In the shadow of Emperor Guderian’s fallen empire, young Queen Makarria finds her throne—and her life—in grave danger. The Old World Republic has come, demanding that Her Majesty brings order to the struggling Five Kingdoms by forming a new empire, one she would rule as the Old World’s puppet. When Makarria refuses them, the Old World threatens war and unleashes a nefarious spy to sow discord in her court. Before she knows it, the queen’s budding romance with Prince Caile has been exploited by a spy, and Makarria finds herself embroiled in a complex game of power and lies in which she can trust no one.
Betrayed and lost, Makarria is forced to shed all pride and discover the true nature of her power as a dreamwielder in order to recreate herself and face the sprawling threat that is the Old World Empire.
“Fine writing, magic, epic intrigue, a great cast, and a central character . . . who mesmerizes—what more does a reader need to be happy?” —Bruce McAllister, author of The Village Sang to the Sea
“The powerful follow-up to Dreamwielder . . . with stronger writing, more compelling characters, and the same awesome magic that I came to love in book one! I think fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will appreciate the vast political landscape and grit that this story includes, with a touch more magic.” —On Starships and Dragonwings
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Khal-Aband, the underground prison, was four hundred miles south of Sol Valaróz, shrouded in the broad-leafed rainforest that clung to the jagged, mountainous terrain of the Spine. There was no path, no gate marking the entrance, only a spire of rock known as the Finger to find one's way, and even then it was only visible in the waning hours of the evening, when the setting sun over the Ocean Gloaming backlit the angular, straight lines of the Finger in stark contrast to the undulating silhouette of the forest. It was no wonder it had taken Makarria so long to discover it.
It was nearly a year since Makarria's coronation, and Emperor Guderian's fallen empire still cast a shadow over her every action as Queen of Valaróz. Don Bricio, the usurper Guderian had placed on the Valarion throne, had turned Valarion politics into a knot of corruption, and even with Don Bricio and Guderian both dead and gone, their reign of terror had scarred Makarria's people. More than anything, they were apprehensive about sorcery. Guderian had all but exterminated sorcerers in the Five Kingdoms, so what were people to think of Makarria, a dreamwielder, when the only sorcerer they had ever known was Guderian's shape-changing monster Wulfram? At best, they were grateful to Makarria for having liberated them from tyranny, but distrustful of the changes she tried to bring about. At worst, they openly questioned her ability, saying sorcerers couldn't be trusted and that a fourteen-year-old girl didn't have the strength to rule.
That's why this trip to Khal-Aband was so important.
Inside — locked away in the secret prison where Emperor Guderian and Don Bricio had sent the enemies they hated too much to kill — was a man who could make the people of Valaróz trust the throne again. Assuming he was still alive.
Makarria tore her gaze away from the Finger and glanced to the far side of her encampment where four scouts emerged from the forest, having returned at last. "Well?" she asked, striding forward to meet them in the middle of the encampment. "Is the perimeter clear?" Patience was something she was working on, but not today, not when she was so close to her goal. Not when Caile was off searching the prison without her.
"Yes, Your Majesty, the perimeter is clear," the lead scout said. "My team searched the forest a mile to the north and south, across the entirety of the Spine. There is no evidence anyone has been here in months. All we found was an abandoned skiff in a cove along the western shoreline."
"Yes, Your Majesty. It appears someone tried to sink it. The hull was shattered and someone filled it with rocks. If the tide hadn't been out, we wouldn't have noticed it at all. By my estimation, it's been there a year or more. There's not much left of it."
Makarria frowned, not liking the sound of someone purposefully sinking a boat. "Don't be so sure it's been there as long as that. The sea is harsh to sunken vessels, particularly on rocky shores. What do you think, Lorentz?"
Captain Lorentz — her advisor, friend, and personal bodyguard at Prince Caile's insistence — stood up from where he had been sitting on a rock, gazing up at the Finger. His face still bore the scars of the torture he had endured as Emperor Guderian's prisoner: part of one ear gone and three of his front teeth missing, in addition to the crosshatch of thin pink scars on his forehead from knife wounds. "A year sounds about right," he said, his words tinged with a slight lisp due to his missing teeth. "That would have been the last time Don Bricio could have sent anyone here."
