The battle for Fovea is on, and a girl named Raven and a man named Jack aren't even sure of which side they should be on.

On one side is the Emperor, Rancor Mordetur, from their home planet of Earth. He seems to have a lot on this side - a massive army of highly trained warriors, the most feared witch on Fovea as his wife and superior technology born of another world.

On the other is every Fovean Nation; savage Man and wild Uman, long-lived Uman-Chi and merciless Swamp Devils and Slee; all of them unwilling to be subjects of the Empire.

But is the Empire evil, or do Raven and Jack not yet have the whole picture? And what of the song that so few people can hear, sung to them by an Uman-Chi girl barely 167 years old? If they can find the weapons mentioned in the song, can they win the day?

Or, as the song says, are they doomed to fail?

Indomitus Sum is the conclusion to Indomitus Oriens. Now you can finally learn the fate of those who have no faith, but who instead know the will of their gods.

Indomitus Sum is the conclusion of the story we began in Indomitus Oriens, and the fourth book in The Fovean Chronicles. In it, we learn what the weapons were, what the prophecy meant, and who 'the one who fights as does the sun' is.

After this book, we'll have a three book Intermission series, to be released in early 2015.

Chapter: Prologue


The man-god Steel stood atop the Iron Mountains, sadly watching the city called Steel, filled with people who didn’t even know this city had been named after Him, not after the ore carried out of the adjacent mines. Steel watched soldiers marshalling on a practice field, girding themselves in armor and weapons, making ready to kill others barely different than themselves.

Steel’s mother, Life, had birthed him after she coupled with one of these. Life had created all manner of things on the face of the god Earth, alongside the goddess Water, who lay forever asleep in His arms.

These two had birthed Life, after all. Steel was born of an exotic and powerful line. Atop the mountains, the goddess Weather, a lesser god, pulled at Steel’s salt-and-pepper hair. She begged him, “Worry not. The machinations of Men, of Uman and Dwarves, of Slee and Swamp Devils, Scitai and Uman-Chi, are nothing in the long stretch of things. War might think Himself ascendant, but in fact he’s just another storm, on a planet where there’s ever sunshine.”

Steel knew better. Unlike the Fovean gods, He was himself part Man, and this could sometimes give Him insight into mortal things. The god War had brought forward His instrument from another reality, and had sidestepped the Rule of the Gods; He could speak to Lupus the Conqueror. In retaliation the All-Mother, the goddess Eveave, had brought forth two others from the same place, not to face War’s instrument but to counter His plans.

And then had come a song, and the song had been Steel’s own creation. The song, sung by the Uman-Chi Glynn Escaroth, forewarned of the coming battles, the events about to shake Fovea and the world it lay on.

“On Fovea, on Fovea, seek a noble young and old,
A foreigner among his kind
A hero, fate foretold
One who fights as does the Sun
Waits in a sacred place
A guardian will bring you there
With a devil born and raised”

“Through Fovea, through Fovea, over you shall watch
One who eludes prying eyes,
With one who can’t be touched.
So shall they come together
Heroes of the land
Together to oppose the One
While all apart they stand.”

As loudly as He dared proclaim it, as directly as He dared push against the Rule of the Gods, which bound Him loosely as half a Man. Six to fight against the One, to work with Eveave’s champion while they could.

Steel wept, watching warriors march on the plains below him. So many of these would be lost, and for what? More influence to the god War? More power to War’s father, the god who called himself Power? A bloody feast at the table of the lesser goddess Destruction?

When the first living beings, the Cheyak, walked upon the face of Earth thousands of years ago, there’d been a balance. The gods had been content to watch, to tinker, to push idly without real concern about the outcome of Earthly things. Then the god Power had found this other Earth, domain of the One God, and found a way past the Rule of the Gods. He’d heavily influenced the Cheyak and, in the end, destroyed them. That had led to the thousand-year reign of the god Chaos, the formation of the new Fovean nations, the ascendance of Fovean peoples such as the Andarans and the Confluni and, finally, a great peace brokered by Life’s sister and brother, Order and Law, which stifled the fighting in the name of Adriam, the All-Father.

That peace had lasted less than one hundred years. Now the one called ‘The Conqueror’ ruled the nation of Eldador in the name of War. Now all nations rallied to the clarion call of fear; fear of War, fear of His instrument, the Conqueror, fear there would be a return to the days of their great-grandfathers and the reign of Chaos. Fear of the losses of War.

For this Steel wept.

He’d interfered. He’d done His best. He’d sent the Almadain, the mighty stallion from Life’s cherished herd, to soften War’s instrument. The Almadain had birthed half-breed sons and daughters which, in time, could aid them, but even now the instrument of War moved forward with a plan to take Fovea.

That, Steel knew, must never be. That would usher in a time of blackness even He couldn’t see the end of. The Conqueror knew his god’s will, and such a person was capable of monstrous things, yet even War’s instrument had no concept of what his own successes might usher in.

Eveave countered him with Her Instrument, the woman called Raven, perhaps greater in her way than the Conqueror, however Eveave would never let her instrument know her will, and so this Raven would never know the maniacal commitment of a true follower.

