The sequel to the acclaimed, spellbinding epic fantasy Savage Legion by Hugo Award–winning author Matt Wallace about a utopian city with a dark secret…and the underdogs who will expose it—or die trying.
The call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.
The empire relies on them. The greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, well, there are always more.
From Hugo Award–winning author Matt Wallace comes the much-anticipated second installment to the “epic fantasy the genre has been waiting for” (Sarah Gailey, Hugo Award–winning author of Magic for Liars).
Release date: July 20, 2021
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Print pages: 400
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PREVIOUSLY, IN SAVAGE LEGION…
CRACHE APPEARS TO BE AN evolved society. It has no monarchy. No nobility. No aristocracy. No rulers. Just a nameless, timeless utopia. Or upon first glance, that’s what it seems.
One of its greatest weapons has always been the Savage Legion, an army of conscripts culled from the dungeons of Crache’s cities and hurled on the forefront of battle at the empire’s enemies. But the Legion has another clandestine purpose, which is to dispose of dissidents, the homeless, and any others deemed undesirable by the state. It is an instrument of conquest and oppression, the true guiding principles of this “evolved” society.
Evie entered the Savage Legion with a simple mission: infiltrate its ranks and locate her first love, Brio, an advocate from the Capitol who disappeared after asking too many questions about the Legion. In the course of this mission, she has found herself the unlikely leader of a rapidly fomenting rebellion against Crache. With her makeshift army of ex-Savages and common enemies of the Crachian army, the Skrain, she is now poised to lay siege to the Tenth City, and with that, open an inroad to the heart of the nation.
Lexi, Brio’s wife and the one who first sought Evie’s help, has successfully battled Crache’s bureaucracy to take over as leader of Gen Stalbraid in her husband’s absence. She has also become the unwilling “guest” of a secret order known as the Ignobles, descendants of the blood nobility that once ruled. The Ignobles want that power back, and Lexi must play a role in their plan in order to keep her life.
Dyeawan lost the use of her legs in an accident years ago, but was able to survive on the streets by virtue of her brilliant mind. Having grown up in the disenfranchised outskirts of the Capitol known as the Bottoms, she was eventually arrested and rejected by the Savage Legion because of her disability. Dyeawan was then brought into the service of the Planning Cadre, a secret keep where equally brilliant minds run Crachian society in all its wonders and horrors. Upon learning an unforgivable secret, she has murdered her mentor, head of the Planning Cadre, leaving behind no evidence and claiming his place.
Taru was once the trusted retainer of Gen Stalbraid, protecting Lexi at every turn. But upon recovering the evidence collected by Brio, meant to expose the truth behind the Savage Legion, Taru has been arrested and conscripted into the Legion themself.
These four each have a role to play in the now-uncertain future of Crache, though what those roles are and their consequences have yet to be determined.
BURIED IN A JAGGED CROWN
THE SMALL ATOLL RISES A mile offshore, little more than a halo of sharp rocks anointing the slate gray waters. From a distance one would scarcely take notice, and upon closer inspection their perception wouldn’t be much altered. Yet this nothing of a stone formation has been, since the Planning Cadre took up residence on the island, the closest thing to a sacred site observed by the brilliant and unknown conspiracy of men and women who secretly control the destiny of Crache.
Mister Quan dutifully crews the tiny rowboat, ever the pleasant stoic as he guides the oars smoothly through the lapping tide. Dyeawan sits at the bow, her back to the atoll. She isn’t entirely ready to take in the scene that awaits them there.
She studies Quan’s face, its broad and congenial features. Dyeawan has always possessed the ability to read people. She never knows their thoughts, but she sees their nature and intentions revealed in the smallest tics in the flesh of their face, or the way they move their body, or the quiver in their voice, no matter how slight.
Mister Quan does not speak, and Dyeawan has yet to witness a single crack in his veneer, not even when he discovered her spying on Edger and Oisin’s private conversation and displayed sympathy by not exposing her. He is perhaps the only person she has ever met who appears to act purely and selflessly in aid of those around him.
