The Measure of the Magic
- Book II of II: Legacy of Shannara
- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Del Rey Books
- Forthcoming: (August 23, 2011)
Five centuries ago, a catastrophic demon war left the world in ruins. Since then, the survivors – humans, elves and other mutants – have found sanctuary in a mountain valley protected by magic. But now these protective wards have failed, and a ruthless troll army is on the brink of invasion.
Sider Ament was the survivors’ only hope for salvation. He was bearer of the last remaining black staff – a powerful talisman passed down through the centuries by the Knights of the Word – and the key to keeping the magic of the world in balance. But now Sider is dead and possibly with him the future he swore to preserve.
To stave off annihilation, the staff’s magic must be preserved. Panterra Qu, a young Tracker gifted with the staff at Sider’s death, struggles to control its power. And great sacrifices must be made – for all will pay a price if the war between the Word and the Void tips towards darkness.
Terry conducted a book signing at the University Bookstore in Seattle, WA on August 24, 2010 in support of his new book, Bearers of the Black Staff. As usual, he read from the book he was currently working on, which at that time was The Measure of the Magic.
This is Terry reading Chapter One from The Measure of the Magic, featuring one of his best character creations—the Ragpicker!
Part I of II:
Part II of II:
Terry plans to launch his tour for The Measure of the Magic at DragonCon 2011 in Atlanta, GA. He will then travel up the East Coast toward the New England states, an area he hasn’t toured in over ten years.
When the dates and bookstores are announced, they will be posted here.
Excerpt: Chapter One
Humming tunelessly, the ragpicker walked the barren, empty wasteland in the aftermath of the rainstorm. The skies were still dark with clouds and the earth was sodden and slick with surface water, but none of that mattered to him. Others might prefer the sun and blue skies and the feel of hard, dry earth beneath their feet. Others might revel in the brightness and the warmth. But life was created in the darkness and damp of the womb, and the ragpicker took considerable comfort in knowing that procreation was instinctual and needed nothing of the face of nature’s disposition that he liked the least.
He was an odd looking fellow, an unprepossessing, almost comical tatterdemalion. He was tall and whipcord thin, and he walked like one of those of those long-legged water birds. Dressed in dark clothes that had seen much better days, he tended to blend in nicely with the mostly colorless landscape he traveled. He carried his rags and scraps of cloth in a frayed patchwork bag slung over one shoulder, the bag bursting at the seams with its load, looking very much as if it would rip apart completely with each fresh step its bearer took. A pair of scuffed leather boots completed the ensemble, scavenged from a dead man some years back, but still holding up quite nicely.
Everything about the ragpicker suggested that he was harmless. Everything marked him as easy prey in a world where predators dominated the remnants of a decimated population. He knew how he looked to the things that were always hunting. He knew what they thought when they saw him coming. But that was all right. He didn’t mind. He had stayed alive this long by keeping his head down and staying out of harm’s way. People like him, they didn’t get noticed. The trick was in not doing anything to call attention to yourself.
So he tried hard to give the clear and unmistakable impression that he was nothing but a poor wanderer who wanted to be left alone, but you didn’t always get what you wanted in this world. Even now, other eyes were already sizing him up. He could feel them doing so, several pairs in several different places. But those eyes that belonged to the animals – the things that the poisons and chemicals had turned into mutants – were already turning away. Their instincts were sharper, more finely tuned, and they could sense when something wasn’t right. Given the choice, they would almost always back away.
It was the eyes of the human freaks that stayed fixed on him, eyes that lacked the necessary awareness to judge him properly. These were the predators that seldom sensed the danger and so almost never turned away. Two were studying him now, deciding whether or not to confront him. He sighed. He would try to avoid them, of course. He would try to make himself seem not worth the trouble. But, again, you didn’t always get what you wanted.
He breathed in the cool, damp air, absorbing the taste of the rain’s aftermath on his tongue, of the stirring of stagnation and sickness generated by the pounding of the sudden rain, of the smells of raw earth and decay, the whole of it marvelously welcome. Sometimes, when he was alone, he could pretend he was the only one left in the world. He could pretend that what remained of the world was his and his alone. He could think of it all as his private preserve, his special place, and imagine that he was all that was left and everything belonged to him.
