Close

Excerpt: The Eye of Scales by Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott

amazon bn booksamillion indiebound

Fantasy great Tracy Hickman teams up with the video game legend Richard Garriott in this epic novel The Eye of Scales, based on the award-winning game, Shroud of the Avatar.

The sword rules all.

Aren Bendis, former soldier in the Obsidian army, has managed to protect a rebel city from his former friends and now finds his fate bound to a weapon once wielded by the Avatars themselves. Now, he is being secreted away to the capital of the last alliance of free nations with the hopes that the Hero of Opalis will lead their army against his former masters.

What Aren doesn’t know is that his former friend Evard Dirae, a Craft Master of the Obsidian Order, is seeking Aren out. Worried that Aren is being manipulated against his will by the magic of the Avatars, Evard seeks to find the sword and break its hold over Aren once and for all.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Eye of Scales by Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott, on sale 07/26/2022.


Chapter 1

The Guest of Opalis

Fires burned on the watchtowers flanking the ruined gate into the once proud city of Opalis. Normally such a great city would have cast a glow into the night sky, radiating its light into the darkness beyond. Now the twin fires on either side of the yawning opening were the only evidence the city was inhabited. They shone in the blackness like the reflected eyes of a cat, but weren’t even bright enough to illuminate the churned and broken ground that had once been Opalis’s grand thoroughfare.

Evard Dirae, craftmaster of the Obsidian Order, pulled up the hood of his heavy traveling cloak, lest any vestige of the watch fires illuminate his mostly white hair. It had been almost a month since the fall of Opalis and events had gone decidedly against him. The amount of magic he’d been forced to expend in an effort to simply learn what actually happened had been appalling, and still he did not know it all.

At least the guards aren’t attentive, he thought as he passed the broken gate, well beyond the reach of the ineffective watch fires. Of course the guards had little need to be wary. Word of the fall of Opalis had gotten out and how it was now a ruined shell, a plundered corpse left to rot in the South Paladis sun.

Evard drew his cloak about his shoulders as a melancholy drizzle began to fall. The heat of the summer campaign season had given way to the first stirrings of autumn, and the air of the plains had turned chill. He cast a baleful glance into the sky as if the rain and the cold were some kind of personal affront and got a fat drop in one of his eyes for his trouble.

Cursing quietly, he turned left from the gate, passing between two buildings that had the look of warehouses, and found an alley that ran more or less west. The last time he’d been in Opalis, it had been teeming with life, with people moving here and there on purposes of their own. In such an environment it was easy to pass unnoticed. People bent on their own purposes had little time for strangers. Now, however, he would stand out like a candle in a dark room if anyone saw him, so he resolved to keep off the main streets.

As if to punctuate his reasoning, the ruddy light of a lantern sprang up at the far end of the alley where it met a main street. With nowhere to go, Evard pressed up against the side of the alley and held still. He watched as five legionnaires of the Norgard Empire passed by. They were relaxed, men with no fear of ambush or attack, yet one looked down the alley just the same.

Evard closed his eyes and focused his mind. He had enough magic left to deal with these soldiers if it came to that, but he’d rather it didn’t. His reserves were perilously low and he was physically exhausted. The fewer problems he encountered, the better.

The legionnaire at the end of the alley paused and Evard’s heart skipped a beat. He could clearly see the man’s face in the torchlight. A ragged scar ran down the legionnaire’s cheek splitting the stubble of a short beard as it disappeared under his jaw. The guard’s eyes swept back and forth, passing over Evard’s still form twice, then he turned away.

Evard waited a full minute after the light of the torch disappeared before he moved. When he reached the main thoroughfare there was no sign of the patrol. Breathing a sigh of relief, he pressed on.

Against the western wall of the city were the barracks of the city’s former defenders, the Opalis Legion. Lights burned in the windows and Evard could see guardsmen leaning wearily on their spears as they stood watch by the gate and on the roof. Evard’s attention lingered on the barracks and its dozing guards for a long moment, then he turned south, past the occupied buildings, to a squat, dark structure beyond, which housed the city jail. Under normal circumstances, it would house pickpockets, brawlers, drunks, and the odd malcontent. Today, it stood all but empty. There weren’t even guards posted at the doors. If Evard’s information was correct, however, the jail’s sole occupant was the one man in the world that could tell him what he most wanted to know.

