"...Richard S. Tuttle, who I believe is one of this century's leading authors of innovative fantasy tales."

Patricia Spork, eBook Reviews Weekly


Army of the Dead

Prologue and Chapter 1


Thousands of years ago inside the temple at Vandegar…

“Your people grow, Vand,” the Great Demon praised the errant priest of Kaltara. “When Angragar is crushed we shall destroy Kaltara.”

Vand gazed around at the violent landscape, a wide smile spreading across his lips. The volcanoes spewed towering columns of smoke as lava flowed freely down their slopes. The ground below the mountains was parched, and long cracks ripped along its surface. Vand found comfort in the wasteland.

“I have already given the word,” grinned the disciple of Dobuk. “The people of Vandegar have begun the rites that will result in the fall of Kaltara. Soon you will be the only god to exist. I thought you would want to come and witness our victory.”

“No!” shouted Dobuk, his voice blasting through the wilderness.

Instantly the volcanoes burst open sending their molten mass flooding into the valley. The air filled with shards of burning rock, and Vand felt a shiver of fear course through his body.

“Stop it this instant, fool,” demanded the Great Demon. “Kaltara has too many followers. Angragar must be destroyed first. Do you not understand anything?”

“I thought you would be most pleased with my initiative,” quivered Vand. “We have over a million people preparing for Kaltara’s downfall as we speak. How can Angragar stand after Kaltara falls?”

“Kaltara will not fall if Angragar still stands,” snarled the demon. “He must be shed of his followers before the rites are issued. Halt the ceremony immediately, or you will suffer. Go!”

The ground shook mightily under the disciple’s feet, and Vand fell to the ground. He looked up at Dobuk and saw raw fury in the demon’s face. Dobuk’s claws rose and pointed threateningly at Vand. The disciple scrambled to his feet and raced out of the room. He slammed the door shut and leaned against the wall in the corridor of the temple at Vandegar. Sweat poured off Vand’s body, and his limbs were shaking wildly. A frown of confusion creased his brow as Dobuk’s words thundered through his mind.

Pulling himself together, Vand raced through the temple and out onto the roof. He ran to the northern edge of the roof and gazed down at the magnificent city of Vandegar. Over half a million people had gathered in the city to begin the rites to bring about the fall of Kaltara. Vand watched with pride as his people scurried about, but his smile faded quickly as he remembered Dobuk’s words. He turned and waved for a soldier to come to him. The man ran towards the disciple and bowed before him before falling to his knees.

“Go down to the city,” ordered Vand. “The rites are to be halted immediately. Spread the word to every quarter. If the rites continue past the hour, I will have you sacrificed. Go.”

The soldier swallowed hard and rose erect. He bowed once more and then ran into the temple. Minutes later Vand saw the soldier far below running towards the city. He dismissed the messenger from his mind, and Vand’s smile reappeared. His eyes focused on the four tall towers rising up out of the distant city. Each of those towers was the object of a select group of priests conducting the coordinated rites. Vand shook his head in sadness that Dobuk had called off the rites. He still did not understand the need for crushing Angragar before the rites, but he knew better than to defy the Great Demon. Disappointment raged through his body at the thought of his great day being postponed.

Unexpectedly, lightning flashed in the clear blue sky. Vand gazed up at the sky in search of the storm front, but there was not a cloud to be seen. His eyes narrowed suspiciously as he refocused his attention on the distant city. He wondered if the rites were ahead of schedule.

Again the sky flashed brilliantly, and thunder filled the air. Vand looked on in awe as lightning danced in the sky and began to circle over the city. The sky darkened almost instantaneously, and the sun disappeared from view. The bright circle of lightning grew more brilliant and lit the city below it. A tremor of fear raced up Vand’s spine as he worried about what was happening. The show in the sky had nothing to do with the rites, but it was obviously a show of power, if not from Dobuk, then it had to be from Kaltara.

In answer to Vand’s unspoken question, the circle of lightning suddenly split in quarters, each quarter striking one of the four tall towers. The stone towers exploded in a frenzy of rocks, showering the citizens of Vandegar. The lightning continued downward past the bases of the towers and pierced the ground that the city was built upon. Great geysers of water spouted from the ground where the towers had stood just moments before.

