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The battles of the mortal people of Earth, under the new Monarch, against the Pure Ones of Niribar rage vicious over the lands. Madai cities are razed, burning. With the help of the Inaut, some Madai forces are able to fend off those still aligned with the Pure Ones, but when face to face with fighting a Pure One, they have no hope—until Kira and Tarenek Brye Annis arrive.

 

The sibling duo with their drako friend Elek are able to do more than fend off a Pure One. Tarenek, often thought of as a gift of the savior gods, is able to fight a Pure One head on, and he never loses.

 

It's not long before Kira sees changes in her brother and Tarenek knows the darkness too. What he was warned about so many years before is surfacing and not waning to his will. He knows what a danger he is becoming, not only to his enemies, but also to everyone he loves.



 


Chapter One Excerpt


The south coast exploded in fire and cries of shock, echoing with booms of plasma missiles and zaps of laser cannons out into the darkening sky over the frothy sea. Kira slammed the levers of her war machine, spinning the massive armored hovercraft to face south while her passenger took aim with its roof-mounted plasma cannons. The searing beams flashed in the early evening and burned through the invader’s front line.
    “Swinging left!” Kira shouted. She hit the switches to shift the large hover disks under her in perfect timing, expertly moved the machine along the knuckle above the sheer cliffs, and plowed through an enemy line fortified with vehicles much like hers. The trio of weapons mounted on the roof clacked when they hit their stops and whirred when they swiveled to take out targets. Two more blasts released with a scream of energy. Thyra whooped from the back when her hits met their mark, launching two enemy hovertanks far into the air.
    Kira didn’t share the glee. She moved fast, weaving the machine back toward her people, a force dominated by elite Inaut guards on warhorses or in hovercraft like her own. They had to hold the coast. She wasn’t at all sure why the Pure Ones had begun a battle of such magnitude nowhere near a civilization, but the fact they had done so proved she and her battalion couldn’t let them through. Her mind churned with reasons, trying to pick apart the Pure Ones’ strategy and stay one step ahead even while she flew through the battle.
    Thyra swore, obviously seeing what Kira did when she spun the machine east. A formation of enemy hovertanks mixed with footmen surrounded a central figure. Glimmering gold armor covered the being, armor of the gods known to be nearly as thin as fabric but as impenetrable as drako hide. The man walked on a familiar shimmering disk hovering several feet from the ground and moving forward as he walked. The device was so prevalent with the Pure Ones, who thought themselves too untainted to touch soil, and something only one of them could use due to its lack of power source. They were the power source.
    She punched the switch on the dash and the siren wailed into the night, an alarm for all of hers to fall back. To battle a Pure One, they had to regroup and strategize better than what they had time to do so far.
    “Knock out what you can!” Kira shouted to Thyra. She barreled recklessly toward the Pure One, determined to give her troops as much cover as she could. Enemy particle beams shook the ground around her, tossing clouds of dust into the chaos. Kira whirled her machine away from the flashing beams, sensing their direction before they hit. She pushed forward, Thyra firing killing blasts into the enemy, until the tingle of the Pure One’s energy grew strong enough to do damage. Kira slammed her heel to the air control and whipped the wheel hard, spinning the machine north, and punched it instantly to full power back toward the timber curtain wall. She concentrated on staying behind her men and women—between them and the Pure One.
    More explosions shattered the earth, blasting at her troops, most on foot or horseback. Kira yelled in frustration when one struck the ground just ahead, sending men flying and killing many, too many.
    “Take out their guns!” Kira shouted to the back.
    “Oh, come on! Ask for something difficult, why don’t ya,” Thyra yelled.
    “Give them cover, watcher, or move your ass and let me at it!”
