Prince of the Spear
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Desperate for the next Game of Thrones? Prince of the Spear continues the Sunsurge Quartet and delivers a full-on fix of epic fantasy. The unthinkable has happened. With the Leviathan Bridge critically damaged and its towers unable to control the skies between Yuros and Antiopia, the East has invaded the West. A vast windfleet, constructed in secret, is winging across the Pontic Sea The holy Shihad has begun. The Rondian Empire is divided and weak. Empress Lyra has barely survived a coup, triggered by a masked cabal whose members still remain concealed in the highest echelons of her court. Only Lyra's secret affinity to the heretical power of dwyma saved her - but that affinity is also her most dangerous weakness. As empires clash, lives are torn apart and long-held beliefs are overthrown by circumstance and desperation. A young queen whose court is riddled with traitors turns to the wrong people in her hour of need. Two princes clash in the skies, the fate of two nations riding on their skill. Two brothers must reconcile disparate cultures to regain their kingdom. An idealistic rabble-rouser sees a chance to strike. And a small group of dwymancers grope blindly for knowledge in a race against time before the masked Cabal strike again. 'Represents modern epic fantasy at its best' - Fantasy Book Critic on the Moontide Quartet
Release date: February 22, 2018
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Print pages: 706
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Prince of the Spear
In Junesse 930, Alaron Mercer and Ramita Ankesharan, co-founders of the Merozain Bhaicara, seized control of the towers of the Leviathan Bridge, saving it from destruction and using the energies roused by the Keepers to destroy the Imperial Windfleet above, killing Emperor Constant and Mater-Imperia Lucia and many more of the court’s most influential mage-nobles. These deaths create a power vacuum at the very heart of the Rondian Empire.
The Church of Kore reacts faster than the remaining Pallas nobility: Grand Prelate Dominius Wurther has been entrusted with the emperor’s children, Prince Cordan and Princess Coramore and he prepares to form a Regency Council in Cordan’s name to secure the continuation of the Sacrecour dynasty. He doesn’t suspect that his confidante, the prelate Ostevan, has other loyalties: he tips off his kinswoman, Duchess Radine Jandreux, in the northern city of Coraine, birthplace of Natia, Emperor Magnus’ first wife. The Corani fell from favour after Natia’s demise and Constant’s ascent to power. Now their time has come again . . .
Striking quickly, Radine sends Corani mage-knights, led by Sir Solon Takwyth and the spymaster Dirklan Setallius, steal Cordan and Coramore from under the Church’s nose – and more importantly, they free a woman of whom they had no knowledge, who turns out to be Lyra Vereinen, the daughter of the late Princess Natia.
Acting swiftly, the Corani plot a return to power. With their rivals paralysed by the disasters of the Third Crusade, those keeping order inside the capital – Grand Prelate Wurther and Treasurer Calan Dubrayle – are persuaded to turn their backs on the Sacrecour clan; they come to an agreement for the Corani to return to Pallas; that agreement includes the banishment of Ostevan, in revenge for his betrayal of Wurther. Duchess Radine marches her soldiers south into Pallas, where the populace, fearing a civil war, greet them with great rejoicing, aided by the faery-tale circumstances of Lyra’s rescue.
But Lyra is no compliant tool to be wielded by Corani ambitions: she is a complex young woman with her own secrets; there are unanswered questions over her parentage, and she has never been trained in the gnosis, despite being a pure-blood mage. When she does finally awaken her innate magic, it’s not the gnosis, but the heretical arts of pandaemancy. Worse, she has also fallen in love with her rescuer, the jaded Corani knight Ril Endarion, a highly unsuitable relationship for the woman who is to be the figurehead of the Corani cause, their queen and the new empress.
On the eve of her coronation, with Radine demanding that Lyra accept the dour and formidable Solon Takwyth as her husband, Lyra blindsides the duchess. In a secret ceremony, Ostevan, acting out of spite and knowing he is facing exile, marries Ril and Lyra. After Lyra has been crowned the following day, she openly declares her marriage before the world. Radine, Takwyth and Setallius are forced to accept her actions, and Takwyth goes into voluntary exile after he strikes Ril, the new Prince-Consort.
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 settle to deal with a new world and a new ruler.
