Authors: Patrick Weekes
By Patrick Weekes
Rogues of the Republic
The Palace Job
The Prophecy Con
Dragon Age: The Masked Empire
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Patrick Weekes
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
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Cover design by Deron Bennett
Illustrated by Deron Bennett
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014937743
This one is for the lads, who are now old enough to tell me that they’ll miss me, but they hope I “do good writing.”
Grow up well, guys. Have adventures, make mistakes, get too smart for all your dad’s tricks, and remember to laugh.
Loch (Isafesira de Lochenville)
Indomitable Courteous “Icy” Fist
Not Part of the Crew, But They’re Okay
ANGING OVER THE
Iceford, the river that had cut a pass through the mountains and marked the boundary between the Republic and the Empire, the Temple of Butterflies stretched out to the mountains on either side with great spanning structures that gave the place its name. The walls glittered in the pale morning light with the magical enchantments that protected it from assault.
Loch had last seen the Temple of Butterflies near the end of the war against the Empire. Sent deep into Imperial territory on a mission that had turned out to be a ploy to get her killed, Scout Captain Loch and her team had come through the temple in their desperate run back into the Republic.
Today, she was hoping to
“Fun memories, Captain?” Kail asked, standing beside her. The diplomats Loch was guarding were talking with the Imperial guards, and from the looks of things, it was going to take a while.
“The best.” Loch grinned at him. “You remember how Uribin threw that guard into a gong?”
“I recall the monks being pissed.” Kail frowned. There were monks amidst the Imperial guards, unarmored and dressed in flowing golden robes. “The monks and the guards both look pissed this time. You think we’re even getting in?”
“The Imperials agreed to the talks,” Loch said, and shrugged. “I don’t blame them for being angry. When your unfriendly neighbor shows that they can blast lightning down from the sky, that’s bound to raise concerns.”
The fact that Loch had been indirectly responsible for that was definitely coloring her current situation. In order to clear her name and take down the man who’d framed her for desertion, she had disbanded her team of scouts, formed a team of thieves, and raided Heaven’s Spire, the magically floating capital city of the Republic. In the process, her team had discovered (and accidentally triggered) a new weapon that had reduced several acres of grassland below to smoking craters.
For Loch, it had been just one more problem to deal with later, above mind-controlled guardsmen and below inconvenient prophecies. As it turned out, however, the Empire took it personally.
Archvoyant Silestin, the madman who’d killed Loch’s family, had wanted to start another war between the Republic and the Empire.
There was a good chance he’d succeed posthumously.
The Republic diplomats had flown by airship to the Republic side of the border, then landed and hiked a quarter-mile alongside the Iceford to reach the Temple of Butterflies. They waited now at the base of a great stone stairway set with the same defensive enchantments that protected the temple itself. The glittering stairway, like its twin on the far side of the river, had been cut into the mountainside, leading from the foothills up to the temple, and together, they looked like looping tails hanging from the butterfly’s wings.
“This wouldn’t be a problem if the Imperials had their own floating city,” Kail said.
Loch glanced over at him. “You don’t think.”
“We could threaten to blast their towns, and they could threaten to blast ours. Nobody would end up doing it.” Kail squinted. “Either that, or we’d wipe a whole lot of little towns off the map.”
“You know what’s great about having you along on these missions, Kail? The optimism.”
Kail sighed and gestured at the Temple of Butterflies. “It’s a very
temple. How’s that?”
“Insincere, but better.”
“Didn’t really have time to notice last time, since we were fighting our way through it.” Kail squinted. “Always looked more like a fortress than a temple to me, though.”
Loch nodded. “The Imperials always go with the gentler name.”
Ambassador Threvein—one of the Republic diplomats—waved at her, and Loch came over, Kail a few steps behind. “We’ve been granted access,” Threvein said, his smile giving away his relief. “You’ll leave your weapons with the guards here, and we’ll climb up into the temple proper.”
