Hero, Traitor, Daughter (Of Crowns and Glory—Book 6) - Morgan Rice - ebook
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Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”--Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos (regarding Rise of the Dragons)HERO, TRAITOR, DAUGHTER is book #6 in Morgan Rice’s bestselling epic fantasy series OF CROWNS AND GLORY, which begins with SLAVE, WARRIOR, QUEEN (Book #1).17 year old Ceres, a beautiful, poor girl from the Empire city of Delos, wakes to find herself powerless. Poisoned by the sorcerer’s vial, held captive by Stephania, Ceres life reaches a low point as she is made cruel sport of—and is unable to do anything to stop it.Thanos, after killing his brother Lucious, embarks for Delos, to save Ceres and to save his homeland. But the Felldust fleet has already set sail, and with the might of the world bearing down on it, it may be too late to save everything he holds dear. An epic battle ensues, one that may determine the fate of Delos forever.HERO, TRAITOR, DAUGHTER tells an epic tale of tragic love, vengeance, betrayal, ambition, and destiny. Filled with unforgettable characters and heart-pounding action, it transports us into a world we will never forget, and makes us fall in love with fantasy all over again.“An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.” --The Wanderer, A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons) Book #7 in OF CROWNS AND GLORY will be released soon!

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HERO, TRAITOR, DAUGHTER

(OF CROWNS AND GLORY--BOOK 6)

Morgan Rice

Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising twelve books; of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising three books; of the epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising six books; and of the new epic fantasy series OF CROWNS AND GLORY. Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.

Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to join the email list, receive a free book, receive free giveaways, download the free app, get the latest exclusive news, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and stay in touch!

Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice

“If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”

--Books and Movie Reviews

Roberto Mattos

“An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”

--The Wanderer,A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)

“A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”

--Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)

“THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”

--Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos

 “In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”

--Publishers Weekly

Books by Morgan Rice

THE WAY OF STEEL

ONLY THE WORTHY (Book #1)

OF CROWNS AND GLORY

SLAVE, WARRIOR, QUEEN (Book #1)

ROGUE, PRISONER, PRINCESS (Book #2)

KNIGHT, HEIR, PRINCE (Book #3)

REBEL, PAWN, KING (Book #4)

SOLDIER, BROTHER, SORCERER (Book #5)

HERO, TRAITOR, DAUGHTER (Book #6)

RULER, RIVAL, EXILE (Book #7)

KINGS AND SORCERERS

RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)

RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)

THE WEIGHT OF HONOR (Book #3)

A FORGE OF VALOR (Book #4)

A REALM OF SHADOWS (Book #5)

NIGHT OF THE BOLD (Book #6)

THE SORCERER’S RING

A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)

A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)

A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)

A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)

A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)

A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)

A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)

A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)

A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)

A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)

A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)

A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)

A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)

AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)

A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)

A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)

THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)

THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY

ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)

ARENA TWO (Book #2)

ARENA THREE (Book #3)

VAMPIRE, FALLEN

BEFORE DAWN (Book #1)

THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS

TURNED (Book #1)

LOVED (Book #2)

BETRAYED (Book #3)

DESTINED (Book #4)

DESIRED (Book #5)

BETROTHED (Book #6)

VOWED (Book #7)

FOUND (Book #8)

RESURRECTED (Book #9)

CRAVED (Book #10)

FATED (Book #11)

OBSESSED (Book #12)

Listen to THE SORCERER’S RING series in audio book format!

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Copyright © 2017 by Morgan Rice. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author.  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Jacket image Copyright Ralf Juergen Kraft, used under license from istock.com.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

CHAPTER ONE

Akila hung in the rigging of his ship and saw death approaching.

It terrified him. He’d never been one to believe in signs and omens, but there were some he couldn’t ignore. Akila had been a fighting man most of his life in one form or another, yet still, he’d never seen a fleet like the one that approached now. It made the fleet the Empire had sent to Haylon look like a series of paper boats being floated across a pond by children.

It made what Akila had look like less than that.

“There’s too many,” one of the sailors near him in the rigging said.

Akila didn’t reply, because right then he didn’t have an answer. He’d have to think of one, though. One that didn’t involve the leaden certainty that was crushing his chest. He was already running the things that needed to be done through his mind as he started to climb down. They would need to raise the harbor chain. They would need to get crews to catapults on the docks.

