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Blood of Empire

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Blood of Empire

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Author: Brian McClellan
Publisher: Orbit, 2019
Series: Gods of Blood and Powder: Book 3

1. Sins of Empire
2. Wrath of Empire
3. Blood of Empire

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

As the final battle approaches a sellsword, a spy, and a general must find unlikely and dangerous allies in order to turn the tides of war in this epic fantasy tale of magic and gunpowder by acclaimed author Brian McClellan.

The Dynize have unlocked the Landfall Godstone, and Michel Bravis is tasked with returning to Greenfire Depths to do whatever he can to prevent them from using its power; from sewing dissension among the enemy ranks to rallying the Palo population.

Ben Styke's invasion of Dynize is curtailed when a storm scatters his fleet. Coming ashore with just twenty lancers, he is forced to rely on brains rather than brawn - gaining new allies in a strange land on the cusp of its own internal violence.

Bereft of her sorcery and physically and emotionally broken, Lady Vlora Flint now marches on Landfall at the head of an Adran army seeking vengeance against those who have conspired against her. While allied politicians seek to undo her from within, she faces insurmountable odds and Dynize's greatest general.


Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Ka-Sedial meditated in a pool of sunlight on the top floor of what had once been Lady Chancellor Lindet's townhome in Upper Landfall. It was a gorgeous room, filled with art, astronomical instruments, rare books, and engineering puzzles; the playground of someone who views education with a passionate eye. He'd left it largely untouched since taking control, and he had decided that he quite liked the previous owner. He and Lindet would have a very long, interesting discussion before he cut off her head.

He sat on a cushioned stool, facing east through a great stained-glass window, his eyes closed as he enjoyed this moment of quiet. Quiet was, after all, a rare luxury. He wondered if it would cease altogether in the days to come. Most people thought that ruling was a luxury. He scoffed to himself at the very thought. Ruling was a duty, a terrible responsibility that few approached with any measure of real success.

A rap on the door interrupted his ruminations, and Sedial rubbed at the pain persisting behind his left eye before placing his hands serenely on his knees. "Come."

The door opened to reveal the face of a middle-aged man with hard, angular features; a square jaw; and a military bearing. He was of middling height with a powerful frame wrapped in the black tattoos of a dragonman. Ji-Noren was, officially, Sedial's bodyguard. In reality he was Sedial's spy and military master, and one of about a dozen dragonmen that claimed loyalty to him rather than to the emperor.

"Yes?" Sedial asked.

"We found the girl."

"The girl?"

"The one you gave to Ichtracia."

Sedial snorted at the mention of his treacherous granddaughter. "Bring her in."

A few moments passed before Ji-Noren ushered in a petite Palo woman of about nineteen. She was very attractive, if Sedial had been young enough to still enjoy that sort of pastime. She trembled violently as Ji-Noren laid one hand on her shoulder. Plucked from among the poor natives in that immense slum, Greenfire Depths, the girl had been meant as a peace offering to Ichtracia, a slave to do with as she wished. Ichtracia had simply released the girl and ignored Sedial's orders.

Sedial looked the girl over for a few moments, reaching out with his sorcery in an attempt to find even the faintest trace of his granddaughter. If they had spent any amount of time together, there would be something there, even if just a whisper.

Nothing.

He produced a leather wallet from his sleeve and unrolled it to reveal a number of needles and glass vials. He drew one of the needles. "Give me your hand." The woman inhaled sharply. Her eyes rolled like a frightened horse, and Sedial almost commanded Noren to cuff some sense into her. Instead, he reached out and seized her by the wrist. He pricked a vein on the back of her hand, smearing the drop of blood with his thumb before releasing her.

He ignored the frightened sound she made and stared hard at the splash of crimson. He took a few shallow breaths, touching the blood with his sorcery, feeling it create a bridge between his body and hers, between his mind and hers. "When is the last time you saw Ichtracia?" he asked.

The girl's bottom lip trembled. Sedial squeezed ever so gently with his sorcery, and words suddenly spilled out of her. "Not since the day you left me with her. She sent me away within minutes of you leaving!"

"And you have had no contact with her since?"

"No!"

"Do you have even a guess at where she might be hiding?"

"I don't, Great Ka! I'm sorry!"

Sedial sighed and wiped the blood from his thumb using a clean scrap of cloth from the table beside him. He returned the needle to his wallet and rolled it up, then flipped his hand dismissively. "She knows nothing. Return her to the Depths."

Ji-Noren gripped her shoulder, but the woman refused to turn away. Her eyes locked on to his, her teeth chattering. "You..."

"I what, my dear?" he asked impatiently. "I'm not going to torture you?" He gave her his best grandfatherly smile. "Believe me, if I thought it would be of any help, you would be on the way to my bone-eyes at this very moment. But you are nothing more than a weak-willed bystander, and despite what you may have been told, I do not crush insects out of spite. Only necessity." He gestured again, and within a moment the girl was gone.

Ji-Noren returned a few minutes later. He stood by the door, waiting in silence while Sedial attempted to slip back into that blissful meditation he'd been holding on to earlier. It didn't work. The moment of peace had passed. His head hurt, the spot behind his eye throbbing intensely every time he used his sorcery. He gave a small sigh and struggled to his feet, crossing the room to a writing desk, where he lowered himself into the chair and began to sign a number of work orders redistributing Palo labor from the housing projects in the north down to a new fortress under construction in the south.

