'A remarkable series' SFFANZ She's the Empress of the Fall . . . and her empire is falling apart. Lyra, Queen of Rondelmar, has fought enemies without and within, dealt with grief and loss, embraced forbidden magic, found her father and borne a child - and still it isn't enough. Her enemies are on the march and the Rondian Empire is collapsing. But a more dangerous adversary is out there . . . and he is winning. Ervyn Naxius, amoral genius, has unleashed war on two continents and is now laughing as the world of Urte tears itself apart. Kings and priests dance to his tune and his daemonic followers are spreading through the lands, but still he isn't satisfied. His ultimate goal - absolute control of all life - is finally within his reach . . . Are these the Last Days, when the daemons rise up to claim the world? From snowbound Mollachia to the beleaguered walls of Norostein, from the poisonous court of the new sultan to the deadly intrigues of Pallas, the omens are clear. Only Lyra and a handful of other heretical dwymancers have grasped the true danger - and they won't give up until every last hope is buried . . .
Release date: March 5, 2020
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Print pages: 664
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Mother of Daemons
In Junesse 930, a newly formed mage order, the Merozain Bhaicara, save the Leviathan Bridge and use its gnostic energy to destroy the Imperial Windfleet above, killing Emperor Constant and Mater-Imperia Lucia.
These deaths create a power vacuum at the heart of the Rondian Empire. The first to react is the Church of Kore – Grand Prelate Dominius Wurther, guardian of the emperor’s children, Prince Cordan and Princess Coramore, prepares to form a Regency Council in Cordan’s name to continue the Sacrecour dynasty. But Wurther’s confidante, Ostevan Jandreux, tips off his kinswoman, Duchess Radine Jandreux, in the northern city of Coraine. Radine sends Corani mage-knights led by Solon Takwyth and the Volsai spy-master Dirklan Setallius to capture Cordan and Coramore from under the Church’s nose. More importantly, they free the hitherto unknown Lyra Vereinen, the daughter of the late Princess Natia, a claimant for the throne.
The Corani take Lyra, Cordan and Coramore to their fortress in Coraine and plan a return to power. With their rivals paralysed by the disasters of the Third Crusade, they persuade Grand Prelate Wurther and Treasurer Calan Dubrayle to abandon the Sacrecours and aid the Corani (an agreement that includes the banishment of Ostevan, in revenge for his betrayal of Wurther). Duchess Radine marches her soldiers into Pallas, where the populace, fearing a civil war (and beguiled by the fairy-tale circumstances of Lyra’s rescue) greet them with great rejoicing.
However Lyra is no compliant tool of Corani ambitions, but a complex young woman with secrets. Her full parentage is uncertain and despite being born a pure-blood mage, she was never trained in the gnosis. When she does awaken to magic, it’s not the gnosis, but the heretical power of dwymancy. And worse, she’s fallen in love with her rescuer, Corani knight Ril Endarion, an unsuitable relationship for the figurehead of the Corani cause.
On the eve of Lyra’s coronation, with Radine demanding that she accept the formidable Solon Takwyth as her husband, Lyra blindsides the duchess and persuades Ostevan (facing exile and acting out of spite) to marry her to Ril. After Lyra is crowned the next day, she declares her marriage before the world; Radine, Takwyth and Setallius are forced to accept her actions – and Takwyth is exiled for striking Ril, the new Crown Prince.
Despite this shaky start, the Corani are able to face down their rivals and the succession crisis appears to have been resolved. In relief, Pallas and the empire settles into dealing with a new world and a new ruler.
For five years the Rondian Empire struggles on. The Treasury is forced to impose heavy taxes to rebuild Imperial finances, vassal states like Argundy, Estellayne and Noros are clamouring for greater autonomy and warlords and mercenaries are warring in the far south. Duchess Radine dies, embittered by what she considers to be Lyra’s betrayal, but Ril and Lyra continue to reign in Pallas, although Lyra has two miscarriages and has no heir of her blood. Cordan and Coramore, her de facto heirs, remain her prisoners in Pallas.
In Ahmedhassa, Sultan Salim Kabarakhi I of Kesh is trying to rebuild his realm, with the aid of Rashid Mubarak, the mighty Eastern mage. His efforts are undermined by corruption – and by the Shihadi faction who are demanding revenge against the West, even though the Leviathan Bridge, the only link to Yuros, will be submerged until 940.
