The fight is on. So let the battle begin. Darien is no longer a lost outpost of humanity, but the prize in an intergalactic struggle. Hegemony forces control the planet, while Earth merely observes, rendered impotent by galactic politics. Yet Earth's ambassador to Darien will become a player in a greater conflict as there is more at stake than a turf war on a newly discovered world. An ancient temple hides access to a hyperspace prison, housing the greatest threat sentient life has never known. Millennia ago, malignant intelligences were caged there following an apocalyptic struggle, and their servants work on their release. Now a new war is coming.
Release date: October 30, 2012
Print pages: 640
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The Orphaned Worlds
Darien’s star system is hidden in the Huvuun Deepzone, a huge tract of interstellar dust and debris hidden from the cold gaze of star-spanning nations and therefore spared the intrigues of interstellar politics. That is, until the Earthsphere cruiser Heracles arrives bearing Robert Horst, an envoy from Earth, and High Monitor Kuros, a top-ranking official from the Sendruka Hegemony. The latter is a vast, stellar empire allied with the human-dominated Earthsphere, and both have their agendas – and as the drama unfolds others are drawn into their intrigues.
All Greg Cameron wants is to be left alone to work away at the ancient Uvovo temple on Giant’s Shoulder, digging in the dirt and unearthing its enigmas. But this cannot last when the site becomes a focus of interest. Then High Monitor Kuros is shot at during a visit to the ruins, and a previously unknown group called the Free Darien Faction later claims responsibility.
And on the forest-moon Nivyesta, Catriona Macreadie is investigating the Uvovo myth of the Pathmasters. She is a partial Enhanced, a failed subject of a genetic intelligence enhancement programme. But despite this failure, she was left with a hugely powerful intellect which she will apply to unravelling Nivyesta’s great secrets.
Theo Karlsson, a fifty-year-old former major in the Darien Volunteer Force, is asked by Holger Sundstrom, Darien’s president, to try and track down the rogue Free Darien Faction. With his ex-military comrades, Theo goes after the faction and uncovers disturbing links to the offworlders.
Darien’s star system is close to the borders of the Brolturan Compact, a close ally of the Hegemony. And they have sent a huge warship to Darien, bearing an official ambassador who is assassinated soon after landing. Robert Horst, the Earthsphere ambassador, is framed for this and has to flee. Former major Theo Karlsson helps him escape to Giant’s Shoulder, where Greg Cameron and the Uvovo scholar Cheluvahar have discovered a chamber beneath the temple ruins. When Karlsson and Horst take refuge there, a mysterious guardian seizes Robert and transports him away for purposes unknown.
Cheluvahar, Uvovo friend to Greg, undergoes a strange transformation while in a meditative state which changes him into a Seer, preparing him for the battles that lie ahead. From Uvovo folklore he learns that the chamber beneath the temple houses an object called a warpwell, built by the Ancients. Access to the warpwell would allow the Hegemony to use levels of hyperspace currently unattainable. It would also unlock ancient weapons from a vast galactic war millennia ago – weapons that would make the Sendrukans and their Hegemony invincible.
These events are intertwined with the story of Kao Chih and his journey to Darien. Kao Chih’s people are the survivors of a colony established by another of the three original ships launched from Earth one hundred and fifty years before. Less than fifty years after their arrival, their world was seized by a Sendrukan faction which ruthlessly mined and stripped it of its resources. Before the faction cordoned off the gutted world, now renamed Pyre, a few hundred colonists escaped in a handful of ramshackle ships, finding refuge in a star system home to a race called the Roug. Then, when news of Darien’s discovery reaches the Roug, they judge that it is their duty to help their own human splinter group. They decide to send emissaries to Darien, to petition the authorities for settlement rights for their Human refugees, and for those still trapped on Pyre. Soon Kao Chih and a Roug called Tumakri are on their way.
Their quest leads them through several illegal, black ports, during which Tumakri dies in an ambush. Kao Chih joins forces with a sentient droid called Drazuma-Ha* and after some hair-raising, near-death encounters, many courtesy of a trio of sinister droids, they encounter a Human smuggler called Corazon Talavera. Talavera, however, works for terrorists who would compel Kao Chih to become their assassin. But with Drazuma-Ha*’s aid they manage to escape in one of the terrorists’ shuttles, leaving Corazon for dead.
