In a kingdom where flames hold magic and the desert hides secrets, an ancient prophecy comes for an assassin, a princess, and a king. But none are ready to face destiny-and the choices they make could burn the world.
"If we carry the burdens of our fathers, we'll never know what it means to be free."
For Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she'll never be accepted as queen.
For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown-there's still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he'll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.
For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon's most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family-the very people he once swore to eliminate-will earn him that, he'll do it no matter what they ask of him.
But the Phoenix watches over all and the fire has a will of its own. It will come for all three, will come for Sayon itself....and they must either find a way to withstand the blaze or burn to ash.
The first in an action-packed debut epic fantasy trilogy, The Phoenix King is "a captivating adventure from a gifted new voice" (Peter V. Brett).
'The kind of book you sit down with to read one chapter and end up spending the whole day on. Come for the science fantasy worldbuilding and stay for the characters you just can't get out of your head'
Vaishnavi Patel, New York Times bestselling author of Kaikeyi
'Vast and fascinating . . . A satisfying slow-burn romance only enhances the political machinations. This exciting fantasy promises good things from the series to come'
'Verma seamlessly blends fantasy with sci-fi . . . A highly recommended read'
Release date: August 15, 2023
Print pages: 416
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Phoenix King
He slid close to the wall, tucking himself in the darkened corner where the guards above could not see him unless they were brave enough to weather the storm and lean over the stone edge. The rain lashed down, drenching him. It wasn’t like the thunderous, refreshing monsoons that swept across the deserts of Ravence leaving a riot of color in their wake. This storm bit down, clenching the coast in its grey jaws, unwilling to relent until it blended the world into hues of slate and brown.
Yassen shivered. He was lucky; he had been able to climb up the craggy cliff before the storm had hit. It had taken him nearly half an hour, from the hidden cove to the hidden blind spot of the wall, clawing for footholds and hollow pockets as the wind lashed at him. There was no surveillance here; clearly, the king believed no man foolish or brave enough to attempt the climb. He was right, Yassen thought bitterly as he felt another raindrop trickle beneath the collar of his jacket and down his spine. He wasn’t foolish or brave.
He was desperate.
Lightning splintered across the darkening sky, followed by a great boom of thunder that rattled the coast with such force that Yassen felt its echoes in his bones.
He stood on a thin ledge, the cliff dropping steeply behind him, the black stone wall looming before him. His pulse gun was holstered beneath his jacket, the silencer tucked above his heart. He was carefully putting the metal stakes he had used during the climb into his small knapsack when his holopod pinged.
Yassen pulled out the pod, a smooth silver circle no bigger than his palm. Two holos blinked awake: The first showed the time, a quarter to the hour, which meant the guard change would happen in ten minutes; the second showed live cam feeds of the inner compound.
King Bormani of Veran had insisted on building his summer home on the easternmost point of his coast so that he could be the first to see the sun rise over his kingdom. The vanity of it. The sun rose everywhere, Yassen thought, so why did it matter if you saw it first? But that was the way of kings: excessive, unnecessary. Yassen had known many such nobles. Most had been too blinded by their own pride to see that the danger lurked on their own doorsteps.
Above him, two guards huddled along the inner wall, their heads tucked inside their thick jackets, their hands thrust into their pockets. They looked miserable.
His pod pinged, this time with a message.
Guard change stalled. Climb.
Yassen checked the cam feed, and sure enough, the two guards above him glanced at their own pods. One guard, the bigger one, sprang up at once.
“Damn time,” Yassen heard one say.
“Don’t you think we should wait for the others?” his companion said.
The big guard whirled around. “In this weather? I can’t feel my crackin’ toes. Stay if you like but I’m out.”
The smaller guard grumbled but stood up. He stepped forward, toward the outer wall, and Yassen stilled. If he leaned over…
But the rain was thick, and the guard, probably thinking it was better to warm up with a bowl of soup than risk his neck peering over slippery stone, turned and hurried after his companion.
Lightning struck again, angrier this time. Despite himself, Yassen thanked the heavens. He had long ago lost his belief in the gods, but habit made him kiss his three fingers and press them to his chest for good luck. He did not invoke the Phoenix. Instead, he slipped off his gloves and rubbed chalk from his knapsack over his palms.
Yassen placed his hands against the wall and closed his eyes. The rough, slick stone brushed against his bare skin like a familiar friend. He had grown up climbing canyons and dunes, the warm sun on his back, sand and grit in his nails. For a moment, Yassen cradled that memory, but then the pod chimed again, and he felt the memory curdle. He would never feel the rough grit of sand again. That was his past. Yassen gripped the stone and looked up. The wall loomed over him, black and bleak. Just one more climb, he reminded himself. One more dead king, and he would be free.