In 935, new crises are developing in the East and West. A secret cabal whose identities are concealed even from each other by the Lantric theatre masks they wear is formed by Ervyn Naxius, a genius unconstrained by anything even remotely resembling morality. He offers the cabal members powers to match the Merozain Bhaicara through a link to an ancient super-daemon named Abraxas: Ascendant strength and use of all sixteen facets of the gnosis, as well as the ability to enslave others using the daemon’s ichor. The ‘Masks’ join him in his quest to rule the new era.
In the West, the cabal plans to supplant Empress Lyra with the pliant Prince Cordan, starting with snatching Cordan and his sister from Corani custody. They strike during a jousting tournament staged to bolster Lyra and Ril’s faltering rule. The exiled, bitter Ostevan, now ‘Jest’ of the Masks cabal, having engineered a return to court as Lyra’s confessor, begins to infect courtiers and the general populace with the daemon’s ichor, masking the effects behind the seasonal outbreak of the riverreek illness, in readiness for seizing the royal children.
The climax of the tourney sees Ril, a fine warrior for all his faults, against an ‘Incognito Knight’ – who on his victory reveals himself to be Solon Takwyth, returned from exile. He begs a boon before the adoring crowd, that he be forgiven and permitted to return to Corani service. Lyra cannot refuse his manipulative request – then she learns that Cordan and Coramore have been abducted and orders Dirklan Setallius, her spymaster, to find them before they can be used against her.
Meanwhile in the East, the Masks have struck a savage blow: at the height of the Convocation, a religious and political event to shape future policy, Sultan Salim is assassinated by masked assassins. The only survivor of his household is Latif, his chief impersonator, who immediately goes into hiding. Rashid Mubarak seizes control; his sons, the brutal Attam and the cunning Xoredh, advance his stated plan for Shihad, a holy war against the vast and hostile nation of Lakh, their old enemy.
Prince Waqar, Rashid’s nephew, investigates Salim’s murder and the related poisoning of his own mother Sakita. With the help of Tarita Alhani, a Javon spy, he learns that he and his sister Jehana may be heirs to a mysterious power, but before they can dig deeper, Waqar is sent south on a secret mission for Rashid to Lokistan, leaving Tarita to continue on her own.
In Dhassa, the mage-brothers Kyrik Sarkany and Valdyr Sarkany, princes of the tiny Yurosi kingdom of Mollachia, who have been captives in the dehumanising breeding-houses of the Eastern magi, are reunited. The meeting is not amicable: after the war, Kyrik was released into the care of Godspeaker Paruq, a priest of Ahm, but Valdyr, remaining true to Kore, has been a slave-labourer for five years. He has never gained the gnosis, having been under a gnosis-suppressing Rune of the Chain since his capture as a child. Paruq, having secured the release of the Sarkany brothers, takes them to Yuros, to a tribe of Sydian nomads he’s been working with as a missionary; there, they discover the Sydians might be distant racial kin to their people. The brothers journey alone to Mollachia, where they are captured by tax-farmers, an unfortunate by-product of Empress Lyra’s efforts to fund her reign. The tax-farmers have draconian laws on their side to extract the fortune owed by the Sarkanys’ dead father. There are two Rondian legions stripping the land and people of their wealth, one led by Robear and Sacrista Delestre, the other by Rondian Governor Ansel Inoxion.
The brothers are locked up and left to die, but they are freed by the legendary Vitezai Sarkanum, local freedom fighters, and a resistance movement begins. Kyrik returns to the Sydian steppes to recruit aid; the price is marriage to the fiery Sydian witch Hajya. Valdyr distinguishes himself against the Rondian occupiers, but is still unable to gain the gnosis, despite having his Chain-rune removed.
In Pallas, Naxius and his Masks are readying their coup, using ordinary citizens apparently suffering from a virulent outbreak of the riverreek illness but in reality, possessed minions of the daemon Abraxas. They are used as shock troops in coordinated assaults on the Imperial Bastion and the Church of Kore’s holiest site, the Celestium. Using secret underground tunnels, the attack penetrates all defences; it’s coordinated with a planned unveiling of Prince Cordan as the new emperor and the arrival of a Sacrecour army at the gates.
