The Burning Realm (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.

Ukázka z knihy The Burning Realm od Michaela Reavese. Kniha už není v běžném prodeji, ale na internetových aukcích se dá celkem běžné sehnat za velice nízkou cenu.


  • REAVES, Michael: The Burning Realm. New York: Baen Books, 1988. 278 str. ISBN 0-671-65386-6.

Escape From Xoth

He had not died. His fate had been far worse than that.

Kan Konar, cloakfighter from Typor’s Fist, late a retainer of the Daimyo Ras Parolyn, had met the Spider Lord Zhormallion in battle. His objective had been simple and clear: to destroy the Chthon who had sent a plague of arachnids to poison his master, or to die in the attempt. To this end, he had joined forces first with Beorn, the thief and shapechanger who had stolen the runestone of Darkhaven, and later with Ardatha Demonhand, the enchantress who pursued him. After a long, circuitous route that had taken him to many of the world’s remnants and imperiled his life a score of times, he had arrived by sorcerous means at his destination: Xoth, the legendary fragment of hell. And there, in the company of Tahrynyar, the former Marquis of Chuntai, the cloakfighter had faced Zhormallion in the latter’s gigantic infundibular web.

The confrontation had been short, and even Kan Konar had known that it could have had but one ending. The certainty of its outcome, however, had left him no less determined to see it through. He had been bound by the code of his warrior class to give his own life in the defense of his Daimyo, and, failing that, to avenge him at the same cost if necessary.

He had not been afraid of death, not even of death from the poisonous fangs of the Spider Lord. He had been prepared for it. The most he had hoped for had been Zhormallion’s death along with his own. Had he, by some absurd miracle, survived the battle and triumphed over the Chthon, there was no doubt that he would have died shortly thereafter by the will of Sestihaculas, Lord of Snakes and ruler of the Land of Night, or one of his countless demonic minions. That would not have mattered. Death was to be sought, rather than avoided, as long as it was death with honor.

But neither of those eventualities had come to pass. What had happened had been the one thing he had not foreseen—Zhormallion had defeated him and let him live.

The cloakfighter knew he would not survive for much longer, however. He recalled with merciless clarity the burning sensation of the venom as Zhormallion’s fangs had pierced his flesh while the Spider Lord’s eight unblinking orbs glared with utter inhumanity into his own. The pain had spread rapidly through him, leaving coldness and numbness in its wake, and his limbs had stiffened and locked in paralysis. He had been unable to move as much as an eyelid while sheets of disgustingly warm silk had been wrapped about him.

His eyes were still open; his inability to blink over the unknown length of time he had been encysted had left them agonizingly dry. There was nothing to see, however, save the filmy gray webbing over his face. The material was sufficiently porous to permit him to breathe, albeit with difficulty. The bitten area itched maddeningly, and he had felt initial waves of nausea and dizziness which gradually subsided. His heartbeat had remained unusually fast.

He knew what was in store for him; he had seen precedents in nature. Though he knew of no spider that paralyzed its prey, he had read of wasps that so treated other hapless insects, stinging them and then laying their eggs on the still-living corpse, that the larvae might have a vibrant first meal. And there was no reason why Zhormallion should be bound by the limitations of the vermin he chose to emulate.

So, then—the likely explanation was that the Spider Lord had preserved him against later hunger. Sometime in the future—when, he had no way of knowing—the Chthon would return, and Kan Konar would once again feel those fangs enter his flesh, this time to draw out his living blood…

He could not even shudder or scream. He could only wait.

The bitter irony of it did not escape him. He could not even die honorably, let alone be responsible for his enemy’s death. All the exhaustive training and rituals he had subjected himself to since before puberty had been worthless against the Spider Lord.

He recalled the fugue-like statements and aphorisms of his mentor, the aged one known to him only as Shadowmaster—an honorific bestowed due to the old man’s ability to manipulate the dark garment which served as weapon to those of the warrior class. “One must live as though one’s body were already dead,” the teacher had said. “A warrior’s only thoughts must be of one’s master, to the point of death and beyond.” Kan Konar had accepted these precepts as gospel, and had lived his life accordingly. It was a point of pride to him that he had been willing to die for Ras Parolyn—and a point of shame that, at the final moment, he had screamed in fear.

Undoubtedly no one had heard that scream save the Chthon, and Tahrynyar, whom Zhormallion had no doubt dispatched within moments after Kan Konar’s defeat. But that made no difference. He had shown fear at the last moment as the horror had rushed upon him. Had he command of his voice now, he would scream again, but in despair rather than fear….