They needed to spread, because charging headlong into a fleet that size would be suicide. They needed to be the wolves hunting the great snow oxen, darting in, taking a bite here and there, wearing them down.

Akila smiled at that thought. He was almost planning as if they could win this. Who’d have taken him for an optimist?

“There’s so many,” one of the sailors said as he passed.

Akila heard the same words from others as he clambered back to the deck. By the time he reached the command deck again, there were a dozen rebels at least, all waiting for him with worried expressions.

“We can’t fight them,” one said.

“It would be like we weren’t even there,” another agreed.

“They’ll kill us all. We have to run.”

Akila could hear them. He could even understand what they wanted to do. Running made sense. Run while they still could. Form up their ships into a convoy line and go, running along the coast until they could break free and make it to Haylon.

A part of him even wanted to do it. Perhaps they would even be safe if they could get to Haylon. Felldust would see the forces they had, the defenses of their harbor, and would be wary of coming after them.

At least for a time.

“Friends,” he called, loud enough that everyone on the ship would be able to hear it. “You can see the threat that waits for us, and yes, I can hear the men who want to run.”

He spread his hands to quiet down the murmur that followed.

“I know. I hear you. I’ve sailed with you and you’re not cowards. No man could say that you are.”

But if they ran now, men would call them cowards. Akila knew that. They would blame the warriors of Haylon, in spite of all they’d done. He didn’t want to say that, though. He didn’t want to force his men to do this.

“I want to run as well. We’ve done our part. We’ve beaten the Empire. We’ve earned the right to go home, rather than stay here dying for other people’s causes.”

That much was obvious. They’d only come here after Thanos had begged, after all.

He shook his head. “But I won’t. I won’t run when that means abandoning the people depending on me. I won’t run when we’ve been told what will happen to the people of Delos. I won’t run, because who are they to tell me to run?”

He jabbed a finger at the advancing fleet, then turned it into the rudest gesture he could think of on the spur of the moment. That, at least, got his men laughing. Good, they needed all the laughs they could get right then.

“The truth is that evil is everyone’s cause. A man tells me to kneel or die, then I punch him in the face!” That got them laughing harder. “And I don’t do it because he’s threatened me. I do it because the kind of man who tells people to kneel needs punching!”

That one got a cheer. It seemed that Akila had judged this right. He gestured to the spot where a scout ship sat, tied up alongside his flagship.

“Down there is one of us,” Akila said. “They took him and his crew. They whipped him until the blood poured from him. They lashed him to the wheel and they put his eyes out.”

Akila waited a moment to let the horror of that sink in.

“They did that because they thought it would scare us,” Akila said. “They did that because they thought it would make us run faster. I say that if a man harms one of my brothers like that, it makes me want to cut him down for the dog he is!”

That got a cheer.

“I’ll not order you, though,” Akila said. “You want to go home… well, no one can say you haven’t earned it. And when they come for you, maybe there will be someone left to help.” He made himself shrug. “I’ll be staying. If needs be, I’ll stay alone. I’ll stand on the docks, and their army can come to me one at a time to get cut down.”

He looked around them then, staring at men he knew, at brothers from Haylon and freed slaves, conscripts turned freedom fighters and men who had probably started off as little more than cutthroats.

He knew that if he asked these men to fight with him, most of them would probably die. He was probably never going to see the waterfalls that plunged through the hills of Haylon again. He’d probably die not even knowing if what he did was enough to save Delos or not. A part of him wished then that he’d never met Thanos, or been dragged into this wider rebellion.

Even so, he drew himself up.

“Will I be alone, lads?” he asked. “Will I have to punch my way to the stoniest-headed fool among them by myself?”

The roar of “No!” echoed across the water. He hoped the enemy fleet heard it. He hoped they heard it, and he hoped they were terrified.

Gods knew he was.

“Well then, lads,” Akila bellowed, “get to your oars. We’ve a battle to win!”

He saw them run to it then, and he couldn’t have been more proud of them. He started to think, to give orders. There were messages to be sent back to the castle, defenses to be prepared.

Already, Akila could hear the sound of bells ringing out across the city in warning.

“You two, get the signal flags up! Scirrem, I want small boats and tar for fire ships at the harbor mouth! Am I talking to myself up here?”

