Shattered World (Michael Reaves) – ukázka

Rozhodl jsem se, že v rámci svých recenzí méně známých knížek budu uvádět i ukázky, aby případný zájemce mohl sám posoudit jazyk a obsah knihy, jestli se mu budou líbit. Z hlediska autorského zákona by to mělo být v pořádku (podle paragrafu 31, odstavec 1), pokud však majitel práv s mým názorem nesouhlasí, uvítal bych, kdyby napřed kontaktoval kvůli odstranění ukázky mě a teprve v případě neúspěchu soud.

Následuje první kapitola knihy The Shattered World Michaela Reavese. Kniha už, pokud vím, není v tisku, ale dá se sehnat nová či použitá na Amazonu nebo eBayi, odkud pochází i moje kopie. Recenzi naleznete zde.


  1. REAVES, Michael: The Shattered World. New York: Baen Books, 1985. 416 str. ISBN 0-671-55951-6.

The Thief

He was running, had always been running. Though he crouched, still as a stone gargoyle, in the shadows atop the wall, listening to the night sounds and the slow beat of his heart, yet he was in flight. So it had been for years—he could never outrun that which pursued him. “Why are you so damned cool about all this?” Suchana had asked him once, when they were hiding in a dank cistern and guards were searching the streets and a fat merchant was screaming offers of rewards and there seemed no possible escape for them. “If they catch us,” she had said, “it’s torture and death.” And he had laughed and said (just before he had figured out a way to save them both—as well as the loot): “This is nothing. Nothing. Wait till you’ve been chased by a bear.”

She had not known, at the time, what he meant. She learned all too soon.

The thief balanced delicately between rows of serrated spikes. Below, in the dim twilight that was Oljaer’s short night, lay the grounds of the baronial mansion. In the daytime the grounds were beautiful, filled with patterned gardens and walks, streams that shimmered with fish, trees that rang with birdsongs. At night they were deadly. At night the manticore prowled.

The thief waited, his loose, dark clothing the perfect shade for blending with the dim light, the hood concealing all but his eyes. His breathing was shallow and noiseless. What breeze there was carried his scent away from the grounds. He waited patiently, though he knew it would not be long before the castle Darkhaven would rise and make the night brighter still. He thought of the legends he had heard of the time when there had been real night for thieves to work in—real night, and stars sparkling like sunlight on the sea. He shrugged mentally. The world was no longer whole; he sometimes wondered if it had ever been so. It did not matter. The lack of darkness made the game more interesting.

He heard the approach of the manticore when it was still some distance away. Soon he glimpsed it, its loose-limbed body padding through the shrubbery. The thief held an egg in his left hand. He waited until he could see clearly the grotesque scowling man-face, the scorpionlike tail held ready to strike anything that moved. He felt a momentary sense of kinship with the manticore. You wear the face of a man, he thought; and I, on occasion, the body of a beast.

When it was below and slightly to the right of him he tossed the egg. It broke upon a walkway and the thief held his breath. The shell, emptied of its original contents, had been filled with sleepspice. His eyes watered momentarily as the breeze was laced with the dusky powder. He heard a choking growl and saw the manticore collapse. The feline limbs twitched and the poisoned tail spasmed against the ground. Then it was still, the only sound a slow, heavy breathing. The thief waited another moment, then climbed easily down the wall and into the garden.

He knew only one manticore patrolled the grounds; the beast had been brought at great expense all the way from the fragment of Calamchor. He moved past it, making his way silently through the maze of hedges and topiaries toward the mansion. The gardens were open to the public during the day, and he had come several times in various disguises to wander through them and enjoy their beauty while memorizing their paths. It had been easy. There had been times in his training when he had been led once through a labyrinth of Bagerah’s narrow, twisting alleys and then been expected to retrace his steps. As he grew proficient a blindfold was added. If he failed, old Maenen would snake the iron hook he wore on his left wrist about the young thief’s neck and wonder aloud if perhaps he were not better suited for beggar’s work—appropriately maimed, of course. It had been an effective learning aid. The memory of those hot, dusty streets came to him now in vivid contrast to his present cool, fragrant surroundings. Only once, in those days, had he dared to rob such a mansion as this. He put that memory aside quickly.

The thief came to the south wing of the mansion and found a small barred cellar window. Around one of the bars he wrapped a thin strip of basilisk hide and began to saw. It made very little noise and it cut through the iron bars as though they were wood.

