The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labeled a sorcerer. With his ancestors’ artifacts in hand, the Sorcerer follows the Captain, a beautiful man with song for a voice and hair that drinks the sunlight.

The two of them are the descendants of the gods who abandoned the Earth for Heaven, and they will need all the gifts those divine ancestors left to them to keep their caravan brothers alive. The one safe road between the northern oasis and southern kingdom is stalked by a necromantic terror. Demane may have to master his wild powers and trade humanity for godhood if he is to keep his brothers and his beloved captain alive.

Critically acclaimed author Kai Ashante Wilson makes his commercial debut with The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, a striking, wondrous tale of gods and mortals, magic and steel, and life and death that will reshape how you look at sword and sorcery. Available in paperback and ebook September 1st from Tor.com!

 

 

Only mud came up from the wells at Ajeric, no water. That sometimes happened, and most of the caravan had rationed for it; but many hadn’t. One among the guardsmen, Gangy, who’d been spendthrift with his water, began to mutter in a manner damaging to brotherly morale. It would begin by feeling your eyes dry tearless and unblinkable, said Gangy, your tongue swelling blueblack in your mouth, and skin shriveling up into leather, into jerky. Perhaps a year hence, some wayfarer would spot a skull scoured meatless by the sands, sun-bleached: yours—The seditious remainder cut short by the hard back of Captain’s hand. They would all reach the next wells alive, said Master Suresh, so long as grown men didn’t sit and weep, boo hoo hoo like some sad whore, her six best boys lost this week to marriage. We must do now as she did then: dry the tears, and hustle!

The caravan pressed on. There was no talk, no sound, except the jingling of harness and the vague shush of sands shifted by their passage.

Every night the brazen sphere dissolves in a molten line, compelling the gaze westward when the sky’s dark otherwise. With a similar compulsion, the least dampness in the driest wastes would seize Demane’s whole attention. No stopping at nightfall, nor for midnight, either: the caravan was still going after moonset. Under cloudless constellations, the camels trudged along the banks of a dead river, extinct since prehistory. They came to a stretch of arroyo where humidity hovered, where some deep spring leaked up even to the surface. Demane snapped the reins of his camel, hurrying the beast from midpack to the caravan’s forefront, where Captain rode.

Master Suresh kept watch on all such urgencies. He too brought his camel up abreast, in time to see Demane’s gesture and hear the offending word. “Water?” the caravanmaster cried. “Succubee of thirst and mirage! They have fucked out that man’s brains, Captain. Tell your fevered brother: this river died before the dragons burnt Daluça!”

The captain ran every day, and much farther on some, whether for penance or harder exercise, who knew. That day he’d run from Ajeric’s wells until after sundown. He’d only just mounted his camel. With heart-spoke fatigue, he looked at Demane. Are you sure? Don’t make a fool of me.

“I’m telling you, Captain.” Demane pointed again down the arroyo’s draw. “It’s good water right there.”

Captain turned to the caravanmaster and gave beautiful corroboration. “It’s yours to say: stop or go on. But the water is here, Master Suresh.” The master muttered vile curses—not really doubting, though. The captain’s word had weight.

“Hold here!” the master bellowed to his caravan.

Spades, mallet, chisel. Demane chose Messed Up, Michelo, Wock, and the captain himself: the men strongest in the caravan. The long draw was more rock than sand, but not steep. By dim stars, the chosen picked their way down. The silver night ablaze for him, Demane ran ahead to where wetness rose richest, near a boulder.

Bent over, noses in the sand and pressed to the rim of the half-ton slab, even the others could smell it. But there was no trickle, only a dark stain in the sand. Nor could they shift the stone, and to bring down more hands would only crowd and hinder, not help.

“Let me try something,” Demane said. He had the captain give his highest, sharpest cries, and listening to echoes the rock returned, chose a spot to crouch. He milked his third eye for vitriol. It took time, and to the others it seemed that Demane only knelt, lost in thought or prayer for water. He’d once accomplished this feat as a boy, when still a novice, but never since in earnest.

Master Suresh called down bitterly.

Dolce, the captain called back.

Some time later, Messed Up nudged Demane’s shoulder. “Damn, Sorcerer.” He breathed by mouth, and poked Demane again. “Why you just setting there?” Demane tried to wave him off, focusing on the contract-release of the tiniest, most obscure muscles.

Captain pulled Messed Up back.