The people of Vandegar panicked, their screams vying with the thunder rolling through the air. Hundreds of thousands of people screamed and started running away from the towers. The ground shook with tremendous cracks snapping through the air. Buildings crumbled and fell to the streets crushing the citizens trying to flee.

Since Vandegar was a coastal city, the panicked hordes ran in every direction except the sea. Their only thought was to get away from the crumbling buildings. Some raced towards the temple, which sat well inland from the city, while others merely ran along the shortest path out of the city. None of them survived.

Vand watched as earthquakes ripped along the city’s three edges. Huge cracks widened, and columns of seawater shot thousands of paces into the sky. The fleeing citizens turned from the edges of the city and raced inward, dodging the still crumbling buildings. The entire floor of the city buckled and crumbled as monstrous, towering waves rose up from the sea and crashed down on the city. Within minutes the city was gone. The angry waves of the sea tore at the new shoreline, now much closer to the temple of Vandegar than it had been before. As large chunks of land crumbled into the advancing sea, Vand turned and ran. He shouted orders for his remaining people to gather to him, but the masses that had not been in the city were already running southward, heading as far away from Vandegar as they could get.

Vand snarled in disgust and walked towards the special room in the temple that hosted Dobuk, the Great Demon. He entered the room and found Dobuk in the foulest of moods.

“You have failed me, disciple,” snapped Dobuk. “It will be a long time before we can threaten Kaltara again.”

“I tried to stop it,” explained Vand. “I will gather the remnants of my people and set out for Angragar. We will crush the city and return here.”

“No,” Dobuk shook his head. “Your people are too few. For now you have failed me. Vandegar is no longer safe to dwell in. Gather your people and take them southward to the coast. There you will build a great fleet of ships to take you into exile. You will not be allowed to return here until the time is right. This will be your punishment.”

“Where will we go?” asked Vand.

“Where I tell you to go,” snapped Dobuk. “No longer can you be trusted to act without my orders. Go and do as I have commanded.”

Chapter 1

Clarvoy’s Return

The spymaster entered the throne room of the temple on the Island of Darkness. Emperor Vand stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Clarvoy enter. He noticed the haggard look on the spy’s face and saw his left arm hanging limply.

“Everyone out,” ordered the Emperor as he waved Clarvoy towards him.

Xavo joined the others in the throne room as they headed out of the chamber. He halted near the doors when he heard the Emperor’s voice speak softly in his ear.

“Stay, Xavo,” the Emperor whispered through an air tunnel. “Clarvoy may need your healing.”

Xavo nodded subconsciously and turned around. He saw the Emperor drop the air tunnel as he approached the throne.

“What happened Clarvoy?” asked the Emperor as the doors at the far end of the throne room closed.

“I was attacked in Meliban,” answered the spymaster. “It is only a knife wound and not very serious, but I cannot focus on it myself. I need a healer to look at it.”

“See to his needs, Xavo,” instructed the Emperor. “Heal him well. Clarvoy is most vital to my plans.”

Xavo nodded and approached the spymaster. He cut away the fabric of Clarvoy’s tunic and examined the wound. It was a fairly deep cut, but Xavo had seen much worse. He probed the wound, causing Clarvoy’s arm to twitch.

“Sorry,” apologized Xavo.

“Just heal it,” frowned the spymaster. “It has become infected. I will not faint from your efforts.”

“It is unlike you to be noticed on the mainland,” frowned the Emperor, ignoring Xavo completely. “How did this happen?”

“Perhaps I grow careless,” Clarvoy shrugged, causing Xavo to halt his ministrations for a moment. “It is truly nothing serious. I pay no mind to it, and it should not trouble you. There is troublesome news, though.”

“Oh?” prompted the Emperor.

“The Jiadin are moving into the Astor’s fold,” reported the spymaster. “Wyant has agreed to release the Jiadin from the cities in return for their loyalty.”