“Quite possibly,” the sailor called back. “They say madmen do. But I’ll get it done.”

“You realize that in a real army, you’d be flogged?” Akila shot back, but he smiled as he did it. This was the strange part of being on the cusp of battle. They were so close to possible death now, and it was the moment when Akila felt most alive.

“Now, Akila,” the sailor said. “You know they’d never let the likes of us into a real army.”

Akila laughed then, and not just because it was probably true. How many generals could say that they had not just the respect of their men, but true camaraderie? How many could ask their troops to throw themselves into danger, not from loyalty, or fear, or discipline, but because it was them doing the asking? Akila felt that he could be proud of that part at least.

As the sailor rushed off, he had more orders to give.

“Once we’re clear, we’ll need to put the harbor chain up,” he said.

One of the young sailors near him looked worried by that. Akila could see the fear there in spite of his speeches. That was only normal.

“If we have the chain up, doesn’t that mean we can’t retreat into the harbor?” the boy asked.

Akila nodded. “Yes, but what good would it do, retreating to a city that’s open to the sea? If we fail out there, do you think the city will be a safe place to hide?”

He could see the boy thinking about it, trying to work out where he would be safest, most probably. Either that, or wishing that he’d never signed up.

“You can go be one of those who helps put the chains up if you want,” Akila offered. “Then head for the catapults. We’ll need good people firing them.”

The boy shook his head. “I’ll stay. I won’t run from them.”

“Don’t suppose you fancy taking over the fleet so I can run?” Akila asked.

That set the lad off laughing as he went about his duties, and laughter was always better than fear.

What else was there to do? There was always something else, always something to move to next. There were those who spoke about warfare being waiting, but Akila had found that waiting always contained a thousand smaller things. Preparation was the mother of success, and Akila wasn’t going to lose for lack of effort.

“No,” he muttered as he checked the lines of his flagship. “The part where they have five times as many ships will do that.”

The only hope was to hit and move. Draw them onto the fire ships. Crush them against the chain. Use the speed of their own ships to pick off what they could. Even then, it might not be enough.

Akila had never seen a force this size. He doubted anyone had. The fleet sent to Haylon had been one designed for punishment and destruction. The rebel army had been a coming together of at least three great forces.

This was bigger. This wasn’t so much an army as an entire country on the move. This was conquest, and more than conquest. Felldust had seen an opportunity, and now it was going to take everything that the Empire had.

Unless we stop them, Akila thought.

Maybe his fleet wouldn’t be the ones to stop them. Maybe the best they could hope for would be to slow down and weaken the invading army, yet maybe that would be enough. If they could buy Ceres time, she might be able to find a way to win against what was left. Akila had seen her do more impressive things with those powers of hers.

Perhaps she would take on Felldust’s entire army and save them the trouble.

Most likely, Akila would die here. If that could save Delos, would that be worth it? That wasn’t the question. If it could save the people there, and the people of Haylon, would that? Yes, that was worth everything to Akila. Men like this didn’t stop with what they had. They would descend on Haylon as soon as they were done here. If his sacrifice would keep the farmers of the island safe, Akila would make it a thousand times over.

He looked out over the water to where the fleet advanced, his voice softening.

“You owe me for this, Thanos,” he said, just as the prince owed him for coming to Delos, and for not cutting him down on Haylon. Probably his life would have been a lot simpler if he’d done that.

Looking at the fleet ahead, Akila suspected it might have been longer, too.

“Right!” he yelled. “Get to your places, boys! We’ve a battle to win!”

CHAPTER TWO

Irrien sat at the prow of his flagship in a mixture of satisfaction and anticipation. Satisfaction because his fleet was advancing exactly as he’d ordered. Anticipation because of everything that would come next.

Around him, the fleet slid forward in near silence, as he’d ordered when they’d started to hug the coast. Silent as sharks coming after prey, silent as the moment after a man’s death. Right then, Irrien was the glint of light on the point of a spear, the rest of his fleet following like its broad head.

His chair was not the dark stone one in which he sat in Felldust. Instead, it was a lighter framed thing, made from the bones of things he’d killed, the thigh bones of a dark-stalker forming the back, the finger bones of a man set in the arms. He’d covered it in the furs of animals he’d hunted. It was another lesson he had learned: In peace, a man should speak of his civility. In war, he should speak of his cruelty.

