by Hugh Cook

This massive fantasy novel, 250,000 words in length, is a self-contained novel in its own right, a story complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. It can be read independently of the ten-volume fantasy series CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS, of which it is the tenth and final volume.

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Book Summary

This sword and sorcery novel is the saga of Guest Gulkan, the self-styled weaponmaster, who becomes locked in a struggle for control of the Collosnon Empire.

The action of this massive book follows Guest from his reckless early manhood through to his later years, and features war, wizards, witches, sword fights, adventures with airships, bloody combat and brutal torture.

A barbaric no-holds-barred novel about barbarian horselords. Written at an adult level and definitely not intended for children.

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Chapter One    The Witchlord's sons were three in number, and Sken-Pitilkin was lecturing all three when the Witchlord himself intruded on their lesson. Sken-Pitilkin resented the intrusion - and resented it all the more when he noticed the Rovac warrior Rolf Thelemite and the dwarf Glambrax lurking behind the Witchlord. Sken-Pitilkin was ever at pains to keep that pair of troublemakers out of his classroom, for such adulthood in combination with boyhood made a vicious combination.

Chapter Two    Thus in his anger the emperor rode forth in pursuit of those bandits who had escaped his earlier attack. Riding with all the ferocity of Obela Ukma, the warrior of legend who had sought to outpace his own mortality, Lord Onosh and his party performed prodigies of roughground speedleaguing in the days that followed.

Chapter Three    Shall we say something about Thodric Jarl? Shall we speak of the color of his eye and the tint of his beard? Shall we tell of his history and his hobbies, or quote him in his rhetoric? No. Suffice it simply to say that Jarl was of the Rovac, that the Rovac are as primitive a bunch of blood-letting savages as you are likely to cross swords with, and that Jarl was true to his kind.

Chapter Four    Guest Gulkan's birthday was in spring, and it was in spring of Alliance 4305 that he turned 15. His birthday was ill-omened, for it found him afflicted by influenza. While leprosy, cholera and bubonic plague have names to rival nightmare, for swift and sudden devastation nothing can match the more lethal strains of influenza.

Chapter Five    "Come here!" said Iva-Italis. The demon did not speak in the Toxteth of the Guardians of Safrak, nor the Galish with which Bankers habitually intercommunicated. Rather, it commanded Guest Gulkan in the Eparget of the horse tribes - just as Banker Sod had done when briefing Guest on his duties.

Chapter Six    The singing came from the stairway at the western end of the Hall of Time. It signaled the arrival of Yubi Das Finger, who lit his own entrance into the Hall of Time with two lanterns swinging from the bablobrokmadorni stick he carried over his shoulder.

Chapter Seven    Early in the spring of the year Alliance 4306 - a few days after Guest Gulkan's 16th birthday and a full year after Guest Gulkan's introduction to the demon Iva-Italis - the Rovac warrior Thodric Jarl came to Safrak to recall Guest Gulkan to Gendormargensis.

Chapter Eight    Since Thodric Jarl would brook no delay - war was afoot, and he did not wish to miss out on his share of battle-blood glory - the travelers joined their boat at the Palace Docks that very evening. The sky was dubious, threatening bad weather, but Jarl was hot to be gone regardless.

Chapter Nine    Though Thodric Jarl did not trust the people of Ema-Urk to keep the bargain of the peace which Zelafona had bought for the travelers, nothing more ferocious than a straying sheep intruded upon the peace of the travelers as they slept away the worst of their fatigue.

Chapter Ten    So it was that in the spring of his 17th year, shortly after his 16th birthday, the young Weaponmaster Guest Gulkan found himself airwrecked in the mountains with the wizards Pelagius Zozimus and Hostaja Sken-Pitilkin, with the dralkosh Zelafona and her dwarf-son Glambrax, with the gray-bearded warrior Thodric Jarl and with Jarl's compatriot Rolf Thelemite.

Chapter Eleven    Hostaja Torsen Sken-Pitilkin did his best to make Thodric Jarl apologize for his foolish attack on Ontario Nol. Jarl refused. "Dogs will hatch from eggs and pigs be born of pigeons before I say sorry to a wizard," said Jarl, intransigent as any monster of the nursery.

Chapter Twelve    Ontario Nol cautioned the air-wrecked adventurers not to venture through the realms of King Igpatan, since that monarch was of a very uncertain temper, and often celebrated his birthday by torturing to death a randomly-chosen stranger. As King Igpatan honored each of his fifty previous incarnations with a separate birthday, his kingdom was not an attractive tourist destination.