“That will not last long,” laughed Vand. “Do not let it trouble you. The Jiadin are like children. Within days they will be seeking to raid Angragar once more. It is an alliance that cannot possibly hold together.”

“Wyant has agreed to take six of the leaders of the Jiadin to Angragar,” Clarvoy shook his head. “I fear that this time the Jiadin may actually remain loyal to your enemies.”

“He will actually take Jiadin to Angragar?” balked the Emperor. “You must follow them and find out where the lost city is.”

“I would have been one of the six,” frowned Clarvoy, “had it not been for this wound. I would have been discovered if I tried to impersonate one of the six with my arm bleeding as it was.”

“How fortuitous for the Astor?” seethed the Emperor as his eyes narrowed. “Tell me how you became wounded.”

“I was placing a spell on Wyant in his room during the night,” explained Clarvoy. “I heard a noise in the hallway and drew my knife. Within seconds the door opened wide and a Jiadin appeared. He saw me and moved more quickly than I had expected. I cast a blinding spell to destroy his vision, but his throw was most unfortunate. It struck me in the arm. I heard Wyant roll off the bed as the intruder shouted an alarm. I had no choice but to withdraw from the scene. Within minutes the entire city was awake searching for a man with a knife wound in his arm. I could not possibly stay in Meliban without detection, so I fled.”

“Extremely bad luck?” the Emperor asked suspiciously, “or is there more to it?”

“I think there is more to it,” Clarvoy hesitantly admitted. “Wyant’s room was at the end of a corridor. No Jiadin should have been there. Also, I had to maneuver carefully past peanut shells on the floor outside the marshal’s door. I assumed that Wyant had left them to alarm him, but upon reflection I realize that they were placed there by the Jiadin.”

“So the Jiadin were expecting an attack on Wyant?” questioned Vand.

“It would appear so,” nodded Clarvoy as Xavo cast the last of his healing spells, “but it is worse than that. If the Jiadin expected one of their own to assassinate the marshal, they would have posted guards outside the room.”

“So they were expecting an outsider?” mused Vand. “Is there any reason that you think they might have been expecting you?”

Xavo continued casting healing spells on the spymaster’s arm even though the wound was healed. He listened intently to the conversation, knowing who tried to kill Clarvoy and how the assassin had found out about the spymaster’s planned visit to Meliban.

“I had a great deal of time during the voyage back to think about it,” nodded Clarvoy. “I am convinced that my attacker knew who I was. I am also sure that I was expected in Meliban.”

“But who knew where you were going?” inquired the Emperor. “You do not even tell the ship captain your destination until you leave port. How could anyone know for sure where you would turn up?”

“That is it!” exclaimed Clarvoy. “I cannot believe I was so blind. The whole voyage back I tried to imagine who could possibly know my destination, but you just delivered it to me.”

“Explain yourself,” responded the Emperor.

“I never tell the captain our destination until we leave port,” confirmed the spymaster, “but the trip to Meliban was interrupted. You ordered the ship returned to port because of the communication from the inner circle of the Star of Sakova.”

“And you had already informed the captain of the ship of your destination?” asked Vand.

“Exactly,” nodded Clarvoy. “That is the only difference in this trip from thousands of others. I must go interrogate the captain immediately.”

“You will stay here,” the Emperor shook his head as he watched Xavo casting healing magic on the spy’s arm. “I will have the traitorous captain delivered, and we shall learn who on this island he told the destination to.”

Xavo felt an involuntary spasm wrack his body as he feared for Lady Mystic. Xavo knew that the sea captain could not resist the torture that awaited him. He made a show of completing the healing spell as Vand snapped his fingers and shouted a strange name.

“Barrok,” called the Emperor. “Come to me.”

Xavo patted the spy on the arm and nodded to the Emperor as he turned to leave so that he could warn Lady Mystic of the danger awaiting her.

“Stay, Xavo,” commanded the Emperor. “Your skills might be helpful in interrogating the captain.”

Xavo nodded dutifully and then heard a metallic clicking outside the throne room. He turned his head with curiosity towards the door on the side of the throne room. He was not prepared for the sight that unfolded before him.

