Peter David, a creative force in television, and a best-selling author of comics and novels, has created a fantasy world sure to delight his legions of readers.
The Damned World is home to twelve races, each of which has fought the others for survival for generations. What none of them knows is that they are all creatures of Earth, a world of legend. On Earth eleven of the twelve races were creatures of human myth or folklore.
All live in awe of the all-powerful Overseer, whose authority none dare challenge. A new spirit has arisen among those sick of war and tired of living in fear. Some believe that it is possible for the races to become allies instead of adversaries. With this new spirit has come a time of possibility, of change.
Jepp, a human woman and Karsen, a Bottom Feeder, have broken with tradition and cast their lots together. They seek the Orb of Light, with which they believe they can gain the power and release the Damned World from its chains of violence and ignorance. But they're not alone, for everyone who knows about the Orb would kill to get it. If someone gets the Orb, things will change. These are, as the proverb warns, interesting times.
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Peter David is the author of many novels, comics, screenplays, and many best-selling Star Trek and Babylon 5 novels. He's the author of the Sir Apropos of Nothing and the Knight Life fantasy series. In addition, he has written for several television series, including Babylon 5 and Crusades among others, and was the co-creator of Space Cases, which ran for two seasons on Nickelodeon. He lives on Long Island.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Battle Plain of Marsayi.Mandraques do nothing in half measures.That had always been the unofficial motto of the Five Clans. Aside from their mutual contempt, it might well have been the only thing that united them. It was a motto that applied to all things, all dealings, all clanwars. And it very much applied to the battlefield, which was running green with Mandraque blood.The field was flat and lifeless, with the bodies of hundreds of Mandraques scattered in various places and assorted pieces. Nothing was moving except the flies, and the air was thick with the stench of bodies, decay, and waste. There had been choruses of groaning, cries for help, moans of "My leg!" and "Help me, damn you!" and "I'll kill you all for this!" Eventually they had tapered off. Only the corpses remained.One Mandraque in particular had not gone down easily. His sword was clenched tightly in his clawed hand. His armor was in tatters, and through the holes one could see the blue-green scales that were the typical skin covering for the species. He had been massively muscled. Like most Mandraques, his scaled head was round, his eyes were little more than slits, his parallel nostrils were cruel lines in the middle of his face. His mouth, in death, was drawn back in a sneer, which actually mirrored the way it had normally appeared in life.Insects were gathering upon his forehead, working their way into his nostril slits, as he stared lifelessly at the sky above. It was a gorgeous day if one was willing to discount the smoke that hung in the air from the various fires . . . fires that had resulted from the flaming arrows filling the air like so many shooting stars. Those arrows had been largely responsible for the aroma of cooked meat hanging heavy in the still air.A slender hand, fingernails thick with dirt, skin abraded on the back, reached over and brushed the flies away from his forehead. The hand's possessor slowly hauled herself forward on her hands and knees. She had only just come around, shaking off the darkness that had claimed her. She could not have been more different from the dead Mandraque supine upon the ground. Her skin was smooth and tanned, and copious amounts of thick black hair hung in her face. Her eyes peered through the strands, and reflected in them was a soul with the frailty of a crippled sparrow. The various stenches assaulted her as her full senses began to come around, and she coughed in violent spasms, her breasts heaving as she did so.She was bloodied from having been thrown around during the fighting. Her mind was a blur . . . images tumbling one over the other . . . blood flying, teeth tearing and ripping, terrifying and unrecognizable roars of defiance and death, death all around her . . . "Greatness?" she said softly. Her hand hesitated over him, because she was never supposed to touch him without his permission. Nevertheless, this time she took the risk and rested her fingers tentatively upon him. Her fingers were tinted green with blood.No response.A bit more boldly, she shook the Mandraque as she whispered his title into his earhole. "Greatness?" she repeated. "Greatness . . . what do you wish me to do now?"Still no answer.Caution dissolved within her. She grabbed the dead Mandraque with both hands and shook him violently. "Greatness! What do you wish me to do! Tell me! Greatness . . . !"Her cries were so loud that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her, crunching across the ash and rubble-strewn land. She continued to shout at the dead Mandraque, pounding with a combination of mounting fury and terror upon his chest, and would have continued to do so until she'd collapsed in exhaustion had she not been alerted by a loud clearing of a throat.She turned, jumping back, startled. She rubbed some stray soot from her eyes and wiped dirt from her face, leaving smears from the back of her hand. She squinted at the new arrival and had no idea what to make of him.He was neither as tall nor as wide as the Greatness had been. His visage was fearsome and feral, but surprisingly it