To that end, Irrien jerked on a chain connected to his chair. The other end held one of the so-called warriors of this rebellion, who had knelt rather than die in battle.

“We will arrive soon,” he said.

“Y-yes, my lord,” the man replied.

Irrien jerked the chain again. “Be silent unless commanded.”

Irrien ignored the man as he started to beg forgiveness badly. Instead, he watched the path ahead, although he’d set the metal surface of his shield so he could watch behind for assassins.

A wise man always did both. The other stones of Felldust probably thought that Irrien was mad, leaving for this dustless land while they remained behind. They probably thought he couldn’t see their plots and machinations.

Irrien’s smile widened at the thought of their faces when they realized what was really happening. His pleasure continued as he turned to the coast, seeing the fires that were springing up there as his raiding parties landed. Ordinarily, Irrien hated the wastefulness of burned buildings, but for war, they were a useful weapon.

No, the real weapon was fear. Fire and silent menace were just ways to sharpen it. Fear was a weapon as powerful as slow poison, dangerous as a blade. Fear could make a strong man run or yield without a fight. Fear could make foes choose stupid options, charging in rash bravado, or cowering when they should strike. Fear made men slaves, holding them in place even when there were more of them.

Irrien was not so arrogant as to believe he could never feel fear, but his first battle had not brought it the way men talked about, nor his fiftieth. He had fought men on burning sands and on the cobbles of back alleys, and while there had been anger, excitement, even desperation, he had never found the fear that other men felt. It was part of what made it so easy to take what he wanted.

What he wanted now swung into view almost as if summoned by the thought, the endless strokes of the oars pulling the harbor of Delos into Irrien’s view. He’d waited for this moment, but it wasn’t the one he’d dreamed of. That would only come once this was done, and he’d taken all that was worth taking.

The city was a low and stinking thing, in spite of its fame, like all the cities of men. It didn’t have the grandeur of the endless dust, or the stark beauty of things made by Ancient Ones. As with all cities, when you crammed enough people together, it brought out their true baseness, their cruelty and their ugliness. No amount of elegant stonework could disguise that.

Still, the Empire for which it formed a lynchpin was a prize worth taking. Irrien wondered briefly if his fellow stones had realized their mistake yet in not coming. That they occupied the stone chairs at all spoke of their ambition and their power, their cunning and their ability to navigate political games.

For all that, though, they’d still thought too small. They’d thought in terms of a glorified raid, when this could be so much more. A fleet this size wasn’t here just to bring back gold and slave lines, although both would come. It was here to take, and hold, and settle. What was gold next to fertile land, free from endless dust? Why drag slaves back to a land blasted by the wars of the Ancient Ones, when you could take the land on which they stood as well? And who would be there to ensure he got the largest portion of this new land?

Why raid and leave when you could wipe away what was there and rule?

First, though, there were obstacles to overcome. A fleet stood in front of the city, if you could call it that. Irrien wondered if the scout ships they’d set loose had come back home yet. If they’d seen the things that awaited them. He might not feel the fear of battle, but he knew how to stoke it in weaker men.

He stood to get a better view, and so that those watching from the shore might see who ordered this. Only those with the sharpest eyes would make him out, but he wanted them to understand that this was his war, his fleet, and soon, his city.

His eyes made out the preparations that the defenders were starting to make. The small boats that would no doubt soon be aflame. The way the fleet was forming into groups, ready to harry them. The weapons on the docks, ready to target them as they came close.

“Your commander knows his business,” Irrien said, dragging his latest captive to his feet by his chains. “Who is he?”

“Akila is the best general alive,” the former sailor said, then caught Irrien’s eye. “Forgive me, my lord.”

Akila. Irrien had heard the name, and had heard more from Lucious. Akila, who had helped to free Haylon from the Empire, and held it against their fleet. Who, it was said, fought with all the cunning of a fox, striking and moving, hitting where foes least expected.

“I have always valued strong opponents,” Irrien said. “A sword needs iron to sharpen it.”

He took his sword from its black leather sheath as if to illustrate the point. The blade was blue-black with oil, the edge a razor’s. It was the kind of thing that might have been a headsman’s tool for another man, but he’d learned the balance of it, and built the strength to wield it well. He had other weapons: knives and strangling wires, a curved moon blade and a many-spiked sun dagger. But this was the one people knew. It had no name, but only because Irrien believed such things foolish.