He could pretend that nothing would ever bother him again.
His humming dropped away, changing to a little song:
Ragpicker, ragpicker, what you gonna do.
When the hunters are hunting and they’re for hunting you.
Ragpicker, ragpicker, just stay low.
If you don’t draw attention they might let you go.
He hummed a few more bars, wondering if he had gotten past the predators. He was thinking it was almost time to stop and have something to drink and eat. But that would have to wait. He sighed, his lean, sharp-featured face wreathed in a tight smile that caused the muscles of his jaw to stand out like cords.
Ragpicker, ragpicker, you’re all alone.
The hunters that are hunting want to pick your bones.
Ragpicker, ragpicker, just walk on.
If you wait them out they will soon be gone.
He crossed a meadow, a small stream filled with muddy water, a rocky flat in which tiny purple flowers were blooming and a withered woods in which a handful of poplars grew sparse and separate as if strangers to each other. Ahead, there was movement in a rugged mass of boulders that formed the threshold to foothills leading up to the next chain of mountains, a high and wild and dominant presence. He registered the movement, ignored it. Those who had been watching him were still there and growing restless; he must skirt their hiding place and hope they were distracted by other possibilities. But there didn’t appear to be anyone else out here other than himself, and he was afraid that they would come after him just because they were bored.
He continued on furtively, still humming softly.
Daylight leached away as the clouds began to thicken anew. It might actually rain some more, he decided. He glanced at the skies in all four directions, noting the movement of the clouds and the shifting of their shadows against the earth. Yes, more rain coming. Better that he find shelter soon.
He stalked up the slope into the rocks, his long thin legs stretching out, meandering here and there as if searching for the best way through, trying to move away from the watchers, trying to pretend he was heedless of them, that he knew nothing of them and they, in turn, should not want to bother with him.
But, suddenly, his worst fears were realized and just like that they were upon him.
They came out of the rocks, having moved from their previous hiding place, two shaggy-haired, ragged men, one large and one small, both carrying blades and clubs. One was blind in one eye and the other limped badly. They had seen hard times, the ragpicker thought, and they would not be likely to have seen much charity and therefore not much inclined to dispense any. He stood where he was and waited on them patiently, knowing that flight was useless.
“You,” one-eye said, pointing a knife at him. “What you got in that bag of yours?”
The ragpicker shrugged. “Rags. I collect them and barter for food and drink. It’s what I do.”
“You got something more than that, I’d guess,” the second man, the larger of the two, the limper, said. “Better show us what you got.”
The ragpicker hesitated, and then dumped everything on the ground, his entire collection of brightly colored scarves and bits of cloth, a few whole pieces of shirts and coats, a hat or two, some boots. Everything he had managed to find in his travels of late that he hadn’t bargained away with the Trolls or such.
“That’s crap!” snarled one eye, thrusting his knife at the ragpicker, nearly pricking him with the tip. “You got to do better than that! You got to give us something of worth!”
“You got coin?” demanded the other.
Hopeless, the ragpicker thought. No one had coin anymore and even if they did it was valueless. Gold or silver, maybe. A good weapon, especially one of the old automatics from the days of the Great Wars, would have meant something, would have been barter material. But no one had coins.
“Don’t have any,” he said, backing away a step. “Can I pick up my rags?”
One-eye stepped forward and ground the colored cloth into the ground with the heel of his boot. “That’s what I think of your rags. Now watch and see what I’m gonna do to you!”
The ragpicker backed away another step. “Please, I don’t have anything to give you. I just want you to let me pass. I’m not worth your trouble. Really.”
“You ain’t worth much, that’s for sure,” said the one who limped. “But that don’t mean you get to go through here free. This is our territory and no one passes without they make some payment to us!”
The two men came forward again, a step at a time, spreading out just a little to hem the ragpicker in, to keep him from making an attempt to get around them. As if such a thing were possible, the ragpicker thought, given his age and condition and clear lack of athletic ability. Did he look like he could get past them if he tried? Did he look as if he could do anything?