He tapped his toes together, and two blades made of Jantari steel flicked out. They cut through the stone like a knife through flesh. Handhold here, insert foot here. Shift right. Shorn rock, move slow. Yassen fell into his familiar rhythm, sweat and rain beading down his forehead. The lip of the wall loomed closer. Fifteen feet, then ten, then five.
Yassen peered over the edge. The wall was empty. Yassen pulled himself over and, in one smooth motion, slipped out his pulse gun and silencer. His boot knives slid back. The rain drummed down, hard and mean like tiny pebbles. Yassen crept toward the staircase, gun balanced in his left hand, the other cradling a thin throwing knife that had been hidden in his boot.
When he reached the main floor, Yassen cautiously peered out across the grounds. He could see the two guards in the distance, hurrying down a garden path toward a grey, low building. The servants’ quarters. Beyond the building, he could see the faint silhouette of the king’s compound. He would be asleep right now. All Yassen had to do was climb onto the roof and slip into the topmost right hallway…
A sudden sound to Yassen’s right made him freeze, finger curled around the trigger. The rain muffled most noise, but Yassen was sure…
There! It sounded like a squeal, raw and painful; the sound a marjarah squirming on the butcher’s table would make. The Verani considered the meat of the catlike animal a delicacy. But the noise came from the direction of the king’s compound, not the kitchens.
Yassen crept forward as a far gate swung open and three guards ran out. They were shouting orders.
“Got out!” Their voices, dampened by the rain, came in little snatches. “Southside… Garden path!… Inform the king.”
Damn it! Yassen looked at the right topmost window of the king’s compound. It was still unlit. He had a few precious minutes to scale onto the roof. Perhaps he could make it through, shoot the king and the guards. But then how would he get out unnoticed?
For a moment, Yassen debated abandoning the assignment. The mission was compromised, he imagined himself telling Akaros, his handler. But then how many more assignments would they send him on before they finally granted him peace? How much longer until he could be free?
No, he had come too far. This would be his last job. He would fade away, slip past the Arohassin using the methods they had taught him. He had already made the rearrangements. An alias, Cassian Newman, with a passport from Nbru, a country that the Arohassin had no foothold in. Instead of sailing back to the rendezvous point, he would head out into the Ahi Sea.
Yassen waited until the guards were out of sight and then sprinted forward. Speed and confusion were his only advantage right now. He stuck to the perimeter of the circular garden, slipping between the dark, hunkering ferns.
A gutter ran up the backside of the grand, sprawling building of the king’s chambers.
He had just gripped it when a figure flickered from around the front of the house. A guard, head bent against the rain, his back to Yassen. He sounded annoyed, bickering into his pod.
“I told you I don’t know where it went! The old man shouldn’t even have it as a pet. It got scared by the storm and got out. There’s no need to wake up the king for his stupid—”
As the guard turned, Yassen’s knife sliced cleanly into his eye. The man’s body stiffened, his mouth frozen in shock, and then he fell onto his knees. Yassen quickly closed the distance, and in one deft motion, he slipped out the knife and sliced the guard’s throat, covering his mouth. The guard gasped against his palm, then lay still.
A voice continued arguing through the guard’s holopod. Yassen picked it up.
“—going to be angry! The damned thing only listens to him—”
Yassen cut the line and slipped the holopod into his pocket. He heaved the guard’s body back and laid it against the far wall, blanketed by shadows. Guilt snaked around his chest. His task was to eliminate a king, not his subjects. It was not their fault that they had gotten embroiled in politics beyond their control.
Yassen kissed his three fingers and pressed them against the guard’s forehead.
“Go in peace, wherever that is,” he murmured.
He took off his jacket and draped it over the guard’s body. The others would find him, eventually. But please, heavens above, let it be after.
The side entrance lay open. Yassen stepped inside, knife in hand, pulse gun primed. He closed the door softly. He could hear loud, stress-filled voices down the corridor. To his left, a staircase curved upward into darkness. At the top, Yassen pressed his ear against the door on the landing. Nothing. Carefully, he propped it open an inch. The hallway was dark and muted, shadows flickering and dancing across the walls from the large window above. All else was silent.