    Thyra howled a warrior’s yell and a dozen quick blasts from the transport’s cannons lit the scene in the rear monitors. Kira watched everything at once, the stream of her troops flowing through the wide-open gates to the relative safety behind the behemoth log wall, and the force approaching from behind her. The wall wouldn’t hold long against a Pure One, but it would have to be long enough. She whipped the wheel, flying toward the gate, careful to stay clear of her troops, and nearly screamed when someone landed on the hood. She punched the thick strip of glass where her brother’s smiling face appeared. He jumped to the side, landing easily on the ground.
    She jammed the decelerator on and threw her door open. “Get back inside!”
    “How many?” Tarenek asked, as if preparing for comrades at a dinner party.
    “Back inside. Now!” she demanded. They had no time to argue, still having a few strides until she had the transport safe behind the heavy gates waiting for her before they closed.
    “Fine, don’t answer me,” Tarenek said with a roll of his eyes. He straightened the collar of his coat and stormed out toward the unprotected shoreline.
    Kira swore at him, flicked her hand to order Thyra into the pilot seat, and jumped from the running board.
    “Tarenek, get your ass back inside!” Kira shouted her order, hating that Tarenek was the one person who wouldn’t easily obey her command.
    He glanced over his shoulder, scowling at her as if she was the disobedient one, faced the enemy, and swung his hands out toward the south sea.
    The earth rumbled, rippling around the solid log wall at her back in a growling wave that shook out to the sheer rock cliffs. Kira struggled to keep her footing when the ground shifted and soil blasted into the air, tearing shrieks and flesh from the Pure One’s front lines. Another shove of Tarenek’s hands, and wind wailed down from the sky, pummeling more into bloody heaps. Enemy transports either flew into the sky to smash into bits when they landed or flattened like disks to the soil under the tremendous force of the wind. All but the very center circle fell. The pale shimmer of the Pure One’s shield protected those still standing.
    “Taren!” Kira yelled, fury ripping her soul to the core. He had grown more and more rebellious over the years, especially the last few months, but never showed such utter disrespect before. Now was not the time.
    Complete terror burned through her fury like wildfire when the Pure One raised his staff and pinpointed its power directly on Tarenek and her. She planted her feet on the tortured terrain and held her hands out, willing an elemental shield to protect the still open gates behind her, but, even as the threads of air, earth, and water energies wound around her fingers and grew into a shimmering barrier, she couldn’t make it reach Tarenek.
    The Pure One’s propulsion hit her shield like metal to wood, and pushed her back, but she somehow managed to hold. She fell to her knees, exhaustion plowing through her. She couldn’t pull up the energies again.
    Tarenek shrugged out of his coat, brushing it off like dust, and strode forward. His tall build and complete confidence stunning even if she hadn’t known what he was capable of doing. But it was stupid to be so reckless.
    He swung one powerful arm again and the scolding words in her mind died away. The glow of the Pure One’s shield shattered into faint sparks in the smoke and wind. The remaining troops fell, leaving the golden-armored Pure One alone on his floating disk. Tarenek charged, dodging to the side when the Pure One aimed elemental energy at him, and then he was on the poor creature, draining the life from the richly adorned body. Within seconds, it was over, the disk and Pure One lifeless on the ground.
    Tarenek straightened, the lone upright figure surrounded by firelight and smoke. His dark hair fluttered in front of his stormy blue eyes when he turned to look back at her. She struggled to stay upright, to stay coherent, but she had extended too much energy in throwing up the elemental shield and holding it against the Pure One’s blow. Hands grabbed her biceps, pulling her to her feet. Cheers and shouts surrounded her, but she didn’t see anything beyond her brother. He shrugged at her, then turned away, striding over the battlefield, no doubt looking for any of their allies who could be saved.