He had to remove four of the five bars before he could lower himself into the darkness, and at that it was a tight fit; he was a large man—when he was a man. From the heavy scents of syrups and preserves he knew he was in a stillroom, the one the maid had told him about. He took a tiny cruet of oil from one of his pockets and oiled the hinges and the massive spring lock of the door before trying his ring of skeleton keys. None worked, but a prybar against the bolt did. The door opened quietly.

He climbed wooden steps, stepping to each side and pressing his hands against the stone walls to lighten his weight. He felt fairly sure no one would hear the creak of old wood down here, or, if they did, not bother to investigate. But his precautions, ingrained over the years, had become more instinct than reason.

He was in unfamiliar territory now, relying on the information he had charmed from a maid of the house a few days previously. He wondered if she was waiting for him again in the Golden Gryphon Tavern, and grinned slightly at the thought. She would wait a long time this night.

He passed the kitchen and the larder and crossed the dining room, entering the huge main hall, and there he stopped. The chandelier was unlit, but hooded wall sconces of starcrystal gave more than enough light for his sharp vision. He looked at the tapestried couches and the tile-inlaid tables, the staircase of marble and onyx; he smelled the polish on stone and wood. He listened to the silence that only houses built of quarried stone and long years can contain. I have been here before, he thought. Of course, he knew it was not so. He had never been to the fragment of Oljaer before. But he had been in the house of Rorus Hanach in Bagerah, in an attempt to plunder it. He had been there with Suchana.

The house of the Baron Torkalis of Oljaer reminded him far too vividly of that other mansion.

He moved quickly down vaulted corridors, passed through dimly lit chambers and rooms, every sense alert. His soft boots made no sound on carpet, wood, tile or marble. He had perfected stealth by walking on brittle paper until he could do so in silence. The leather of his garb was well oiled and supple; it did not creak. He took care never to let his shadow cross a doorway before he did. Suchana had taught him all this, and much more—she and the others of Thieves‘ Island. She would be proud, he knew, to see him now.

He would have given all he had ever stolen to make that possible.

The thief knew his way now. Two days before, his skin darkened with berry juice and his eyes slanted by tiny bone pins pinching the skin over his temples, he had been given a tour of the mansion. He had posed as a wealthy merchant and art fancier from Shigha. Baron Torkalis himself, mustache quivering with pride, had shown him the works of art he had collected over the years. The thief had expressed his amazement and envy over such things as a painting of the Shattering by the great Dalriana, or a panoply of demonskin armor, reputedly from Xoth itself—and, at last, the greatest treasure of them all: the Crystal Crescent. It was kept with the baron’s favorite possessions, not in a strongroom or treasury, but in the master bedchamber.

During his tour the thief had memorized the floor plan of the mansion. Four guards patrolled the four floors; he had tried to keep track of their comings and goings during the tour, and had also spent several nights spying on the mansion’s windows and timing the guards‘ appearances. But he could not know their routes exactly, as he now realized. As he slipped across the length of a spacious drawing room he suddenly heard footsteps approaching a doorway. He looked about. The furniture offered no concealment. Tapestries hung flat against the wall. The door opened outward, so he could not hide behind it. And he could not reach the other exit in time.

The door opened. The guard entered and stood for a moment, surveying the room. He bent and tugged at his greaves; then, tapping a finger against his scabbard in some simple tune, he moved slowly across the floor, boots scuffing loudly, and passed through the curtains at the far end.

The thief waited a moment, then dropped to the floor from his hiding place. He had swung up to and balanced on the door’s lintel. He breathed deeply several times to calm himself. He was not fearful—what he felt was exhilaration. In situations like this he felt totally alive; the danger and the challenge charged his blood. There was another way in which that feeling came to him, but he did not like to think about that. It was when he was not a thief—when he was not a man.

He continued his surreptitious way, hiding, waiting, moving like a ghost. At last he stood before the master bedchamber. The open door was at the far end of a hall ten strides long. There was no apparent danger, but the thief did not take the first step. From his tour he knew that the wooden floor of the hall had been laid so that it would shriek like a riven vampire beneath the slightest weight.

He carried a rope, woven of unicorn hair and equipped with a grapnel made of a gryphon’s claw, but there was no beam or chandelier on which to swing across. There was another way, however. The walls were of dark wood carved with frescoes of hunting scenes that stretched the hall’s length. Though there was little light, the thief could make them out: one forested scene showed the slaying of a catoblepas, a fierce beast that seemed born of boar and buffalo; another scene set a group of hunters against a bear. The thief looked at that one with a rueful shake of his head. Then he stepped to the wall, found and seized suitable holds with strong fingers and toes, and began to work his way down the hall.

