Sequel to the #1 bestselling epic fantasy Sands.2016 Utah Book Award Finalist Storms rage across the Sharani Desert. Change is in the wind. Lhaurel has saved the Rahuli, but now she is trapped in a restless slumber, haunted by nightmares from the battle in the Oasis. The madman who tried to destroy the clans is safely locked away in the Roterralar Warren but continues to warn them of a looming threat from outside the Forbiddance—a threat far worse than the genesauri. The Orinai are coming. Oblivious to these dire warnings, the Rahuli struggle to piece together their crippled society. Whether they like it or not, they must unite to survive. To save the clans, Gavin makes a desperate bid for power. His only ally is a beautiful but confusing woman who is teaching him how to use his burgeoning abilities. As Gavin tries to lead the people one last time, Lhaurel must decide if she is willing to pay the price to save her people once again.
About the Author
Kevin Nielsen’s journey into writing began in the 6th grade when an oft-frustrated librarian told him there simply wasn’t enough money in the budget to buy any more books. She politely suggested he write his own. He’s been writing ever since (and invading libraries and bookstores everywhere). Kevin currently resides in Utah with his amazing wife and two wonderful children. He’s still writing and continuing a lifelong quest to become a dragon rider.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1Voices in the Dark“On the nature of the powers of those called “mystics” by the Rahuli people: The magic, if it can be called such, is an extension of abilities already granted to men by whomever or whatever created them. Though they may appear as a manipulation of the elements in a fantastic, unexplainable manner, this is merely the outward appearance. These abilities are easily quantified and categorized.” —From Commentary on the Schema, Volume I Beryl fought down the voices clamoring within his mind. What Lhaurel had done, what she had become, Beryl hadn’t thought possible. Not this time. Not again. His memories from that time in his past were scattered, partitioned away in the far corners of his mind where he kept the voices. And that sword the outcast boy had with him . . . Beryl growled to himself and limped through the narrow halls of the Roterralar Warren, pushing back the voices and the memories. He strode through the less-used passages, grateful that he hadn’t encountered anyone up to that point. He so rarely left the comfort of his smithy and he was more than a little surly at having to leave it now. But Khari had summoned him, and despite the majority of the voices in his mind protesting the fact, she was now the leader of the Roterralar. Khari waited for him further down the passage, one foot tapping impatiently against the sand-strewn floor. A crack in the ceiling allowed a narrow beam of light to filter down over the woman’s face, lightening the cloudy expression which darkened her features. Her once-black hair shone with grey. Beryl remembered when she’d first come to the Roterralar, so many years ago. He’d been old even then. Khari, however, had aged far more gracefully. “What was so sands-cursed important that it couldn’t be discussed in my forge?” Beryl asked without preamble. Khari scowled, but gestured for Beryl to follow her. Beryl didn’t move. “What do you need?” Beryl repeated, an edge of gruffness creeping into his voice. “What’s put you in such a foul mood, Beryl?” The voices shouted a half-dozen different responses, none of which would have earned him the woman’s praise. Instead, Beryl simply grunted. “You’ve been like this ever since we got back from—” Khari hesitated. “From the Oasis.” “Is there a point to all this?” Khari’s lips hardened into a thin line and the set of her jaw firmed. Beryl noted the shift in emotion, but didn’t care. “You know something about what happened, don’t you? Lhaurel—she’s still out, even now, a whole fortnight later. She mutters strange things in her sleep, things about blood and death.” The voices rose to shouts within his mind. “Old things are awakening,” Beryl said, echoing one of the voices. “With the genesauri gone, I fear things have been set in motion that should have remained still.” “Are they truly gone, Beryl? How do you know?” Beryl didn’t answer at first, listening to one of the voices. People often thought him slow of thought—those that didn’t know him at least. Most times, however, the delay came not from a lack of thought, but from trying to decide which of the voices to allow precedence. Usually, he simply ignored them all, but every now and then one of the voices was able to come up with a modicum of sense. “They’re gone,” he said. The strongest voice, Beryl’s most recent and final Iteration, reached down through the sands, through the thick pool of metal beneath the sand, and then onward and outward, expanding down to the pool of heat, fire, and molten earth that rested beneath the Sharani Desert. It tugged at the heat, channeling it upward toward the metal barrier which kept it contained. With a growl, Beryl wrestled back control. He almost shuddered as memory welled up within him at the contact with his past self. Khari regarded him with pursed lips, brow furrowed. “You didn’t bring me here to talk about Lhaurel,” Beryl growled. “No,” Khari said at length. “No, I didn’t. I brought you here because Farah needs help with the task I’ve given her.” Beryl grunted. Farah was one of the relampagos—a young one, if he recalled correctly. “What task is that?” “To make weapons that can’t be manipulated by mystics.” Beryl blinked and narrowed his eyes against the pain of memory and shouting voices. Images of greatswords impervious to magneteloriums and the cries of the dying and the damned made a discordant symphony within the halls of his memory. It was starting. Before the Orinai had even responded to his message, the Rahuli were returning to their roots. “Glass?” Beryl asked, voice subdued. That had to be what they were using. The other weapons, the other forms, those were things only he knew. “She can’t get the balance right. It’s hard enough directing the flow of energy through the sand, but even grinding the result down afterward is yielding poor results.” There was an edge to Khari’s voice, a hardening of steel. She had handled Makin Qays’s death well, at least on the surface. But Beryl recognized the barely concealed anger hidden beneath the exterior mask. “I will help,” he said, sealing his fate. “Good,” Khari said. “She’s in the lower hall next to the healing room.” Beryl grunted and turned to walk away. Khari didn’t follow. “You’re not coming?” Khari shook her head and, if anything, her expression grew even more grim. “No,” she said. “I need to speak with a man who would be king.”
