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Three Parts Dead

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Three Parts Dead

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Author: Max Gladstone
Publisher: Tor, 2012
Series: The Craft Sequence: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
Urban Fantasy
Magical Realism
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(77 reads / 41 ratings)


A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis's steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara's job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who's having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb's courts -- and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb's slim hope of survival.



When the Hidden Schools threw Tara Abernathy out, she fell a thousand feet through wisps of cloud and woke to find herself alive, broken and bleeding, beside the Crack in the World.

By the grace of fortune (or something else), she landed three mere miles from what passed for an oasis in the Badlands, a stand of rough grass and brambles clustered around a brackish spring. She couldn't walk, but made the crawl by sunrise. Caked with dirt and dried blood, she dragged herself over sand and thorn to the muddy pool at the oasis's heart. She drank desperately of the water, and to pull herself from death's brink she also drank the life of that desolate place. Grass withered beneath her clutching fingers. Scrub bushes shrank to desiccated husks. The oasis died around her and she crumpled to the arid earth, wracked with wounds and deep illness.

Dream visions tore at one another in her fever, lent strength and form by her proximity to the Crack. She saw other worlds where the God Wars never happened, where iron ruled and men flew without magic.

When Tara regained consciousness the oasis was dead, its spring dry, grass and brambles ground to dust. She lived. She remembered her name. She remembered her Craft. Her last two months in the Hidden Schools seemed like a twisted hallucination, but they were real. The glyphs tattooed on her arms and between her breasts proved she had studied there, above the clouds, and the glyph below her collarbone meant they really did graduate her before they kicked her out.

She fought them, of course, with shadow and lightning--fought and lost. As her professors held her squirming over empty space, she remembered a soft, unexpected touch--a woman's hand sliding into her pocket, an alto whisper before gravity took hold. "If you survive this, I'll find you." Then the fall.

Squinting against the sun, Tara drew from the pocket of her torn slacks an eggshell-white business card that bore the name "Elayne Kevarian" above the triangular logo of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, one of the world's most prestigious Craft firms. Professors and students at the Hidden Schools whispered the woman's name--and the firm's--in fear and awe.

A job offer? Unlikely, considering the circumstances, and even if so, Tara was not inclined to accept. The world of Craft had not been kind to her of late.

Regardless, her priorities were clear. Food, first. Shelter. Regain strength. Then, perhaps, think about the future.

Good plan.

She collapsed.

Silence settled over the Badlands.

A buzzard descended from the dry blue sky in tightening circles, like a wood chip in a draining pool. It landed beside her body, hopped forward. No heartbeat audible; cooling flesh. Convinced, it bent its head and opened its beak.

Tara's hand twitched up fast as a cobra and wrung the bird's neck before it could flee. The other gathering buzzards took the hint and wheeled to safety, but one bird cooked inexpertly over a fire of dry grass and twigs was more than enough to set a half-starved girl on her feet.

Four weeks later she arrived on the outskirts of Edgemont, gaunt and sun-blasted, seeing things that did not precisely exist. Her mother found her collapsed near their cattle fence. A lot of crying followed her discovery, and a lot of shouting, and more crying after the shouting, and then a lot of soup. Edgemont mothers were renowned for their practicality, and Ma Abernathy in particular had iron faith in the restorative powers of chicken broth.

Tara's father was understanding, considering the circumstances.

"Well, you're back," he said, a concerned expression on his broad face. He did not ask where she had been for the last eight years, or what happened there, or how she earned her scars. Tara would have thanked him for that had she known how. There were too many ways he could have said "I told you so."

That evening the Abernathy family sat around their kitchen table and settled on the story they would tell the other residents of Edgemont: When Tara left home at sixteen, she signed on with a traveling merchant, from whom she learned the fundamentals of Craft. The Hidden Schools never opened themselves to her, and at last, tired of dust and long wandering, she returned home. It was a good enough lie, and explained Tara's undeniable skill with contracts and bargains without stirring up any of the local fear of true Craftswomen.

