TIME’S DEMON, the newest book from D.B. Jackson, aka David B. Coe, is the second book in The Islevale Cycle, his new time travel/epic fantasy series. TIME’S CHILDREN, volume one, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named the Best Fantasy Novel of 2018 by Reviews and Robots. SFFWorld calls TIME’S DEMON “as perfect a second book in a series as a reader could hope to have.”
In this excerpt, Quinnel Orzili, an assassin, must Span (a form of magical travel) to the mountain home of vicious Belvora demons and enlist their aid in a task he prefers to complete himself. Enjoy!
He emerged from the wind, light, and din onto a sloped field covered with fragments of sharp, gray rock. The shards bit at his bare feet. His skin pebbled in a cold wind. Jagged, snow-crusted peaks loomed above him, bathed in golden sunlight. Below where he stood, shadows from the summits had already reached expanses of spruce and fir. Here, he saw only grass, low shrubs, and scattered wildflowers. A pair of ravens scudded past, their calls echoing off the surrounding cliffs. Overhead, a lone hawk circled on splayed wings.
The air smelled of snow and lupine, but the faintest hint of rotting meat rode the chill wind. Belvora lurked nearby. If he smelled them, they had already scented his magick. Best then to engage them and leave, before they began to stalk him.
“I would speak with the Winged Ancients,” he called. The shadows and mountain air swallowed his words. He felt small and weak. He would have given a stack of gold rounds for clothes. Or better still, armor and a blade. Too late, he wondered if his wounds, and the residue of healer magick, would be to Belvora as blood to sharks.
He scanned the sky, but he also reset his sextant for the return to Qaifin, and faced eastward. Belvora could not follow him into the gap. If this went poorly, he would Span himself out of danger.
He checked the sky again. Perhaps the demons weren’t as close as he thought, or hadn’t heard his summons. He was prepared to call a second time, when a lone flying figure wheeled into view high above the surrounding peaks. His heartbeat quickened.
Two demons soon joined the first. Then another, and two more. Within a spirecount eight circled over him like buzzards. The first tucked its wings and commenced a swift, spiraling descent toward the basin in which he stood. The rest followed. Orzili set his thumb on the sextant’s release, ready at the first sign of trouble.
The vortex of
Orzili watched with alarm as they arrayed themselves in a circle around him. Their stench was overpowering. He tried not to let his disgust show.
They were taller than any human, with long sinuous arms that ended in taloned hands. Manes of hair – some gold, some silver – framed narrowing faces. Their ears were long and pointed, their features blunt, their eyes large, amber, alert, like those of wild dogs.
They regarded him in silence, some grave, others with razor teeth bared in grins. Wind stirred their shining hair. Orzili shivered.
A blade, he realized, would have done him no good. Neither would a pistol or musket. He needed his men; he needed tri-sextants. Once again he cursed Tobias and the woman with him, who had been clever enough to shoot a tri-sextant out of the grasp of one of Orzili’s assassins.
“We are not accustomed to being summoned by prey,” one of the Belvora said, her voice like the shriek of a forest owl.
The others laughed.
“I’m not prey,” Orzili said with as much force as he could muster.
“You smell like prey. You certainly look like prey. I see nothing in you that could keep us from making you prey.”
“Kill me, and the autarch will send a thousand men to slaughter you, as your kind have been slaughtered elsewhere.”
That appeared to give the demons pause.
“You come from the autarch?” the Belvora asked. She was taller than the others, with hair like burnished silver and talons as long as Orzili’s little finger.
“I do. He has a task for you and your brethren.”
The demon shifted her gaze to the male beside her and then to the others.
“He offers payment?” she asked, her eyes finding his again.
“Your quarry ought to be payment enough: two Walkers, and a human child.”
A murmur passed through the demons, words he didn’t understand circling him like wolves.
“Where are they, these Walkers?”
“We don’t know. You will have to search for them. They could be anywhere between the oceans.”
“Such a quest will demand that we leave this place, perhaps for many turns. Two Walkers is scant payment for so much effort.”
“And the child,” Orzili reminded. “The autarch grants you refuge here, protection from others who wish to see your kind wiped out. This is small recompense for all he has done.”
The other Belvora muttered again, the sound more menacing this time.
“Bold words from a puny, naked human,” Silver-Hair said, her lip curling.
“I’m merely repeating what the autarch told me to say. I think you’ll agree that he and his army have proven themselves capable of backing up bold claims.”
