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iUniverse, Inc.
New York Bloomington

Copyright © 2009 by Ren Garcia

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

Cover art by Carol Phillips

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ISBN: 978-1-4401-2131-9 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4401-2129-6 (dj)
ISBN: 978-1-4401-2130-2 (ebook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2009921063

Printed in the United States of America

iUniverse rev. date:
10/29/09

Contents

Cover

Title

Map

Prologue

Part 1 The Prisoner Requests…

1 The Lord of Blanchefort

2 The Sisterhood of Light

3 The Gift of Sight

4 Black Hats

5 Breaking the Clutch

6 "Red"

7 Ennez the Hospitaler

8 A Bowl of Ooust

9 The Seeker

10 The Prisoner Requests…

11 A Cry for Help

12 "May I Come with You?"

13 The Black Abbess

14 A Heart Set to Beat

15 Hunting the Captain

16 Kilos and Sygillis

Part 2 The Silver Temple

1 An Insane Plan

2 Faces in the Dark

3 Mirendra

4 Are You Happy, Sister?

5 The Black Abbess Strikes

6 Falling over Metatron

7 Bethrael of Moane

8 Lord Mapes of Grenville

9 The CARG of House Blanchefort

10 The Silver Temple

11 Drusilla

12 Lt Kilos

13 Three Seekers

14 A Vision Come True…

15 Suzaraine of Gulle

Part 3 The Fanatics of Nalls

1 Lord Probert

2 Princess Marilith

3 The Balcony

4 Countess Pardock of Vincent

5 Lady Poe

6 The Dinner

7 Castle Durst

8 Who Was Captain Hathaline?

9 The Battle in the Corridor

10 The Fanatics of Nalls

11 A Grand Procession

12 The Triumph Falls

13 The Sad Captain

14 Gelt

15 Coffee and Pastries

Epilogue

PROLOGUE

The thing in the dark waited to dream again. It sat in the dizzying heights at the pinnacle of an artificial mountain within the hollow innards of an even larger artificial mountain all around. Vaguely, it heard the din of noise drifting up from the floor far below; a chorus of moans and anguished cries mixed together with the occasional mewling and grunting of some unseen animal lurking in the dark—an off -tune symphony of suffering. If a prisoner had been brought to it, as sometimes happened, it heard the person cry out in fear, sometimes offering bribes, sometimes shouting threats. In any case, when it felt ready, it would slowly drift down the steep stairway to the floor, awash in dreams, and deal with the newcomer, sometimes taking days in the killing.

It gripped the arms of the chair, digging in with its clenched hands. During these brief moments of hated lucidity, if it felt particularly angry and there were no prisoners about, it often seized one of the servants from below, filthy and naked, and lifted its terrified body up to the heights and killed it, sometimes in unthinkable and inventive ways.

And then, sitting back, calming, it dreamed the same old dream.

It dreamed of a flat expanse, the drenched ground clogged with mud and topped with a layer of rain-soaked fog that stubbornly clung there like a huge, ghostly hand. No mountains could be seen in its dream, yet it had the impression that there should be mountains, or rather hills, seven of them. Seven hills. It always wondered why there were no hills; where did they go? The landscape of its dream was dark— but it was a normal sort of dark, like a nighttime countryside sprinkled with little snatches of light here and there—a night that promised the eventual coming of dawn. This dark wasn't like the impenetrable and hopeless murk it and the miserable servants below lived in day after day. Certainly, such a bleak landscape might serve as the stuff of nightmares for most anybody else, but for it, living in an endless waking nightmare, the wet, fog-bound landscape awaiting the coming of dawn was an inviting paradise.

Then, in the rain-matted distance, it saw the Light.

It was a golden Light, panning, far away, inviting, warming the night, promising rescue … promising salvation.

Slowly, the Light approached, bobbing slightly, like a hand-held torch. The Light called out to it, though no voice was heard. As the Light got nearer, it could see that it was actually two points of light, side by side, like a pair of eyes.

Standing there in the distance was a man, tall and looming, his eyes shining in the dark like a pair of searchlights. He stood with arm outstretched, hand open. And all it had to do was take his hand, and the dawn would come.