Loch glanced at the Imperial guards who blocked the stairs. Their golden armor gleamed in the morning sun, and ribbons of red hung just behind the heads of their halberds. “Understood.” She nodded to Kail, unfastened her sword belt, and handed it to the guards.
The diplomats themselves had no weapons, but Kail followed Loch’s lead, as did the other guards, although not without a few glares at the Imperials.
While the other guards wore heavy armor and carried heavy swords, Loch and Kail wore riding leathers reinforced with thin strips of metal. Loch was attached to the security detail as a consultant from the justicars . . . and Kail was attached as an old friend who Loch trusted at her back.
“Should be fun defending the diplomats with no gear,” Kail said, smiling at the Imperials and speaking in a low voice, his lips barely moving.
“Still loving your optimism. Hopefully won’t come to that,” Loch replied through a smile, her lips unmoving as well.
“No daggers, no boot blades,” the Republic’s guard captain said, grimacing at them. He was an Urujar like Loch and Kail, though his skin had the same light tint as Loch’s, suggesting mixed-race parents. “Diplomats made it clear, and I’ve been ordered to pass that on to you.
“Don’t worry about it.” Loch drew a dagger from a sheath at her hip and added it to the pile.
Kail drew a knife from each boot, a dagger from inside his leather coat, and a throwing knife from a wrist-sheath under his sleeve. The guard captain, more experienced than Loch had given him credit for, stood and waited patiently, and Kail eventually sighed and unspooled a length of wire from
“You brought a garrote.” Loch blinked.
Kail shrugged. “
alloy wire. Perfect for daemons and wizards.”
“On a diplomatic mission,” Loch added, emphasizing the words a little more than necessary.
“All the more reason for swift, decisive action if a daemon or wizard shows up.” He dropped the garrote on the pile of weaponry in front of the Imperial guards. “So do I get a receipt for this, or . . . ?”
“Come, now.” Threvein said, gesturing impatiently. “The Imperial diplomats are waiting in the temple.”
Kail glared at the Imperial guard nearest him. “If
of this goes missing, I’m going to be
The guard tensed, until his superior made a curt gesture. Kail grinned at both of them.
They made their way up the stairs, led by one of the monks, while the Imperial guards stayed below. Ambassador Threvein and the diplomats led the way, with the guards close behind. Loch and Kail brought up the rear. The stairs were just wide enough for two people to walk side by side, and there was no handrail on either side. On their right, the mountain stone was cool and shadowed. On their left was a straight drop into the Iceford below.
“No wonder the Republic never took this place.” Kail glanced down at the Iceford and stepped a bit further to the right. “Not that it’s a fortress, mind you.”
“Of course not,” Loch said with an innocent look. “Who’d name a fortress after a butterfly?” She squinted and lowered her voice. “See the red crystals set into the roof?”
“Yeah, I noticed. Defense against airships, I figure. What do you think, fire magic? I mean, they’re red.”
At the top of the stairs, a massive iron gate swung open ahead of them. It was flanked by more Imperial guards, who stared ahead unblinkingly as the diplomatic group walked through the gate and into the temple courtyard.
The courtyard was large enough to field a small army. It was immaculately maintained, with marble flagstones inset with tiny squares of jade. Pipes pumped water from the Iceford far below their feet through decorative fountains and canals. All across the courtyard, monks in golden robes trained, some moving through forms while others sparred in small fields of golden sand. Bushes with vivid green leaves sprouted from vases along the walls, and snowy white doves sat in their branches or drank from the fountains. Great golden banners emblazoned with the twin blades of the Empire hung from the walls.
It was impressive, but then, Loch figured, that had been the point. The sand showed only a few footprints, not the countless marks that would have been there had anyone been doing actual training, and none of the monks nearest the group were sweating. Kail noticed as well and shot Loch an amused look.
