If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.
A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.
However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.
The first of an epic swords & sorcery fantasy series, Marc Turner's When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods
About the Author
MARC TURNER was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in Law, and subsequently worked at a top-ten law firm in London. After more than ten years in the legal profession he gave in to his lifelong writing addiction and now works full time as a writer. When the Heavens Fall is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
When the Heavens Fall
By Marc Turner
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Marc Turner
All rights reserved.
Luker had sworn never to return to this place.
He was not a man who gave his word lightly, yet here he stood, staring at the Sacrosanct through the wrought-iron gates at the entrance to its grounds. His gaze took in the boards across its windows, the tiles missing from the roofs of its turrets, the bleak lines of its walls that rose like black cliffs to seemingly impossible heights. Home sweet home. The place looked deserted, but there was light coming from the windows at the top of the First Guardian's tower—like a beacon guiding him into harbor. He did not need its glow to tell him he had entered dangerous waters.
The scar running from the corner of his right eye to his jawline itched again, and he scratched it absently. He'd expected to feel something on seeing the Sacrosanct again. Had hoped to. But when he searched inside he found only emptiness tinged with disappointment. And he being such a cheerful soul normally. He took a breath. Two years ago he'd closed these gates behind him and walked away without looking back. The place had meant nothing to him then, he was a fool to have believed it would be different now.
I shouldn't have come back.
The gates were unlocked and guarded only by the twin statues of the Patrons, their grim expressions a foretaste of the reception Luker would no doubt receive inside. He pushed open the gates. Before him stretched a path flanked by rows of kalip trees, their branches casting long shadows in the half-light. Luker set off along the trail. To either side, the grounds of the Sacrosanct grew unchecked. Insects swarmed over shadowy shapes partly hidden in the undergrowth. From tangled grasses protruded the gravestones of the Lost, their epitaphs faded. Some of the graves had been disturbed, and soil lay heaped beside the stones. As an apprentice Luker had spent many evenings wandering the burial yard with his master, Kanon, listening to tales of the fallen Guardians and the sacrifices they had made. There was a time when Luker had known all their names, but not now—the ranks of stones had swelled while he'd been away.
Still, at least he now knew where everyone had got to.
The first drops of rain began to fall. A storm was blowing in from the south, the same storm that had buffeted Luker's ship into port earlier. Through the trees ahead, the Sacrosanct was a darker gray against the gathering gloom. The path ended at a flight of steps that Luker took two at a time. The door at the top was twice his height and made from a wood so dark it looked fire-blackened. It was set in a frame of stone engraved with runes that shone softly green. As Luker brushed his fingertips against them he felt only a faint tingling. The wards were failing. Like every other damned thing round here.
Four years ago Luker had watched from one of the windows above as Emperor Avallon Delamar ascended these same steps. The door to the Sacrosanct had been shut then as it was now, but the runes had cast a glow that stained the emperor's face even in bright sunshine. Before entering, Avallon had taken off his coronet and set it on the top step. The gesture had brought a gasp from those watching with Luker, for its message was clear: The emperor left his sovereignty outside the walls of the Sacrosanct. He came to the Guardians to petition, not to command.
And yet the bastard still left with what he came for. The Guardians' decision to side with the emperor that day had opened rifts in their ranks, leaving them vulnerable when Avallon came calling again, this time with poorly concealed demands for allegiance. Luker had known the episode would mark the beginning of the end for the Guardians, but he had never imagined they would be brought to their knees so quickly.
Not that he was about to get all tearful at their fall. It was too late for regrets. He had made his decision two years ago. There was no going back.
So what in the Nine Hells am I doing here?
He drew the sword on his left hip and used the pommel to pound on the door, then resheathed the blade and waited, head bowed in the rain. A while later he heard bolts being thrown back. The door opened inward. In the shadows beyond, Luker saw the weathered face of an old man, his white hair standing disheveled as if he had been disturbed from his sleep. Luker towered over him.
"What do you want?" the doorman asked.
"A little courtesy for starters," Luker muttered. "My name's Luker Essendar. I'm here to see the First Guardian."
The old man looked him up and down like he'd never before seen someone with honey-colored skin. Maybe he hadn't.
Luker reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out a roll of parchment. The movement caught the doorman by surprise, and he stepped back, arms raised as if to fend off a blow.
"Relax." Luker held up the scroll for the doorman to inspect. The wax seal was broken, but the stamp impressed upon it could still be made out. "Look here—the First Guardian's mark."
The old man bent to peer at the scroll, his nose almost touching the parchment. After a handful of heartbeats he grunted and stepped aside to allow Luker to pass. Once Luker was inside, the doorman set his shoulder to the door, and it closed with a noise like rolling thunder. Luker waited in near blackness as the locks were secured. Water dripped from the hem of his cloak and collected in a puddle at his feet.
"Follow me," the doorman said.
"Save your legs. I know the way."