It has been weeks since Dyeawan ascended to the center of the planners (for there is no “head” of their winding circular table), supplanting Edger, Crache’s modern architect and unnamed ruler. What everyone save Dyeawan knows is that Edger’s death was an accident. The wind dragon ever affixed to his neck, which enabled him to speak, prematurely entered its frenzied mating cycle and tore out Edger’s throat.
What no one but Dyeawan knows, at least not for certain, is that Dyeawan triggered Ku the wind dragon’s violent mating cycle in order to kill Edger. It wasn’t something Dyeawan planned, not exactly, but it was something for which she’d prepared. She knew what kind of person Edger truly was, even if Dyeawan hadn’t wanted to believe it when she first came to the Cadre. She also couldn’t have known the depth of his cold, passionless view of people, or the ultimately genocidal impact of it.
Killing Edger was necessary.
Maintaining the Cadre’s perception of his death as an accident is also necessary.
Dyeawan sees no dishonesty in Quan, and certainly no malice, but neither can she be certain what he knows or suspects. Quan served Edger with unwavering dedication for more years than Dyeawan has drawn breath. He obviously cared for the old man, yet Quan seems to care for everyone he encounters.
She wonders if inwardly he suspects, as Oisin clearly does, that Dyeawan played a part in Edger’s demise. She further speculates whether or not those suspicions, should Quan harbor them, place her in jeopardy.
Dyeawan hopes the stoic attendant will continue to keep those thoughts unspoken. She has come to like him very much, and has even begun to depend on him.
Their rowboat approaches the rocky shore of the atoll as dusk dims the light of the world. Other skiffs are anchored there, harmlessly knocking against one another as the current sweeps them back and forth. Mister Quan ceases his slow, steady rowing and draws the oars into the boat. Dyeawan watches as he delicately rolls back the wide sleeves of his robe, and then takes up a bell-shaped anchor tethered to a chain. Quan leans over the side of the rowboat and gently lets it slip below the surface of the water, carefully feeding the chain to the end of its length.
Dyeawan finds there is something calming about watching Quan’s silent, precise, and unobtrusive movements. She wishes she could feel the inner peace he seems to represent.
The other members of the Planning Cadre are already lining the tops of the stony barrier. They stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellows, each of them denoted by their disparately colored tunics, each color representing their divisions with the Cadre.
The divisions—builders, architects, and so on—are grouped in their own rows, separate from one another. The planners are different. All of them wear their gray tunics, but the planners are represented by two separate rows opposing each other across the atoll. One of the groups is composed of elder planners while the other is significantly and consistently younger in age.
One of the reasons Edger elevated Dyeawan to planner was to tip the balance between the younger, forward-thinking members of the planners and the older guard, whom he labeled as too set in their ways and accomplishments. Before her ascension, the planners numbered twelve. With Edger gone, the unspoken ruling body of Crache would have been evenly divided once more.
Dyeawan has already remedied that by inviting Riko to join her amongst the planners. It was Dyeawan’s first act as their leader, and not strictly a calculated maneuver. She genuinely trusts and respects Riko, who is one of the Cadre’s most gifted minds and able inventors.
The fact her presence allowed the younger members of the planners to maintain that newly won superiority is simply an added boon.
Riko spots the rowboat docking tenuously beside the atoll and quickly separates her slight figure from the rest of the younger planners. She darts across the tops of the rocks with the speed and nimbleness of a cat to meet Dyeawan and Mister Quan.
“I should have built a ramp for you,” Riko says breathlessly. “I’m such a taro head sometimes.”
“Don’t say that about yourself,” Dyeawan replies, mildly chastising her friend.
“They’ve been having funerals here for a thousand years or something. You’d think someone would’ve thought to construct a dock at least, yeah?”
“People whose legs obey their commands rarely think of those of us whose legs do not.”
Mister Quan rises carefully. He bows to Dyeawan, awaiting her permission to aid her out of the boat. It has become a common gesture between them, and one that always creates a warm, syrupy sensation deep inside her chest.