Chapter Thirteen    The town of Babaroth stood a little to the north of the Pig River. It stands there no longer, for the region in question was afflicted by a severe earthquake last year, and by all accounts the town has been entirely destroyed. Still, when Witchlord and Weaponmaster found themselves as masters of opposing armies, Babaroth was still standing, and serves as a convenient landmark for the action.

Chapter Fourteen    So it was that the retreat to Locontareth began in the heat of high summer. With the shocked and shaken revolutionary army demoralized to little more than a retreating rabble in its defeat, Guest Gulkan found himself its leader, since nobody else wanted the job - for who wants such a job in a time of failure when political prominence looks to be a likely cause of execution rather than a golden path to glory?

Chapter Fifteen    The Witchlord Onosh and the Rovac warrior Thodric Jarl thought their defeated enemies would surely make a stand at Locontareth, and in this expectation they marched in good order downriver, hoping to tempt the rebels from the city and smash them in a decisive battle.

Chapter Sixteen    So Lord Onosh was defeated at the high pass of Volvo Marp; and was led as a prisoner through the high and bitter valley of Yox; and was taken over Zomara Pass; and thus came in chains to the valley of Ul-donlok and the monastery of Qonsajara, home of the wizard Ontario Nol.

Chapter Seventeen    By the next day, Guest Gulkan had fully recovered from his waking nightmare. Indeed, he disclaimed all knowledge of any such nightmare, claiming that a good night's sleep had obliterated his memories of the trauma of the previous evening.

Chapter Eighteen    As Witchlord and Weaponmaster settled in to Locontareth, they gave additional directions to the wizard Sken-Pitilkin, he whom they had earlier charged with a half-share of the responsibility for organizing the market in bread and barley. Sken-Pitilkin was now to exert himself over the winter and build them an airship.

Chapter Nineteen    Immediately after the dramatic wreckfall of Sken-Pitilkin's flying roof, all was confusion, and the rest of the night was not much better. But, as day dawned, the Witchlord's forces began to fall into some kind of order.

Chapter Twenty    Early in the evening, the young Weaponmaster Guest Gulkan was seated early in the evening with his brother Morsh Bataar on one side and the Rovac warrior Rolf Thelemite on the other. But Morsh made an early night of it, and Rolf drank so strenuously that he slid under the table at about the same time, and was removed by diligent servants.

Chapter Twenty-One    There was blood on the stairs, and the blood had been tracked upward in a series of fragmented bootprints. Belatedly, Guest realized he was tracking through that blood himself, leaving a series of bare-toe footprints in his wake. He scraped his feet against the roughness of the living rock of the mainrock Pinnacle, then started upwards again.

Chapter Twenty-Two    So Guest Gulkan ventured up the last of the stairs and entered into the Hall of Time, where the gutter-gubber nightlight of oil lanterns spilt a garblage of shadows across skull-pattern tiles. Many of those nightlamps had flubbered their last, and by expiry had left great gouts of shadow sprawled across that cavernous chamber.

Chapter Twenty-Three    Lord Onosh was fatigued beyond his age. In the dying lantern light, sweat slid redshining down the furrows in his slanted forehead. He gave an overwhelming impression of weariness. He had been defeated once too often, and his resources of courage were almost exhausted.

Chapter Twenty-Four    This was an emergency. And all were helpless in the face of that emergency. But for Sken-Pitilkin! The sagacious wizard of Skatzabratzumon lacked the power to send any foreign body hop-skipping over the demon's head. For his powers were subject to the laws of leverage, viciously restrictive laws which made it difficult for any wizard of Skatzabratzumon to support a weight at a distance.

Chapter Twenty-Five    "Where's my blanket?" said Sod, when Witchlord and Weaponmaster made their return to Jezel Obo, the Sky Stratum, topmost level of the mainrock Pinnacle.

Chapter Twenty-Six    With Sod having followed Guest Gulkan through the Door, and with Ulix of the Drum having closed down that Door, Lord Onosh took personal possession of the Door's controlling star-globe. Setting aside all questions of the fate of the Weaponmaster and the potential of the Door, he then set about consolidating his conquest.

Chapter Twenty-Seven    So Eljuk Zala Gulkan came to the island of Alozay in the company of the wizard Ontario Nol, and the Witchlord Onosh ordered that a great banquet be held to celebrate the arrival of his son. The city of Molothair was lit with lanterns and the mainrock Pinnacle likewise. To the Grand Palace of Alozay came fish fresh from the Swelaway Sea, sheepmeat from Ema-Urk, the flesh of bears and pigs which had been hunted to their deaths in mainland wilderness, and - ever the greatest luxury to the Yarglat palate - the meat of horses.

