In Arianus, Realm of Sky, humans, elves, and dwarves battle for control of precious water—traversing a world of airborne islands on currents of elven magic and the backs of mammoth dragons. But soon great magical forces will begin to rend the fabric of this delicate land. An assassin will be hired to kill a royal prince—by the king himself. A dwarf will challenge the beliefs of his people—and lead them in rebellion. And a sinister wizard will enact his plan to rule Arianus—a plan that may be felt far beyond the Realm of Sky and into the Death Gate itself.
About the Author
Tracy Raye Hickman was born in Salt Lake City. He currently resides in a large Victorian home he built for his wife and four children in the tall mountain pines of Flagstaff, Arizona. He has co-authored with Margaret Weis four New York Times bestselling series, including the Death Gate Cycle and the Dragonlance series which have more than eleven million copies in print and has published his own solo works as well.
Read an Excerpt
YRENI PRISON, DANDRAK,
THE CRUDELY BUILT CART LURCHED AND BOUNCED OVER THE ROUGH coralite terrain, its iron wheels hitting every bump and pit in what passed for a road. The cart was being pulled by a tier, its breath snorting puffs in the chill air. It took one man to lead the stubborn and unpredictable bird while four more, stationed on either side of the vehicle, pushed and shoved the cart along. A small crowd, garnered from the outlying farms, had gathered in front of Yreni Prison, planning to escort the cart and its shameful burden to the city walls of Ke’lith. There, a much larger crowd awaited the cart’s arrival.
Day side was ending. The glitter of the firmament began to fade as the Lords of Night slowly drew the shadow of their cloaks over the afternoon stars. Night’s gloom was fitting for this procession.
The country folk—for the most part—kept their distance from the cart. They did this not out of fear of the tier—although those huge birds had been known to suddenly turn and take a vicious snap at anyone approaching them from their blind side—but out of fear of the cart’s occupant.
The prisoner was bound around the wrists by taut leather thongs attached to the sides of the cart, and his feet were manacled with heavy chains. Several sharp-eyed bowmen marched beside the cart, their feathered shafts nocked and ready to be let loose straight at the felon’s heart if he so much as twitched the wrong way. But such precautions did not appear to offer the cart’s followers much comfort. They kept their gaze—dark and watchful—fixed on the man inside as they trudged along behind at a respectful distance that markedly increased when the man turned his head. If they’d had a demon from Hereka chained up in that cart, the local farmers could not have gazed on it with any greater fear or awe.
The man’s appearance alone was striking enough to arrest the eye and send a shiver over the skin. His age was indeterminate, for he was one of those men whom life has aged beyond cycles. His hair was black without a touch of gray. Sleeked back from a high, sloping forehead, it was worn braided at the nape of his neck. A jutting nose, like the beak of a hawk, thrust forward from between dark and overhanging brows. His beard was black and worn in two thin short braids twisted beneath a strong chin. His black eyes, sunken into high cheekbones, almost disappeared in the shadows of the overhanging brows. Almost, but not quite, for no darkness in this world, it seemed, could quench the flame that smoldered in those depths.
The prisoner was of medium height, his body bare to the waist and marked all over with gashes and bruises, for he had fought like a devil to avoid his capture. Three of the sheriffs boldest men lay in their beds this day and would probably lie there for a week recovering. The man was lean and sinewy, his movements graceful and silent and swift. One might say, from looking at him, that here was a man born and bred to walk in the company of Night.
It amused the prisoner to see the peasants fall back when he glanced around at them. He took to looking behind him often, much to the discomfiture of the bowmen, who were constantly lifting their shafts, their fingers twitching nervously, their gazes darting for instructions at their leader—a solemn-faced young sheriff. Despite the chill of the fall evening, the sheriff was sweating profusely, and his face brightened visibly when the coralite walls of Ke’lith came in sight.
Ke’lith was small in comparison with the other two cities on Dandrak Isle. Its ill-kept houses and shops barely covered a square menka. In the very center stood an ancient fortress whose tall towers were catching the last light of the sun. The keep was constructed of rare and precious blocks of granite. In this day, no one remembered how it was built or who had built it. Its past history had been obscured by the present, by the wars that had been fought for its possession.
Guards pushed open the city gates and motioned the cart forward. Unfortunately the tier took exception to a ragged cheer that greeted the cart’s arrival in Ke’lith and came to a dead stop.
