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Excerpt: Child of a Mad God by R. A. Salvatore

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From R. A. Salvatore, the legendary creator of Drizzt Do’Urden, comes the start of a brand new epic journey.

When Aoelyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home.

The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoelyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoelyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night.

Child of a Mad God will be available February 6th. Please enjoy this excerpt!

Prologue

The moon called it forth, the summons of blood. Long and sleek and low to the ground, the fossa crept across the underground crawl space, some areas with no more than a foot of clearance. The demon creature felt every jag and bump in the stones, for it had little fur left on its six-foot-long body, with only occasional tufts across its reddish, angry skin of welts and boils. Its tail extended back three feet, perfectly straight, and was flattened and hardened, with its edges scraped keen like a scythe.

It walked on four padded paws, moving catlike, killing claws retracted, and perfectly silent, save the occasional scrape of that hard tail on stone.

The demon creature came through the narrow and rolling crawl space into a taller corridor, and there it paused and inhaled, smelling the scent of life on the mountain, and hearing the song of the mountain’s magic, a sensation that drove the beast mad with hatred.

So many months, it was trapped in its lair of murder, in the darkness, that maddening song echoing about the stones. But it could not go out and kill the singers. It could not release its rage upon an animal, or a man, or a sidhe. For under the light of the sun, or the stars, or the normal moon, the song was too strong, and would drive the fossa back into the cave.

But not tonight. Tonight, the moon was red, the Blood Moon, and so the fossa could come forth.

And taste blood.

And devour magic.

And silence the singers.

Faster it loped, through the corridor and into the small cave, then to the mouth, and there the fossa paused and looked up to the night sky, to the huge full moon, hanging red.

Promising food.

What would it kill this night? What creature’s bones would add to the litter of the deep den beyond the long crawl? What singer’s throat would crush beneath the press of its maw?

It came out into the open air, under the red moon. Hunger called it to the hunt.

Perhaps a deer. Perhaps a bear, or a warthog, or a great roc, or a giant mountain ram, or one of the ugly sidhe humanoids. None of them gave the demon fossa pause. None could stand against its savagery. None, though, were savory, and gave the demon the pleasure it truly desired.

A sensation froze the creature just outside its bone-littered cave. At first, the vibration drifted on the night breeze as just a tingling, teasing and tickling, but then those sparks became something more, something that stung, something unpleasant. The creature let forth a feral growl that reverberated about the mountain stones, a warning, a protest, against the painful intrusion, the maddening resonance of magic.

And that was the rub—not the pain, for the fossa was ever in pain, but the vibration of magic, an incessant burr the creature could not scratch away.

How the demon fossa hated magic! The song of it played as an endless voice, a pervasive and incessant ringing, just a single, maddening note in its ears and vibrating throughout the creature’s body with a singular message: murder.

But the growling stopped very quickly.

The fossa sensed the pulse of magic.

A human was out on the mountain this night, under the Blood Moon. And that human carried magic, and that magic had been called and so it was singing now.

The demon fossa set off, silent as the shadows. The animals of Fireach Speuer could rest easy this Blood Moon night.

Aye, for the fossa’s favorite meal was served.

Ravines did not slow it, nor high slabs of stone, for the creature traversed ledges with sure-footed eased and could leap straight up a score of feet, two score, and with claws that could catch hold in the stone as readily as a cat might climb a tree.

Down the mountainside it went, down and around to the west, where the plateau rolled out wide before it and the red moon reflected in the waters of the great lake, far below. There was no pause to take in the grand vista, though, for the song grew louder and more focused as the fossa neared.

So much louder, then, and the fossa slowed.

Over one rise went the fossa, through a tangle of trees and into the brush at the edge of a field of chokeberry bushes. There the creature hunched and watched and waited.

The man came over an angled stone across the way. He carried a long spear, its tip glowing with magical energies, singing brilliantly. He moved down slowly into the low brush and stepped his way to the middle of the patch.

He was hunting, the fossa understood. He was hunting the demon fossa.

He was a fool.

The man stood amidst the chokeberry bushes and whispered something the creature could not understand, but the sounds gave the fossa pause. It hunched further and from the concealment of the taller brush scanned all around, ensuring that this one was alone.

The human spoke again, is if not alone, but the fossa saw no others.

There were no others.

The fossa issued a low growl, then silently circled as the man turned toward the sound.

The man sniffed. He could smell the demon and the demon fossa could smell his fear.

The man set himself, that horrid, magical spear tip forward, toward the place where the fossa had growled, as if expecting a charge.