Back on Darien, the situation has swung from bad to good and back. The colony is in uproar over the Brolturan actions and Horst’s disappearance. After the abrupt disappearance of Robert Horst at Giant’s Shoulder, Major Theo Karlsson returns to Hammergard with the aim of freeing his sister – Greg’s mother – who was detained by security officers. He encounters one of President Sundstrom’s advisers in the city centre, and both are witness to an attack on the Assembly halls which kills Sundstrom and nearly all of his cabinet. Suddenly, the colony is in deep crisis with troops on the streets and emergency talks going on among various party leaders.
Then Pyatkov, Sundstrom’s head of intelligence, contacts Theo, asking him to escort a group of Enhanced scientists to Port Gagarin, where an escape shuttle will be waiting. At the launch field they hijack an Earthsphere shuttle, but before long interceptors from the Brolturan warship are heading their way. The Enhanceds are transferred to the Earthsphere ship Heracles in a last-ditch effort to prevent these valuable minds from falling into enemy hands.
After vanishing from the warpwell chamber on Giant’s Shoulder, Robert Horst appears in a bizarre complex of tunnels in a deeper level of hyperspace. He is protected by a trio of small intelligent mechs but, after a series of perilous encounters, he is rescued by a six-limbed machine. This takes him to meet an entity called the Construct at its home, the Garden of the Machines, still further down in the levels of hyperspace. After rejuvenating Robert’s physical age and turning the holosim of his beloved daughter (deceased some years earlier) into an android-like being, the Construct proposes that Robert help him in return. He wants Robert to venture further into hyperspace to seek out an ancient entity called the Godhead, who might be of assistance against another brewing hyperspace conflict. And the android-simulacra of Robert’s daughter persuades him to agree.
Meanwhile, Kao Chih and Drazuma-Ha*, pursued by the menacing droids they encountered previously, have entered the Huvuun Deepzone. Drazuma-Ha* admits that the droids are pursuing because he is an agent for an entity called the Construct, and because his mission is to prevent an ancient weapon falling into enemy hands. While trying to find a way out of the zone, they encounter a cloud-harvester captained by a squat Voth, and hope to use it to escape only to find that the three droids are closing in. Aboard the harvester ship, Drazuma-Ha* tricks Kao Chih and the Voth into remaining on the bridge so that he can seize the cloud-harvester’s more powerful shuttle and depart.
The pursuing robots board the harvester, and reveal to Kao Chih that Drazuma-Ha* is in fact the agent of a deadly, long-forgotten enemy called the Legion of Avatars. If he takes control of the warpwell down on Darien, they could release the remnants of the Legion of Avatars from their prison deep in the abyss of hyperspace. So the chase after Drazuma-Ha* is on. Battered by the weapons of the Brolturan and Earthsphere warships, Kao Chih, the Voth and the construct droids have to abandon the massive cloud-harvester. Using its escape pod and Kao Chih’s shuttle they continue to pursue Drazuma-Ha*. Kao Chih’s mad chase continues to Darien, and down into the chamber beneath the ancient temple. There, its ancient guardian prepares to unleash titanic energies against the dread Legion machine. Kao Chih and the surviving droid manage to kill the Drazuma-Ha* mech but Kao Chih falls into unconsciousness following the struggle. But the Well guardian transports him, the droid and the Voth away to safety in the wooded mountains overlooking the colony.
So Seeds of Earth ends with the Hegemony’s High Monitor Kuros and the Brolturans in control of the colony – and the crucial temple site on Giant’s Shoulder. Theo Karlsson and Catriona Macreadie are in hiding up on the forest-moon Nivyesta, planning resistance to the Brolturans. Then on Darien, Greg is escorting Kao Chih, the droid and the unhappy Voth captain to a temporary resistance camp deep in the mountains. Contacts with other groups of dissenters and refugees are being maintained and plans for the insurgency are being hastily formed. And the Enhanceds are safely on their way to Earth.
And on a planet far from Darien, a crippled cyborg knight of the Legion of Avatars lies silently hidden on a cold sea bed, wondering why its droid agent failed to seize the warpwell. It decides that it will have to undertake the task itself and starts to gather resources, scavenging and cannibalising materials to refurbish its ruined body. Once repairs are complete, the Knight engages its engines and blasts up out of the depths of the sea, heading for the stars.