The whereabouts of Aren Bennis.


Evard pushed open the outer door of the jail and passed inside. The door creaked loudly as he pulled it closed behind him, but it wouldn’t matter. He’d spent the last two hours watching the building and in all that time no one had come to check on the prisoner. He doubted anyone cared.

The inside of the jail was simple and utilitarian, much like the rest of the city. A guard area occupied the front with a hallway behind that had cells on either side. Evard summoned a sliver of his magic and raised his hand. A pulsating sphere of dim, silver light appeared over his open palm and he waited as his eyes adjusted to it before proceeding.

“Who’s there,” a raspy voice echoed from a cell in the very back.

Evard took great satisfaction at the miserable sound of it.

“Why General,” he said, moving down the aisle, “I’m hurt you don’t remember me. Has it been so long?”

As Evard reached the last cell, the faint light spilled over the man in the cell. General Milos Karpasic was huddled in a pile of straw for a bed and had a ragged blanket pulled about his shoulders to ward off the chill of the autumn night. This was a far cry from the haughty figure who had defied him and attacked Opalis before Evard’s plans had been set in motion. It could be argued that all of Evard’s current problems, the disappearance of Aren and the loss of the Avatar sword were directly attributable to that one act of defiance.

Karpasic’s eyes narrowed as he recognized his visitor. Evard had expected the general would react with fear, but instead he seemed almost bored.

“Oh,” he grunted, pulling his blanket around him more tightly. “It’s just you. Come to gloat, or was this your plan all along?”

“My . . . ?” Evard stammered, dumbstruck. “How dare you lay this debacle at my feet,” he growled, resisting the urge to shout. “Where is your army, General Karpasic? Where is the Avatar sword? Where is Aren Bennis?”

As Evard spoke, the silver light from his sphere grew brighter with his anger and he had to will it to dim again. Karpasic chuckled. It wasn’t a mirthful sound, but rather one of mockery.

“So, he stuck the same knife in your back that he used on me, eh Sorcerer?”

Evard resisted the urge to summon enough magic to burn Karpasic to a cinder. Plenty of time for that later. Right now the man wasn’t making sense, which meant Evard was still missing something— either that or the general’s defeat had unhinged him.

“Who stuck a knife in my back?” he asked, forcing himself to be patient.

“Bennis!” Karpasic roared, surging to his feet. The blanket fell away, unnoticed, and Evard got his first good look at the man. He was noticeably thinner. It looked as if he’d lost near fifty pounds. Evard wondered if the Norgard soldiers were feeding him at all.

“What about Captain Bennis?”

Karpasic laughed again, but this time it was the sound of mirth.

“You don’t get it,” he said, slumping against the bars of his cell. “It was Bennis.”

“He didn’t deliver this city to you as we agreed?”

Karpasic stared through the bars, his wild eyes boring into Evard’s.

“Of course he did,” Karpasic giggled. “He marched out of here with his train of peasants and left the gate wide open.”

“Then make yourself clear, General,” Evard said, steel creeping back into his voice. “If you can.”

“We took possession of the city without even drawing our weapons,” Karpasic said. “But what did we find when we got here? What of the famed treasure of Opalis?”

The general seemed to be waiting for a response, so Evard shrugged.

“I give up, what did you find?”

“Nothing.”

Evard raised an eyebrow at that. Everyone knew of the vast wealth of Opalis, even in faraway Desolis.

“Are you suggesting that Captain Bennis smuggled the treasure out of the city under your very nose?” Even as he said it, Evard knew that wasn’t possible. A man possessed of as much greed as Karpasic wouldn’t have allowed a copper penny out of the city.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Karpasic growled. “I only know that when we broke into their tower, there was nothing there.” He took hold of the bars and pressed his face against them. His skin was loose because of the weight loss, and as he pushed against the bars, it stretched tight across his cheeks, leaving him with a feral grin. “And do you know what happened then, Sorcerer?”

