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The Book of Taltos

Steven Brust


  Phoenix sinks into decay

  Haughty dragon yearns to slay.

  Lyorn growls and lowers horn

  Tiassa dreams and plots are born.

  Hawk looks down from lofty flight

  Dzur stalks and blends with night.

  Issola strikes from courtly bow

  Tsalmoth maintains though none knows how.

  Vallista rends and then rebuilds

  Jhereg feeds on others’ kills.

  Quiet iorich won’t forget

  Sly chreotha weaves his net.

  Yendi coils and strikes, unseen

  Orca circles, hard and lean.

  Frightened teckla hides in grass

  Jhegaala shifts as moments pass.

  Athyra rules minds’ interplay

  Phoenix rises from ashes gray.

  The Adventures of Vlad Taltos
















  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  The Book of Taltos copyright © 2002 by Steven Brust.

  Taltos copyright © 1988 by Steven K. Z. Brust.

  Phoenix copyright © 1990 by Steven Brust.

  Cover art by Kinuko Y. Craft.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


  Ace trade paperback edition / January 2002

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Brust, Steven, 1955–


  The book of Taltos / Steven Brust.

  p. cm.

  Contents: Phoenix—Taltos.

  ISBN 978-1-101-66578-7

  1. Fantasy fiction, American. I. Brust, Steven, 1955—Taltos. II. Title.

  PS3552.R84 B66 2002




  Table of Contents

  The Cycle

  Other Books by Steven Brust

  Title Page


  Author’s Note

  Pronunciation Guide


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17


  PART ONE: Technical Considerations

  Lesson 1: Contract Negotiations

  Lesson 2: Transportation

  Lesson 3: The Perfect Assassination

  Lesson 4: Handling Interrogation

  Lesson 5: Returning Home

  PART TWO: Business Considerations

  Lesson 6: Dealing With Middle Management I

  Lesson 7: Matters of State I

  Lesson 8: Dealing with Middle Management II

  Lesson 9: Making Friends I

  Lesson 10: Making Friends II

  Lesson 11: Matters of State II

  Lesson 12: Basic Survival Skills

  Lesson 13: Advanced Survival Skills

  Lesson 14: Fundamentals of Betrayal

  PART THREE: Aesthetic Considerations

  Lesson 15: Basic Improvisation

  Lesson 16: Dealing With Upper Management I

  Lesson 17: Dealing With Upper Management II


  Author’s Note

  One of the questions I’m most often asked is: “In what order would you recommend reading these books?” Unfortunately, I’m just exactly the wrong guy to ask. I made every effort to write them so they could be read in any order. I am aware that, in some measure at least, I have failed (I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting with Teckla, for example), but the fact that I was trying makes me incapable of giving an answer.

  Many people whose opinion I respect believe publication order is best; this volume reflects that belief. For those who want to read the books in chronological order, it would go like this: Taltos, Yendi, Dragon, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix, Athyra, Orca, Issola.

  The choice, I daresay, is yours. In any case, I hope you enjoy them.

  Steven Brust


  March 1999


  Adrilankha ah-dri-LAHN-kuh

  Adron Ā-drahn

  Aliera uh-LEER-uh

  Athyra uh-THĪ-ruh

  Baritt BĀR-it

  Brust brūst

  Cawti KAW-tee

  Chreotha kree-O-thuh

  Dragaera druh-GAR-uh

  Drien DREE-en

  Dzur tser

  Iorich ī-Ō-rich

  Issola î-SŌ-luh

  Jhegaala zhuh-GAH-luh

  Jhereg zhuh-REG

  Kiera KĪ-ruh

  Kieron KĪ-rahn

  Kragar KRAY-gahr

  Leareth LEER-eth

  Loiosh LOI-ōIsh

  Lyorn LI-orn

  Mario MAH-ree-ō

  Mellar MEH-lar

  Morrolan muh-RŌL-uhn

  Norathar NŌ-ruh-thahr

  Rocza RAW-tsuh

  Serioli sar-ee-Ō-lee

  Taltos TAHL-tōsh

  Teckla TEH-kluh

  Tiassa tee-AH-suh

  Tsalmoth TSAHL-mōth

  Verra VEE-ruh

  Valista vuhl-ISS-tuh

  Yendi YEN-dee

  Zerika zuh-REE-kuh



  The Cycle: Dragon, dzur, and chreotha; athyra, hawk, and phoenix; teckla and jhereg.