Meanwhile in the East, the new sultan’s careful long-term planning reaches fulfilment. Rashid has assembled a vast windfleet: now he reveals that his real target isn’t Lakh, but Yuros. The only thing preventing invasion of the West is the Leviathan Bridge itself: if the Ordo Costruo or the Merozain Bhaicara unleash the powers of the Bridge’s towers, as they did against Emperor Constant’s fleet in 930, Rashid’s fleet will be destroyed.
At this stage, a new variable enters play: dwyma, or pandaemancy, a heretical form of magic believed extinct. Now Fate or coincidence has placed four people with the power to use it in the midst of these world-changing events – although two of them don’t even suspect they have the power.
In Pallas, the attacks on the Bastion and Celestium appear to be succeeding and the Masks are on the brink of seizing power. But Empress Lyra uses dwyma to slay one of the apparently indestructible Masks, while in the Celestium, a burst of light from a shrine associated with Saint Eloy, a dwymancer who supposedly abjured his powers, destroys another Mask.
In Mollachia, on a wild night on the sacred Watcher’s Peak, Valdyr Sarkany wields the dwyma to freeze a legion of Rondian solders just as they’re about to defeat Kyrik and his Sydian riders. Robear Delestre perishes, but his sister Sacrista survives.
In the East, the dark side of dwyma is revealed. Sakita Mubarak is also a dwymancer, part of an attempt by the Ordo Costruo to resurrect the long-extinct form of magic. Now a servant of the Masks and kept alive by necromancy, she uses her devastating powers to destroy Midpoint Tower, though it costs her ‘life’. Arriving too late, Waqar and Tarita recover artefacts from the tower and find clues concerning the Masks – then the sultan’s windfleet appears on the southern horizon, heading for Yuros, and Waqar realises that Uncle Rashid, his idol, may have been working with the masked assassins – and was probably behind Sakita’s death.
It is Julsep 935, and for the first time in recorded history, the East is invading the West. The Ordo Costruo and Merozain Bhaicara cannot prevent the invasion; all their energies must go into repairing the Bridge before it’s washed away. And for the first time in five centuries, dwymancers are walking the lands, with unpredictable and devastating powers.
The Events of Autumn (Julsep–Octen 935)as related in Prince of the Spear
After barely surviving the Masked Cabal’s attempts to unseat Empress Lyra Vereinen and Grand Prelate Dominius Wurther on Reeker Night, the Rondian Empire reels in shock at the tidings of an Eastern invasion.
The Masked Cabal are still at large: Jest, Tear and Angelstar hatch a new plot to bring Pallas under their power; while the Eastern conspirators, Ironhelm, Heartface and Beak, prepare for the next phase of their own campaign, to take control of the Shihad.
Crown Prince Ril Endarion is appointed to command the Imperial Army. He is grateful for the job, not just to help safeguard the realm, but also to escape the steady breakdown of his relationship with Lyra. A fateful kiss on Reeker Night with Lyra’s Volsai bodyguard, his best friend Basia de Sirou, has burgeoned into a passionate affair. Leaving his tangled personal life behind, he throws himself into the impossible task of pulling five rival factions into one Imperial Army. As the Rondian soldiers trek south, they are increasingly divided and uncoordinated. In exasperation, Ril escapes the responsibilities of command by taking on aerial reconnaissance, where he comes into violent contact with a new enemy: Keshi magi riding rocs, giant eagle-constructs. The roc-riders are led by Waqar Mubarak, who has been given responsibility for protecting the air above the Eastern advance.
Left behind in Pallas, Lyra, now heavily pregnant, researches the dwyma, the heretical magic that saved her on Reeker Night. She’s helped by Dirklan Setallius, Solon Takwyth and Basia de Sirou, but her progress is hampered by her blind spot: Ostevan Jandreux, her comfateri, or confessor, and closest confidante. Ostevan, Jest of the Masked Cabal, uses drugs and religion to bend Lyra to his will.
