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Read a sample from SEVEN SORCERERS by John R. Fultz

The third instalment in this magnificent fantasy tale of epic proportions – where men walk side by side with giants, warriors do battle with monsters and mighty kingdoms clash . . .

Prologue

THE EARTHBORN
(as extracted from The Fifth Book of Imvek the Silent)

The two brothers met high above the world on the peak of a black mountain.

They were not true brothers as Men understand the term.

Nor were they true Men, or anything like them. Not yet. They were more like two great winds that sculpt the faces of mountains and stir the seas to wave and tempest.

This world was not their home, for they were born of distant stars. Yet their kind had lingered here since the continents were mounds of cooling magma between boiling oceans. The world had cooled now, and the brothers had risen above the others of their kind. They had replaced the towering chaos of the previous age with a kind of stillness and order.

Now they looked upon the green and fertile lands of the great continent below. Their eyes roamed beyond the purple horizons, past the golden deserts, across the vast swamplands, and even to the shores of the Cryptic Sea that divides the earth. They gazed into the low places and the high, observing the tiny things that climbed in the great forests and came down to wander the emerald plains.

“See how these brave little creatures take to the land,” said the elder brother. “They have learned the secrets of fire and carving stone.”

“They are clever indeed,” said the younger brother. “I have watched them for a long while now. They are unlike the many species our kind has created, for the earth itself has made them. Yet I cannot say for what reason.”

“Our own creations were made only to amuse or serve us,” said the elder. “Yet these Earthborn seem to have their own sense of purpose. They are driven to master the land and they commune with its essence. Perhaps they know secrets that even we do not guess.”

“Yet see how they gather in distinct bands and make war upon each other. They build and grow strong, only to destroy and become weak again. The cycle continues and they are unable to break it. They have great potential, yet they remain blind to it. There is no unity among them, therefore they may never achieve the greatness that is their inheritance.”

“We must give them aid,” said the elder. “With our guidance they will grow wise and their numbers will flourish. If we teach them to overcome their own base nature, they may one day reach the destiny for which they were born. On that day we will know the answer to this mystery, brother.”

“I have reached the same conclusion,” said the younger brother, watching two tribes of Earthborn slaughter one another over a narrow strip of hunting ground. “We must take their form and walk among them. We shall be sages, oracles, and voices of wisdom, shaping them gradually into something greater. Urging them with kindness toward their distant fate.”

The elder brother’s breath was like thunder falling from the mountain. “No,” he said. “This is not the way. They are violent predators by nature; they will not understand our advice. We must take the shape of their Gods, conquer them, and force them to live according to the dictates of order. This is the only way to ensure lasting peace among the Earthborn.”

The younger threw up his arms like flames dancing upon the mountaintop. “You are wrong, brother. If you do this you will crush the spirit that makes them unique. They must remain free to find their own way. You cannot force them to enlightenment, you must lead them. A mountain is not made in an instant; it is sculpted by the elements over the course of many ages.”

“These creatures will battle one another to extinction long before they gain the wisdom of which you speak,” said the elder. “As the younger, you must follow my words.”

“I will not do it,” said the younger. “You would trample the garden that you seek to grow. Can you not see the flaw in your vision?”

“I will trample only those weeds that would spoil and choke the garden of peace. Otherwise the kindest blossoms will never bloom.”

“Then we must part ways,” said the younger brother. “Go you into the west and build your garden as you will. I will travel east and begin my shaping of the Earthborn into something greater than their origins. Let us meet here again after an agreed period of time and compare the works we have accomplished. In this way we will discover whose philosophy is the wiser.”

“Let it be done,” said the elder brother.

And this period of time they agreed upon was five hundred years as Men reckon it.

***

Five centuries later the two brothers met once more upon the mountain’s summit, and now they each wore the shapes of Men. The eyes of the elder brother were twin stars, and the skin of the younger brother was the color of burnished gold.