Steel did not believe the Raven could prevail, and so He’d set his prophecy in motion. His prophecy put a whole new set of rules, a whole new set of possibilities in play. Should He be wrong, then War’s darkness might intensify one hundred fold, and live to the time when Life became unwelcome on Fovea.

If successful, the best Steel could hope for was a dim time, not a dark one. His best hope, his brightest dream, was for a time of only gray.

Sometimes in the world, victory is simply the lack of defeat.


Chapter: Secrets


“Blast, blast, blast and damnation!”

Thebinaar had seen the Duke, in these last ten years of his reign in Thera, in various states of joy and anger, but not like this, not in court where everyone could see him.

Def Namek nudged him in the ribs. “Think he’s angry?” he asked.

The Master at Arms had a strange sense of humor, even for an old Man.

“I wouldn’t make that comment to him,” Thebinaar responded, dry as ever. An Uman, he had a longer view of things than a Man.

Andarans at their best could be difficult.

“Def!” Two Spears roared, bellowing like a bull on his Ducal throne. He sat atop a raised set of four stone steps, still a powerful Man in his thirties, a little grey at the temples of his long, black hair, the black mustachios wagging under the chin of his otherwise clean-shaven face. The courtiers in the gallery were already stirring and the two Wolf Soldiers before him were so rigid at attention that they must be in fear for their lives.

“Your Grace,” Def said, stepping forward on the platform to the left of the Ducal throne. Thebinaar and Def served as the Shem Hannen of Thera, much as the three who served the Emperor in Eldador. In old Cheyak, the term meant literally, “The Wise Ears.”

In all things they were opposites. Def stood stick-figure thin, old for the race of Men, in his late sixties. His wiry hair stood out like the whisps of an old brush from his head, revealing a spotted scalp.

Thebinaar, on the other hand, was less than ninety, middle-aged for the race of Uman. His people were fair-skinned where Def was ruddy and the Duke olive-skinned. Thebinaar’s hair was close-cropped and white, but it had been white his whole life.

The Duke fixed the Master at Arms with furious brown eyes, the nostrils flaring in his hawk-like nose. “My sister has been captured with my nieces by the Bounty Hunter’s Guild,” he said. “My nephew’s whereabouts are unknown.”

“Yuh—your sister, the Empress?” Def spluttered.

Well, that should make for interesting conversation at every table in the Empire over the next week, Thebinaar thought to himself. Why not just surrender to Conflu?

“Of course, you imbecile,” Two Spears bellowed, hammering the wooden arms to his throne. He’d broken them one-per-year for every year of his reign and Thebinaar didn’t hold out high hopes for this one now.

The gallery was abuzz. Courtiers were already glancing furtively at the doors. Some of them came here from other nations. When Rancor Mordetur had been a Duke, he’d helped to make this place one of the most important cities on Tren Bay for culture and commerce, and since then Two Spears had been at least as successful.

“We—by War’s Whiskers, your Grace, shall we take this out of the court?” Def at least tried to contain the situation.

The Emperor had some cliché about closing barns doors once horses escaped, but Thebinaar couldn’t recall it at the moment.

“I want three thousand Theran Lancers on the marshalling field by the time I have my armor on,” Two Spears demanded, “and I want a message sent to the Aschire that I need as many archers as they can spare. Send a fast horse to the Emperor in Uman City and let him know that, when I have my sister back, I’ll be sending her to him.”

“Your—your Grace, shall we not—”

A fist like an anvil shattered the arm of the wooden throne. “By the wind in Weather’s hair,” Two Spears swore, red faced, “if I have to repeat myself I’ll let my scimitar do my talking for me—I think it’s about time we cleared out this court of those who can’t do what I tell them to, and when!”

“Im—immediately, your Grace,” Def stammered. Thebinaar held to the better part of valor and his tongue, not that it saved him.

“To me, Uman,” Two Spears said, standing. “We have a few things to set straight. Def Namek—War better be right at your shoulder if you tell me anything but that you’ve done what I need of you, when next I see you.”

Def nodded. Thebinaar glided out after Two Spears, so enraged that he didn’t even bother to dismiss the court.

Let the courtiers sit until their courage caught up with their hunger, Thebinaar thought. The longer it took them to spread this bad news, the longer the Empress would be alive.

“Your Grace,” Thebinaar said, soft as a whisper, as one might to a spooked horse, once they were away from the throne room. “How may I be of—?”

Two Spears turned. He stood tall, almost as tall as the Emperor, broad shouldered and heavily muscled. The corners of his brown eyes showed the wrinkles of both age and worry. Being a Duke in Rancor Mordetur’s Empire was no easy job.

“My nephew took eight men, and they’re following the Bounty Hunters,” he said, softly, a hand on Thebinaar’s shoulder.


The boy had seen eleven springs, no more. Thebinaar had rarely spoken to him, but for a child of Men he’d shown amazing intelligence. At six, he’d actually sung at the Theatre au Thera, and so beautifully even the Uman-Chi had given him a standing ovation.

“He took control of a squad, he’s given his orders, he sent for reinforcements and he’s looking for a way to get his mother back.”

Thebinaar was actually dumbfounded. “At eleven?”

Two Spears nodded. “The Wolf Soldiers are calling him by his first name, and you know what that means.”

