Read an Excerpt From Robert Jackson Bennett’s Shorefall

As a magical revolution remakes a city, an ancient evil is awakened…

We’re thrilled to preview an excerpt from Shorefall, the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders trilogy—available April 21st from Del Rey.

A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.

But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.

Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.

Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.


 

 

“Did you…” she asked.

“Yes,” said Gregor, troubled. “I did.”

They listened hard, and then they heard it again—the sound of a man screaming.

The sound tapered off. Sancia and Gregor stood without speaking, listening to the creaking, groaning, shuddering ship move around them. There was no other sound.

“So—that’s not normal, right?” she asked.

“It is not,” said Gregor.

There was a long silence.

“I… suppose we had better go investigate,” said Gregor quietly.

“What time is it?” said Sancia.

Gregor pulled out a scrived timepiece and huddled by his scrived lantern to see. “It’s not even ten o’clock yet.”

“So… they can’t have done it yet, right? They have to wait for the lost minute, for midnight.”

“I am afraid I am not the expert on this material.”

“Shitting hell,” said Sancia. She wiped sweat from her brow and lifted her espringal. Together they continued into the depths of the galleon.

 

They wound on and on through the decks of the ship, through quarters and chambers and stairwells. The air was hot and moist and dreadfully still, and the lights from their lanterns seemed painfully small, tiny bubbles of luminescence attempting to beat back the dark.

Then they heard a scream again, echoing from the innards of the giant vessel. They exchanged a look and continued on, deeper and deeper in, espringals ready.

“We’re approaching the cargo holds,” whispered Gregor.

“Which means what?”

“I’m not sure. But there should be large chambers up ahead. Perhaps where they keep the slaves.”

They came to one corridor that seemed unusually long and straight, perhaps running from bow to stern. They stopped and shone their lights down its length, but could see no end to it.

I hope no one is at the other side, thought Sancia, looking back at us.

They started down the corridor, moving as quietly as they could. Sancia flexed her scrived sight as they walked. For a long while she saw nothing at all—and then she raised a hand.

They halted as she examined what lay ahead. She thought she could see a handful of unusual scrivings on the floor a few dozen feet away—a scrived timepiece, a sachet, a fire starter for lighting a pipe, an augmented knife…

It’s a person, she thought. I’m seeing what’s in his pocket or on his belt…

They weren’t moving. And they were just beyond the light cast by their lanterns.

Someone is lying down over there, she mouthed to Gregor, pointing ahead.

Gregor nodded and crept forward, espringal raised. Sancia watched, trying not to breathe too loudly as his light stretched forward along the wooden floors of the corridor… until it fell upon a spreading pool of blood.

Gregor paused ever so briefly at the sight of it. Then he walked forward until the light illuminated the body of a man lying face-down on the side of the corridor.

He did not rush to the body. Instead, Gregor looked into the darkness, head cocked, no doubt listening for the killer. Then he stepped forward through the blood, knelt beside the body, and rolled it over.

Gregor quickly withdrew his hand. Sancia couldn’t see what he was reacting to, but it was no comfort to her that a veteran of so many wars could have such a reaction.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“This man… This man’s eyes have been removed,” said Gregor.

What?” she said, horrified.

“His eyes are gouged out.” He leaned closer and held his little lantern up to the body’s face. “No. Cut out.” He examined the rest of the man. “And… Sancia… I think he did this to himself. Look.”

Grimacing, Sancia approached and saw the augmented knife clutched in the man’s fingers. His wrists had been slashed open, and his front was covered in blood.

“Wait,” she said. “He killed himself?”

“Yes. Though I suspect he cut his eyes out first.”

She swallowed her horror and studied the body. He looked quite affluent, wearing an elaborate doublet and hose, with lace collars and cuffs. She examined him with her scrived sight, and peered closer at his scrived sachet and the many permissions it bestowed on him.

“Definitely Dandolo,” she said. “And I think a scriver. I haven’t studied their sachets in a while, but… this looks very inner-enclave to me. Why did he do this?”

“I do not know.” Gregor looked down the corridor and held his lantern high. “But that’s where he came from.”

She looked and saw droplets of blood on the corridor’s darkened floor, marking the man’s path. He must have come from the other end of the corridor.

There was a noise—a strangled sob from the far end of the corridor, lost in the dark.

Sancia did her utmost not to jump or scream. Gregor’s face remained totally impassive. He stood, raised his espringal, and began stalking down the corridor toward the sound.

“Please come with me,” he said quietly. “And let me know what lies ahead.”

She followed him down the corridor, stepping around the blood on the floor.

It’s still not midnight yet. What happened here? What in hell is going on?

Finally their light fell upon the end of the corridor: a small, blank wall, with a single plain door, hanging open. She could see nothing but darkness on the other side. There was blood on the handle of the door and around the frame—remnants of bloody handprints as someone fumbled with it, she guessed.

“Sancia,” whispered Gregor. “What is in that room?”

She walked forward. Little tangles of logic and arguments sprang to life—all of them small, trivial, and mostly in bunches on the floor.

She swallowed again. Her mouth and throat were very dry. “I think it’s… I think there are bodies in there, Gregor,” she said. “Nine of them.”

