Tom Lloyd: The ragged man

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Tom Lloyd The ragged man
  • Название:
    The ragged man
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Tom Lloyd


The ragged man

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE

The Grave Thief In the aftermath of the firestorm that consumed the city of Scree, it soon becomes clear that Rojak's magic has left a legacy beyond death and destruction. While the followers of Azaer scatter and Isak leads the Farlan Army home, a strange mood takes hold of those remaining outside the city. The city's six principal Gods – Death, Karkarn, Nartis, Vasle, Belarannar and Vellern – are furious at having been driven out of Scree during the city's last days, and their rage badly affects those most closely aligned to them, including the Knights of the Temples and King Emin himself – he had been ordained a priest years before. In their temporary madness, they turn on the civilian survivors and butcher them.

When King Emin returns home to Narkang he is not only guilty about the slaughter he participated in, but distressed by the continuing echoes of Lord Death's rage, which is still affecting his judgement. He responds to intelligence about Venn, Azaer's follower, and the manipulation of Scree's population by Rojak's plays, by ordering a mass assassination of the Harlequin clans, only too aware of their potential influence in the Land. Even as he is doing this, Venn is returning home to the clans with the mage Jackdaw bound to his shadow, about to do exactly as Emin fears: to twist the Harlequins' purpose and deliver to Azaer a small army of unparalleled warrior-preachers who can erode the authority of the Gods on a Land-wide scale.

King Emin's agent, Doranei, discovers the Crystal Skull they recovered from Scree might not have been Azaer's goal there, after all – worse still, they might even have done Azaer a favour by killing the Skull's owner, for they left the path clear for Azaer's followers to retrieve the journal of Vorizh Vukotic.


In Tirah, as Isak's thoughts grow increasingly morbid, the Yeetatchen white-eye Xeliath arrives in the city, and the trial of Duke Certinse looms. On the first day of the trial a squad of mercenaries break in to the Temple of Law. Although the duke fails to escape, he is able to die fighting, instead of being executed. More worryingly for Isak, when Certinse's mother releases a huge daemon, two of Death's violent Aspects appear from Isak's shadow to kill it before Isak himself can, confirming his fears that he has somehow managed to tear the five Aspects known as the Reapers from Death's control.


In Byora, Ilumene and Aracnan engineer a meeting between the ruler, Duchess Escral, and a newborn baby, Ruhen, whose body is now inhabited by Azaer. The duchess adopts Ruhen as, far to the north, Venn begins preaching about such a child to the now-susceptible Harlequins, matching his words to Ruhen's actions.

Elsewhere in Byora, while the Farlan agent Legana is waiting for Zhia Vukotic to arrive in the city, the Goddess Fate – the Lady – appears to her and makes an unprecedented offer: that Legana should become Fate's Mortal-Aspect. After Legana accepts, her first mission is to murder a high priest with undue influence over Duchess Escral – but the mercenary Aracnan beats her to it. He attacks her, trying to hide his crime, and Fate steps in – only to discover, too late, that he owns a Crystal Skull. The Goddess cannot save herself, but she can save her new Mortal-Aspect, and before Aracnan kills her, she throws Legana from the building.


Further south, Lord Styrax, the Menin ruler, crushes the renowned defences of Tor Salan in a single blow and heads north towards the Circle City, determined to bring the trading heart of the West into his empire, whether the rulers of Byora, Akell, Ismess and Fortinn, the quarters that make up the Circle City, want to or not.


Back in Tirah, Isak has called all of the Farlan nobility to his official investiture as Lord of the Farlan. Each must swear allegiance to him. To keep the tribe's increasingly troublesome clerics in check he makes a bargain with Cardinal Certinse. Isak has revealed he is dreaming of death at Styrax's hands, so after the ceremony, Mihn goes to question the witch of Llehden. Their conversation results in the witch tattooing magical charms over Mihn's body, linking him directly with both Xeliath and Isak.

While Mihn is learning of the afterlife, Vesna is ambushed by fanatics. After he has killed them all, he discovers the 'ambush' was in fact a test, engineered by Karkarn, the God of War, to see if he is indeed the right man for the high honour the God wishes to bestow upon Vesna: to become his own Mortal-Aspect. Vesna, shocked, finds himself unable to make an instant decision.


In Byora, the Lady's death has sparked an increase in the tensions between the ruling nobles and city's clerics. An assassination attempt on Duchess Escral fails, thanks to Ilumene's help, but her husband is killed. The clerics follow this personal attack with a full-scale assault on the Ruby Tower, which Ilumene uses to massacre the city's mage-priests – and as another demonstration of Ruhen's supernatural powers.

Legana is being slowly nursed to health by a priest. When she is well enough, he helps her escape from the Temple District, just as Duchess Escral orders the symbolic barring of the door to Death's temple and Ilumene leads a crackdown in her name on the city's clerics. Outside the Temple District Legana encounters Doranei, and they exchange information before Doranei goes in search of his lover, Zhia Vukotic. Now they know who's pulling the strings in Byora. Legana reports that to Isak.


Religious fanaticism and active reaction against it are both on the increase, and violence is breaking out in all the Land's cities. To avoid outright civil war led by a white-eye as powerful as he is, Isak is forced to persuade one of his most loyal subjects to start a crusade against the Menin. Legana's report makes him realise he is being drawn inexorably towards the man he believes will kill him – but he refuses to shy away from his destiny any longer, and he adds his forces to the crusade.


As Isak heads south, Lord Styrax reaches the Circle City and his decisive action forces the surrender of its most powerful quarter. Once in control of the city, he begins to investigate the secret at its very centre, the Library of Seasons, which sits in a valley between the city's four domains. By the time Isak's army reaches them, he has solved the mystery, and just as the crusade attacks his forces he retrieves a Crystal Skull from the library and wakes the dragon set to guard it. Isak is intent on disrupting Azaer's plans by attacking Byora, but he is drawn into battle with the Menin and becomes the dragon's target, just as the Menin Army springs a trap.

Isak, realising the danger they're in, accepts that he is going to die. He has been dreaming of this for too long. He orders Vesna to lead the army out of danger, while he delays the Menin and attacking dragon. When he is unable to persuade Isak to change his mind, Vesna finally accepts Karkarn's offer and leads the Farlan Army away as Mortal-Aspect of the God of War, while Isak advances on the Menin alone, but with the full power of his Crystal Skulls unleashed. He knows he cannot defeat Lord Styrax, so he takes the only choice remaining to him: the manner of his death. He kills Kohrad, Styrax's white-eye son, and even as he himself is being cut down, he boasts about Kohrad's death to Styrax. The grief-stricken Menin lord retaliates by using his own vast power to send Isak direct to Ghenna, the dark place of eternal torment, instead of just killing Isak and ushering him to the final judgement of Lord Death. As Isak is cast down to the realm of daemons, far away in Llehden, Mihn realises his last desperate gamble must now be played.

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