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Excerpt: Song of the Risen God by R. A. Salvatore

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Song of the Risen God is the climatic conclusion to the thrilling Coven Trilogy from New York Times bestselling author, R. A. Salvatore.

War has come to Fireach Speur.

The once forgotten Xoconai empire has declared war upon the humans west of the mountains, and their first target are the people of Loch Beag. Lead by the peerless general, Tzatzini, all that stands in the way of the God Emperor’s grasp of power is Aoelyn, Talmadge, and their few remaining allies.

But not all hope is lost. Far away from Fireach Speuer, an ancient tomb is uncovered by Brother Thaddeus of the Abellican Church. Within it is the power to stop the onslaught of coming empire and, possibly, reshape the very world itself.

Song of the Risen God will be available on January 28. Please enjoy the following excerpt.

The March of Light

The summer sun blazed off the golden domes of the recovered xoconai city. The work continued, but most of the repairs were nearing completion and the sheer beauty of the place had been restored.

Tuolonatl stood down by the lake and the new docks being built on the eastern side of the mountain fissure, looking across the wide waters, contemplating the best ways to move her large army. They needed to march soon, she knew, for more and more warriors kept streaming in over the peaks of Tzatzini, the great mountain that shadowed the valley and city of Otontotomi. The lake could supply this burgeoning place, but the xoconai were running out of room.

Tuolonatl had learned enough of the immediate region about the lake and the rivers running from it to know that the hot sun would not hinder their passage. Once that area had been a great and barren desert and summer travel would have been difficult, but no more.

The question, of course, was where and how far? What conquests awaited them, what resistance might they find? Even Pixquicauh, with his divination, even Scathmizzane himself, in those rare moments when he appeared among them, offered little insight beyond the immediate area.

So Tuolonatl was pleased indeed that morning when word came to her that Ataquixt, her prime scout, had at last returned.

He came right down to the docks to meet with her, and the two rowed out onto the lake in a small boat to privately discuss his findings.

“We will find weeks of empty travel,” he told her. “Lands untamed and mostly uninhabited, with more goblins than the human children of Cizinfozza. But not enough of either to slow us.”

“Or to make the journey worth the trouble,” Tuolonatl finished.

“The fleeing humans made it,” said Ataquixt. “I followed them all the way to a small village. I think it was a celebration, where the humans who hunt these wilderness lands come together before the season begins in full.”

“How many?”

“Around an equal number to the hundred refugees from this land.”

“We will not need much of an army, then,” said the woman. “We could hard ride a group of mundunugu and take the place swiftly.”

“I moved beyond that small village,” Ataquixt said. “I found high ground that I could survey, further to the east.”

Tuolonatl cocked her head and stared him expectantly. She could tell from his voice that he was saving the best news for last.

“I saw the lights of other villages across the plains and along the lower foothills of more mountains,” the scout explained. “More and more villages further and further to the east.”

“Enough to sustain an army of a hundred thousand?”

“I cannot say, and because I cannot speak the language of these humans, I cannot know if my suspicion is correct, but I believe that the true nations of the humans lie even further to the east, and what I saw was much like Skithivale and Hashenvalley, or Romaja to the south.”

Tuolonatl leaned back in the boat, digesting that. North of the great cities of Tonoloya lay the northern valleys Ataquixt had just referenced. These were the northern borderlands of Tonoloya, full of independent-minded xoconai who held allegiance to Scathmizzane and to one or another of the city sovereigns nearest their regions only for practical purposes. They were farmers and hunters and vintners and needed the trade with the greater cities.

Romaja, to the south, was even wilder and less populated, and with fewer interactions with the southern sovereigns of Tonoloya. Why should the humans be any different in their social constructs, she wondered? In every kingdom, every nation, every group, there were always some who preferred the less tamed lands, who sought space above convenience, and who preferred the dangers of the wilderness to the suffocating rules of the tamed lands.

“You did not see the eastern sea?” she asked.

“I saw mountains in the south, running east beyond my sight,” Ataquixt answered. “Great and tall mountains, as tall as Tzatzini and more. My journey to the east, like that of the refugees I pursued, was mostly on the waterways, and the water flowed swiftly, with few falls or rapids. An easy journey with my cuetzpali hunting for me, may Scathmizzane forever bless that fine mount. The journey back was more difficult and took me twice as long—nearly six weeks of riding, dawn to dusk.”

“A thousand miles?

“Half again, and I do not believe that I was anywhere near the eastern sea. The boundaries of the land beyond Tonoloya are immense, my leader. Vast lands.”