"Nevertheless. The First Guardian will expect me to announce you." Without waiting for a response the doorman shuffled into the gloom. Luker fell into step behind.
They passed through a series of corridors and entered the Great Hall. A knot of shadows marked the Council table and the wooden thrones surrounding it. Gone were the rich rugs and tapestries, and Luker could hear the room's vastness in the echoes of his footsteps.
The doorman reached the far side of the chamber and entered the maze of passages beyond. Luker could have found his way through with his eyes closed. In his first years at the Sacrosanct he had spent countless nights pacing the corridors, fleeing the memories that sleep would bring. Every time, his footsteps led him to the Matron's shrine—they passed it now—where he'd sit huddled at the feet of her statue, waiting for the goddess to break the silence. And as each day dawned gray and empty he retreated to his room no closer to answers than he'd been the night before. He had lost his childhood somewhere down here in the darkness.
The doorman led him through an archway and up a spiral stairwell. There seemed to be more steps than Luker remembered, but then maybe that was down to the torturous pace his escort was setting. Reaching a door at the top, the old man turned and bid Luker wait, then knocked and went inside. Luker heard muffled voices before the old man reappeared and beckoned him to enter.
The First Guardian's tower was much as Luker remembered it: the open fire; the candles in their holders; the desk with its covering of scrolls. A quill pen lay on a piece of parchment, the last words on the page glistening as the ink dried. The heat felt oppressive after the chill of the Great Hall.
With his back to Luker, First Guardian Gill Treller stood gazing out a window. When he finally turned, Luker saw that the last two years had not been kind to him, for his neatly trimmed beard was shot through with gray and his hairline had retreated a few fingers' widths. He clutched his black robes tightly about him in spite of the heat. But his look still held the same intensity. And hostility, Luker realized, frowning. He's no more pleased to see me than I am to be here.
The usual warm welcome, then.
"What took you so long?" the First Guardian said.
"Good to see you too, Gill."
"The summons was delivered a week ago. You could have swum from Taradh Dor in that time."
"You're lucky I came at all."
"Indeed? I don't recall giving you a choice in the matter."
Luker shrugged, then crossed to the desk and poured himself a glass of red wine from a decanter.
"Help yourself to wine," Gill said.
Luker took a sip. "Not bad. A bit young maybe."
"If I'd known you would arrive today I'd have ordered something more to your taste. Now perhaps we can begin."
"I've got a question first," Luker said. "How did you find me?"
"I didn't need to find you. I knew exactly where to look."
"You've been scouting me all this time?"
"That surprises you? A Guardian does not simply disappear, Luker, however much he might wish to. The emperor would not allow it."
"The emperor?" Luker said, his eyes narrowing. "What's he got to do with this?"
"You thought the summons came from me?" Gill shook his head. "You walked out on us, Luker. Not for the first time, either. If I'd had my way, you'd have been left to rot on Taradh Dor."
Luker pulled the sheet of parchment from his cloak and tossed it on the floor. "Then why's your seal on the Shroud-cursed scroll? Since when have you been Avallon's errand boy?"
"The emperor judged you would not have come if the summons had been his."
"Damned right. I don't take orders—"
"I suspect Avallon may see things differently," Gill interrupted. Pulling a handkerchief from his sleeve he dabbed at his watery eyes. "You'll find much has changed in the time you've been away. The emperor's power has grown. We are all his servants now, whether we like it or not."
Luker stared at him. Seeing the Sacrosanct's neglect had been surprise enough, but to hear such words from the First Guardian's mouth ... "We've really fallen that far?"
"Gods below!" Gill said, throwing up his hands. "Look around you, man! The Sacrosanct is falling into ruin. The Council hasn't convened for more than a year. What would be the point? There are barely a score of us left."
"Better the Guardians go the way of your hairline than stain their knees before Avallon."
"You really mean that?"
"Then why did you answer the summons? Why are you here now?"
Luker swirled the wine in his glass. "Maybe I was just curious."
"The Abyss you were. You came back because you're one of us. You always will be."
One of us? This from the man who would have left him to rot on Taradh Dor? "You're way off the mark, Gill, but I'm not going to argue with you. You can't dress this up as some test of my loyalty. The summons came from the emperor, not you."
The lines around Gill's eyes tightened, then he turned his back on Luker and looked out the window once more. The silence dragged out. Luker was beginning to think he was dismissed when the First Guardian spoke again. "Did you see the new citadel on your way up from the docks? The Storm Keep." He pointed. "There, beside the White Lady's temple?"
Luker squinted at him. Just like that, the summons was forgotten? Had the First Guardian conceded defeat already? No, not Gill. A new line of attack, then. Luker joined him at the window and looked down on Arkarbour. He hadn't noticed the Storm Keep on his walk from the lower city, but its towers could be made out easily enough through the rain, silhouetted against the twin fires at the entrance to the harbor. They'd been built just tall enough to eclipse the tower he was standing in. A pissing contest in stone.