A new conspiracy forms to unseat Lyra. The beautiful Medelie Aventour seduces Solon Takwyth and lures him into the group, then reveals herself to be Radine Jandreux, the former Duchess of Coraine, supposedly dead but in fact very much alive, with her youth restored and bent upon Lyra’s destruction. The conspirators believe they have the numbers to succeed where the Reekers failed. Popular movements are also growing, including support for ‘suffragium’, an ancient democratic system, propounded by a radical named Ari Frankel, while in the far south the empire has lost control of Rimoni to the mysterious Lord of Rym.
Ostevan, using Lyra’s insecurities over Ril’s relationship with Basia, almost succeeds in his attempts to seduce her, but just in time his perfidy is exposed and in her fury Lyra unleashes the dwyma. Ostevan barely escapes and Naxius, worried that his plans may be uncovered, accelerates his plans to seize both Bastion and Celestium. Initiating mystical contact with Lyra, he lures her to the Shrine of Saint Eloy, where he intends to capture her himself.
In Mollachia, the people are not happy about their new Sydian allies, but Valdyr Sarkany is concentrating on learning more of his new power, which means returning to Watcher’s Peak. Along the way he rescues an injured wolf; he names it Gricoama. Unknown to Valdyr, his nemesis, the mage Asiv Fariddan of Gatioch (Beak of the Masked Cabal), has arrived to trace the outpouring of dwyma energy his master Naxius has sensed. Asiv infects Governor Inoxion with daemon ichor, but the governor is slain by Sacrista Delestre when he attacks and infects her. Sacrista in turn is captured and slain by Dragan, head of the Vitezai Sarkanum, in a barbaric Mollach custom called the Witch’s Grave.
Meanwhile, Valdyr’s brother Kyrik, guiding the rest of Clan Vlpa into Mollachia, is joined by a group of Schlessen and Mantauri, minotaur-like constructs, led by Fridryk ‘Kip’ Kippenegger. Kyrik learns that he is sterile, but knowing the revelation that he and Hajya cannot produce heirs to the Mollach throne will destroy the vital alliance, he doesn’t tell anyone.
Waqar is so busy leading the Eastern roc-riders, he is forced to relinquish the hunt for his sister Jehana to Tarita Alhani, the Merozain mage from Javon. Alyssa Dulayne – Heartface of the Masked Cabal – is also hunting Jehana. The trail leads to Sunset Tower, part of the damaged Leviathan Bridge. Alyssa lays siege, but Tarita gets inside to protect the Tower and Jehana.
Meanwhile, the Shihad is advancing across southeastern Yuros, capturing cities in the sparsely populated region of Verelon, while Sydian tribes flock to their banner. Latif, the former sultan’s impersonator, is part of an elephant unit enduring the horrors of the march.
Ari Frankel has made contact with men willing to advance the cause of suffragium and in so doing, break up the empire – but before this relationship bears fruit, he is captured by the Inquisition, to be shipped north to stand trial.
As autumn advances towards winter, matters come to a head. At Sunset Tower, Alyssa is aided by a traitor, her nephew Kestrel Tovar, and breaks in – but Jehana escapes, thanks to Tarita and an intelligent construct known as Ogre, who once served Naxius.
In Mollachia, Valdyr is ambushed by Asiv Fariddan, who has infected Dragan and his daughter Sezkia, with daemon ichor. Asiv kills the White Stag, the guardian spirit of Watcher’s Peak, and wounds the ghostly dwymancer Luhti, trapping Valdyr on the mountain with Gricoama, who assumes the mantle of guardian spirit. Asiv then turns his attention to Kyrik’s coronation, unleashing a horde of Reekers and capturing or killing Hajya, but Kyrik manages to escape.
In Pallas, while Lyra is visiting the shrine of Saint Eloy in the Holy City, the Masked Cabal strike, with Medelie (Tear) moving against the Bastion and Ostevan (Jest) and Dravis Ryburn, Knight Princeps of the Inquisition (Angelstar), seizing the Celestium. But Solon Takwyth has actually been spying for Lyra, and with Dirklan Setallius, they kill Medelie/Tear. However, the renegade Keeper Edetta escapes with the children and takes them to their uncle, Garod Sacrecour.
In the Celestium, Lyra and Wurther escape Naxius and the Masks, thanks to the dwyma and to Wurther’s new bodyguard Exilium Excelsior, a master swordsman. But the Winter Tree is badly burned, weakening Lyra’s grip on the dwyma, and she goes into labour.
