away, back to her own nook in the basement.
Casements rattled, and the wind moaned.
* * * *
Winter and grief lay heavy as conquerors' boots on the great city. No lights showed in the deserted streets as the solitary coach rumbled slowly through the ever-deepening snow.
The continuous tolling of the temple bells was a jarring torment. For fifty-one years Emshandar IV had ruled the Impire. His passing had left a gaping wound in the lives of his subjects, a sorrow that only the imps themselves could comprehend.
The unseasonable snowstorm added to the misery of the bitter night. The wheels and the horses' hooves sounded strangely muffled. The carriage was traveling unaccompanied, although Ionfeu, being both a count and a proconsul, would normally rank an escort of Praetorian Hussars within the capital. But tonight secrecy was more important than protection against footpads and sorcery a much greater danger than any mundane violence.
From time to time Rap would rise from his seat and call directions through the hatch to the driver on his box, for darkness and whirling snow had reduced visibility to almost nothing. He could have managed without a coachman had he wished, controlling the horses directly, but any such blatant display of sorcery on this ill-omened night would be dangerous in the extreme. Even the farsight he was using to guide the carriage was perhaps a risk, although farsight was a very inconspicuous use of power, not easily detected.
The brief outbreak of sorcery he had sensed after the imperor's death had died away. The occult plane of the ambience had fallen silent again, just as mysteriously silent as it had been all through his bone-breaking forty-day ride in from Kinvale. Now he could perceive no magical activity except faint tremors from the minor sorcerous gadgetry so common in the capital--magic locks, trained dice, cloaks of invisibility, and other such fanciful devices. Those would mostly belong to mundanes. Of course occult shields had always been popular in Hub, and many buildings were wholly or partly shielded; he could not tell what sorcery might be in use within those. But the silence was ominous, in a city that normally seethed with sorcery.
He was exhausted by a long day on the back of too many other long days. He felt old and weary. Thirty-five was not old, he told himself sternly. It wasn't young, either, he retorted snappily. It was twice the age he'd been the last time he'd visited Hub.