Wolf Soldiers referred to the Emperor, the boy’s father, by his nick-name, ‘Lupus.’ It was their term for respect and obedience, and they hadn’t shared it with any others.

“Your Grace…”

Two Spears nodded, and started stomping back to his personal chambers, where once the Emperor had slept with Shela, Two Spears’ sister. That same sister had picked the Duke out an Andaran wife from the Wolf Rider tribe—the one that had made Rancor Mordetur an Andaran.

She waited for him there, tears in her eyes, Two Spears’ armor already waiting for him. He’d given up the familiar Andaran leather for Eldadorian plate—some of the finest in the world, a gift from his brother-in-law.

“Oh, Tali Digatishi,” Wanigey Digitolay, his wife, greeted him. In her Andaran tongue, it meant ‘Soft Eyes.’ “The estate is already seething with it—”

He took her in his arms. The Empress had picked this woman out for her brother, another custom among their people. She was everything Two Spears never let himself be—soft, loving, caring.

On her first day here, she’d disappeared and they’d found her in the inner city, helping wash peoples’ clothes. When asked why, she just said, “Well, it needed to be done.”

Thebinaar himself admitted his own heart swelled with love for this dusky woman with long, black hair and eyes the size of Tabaars, colored golden brown.

“I’ll have all four of them back before Weather’s end, and the skins of the Bounty Hunters dripping on the walls,” Two Spears promised. “Wani—I need you to run the city while I’m out.”

She turned her soulful eyes to Thebinaar’s. She laid a hand on the upper curve of his gigantic belly and asked, “You’ll help me, wise one?”

I’d walk across hot coals to bring you your wine, he thought to himself. “I am forever at your slightest service, your Grace,” he said.

Love or hate the Emperor, he knew how to pick good people, Thebinaar thought to himself. Thera was the bulwark of Eldador’s economy, and her people loved their Duke and Duchess so much, they’d do anything for them.

An Uman-Chi poet once wrote,

“The thunder of Theran Lancers
“So like the thunder of God,
“Rings not so loud as Theran coin
“In every purse abroad.”

“You see, ‘Tisha,” she said. “I am all well. My love, you must find them.”

“You claim your nephew…” Thebinaar intervened.

“And what was that?” Def burst into the room behind them.

Two Spears grinned wide. His wife already had his blouse and breeches off, and was dressing him in his armor.

“You liked our little play?” Two Spears asked him.

Def fumed.

These Men, Thebinaar thought. Like onions. So many layers and, when you peel them back, all you get is tears.

“You know every tongue in the Empire—” Def began.

“Will be wagging,” Two Spears concluded for him, “and woe to any who see these scum on our soil.”

“The Bounty Hunter’s Guild—”

“Has an agreement with the Empire,” Two Spears said. His wife was sliding his greaves up his shins. “Do you know the real reason why they stopped trying to kill the Emperor?”

Yes, Thebinaar thought to himself, I know exactly why. It was my idea.

“Because the Emperor swore that, after the next time he was attacked, he would declare all out war not only on the guild, but on anyone who did business with them.”

“And no nation wanted the animosity of the man who sacked Outpost IX,” Two Spears said. “And if the Bounty Hunter’s Guild believes their own members have taken the Empress—”

“Then they will do everything they can to get her back,” Thebinaar said. “But, of course, only if they know she is gone.”

Def just fumed.

“When next we spar,” he said, finally, “I am not going to go so light on you as before, Tali Digatishi.

“I used to despair of damaging your brain, but now I hold no hope for it.”

* * *

Nina found herself left all alone, waiting in the semi-darkness. The night before, the Wolf Soldiers had taken the city. Someone had cast a torch into the room. It landed on a couch, which started burning. Nina wondered, struggling against her bonds, if this would be the end of her, her message undelivered.

Aschire live their lives in harmony with their forest. The plants, the trees, the animals, the rocks; are all the Aschire. An Aschire is born into a crowd and lives in one. For her to restrict herself just to the royal family had itself been a sacrifice in her life.

Where normally her power would have freed her, being abandoned here had left her so rattled she could barely douse the torch, and even then only after several tries. She’d always favored flame.

That morning her heart leapt when someone kicked in the green door. She saw the guard still lying dead in the alleyway beyond it. Kor had seen its share of bodies before him.

“What have we here?” a Wolf Soldier sergeant demanded? He stepped up to her, took her jaw in his hand. She almost melted into his rough palm, welcoming the touch of any living thing.

A moment later she knew from the look in the sergeant’s eyes that the battle lust was on him. He’d probably raped already and wanted to do so again. Lupus encouraged his men to be merciless.

“Nina of the Aschire,” she informed him, straightening in her bonds. “Guardian Protector to the Princess Lee, of the House of Mordetur. Mistreat me on your life, sergeant.”

The sergeant sneered. Another behind him put his hand on the Man’s shoulder.

“She’s who she says she is,” he said, a Volkhydran. “I served two years with the First Millennium. I’ve seen her many times; I know the Mist—I know the Lady Nina.”

“My pardon,” the sergeant said. “You there, cut free her bonds. My lady, I beg of you—”

She waved it off. After what she’d suffered, he been almost kind to her. “You’re the fifth out of Vrek?”

