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Well of Vengeance: The Lunen Kingdom Series, #1

Well of Vengeance: The Lunen Kingdom Series, #1

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Well of Vengeance: The Lunen Kingdom Series, #1

Longueur:
394 pages
6 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Oct 20, 2020
ISBN:
9780578776064
Format:
Livre

Description

A Secret Friendship. An Impossible Choice.

 

Mage-in-training, Emolin, struggles with her place in the Altava hierarchy and her compassion for those living in servitude, especially the Paran slave, Hajana. If their friendship were ever discovered, it would mean death for both of them. But when a mysterious figure claims Emolin is the one who can cleanse the land of Parans once and for all, she is forced to choose between Hajana or the lives of thousands. Hoping she can find another way, Emolin is forced to head to the other side of the country to rally Alchemist forces for the war against the Parans, leaving Hajana to wonder if the two of them were ever friends to begin with. Can Emolin come up with a plan to prevent the war? Or can Hajana discover a way to save herself?

 

Content Information:

This book contains heavy mental health themes, implied rape, and graphic violence. 

Éditeur:
Sortie:
Oct 20, 2020
ISBN:
9780578776064
Format:
Livre

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Well of Vengeance - Sydney Rain

Author

Chapter One

Emolin

The bells in the distance signaled quarter till seven as I ran out the door. I was late, again. 

Lady Emolin, your scarf! a maid called after me. 

Cursing, I turned back, creating a cloud of rust-colored dust as my sandals skidded on the hard-packed dirt. The Klohaven sun burned even the richest skin tones in mere moments, and I already suffered more burns than I cared to count. I ran up the steps to my family’s estate, taking the pale, golden strip of fabric from the maid and giving her a nod of thanks before running off. 

I tucked my wavy, scarlet hair under the scarf, wrapping the silk around my head while dashing through the streets. As grateful as I was that my Light Aura allowed me to take a more passive stance in potential battles, I hated that the Magistrate required all female Mages to wear headscarves to match their affinity. Many wore crimson, blue, or even brown scarves, and the men wore bands around their upper arms. The color system was supposed to allow for ease of organizing forces if a war was on the horizon. Instead, I found my peers and the Altavians only shunned me for having a more impractical type of Aura on display.

Even though the air rippled with heat, shoppers, children heading to school, slaves, servants, and Mages packed the roads. It was difficult to navigate the bazaars of Altava on a normal day, but with the approaching Bonfire Festival, more merchants and stalls were crowding the already narrow streets. Dozens of colorful stalls hid the drab sandstone buildings. Tents in a variety of colors shaded the streets, tapestries and banners fluttering in the breeze from people walking by. 

I entertained the idea of scaling the nearest building and making my way to the Sitori Training House, leaping from roof to roof. While traveling above the shops made getting through crowds much easier, Magistrate Magdra made it clear that he didn’t appreciate his Mages behaving in such an unfavorable manner after the last time. Though I was risking being even later by choosing to navigate the crowds, the beating from Sojourn would be far better than the punishment I would get from the Magistrate for taking the elevated route.

The smells from the vendors made my mouth water and reminded me I missed breakfast. The many skewered meats tempted me to stop and purchase them, but Sojourn despised tardiness above all else, and walking in with food would only make my beating worseThere were several times I was late when I started training and Sojourn liked to say even the most stubborn beasts could be beaten into submission, though I seemed to prove him wrong so far. My stomach growled in protest as I continued, and I promised I would feed it later.

My sword beat against my thigh in a steady rhythm, tugging comfortingly on my sash. I made the sword under Sojourn’s guidance once my training began when I was ten, and I was rarely without it. The blade, along with my robes, made it easier to weave through the throngs of people, no one wanting a Mage to accuse them of being in the way.

The crowds became a solid mass as I neared the center of the city. Servants and slaves wove past people, slaves keeping their heads down to avoid being punished for impeding aristocrats and scholars. It was common to hear slaves being shouted at and punished in numerous languages, but my anger against slavery rose every time.