*** Beryl took the red-glass knife, inspecting the wide body and wicked hook. The weapon looked like an elongated meat cleaver with an axe spike affixed near the end. He grunted in approval. Farah smiled and brushed aside her long, blonde hair. “Sorry to have troubled you. The idea simply came to me after the first few failed attempts. This is thick enough to take a hit or two, but still extremely light, and razor sharp.” Beryl grunted again. Yes, it looked unconventional, but it was a perfect replica of the weapons one of the voices in his head remembered so well. One of his own designs actually. Well, he couldn’t take the credit himself. The way the magic worked, the way the energy crackled and snapped down through the sand and melted it to glass, it was really the only way to make them. “Make more,” Beryl found himself saying. Farah gave him a puzzled look. “How many more?” “As many as you can,” Beryl said, turning to leave. Memories swirled in his mind to the accompaniment of arguing voices. Farah said something that Beryl didn’t quite hear as he left, absently scratching at the metal flakes embedded in his flesh. It was happening too quickly. History was repeating itself. He needed to remember. His left hand squeezed convulsively on his right forearm, hard enough that Beryl was sure it would leave a bruise. Memories were dangerous things. Memories gave power to the voices, to the past versions of himself that he’d spent centuries repressing. He couldn’t let the voices back in control, couldn’t let them take over again. The last time that had happened, the last time he’d lost control—well, that time had been the beginning of the end for everything and everyone he’d ever loved. He growled in frustration at himself, then a thought came to him. The grottoes. The Rahuli and the others had left a history of the people, a record of both the Orinai and the Rahuli slaves. Beryl didn’t need to consult the voices. He could simply read the words himself. One of the voices groaned in disappointment. Beryl ignored it and turned down an unlit path. Though he hadn’t been down to the grottoes since before the desert sands had been stained red, he knew the way down to his own damnation.
*** Beryl stopped before the entrance to the grotto. As old memories came flooding back, the voices swelled within his mind and threatened to overcome him. It was a constant battle, a never-ending war between Beryl and the voices. One of the voices rose to the forefront, piercing the strata of the soil, probing down through the metal shelf, and reaching into the sweltering, roiling heat of the volcano’s heart beneath. The ground trembled slightly beneath his feet, a testament to the power that voice contained and which Beryl constantly suppressed. “No!” The sound echoed through the cavern and bounced off the water, giving the returning sound an ethereal quality. “No,” he whispered. He couldn’t let them win. Couldn’t let them win. Beryl wrestled back control, suppressing the voices by reaching out to the metal in the walls. He pulled on it and tore out a massive chunk of ore, rock still clinging to the metal hunk. He worked it, the mental concentration forcing back the voices until only Beryl remained, alone in his own mind. The ground stilled. He let the lump of contorted metal fall onto the sand. It struck the ground with a muted thump. It was a twisted, misshapen mass, pulled and pushed in a dozen different directions. Ignoring it, Beryl grabbed an unlit torch from a bracket on the wall and lit it with his striker. It flared to life, the flames licking at the oiled rope. It reminded Beryl of the flames in his forge, which were dormant now that he was so distant from them. Pushing that thought aside, Beryl strode into grotto, allowing his eyes and mind to follow the hundreds of light patterns cast on the ceiling and walls by the reflective nature of the water. The soft sound of cascading water and dripping rocks created a soothing, calming atmosphere. Elyana had loved this grotto, loved the water pulled from deep within the earth and collected during storms. She’d helped create it back before the genesauri, before the rest of the Orinai had turned against them. None of the voices rose up at those memories. They were Beryl’s own. There was one thing alone upon which all the voices agreed. Elyana. Memories of her were able to be shared and dwelt upon without any of the voices trying to take control. It was Beryl himself that refused to think about them often. They were simply too painful. Beryl limped forward with confidence. He knew the path to the hidden archives. The Rahuli had lost the original language of their people hundreds of years ago, so the scrolls hidden here were meaningless to them. There were a few scrolls in the Rahuli tongue, true, but Beryl imagined those were now missing, if his