Despite everything, Lyra safely delivers a son, Rildan, heir to the empire.
At Collistein Junction, the Imperial Army finally meets the Shihad in open battle. Ril’s disjointed, feuding and badly outnumbered army is defeated when Waqar’s roc-riders win the air battle; only the experienced hero of the Third Crusade, General Seth Korion, now Earl of Bres, prevents a total rout. Ril is slain by Waqar in a desperate mid-air duel.
It is now Noveleve 935, and winter is almost upon Yuros. Valdyr, although fearing for Kyrik’s life and dreading Asiv’s return, tends the dying Luhti on Watcher’s Peak. Jehana, Tarita and Ogre are on the ocean, seeking to escape Alyssa. Rashid celebrates victory, knowing his army must find shelter before winter or a million men will likely freeze to death. And in Pallas, the widowed Lyra’s only consolation in defeat is that her enemies are finally unmasked – and staring at her from across the Bruin River, which is now the front line of a new civil war.
The Events of Winter (Noveleve 935–Janune 936), as related in Hearts of Ice
As the Sunsurge winter brings heavy snowfalls to Yuros, Ostevan takes the title ‘Pontifex’, signalling his desire to rule both Church and State, and with Dravis Ryburn he launches attacks across the Bruin River, burning the Pallas docklands. Garod Sacrecour prepares to support Ostevan with his army. Lyra fights back by sanctioning Treasurer Dubrayle’s imposition of tax on the Church. She faces down the Pallas mob and gains the funds to prevent the imminent collapse of the government, while Solon Takwyth drives Ostevan’s Reekers from the North Bank.
Rashid’s victorious army marches on Jastenberg, seeking a winter base, but the Imperial generals burn the city and retreat north, leaving Noros unprotected. General Seth Korion, defying orders, diverts his army south to Norostein, meaning to deny Rashid his winter base. Waqar helps Rashid’s advance, but he is worried for his missing sister Jehana and his friend Baneet, who is now wielding the gnostic spear that killed their friend Lukadin at Collistein Junction. Waqar doesn’t know Jehana is trying to awaken her dwymancy in the village of Epineo in Verelon or that she’s being hunted by Alyssa Dulayne (Heartface of the Masked Cabal).
In Mollachia, the death of his mentor Luhti breaks Valdyr’s connection to the dwyma; to restore it he must go to the volcano known as Cuz Sarkan. But Asiv Fariddan and his infected minions, now led by Dragan Zhagy, are hunting him. Valdyr believes his brother Kyrik, the rightful king, is dead – but Kyrik is alive and has escaped Hegikaro.
He and Kip travel to Freihaafen, the hidden valley where Kip’s people have taken refuge, to share the news that silver is deadly to the daemon-possessed; Valdyr finds him there.
Lyra, in desperate need, contacts Valdyr through the dwyma: Duke Garod’s men are marching on Pallas and Lyra’s army is too small to defeat them. Valdyr helps, despite not knowing her true identity, and with his guidance Lyra hurls blizzards at the Sacrecour armies, wreaking havoc on Garod’s forces. The rivers freeze and Lyra’s men are able to cross and take the Holy City by storm. Dravis Ryburn is slain, but Ostevan escapes. Amid the tumultuous celebrations, Lyra allows herself to be seduced by Solon, another ill-advised liaison.
Ari Frankel, identified as a rebellion-preaching traitor; has been sent to Pallas to face execution.
In the south, Seth’s retreat is cut off by Prince Attam, Rashid’s elder son and heir, but Seth is saved by mercenaries led by his old Third Crusade comrade, Ramon Sensini. The pair retreat to Norostein.
When Baneet dies in the battle, despite Waqar’s pleas, the gnostic spear is taken by Fatima, Baneet’s lover and Waqar’s friend. Heartbroken, Waqar leaves the Shihad to seek his missing sister Jehana.
Jehana and Tarita are in trouble: Alyssa has captured them and forced Jehana to accompany her to Epineo, believing she can gain the dwyma herself by consuming Jehana’s essence once the girl becomes a dwymancer. Ogre then rescues Tarita, but Alyssa has miscalculated: the daemon-ichor in her body and the dwyma are inimical and as she tries to take in the dwyma, it destroys her. Unfortunately for Jehana, the guardian spirit which had come to awaken her also perishes, so she’s still unable to awaken her power.