Tuolonatl sighed and rubbed her face, not thrilled at all by the report. Moving an army through civilized lands was far easier than across the wilderness, even if every week brought battles. How could she feed an army the size of the one leaving Otontotomi without fields of grain and cities with huge storerooms to conquer along the way?

“It would seem that the children of Scathmizzane and the children of Cizinfozza were separated by more than the mountain wall of Teotl Tenamitl,” she said.

“The rumored great cities of them, if they exist, then yes,” Ataquixt agreed.

Tuolonatl looked to the west, to the towering mountain range the xoconai called Teotl Tenamitl, God’s Parapet. She had thought that range the dividing line of the world, with the xoconai to the west, the humans to the east, and while that might be true, she had never imagined that those lands to the east were so much larger than the basin of Tonoloya, a strip of fertile land from the mountains to the western sea that was only a few hundred miles of ground east to west, and perhaps thrice that north to south. How many Tonoloya-sized journeys would they have to undertake before they even looked upon the rumored great cities of the humans?

“We must go to the great pyramid and tell this to Pixquicauh,” she told Ataquixt. “Let us hope that he has the ear of Scathmizzane this day, that we can find guidance. I would not lose the whole of the summer in empty wilderness.”

“Will we even march?” the scout dared to ask.

That had Tuolonatl looking to the east, the seemingly endless east. She nodded her head, though. Whatever surprises the land beyond the conquered plateau might hold, whatever trials they might face in their long journey, whatever years might pass in their conquests, she understood the will of Scathmizzane.

The god would see the sun rise over his kingdom from the beaches of the eastern sea and would see it set behind his kingdom from the beaches of the western sea.

Of that, she had no doubt.

“He is still providing valuable information?” Tuolonatl asked High Priest Pixquicauh, when she caught up to him on a high balcony in the main temple of Otontotomi. She had expected that, by this point, Pixquicauh would have executed the human she had captured on the mountainside, but there he was, in a chamber below them in this very temple, hanging from his hooks in front of a golden mirror. Curiously, the room was filled with other augurs, all staring into mirrors of their own.

“He has no valuable information for us,” Pixquicauh said. “His knowledge of any lands beyond this plateau is weaker than our own. It would seem that he and these other Cizinfozza spawn typically spent the entirety of their lives in their miserable little villages. This one, Egard, though the nephew of a chieftain—”

“Chieftain?” Tuolonatl interrupted.

“A sovereign of his tribe,” the augur explained. “This one knew the northwestern face of the mountain and the few villages immediately beneath it, along the lake. Nothing more. He had never seen the desert that is now a lake from anywhere but the high peaks of Tzatzini.”

“Yet he lives.”

“Because he does possess one thing of value to us: he speaks the language of the humans.”

“These humans,” Tuolonatl replied. “I am slow to believe that the language found here in this place is common throughout the lands to the east.”

“Why?”

Tuolonatl couldn’t see much expression in Pixquicauh’s face, of course, since most of it was covered by an embedded skull, but she was fairly sure that her remark had shaken the augur.

“My scout has returned from his travels behind the escaping humans.”

“Only now? More than two months?”

“More than a thousand miles of wilderness each way, and even the lands he came upon were full of no more than small and scattered villages. It is a vast world east of us, high priest.”

Pixquicauh nodded slowly, digesting the information, and Tuolonatl recognized the same doubts within him as she had known when Ataquixt had reported to her. How were they going to march an army of a hundred thousand warriors, perhaps even more, across thousands of miles of wilderness?

“You have learned the language of the humans from this one?” she asked at length.

Pixquicauh nodded. “Much of it. It is easy with the mirrors.”

Tuolonatl didn’t hide her confusion.

“His mirror reflects to the others,” the augur explained. “When they look into their mirrors, they look into the mind of Egard, where his every thought is translated to them. In but a few lessons, every one of them will speak enough of the human language to interrogate a child of Cizinfozza.”

“I should like to learn this language.”

“Of course.” He gave her a sly look, a grin under the skull’s teeth, and narrowed clever eyes behind the empty bone sockets. “If the God King orders it of me.”

“And where is the Glorious Gold?” Tuolonatl asked. “I have seen neither Scathmizzane nor his dragon in many days.”

“He will come forth soon. Otontotomi is nearly to its full shining beauty. He is up on the mountain with the other humans. I know not why, or what is so important to him up there, but I share this warning with you: bring no harm to the human women dancing about the crystal obelisk. I thought to bring one in to question, as I have done with this wretch, but the God King would not hear of it. He needs them—all of them.”

“Xoconai females will not suffice?”

