Lords of the Seventh Swarm

BOOK: Lords of the Seventh Swarm
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DAVID FARLAND

Lords of the Seventh Swarm

David Farland

Blasters flare, evil aliens maraud and salvation comes to the deserving in this third volume (after Beyond the Gate) of Farland’s popular The Golden Queen space opera series. In an earlier installment, Maggie Flynn became the Golden Queen of the Sixth Swarm of the insect-like Dronon invaders of human worlds when her husband, the Lord Protector Gallen, defeated the old queen's champion in single combat, thereby saving humanity from complete domination. Now Maggie and Gallen have fled the galaxy, seeking a distant planet where they can wait out Maggie's pregnancy and evade the other Dronon Swarms. Unfortunately, Ruin, the planet they choose, is owned by the mad Lord Felph, who enlists the pair in a dangerous plan to conquer Ruin's horrific jungles and to find a mysterious and powerful artifact. The situation is complicated by Felph's inhuman, occasionally murderous children, and by the eventual appearance of the Dronon. As always, Farland tells an enjoyably story.

Kindle Edition – 2014

WordFire Press

www.wordfirePress.com

ISBN: 978-1-61475-169-4

Copyright © 2011 David Farland

Originally published by Tor Books, 2011

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

Book Design by RuneWright, LLC

www.RuneWright.com

Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers

Published by

WordFire Press, an imprint of

WordFire, Inc.

PO Box 1840

Monument, CO 80132

Electronic Version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

Chapter 1

When Thomas Flynn deserted his niece in her hour of need, he did it with the best intentions. Oh, he knew Maggie would damn him for the deed and curse him till the day he died—and beyond. But he’d won the contempt of better people. So he deserted her.

The truth was that, though Gallen and Maggie determined to run off to Tremonthin to fight the Inhuman, Thomas knew he shouldn’t go. He felt a deep warning in his heart—“It’s a hero they want, someone to brandish a sword, not a minstrel with an overlarge gut and gaudy attire.” Some folks might ascribe such misgivings to cowardice, but Thomas held with certain sects of priests who would call it “inspiration.” You should always listen to that inner voice, they’d say, and this time Thomas agreed.

He’d never been one to face danger. A good pair of legs and a keen eye for the nearest thicket could extricate a man from most situations. So when Gallen told Thomas that he
had
to come to Tremonthin with him and Maggie, Thomas’s first inclination, and last, was to run.

As he packed his bags, he wondered if he was doing right. He didn’t understand life here on Fale. He’d seen wondrous things—men flying on mechanical wings, doors that let you walk from one world to another. But this world held dangers as great as its wonders.

So far, Thomas hadn’t met the dronon monsters. His kin on Tihrglas thought them to be demons. But Thomas knew better. He understood why the dronon sought to conquer mankind. Folks here had more food than they could eat, comfortable homes, the promise of lives extended for thousands of years. Thomas understood why the dronon would want to seize these things.

But he couldn’t understand why some humans sympathized with the dronon. As he slipped from his room, Thomas considered the rose they’d found outside Maggie’s room a few hours ago—a delicate thing, lustrous as pearl until the petals on it began spinning like a pinwheel, slicing open the Lord Mayor of Toohkansay. An odd trap that Maggie’s enemies had left for her.

’Tis a strange and dangerous world
, Thomas told himself as he slipped down the city’s darkened corridors.
I don’t know what dangers to watch for, much less how to fight them. If I go with Gallen to Tremonthin, I’ll be a burden. I can’t hobble so far and fast as I used to.

He imagined how Maggie would curse him when she found that he’d run out. She’d say he only thought of himself, that he was a mercenary. Well, damn her for her judgments. At fifty years of age, Thomas knew that “Few vices will destroy a man quicker than the craving to own all virtues.”

I’m doing what’s best—not just best for me, best for Maggie and Gallen
, Thomas told himself. He met some guards in the corridor who had been posted to protect him.

One tall, wiry man who cradled a rifle, asked Thomas, “Would you like an escort?”

Thomas said, “No, I’m just after a stroll in the moonlight, and a little fooling about on the mandolin.” Thomas patted his instrument cases as if they were lovers, then passed down the corridor, dimly lit with fixtures that shone from the ceiling like jewels. He’d left his mandolin in his room and filled the case with spare clothes. He’d kept his lute for sentimental reasons, but neither instrument was valuable. His mantle—the headpiece he wore that held knowledge of all things musical—told him that far better instruments could easily be purchased.

On his way out of Toohkansay, Thomas stopped at the cantina, which had emptied at this time of night of everyone but the golden serving droids who scampered about, preparing the morning meal. Since the food was both free and excellent, Thomas took enough for several days—bread and cheese, wine, ham, chicken, and fruit. Then Thomas ambled outside and stood in the open, staring over the river.

