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  • L.L. Stephens

EXCERPT: The Kheld King


This will be the last excerpt from The Kheld King I will put up before its release. Some sales sites will soon have first chapter or other excerpts up for view.


Readers of Sordaneon already know Dorilian is heir to both the Rill... and Highborn powers he has yet to attain. Dorilian needs to work on that... because he has an enemy who already wields arcane power.

This excerpt shows Nammuor at work.


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A drop of sweat trickled onto the upper lashes at the corner of Nammuor’s right eyelid, where it hung for a moment before sliding down into his eye. The resulting sharp sting pricked his awareness and he blinked. His focus wavered. On the verge of completion, the fine blue energy tube he had been creating between a pair of glowing blood crystals failed to stabilize; the thread of incandescence warped, expanded outward and disintegrated altogether.

“Imbecile!” Removing his hands from the crystals and the glittering, red-jeweled Diadem on which he had been working, Nammuor turned in rage to confront the quivering acolyte at his feet. A dozen cloud wort wands tipped with spun cotton dropped from the youth’s frightened hand to spread like accusing fingers on the obsidian floor. The youth had failed his only responsibility: keeping sweat out of the Master’s eyes.

“Master, he is dismissed.” Oarzas, his Prime Crystallier, pulled the acolyte to his feet and propelled him toward the door. The white-faced youth did not even look back but fled the innermost sanctuary in a flurry of yellow robes. “He will be severely punished.”

“I thought this one was your best.”

“I will find you another.”

Nammuor grimaced and stumbled over to a stone chair facing the horned altar, where the Diadem rested on a plinth of black deathstone, the sole material that dampened its malevolent energies. Only by doing so could Nammuor and the mages work in its presence while wearing enhancers. The one he was wearing, the Crown of Fire with its five red stones and tiers of golden wire, had been sending scythes of pain through his head and down his spine for half a night. Even before he was fully seated, he wrenched it from his head. He would have worn a band of cloth to catch his sweat, but his use of the device required uninterrupted contact between the enhancer’s surfaces and his skin. He pulled off his lr-rings also, one by one, all nine blue gems glowing with power, and tossed them into a dish Oarzas had fetched from the table near the altar. Little by little, the agony inside his skull abated.

“Will you wish to try again?” Oarzas asked.

“Tomorrow.”

He was being hopeful. Every contact with the Diadem of the Devaryati stole more of his strength than he could easily replenish. Even from here, Nammuor suffered the device’s hunger—a hunger a hundred times fiercer than the day he had first discovered it in a coffin at the volcano’s core. He had sacrificed a legion of his followers to free it. To feed it. Even so, the thing drained him of emotion and perception, so that the world around him, and everything in it, especially living things, turned gray. He had only to look at Oarzas to know this. The man’s gold hair looked silver, his fair skin like chalk, and even the red of his robe barely stood out against the pitch-dark wall at his back.

Oarzas walked to the altar. “Shall I sheathe it, Master?”

Nammuor nodded.

Still wearing his lr-rings, the mage touched the three triggers on the altar face, activating the deathstone to create an even more powerful null field around the Diadem. Not even light escaped, creating the appearance of a large black cylinder. The buzz in Nammuor’s mind faded and he welcomed the void that followed. From the altar, Oarzas picked up a golden reliquary holding several glowing blood-red crystals and began closing the lid.

“I will return these to the vault.”

“No. Bring them here.”

When the coffer was held before him, Nammuor plucked one finger-long crystal from the midnight blue lining in which it nestled and held it to light. Beautiful. Even in this form, Highborn blood possessed such true red color it put every other shade to shame. Not muddled like human blood, it more resembled crimson honey. Of course, blood was just the binding principle. What gave each crystal its glow was the captured lifeforce. He could name each of his crystals, if he wished.

And each would vanish as a separate entity the moment he welded them into the Diadem. Two already were. Too bad it was such a painful process, or he would have incorporated these remaining crystals weeks ago.

Seven crystals remained. Nammuor had filled far more at Permephedon, but Dorilian had destroyed those and prevented the harvesting of more. Another of Nammuor’s mages had been destroyed by sorcerous fire—along with the crystals he’d collected. Only one mage had carried crystals back to Mormantalorus.

Nine, all told—nine crystals laced with Highborn blood, the lifeforces within destined to feed the Diadem’s infernal hunger. Nine—and the Diadem needed twelve to be made whole.

“Where am I to get three more, Oarzas?” There was, of course, only one answer. He needed more Highborn.

The sharp-faced mage ticked off the possibilities. “Four of the abominations cower in Essera. Tollech harbors an old man. And there’s always the one in Sordan.”

Nammuor’s eyes narrowed. Was it insolence on Oarzas’ part, the way he said it? A rebuke to remind him he had not yet moved against Dorilian?

“That one,” he said, “I must get when he’s away from the Rill.” He carefully tucked the crystal back into the reliquary alongside its brothers.

Oarzas leaned nearer, showing sharp teeth. “Only Sordan’s upper city and the Serat are fully dampened by that Entity. We can get agents on the island, mages even—”

“No,” he said firmly. Oarzas understood Nammuor’s hatred of Sordan’s ruler, but he did not understand all the permutations of that hatred. The subtleties. Hatred did not blind Nammuor to opportunity. “The Rill is a most interesting Entity, Oarzas. An active Entity. Its life is visible for all men to see. One hundred and fifty years ago, when Tarlon Sordaneon died, the Rill faltered. Just for a day, until his grandson Labran slipped the Rill Stone on his finger to activate the gift. Five years ago, when Labran died, the Rill didn’t falter for even a moment. It didn’t so much as stutter. It didn’t even notice. Do you know why?”

Oarzas did not answer. Because the Rill did not run to Mormantalorus, it bred less fervent study—and worship—than in other lands. Why the Rill did anything held less fascination than the box in Nammuor’s hands. The Highborn had been shown to have other uses, and men like Oarzas were more interested in discovering how to harness such power in crystals and create arcane arrays that made gods irrelevant. Even now the mage’s gaze fixed upon the coffer and the power it promised.

Nammuor closed the golden lid, dousing the light from the blood crystals.


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So yes, there is sorcery in THE KHELD KING. The evil fixated on destroying Leur's Second Creation is growing stronger... and instead of joining forces against Nammuor, Dorilian and Stefan are tearing at each other's throats. A Time-spanning Entity was supposed to have prevented this. But it didn't....


Available September 13, 2022

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