Book 6 of the Death’s Collector Novels
The Apocalypse sucks.
Somebody must slay the Father of the Gods, but why does it have to be Bib?
The final war between the gods and their awful, eternal enemies is starting, and Bib the sorcerer finds himself fighting for the wrong side. He’d rather not be on any side at all and sit at home drinking heavily, but that’s not an option.
Bib is sent to find a weapon that kills gods, but other heroes are falling all over each other to find it too. Will the weapon go to the bravest and toughest? Great! Will it go to the worthiest? That may be a problem…
Find out now because it looks like there may not be a chance later.
If you like snarky humor, innovative magic systems, and memorable characters, read Death’s Collector: Dark Lands! It’s the sixth and final book in the addictive, sarcastic fantasy series The Death-Cursed Wizard by Bill McCurry.
“The universe creates suffering for the living. The universe doesn’t give a damn about dignity, though. Dignity is a human invention.”
– Bib the sorcerer
Sample from Chapter 1
If they gave out brass medals for bad decisions, mine would drag me to the bottom of the ocean. My wife used to smile and tell me that, so it seemed harsh that one of my decisions ended in her death. When somebody you love dies, you know that your decision was bad.
When the gods went to war, I believed that a big slice of the killing would be my fault. My wise friends patted my shoulder and rolled their eyes behind me, and they whispered about my ego being the size of a bull’s hanging parts. It was all terribly dignified in the way that certain people can insult you so much it’s clear that they love you.
It didn’t matter whether they loved me. They didn’t grasp how wrong they were, and they haven’t grasped it yet.
As the war began, I stood before one of the universe’s great, incomprehensible powers. He had caught me being inattentive, and he bitched at me with such force that my ears and eyes were bleeding.
Why was I suffering this indignity? I had recently found myself close to dying. I had decided to live, and the universe creates suffering for the living. The universe doesn’t give a damn about dignity, though. Dignity is a human invention.
The great, incomprehensible power that was bellowing and threatening me stood on the other side of a melting, smoking blue forest. Crazily, that didn’t worry me as much as the little white birds that flew out of the vast black hole in the sky, shitting rubies and sapphires. I noted all these phenomena as if I were making a list of outrages to complain about later, or to repair when I had time.
I faced all of that as a sorcerer should: with false objectivity, some real disdain, and a facial expression that I hoped would appear detached. Then I made the mistake of glancing above the trees again, and I remembered that I did not want to know that what I saw was possible.
“Well?” The deep, crushing word battered me, and I staggered backward.
I lifted my gaze to the speaker’s furnace-bright eyes, which forced me to observe his whole self, with apelike legs, a lizard-skinned human body, and a hawk-shaped head, displaying the least wholesome aspects of each creature. The monster’s name was Gek, and his glare fell on me from a height of nearly three hundred feet.
I stood tall to answer him, but when I opened my mouth, only empty breath came out.
Gek lowered his already rumbling voice. “Do you understand me?”
“Well . . . probably not, Mighty . . .” I trailed off with my eyebrows raised.
“I do not have a title, and I need no compliments. Don’t waste my time by telling me I’m wise or saying that my feathers are pretty.” Gek lifted his head the way someone does when they really do want compliments but say they don’t. His other name was Cheg-Cheg, Dark Annihilator of the Void and Vicinity. Anybody with a name like that had an ego that would take a regiment of soft-handed women to massage.
I almost succeeded in smiling. “I don’t believe I understood you, Gek. I thought I heard you say that you want me to kill the Father of the Gods.”
“No, that’s ridiculous,” Gek said, continuing to drool acid in streams onto the forest. “I don’t expect you to kill Krak. That’s impossible.”
I waited for some sign of laughter on Gek’s inhuman maw.
“You’re going to assassinate him. Or rather, you will make sure that he is assassinated, which is almost the same thing.”
I stared at Gek with my mouth open for a time that would have been embarrassing if I had been able to care what anybody thought of me just then.
“Well, you’ll figure it out.” Gek stretched his immense, knobby fingers. Each ebony claw stuck out from a fingertip as far as a man was tall.
I glanced down at Ella. She sat curled tight in the tall, purple grass, holding her head and weeping like a little girl whose dog had bitten her to the bone. I wished I could sit down and cry too.
