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[Where I Read] The Death Gate Cycle


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And now an actual happy new year! :p



Gareth presents the prisoner to a magician, titled "Magicka". At least that's my assumption.

"Did he give you any trouble?" asked a well-formed man of perhaps forty cycles, who gazed at
Hugh with a sorrowful air, as though he found it impossible to believe that so much evil could
reside in one human being.
What, isn't he born and bred to walk in the company of Sorrow?

There's some interesting info worked into the text. He wears a brown velvet cassock to symbolize his dedication to earth magic (elementalism?) and is the house wizard, but he doesn't wear the stole of royal magus which he's coveted for quite some time and which the deceased lord - Rogar by name - never gave him.

Basically, it's there to inform us of politics ahead.

About three paragraphs after Hugh got gagged, the wizard demands that he's ungagged.

"Every man, no matter how heinous his crime, has the right to confess his guilt and cleanse his
soul. What is your name?" questioned the wizard crisply.

The assassin, gazing over the wizard's head, did not answer. Gareth smote Hugh rebukingly.

"He is known as Hugh the Hand, Magicka."


Hugh spit blood.
Way with words, that Hugh. The wizard seems to agree and assumes that Hugh's voice, manner and bearing make him a nobleman. Wait, what? He's got that smoldering inner fire thing, sure, but why does he assume Hugh's noble? Because he's really just that pretty? And he comments specifically on the voice he hasn't heard. Either he's dodgy or they've met before.

bone structure is strong. The nose aristocratic, the eyes exceedingly fine, although I seem to see
something of the peasant in the deep lines in the face and the sensuality of the lips. But there is
undoubtedly noble blood in your veins. A pity it runs black. Come, sir, reveal your true identity and
confess to the murder of Lord Rogar. Such confession will cleanse your soul."
Yeah, turns out Hugh is just that pretty to the wizard. Huh.

The prisoner's swollen mouth widened in a grin; there was a flicker of flame deep in the sunken
black eyes. "Where my father is, his son will shortly follow," Hugh replied. "And you know better
than any here that I did not murder your lord."
Ooh, Hugh insinuates more politics. He takes the time to remind whoever is in the vicinity that the magician is now the de facto ruler around the place until Lord Rogar's newborn son is old enough to take the role. Will he be wearing the purple mantle of royal wizards soon, just as he's done comforting the widow? It's not until he starts insinuating that his dagger was taken by magic that the wizard reacts.

The wizard lifted his hands. "The ground quakes in fury at this man's blasphemy!" he shouted.
The courtyard began to shake and tremble. Granite towers swayed. People cried out in panic,
huddling close together. Some fell to their knees, wailing and pressing their hands in the muck
and mud, shouting in supplication to the magus to ease his anger.
I guess wizards aren't bound by oaths to not do that kind of thing. It isn't until just after this that I realize that the wizard's name is Magicka, and that it's not a title of some kind. That must get a little confusing.

The wizard calms down a few moments later, but it's enough to have a paragraph consisting entirely of dark looks. Gareth looks at Hugh who stares right back, then looks at the wizard who does much the same. 'kay then. The wizard bemoans Hugh's insistence on not clearing his soul and requests the Block.

A weird little detail here; The executioner's block is made of marble. Marble doesn't occur anywhere near wherever this place is except Aristagon, "the land of the enemy". The wizard ruminates about wether it was smuggled and is thankful that it's covered with enough blood that it won't be recognized for what it is by Rogar's kin. It's very flavorful, but I'm not sure what's being established.

Then we get introduced to three-chop Nick.

Nick was a giant of a man and not one soul on Dandrak knew who he really was or what he
looked like. Whenever he performed an execution, he wore black robes and a black hood over his
head so that, when passing among the populace on a daily basis, he would not be recognized
and shunned. Unfortunately, the result of his clever disguise was that people began to suspect
every man over seven footspans in height of being an executioner and tended to avoid them all
So this person is a "giant of a man", therefore of unusual size, therefore... no one knows who he really is and everyone just avoids tall people? Wow, deduction skills ahoy.

Nick's a craftsman, or possibly amazingly bad at his job. Either way, he's popular. As his name suggests, he's never made a clean chop, always taking at least three blows. The victims are left screaming as he hacks at them with a dull sword, "as dull as his wits" even. I dunno, that sounds mighty witty to me. If he's going to be unpopular for his job, he might as well put on a show and make it entertaining.