Tara put the business card from her mind. The people of Edgemont needed her, though they would have chased her from town if they knew where she learned to use her talents. Ned Thorpe lost half the profit from his lemon crop every year, due to a bad arbitration clause in his reseller's contract. Ghosts stole dead men's bequests through loopholes in poorly written wills. Tara offered her services tentatively at first, but soon she had to refuse work. She was a productive citizen. Shopkeeps came to her to draft their pacts, farmers for help investing the scraps of soulstuff they eked out of the dry soil.

Over time she picked up the pieces of her childhood, hot cocoa and pitching horseshoes on the front lawn. It was easier than she expected to reacclimate herself to a country life without much Craft. Indoor plumbing was a luxury again. When summer came, she and her parents sat outside in the breeze or inside with windows shut and shades drawn to ward off heat. When cold wind blew they built fires with wood and flint. No elementals of air were summoned to fan the brow, no fiery dancers cavorted to warm cold halls. At school she had condemned such a life as simple, provincial, boring, but words like "simple," "provincial," and "boring" did not seem so pejorative to her now.

Once, she nearly took a lover, after a solstice dance on the village green. Staggering back tipsy and arm-in-arm with a boy she barely remembered from her days in Edgemont's two-room school, who had grown into a young man tending his family's sheep, she stopped to rest on a swell of ground and watch the stars in the fleeting summer night. The young man sat next to her and watched with her, but when he touched her face and the small of her back she pulled away, apologized, and left.

The days were long, and safe, but she felt something wither inside her as she lingered there. The world beyond Edgemont, the world of Craft more profound than a farmer's spring planting and the mending of small cuts and bruises, faded and began to seem unreal. Her memories of the Hidden Schools acquired the cotton haze of dream, and she woke once or twice from nightmares in which she had never left home at all.

* * *

The Raiders struck at night, three months after the solstice. Swift and savage, they took little, but at dawn three of Edgemont's watchmen lay on the field of battle, shrunken in death by a clinging curse that corroded anything that drew near. The villagers lifted the bodies on long spears of cold iron and buried them in a blessed grave. The chaplain said a few words, and as Edgemont bowed its collective head Tara watched him weave the town's faith into a net, taking from each man or woman what little soulstuff he or she could afford and binding it close about the loose earth. He was no Craftsman, but his Applied Theology was sound as such things went.

Tara was the last to leave the grave.

"I don't know how we'll manage." Father stood alone by their hearth after the funeral and before the wake, the whiskey in his glass the same color as their small early autumn fire. "They were good boys, and well trained. Held off the Raiders for years. We'll have to hire others, but we can't spare the price."

"I can help."

He looked back at her, and she saw a splinter of fear in his eyes. "You're not a fighter, Tara."

"No," she admitted. "But I can do more than fight."

"We'll manage." His tone left no avenue for appeal. "We've managed before."

She did not challenge him, but she thought: The chaplain's skills are antiquated. He struggles to keep the village safe. What's the use of all I've learned, if I can't protect the people I care about?

Her father turned from the fireplace and fixed her with his steady gaze. "Tara, promise me you won't ... intervene."

Over the last few months Tara had learned that the best lies were lies not told. "Dad. Do you think I'm stupid?"

He frowned, but said no more. This suited Tara, because she would not have promised. Her father was not a Craftsman, but all pledges were dangerous.

That night she leapt from her second-story room, calling upon a bit of Craft to cushion her fall. Shadows clustered around her as she made her way to the fresh grave. Her father's voice echoed in her ears as she unslung the shovel from her back. She ignored him. This dark work would help Edgemont, and her family.

Besides, it would be fun.

She did not use her Craft to open the grave. That was one of the few rules a Craftswoman always obeyed, even at the highest levels of study. The fresher the bodies, the better, and Craft sapped freshness from them. Instead Tara relied on the strength of her arms, and of her back.

She pulled a muscle after the first three feet of digging, and adjourned to a safe distance to rest before attacking the dirt again. The shovel wasn't made for this work, and her hands were months out of practice, their old digging calluses gone soft. She had stolen her father's work gloves, but they were comically large on her and their slipping against her skin caused blisters almost as bad as those she intended to prevent.

It took an hour's work to reach the corpses.

They were buried without coffins, so the soil would reclaim their bodies faster and leech the poison m...

Copyright © 2012 by Max Gladstone


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