Over the next five years, the Rondian Empire struggles on. There’s civil strife in the southern regions of Rimoni and Silacia, where bandit-lords and mercenaries are fighting, but that’s nothing new. The Treasury has been forced to impose heavy taxes to rebuild the finances of the empire, and vassal-states like Argundy, Estellayne and Noros are clamouring for greater autonomy, but the Corani gamble in seizing the throne appears to have paid off. Duchess Radine dies, still embittered by Lyra’s betrayal, but Ril and Lyra continue to reign securely in Pallas – although the economy is wavering, there is unrest in the provinces and Lyra has had two miscarriages and remains without an heir of her blood.
In Ahmedhassa, the Sultan Salim Kabarakhi is trying to rebuild his realm with the aid of the mighty eastern mage, Rashid Mubarak. 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 remain below water and unusable until 940.
In 935, new crises are developing in East and West. A secret masked cabal, whose identities are concealed even from each other, is formed by the rogue Ordo Costruo mage Ervyn Naxius, a genius unconstrained by morality. He offers the cabal members powers beyond even those of the Merozain Bhaicara, who are Ascendants capable of utilising all sixteen facets of the gnosis. What Naxius offers is a link to an ancient super-daemon called Abraxas, and the ability to enslave others using the daemon’s ichor. When Naxius proves to his cabal that they, not the daemon, will be in control, the ‘Masks’ join his mission to unseat every throne and make themselves rulers of a new era.
In the West, the cabal aims to supplant Empress Lyra with the pliant Prince Cordan, but to do this, they must snatch the royal children from Corani custody. They strike during the jousting tournament which was supposed to bolster Ril and Lyra’s faltering rule; instead, the tourney becomes the centre of a web of intrigue. The exiled and embittered Ostevan, now a member of the Masks cabal, engineers a return to court as Lyra’s confessor and soon begins to infect people with the daemon’s ichor. The effects are not dissimilar – at first, at least – to the symptoms of riverreek, a seasonal illness. He uses this hidden control over other courtiers to engineer the snatching of the royal children on the last day of the tourney.
The climax of the tourney is a clash between Ril, a fine warrior for all his faults, and an ‘Incognito Knight’; the victorious unknown is revealed to be Solon Takwyth, returned from exile. He begs a boon from Lyra before the entire crowd: that he be forgiven and permitted to return to Corani service, and Lyra is forced to allow this – then they receive the shocking news that the royal children have been abducted.
Meanwhile, in the East, the Masks strike a savage blow against peace: at the height of the Convocation, the religious and political event that shapes future policy, Sultan Salim is murdered by masked assassins. The only survivor of his household is Latif, his impersonator, who goes into hiding while Rashid Mubarak seizes control, and shifts policy towards war. His sons, the brutal Attam and the cunning Xoredh, advance his plans for Shihad, a holy war, against the vast and hostile nation of Lakh, to unify his new sultanate.
But Rashid is working a delicate tightrope, striving to appear just as well as strong, and he appoints his nephew, Prince Waqar, to investigate Salim’s murder. Waqar is distracted by the plight of his mother Sakita, Rashid’s sister: she too was attacked that same night, by Salim’s marked murderers. Waqar encounters Tarita Alhani, a Javon spy, who is also investigating the murders, and they agree to collaborate. When Sakita dies, Tarita goes north, seeking clues in Hebusalim, while Waqar is sent south, into the wild, mountainous land of Lokistan, on a secret mission for Rashid.
All over the world, momentous events are taking place that may have a profound effect. In Dhassa, the Mollachian princes and mage-brothers Kyrik and Valdyr Sarkany, long held captive in the East’s dehumanising breeding-houses, are reunited. It’s not an amicable meeting, for Kyrik has converted to the Amteh faith and been released into the care of Godspeaker Paruq, an Eastern priest of Ahm, while Valdyr has remained staunch in his western faith. He escaped his breeding-house, but was recaptured and for the past five years has been a slave-labourer. He has been under a Rune of the Chain since he was a child, which has concealed and disarmed his gnosis.
Paruq manages to secure the brothers’ release, taking them by windship to Yuros and setting them down among a tribe of Sydian nomads, with whom he has been conducting missionary work. The brothers are intent on returning to Mollachia and reclaiming their inheritance, but they are captured by tax-farmers, an unhappy by-product of Empress Lyra’s efforts to fund her reign. Their dead father owed a fortune to the empire in taxes and the tax-farmers have new – draconian – laws on their side; two Rondian legions have occupied Mollachia and are busy stripping it of its wealth. One legion is under the command of Robear Delestre and his sister Sacrista, who have the tax-farming contract on behalf of their father; and the other, an Imperial legion, is commanded by Governor Ansel Inoxion. The brothers are locked up and left to die, but local freedom fighters – the legendary Vitezai Sarkanum – rescue the brothers, who agree to head up the resistance movement. Kyrik has discovered a common mythology shared by Mollachs and Sydians; he returns to the Sydian steppes to recruit aid. The price: marriage to the fiery Sydian witch Hajya. Valdyr distinguishes himself against the Rondian occupiers, despite having no gnostic powers; the Chain-rune has been removed, but he can feel nothing.