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” he said suddenly, stopping short in his retreat.
“You might not fully understand what it is that you are doing.”
The predators stopped and stared at him, not quite believing what they were hearing. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?” said the one that limped. “Is that what you said, you skinny old rat?”
The ragpicker shook his head. “It always comes down to this. I don’t understand it. Let me ask you something. Do you know of a man who carries a black staff?”
The two exchanged a quick look. “Who is he?” asked one-eye. “Why would we know him?”
The ragpicker sighed. “I don’t know that you do. Probably you don’t. But he would be someone who had real coin on him, should you know where to find him. You don’t, do you?”
“Naw, don’t know anyone like that,” snarled one-eye. He glanced at his companion.
“C’mon, let’s see what he’s hiding in that sack.”
They came at the ragpicker with their blades held ready, stuffing the clubs in their belts. They were hunched forward slightly in preparation for getting past whatever defenses the scarecrow intended to offer, the blades held out in front of them. The ragpicker stood his ground, no longer backing up, no longer looking as if he intended to try to escape. In fact, he didn’t look quite the same man at all. The change was subtle and hard to identify, but it was evident that something was different about him. It was in his eyes as much as anywhere, in a gleam of madness that was bright and certain. But it was in his stance, as well. Before, he had looked like a frightened victim, someone who knew that he stood no chance at all against men like these. Now, he had the appearance of someone who had taken control of matters in spite of his apparent inability to do so, and his two attackers didn’t like it.
But that didn’t stop them, of course. Men of this sort were never stopped by what they couldn’t understand, only by what was bigger and stronger and better armed. The ragpicker was none of these. He was just an unlucky fool trying to be something he wasn’t, making a last ditch effort to hang onto his life.
One-eye struck first, his blade coming in low and swift towards the ragpicker’s belly. The second man was only a step behind, striking out in a wild slash aimed at his victim’s exposed neck. Neither blow reached its intended mark. The ragpicker never seemed to move, but suddenly he had hold of both wrists, bony fingers locking on flesh and bone and squeezing until his attackers cried out in pain, dropped their weapons and sank to their knees in shock, struggling to break free. But the ragpicker had no intention of releasing them. He just held them where they were, on their knees before him, moaning and writhing, studying their agonized expressions.
“You shouldn’t make assumptions about people,” he lectured them, bending close enough that they could see the crimson glow in his eyes, a gleam of bloodlust and rage. “You shouldn’t be like that.”
His hands tightened further, and smoke rose through his fingers where they gripped the men’s wrists. Now the attackers were howling and screaming in agony as their imprisoned wrists and hands turned black and charred, burned from the inside out.
The ragpicker released them then and let them drop to the ground in huddled balls of quaking, blubbering despair, cradling their ruined arms, stricken by what had been done to them.
“You’ve ruined such a lovely day, too,” the ragpicker admonished. “All I wanted was to be left alone to enjoy it, and now this. You really are pigs of the worst sort, and pigs deserve to be roasted and eaten!”
They cried out anew at this and attempt to crawl away, but he was on them much too quickly, seizing their heads and holding them fast. Smoke leaked from between his clutching fingers, rising from their heads in spiraling wisps, and the men jerked and writhed in response.
“How does that feel?” the ragpicker wanted to know. “Can you tell what’s happening to you? I’m cooking your brains, in case you’ve failed to recognize what you are experiencing. Doesn’t feel very good, does it?”
It was a rhetorical question, which was just as well because neither man could manage any kind of intelligible answer. All they could do was hang suspended from the ragpicker’s killing fingers until their brains were turned to mush and they were dead.
The ragpicker let them drop. He thought about eating them, but the idea was too distasteful to consider seriously. They were vermin, and he didn’t eat vermin. So he stripped them of their clothing, taking small items for his collection, scraps of cloth from each man that would remind him later of who they had been, and left them for scavengers he knew would not be picky. He gathered up his soiled rags from the earth into which they had been ground, brushed them off as best he could and returned them his carry bag. When everything was in place, he gave the dead men a final glance and started off once more.