Yassen slipped into the hall, his footsteps light. Little raindrops dripped down his clothing, a spattered trail that couldn’t be helped. Ahead of him was another staircase, this one grander and more ornate, swathed in soft carpet. He took the stairs two at a time, the fabric swallowing any sounds, and paused at the second level. The hall forked left and right, sconces glowing gently at intervals. Murmurs drifted from the right, where the king’s bedchamber lay.
Activating his silencer, Yassen crept toward it.
A guard appeared at the far end of the hall. Yassen stopped, heart thundering, pressing back into the shadows. The guard walked slowly, hands outstretched.
“Here, Adria.” The guard made kissing sounds. “Here, girl. It’s all right.”
He thinks I’m the cat. Yassen wanted to laugh, but then he thought of the other guard, lying cold and dead in the rain. He holstered his gun, slipping his knife back into his sleeve. The guard inched closer, searching the shadows of the opposite wall.
“Adriaaa, I have treats,” he sang.
When the guard’s back was to him, Yassen leapt out. The man whirled, but Yassen was faster. He turned on his heel, sidestepping the guard’s confused punch, and wrapped him in a choke hold. The guard kicked his feet, the thud of his heels muffled against the carpet.
Yassen squeezed harder. Slowly, and then all at once, the guard’s body fell limp. Yassen checked his pulse. He was alive, but he would be unconscious for at least a few minutes. Yassen quickly emptied the guard’s pockets, donning the man’s hat and jacket.
Thunder boomed around him as he jogged down the hallway. Another guard paced in front of the king’s door but stopped when Yassen approached.
“Did you find her?” he hissed.
“No,” Yassen said in a Verani accent, his hat tilted down, “but I did find this.”
He threw the unconscious guard’s holopod across the floor. It slid across the carpet, hitting the other guard’s feet. He bent to pick it up, eyebrows knitting in confusion, and when he looked up, Yassen kicked him solidly in the face. The guard crumpled to the floor with a loud thump. Yassen winced at the sound, but no one else appeared in the corridor.
Unholstering his pulse gun, he opened the king’s door and slipped inside.
The room was wide and swathed in silks and velvets of rich purple. A fire crackled softly in a hearth beside the window. King Bormani was sitting up in his bed, rubbing his eyes. He blinked sleepily as Yassen entered.
“Briske,” he said, “what is all that noise? And would you close that crackin’ window?”
The windowpanes creaked in the wind. It must have blown open during the storm, Yassen thought. He peered at the king. He had no gun, no knife. The man had only his robe, which was quickly on the verge of unspooling as he yawned. Yassen hesitated. He had made an oath, long ago, to never kill a man without a weapon. And he had followed it, as best as he could. But now…
The window panels banged against the building.
“Ah, Briske, get the damn window!” Bormani snapped.
Just one more dead king. One more dead king and he would fucking finally be free.
Yassen swallowed his pride and glanced quickly between the king and the window. Suddenly, it fell into place. Yes, it can work. Yassen strode to the window, escape route in mind, finger curled around the trigger.
A log snapped and sparks fluttered in the air.
Three things happened at once then.
First, the king paused, as if finally noticing Yassen’s pulse gun. “Heavens above, Briske, what do you have that for?” he said as Yassen raised the weapon.
Second, an alarm blared. Loud and piercing through the house.
Third—and this Yassen would remember in the days to come—the fire. That damned, forsaken fire.
A single log snapped and rolled from the hearth, flames lashing out and catching Yassen’s leg. He yelled as he pulled the trigger. The pulse zipped through the air, missing Bormani’s head and ripping through the headboard.
The king shouted as Yassen tottered back, beating at the flames with his hands. His pants were wet, so the fire was sluggish, turning to steam. Relief filled his heart—just as his heel met the log and he tumbled. Flames leapt onto his dry jacket, laughing. They spread quickly, viciously.
Guards barreled through the door. Bormani sprang from his bed and ran. The confused guards rushed to protect their king as Yassen pulled himself over the window ledge and rolled over.
He slammed onto the tiles of the roof below, the impact knocking the breath out of him. He tried to stop himself, but he was moving too fast. He fell off the slanted roof, crashing into the garden bushes. Thorns and branches whipped his face. The flames hissed angrily as they died. Yassen was aware of a searing sensation in his right arm, but adrenaline and the sheer desperation of survival kept it at bay as he staggered to his feet.
Sirens blared through the compound. Guards streamed out of the servants’ quarters in the distance.
He sprinted to the stone staircase as pulse fire shredded the air. He made it to the wall when he felt a pulse zip above him, barely missing his shoulder. Yassen stumbled back. A guard, hiding behind one of the supply huts on the top of the wall, shot again. Yassen backed down the staircase as the pulse blasted the spot where he’d just been.