Chapter Twenty-Eight    Three men had left Alozay by way of the Door, and these three were the Weaponmaster Guest Gulkan, the iceman Sod, and the rough and ragged Thayer Levant. Sod had leapt through that portal to escape from his captivity; Guest Gulkan had pursued him; and the unheroic Levant had fled after them to escape from a perceived threat to his own life.

Chapter Twenty-Nine    For Guest Gulkan, arms and legs both shredded by the mauling strength of the Great Mink, there was no blessed darkness, no sovereign relief, no surcease of pain. Instead, spearblade agony - as if repeated jolts of razorblade lightning were being shoved through his lacerated flesh. He screamed, jolting spasms racking his body. His world was an incoherence of razors.

Chapter Thirty    During his sojourn inside the minor mountain of Cap Foz Para Lash, Guest Gulkan was often in contact with the demon which ran the place, the demon which went by the name of Paraban Senk. This demon never manifested itself in the flesh, preferring to restrict its manifestations to a face on a screen.

Chapter Thirty-One    Now during his time inside Cap Foz Para Lash, Guest Gulkan had heard from the demon Paraban Senk many wild and wonderful tales of the worlds which were alleged to exist in other universes. He had heard of the rollercoaster, and the bungi jump, both devices of terror unimaginable to anyone who had led the sheltered life of a Yarglat barbarian.

Chapter Thirty-Two    In the end, Guest Gulkan could not be dissuaded from his madcap plan to venture to Obooloo to liberate the Great God Jocasta. Furthermore, he sought to implicate and involve his father in this plan; and the Witchlord Onosh, who was consumed with guilt because he felt himself partly to blame for Guest's mauling in the arena of Chi'ash-lan, felt constrained to agree to commit his own strength to the raid on Obooloo.

Chapter Thirty-Three    So it was that Guest Gulkan and his comrades escaped from the Temple of Blood and surrendered themselves to the House of Conceded Sacrifice, where they were received with the traditional courtesy extended to all who sought that refuge.

Chapter Thirty-Four    Injiltaprajura's riots saw the ships in its harbor flee - though most fled slowly, for they were heavily burdened by loot. Guest Gulkan fled initially on a ship commanded by one Troldot "Heavy-Fist" Turbothot, who had personally looted from Injiltaprajura a female creature named Theodora, and who was intent on taking her home with him to the distant island of Hexagon. Since Hexagon was not on Guest's itinerary, both the Weaponmaster and Thayer Levant soon transferred to another ship, one which was making for Galsh Ebrek.

Chapter Thirty-Five    As Midsummer's Day approached, Guest Gulkan was dragged from the dismal depths of his imprisonment. The tangled matting of his long-grown hair was shaved to a hedgehog's prickling. He was bathed; and scrubbed; and deloused; and perfumed. His rags were burnt - sending up a thick and oily smoke to the heavens - and he was dressed in a loincloth and openweave sandals.

Chapter Thirty-Six    Choosing to quest to the Stench Caves and thus save his father from incineration, Guest Gulkan confessed to the location of the ring of ever-ice which had the power to open and close the time pods in the Temple of Blood.

Chapter Thirty-Seven    As Guest Gulkan screamed, the murkbeast wrenched him toward its maw. With one convulsive spasm of strength, it got his booted foot inside its mouth.

Chapter Thirty-Eight    Guest Gulkan dragged his father from the river. It was him! It was him! Guest smoothed his hand over the steep slope of his father's forehead, feeling beneath his fingers the corrugations of the deep ridges gouged in the bone of that forehead, ridges which ran from hairline to eyebrows. He was too devastated to weep.

Chapter Thirty-Nine    So there was Guest, about to slaughter his father, when with a whoosh a high-pressure flood of saliva came barrel-bursting from the cornucopia, knocking him down and rolling him over and over till he ended up in a thrashing heap against the temple wall. The Great God Jocasta lost control of Guest's body, for its contortions were too quick to be followed by the God's mechanism of control - and Guest abruptly found himself free.

Chapter Forty    "No!" shouted Guest Gulkan. His voice was a wing-broken squawk of protest. But it was too late for protest, for the Great God Jocasta was bent on taking over the Weaponmaster's mind, and was in no mood to argue about it. Yet Jocasta did not find the act of possession as effortlessly easy as before, since this time Guest was forewarned and fighting - and the Great God itself had been damaged in its battle with Stogirov.

Chapter Forty-One    Of Shabble's genesis and of Shabble's true nature no certain account can be given. But one thing is sure. This free-floating globular pyrotechnist was intrinsically more irresponsible than a sea dragon - which is saying something! - and was potentially far more dangerous. Therefore, on hearing that Shabble was on Alozay - Alozay, of all places! - Guest Gulkan was much disturbed.

