At war with enemy kingdoms, The demon-possessed Warlord of Tiyan is also in conflict with her own looming madness. In Taran, she discovers the answer to both her problems, a slave turned scout who is consumed with vengeance and determined to possess both Tiyan and its queen.
Excerpt from The Book of the Damned, First Warlord of Tiyan:
We found the demon when we took this land near the great cliffs. The local barbarians told us of its power, how it can heal a man from death and stop a storm from destroying a village. After so many years at war, I knew the demon alone could stop the wars that drove us from our home of Karyan across the sea to this barren strip of land along the cliffs.
I went after the creature, captured it, and forced it into many hosts. It killed them all -
-or we did when they went mad. This morn, when we'd given up, the demon told us of the perfect host. Mayhap it was tired from our trials, or mayhap it was trying to deceive us. Its words, however, were true.
The demon is too strong for a boy under the age of five summers. Those of age to become pages were too old, for the beast twisted their impure hearts and made them attack us. It is evil and would destroy us if it could, but in a host who is pure, it can do no harm. Girls were too weak to hold the demon at all. Even the purest and strongest of them, to include my brother's daughter, went mad and were killed.
After several seasons and seventeen children, we discovered the right age for a host. This boy is between six and ten summers, when his body is strong enough to contain the beast and yet still pure. The boy we chose last season survived and can wield the demon's powers. We'll kill him when my heir, the second Tiyan ruler of my bloodline, reaches six summers in age. He will become the demon's host, and will use the demon's power to defeat our enemies. The demon will be passed to each heir of Tiyan.
As long as a male from my bloodline is the warlord of Tiyan, the kingdom will never fall to its enemies, and we will use the demon's magic for the good of all people. The demon says a female heir cannot hold it. If a female heir is ever born, she will fall to the demon's evil nature, and it will use her weakness to destroy my kingdom. The gods have long favored my line with male heirs - -we have never had this female warlord as an heir. To be sure of it, all females born into my line will be killed. I entrust this duty to none other than my brother, whose sons will forever guide the Warlords of Tiyan.
Tiyan, above all else.
"This is where the scouts were seen yesterday," Rissa, tenth Warlord of Tiyan, murmured as she calculated the distance between the city and her destination.
The village on the border of Tiyan and the neighboring kingdom was marked by a small black circle on the rough parchment map. The Western Cliffs - -which formed one of Tiyan's natural defenses - -were marked in yellow, and the violent ocean edging the cliffs in blue.
"No, it's not."
The clipped note in her chief advisor's voice reminded her of how little he approved of her recent decision to involve herself in war planning.
"Sirian, I'm certain this is where - -"
"No, Rissa. If I believed this route dangerous, I wouldn't send you this way," he replied.
Yes, he would.
She ignored the voice of the creature coiled restlessly within her.
"My last two journeys from Tiyan ended in bloodshed, Sirian," she said even more quietly. "I lost twelve men on my last visit to the villages."
"And I've told you more than once that you need not travel, but you insist," Sirian said. "You return safely. This is all that concerns me."
"Their deaths concern me."
Sirian edged closer, his wise gaze and silvering hair the only signs of aging on his otherwise lean frame.
"Rissa, this was your decision. Before the last full moon, you never desired to visit the villages, or even to venture outside our walls. If you left the war to me, as your father did, we - -"
"I must keep our alliances strong by delivering the water from the Springs! You know this!" she snapped.
"If you insist on traveling, you must accept the risk of bloodshed. I've chosen the safest route there is, but you're in danger no matter what route you choose. We're nearly at war!" he reminded her with a chilling smile that didn't reach his dark eyes. "If you insist on going, this is the route you must take."
She bit her lip, not wanting to make yet another scene in front of the waiting warriors. "My dear, you've not been yourself lately," he added, softening. "Let me go in your
place. I will take the magic waters to them and send word that the Warlord of Tiyan is confident in our triumph over the enemy."
His words sent a tremor of fear through her. The last time she entrusted the Springs to Sirian, they ended up in the hands of her enemies.
"It's my duty," she said. "I'm well."
We are well, the beast seconded.
She stared at the map for a long moment as the awakening demon shifted within her. Tendrils of coldness stretched from its home within her chest, testing her strength before subsiding into stillness once more. Rissa shuddered and released her breath.
"I'm well," she repeated.
But for how long?
Traitor, the beast said.
Sirian's sharpness and ingenuity in battle had kept Tiyan safe for years. He'd never been affectionate, but he had never failed to support her father when he needed his most trusted advisor. And yet she long knew the demon to be right: Sirian was no ally of hers.
The demon's triumph sickened her. Her father ruled a full thirty summers before the demon spoke to him and drove him mad. At five years into her rule and mere days from war, was she already toppling down the path of madness?
She stepped into the cool night ahead of an occupied Sirian and threw her head back to see the half-moon.
"My queen, I ask again to accompany you," said a gruff, seasoned warrior, stepping away from the dark shapes of her awaiting men. "For once, I agree with that ass. You take too many chances."
"Hilden," she chided with genuine affection. "You've looked over me since I was too small to walk. You know how strong I am."
"I have no children of my own, my queen, but if I did, I'd hope to see them outlive me. I wish the same for you."
"I'll come back, Hilden, I promise."
He'd say no more - -he never did. Her most trusted friend and servant bowed and returned to the dark forms.
Her eyes fell to the awaiting guards, most of whom wouldn't survive the night.
"It'll get easier," Sirian said, pausing beside her. "Soon, you won't even remember them."
"You're so cold, Sirian."
"Only because I know the Spring water you carry is worth a hundred lives." "How can anything be worth even one life?"
"If you thought it were not, you would not go." "My queen, your horse is ready," Hilden called.
She strode to her horse, hands trembling as she took the reins. She rode away quickly, as angry at herself as she was at her closest advisor.
Despite the danger outside the walls, tension released her shoulders when she'd gone far enough to lose sight of the city's walls. The ocean air was fragrant and heavy, and moonlight pierced the forest canopy in patches. They traveled through the forest to the rocky cliffs, following a well-worn trail to the border of Tiyan and Nilian, her nearest ally.