Mouth full, Demane bowed and pressed his lips to a crack under the rock. He spat hard. Weak phosphoros was hid by his body, but the rock cried out—inorganic cavils and groans. “¡Coño!” “The fuck was that?” the brothers exclaimed. Virulent potency sheared deep feet through rock, and then sinking, smelted and cracked the stone. Igneous fumes, hot, hissed out. Demane jumped up and back with the rest. When the fiery stink had cleared, Captain waved Demane beside him, and the other three to the rock’s opposite side. This time their strength sufficed to tip the boulder out from the greater shelf beneath. They sent it on its way, sliding to the sandy bottom.

“Pero no veo naá…” Wock began, and then heard. So did they all: a burbling sigh, the sweet sound of water pissing through fractured stone; then saw the starlit froth too, as it welled up, running away in glitters over the thirsty sand and gravel. Messed Up fell greedily to hands and knees.

Water,” Captain sang to the ridge above. “Come down.” The caravan came.

 

Abundant water flowed with the effect of wine. The caravan drank and drank and lay down anywhere. Brothers should have known the routine. Five different men guarded each quarter of the night, while four slept the night through. They’d done so more than eighty times already, at every sleep-camp when Captain called the watch. But by the lucky springs, so late it would dawn soon, Captain sat for a moment in the sand. And it must surely have felt soft to him, for he began to nod, his lips slackening. Across camp, watching between slow blinks, Demane lay stretched out already. It had been a long day of highs and lows; he too was at lowest ebb. His knack for medicinals, as it turned out, had proved no help at all with venoms. That feat had drained Demane to the dregs. He ought to practice more, but why, nasty stuff… Demane slept too.

Some nightmare woke him. The fleshcolored sky was sallowing in the orient. Over the lip of the ridge, down the arroyo’s east bank, ragged shapes with machètes or spears loped from rock to rock, sliding where their footing crumbled, descending on the caravan asleep in the bottom sands. Thirty? No, there were fifty of them at least!

Desperados.

Demane’s alarums woke the camp. Snoring brothers took hard kicks. Some sleepers he snatched up by the hair and dropped on foot awake. As soon as Demane began to yell, every bandit set up whooping, lunatic as hyenas. Twice the number of blades bristled downslope as up, and there was nobody silent, everyone screaming. Before the teeth of spears could chew them, the merchants scrambled past the brothers to cower against the western bank; and then top and bottom jaw of the skirmish closed. The merchants all lived. Brothers died.

Where was Captain? Amidst the enemy already, a blur of black robes, quarter-way-up the eastern slope in the thick of them. The captain went from one to another, inspiring shrill agony or utter silence as he passed. By sixes and sevens the bandits would close with him before he got the numbers down. A full half dozen pressing together could scrawl shallow wounds on him, or rend his robe. Captain in turn pocked the crush with every movement.

Chickenty thought he was a hero too. Though Demane called him back where the brothers rallied at the bottom, Chickenty ran on upslope. He speared one desperado, and then another behind that first. He engaged a third. Weeks before, in the last raid, he’d worked wonders with his quick feet on firm ground. But sand shifts and rolls, worse on the uphill, and no one’s feet can be as fast or sure. Some fourth desperado came driving in on Chick’s blindside, and he did hear Demane’s warning shout. But his step sideways was not quick enough, and he slipped. The spear skewered Chick kidney-to-kidney. Crumpling sidewise, he vomited blood, and was the first brother to die.

There is a principle called TSIM. Through deep time the universe complicates, all things whatsoever arising from the mother quantum, precisely so this man (writhing now on Demane’s spearpoint) might enjoy sentience, choice, and love. This is TSIM. And all who claim to follow the principle must have hands loath and cold when it comes time to kill. You’re sworn to better work than murder. Unreckoned aeons gone by, and incalculable effort spent, for what? To kill a man, your unctuous shaft dragging, slippery and bone-caught, through your grasp? Demane braced his foot to the deadman’s chest, crushing ribs and sternum under his heel, until his spearpoint pulled loose. Clear as day he heard the Tower laughing on its left side: TSOA. Chaos and pointlessness are the point! That is TSOA. But divinity knocked about inside Demane like some great-winged bird caught indoors, frantic to find that one open window again; and so, however slow and reluctant, still he had faster hands, stronger arms, than anyone facing him.