Bones of the dead left lying on the ground.
One more day and they will never be found.
Ragpicker, ragpicker, you never know
There are rags to be found wherever you go.
He sang it softly, repeated it a few times for emphasis, rearranging the words, and then went quiet. An interesting diversion, but massively unproductive. He had hoped the two creatures might have information about the man with the black staff, but they had disappointed him. So he would have to continue the search without any useful information to aid him. All he knew was what he sensed, and what he sensed would have to be enough for now.
The man he sought was somewhere close, probably somewhere up in those mountains he was walking towards. So eventually he would find him.
The ragpicker allowed himself a small smile. There was no hurry. Time was something he had as much of as he needed.
Time didn’t really matter when you were a demon.
Excerpt: Chapter Two
When Prue Liss woke, she was heavy-eyed and disoriented, brought out of her sleep mostly by a sense that something wasn’t right. For a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. She pushed herself upright and peered about in a darkness lit only by gray light seeping through a ventilation opening high up on the wall behind her. She remembered then she was in Deladion Inch’s fortress lair, cocooned away from the rest of the world, sealed off from the Drouj.
She rose and yawned, stretching her arms over her head. She had slept, but felt as if she hadn’t gotten much rest. She switched on the torch, scanned the room in a perfunctory way, and then climbed the steps to the exterior overlook.
This time when she emerged, she did so much more cautiously, crouching down so that she couldn’t be seen from below, aware that it was daylight again. The sun was overhead; it must have been somewhere close to midday. She slipped through the door and made her way on hands and knees to the edge of the overlook, keeping the wall between herself and whatever or whoever might be looking up. She found a split in the stone blocks and peered out, searching the landscape below.
She didn’t see anyone.
She kept looking anyway, and then shifted her position, moving to one of the sidewalls. This time when she peered over the edge, she saw a Troll moving up through the rocks, scanning the walls of the keep.
They were still hunting her.
She slid down against the wall, putting her back against it and staring at the mist-shrouded peaks of the distant mountains. If Grosha was still alive, he wouldn’t give up. She could feel it in her bones. He would keep looking, and eventually he would find a way inside. She needed to get out of there before that happened. She needed to be far away and leave no trail that he could follow.
She moved in a crouch back across the overlook and through the door leading to the stairs. She passed rooms filled with old furniture and large paper boxes that were battered and broken and stacked against the walls. Pieces of metal and types of materials she didn’t recognize littered the floors of those rooms, which seemed not to have ever been used by Inch. Strange black boxes with shattered glass screens and hundreds of silver discs lay scattered about one room, and in another beds filled huge spaces that reminded her of healing wards, all of their bedding torn and soiled and ruined. Remnants of the Old World, once useful, now discarded and forgotten, they were a mystery to her. She glimpsed them fleetingly, dismissed them and hurried on.
Once in the kitchen, she packed up enough food and drink to sustain her for three days, strapped her supplies across her back and started away.
She had just reached the hallway leading deeper into the complex when she saw the big cabinet with its doors not quite closed and caught sight of the weapons.
She stopped where she was, debating, and then walked over and opened the doors all the way. There were all kinds of Old World guns, explosives like the ones Deladion Inch had carried, knives, swords, and bows and arrows. She smiled in spite of herself, taking a set of the latter and adding a long knife in the bargain.
She almost left the Flange 350 behind, but at the last minute changed her mind and kept it in her pocket.
The light was poor at best within the corridors she followed, making it no less easy to read the sign markings during the day than it had been at night. But she persevered, using the torch when no light penetrated from ventilation shafts, taking her time. Because the rear of the compound was elevated, there were stairs to be climbed, and as long as she was going up she could be certain she was headed in the right direction. It wasn’t like tracking out in the open, where you could see the sky and the sun and the way ahead was clear. But her sense of direction was strong enough that even without those indicators to rely on, she could find her way.
Even so, she got lost and was forced to retrace her steps more often than she would have liked. It was oppressive being closed in like this, buried under tons of stone and shut away from the light. She thought about how people had lived like this before the Great Wars, and she wondered how they had endured it. If she had lived then, how would she have managed? She expected she would have lived her life much as she was living it now, even given the differences. She couldn’t imagine living it any other way.
