I’m happy to report that Wizards of the Coast has 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. Huzzah!
I’ll be posting six excerpts, one each month through and including September. None will contain spoilers and each will be between 900 and 1,800 words. I think what I’ll do is feature a different point-of-view character in each excerpt, so you get a sense of the players, the tone of the book, etc.
So, without further ado, I give you the first excerpt. This one features The Lord of Eighth, the Ruler of Cania, Mephistopheles himself. I hope you enjoy.
Glaciers as old as creation collided, vied, and splintered—the crack of ancient ice like the snap of dry bones. The smell of brimstone and burning souls wafted up from rivers of fire that veined the terrain. Cania’s freezing gusts bore the innumerable screams of the damned, spicing the air with their pain. Towering, insectoid gelugons, their white carapaces hard to distinguish from the ice, patrolled the banks of the rivers. Their appetite for agony was insatiable, and with their hooked polearms they ripped and tore at the immolated damned who flailed and shrieked in the flames.
Mephistopheles perched atop an ice-capped crag a quarter-league high and stared down at his realm of ice and fire and pain. Plains of jagged ice stretched away in all directions. Black mountains hazed with smoke scraped a glowing red sky lit by a distant, pale sun.
And he ruled it all. Or almost all of it.
His gaze fixed on the mound of shadow-shrouded ice that had defied his will for a century, and his eyes narrowed. His anger stirred the embers of his power, and the air crackled around him, baleful emanations of the divinity he’d stolen from the god, Mask.
Staring at the shadowy cairn, he sensed that events were picking up speed, fates being decided, events determined, but he couldn’t see them. Matters were fouled and he suspected the shadowy cairn had something to do with it.
“Permutations,” he said, his voice as deep and dark as a chasm. “Endless permutations.”
He had schemed for decades to obtain a fraction of the divine power he now held, intending to use the power he’d gained in a coup against Asmodeus, the Lord of Nessus, a coup that would have resulted in Mephistopheles ruling the Nine Hells. But events on one of the worlds of the Prime had made a joke of his plans.
The Spellplague had ripped through the world of Toril, recombining it with its sister world, Abeir, and causing chaos among gods and godlings. A half-murdered god had literally fallen through the Astral Sea and into the Ninth Hell. Asmodeus had finished the murder and absorbed the divinity.
Mephistopheles, who had plotted for decades to become divine, had managed to take only a fraction of a fraction of a lesser god’s power, while the Lord of the Ninth had become a full god through luck. By chance. And Mephistopheles was, once more, second in Hell.
Worst of all, he feared that Asmodeus had recently learned of his plans. Mephistopheles’s spies in Nessus’s court spoke of mustering legions, of Asmodeus’s growing ire. A summons had reached Mephistar, Mephistopheles’s iron keep. Asmodeus’s words had been carried on the vile, forked tongue of the Lord of Nessus’s sometime-messenger, the she-bitch succubus, Malcanthet.
“His Majesty, the Supreme Overlord of the Hells, Asmodeus the Terrible, requires His Grace’s presence before his throne in Nessus.”
“Supreme, you said?”
“Shall I tell His Majesty that you take issue with his title?”
Mephistopheles bit back his retort. “He sends me Hell’s harlot to convey a summons? To what end is my presence required?”
Malcanthet had ignored the question, offering only, “His Majesty wished me to inform you that time is of the essence.”
“And my time is limited. I will attend when I’m able.”
“You will attend within a fortnight or His Majesty will be forced to assume that you are in rebellion. Those are the words of His Majesty.”
Mephistopheles had glared at her while his court had muttered and tittered. “Get out! Now!”
Malcanthet had bowed, smirking, and exited the court, leaving Mephistopheles to stew in uncertainties, his court to gossip in possibilities.
Mephistopheles had managed to put off a reckoning with Asmodeus for decades. He’d made excuse after excuse, but the Lord of the Ninth’s patience had finally worn thin. Mephistopheles had little time and few options. He wasn’t ready. Far below, the cairn of ice mocked him. Shadows leaked from it, dribbled out of its cracks in languid streams. Often he’d tried to burn his way to the bottom of the cairn, but the ice would not yield. He’d had hundreds of whip-driven devils tear into the mound with weapons and tools, all to no avail. He’d attempted to magically transport himself within the hill and failed. He could not even scry what lay at its bottom.
And yet he had his suspicions about what lay under the shadow-polluted ice.
Saying the name kindled his anger to flame.
Mephistopheles had torn out Cale’s throat on Cania’s ice and taken the divine spark of Mask then possessed by Cale. Then, while Mephistopheles had been distracted by his triumph, Cale’s ally, Drasek Riven, himself possessed of another divine spark, had materialized and nearly decapitated Mephistopheles.