I've been looking for you, though I knew it not myself. Take my hand and let us away. I've come to take you home …

Take his hand and the dream might end, and something new could begin. It wanted to go toward the man and the Light; to speak to him—to touch him maybe—but it could not move. It was rooted in stone, locked in place. The old wall of darkness held it firm, giving it no place to go.

The man and his Light were the loveliest things it had ever seen. His Light offered change, offered hope. With the Light, it could be more than what it currently was.

"It" was a she, a demon in female form. And she, sitting in her chair high above the floor in the moaning darkness, rife with suffering, could finally become something denied to her throughout her long, savage life … she could become a woman.

* * * * *

It happened often, perhaps more often than it should.

Captain Davage of the League Main Fleet Vessel
Seeker
, the esteemed Lord of Blanchefort of the current line, would be in his spacious quarters, or occasionally in his small, comely office, and he would receive a message from the Com officer on the bridge. The Com, in the usual businesslike voice, announced that he had a pending message: from Fleet Command, from the League Office, from his ancient Vith home in the far north of Kana, or sometimes— painfully—from the House of Durst. He would then stop what he was doing, clear his throat, and accept the message.

Certainly nothing was unusual about a busy Elder like Captain Davage getting a message, but …

If the Captain had a visitor in his office or if his first officer, Lt. Kilos of the Stellar Marines, was there, then the message opened for a moment and then failed, the connection lost. A colorful League banner usually popped up stating that "technical difficulties" had been encountered, and that was that.

But if Davage was alone, then, every so often, the message was not as advertised—it would not be from the Fleet or the League Office or his home or from House Durst either.

It was sometimes from
her
, Captain Davage's mortal enemy: Princess Marilith of Xandarr, a Xaphan princess, Davage's eternal sworn enemy and near-constant antagonist.

* * * * *

The animosity between these two had been the talk of both League and Xaphan societies for decades. When they confronted each other in public—Davage in his powerful League vessel
Seeker
and Marilith mounting a various assortment of warships always called
Bloodsimple—
their spectacular, twisting, turning, soliloquy-laced, weapons-blazing confrontations were legendary and eagerly anticipated, almost akin to a popular sporting event. The stage, played out many times over the years, was usually the same: the lesser Xaphan ships parting as if in supplication to a greater power, an excited hush falling on the
Seeker's
bridge, and there on the view screen would be Princess Marilith, the Arch-Xaphan herself—what a sight!

She was tall and fit, with a long head of straight hair with short bangs. Her hair was blue—bright blue, like a blueberry dream, a mark of royalty and a sure sign of arrogance and pending trouble. She always dressed in the Xandarr style, a colorful assortment of veils and light garments, like a dancer that, often-times, failed to account for the demands of modesty. Indeed, Lt. Kilos, always nined-up in her red Marine uniform, often said the princess dressed like a courtesan ready for bed. Her face was beautiful and somewhat feline in appearance, and was rather triangular in shape with a small, pointy chin and a fairly domelike forehead. Her long somewhat sleepy eyes, like her hair, were profoundly blue.

And there was the makeup—the fierce war paint she wore to distort her features and make her appear monstrous, demonic even.

Princess Marilith—no matter the time or place or the state of her dress (or un-dress) always commanded instant respect.

Captain Davage, on the other hand, was the model of a dashing Fleet senior officer and Lord of the League. Tall and lean, he wore the Stellar Fleet uniform of a captain: a woven dark blue coat with long tails embroidered generously with gold ivy and stars denoting his rank, striped black pants tucked into a rather oversized pair of tall black boots, a frilly white shirt, and a black command sash. Strapped to his waist was his gun belt, a finely decorated and enameled MiMs pistol holstered on his left and the CARG saddled in place to his right. The CARG was a large, coppery, beautiful weapon that looked something like a sword but was definitely not a sword. In standard Fleet tradition, the captain and the first officer were armed at all times. Topping it off was a large, dark blue triangle hat. The whole ensemble was modeled from military dress worn eons ago in another time and place—before they were Elder, before the Elders came and made them into what they were. The Stellar Fleet, though sporting the latest in fancy starfaring war machines, had a very old, very romantic soul. That was why Davage loved the Fleet so much.

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