Her features resolved into a scowl. “Still, we tire of feeding on goats and elk and bear. Humans are rare up here. And Travelers are rarest of all.”
This last she said with too much ardor for his taste.
“Then this hunt will be a boon to you.” He kept his voice level, refusing to show fear. “You may feast along the way. The autarch cares only that you find the Walkers and the child.”
The Belvora glanced past him again. Her quick, malicious grin froze his heart.
“You have your orders,” he said. “The autarch will expect you to follow them.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, but raised his sextant and pressed the release. The Belvora lunged. Stone shifted and scraped behind him. But the gap sucked him forward before they could touch him. As he entered the storm of light and sound, he thought he heard screams of thwarted hunger.
Orzili emerged from the gap onto the ramparts of Pemin’s castle. He reclaimed the robes he had been given and returned to the autarch’s chamber, where he told Pemin of his encounter. He omitted mention of those final harrowing moments.
This second audience with the autarch didn’t last long. Soon he was atop the castle again, preparing for his long Span back to Daerjen. The sun hung close to the western horizon and the air had cooled so that even here, far from the mountains, the breeze raised bumps on his skin.
He thumbed himself into the gap, submitting once more to the torment. The journey back across the seas stretched interminably. When he reached Hayncalde Castle, his legs gave out and he fell into a stone wall, scraping his cheek and wounded leg. He gasped at the pain.
A satin wrap settled around him. Lenna loomed over him in the gloaming. Judging from the light, it must have taken him close to a bell to Span back.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
He tried to stand, but she laid a hand on his arm. “Stay there. You’re not ready to walk.”
“I’ve Spanned before, Lenna.”
“That far? Twice in a day? After being stabbed and shot?” She softened the questions with a smile. “You may be young, but you’re not that young.”
His mind cleared slowly. “You’ve been waiting for me?”
“I knew how weary you’d be.” She brushed a strand of hair from his brow.
His heart raced much as it had in the Sana, and yet nothing like that at all. “Why are you being nice to me?”
She stared, then shook her head and laughed. “You really are a fool, aren’t you? I’m being nice because I love you. I have for most of my life. Just because I don’t wish to be bedded by this particular version of you doesn’t mean I love you any less. You should understand that.”
He could think of no reply.
“You were gone a long time,” she said, breaking a short silence.
“He sent me to the Sana.” He spoke without thinking, without any consideration of where the comment would lead.
He hesitated, allowing her to answer her own question.
“Blood and bone,” she whispered. “The Belvora. You told him we didn’t need the bloody winged bastards?”
“I tried. He didn’t give me a choice.” One more lie. What else could he say? It was either that or spend more of your days. He knew what kind of response that would bring.
She considered him, her forehead bunching. Perhaps she didn’t need him to lead her there.
“I’m surprised he didn’t order you to send me back with a warning.” The words were pointed.
“The idea came up,” he said, skirting the truth. “He prefers not to have you Walk any more than necessary. He said, ‘I may need to send her to her own time. I want her to arrive with strength enough to be of use to me.’ Or something like that.”
Lenna scowled. “The two of you should stop coddling me. I know better than both of you what I can and can’t do. Let me Walk as I’m supposed to.”
“You should sail to Qaifin and tell Pemin yourself. I’m sure he’ll enjoy being chastised by one of his assassins.”
She looked to the side, lips pressed thin. After a fivecount, she surrendered to a smile.
“Maybe I’ll send a message by bird. A ship would be too slow.”
Orzili laughed. He braced a hand on the stone and pushed himself up. Lenna stood with him.
His vision spun, but he nodded. “Fine.”
She walked him to his quarters, lingering in the hallway as he opened the door and stepped inside.
“My thanks. That was a nicer welcome than I expected.”
A pause. Then they both started to speak at once. They stopped, laughed.
“You first,” he said.
“We should begin our search for them tomorrow. In earnest. I have no intention of ceding this kill to the Belvora. We started it, you and I. We should be the ones to finish it.”
“What were you going to say?”
“That exact thing.” The truth.
She started away. “Good. I’ll see you at dawn bells.”
D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Demon, is the second volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. Time’s Children is volume one; David is working on the third book, Time’s Assassin.
As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy; the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood; a contemporary urban fantasy trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson; and most recently, Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, a tie-in with the History Channel’s Knightfall series.
David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.