Unwanted betrothals, assassination attempts, and a battle for the crown converge in Dark Skies, a new adventure set in the world of Dark Shores, the YA fantasy Sarah J. Maas called “everything I look for in a fantasy novel.”
A RUNAWAY WITH A HIDDEN PAST
Lydia is a scholar, but books are her downfall when she meddles in the plots of the most powerful man in the Celendor Empire. Her life in danger, she flees west to the far side of the Endless Seas and finds herself entangled in a foreign war where her burgeoning powers are sought by both sides.
A COMMANDER IN DISGRACE
Killian is Marked by the God of War, but his gifts fail him when the realm under the dominion of the Corrupter invades Mudamora. Disgraced, he swears his sword to the kingdom’s only hope: the crown princess. But the choice sees him caught up in a web of political intrigue that will put his oath – and his heart – to the test.
A KINGDOM UNDER SIEGE
With Mudamora falling beneath the armies of the Corrupter, Lydia and Killian strike a bargain to save those they love most—but it is a bargain with unintended and disastrous consequences. Truths are revealed, birthrights claimed, and loyalties questioned—all while a menace deadlier and more far-reaching than they realize sweeps across the world.
Read an excerpt of Dark Skies—coming May 5th.
[dropcap type=”circle”]T[/dropcap]he litter swayed from side to side, the motion, along with the oppressive heat, causing Lydia’s eyelids to hang heavy, the cushion beneath her elbow inviting her to rest her head. Outside, the voices of the citizens filling Celendrial’s streets faded to a dull drone, and her mind grew sluggish as sleep beckoned.
Adjusting the angle of her book so that the light shining through the curtains illuminated the script, Lydia read, wishing she were in her library with its doors open to the cool sea breeze.
But she cared more for her father’s well-being than she did for her own comfort, and left to his own devices, he’d have insisted on walking the distance between their home and the Curia, never mind the consequences to his health.
Her eyes flicked to where he sat across from her, a letter held in one hand and several more scattered on the cushions between them, his distraction allowing her to examine his features.
Unlike her own, Senator Appius Valerius’s skin was the golden hue ubiquitous to those with Cel heritage. But in recent months that gold had turned puffy and jaundiced, and over breakfast she’d noticed that the whites of his grey eyes had yellowed as well.
An affliction of the liver, the physicians had said while giving her bottles of tonics with which to dose him.
Terminal, they’d said once they’d believed her out of earshot.
“Ease your mind,” her father murmured, not taking his eyes from the page. “I’m quite fine.”
As though easing her mind were possible. Her foster father was her only family, and even if they’d been bound by blood, she didn’t think it possible to love him more.
Desperate for distraction, Lydia twitched open the curtain, taking in the comings and goings of the city through the narrow gap in the fabric. They were heading to the heart of Celendrial, the men carrying the litter keeping to the shadow of the aqueduct high above them, her father’s guards striding to either side. As they walked beneath a place where the system branched, the litter bearer closest to her lifted his face to the sky, opening his mouth to catch the water streaming from a crack in the masonry.
When he lowered his head, his eyes widened as he caught her watching. “Apologies.”
Lydia smiled and waved her hand to dispel his embarrassment. And her own. “It’s a wonder the aqueducts haven’t run dry in this heat. What misery should we have to rely on the river Savio.”
“As you say, Domina,” the litter bearer replied, but instead of turning his attention back to the street, he eyed her brazenly. She tried to ignore the unwelcome scrutiny, knowing it was her appearance that provoked his curiosity. With her black hair, upturned green eyes, and ivory complexion, she was obviously not Cel, which made her rights to the honorific questionable at best.
“Do not gape at your betters, you idiot,” the man next to him snapped, kicking him in the ankle. No mean feat given the weight they carried, but Lydia pretended not to notice the exchange, directing her gaze to the Great Library.
It contained the largest collection of literature on Reath: works from every province, on every subject, and in every language, living or dead. Lydia lived and breathed the place. Her greatest wish was to join the ranks of scholars studying in its hallowed halls, for her days to be filled with the smell of parchment and ink, her most precious dream of all for her work to be considered for inclusion into the collection.
Never mind that she’d been inside only three times in her entire life.
Women weren’t precisely forbidden from the library, but their presence was strongly discouraged and the idea of one being allowed to study would likely render those who controlled the institution either mute with horror or consumed by laughter at the audacity of such a thought. Lydia dreamed about it anyway.