“The eighth,” he corrected her. “Under Major Gevenal, we’ve taken the city—”

No time for it. “Did the druid Dilvesh come with you?”

The sergeant nodded. “Aye—said he had someone to meet—”

She nodded. “That someone is me,” she said. “Take me to him. I have to speak with Lupus before he mobilizes his armies.”

As the ropes fell away she was on her feet, her slender fingers in the collar of the Wolf Soldier’s leather cuirass and her grey eyes inches from his.

She hadn’t missed what the other Wolf Soldier had nearly called her—the nick-name she hated most of all, used only by Wolf Soldiers and, oddly, the Emperor’s direst enemies, referring to her.

The Emperor’s Watch-Bitch, Mistress of Pain.

She flipped her purple hair. Her heightened Aschire senses let her actually smell the fear flowing off of him. Nina of the Aschire had made an oath on her life to guard the children born of Rancor and Shela Mordetur; an oath she took seriously.

“The victory you think you’ve had,” she informed him, “means nothing if I don’t speak to the Emperor.”

* * *

Karl rode an Eldadorian mare, feisty like all Eldadorian steeds. Even if they weren’t from Lupus’ Blizzard, it seemed they all wanted to be like him.

This one must be coming into heat, having what Karl’s father would have called a ‘mare moment,’ balking at every move he made, every sound she heard, and every smell in the air.

Some people liked a testy mount, but not Karl. He liked people and animals both to do their jobs with as little fuss and difficulty as possible.

That would have served them well in the defense of Kor; but the Emperor’s warriors had planned too well. Perhaps the infamous Duke Ceberro himself had come to take the last free city, the pirate capitol of the Forgotten Sea. It had been a miracle Karl had gotten his friends out alive.

Supposedly the troubadours were calling it The Battle of Heroes. Karl hadn’t stuck around to hear the songs; he’d been too busy fighting for his life, a sword in his hand, his Volkhydran comrades beside him. Not just the crew of the ill-fated Sprite, but the Volkhydran visitors to the port, the buccaneers and pirates and heartless merchants who frequented a place like this—they’d heard the Hero of Tamara was standing in defense of the city, and they’d joined in to brag later that they’d fought beside him.

His friend Jahunga had done no worse. Toorians frequented the last free city, where they could sell not only their own wares but those they came across on the Forgotten Sea. They’d flocked to Jahunga, the unbeaten warrior. The dark-skinned Toorians in their traditional white robes, the Volkhydrans in their furs and shaggy hair; when the Wolf Soldiers swarmed the gates, the Koran Guard, a mish-mass of every race and people, had pretended to fall before them and the others had swarmed in from behind.

Wolf Soldiers battled from their orderly squads, forming a defensive circle, their pikes bristling, their huge shields an impenetrable wall which could part on an order and meet flesh with Eldadorian steel. The Toorians and the Volkhydrans had driven them back out of the city, but hadn’t been able to slaughter them.

And once past the cover provided by the archers in the retreating Koran Guard, they’d met the lances of one thousand armored Angadorian Knights.

Duke Tartan Stowe, the son of the former King, Glennen, had swept in and slashed the defenders with their lances, killing dozens and driving the rest back into the shattered city gates.

From there it had been attrition, nothing more. The Wolf Soldiers swarmed, the arrows fell. They advanced and fought Koran Guardsman in patchwork armor, wild-eyed Volkhydrans and cunning Toorians. If they pushed deep enough into the city, the horse engaged and slaughtered. If they withdrew, the same.

After a week, the exhausted defenders buckled before the veteran Wolf Soldier army. People from the city either threw down their weapons or scattered, fighting from alley to home through the city or scrambling over the city walls into the relative freedom of the Salt Wood. Karl and Jahunga knew then that they could do no more. They abandoned the city behind the advancing army with their friends.

From there it had been another week in the Salt Wood, hiding from patrols, avoiding refugees. Karl had thought to hide among them but the Scitai ambassador who’d brought them here countermanded him.

Why, Xinto had asked, would refugees have horses, armor, gold? They didn’t look like refugees, and they didn’t act like refugees. Therefore, they wouldn’t blend in with the refugees, they would be a beacon, very easy to find.

Karl admitted after the fact Xinto had made the right decision. His yakking countrymen would have found it impossible not to get drunk and spill their tale at the first opportunity. Instead they hid, moved slowly, and crawled out of the Salt Wood under the cover of darkness.

* * *

Glynn Escaroth guided her small party back in the direction of Kor, across the wide expanse of the Eldadorian plains southeast from the Lone Wood. She and the Man, Jack, rode their prospective horses. The Swamp Devil Zarshar, the Black Adept ran between them, and the dog which they’d adopted ran either before or behind.

The Druid woman, Vedeen, road a large roan stallion behind them, her blonde hair flying out behind her, her white robe and brown overcloak billowing around her. Her blue eyes sparkled, taking in everything they passed, lighting on a flower here, a cloud up in the sky, or perhaps nothing, just reflecting a thought in her head.

The Druids were strange, but the idea they’d been included in the prophetic song she’d sung, the message from the goddess Eveave that guided them, filled the Uman-Chi’s heart with hope.