DARIEN INSTITUTE: HYPERION DATA
Cluster Location – Main Hardmem Substrate (Tertiary Backups)
Tranche – 31
Decryption Status – 24th pass, 3 video files recovered
File 3 – Implant Variant 6 (mute) Combat Proving [Subject identified as Andrei Vychkov]
Veracity – Unmodified Live Recording
Original Time Log – 18:23:14, 30 October 2127
Introduction – Dr Yelena Dobrunov
Afterword – Dr James Kelvin
Commentary I: The events that took place after the emergency landing of the Hyperion 150 years ago have had a profound effect on the development of our colony. The drastic technical shortfall endured by the founders in the subsequent decades meant that only written accounts and a few printed images were passed down as a record of that grim struggle. Oral storytelling traditions amongst the First Families also helped to keep the names of Captain Olsson, Keri McAllister, and Andrei Vychkov alive down the generations. Everyone knows the story of Vychkov’s Map.
Recent innovations in data decryption, however, have allowed Institute researchers to at last extract coherent records from the Hyperion’s memory nodes. Among them were three videofiles made by the ship’s AI and showing progressively more effective methods of coercing its captives into obedience. The colonists it awoke from cryosleep were implanted with neural devices designed to deliver jolts of pain, thus forcing them to carry out attacks on the ship’s crew who had established an encampment several miles away.
The first videofile is entitled Biounit Tolerance Test’ and shows one of the woken male colonists strapped to a couch and being subjected to increasing amounts of pain until death ensued. The second, ‘Implant Variant 3 Field Test’, shows a female colonist being directed to venture outside the Hyperion to recover an unconscious crew member, injured during an attempt by some of the crew to gain entry to the ship. Pain, or more accurately the memory of pain, is enough to make the colonist obey, even when the crewman regains consciousness and unsuccessfully tries to escape. Those two recordings depict horrific and distressing scenes of, in effect, torture and coercion and the Institute’s management board has decided to accord them a ‘restricted access’ status.
However, the third videofile involves Andrei Vychkov, whose tragi-heroic tale is known to all, and shows actual events as they unfolded. The Institute’s board believes that the historical value outweighs Vychkov’s personal suffering and has, with the Vychkov family’s consent, released it for public viewing by an adult audience.
In time, we hope to be able to unlock the machine mind’s OS hub, the most heavily encrypted file area, and thus lay bare whatever imperatives or directives that turned it against the very people it was supposed to safeguard. In the meantime, students and other viewers should closely watch the following recording and never forget the kind of servitude that was planned for us all – Y.D.
By night, moving through foliage, dark shapes barely visible in darkness. There is the hissing of rain, patter of droplets falling on undergrowth, the rush of wind high in the sky, and the sound of someone breathing. From the unsteady viewpoint it seems that the camera is positioned on someone’s upper body, at the chest or shoulder. Then abruptly the picture switches to somewhere high and looking down, only now the trees and bushes are quite visible in the bleached blue-grey of image enhancement while the body-heat-bright figure of a man advances through the forest. The airborne cam tracks him for a moment then pulls back and swings up to point across the treetops to where a rocky outcrop shoulders up out of the pale, leafy expanse, a dark blue mass fringed with spectral bushes. The cam zooms in on the heat signatures of two sentries on the outcrop, restless bright silhouettes.
‘Approach location A and anchor the first charge,’ says the AI. ‘Confirm.’
The picture switches to show the man’s face, seen from his right shoulder. It is Andrei Vychkov, eyes covered by nightvision goggles. He opens his mouth as if to respond but utters no sound, instead grimacing, an expression of frustration. The picture changes, a left side view. He nods and resumes moving through the trees. In the imaging scope, the rain is like fine black threads, falling. Minutes later, Vychkov reaches the guarded outcrop, keeping to cover as he bears left. The lens of the hovering camera stalks him as he finds an unseen way to a point at the base of the outcrop’s sheer rock face where he affixes a fist-sized device. Silently, he retreats to leafy cover.
‘Approach location B and anchor the second charge.’
The second charge goes round to the left of the rocky shoulder, beneath a large overhang. The third is positioned very near to where a rough path from the lookout descends a series of natural steps in the rock. The path leads along an irregular ridge to a bushy hillside where three armed men guard the entrance to a cave. The fourth and final charge has to go in the slope above the cave and is the most difficult to achieve, even with the rainfall there to mask small sounds. Once it is bedded firmly in the soil, Vychkov begins to retrace his steps, creeping down through darkness.