One last job. After this, you’re done.
Oh, what Yassen Knight wouldn’t do to be free.
Voices behind him, getting closer. He darted forward, knife in hand, and spun on his toes, flinging his arm as the guard popped up from behind the hut again. The knife cut through the man’s throat. The guard made a wet, gurgling sound.
Yassen ran to him, grabbing his knife and the guard’s pulse gun. Inside the supply hut, he found more guns, along with blankets, a half-eaten bowl of soup, holopods, and—yes—a rope.
He grabbed the rope and began to knot it, but his hands were trembling, his fingers too slick as they slipped over the knots.
The searing sensation in his arm grew worse. Yassen winced, teetering. White spots danced in his vision. He grabbed the rampart to steady himself as footsteps thundered up the staircase.
Come on, he said to himself. Almost done.
Finally, he knotted the rope to the rampart of the wall. It made a slithering sound as it fell over the edge, the line stopping ten feet short of the ground.
Yassen put the handle of the knife in his mouth to stop himself from screaming. With his left hand, he grabbed the rope and hauled himself over. He kicked off the wall, bouncing down, down, down, the rope sliding through his hand, burning his palm. He moaned into the knife handle. When he reached the rope’s end, Yassen stopped.
The drop below him was not too far, but the ledge was narrow. Beneath, the grey waves beat against the cliff.
“He’s over here!”
Yassen looked up. The guards were leaning over the wall edge. One guard trained his gun and shot. The pulse burned the stones just above Yassen.
Yassen stared down at the churning sea, despair filling his heart.
One last job. And then you’ll be free.
He kicked off the wall and plunged into the sea.
The king said to his people, “We are the chosen.”
And the people responded, “Chosen by whom?”
—from chapter 37 of The Great History of Sayon
To be forgiven, one must be burned. That’s what the Ravani said. They were fanatics and fire worshippers, but they were his people. And he would finally be returning home.
Yassen held on to the railing of the hoverboat as it skimmed over the waves. He held on with his left arm, his right limp by his side. Around him, the world was dark, but the horizon began to purple with the faint glimmers of dawn. Soon, the sun would rise, and the twin moons of Sayon would lie down to rest. Soon, he would arrive at Rysanti, the Brass City. And soon, he would find his way back to the desert that had forsaken him.
Yassen withdrew a holopod from his jacket and pressed it open with his thumb. A small holo materialized with a message:
Look for the bull.
He closed the holo, the smell of salt and brine filling his lungs.
The bull. It was nothing close to the Phoenix of Ravence, but then again, Samson liked to be subtle. Yassen wondered if he would be at the port to greet him.
A large wave tossed the boat, but Yassen did not lose his balance. Weeks at sea and suns of combat had taught him how to keep his ground. A cool wind licked his sleeve, and he felt a whisper of pain skitter down his right wrist. He grimaced. His skin was already beginning to redden.
After the Arohassin had pulled him half-conscious from the sea, Yassen had thought, in the delirium of pain, that he would be free. If not in this life, then in death. But the Arohassin had yanked him back from the brink. Treated his burns and saved his arm. Said that he was lucky to be alive while whispering among themselves when they thought he could not hear: “Yassen Knight is no longer of use.”
Yassen pulled down his sleeve. It was no matter. He was used to running.
As the hoverboat neared the harbor, the fog along the coastline began to evaporate. Slowly, Yassen saw the tall spires of the Brass City cut through the grey heavens. Skyscrapers of slate and steel from the mines of Sona glimmered in the early dawn as hovertrains weaved through the air, carrying the day laborers. Neon lights flickered within the metal jungle, and a silver bridge snaked through the entire city, connecting the outer rings to the wealthy, affluent center. Yassen squinted as the sun crested the horizon. Suddenly, its light hit the harbor, and the Brass City shone with a blinding intensity.
Yassen quickly clipped on his visor, a fiber sheath that covered his entire face. He closed his eyes for a moment, allowing them to readjust before opening them again. The city stared back at him in subdued colors.
Queen Rydia, one of the first queens of Jantar, had wanted to ward off Enuu, the evil eye, so she had fashioned her port city out of unforgiving metal. If Yassen wasn’t careful, the brass could blind him.
The other passengers came up on deck, pulling on half visors that covered their eyes. Yassen tightened his visor and wrapped a scarf around his neck. Most people could not recognize him—none of the passengers even knew of his name—but he could not take any chances. Samson had made it clear that he wanted no one to know of this meeting.