The Druids were ancient and powerful. One of them was an ally to the Emperor, the One whom they fought, whose coming threatened the land of Fovea. Vedeen might neutralize them, might even turn them to Glynn’s side.

She’d crossed the Eldadorian plains, thinking these thoughts, when the dog, running before them, dropped into a crouch. She was an ugly beast, this dog. Jack called her a mastiff—she was wrinkled from her nose to her tail, bearing a wicked underbite and slavering jaws, green eyes that knew neither sympathy nor fear, her fur brindled almost blue, making her invisible at night.

She raised her hand and the other two stopped. Jack dismounted and raised a hand to her, to help her to dismount from her side-saddle.

The Swamp Devil, ebon-skinned and heavily muscled with red teeth and eyes and a black mane that touched the ground behind him, dropped to its belly and crept the distance between them and the dog, drawing up beside it.

An army, thousands of mounted and armored warriors, between us and the Salt Wood, Glynn heard in her mind. The Devil used his magic in order to speak to her in quiet over the half daheer between them.

She knew these troops—Angadorian Knights. The sub-nation of Angador resided to the south of Eldador, a part of the Empire ruled by the Duke Tartan Stowe. The horses they rode were a breed unique to that region, their training mirrored Andaran, Wolf Soldier and Theran influence.

And Tartan Stowe had trained under the Emperor himself since his father, the former King Glennen Stowe, had died. They’d fought together when the Empire had conquered the southwest of Andoran and taken what was now called ‘Wisex’ and ‘The Black Lake,’ at the joining of the Safe and Mid Rivers.

We do not want to provoke those troops, Sirrah, she warned Zarshar. Please return with the dog.

Glynn turned to the Druid and Jack. “We’ve encountered thousands of Angadorian Knights between us and the Salt Wood,” she informed them. “We must needs either circle ‘round them, or wait their passing.”

Jack looked to the East. “They’ll have scouts,” he said. “We should stand pat—um, we should wait here and watch them.”

“I agree,” Vedeen said in her ethereal voice. “With my feet upon the Earth, I’ll know if any come near, and we can avoid them.”

Zarshar and the dog approached from the east. The latter trotted over to Jack and rubbed her side against his.

Glynn weighed her options.


Chapter: A Near Meeting

Xareff, a Man who once called himself ‘The Duke of Thieves,’ stood in what used to be his throne room, in a port that used to be called ‘Kor,’ in front of what was once his throne, made of stone, on a cracked dais of thirteen steps, where a Druid named Dilvesh sat now.

They’d let him keep his pants on—that was more than he usually did. Strip a man down naked in front of others and he was more vulnerable and more easily intimidated. He’d had two Toorian bodyguards, but they were just bodies now, laying to his left in bloody puddles against what used to be his rough, wooden gallery.

An Uman named Narem stood next to him, bleeding from gashes in his arms, chest and face. His brown eyes were fixed on the dais’ bottom step, blood was matted in his short, white hair, his lips were fixed in a thin, pink line. Narem had been the captain of the Koran Guard which had protected the city, but there wasn’t much of that left now.

Dilvesh didn’t say anything; he just…looked at them. He sat in white robes with a green hook symbol under a dot on the front of them, a brown over cloak open, framing him. He looked regal somehow—more regal than the former Duke of Thieves, anyway.

Xareff knew of Dilvesh—everyone did. A member of the Daff Kanaar and an ally of the Eldadorian Emperor, he’d come here with 2,000 Wolf Soldiers and another thousand Angadorian Knights, and he hadn’t just sacked port Kor, he’d conquered it. His troops held the whole city. Those who hadn’t bent a knee to the Druid in the Emperor’s name were dead.

That made for a lot of dead. Kor had been a pirate haven and the last free city in Eldador. People didn’t give that up easily, no matter what squalor they lived in.

To Xareff’s right he recognized Duke Tartan Stowe of Angador and his Duchess, the Lady Yeral. The former dressed out in Eldadorian field plate—a plain, steel breastplate, sleeves and greaves, a full helmet clipped to his hip and a long sword over his shoulder. The latter dressed as if for court in a full green gown with a voluminous skirt—Xareff had a hard time imagining she’d seen combat, but then, why was she here?

No one spoke—it was nerve-wracking.

Xareff heard a commotion behind him. He turned reflexively—you didn’t make it as far as he had in life without your reflexes responding on their own. Marching in through the shattered double-doors behind him he recognized Nina of the Aschire, her purple hair streaming out behind her, her black leather pants and vest smudged with white dust, her face with black soot.

Roughly two weeks ago it had been she standing before Xareff, pleading her case. Now she marched past him, two Wolf Soldiers stopping at the throne room entrance, as if he weren’t there.

The Druid smiled wide. His brown eyes followed her under green eyebrows and curly, green hair. Supposedly Dilvesh was the only hybrid of Men and Uman, but that never rang true to Xareff.

“Green One,” she addressed him.

“Nina,” Dilvesh said, inclining his head.

“Thank you for coming,” she said, her back to Xareff now, so he couldn’t see her expression. “But I didn’t mean for you to sack the whole city.”