Hugh won't do something weak like trembling or averting his eyes, but his breath comes quicker. That won't stop him from doing a spot of politics on his way to the block with Gareth.

"What you said about Magicka . . ." Gareth hissed the words in a low undertone, and, perhaps
feeling the wizard's eyes boring into his back, let the sentence stand unfinished, contenting
himself with interrogating the assassin with a glance.

Hugh returned his gaze, his eyes black hollows in the flickering torchlit night. "Watch him," he
Gareth nodded. -His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, his face unshaven. He had not slept
since the death of his lord two nights previous. He wiped his hand across his sweat-rimed mouth;
then the hand went to his belt. Hugh caught a flash of fire, reflecting off a sharp-edged blade.

"I can't save you, Hugh," Gareth mumbled. "They'd cut us both to ribbons. But I can end it for you
quick. It'll likely cost me my captaincy"-the knight glanced back darkly at the wizard- "but then,
after what I've heard, it's likely I've lost that anyhow. You're right. I owe that much to her."
Hugh's got an eye for weak spots, apparently.

Nick makes a big show of takig off his robes to not stain them (the kid who gets to hold them lords it over his friend) and takes a few practice swings. Oh, Nick. :)

Meanwhile, Gareth is forming excuses in his head for murdering Magicka just as Hugh is killed. Oof. Magicka wants to ramp up the tension some more.

"Halt," he cried. His robes swirling around him in the chill wind that had sprung up, the wizard
walked toward the block. "Hugh the Hand," said Magicka in a loud, stern voice, "I give you one
more chance. Tell us-now that you are near the Realm of Death-have you anything to confess?"

Hugh raised his head. Perhaps the fear of approaching oblivion had finally struck him.

"Yes. I have something to confess."

"I'm glad we understand each other," said Magicka gently. The smile of triumph on the thin,
aesthetic face was not lost on the watchful Gareth. "What is it you have to regret in leaving this
life, my son?"

The Hand's swollen mouth twisted. Straightening his shoulders, he looked at Magicka and said
coolly, "That I never killed one of your kind, wizard."

The crowd gasped in pleasurable horror. Three-Chop Nick chuckled beneath his hood. The
longer this death dragged out, the better the wizard would reward it.
Magicka smiled with cool pity.

"May your soul rot like your body," he said.
Hugh doesn't seem like a bravado kind of guy, but I guess he knows how it works. He refuses to be blindfolded, settling instead for staring at the wizard as Nick holds him down.

Gareth gripped his knife. Nick's arm muscles bulged, preparing for the downward stroke. Women
covered their eyes and peeped out between their fingers, men craned to see over each other's
heads, children were hastily lifted up to get a better view.

And then there came, from the gates, the clash of arms.
Aaand that's it for that chapter! But let's be fair, we probably all saw this coming.
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Haven't read these books in forever, so this is incredibly interesting to me. I never did read the entire series in order. I checked out the first couple books as a kid, could never find a library that had the last 3 books or so, and didn't finish the series until several years later.


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I remember the series. It was popular in the local gaming community back when. It was largely forgettable and nothing really stands out except for maybe the magic systems.

I remember liking them up through the last couple books but I vaguely recalling being put off by some stuff in the final two or three volumes.

ANT Pogo

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As I recall (it's been a few years), "magicka" is actually a general term for a magic-user, used in a slightly-derogatory fashion, the way someone who dislikes priests might call one "Preacher-man".

You're totally tearing this book a new one, it makes me feel kinda bad. I always felt the Death Gate Cycle was far too long and collapsed in on itself in the later volumes, but "Dragon Wing" was pretty good.

Or so I used to think, anyway!


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I actually love the first four books of this series. Footnotes and all, actually: These books and Terry Prachett's Discworld novels are the main reasons why I to this day have an enormous soft spot for footnotes, and a correspondingly irrational hatred of endnotes (which are guilty of the heinous crime of not being footnotes). Seriously, I wish more fantasy novels had footnotes.

The last three novels of the series, however, definitely decreased steadily in quality, such that the sixth book was so bad I never bothered to read the seventh. I really kind of wish they'd have just stopped with the fourth book.


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Three-Chop Nick is clearly the standout character of the first few chapters. :D
He kind of stands out, yeah. I always feel a little sad for him.