Gregor stood there for a moment, totally frozen, his espringal trained on the open door. She saw his brow and temples were covered in sweat. Then he walked forward, and Sancia followed.

They heard the sound again—a strained whimper from within the room ahead.

Sancia watched as one little bundle of scrivings and sachets twitched.

“One of them’s alive,” she whispered.

Gregor stepped into the doorway and held his lamp up high. The chamber had been intended as a meeting or planning room, Sancia thought, judging by the big table and chairs in the center, but it appeared to have been converted into an impromptu assembly bay for scriving work: hundreds of tomes had been stacked up on the table, along with styli and scrived bowls of heated metals, and there were pieces of parchment stuck to the walls, all covered with charts of sigils and strings.

And below these, all over the floor, were the bodies of scrivers. And all of them had been horribly mutilated.

Some had shoved styli into their necks. Others had opened up the veins in their arms, like the man in the hallway. One man had plunged a scrived stiletto into his heart. But there was a commonality to their injuries: all of them had apparently cut or gouged or clawed out their own eyes before finally resorting to suicide.

Sancia stared at the scene around her. Inevitably her eye was drawn to the large door on the far side of the wall. It hung open, though she couldn’t see anything on the other side. Judging by the scrivings she could spy, it looked like there was a very large room on the other side.

And what’s through there?

A wet sob came from the corner. Gregor darted across the room to a man who lay crumpled on the floor, his eyes gouged out, his face and chest covered with blood. He’d tried to slash his wrists, but he’d done a bad job of it, and still lived.

“Who is… who is there?” whimpered the scriver. Then, his voice shaking with terror, he said: “Is it you, My Prophet?”

“Who are you?” asked Gregor. “What happened here?”

“Please,” sobbed the scriver. His mutilated sockets gleamed in the light of their lanterns. “Please, whoever you are. Please, kill me, please…”

“What has happened?”

“Please…”

“Why did you do this to yourself?”

Please!

“Tell me,” said Gregor sternly. “Now. Why?”

“Not supposed… to see him,” whispered the dying scriver. “Can’t see what he is… underneath it all…”

“Who?” demanded Gregor. “Who do you mean? Is it… Is it Cras—”

“Please,” begged the man. “Please, kill me! Please, I don’t… I can’t live with this inside me! I can’t have it inside of me!

Sancia looked at the parchments pinned to the walls. Most of them were scriving designs, but a few seemed to be maps—though they were maps of a place Sancia found very familiar.

She studied the layout of the building they depicted, which was huge, circular, with many floors… and it had six specific areas highlighted, deep in the foundations of the structure.

Why in the hell, she wondered, would they bring maps of the Mountain of the Candianos here? And what’s so interesting in the basement?

She moved on to the scriving designs. They contained countless hierophantic sigils for many permissions and commands: symbols for change, for death, for strength, for recurrence… and then another parchment, with many strings she’d never seen before.

She moved closer to it, held up her lantern, and began to read.

“What did you do?” said Gregor. “What has happened aboard this ship?”

“We had to… had to find a piece of him,” choked the scriver.

“What?” said Gregor.

“He’d left it behind. Hid it away. A tomb among the islands…”

Sancia stared at the new sigils, but none of them were familiar to her. She wished Berenice were here—she had a near-perfect memory when it came to sigils and strings.

She read the notes at the top, written in plain text. One said, Capable of convincing reality of shifting times…

A horrible dread filled her. Oh no.

“A piece of what?” said Gregor.

“A tiny… a tiny bit of bone. You could put it in a living person, and… and argue that this was him, that he’d never died…”

Sancia began ripping the parchments off the walls, folding them up, and stuffing them in her pockets.

“Where are the slaves?” asked Gregor. “What have you done with the people aboard this ship?”

“But… we couldn’t see,” whispered the man. “Weren’t allowed to see. Can’t see him. Cannot see the… the king behind the veil…” He coughed wetly.

Gregor sat back and stared at the mutilated man, his face like ash. “What did you do here?” he asked softly.

“Please… I have seen him.” The scriver’s words were slurred and drunken now. “I’ve looked at him. I can’t have that in… inside me…”

“What has my mother done?” asked Gregor.

The scriver’s head lolled back, and he went silent.

For a moment they did nothing, not daring to speak. Then they stared at the door beyond, leading to the larger chamber.

Sancia looked around again at the books and the bowls on the table. This was their preparation room.

Gregor and Sancia crossed to the large door on the far side of the wall.

But is this where they did their true work?

“Do you see anything inside, Sancia?” whispered Gregor.

She flexed her sight. The room on the other side of the door was dark, devoid of any logic or arguments. She shook her head.

Gregor slowly took a breath, opened the door, walked into the room, and held up his lantern.

“Oh… Oh my God…” he moaned.

Sancia joined him. Then she saw, and she felt faint and fell to her knees.

Nearly a hundred bodies of men, women, and children lay on the floor of the room, all bound in chains and ropes and arranged in overlapping rings around a small, circular space where a single lantern shone.

 

Excerpted from Shorefall, copyright © 2020 by Robert Jackson Bennett.

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