Dilvesh shrugged. “The city was going to be taken eventually,” he said. “If our enemies were planning to use it, then it made sense to do that now.”

Nina’s shoulders relaxed. “Not like you had something better to do?” she said.

Dilvesh chuckled. “That’s what he would say, yes,” he said.

Xareff could guess who he was. It was a strange expression.

Nina turned. “And these?” she asked, turning. Her grey eyes travelled up and down the former Duke of Thieves. “I have to be honest,” she added, “he was decent to me. He could have hurt me and he didn’t.”

“That’s good to know,” Dilvesh said. “I was going to hang him—maybe not now.”

Nina’s eyes travelled to the other, the Uman, Narem. “Who’s this one?”

“I’m the captain of the Koran Guard,” Narem almost spat at her, looking up from the bottom of the dais.

“That’s a hard thing to be,” Dilvesh said, “seeing as there isn’t a Kor any more, much less a Koran Guard.”

Narem looked him in the eyes. “You slaughtered them all?”

Dilvesh shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t recall them calling for quarter.”

“About one hundred did,” Tartan Stowe piped up. All eyes turned to him. “I’m holding them outside the city. They’ve asked for this one—they claim the Guard serves the city, not the leader, and if we run things now—”

“If you think you run things now,” Narem interrupted, “then we’ll serve you like we served him.”

The throne room went quiet. Glances flew between Narem and Dilvesh.

“We don’t need ‘em,” Tartan Stowe said, finally.

“I tend to agree,” Dilvesh said.

“I don’t,” Nina inserted.

Dilvesh regarded her. She half-turned so she could face the group of them.

“His troops know the city,” she said, “and it will take us a long time to do that. They can fight, they’re peace keepers, we’re warriors—they know how to do things we don’t, like hunt down criminals and contact important people left in the city.”

“Not many of those,” Tartan said, a smirk on his face.

“But some,” Dilvesh countered. “You don’t know this Uman, Nina. How can you speak to his loyalty?”

Nina turned her face to his. “Are the Wolf Soldiers any different, before they take their vows?”

Dilvesh sighed, closed his eyes and opened them.

Nina turned to Narem. “Your solemn vow?” she asked him.

Narem met her eyes. “Given to the city,” he said. “The Koran Guard—”

“There is no more Kor,” Dilvesh interrupted him. “This is the port city of Lupor, of the Eldadorian Empire. Where is your loyalty now?”

Narem looked sideways at Xareff, then back at the Druid.

“On my life, on my honor,” he said, “to the Port City of Lupor, of the Eldadorian Empire, ‘till the gods take me.”

Nina smiled. Her eyes shifted between Narem, Xareff and Dilvesh.

The Druid nodded.

“And now, the other one,” Tartan Stowe said.

* * *

Shela Mordetur lay bound with her hands behind her over the back of her gelding—the same one she’d rode off of the plains with her husband, then her master, when she’d met her Yonega Waya more than a decade ago.

They’d been travelling south slowly. By her best estimates they were at the edges of Thera’s provinces now. The Bounty Hunters who’d captured her, her daughters and prince Hectaro, son of the Duke of Galnesh Eldador were complaining there were Eldadorian patrols everywhere, and debating whether they were looking for this group or not.

She knew better. Her husband was in the process of collecting his forces in Uman City for the War months. Roads from Andurin and Metz, from Galnesh Eldador and the wealthy port cities came through here.

Any of them would have someone who’d recognize the Empress of Eldador, and the Bounty Hunters knew it. They were keeping their heads down, as her husband would say.

Her husband, the Emperor. She’d betrayed him. She’d known better, she’d known better than to leave on her own with her children to track him down on his way to Uman City and inform him she’d ordered the Druid in Vrek to march on Kor. It was a relatively unimportant adjustment to their plans which could be handled with a message, but she wanted to be with her man, and any excuse seemed reasonable.

Now she’d turned herself and those children over to his enemies—and not just any, but Clear Genna, the woman they’d left for dead in Conflu more than a decade before, the one who’d loved him before he’d come to Andoran and they’d met.

They hadn’t known Genna was a Bounty Hunter, but it made sense now. Her resourcefulness, her effectiveness as a guide—they should have suspected this of her all along.

Now she had these hostages, and she’d use them to force her husband to surrender to the Bounty Hunter’s Guild or, worse, to her. She and her children were likely as good as dead anyway—she’d tried to kill them all and failed before they’d subdued her. She’d do it again now if she could.

She couldn’t—she had to speak the words to use her magic to kill her children, and they’d gagged her. Now she pretended to be asleep, unconscious from the poison they put into her blood stream when they’d ambushed her and killed her guards. They’d reapplied it to her lips but she’d neutralized it—changed it to salt water. She acted like an unconscious woman, she’d even soiled herself and left herself for her older daughter to clean as best she could, and she waited.

They’d make a mistake, and she’d act. Oh, how she’d act. They’d know the full fury of an Andaran Sorceress, the most feared on Fovea, when she got her chance.

A thousand years from now, people would shudder at the fate of Clear Genna of the Daff Kanaar.

* * *

Jahunga had insisted he and his seven remaining Toorians scout ahead of their wandering band from Kor. The Salt Wood wasn’t the same as their native jungle, but tracking and scouting didn’t change anywhere.