Dyeawan nods with a gentle smile. She’s spent so much of her relatively short life being treated as part of the landscape, both as a girl, and even more so as an urchin seen by most as wholly immobile and incapable. Too many have viewed her as an obstacle they are allowed to move or adjust at their whim. Of all the indignities and hardships of scraping her existence literally from the floor of the Bottoms, that feeling was often one of the absolute worst.
Being given that courtesy by Quan and exercising control over her body is healing in a way Dyeawan could not have anticipated or identified before coming to the Cadre.
Mister Quan carefully and respectfully gathers her up in his arms and lifts Dyeawan from the boat. He steps onto the rocky shore, and despite his long, billowy robes and Dyeawan’s weight, easily negotiates the way up the uneven terrain to the summit where the rest of the Cadre is gathered.
Riko follows closely, though Dyeawan can see she’s already deeply lost in thought as she examines the spot from which they just departed.
“Maybe a rope and pulley system that moves a pallet up from the shore to the top of the rocks—”
“Perhaps now is not the time, Riko,” Dyeawan suggests, not unkindly.
“No, yeah, you’re right. Sorry. You know how I am.”
Dyeawan stifles an amused grin. “I do.”
They reach the summit of the atoll’s rim, the spot where the younger members of the planners are gathered.
There is a sturdy chair awaiting Dyeawan, its thick wooden legs standing on a flat, level rock. Quan eases her onto the cushioned seat and steps away quickly to allow Dyeawan to adjust herself as needed. She grips the arms of the chair and settles her hips and spine comfortably against its back. Her own arms have lost some of the strength they developed in their years of pulling her body along alleys on a pig-greased sheet of tin, but they remain as hard as sprung steel and adept at compensating for her lack of control over her other limbs.
Dyeawan stares down into the middle of the atoll. The interior rocks and the waters between them are awash in light, a dozen shimmering colors folding into one another like the reflection of some invisible aurora. The true source of the light is a scattered fleet of paper lanterns floating atop the water. The flame of the candle cradled within each lantern is specially treated to produce different colors and shades, from bloody red to emerald green to sun-fire yellow.
The lanterns swim around a pyre bobbing gently in the center of the calm water. The pyre is draped in white silk to conceal the eternally still form beneath.
Edger’s body is merely an outline, barely a silhouette, suggesting a shape rather than defining one.
At first it helps Dyeawan that she cannot see him, and then it’s all somehow worse because she can’t.
She distracts her mind from the matter at hand by scanning the assemblage surrounding the small funereal lake. Dyeawan spots Matei amongst the builders. He’s standing behind a large wrought iron wheel encumbered with heavy links of chain. The pudgy young man has his head bowed respectfully, his hands clasped in front of his body. Dyeawan can’t see his face. She wishes she could read his expression, and perhaps take comfort in his smile.
The two of them haven’t spoken since she put on the gray tunic of a planner. He and Riko were Dyeawan’s first true friends at the Cadre, and Riko insists to her that Matei wanted more than Dyeawan’s friendship. All of that seems to have changed. Riko says he’s jealous of Dyeawan’s unexpected rise through the ranks. Dyeawan knows Riko is right, but she still wants to believe Matei is capable of dismissing such petty impulses.
Dyeawan’s gaze leaves him, continuing to sweep over the summit of the rocky halo. After a few moments her eyes single out another figure among the rest before Dyeawan is even consciously aware of the person’s identity.
One of the other planners is standing apart from both factions. She is, in fact, the only member of the Cadre occupying her own space there on the atoll. Dyeawan remembers her, like most everything she sees, but she realizes she never truly noticed the woman before.
She stands a head taller than Dyeawan or Riko, and appears to be several years older than either of them. She is thickly and powerfully built, with long hair the color of dying embers. The features of her face are large and strong. She has painted her cheeks with violet rouge, and her eyelids with a powder that sparkles in the last light of the setting sun.
Dyeawan studies that face, looking past superficial observations. The woman’s expression is solemn, as suits the occasion, but there is more beneath that. Her eyes and her posture project something like defiance. It’s reserved, dignified, but it is definitely there.
“Who is that?” Dyeawan quietly asks Riko. “The planner standing alone?”