"You're looking at the stronghold of the Breakers," Gill said. "You remember them?"
"I know the name. Some squad in some legion. Just one more cog in the emperor's military machine."
"Oh, come now, the Breakers were always more than that. Their commander is a Remnerol shaman—Rakaal—who was spared the noose at Avallon's order. The rank and file are also chosen from men in the emperor's debt. In the fifth Kalanese campaign they gained a reputation for doing the jobs no one else would do. And because of that they became to the emperor what the Guardians could never be."
"You reckon Avallon's grooming them to replace us?"
"I'm sure of it."
"Then he's an idiot. Whatever the Breakers' loyalties, they're still just soldiers."
"Because they don't have the Will, you mean? Oh, but they do, Luker. Amerel and Borkoth are training them. They walked out on the Guardian Council last year."
Luker mastered his surprise. "Borkoth, I get, but Amerel? How did the emperor get his claws into her?"
"Next time she stops by I'll be sure to ask."
Luker sipped his wine. "Even with Amerel on their side, it'll be years before the Breakers master the Will. Just as well, too. It's probably the only reason you're not floating facedown in the harbor already."
"You think I don't know that? The emperor needs the Guardians for now, but each day our position becomes more precarious. We must use the time we have left to counter his plans."
"Right. A score of you left, you said."
A gust of wind set the tower's windows rattling. The First Guardian moved to the fire and held his hands out to the flames. "We are not without allies. The Senate won't stand by and watch us die out. It fears the emperor's growing power, just as we do. For now there are only a few dissenting voices—the senators won't risk open conflict with the emperor while the war with the Kalanese goes badly. But when it ends there will be a reckoning. We just have to make sure we survive long enough to see it."
"The war's turned sour?" Luker said. "I thought Tyrin Malek was holding his own."
"You haven't heard the news? Reports say Malek has suffered a crushing defeat west of Arandas. He was lured into the shadow of the White Mountains by a Kalanese feint and hit with a flank attack by troops hidden in the foothills. The offensive drove a wedge through his forces, then the main Kalanese host fell on them before they could re-form. The Seventh was routed and scattered across the Gollothir Plains. The Fifth—what's left of it—is retreating south to Helin."
"Taken. The Kalanese may try to ransom him, but I doubt the imperial treasury has any coin to spare, even for one of the emperor's brothers."
Not all bad news, then. "What about Arandas?"
"Avallon has ordered a full withdrawal."
Luker grunted. "The Aldermen will love that. Emperor spends years bullying Arandas into joining his Confederacy, then cuts the city loose at the first sign of trouble."
"Avallon had no choice. The Kalanese and their allies are massing in the tens of thousands. Arandas cannot be held."
The fire cracked and popped as wood settled in the grate. Luker finished his wine and set the glass down on the desk. "All of this is fascinating, but it changes nothing. Avallon started this war. If he wants to finish it, he'll have to shovel his own shit for a change."
The First Guardian seemed unperturbed. "I haven't even told you what the emperor wants. Hear me out at least. You may find you're more sympathetic to his cause than you suspect."
Luker eyed him warily, wondering where this was heading. Somewhere with a sharp drop on the other side, most likely. He thinks he's got me, in spite of all I've said. What's he got hidden up his sleeve? "I'm listening."
The corners of Gill's mouth turned up. "Let me get you some more wine." He lifted the decanter and topped up Luker's glass, then poured one for himself. "Won't you sit?" he asked, gesturing to a chair. When Luker shook his head, Gill drew his robes about him then said, "You recall the night of the Betrayal? The assault on the Black Tower?"
The change of subject took Luker aback again. Another feint? He's trying to keep me off balance. Disguise the real strike when it comes. "Aye," he said finally.
"Then you must remember Mayot Mencada. No? He was one of the mages that sided with the emperor. Along with Epistine he pierced the Black Tower's defenses long enough for us to slip through."
"If you say so."
Gill moved back to the window. "After the attack, Avallon installed Mayot and a few others on the Mages' Conclave. Most were quietly removed by the mages when the emperor's attention was focused elsewhere, but Mayot survived."
"You going somewhere with this?"
"If you'll let me. Mayot fled Arkarbour recently. No doubt the mages were delighted to see the back of him—except that he took something from the Black Tower when he left."
"The Book of Lost Souls."
Luker scratched his scar. "That supposed to mean anything to me?"
"I'd be surprised if it did. I know little myself, save that the mages consider the Book to be valuable and are anxious to see it returned."
"What's this got to do with me?"
"I would have thought that was obvious. The emperor wants you to hunt down Mayot and get the Book back."
Luker blinked. Then he burst out laughing.
Excerpted from When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner. Copyright © 2015 Marc Turner. 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.
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Table of Contents
Map of the Lands of the Exile,
Part I A Spider's Web,
Part II Shades of Black,
Part III Breath of the Dead,
Part IV River of Lost Souls,
About the Author,