‘You have performed well,’ the AI says. ‘You will be rewarded.’
Vychkov shows no reaction as he moves behind dripping greenery, descending quietly to dense tree cover downslope from the cave.
‘I have activated the charge timers,’ the AI says as he squats down in the shelter of a spreading bush, looking uphill. ‘In thirty seconds charge one will detonate followed by charge two three seconds later. After another five seconds, the three guards will have moved towards the lookout point while others will have emerged from the cave. Charges three and four will then detonate and if hostile elements have been disabled or eliminated, you will then advance to secure the cave…’
A loud thud comes from not far away. Vychkov looks to his left and the picture cuts to the left shoulder view. A bleak smile crosses his features and as he rises the second charge goes off.
‘Return to the lower profile. You will reveal yourself to hostile elements.’
Vychkov tugs off the goggles and gives a sidelong glance at the shoulder camera, his eyes dark and piercing, shakes his head and raises his left hand which is holding one of the hemispherical shaped charges. A swift overarm movement and it is arcing away into the dark, rain-wet forest.
‘You have disrupted the mission plan. You will be punished. Return to the ship…’
Another explosion, a flash from the rocky ridge coupled with a simultaneous one from the forest that sends burning foliage flying. But nothing from the cave mouth where figures holding torches are emerging. Vychkov sees them and starts climbing the hill. He takes three strides then doubles over in agony, sinking to his knees, slumping over on one side. The shoulder camera shows his face contorted in a rictus of pain, mouth gaping as if to cry out but no sound comes, just long gasps and shuddering breaths.
‘Comply. Return to the ship or you will be severed.’
Silently snarling against the pain, Vychkov shakes his head and begins to crawl slowly up the grassy slope. The picture switches to the camera on the airborne remote, now hovering over the edge of the forest with its lens angled down at the glowing figure sprawled on the hillside. Heat from the explosions blooms bright blue at the edge of the frame and the voices of people are audible, along with someone screaming for help. As the hovering camera zooms in on Vychkov, a target-acquisition overlay appears and a red triangle settles over the back of his head where it locks. A second later the camera jerks to the side as if from recoil. When it returns, Vychkov’s form is still, unmoving.
End of videofile.
Commentary II: We know from the written accounts of Olsson and the others that shortly after the Hyperion’s emergency landing the ship AI began flooding some decks with sleep gas. And in the weeks prior to the landing, certain low-level systems began behaving erratically or failed altogether. Then, as the videofile shows, the AI used neural implants to control wakened colonists in its strategy against those who escaped into the forest.
Taken together, this does not strike me as the meticulous master plan of a machine intellect hell-bent on enslaving everyone on board the Hyperion. Why tip its hand during the preceding weeks? Why gas only parts of the ship, not all – in fact, why not gas everyone even before making orbit about Darien? And why undertake a programme of forced cyborgisation when it would have made more sense to use the Hyperion’s workshops to turn out legions of anti-personnel drones for deployment by air or ground? Also, why was its shipboard security so poor that Vychkov was able to take a dummy charge on the mission? And above all, how was Vychkov able to get away with inking a map of the ship’s weak points into the skin of his chest?
The truth is that this behaviour looks more like a disjointed series of responses and blind spots created by dysfunctional programming, not some malign plan introduced by an unknown agency. The AIs placed in charge of the Hyperion and her sister ships came from the cutting edge of research at that time. During those dark days of the Swarm War, resources were short, procedures were rushed and corners were cut. It is very likely that flaws in the care-and-protection heuristics were not caught, resulting in the terrible consequences that blighted the early decades of the colony with malnutrition, illness and despair.
They have also blighted our scientific development. The collective memory of the fight against the ship AI, and its unwilling thralls, has come down to us embroidered with an anthropomorphism and demonisation so strong that AI research was and remains forbidden. Therefore it is my recommendation that any viewer should look upon this recording not as an illustration of the purposeful strategy of a demonic entity, but as an exposure of the consequences of flawed programming, nothing more. – J.K.
