Katherine Wynter

author of distinctive literary fiction and fantasy

Reaper Legacy – Chapter 0 (Sneak Preview!)

Reaper LegacyKyralynn Ranise

Synot: The Heart Citadel

12th day of Reia’s Harvest

 

Kyralynn took pity on the sobbing child and killed it. Surrounded by a hill of bodies – idiots who’d thought to huddle together beneath the dome and pray to some god or other for protection as her crew attacked from above– the thing had tugged at the sleeve of a woman who no longer had a face and begged her to wake up. Now, they could wait for Septim’s judgment together. “You know, these places all start looking alike after a while.” She wiped the blade of her sword on the child’s trousers, and then glanced over her shoulder at her first mate. “Don’t you think?”

He shrugged. “According to your brother’s map, the room we’re looking for should be down this corridor and on the left. That’s assuming it’s as accurate as his description of the citadel’s fortifications. Does he really think you won’t do your own reconnaissance?”

“I’ll grant you, if he were trying to kill me, he could be more creative about it.” She gestured for three of the raiding party to secure the once gilded hall. Glass crunched beneath her boots as she stalked down the corridor. “Ord, though an idiot, plotted one of the more inventive attempts on my life. Did I ever tell you that story?”

“I don’t think so, Captain.” He scanned the mosaic-lined corridor, his twisted hair pasted against his head from the heat of the Dragonsfire climbing up the columns and filling the room with smoke. They had maybe ten minutes before the fire would overwhelm the structure. Plenty of time.

“Thinking I wouldn’t kill another woman, he paid the maid who cleaned my room to coat my razor with poison. She was supposed to startle me, you know, while I was in the bath. Make my hand slip so I cut myself.” Long-nosed faces glared down at Kyralynn from high up the cyan and ochre mosaic. They’d probably been kings or queens – whatever this isle called its ruling class. Now, they stood vigil as her crew violated their sacred halls. “I tucked her corpse in his bed, naked, my name carved across her forehead.”

Daemon put his ear against the first door and listened for a moment before flashing five fingers once and then a second time. “When was this?”

Ten guards sounded light. Kyralynn drew her sword in one hand and her aircannon in the other. “Let’s see…I think he was about ten at the time, maybe eleven.”

“But he was nearly twenty when you killed him?”

“I know.” She chuckled at the memory, the sound more threat than laugh. They would have heard her on the other side of the door but that’d only heighten the anticipation of whatever guard remained. “And he didn’t sleep peacefully for a decade. By the end, he was so paranoid countering what he imagined were my attempts to kill him that he didn’t fight when I ran my sword through his chest.”

When he grinned, the burn scars that wrapped around the back of his neck, up one ear, and across parts of his cheek and eye scowled. “Well, let’s see if these people prove a greater challenge.” He grabbed the brass doorknob and threw it open when she nodded.

Kyralynn rushed past him and fired her aircannon into the room. A concussion of sound exploded from the weapon’s muzzle, expanding outward and pounding into anyone in its path. Dust shook down from the ceiling, and the smoke that had darkened the room was blown back out the window. Four guards had been knocked over by the blast and the other three stumbled backwards. Five remaining people knelt around a massive marble statue of a woman holding a single flower aloft.

Leaving her first mate to handle those she’d knocked over, Kyralynn sprinted to the three standing guards, her noth’an ripping itself free from her back. A dragon of mist dripping red sparks as though it, too, were aflame, her noth’an spun once around the three awe-struck guards.

She used the distraction to slice the first guard across the chest, carrying the momentum down and around to slice the second man’s throat. They screamed as they fell, grabbing uselessly at where she’d cut them. Like hands could hold in that much blood.

“If you surrender,” Kyralynn offered, “I’ll let you live.”

The last remaining guard looked over Kyralynn’s shoulder at his dead companions and then dropped his sword. “I surrender, Reaper. I surrender.” He dropped to his knees, the metal of his armor quivering on the marble floor of the chamber. “Please don’t hurt me.”

She sheathed her sword, crouched in front of the man, and ran her hand along his cheek. “I’m Kyralynn Ranise, favorite daughter of the Dragon Lord and Captain of the Dragon’s Egg.” She held his jaw to the side and leaned close to his ear. “Tell the others in line so they know whose name to curse,” she hissed, sliding her dagger between his ribs.

Death is the only true passage to the divine. Pressing her forehead against his, she stared into his eyes as he convulsed and gasped his final breaths. His warm blood oozed through her fingers and down her bodice, a tribute of the holiest water man had to offer. Then it happened. In that one moment – the instant where the spark flees to the Valley of Judgment – the god stared back and knew her name.

The five lords or clerics or whoever was special enough to be protected at the end had stopped their chanting. She studied them from over the dead man’s body, grinning as the realization overcame them: no one would come help. There was no god to save them. No final heroic moment to defeat the darkness.

Death won. It always won. And she was his priestess.

“Captain…” Daemon’s voice shattered the silence. “Captain Ranise, the building’s going to collapse. Finish this and let’s go.”

Smoke stung her eyes. The stone above her groaned and cracked with the heat. He was right. Kyralynn let the dead man drop and stepped over his corpse. “Where is it?” she demanded.

The man nearest her answered. “Where’s what?”

She stabbed her dagger through his throat in a quick motion and moved to the next person. “Tell me where it is.” Tears and snot flowed down the woman’s face as she sobbed, choking out sounds that might have been an answer and might not. Kyralynn put an end to her noise and moved on to the third. “Tell me.”

He dropped to his knees and kissed the tops of Kyralynn’s boots. “I don’t know what you want. Tell me what you’re looking for, oh glorious one, and I’ll bring it to you now.”

She kicked him in the head and he flew backwards, hitting the statue and crumbling. Two left.

The walls shuddered violently, nearly knocking Kyralynn from her feet. Daemon approached the final two survivors and pointed his sword at one. “Tell Captain Ranise where it is, or I’ll kill your friend.”

The two exchanged a glance. The woman who faced down Daemon’s sword trembled but did herself justice by not begging. Neither spoke. Daemon killed the first woman. The second cried out and threw herself over her the other’s body.

Growling, Kyralynn sliced the last woman’s throat. “Let’s go. There’s nothing here. This was another waste of time.”

They ran out of the room and back down the corridor, the mosaic that had once looked down in fear now rippling with flames. Most of the other crew had winched back up to the ship as Kyralynn and Daemon reached the domed hall. Instead of waiting for the slow winches to raise her back to the ship, she climbed the ropes, her arms flashing red as she called on a pair of tattoos to amplify her strength. Hand over hand, she slithered up the rope and pulled herself up to the lower battle deck of the Dragon’s Egg. Daemon followed a moment later.

Kyralynn leaned out over the edge of the battle deck as the Heart Citadel collapsed in on itself, the columns that had once supported the massive structure finally giving way to the heat. The sound, sweeter than any music, drowned out all others for a pristine moment. A gout of flame reached up from the building to grasp for her ship, and the Dragon’s Egg rose up in defense.

“Captain?” The other crew had fled to their duties, leaving her and Daemon alone. “We have new orders.”

Her noth’an rose from the dragon tattoo between her shoulder blades and sniffed at the first mate, gliding between and around his legs in warning. “Yes.”

“We’re to rendezvous with the rest of the fleet at an isle called Durania.”

She tapped her fingers against the grip of her aircannon. “Durania.” She rolled the name around her mouth, feeling the vowels and consonants come together. “Perhaps they’ll put up a better defense.”

“Seems unlikely,” he answered.

Kyralynn nodded as the isle faded to an ash cloud beneath her ship. “Very unlikely.”

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