The woman who tried to stop the apocalypse isn’t done Declaring. Sundered from the Earthling King by Cloudfall’s great divide, forced to flee the northlands, Ilina is granted a vision of hope and terror that propels her on a continent-spanning manhunt. Impossible though it may seem, the Heir of Henred is capable of yet greater calamity, for which his Herald will be culpable. But as she traverses Arlam in pursuit of Hugh, Ilina must also journey inward. She has made and broken many vows. Does she have what it takes to court even greater failure?
Ilina stood on tiptoe, the port rail digging into her stomach as she leaned out over the forecastle. In calmer weather the shouts of distant sailers might have carried over the water, but all she could hear now was the groaning of ropes and booming of surf. She squinted against the spray, flicking damp hair from her eyes. She could afford to get soaked, now that they were so close to land. And how she loved it! It felt like coming home.
Ilina cringed and dropped to her heels. That was not a happy memory. Not anymore.
The Heir of the High King is now the most wanted terrorist in Arlam. Roundly defeated and driven into hiding, Sir Hugh Conrad took no time reemerging as a ghost, an avenging apparition, a thorn in Omri’s side. The power of Quencher makes him a one-man army, and dissidents flock to his Company in proportion to the reward offered for his head. But what his acolytes don’t yet realize is that their fearless leader just wants to find his old friend and go home. And what Hugh still doesn’t realize is that it was never going to be that simple.
He stood poised on a dais in the center of the chamber—left hand laid on the rhomic console before him, sword-arm swept back like a counterweight of doom. Not for the first time, Rhinya was glad of the length of his sleeve: she’d never grown used to the way his hand merged with the hilt of that black blade. His long leather coat fell smoothly to the floor, pedestal-like, as though he were a statue fashioned from a single block of stone. All around him, dismembered bodies sprawled upon benches and weapon-racks and thick panes of glass in the floor—fragile cornstalks flattened by a storm.
Now seventeen years old, the once-adorable miscreant has become a femme fatale. Hazardous experience in the employ of the Lightning Knife may have honed her skills, but no amount of banditry can sate the hatred she bears toward the Imperium that stamped out freedom in her homeland. And when Sir Hugh Conrad himself—her boss!—begins to curtail her freedoms, Rhinya must confront complicated feelings for a father-figure she never asked for and may not be able to stomach.
As Rhinya turned from the rope to scoop up her gun, the guard she’d duped in the hallway rushed up. “You!” he sputtered. His surprise was her chance. She ducked forward and swung the rifle by its muzzle, burying its hammer in the meat of his thigh. He grunted and staggered, grasping, and she slipped around the far side of the winch-frame.
More men. There were more men running up, spreading out. Far too many. She slung her rifle over a shoulder. It’s no use. I can only kill one before they mob me.
So down the hole she went, cracking a shin on the edge of the deck as she caught the line and twirled out of sight.
A survivor of the Confessing Caravan and Cloudfall both, this huge chieftain of the Haltu Habridas has gained favor as a lieutenant in Sir Hugh’s insurgent Company. But the former trader hides more under his tattooed skull than an incongruously benign disposition. The Company’s turn toward his old stomping grounds in the Midlands will set in motion a series of events which may outpace the foresight of the great.
The butler blinked. “Very good, sir. And what name shall I give?”
Oloom squinted at him. “New here, aren’t you?” he rumbled. “Oloom Malomu,” he added before the butler could reply. There was no risk in using his real name: his exploits as the Lightning Knife’s hulking henchman had remained comfortably anonymous, at least if the wanted posters could be trusted. But to the right people—if any of those were left in this place—the sound of his name would be like a gunshot in a sleeping forest.
Once a soldier of Kramarack and now a man without a country, Brigord has transferred the whole of his loyalty to the Lady Ilina Lightkeeper. And though she certainly wouldn’t have survived this long without him, the question he must face is how far he’s willing to go for someone else’s long-lost cause.
About a third of the way up the wall, beside the fourth turning of the stair, a great torrent thundered from the gaping throat of a stone-wrought walrus head, arcing down to trouble the water between berths. Brigord had by then taken the lead, and Ilina glanced up to see him standing before the plume, black on white on gray, like a gargoyle guarding the sea.
No, he guards me, she realized, and looked away. She was glad of his protection. She was. She deserved none of it. And he deserved far more than she could give him in return.