It had been the right decision. Defassi, his good friend, knelt down in the dry brush next to him and surveyed the Eldadorian plain beside him.

They’d left one thousand Angadorian Knights behind them at Kor. They hadn’t expected to find another 3,500 here between them and the Lone Wood.

“That is more than we can sneak past,” Defassi informed him, as if he needed to. “Especially with this lot.”

Jahunga nodded. They were in the camps the Eldadorian soldiers made. The trash around them, the cess pits and the refuse from their fires, told him they’d been here in this same place for more than a week. They didn’t look like they were packing up now—they were running drills and they were practicing charging and their turns—this group was going to remain right here for a while.

“We can cross to the north,” he said. “We can avoid their scouts, circle past them—”

“The one called Raven,” Defassi argued, “she said to the purple-haired witch that we’d go north.”

Jahunga closed his eyes and nodded. “You’re right,” he said. They’d wanted their enemies to think they were heading to Andurin. Not wise to go that way.

“South, then,” he said. “Just as good.”

“It’s not,” Defassi said. He pointed south and continued, “Their supply train runs south and they guard it.”

Jahunga shook his head.

He’d been wondering at their logic, at keeping with these people. They’d gone to Kor and that was pointless. They’d divided their forces for no reason, either, in his opinion. Their song told them to go to a sacred place and find the one who ‘fights as does the sun.’ It didn’t say they couldn’t all go, just that certain of them had to. It would have been wiser to stay together, but they hadn’t listened to Jahunga.

The Scitai, Xinto, and the Uman-Chi, Glynn, had appointed themselves as leader. Why not Jahunga? In Toor his council was among the wisest. Here, they thought of him as just another warrior with a spear.

It was hard not to be angry over this.

“There!” Defassi said, pointing past the army on the field.

Jahunga squinted, the setting sun behind him, and painted by the dusk light, four individuals, one of them a hulking giant, another an overlarge Man, and the third a slip of a figure in a dress. A fourth dressed in some sort of robe or cloak—it was impossible to tell more in the dying light.

Roaming at their feet, apparently something the size of a small lion; behind them three horses, one of them huge.

They could have picked up the animal, but there was no mistaking Zarshar or Little Storm. Magee, the Uman-Chi witch, had probably found them by the beacon Karl carried. Jahunga watched as they ducked back behind the hill they’d topped, to let themselves be seen.

They couldn’t let this army see them; neither could they let their allies miss them. No one of the race of Men would have marked them in the Salt Wood, hidden as they were, but Uman-Chi eyes worked strangely.

Or they might have been there for a long time, exposing themselves a few times a day. It didn’t matter—Jahunga needed to report this back to the mainstay of their group.

* * *

Dilvesh dined with the Duke Tartan Stowe, his wife Yeral and Nina of the Aschire at what passed for a dining room, in what passed for a palace, in the port city now called Lupor, the newest of the Eldadorian Empire.

It used to be known by another name. It used to be called ‘Outpost III’ when the Cheyak lived here, but that was more than 1,000 years ago. Dilvesh kept this secret to himself. The Daff Kanaar had once been a group focused on selling mercenary services to the rest of Fovea, in an effort eventually to eradicate the Fovean High Council and pave the way for Ancenon Aurelias to reunify the nations under his banner. That had quickly changed to the wolf’s head banner of Lupus the Conqueror, and that had changed again when that same Lupus had started to discover the lost Cheyak Outposts. Lupus knew of almost all of them now, and the Daff Kanaar were very focused on reclaiming and looting them.

Not for their gold, but for the knowledge still hidden within them. Lupus had an amazing and exceedingly fortunate fixation with history and the collection of knowledge, and that played right into Dilvesh’s hands.

As they dined on a mean fare of pork and old vegetables, the Druid called ‘the Green One’ collected more of that information now.

“In fact,” he answered Nina, who sawed on a piece of over-tough pork before her, “no one ever saw Genna fall, so of course we were never sure she’d died. I’d always had my doubts.”

The Duke and his wife kept their own council, just listening. Neither of them had ever met this lost member of the Daff Kanaar.

“She confessed to me she’d left to Conflu,” Nina said, “but not just to escape the Emperor.”

“And that’s what I find troubling,” Dilvesh said.

“The timing does not work,” Yeral added. She was a plain woman with a freckled face and over-large bosom. She tried to style her hair but it tended to fall back straight and dish-water blonde. She been paired to the Duke, but her family had once ruled Uman City, and her father had been deposed. She’d served as a lady in waiting for the Empress and elevated from common to baroness without lands, with only that to legitimize her marriage to the son of the former King.

Lupus might seem to sit secure on his throne, but he’d clearly still felt the need to neutralize the old Stowe line.

All eyes turned to her. This woman had, in the last ten years, all but created the infamous Angadorian breed of horses, the most coveted by Angadorian Knights and Theran Lancers. Her worth was in her mind—she’d made her husband a wealthy man and, ultimately, a Duke with her ingenuity.

“Assuming no dalliance with her during his relationship with the Empress, then his slave,” she said, “she’d have birthed a child before the Battle of Tamaran Glen.”