The night was warm; the stars in the sky burned with unnatural brightness. Maggie had said it was because they were so close here. Thomas didn’t quite understand such talk. Something about the galactic center. Out on the edge of the river, bullfrogs croaked from the rushes, competing with soft music that played from speakers beside him.

It truly was a lovely night, a great night for travel, but Thomas would not walk. Gallen and Orick were excellent trackers, so Thomas cast his eyes about, searching for a vehicle of some sort, or an animal to ride.

At the docks, just beneath the cantina, lay some small boats shaped like white swans, with wings spread wide.

Thomas carried his bags to the docks, stepped into the nearest boat, then looked for the ties that held it to the dock. He couldn’t see any, and he attributed that failing to the poor light. The shadows made it painfully dark.

By accident, Thomas pushed his hand against the dock; the boat drifted a few feet into the depths.

He cast his eyes about for oars; found none.

So he sat in the boat, fuming. No oars, he thought. No damned oars. Nothing to row with but his mandolin case.
True, I could use my lute, it would make a better oar, but I dare not ruin it
.

He considered just drifting the river, but as the boat drew away from the dock, it just sat, as stationary as if it wallowed on the beach.

“Damn,” he cursed, “how am I supposed to go anywhere?” The head of the swan boat turned; its dark eyes blinked, startling Thomas. He leapt back, tripping over his seat.

“Where would you like to go?” the swan asked. “I’ll take you.”

Thomas didn’t know what to answer. He stammered, “Downstream.” The swan boat moved. Thomas felt its legs kick, paddling, as if it were a living creature.

Thomas rested on the cushioned seats and watched the stars burn overhead. The boat moved slowly. It was a pleasure craft. Thomas found himself fighting tiredness as the boat carried him away.

He roused a little when distant sirens wailed back at the city; he’d gone far downriver. He’d never before heard a siren, did not know that it warned of a dronon invasion. He simply wondered why someone played such loud squawking horns at night; he closed his eyes and slept.

When he woke, the boat was still heading downstream. Thomas judged he’d gone far enough. He planned to wait three days until Gallen had left the planet, hide in some thicket.

Strange trees with long drooping stems and dark trunks lined the river. Thomas watched till a wide tributary opened between trees, then told the swan to go in. The swan swam up a small river for a mile, then Thomas set camp and ate a heavy breakfast, drank half a bottle of wine.

The next two days came warm and sunny, the nights pleasant; Thomas felt at peace. After the first day, when Gallen didn’t catch him, Thomas suspected his nephew and niece had left Fale. By the third day he felt certain of it.

On that day he’d have taken the swan back to Toohkansay, but instead, while exploring the shoreline, he found a trail by the river, a graveled walk. There, he sat on the banks and played his lute. There he met the Lady Wimisonne, a woman past her prime who enjoyed Thomas’s company so much that he found himself sharing her bed for the next month.

From her he learned of the invasion, of the dronon’s search for Gallen and Maggie. During days “The Lady” worked in town. To keep Thomas entertained, she showed him how to run the holo.

From it, Thomas learned more about the dronon than he’d ever wanted to know: On the first night of the invasion, while Thomas floated lazily down the river, a human Lord Protector had challenged the to a ceremony called “Right of Charn,” in which the man fought the dronon in an effort to turn them back from the planet.

It was then that mankind got its first glimpse of the—the Golden Queen Cintkin and her Lord Escort Kintiniklintit.

The Lords terrified Thomas. He understood why his kin back home had thought them demons, had mistaken a dronon Vanquisher for Satan, “Lord of the Flies.” Though Thomas had seen a dead dronon, he’d never watched a live one, a Lord Vanquisher, move. He hadn’t imagined the way it would bounce on its hind legs, with a rhythmic grace. He hadn’t imagined the power of the beast. Kintiniklintit looked like some horrific wasp or mantis—with his pee-colored wings and huge battle arms held out dangerously. He seemed enormous.

Though his size was attributed to a natural mutation, holovid commentators speculated that Kintiniklintit was a product of eugenics, that human engineers had gifted him beyond other Vanquishers. He’d been sired by the Lords of the Sixth Swarm, who had conquered mankind. That meant that humans
could
have boosted this young prince.

But there was other evidence of an unholy alliance. The seemed to have embraced human technology more than anyone would have thought possible: They were traveling through the world gates, technology forbidden to all but the Tharrin and their representatives.

Until he learned all this, Thomas hadn’t recognized just how dangerous the dronon were. Until he saw Kintiniklintit in battle, he had no idea why Gallen fled from the dronon.

