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.
I’m posting a total of six excerpts. They started in April and will go through to September. None will contain spoilers and each will be between 900 and 2,400 words. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m going to feature a different point-of-view character in each excerpt, so you get a sense of the players, the tone of the book, etc.
What follows is the fourth excerpt (the first is here, the second is here, the third is here). This bit features Vasen Cale, son of Erevis and Varra. Vasen was raised by Derreg, son of Regg (from The Twilight War), in the Abbey of the Rose, a cloister dedicated to Amaunator. Despite the dark blood that flows in his veins and the shadows that cling to his flesh, Vasen serves a god of light. As a result, he’s very much a man straddling two worlds. You may also recognize the Oracle in this scene. He was a boy when you last saw him in Shadowrealm.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy.
Vasen had never known the father whose blood ran in his veins, but Erevis Cale lived on in him somehow, haunting his dreams. Vasen always saw him as a dark man with a dark sword, a dark soul. In the dreams he never saw his father’s face, and rarely heard his voice. They somehow communed without truly seeing one another, in blindness, in quietude, and over the years through the sense-starved dream connection Vasen believed he’d come to understand what Erevis would’ve wished for him to know—the depths of loss, the pain of regret. Everything he’d learned of his father seemed to circle around regret.
Vasen was dreaming now, he knew. He saw only darkness before him, deep and impenetrable. Frigid air stirred his hair, felt like knives on his skin. Erevis spoke to him, each word a treasure, his deep voice pushing aside the silence of the dreamscape.
“I’m cold, Vasen. It’s dark. I’m alone.”
Vasen knew solitude all too well. He’d spent his life among others, but always apart from them. Vasen tried to move but could not. Something was holding him in place. The cold was growing worse. He was shivering, going numb, paralyzed.
“Where are you?” he called.
“Vasen, you must not fail.”
The words hung there for a time, heavy, portentous, filling the darkness.
“Must not fail at what?”
“Find me. Write the story.”
“How? How can I find you? You’re dead!”
Vasen felt colder. He wanted to ask more questions, wanted to see his father’s face at long last, but the darkness receded.
Vasen caught a flash of glowing red sky, rivers of fire. He heard the screams of millions in torment.
He awoke on his pallet, shivering, heart racing. He stared up at the cracked, vaulted ceiling of his quarters in the abbey. The gauzy, dim gray of a newly birthed morning filtered through the single window of his quarters. He could count on one hand the number of days he had seen more than an hour or two of sunlight in the past year. He’d gotten used to Sembia’s perpetual shroud long ago, the same way he’d gotten used to many things.
Letting the dream slip from the forefront of his mind, he sat up, his flesh still goose pimpled, and recited the Dawn Greeting, the words softly defiant in the ever-dim light.
“Dawn is Amaunator’s gift. His light dispels darkness and renews the world.”
He sat on the edge of his sleeping pallet for a time, bent over his knees, his head in his hands, thinking of Erevis, the legacy he could not escape even when asleep. He’d been dreaming of his father more and more in recent months. He examined his calloused hands, his skin the color of tarnished silver, his veins a deep purple. Shadows webbed the spaces between his fingers and spiraled up his forearms, gauntlets of night. He stared at them a long while, the curves and whorls and spirals, the script of his blood. When he shook his hands, the darkness dissipated like mist.
The light of your faith is stronger than the darkness of your blood, Derreg had often told him, and most of the time Vasen credited the words. But sometimes, after awakening from a dream of Erevis and sitting alone with only his shadow for company, sharing time with the darkness he felt lurking around the edges of his life, he wasn’t so sure. Erevis’s life haunted Vasen’s; Vasen’s heritage occluded his hopes. He sometimes had the feeling that he was doomed to live a history written by someone else, unable to turn the page to get to his own life. The shadows that cloaked him, that he could not escape, were the story of his life.
Write the story.
What did that even mean?
Derreg had told him often that Vasen had to prepare himself, had drilled it into him with such fervor that Vasen’s childhood had been no childhood at all. It had been training of mind, body, and spirit since he’d been a boy.
“Prepare for what?” Vasen had asked through the years.
“For whatever comes,” Derreg would answer softly, and the concern in his eyes spoke louder than his words. “And you must not fail.”
And now Erevis echoed Derreg in Vasen’s dream. The voices of his two fathers, the one of his blood, the other of his heart, had merged into a single demand.
You must not fail.
He stared at the symbol inlaid into the wall over the hearth, a blazing sun over a blossoming red rose.