Chapter Forty-Two    Through the Door came Witchlord and Weaponmaster, with Thayer Levant trailing but a footfall behind them, and there they found Shabble waiting for them. Lord Onosh was so disconcerted that he almost turned and fled back through that Door. For, though Guest had by this time described Shabble often and at length, the Witchlord was hard put to maintain his composure when he found that the truth of this flying ball lived to the tale which Guest had told.

Chapter Forty-Three    The conspirators required a night of cloud and fog, something they could not wish into being by mere force of will alone. The right conditions first came some five nights after the banquet which had greeted the return of Witchlord and Weaponmaster to the island of Alozay.

Chapter Forty-Four    To make a swift transit to Drum, Shabble soared high above fog and clouds, then navigated by the stars. But Sken-Pitilkin kept his stickbird firmly in the mist, and flew throughout the night in those realms of obscurity. In the gray of dawn, the exhausted wizard of Skatzabratzumon set his stickbird down in a swampy clearing somewhere in the woods. Which woods? Sken-Pitilkin and his passengers could not tell.

Chapter Forty-Five    So Sken-Pitilkin's stickbird tore apart, leaving the sagacious wizard of Skatzabratzumon and his passengers hanging in midair - with nothing between them and the rocks below but the clear blue sky.

Chapter Forty-Six    It would be a long and weary business to give an account of the process of appeal whereby Sken-Pitilkin sought to challenge his conviction for high treason. The case dragged on for years.

Chapter Forty-Seven    With all the insouciant ease of a drunken man stepping off the top of a cliff, Guest Gulkan stepped backwards through the Veils of Fire. Cold-burning rainbow leapt around the Weaponmaster as he stepped backwards. On the third step of his retreat, his back bumped against a wall.

Chapter Forty-Eight    Guest stood on the marble plinth, momentarily uncertain as to whether it was the real thing or a delusionary illusion. Then he was abruptly shoved from behind by an unruly Banker who came pushing through the humming silver screen which filled the arch of Chi'ash-lan's Door.

Chapter Forty-Nine    Of Guest Gulkan's return to Alozay, there is no need to give a detailed account. Lord Onosh had long been separated from Guest, the most warlike of his sons. So, when Witchlord was reunited with Weaponmaster, the celebrations were considerable. Horses were slaughtered, and their meat cooked in great barbecues. A babble of storytelling was followed by bout upon bout of drunken boisterousness.

Chapter Fifty    As on their first retreat from Alozay, Sken-Pitilkin and his companions flew through the night in the roughest of directions, so that by dawn they had lost themselves entirely. As on their first retreat, they settled in the wilderness of Tameran.

Chapter Fifty-One    For Guest Gulkan, the flight from Drum to the Old City was terrifying. He was bucked across the sky without the slightest hope of controlling his own destiny, and in hot pursuit was the outraged Shabble.

Chapter Fifty-Two    Mighty is the Great Ocean of Moana and many are its islands. Lost on a speck of sand anchored somewhere in the vastness of that ocean, Guest Gulkan endured his solitude, feeding on black slime from the cornucopia and living under the rowing boat. The Door remained steadfastly closed.

Chapter Fifty-Three    So the bewilderments of rescue brought Guest Gulkan to the city of Dalar ken Halvar. In later conference with Plandruk Qinplaqus, the Silver Emperor who was master of Dalar ken Halvar and lord of the Empire of Greater Parengarenga, Guest eventually decided that Thayer Levant must have escaped from the Old City with both the star-globe and the secret of the Doors.

Chapter Fifty-Four    Now Guest Gulkan was a questing hero, a survivor of encounters with Crabs and with therapists, a mighty swordsman whose daring had defeated both the murkbeast and the crocodile. Yet being such a person is no defense against ignominious disaster, for the world's greatest warlord may yet step by accident in a dogturd, or have a chamber pot emptied on his head by a careless chambermaid at work in the upper storeys of a building which overshadows the route of his promenade.

Chapter Fifty-Five    So Guest Gulkan raided Carawell, chiefest of the islands of the Lesser Teeth. He came from the sky, swooping down from above in a stickbird piloted by Hostaja Sken-Pitilkin, and he brought with him a half-dozen fighting men and two sea dragons.

Chapter Fifty-Six    At this juncture, the lowlands of Argan's western coast had fallen almost entirely to the occupation of the Swarms. Pockets of exception included Androlmarphos, Hok and Estar.

Chapter Fifty-Seven    This book has concerned itself primarily with the life of the Yarglat barbarian known to the world as Guest Gulkan, the self-styled Weaponmaster.


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