In Pallas, Naxius and his Masks are readying their follow-up attacks. Ordinary citizens, apparently suffering a particularly virulent outbreak of riverreek, are in fact possessed minions of the daemon Abraxas: they’re used as shock troops in coordinated assaults on the Imperial Bastion and the Celestium, the Church of Kore’s holiest site. Using secret underground tunnels, the attack penetrates all defences, ready to unveil Prince Cordan as the new emperor, and backed by the arrival of a Sacrecour army at the gates.
In the East, the new sultan’s careful long-term planning reaches fulfilment. Rashid has assembled a vast windfleet capable of sailing across the skies to invade even as far as the West. The only thing preventing invasion 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 ships would be destroyed.
During this coordinated assault on peace and order, a new variable enters play: dwyma, or pandaemancy, a heretical form of magic believed to be extinct, has only ever lain dormant. Now Fate has placed three people with the power to use it in the midst of these world-changing events. But two of them don’t even suspect they have such a power . . .
In Pallas, the attacks on the Bastion and the Celestium appear to be succeeding; and the Masks look to be on the brink of seizing power – until Empress Lyra uses dwyma to destroy one of the apparently indestructible Masks. 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 receives the gift of dwyma from four ghostly Watchers and uses it 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, always the better soldier, survives.
But in the East, the dark side of dwyma is revealed. Sakita Mubarak is also a dwymancer, part of a project by the Ordo Costruo to resurrect this long-extinct form of magic. Now a prisoner 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 receive some clues about the Masks – but Rashid’s windfleet appears on the southern horizon, heading for Yuros, and Waqar realises that his beloved uncle may have been working with the masked assassins – he might even be behind his mother’s death. He also learns that he and his estranged sister Jehana may have the same ‘gift’.
It is Julsep 935, and for the first time in recorded history, the East is invading the West, which is disunited under an inexperienced empress. The Ordo Costruo and Merozain Bhaicara cannot prevent the invasion – all their energies must go into repairing the Bridge before it is washed away. And for the first time in five centuries, dwymancers are walking the lands, with unpredictable and devastating powers.
What they do may damn both East and West to aeons of suffering.
Prologue: The Masquerade (Beak)
On the Primacy of Knowledge
I once deliberately infected a child with leprosy. But before you condemn, consider that from that experiment, I discovered much about the disease that led to new gnostic treatments which have eradicated the disease from civilised regions.
We’re at war against barbarism, superstition and ignorance, and a general who wins a victory in battle while minimising casualties is lauded. Yet I’m being hounded by jealous peers. Yes, I suffered casualties in my research battles – but the victories I won were stunning!
Ervyn Naxius, Defence Notes from his Trial, Hebusalim, 869
Lowgate Tower, Pallas, Rondelmar, Yuros
Nothing reveals character more than defeat, Ervyn Naxius reflected, as he – or more particularly, his spiratus – soared invisible through the night, covering miles in seconds as it sped across northern Yuros until the Imperial capital – Pallas the Golden, the centre of the Rondian Empire for five centuries – was spread below him. She was like a massive piece of old jewellery, her gems glittering and lovely but the crevices between grimy with the detritus of ages. Pallas: a city of magnificence, excess and most of all, conspiracies. It was here that power, wealth and authority were divided up, in open court and secret backrooms. The heart of Yuros, where every vice and failing was magnified.
Mine, one day soon. Tonight was another step on that journey.
Naxius swooped down to a roofed cupola atop a disused watchtower and took on the appearance of an ancient, black-robed man – his true form. Those who awaited him were similarly attired, but each of them wore a mask of lacquered copper.
A cabal such as theirs needed anonymity, a collective identity and a certain style; he’d taken the ancient Lantric plays for his theme. He knew they were all wondering what to make of the masks he’d selected for each of them; did his choice imply a role, or suggest his interpretation of their character?
All of the above, my dear pawns.
None of them were truly present; like him, they had flown here in spirit-form, freed from lumpen flesh to roam the world – one of the more useful gnostic arts.