“There was a period when Genna rarely saw the rest of the Free Legion, before she set up the meeting between Lupus and my father,” Tartan Stowe said, holding a pile of withered vegetables on the end of his knife, before him. “She may have birthed it then.”

“Or she may be lying,” Dilvesh said. “Genna has done worse to slight Black Lupus.”

Nina shook her head. “I looked into her eyes,” she said. “I heard her words. I also saw her body—let there be no question, Genna birthed a child, and she believes in her heart the father of that child is Rancor Mordetur, Emperor of Eldador. She also believes this is his eldest child, so she must have birthed it during that time when she was away from the rest.”

“Or lied,” Yeral reasserted.

“Regardless,” Dilvesh said, “we must contact the Emperor with this and let him know he has Genna’s machinations to consider.”

“This couldn’t come at a worse time,” Nina complained, putting her ragged piece of pork in her mouth.

“I don’t see why,” Tartan said, his brown eyes shifting between the persons at the table. “Lupus could have a thousand sons and all of them could be older than Lee and Vulpe, and it wouldn’t matter. The Eldadorian law is not that the leader’s eldest son succeeds him.”

“Or else you would sit the throne,” Yeral added.

She exchanged a glance with her husband. Nina regarded both of them and returned her attention to her meal.

Dilvesh thought these feelings were of more concern to the Emperor. There had been a time when nobles in the Eldadorian nation might have considered changing their laws and putting Tartan on the throne. That had been a time when Black Lupus, then just become Emperor, had nearly provoked every nation in Fovea to attack him. Many of the Dukes had shown concern that the new ruler took on too much, assumed too much, and they’d all pay for it with their lives and the lives of their people.

Then Black Lupus had won a decisive naval engagement with the Uman-Chi called The Battle of the Deceptions. After that, Eldador could boast decisive sea power in addition to the most feared land troops on the planet.

No one wanted to alienate Eldador. Now Black Lupus was starting that whole process again. It might be a good time for an ambitious Tartan Stowe to seek his future, if he wanted more than he already had.

“And so,” Dilvesh said. Nina opened her mouth but Dilvesh interrupted her.

“However I know Clear Genna,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter to her what the law is, what the rules are or what protocol might dictate, not when it comes to Black Lupus. What will matter is that she has some imagined slight, she has some imagined cure for it, and she will focus a great deal of effort to secure that cure, especially if she believes she’s entitled to it, which I’m sure she does.”

“Making this something the Emperor needs to know,” Nina said. “Do you have access to Central Communications from here?”

Dilvesh shook his head. “Central Communications is set up between specially tuned rooms between the key cities in the Empire,” he said. “It lets Wizards communicate by sight and sound between the cities, but I can’t just invoke it from here. It will be months before I can choose a room and tune it to Central Communications.”

“Then I need to go to—” Nina said, but Dilvesh was shaking his head.

“No,” he said. “You have an immediate mission, and you need to complete that.”

Nina lowered her eyes. Yeral straightened.

“Messengers to Uman City should suffice,” she said. “We can send a full Century if need be.”

“I think that would be excessive,” Tartan countered.

Dilvesh considered.

“You claim this group you’re following split up, and now they’ll try to get back together in Andurin,” he said.

Nina nodded.

“And they have a beacon, made by the Uman-Chi, to allow her to find them again.”

“Yes,” Nina said, her eyes on him now.

Dilvesh smiled. “I don’t suppose you can use that same beacon to find them?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I don’t know how it’s tuned,” she said.

A Wizard would create a beacon to emit a call into the infinite aether, the stuff of the universe which contained all things and nothing. The Wizard would then look into the aether for that specific call. Because the aether is infinite and the things that resonate into it many, one looks like the next and someone who didn’t know what he or she was looking for could find another Wizard, an enchanted weapon or a duck that swallowed the ingredients to a complicated spell.

This bellied methods more simple.

“I don’t suppose the Salt Wood is overrun with magical beacons, created by Uman-Chi,” he said. “I would think the beacon would have to be very powerful, and relatively near to us.”

Nina frowned and looked into her plate. She closed her eyes, hummed for a moment, and then opened them, a smile on her face.

“I believe the Duke and his Lady could now be of great assistance to you,” Dilvesh said.

“So they’re out there waiting for us on the other side of an army,” Karl said, repeating what Jahunga had told him.

Typical of the race of Men, Xinto couldn’t help thinking.

“To the south their supply train stretches back to either Vrek or Angador,” Jahunga said. “Perhaps both. They expect us to go to the north.”

Xinto nodded. Karl with him.

“To the north, then,” the Volkhydran said, looking to Xinto for approval.

The Scitai nodded.

“But that might put us—” Raven protested.

“That will put us right where they expected us to be,” Xinto said, cutting her off. “And then they will think we are doing just what they expected us to do, and they will move past us and cut us off.”

“Because with that many warriors, it’s easier to ambush us than to chase us,” Jahunga said.

“They’ll spread out to our north, while we double back in a day and come right back here,” Karl said. By the time they realize we’re not coming, we’ll be gone to the west or the south.”

Xinto nodded.

Clearly his intelligence was rubbing off on them.