The crash of breaking pottery rang through the streets over the droning of people haggling prices and advertising their wares. Hajana sat in front of the potter’s shop, eyes wide, glaring at a group of boys running off, and broken pieces of a hand-painted vase in front of her. Seeing the fear in my friend’s face, I shoved my way toward her. It was well known her master, Minister Aldous, commissioned a vase for his wife several months before, and I could only imagine what he would do once he discovered what happened. 

Many on the street ignored Hajana and walked around her, some stopping to collect pieces of the vase with gold leaf on them as they passed. I reached down to help her up, her attention focused on the potter’s shop. She tucked her raven hair behind her ear, and I couldn’t help but glance at the tattoo on the side of her neck. A small lock. The mark of a slave.

Are you okay, Ra? I asked, choosing to struggle with rolling the r at the beginning of her Paran nickname instead of mispronouncing her full name, Ra-Hana.

I’m fine, but you know you shouldn’t be talking to me in public, she hissed, cutting off the consonant at the end of each word.

Before I could respond, the gruff voice of a portly man cut me off as he stormed out of the shop. I thought I told you to be careful, you wench. Now, who is going to tell the Minister his commissioned vase will take another four months? I’m not going to take the blame, that’s for sure. He paused, turning to me when he realized I was standing there. She didn’t harm you, did she, m’lady? He gave a deep bow of respect.

The potter didn’t wait for me to respond. He reached out, grabbing Ra’s hair, and spun her to face him. Smacking her across the face, he threw her to the ground. Despair rose in Ra’s eyes as she let out a cry of pain. She looked so small on the ground, even though she was a handbreadth taller than me, her childlike innocence hiding behind the rough exterior her five years of slavery created.

Raising my hands, I shook my head. No, nothing like that. I heard the crash and came over to make sure no one hurt themselves on the broken pottery until it could be taken care of.

The shopkeeper’s face softened, and he nodded. You Mages are a gift from the gods. 

Ra climbed to her feet, and the shopkeeper turned to her. 

Go get a broom, you insolent girl, the shopkeeper snapped before turning back to me. Thank you for caring so much about the citizens. I will stay here and oversee the girl in cleaning. I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do than to supervise a slave.

As if agreeing with the shopkeeper, the bells in the square signaled the top of the hour. I fought back the dread and smiled at the potter.

There’s no need to thank me, but I must be off. 

I gave the man a small nod, which he returned with another deep bow, and risked a glance at Ra. Her cheek was already swelling and she wrapped her arms around herself, a slight tremble only visible to those who paid her any mind. Hajana glanced toward me, her gray eyes glistening as she gave me a half-smile. I turned and slipped back into the crowd, pushing past people as fast as I dared, not wanting to cause any fear or commotion.

The dread in Ra’s eyes fueled my anger at slavery. Forcing someone to work from the moment they woke until they fell asleep on their feet because of crimes they committed was one thing. Making a fifteen-year-old girl do the same because of her parents’ religion was appalling. My father and I spent many evenings arguing about his desire to keep slaves and fire as many of our servants as he could. His reasoning was always the same: Slaves were cheap and easy labor and, if they didn’t do what you wanted, you could either beat or kill them. The number of times my father punished me for disagreeing with him never made my desire for freedom for the slaves waver. 

The streets cleared some as I headed toward the south-east gate. The numbers were far sparser than before because of the lack of shops and stalls. Though I was still dodging throngs of people, several bowed and stepped aside when they noticed my robes. 

The bells chimed quarter past seven. I was always amazed by how long it took to get through Altava’s center, especially with the crowds being thicker than normal from festival preparations. I took off at a sprint again, pushing past people as I ran. There’s only so polite one can be as they shove someone out of the way. I responded to the hurried apologies of the crowds with a mumbled apology of my own as the Sitori came into view, the statues of the gods peaking over the tops of the apartments lining the streets. 

I was still quite a distance away and more than fifteen minutes late. It wasn’t a new occurrence, too many nights spent struggling to sleep or reading by candlelight. Many of my peers argued I should be expelled from training. I tried to ignore their comments and ridicule. There was nothing they could do to me. That was Sojourn’s choice, and while he’d threatened in the past, he would expel no one without the permission of the Magistrate. The only good thing that came out of his friendship with my father. None of that stopped the worrying though.