"But why on the western shore?" Makarria asked. It didn't make any sense. "If he were sending word from Sol Valaróz, the vessel would have landed on the eastern shore, the same as us."
Lorentz shrugged. "Perhaps he sent word from one of the western cities. Or perhaps Guderian sent someone from Col Sargoth."
It was possible, but Makarria didn't buy it. A skiff was too small for transporting prisoners, and even if Don Bricio or Guderian had merely sent a messenger, they wouldn't have risked sending a message in such a small vessel. Makarria knew all too well how dangerous it was sailing the open sea in a skiff. She and her grandfather had nearly died in one fleeing from Guderian when a storm came upon them. It seemed so long ago now, but Makarria still recalled how small she had felt in the skiff, a toy against the fury of the sea.
Makarria had new and more pressing concerns now, though. She shook the memory away and eyed the sun, looming ever closer to the treeline to the west. "We only have an hour or so of daylight left. Still no word from Caile?"
"Nothing," Lorentz said, stealing a glance up the hillside toward the Finger and the prison entrance. "I can't imagine what can be taking him so long."
It was clear Lorentz was as worried about Caile as Makarria was. She couldn't blame him. Lorentz had, after all, been Caile's protector and mentor, his father practically, for over ten years, and here he was, stuck waiting outside with Makarria while Caile searched the interior of the prison with only a small contingent of troops. He had been gone the entire day now. It was time to go after him. Makarria had been a fool not to go with him in the first place.
"We're going in," she decided. "Gather our two best men and follow me."
Lorentz's eyes widened in alarm. "I don't think that's a good idea. It's not safe."
"That's why I'm bringing you along."
"Pyrthin's arse, you're as pigheaded as Caile is," Lorentz swore. "It's no wonder the two of you get along so well."
Makarria grinned despite herself. Apart from her parents and Caile, Lorentz was the only one who spoke to her like a real person, not a queen. That wasn't to say he was all jokes and quips. He, out of all of Makarria's advisors, had been the most outspoken about her remaining in Sol Valaróz and leaving this expedition to soldiers. She had overruled him, but that didn't mean she took his counsel lightly.
"Hurry along now, Captain," she told him. "Meet me up top, or I'll go in alone."
Lorentz frowned at her, but said nothing before jogging off to gather two guards and leave orders for the others to stand watch. Makarria turned to regard the Finger one last time, then began the climb up the loose shale embankment on her own. The footing was treacherous. She had no idea how a forest was able to thrive in the barren, rocky soil. Anything that manages to live here must be more pigheaded than me, she mused, testing each foothold before shifting her weight and continuing her ascent. The roots of the trees and ferns were woven into the cracks of the rock itself, creating a crumbling matrix of jagged footholds. She was glad, not for the first time on this trip, that she had set aside the burden of her cumbersome royal gown for leather boots, breeches, and a vest.
By the time she reached the plateau at the base of the Finger, she was nearly out of breath. She didn't have the leisure to bemoan the climb, though. In front of her lurked the entrance to Khal-Aband, a dark fissure in the rock face no more than four feet tall, shored up with two diagonal beams of rotting timber. Makarria shuddered. Although the Spine couldn't have been more different than the snow-covered Barrier Mountains two thousand miles to the north, the entrance to Khal-Aband looked eerily similar to the entrance to the Caverns of Issborg. Makarria had been a prisoner herself there in Issborg, along with Taera, Caile's sister, trapped in the ice, under the control of the sorcerer Kadar. Kadar's black teeth still haunted Makarria's memories, as did his horrible fate at her hands. She had used her power as a dreamwielder to trap him in the rock of Issborg, and his body was as much a part of the mountain now as was the glacier that carved the cavern centuries before.
Makarria closed her eyes and forced herself to push the memory away. No more reminiscing. No more daydreaming. If she needed to use her power, she would need to control her dream visions, not be caught up in past memories.