The high priest shrugged. “We will march soon, of course,” he told her. “The lands to the east might be vast, but there is no amount of ground that will save the children of Cizinfozza. We will reach the eastern sea.”

“I would like to learn their language before that march,” Tuolonatl pressed.

Again, the augur shrugged and grinned.

“A tactical necessity,” the warrior woman insisted. “I do not think the God King will be pleased to have his army delayed because his high priest was afraid to make an easy decision.”

That took the smile from his face, she saw, and was glad.

“They are nearly done this day,” he said grumpily. “I will have a mirror in there for you tomorrow.”

“And one for Ataquixt,” she instructed. “If my most skilled and trusted scout is versed in the human tongue, he will be far more valuable to us all.”

A hard stare took a long time to turn into an agreeing nod, but it came at length, and Tuolonatl left the great temple feeling that she had won that round.

More than a week passed before Tuolonatl glimpsed the God King again. Scathmizzane, in giant form, rode his dragon Kithkukulikhan down from the great mountain Tzatzini, across the city, and down to the docks in the east, where Tuolonatl had gone with Pixquicauh at the old augur’s bidding.

The dragon settled down in the water—it had been a lake monster for many generations before Loch Beag had been drained—and Scathmizzane shrank down to the size of a large xoconai as the beast swam for the dock, moving close enough for the God King to easily step onto the wharf to join his high priest and his cochcal.

“It is time to begin our journey,” Scathmizzane told them. He looked around at the many boats that had been assembled, many carried down from the lake villages on the rim of the chasm but some newly built by the industrious xoconai.

“We can ferry a thousand at a time across the lake,” Tuolonatl told him.

“That is good,” he congratulated. “But unnecessary.” He looked to Pixquicauh. “You have brought the two mirrors?”

The old augur looked around and nodded to some other priests, who scurried to retrieve the mirrors, the one from the top of the great temple and the one Scathmizzane had given to Pixquicauh for his personal use, the same one he had used to torment the captured human named Egard.

“These are the purest gold,” the God King explained to Tuolonatl. “It lessens the risk.”

The risk? the woman mouthed under her breath, but she dared not ask aloud.

“This is your favored man?” Scathmizzane asked her, indicating the young and tall xoconai by Tuolonatl’s side.

“Ataquixt, God King,” she said, pushing Ataquixt forward.

“You are a fine mundunugu, I am told,” Scathmizzane said to the man, who kept his gaze deferentially to the ground.

“Do you think you can guide Kithkukulikhan with your steady hand?” Scathmizzane asked him, drawing several gasps from those around, including one from Tuolonatl.

Ataquixt’s gaze rose quickly, the mundunugu staring into the eyes of Glorious Gold. “I . . . I . . .” poor Ataquixt muttered, surely overwhelmed.

“We will see,” Scathmizzane said and, turning to the water, called for the dragon.

“Two augurs,” the God King instructed Pixquicauh, “and the mirror from atop Otontotomi. Fear not, we will replace the mirror presently, and if Kithkukulikhan eats the augurs and this young warrior, they will be replaced.”

Pixquicauh glanced back and motioned to two of the priests, young men both, bidding them to bring forward the desired golden mirror. Both hesitated, staring out at the dragon with clear trepidation, but Ataquixt’s chuckle mocked them, especially when Glorious Gold joined in.

Scathmizzane guided Ataquixt to the appropriate spot on the dragon’s huge back, then helped the priests to settle behind him. “Guide Kithkukulikhan to the spot where the fleeing children of Cizinfozza left the lakeshore,” he instructed Ataquixt. Then, to the two augurs, he said, “And there, set the mirror aiming back to this spot. Recite your prayer to the rising and setting sun. Catch the rays of the rising sun and redirect them to us back here on this dock.”

Away went the dragon, half of it in the water, half above, propelled by the snakelike body and the small, beating wings.

“Bring your mirror, Pixquicauh,” Scathmizzane told the high priest. “And you,” he said to Tuolonatl, “use that mirror to track the reflection of Kithkukulikhan.”

None of them understood what this might be about, but neither were they about to question their god. The second mirror was brought forth and set on the edge of the dock. Tuolonatl stood before it, just a bit to the side, directing the priests to turn it a bit left, then right, so that she could see the reflection of the dragon, which by then was nearing the spot far across the lake.

She couldn’t make out the movements, exactly, as the three xoconai debarked the giant mount and the dragon started away. The woman told the priests to turn the mirror to follow.

“No, watch your chosen scout in the reflection,” Scathmizzane instructed, and the mirror was quickly realigned.

“What do you see?”

“Flickers of the mirror, nothing more,” the woman replied. “They are far away, my Glorious Gold.”