I contemplated telling Sojourn about the vase, but explaining that would not only cause the other Mages to call me soft, but it could also raise suspicion of my allegiance to the Lunen Kingdom, or worse, put Ra in danger. Sojourn would come up with a reason why it was wrong for me to stop and help anyway, and I didn’t need to give him yet another excuse to beat me. The first lesson Sojourn taught us was to respect him. If we didn’t, he would make sure we would fear him.

The number of people on the streets was almost nonexistent as I approached the training house, the only ones I passed being fully trained Mages who shook their heads and stepped out of the way as I ran by. 

The clang of metal against metal rang as Sojourn trained the others in swordsmanship. Now and then, Sojourn’s powerful voice traveled above the noise, reminding me of his many years in service to Altava, Klohaven, and the entire Lunen Kingdom. I caught my breath as I walked into the shadow of the building. I was already late, so the few seconds I took to slow my heart and calm the Aura within my Well wouldn’t make it much worse.

I contemplated trying to sneak into training; Sojourn liked to walk around, watching as we trained, critiquing our stance or the way we connected with our Wells. It would give me plenty of time to slip in next to Natalia and feign innocence about being late. Everyone was still working through sword sequences, though, meaning I would risk injury trying to weave through the swords to get to my spot. I had no choice but to accept my fate and admit to my tardiness without giving a reason.

I tugged open the large stone door of the training house and slipped into the cool shade of the building. I unwrapped my scarf and placed it in my crate stacked along the wall with dozens of others. Slipping out of my sandals and switching into the soundless slippers allowing for better grip, I took a deep breath and walked out of the antechamber.

Sojourn noticed me walking toward the front of the room, continuing to call out drills to the others until they finished their sequence of scales. Glancing up at Natalia, she shook her head, giving me a look I was all too familiar with, lips pursed, eyebrow arched, eyes fierce. I refused to look at the others and instead kept my focus on the loose sand floor or high stone walls sparsely decorated with the Mage’s Crest along with the flags for Altava, Klohaven, and the Lunen Kingdom. I usually found strength in the two golden tiger hawks with their crossed wings on the Crest, but that morning it felt like they, too, were shunning me.

Once again, Emolin is late, Sojourn said, moving to stand next to me once the scales were done. 

His voice echoed against the stone ceiling, daring any of my peers to make a sound, his gold eyes scanning for any sort of movement. I stood with my head raised and jaw set, waiting for whatever punishment he deemed worthy of my transgression.

Tell me, Aaron, Sojourn continued, how many times has Emolin been late now?

Aaron smirked, swiping his bronze curls out of his brown eyes before speaking. If you’re asking for this month, seven times. If you’re asking in total, I lost count years ago.

The other Apprentices snickered, and I fought down the rising heat in my neck and cheeks. 

Sojourn raised his hand to silence the group before turning to me. Tell me, Emolin, what do you have to say about such a poor record?

I had no regret for being late, but I couldn’t share my reasoning so I hung my head in mock shame as I responded. I have no excuse for my tardiness. I was up late and overslept.

Oversleeping is no excuse; you are right. As you are well aware by now, I must punish you for your continued tardiness. The hope is that punishment will become an obsolete occurrence, preventing you from bringing shame to our city and the Magistrate alike. With you, however, this seems to have failed in the past. Let’s see if this time is any different.

I never cared about shaming the Magistrate because I was late, but I didn’t dare say so. Instead, I nodded and raised my head.

"I will accept whatever punishment I am given and I will do so without enmity in my heart," I said, reciting the Oath of Penance.

You will receive twenty-five canes for the number of minutes you were late and the number of days you have wasted not only my time but the time of your peers. Bare your back.

I refused to let the dread show on my face as I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and let the top part of my robe fall, turning to face the wall. The bandages binding my breasts would help lessen some pain, but twenty-five strokes of the cane would leave my back a bloody mess. I tried not to think about the mesh of healing wounds I would have to suffer through training with. 

I squeezed my eyes shut, determined not to make a sound. I didn’t need to give the others another reason to mock me. I kept my arms at my sides and my nails bit into my palms. Sojourn grabbed one of the training staffs from the collection in the large clay pot and gave it a few test swings. The wood cut through the air with a swish and I squeezed my eyes shut, grateful my back was facing the rest of my class. 