~~*~~


Tarenek leaned back on the log he had fashioned into a seat earlier, propped his booted feet on a boulder, crossed at the ankles, and slid his small knife around a perfectly ripened apple. He liked the taste of the sweet fruit but didn’t care for its tougher skin. He ignored the grumbles of his friends around him and didn’t acknowledge when they got up to leave. He didn’t share their fear of his sister, maybe because he knew Kira better than anyone there, or maybe just because he was tired of being told what to do. He took a large bite of the fruit, closing his eyes to fully enjoy the delectable sweet taste, and ignored the punch to his propped up foot. Yep, it was definitely because he was tired of being told what to do.
    “You and me, my tent now,” Kira said, her tone harsh.
    Tarenek sighed. “I’m comfortable, say it here.”
    She punched his shoulder with her full strength, unseating him. He tossed his apple in the air, righted himself on his feet, and caught it again when he stood to glare at her. Fighting with her was utterly stupid, partly because she was a commander and undermining her was just wrong for anyone, and partly because she was the one person there who could give him a workout. She could do so only because he didn’t want to hurt her at all, so he couldn’t inflict on her anything harsher than what she would on him. It was nothing more than sibling tussling, and he was too tired and hungry for it now. He took another bite of his fruit and motioned toward her tent with his other hand. He dutifully followed her into the canvassed space, surprised to find it completely void of other humans when he entered. She was very ticked.
    Her wolf companions lay along the outer rim of the east wall, both doing little more than twitching an ear toward him. Wiki stood on his hind legs on the flimsy wood Kira used as a strategizing table, stretched his hands out to claw the air, and screeched at him. Kira grumbled at the tiny primate. He sank down off the table with a squeak and rushed to Shiva. The gray wolf hardly flinched when Wiki bound onto her thick coat and curled up into a ball of dark fur by her pale left ear.
    Tarenek crunched another bite from the apple, looking back at Kira when she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. He chewed slowly, waiting, then shrugged when she said nothing.
    “That’s all you can do?” she asked. “After you nearly get half of us killed.”
    Tarenek inhaled in sharp protest but coughed on the apple’s juice. “Me?” He cleared his throat. “Me get half of us killed? Not the way I see it, sis.”
    “Don’t sis me, not here, not now. I told you to stand down, to fall back with me. We needed to strategize.”
    “Strategize what?”
    “Strategize—the situation—what to do, and not do it while a main gate was wide open. You risked that Pure One’s full hit tearing into the interior of this battalion, killing hundreds!”
    “You were there,” Tarenek said.
    “So what?”
    “So—I knew your shield could handle it.”
    Kira narrowed her eyes and the veins in her neck pulsed.
    “Oh, relax. I wasn’t wrong about you or your shield and we would have strategized exactly what I did. Acting quick—like I did—saved some lives out there and saved us some repair work. Ask Hetrid or Fantor or any of the dozens of others we were able to pull from the mess if they would rather I had followed your orders and waited—and while you’re at it, ask their parents or wives or husbands or children if they would rather I had waited.”
    Kira glared at him and blinked in rapid succession like she always did when she knew he was right but hated it. She clenched her teeth together, her jaw twitching from the strain.
    “Give it up, will you,” he said. “I’m not here to give you trouble. I’m on your side.”

    Kira raked her fingers through her tousled short hair and shook her head.       “You’re here because we need your help.”
    “Exactly,” Tarenek said, chewing the last of his fruit. He waved the core in the air until Wiki perked his head up high. Tarenek tossed it softly to the dirt not far from the wolf. Wiki launched from Shiva’s head, pounced on it, and set to work devouring what was left.
    “I also promised I would look after you out here,” Kira said. “How do I do that if you refuse to listen to me?”
    “How do I help if you refuse to stop seeing me as a child?”
    Kira dropped into her wooden chair with a deep sigh. “You are still young.”
    “Eighteen is not—”
    “Hardly eighteen—”
    “Eighteen all the same. And you were seventeen when you joined the watchers,” he said.
    “We were not at war then.”
    “But we are now and that’s all the more reason to quit using my age against me. Tilak has guards the same age as I am and they are on active duty—”
    “Inside Nikkar.”
    “And none are second generation full Dreovids,” he said, deepening his voice.
    Kira frowned. Silence, disturbed only by Wiki’s chew and slurp, filled the tent. Voices from the troops outside drifted softly but so ordinary, he hardly heard them anymore.
    “I’m not arguing with you,” he said. “I came out here to help, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
    “What if there had been more than one?”
    He shrugged. “So what?”
    “While you’re stripping the life out of one, you’re vulnerable just like any other troop.”
    He couldn’t stop the grin but regretted it when she scowled at him. She simply didn’t understand.
    “Sorry for thinking it’s funny, but you’re not realizing that I drink in their life force as I drain it, their power becomes mine on top of what I already have for that split moment, so no, Kira, I’m not more vulnerable.”
    She crossed her arms again. “You aren’t totally invincible.”
    He shrugged. “Debatable. But I’m not going to get into all of Zansidri’s talk.”
    Kira closed her eyes and shook her head. Tarenek glanced over the thin wooden supports of her tent, the crates and barrels stored in the corners, and the bedrolls for her and the dozen other battalion leaders at the camp. Several were Madai, but most there were Inaut, more accustomed to being away from civilization. He was perfectly comfortable, but then, he had the unique ability to fly off to a near town for a warm bath or full-course meal. He always brought some back for his friends, but not Kira. She hated it when he and Elek went off on their own so he never told her. It kept the peace.
    “Sit,” Kira said, studying him again. She pointed to the barrels along the east side of the tent. Tarenek glanced at them but gestured to the door.
    “My stump is more comfort—”
    “Don’t argue with me,” she said. “You owe me this, after jumping out at me, grinning like you were having the most entertaining time of your life, Taren, we need to talk.”
    Tarenek felt the corner of his eye twitch, a subconscious acknowledgement of knowing what she wanted. He pulled one of the barrels over to the corner of her table and sat. “Does it make you feel better to lecture?”
    “You aren’t out here on some thrilling adventure,” she said softly. “It’s war, Taren, and if you keep going this blindly, it can’t end well for you or those around you.”
    Tarenek narrowed his eyes. “You’re ticked that I laughed because it scared you?”
    “No, I’m ticked that you pulled such a crazy childish prank right in the middle of battle, that you ignored my order—”
    Childish prank?” he cut in. “Childish! What prank? I jumped from the wall to get involved quick. Childish?”
    “You were amused.”
    “Because I startled you. What should I be, Miss Highenmighty?”
    “You should understand what’s going on.”

