To celebrate today’s release of Spellbound by Blake Charlton (a very generous and kindly friend-of-the-blog), I’ve got two chapters from the novel, ripe for the reading. If you’re curious about my affection for the series, my review of Spellwright should shed some light on that:
Charlton’s inventive debut is comfortable in its tropes, but also willing to turn convention on its head and remind us of that sense of wonder than drew us to Fantasy in the first place.
Today we’ve got Chapter Three and tomorrow I’ll be rolling out Chapter Four. Bu… but, what about the first two chapters? Ain’t those important, too?
Well, yeah, and, luckily, Tor.com’s got you covered with Chapter One and Chapter Two of Spellbound, all ready to go.
So, then, here’s today’s excerpt, Chapter Three!
High up in Avel’s sanctuary, Nicodemus crouched in a dark hallway and waited for the sound of footsteps. If this raid on Typhon’s library was timed correctly, he would shatter the demon’s mind as if it were a stained-glass window. For nearly ten years, Nicodemus had waged clandestine war against the demon. It was almost time to end that war.
But the attack had to be perfect. He needed to catch all three librarians together and unaware.
So he crouched in the dark and waited for footsteps.
Nicodemus checked the spells tattooed in violet and indigo runes across his arms and chest. He checked the grip of his hatchets. He looked back at his five kobold students. In the dark, only the skinspells on their inhumanly broad shoulders were visible. The party had one more man, farther away, keeping watch on their backs. Everyone held perfectly still.
It was almost time.
Abruptly the floorboards shook. A small earthquake. Not a concern. The demigoddess Cala, the city’s canonist, had built her sanctuary and infirmary with her godspell. The buildings could withstand any earthquake that struck Western Spires.
From somewhere lower down, a few voices wailed. Likely something had tipped over or fallen off a shelf. Slowly the voices quieted.
But no footsteps sounded.
So Nicodemus closed his eyes and waited. It was almost time.
He hadn’t always been so patient, so focused. Ten years ago in Starhaven, he had been Magister Shannon’s anxious apprentice, a cacographer who misspelled most any text. When a creature named Fellwroth had begun murdering male cacographers, Nicodemus discovered that Typhon had arranged his birth to reconstruct an imperial bloodline of people capable of learning Language Prime, the language from which all living things were derived.
Typhon had stolen Nicodemus’s ability to spell and placed it into the Emerald of Aarahest. With this gem, the demon sought to spellwrite a dragon that could cross the ocean and reanimate the dread god Los.
With the help of an avatar named Deirdre, Nicodemus and Shannon had defeated Fellwroth. However, Typhon had taken possession of Deirdre and escaped with the emerald.
Nicodemus, Shannon, and the weakened goddess Boann had retreated to the Heaven Tree Valley, where Nicodemus learned that he was not disabled in the kobolds’ languages. Convinced his struggle against Typhon was part of their prophecy, several kobolds had followed Nicodemus out of the valley to hunt Typhon.
Presently two of the kobolds behind Nicodemus tensed. Their hearing was inhumanly sharp. So Nicodemus leaned forward and strained his ears. There it was: a distant but steady plodding. Footsteps. The last of the three librarians was nearing the point of ambush. It was almost time.
The footsteps grew louder until they sounded not ten feet away. They stopped. Two men whispered in the manner peculiar to librarians. Then came the creaking of someone sitting in a chair.
It was time.
Nicodemus barked the attack command and broke into a dead sprint. In the next instant, he burst into Typhon’s private library and threw a hatchet at the three men sitting before a table covered with loose sheets of paper.
The room was long, narrow, lined with bookcases. Several windows above the shelves let sunlight pour down through the mote-filled air.
Nicodemus’s axe spun through beams of light before striking a librarian’s shoulder. The man went down without a sound, but his neighbor rose and, with a cry, pulled a blaze of silver prose from his book and hurled it. Nicodemus sidestepped the extemporized attack.
The third librarian stood and stumbled backward. Several glass flasks were slung around his neck. He had to be an Ixonian hydromancer, a water mage. Nicodemus threw his second hatchet at the man, but his companion knocked the axe away with a silvery paragraph. Meanwhile the injured librarian rose from the ground, his left arm soaked with blood from the axe wound.
The floor shook more violently than before. A few books fell from their shelves. An aftershock. Behind Nicodemus, the shadows moved as if alive. Somewhere below, men began wailing again.
Nicodemus focused on the librarians. All three were disguised as devotees of the canonist Cala, wearing white linen shirts and blue longvests. As one, they looked up at the windows. They knew that the spells tattooed on Nicodemus functioned only in darkness. Reassured, they looked back down.