At one point, she sat down and rested, the complex so much bigger than she had expected and the constant back and forth of her efforts draining her strength. If Pan were there, this wouldn’t be so difficult. Pan could read sign and intuit trails so much better than she could. He would have had them out by now. Back in the light. Back in the fresh air.
Thinking of his absence depressed her, and she got back to her feet and continued on.
It took better than an hour, but finally she found an exterior wall and a huge pair of metal doors leading outside. She could tell she had found the way out because light seeped through the seams of the doors and their size and shape and the presence of huge iron latch bars marked them clearly for what they were. She studied them for a moment, and then decided that opening something this big and closing it again was too risky.
She moved right along the wall, searching for a smaller portal. She found one another fifty feet and several storage bays further on, tightly sealed with a drop bar and slide latch. She stood at the door and listened, but heard nothing. Carefully, she lifted the drop bar, slid back the latch and carefully opened the door, just a crack.
The daylight was hazy, but visibility was good, and she could see hundreds of yards in front of her where the foothills climbed towards the distant mountains. She opened the door a bit further, looked right and left, and didn’t find anything that looked out of place. It should be all right, she thought. The Drouj were still out front. She could slip away before they knew she was gone.
She pulled the door open all the way and stepped outside – right in front of a Troll as it came lumbering around a corner of the outside wall.
She froze, stunned by her bad luck. What were the odds that a Troll would appear just now? It was moving parallel to the wall perhaps twenty yards away, studying the ground, glancing up towards the hillside as it did so, clearly believing she had already gotten clear. Against all odds, it hadn’t noticed her.
She backed towards the open doorway, slowly and carefully. She took one step after another, eyes fixed on the Troll.
Then her foot slipped on the loose rock, and the Troll’s dark eyes found her.
She had only a moment to escape back inside; the Troll was coming much too fast for anything else. It carried a war club studded with spikes, a killing weapon she could not defend against. She was quick, but too small to stop a creature like this without help. The bow and arrows were slung across one shoulder – no time to get them free. She had the long knife out, but she didn’t think it would do much good. She would have to run, but there was no time to go anywhere but back inside.
It took her only seconds to gain the opening and rush back into the building. Once there, she began to run. The Troll came after her without slowing, undeterred by the darkness. It was faster than she had thought it would be, picking up speed as it pounded down the corridors. She would have to hide or outmaneuver it. But she didn’t know her way. Where would she go? She began to panic, searching the shadows for a way out, for an escape. But there were only other corridors and locked doors and hundreds of feet of stone floors and walls.
I should have stayed inside, she thought despairingly. I should have stayed hidden. I should have waited.
The Drouj had almost caught up to her when she remembered the Flange 350. She fumbled for it, yanked it from her pocket, released the safety as Deladion Inch had instructed her, wheeled as the Troll flung itself at her and fired six times as fast as she could. She heard the sound of the metal projectiles striking her attacker and threw herself aside as it lurched past her, tumbling head over heels into the corridor wall.
She came back to her feet at once, swinging her weapon about, searching the gloom.
The Drouj lay folded over in a motionless heap, blood running from the wounds to its body. She looked away quickly, fighting not to vomit. She’d never killed anything, she realized – as if it were a revelation. Only animals for food and once a wolf that tried to attack her. She didn’t like how it made her feel. Even though it was a Drouj intent on doing her harm. Even so. She looked back, forcing herself to make certain of it. She stared at it for a long moment, but it didn’t move.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, she slid down against the wall. A shiver passed through her slender body, and she closed her eyes. She tried to think of what she needed to do. She must retrace her steps quickly and close and lock the door. She could not chance going out again now. She was too frightened, too unsure of herself. She would wait, as she should have done in the first place. If Pan were here, he would approve. He would tell her she was doing the right thing.
She stared at the body of the dead Troll a final time and realized suddenly that she was crying.
The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks will be published on August 23 in the US and a week later in the UK!