They rounded a corner, the towering arch of the entrance to the Forum coming into view. But it wasn’t the glittering gold of the dragon sculpture perched on top of it that caught Lydia’s attention, but rather raucous male laughter.
Two men with buckets full of soapy water were engaged with trying to wash some graffiti from the walls, and the passersby were all pointing and laughing at the subject matter. Opening the curtain farther, Lydia pushed her spectacles up her nose and squinted against the bright sun.
The crudely drawn image was of a naked man tossing male infants onto a sea of spears, the enormous phallus that the artist had given the man the subject of the passersby’s comedy rather than the serious nature of the scene. Unsurprisingly, the man pictured was Senator Lucius Cassius. Even without his name scrawled messily above, Lydia would’ve known that much.
The curtain snapped shut, blocking her view of the scene.
“Blasted plebeians and their crude drawings,” her father muttered, settling back down among the cushions. “What are you on the hunt for in the markets that can’t be brought to you at the house?”
“Something for Teriana, I think.”
“Oh? Have you heard from her then?”
Lydia twisted the ring on her finger around and around, smiling as she thought of her friend. “No, but I rarely do until the Quincense sails into Celendrial’s harbors.”
“Serves you right for befriending one of the Maarin. They go where the winds—and the profits—take them.”
The litter came to a stop before the steps of the Curia, ending their conversation, and Lydia accepted the arm of her father’s guard, Spurius, to help her stand, then turned to assist her father.
“Now, now, my dear. Please, allow me.”
Lydia’s skin crawled, and twisting around, she found Senator Lucius Cassius standing behind her, along with a pair of servants holding sunshades over his head.
Perhaps in his midforties, Lucius was a man unremarkable in face and form, his golden skin loose around the jowls, which emphasized his weak chin. He wore the same white toga as her father, his dark blonde hair clinging to his neck, which appeared oily, as though his masseur had not toweled him thoroughly after a recent massage.
All of those were secondary impressions, however, for it was his eyes that commanded one’s attention. And they were eyes one would never forget. Small and deep-set, they possessed a depth of cunning and a dearth of empathy, and having them fixed on her made Lydia want to recoil.
Lucius pressed a hand against the small of Lydia’s back to ease her out of the way, leaving a sodden mark on the silk of her dress. “My friend, my friend!” he said to her father, taking his arm. “This heat is the purest form of misery.”
“Truly, it is.” Her father steadied himself against the other man, the servants with the sunshades pressing forward to keep both protected from the glare. “We’ll have drought again if the weather continues as it has.”
A shout of dismay stole Lydia’s attention from the conversation, and her eyes went up the Curia steps to see soapy water spilling down the marble, one man berating another for his clumsiness. The column next to them had been defaced with more graffiti, and Lucius’s name was only slightly faded from their efforts.
“Nasty business,” her father said. “Have the perpetrators been caught?”
“Not yet. Though I do intend to have strong words with the legatus of the Twenty-Seventh. The policing of our fair city is a position of privilege, but his men appear to be treating it as an opportunity for leisure.”
Her father gave a slow nod. “Policing Celendrial requires a certain temperament of men. A legion that has seen combat, but not endured the trauma of heavy casualties. A legion with experience dealing with the peregrini. And one with an appropriate reputation. The Twenty-Seventh is a good fit.”
Unlike the other two legions currently camped outside the city, Lydia thought, though it would explain the as yet unexplained presence of the Thirty-Seventh and Forty-First.
“As always, Valerius, your counsel is good,” Lucius answered. “Perhaps I let my emotions get in the way of my good sense. In my heart, I know that it was the peregrini’s relentless abuse of my character that drove my late wife to her grave, so the sight of these baseless criticisms sparks anger in my blood. Makes me desire to take action.”
He pumped his fist in the air as though he might personally hunt down the perpetrators, and Lydia had to bite the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing at the very idea of it.
Then a shout cut the air, driving away her amusement.
“Thieves!” A tall man raced across the Forum in their direction. His pale freckled complexion and the cut of his red hair suggested he was from Sibern Province, though he wore Cel garments.
“You give me back my son, you Cel vermin!” He jerked the knife belted at his waist free, lifting the blade. “You give him back or I’ll kill you both!”
“Take cover, Domina!” Spurius pushed Lydia into the litter with such force that she rolled out the other side, landing on her knees in a soapy puddle.
Heart in her throat, she peered through the curtains, seeing both her father and Cassius had their backs against the litter, while Spurius had his weapon out, moving to intercept the attacker.
