As I mentioned here, Wizards of the Coast has graciously authorized me to post monthly excerpts from my forthcoming novel, The Godborn (book II of the Sundering Series), in the lead up to its October release (and do enter the drawing for one of five signed copies of The Godborn that I’m giving away. Details here).
I’m posting a total of six excerpts, starting in April and going through September. None will contain spoilers and each will be between 900 and 2,400 words. As I mentioned, I’m going to try and feature a different point-of-view character in each excerpt, so you get a sense of the players, the tone of the book, etc.
With that, I give you the third excerpt (the first is here, the second is here). This bit features everyone’s favorite woodsman and mindmage, Magadon Kest, and a certain one-eyed bastard who also happens to be a god. I hope you enjoy
Magadon stood behind the bar of his tavern, wiping one tin tankard after another with a dirty rag. He’d closed an hour earlier and his now-empty place—a rickety taproom he’d named the Tenth Hell, to amuse himself—felt hollow. It still carried an echo of the day’s stink, though: smoke and beer and sweat and bad stew.
Daerlun, and indeed all of Faerûn, had changed much over the eighty years he’d owned the place, but his tavern remained more or less as it was since the day he’d first bought it. He’d done nothing but minimal maintenance.
It was frozen in the past. Like him.
He, too, had changed little over the years. He’d let his horns and his hair grow long, and he’d grown more powerful in the Invisible Art, but little else. He was passing time, nothing more and nothing less. He served his ale and his stew, his weapons and gear stored under the bar, while he waited.
Damned if he knew for what. Something.
The tavern was a two-fireplace, decrepit wooden building that attracted a decrepit clientele who didn’t mind a half-fiend barkeep. The building nestled against Daerlun’s eastern wall, squalid and lonely. If the Shadovar and their Sembian allies ever marched on Daerlun—which had declared itself an independent city decades ago—they’d come from the east, and Magadon’s tavern would be among the first buildings to burn. Maybe there was meaning in that.
The threat of war with the Shadovar had loomed over Daerlun for decades, as much a shadow on the city as was the miasmic air of neighboring Sembia. Over time the populace had gotten so used to the threat of an attack that it had gone from danger to jest: “As probable as Sakkors floating up to the walls,” they’d say, in reference to something deemed unlikely.
But the jests had been fewer of late. Teamsters and peddlers and soldiers spoke in quiet tones of skirmishes in the perpetual dark of the Sembian plains, of Shadovar forces blockading the lands south of the Way of the Manticore, of battles being fought in the Dales. An open call for mercenaries had gone out from Sembia, and Magadon imagined shiploads of blades-for-hire sailing into the ports of Selgaunt and Saerloon. The war would eventually reach Daerlun and its towering, obsidian walls. If the Dales fell to Sembia’s forces, Daerlun would fall next. Magadon didn’t think it would be long. Sakkors had been sighted once or twice on the distant horizon, floating on its inverted mountain, hanging in the dark Sembian sky like a promise of doom.
Sakkors. Magadon had not actually seen it himself in many years, but then he didn’t need to. He’d seen it long ago and dreamed of it often. The sentient crystalline mythallar that powered the city and kept it afloat—it called itself the Source—had permanent residence in Magadon’s mind.
Long ago Magadon had nearly lost himself in the Source’s vast consciousness. He’d augmented his mind magic with its power and become a godling, at least for a moment. In the process he’d also become a monster, but his friends had saved him, and he’d stood with Erevis Cale and Drasek Riven and defeated a god.
Thinking of those times made him smile. He considered those days the finest in his life, yet things felt incomplete to him. That was the reason he could not move on. That was the reason he tended bar and bided his time.
The Source still called to Magadon, of course, but because he’d grown stronger over the decades, its call no longer pulled at him with the insistence it once did. Instead the Source’s mental touch felt more like a gentle solicitation, an invitation. He could’ve blocked them—a simple mind screen would have shielded him—but the Source’s touch had become familiar over the years, a comforting reminder and a connection to a past he wasn’t yet ready to let go.