suspicions about Kaiden were true. But Beryl—he knew the language well. He could study them without awakening the voices who knew the knowledge Beryl sought. Or at least, that’s what he hoped. The pathway down the center of the lake opened up into the island. Beryl limped out toward the left-hand side. He knew how the scrolls had been organized—Elyana had rarely stopped talking about it, even after they’d already completed the other two grottoes. Anything about the mystics, about magic itself, was on the left. Beryl placed the torch in a bracket on the wall and reached into the first cubby, feeling for the glass tube. His fingers closed over the thin cylinder and he pulled it free, brushing away the dust with his other hand. The scroll inside was still intact, preserved by the wax seal around the stopper, which kept the container air tight. Beryl removed the stopper with a powerful twist of his wrist. He tossed the stopper aside and carefully tipped the scroll into his hand. His hands were steady and sure on the brittle paper. A diagram unfolded before him, a square inscribed with nine smaller squares. One of the voices immediately recognized it. The Schema—the chart of the three magics and their degrees of power. The voice remembered long arguments with Elyana about the divergent tiers of power. She thought each hierarchy of magic was simply different manifestations of the same power. The voice, Beryl’s old voice, had thought them individual powers with some overlap. However, Beryl himself was living proof that that thought process had been wrong. He rolled the scroll back up, placed it in the tube, and set it aside. The voice faded with it, though it had never really been trying to take over. It had merely shared a fond memory with Beryl, one it had kept hidden from him for centuries. Beryl reached into another cubby, startling a sand spider the size of his hand. The creature scuttled over Beryl’s hand and up the wall, vanishing into the gloom. One of the voices, an ancient one from before even Elyana—from back when Beryl had lived far from here, beyond the Forbiddence—shuddered. Beryl ignored it. His current Iteration had no fear of spiders. The scroll in this cubby hadn’t fared as well as the first. The wax seal had been broken some time ago and the scroll within it was now little more than a loose pile of dust. That was one of the reasons they’d duplicated their work in two other such hidden shelters. Beryl knew one of the three had been destroyed over the years but, hopefully, the missing scrolls were still intact in the other one. And so it went for hours upon hours. Thirty of the forty-five scrolls remained whole. He didn’t move on to the bureaucratic or historic sections of the grotto; there was really no need. Beryl himself already knew those answers. Thirty scrolls. Still, fifteen broken scrolls was a severe loss. One of the voices inside Beryl’s mind wept unabashedly. The history of the magic which ruled both the Orinai and the Rahuli slave people—how much of it was lost in those fifteen piles of dust? How much of it would be important to the Rahuli in their upcoming fight? “Why are you helping them?” Beryl started until he realized the voice was his own. Well, partially his own. One of the voices in his mind seized momentary control and spoke aloud using Beryl’s own voice. Beryl let his hands curl into fists. He hadn’t realized he was helping them. Hadn’t he just betrayed them by sending the message to the Orinai? No, that had been one of the voices—the vulcanist. That wasn’t Beryl, not really. Beryl himself had already decided to help the Rahuli prepare for the coming war. He’d done it before. Both he and Elyana had done it before, back when Elyana’s obsession with protecting the people had led to the creation of the genesauri. There had been others, of course, but they hadn’t been as strong, hadn’t been as worthy of the fight as he and Elyana. “Why help them?” Beryl mused. “Because they deserve it.” Several of the voices in his mind laughed. Beryl’s fists tightened until the knuckles cracked. “Because Elyana would have wanted it.” The voices stilled. Beryl took the silence as agreement. He looked down at the scrolls arranged neatly in little rows within their glass cylinders. He would need to translate them. The Rahuli would not be able to read them otherwise. “And you’ll need to let them make the discovery for themselves,” one of the voices said. It was the angry one, the one which pulled at the fire beneath the earth. “They will not believe it if they don’t discover it themselves.” Beryl nodded, though surprise slowed the motion. That voice was the most vehement in its argument for the destruction of the Rahuli. Beryl had fought against that voice for centuries. Why change now? The voice spoke. “For Elyana.” Beryl grunted and turned to leave. He had work to do.