A dry rasping whisper issued from his throat.

The cloakfighter felt his heart pound even faster than before. There seemed to be the slightest play now in the muscles of his jaws and thorax, where a moment ago there was none. It was almost infinitesimal—before they had been carved of marble, and now they were carved of wood. And there was a tingling in his extremities, like the faintest twinges of recirculation.

The effects of the poison were dissipating.

And now began a new cycle of torment, as Kan Konar felt the immobility retreat with maddening slowness from his limbs. Before, he had had no way to measure the time—he might as well have been a disembodied spirit in a gray limbo. But now he could chart the glacial renewal of sensation in his body, and that was a thousand times worse. Before, he had had no hope. Now, though he tried with all the force of his iron will to ignore it, hope grew steadily with the flame of returning life.

Would he recover in time? It would be the final jest, he thought, if Zhormallion were to return just before he regained control….

He could move his toes now, and his fingers, which were bound tightly against his chest by the layers of spider silk. He stroked the rough fabric of his tunic. No woman’s flesh had ever felt so exquisite. And he could blink as well, finally—that single fact gave him more joy than anything else, though his eyes felt as though they had been scoured with sand. Itching now consumed his entire body.

The process of revivification continued. Kan Konar felt a warm and wet sensation as his bladder abruptly relaxed, staining his breeches. He felt absurdly pleased at this. But the return of sensation was maddeningly slow; the thousand years that had elapsed since the Necromancer’s final spell seemed short in comparison with the time it took for him to regain costive control of his limbs. Given that, he could do little more than flex his fingers and shift his arms slightly against the confining webbing. Kan Konar felt despair settle over him like the midnight folds of his cloak. The Spider Lord had taken no chances—even if the effects of the poison left his system entirely, he would still be bound like a mummified lich to the wall of the web.


When manipulated properly, the edge of a cloak-fighter’s garment became a slashing weapon as sharp as any sword. This was due to slivers of dragon ivory strategically mounted in the hems. Occasionally these would dull or break; against this eventuality, Kan Konar carried within his belt pouch replacement shards.

He could move his hand just enough to slip two fingers into the pouch. Carefully he brought out a thin length of ivory, wrapped in thin oiled leather, its edge as keen as the finest Bageran steel. He turned the sharp blade against the silk that ensheathed him—and felt the fibers separate.

Kan Konar was motionless for a long time after that, his thoughts racing as fast as the blood-within his veins. What gods there were had given him a second chance, it seemed. All that was left to him was to decide whether or not he wished to take it.

Did he deserve to live? Probably not. But equally as important a question was whether or not he deserved to die. He had failed in his quest to achieve an honorable death by avenging his master. He was no longer a warrior—no longer even a ronin, a rogue without class or purpose. He recalled the words of the sorcerer Pandrogas to him when the cacodemons found them in the fungaceous jungle above: Your life will be over, and you will still be alive.

The decision, then, was between dying a nightmarish death by the Spider Lord’s fangs—or living without honor, without hope, without reason.

Perhaps, he thought, he had been granted this rebirth to continue his quest. He still possessed the skills and the body of a warrior—he did not doubt that it was his superb conditioning and strength that had allowed him to shed the effects of the venom before Zhormallion’s return. But Kan Konar knew that he no longer possessed a warrior’s heart. He could not bring himself to face Zhormallion in battle again. It was that simple, and that shameful.

There was only one way he could hope to expiate that shame. It was not by dying. It was by living.

He resumed his slow sawing of the web’s filaments. As the opening grew larger, his hand was granted increased maneuverability. It was tedious and difficult work, for his fingers were still partially numb, and the after-effects of the toxin caused him to be wracked with spasmodic shivers. More than once he dropped the ivory blade and had to fish another from his pouch. Nevertheless, he was eventually able to cut away the fibers that bound his other arm.

Granted the use of two hands, it was relatively easy. Soon he was flaying the shroud from his face. He looked about. His vision was somewhat blurred—also due, no doubt, to the bane he had been injected with. As nearly as he could determine, he was hanging in a cocoon anchored to the vast gray wall of the funnel. Below him and to one side was the bridge spun by countless spiders to provide an arena for the battle. He had left his cloak there, but there was no sign of it now. He could dimly make out something multicolored lying on the arc, and after a moment he realized what it was: Tahrynyar’s feathered mantle.