“Her? Oh, that’s Nia. She was kind of like Edger’s pet planner. Before—”
Riko stops short of finishing the observation.
“Before what?” Dyeawan presses.
Dyeawan studies her briefly. “You were going to say, ‘Before you came along.’ ”
Riko frowns, looking down at her with regret. “Yeah, but I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know what you meant,” Dyeawan replies without judgment or reproach.
Riko seems to realize how intensely Dyeawan is studying Nia, and her friend looks with new eyes at the woman across the atoll.
“Why is she standing by herself?” Riko wonders aloud.
“She’s making a statement,” Dyeawan says.
It is clear Riko doesn’t follow her line of thinking. “What do you mean?”
“By joining neither us nor what Edger called the ‘old guard,’ she’s protesting the division that exists among the planners.”
“Maybe she just made it out here late, yeah?”
Dyeawan shakes her head. “It’s symbolic. It’s also smart. A bolder gesture than using words, but less… antagonistic. You can argue with words. You can’t argue with a silent gesture. She’s placing herself above our petty squabbling. Setting an example.”
Dyeawan looks up at her friend to find Riko wearing a strange, delighted smile.
“Why are you grinning? This isn’t a festive occasion.”
“I was just thinking about when you first came to the Cadre. You never would’ve noticed something like that.”
“I would’ve noticed, I just wouldn’t have understood what it meant.”
“That’s life, yeah? Trying to understand what it all means.”
Dyeawan says nothing to that. She’s studying the other planners now. The rest of them have also taken notice of Nia’s gesture. The younger planners on either side of Dyeawan and Riko are staring across the atoll with what appears to be open admiration. It’s clear they look up to Nia, which makes sense. If she was a protégé of Edger, whom both sides revered, Nia would be the natural object of envy and aspiration.
Even the old guard seems compelled by Nia’s stance. Many of them look confused, some even appear slightly embarrassed or ashamed by the mirror Nia is aiming at them all, but none of them are wearing expressions of anger or resentment. And that surprises Dyeawan the most.
She is left contemplating why, if Nia is such a galvanizing figure, did Edger pass over his “pet” and name Dyeawan as his successor.
Mister Quan now respectfully presents Dyeawan with the narrow end of a large paper cone that will amplify her voice so that she may be heard throughout the atoll.
Dyeawan blinks up at him, unprepared for the cue to speak about Edger to the entire Cadre. As their new leader, it is appropriate, of course. She supposes she should have expected this, but perhaps she didn’t want to think about her role in his funeral.
Dyeawan reaches up and takes the cone. Uncertainty clouds her mind. There is so much the rest of the people gathered around the atoll can’t know about Edger’s life. There is so much they can never know about his death. How can she speak about the man without giving any of that away?
In the end, Dyeawan decides to simply tell the truth.
She speaks into the mouth of the cone: “Edger raised me up from nothing. He was the first person to truly see what not even I perceived; that I am worth more than scraping out a meager existence along the broken cobbles in the shadow of the Capitol. He also showed me how to become more. I imagine many of you have a similar story, and similar thoughts about him.
“I am not Edger. He taught me much. He prepared me as well as he could in the time he had. But I am not him. I will use his lessons to guide the Planning Cadre as best I can, in the direction I believe is best for the people we serve. Whether that is enough… we will all see in time.”
Dyeawan pauses, aware she’s revealing too much of her interior thoughts about what is left in Edger’s wake. These words are meant to commemorate and eulogize the dead.
“Edger believed in function, not legacy. He didn’t want his name known, or his story told. He knew the power of such stories; stories that become legends, and legends that become myth. I will not mythologize him or his life or his impact now. He served his function, and he served it perhaps better than even he could have hoped. Now that function has come to an end. And so has he. I like to think… he would find it fitting.”
Dyeawan returns the cone to Mister Quan. No one speaks, but the mood of the crowd seems to her to be one of satisfaction, at least with her eulogy.
She stares across the atoll at Nia in particular. The lone planner meets her gaze. More than anything else, and instead of the suspicion or even resentment Dyeawan might have expected, she reads curiosity in the woman’s expression.