For Naxius, the journey had been long, but he was well-used to such travel and knew many ways to ease it, from ensuring his body was left in an elevated, open-air site to using drugs and lotions to aid the separation of spiratus from flesh. He touched ground, as tangible to his spiratus as to his human body, and initially ignored his three waiting acolytes, wanting to savour the view. The tower stood near Lowgate, which these days was primarily a rubbish-disposal portal, but as a spiratus lacked olfactory senses, he wasn’t required to endure the stench. First, he looked east towards the Bastion, the giant rectangular edifice that dominated the city from atop Roidan Heights. From this side, the scars of his minion’s failed coup, which had left the young Empress Lyra Vereinen still enthroned, were invisible.
Below the Bastion was the Aerflus, the swirling body of water formed by the confluence of two great rivers, the Bruin and the Siber. Pallas surrounded the confluence and grew fat off the river trade. The waters also divided the temporal from the spiritual: south of the river lay the giant glittering dome of the Celestium, which had also been unsuccessfully attacked, leaving the Grand Prelate Dominius Wurther still secure on the Pontifex’s Curule.
Naxius was untroubled by these failures – any experiment could face unexpected setbacks. He was more interested in the cause of the reverses than the fact of them.
We thought we knew what we faced, but we found deeper defences.
Most importantly, he’d discovered that Lyra Vereinen was a pandaemancer – or dwymancer, if you preferred the more sympathetic term for the heretical magic. Remarkably, her powers appeared to extend right into the heart of the Celestium. Furthermore, Solon Takwyth had remained loyal and saved her life when Naxius would have sworn the worthy knight hated his empress. Learning these facts had been worth the casualties.
But as he finally turned to face them, he saw his three surviving Western Masks were consumed with worry. Jest sported a diamond-patterned mask; Tear’s eyes wept rubies; Angelstar’s seraphic features remained austere. He knew their real identities, of course – having recruited them – but as far as he knew, they didn’t yet know each other’s true names.
‘Brother Jest, Brother Angelstar, Sister Tear,’ he greeted them. ‘We spoke only days ago. What need is there now for further discourse?’
Jest responded first. ‘Master, we wished to speak with you without the Easterners present.’
Ah yes, how very predictable. The whole of the West was reeling at the news that Rashid Mubarak, the new Sultan of Kesh, had crippled the Leviathan Bridge and launched an invasion of Yuros. Even now his windfleet was collecting his second wave of troops, while the first armies were preparing to depart Pontus and march west. After three bloody Yurosian Crusades, the Eastern counter-attack – their Shihad or holy war – was underway.
His three surviving Western minions now knew that his four Eastern Masks had been central to Rashid’s plans, and clearly felt threatened.
‘When we last spoke,’ Naxius replied, ‘you worried that the left hand of my cabal didn’t know what the right hand was doing. Nevertheless, you are of the same body. Consider your own hands – they obey the brain, without consulting the other limbs. I give you far more autonomy than that. I’ve given you tools and pointed you at a problem: that Lyra Vereinen and Dominius Wurther – a guileless girl and a fat priest – sit on the two most powerful thrones in Koredom. You have attempted to unseat them, and failed: learn from that, and try again.’
Their Masks didn’t completely hide their reactions; Jest was calm, already adapting and looking forward, and Angelstar was feigning indifference. But Tear was visibly stressed.
‘Who will replace Twoface?’ she demanded.
‘Whomsoever I choose,’ Naxius answered. ‘You thought you knew who Twoface was, Sister Tear, but you were wrong and you jeopardised your anonymity. Don’t make that mistake again.’
She bowed at his reprimand, but didn’t look at all repentant.
‘Master,’ Angelstar said, ‘during our attack, we infected ordinary citizens with the daemon ichor – now those people are in captivity, are they a danger to us? Can they be used to trace us?’
‘A good question,’ Naxius approved. ‘The potency of that diluted ichor will lessen and certain things can burn it away entirely, so no, I don’t anticipate it being used to trace you. Forget them. Our enemies will even now be adjusting their defences to account for such attacks, so you must find other ways to assail your foes.’
‘We faced pandaemancy, which is a heresy,’ Angelstar noted. ‘Even an empress doesn’t stand above the law. Mother Church can bring her down.’
‘Indeed – but Grand Prelate Wurther owes his life to that very heresy and I think he knows that,’ Naxius replied. ‘If you want to drag her to the stake, you must find another man to do it.’