    Tarenek stood and paced to the front flap, fighting the burning anger threatening to churn up from his core. She thought him childish, the realization of it punched the fact she was like everyone else deep into his psyche. He had always thought she understood. He had to laugh, had to smile, had to let it all roll from him like dewdrops from a leaf.
    “That’s what you think of me?” he said.
    “What should I think? You’ve been out here with me for a month and you’ve done more partying and… Today… You’re getting cockier, not more sensible.”
    Tarenek whirled on her and stormed back to the table. “Valley of Unrest,” he said.
    Kira scowled. “What? What’s that to mean?”
    Tarenek pushed off from the table, the ancient poem in Common Tongue surfacing in his mind:


“Once it smiled a silent dell,
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars…
…Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless —
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!”


    He sucked in a deep breath and quieted his voice.


“They wave: from out their fragrant tops
Eternal dews come down in drops.
They weep—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.”


    He kept his gaze on her. “It’s Poe—Edgar Allen Poe, a man who lived thousands of years ago. I found his poems in Zansidri’s library. That one’s fitting, don’t you think? A poem written so many years ago, our minds can’t fathom it, but the words ring true. Don’t tell me I’m childish Kira. I was there when Varik died. I was there when Sable ripped through Nikkar and her people. I’ve been there since the death beams have been flying in this war. I’ve seen friends fall. What do you want me to do, let it crush me every single moment of every day? If that misery is what you want, go find someone else to give it to you. Me, I’d rather laugh and find something good to eat—thank you very much.”
    He turned and strode into the darkness that had settled heavily over the huge camp. Two hundred were out beyond the curtain wall, patrolling the shore, keeping watch to be sure no new Pure Ones thought to attack. He had an idea why they hit such an isolated locale, but didn’t figure anyone else wanted to hear what he had to say.
    He slipped into the thicker shadows behind Kira’s tent and launched into a run. He was hungry for more than the meager meal they would be able to provide in camp, and he wanted to take a look south to see if his suspicions were right. He ignored everyone he passed and ran north, over the dirt streets of sorts, trodden down under the huge hooves of warhorses and constant foot traffic. He hardly felt the earth beneath him, he ran as fast as his body allowed him, drawing speed and energy from the powers of the world around him.
    “Elek!” he shouted up at the sky when he reached the secluded fields just within view of the camps.
    “Here,” the drako rose from the shadows of the softly rolling earth and grasses to the right, a dark majestic form against the lighter sky.
Tarenek met his friend in the field and let his eyes adjust to the lack of lighting. “Up to a bit of travel?”
    “Now? Does Kira know?”
    Tarenek glanced back at the dimly lit camp. “We need to do a little surveillance of the south shore, maybe to the Calaise Islands up to Green Mountain. And while we’re out, maybe grab some meat and vegetables to help replenish the stocks here.”
    “Or replenish your stomach, and I asked—does Kira know?”
    “She knows what she needs,” Tarenek said.
    Elek snorted and brought his large head in low, one golden eye intently studying him.
    “What? You don’t trust me?”
    Elek blew a sharp burst of air from his nostrils. “Not trust, just trying to decide how much trouble we are inviting.”
    The drako turned his big form and dropped his front shoulder low, allowing Tarenek to climb up on the space between his wings. Tarenek patted his friend’s scaly spine and delighted in the sudden rush of rising quickly into the sky.