The first stroke of the staff stung, and I let out a small grunt of pain through gritted teeth.

Count them, Emolin.

One, I said, my voice steady.

Swish.

Two. The second swing hurt more than the first, but I stayed unmoving.

Swish.

Three.

Swish.

As the caning continued, my thoughts wandered to Hajana and the punishment she would receive for breaking the vase. I thanked the gods caning was a rare occurrence for me compared to what Ra dealt with and asked the gods to spare Ra at least some of her master’s and the potter’s violence.

My back stinging with the last swing, I thanked Sojourn for my punishment and waited for him to dismiss me.

Natalia, help Emolin treat her wounds. I expect to see both of you back here in half an hour.

Yes, Sojourn.

Natalia jogged over and walked on my right, her left arm draped around my shoulders, keeping my modesty as she led me to the small infirmary within the training house, shutting the door behind us.

As soon as Natalia and I were alone, she turned to me, placing her hands on my shoulders. You were hanging out with that slave again, weren’t you?

My eyes searched hers, the blue a stark contrast from my green and the varying shades of brown of other Mages. I hoped to find a hint of pity, or at least understanding. Instead, she gave me the same look she had when I walked in.

Natalia grabbed a container of salve from a cupboard, not waiting for an answer as I climbed onto the bed and turned so my back was facing her. 

We weren’t hanging out. She dropped the vase her master ordered. I didn’t know it was her, and the responsibility to stay and make sure no one cut themselves on the broken shards was too strong to ignore. Otherwise, I would’ve been on time. 

Natalia said nothing, letting me continue. 

When I discovered it was her, I had to stop and help.

No, you didn’t. You were more than able to continue on your merry way without a care in the world for that slave. Being late because you’re up late reading is one thing, but helping slaves is another digression entirely.

I hissed as Natalia rubbed the salve into my back, my skin sealing enough to prevent the wounds from ruining my robes and developing infections.

I’ve told you before, I would stop to help anyone, any slave, not just her. You’ve seen me do it yourself.

No, what I’ve seen is you trying to get yourself killed. Why must you insist on helping the slaves? They’re heathens! They worship false a god, pillage towns, rape women, and kill children. We need to eradicate them before they attack us. Why would you want to help someone who cares so little for anyone else?

I had no answer to Natalia’s question, at least not one I could explain. The Parans I knew weren’t malevolent. They weren’t behind the attacks everyone blamed on them. One of the newest slaves my father bought, a young girl about eight, told me about the Royal Enforcement Division, REDs, attacking their village and murdering her family. It wasn’t the Parans who were doing the killing. I wanted to speak up, but I didn’t need Natalia more frustrated with me, so I pushed back the thoughts and focused on Sojourn’s muffled voice through the door as he led our group through another set of scales.

That should do it, Natalia said as she rubbed the last bit of salve into my back. 

My muscles were sore and my skin pulled every time I moved, but I was in good enough shape to continue training. 

Thank you, Nat. I don’t know what I would do without you.

Well, your back would look far worse than it does. She gave me a small, quick smile. Just remember what I said when you get into a predicament you can’t get yourself out of. I won’t always be there to pull you out when that happens.

Natalia left without another word, her long, silvery braid whipping behind her, leaving me to sit and contemplate everything she said.

Chapter Two

Hajana

I took a moment in the shop to gather myself. Though I was glad Emolin tried to help, her intervening possibly angered the potter more, or worse, gave him a reason to believe Emolin and I were friends. I shuddered at the thought of what would happen to me and her if that happened and pushed the images of guillotines and gallows out of my mind. 

A wave of nausea passed over me and I braced myself on a nearby counter as the intense cramping followed. The bleeding had already stopped, but the pain would continue to haunt me for another few days at least. I took a deep breath and pushed the pain aside, focusing on each step as I grabbed the boom in the corner of the room. The cramps faded away and I leaned back to stretch.

Not wanting to risk getting in even more trouble, I headed out the back door of the shop through the alley, reaching the front with the broom and a pan to sweep up the mess.