He could see the fear on his new slave’s face at the sight of it.

“In the old days, priests would offer up the life of a slave before battle, hoping to quench the thirst of death before it could settle on a general. Then, it came so that they offered the slave to the gods of war, in the hope that they would show favor to their side. Kneel.”

Irrien saw the man do it reflexively, in spite of his terror. Perhaps because of it.

“Please,” he begged.

Irrien kicked him, hard enough that the slave fell to his belly, his head sticking out over the bow of the ship. “I told you to be silent. Remain there, and be grateful that I have no truck with priests and their foolishness. If there are gods of death their thirst cannot be slaked. If there are those of war, their favor goes to the man with the most troops.”

He turned back to the rest of his ship. He hefted his sword one-handed, and slaves who had been waiting for his instructions rushed to grab horns. As he nodded, the horns blared once. Irrien saw catapults and ballistae crank back, flames being set to their loads.

He stood, dark against the sunlight, his bronzed skin and dark clothes turning him into a patch of shadow before the city.

“I told you that we would come to Delos, and we have!” he called out. “I told you that we would take their city, and we will!”

He waited until the cheer that followed died down.

“I gave the scouts we sent back to them a message, and it is one I intend to fulfill!” This time, Irrien didn’t wait. “Every man, woman, and child of the Empire is now a slave. Any you meet without a master’s mark is there for you to catch and do with what you are strong enough to. Any who claims to have property is lying to you, and you may take it. Any who disobeys us is to be punished. Any who resists us is in rebellion, and will be treated without mercy!”

Mercy was another of those jokes that people liked to pretend was real, Irrien had found. Why would a man allow an enemy to live unless it gained him something? The dust taught simple lessons: If you were weak, you died. If you were strong, you took what you could from the world.

Now, Irrien intended to take everything.

The biggest part of this was how alive he felt right then. He’d fought his way up to become First Stone, only to realize there was nowhere left to go. He’d felt himself starting to stagnate in the politics of the city, playing out the petty squabbles of the other stones to amuse himself. This, though… this promised to be so much more.

“Ready yourselves!” he shouted to his men. “Obey my orders, and we will succeed. Fail, and you will be less than dust to me.”

He stepped back over to the spot where the former sailor still lay, his head extended beyond the edge of the ship. He probably thought that was the extent of it. Irrien had found that they hoped things would get no worse, instead of seeing the danger and acting.

“You could have died fighting,” he said, his great sword still lifted. “You could have died a man, rather than a pitiful sacrifice.”

The man turned, staring up at him. “You said… you said that you didn’t believe in that.”

Irrien shrugged. “Priests are fools, but people believe their foolishness. If it will inspire them to fight harder, who am I to object?”

He pinned the slave in place with one boot, making sure that all those there could see it. He wanted everyone to see the moment when his conquest began.

“I give you to death,” he called out. “You, and all who stand against us!”

He brought his sword down, stabbing into the pitiful scum’s chest, spearing the heart. Irrien didn’t wait. He lifted it again, and for once, his headsman’s blade performed its original duty. It cleaved through the enslaved sailor’s neck cleanly. Not mercy, but pride, because the First Stone would never keep a weapon with less than a perfect edge.

He lifted the blade with the edge still bloody.

“Begin!”

Horns sounded, the sky filled with fire as the catapults launched and archers shot arrows out toward their foes. Smaller ships snaked out toward their targets.

For a moment, Irrien found himself thinking of this “Akila,” the man who had to be standing there waiting for what was to come. He wondered if his would-be foe was afraid right then.

He should be.

CHAPTER THREE

Thanos knelt over the body of his brother, and for a moment or two it felt as though the world had stopped. He didn’t know what to think or feel in that moment. He didn’t know what to do next.

He’d been expecting some sense of triumph when he finally killed Lucious, or at least some sense of relief that it was finally all over. He’d been expecting to finally feel that the people he cared about were safe.

Instead, Thanos found grief welling up inside him, tears falling for a brother who had probably never deserved them. But that didn’t matter now. What mattered was that Lucious was his half-brother, and he was gone.