The recalcitrant bird was alternately threatened and coaxed by its handler until it began moving again, and the cart trundled through the opening in the wall onto a smoothed coralite street known grandiosely as Kings Highway; no king in anyone’s memory had ever set foot on the place.
A large crowd was on hand to view the prisoner. The sheriff barked out an order in a cracked voice and the bowmen closed ranks, pressing close around the cart, the front men in dire peril of being bitten by the nervous tier.
Emboldened by their numbers, the people began to shout curses and raise their fists. The prisoner grinned boldly at them, seeming to consider them more amusing than threatening until a jagged-edged rock sailed over the cart’s sides and struck him in the forehead.
The mocking smile vanished. Anger contorted the blood-streaked face. His fists clenched, the man made a convulsive leap at a group of ruffians who had discovered courage at the bottom of a wine jug. The leather thongs that held the man fastened to the cart stretched taut, the sides of the vehicle quivered and trembled, the chains on his feet jangled discordantly. The sheriff screeched—the young man’s voice rising an octave in his fear—and the bowmen swiftly lifted their weapons, although there was some confusion over their target: the felon or those who had attacked him.
The crudely made cart was strong, and the man inside, though he exerted all his energy, could neither break his bonds nor the wood that held them. His struggles ceased and he stared through a mask of blood at the swaggering ruffian.
“You wouldn’t dare do that if I were free.”
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” the youth jeered, his cheeks flushed with drink.
“No, you wouldn’t,” replied the man coolly. His black eyes fixed themselves upon the youth, and such was the enmity and dire threat in their coal-fire stare that the young man blenched and gulped. His friends—who were urging him on, though they themselves stayed well behind him—took offense at the felon’s remarks and became more threatening.
The prisoner turned, glaring at one side of the street, then the other. Another rock struck him in the arm, followed by rotting tomatoes and a stinking egg that missed the felon but caught the sheriff squarely in the face.
Having been prepared to kill the prisoner at the first opportunity, the bowmen now became his protectors, turning their arrows toward the crowd. But there were only six bowmen and about a hundred in the mob, and things appeared likely to go ill for both prisoner and guards, when a beating of wings and high-pitched screams from overhead caused most of those in the crowd to take to their heels.
Two dragons, guided by helmed and armored riders, swooped in low over the heads of the mob, sending them ducking into doorways and dashing down alleys. A call from their leader, still wheeling high overhead, brought the dragon knights back into formation. He descended and his knights followed him, the dragons’ wingtips clearing the buildings on either side of the street by barely a hand’s breadth. Wings tucked neatly at their flanks, their long tails lashing wickedly behind, the dragons alighted near the cart.
The knights’ captain, a paunchy middle-aged man with a fiery-red beard, urged his dragon closer. The tier—terrified at the sight and smell of the dragons—was heaving and howling and going through all kinds of gyrations, causing its handler no end of grief.
“Keep that damn thing quiet!” snarled the captain.
The tiermaster managed to catch hold of the head and fixed his beast with an unblinking stare. As long as he could maintain this steady gaze, the stupid tier1—for whom out of sight was out of mind—would forget the presence of the dragons and calm down.
Ignoring the stammering, babbling sheriff, who was hanging on to the captain’s saddle harness as a lost child hangs on to its newly found mother, the captain gazed sternly at the bloody, vegetable-stained prisoner.
“It seems I arrived in time to save your miserable life, Hugh the Hand.”
“You did me no favor, Gareth,” said the man grimly. He raised his shackled hands. “Free me! I’ll fight all of you, and them too.” He flicked his head at the remnants of the mob peeking out of the shadows.
The captain of the knights grunted. “I’ll bet you would. That death’s a damn sight better than the one you’re facing now—kissing the block. A damn sight better and a damn sight too good for you, Hugh the Hand. A knife in the back, in the dark—that’s what I’d give you, assassin scum!”
The curl of the Hand’s upper lip was emphasized by a feathery black mustache and was clearly visible even in the failing light. “You know the manner of my business, Gareth.”
“I know only that you are a killer for hire and that my liege lord met his end by your hand,” retorted the knight gruffly. “And I’ve saved your head merely to have the satisfaction of placing it with my own hands at the foot of my lord’s bier. By the way, they call the executioner Three-Chop Nick. He’s never yet managed to sever a head from a neck at the first blow.”
Hugh gazed at the captain, then said quietly, “For what it’s worth, I didn’t kill your lord.”