It’s now early Janune, midwinter, and Rashid had reached Norostein, knowing he has only weeks to get inside the city and shelter his forces. He launches an all-out assault, but Seth, helped by Ramon, holds on. Latif and his elephant crew, at the forefront of the attacks, barely avoid death. But inside Norostein, Governor Rhys Myron is not just refusing to relinquish authority to Seth, but is hoarding supplies, undermining the defence. The siege hangs in the balance.
In Pallas, Lyra has won a victory, and a respite. Intrigued by Ari Frankel’s ideas, she pardons him, but he promptly launches a new campaign of disobedience. Scared and lonely, Lyra continues her relationship with Solon, although she is troubled both by his ambition and his domineering manner, ending it only when he turns violently abusive – which means losing her most able commander. She faces many enemies: Ostevan has allied with Duke Garod; Father Germane, his agent in Pallas, is poisoning the mind of Domara, the royal midwife; and Lef Yarle, Ryburn’s former lieutenant, tries to murder her and Wurther. They are saved by Basia and Exilium, and by use of the dwyma.
Meanwhile in Mollachia, Kyrik, Valdyr and their allies are trapped in a silver mine by Dragan’s possessed daughter, Sezkia. Valdyr reaches out through the dwyma: he finds Jehana, who has been reunited with Waqar, and the siblings, accompanied by Tarita and Ogre, fly to Mollachia. They capture Sezkia and rescue Kyrik and Valdyr – but Ogre is captured by Asiv and taken to Hegikaro. Naxius sends agents to collect his former servant: ogre-constructs masked as figures from the Book of Kore: the Angels of Plague and Famine. Famine is Cadearvo, a superior version of Ogre, while Plague is Semakha, a former friend Ogre had dreamed of being reunited with, but she is no longer the innocent he knew but daemon-possessed and evil.
Asiv proposes a hostage exchange: Ogre and Hajya for Sezkia, Valdyr and Jehana. The proposal is accepted, although both sides intend to renege. Tarita will disguise Kyrik and the Sydian mage Korznici as Valdyr and Jehana; Asiv plans his own daemonic surprise.
Using the hostage exchange drama as a distraction, Valdyr, Jehana and Waqar head for Cuz Sarkan, hoping to become full dwymancers – but Asiv is swiftly in pursuit with Cadearvo, leaving Semakha and Dragan to deal with the hostage exchange.
In the last days of Janune, carnage unfolds. At Norostein, Rashid’s desperate assault breaks through, but at the height of the battle, Sultan Rashid and his son Attam are slain. Xoredh takes command and captures Lowertown, but the mandatory period of mourning leaves him unable to press the attack. Unknown to Xoredh, the dying Rashid, believing Latif is the ghost of Sultan Salim, reveals that he commanded Xoredh to join the Masks, in return for the throne and the Shihad.
Meanwhile, in Mollachia, the hostage exchange has turned bloody: Ogre kills his first love Semakha and Kyrik slays Dragan, who was closer to him than his own father. Thinking he’s dying, the wounded Ogre confesses his love for Tarita, only to awake next day, alive – and acutely embarrassed. At Cuz Sarkan, Valdyr, Jehana and Waqar find a path into the dwyma, revealing the Elétfa, a vast Tree of Life – but Asiv and Cadearvo attack, capturing Jehana. Valdyr is already inside the Elétfa, but Waqar, who chooses to step back, although he’s too late to rescue his sister, is forced to return to Freihaafen empty-handed. Inside the Elétfa, where minutes take hours, Valdyr starts climbing, with only Gricoama for company.
The distraught Waqar enlists Tarita’s help to find Jehana, tracing her to Norostein. En route to confront his cousin Xoredh, Waqar is warned by Latif of their new sultan’s true nature.
Back in Mollachia, Kyrik is in despair, for Hajya is still possessed by Abraxas. Ogre buries the ache of losing Tarita by trying to translate Naxius’ Daemonicon, hoping to discover Naxius’ plans.