“I united six great warring tribes,” said the younger, the winds of the upper earth tearing at his silver beard. “With my guidance and their own adroit skills they constructed three fine cities of granite and marble. I have achieved much by offering insight without conquest.”

“So there is peace among your peoples?” asked the elder.

The younger frowned, and a gray rain fell upon the pinnacle. “For a while there was,” he said. “Until two of these cities joined forces and destroyed the third, enslaving the survivors. Later these two cities warred upon each other as well, until only one was left. Yet it is a fine, tall, and proud city. There are philosophers, poets, dreamers, sages, and minstrels among the warriors and builders.”

“So there is still war in the west?”

“Sadly, there is.”

“I unified eight mighty eastern tribes,” said the elder, “by killing their chieftains, casting down their temples, and making myself their only God. They have built a city of white towers and a temple-palace that bears my visage. In my name the people of the white city conquered ten more tribes in the surrounding lands. Now there are two cities that worship me. I have also enlisted a great number of our own kind to serve my endeavors. In doing so, they serve the destiny of the Earthborn. I ask now that you join us, brother.”

“So there is peace among your peoples?” asked the younger.

The elder smiled and the rain turned to sleet, crowning the mountaintop with ice. “Not yet,” he said. “For my holy armies march to conquer all the tribes of the world. They pursue a dream of grand unity that will result in ultimate peace and order.”

“So there is still war in the east?”

“Yes, along the growing frontier of the Holy Empire. But peace is our aim.”

“Then we are both closer to our goal,” said the younger brother. “However, neither of us has yet achieved it.”

“My philosophy of unity through conquest is superior to your gradual reshaping,” said the elder. “For my people possess three great cities unified by a single cause. Your people possess only one city, and they have no greater purpose.”

“It seems to me that these three great cities truly belong to you, brother,” said the younger, “instead of to the Earthborn who built them. My people’s city belongs wholly to them, and each one of them is free to find his own purpose. Your people possess neither peace nor freedom.”

“Still we cannot agree,” said the elder. “We must go back into the world below and continue our work. Let us meet here one more time, when another five hundred of Men’s years are passed. Then we will see once and for all whose philosophy is the wiser. ”

“Let it be done,” said the younger.

And they soared upon stormwinds into the realms east and west.

***

One last time the brothers met upon the frozen summit of the mountain. The world below had greatly changed in the second five hundred years. The Earthborn now inhabited every climate and domain of the great continent. Their villages and temples sprouted from plain, riverbank, mountainside, desert, forest, and seaside. They plied the deep waters with nautical vessels that harnessed the wind, and they tamed the beasts of earth and sky.

“See here,” said the younger brother, who was a bright flame upon the mountain’s summit. “I have fostered eight more cities among the Earthborn, built by their own hands and belonging wholly to them. For a while they warred upon each other, but now these nine proud capitals have signed peace treaties, uniting distant lands by the words and deeds of their wise Kings. They have mastered the metals of the deep earth, harnessed the land to feed their masses, and developed written languages capable of profound expression. There is beauty and wisdom in their songs and their creations, despite their adherence to the ancient ways.”

“So there is peace among your peoples?” asked the elder brother.

“To a point,” said the younger. “The nine Kings still make war upon the barbarian tribes of the north and south, seeking to force the worship of their own Gods upon the heathens. Yet the cities have achieved peace between themselves. The Earthborn have grown as a species and will continue to evolve toward unity and peace for all Men.”

“So there is still war in the east?”

“Yes, along the borders of north and south.”

“I rule over twenty united cities who call me their God and Master,” said the elder. “A thousand of our own kind serve my vision now, delivering my justice and decrees through their formidable power. My empire is strong, and it has grown to encompass all the lands of the west. My generals look to the east, north, and south, where they see the strange Gods worshipped by your people. Soon we will move eastward and bring order to the rest of the great continent.”

“So there is peace among your peoples?” asked the younger.

“There is,” said the elder. “For I have given them no other choice.”

“Yet the west will make war upon the east in the name of peace.”