Ambassador Threvein was speaking with a monk whose robes were decorated with crimson at the sleeves. Threvein looked nervous as he turned to speak briefly to the guard captain.
The guard captain glared first at the ambassador, then at the monk, and finally turned to Loch and Kail. “The Imperial diplomats are up inside,” he said, jerking his chin up shining marble stairs to a tall, high-peaked central building that overlooked the courtyard like third mountain. “They say that our heavy armor would be disrespectful of the sanctity of the temple.”
“Their temple with flamecannons on the walls.”
The guard captain grimaced. “They’re
‘sun-blossoms,’ to ward off natural predators.”
“See?” Loch said to Kail. “Gentler name.”
“Anyway,” the guard captain said, “I offered to strip down, but they made it clear. Only you two and the diplomats go up.”
Loch looked at the Imperial guards in their massive golden armor. “Of course.”
“This whole thing stinks,” the guard captain said in a voice that just reached them. “
“Watch your own,” Kail shot back with a little smile, then straightened his shoulders and looked over at Loch. “It’s never boring with you, Captain.”
Threvein smiled. He had an ambassador’s stoic calm hiding whatever he was actually feeling, but unlike the Imperial monks training in the courtyard, he
sweating. “I should have known. Ah, well, it was just a formality, anyway. If you’ll be so kind.” He nodded to the monk with the crimson-slashed robes, and the monk bowed briefly, then turned and crossed the courtyard. The diplomats followed, along with Loch
She felt the eyes of everyone in the courtyard on them as they walked. The monks with more training glanced from the corner of their eyes. The newer students looked over and then jerked their heads away guiltily. “You give up every weapon you had, Kail?”
“Yep. Worried they might have wards to detect anything I kept.”
“You?” They started up the stairs. Aside from the whipping and flapping of golden robes and the rushing of piped-in river water, their boots on the steps were the only sound in the courtyard.
“Same.” She took a deep breath in through her nose. “I was counting people. You get an exit?”
“Sand pit on our right.” Kail didn’t look over, still smiling absently as he followed the diplomats. “I’d say eight steps down before you jump.”
“Noted. Fifty monks, another twenty guards with
“Wonderful.” They reached the top of the stairs, just behind Threvein and the other diplomats, and walked through a doorway flanked by more guards.
The room inside was decorated lavishly. Painted fans hung on the wall next to jeweled masks, and a low table stained glossy black was set with golden bowls and crystal glasses. Vases inlaid with precious stones lined the walls, and a great butterfly decorated the face of the gong that, several years ago, Uribin had thrown a guard through during Loch’s escape from Imperial territory.
“There’s the gong!” Kail whispered. Loch elbowed him.
The diplomats followed the monk with the crimson-slashed robes across the room and through a door. Kail and Loch followed, but the door slammed shut before they could enter. Behind them, the door through which they’d entered did the same.
“Uh-huh.” Kail rolled out his shoulders. “Guess they heard about the gong.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s what happened. No diplomatic incidents.” Loch stepped to the door and knocked politely. “Nothing that says we caused this. If we can get to Threvein before anything happens, we’ve still got a chance.”
A door on the side wall slid open, and an Imperial woman strode in with a pair of guards beside her. She wore a flowing silk dress of lavender and rich violet. It matched the style Loch had seen in Imperial nobles during her time behind enemy lines, large and loose enough to hide the woman’s hands in her sleeves. The woman’s face was classically Imperial, fine featured and devoid of makeup. Her hair was braided in intricate coils that slid down in front of her shoulders, one braid on each side, and a glittering chain of gold filigree rode upon her brow, set with a blood-red ruby in the center.
The sword at the woman’s waist was a heavy broadsword with a dragon’s head on the hilt, from whose mouth a red scarf dangled like either a limp tongue or a surprisingly droopy gout of fire. The sword had a single curved edge. The back of the blade was lined with metal rings that clinked with each step the woman took, and it was tucked into a sash at her waist rather than sheathed.