“Look deeper,” Scathmizzane told her. “Let yourself flow into the mirror more fully. Trust in the image.”

Tuolonatl stared at the distant image and, to her surprise, it did seem to grow a bit in the mirror. She knew that the trio and the other mirror were too far away for this to be possible, but she could indeed see them, moving about, the augurs flanking the golden sheet, Ataquixt behind them, directing.

They grew bigger still when their mirror was turned correctly, catching the light of the rising sun and turning it back so that the glare became intense in the mirror before Tuolonatl.

So intense! A bright flash, blinding, washing away all other sights.

No, there they were again, the woman thought, looking at Ataquixt over the top edge of the mirror he had taken across the lake. So large now, and appearing so near! Tuolonatl felt as if she could reach out and touch—

The woman gasped and spun about.

She was across the lake, standing with the shocked trio of Ataquixt and the two augurs. Looking back the other way, she saw clearly the fissure of the ixnecia and the distant, tiny boats and their swaying masts, the docks, the Glorious Gold, Scathmizzane.

A flash in the mirror across the way became one in the mirror beside her, and then Pixquicauh was there.

“Glorious Gold,” he muttered repeatedly, shaking his head and seeming fully overcome with awe and shock.

“He comes!” Ataquixt said then, pointing out over the lake, and the others turned to see Kithkukulikhan flying toward them, with Scathmizzane, once more a giant, riding the dragon. He flew right up to them, hovering above them, towering above them.

“This is how we will move the legions,” Scathmizzane explained to them. “Flash-steps—we will cover a hundred miles a day, easily. And those trailing will erect pyramids, one facing behind, one forward, each with a mirror to keep this magical trail open to us. Go back now the way you came, Tuolonatl. Get the boats laden with supplies and sailing at once. Get my warriors and their cuetzpali to the docks and through the mirrors.

“Go back now the way you came, Pixquicauh,” Scathmizzane continued. “Gather the augurs and twenty-two more mirrors that we can begin a dozen points of flash-step travel. Quickly, before the sun climbs too high.”

“How many, God King?” Tuolonatl dared to ask.

“A hundred legions,” he answered.

The woman tried to quickly calculate how long that would take, given a thousand warriors in each legion.

“Only in the sunlight?”

“The sunlight is your mount,” Scathmizzane explained. “For now. There are other ways, but the sunlight will be enough at this time.”

More calculations swirled about the commander’s thoughts. She would have to get the mirrors across as quickly as possible, then send twelve lines in orderly flash-stepping. They would have to move in fast march to keep the bank area clear. They would have to take more mirrors ahead for a second hop, and a third. Would the most efficient process involve twelve on either side of the intended step or a line of mirrors allowing the warriors to frog-hop along, stretching the lines?

She tried to consider the logistics in light of this new and remarkable magic, and more than once shook her head, dismissing this arrangement or that.

“You will discern the best way, great Tuolonatl,” Scathmizzane said to her, drawing her from her contemplation and causing a gasp of embarrassment.

“This is why I chose you as cochcal,” the Glorious Gold told her. “You will find the best arrangement of the mirrors, and you will keep the mundunugu and the macana marching, or perhaps rafting, when the mirrors are not enough, when the sun cannot be caught to give passage. A hundred miles a day.”

Tuolonatl nodded subserviently. There was no room in Glorious Gold’s tone for her to argue or question or perform any less than had been demanded. Still, she had no idea of how they might accomplish this. Even going as fast as they could, it would take many hours to simply get the legions flash-stepping to the next spot, and many hours more if they lessened the mirror portals. She could get her mundunugu to sprint forward spot to spot with fresh cuetzpali, even a total of a hundred miles in a day, but that, too, would be no easy task.

“I give you one more gift to complete your task,” Scathmizzane said, as if reading her confusion and doubts. “I, upon Kithkukulikhan, will fly the mirrors and their handlers, a dozen at a time, to the next point in line.”

The woman nodded, the process becoming clear, the task seeming suddenly far less daunting.

“A hundred miles a day,” Glorious Gold reiterated. “Go assemble my legions. Fill their packs, bring the supplies. The children of Cizinfozza will find no rest, and the nation of Tonoloya will see the sun climb from the eastern sea and sink into the western sea each night for its sleep.”

“Yes, Glorious Gold,” Tuolonatl said, and bowed. She could hardly catch her breath. In only two weeks, they would come to the small village Ataquixt had scouted. How much longer, she wondered, would pass before she stood on the beaches of the eastern sea?

And what carnage would a hundred fierce xoconai legions leave in their wake?

Copyright © 2020 by R. A. Salvatore

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