A huge black creature bowed slightly as it entered the room. It did not bow in deference to the Emperor, but rather to facilitate its entry into the room as the doorway was too short to accommodate its height. The demon’s sharp claws tapped the stone floor as it straightened out and advanced towards the throne. Xavo gazed at the horned beast, its body gleaming in the torchlight like a shiny black metal. Its stride across the room spoke of tremendous power as its snout opened in a slight grin to reveal rows of sharp pointed teeth. Deep black eyes instantly took in the occupants of the room and discarded them as unworthy opponents. The demon halted before the Emperor and bowed its head slightly.

“Barrok,” commanded the Emperor, “I want the sea captain of the ship that arrived this morning. In fact, I want the entire crew of the ship brought here. They are not to be harmed, but you will not allow them to escape. Let nothing get in your way of pleasing me. Go.”

The demon grinned broadly and nodded its head. It turned and strode out of the throne room purposefully, its claws sounding as if the stone tiles of the floor would shatter with each step. When the creature was gone, Xavo found himself staring at the empty doorway.

“Impressive isn’t he?” grinned Vand. “I have more of them. Some were lost in the destruction of Vandegar so long ago, but six remain. They are sworn to protect me.”

Xavo fidgeted openly. He knew that Vand would attribute his unease to seeing the demon, and that was fine with the mage, but his mind was on his lover. If the sea captain were tortured, Vand would learn that Lady Mystic asked about the ship’s destination. He would know who the spy was, and that would result in her death.

“Can we be sure that the captain is the spy?” Xavo asked as he turned back to face the Emperor. “Even if he knew the destination of Clarvoy, how could he transmit that information in time to ensure that someone was waiting for Clarvoy?”

“A valid question,” nodded the spymaster as he rubbed his healed arm and flexed it. “It would take a mage with the knowledge of the air tunnel to send word to the mainland.”

“Were there such mages on your ship?” asked Xavo.

“There is always one on the ship,” the spymaster frowned, “but I strive to use mages that I can trust. I am sure of the loyalty of the mage who was present onboard the ship. Why do you ask?”

“Because even if the captain was willing to part with the information regarding your destination,” answered Xavo, “he would need the mage to deliver it.”

“It could be any mage on this island,” retorted Clarvoy. “Once the captain knew that I was headed for Meliban, he could have told someone here. He could even have told you,” Clarvoy added accusingly.

“Hardly,” smiled Xavo. “I was in this room when you arrived, and when you left. I never left the Emperor’s presence during your return to the island. Not only that, I resent your accusation. As you have, I have displayed my loyalty to the Emperor on many occasions. I do not question your loyalty; do not dare to question mine.”

“Enough,” scowled the Emperor. “I do not suspect Xavo, Clarvoy. His words are true about your last visit. He never left my presence. Let the captain tell us whom he told. That will finish the issue.”

* * *

The crew of the ship heard the shouting and the commotion from the city. They hurried to the rail and gazed towards the temple to see what everyone was shouting about. They saw the large demon marching down the front steps of the temple, its eyes fixed on the ship tied up to the wharf.

“Look at that beast,” shouted one of the sailors. “I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that. What is it?”

“One of the Emperor’s demons,” a soldier on the wharf answered. “We don’t see much of them unless the Emperor is in a really foul mood. Someone will die today, and not in a very pleasant way, either. I would stay out of its way if I were you.”

“But he is staring right at us,” one of the sailors gasped. “Look at his eyes. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

The captain of the ship pushed his way to the rail, the sailors moving apart to make room for him after they saw who it was. He stared at the approaching demon and swallowed hard. He had expected some type of reprimand after the spymaster came onboard hurt in Meliban. Clarvoy’s mistakes were always taken out on somebody else. He had fretted about the problem the entire voyage back from Fakara. When he heard the spymaster mumble something about the enemy knowing that he was coming, the captain remembered Lady Mystic’s conversation the day he had left the Island of Darkness. At first he could not believe that the Emperor’s daughter was a spy, but he knew it was true now. The problem, as the captain saw it, was that the Emperor would never believe that Lady Mystic was a spy. Vand would believe his own spawn over a sea captain.