“I won’t,” he said. Whatever came, he would bear it. And he would not fail.
Hard raps on his door startled him. As always when his emotions spiked, shadows leaked from his skin.
“Hold a moment,” he said.
He stood and the morning chill resurrected his goose pimples. The fire in his hearth had burned down to ash and embers. He pulled on his tunic, his holy symbol on its sturdy chain, splashed water from the washbasin on his face, and padded the few steps to the door of his small chamber. He opened the door and blinked in surprise.
The Oracle stood in the doorway, his red, orange, and yellow robes glowing softly. His eyes were the solid, otherworldly orange of a seeing trance. A shining platinum sun, with a rose raised in relief on the circle of its center, hung from a chain around his thin neck. He stared not at Vasen but at a point just to Vasen’s left.
The Oracle’s guide, a large, tawny-coated fey dog with intelligent eyes, stood beside the elderly seer, tongue lolling, tail upright and entirely still. Vasen realized that he had never once heard the dog bark.
“O-Oracle,” Vasen said, shock summoning a stutter from his mouth and shadows from his flesh. He had never heard of the Oracle entering a seeing trance outside the sanctum.
The Oracle smiled, showing toothless gums and deepening the web of grooves that lined his hawkish face. Age spots dotted the skin of his scalp, visible through the thin fluff of his gray hair. His skin looked parchment thin and lit with a soft, inner glow.
“His light and warmth keep you, Vasen,” said the Oracle. Despite his age, his voice was the steady, even tone of the valley’s cascades, so different from the voice he used when not in a trance.
“And you, Oracle.”
“You may go, Browny,” the Oracle said to the dog. The creature licked the Oracle’s hand, eyed Vasen, and disappeared in a flash of pale light. Vasen always marveled at the dog’s ability to magically transport itself.
Standing face to face with the Oracle, Vasen keenly felt the differences between them. The Oracle’s pale skin, deprived of direct sunlight for a century, but illuminated by the inner glow of his trance, contrasted markedly with Vasen’s dark skin, dimmed as it was by the legacy of his bloodline. The Oracle was lit with Amaunator’s light. Vasen was dimmed by Erevis Cale’s shadow.
“Do you . . . wish to come in, Oracle?” Vasen said. He realized the words sounded foolish, but was not sure what else to say.
Again that toothless grin. “Vasen, did you know that Abelar Corrinthal was my father?”
The abrupt conversational turn took Vasen aback, but he managed a nod. “My father told me.”
Recalling the dream that had awakened him, Vasen had trouble forming a reply. “Derreg. My adoptive father. I’ve never known another. You know this, Oracle.”
“But you see Erevis. Sometimes. In your dreams.”
Vasen could not deny it. “Yes. But they’re just dreams, and he’s long dead.”
“So it’s said.”
Shadows leaked from Vasen’s skin. Once more the goose pimples. “What do you mean?”
“I see him, too, Vasen son of Varra.”
Vasen swallowed the bulge in his throat. “And what do you see when you see him?”
“I see you,” the Oracle said.
“I . . . I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. I met Erevis Cale. Did you know that?”
“I didn’t, but I wondered sometimes.”
“Why did you never ask?”
Vasen answered truthfully. “It seemed a betrayal of Derreg. And I was afraid. I didn’t want to . . . know him.”
“He was hard to know, I think. I saw him twice when I was a boy. The first time he was a man haunted. The second time, he was no longer a man at all, but he was still haunted.”
“Haunted? By what?”
“Doubt, I think,” the Oracle said, then changed the subject. “Your father, your adoptive father, was the son of Regg, who rode with my father. Did you know that?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Vasen could not shake the impression that he and the Oracle were simply reciting words written out for them by someone else. He still did not understand the purpose of the Oracle’s visit.
“You, like your father, and like his father before him, swore to remain here and protect this abbey, to protect me. And you have done so.”
Vasen did not answer. He felt humbled by the Oracle’s acknowledgment.
“You have been here the longest with me and have done credit to the memory of Derreg and Regg. You have even become the first blade. But change comes to everything.”
“It does,” Vasen said haltingly. “But what’s to change?”
“The world. I see a swirl of events, Vasen, but I cannot make sense of it. Gods, their Chosen, gods beyond gods, the rules of creation, the Tablets of Fate. Wars, Vasen. We see it already in the Dales. War is sweeping Toril. Something is changing. And in the midst of it all I see shadows and I see a growing darkness that threatens it all.”