Taking a breath so huge it hurt, I said, “Gek, why do you want Krak dead?”
The monster leaned forward and turned his head to examine me with one eye. “Don’t you want him dead?”
I considered that for a second and then nodded.
“Don’t worry about my motives then. You’re my servant. Go kill who I say to kill.”
I had agreed to become Gek’s servant before I saw him sprout into a great, horrifying monster. I swallowed and said, “Now that I see your true self, Gek, you should let me change my mind about this servitude business.”
Gek began descending as if he were walking down steps set into the ground. His head disappeared behind the forest. A few seconds later, he came out of the trees as a regular person of human size, paying no attention to the great barrelsful of acid that had drooled from his titanic mouth a minute before. He strolled toward me with a slight limp, helped by a cane.
Non-monstrous Gek was tall and thin, with blue-black hair and a beak nose, and he wore a green silk suit with high, black boots. He stopped three feet from me and said, “No. You can’t change your mind.”
To keep myself from cringing or running, I knelt to wipe Ella’s cheeks and murmur that everything was fine. Then I said, “Gek, send Ella back home. She couldn’t have known about any of this shit.”
“You dog-knocking bastard!” I froze. The insult had just hurtled out of my mouth, and now I felt cold all over as I waited for Gek to destroy us.
Gek chuckled. “As I said, I like surly servants. No, I won’t send her back. You can leave her here if you like. She will starve if she’s not eaten by herds of tiny carnivores first. I have seen people die that way. It looks distressing.”
I sighed. “You really can’t kill Krak yourself? Seriously?”
“I prefer not to, and before that vein in your forehead ruptures, you’re not going to kill him, either. You are unfit to assassinate the Father of the Gods.”
After a moment of silence, I asked, “Why am I not fit?” I heard myself say that and marveled that I could criticize Gek for having a big ego.
“You’ve been broken too many times. And you’re too old. Had we been discussing this ten years ago . . .” Gek shrugged.
“I don’t understand what you expect me to do then!”
“You will protect the assassin. You will escort her and hand her the weapon.”
“Who is her?” I asked.
“Your companion, Pil.”
“What? She’s not even grown!” I shouted.
Gek’s lips twitched upward. “But she is. Traveling with you has prepared her for this murder. You have trained her for it. And be honest, do you think the God of War named her the Knife because she cuts her meat in nice squares?”
“Gek, why do you think I can even get her there, wherever there is?” I swallowed. “I have a shitty record of keeping the girls in my care alive.”
“You can succeed now. I doubt that even you need to kill more than two little girls before you learn how not to do it.”
I reached for my sword. “Damn you! You sticky, hobbling rooster!”
“That’s better,” Gek said. I found that my hand bounced away whenever it got close to my sword. “As I said, she’s not a little girl. If you want her to die, go ahead and treat her like a child. Oh, I don’t need to tell you not to mention any of this to Pil.”
“Of course not,” I lied. I had already been thinking about where to find her when we got back to the castle.
Gek smiled at me, the bastard.
I burst out, “Damn it! Just . . . damn it to my father’s right fist! Why do you want all this? Pil and I are probably going to get killed, so what will it hurt for us to know?”
Gek gazed at me for a few seconds. “The gods are making war on us. If we lose, it will be a tragedy for the Void Walkers.”
“Oh. Well, a tragedy would be a bad thing, for sure.”
“It would be worse for mankind. The gods already treat you like pots full of jam to scrape out as fast as possible and toss on the ground. Does that sound accurate?”
“I suppose. Even a little poetic,” I said.
“Well, it’s not accurate!” Gek shouted.
Even though Gek wasn’t three hundred feet tall anymore, I found myself lying on my back, tasting blood.
Gek limped up to stand over me. “It is inaccurate because the gods do not scrape you out as fast as possible. They could do it a lot faster. They could bring mankind to such a state of primitive coarseness you would gaze upon a stone-tipped spear as a wonder to be revered. Bib, only we can defeat the gods. We can defeat them only if the final battle begins with Krak’s death. Only you can ensure that Krak dies that day.”
I stared up at Gek, using my sleeve to wipe blood off my nose. “Bullshit. That is operatic bullshit built around a fact or two.” It was a reckless and stupid thing to say, but I couldn’t help it.
Gek smiled. “Six facts. You should question them all. I recommend that you do so while you run, because you’re already being pursued.”
“I suppose I should get going then,” I said as I stood. I hadn’t given up on escaping this situation or cheating my way out of it, but I couldn’t do that with Gek there watching me and suspecting treachery.
“I will send you back to the Denz Lands.” Gek tapped his stick against the ground as he said it. “Once there, you should begin traveling immediately.”
“At this point, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t stand still.”
Before I drew another breath, I was standing beside my bed in the Denz Lands, inside the dim, chilly castle called the Eastern Gateway. I was naked, just as I had been when Gek took me away minutes ago.
Ella was standing beside the far wall, looking around with her blond hair falling into her eyes. She was wearing a long, blue cloak that suited her tall form. Blinking, she said, “That’s odd. How did I get here beside the wall? And whose cloak is this?”
“We shouldn’t have drunk that fourth bottle of wine, darling. I can’t remember much after dinner, but you said you liked the cloak. Can you remember anything?”
Pulling at the cloak’s ties, Ella examined the room. “No, I cannot. Bib, why is there an enormous ham under that table?”
That ham had been Ella’s sword before Gek transformed it. Even when she had been disarmed, Ella had tried to bash in Gek’s skull with the ham.
“I stored that there in case we ran short of food.” I grabbed my trousers from the back of a tall chair.
Ella rolled her eyes, but she didn’t seem fearful. Gek must have removed her memory of seeing his monstrous form. I wished he had removed my memory of that too.
I chatted with Ella while we dressed, and I considered how to send her away or leave her behind. Maybe Pil and I had to go fight the gods and die, although I wasn’t giving up on finding a way around that. But Ella didn’t have to go at all.
Ella smiled. “Come collect your weapon so we can practice in the yard.” She glanced around the room. “I feel like hitting something, and you are something. Have you seen my sword?”
“No,” I said, maybe a little too fast.
“Ah, so you have seen it! Did you take it away for Desh to enchant? No? For Pil to sharpen?” She grinned the way my sister would have when contemplating new jewelry.
“No. It’s probably under the bed.” I pointed. “I do need to talk with Pil, though, about a different thing.”
“Bib! You’re twitching like a sticky-fingered boy who stole a slice of cake.”
“No, I just need to talk to her about sorcery,” I said. “The gods. All those things you hate. You should come along with me—I’ll explain everything! It’s fascinating once you get past the immolations and sacrificing lambs and such. Very technical.”
Ella made a face. “It’s nothing dangerous, is it? If it’s dangerous, I will accompany you.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” I said. I felt a wild urge to tell her it was nothing worse than murdering the Father of the Gods, but I smiled to push down that urge.
“Very well. I shall be in the training yard when you wish to find me. I almost defeated the guard captain yesterday, and I believe I have determined his secret.” Ella kissed me and yanked open a cupboard to poke through it.
I marched down the hallway, intending to ride away as soon as I collected Pil. At least Ella would be safe, whatever happened.
When we had arrived five weeks ago, Desh and Pil had found a cramped storeroom on the ground floor and taken it over. Quite a few people now knew that the two sorcerers were busy in there enchanting crowns, building carriages that fly, and forging swords that burn with fire. It unnerved some people, but others found it novel and charming. I didn’t know what Desh was really creating, but I felt sure it was not charming. It was more likely to be devious and destructive. Pil was a quick study, but she had only worked up to enchantments that were useful and nasty.
Pil answered the door when I knocked. The young woman normally wore her black hair braided out of the way, but now it hung tangled halfway down her back. She used a grimy hand with two black bruised fingernails to push a lock back from her face. The other hand propped a heavy hammer over her shoulder.
Pil had a striking smile that I had seen distract even unfriendly people. Instead of smiling at me, she barked, “What do you want? Can it wait?”
“No, it really can’t.”
She opened the door wider and jerked her head for me to come inside. “Desh will be back in a few minutes, and you’ll need to leave then, so hurry up. I mean, don’t meander and tell stories about the old days.” She scowled, and I wondered what I had done to aggravate her.
I told Pil all about Gek and the assassinations, or I intended to. My first word became a sneeze instead. Excusing myself, I tried again but sneezed louder. I ran at the problem, pushing to get enough words out before Gek picked me up by the nose and slammed me into the walls, metaphorically.
A sneezing fit that left my eyes sore overcame me. Pil was holding out a rag that wasn’t too dirty. Then she watched me with her head cocked.
I needed another tactic, and since I couldn’t say anything about Gek or assassinations, I prepared to lie without shame. “Pil, I need a favor from you. It’s a big one, and I’m relying on your help.”
Pil held up a hand. “Bib, I’m sorry I was so rude to you, because I’m not mad at you. Well, really, I’m angry about you, or about me and you, and I’ve avoided this for as long as I can.”
“Well, let’s just avoid—”
“No, hush, I’m not done!” Pil grabbed a curved piece of metal off the workbench. “Do you remember this?”
“Sure, you found it in the Dark Lands. It’s one part of a trident. You called it a ’dent, which I thought was kind of charming.”
Pil shook the ’dent toward my face. “This is the broken weapon of a dead god, and do you know what it does? Nothing! All my enchanting has made it so magical it does not do a single darn thing!”
I waited, not sure what to say. I didn’t want to get in the middle of another sorcerer’s business, but Pil was throwing hers at me with both hands.
“This thing should be able to make people’s bones turn to water,” Pil snapped. “Or create a lake in the desert or make fifty people weep themselves unconscious.”
“None of that sounds entertaining, or even useful except in limited circumstances.”
Pil’s eyes widened, and I stepped back in case she swung that hammer at me. Instead, she slumped as the air eased out of her. “That’s not the point, Bib. Powerful sorcerers don’t give charming names like ’dent to god-weapons. That’s what I’ve concluded. What does that say about me?”
“That’s a rather foolish way to think.” I stepped toward Pil but reversed myself when she raised the hammer.
“That’s my point! You try to protect me, so I’m leaving. Really, I’m not that angry at you, or not too much. It’s just that when I leave, that will probably be the last time I ever see you, because you’re old, and I’m inexperienced, and the world is pretty good at killing sorcerers. Hell, I guess I am angry! That’s why I’m acting like a bitch, and I’m leaving tomorrow.”
I stared at her and considered all that. I didn’t quite know what Gek had in mind for Pil, but if she rode away on her own, I wouldn’t be able to protect her. I skimmed right over the fact that she was leaving for that very reason.
It shouldn’t take more than an hour to change her mind. I said, “I understand. You should leave, and I’d like a favor before you go. Ride with me this afternoon—”
“No! No more rides or errands or favors. I’m ready to go, and if I get distracted, it may take me another year to break free, so don’t ask.”
“All right.” I smiled and hoped it looked sincere. “I won’t stop you. Hell, I’ll kick your ass until you go away. Just let me ride with you the first day or two. I have some things to teach you that we’ve never talked about.”
I didn’t even blink at the lies I was telling her. I had started to fear she’d be dead in a few hours if she went away alone.
“You’re lying.” Pil gritted her teeth.
“Maybe, but you’re not denying it. Ella told me how to tell when you’re lying.”
That stopped me. I thought back on quite a few lies I had told Ella in the past six months. I had told them for good, noble reasons. Hadn’t I? I swallowed and then opened my mouth to lie about having lied. Desh shoved open the door, interrupting me. He strode in and glanced at me without slowing down. “Good, you’re here!” He grabbed his sword, which was propped in a corner.
Muddled shouting came from the hallway.
“Something’s happening at the throne room,” Desh said over his shoulder as he rushed into the hallway. “It doesn’t sound like something good.”
I poked my head out and saw Desh running down the hallway, followed by our profane friend, Stan, whose tall, purple hat flopped with every step. Pil pushed past me and chased them, holding her bare sword. The ’dent was shoved into her belt.
“Shit!” I had lost control of events from the moment Pil opened the door. I couldn’t have done worse if I had sat in the hall drinking wine and pitching rocks into the room without looking. I liked King Moris and wouldn’t mind helping him, but if I had to hack him apart to keep Pil alive, that would be fine.
I ran after Pil, cursing every third step.