Evard was firmly convinced that he didn’t.

“The legions of Norgard surrounded the city,” Karpasic went on. “Pinned us in here like rats in a trap.”

Evard opened his mouth to scoff at that, but shut it almost immediately. He could see where Karpasic was going with this story.

“You think Captain Bennis tipped them off,” he said. “You think he planned to betray the Empire.”

Karpasic backed slowly away from the bars, but the manic smile on his face didn’t move.

“Either that or the legionnaires of Norgard are the luckiest troops in all Paladis, coming upon us in exactly the right moment. That would be quite the coincidence, don’t you think?”

Evard was young as sorcerers went, but he’d seen enough of life not to believe in coincidence. There were only three people who knew where and when Aren would surrender the city, and two of them were here in this jail.

“Ha!” Karpasic roared. He must have seen the realization in Evard’s face. “He fooled you too, Craftmaster Dirae!”

“Lower your voice,” Evard hissed, casting a nervous glance back up the aisle toward the front of the jail.

“That arrogant bastard fooled you,” Karpasic said in a softer tone. “But you know who he didn’t fool? Me. I knew he was an uppity little backstabber, always parading around like my victories were his, like I couldn’t be trusted to put on my armor without his direction. I saw through all that. I put him in his place . . . until you intervened.”

Karpasic threw back his head and laughed.

“That’s right,” he said, his flabby sides shaking with mirth. “You wanted him alive. If you’d just let me kill him like I wanted to, none of this would have happened. Look around, Sorcerer, this is all your fault.”

“That’s why you marched on Opalis,” Evard snapped, putting the pieces together. “You wanted to make sure Aren was dead before I could find out how he came to be captured by the Council of Might.”

“Of course I did,” Karpasic said, his laughter subsiding. “And everything would have worked if you hadn’t stepped in.”

“You defied your orders,” Evard pointed out. “You’d have had to answer for that in any case.”

“Orders to march an entire army to the place where the Sanctus and Fortus Rivers cross?” Karpasic scoffed. “There’s nothing there. It was a staging area, no one would care if we arrived a week or two late. And we would have, rich as kings to boot—if that traitor Bennis hadn’t sold us all to the Norgards.”

Evard ground his teeth. Karpasic was making sense, and worse, he didn’t appear to be lying, which was the last thing the sorcerer had expected.

“Where is the Westreach Army, General?”

“Oh, your friend took care of them, too,” Karpasic said. For the first time in their conversation his words sounded bitter. “I knew we only had one chance with the Norgard army pinning us in the city.”

“You ordered your men to attack,” Evard guessed.

Karpasic nodded.

“If we’d waited in the city, we’d have only grown weaker and more desperate,” he said. “Our one chance was to break the Norgard lines and run for it.”

“What happened?”

Karpasic shrugged then shook his head.

“We almost made it,” he said. “Some of the men managed to escape, I think, but . . .” He shrugged as if what he was saying weren’t really important. “The rest were cut down as they fled.”

“Except you,” Evard observed.

Karpasic snarled but the look on his face was one of shame.

“They had orders to take me alive,” he admitted at last.

“So the rest of your army, a force of some thirty thousand men and Fomorians is—”

“Dead,” Karpasic finished.

“Why do they want you?”

“I have no idea.” He looked up the hall toward the door and the barracks beyond. “They haven’t asked me any questions. It’s like they don’t know what to do.” Karpasic chuckled. “The guards say they’re going to chop off my head in a public execution but they can’t decide if they’re going to do it in Etceter or in Valhold.”

“Then why not get on with it, General,” Evard said. “There must be some reason they’re keeping you alive.”

He looked back at Evard again, the feral snarl back on his face.

“I’ll be sure to ask them the next time they come in to mock me,” he said, anger bubbling up in his voice. “Those pitiful excuses for soldiers have the gall to mock me, General Milos Karpasic, who’s seen more conquest in the last year than they will in their entire worthless lives. Yet I must sit here and listen to them plan my execution.”

Evard suddenly realized why, when he’d first appeared, Karpasic didn’t fear him. Why he’d been taunting and baiting Evard the entire time.