An Old Courier, inheritor of a centuries-old conspiracy. This peremptory playboy may come on strong, but that’s understandable in a man only one step ahead of the Silent Host, Tunnolt’s omnipresent eyes and ears. In darkness and deception Moravril seeks strength, and in Ilina Lightkeeper he sees a chance to rectify an ancient error. But can he be trusted to serve her interests as well as his own?
The Old Courier’s grin flashed in the dark. He tipped back the brim of his hat to give Ilina her first good glimpse of his face. It was lean and hungry-looking, and younger than she’d expected—perhaps no older than her own. But should that really surprise you? After all, weren’t you just bemoaning your dotage? It’s no great feat to have attained prominence by twenty-six.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Lightkeeper,” he chuckled. “For someone who spent her life waiting for a miracle, you sure do give up easy.”
A fellow Old Courier in Moravril’s cell, this brisk redhead fears nothing, and will stop at nothing to complete her mission whatever the stakes.
A pounding of feet interrupted her thoughts. Talima skidded up—skirts swirling in the sand, goggled eyes glinting like saucers in the moonlight. Yanking out a strange-looking handgun, she stepped in front of Ilina to face the monster on the dune. “They’ve formed a defensive circle,” she hissed over one shoulder. “On my mark, run for it and don’t look back.”
One of Moravril’s Old Couriers, this soft-spoken brunette seems altogether too tenderhearted for the gig.
Moravril propped Ilina against the wall and rounded on Hithal, whose face went white. Against the red of her dress, it was a deathly look. “Why are you here?” he ground out. “This is not the plan we discussed.”
“I’m sorry, comman– … um, comrade,” she stuttered. “Security arrangements have changed. Six more guards showed up just before I got to the checkpoint, and they turned me away. Said I needed higher clearance. I had to open the door in person, it was the only way!” There were tears in her eyes, though her voice remained steady.
Moravril’s snarky Old Courier. Gets away with inattention due to an excess of panache.
Ilina blinked. “You ladies, um … do this sort of thing often, then?”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Lamplighter,” drawled Katta, who lay sprawled on a couch with her feet propped on its arm. “We Old Couriers are the best at what we do.”
Moravril’s right-hand woman. Capable, confident, and unsettlingly seductive.
She glanced up, and her eyes glinted. “Do you understand?”
Ilina nodded mutely.
“Good.” Sarissa’s sharpness seemed to ease. She sat back, bare arms rippling with low-profile muscle as she stretched them behind her head. “It’s simple, really. Walk in, walk out. I’ll join you in the antechamber, and we’ll leave together as though nothing’s happened. Because nothing will have happened.” She smiled a thin smile. “Because we don’t exist.”
“We don’t exist,” echoed the other women, as though reciting an incantation.
A Tunnoltan bureaucrat with security clearance to enter the Kranolich, this sweet-talking young man sets his eye on Rhinya. Little does he realize that Rhinya has also set her eye on him, and not due to his charming grin.
She turned back and jumped. Rannick was seated opposite her, a plate of steaming glowmote seeds set before him on the table.
“You!” she squeaked.
“None other,” he replied evenly. The steam curled around his sharp jaw and close-cropped hair. He wore a tan uniform tunic with a small insignia stitched on the left breast: an eye under an arch.
Idiot! Say something fetching. She glanced from his face to the food. “Is that what I ordered?” she blurted incredulously.
“Nah, it’s an upgrade. Thought you’d like it better than …” he glanced at a little order card he must’ve filched from the serving girl, “seared cactus tubercles.”
The Sentry of the Sigil. An old man sitting alone at the edge of a cliff. A keeper of secrets whose disclosures will change everything.
“It’s beautiful,” she murmured.
Turning back, Oloom attempted to take in the view anew, as Rhinya had. But then his eye snagged upon the Sentry of the Sigil seated at the far side of the circle, beneath the final palm, at the very rim of the abyss, dark against a backdrop bleached white by sun and distance, and the vision faltered. We’re always that close. Always that close to the edge. All the aesthetics, it was trivial—just rock, water, and wood. Ingredients in a pointless potpourri.
“Yeah,” he replied flatly. “Come on.”
Loose the Sealed Tongue — Intro
Loose the Sealed Tongue — Locations