As I recall (it's been a few years), "magicka" is actually a general term for a magic-user, used in a slightly-derogatory fashion, the way someone who dislikes priests might call one "Preacher-man".
Possibly. As I said, at first I thought it was a title, but then the guy was directly addressed as Magicka which made me doubt it, and then a non-dialogue paragraph just refers to him as "magicka", not the magicka. And there's no footnote to help there, so maybe it's cleared up in the appendix or in a later chapter. I don't recall.

You're totally tearing this book a new one, it makes me feel kinda bad. I always felt the Death Gate Cycle was far too long and collapsed in on itself in the later volumes, but "Dragon Wing" was pretty good.

Or so I used to think, anyway!
Don't feel too bad, I'm still liking this stuff. It's pretty harmless, if a little teeny bit purple. :p

I feel the series really takes a sharp dip as early as Fire Sea (the third book), but it does its level best to get up again until the last two-three volumes. But I'll get to that when it rolls around.


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The world-building in those books is great. The plot and characters... not so much.


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aka the same place we're still in.

A gigantic shape and the beat of draconic wings herald the arrival of a possible threat in the gloom. The clash of arms outside the gates were the guards raising the alarm by beating their shields with swords... which, uh. They do have voices, right? I'm going to assume they're using both. It's noted that this could be a possible elven raid as retaliation for the elf lord these fellows captured and gently coerced into confessing Hugh's increasingly unlikely crime.

"Ignore it! Get on with the execution!" snarled Magicka.
Oh no you don't, not if Nick has anything to say about it!

But Three-Chop Nick demanded an attentive audience, and he had lost this one. Half of the
crowd was staring at the gate; the other half was running toward it. Lowering his blade with an air
of wounded pride, Nick waited in hurt and dignified silence to see what all the fuss was about.
Aw, Nick.

Gareth shouts that it's a real dragon and not an elf ship. So elven ships are winged and elves apparently don't ride dragons into battle, if at all. Now that's how you work some information in!

The battle dragon swooped low over the castle. A score of rope cables, glistening in the
torchlight, snaked through the air. Men leapt from the dragon's back, slid down the cables, and
landed in the courtyard. Everyone could see the silver insignia of the King's Own glittering on
their panoply, and the crowd muttered ominously.
And yet the image I get in my head is special forces roping out of a black helicopter. Except the helicopter is moving, and a dragon. That's pretty badass.

These guys quickly cordone off the center of the courtyard with shields and spears (which they were carrying on their way down. Badass) and shortly thereafter a lone rider appears on his own dragon. He's dressed in elegant finery, apparently the dress of a king's courier.

Almost everyone expected it to be a declaration of war against the elves of Tribus; some of the
knights were already looking about for their squires so that they might be ready to muster at a
moment's notice. It was, therefore, with considerable shock that those standing in the courtyard
saw the courier raise a hand gloved in the finest soft and supple leather and point at the block.

"Is that Hugh the Hand you are about to execute?" he shouted in a voice as soft and supple as
his gloves.
Plot twist!

"What if it is?" answered Magicka warily.
"If it is Hugh the Hand, I command you, in the name of the king, to deliver him to me-alive," said
the courier.
Right, everyone becomes uneasy and we're delivered an infodump on human politics. It's honestly easier for me to just quote the whole thing.

Until recently, the Volkarans had never known a king. In the world's very early days, Volkaran had
been a penal colony established by the inhabitants of the main continent Uylandia. The famous
prison at Yreni held murderers and thieves; exiles, whores, and various other social
embarrassments were shipped off to the surrounding isles of Providence, Pitrin's Exile, and the
three Djerns. Life was hard on these outer isles, and over the centuries, the isles produced a hard
people. Each isle was ruled by various clans; each clan's lord spent his time either beating
assaults off his own lands or attacking those of his neighbors on Uylandia.

Thus divided, the humans were easy prey for the stronger, wealthier elven nation of Tribus. The
elves gobbled the humans up piecemeal, and for almost forty cycles, the elves ruled both
Uylandia and the Volkaran Isles. Their iron grip on the humans had come to an end twenty cycles
earlier, when a chieftain of the strongest clan on Volkaran married the matriarch of the strongest
clan on Uylandia. Rallying their people, Stephen of Pitrin's Exile and Anne of Winsher formed an
army that overthrew the elves and hurled them-some of them literally-off the isle.

When Uylandia and Volkaran were free of occupation, Stephen and Anne proclaimed themselves
king and queen, murdered their most dangerous rivals, and, though it was rumored that they were
now intriguing against each other, the two continued to be the most powerful and feared force in
the realm. In the old days, Magicka would have simply ignored the command, carried out the
execution, and done away with the courier if the man proved obstinate. Now, standing in the
shadow cast by the pitch-black wings of the battle dragon, the wizard was reduced to quibbling.
tl;dr, humans only recently got together under this "kingdom" thing to combat the threat of the big elven empire and that's why Magicka can't kill Hugh. Keep in mind that this is placed in the middle of a conversation.

So yes, the wizard quibbles about justice and what Lord Rogar's honor demands, and the emissary smoothly reminds him that Lord Rogar owed fealty to the King and he wants a piece of that smolder-eyed Night walker, yo, and that's bigger than your local affair. He then adds a kicker.

...Everyone knows," added the courier, looking directly into Magicka's eyes, "that this
assassin has had dealings with the elflords of Tribus."

The wizard knew, of course, that Hugh hadn't had dealings with an elflord on Tribus. The wizard
also knew, at that instant, that the courier knew this as well. And if the courier knew this, then he
might know a number of other things-such as how Rogar of Ke'lith had truly met his death.
Caught in his own net, Magicka flopped and floundered.
Suck it.

The courier produces a warrant, which Magicka pretends to look over, noting that "Stephen" wouldn't make a mistake like not having it be in order. Stephen, therefore, is presumably the King. His royal device is a winged eye, which I find profoundly disturbing.

The courier commandeers a new dragon using the words "King's Business", which are almost magical in their infinite jurisdiction and capacity, rolls up his warrant like the totally smug bastard he's being and only then decides to pay a little attention to the body on the bier. Wow, dude, way to show respect. He extends his sympathies to the Lady Rogar... to Magicka, who just takes it with as much grace as he can muster.

The courier, smiling once again, began to slap his gloves impatiently against his thigh. Gareth
was leading the prisoner past the King's Own, but there was as yet no sign of a fresh mount.
"About that dragon-"

"Here, my lord, take this one," cried the old stablemaster eagerly, offering the reins of the lord's
dragon to the messenger.

"Are you certain?" queried the courier, glancing from the bier to the wizard. He was, of course,
familiar with the custom of sacrificing the dragon-no matter how valuable-in honor of the fallen.

Magicka, with a furious snort, waved his hand. "Why not? Carry my lord's murderer away on my
lord's most prized dragon! King's business, after all!"

"Yes, it is," said the courier. "King's business."
King's business are magic words. First they get him what he wants, now they're a threat. The King's Own form a tighter enclosure as the courier invites the wizard to come discuss whatever it is he's displeased with concerning the "King's Business".

"No, no," protested the wizard hastily. "King Stephen has no more loyal subject than myself! You
may assure him of that!"
Not gonna happen. Gareth, all tense about having barely escaped being ordered to fight these ultimate badasses, hands Hugh over to the courier who notes his injuries and orders that he be cut loose and unchained. Meanwhile, the stablemaster is very happy about not having to slaughter the Lord's dragon after all.

I note that dragons are treated pretty much exactly like fine horses. Not a glimmer of intelligence or dignity here, nosir.

Hugh seems relieved, if you can call it that. He sort of goes from being passive and stiff to just passive. And that's not an exaggaration, that's pretty much the entire difference noted in the text. Does he just have that kind of cool, or does he genuinely care so little?

Just as a final moment of awesome, the courier then requests a cloak for Hugh for the ride out of there, selects from the many offered a fine furred one and takes off.

The leader of the King's Own gave an ear-piercing whistle. The battle dragon flew down until the
ropes dangling from its back were within the soldiers' reach. Swiftly they climbed back up and
took their places on the dragon's large flat back. The dragon lifted its wings, and within moments
the shadow was lifted, the sky was empty, night's gray gloom returned.
Keeping in mind that they're still all in full gear, plus weapons... Bad. Ass.

The crowd is tense, and there's an oddly specific note about women slapping their unquiet children. Issues much? Magicka stalks away, and Gareth orders the pyre lit. He muses on Hugh as the flames consume his beloved lord.

"So you never killed a wizard? Hugh, my friend, you might yet get your chance. If I ever see you
again . . . King's business!" Gareth grunted. "If you don't show up, well, I'm an old man with
nothing left to live for." His eyes went to the wizard's quarters, where a robed silhouette could be
seen looking out the window. Having his duties to attend to, the captain walked to the gate to
make certain all was secure for the night.
Hugh makes impressions.

Forgotten, an artist bereft of his art, Three-Chop Nick sat disconsolately upon the block.
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