Of the Marquis there was no sign. Doubtless events had proceeded as he had speculated, and Tahrynyar had also fallen victim to the Spider Lord. Kan Konar looked about him. There were hundreds of lumps of webbing containing the bodies of Zhormallion’s prey within sight. In the nearer ones he could make out the dried skeletal remains of animals and men.

The Marquis might still live, paralyzed as he had been, but the chances of finding him were remote. Kan Konar continued cutting himself free, moving more carefully to avoid losing his grip and falling into the hellish depths. He glanced up—above was light the color of a bruise. Evidently the web opened onto Xoth’s surface.

The loss of his cloak further demoralized him; for nearly twenty commonyears he had virtually lived within its sable folds. Woven of unicorns‘ manes and treated with distillates of exotic herbs and plants, it repelled water and retained body heat, yet was also loose enough to provide shade from the sun. More than a garment, it was almost an extension of the vital energy within him. Without it Kan Konar felt worse than naked—he felt stripped of his knowledge, his fighting ability, as well as his weapon.

But he had come this far; there was nothing to do but continue. The cloakfighter dug his fingers into the smooth layers of webbing and pulled his boots free of the cocoon. His reaction to the venom had subsided now to a general malaise and weakness, and he wondered if he had the strength to climb out of the web.

It did not matter, he told himself. He would climb, or he would fall. It was all the same.

He climbed. The web was so striated with numberless crosshatchings of filaments, each laid down by a different spider, that hand and footholds were easy to find. The multitudes of vermin that dwelled there crawled over him, hung from strands and observed him, but made no attempt to bite or stop him. They ranged in size from smaller than the point of a dagger to as large as a glove, and once he glimpsed an obscenely bulbous body scuttling away from him that was easily the size of his head.

The cloakfighter did not try to avoid them. He simply climbed, until the endless struggle against gravity ceased to be an effort and became, instead, all that life had ever been or could ever be. He ceased to think, to speculate about what he was doing or why. He gave himself over instead to the instinctive drive for survival, and he let that urge take him where it would.

It took him, at last, to the mouth of the web, and the surface of Xoth.

At first he could not understand why he was not climbing any more. When his senses returned, he found he was lying full-length on a sheet of black obsidian that sloped gradually downward. The anchoring threads of the vast web were behind him. He was on the lip of what seemed to be a crater, some enormous fumarole blasted, perhaps, by the world’s disintegration, and which now provided a home for Zhormallion and his brood.

The cloakfighter rolled over and sat up. He was atop one ridge of a series of basaltic megaliths that jutted high above the tangle of giant etiolate fungi that covered Xoth’s surface. Overhead, filling nearly the entire sky and seemingly close enough to touch, was the dark, featureless fragment in whose shadow Xoth orbited. To one side, barely visible through the caliginous air, was a line of bright light. He recalled that Pandrogas and Ardatha had spoken of the Cliffs of the Sun, the one area on Xoth where light touched and seared the landscape.

He looked behind him; the spires and blocks of stone rose like a rudely built cyclopean castle. Kan Konar stood somewhat shakily and began to walk.

He did not know where he was going, nor did he particularly care. No doubt a cacodemon would find him soon and return him to the Spider Lord. He wondered why the thought did not frighten him.

He crossed an arcing sheath of rock in which openings like lava tubes were peppered. Rising from these he could faintly hear a hellish concert—cries, moans, shrieks, bellows of rage. He dropped to one knee before one of the openings and peered into it.

He was evidently atop a huge natural dome—the roof of a vaulted cavern. Below him, barely visible by some faint luminescence, he could see the columns and formations of a gigantic chamber. As he watched, a dim, batwinged form flitted across his field of vision as though fleeing some deadly danger. One voice rose above the cacophony—a voice deep and powerful, yet laced somehow with a crepitant undertone that made the cloakfighter think of snakes. Though the words were in Talic, the most common language of the fragments, the voice itself was no more human than the rumbling of thunder or the crash of surf.

“I have been beaten! Defeated! By a human!

A rock the size of a barrel crashed against a column of stone and shattered it.

“There will be reparation! I swear it!”

Kan Konar leaned back and thought about what he had heard. The Chthon venting his rage on the hapless cacodemons below could only be the Demogorgon himself, Sestihaculas—and he felt fairly certain that the human who had evidently humiliated and bested him was none other than the sorcerer Pandrogas. The cloakfighter smiled faintly. He would have liked to have seen the battle. The last he had seen of Pandrogas, the master of Darkhaven had been weak and injured—yet somehow, evidently, he had contrived to triumph over one of the most powerful forces of evil in the world. His respect for the sorcerer was increased. He hoped the man had survived the encounter.