Mister Quan hikes the hem of his robes and carefully treads down to the edge of the interior rocks. He kneels above the water and removes a small pouch from his belt. He loosens the strings of the pouch and empties its contents, a pale and grainy powder, into the nearest floating lantern.
The reaction is energetic. The lantern’s color darkens and the light it casts swells until the small vessel bursts. The paper is incinerated and colorful flame spits forth in every direction. The lanterns closest to it catch fire and quickly combust.
That single lantern coming aflame creates a domino effect spreading across the water inside the atoll. Tendrils of rainbow fire reach out from each affected lantern and touch all those within a few feet. The chain reaction continues until the lanterns swaying at the edges of the funeral pyre are touched.
As they explode, so too is the pyre lit ablaze. The silken white sheet covering Edger’s body is quickly consumed.
Stationed at his wheel, Matei begins turning it by its dimpled iron spokes. There are heavy chains running through the rock and beneath the waves linking to the bottom of the pyre. As those chains retract, the fiery heap is slowly drawn underwater.
Dyeawan feels her hands begin to tremble. Watching Edger’s body being lowered beneath the surface of the water sparks her recall, and images of the horrors she saw before her last conversation with Edger at the God Rung fill her head.
Since that day, her thoughts have stayed with the bodies that formerly occupied the bottom of the bay; bodies belonging to the disabled people of Crache liquidated on Edger’s orders. Dyeawan sees them every night. She’s barely been able to sleep since Edger showed her what lay beneath the God Rung, hoping she would understand the necessity of his actions and be willing to carry them forward in his stead.
Edger believed there was no meaningful or useful place in Crachian society for those people. He believed they were a drain on Crachian resources the state could ill afford. The few of them he took into the Cadre to perform menial tasks, like Dyeawan, were his paltry way of assuaging what conscience he had left. Dyeawan knows that now.
On her orders, Oisin and the Protectorate Ministry have moved in secret all of the remains to the deepest part of the island forest. The remains were separated and each soul was put to rest in the ground, in their own grave. The graves cannot be marked, and the names of the dead were not recorded, but Dyeawan instructed Oisin to bury each person with a Planning Cadre medallion.
It doesn’t mean much, she supposes, but Dyeawan feels that at the very least the Cadre should claim those bodies in some way.
The click of that large iron wheel on the other side of the atoll breaks Dyeawan from her dark reveries.
As the pyre is finally sucked under, the blaze is extinguished, until all that’s left of Edger is a phantom made of black smoke, dancing eerily atop the water.
THE KNIFE BEFORE
POLISHED STEEL DRAWS LIGHT THE way the earth pulls a falling body down to meet its embrace. Even in a darkened room, the scantest scrap of light will cause the flat of a blade to shine like the sun. Dull steel is an assassin’s best friend, and the truly masterful killers coat their blades in the blackest metal powder if the knife is their preferred method of dispatching a victim.
However, if one’s goal is to stab a sleeping body in the dark with a polished steel dagger, the safest technique is to keep its blade sheathed until the last possible moment before the strike.
These are lessons Crachian assassins have apparently never learned, and that gap in their murder education is the only reason Evie is still alive at this moment.
Oddly, that is at the forefront of her mind as she grapples with the shit-smelling man currently attempting to drive the tip of his very shiny blade through the ripe center of her throat.
Evie isn’t thinking about dying in the commandeered bed of a Skrain captain, or her army attempting to lay siege to the Tenth City in the morning without her there to lead them. She doesn’t see the faces of those she’ll leave behind.
Instead, she’s silently marveling at how the littlest details often have far-rippling results on the world around them.
She has long trained herself to be a light sleeper. It’s a necessary skill for a bodyguard. It doesn’t take much to wake Evie, even during the latest hour of the evening. It served her well when her assassin made his entrance. He managed to keep the door from creaking as he opened it, and he had the wits to allow just enough space for him to slip through. The light from the hallway sconce that reflected off the polished blade in his hand just happened to flicker over her closed eyelid.
She didn’t wake with a start. Her eyes fluttered open and she was immediately aware of the malevolent presence attempting to creep silently across the floor.
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