The Lord Protector who challenged the Kintiniklintit was a huge man, a full head taller than Gallen O’Day. The fellow had enough muscle on him, he could have auctioned it off to blacksmiths.

Even more fascinating to Thomas was that a woman stood beside the Lord Protector. In order to make the ceremony complete, the man had to risk not only his life, but the life of his wife. Thomas wondered at the woman’s nerve.
My Maggie has done that
, he reminded himself.

The holovision didn’t show the Lord Protector’s battle against Kintiniklintit. Witnesses said it was too gruesome to display. The beginning of the battle was unspectacular—photos showed the Lord Escort clocking record wingspeeds, computer graphics projected his mass to be one-third larger than any other Vanquisher ever encountered. The holos showed the dronon flying toward the human Lord Protector, an enormous man all in black, who leapt and kicked as Kintiniklintit approached. Then the screens blanked, denying Thomas a view of the poor man’s fate.

It was said that in one blow, Kintiniklintit slashed the Lord Protector with a heavy, serrated battle arm, slicing him into ragged halves. Kintiniklintit spared the man’s wife.
That was something
, Thomas considered.

Despite the images on the holo, as Thomas stayed with Lady Wimisonne, she filled his nights with such diversion he did not worry much about rumors of dronon searches.

Even when the dronon left the planet Fale, Thomas remained with “The Lady” for a few days.

For weeks, she’d told Thomas that if he wanted some fun, he should go to the “recreation center.” Thomas felt his face burn with embarrassment at such words. Though the folks on Fale spoke the same tongue as Thomas, they spoke with an odd accent, and Thomas sometimes found that the way they combined words varied from his custom. Back on Tihrglas, the term
recreation center
was a euphemism he would not have used in front of a lady. It referred to the secluded homes of single women notorious for letting any man into their beds. For a traveling man, the name of such, a woman was worth gold, for such a woman not only would feed a man for a day or two, but provided some good sport. So Thomas often traded names of such women with minstrels, saying, “I’ll be wandering down Gort Ard way. You would not have the name of a recreation center, would you?” To which the minstrel would reply, “There’s always Mary Mimsey O’Keefe.”

It caused Thomas no little embarrassment that Lady Wimisonne urged him to go to another “recreation center.” Each time she did, Thomas asked if she’d tired of his company. Always she laughed his question away, but finally Thomas feared she really must be weary of him, so while she stepped out for an afternoon, he packed his bags and went to the
recreation center
, only to discover it was just a pub.

Strange place, Fale. Strange and wonderful, Thomas decided for the hundredth time.

There, he drank his fill, sang to an appreciative audience, and laughed the night away. The dronon were gone, Fale was his once more, and back at home, Lady Wimisonne would welcome him back to her bed energetically.

But when he stepped from the pub, clothes and instrument cases in hand, he was surprised by a shadowy figure who stepped up behind him. “Thomas Flynn?” a man asked.

“Yes?” Thomas turned to confront the fellow. Thomas never made it. A light flashed, and a sharp pain erupted in his shoulder, and he fell.

Three months later, Thomas Flynn sat slumped in a chair, a black blindfold covering his eyes, hands chained behind his back. His stomach cramped painfully.

Thomas felt a fool. It didn’t matter if his captors were dronon or their lackeys. Bagged is bagged.

So he sat chained to a chair in some financial minister’s basement.

Thomas had resolved never to speak. But resolutions didn’t matter. On the very first night of his capture, Thomas’s interrogator simply placed a circlet on Thomas’s head. Thomas had felt a prick at the back of his neck as the machine sent tendrils to infiltrate his brain, then Thomas listened as he told his interrogators everything.

Ignorance, that’s what did Thomas in. Who ever heard of Guides and nanoware and all the interrogator’s nasty tricks?

Of course, Thomas told the interrogator that Gallen and Maggie had gone to Tremonthin. He’d told them where Maggie had lived for seventeen years—even naming the room where she slept at Mahoney’s Inn, in the city Clere, of County Morgan, on Tihrglas.

As he betrayed his niece over the weeks, Thomas became weighed down with guilt. He hoped his answers would do no harm. What did the dronon care where Maggie was born? She’d never return home. As for her destination, Thomas could only hope that the young folks had accomplished their mission on Tremonthin and escaped.

Yet it rankled Thomas. Treachery. Treachery. Thomas’s body betrayed him by speaking. The dronon collaborators wrenched Maggie’s secrets from him.

I am a fool
, Thomas had thought bitterly a thousand times in the past weeks. Dying a brave death on Tremonthin would have been infinitely preferable to this.

Three times now I have betrayed Maggie. I betrayed her in her youth when her mother died, by leaving her in the care of strangers. As her only living relative, I only came to claim her when she won an inheritance.

BOOK: Lords of the Seventh Swarm
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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