He was dead, with Thanos’s dagger in his heart. Thanos could feel Lucious’s blood on his hands, and there seemed like so much of it to hold in one body. Some small part of him expected there to be something different about it all, for there to be some sign there of the madness that had gripped Lucious, or the grasping evil that had seemed to fill him. Instead, Lucious was just a silent, empty shell.

Thanos wanted to do something then for his brother; to see him buried, or hand him to a priest at least. Even as he thought of it, though, he knew that he couldn’t. His brother’s own words meant that it was impossible.

Felldust was invading the Empire, and if Thanos wanted to be able to do anything to help the people he cared about, he had to go now.

He stood, collecting his sword, ready to race for the door. He took Lucious’s as well. Of all the things his brother had held close, the tools of violence had seemed like the closest. Thanos stood there with them both in his hands, surprised to find how well they matched. He was almost as surprised to find a collection of the inn’s patrons blocking his way.

“He said you were Prince Thanos,” a bushy-bearded man said, fingering the edge of a knife. “That true?”

“The stones will pay good money for a captive like you,” another said.

A third nodded. “And if they don’t, the slavers will.”

They started forward, and Thanos didn’t wait. Instead, he charged. His shoulder slammed into the nearest, knocking him back into a table. Thanos was already lashing out, cutting at the arm of the knifeman.

Thanos heard him cry out as the blade bit into his forearm, but he was already moving, kicking the third man back into a spot where four men hadn’t stopped playing dice, even for the battle he’d just had with Lucious. One of them snarled and turned then, grabbing at the thug.

In moments, the inn managed to do what it hadn’t when Lucious had been the one fighting: it erupted into a full-scale brawl. Men who had been content to stand by while Thanos and his brother traded sword blows now threw punches and drew knives. One grabbed for a chair, swinging it at Thanos’s head. Thanos sidestepped, hacking a lump from the wood as he redirected the swing into yet another of the patrons.

He could have stayed to fight, but the thought of the danger Ceres might be in pushed him into a run. He’d been so sure that he could stop the invasion if he only got to Lucious, and then there would be enough time to find the truth about his parentage, discover the proof he needed, and make his way back to Delos. Now, there was no time for any of it.

Thanos sprinted for the door. He dropped and skidded under the grabbing hands of a man who tried to stop him, scraping a shallow cut across his thigh. He ran out into the streets there…

…straight into some of the worst dust Thanos had seen since he’d come to the city. He didn’t slow. He just jammed his twin blades into his belt, pulled up his scarf against the dust, and pushed forward as best he could.

Behind him, Thanos could hear the sounds of men trying to follow, although how they hoped to see him well enough to catch up in this weather, he didn’t know. Thanos groped his way along like a blind man, passing a merchant who was packing away his cart, then a pair of soldiers who were cursing as they huddled in a doorway against the dust.

“Look at that madman!” Thanos heard one of them call in Felldust’s tongue.

“Probably hurrying to join the invasion. I hear Fourth Stone Vexa has started to send more of a fleet, while the other three are still plotting. The First Stone has stolen a march on them.”

“Always does,” the first replied.

Thanos was away into the dust by then though, seeking his route by the vague shapes of the buildings, watching out for the signs that hung above the streets, lit by oil lamps. There were stone carvings too, obviously intended so that the locals could find their way from the street of the carved bear to that of the knotted snakes by touch if they needed.

Thanos didn’t know enough about the system to be able to use it, but even so, he pressed on through the dust.

There were others doing the same, and several times, Thanos stopped, trying to make out whether the booted feet he heard were those of pursuers or not. Once, he pressed in behind the curved iron bulk of a windbreak, his swords finding his way into his hands, certain that those following from the inn had caught up.

Instead, a team of slaves raced by, faces wrapped against the dust, carrying a palanquin from within which Thanos could hear a merchant urging them on.

“Faster, you curs! Faster, or I’ll have you impaled. We need to get to the harbor before we miss the spoils.”

Thanos watched them, tracking along behind the palanquin on the basis that those carrying it probably knew the way better than he did. He couldn’t track it too closely, because in a city like Port Leeward, everyone kept a watch for would-be robbers or killers, but even so, he managed to follow it along the length of several streets before it disappeared into the dust.

Thanos stood there for a second or two, catching his breath, and as quickly as it had come, the dust storm lifted, giving him a view out over the harbor.

What he saw there made Thanos stand and stare.