The hoverboat came to rest beside the platform, and Yassen disembarked with the rest of the passengers. Even in the early hours, the port was busy. On the other dock, soldiers barked out orders as fresh immigrants stumbled off a colony boat. Judging from the coiled silver bracelets on their wrists, Yassen guessed they were Sesharian refugees. They shuffled forward on the adjoining dock toward military buses. Some carried luggage; others had nothing save the clothes they wore. They all donned half visors and walked with the resigned grace of people weary of their fate.
Native Jantari, in their lightning suits and golden bracelets, kept a healthy distance from the immigrants. They stayed on the brass homeland and receiving docks where merchants stationed their carts. Unlike most of the city, the carts were made of pale driftwood, but the vendors still wore half visors as they handled their wares. Yassen could already hear a merchant hawking satchels of vermilion tea while another shouted about a new delivery of mirrors from Cyleon that had a 90 percent accuracy of predicting one’s romantic future. Yassen shook his head. Only in Jantar.
Floating lanterns guided Yassen and the passengers to the glass-encased immigration office. Yassen slid his holopod into the port while a grim-faced attendant flicked something from his purple nails.
“Name?” he intoned.
“Cassian Newman,” Yassen said.
“Country of residence?”
The attendant waved his hand. “Take off your visor, please.”
Yassen unclipped his visor and saw shock register across the attendant’s face as he took in Yassen’s white, colorless eyes.
“Are you Jantari?” the attendant asked, surprised.
“No,” Yassen responded gruffly and clipped his visor back on. “My father was.”
“Hmph.” The attendant looked at his holopod and then back at him. “Purpose of your visit?”
Yassen paused. The attendant peered at him, and for one wild moment, Yassen wondered if he should turn away, jump back on the boat, and go wherever the sea pushed him. But then a coldness slithered down his right elbow, and he gripped his arm.
“To visit some old friends,” Yassen said.
The attendant snorted, but when the holopod slid back out, Yassen saw the burning insignia of a mohanti, a winged ox, on its surface.
“Welcome to the Kingdom of Jantar,” the attendant said and waved him through.
Yassen stepped through the glass immigration office and into Rysanti. He breathed in the sharp salt air, intermingled with spices both foreign and familiar. A storm had passed through recently, leaving puddles in its wake. A woman ahead of Yassen slipped on a wet plank and a merchant reached out to steady her. Yassen pushed past them, keeping his head down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the merchant swipe the woman’s holopod and hide it in his jacket. Yassen smothered a laugh.
As he wandered toward the homeland dock, he scanned the faces in the crowd. The time was nearly two past the sun’s breath. Samson and his men should have been here by now.
He came to the bridge connecting the receiving and homeland docks. At the other end of the bridge was a lonely tea stall, held together by worn planks—but the large holosign snagged his attention.
WARM YOUR TIRED BONES FROM YOUR PASSAGE AT SEA! FRESH HOT LEMON CAKES AND RAVANI TEA SERVED DAILY! it read.
It was the word Ravani that sent a jolt through Yassen. Home—the one he longed for but knew he was no longer welcome in.
Yassen drew up to the tea stall. Three large hourglasses hissed and steamed. Tea leaves floated along their bottoms, slowly steeping, as a heavyset Sesharian woman flipped them in timed intervals. On her hand, Yassen spotted a tattoo of a bull.
The same mark Samson had asked him to look for.
When the woman met Yassen’s eyes, she twirled the hourglass once more before drying her hands on the towel around her wide waist.
“Whatcha want?” she asked in a river-hoarse voice.
“One tea and cake, please,” Yassen said.
“You’re lucky. I just got a fresh batch of leaves from my connect. Straight from the canyons of Ravence.”
“Exactly why I want one,” he said and placed his holopod in the counter insert. Yassen tapped it twice.
“Keep the change,” he added.
She nodded and turned back to the giant hourglasses.
The brass beneath Yassen’s feet grew warmer in the yawning day. Across the docks, more boats pulled in, carrying immigrant laborers and tourists. Yassen adjusted his visor, making sure it was fully in place, as the woman simultaneously flipped the hourglass and slid off its cap. In one fluid motion, the hot tea arced through the air and fell into the cup in her hand. She slid it across the counter.
“Mind the sleeve, the tea’s hot,” she said. “And here’s your cake.”
Yassen grabbed the cake box and lifted his cup in thanks. As he moved away from the stall, he scratched the plastic sleeve around the cup.