‘Empress Lyra’s garden is the nexus of her pandaemancy,’ Jest said. ‘Master, is there anything you, with your vast experience, can tell us about how to overcome such a place?’
‘Dwyma has been considered extinct for centuries, and I too believed so, until recently,’ Naxius admitted. ‘But believe me, it has now become a priority for my research.’
‘But the Easterners claimed that a pandaemancer serves them!’
‘“Served” – past tense. She died when they damaged the Leviathan Bridge. And we have learned something: that even a dwymancer is not proof against our ichor – they can be infected and controlled, but only for a brief time before their magic rejects them. Get close to Lyra Vereinen and when the time comes, bring her to me. I wish to study her.’
Jest bowed his head obediently but Tear didn’t look pleased. ‘Brother Jest wishes to operate in both the Bastion and the Celestium,’ she complained, ‘but I dwell at the heart of the Imperial Palace. Master, please instruct Jest to confine himself to the Holy City and leave the Bastion – and Lyra Vereinen – to me!’
It was time to let his irritation show. ‘Work together, and resolve your differences!’ he ordered. ‘You have one purpose – one common purpose – which is the overthrow of the empress and the grand prelate. I expect cooperation – and success.’
They bowed their heads – reluctantly, but that was to be expected; they were powerful people used to getting their own way. Creative tension was inevitable, perhaps even desirable.
‘Go forth. Conquer. Through Abraxas, our chained daemon, you have access to all sixteen Gnostic Studies, and more power than any mage in history. Make it count.’
He waited until they’d bowed again, then in a flash he was gone and streaming back through the aether to his lair.
Ostevan Jandreux waited until the Master’s spiratus had vanished, then turned to his fellow conspirators. ‘Well, you heard the Master.’
‘Aye,’ said Angelstar, ‘play nicely and get the job done. I’ll be going south with the army, so you won’t see me for some time. Best you two resolve your issues.’ Then he too was gone, a streak lost in the darkness.
Tear bowed her head. ‘Jest, I did truly believe that Twoface was Solon Takwyth.’
Ostevan wasn’t surprised. Takwyth’s face had been ruined on one side, rendering it akin to Twoface, and the exiled Corani knight had shown up just before the latest crisis. In truth, he’d thought the same as Tear – not that he’d admit that now. ‘Too obvious,’ he said, his tone offhand.
Tear’s mask twisted into a lacquered sneer. ‘Don’t pretend omniscience: you were as much surprised as I! Esvald Berlond was only ever Takwyth’s shadow. I believe Takwyth can still be swayed, though.’
‘Really? When he all but laid down his life for Empress Lyra?’
‘He lives for House Corani – but one can love Coraine and loathe Lyra Vereinen, as I do.’
A raw nerve, Ostevan noted. Your loyalties to House Corani clearly run deep, Lady, whereas I outgrew mine years ago. ‘If you think he can be persuaded, by all means try – but don’t let it spoil your aim for the true prize.’
‘I won’t,’ Tear grated. ‘And the Bastion is mine – stick to the Celestium, Priest.’
If she was seeking to threaten him by hinting that she knew his identity, she failed. And he had no intention of confining himself to the Holy City, not when he was so intimate with Lyra herself. After all, was he not her personal confessor?
But for now, he dissembled. ‘Very well, Lady Tear. I’ll deal with Wurther, and you deal with the queen.’
Or what’s left of her, after I’m done . . .
A mile south of Pontus, Beak awaited his fellow conspirators. His mask of copper and lacquer was an ugly thing, with squinting, leering eyes and the long beak-like nose which apparently gave the character his name – he couldn’t comment; he’d never seen a Lantric play. Ervyn Naxius had enlisted him almost two years ago: an outer sign of a profound inner change.
Before that, ‘Beak’ had been a mere low-blooded mage, an overlooked scholar of the Hadishah, employed in their secret breeding-houses. Captive magi were vital in the struggle against the Rondian Crusaders and matching breeding-partners was a crucial task – but not one that brought a great deal of recognition.
But his knowledge and lust for discovery had brought him to the attention of Naxius – how the Ordo Costruo renegade had found him, he had no idea, but from that moment everything had changed. Any pretence that he must follow the Gnostic Codes had vanished, along with all supervision. He’d been given as many live subjects and resources as he needed, with a single mandate: to expand knowledge of the gnosis. Freed of both oversight and moral constraints, guided by Naxius and his incredible insights, the only limits were his own low blood and his imagination – and he and Naxius had overcome even those.