It’s about bloody time, Ha-Jana. 

I cringed at the horrible pronunciation of my name, the unknown curse against Para they were speaking. Regardless of how many times I heard it pronounced the Klohavian way, the fear that climbed up my spine never went away, the worry that Para would direct his anger at me instead of them. When I was first captured, I tried to correct them on the pronunciation, It’s Ra-Hana, I tried, emphasizing the rolling of the r. Now, I knew better and waited until I was in my room at night to pray to Para that I be spared his wrath when he came to exact his revenge.

You were gone for a long time. I’m going to have to check and make sure you didn’t steal anything once you’re done, he said, licking his lips.

There were other customers in the shop and I am required to respect their space, I lied, making sure to keep my head down and tone of voice as neutral as possible. 

Quit making excuses, girl. Clean up this mess you made, then I’ll decide on your punishment. I know Minister Aldous won’t mind me helping to teach you a lesson.

Without a word, I swept up the bits of broken pottery into the pan. It wasn’t my fault the vase shattered. It was too large and heavy for a single slave to carry, though I couldn’t explain that to my master without risking not only a beating but having what little rations I was given taken away. I made sure I got every last piece, not wanting to give the potter another reason to be angry with me.

What would you like me to do with the pieces of pottery? I asked, keeping my head down.

Take them inside and place them on a table in the back. You are to wait there for me.

I turned and headed for the shop, using the back alley again so I didn’t inadvertently get in the way of someone. I placed the pan of pottery pieces on the table and put the broom back in the corner. With nothing else to do but wait, I glanced around at the pottery in different stages of the creation process.

Many of the pieces were either ready to be glazed or waiting to be displayed on shelves. There were a few items still sitting as lumps of clay, but most had been baked at least once. The smells of the shop reminded me of my friend, Dalila’s, parents’ shop back home in our village. The many hours the two of us would spend making small dishes for our dolls or helping to recycle pottery that cracked in the fire. I forced myself to move past those thoughts before my emotions took over. 

There seem to be two rather expensive pendants missing and I’m willing to bet an entire month’s sales you stole them. Strip, the potter said as he walked into the back of his shop.

As much as I wanted to protest, I knew from experience doing so would only make the whole process worse. I slipped my arms out of the feed sack dress I’d been wearing for over a week and let it fall to the floor around my ankles. 

When I say strip, I mean everything.

I ignored the potter’s hungry eyes and focused on keeping my face expressionless as I moved to unbind my breasts, grateful my tattered shift still covered the lower half of my body. 

Good sir, I apologize for interrupting, but I am in great need of your help. 

I froze at the sound of the new man’s voice and looked up at him through my eyelashes, praying he wasn’t someone who would be more than willing to help the potter in punishing me. 

Instead of another shopkeeper or one of the REDs, a young man in an unfamiliar grey uniform stood in the doorway. He wore a long saber and quiver off his belt and a bow strapped to his back, the quiver and hilt of the sword the same deep blue as the stripes on his cuffs. My eyes landed on the large scar that started on the left side of his face, near his chin, and extended across his face, over his right eye, and stopping just below his dark hair. His brown eyes rested on me and I realized he could tell I was staring at him. I dropped my eyes and hoped my hair was able to hide my blush, failing to ignore the fact I was nearly naked.

Ah, Lord Mycroft, how may I be of service? The potter gave a deep bow and turned all his attention to the lord.

It’s my mother. Today is her birthday, and I have been the most wretched son and forgot. I was hoping you could show me your finest jewelry or perhaps make me something?

I can most certainly do that, the potter said before turning to me. It seems it will be left to Minister Aldous for your punishment for the vase. Don’t think this means I’ve forgotten about the punishment I owe you for the missing pendants. 

The potter turned and asked the lord to follow him. The lord tossed a gold coin to me and winked before heading into the main shop.

Catching the coin, I hastily pulled up my dress and ran out of the shop into the alley before my luck ran out. I didn’t need a random lord accusing me of stealing from his purse. 