The lohig that tirelessly hauled their hide cart was an odd insectoid creature some seven feet long, its coppery carapace patterned with blue diamonds and stars. At first, he and Kao Chih had been worried that the creature might suffer from their untutored care but the lohig breeder’s instructions had proved invaluable, keeping them from starving or mistreating it. In fact, Kao Chih had taken a liking to the beast, feeding it sprigs of leaves while talking to it in soft Mandarin Chinese, and had even gone to the point of giving it a name, T’ien Kou, which meant Heavenly Dog. Greg was tempted to call the lohig ‘Rover’ but held back.
They had been three days on the trail to Belskirnir, a trapper camp deep in the Forest of Arawn, a vast and dense expanse of greenery that spread north and east of the Kentigerns, covering over a thousand square miles of hinterland. For the last day and a half they had been passing through lush glades and humid dales beneath an endless interwoven canopy, home to the innumerable flying, leaping and crawling creatures of Darien. But now evening was drawing in as they steered the lohig along a dale strewn with mossy boulders, and thoughts of making camp were surfacing.
‘I don’t think we’re that far from Belskirnir,’ Greg said, ‘but we’ll no’ get there before nightfall.’ He pointed to a large tree further ahead, its bole twisted around a big boulder, its lower branches creating a kind of natural shelter. ‘That would be a good place to make camp. What d’ye think?’
Kao Chih peered at it. ‘It certainly appears comfortable, Gregory, but there is still plenty of light – should we not keep moving, to make the good time tomorrow?’
Greg shrugged and was about to reply when, without warning, shots came from off in the dense wood. Automatic fire crackled, splinters flew from the cart, leaves and twigs spun from intervening bushes. Panic-stricken, Greg had dived off the path, scrambling for cover behind a huge, tilted rock, fumbling for his own weapon, the 35-calibre that Rory had doggedly taught him to use. He returned fire, a few unaimed shots before realising that he didn’t know where Kao Chih was, whether he had gone into the bushes on the other side or had fled along the path. Greg was about to call out his name in a stage whisper when there were shouts and the sound of running feet drawing near from left and right.
Fear assailed him as the hunters’ footsteps slowed and an eerie silence fell over the dale. Seconds ticked by with neither sight nor sound of Kao Chih, but Greg did catch a glimpse of one of his pursuers, a burly, bearded woodsman with hard, flinty eyes beneath a battered bush hat. Convinced that the ones he couldn’t see were even closer, he decided it was time to get the hell out of there.
Behind the big, tilted rock, clumps of tangled undergrowth concealed an incline leading up to a ridge beyond which lay a drop which he remembered from their earlier progress along the track. Keeping low, he crept up to the edge and over to see a steep, leafy slope broken by isolated bushes and protruding rocks, leading down to a wide, densely wooded gorge which ran southwards, back the way he and Kao Chih had come two days before. Greg crouched on a jutting rock, unsure of his next move, staring across the leafy treetops, darkening as the sun dipped towards the horizon. Then a shout came from off to the right – one of the ambushers was standing on the ridge about a hundred yards away, calling out to the others as he raised a rifle and took aim.
Fear took over and Greg dived forward, rolling downslope a short distance before regaining his feet and continuing his descent at a striding, plunging run. Just as he passed into the shadows of the tree line, he slipped on a muddy patch. His feet flew out, a jumble of rocks loomed and he flailed madly, luckily catching hold of the stems of a sturdy bush which slowed his plummet. His back and side were soaked with dew and plastered with mud but with his pursuers coming down after him he ignored the mess and headed deeper into the trees.
For the next ten hours or more, Greg dodged and hid, crept and climbed, skulked and lay low. It was a strange, fitful hunt which continued on past evening and into the night. It was never completely dark in a Darien forest – ulby roots, a common species of parasitic tuber, shed a pale yellow-green radiance, while ineka beetles had carapaces that gave off a soft blue glow. Together, their emanations gave the glades of Darien a curiously spectral ambience, a kind of peaceful hush as if the entire forest were holding its breath. Tonight, though, the patchy glows conspired with Greg’s fugitive state of mind to concoct an eerie, slightly foreboding atmosphere.