"We have no other way to find Ichtracia?" Ji-Noren asked quietly.

"No," Sedial replied as he skimmed a work order before adding his signature at the bottom. "We do not. Mundane means have failed--we've interrogated everyone with even a tenuous connection with her."

"And sorcerous means?"

"Dynize Privileged learned to hide themselves from bone-eyes long ago. Even our family blood is not strong enough to allow me to crack her defenses."

"What about the spy, Bravis?"

Sedial looked down at the bruising on his wrist. The bruising from one granddaughter--from Ichtracia's sorcery--the pain behind his eye from the other. "Ka-poel is protecting him," he said quietly, raising his gaze to a little box up on the shelf. The box contained the spy's finger, as well as several vials of his blood. They had proven useless, but he kept them all the same.

"I've widened the search to three hundred miles," Ji-Noren said. "We willcatch them."

The reassurance just provoked a spike of fury in Sedial's chest. He pushed it down, signing his name on a work order and pressing it with his official seal. He shouldn't need soldiers combing cellars and ransacking attics to look for his granddaughter and that filthy spy. He was the most powerful bone-eye in the world. Finding them should be as easy as a thought.

The spot behind his eye throbbed. Second most powerful bone-eye, anyway. Despite his pained state, he felt a sliver of pride for Ka-poel. She would have made an amazing pupil--or a powerful sacrifice. She may still prove to be the latter.

"Ichtracia and the spy are either already on the other side of the continent, or they are hiding just beneath our noses. Continue to focus your efforts on the city." He rose to his feet again, knuckling his back and giving Ji-Noren a grin. "Ka-poel has spread herself thin. She protects dozens with her sorcery, instead of using it as a weapon. If she was not so distracted, she would have killed me."

Ji-Noren frowned, as if wondering how this could possibly be good news.

Sedial patted Ji-Noren on the shoulder. "She will continue to make the same mistake. Eventually, it will weaken her against my attacks, and I will break her."

"Ah. Do we know where she is?"

"To the west, still. I can't be entirely sure where, but I imagine she's looking for the last of the godstones."

"She doesn't know we already have it."

"No, I don't think she does." Sedial turned to the dragonman. "You're still frowning."

"We have many enemies in this place," Ji-Noren commented.

"As we expected."

"More than expected," Ji-Noren said. "And far more powerful. Have you read reports about what those two powder mages did to the army we sent after Lady Flint?"

Sedial ignored the question. One thing at a time. "Don't worry yourself, my friend," Sedial said as he crossed the room toward the door. It was nearly teatime, and he might just be able to enjoy it before another messenger arrived with some ridiculous problem that needed fixing. "We've won almost every battle we've fought on this accursed continent. We possess two of the godstones. Once we've broken Ka-poel's sorcery on the Landfall godstone, we will be in position to act."

"And Lady Flint, with that new Adran army up north?" Ji-Noren insisted. "They have the third godstone."

"But they have no idea how to use it." He paused, then added reassuringly, "They have, what, thirty thousand soldiers? We outnumber them four to one in that region alone."

"They have Privileged and powder mages now."

"We'll buy them off," Sedial said. "The Adran delegation will be far more pliant than Lady Flint's stubbornness. She may have gained an army, but she also gained the politics of the Nine. I suspect she'll find the latter much harder to wield than the former." He rested his hand on the door just as he heard footsteps pounding urgently up the stairs. He rolled his eyes and opened it just in time to see a messenger, covered in sweat and road dust, come to a huffing stop. "What is it?" Sedial demanded.

"We've done it, sir."

Sedial was taken aback. "Done what?"

"The godstone, sir. The Privileged and bone-eyes say that they've solved it."

It took a few moments for the thought to register. "They're certain? They've broken my granddaughter's seals?"

"Yes, Great Ka. Absolutely certain."

Sedial felt the grin spread on his face. He let out a relieved sigh and gave the messenger one curt nod before closing the door and hobbling back to the writing desk. "We've done it, Noren," he breathed.

"Congratulations, Great Ka," Ji-Noren said warmly.

Sedial reached beneath the writing desk and produced a small cigar box marked with his Household crest. It pulsed with sorcery as his fingertips touched it, and continued to grow warmer and warmer until he managed to prick his own finger and press the blood to a special knot on the bottom of the box. The box sprang open, revealing several dozen prepared envelopes layered in protective wards. He drew them out almost reverently and handed them to Ji-Noren. "Send these back to Dynize immediately."

"Are we sure we're ready for this?" Ji-Noren asked with some surprise.

"It is time to strike. Begin the purge."

"What of the emperor?"

"The emperor is just another puppet. He'll think that the purges are being conducted in his name."

Ji-Noren looked down at the orders. For a moment, Sedial thought he saw a flicker of hesitation. Understandable, of course. After such a long and bloody civil war, most Dynize were loath to spill the blood of their kin. Yet this was unavoidable. Enemies needed to be destroyed, both foreign and domestic.

"Can I trust you to stand beside me, my friend?" Sedial asked.

Ji-Noren's gaze hardened. "To the death."

"Good."

"This is how it begins."

"No," Sedial corrected gently. "It began decades ago. This is how it ends."

Copyright © 2019 by Brian McClellan


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Blood of Empire

- SpaceAndSorcery
  (12/20/2019)

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