He stood, looking about him. When Balandrus the cacodemon had carried him here together with Pandrogas, Tahrynyar and the enchantress Ardatha, the warren-like cliffs had been teeming with scabrous life. Cacodemons had flitted from spire to spire, roosting in the dim light like huge ungainly bats. Now there were none. He wondered if they were hiding from the wrath of their master.

He did not know the reason, nor did he particularly care. He would escape, somehow, or he would not.

The cloakfighter resumed his wandering, climbing over blocks of stone that rose like gigantic irregular steps, sheered by long-ago geological convulsions from the world’s crust. The physical exertion was helping to flush the last of the toxin from his system—he felt better, though still very weak and hungry.

He was making for the highest part of the jumbled cliffs, with some vague concept of charting his course from the vantage of a good viewpoint. Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye—something that clashed discordantly with the bleak stygian stone that composed the cliffs. A shape that was somehow familiar…

The cloakfighter turned and saw a dragonship moored to a nearby pinnacle.

It floated a few inches above the stone, the magic of its runestone counteracting, to some small degree, the attraction of Xoth. Kan Konar approached it, recognizing it as a chase boat from one of the huge hunting ships that sailed the Abyss in search of dragons. It was in sorry shape—the mizzen and main masts were missing, with only stumps indicating where they had been broken off, and one of the dragon-leather wings was ripped and tattered. It could not be maneuvered in the Abyss.

He swung himself over the low gunwale, feeling a momentary disorientation as he put himself within the range of attraction of the boat’s runestone. The stores were intact—he found rations of dried jerky and fruit, some of which he devoured. Then he considered his options.

He could not launch the small craft—the pull of Xoth was far too great for the ship’s runestone to overcome. He would have to somehow get the boat to the edge of the fragment—and that, of course, was impossible. And even if he were to somehow accomplish it, he would merely be condemning himself to a slow death by starvation in the Abyss. The chances of his being picked up by another craft or landing safely on another fragment were much too small to be worth considering.

It seemed that his luck had indeed run dry. He could either wait here for inevitable capture, or attempt to survive as long as possible in the jungle that surrounded the crags. Neither concept held much hope.

It was then that he heard the sound of approaching footsteps.

The cloakfighter’s reaction was instinctive—he dropped below the level of the gunwale, sprawling flat on the deck, and pulled a tarpaulin over him. Then he lay still, breathing shallowly.

Through a hole in the sheet of dragon peritoneum that covered him he could see the clouds and part of a glistening spire. The footsteps—there were two sets of them, one light and almost human, the other shambling and heavy—stopped beside the boat. Kan Konar could smell a faint stench of brimstone. There was a long moment of silence.

“The humans are clever in their craftwork,” a voice finally said. Kan Konar’s eyes widened slightly in surprise—the tones were female, dulcet and light, but still with that feral undertone that marked the owner as a Chthon. Though by no means as thoroughly and terrifyingly alien as the voice of Zhormallion had been, the sound still washed over him like a drench of cold water.

The speaker moved into his limited field of vision. He could see her quite clearly. She was beautiful in a totally inhuman way—a woman’s face and form, covered with dark fur, the nose and mouth jutting forward in a short muzzle, the ears large and pointed. Black lips smiled, revealing sharp fangs. Behind her, folded membraneous wings arched to spires over her shoulders. The cloakfighter had seen her image many times in the studies he had done to prepare himself for his journey to Xoth. She was Trisandela, Lady of Bats.

The boat suddenly rocked, and Kan Konar heard a cracking sound. Something with enormous strength had seized the craft. A voice, rough and grating: “Lord Sestihaculas has commanded that we destroy it.” The voice of a cacodemon.

Trisandela laughed—a sound no warmer than ice cracking in the sun. “Clod, have you no aesthetic appreciation? This ability of mankind to change and distort the shapes of nature has always fascinated me. I would see this artifact perform its function. Tow it beyond the edge of Xoth and set it adrift in the Abyss.”

Kan Konar could sense the cacodemon’s uncertainty. “But the Demogorgon’s command—”

“Will be as good as fulfilled. He does not desire to look upon anything that reminds him of his recent defeat by the sorcerer, and that includes this thing that brought the sorcerer’s woman to Xoth. Very well—we shall remove the offense.” The soft tones now grew hard with command. “Do as I bid you, Daimar!”