But the fossa wasn’t there anymore, there upwind from the human so that he could still smell its lingering scent. No, the fossa was already across the way, watching the human from behind.

The breeze gusted, the chokeberries shivered, and the human shifted left and right, but with his focus still to the spot where the fossa had been.

Belly to the ground, the fossa moved, gaining speed, readying a killing leap.

But somehow the human knew! And he spun about, that spear flashing across!

The fossa burst from the chokeberries and cut fast to the right, then back across to the left, too swiftly for the man to keep up with his lumbering sweeps. The spear tip chased, but could not catch up, and right by the man rushed the fossa, and out the other way.

But as the creature passed, its tail, a sword of bone, slashed across to take the man’s legs out from under him, and to take the man’s feet from his legs.

A short distance away, the fossa skidded to a stop and spun about, to see the man struggling to his knees, bringing his spear around defensively. He seemed excited, elated even, ready for battle, and he moved as if to stand.

The fool didn’t even know.

Only when he extended his leg as if to stand did he scream out in pain and then—and oh, it sounded as the sweetest music of all to the fossa!—in fear. Only then, the fossa understood, did the human even realize that he had no feet, that both of his legs had been severed at the ankles!

The human looked all about frantically, even reached for a severed foot, sitting atop a nearby chokeberry bush.

Amused now, the demon fossa watched the human regain some measure of courage, stubbornly using his spear for balance as he forced himself to his knees. Then he took up his spear in both hands and shouted a challenge.

The fossa calmly stalked a perimeter about him. Time was not on the human’s side, not with his lifeblood pouring from his severed ankles.

The man spoke again, as if in conversation with some unseen other human. “My daughter will not be shamed!” he yelled.

The fossa stalked before him and stood staring.

“Come on!” the human yelled, waving his spear.

The fossa sat down and let him bleed.

But then he hugged his spear, that crystalline tip glowing with magic, and whispered again, as if to the spear, and the magic intensified suddenly, the song assailing the demon creature, particularly so, for it was a song of warmth and healing! The human closed his eyes and seemed to bask in that healing.

The fossa ran to the side. It could smell the lessening of the blood flow; it could hear the song of healing magic.

“Where are you?” the human cried, seeming stronger again, invigorated, healed somewhat.

“Coward!” he taunted, or tried to, for the word came out with a giant exhale as the demon fossa slammed into his back, its fangs closing fast onto the back of his neck. The fossa knew that he wanted to turn and strike, but knew, too, that its fangs had cracked through the neckbone, that the human’s body would no longer answer commands.

Down they went together, the fossa smashing him down face-first through the chokeberries.

The fossa didn’t finish him. Not then. It would drag the human to its lair and eat him slowly, while he was alive.

But first . . . that spear! The magical crystal!

The fossa released the human’s shattered neck and sprang for the spear, its powerful maw clamping on the spear tip, cracking it, shattering it.

And the demon knew that it was not alone, that the human had indeed not been alone. For through this magical spear tip, there loomed a spiritual connection to another human, the true singer of the magic!

And she was there, in the spirit realm, joined to the man in his hunt.

And the fossa heard her song and felt her trying to strengthen the flow of magic into the doomed man who lay in the chokeberries.

But the fossa was more than a physical being. So much more. And the spirit world was its truest domain.

Into the darkness it went, and it found her.

And it knew her then: Elara.

She tried to flee, to send her spirit flying back to her own corporeal form far away. But the spirit of the fossa saw her and followed her.

She could not escape.

The fossa couldn’t bite her neck or her mortal coil at all, of course, but it didn’t have to. It could eat her soul. It could shatter her mind!

This kill was less substantial, perhaps, but to the fossa proved far more satisfying.

To its surprise, the magic singer spun back and returned to the man, and found him there, and he, her.

And the fossa found them both, their spirits huddled, embracing as the demon closed.

And it knew him then, too: Fionlagh.

The human spirits drew comfort from each other, but the fossa was amused, knowing such comfort a fleeting thing. The demon creature mocked them as it dragged its victim to the dark hole in the dark cave. It watched them as it consumed the man’s corporeal body, watched his spirit flitter away.

The woman’s spirit flew away, but it could not escape, the fossa knew.

It sat in its hole, atop a pile of bones, the torn carcass before it. But part of the demon creature went with the woman, too, back to her tent, where she lay on her back, staring blankly, seeing only darkness, her magic consumed, her life force diminished, her mind shattered by the horror.

The horror.

 

Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Salvatore

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