Clay lamps burned on a few of the tavern’s time-scarred tables, casting shaky shadows on the slatted wood walls. He stared into the dark corners of the room, a little game he played with himself, and let a doomed flash of hope spark in his mind. He gave the hope voice before it died.
Nothing. Shadows danced, but none spoke. Cale was dead, Riven was a man-become-a-god, and Magadon hadn’t seen him in almost a century.
He blew out a sigh and hung all but one of the tankards he’d cleaned on their pegs behind the bar. He filled the one he’d kept from the half-full hogshead and raised it in a salute. After draining it, he set to closing down the tavern for another night, all of it routine. His life had become rote.
He went to the tables, each of them wobbling on uneven legs, and blew out the lamps. The low fire in the hearth provided the room’s only light. He checked the stew pot on its hook near the hearth, saw that almost nothing remained, and decided to leave cleaning it for the morning. He took the iron poker from the wall, intending to spread the coals and head to his garret next door, where he’d lay awake and think of the past, then fall asleep and dream of the Source.
All at once the air in the room grew heavy, pressed against his ears, and a cough sounded from behind him. He whirled around, brandishing the poker. Instinct caused him to draw on his mental energy and a soft, red glow haloed his head.
The darkness in the tavern had deepened so that he could not see into the corners of the room. He stood in a bubble of light cast by the faint glow of his power and the fire’s embers. He slid to his left, holding the poker defensively, and put his back against the hearth. He’d left his damned weapons behind the bar.
“Show yourself,” he said.
He charged the metal poker with mental energy, enough to penetrate a dragon’s scales. Its end glowed bright red. The light cast shadows on the walls.
“I said: Show yourself.”
“You carry that instead of a blade now?” said a voice from his right.
Magadon whirled toward the voice and shock almost caused him to drop the poker.
The darkness in the room relented. The weightiness in the air did not.
“Nice that someone remembers that name,” Riven said. He stepped from the darkness, emerged from it as if stepping out from behind dark curtains, all compact movement and blurry edges. Sabers hung from his belt. A sneer hung from his lips. He hadn’t aged, but then he wouldn’t have. Magadon reminded himself that he was not talking to a man but a god.
Riven glided across the room, his footsteps soundless, and Magadon could not think of a single word to say. Riven smiled through his goatee and extended his hand. Magadon hesitated, then took it. Shadows crawled off Riven and onto Magadon’s forearm.
“It’s good to see you again, Mags. I don’t have long. My being here puts you at risk.”
“At risk? From what? I don’t—”
Riven was already nodding. “I know you don’t. I know. And that’s as it must be. Mags, the Cycle of Night either succeeds or fails. And that’s up to us. Maybe.”
Magadon’s head was spinning. His thoughts were inchoate. “The Cycle of Night?”
Riven nodded, started pacing, dragging his fingertips over the tabletops as he moved, the shadows clinging to his form. “This is a shithole, Mags.”
Riven chuckled. “I caught you by surprise here. Apologies. I need you to be ready when I call. I just . . . need someone I can rely on. Can you do that?”
Magadon could not quite gather his runaway thoughts. He resisted the impulse to cough out another stupid question. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Riven looked almost sympathetic. “I know you don’t. But that’s good for now. I don’t even know what I’m talking about half the time because they’re not my words and only half my thoughts.”
Magadon blinked, confused.
Riven looked at him directly, his regard like a punch. “Can you be ready, Mags?”
“I . . . don’t know.”
Riven nodded, as if he’d expected ambivalence. “Where’s your pack? Your bow and blade?”
Magadon started to find his conversational footing. “Behind the bar.”
“A barkeep,” Riven said, chuckling. “Not how I saw things going for you.”
“Not how I saw things going for me, either,” Magadon admitted with a shrug. “It’s been a hundred years, Riven. You show up, you talk about things as if I should know what they are, but I don’t and—”
“I found Cale’s son. Thirty years ago. I found him.”