Xho Xho, Walead, and Bou, clumsy runts all three, wisely kept together. Four times they repeated the same maneuver—scatter, flank, triple-thrust—that Captain had taught them. But then Walead came up tardy on the left and Bou, in front, died for it. So too might have Xho Xho, when the bandit whirled right, wolf-howling. Demane threw his spear into the man’s warcry. Bad teeth had clamped onto the shaft when Demane wrenched his spearhead out.

Messed Up roared and stabbed. A wattle of gore, long and red, dangled off his jaw. The seemly flesh had been laid back, his bloodwashed molars in naked discovery, also the bones of his cheek and jaw, and much busy undergristle besides. Desperados scattered away from him. But Messed Up caught them, and killed them, anyway. Rats in rout, with the ratter giving chase! Behold the wake of strewn bodies, and here comes the big one himself, red-toothed and crazed. About the business best suiting him.

No one could save Wock. Nor the twins, Cruz and Glório. Demane didn’t even know they’d died ’til afterwards.

Teef and Barkeem, hemmed in by mayhem. Hard pressed by two bandits, T-Jawn scrabbled for footing on a steep patch of sand. He fell, slaughter-ready, before both spears. Demane was too far away to rescue any of the three. Not the captain, though; he swooped in, with the same acts dealing death and deliverance. The point and edge of his spear opened red lips in one bandit’s throat. Lifesblood emptied from that new mouth, while the other bandit took the same blow’s downstroke, which cored his heart. Captain made the body dance with the twist-jerk of freeing his spear. Beside the two abruptly dead, one of the desperadoes attacking Teef quailed and ran. Captain threw his spear half through the fleeing man’s back. He left the corpse transfixed, and yanked his old-style Daluçan knife from its baldric. Called, properly, “sword,” the blade was arm’s length, and much too long to ply for eating, hunting, or any use apart from war. Barkeem backed from some long-armed bandit who had two daggers, twin snakes, striking from either hand. Captain, in the act of drawing his sword, took the top off that bandit’s head. Crown and brow slid, widthwise, from cheeks and jowls. Walead and Xho Xho were in straits again. The captain flew to their salvation—not as some crow might, but his robes as black as wings, and covering the ground as swiftly.

Demane killed the man he fought, and the hot excess of bandit’s blood provoked a vision, a moment of retrospect, or of some life unlived. Bangles, khol’d eyes, ankles chiming tiny bells. The captain’s naked torso, lithe and rippling. His thighs half-clad in gauze of gold, loins in leopard suede. Some history that might have been, or had been: the captain dancing for the Olorumi sovereign or Kidanese empress. When that august hand waved to clear a marble hall, one hot glance said to him: You, stay. Demane glimpsed shadows of a world forgone in Captain’s prosecution of the counterattack. Had nimble limbs turned to other purposes, had they cultivated a different grace. Demane saw some brother down.

Faedou rolled apart from a throttled corpse, the dead man still clutching a knife driven into living flesh. Faedou pried off the futile grip, and plucked the blade from his thigh. On first and second attempt, he couldn’t stand. By the third, Demane had reached him and was kneeling. “Sorcerer… , ” Faedou panted shallowly, “… head up!

Some mother’s son tilted downhill. About thirteen years old, maybe twelve, the bandit boy held his spear as mounted men hold a lance. There was time and space enough for Demane to throw his spear, but he didn’t. Even a moment later, his reach being much longer, Demane might have simply angled up his spear. Running headlong, the boy would have impaled himself on the point, like a chunk of meat on a skewer. Instead, Demane dropped his spear and caught the boy’s with one hand, just below the point.

Though slowed, the boy wasn’t stopped. Faedou howled and curled like a beetle, his leg kicked or trod in the scuffle. Demane’s palm burned as the spearshaft greased down his bloodslick grip. The leverage was all wrong for him, perfect for the boy: on the downhill, speeding weight behind him, a two-handed grip. Demane had thrown his right and stronger hand back, braced to the ground, to keep himself from reeling ass over end. The child bore down, driving with desperate strength. Chapped lips snarling back from whitest teeth.

This was not the way he’d thought he’d die. But as the spearpoint broke skin on his chest, Demane felt only sublime relief: TSIM. No one else’s son would die by his hands today, or ever again. Then red gleamed, sunlight on wet steel. Smitten off, the boy’s head flew, fell, rolled away downhill. Arterial jets from the stump spewed brighter amidst darker dribble. It listed, its knees buckled, and rather than drop the corpse went subsiding down in stages, to bow over and decant headless onto the sands. Captain—

Excerpted from Sorcerer of the Wildeeps © Kai Ashante Wilson, 2015

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