  They danced before my eyes. The Dragaeran Empire, its population divided into seventeen Great Houses,
each with its animal representation, seemed to unfold in my hands. Here was the Empire of Dragaerans, and here was I, the Easterner, the outsider.

  It wouldn’t get any easier.

  The eyes of no gods upon me, I began.

  SOME TWO HUNDRED MILES to the north and east of Adrilankha there lies a mountain, shaped as if by the hand of a megalomaniacal sculptor into the form of a crouching grey dzur.

  You’ve seen it, I’m sure, in thousands of paintings and psiprints from hundreds of angles, so you know as well as I that the illusion of the great cat is as perfect as artifice or nature could make it. What is most interesting is the left ear. It is fully as feline as the other, but is known to have been fabricated. We have our suspicions about the whole place, but never mind that; we’re sure about the left ear.

  It is here, say the legends, that Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress, the Dark Lady of Dzur Mountain, sits like a great spider in the center of an evil web, hoping to snare the true-hearted hero. Exactly why she would wish to do this the legends don’t make clear; as is their right, of course.

  I sat in the center of my own evil web, jiggled a strand, and caused it to bring forth more particulars about mountain, tower, and lady. It seemed likely that I was going to have to visit the place, webs being the fragile things that they are.

  Of such things are legends made.

  I was going over a couple of letters I’d received. One was from a human girl named Szandi, thanking me for a wonderful evening. On reflection, I decided it had been pretty nice at that. I made a mental note to write back and ask if she’d be free sometime next week. The other was from one of my employees, asking if a certain customer could have an extension on a loan he’d taken out to cover gambling losses to another of my employees. I was thinking about this and drumming my fingertips when I heard Kragar clear his throat. Loiosh, my familiar, flew off his coat rack and landed on my shoulder, hissing at Kragar.

  “I wish he’d stop doing that, boss,” said Loiosh psionically.

  “Me, too, Loiosh.”

  I said to Kragar, “How long have you been sitting there?”

  “Not long.”

  His lean, seven-foot-tall Dragaeran frame was slouched in the chair opposite me. For once, he was not looking smug. I wondered what was bothering him, but didn’t ask. If it was any of my business, he’d tell me. I said, “Do you remember a Chreotha named Fyhnov? He wants to extend his loan from Machan, and I don’t know—”

  “There’s a problem, Vlad.”

  I blinked. “Tell me about it.”

  “You sent Quion to collect the receipts from Nielar, Macham, Tor—”

  “Right. What happened?”

  “He scooped them up and ran.”

  I didn’t say anything for a while, I just sat and thought about what this implied. I’d only been running this area for a few months, since the unfortunate death of my previous boss, and this was the first time I’d had this sort of problem.

  Quion was what I call a button-man; an ambiguous term which in this case meant he was responsible for whatever I wanted him responsible for from one day to the next. He was old, even for a Dragaeran—I guess close to three thousand years—and had promised when I hired him that he’d stopped gambling. He was quiet, as polite as Dragaerans ever are to humans, and very experienced at the sorts of operations I was running—untaxed gambling, unlicensed brothels, making loans at illegal rates, dealing in stolen goods . . . that sort of thing. And he’d seemed really earnest when I’d hired him, too.

  Shit. You’d think, after all these years, I’d know better than to trust Dragaerans, but I keep doing it anyway.

  I said, “What happened?”

  “Temek and I were protecting him. We were walking by a shop and he told us to wait a minute, went over to the window like he wanted to look at something, and teleported out.”

  “He couldn’t have been snatched, could he?”

  “I don’t know of any way to teleport someone who doesn’t want to be teleported. Do you?”

  “No, I guess not. Wait a minute. Temek’s a sorcerer. Didn’t he trace the teleport?”

  “Yeah,” said Kragar.

  “Well? Why didn’t you follow him?”

  “Ummm, Vlad, neither of us has any interest in following him where he went.”

  “Yeah? Well?”

  “He teleported straight to Dzur Mountain.”

  “Dzur Mountain,” I repeated a long moment later. “Well, I’ll be dragon fodder. How could he have known the teleport coordinates? How could he have known he’d be safe from what’s-her-name? How—?”

  “Her name is Sethra Lavode, and I don’t know.”

  “We’ll have to send someone after him.”

  “No chance, Vlad. You won’t convince anyone to go there.”

  “Why not? We’ve got money.”

  “Vlad, it’s Dzur Mountain. Forget it.”

  “What’s so special about Dzur Mountain?”

  “Sethra Lavode,” said Kragar.

  “All right, what’s so special about—”

  “She’s a vampire, a shape-shifter, holds a Great Weapon, is probably the most dangerous wizard living, and has the habit of killing people who get near her, unless she decides to turn them into norska or jhereg instead.”

  “There are worse fates than being a jhereg boss.”

  “Shut up, Loiosh.”

  I said, “How much of this is fact and how much is just rumor?”

  “What’s the difference if everyone believes the rumors? I know I won’t go near the place.”

  I shrugged. Maybe if I were Dragaeran I’d have understood. I said, “Then I’ll have to go myself.”

  “You want to die?”

  “I don’t want to let him get away with—how much did he take?”

  “More than two thousand imperials.”

  “Shit. I want him. See what you can learn about Dzur Mountain that we can count on, all right?”

  “Huh? Oh, sure. How many years do you want me to put in on this?”

  “Three days. And see what you can find out about Quion, while you’re at it.”



  He went.

  I settled back to contemplate legends, decided it was pointless, and began composing a letter to Szandi. Loiosh returned to his perch on the coat rack and made helpful suggestions for the letter. If I thought Szandi liked dead teckla, I might have even used some of them.

  SOMETIMES I ALMOST THINK I can remember my mother.

  My father kept changing his story, so I don’t know if she died or if she left him, and I don’t know if I was two, four, or five at the time. But every once in a while I get these images of her, or of someone I think is her. The images aren’t clear enough to describe, but I’m sort of happy I have them.

  They aren’t necessarily my earliest memories. No, if I push my mind back, I can recall endless piles of dirty dishes, and dreams of being made to wash them forever, which I suppose comes from living above a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t really worked all that hard, it’s just that the dishes made an impression that has stayed with me. I sometimes wonder if my entire adult life has been spent in an effort to avoid dirty dishes.

  One could, I suppose, have worse goals.

  MY OFFICE IS LOCATED in back of a psychedelic herb shop. There’s a room between the shop and the office that houses an almost continuous shereba game, which would be legal if we paid taxes, and would be shut down if we didn’t bribe the Phoenix Guards. The bribes are less than the taxes would be, and our customers don’t have to pay taxes on their winnings. The office portion consists of a set of several small rooms, one of which is mine, another of which is Kragar’s. I have a window that will give me a wonderful view of an alley if I ever decide to unboard it.

  It was about an hour after noon three days later when Kragar came in, and a few minutes after that, I suppose, when I noticed him sitting there.

  I said, “What did you find out about Dzur Mo

  He said, “It’s big.”

  I said, “Thank you. Now, what did you find out?”

  He pulled out a notebook, flipped through it, and said, “What do you want to know?”

  “Many things. To start with, what made Quion think he’d be safe going to Dzur Mountain? Was he just getting old and desperate and figured what the hell?”

  Kragar said, “I’ve reconstructed his movements for the past year or so, and—”

  “In three days?”


  “That’s fast work for a Dragaeran.”

  “Thanks too much, boss.”

  Loiosh, perching on his coat rack, sniggered into my mind.

  “So, what were you saying about his movements?”

  “The only really interesting thing I found was that about a month before he started working for you he was sent on an errand to a certain Morrolan.”

  I chewed this over, then said, “I’ve heard of Morrolan, but I can’t remember how.”

  “Big-shot wizard of the House of the Dragon and a friend of the Empress. Lives about a hundred and fifty miles inland, in a floating castle.”

  “Floating castle,” I repeated. “That’s it. The only one since the Interregnum. Bit of a show-off, then.”

  Kragar snorted. “To say the least. He calls the place ‘Castle Black.’”

  I shook my head. Black is, to a Dragaeran, the color of sorcery. “Okay. What does Morrolan have to do with—”

  “Technically, Dzur Mountain is part of his fief. It’s about fifty miles from where his castle usually is.”

  “Interesting,” I said.

  “I wonder how he collects taxes,” said Loiosh.

  “It’s the only thing that stands out,” said Kragar.

  I nodded. “Mountains have a way of doing that. But all right, Kragar. It’s a connection, anyway. What else do you know about Morrolan?”

  “Not much. He spent a good portion of the Interregnum out East, so he’s supposed to be tolerant of Easterners.” Easterner means human, like me. But Dragaerans call themselves human, which is plainly ridiculous, so it can get confusing.

  I said, “Well, I could start with visiting Morrolan, if he’ll consent to see me. What did you find out about Dzur Mountain?”

  “Bits and pieces. What do you want to know?”