“And you want me to end all that for you?” he guessed.

Karpasic lunged to the bars, reaching through as if he meant to strangle Evard.

“You owe me, Sorcerer,” he spat as Evard stepped back. “If it wasn’t for your close personal friend, Captain Bennis, I wouldn’t be in here and my army would have another city for the glorious Obsidian Empire. But no, thanks to you and that traitor, the Westreach Army is lost. The Empire will never take me back, and it’s your fault. The least you can do is end my suffering, you witless fraud.”

Evard just stood, staring at Karpasic as the general clawed at him through the bars of his cell. He didn’t want to believe that Aren could have betrayed the Empire so completely, but if Karpasic was right, the defeat of the Westreach Army had been brought about with a level of precision and planning that far exceeded the Norgard Legion. This was devious and precise, two traits that Aren Bennis had in abundance.

He shook his head. Whatever part Aren had played in this, Karpasic had brought his current predicament on himself.

“No,” he said, fixing Karpasic with a cold stare.

“You can’t leave me here,” he snarled. “How would it look for a general of the Empire to be executed in a jerkwater place like Valhold. Do it, Sorcerer. Kill me.”

Evard smiled at that. “I don’t think I will.”

“You owe me,” Karpasic snarled.

Evard took another step back. “You seem to have given your pitiful circumstances a great deal of thought during your incarceration, General Karpasic,” he said. “It’s a pity that you haven’t spared any of your valuable time on self-reflection. Self-reflection is good for a man. I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the opportunity to engage in it.”

Karpasic pulled his arms back into his cell and grabbed the bars as if he meant to physically bend them open.

“You think you can deal with me like this, Sorcerer?” he shouted. “I’ll bet the Norgards would much rather have a craftmaster of the Obsidian Cabal. It might even be worth the life of a general!” He turned and screamed up the hall toward the front of the jail, “Here! In here!”

Evard opened his palm and the silver ball of light he’d been holding leaped away. It streaked across the intervening space and slammed into Karpasic’s gut. The air went out of the general’s lungs with a whooshing sound and he dropped.

Even before he hit the ground, Karpasic was struggling for breath, gasping to fill his lungs again to shout some more. Evard could easily kill him. He wanted to kill him, but thought better of it.

“Enjoy your execution, General,” he said, making his way quickly toward the front of the jail. “I wish I could be there to see it.”

Evard opened the door to the jailhouse and peeked around it, but he needn’t have bothered. No one had come in response to the general’s summons. He left the building, shutting the door carefully behind him, then made his way back toward the backstreets and alleys that would conduct him to the broken gate.

It was a relief that he didn’t see any more guards or patrols, but his mind wasn’t easy. He’d expected the news to be bad once he’d learned that Karpasic had been taken by the Norgards, but the reality was worse even than he imagined. The Westreach Army lost, the Avatar sword in the hands of the enemy, and worst of all—Aren had done it.

It was unthinkable.

Evard and Aren had grown up together. He knew Aren as well as he knew himself, perhaps better. It was simply impossible that Aren had betrayed the Empire—betrayed him.

“Something else is at work here,” he said out loud in an effort to convince himself.

The sword.

The cursed Avatar sword.

That had to be it. Karpasic had said it was cursed, that it had spoken to him when he touched it. And now the sword was speaking to Aren.

That explained everything. The sword knew the Obsidian Inner Circle meant to destroy it and has used that knowledge to poison Aren’s mind. This probably convinced him that Evard himself meant him harm.

He clenched his fists, digging the nails of his hands into his palms as the realization washed over him. It’s a good thing he hadn’t found Aren yet. The sword would have tried to kill him, and he’d have been forced to kill Aren, never understanding why. Now, however, he knew what the sword had done. Now he had a chance to stop it, to save Aren.

“Hang on, Brother,” Evard said to the dark, drizzling sky. “I’m coming for you.”

Copyright © 2022 from Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott

Pre-Order The Eye of Scales Here:

amazon bn booksamillion indiebound

1 thought on “Excerpt: The Eye of Scales by Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *