Starcraft: Speed of Darkness - Excerpt

May 21, 2002
Pocket Book, 256 pages

Description



Far in the future, 60,000 light-years from Earth, a loose confederacy of Terran exiles is locked in battle with the enigmatic Protoss and the ruthless Zerg Swarm, as each species struggles to ensure its own survival among the stars—war that will herald the beginning of mankind’s greatest chapter or foretell its violent, bloody end.

All Ardo Menikov ever dreamed of was to live in peace on the verdant colony world of Bountiful. But when the vicious Zerg Swarm attacked the colony and annihilated his loved ones, Ardo was forced to wake from his dream and accept the brutal realities of a war-torn galaxy. Now a confederate marine, charged with defending the worlds of the Terran confederacy, Ardo must come to terms with the painful memories of his past—and the unsettling truths that may dominate his future.

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Chapter 1: Downfall

Golden…

That was his word for it, that rare…, perfect day that warms the soul with a golden glow of joy. There was peace in a golden day.

Some days were gray, hung with leaden clouds and rain punctuated by brilliant flashes of burning white and rolling thunder. Other days were a vibrant cold blue arching over the frost-encrusted domes and sheds of the settlement. Some days were even red—the evening sky painted by the dust in the spring winds before the crops had gotten their own hold on the soil. Some days even extended into the night with a velvety cobalt blanket across the sky.

He liked those autumn nights when he could leave his world behind by staring up into that rich darkness. God had put pinpricks in the dome of the night, he imagined, so that His light could shine through. As a child he had searched the stars, hoping to see through to the other side and catch some glimpse of this Creator. He had never stopped looking, even though he had reached his nineteenth birthday and had thought himself too mature for such things.

Each day held different colors for him. He had experienced them in all their hues. Each held a memory and a place in his heart. Yet none in his experience could compare to a golden day. It was the color of the wheat fields that rolled like waves across the low hills stretching out from his father’s homestead. Golden was the warmth of the sun on his face. Golden was the glow he felt within him.

Golden was the color of her hair and the sound of her voice.

“You’re dreaming again, Ardo,” she whispered playfully. “Come back to me. You are much too far away!”

He opened his eyes. She was golden.

“Melani, I’m right here.” Ardo smiled.

“No, you aren’t.” She pouted—a formidable weapon in getting her way. “You’re off dreaming again and you’ve left me behind.”

He rolled onto his side, propping his head up on one elbow so that he could get a better look at her. She was just a year younger than he. Her family had arrived back when Ardo was nine years old, another group in a long line of religious refugees that fell from the sky to join with other Saints in Helaman Township.

Refugee survivors had been gathering from nearly all the planets of the Confederacy back then—reluctant pioneers of the stars. Many devout religious groups had been among the first to be outlawed by the United Powers League on Earth back in ‘31. It was not a new story to Saints and Martyrs. Throughout humanity’s history, those who did not understand the faithful had driven them from place to place and home to home. That they should be driven from planet to planet, then star to star, was beginning to sound painfully repetitious in their Heritage classes. Now, exiles once more, families of the faithful were scattered among the ill-fated transports of the ATLAS project, and when that mission ended in such cataclysmic failure, those families who survived searched desperately for their brothers and sisters. When communication was finally established between worlds, the Patriarchs chose an outlying region on a world they called Bountiful for their new home. Soon, Orbital Dropships were landing at the Zarahemla Starport daily. The newly arrived families would then make their way to the outlying settlements as best they could. Arthur and Keti Bradlaw, with their wide-eyed daughter, were one of five families that arrived that day. Ardo had joined his father as the entire township came out to welcome the new families and get them settled.

Ardo could not remember much about Melani then, although he had been vaguely aware of the stick of a girl who seemed awkward, lonely, and shy. He first took real notice of her when her fourteenth year brought some rather remarkable changes. The “stick girl” seemed to burst into his awareness like a butterfly unfolding from its chrysalis. Her features held a natural beauty—body painting and makeup were frowned upon by the Patriarchs of the township—and it had been Ardo’s great good fortune to have been the first to approach her. His heart and soul fell into her large, luminescent blue eyes.

The nimbus of her long, shining hair played softly in the warm breeze drifting over the wheat fields. The wind carried the distant hum of the mill and the faint scent of the bread at the bakery.

Golden.

“I may be off dreaming, but I’ll never leave you behind,” he said to her, smiling. The wheat rustled about the blanket where they lay. “Tell me where you want to go. I’ll take you there!”

“Right now?” Her laugh was sunshine. “In your dreams?”

“Sure!” Ardo pulled himself up to kneel on the heavy blanket he had spread out for them.

“Anywhere in the stars!”

“I can’t go anywhere.” She smiled. “I have a test in Sister Johnson’s Hydroponics class this afternoon! Besides,” she said more earnestly. “Why would I want to go anywhere else at all? Everything I want is right here.”

Golden. Who could ever leave on such a golden day?

“Then let’s not go anywhere,” he said eagerly.

“Let’s stay here… and get married.”

“Married?” She looked at him, half bemused and half questioning. “I told you, I have Hydroponics class this afternoon.”

“No, I mean it.” Ardo had been working himself up for this for some time. “I’ve graduated, and things are working out really well on Dad’s agra-plots. He said he was thinking of giving me forty acres at the far end of the homestead. It’s the sweetest place, right up near the base of the canyon. There’s a spot there next to the river where… where… Melani?”

The girl with the golden hair did not hear him. She sat up, her blue eyes squinting toward the township. “The siren, Ardo!”

Then he heard it, too. The distant wail, rising and falling across the fields.

Ardo shook his head. “They always sound it at noon…”

“But it isn’t noon, Ardo.”

The sun was eclipsed in that instant. Ardo leaped up, wheeling around toward the darkened sky. His mouth fell open as the lengthening shadow surged across the yellowed fields of wheat. Ardo’s eyes went wide with the rush of fear. Adrenaline roared into his veins.

Enormous plumes of smoke trailed behind fireballs roaring directly toward him from the western end of the broad valley. Ardo quickly reached down and pulled Melani to her feet. His mind raced. They had to run, find shelter… But where could they go? Melani screamed, and he realized that there was nowhere to go and no place safe to hide.

The fireballs seemed so close that both of them ducked. The flames arched over them, the thunderous sound of their fury quickly drowning the distant warning siren. The shadow of their wake covered the entire valley. Five enormous columns crossed overhead, their fingers reaching over Ardo and Melani toward the clustered buildings of Helaman Township. Then the fireballs wheeled as one, lifted over the township, and descended in roiling flames into Segard Yohansen’s instantly ruined fields, about a mile past the center of Helaman.

Ardo shook—whether from fear or excitement he could not tell—but at least his stupor had ended. He clasped Melani’s arm and began pulling at her. “Come on! We’ve got to get into the town before they shut the gates! Come on!”

She needed no further urging.

They ran.

He could not remember how they got into town.

The golden day had turned a muddy brown fading to gray from the smoke that still coated the sky overhead. It was an oppressive color, slate and cold. It seemed so out of place here.

“We’ve got to find my Uncle Dez,” he heard himself say. “He has a shop in the compound! Come on! Come on!”

Ardo and Melani struggled to move through the center of the township, now crowded with refugees. Helaman originally had been nothing but an outpost in the far reaches of Bountiful. Its town center was the original fortress compound with the defensive wall encompassing the main buildings. Since then, the town had grown well beyond those central walls. Now more than ten thousand people called Helaman their home—and nearly all of them had poured into the safety of the old fortress compound.

He could just see the sign “Dez Hardwarez” across the packed central square.

The rattle of automatic weapons clattered suddenly from the perimeter wall. Two dull explosive thuds resounded, followed by even more chattering machine guns.

A cry arose from the crowd in the square. Ardo felt more than heard the fear in the seething mob. Shouts rang out, some strident and others calming. The smoke overhead cast an oppressive veil over the surging mob.

“Please, Ardo!” Melani said, “I… Where do we go? What do we do?”

Ardo glanced around. He could taste the panic in the air.

“We just need to get across the square,” he choked out, then, seeing the look in her eyes. “We’ve done it hundreds of times.”

“But, Ardo—”

“It isn’t any farther than it was before. Just a little more crowded, that’s all.” Ardo looked at the tears welling up in those beautiful blue eyes. He squeezed her hand tightly. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right here with you.”

Somehow, they were halfway across the square when it came.

A sheet of flame erupted beyond the fortress’s outer wall. Its crimson light flashed against the blanket of smoke that hung oppressively over the town. The blood-red hue electrified the panicked crowd in the square. Screams, shouts, and cries all tumbled into a cacophony of sound, but several disembodied voices penetrated Ardo’s thoughts clearly.

“Where are the Confederacy forces? Where are the Marines?”

“Don’t argue with me! Get the children! Stay together!”

“It can’t be the Zerg! They couldn’t have penetrated so far into the Confederacy…”

Zerg? Ardo had heard rumors about them. Nightmares, so he thought, to scare children or keep outsiders from settling in the Outer Colonies. He could not remember all the whispered tales, but the nightmare was here now, and very real.

Another voice penetrated his thoughts. He turned toward her.

“Ardo, I’m frightened!” Melani’s eyes were wide and liquid. “What is it? What’s going on?”

Ardo opened his mouth. He could not answer her question. No words came out. There were so many words he wanted to say to her in that moment—so many words that he would regret never having said for uncounted years to come. But no words came out.

A light flared. He felt the heat on his back. He turned, holding Melani behind him.

The eastern wall had been breached. The old rampart was being pulled down from the other side, dismantled before Ardo’s eyes. It seemed as though a dark wave was breaking against the breach, an undulating silhouette. Then details lodged in his mind: a gleaming purple carapace, red-streaked ivory claws sliding from a colonist’s limp body, the arching, snakelike bodies writhing across the broken stone.

It was unthinkable…. The nightmare had come to Bountiful.

The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the square roared their deep fear and turned to run from the breach. There was nowhere to go. Zerg Hydralisks had already crested the opposite wall, cascading into the street like black drops from a greasy spill. Within moments, hideous cobra-like hoods had unfolded above their razor-sharp talons. They arched their tails upward. Armored spikes exploded from their serrated shoulder sockets and darted with deadly effect into the western edge of the crowd.

Those facing the new threat suddenly tried to reverse direction, crushing back into the surging crowd behind them.

Ardo heard Melani gasp behind him. “I can’t… I can’t breathe…”

The mob was crushing them. Ardo looked desperately around him, trying to find a way out.

Movement overhead caught his eye. A bloated, bulbous form like a disembodied brain drifted over the colony wall. Tendrils hung like viscera beneath it, quivering with activity. It was reaching down for the center of the crowd. Ardo had heard tales in which the Zerg had captured colonists and taken them alive to a fate that could only be worse than death.

Tears flooded Ardo’s eyes. There was nowhere to go and nothing left to do.

Suddenly the Zerg Overlord drifting above the colony shuddered and slid sideways. Several explosions erupted from the side of the hideous beast. The Overlord exploded in an enormous fireball. The Zerg Hydralisks entering the compound suddenly hesitated.

A wing of five Confederacy Wraith fighters ripped through the smoke overhead, the scream of their engines nearly drowning out the cries of the terrified crowd below. Twenty-five-millimeter burst lasers pulsed repeatedly as the Wraiths wheeled through the air, the bolts slamming against targets on the far side of the crumbling fortress wall.

One of the Wraiths wavered suddenly, then exploded under a hail of ground fire from the outraged Zerg.

The Zerg who had entered the compound were pressing their attack, killing some and dragging others off without apparent distinction. They had corralled the humans; now all they had to do was harvest them from the edges of the crowd inward. A second flight of Wraiths tore through the smoke blackened sky. Then a single Confederacy Dropship ripped through the air, spinning in a rapid breaking maneuver and descending toward the square. The downblast from the engines created an instant hurricane on the ground. Trees bent over nearly double. It was impossible to hear anything over the roar of the engines. People all about Ardo tumbled to the ground, shielding themselves from the gale.

Ardo blinked through the dust. The Dropship continued to hover but managed somehow to lower its transport ramp into the square. He could see the silhouetted figure of a Confederacy Marine beckoning to them.

Everyone else in the square saw the Marine also. Mindlessly they charged the ramp. A human tide pulled Ardo along.

He lost Melani’s hand.

“Melani!” he screamed. He tried to fight against the crushing press of the panicked crowd. His words were lost in the roar of the Dropship’s engines. “Melani!”

He saw her behind him. The Zerg were pressing their attack with anger now. The Dropship was depriving them of their prize. Ardo was appalled at how quickly the large crowd had been sundered—harvested like blood-red wheat in the field. The Zerg were already nearly at Melani’s side.

Ardo clawed and fought. He screamed.

Three Hydralisks grasped Melani at once, dragging her back from the edge of the crowd.

“Please, Ardo!” she wept. “Don’t leave me alone!” The mindless mob pushed him farther into the ship.

Zerg claws suddenly rang against the sides of the Dropship. The pilot had played out all the time his luck would afford. The ship responded instantly to his command, lurching upward away from the Zerg and bearing Ardo away from his home, his life, and his love.

“Don’t leave me alone!” Those were her last words to him, pounding through his mind and soul, louder and louder, threatening to burst his skull…

Ardo’s world went black. It would stay black for a very long time.

Copyright ? 2002 by Blizzard Entertainment

Starcraft: Ghost: Nova - Excerpt

November 2006
Pocketbook, 320 pages


Description

Four years after the end of the Brood War, Emperor Arcturus Mengsk has rebuilt much of the Terran Dominion and consolidated a new military force despite an ever-present alien threat. Within this boiling cauldron of strife and subversion, a young woman known only as Nova shows the potential to become Mengsk’s most lethal and promising “Ghost” operative. Utilizing a combination of pure physical aptitude, innate psychic power, and advanced technology, Nova can strike anywhere with the utmost stealth. Like a phantom in the shadows, she exists only as a myth to the enemies of the Terran Dominion.

Yet Nova wasn’t born a killer. She was once a privileged child of one of the Old Families of the Terran Confederacy, but her life changed forever when a rebel militia murdered her family. In her grief, Nova unleashed her devastating psychic powers, killing hundreds in a single, terrible moment. Now, on the run through the slums of Tarsonis, she is unable to trust anyone. Pursued by a special agent tasked with hunting down rogue telepaths, Nova must come to terms with both her burgeoning powers and her guilt—before they consume her and destroy everything in her path….

Product Details
Pocket Star, November 2006
Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-10: 0-7434-7134-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-7134-3

Excerpt

As soon as she felt Cliff Nadaner’s mind, Nova knew that she could destroy her family’s murderer with but a thought. She’d spent days working her way through the humid jungles of the smallest of the ten continents of Tyrador VIII. ‘Funny how I tried so hard to avoid this planet’s twin, and now I wind up here’, she had thought when the drop-pod left her smack in the middle of the densest part of the jungle—before the rebels had a chance to lock onto the tiny pod, or so her superiors on the ship in high orbit insisted. The eighth planet in orbit of Tyrador was locked in a gravitational dance with the ninth planet, similar to that of a regular planet and a moon, but both worlds were of sufficient size to sustain life. They also both had absurd extremes of climate, thanks to their proximity to each other—if Nova were to travel only a few kilometers south, farther from Tyrador VIII’s equator, the temperature would lower thirty degrees, the humidity would disappear, and she’d need to adjust her suit’s temperature control in the other direction.

For now, though, the form-fitting white-with-navy-blue-trim-suit—issued by her teachers at the Ghost Academy when her training was complete—was set to keep her cool, which it did, up to a point. The suit covered every inch of her flesh save her head. The circuity weaved throughout the suit’s fabric might interfere with Nova’s telepathy, and since her telepathy was pretty much the entire reason WHY she was training to become a Ghost, it wouldn’t do to interfere with THAT. This suit wasn’t quite the complete model she would be using when she became a Ghost—for one thing, the circuitry that allowed the suit to go into stealth mode had yet to be installed. Once that happened, Nova would be able to move about virtually undetected—certainly invisible to plain sight and most passive scans. But she wasn’t ready for that yet. First she had to accomplish this mission.

The suit’s design meant that sweat dropped into her eyes and plastered the bangs of her blond hair to her scalp. The ponytail she kept the rest of her hair in was like a heavy damp rope hanging off the back of her head.

“At least the rest of my body is comfortable”.

The suit’s stealth mode would probably have been redundant in this jungle in any case. The flora of Tyrador VIII was so thick, and the humid air so hazy, she only knew what was a meter in front of her from the sensor display on the suit’s wrist unit. Intelligence Section told her that Cliff Nadaner was headquartered somewhere in the jungle on this planet. They weren’t completely sure where—though still only a trainee, albeit not for much longer, Nova had already learned that the first half of IS’s designation was a misnomer—but they had intercepted several communiqu?s that their cryptographers insisted used the code tagged for Nadaner.

In the waning days of the Confederacy, Nadaner was one of many agitators who spoke out against the Old Families and the Council and the Confederacy in general. He was far from the only one who did so. The most successful, of course, was the leader of the Sons of Korhal, Arcturus Mengsk—in fact, he was so successful that he actually did overthrow the Confederancy of Man and replaced it with the Terran Dominion, of which he was now the emperor and supreme leader. Nadaner did somewhat more poorly in the field of achieving political change, though he was very skilled at causing trouble and killing people.

Days of plowing through the jungle had revealed nothing. All Nova was picking up was random black ground radiation, plus signals from the various satellites in orbit of the planet, holographic signals from various wild animals that scientists had tagged for study in their natural habitat, and faint electromagnetic signatures from the outer reaches of this continent or one of the other nine more densely populated ones. All of it matched existing Tyrador VIII records and therefore could be discarded as not belonging to the rebels. And now she was reading a completely dead zone about half a kilometer ahead, at the extreme range of the sensors in her suit.

“This is starting to get frustrating”.

She had completely lost track of time. Had it been four days? Five? Impossible to tell, since this planet’s fast orbit gave it a shorter day than what she was accustomed to on Tarsonis, with its twenty-seven-hours day. She supposed she could have checked the computer built into her suit, but for some reason she thought that would be cheating.

“Let’s see, I’ve got enough rations for a month, which means ninety packs. I’ve been eating pretty steadily, more or less on track for three squares a day, and I’ve gone through fourteen packs, so that makes—“

Then, suddenly, it hit her.

“A dead zone.”

She adjusted the sensors from passive scan to active scan. Sure enough, they didn’t pick up a thing—nothing from the satellites, nothing from the animal tags, nothing from the cities farther south.

Nothing at all. Nova smiled. She cast her mind outward gently and surgically—not forcefully and sloppily, the way she always had back in the Gutter—and sought out the mind of the man who killed her family. In truth, Nadaner had not personally killed her family. That was done by a man named Gustavo McBain, a former welder who was working a construction contract on Mar Sara when the Confederates ordered the destruction of Korhal IV—an action that killed McBain’s entire family, including his pregnant wife Danielle, their daughter Natasha, and their unborn son. McBain had sworn that the Confederacy of Man would pay for that action. However, instead of joining Mengsk—himself the child of a victim of Korhal IV’s bombardment with nuclear weapons—he looked up with Cliff Nadaner’s merry band of agitators. Nova learned all that when she killed McBain. Telepathy made it impossible for a killer not to know her victim intimately. McBain’s last thoughts were of Daniella, Natasha, and his never-named son. Now, three years later, having come to the end of her Ghost training, her “graduation” assignment, which came from Emperor Mengsk himself, was to be dropped in the middle of Tyrador VIII’s jungle, and to seek, locate, and destroy the rest of Nadaner’s group. Mengsk had even less patience for rebel groups than the government his own rebel group had overthrown.

Within five minutes, she found the mind she was looking for. It wasn’t hard, once she had a general location to focus on, especially since they were the first higher-order thoughts she’d come across since the drop-pod opened up and disintegrated. (Couldn’t risk Dominion tech getting into the wrong hands, after all. If she completed her mission, they’d send a ship to extract her, since then they could land a ship without risk, as Nadaner’s people would be dead, and her suit was designed to do to her what was done to the drop-pod if her life signs ceased. Couldn’t risk Dominion telepaths getting into the wrong hands, either, dead or alive.)

It was Nadaner. Also about a dozen of Nadaner’s associates, but their thoughts were focused on Nadaner—those that were focused at all. The man himself was chanting something. No, singing. He was singing a song, and half his people were drunk, no doubt secure in the kinowledge that no one would find them in their jungle location, with its dampening field blocking any signals. It probably never occurred to them that an absence of signals would be just as big as a signpost.

“Complacent people are easier to kill”, she thought, parroting back one of Seargent Hartley’s innumerable one-sentence life sessions.

She was to kill them from a d

istance, using her telepathy. Yes, her training was complete, and sh
e should have been able to take down Nadaner and his people physically with little difficulty—espacially since half of them were three sheets to the wind—but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to get close enough to feel their minds clearly and then kill them psionically.

That was the mission. For the next two hours, Nova ran through the jungle, getting closer to her goal. After her “graduation”, the suit would be able to increase her speed, allowing her to run this same distance in a quarter of the time, but that circuitry hadn’t been installed, either.

“The hell with the mission. That bastard ordered McBain and the rest of his little gang of killers to murder my family. I want to see his face when I kill him right back.”

Soon, she reached the dead zone. She could hear Nadaner’s thoughts as cleary as if he’d been whispering in her ear. He’d finished singing and was now telling a story of one of his exploits in the Confederate Marines before he got fed up, quit, and started his revolution, a story that Nova knew was about ninety percent fabrication. He had been in the Marines, and he had been on Antiga Prime once, but that was where his story’s intersection with reality ended.

With just one thought, she could kill him. End him right there.

“That is the mission. You don’t need to see his face, you can feel his mind! You’ll know he’s dead with far more surety than if you just saw him, his eyes rolling up in his head, blood leaking out of his eyes and ears and nose from the brain hemorrhaging. Kill him now.”

Suddenly, she realized what day it was.

“Fourteen packs, which means the better part of three days. Which means today’s my eighteenth birthday. It’s been three years to the day since Daddy told me I was coming to this very star system.”

She shook her head, even as Nadaner finished his story, and started another one, which had even less truth than the first.

A tear ran slowly down Nova’s cheek. “It was such a good party, too…”

  • To find out more … order
    Starcraft Ghost: Nova Pocket Book
  • Read our Interview with its writer Keith R.A. DeCandido—veteran of Star Trek Pocket Books

Starcraft: The Dark Templar Trilogy Vol. 1, First Born - Excerpt

May 2007
Pocket Book, 352 pages

Description



Jake Ramsey—an unassuming, yet talented archaeologist—has been given the chance of a lifetime. Hired to investigate a recently unearthed Xel’Naga temple, he knows this latest assignment will open up whole new possibilities for his career. Yet, when Jake discovers the remains of a long-dead protoss mystic, his hopes and dreams are irrevocably drowned in a flood of alien memories. Bonded to the spirit of the dead protoss, Jake has become the sole inheritor of the protoss’s total history—every event, every thought—every feeling.

Struggling to maintain his own fragile identity amidst the raging psychic storm in his mind, Jake soon realizes that he has stumbled upon a secret so cataclysmic in magnitude—that it will shake the very foundations of the universe.

FIRSTBORN

An original tale of space warfare based on the bestselling computer game series from Blizzard Entertainment.

Starcraft: The Dark Templar Trilogy Vol. 2, Shadow Hunters - Excerpt


Starcraft: Dark Templar, book two: Shadow Hunters

Description

 

An original tale of space warfare based on the bestselling computer game series from Blizzard Entertainment.

Driven by the living memories of a long-dead protoss mystic and hounded by the Queen of Blades’ ravenous zerg, archaeologist Jake Ramsey embarks on a perilous journey to reach the fabled protoss homeworld of Aiur.

Seeking a vital piece of protoss technology, Jake finds that Aiur has been overrun by the zerg. Descending into the shadowy labyrinths beneath the planet’s surface, he must find the sacred crystal before time runs out—for him…and the universe itself.

Yet, what Jake discovers beneath Aiur is a horror beyond his wildest nightmares—Ulrezaj—an archon comprised of the seven most deadly and powerful dark templar in history….

EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE

In the darkness, there was order.

Her haven was inviolable. She was queen of all she surveyed, and her vision was vast.

What those who served her unquestioningly knew, was her knowledge. What they saw, was her sight. What they felt, were her feelings. Unity, complete and utter, shivering along her nerves, racing in her blood. A unity that began with the lowest and most base of her creations and ended with her.

“All roads lead to Rome” was a saying she remembered from when she was weak and fragile, her mighty spirit encased in human flesh, when her heart could be softened by such things as loyalty, devotion, friendship, or love. It meant that all paths led to the center, to the most important thing in the world.

She, Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, was the most important thing in the world of every zerg who flew, crept, slithered, or ran. Each breath, each thought, each movement of the zerg, from the doglike beasts to the mighty overlords, lived but by her whim. Lived to service her whim.

All roads led to Rome.

All roads led to her.

She shifted in the damp, dark place, flexing wings that were sharp and bony and devoid of membrane as she might have rolled her neck to ease tension when she was a human woman. The walls pulsated, oozing a thick, viscous substance, and she was as aware of that as she was of the larvae hatching in the pods, as she was of an overlord on a distant planet assimilating a new strain into the whole. As she was of her own discontent.

Kerrigan rose and paced. She was beginning to grow impatient. Before her arrival as their queen, she knew, the zerg had had a mission. To grow, to absorb, to become perfect, as their creators had wanted them to be. Their creators, whom they had turned on without so much as a breath of conscience. Sarah Kerrigan understood the idea of “conscience.” There had been moments, even in this glorious new incarnation, where she had had twinges of it. She did not see such a thing as a weakness, but as an advantage. If one thought like one’s enemies, one could defeat them.

The zerg were still on that mission under her guidance. But she had brought something new into the mix: the pleasure of revenge and victory. And for too long now, she had been forced to rest and recover, lick wounds, and fall back on the original mission. Certainly, she had not been idle over the last four years. She had rested here on Char, had found new worlds for her zerg to explore and exploit. The zerg had thrived under her leadership, had grown and advanced and improved.

But she hungered. And that hunger was not sated by moving from planet to planet and simply re-creating and improving zerg genetics. She hungered for action, for revenge, for pitting her mind—keen even as a human’s, awesome in its ability now—against her adversaries.

Arcturus Mengsk, self-styled “emperor” of the Terran Dominion. She’d enjoyed playing with him before and would again. It was why she had let him survive their last encounter, why she’d even tossed him a few crumbs, just to ensure he’d make it.

Prelate Zeratul, the dark templar protoss. Clever, that one. Admirable. And dangerous.

Jim Raynor.

Unease fluttered inside her, quickly quelled. Once, before her transformation, she had cared for the easygoing marshal. Perhaps she had even loved him. She would never know now. It was enough that thoughts of him were still able to unsettle her. He, too, was dangerous, although in quite another way than Zeratul. He was dangerous for his ability to make her…regret.

Four years of waiting, gathering strength, resting. She had been sick of slaughter, but no more. Now that she—

Kerrigan blinked. Her mind, processing at light speed, sensed something and latched onto it. A psionic disturbance, far, far distant. Of great magnitude—it would have to be for her to have picked up on it from so far away. But then again, she herself had been able to telepathically contact Mengsk and Raynor when she was undergoing her transformation—touch their minds and cry out for aid. Aid which had not come in time, and for that, she was grateful, of course. But what was this, that sent ripples out as if from a stone tossed into a lake?

It was fading now. It was definitely human. And yet there was something else to it, a sort of…flavor, for lack of a better word. Something…protoss about it.

Kerrigan’s mind was always on a thousand things at once. She could see through any zerg’s eyes, dip into any zerg’s mind as she chose. But now she pulled back from all the ceaseless streaming of information and focused her attention on this.

Human…and protoss. Mentally working together. Kerrigan knew that Zeratul, the late unlamented Tassadar, and Raynor had shared thoughts. But they’d created nothing like what she now sensed. Kerrigan hadn’t even realized such a thing was possible. Human and protoss brains were so different. Even a psionic would have difficulty working with a protoss.

Unless…

Her fingers came up to touch her face, trailing along the spines that lay like Medusa locks on her head. She had been remade. Part human, part zerg. Maybe Mengsk had done the same thing with a human and a protoss. She wouldn’t put it past him. She would put very little indeed past him. She herself might even have been the one to give him the idea.

She’d been what was known as a ghost herself, once. A terran psychic, trained to assassinate, with technology that enabled her to become as invisible as the ghost for which she was named. She knew that people who trained in this program were made of stern stuff; the people who put them through the training, heartless.

Ripples in a pond.

She needed to go to the source.

What had gone wrong?

Valerian Mengsk couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His ships were just…sitting there in space while the vessel with Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl aboard made a successful jump. They were gone. He’d had them, but now they were gone.

“Raise Stewart!” he snapped. His assistant, Charles Whittier, jumped at his employer’s words.

“I’ve been trying to,” Whittier stammered, his voice pitched even higher than usual in his agitation. “They’re not responding. I can’t raise anyone at the compound either.”

“Did Dahl’s ship manage to emit some kind of electromagnetic pulse?” It was a possibility, but not a likely one; all of Valerian’s ships were well protected against such things happening.

“Possible, I suppose,” Whittier said doubtfully. “Still trying to raise—“

Eight screens came to life at once, with nearly a dozen people talking simultaneously. “Talk to Ethan,” Valerian ordered, leaning down to mute all the other channels. “Find out how it is that he managed to let them slip through his fingers. I’ll talk to Santiago.”

Santiago did not look like he wanted to talk. Valerian would go so far as to say the man looked positively rattled, but the admiral managed to compose himself. “Sir,” Santiago said, “there was…I’m not sure how to explain it—some kind of psi attack. Ramsey rendered us all completely unable to move until he jumped.”

Valerian frowned, his gray eyes taking in images of the others on the vessel. They all looked shaken in one way or another, but—was that young woman over there smiling?

“Let me speak with Agent Starke,” Valerian said. If somehow Jacob Ramsey and the protoss inside his head had indeed been able to send such an attack against his best and brightest, Devon Starke would know the most about it.

Agent Devon Starke was a ghost, one who had come perilously close to becoming a literal one a little more than a year ago. That was when Arcturus Mengsk had decided that the ghost program needed a serious overhaul.

“They are useful tools,” Mengsk had said to his son. “But they are double-edged ones.” He’d frowned into his port. Valerian knew he was thinking about Sarah Kerrigan. Mengsk had helped Kerrigan escape the ghost program, and for that he’d won passionate loyalty from the woman. Valerian had seen holos of her; she’d been beautiful and intense. But then when Kerrigan had outlived her usefulness, started to voice questions, Mengsk had abandoned her to the zerg. He thought they’d kill her for him, but they had another idea. They’d taken this woman and turned her into their queen. Thus it was that Mengsk had unwittingly created the being who was now probably his greatest enemy.

Valerian was determined to learn from his father, both the good lessons and the painful ones. A ghost who was loyal to you was a good thing; letting one out of your control was not.

So when Mengsk decided that he would terminate—in a controlled environment this time—fully half the current ghosts in his government, Valerian had spoken. He’d asked to have one.

Mengsk eyed him. “Squeamish, son?”

“Of course not,” Valerian said. “But I’d like one to help me with my research. Mind reading is a useful thing indeed.”

Arcturus grinned. “Very well. Your birthday’s coming up, isn’t it? I’ll let you have your pick of the litter. I’ll send their files over to you tomorrow.”

The following afternoon, Valerian was perusing a data chip containing the files of two hundred and eighty-two ghosts, two hundred and eighty-one of which would be dead within thirty-six hours. Valerian shook his head at the waste. While he understood that his father was dedicating all his resources to rebuilding his empire, it seemed a poor decision to Valerian to simply terminate the ghosts. But it was not his place to challenge or even seriously question his father on such decisions.

Not yet anyway.

One file in particular stood out. Not because of the man’s history or his physical appearance—neither was remarkable—but because of an almost offhand notation about Starke’s area of specialization. “#25876 seems to excel in remote viewing and psychometry. This predilection is counterbalanced by a proportionate weakness in telepathic manipulation and a less efficient method of termination of assignments.”

Translation—#25876, known now by his birth name of Devon Starke, didn’t much care to plant mental orders for suicide or murder, and didn’t like to kill with his own hands. Devon Starke could do these things, certainly, which was why he had not been terminated before now. Mengsk wanted tools he could use immediately. Later, when the empire was firmly established, there would be a place for those who could, say, tell who had held what wineglass and where their families might be hidden away. But that was later, and at this moment Mengsk wanted to keep the best assassins and at the same time send them a very firm message about what would happen to them once they were no longer useful to him.

Valerian knew well what had happened the last time Mengsk had a ghost who was “problematic.” Mengsk did not want that to happen again.

So for his twenty-first birthday, the day he had come of age, his father had given him another human being as a gift. #25876 had been freed from the cell where he had been awaiting death. The neural inhibitor that had been deeply embedded into his brain as a youth was removed, and Starke was permitted to remember his identity and history. He was also permitted to know why he’d been spared, and who had chosen him.

He therefore was utterly loyal to Valerian Mengsk.

Starke’s face appeared on the screen. Devon Starke was, like Jacob Ramsey, someone you wouldn’t give more than a passing glance. Slight, shorter than average, with thinning brown hair and an unremarkable face, the only memorable thing about Devon was his voice. It was a deep, musical baritone, the sort of voice that immediately caught and held one’s attention. And because being memorable was not exactly what being a ghost was all about, Devon Starke had gotten used to seldom speaking.

“Sir,” Devon said, “there was indeed a psychic contact from Professor Ramsey. But I wouldn’t call it an attack. A delaying tactic, maybe, to allow them time to escape.” A pause. “Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private? I can step into my quarters and have you patched through.”

“Good idea,” said Valerian.

At that moment, Charles Whittier turned and looked at him, visibly upset. “Sir—I think you should hear this. Someone named Samuels; he says it’s urgent.”

Valerian sighed. “One moment, Devon.” He punched a button and turned to the screen Charles had indicated.

Samuels, dressed in medical scrubs and looking a bit panicked, was gesticulating. The sound came on in mid-sentence. ”—critical condition. They’re operating on him now but—“

“Hold on a moment, Samuels. This is Mr. V,” Valerian said, using the false name he had adopted when working with most underlings. Very few knew his true identity as the Heir Apparent to the Terran Dominion. “Calm yourself and speak clearly. What’s going on?”

Samuels took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair in what was obviously a nervous gesture. Valerian observed that Samuels’ hands were bloody and that the man’s fair hair was now clotted with the substance.

“It’s Mr. Stewart, sir. He was injured when Ramsey and Dahl escaped. He’s in critical condition. They’re working on him now.”

“Tell me what happened with Dahl and Ramsey.”

“Sir, I’m just a paramedic, I don’t know much about what went on, only that we have wounded.”

“Please, then, find someone who does know, and have him or her contact me at once.” Valerian nodded to Charles, who continued speaking with the flustered paramedic. Briefly, he permitted himself to wonder why someone who was trained in handling life-and-death situations was so upset by what had happened.

He switched back to Starke, who was alone in his quarters. “Do we have privacy?”

Devon grinned. “Yes, sir.” Devon had, of course, read the minds of the rest of the crew to make certain that their line was not being tapped. Having a ghost was so terribly convenient.

“Continue.” Valerian placed his hands on the table and leaned down closer to the screen.

“Sir…as I said, it was psychic, but it wasn’t an attack. There was nothing hostile or harmful about it. Somehow, Ramsey managed to link our minds. Not just mine to his…all of our minds. Everyone in this immediate area. And not just thoughts, but…feelings, sensations. I—“

For the first time since Valerian had known the man, Starke seemed at a complete and utter loss for words. Valerian could easily believe it, if this was indeed what had happened. This was protoss psi-power, not human. Only a tiny fraction of humanity had any psychic ability at all, and only a small percentage of those could do what the ghosts could do. And from all accounts, even the most gifted, most finely trained human telepaths were pitiful compared to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill protoss.

He hungered to hear more, but he could tell that Starke was in no real position to tell him. Pushing aside his impatience and burning curiosity, Valerian said, “I’m recalling your vessel and two of the others, Devon. We’ll discuss this more when you’ve had a chance to gather your thoughts.”

Starke gave him a grateful expression and nodded. His image blinked out, replaced by that of the vessel floating serenely in space.

Valerian tapped his chin thoughtfully. Now he understood better why the paramedic he’d spoken with seemed so shaken and distracted. If Devon had the right of it—and knowing his ghost, Valerian was certain he had—then the man had just undergone what was possibly the most profound experience of his life.

Not for the first time, Valerian wished he had the freedom to have been present when these miraculous things were happening, rather than hearing about them secondhand. To have been with Jake Ramsey when he finally entered the temple. To have felt this strange psychic contact that Devon was certain wasn’t an attack. He sighed. Noblesse oblige, he thought ruefully.

“Sir, I have a Stephen O’Toole who says he’s now in charge,” Whittier said. At Valerian’s nod, Whittier put the man through.

Valerian listened while O’Toole related what had happened. Rosemary Dahl had managed to take Ethan Stewart hostage, using her former lover to get to the hangar in Stewart’s compound. Once inside the hangar, fighting had broken out. Apparently someone named Phillip Randall, Ethan’s top assassin, had been killed—the witness said by the professor. Ethan himself had gotten a round of slugs in the chest from Rosemary. Fortunately a team had been on hand with sufficient time to get Stewart into surgery, although the prognosis was not good.

Valerian shook his head as he listened, half in despair, half in grudging admiration. Jacob Ramsey and Rosemary Dahl were proving to be more than worthy opponents. The problem was, he’d never wanted them to be opponents at all. None of this was supposed to happen. Rosemary, Jake, and Valerian should have been together in his study, sipping fine liquor and discussing the magnificent archeological breakthroughs Jacob had made. And perhaps that would yet happen.

It was a pity about Ethan. Valerian had poured a great deal of money into financing Ethan Stewart. If he died, it would be quite the loss.

“Thank you for the update, Mr. O’Toole. Please keep Charles apprised of Mr. Stewart’s condition. I’ve recalled three of my vessels but am leaving the others there for the time being. I will be in contact.”

It had been touch-and-go for a long while. Ten more minutes and it would have been too late. As it was, Ethan Stewart was a mess. Whoever shot him had done so at close range, but had been a bit impatient, which had meant he hadn’t stopped to make sure he’d finished the job. Paramedics had snipped off just enough bloodstained clothing to get an IV in one arm and lay bare the bloody chest, impaled with several spikes. The chief surgeon, Janice Howard, had deftly removed the spikes, and they lay in a glittering crimson pile on a table near the bed on which Ethan rested. One had gotten too close—she’d had to suture up a slice to his heart. But Ethan was incredibly fit and apparently as strong-willed in an unconscious state as he was while waking, and against all odds, they’d saved him.

She was closing up the chest cavity, daring to think the worst was over, when suddenly a harsh, wailing sound cut through the air and the room’s lighting changed from antiseptic white to blood red. Howard swore. “Hit the override!”

For a second, her assistants just stared at her. She knew what the sound meant, and so did they, but Janice Howard had taken an oath, and even if the base was under attack she wasn’t going to stop in the middle of a life-and-death operation.

“Hit the damn override!” she yelled, and this time the assistant obeyed. The sound of the Klaxons dimmed and the light returned to normal. Howard gritted her teeth, calmed herself, and returned to the delicate job at hand. She was almost done. A few moments later, she’d finished stitching up her employer like a cloth mannequin and let out a long sigh.

“Someone find out what’s going on,” she said. Samuels nodded and began trying to raise someone from security. She wasn’t overly worried for her personal safety or that of her team; the compound was complex and well guarded and the medical wing was located deep inside. Of more concern to her were the casualties elsewhere on the base. They’d already weathered one attack today; she wondered how many people they’d have to stitch up when it was all over.

She stepped back, peeling off her bloody gloves and disposing of them while her assistants cut away the rest of Ethan Stewart’s bloodstained clothing.

“Can’t raise anyone,” Samuels said. “Everything’s down.”

“Keep trying,” Howard ordered, fighting back a little flutter of panic.

“Huh…this is weird,” Sean Kirby said. Howard turned to look at him and her eyes fell to Ethan’s left wrist.

The clothing on the right arm had been cut away so they could insert the IV, but they’d ignored his left arm until now. The wrist was encircled by a small bracelet which had been taped to his skin. No, not a bracelet, a collection of wires and hardware—

“Shit,” moaned Howard, darting forward, blood still on her upper arms. She grabbed at Ethan’s hair, knowing now that it wasn’t hair at all, hoping she wouldn’t find what she knew she would, and tugged off the hairpiece.

A delicate netting of fine, luminous wires was wrapped around Ethan’s bald pate, held in place by small pieces of tape.

Damn it! There’d been no time to check for such things, he’d been within minutes of death when they’d found him and the surgery had begun almost immediately. It’d taken six hours. How long had he been wearing this thing before then? What kind of damage had it done? Why was he wearing it anyway, Ethan was no telepath—

Gunfire rattled in the corridor. All heads turned toward the doorway. All heads but Janice Howard’s.

“We’re medical staff; they won’t kill us, whoever they are,” said Howard, hoping to calm them. Howard did not look at the doorway, instead bending over Ethan and starting to remove the tape that fastened the softly glowing wires to his cleanly shaven scalp. She didn’t know much about these things. Every instinct told her to just rip it off, but she feared that might damage him further.

More gunfire, and screams. Horrible, shrill, agonized screams. And a strange, chittering sound, a sort of clacking.

“What the…,” whispered Samuels, his eyes wide.

Howard thought she knew what it was. She was pretty sure everyone else in the room had guessed as well. But there was nothing to be done, except their jobs. There were no weapons in an operating room; no one had ever expected they would need them. And if the sound came from the source Howard thought it did, it was unlikely that any weapon any of the doctors and assistants could wield would do anything but make them die slower. They had a patient. He came first. With hands that did not shake, she continued to unfasten the tape.

The screaming stopped. The silence that followed was worse. Howard removed the last piece of tape and gently disengaged the psi-screen.

A bubbling, liquid sound came from the door and a harsh, acrid odor assaulted her nostrils. Coughing violently and holding the psi-screen net in her hands, Howard turned. The door was melting into a steaming puddle, the acid that had dissolved it now starting to eat through the floor. Framed in the hole that was now the doorway to the operating room were creatures straight out of nightmares.

Zerg.

Her team stood frozen in place. The zerg, strangely enough, also did not advance. There were three of them that she could see, standing almost motionless. Two of them were smallish; she’d heard the term “doglike” used in training to describe zerglings, but now that she beheld them, they were nothing so pleasant. They waited, incisors clicking, red human blood shiny on their carapaces. Above them, its sinuous neck undulating slightly, towered something that looked like a deranged cross between a cobra and an insect. Scythelike arms, glinting in the antiseptic light of the operating room, waited, presumably for the order to slice off heads.

The zerglings drooled, fidgeting a little, moving slightly into the room so as not to be standing in the puddle of acid. The medical team backed up as if the creatures were indeed dogs, sheepdogs from old Earth, herding them into the corner. They went, terrified into obedience, confused that the creatures they were told would rip them to pieces on sight were not doing so. Thinking that maybe they might be deemed unimportant, and live to talk about the encounter over a beer somewhere someday.

Howard hoped that too. But she knew in her gut she was wrong. The zergling in the lead was staring at her intently, and Howard knew without knowing how she knew that someone other than the creature was looking through its eyes. Those black eyes, flat and emotionless, went from her face to her hands to the prone form of Ethan Stewart on the bed.

The cobralike thing—hydralisk, that was the name; somehow it was important to Howard to use the proper term for things, even now when the properly named hydralisk was about to kill her and the thought made hysteria bubble up inside her—reared back and spat something on Ethan. It was a strange gooey substance, and as she watched, it spread, rapidly encasing him in some kind of webbing or cocoon.

Attacking her patient.

“No!” Howard cried, the paralysis broken. A saver of lives to the last, she sprang forward. The zergling whirled on her, chittering with excitement, happy to be freed from its command to sit, to stay; by God it really was like a dog, wasn’t it—

She heard the screams around her as she hit the ground, and after that, heard nothing more.

Copyright

Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 1 - Manga Preview

DESCRIPTION

StarCraft: Frontline Volume 1
The brutal, dark and fascinating world of StarCraft comes alive in this collection of never-before-seen thrilling adventures.

Why We Fight
In this profoundly moving introduction to the StarCraft universe, the three species in StarCraft are examined—and what drives their war for survival will shock and awe.

Story by Josh Elder
Art by Ramanda Karmaga

Thundergod
In a story by Richard Knaak, a Thor driver’s ego leads him and two partners to try to pull off a heist in the middle of a war zone.

Story by Richard A. Knaak
Art by Naohiro Washio

Weapon of War
A psionic six-year-old boy is at the center of a conflict between a Terran mining colony and the Zerg—and the Marines and miners must decide whether to shelter the boy, kill him, or use him against their attackers.

Story by Paul Benjamin and Dave Shramek
Art by Hector Sevilla

Heavy Armor
A Viking pilot must battle his mentor—for the lives of an entire colony. Dogfight/mecha combat w/ a psychological/strategic edge.

Story by Simon Furman
Art by Jesse Elliott

MSRP: $10.99
PAGES: 192
ISBN: 1-4278-0721-3
EAN: 978-1-4278-0721-2

AVAILABLE: 08.01.2008

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Starcraft: I, Mengsk - Excerpt

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Sixty-thousand light-years from Earth, the corrupt Terran Confederacy holds the Koprulu sector tightly in its tyrannical grip, controlling every aspect of its citizens’ lives. One man dares to stand up to this faceless empire and vows to bring it to its knees: Arcturus Mengsk—genius propagandist, tactician, and freedom fighter.

A monstrous act of bloody violence sows the seeds of rebellion in Arcturus, but he is not the first Mengsk to rail against such oppression. Before Arcturus grew to manhood, his father, Angus Mengsk, also defied the Confederacy and sought to end its brutal reign.

The destiny of the Mengsk family has long been tied to that of the Confederacy and the Koprulu sector, but as a new empire rises from the ashes of the past and alien invaders threaten the very existence of humanity, what will the future hold for the next generation…?

 

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Warcraft Legends Vol. 1 - Excerpt

DESCRIPTION

Warcraft: Legends Volume 1
Hot on the heels of the bestselling Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy comes a stunning and truly awesome collection of original adventures set in the Warcraft universe.

Fallen
From Richard Knaak and Jae-Hwan Kim comes an intriguing follow-up to Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy. Trag Highmountain, the courageous Tauren who first made an appearance in Warcraft: Shadows of Ice, finds himself reborn…as one of the Undead.

Story by Richard A. Knaak
Art by Jae-Hwan Kim

The Journey
The arrival of a group of adventurers with promises of gold and excitement will disrupt a simple farmer’s life in ways unimaginable as he takes a nightmarish ride into Scourge-ridden Andorhal.

Story by Troy Lewter and Mike Wellman
Art by Mi-Young No

How to Win Friends
Lazlo Grindwidget is a Gnome engineer with a house full of seemingly useless inventions and a knack for saying the wrong things at the right time. But when a Troll goes on a rampage in town, Lazlo may be the only one who can sooth the savage beast.

Story by Dan Jolley
Art by Carlos Olivares

An Honest Trade
Nori Blackfinger is known from Thorium Point to Booty Bay as a master weaponsmith who will sell his fine blades to anyone with enough coin. But when he sells a sword to Havoc, the infamous bandit and murderer, the result is an adventure that begins in tragedy and ends in blood…

Story by Troy Lewter’
Art by Nam Kim

MSRP: $10.99
PAGES: 192
ISBN: 1-4278-0722-1
EAN: 978-1-4278-0722-9

AVAILABLE: 08.01.2008

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World of Warcraft: Night of the Dragon - Excerpt

DESCRIPTION

Grim Batol: its dark legacy stretches back into the mists of Azeroth’s past. But most know it as the site of a terrible tragedy—where the vile orcs corrupted the hatchlings of the noble Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza, and used them as weapons of war. Though a band of heroes, led by the enigmatic mage, Krasus, defeated the orcs and freed the captive dragons, the cursed mountain stands as another ravaged landmark within the…

WORLD OF WARCRAFT

But now Krasus—known to some as the red dragon Korialstrasz—senses the malice of Grim Batol rising once more to threaten those he holds dear. Determined this time to confront this evil by himself, he is unaware of the quests that will draw others to Grim Batol and reveal the monstrous truth that could not only herald their deaths, but usher in a terrible new age of darkness and destruction.

 

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World of Warcraft: Beyond the Dark Portal - Excerpt

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The aging orc shaman Ner’zhul has seized control of the Horde and reopened the Dark Portal. His brutal warriors once again encroach upon Azeroth, laying siege to the newly constructed stronghold of Nethergarde Keep. There, the archmage Khadgar and the Alliance commander, Turalyon, lead humanity and its elven and dwarven allies in fighting this new invasion.

Even so, disturbing questions arise. Khadgar learns of orcish incursions farther abroad: small groups of orcs who seem to pursue a goal other than simple conquest. Worse yet, black dragons have been sighted as well, and they appear to be aiding the orcs. To counter Ner’zhul’s dark schemes, the Alliance must now invade the orcs’ ruined homeworld of Draenor. Can Khadgar and his companions stop the nefarious shaman in time to stave off the destruction of two worlds?

PRODUCT DETAILS

Pocket Star, June 2008
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-10: 1-4165-5086-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5086-0

Authors: Aaron Rosenberg & Christie Golden

PROLOGUE

Throw down!”

“Shut up!”

“Throw down, damn you!”

“Fine!” Gratar growled, half-rising, his powerful shoulder muscles bunching. One arm whipped forward and down, fist descending in a blur—and his fingers opened, the small bone cubes spilling from them to clatter upon the ground.

“Hah!” Brodog laughed, tusks jutting up as his lips pulled back in a grin. “Only one!”

“Damn!” Gratar sank back down onto his stone, sulking as he watched Brodog again gather the cubes and shake them vigorously. He didn’t know why he kept throwing against Brodog—the other orc practically always won. It was almost unnatural.

Unnatural. A word that had nearly stopped having any meaning for Gratar. He glanced up at the stark red sky that filled the horizon, the sun a burning globe of the same shade. The world had not always been thus. Gratar was old enough to remember blue skies, a warm yellow sun, and thick green fields and valleys. He’d swum in deep, cool lakes and rivers, blissfully ignorant of how precious a thing water would one day become. One of the most basic needs of life, uncontaminated water was now brought in in casks and stingily parceled out.

Rising, Gratar kicked idly at the ground before him, watching the red dust puff upward, parching his mouth, and he reached for the waterskin and drank sparingly. The dust covered his skin, dulling the green hue, lightening his black hair. Red everywhere, as if the world had been drenched in blood.

Unnatural.

But the most unnatural thing of all was the reason he and Brodog were stationed here, whiling away the dusk-clogged day with idle games of chance. Gratar looked past Brodog at the towering archway just beyond them and the shimmering curtain of energy that filled it. The Dark Portal. Gratar knew that the strange mystic doorway led to another world, though he had not passed through it himself—none of his clan had. But he had watched as proud Horde warriors had entered the portal to win glory over the humans and their allies. Since then, a few orcs had returned to report the Horde’s progress. But lately there had been nothing. No word, no scouts; nothing.

Gratar frowned, ignoring the clattering sound of Brodog’s tossing of the bones. Something about the portal seemed…different. Gratar stepped closer to the towering gateway, the hairs along his arms and chest tingling as he approached.

“Gratar? It’s your turn. What are you doing?”

Gratar ignored Brodog. Squinting, he stared at the rippling veil of energy. What was going on beyond it, on that strange other world?

As he watched the curtain’s undulating shimmer grew and became more translucent, allowing Gratar to see through it as if through murky water. He squinted his eyes, peered intently—and gasped, staggering back.

Playing out before his eyes, as if he were watching a ritual enactment, was a fierce and violent battle.

“What?” Brodog was beside him in an instant, the game forgotten, and then he was gaping as well. They both stared for a second before Gratar regained his wits.

“Go!” he shouted at Brodog. “Tell them what’s happening!”

“Right—the commander.” Brodog’s eyes were still glued to the scene before them.

“No,” Gratar replied sharply. He had a gut feeling that what was about to happen would be more than his commander was prepared to handle. But one orc he knew might be. “Ner’zhul. Get Ner’zhul—he’ll know what to do!”

Brodog nodded and took off at a run, though not without glancing back a few times. Gratar heard him leave, but still his gaze was riveted to the battle that was so violent but so oddly veiled. He could see orcs, some of whom he thought he recognized, but they were fighting strange figures, shorter and more narrowly built but more heavily armored. The strangers—they were called “humans,” Gratar remembered—were quick and as numerous as gnats, swarming over the beleaguered orcs and overpowering them one by one. How could his people be suffering such a defeat? Where was Doomhammer? Gratar saw no sign of the massive, powerful warchief. What had happened on that other world?

He was still watching, sickly enraptured, when he heard the sound of approaching feet. He tore his gaze away to see that Brodog had returned with two others. One was a massive figure, larger by far than any orc and much stronger, with pale milky skin and heavy features. An ogre, and a mage, by the cunning Gratar saw glinting in his small, piggy eyes. More important than this towering figure was the orc who accompanied him, pushing his way forward right up to the portal itself.

Though his hair was gray and his face heavily lined, Ner’zhul, chieftain of the Shadowmoon clan and once the most skilled shaman the orcs had ever known, was still powerfully built and his brown eyes were as sharp as ever. He stared at the portal and the vaguely glimpsed disaster unfolding behind its

shimmer.

“A battle, then,” Ner’zhul said as if to himself.

And one the Horde is losing, Gratar thought.

“How long has—” Ner’zhul began. Suddenly the space framed by the Dark Portal shifted, its energies swirling violently. A hand thrust from the curtain as if it were rising from water, gleams of light and shadow clinging to green skin as it breached the barrier. A head followed, then the torso, and then the orc was through. His war axe was still in his hand but his eyes were wild as he stumbled, then caught himself, racing past Ner’zhul and the others without even looking.

Behind him came another orc, then another and another and another, until there was a flood of them, all racing to pass through the portal as fast as their feet would carry them. And not just orcs—Gratar saw several ogres emerge, and a group of smaller, slighter figures with heavy hooded cloaks bridged the gap as well. One warrior caught Gratar’s attention. Too tall and bulky to be a full orc, his features brutish enough to have some ogre blood in him, this one did not run with the air of panic the others did, but with purpose, as if he was running to something rather than from it. At his heels loped a massive jet-black wolf.

An orc shoved past this warrior as they stepped from the portal, snarling at the obstruction. “Out of the way, half-breed!” the orc snapped, but the warrior merely shook his head, refusing to be baited at such a time. The wolf, however, snarled at the orc before the warrior silenced it with a sharp hand gesture. The wolf fell silent, utterly obedient, and the warrior dropped a huge hand on the black head with affection.

“What has happened here?” Ner’zhul demanded loudly. “You!” The shaman pointed toward one of the unfamiliar creatures. “What manner of orc are you? Why cover your face so? Come here!”

The figure paused, then suddenly shrugged and stepped closer to Ner’zhul. “As you wish,” he said in a cold voice that had a slightly mocking tone to it. Despite the heat of the land’s baked, lifeless soil, Gratar shivered.

A mailed hand slid the hood back, and Gratar could not help crying out in horror. Perhaps the being’s features had once been fine and regular, but no longer. The skin was a pale grayish green, and had burst open at the juncture where ear met jaw. A thin trickle of ooze glimmered. Swollen, cracked, purple lips drew back in a smile as the eyes glowed with malevolent humor and a fierce intelligence.

The thing was obviously dead.

Even Ner’zhul shrank back, though he rallied quickly. “Who—what are you?” Ner’zhul demanded in a voice that shook only a little. “And what do you want here?”

“Don’t you recognize me? I am Teron Gorefiend,” the figure replied, chuckling at the shaman’s obvious discomfiture.

“Impossible! He is dead and gone, slaughtered by Doomhammer along with the rest of the Shadow Council!”

“Dead I am indeed,” the creature agreed, “but not gone. Your old apprentice Gul’dan found a way to bring us back, and into these rotting carcasses.” He shrugged, and Gratar could hear the lifeless flesh creak in slight protest. “It suffices.”

“Gul’dan?” The old shaman seemed more shocked by that revelation than by the sight of the walking corpse in front of him. “Your master still lives? Then you should return to him. You forsook me and the shaman tradition to follow his lead and become a warlock when you lived, abomination. Serve him now that you are dead.”

But Gorefiend was shaking his head. “Gul’dan is dead. And good riddance. He betrayed us, halving the Horde at a crucial moment and forcing Doomhammer to pursue him instead of conquering a human city. That treachery cost us the war.”

“We…have lost?” Ner’zhul stammered. “But…how is that possible? The Horde covered the very plains, and Doomhammer would not go down without a fight!”

“Oh, he fought,” Gorefiend agreed. “Yet all his might was not enough. He killed the humans’ leader but was overpowered in turn.”

Ner’zhul seemed stunned, turning to look at the panting, bloodied orcs and ogres who had rushed through the gates moments earlier. He took a deep breath and straightened, turning to the ogre who had accompanied him. “Dentarg—summon the other chieftains. Tell them to gather here at once, bringing only weapons and armor. We—“

The wave washed out of the portal with no warning, a massive energy burst that slammed all of them to the ground. Gratar gasped for breath, the wind knocked out of him. He stumbled to his feet, only to be greeted by a second explosion, more violent than the first. This time hunks of stone had been snatched up by the energy that powered the portal and came flying past them, chips and slabs and slivers and sheets. The curtain wavered, becoming opaque.

“No!” Ner’zhul raced toward the portal. He was still several feet away when the shimmering curtain of light flickered, contracted, froze—and then exploded. Stones and dust erupted from the archway. Ner’zhul was tossed into the air like an old bone, and struck the earth hard. Dentarg let out an angry bellow and rushed to his master’s side, scooping him up as if he weighed nothing. The old shaman lay limp, head lolling, eyes shut, a trickle of blood along his right side. For a wild moment energy screamed and shrieked about them all, howling like angry spirits. Then as abruptly as they had come the lights vanished, the curtain disappearing utterly, leaving only an empty stone portal behind.

The Dark Portal had been severed.

Gratar stared at that stone archway, and at all the Horde warriors who had escaped back through it one last time. Then he glanced over at Dentarg, and the elderly shaman cradled in the ogre’s surprisingly gentle grasp.

In the name of the ancestors…what would they do now?


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World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness - Excerpt

World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness
Pocket Star, August 28, 2007
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-10: 1416539905
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-3990-2

DESCRIPTION

After killing the corrupt Warchief Blackhand, Orgrim Doomhammer was quick to seize control over the Orcish Horde. Now he is determined to conquer the rest of Azeroth so that his people will once again have a home of their own in the…

WORLD OF WARCRAFT

Anduin Lothar, former Champion of Stormwind, has left his shattered homeland behind and led his people across the Great Sea to the shores of Lordaeron. There, with the aid of the noble King Terenas, he forges a mighty Alliance with the other human nations. But even that may not be enough to stop the Horde’s merciless onslaught.

Elves, dwarves, and trolls enter the fray as the two emerging factions vie for dominance. Will the valiant Alliance prevail, or will the Horde’s tide of darkness consume the last vestiges of freedom on Azeroth?

CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT

Despite himself, Lothar was impressed.