I gripped the coin tightly, keeping my head down as I made my way through the streets. There was only one stall on my way that sold food to slaves. The merchant was familiar with me and said nothing as we exchanged coin for bread before I headed off again, not having much time before my master expected me back. I didn’t want him to find out what happened before I had the chance to explain. That would only make things worse. Walking as fast as I dared, not wanting to have any REDs stop and accuse me of stealing. I stuck to back alleys, places where only slaves, street urchins, and the occasional wench traversed to avoid the crowds.

Stopping in front of an ordinary, weathered, grey door under a bridge and knocked three times, paused, and followed with two more knocks. There was some shuffling on the other side and several locks clunking. An elderly man peered out, his unwashed grey hair falling in front of his wrinkled face, making sure no one was around before ushering me inside and shutting the door. 

I didn’t think I would see you for another week, he said, staring me up and down.

Normally you would be right, but Para blessed me, and I was not only spared a punishment but also given a coin by a lord I have never seen before.

Flinders stared at me and the loaf for a few seconds before reaching out for the bread. I handed it to him and he muttered a small blessing before placing it on the table next to an unusual assortment of overripe produce, rotting meat, stale bread, and many other things most wouldn’t dare eat.

Hajana, you are far too kind for this world. I pray you’re granted the freedom you deserve.

Thank you, Flinders. I am grateful I can help. There are far more who are struggling more than me and the least I can do is give what I can.

He reached out and clasped both of my hands, his callused skin rough against my own. 

You must go now. Take the path along the river, the REDs aren’t patrolling there at this hour.

I thanked him one last time and looked out the small hole in the door before slipping back into the sun. The locks clunked again behind me and I turned north. I focused on my surroundings, knowing there would be many who would take advantage of a slave on her own. However, my thoughts drifted back to the man with the scar, Lord Mycroft, now and then. I wanted to know who his family was and why he helped me. I hadn’t heard of a new lord in town cordial with slaves, and Flinders didn’t seem to know anything either. 

It didn’t take long to make my way back to my master’s estate, the wandering hands of lonely men thankfully absent. I forced myself to walk up the path to the back entrance to the estate, through the kitchen, and into the back parlor where my master said to meet him. I was expected to be back by half-past ten, so I didn’t have too long to wait until he discovered what happened. 

…she is going to be so excited to see it.

My heart sank as my master’s words floated down the hall, the dread bringing another bout of cramping. I hadn’t expected him to be with someone, and if he was, it could result in a punishment far worse than usual. 

…when you see it— My master cut himself off when he walked in and saw only me standing there with head bowed and eyes lowered.

Ha-Jana, where is the vase I asked you to fetch?

I apol—

Look at me when you’re speaking, he snapped.

I looked up and swallowed a gasp, seeing the same lord from the pottery shop standing in the doorway.

Were your parents too savage to teach you not to stare? Tell me what happened before I have your daily rations cut in half for a week.

I collected myself and swallowed. I apologize, Master. The vase was quite large and the crowds were thick with people preparing for the festival. I tried to navigate through carefully, but I was too clumsy. I tripped and the vase broke not too far from the shop. Please forgive me, I said, giving a deep bow and not daring to rise.

You mean to tell me you broke a vase costing 3,000 gold? Look at me!

I stood and was met with a smack across the face. My already swollen cheek stung and the familiar taste of iron filled my mouth. I refused to cower and stood tall, hands behind my back and fingers locked to distract me from the throbbing pain in my face.

You dare smirk at me?

My master raised his hand again to strike me, but the lord grabbed his wrist. 

I can attest to what the girl is saying. I was there this morning to get a present for my mother. The girl was struggling greatly under the weight of the vase. If anything, I think it is you who was foolish to send a single, malnourished slave to retrieve something so lavish. If you cared about the vase, you would’ve sent a carriage for it. 

My master snatched his hand back and glared at me before looking back at the man. 

I forgive you, Lord Mycroft, for not knowing the way of things in Altava, but no one would waste their resources on errands they could send slaves for. All my other slaves were busy or I would’ve sent them. I know they would’ve been more than capable of completing such a simple task. But Ha-Jana was free and I figured even she could handle such a simple task.

The lord shook his head. "If the vase meant that much to you, you should’ve made sure you were advising its safety. And you said it was for your

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