The pain remained fresh in Mephistopheles’s mind. His regeneration had taken hours, and by then, Cale’s body had been covered by the cairn that vexed him so.
Unable to destroy the offending cairn, finally Mephistopheles had simply forbade anyone from approaching it. Intricate, powerful wards allowed no one to go near it but Mephistopheles himself.
Staring at the cairn, his anger overflowed his control. He leaped from his perch and spread his wings—power and rage shrouding him. Millions of damned souls and lesser devils looked up and then down, cowering, sinking into their pain rather than look upon the Lord of Cania enraged.
He tucked his wings and plummeted toward the cairn, Erevis Cale’s tomb. He slammed into it with enough velocity and force to send a shock wave of power radiating outward in all directions. Snow and ice shards exploded into the air. The damned of Cania uttered a collective groan.
He looked down, his breathing like a bellows, his rage unabated. The hill remained unmarred—a mound of opaque ice veined with lines of shadow. He aimed his palms at the cairn’s surface and blasted the ice with hellfire. Flame and smoke poured from his hands, engulfing the cairn, the backblast cloaking him in fire and heat. He stood in its midst, unaffected, pouring forth power at the object of his hate. Around him, ice hissed, fogging the air as it melted. Shadows poured from the hill in answer, a dark churn that coated him in night.
The ice renewed itself as fast as his fires could melt it. The shadows swirled amid the storm of power and snow and ice—mocked him, defied him. He channeled fire and power at the hill, relenting only long enough to let the shadows disperse, the spray of ice and snow to settle. And when it did, he saw what he always saw: the unmarred cairn.
It was protected somehow and he did not understand it. Something was happening, something he could not see. Mask was in the center of it, the cairn was in the center of it, and he could not so much as melt its ice.
And now—and now—Asmodeus was coming for him.
Ropes of shadow leaked from thin cracks in the cairn’s ice and spiraled around Mephistopheles’s body. He threw back his head, stretched his wings, flexed his claws, and roared his frustration at the cloud-shrouded red sky. The sound boomed across his realm, the thunder of his rage. Distant glaciers cracked in answer. Volcanoes spat ash into the sky.
When at last he was spent, he fell into a crouch atop the cairn, put his chin in his hand, and considered his options.
He saw only two courses: He could ask forgiveness of Asmodeus and abase himself before the Lord of Nessus, foreswearing rebellion, or he could obtain more power, enough to equal Asmodeus’s, and so empowered, pursue his planned coup.
He much preferred the latter. And yet if he moved to obtain more divine power, he’d be moving blindly. Mask had put in place some kind of scheme—was the cairn not evidence of that?—and Mephistopheles did not want to stumble into it and inadvertently serve Mask’s ends. Mephistopheles feared losing the divinity he’d already gained in an effort to gain more, for he had no doubt that Mask had plotted for his own eventual return.
But he had little choice. Time had grown short. Over the last hundred years he’d scoured the multiverse for information about Erevis Cale and Mask, trying to suss out Mask’s play so that he could thwart it. He’d tortured mortal and immortal beings alike, eavesdropped on the whispered conversations of exarchs and godlings, listened to the secrets carried in the planar currents, wrung what information he could from the nether with his divinations.
And he’d learned only one thing, one tantalizing clue: Erevis Cale had a son.
He’d come to believe over the years that the son had something to do with the secret buried under the ice, his ice, that the son was at the center of Mask’s scheme, and that if he could find the son, he could end Mask’s plans, whatever they were, at a stroke. Then he’d have had the freedom to move against the two men who, like Mephistopheles, held fractions of Mask’s power.
He’d pacted with many mortals over the decades, promising them rewards if they brought word of Erevis Cale’s son. He’d bargained with so many that he’d lost track of them. But none had ever located Cale’s son. It was as though the son had simply disappeared.
And now events had, at last, outrun Mephistopheles’s ability to plan ahead of them. He could no longer wait to learn the full picture of Mask’s scheme. He could no longer spare time searching for Cale’s son. Asmodeus was coming for him, as he did for any who dared plot rebellion. Mephistopheles would need more power to face the Lord of Nessus. And he knew where he could get it.
Drasek Riven and Rivalen Tanthul each possessed a spark of Mask’s stolen divinity. If Mephistopheles killed them, he could take their divinity and face Asmodeus as a peer.
He looked down at the cairn, imagined Erevis Cale’s frozen body buried somewhere under its ice. He tapped the ice with a clawed finger.
“I haven’t forgotten your son. And I won’t. And your dead god won’t be coming back, whatever his schemes.”
For answer, only more shadows.
He shook them off, stood, cupped his hands before his mouth, and put a message in the wind for Duke Adonides, his majordomo, blowing it in the direction of Mephistar. The gust tore over Cania’s icy plains.
“Prepare the legions to march on the Shadowfell. Drasek Riven is to die.”