"Well?" Lorentz asked, huffing to a halt beside Makarria along with two soldiers. "Now what?"
"Like I said, we go in," Makarria replied, retying the leather strap that held her brown hair back in a ponytail. "One of you in front of me, two behind. If we run into trouble, stay close, protect me for just a moment, and I'll do the rest."
Lorentz grabbed the hilt of the short sword at his waist, thought better of it, and instead pulled out a dagger. "I'll go first."
The others fell into place behind Makarria and they entered the tunnel leading to Khal-Aband. No more than ten steps inside, the passageway made a sharp turn to the right and they were plunged into utter darkness and silence. The hair at the nape of Makarria's neck stood on end and she felt a brief surge of panic.
"This is madness," Lorentz whispered, shuffling to a halt. "Caile has all of our equipment. We have no torches. Nothing."
Makarria closed her eyes and let out a long, slow breath to drive away her fear. A year before she wouldn't have been able to control her thoughts like this, but she had been practicing, and now she was able to slip into a dreamstate almost effortlessly. She pictured a floating light in her mind — a lifeless, formless lightning bug — and made it so, drawing upon the energy within her to push the object from her dream vision into reality. Lorentz gasped in surprise when the glowing blue sphere appeared in front of him from nothingness, and almost simultaneously a gust of wind blew past them from the entrance of the cave. The light was undeterred, but Makarria shivered. She should have planned better. It was foolish wasting her strength to dream up a light when unknown danger lay before them. There was nothing for it now, though, but to move on.
"Let's keep moving, Lorentz," Makarria said.
Lorentz nodded and led the way, following the curves of the passageway, ever to the right and downward, inexorably spiraling deeper into the mountain beneath the Finger. The air grew stagnant. Then repugnant. By the time the passageway leveled out and they reached a rusted gate baring their passage, the stench was unbearable, a palpable haze of rot and death. Makarria had to cover her nose and mouth with one arm to keep from retching, and even then saliva filled her mouth and she had to choke back her gagging reflex.
"It's locked," Lorentz whispered through gritted teeth as he examined the padlock on the gate. "One of ours, but we don't have the key. Caile does. Of course."
Makarria took it all in with a glance: the original rusted padlock Caile had split apart with a hammer and chisel only to toss aside on the passage floor, and then the new one in its place to protect his back and make sure no one snuck in behind him. It was a simple matter for Makarria to separate the new padlock from the hasp mechanism, just like her first test as a dreamwielder back in the Caverns of Issborg. She slipped into her dreamstate, then imagined the two rings melding together into one solid piece, and then individual again, this time apart from each other. When she pushed through the resistance of rearranging matter and opened her eyes, the padlock fell to the ground alongside the other one.
"We won't be needing that anymore," she whispered. "The outside is secure, or as secure as it's going to be, at least. Let's keep going. Quietly."
Lorentz opened the gate and led the way on, Makarria's airborne lantern still illuminating the way before them, but he stopped again after only a dozen steps. He motioned toward the wall on their left, outlining something with the tip of his dagger — a door, Makarria realized. It was a solid iron door, rusted to the point it was nearly indistinguishable from the rock wall itself. The charnel house stench was so overpowering here Makarria knew the source of the smell had to be coming from inside whatever chamber was on the other side. Lorentz, likely suspecting the same, knelt and peered through the keyhole, but stood up a moment later shaking his head. Too dark, he mouthed silently.
Makarria knelt and peered inside, pressing her face close to the door so her left eye was almost touching the keyhole. A thin beam of sunlight shone high up against the far wall, but too high and too dim to illuminate the room itself. All she could see was a swarm of insects darting across the shaft of light. Everything else was veiled in shadow. She held her breath, closed her eyes, and dreamed into existence another floating lantern inside the room. She could feel the blue glow of her efforts shining on her closed eyelid, but couldn't bring herself to look. Whatever was in the room was an abomination, she knew. She could sense it. Her hands were trembling and she wanted nothing more than to turn around and run right out the way she'd come. No. You have to know. You're a queen, not a child.