Knowing that the vile creature was coming for him, the captain moved away from the rail. He looked around in desperation and saw that there was no escape. He looked once more at the approaching demon and felt his blood run cold. His whole body shivered at the thought of the demon’s touch. Hurriedly, he scampered up the mast as the demon drew closer to the ship. He pulled a line free from the mast and hurriedly tied it around his neck. By the time he had completed the knot, the demon stood alongside the ship. Shiny black claws reached out to snare the captain, but he deftly avoid them. He ducked behind the mast and then dove towards the deck. A loud crack rent the air as the rope went taut, the captain’s body swinging wildly from the end of the rope a mere pace above the deck.

* * *

The city of Teramar on the Island of Darkness was teeming with excitement. A sea of red uniforms flowed through the city as soldiers clogged the streets. Merchants closed up their shops as they ran out of merchandise to sell, and the inns were overflowing with drunken soldiers partying before the war. Outside the city, tents and campfires dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. Tens of thousands of red-clad soldiers were still converging on the already packed city as the sun sank towards the western horizon.

On the roof of the main building hosting the headquarters of the army, Doralin stood watching the assembly of his armies. His red uniform was resplendent with numerous gold bars and stripes denoting the highest military rank afforded to an officer in Vand’s army, that of premer. There were only four premers in the entire army, and each had dozens of generals under his command. For the coming invasion, Premer Doralin had been assigned thirty generals, each commanding a force of ten thousand men. Those armies were now converging on Teramar to board the ships.

“It is quite a sight,” smiled General Valatosa, “is it not?”

“It is,” the premer nodded in satisfaction. “We have waited for this moment for far too long, but it is finally upon us. Are your men prepared?”

“My army arrived last week,” reported the general. “They are tired of sitting and waiting. Should I assume that we will be boarding within the next few days?”

“Your men will be boarding tonight,” answered the premer. “We have been placed on hold by a message from the Emperor, but I have been promised an answer by sundown.”

“On hold?” questioned General Valatosa. “Then the attack may not occur as planned?”

“The attack will occur on schedule,” replied Premer Doralin. “I understand that there may be a last minute change in strategy, but that will not affect your army. You will still be the spearhead that lances into the enemy’s heart. Make sure that the spirits of your men are high. They are to set the example for the other armies.”

“About those other armies,” frowned the general. “Many of the newest arrivals are a bit too deep into their ale. Fights have broken out at the inns. Can’t you put a stop to it?”

“Let the men enjoy their last night on Motanga,” shrugged the premer. “The ale will run out before too long in any event. The voyage is long enough that no one will arrive for battle in a drunken stupor.”

“My men certainly won’t,” retorted the general. “I have placed the inns off limits to my army.”

“Good,” the premer smiled mischievously as he looked at the hard-nosed general. “I have a task for them. I want you to organize the loading of the ships. There are a hundred ships already in the harbor. You will begin loading them at sundown. Make the process simple and quick. Once a ship is loaded, it is to sail out of the harbor to make room for another. I have two hundred ships off the coast waiting to get in.”

“My men can handle that efficiently,” declared the general. “Why are we waiting for sundown?”

“Just a precaution,” answered Doralin. “If there are spies on the island, they will not see the ships depart. I have been using the same technique with the supply ships to Duran, but the movement of this many ships is bound to be noticed. But by then we will be well on our way,” he added with a grin. “It is never wise to let the enemy know that you are coming.”

“So the loading must be accomplished before daybreak,” nodded the general. “We can do that. I will start organizing it now.”

The premer merely nodded as the general left the roof. He turned and continued to gaze with admiration on the largest army ever to be assembled. His chest swelled with pride as he noted that it was his army that would strike the first blow on the mainland.

* * *

When Emperor Marak entered his office, the mage Ophia was waiting for him, which was highly irregular.

“Here or the roof?” the Emperor asked without preamble.

“Better on the roof,” answered Ophia. “The messages are coming fast and furiously.”

“Brief me on the way,” nodded the Torak as he left the office and headed for the roof.

“First was a message from Rykoma,” Ophia explained. “Hundreds of Vand’s ships are missing from the Island of Darkness. They must have set sail during the night.”