It was hard work. For all his nimbleness and strength the thief was a heavy man, and the woodworker had been a delicate artist. There were few holds deeper than a finger’s width, and the wood was oiled. But though his progress was slow, not once did he stop until he had stepped into the safety of the bedchamber.

There he realized something was wrong.

There was light where he had expected darkness. A flickering pearly radiance came from the etagere against the far wall by the chamber couch. The light illuminated the chamber fitfully; the thief could see the sleeping forms within the canopied bed, the sheets of vellum that lay upon the small writing desk, and his own reflection in the mirror on the near wall.

The shelves of the cabinet were filled with artworks: dragonsteeth scrimshaw, a casting sphere with fragments of gold, silver, platinum, and the like. But the glow surrounded a silk cushion on the center shelf, and on the cushion rested what the thief had come for: the Crystal Crescent. It was an artifact that had survived the Shattering: a meld of sapphire, tourmaline, lysophaum, chrysoprase, and other rare gems, somehow blended yet retaining their individual beauty, formed into a delicate faceted shard by a magic no longer known. And protected, now, by that shifting sphere of light.

Magic, thought the thief in disgust.

The light had not been there when he had been shown the Crescent by Torkalis. It was obviously a final defense against a resourceful thief. He had no idea how he was going to deal with it, but there was one other matter to take care of first.

He stepped to the huge bed. Through the gossamer curtains he could see the Baron Torkalis and next to him his wife. He knew by the rhythm of their breathing that they slept deeply. In a moment they would sleep more deeply still.

From a hidden pocket he took a small, bulbous object: the rubbery pod of the sirlyet plant. He held it over their faces and squeezed, then drew the bed curtains to keep the sleepspice from reaching him. They would feel no ill effects in the morning other than a headache, but for now the dead would not sleep more soundly.

Now he could devote his attention to the Crescent.

He held his hand close to the shimmering light. He felt nothing, but that did not reassure him. He had a healthy respect for magic. In Balisandra he had studied briefly in the Taggyn Saer system, almost attaining the second rank of warlock before he was forced to abandon it in a hasty departure from that city. He had not kept up the practice, and so had forgotten most of the simple passes and cantrips. But he had learned nothing to help him against a spell like this.

He took from his sleeve a delicate ivory-handled hook and carefully probed the light. In theory anything could happen; in practicality he did not seriously expect the release of a roaring cacodemon or the devastation of a thunderbolt. Torkalis would not be likely to keep such power in his bedchamber. What did happen was impressive enough, however; with a hiss the hook glowed and disappeared. The thief smelled the sharp tang of vaporized metal.

He tried several other tools, from string to leather to bone—all incandesced and became ash. Time was growing short; he still had to make his escape before the morning bells sounded.

There was a way, there had to be a way. He had not come this far to be stopped with the Crescent almost in his hands. There had to be something not affected by the spell. The Crescent was not, of course…

And neither was the silk cushion it rested upon.

That was the answer. His shirt, beneath his robes, was also silk. He tore a strip from one of the several pockets in which he carried some of his tools and tied a noose in one end of it. He lowered the strip of silk into the light and quietly exhaled in satisfaction as it descended unscathed. He tugged the loop tight about the faceted surface of the Crescent and lifted it toward him.

Another moment and he held it in his hands.

But there was another problem. He had brought an imitation crescent to leave in its place, a forgery for which he had paid dearly. It would not fool the baron for long, of course, but it would not have to; by morning of the following day the thief would be on a dragonship in the Abyss, on his way to a man in Salakh who was willing to pay handsomely for this prize.

But would the bogus crescent be consumed by the magic? Even as he wondered this, the thief saw the light suddenly flicker, fade and die. With the Crescent no longer there to protect, the spell had vanished. The thief, acting on a hunch, quickly brought forth the forgery and placed it on the cushion. A moment of darkness, then the glow reappeared, cradling the imitation crescent as defensively as it had the real one.

The thief grinned. He had heard that the baron was a miserly man, and here was a proof of it: he had been unwilling to pay for a more discriminating spell. As was so often the case, the thief’s job had been made easier by his victim’s penurious foolishness.

He left the chamber and the hallway as he had come, clinging like a great dark spider to the wall, and retraced his route through the house. The most difficult part was over, but he did not relax. He could still be seen by a guard, and if that happened, he was as good as caught even if he escaped the mansion. Oljaer was small, with few places for a stranger to hide. He had to be on a dragonship before the theft was discovered.