With a snarl, one librarian cast a silvery plume of cutting prose. Nicodemus sprinted left, avoiding the lacerating words and hearing them cut into the hide-bound books behind him. Something glass shattered on the floor to his right and then detonated with enough force to knock him against the bookcase.
Somehow Nicodemus kept his balance and kept running. The distant wailing grew louder. He turned and saw the water mage cocking his hand back with another glass vial. The man must have charged the solution with aqueous runes to render it corrosive, poisonous, or explosive.
But before the man could hurl the linguistic concoction at Nicodemus, a beam of sunlight winked out. Then another. The librarians looked up to the windows.
Nicodemus’s five kobold students, hidden under light-bending subtexts, had climbed the bookshelves. The sunlight had burned off their cloaking spells to reveal their dark blue skin and blond hair. As planned, the librarians had been too distracted by Nicodemus’s attack to notice their ascent. Three more windows went black as the kobolds covered them with cloth.
The water mage pulled his arm back to throw his vial, but Nicodemus peeled a tattoo from his forearm and cast it with a flick. The indigo runes frayed in the half light, but the textual missile maintained enough coherence to strike the hydromancer’s vial, detonating it and knocking all three librarians flat.
The last sunbeams disappeared, plunging the library into blackness. A kobold yawped in victory. Nicodemus recognized the voice. It was Vein, his eldest student.
One librarian cast a comet of silvery sentences toward the windows, but in the dark he aimed too high and the spell shattered against the ceiling and fell as a coruscation of pale sentence fragments. In the dark, the librarians were far outmatched.
Nicodemus allowed himself a moment of savage satisfaction and edited the spells tattooed around the keloid scar on the back of his neck.
Typhon had given him that scar when he placed part of Nicodemus’s mind in the emerald. Unless shielded from each other, the scar and emerald communicated with each other as they tried to reunite. Back in Starhaven, the communication between scar and emerald had given him prophetic nightmares and inadvertently revealed his location to his enemies. Since fleeing the wizardly academy, Nicodemus had shielded his scar with sentences tattooed around it. Now, for the first time in years, he weakened the spells around the scar.
Suddenly he knew the emerald was at the other end of the library, just beyond a metal door that would open into Typhon’s study. Through the emerald, Nicodemus sensed that the demon had deconstructed his mind for research. Nicodemus had planned this raid to coincide with both the lycanthrope attack and this brief hour of Typhon’s vulnerability.
A faint light shone in the library. Nicodemus turned and saw the hydromancer had activated a vial of lucerin. The liquid glowed faintly blue. A second light began to shine: this one a thin, fl ickering flame. It seemed the spellwright that Nicodemus had hit with the hatchet was a Trillinonish pyromancer. Despite his wounds, the fire mage had cast a few flammable sentences in hopes of generating enough light to ward off the kobold’s spells.
It was no matter. A dark object—a hatchet or maybe simply a book— struck the vial of lucerin, shattering the glass and splattering the glowing liquid onto the floor. Another projectile snuffed the pyromancer’s flame. Darkness was again complete, and Nicodemus’s students were climbing down the bookshelves. Their skin blazed with sentences of violet and indigo.
A librarian called out for help, his voice quavering. But the man was a demon worshiper. This had to be done. The other two librarians began to yell. One begged for his life. The young kobold named Jasp replied with a murderous war cry.
Nicodemus turned away. In the next instant, all voices stopped. The demon worshipers had been silenced perhaps by a sentence, perhaps by a hatchet. It didn’t matter.
Nicodemus walked toward the emerald until he stood in front of the study’s large metal door. A demon and the missing part of himself lay on the other side. Once he brought this barrier down, a decade of fighting would be over. He raised his hand and was about to press on the door when the floorboards shook violently. Far below, many voices rose in a long, undulating cacophony.
A chill of recognition moved through Nicodemus. He cursed and listened again. The voices grew louder, began to rise and fall.
It was true then.
The wailing meant that the sanctuary was now reverberating with a force more dire than any earthquake.
Somehow the Savanna Walker had returned.
Nicodemus swore. He had thought it impossible. The lycanthrope attack should have kept both the Walker and the canonist occupied for hours.
Nicodemus put his hand against the door and felt a yard of protective spells. Hacking through it would take half an hour at least. No good. The Walker was too close, and inside the sanctuary the beast would be too powerful to fight.
Nicodemus, his blood heated by shame and anger, rewrote the tattooed sentences around his scar, breaking communication between the two parts of himself.
Suddenly the raid was a failure. If the Walker caught them in the sanctuary, it would be a massacre. The building shook again and the wailing fell silent. Nicodemus turned and sprinted through the dark library. “Vein and Dross to me,” he called to his students. “The rest follow right behind. We run.”
So, there you are! Chapter Three of Spellbound. Check back tomorrow for Chapter Four!