“Yes, for ultimate peace can only come with ultimate conquest. When all cities and peoples are united under my name, the Earthborn will be freed from their predatory origins. Even your eastern barbarians will be part of this great dream I have fostered. As you can see, brother, my philosophy has proven the greater. I ask you again to join us, for my Earthborn realm will soon swallow your own.”

The younger brother rose up like a whirlwind of light and fury. He smote the elder and cast him from the mountaintop, which crumbled beneath them and released its inner fires. The blazing blood of the mountain poured along its sides, melting its icy crown. The elder brother cast the starlight of his eyes like arrows into the flesh of the younger, burning him terribly. Then he cast the younger into the molten center of the mountain and shouted these words after him:

“You may sleep in the depths of the earth if you wish while I go to conquer the lands your shaping has failed. Or you may rise up and serve me as do the others of our kind. If you still wish to aid the Earthborn and one day discover their destiny, there can be no other way. Confront me not again, or I will devour you as the stars devour dying worlds.”

The elder brother departed the broken mountain and returned to his empire.

After a while the younger brother crawled from the flaming pit and walked toward the nearest of his eastern cities. There he saw the western armies swarming across the plains and casting boulders at the marble walls. The city burned like the broken mountain, and its people refused to surrender, so they died in great numbers.

The younger brother unleashed his wrath upon the invading horde, but an endless succession of conquering legions came over the horizon. A storm of death and destruction fell upon the peaceful eastern city, wiping it from the earth.

The younger brother would not give up his dream of reshaping the Earthborn into something greater by preserving their free will. Their wild spirits must evolve according to nature and time, not be forced into false progress. He had seen Men steal the spirits of proud stallions by breaking them, and he loved his people too well to let this be their fate. Men were not beasts to be corralled and enslaved. They were the Children of Earth, and their descendants would be its inheritors.

They called him the Shaper, and they knew well that he was no God, for the Gods remained deaf to their pleas while the conquering hordes marched on. An Age of Blood and Fire had begun, and the Gods of Men neither noticed nor cared.

The Shaper gathered about him all those who would listen. He spoke of the false God that was coming to break and enslave them, the mighty numbers of the Conqueror’s armies, and the terrible powers at the Conqueror’s command. Running always just ahead of war’s red tide, the Shaper led his followers to the next eastern city, and the next, until he had assembled a multitude of families from each of the nine eastern realms. Yet there were multitudes who refused to flee, choosing instead to stay and defend their lands against the advancing western empire.

The Shaper led his people to the sea, where a fleet of vessels was constructed from the wood of an ancient forest. They sailed across the arc of the world, leaving the great continent to the mercies of the western hordes.

It is not known how long the People of the Shaper lingered upon the Cryptic Sea, or how many of them died in the perilous crossing. Yet with the Shaper’s constant guidance, and a deep patience born of wisdom, they came at last to a new continent on the far side of the world.

This was the Land of Serpents, and life there was not easy.

Eventually the Stoneborn, who were called Giants, rose up to cleanse this land of its monsters, driving the People of the Shaper south and claiming the north as their own. There was no place for Men in the Giantlands, yet mankind thrived south of the Grim Mountains.

Still there were wars among Men, yet five great cities rose proud and shining.

The Shaper’s dream endured, although at times even he needed to be reminded of it.

Nor was he the last of the Old Breed to foster a kingdom in the Land of the Five Cities.

About the Author

John R. Fultz lives in the Bay Area, California, but is originally from Kentucky. His fiction has appeared in Black Gate, Weird Tales, Space & Time, Lightspeed, Way of the Wizard, and Cthulhu’s Reign. His comic book work includes Primordia, Zombie Tales, and Cthulhu Tales. John’s literary heroes include Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, William Gibson, Robert Silverberg, and Darrell Schweitzer, not to mention Howard, Poe, and Shakespeare. When not writing novels, stories, or comics, John teaches English Literature at the high school level and plays a mean guitar.