“Hundreds?” frowned the emperor. “Can you be more specific?”

“Not really,” Ophia shook her head. “I asked the same question. All that he would say is that yesterday the harbor of one of the cities was crammed with ships. The coastline was also crowded with ships at anchor. This morning there were none. The harbors of the other three cities are still crowded with ships.”

“Assuming that they divided the ships evenly,” Marak speculated, “that would be around two hundred and fifty ships. Of course, they may not be divided evenly. Any idea where they are heading?”

“None,” replied Ophia as they reached the roof. “There was also a message from Rhoda at Raven’s Point. Several attempts to talk to you, actually. She refused to state a message. I don’t think she trusts me.”

“Don’t take it personally,” replied Marak. “Contact her now. She is dealing with some sensitive issues and was told to speak to me directly. I don’t want anything lost in the process of getting the information secondhand.”

“I understand,” nodded Ophia as she connected with Rhoda.

“What do you have for me, Rhoda?” asked the Torak.

“It has begun,” replied Rhoda. “Premer Doralin has left Teramar for the mainland.”

“Anything on the destination?” asked Marak. “Or the strength?”

“Nothing on the destination,” answered Rhoda, “but our source was willing to speculate. The suggestion was made that since Teramar is a southern city, and it was the point of departure, the Sakova would be a likely bet, but that is wholly conjecture. As for the strength, the number three hundred thousand was mentioned. They are searching for more information.”

“They?” questioned Emperor Marak.

“He has help now,” replied Rhoda. “I should not say more. Fisher is aware of it.”

“That is good enough for me,” replied the emperor. “Stay in position, Rhoda. I may need to contact you, and I may not be here when that happens.”

“I will be here,” agreed Rhoda as Emperor Marak signaled for Ophia to drop the air tunnel.

“Weave an air tunnel to Angragar,” Emperor Marak instructed Ophia. “Tell Rejji to contact Myka. I will be there within the hour.”

Ophia nodded and started creating the air tunnel. Emperor Marak wove his own air tunnel to StarCity and asked to speak to Lyra. The Star of Sakova responded promptly.

“It is happening,” Emperor Marak declared. “No word on the destination yet, but I suspect it is Alamar.”

“Are you sure it is not another test?” asked Lyra. “Perhaps an attack on Zaramilden?”

“Not this time,” replied the Torak. “Three hundred thousand are currently sailing towards us. This will be a test, but not the type you were thinking about.”

“Merciful Kaltara!” gasped the Star of Sakova. “We are not ready for this. That many men will walk right over Alamar. That is almost a third of their entire force heading for one city. I was hoping that the information we sent to them would cause them to send a smaller force.”

“Perhaps this is the smaller force,” sighed Emperor Marak. “We don’t have enough information about their strategy. Get your skimmers into the water immediately.”

“I am ordering it as we speak,” replied Lyra.

Marak could hear the other mages in the background issuing orders and alerting the forces. He was torn over whether or not to activate the skimmers from Angragar. If the attacks were indeed aimed at Alamar, the skimmers from Angragar would be useless. Worse, he would have revealed their existence. Yet if the attacks were aimed more to the north, they would be essential.

“I have to get aloft,” declared Emperor Marak. “You need to be in contact with someone in StarCity at all times. I will be posting mages on the roof here day and night, but I will be elsewhere. Also bear in mind that these communications are not necessarily secure any more. Anything revealing must be communicated in another way.”

“I understand,” replied the Star of Sakova. “I am heading for Alamar, but this palace will be manned all of the time.”

“Is it wise for you to go to Alamar?” asked the Torak.

“I must,” answered Lyra. “It is the only point of contact with the enemy that we can be assured of. After Alamar falls, a lot depends upon Vand’s strategy, and we don’t know what that is.”

“Stay in StarCity,” commanded the Torak. “I will be with you shortly. I can get you to Alamar faster than a choka.”

Lyra frowned as she wondered how Marak could accomplish that, but she agreed to wait for him. The Torak dropped the air tunnel and dashed from the roof.


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