Stormwind had been a towering, imposing city, filled with spires and terraces, carved from strong stone to resist the wind but polished to a mirror sheen. But in its own way Capital City was equally lovely.

Not that Capital City was the same as Stormwind. It was not as tall, for one. But what it lacked in height it made up for in elegance. It sat on a rise above the north shore of Lordamere Lake, gleaming all in white and silver. It did not glitter as Stormwind had, but it glowed somehow, as if the sun were rising from its graceful buildings instead of beating down upon them. It seemed serene, peaceful, almost holy.

“It is a mighty place,” Khadgar agreed beside him, “though I prefer a little more warmth.” He glanced behind them, toward the lake’s southern shore, where a second city rose. Its outlines were similar to those of Capital City, but this mirror image seemed more exotic, its walls and spires suffused in violet and other warm hues. “That is Dalaran,” he explained. “Home of the Kirin Tor and its wizards. My home, before I was sent to Medivh.”

“Perhaps there will be time for you to return, at least briefly,” Lothar suggested. “But for now we must concentrate on Capital City.” He studied the gleaming city again. “Let us hope they are as noble in their thoughts as they are in their dwellings.” He kicked his horse into a canter, and rode down out of the majestic Silverpine Forest, Varian and the mage right behind him and the other men trailing them in their carts.

Two hours later they reached the main gates. Guards stood by the entrance, though the double gates were wide open and large enough for two or even three wagons to pass abreast. The guards had clearly seen them long before they reached the gates, and the one who stepped forward wore a crimson cloak over his polished breastplate and had gold traceries in his armor and helmet. His manner was polite, even respectful, but Lothar could not help noticing how the man stopped only a few feet away, well within sword range. He forced himself to relax and ignore the laxity. This was not Stormwind. These people were not seasoned warriors, hardened by constant battle. They had never had to fight for their lives. Yet.

“Enter freely and be welcome,” the guard captain stated, bowing. “Marcus Redpath warned us of your arrival, and your plight. You will find the king in his throneroom.”

“Our thanks,” Khadgar replied with a nod. “Come, Lothar,” he added, nudging his horse with his heels. “I know the way.”

They rode on through the city, navigating its broad streets easily. Khadgar did indeed seem to know the way, and never slowed to ask directions or puzzle over a turn until they had reached the palace itself. There they surrendered their horses to some of their companions, leaving them to mind the steeds. Lothar and Prince Varian were already striding up the palace’s wide steps and Khadgar quickly joined them.

They stepped through the palace’s outer doors and into a wide courtyard, almost an outdoor hall. Viewing boxes lined the sides, and though empty now Lothar was sure they filled with people during celebrations. At the far end another short flight of steps led up to a second set of doors, and these opened onto the throneroom itself.

It was an imposing chamber, its arched ceiling so high overhead its edges were lost in shadow. The room was round, with arches and columns everywhere. Golden sunlight streamed down from a stained-glass panel set in the ceiling’s center, illuminating the intricate pattern in the floor: a series of nested circles, each one different, with a triangle at their middle overlapping the innermost ring, and the golden seal of Lordaeron within that. It had several high balconies and Lothar guessed these were for nobles but also appreciated their strategic value. A few guards with bows could easily strike anywhere in the room from those vantage points.

Just beyond the pattern stood a wide circular dais, its concentric steps rising up toward a massive throne. The throne itself looked carved from glittering stone, all sharp edges and planes and angles. A man sat there, tall and broad, his blond hair only lightly touched with gray, his armor gleaming, the crown upon his head shaped more like a spiked helmet than a coronet. This was a proper king, Lothar knew at once, a king like his Llane who did not hesitate to fight for his people. His hopes rose at the thought.

There were people here, townsfolk and laborers and even peasants, gathered facing the dais from a respectful distance. Many carried items, scraps of parchment, even food, but they parted before Lothar and Khadgar, falling away from the pair without a sound.

“Yes?” the man on the throne called out as they approached. “Who are you and what do you wish of me? Ah.” Even from here Lothar could see the king’s strangely colored eyes, blue and green swirled together—they were sharp and clear, and his hopes rose still further. Here was a man who saw well and clearly.

“Your Majesty,” Lothar replied, his deep voice carrying easily across the large room. He stopped several paces from the dais and bowed. “I am Anduin Lothar, a Knight of Stormwind. This is my companion, Khadgar of Dalaran.” He heard several murmurs from the crowd now behind them. “And this”—he turned so that the king could see Varian, who had been standing behind him, unnerved by the crowd and the strange trappings—“is Prince Varian Wrynn, heir to the throne of Storm-wind.” The murmurs turned to gasps as people realized the youth was visiting royalty, but Lothar ignored them, concentrating only on the king. “We must speak with you, your Majesty. It is a matter of great urgency and major import.”

“Of course.” Terenas was already rising from his throne and approaching them. “Leave us, please,” he asked the rest of the crowd, though it was an order despite its polite wording. The people obeyed quickly, and soon only a handful of nobles and guards remained. The men who had accompanied Lothar faded back to the sides as well, leaving only Lothar, Khadgar, and Varian when Terenas closed the distance between them.

“Your Majesty,” Terenas greeted Varian, bowing to him as to an equal.

“Your Majesty,” Varian replied, his training overcoming his shock.

“We were grieved to hear of your father’s death,” Terenas continued gently. “King Llane was a good man and we counted him as a friend and an ally. Know that we shall do all in our power to restore you to your throne.”

“I thank you,” Varian said, though his lower lip trembled slightly.

“Now come and sit, and tell me what has happened,” Terenas instructed, gesturing to the dais steps. He sat on the top one himself and motioned for Varian to sit beside him. “I have seen Stormwind myself, and admired its strength and beauty. What could destroy such a city?”

“The Horde,” Khadgar said, speaking for the first time since they had entered the throneroom. Terenas turned toward him, and Lothar was close enough to see the king’s eyes narrow slightly. “The Horde did this.”

“And what is this Horde?” Terenas demanded, turning first to Varian and then to Lothar.

“It is an army, more than an army,” Lothar replied. “It is a multitude, more than can be counted, enough to cover the land from shore to shore.”

“And who commands this legion of men?” Terenas asked.

“Not men,” Lothar corrected. “Orcs.” At the king’s puzzlement Lothar explained. “A new race, one not native to this world. They are as tall as we are, and more powerfully built, with green skin and glowing red eyes. And great tusks from their lower lips.” A noble snorted somewhere, and Lothar turned, glaring. “You doubt me?” he shouted, turning toward each of the balconies in turn, looking for the one who had laughed. “You think I lie?” He struck his armor with his fist, near one of the more prominent dents. “This was made by an orc warhammer!” He struck another spot. “And this by an orc war axe!” He pointed to a gash along one forearm. “And this came from a tusk, when one jumped me and was too close for our blades to strike one another! These foul creatures have destroyed my land, my home, my people! If you doubt me come down here and say so to my face! I will show you what sort of man I am, and what happens to those who accuse me of falsehood!”

“Enough!” Terenas’s shout silenced any possible reply, anger plain in his own voice, but when he turned to Lothar the warrior could see that this king’s anger was not directed at him. “Enough,” the king said again, more softly. “None here doubt your word, Champion,” he assured Lothar, a stern look around daring any of his nobles to disagree. “I know of your honor and your loyalty. I will take you at your word, though such creatures sound strange to us.” He turned and nodded at Khadgar. “And with one of the wizards of Dalaran beside you as a witness, we cannot discount what you say, nor the notion of races never seen here before.”

“I thank you, King Terenas,” Lothar replied formally, reining his anger back in. He was not sure what to do next. Fortunately, Terenas was.

“I will summon my neighboring kings,” he announced. “These events concern us all.” He turned back toward Varian. “Your Majesty, I offer you my home and my protection for as long as you shall need it,” he stated, loud enough for all to hear. “When you are ready, know that Lordaeron will assist you in reclaiming your kingdom.”

Lothar nodded. “Your Majesty, you are most generous,” he said on Varian’s behalf, “and I can think of no safer and finer place for my prince to reach his maturity than here in Capital City. Know, however, that we did not come here merely for sanctuary. We came to warn you.” He stood tall, his voice rumbling across the room, his eyes not leaving Lordaeron’s king. “For know this—the Horde will not stop at Stormwind. They mean to claim the entire world, and they have the might and the numbers to make their dream a reality. Nor do they lack magical might. Once they have finished with my homeland—” His voice grew deeper and rougher and he forced himself to continue. “They will find a way across the ocean. And they will come here.”

“You are telling us to prepare for war,” Terenas said quietly. It was not a question, but Lothar answered nonetheless.

“Yes.” He looked around at the assembled men. “A war for the very survival of our race.”