In Pallas, Lyra’s counsellors, fearing the empire’s collapse without Solon in charge, try to force her to marry him and make him emperor. Lyra, seeing no other choice, is about to concede defeat when the balance of power inside the council is altered on two counts: Dubrayle was being blackmailed to support the motion, but that hold is broken by his bastard son, Ramon Sensini – then spymaster Dirklan Setallius reveals himself as Lyra’s father; his vote tips the balance in Lyra’s favour. Now a pariah, Solon flees to Coraine to raise rebellion. Sister Domara, in Germane’s thrall, attempts to murder the infant Prince Rildan, but is killed by Exilium.
And the ambassadors of five of the vassal states arrive at court demanding the empire be disbanded.
Febreux, the coldest month of a bitter Sunsurge year, is about to begin. Xoredh prepares to unite his Shihad with the daemon-possessed armies of Naxius’ minion, the Lord of Rym. In Dupenium, Garod marshalls his forces for war and in Coraine, Solon does likewise. And in his secret lair, Ervyn Naxius gloats over his prize: Jehana, a semi-awakened dwymancer who can’t reach those powers is the perfect clay for him to shape. He places a mask over her face: that of Glamortha, the Angel of Death. In the Last Days, the Book of Kore foretells, Glamortha will lay with Lucian, Lord of Hel, and become the Mother of Daemons, beginning the eternal rule of daemons on Urte . . .
The Last Days
. . . and the righteous shall abandon Urte, ascending unto Paradise to take their place before the throne of Corineus, their Saviour. The last days of Urte shall be filled with wailing and lamentation as the sinners left behind are beset by daemons, who shalt make of Urte their lair. Lucian, the lord of Hel, shall reign, with Glamortha the Angel of Death his queen.
BOOK OF KORE
Coraine, Northern RondelmarFebreux 936
Two squires hefted a breastplate embossed with the badger crest of Coraine and strapped it to the heavily built man standing with spread arms in the middle of the room. Another pair knelt at his feet, strapping on the greaves. The seneschal frowned over the helm, handing it to a servant with a glare and pointing out an almost invisible blemish in the polishing. The servant blanched and reached for a cloth, casting an anxious glance at his lord.
Solon Takwyth was barely aware of their silent angst for the daily ritual had set his mind adrift. The familiar burden of forty pounds of metal and leather settled onto his shoulders while he dreamed of glory.
Today, my redemption begins. No woman refuses me and walks away, not even a queen. The imperial throne is mine by right: I’ve earned it. I will show Lyra that I command the Corani legions, not her. She should have married me when she had the chance. An image filled his mind, of himself on the throne, Lyra kneeling before him with frightened but adoring eyes, scared of her own passions. She loves me; it’s the others who have poisoned her against me. Setallius, Wurther and the rest. I’ll behead the lot of them, then she’ll have no one but me.
The seneschal, breaking into his reverie, handed him his helm, a ceremonial affair with winged flanges finished in silver and gold. ‘Milord, the Duke awaits.’
‘Thank you, Bailey,’ Solon replied, and the servants scuttled away.
When he was alone, Solon turned to the mirror. He’d never considered himself a vain man – for several years his face had been horrifically scarred after bandits had applied a red-hot brand to his cheeks. He’d considered every wound a trophy, and he knew the scars intimidated some. But over the past days he’d let the best healer-magi in Coraine work their magic on him because he needed to exude a different kind of energy now. Those healers had – at considerable expense, thanks to a lot of exotic ingredients – done a remarkable job. He looked nearer thirty years old than fifty and the scars were barely visible any more. The face in the mirror was experienced, dignified, decisive-looking. Regal.
Then the air in the corner of the room shimmered and from the gloom stepped a shadowy, translucent figure clad in scarlet, his long dark brown hair oiled and his fashionable goatee shaped into a spike.
‘Hail, Lord Takwyth,’ Ostevan Jandreux said in his greasy, mocking voice. The ghostly figure extended his right hand, offering the Pontifical Ring for Takwyth to kiss.
‘You can kiss my puckered arse ring, “Pontifex”,’ Solon told him. The title stuck in his throat: it denoted Ostevan’s lust to be both temporal and spiritual ruler of Yuros, which would never happen if he could stop it.
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