Dawn was cold and misty, the first moments of sunrise spreading like a watery gleam through the undergrowth. Greg straightened from the hillside notch where he’d been resting and peered out through a veil of blackleaf vine. From the gorge he had gradually worked his way via gullies and footprint-masking streams back round to the route that he and Kao Chih had been following. The notch gave him a view of densely wooded ground sloping down towards the track. South was to his left and a mile or so back that way was where they’d been ambushed. Northwards, the trees thinned a little and the rutted track wound through them to a hillside, curving round it and out of sight. Somewhere among those low forest hills was Belskirnir, where Greg was supposed to meet a go-between sent by Alexandr Vashutkin, the last surviving member of Sundstrom’s cabinet, still holding out in Trond…
As the minutes passed the day brightened and a few creature-calls sounded from the canopy and branches overhead, peeps, whistles and scraping squawks, as if to greet the sky’s telltale pearly glow, sure sign that bright sunlight would soon be burning away the mists. Greg peered into the trees, scanning the distance, studying the undergrowth for movement. It was a couple of hours since he last sighted one of his pursuers, a lean, bearded man with a rifle who emerged from a thicket to the north and stalked along parallel to the track before disappearing off to the south.
Greg nodded, resolved that it was time to go and find Kao Chih.
He climbed out of the notch and crouched in a nearby clump of beadberry bushes for a moment, plotting in his head a route across the wooded slope. Then he crept forward, heading towards the closest tree, and was four paces away when he was grabbed from behind and thrust to the ground. Gasping in fear, he struggled against the weight on his back and fought with one hand through garment layers for the pistol sitting in an inside pocket. Amid all this effort, he almost failed to hear his assailant hoarsely repeating his name.
‘Greg… Greg! – it’s me, Alexei…!’
Suddenly hearing and recognising the voice, he ceased moving and the weight shifted off his back. Breathing heavily, he half sat up as a grinning Alexei Firmanov sprawled down on the grass next to him. He was a lanky, dark-haired Rus with prominent cheekbones and a narrow chin, and was garbed in a green forest coat over dark grey hunter fatigues.
‘What… the hell… are you doing here?’ Greg said.
‘They’ve got lookouts posted all along the trail to Belskirnir, my friend,’ Alexei said. ‘They would have had you like that.’
‘I see,’ Greg said, glancing round at the bushy slope. ‘Any idea who they are?’
‘Thugs and nattjegers from the Eastern Towns, we reckoned. Just after you left Taloway, a carrier pinbeak arrived from High Lochiel with word that a local Brolturan lackey was hiring toughs for a journey into the wilds. Later that same day, one of Chel’s high-crag watchers spotted a dirij coming in from the Crystal River boundary quite far off and heading for these hills. Less than half an hour later it was aloft and swinging back towards the coast. Rory and Chel assumed that the worst might happen…’
‘And here ye are.’
‘Nikolai is here, too,’ Alexei said. ‘He went after the ones who dragged Kao Chih away. He’s safe, by the way.’
Greg breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Thank God.’
‘Or whoever’s in charge, da? Well, there were only two captors – for Nikolai this is no problem. But we have many problems, sitting out there, waiting for us, so we must go the scenic route, yes?’
‘How scenic?’ said Greg. ‘D’ye mean doubling back around they hills?’
‘I mean go over them.’ Alexei grinned. ‘Is not so bad, and quicker too.’
Greg frowned. The hills to the south might be comparatively low but they were steep and craggy. Scaling them would be demanding and risky.
‘Okay then, aye,’ he said. ‘But we’ll have to keep an eye out for any scissortails – a bite from one of those wee buggers and you’ll never play the balalaika again.’
After a stealthy, wary progress back through the forest, following the upward slope, it took well over an hour to climb to the hill’s rocky summit. By then the sun was out and they were sweating as they stopped to rest on a hot stone ledge facing north. Alexei produced a small battered wooden telescope and surveyed the woods they’d left behind. After a few moments he gave a satisfied grunt and turned to look north. Greg sat in the sun’s warmth, thinking about his mother and brothers, now safely ensconced in a mountain camp south of the Eastern Towns. His mother had been angry at being sent away from danger, even though she knew it was a rational move. His brothers, Ian and Ned, were likewise unhappy but resigned – Ian intended to get together a company of former Darien Volunteer Force troopers and Ned knew that his medical skills would be fully occupied.
I still wish you were all with me, he thought, staring out at the dark, dense expanse of the Forest of Arawn. But we know what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket…
Alexei handed him the long glass and he raised it to survey the land. The treetop canopy was an unbroken sea of verdant green that swept onwards and away, swathing every dip and rise of the land before fetching up against the Utgard Barricades, two hundred miles of im
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