He is the Master, but I am his closest servant. I am his . . . heir. Beak licked his lips, thinking of all the delicious young men and women who’d unwillingly given their bodies and souls to his research. Everything he’d achieved was through their sacrifice, and those who were hardest to break had been the most rewarding subjects.
Apparently Beak was a nosy busybody in the Lantric Masques, the tormentor in particular of Heartface and Ironhelm, the star-crossed lovers about whom the plays revolved. How apt; he was exactly that sort – so it was rather amusing to be awaiting Ironhelm and Heartface here, overlooking the fallen city of their enemies.
They arrived separately. Despite being clad in black and wearing their masks, he was fairly certain he knew who they were. Ironhelm rode a Rondian horned horse – they called it a khurne – captured during the last Crusade. His war-helm gleamed dully in the afternoon sun.
‘Sal’Ahm, Brother Ironhelm!’ Beak greeted him in Keshi. Since linking with the master-daemon Abraxas, he’d become effortlessly multilingual. He wondered whether to bow, but as the harbadab – the ‘war of manners’ which governed all social interactions – instructed only the barest of greetings between socially equal strangers, he settled for touching his right hand to his forehead. ‘You’re early.’
Ironhelm mirrored his greeting. ‘Sal’Ahm, Brother Beak. I’ve always believed in arriving early – it enhances the chances of catching people doing something they ought not.’
‘Trust me, all is as it should be here,’ Beak replied. He pointed north, where the Keshi windfleet hung about the city of Pontus. The hills were brown from lack of rainfall and the city shimmered in the heat haze. ‘How fares Pontus, the newest jewel in our sultan’s crown?’
Ironhelm tapped his scimitar hilt in satisfaction. ‘The Rondian garrison has surrendered and the Ordo Costruo have fled their Arcanum. We’ve plundered the city for supplies. All wealth will be sent to Ahmedhassa.’
‘And the populace?’
‘The young women have been rounded up to serve the soldiers; the young men will be shipped to the Dhassan slave-mines and the rest of the slugskin peasants sent to serve the supply-camp we’ve established. Only the Kore priests were executed. The sultan is merciful.’
Ironhelm’s voice feigned regret but Beak wasn’t fooled – after three Crusades, he knew the mood of Kesh and Dhassa: the Westerners must pay. He too held that opinion.
‘And the children?’
Ironhelm glanced at him curiously. ‘To be taken as devshirmey and taught our ways. The blood-tax will give us many eager young soldiers who will now grow up devoted to Ahm.’
‘“Give me the boy and I’ll make the man”,’ Beak quoted.
‘Indeed.’ Ironhelm studied him. ‘I can’t place your accent, Brother?’
‘I am much travelled. It’s strange, isn’t it, to not even know each other’s station? So much of our interactions are based on social rank, but when strangers must remain strangers, the harbadab is silent.’
‘If Master Naxius holds us equal, Brother, then equal we are.’ Ironhelm turned as a windskiff swam into view through the shimmering haze. A single figure guided the tiller, her mask glinting. ‘As is she, I suppose.’
‘Sister Heartface,’ Beak mused. ‘Ironhelm generally woos her, does he not?’
‘I don’t believe the Master intends us to take these masks so literally,’ Ironhelm replied calmly as they watched Heartface furl her sails, her every gesture and movement elegant. ‘Greetings, Sister,’ he called.
Beak studied Heartface’s gait: in the first meeting, before they’d all accepted Naxius’ blessing and the daemonic ichor, she’d moved awkwardly; now she flowed, her movements graceful, like a dancer. Of course, the ichor had enabled all of them to perfect themselves physically.
I care little for physique, but I fancy that to you it’s everything, Heartface.
They exchanged greetings, then gazed together at conquered Pontus. They’d caused this more than anyone except Sultan Rashid himself; it was their control of the pandaemancer Sakita that had enabled the destruction of Midpoint Tower, the nexus of the powers which could have destroyed their windfleet. They had lost one of their number, though: it was at Midpoint that Felix had perished.
‘What news?’ Beak asked at last.
Heartface’s voice was filled with satisfaction. ‘It’s confirmed: Rene Cardien, the Archmagus of the Ordo Costruo, died at Midpoint, as did several others of his order, and two Merozains. Those Ordo Costruo manning the other towers have locked themselves in and are threatening to burn any vessels that approach, but they’re clearly pouring most of their energies into sustaining the Bridge.’
‘Can they repair it?’ Ironhelm asked.
‘Who knows? The towers collect sun
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