Slowly, a message burned through:
Look underneath the dock of fortunes.
He almost smiled. Clearly, Samson had not forgotten Yassen’s love of tea.
Yassen looked within the box and saw that there was no cake but something sharp, metallic. He reached inside and held it up. Made of silver, the insignia was smaller than his palm and etched in what seemed to be the shape of a teardrop. Yassen held it closer. No, it was more feather than teardrop.
He threw the sleeve and box into a bin, slid the silver into his pocket, and continued down the dock. The commerce section stretched on, a mile of storefronts welcoming him into the great nation of Jantar. Yassen sipped his tea, watching. A few paces down was a stall marketing tales of ruin and fortune. Like the tea stall, it too was old and decrepit, with a painting of a woman reading palms painted across its front. He was beginning to recognize a pattern—and patterns were dangerous. Samson was getting lazy in his mansion.
Three guards stood along the edge of the platform beside the stall. One was dressed in a captain’s royal blue, the other two in the plain black of officers. All three wore helmet visors, their pulse guns strapped to their sides. They were laughing at some joke when the captain looked up and frowned at Yassen.
“You there,” he said imperiously.
Yassen slowly lowered his cup. The dock was full of carts and merchants. If he ran now, the guards could catch him.
“Yes, you, with the full face,” the captain called out, tapping his visor. “Come here!”
“Is there a problem?” Yassen asked as he approached.
“No full visors allowed on the dock, except for the guard,” the captain said.
“I didn’t know it was a crime to wear a full visor,” Yassen said. His voice was cool, perhaps a bit too nonchalant because the captain slapped the cup out of Yassen’s hand. The spilled tea hissed against the metal planks.
“New rules,” the captain said. “Only guards can wear full visors. Everybody else has to go half.”
His subordinates snickered. “Looks like he’s fresh off the boat, Cap. You got to cut it up for him,” one said.
Behind his visor, Yassen frowned. He glanced at the merchant leaning against the fortunes stall. The man wore a bored expression, as if the interaction before him was nothing new. But then the merchant bent forward, pressing his hands to the counter, and Yassen saw the sign of the bull tattooed there.
Samson’s men were watching.
“All right,” Yassen said. He would give them a show. Prove that he wasn’t as useless as the whispers told.
He unclipped his visor as the guards watched. “But you owe me another cup of tea.”
And then Yassen flung his arm out and rammed the visor against the captain’s face. The man stumbled back with a groan. The other two leapt forward, but Yassen was quicker; he swung around and gave four quick jabs, two each on the back, and the officers seized and sank to their knees in temporary paralysis.
“Blast him!” the captain cried, reaching for his gun. Yassen pivoted behind him, his hand flashing out to unclip the captain’s helmet visor.
The captain whipped around, raising his gun… but then sunlight hit the planks before him, and the brass threw off its unforgiving light. Blinded, the captain fired.
The air screeched.
The pulse whizzed past Yassen’s right ear, tearing through the upper beams of a storefront. Immediately, merchants took cover. Someone screamed as the crowd on both docks began to run. Yassen swiftly vanished into the chaotic fray, letting the crowd push him toward the dock’s edge, and then he dove into the sea.
The cold water shocked him, and for a moment, Yassen floundered. His muscles clenched. And then he was coughing, swimming, and he surfaced beneath the dock. He willed himself to be still as footsteps thundered overhead and soldiers and guards barked out orders. Yassen caught glimpses of the captain in the spaces between the planks.
“All hells! Where did he go?” the captain yelled at the merchant manning the stall of wild tales.
The merchant shrugged. “He’s long gone.”
Yassen sank deeper into the water as the captain walked overhead, his subordinates wobbling behind. Something buzzed beneath him, and he could see the faint outlines of a dark shape in the depths. Slowly, Yassen began to swim away—but the dark shape remained stationary. He waited for the guards to pass and then sank beneath the surface.
A submersible, the size of one passenger.
Look underneath the dock of fortunes, indeed.
Samson, that bastard.
Yassen swam toward the sub. He placed his hand on the imprint panel of the hull, and then the sub buzzed again and rose to the surface.
The cockpit was small, with barely enough room for him to stretch his legs, but he sighed and sank back just the same. The glass slid smoothly closed and rudders whined to life. The panel board lit up before him and bathed him in a pale blue light.
A note was there. Handwritten. How rare, and so like Samson.
See you at the palace, it said, and before Yassen could question which palace, the sub was off.
When the future king arrived at the unforgiving desert, he called to his followers, “There, we will build our city.” He led t
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