He heard the rattle of pans and the voices of the cooks before he entered the dining room. The maid had told him no one stirred until after dawn. She had lied or been mistaken, but that did not matter now. The door to the kitchen began to open; in the reflection of a candlestick holder he saw a serving girl coming through with a platter of covered dishes. He faded back into the hall and started up the staircase. He had to find another way out.

Halfway up he heard footsteps descending beyond the curve of the staircase, matching those of the ascending serving girl. He was trapped.

The rope and grapnel went quickly about one of the balusters, and in an instant he hung in the shadows of the hall below the staircase, above a potted goldenleaf tree. The servants passed each other above him, and he heard their day-greetings. Then the one descending crossed the hall, removing the shades from the starcrystal sconces as he passed. Light filled the hall. The thief hung upside down, curled into a ball that blended with the few shadows left. He felt his tools shift within his pockets, but they made no noise.

When the servants were both gone he pulled himself up, retrieved his rope and quickly reached the top of the stairs. The house would be stirring first on the lower levels, he knew. The only way out would be through an upper window.

Just as it had happened before…

The thief shook his head in an animal gesture and continued his flight. He came to the fourth floor without further incident. And there, in a room full of furniture covered with dusty muslin, he found what he had hoped and dreaded would be there: a single oculus window set high in the wall.

He looked at it and shivered. Such a similarity to what had happened before was eerie. Memories came back to him, cold as the tide: Suchana and he, discovered in the midst of their burglary of the house of Rorus Hanach; the flight through chambers and corridors, up stairs and into a room so like this one, with a single window…

He had locked the door with one of his keys, holding the guards off for a few precious moments. Then he had climbed to the window and shattered it. He did not have to break this one. He unlatched and opened it, clinging one-handed to the sill, and looked out. A tree rose halfway between the house and the wall. The last time it had been a cornice on a facing wing of the building.

The opening was too small for his shoulders to pass through. Without hesitation and with very little pain the thief dislocated the right one. It was a trick Suchana had taught him, and it had come to him easily; his joints and ligaments were quite used to stretching in most unusual ways.

He wriggled out and onto a small ledge just below the roof. He could see dawn beginning to lighten the close horizon. In a moment morning bells would sound. There was no more time.

And yet he stood, immobilized for a moment by memory of what had happened ten years before. It had not been his fault, he told himself. He could not be blamed for keeping the secret from her. He had kept it for three years, giving way to the bear only when he had to, no more than once a Bageran month. He had wanted to tell her, but the thought of her fearing him, leaving him—he could not face that. She had been the first woman, the only woman, he had ever dared to love.

Perhaps she had believed that, but it had not stopped her from being jealous. She had demanded to know where he took himself every so often for a day or more, and when his excuses and inventions had run thin she had watched him, followed him. She was good at it; she was a thief. He could never be sure if she was spying on him.

And so he had held prisoner too long that which had to be free.

It was the only time since the beginning that it had happened without his willing it. He had broken the window and hurled the grapnel about the cornice. The guards were about to break down the door; he could see the wood splintering beneath the blows of their pikes and axes. He had crouched down and reached for Suchana’s hand… and she had screamed at the sight of it.

He had known what she saw; he could feel it beginning within him. His vision had begun to blur, but not before he saw the door give way before the guards‘ assault. He had shouted to her, his voice already rough and growling, telling her to grab his hand. Her choice had been simple: the guards or him. She had chosen the guards.

She had fled from him into the arms of her captors. When they looked up and saw him at the window, their cries of triumph changed to fear and disbelief. An arrow hit the wall next to his head. He could not have attacked them; they would have killed him before the metamorphosis was complete. And so he had done the only thing he could do. He had turned, seized the rope, and leaped.

Halfway through the arc he had to take the rope in his powerful jaws to hold it, as he could no longer grip it. He had cleared the wall and landed in the shrubbery beyond, and had fled through crowds of screaming people. The house of Rorus Hanach had been near the river, and into it he had plunged, seeking and finding one of the many underwater entrances to the city’s sewers. His memory was not too clear after that. But by the time the bear had left him, he had left Bagerah, never to return.

The thief started as the first peal of the morning bells sounded from the palace. The sun was rising from the Abyss. He slapped one hand against his chest to make sure that the Crystal Crescent was still secure in its harness, and hurled the grapnel toward the tree. The curved claws bit into a large branch.

The thief shook his head savagely until he felt the blood pounding. It does not matter, he told himself. All that matters is not getting caught. He had not been caught. He had run.

He had always been running.

The thief took a deep breath that sounded very much like a sob, and leaped.

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