The chase boat trembled again, and then Kan Konar felt a sudden lurch as the cacodemon called Daimar lifted it. He could picture the rough-hewn musculature of the creature as it raised the craft overhead. Then there was an explosion of sound—after an instant, he recognized it as the beating of the cacodemon’s wings. The smell of brimstone was momentarily unbearable—and then, just as suddenly, it was gone.

It was impossible to tell, with the runestone’s magic providing him with a stable weight, whether or not he was still on the ground. Kan Konar assumed, however, that he was not—that the cacodemon, acting on Trisandela’s command, had hurled the chase boat and him with it into the Abyss.

He counted slowly to one hundred, then lifted a corner of the tarpaulin and looked out. He could see nothing but the blue of the sky. He sat up cautiously.

The boat was adrift in the Abyss.

It floated at an angle to the fragment below him; he could clearly see the glistening dark towers. They appeared impossibly canted from his point of view.

He was still in the shadow of the shielding fragment, and drifting slowly toward the sunlight.

And so he had accomplished the impossible—he had escaped from the Spider Lord’s web, and from Xoth itself. But the price of that escape, ironically, would be starvation in the Abyss. The cloakfighter turned toward the stern to check the stores of food. He knew it was a futile gesture; he could be adrift for years in the void between the world’s fragments—

He stopped, staring. Perched on the broken shaft of the mast was the Lady of Bats.

Kan Konar felt his fingers grope uselessly for the edges of the cloak he had worn for so long. The Chthon was hunkered in a squat, arms wrapped around knees, wings shrouding her. The lambent eyes regarded him with amusement. He saw her fangs, startlingly white against the darkness of her face, as she smiled.

“I knew of your escape,” she said, “before you crawled from Zhormallion’s web.”

Kan Konar said nothing. If she intended to kill him, she would do so—he honestly did not know whether he would attempt to defend himself or not. To what purpose would it be, after all? Was not a quick death at the hands of the Chthon preferable to a wasting one in the Abyss?

Trisandela stood and stepped down from the ivory stump. She stretched languidly; he could see muscles moving beneath her pelt, could see the tiny dugs she had instead of human breasts lift with the movement of her shoulders. Her wings extended to their full, amazing length, and the clouds and land about them shifted as the wind caught them and moved the dragon boat. The boat was, he noted, not far from the boundary of sunlight and shadow—whatever her intentions, Trisandela would have to implement them soon or be destroyed by the searing radiation that was anathema to her kind.

“I knew you would find this craft,” Trisandela continued, “and so I made certain I would be the one to see that Sestihaculas’s order was implemented.”

The cloakfighter said, “Why?”

Trisandela smiled again. “I have heard that all humans are impudent—it appears to be so. Nevertheless, I will answer. Rivalries and jealousies exist between Chthons just as they do between humans. Zhormallion and I have long been in conflict over matters beyond your poor comprehension. It pleases me to see one of his prey escape. I would not have dared to venture into his web to rescue you, but I was able to see you off Xoth.”

“And what happens now?”

The Lady of Bats laughed. “Now you will undoubtedly starve to death in the Abyss—but that is no concern of mine. My little game, of which you are the pawn, is ended,” and with that, she hurled herself from the chase boat, wings catching the air and stabilizing her while the attraction of Xoth drew her slowly down. In a few moments she was lost against the black backdrop of the crags.

The cloakfighter stood for several minutes watching Xoth recede, until at last the boat drifted beyond the realm of shadow. The sunlight struck at him like a physical blow. Xoth and its parent fragment were much closer to the blazing orb than most of the other fragments—at times, he knew, its orbit brought them near enough for the burning rays to ignite fires. The sunward surface of the nameless fragment that shielded Xoth was, by all accounts, a blasted expanse of naked rock.

He could tell from the sensation on his skin that he would not long survive exposure to such intense light. Trisandela had condemned him to a death only slightly less cruel than the one he had escaped.

Kan Konar nodded and sat down. He would not starve to death, then—he would be dead before the meager store of food the dragoneers had put in the chase boat ran out. So be it—he could face his death, dishonorable though it might be, with equanimity, as long as it was not by the fangs of the Spider Lord.

If it was his fate to survive this latest ordeal, he would. If not, then his sunbaked corpse would be prey for the vultures and vampires that flew between the world’s pieces. He had abdicated any say in the matter. As far as he was concerned, he was already dead—all that remained was to learn the matter of his passing.

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