The words stopped Magadon cold. “Found him where? He was alive thirty years ago? He’d have been over seventy years old.”
Riven shook his head. A pipe was in his hand, although Magadon had not seen him take it out. “You have a match?”
Magadon shook his head.
“Gods, Mags. You used to be prepared for anything.” He shook his head. “No matter.”
He put the pipe in his mouth and it lit. He inhaled, the glow of the bowl showing the pockmarks in his face, the vacancy where his left eye should have been. The smoke joined the shadows in curling around him.
“He’s not seventy,” Riven said. “He was newborn thirty years ago. It’s a long story.”
“How could he have been newborn thirty years ago? Cale would’ve been dead seventy years by then.”
A smile curled the corners of Riven’s mouth. “I told you it was a long story.”
“I’ve nothing but time.”
Riven nodded, blew out a cloud of smoke. “But I don’t.”
“You’re telling me he’s still alive? The son?”
“He’s alive and he’s the key, Mags.”
Magadon shook his head, unable to make sense of things. “The key to what?”
“The key to fixing all this, undoing it, making it as it should have been, stopping Shar’s Cycle of Night. But it’ll have to happen in Ordulin.”
Magadon was still not following, although the mention of Ordulin turned Magadon’s mind to the Shadovar, to Rivalen Tanthul, Shar’s nightseer. Magadon had been captured and tortured by Rivalen and his brother, Brennus, long ago. “Rivalen and the Shadovar are involved?”
Riven nodded. “More than involved. Rivalen’s trying to complete the Cycle, and he’s clever, Mags, very clever. But maybe too clever this time. Your father’s involved in this, too, although he’s a bit player. And so are you. Or at least you are now.”
“My father?” The last time Magadon had seen his father, Mephistopheles, the archdevil had flayed his soul. He banished the memory.
“You all right?” Riven asked.
Magadon nodded. “Where’s Cale’s son?”
Riven’s eye looked past Magadon, to the east. “He’s out there in the dark. A light in darkness, is what they say. He’s safe, though.”
“You tell me where he is, I can go to him. Keep him safe.”
Riven shook his head. “No, you can’t. He’s where he’s supposed to be. Now he’s gotta come to me. Besides, I need you here.”
“I told you. To be ready when I call.”
“What does that even mean? You’re talking in circles.”
Riven grinned around his pipe stem. “I don’t know what it means yet. I’m figuring this out as we go. I just know I want you ready. I’ll need your help. Just like always, just like it was back before . . . everything.”
“Like it was back before,” Magadon echoed. He pointed with his chin at the stew pot, still hanging over the embers. “Do you eat? Now that . . . you are what you are? There’s a little stew there. Or an ale, maybe?”
“I eat,” Riven said, losing his smile. “But it’s not the same anymore. It’s like I can’t help but analyze instead of just enjoy it.” He shook his head. “It’s complicated.”
Magadon put a hand on Riven’s shoulder in sympathy, but Riven pushed it aside and cocked his head, as if he’d heard something, and a half-beat later a loud thud sounded from above, a powerful impact on the roof that cracked a crossbeam and shook the entire tavern. Dust and debris sprinkled down.
Magadon looked up. “What—?”
Another thud, the crossbeam cracked further, and the entire roof sagged.
“Shit,” Riven said, exhaling smoke. The pipe was already gone and he had his sabers in hand. Magadon had not even seen him draw them.
A heavy tread on the roof, creaking wood, a scrabbling on the roof tiles, as of blade or claw.
“They must’ve followed me,” Riven said, taking position beside Magadon, his body coiled, shadows swirling. “They must’ve been watching me in the Shadowfell somehow, waiting. Or maybe they’ve been here the whole time? See anything unusual recently?”
Another thump, more splintering and dust, more tension.
Magadon drew on his store of mental energy, shaped it, formed it into a cocoon of transparent force that surrounded his body and would protect him as well as plate armor. He tightened his grip on the poker, looked up at the bowed roof.
“Who followed you?” he whispered.
“Agents of your father,” Riven said, his voice low and edged.