At the sight of the retired legionnaire, the Sibernese man slid to a halt, his eyes wild.
“Put the knife down.” Spurius’s voice was calm, and he cautiously set his own weapon on the ground. “We can all still part ways peacefully.”
“Peacefully?” The Sibernese man screamed the word, sweat and tears rolling down his freckled cheeks. “You golden-skinned demons don’t know the meaning of the word! You stole my boy away! Stole his freedom and his life!”
His speech was garbled with grief, but Lydia understood— as would anyone in the Empire. His child had been taken as part of the child tithes to the legions. Gone to Campus Lescendor where he’d be forged into a weapon and then used to enforce the Senate’s authority.
“It is not theft.” Lucius’s voice was frigid. “It is the law. All must abide. I myself gave up my second son and I bore my grief with honor, not by groveling like a woman in the middle of the Forum.”
Spurius’s jaw tightened, and he held up a hand, trying to silence Lucius.
But the damage was done.
“You stole him!” The grieving father lifted his knife. “And once you demons have beaten all that he is out of his veins, you will send him to slaughter his own people!”
The legionnaires guarding the Forum sprinted their direction, gladius blades gleaming in the sun, their expressions grim. Lydia clenched her teeth, not wanting to watch but unable to look away.
“Calm yourself, man,” Spurius said, and Lydia knew he saw the other soldiers coming. Knew that he had only moments to diffuse the situation. “That is not the way of it. You may yet see him again, but not if you carry forward with this ill-thought plan.”
“He will no longer be my son!” The man lunged, his eyes bright and fixed on Lucius and her father, and Lydia screamed.
And then a blade sliced through the air.
Lydia clapped a hand over her mouth, watching the Sibernese man’s head roll across the stones, coming to rest against the steps to the Curia. The legionnaire who’d decapitated him frowned, then bent to wipe his weapon on the dead man’s tunic.
“Blasted fools!” Cassius shouted at them. “While you sat on your laurels, we were nearly killed!”
“Apologies, Senator,” one of them—a centurion, judging from his armor—said. “We came as soon as we saw his weapon.”
“Spare me your excuses! The Twenty-Seventh is done in Celendrial—time you were sent somewhere that will sharpen you back into the weapons we trained you to be!”
Spittle flew from Lucius’s mouth, but Lydia’s father placed a calming hand on his shoulder before addressing the soldier who’d murdered the poor man. “You need not have killed him. It was poorly done.”
“Apologies, Senator,” the man answered, but to Lydia, he didn’t seem at all repentant. Likely because he knew the punishment for allowing harm to befall two senators would have been far worse than harsh words.
Rising on weak knees, Lydia held on to the side of the litter for balance, then circled around to the front. Blood pooled around the dead man, streams of it trailing away, following the straight lines between paving stones. One of the legionnaires picked up the dead man’s feet, dragging him across the Forum, leaving red streaks across the stone, while another caught hold of the head by the hair, tossing it after his comrade. “You forgot a part!”
“Show some decency!” The words tore from her lips, and the legionnaires turned to regard her with cold eyes.
“Apologies, Domina,” the centurion finally said. “I’ll have him whipped as punishment for adding to your distress.”
Lydia’s eyes widened and she opened to mouth to argue, but her father caught hold of her shoulders, gently pushing her into the litter. “Today is not a good day for the markets, my dear. Spurius will escort you home and then rejoin me.”
“Peregrini violence grows worse by the day.” Lucius gave a grim shake of his head. “What state our fair city that law abiding citizens and those of the gentler persuasion cannot go out for fear of being accosted? It is unconscionable. We must show a firmer hand.”
“A matter for discussion,” her father answered, but then the litter rose, carrying Lydia away from the conversation.
“An unnecessary tragedy,” she said, looking up at Spurius where he walked within arm’s reach, his steady presence a comfort. “You did well in your attempts to avert it.”
“Not well enough.”
“Is the Twenty-Seventh to blame for the violence?” Spurius had been a centurion prior to his retirement; of a surety, he’d have his own opinions on the matter. “Is Lucius right to want to replace them?”
“They are not the cause, Domina. Only a consequence,” he replied, face revealing nothing. “But the Senate knows better what Celendrial’s future holds and what sort of legion it will need to keep its peace.”
Something was happening, Lydia thought; then her eyes landed on the graffiti of Lucius throwing babies onto spears.
Or perhaps it already had.