She opened her eyes.
The scene before her, lit up in her own eerie blue light, was worse than she could have ever imagined. She shoved herself away from the door with a gasp and fell into the soldier behind her. Her lanterns winked out like candles in the wind. And then her stomach upturned and she vomited on the boots of the soldier trying to hold her up. When she was done retching, she was left gasping for air, shaking.
"Makarria!" Lorentz hissed, fumbling in the darkness to grab her by the shoulders. "Are you all right? What happened?"
The muscles beneath her lungs were convulsing, making her breaths come in quick, staccato procession. She couldn't even apologize to the poor man whose boots she had retched on. She forced herself to exhale slowly, and then breathed in and out three more times to calm herself. "I'm fine. It was ... worse than I expected. There are dead bodies piled in there, dozens of them, turned to liquid and rot. Bones and maggots, melting away into the floor. There's a chimney vent in the ceiling — otherwise the smell would be worse."
She forced the image out of her mind and refocused on forming a new lantern. Her men sighed in relief when the light reappeared, even Lorentz, whom Makarria had never seen exhibit fear of any sort. There was some comfort in knowing she wasn't alone in being afraid, but not much.
Lorentz helped her to her feet, and she dusted off her breeches. "I fear we've come too late," she said, thinking out loud. "There are so many bodies in there. Can the man they called Conzo still be alive? Can any of the prisoners still be alive?"
"Someone must still be alive down here," Lorentz assured her. "Otherwise Caile would have returned by now."
Makarria hoped he was right. "Let's hurry then. We have to find out what's going on."
They proceeded warily, deeper into the prison. The path was level, but it curved again to the right and they found themselves at another gate baring their passage. Makarria examined the lock and saw it was another of Caile's replacements. They were on the right track, at least, and Caile had made it this far. Makarria removed the lock with her power and stepped aside for Lorentz to lead the way again. When they rounded the next corner, they began to hear voices. The words were muffled but clear enough to make out that a shouting match was going on. They hurried onward, around another bend, this one to the left, and then quite abruptly came upon the rear guard of their own troops.
"Who's there?" one of the soldiers cried out in surprise as he leveled his short sword at them.
"Easy, it's me," Lorentz assured the man, holding his hands up in peace.
The orange glow of torchlight flickered deeper on in the passageway where the shouting was coming from, but the men in the rear had been standing in darkness. Once the soldiers saw Lorentz and Makarria lit up in the blue glow of the floating lamplight, they too sighed in relief and lowered their weapons.
"Where's Prince Caile?" Lorentz demanded.
"Up front," one of the soldiers replied. "Negotiating with the prison guards."
"And this shouting you call negotiating has been going on all day?" Makarria demanded.
The man cast his eyes downward. "Yes. Negotiating and fighting, Your Majesty."
"Pass word to Prince Caile to come speak to me. If he objects, tell him it's a royal command."
The soldier did as he was told and passed word to the man in front of him. The chain message made its way through the ranks, and a minute later the yelling ceased and Caile pushed his way back through the soldiers. He was not happy to see Makarria, as was evident by his deep scowl.
"Why are you down here? It's not safe."
Makarria met his glare with her own steely gaze. "Clearly. Otherwise you would have returned hours ago. What's happening?"
"A standoff is what's happening! A very dangerous one that's already cost us two men. You need to go back outside and wait. I promised your mother I wouldn't let you come to harm."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Souldrifter"
Copyright © 2015 Garrett Calcaterra.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Souldrifter is visceral yet cerebral fantasy at its best. Even more than in the first book of the The Dreamwielder Chronicles, the reader of this second installment can feel the physical and emotional pain the characters pay as the price for using their sorcery. Makarria starts the book as a queen in name only, but to truly earn her title, she must suffer through the obstacles her enemies put in her path. Along the way, she learns how to play the intricate chess game of diplomacy, where an elegantly crafted sequence of moves and countermoves leaves the reader always guessing what will come next and who will come out on top. Recommended for readers who want to use their brains while spilling their enemies' guts.