was mingled with a gentleness such as she had never seen in all her life. She didn't truly know how many years old she actually was. She had once asked, and the Greatness had told her she was between fifteen and twenty cycles around the sun. He couldn't be more specific beyond that.The newcomer's skin was similar to her own, but an even darker hue. He had a mop of curly brown hair that hung in ringlets around his triangular face. He looked at her, tilting his head from side to side in curiosity, and the curls bounced around as he did so. Save for a large, thick band of leather that wrapped around him from waist to shoulder, he was naked from the waist up, displaying a flat stomach and taut chest. It was a warm day, so his relative lack of apparel didn't surprise her terribly. She herself was not wearing much: scraps of cloth to accentuate the curves of her body, gauzy and filmy and out of place in the blood-soaked environs.What did surprise her was that, from the waist down, he was covered with thick brown fur. His legs bent at an odd angle to the knees, and tapered down into cloven feet."I don't think he's in much of a position to respond," he said. His voice was rough, but there was amusement in it. He glanced around the scene with obvious interest. "He certainly gave an accounting of himself in his final moments.""Final . . . moments?" she said slowly."Well . . . yes. Look," and he pointed at the devastation in the area immediately around the Greatness.She studied where he was indicating, truly seeing it for the first time. There were other Mandraque bodies strewn about, their weapons broken and scattered. Even the least damaged of them were ripped up or gutted. Most of them were missing pieces of their bodies: arms, legs, tails, and such. There were still trickles of blood from some of the severed limbs. She saw that there was a Mandraque with his teeth sunk into the Greatness's leg.She looked back up at the newcomer. "Final moments?" she said again.He stared at her, clearly disbelieving. "Yes. He's . . . dead. You do understand that, don't you?" He took a step toward her. "You're a human, aren't you? A human female. I've never seen one of you living before. Does your kind have names? What's your name?""Final . . . moments?"Blowing out air through tight lips in annoyance, he said, "Are you . . . mentally deficient in some way? I don't mean to be insulting. It's just, well . . . if you are I can probably save myself some time. I'm Karsen, by the way. Karsen Foux." He paused for a moment, frowning, looking as if he was trying to recall something. Then he smiled, having mentally retrieved it, and he extended a hand with the palm sideways. "This is how your sort greets, does it not?"As he approached her she stepped back reflexively. She crisscrossed her breasts protectively, twisting herself around to keep clear of him despite his lack of outward aggression. "He is the Greatness! His . . . his kind does not have final moments!""He is flesh and blood, my sweet," said Karsen. "I assure you, he has final moments, just like the rest of us." He looked around at the corpses. "Quite a fight this was, I'll grant you. Brutal, too. A number of them cut down by blades, but others . . . look at this. Their throats torn out. Necks broken. I'll give your Greatness credit, he was certainly versatile in the way he killed his enemies. Now what's your name?"She began shaking her head ferociously. She was starting to look less like a human rational being and more like a trapped beast. Her eyes were hot and glowering. "Keep away from him," she said."I don't have to actually," he told her. "He's fair game, under the Treaty. So why not let me do my job, and you can go and do yours . . . whatever that might be."He approached her with slow, measured strides. She wanted to remain where she was; she wanted to find some way to stop him. She kept looking down at the Greatness for hints or a measure of guidance, and nothing was forthcoming. Instead her mind was gradually pointing her down a road that she had no desire to travel.She now realized the Greatness's hide was cold beneath her fingers. No life pulsed within his frame.She was alone.She had never been alone. Not since she had first come to the Greatness's court, so far back that she could not recall a time when she hadn't been there.Panic began to seize her. She started trembling, shaking her head as if she could deny what was occurring. Karsen, concerned, drew closer. "Are you . . . all right?"She turned and bolted.Immediately she nearly tripped over a fallen arm, righted herself, and ran from the scene, hoping that she could expunge the hideous sights she had seen from her memory, knowing that she never could.Soot was settling upon the ground, and her delicate feet were leaving a trail of prints behind her. She risked a glance over her shoulder. There was no sign of the creature calling itself "Karsen."She let out a sigh of relief that she wasn't being followed, and then shrieked as she nearly plowed straight into Karsen, now inexplicably in her path. As it was she lost her balance, staggered and fell. Karsen stood over her, looking down impassively."In answer to what you're probably thinking . . . no, you didn't run in a circle or circumnavigate the globe," Karsen assured her. He advanced on her, his patience ebbing away. "Now if you'd just allow me to--"The instant he came within range, she drove a foot straight up and into the area of his loins. The impact had the same effect on Karsen as it did on males of her own race. He doubled over, his face becoming pale, and he clutched at his groin, cradling something thankfully unseen deep within the fur.She did not wait to s...
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