Shadowborn, p.1

Shadowborn, page 1

 

Shadowborn
 


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Shadowborn


  orbitbooks.net

  orbitshortfiction.com

  Copyright

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2017 by David Dalglish

  Excerpt from The Tethered Mage copyright © 2017 by Melissa Caruso

  Excerpt from Hope and Red copyright © 2016 by Jon Skovron

  Author photograph by Mike Scott

  Cover design by Kirk Benshoff & Lauren Panepinto

  Cover illustration by Tommy Arnold

  Cover copyright © 2017 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  Orbit

  Hachette Book Group

  1290 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10104

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  First Edition: November 2017

  Orbit is an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

  The Orbit name and logo are trademarks of Little, Brown Book Group Limited.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors for speaking events. To find out more, go to www.hachettespeakersbureau.com or call (866) 376-6591.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Dalglish, David, author.

  Title: Shadowborn / David Dalglish.

  Description: First edition. | New York : Orbit, 2017. | Series: Seraphim ; book 3

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017017871| ISBN 9780316302777 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9781478988380 (audio book downloadable) | ISBN 9780316302760 (ebook open)

  Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / Epic. | FICTION / Action & Adventure. | FICTION / Coming of Age. | GSAFD: Fantasy fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3604.A376 S53 2017 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017017871

  ISBNs: 978-0-316-30277-7 (trade paperback), 978-0-316-30276-0 (ebook)

  E3-20170823-JV-NF

  Contents

  COVER

  TITLE PAGE

  COPYRIGHT

  DEDICATION

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  CHAPTER 18

  CHAPTER 19

  CHAPTER 20

  CHAPTER 21

  CHAPTER 22

  CHAPTER 23

  CHAPTER 24

  CHAPTER 25

  CHAPTER 26

  CHAPTER 27

  CHAPTER 28

  CHAPTER 29

  CHAPTER 30

  CHAPTER 31

  CHAPTER 32

  CHAPTER 33

  CHAPTER 34

  CHAPTER 35

  EPILOGUE

  A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

  EXTRAS MEET THE AUTHOR

  A PREVIEW OF THE TETHERED MAGE

  A PREVIEW OF HOPE AND RED

  BY DAVID DALGLISH

  ORBIT NEWSLETTER

  For Morgan, my littlest

  and most important beta reader

  CHAPTER

  1

  Eyes closed. Breath steady. The cold floor beneath his knees and elbows smooth, immovable, like his faith. Like his heart.

  “I am the blade of the angels,” Liam Skyborn whispered. “I am the flesh on their bones. I am the blood on their feathers. What is holy must never break.”

  The litany soothed him as it always did. There could be no turmoil in his heart if he were to fulfill his task. This was too important for hesitation. Much too dangerous for doubt. Humanity’s continued existence depended on his success. One task. Two lives.

  “I am the blade of the angels.”

  He would kill the little girl who had once sat on his lap begging for more stories of his battles as a Seraph. The girl who had asked him what it was like to fly. Who dreamed of soaring over green lands and blue ocean waters. He’d bring her down in a fiery blaze, all in the name of salvation. He would kill the boy who had carved “mommy is pretty” a dozen times on his bedroom wall as a surprise birthday present. He would put his sword through the child who had once clung to his neck and demanded to be carried up Market Road to the open stalls for sweets.

  Liam’s teeth clicked as he ground them together. His children were heretics. Blasphemers. Deniers of the Speaker, and therefore deniers of God himself. Their actions enabled the remaining four islands, Center’s little children, to rebel. A message had to be sent. The angels would not be mocked.

  His hand passed over his eyes. Wet? But why? He clenched his hand into a fist, crushing the emotion that threatened to corrupt him.

  “I am the blade of the angels,” he said, louder and with a rasp. “I am the flesh on their bones. I am …”

  The door creaked. Liam’s eyes opened as he sat up from his crouched prayer. The holy Speaker for the Angels stepped inside.

  “Are you prepared?” Marius asked, arms crossed over his chest. Liam frowned, and he glanced over himself. He was naked but for a pair of simple gray pants, the many crisscrossing scars of his flesh his only decoration.

  “I thought my squadron left tomorrow night?”

  “I’ve not come for your squadron,” Marius said. “Only you.”

  Liam obediently rose to his bare feet.

  “I am ever your servant,” he said, bowing.

  Marius led the way back up the stairs. He did not speak, or reveal their destination. Liam kept his mind focused on a song to the angels instead of pondering the reason for Marius’s nocturnal visit. It didn’t matter where they were going, or why, so why wonder? Liam would perform without question whatever the Speaker wished of him.

  They passed between two armed soldiers at the top of the stairs as they exited into the grand halls of Heavenstone. Red banners dozens of feet long hung from the ceiling. Stone pillars braced the ceiling, its height so great, the pillars so wide, it was as if Heavenstone were built for giants instead of men. Marius led them down the crimson carpet, through guarded doorways and halls covered with enormous paintings of ancient lands. Snowcapped mountains, endless deserts swirling with sand in great dunes, forests with trees so tall and branches so thick the sun struggled to pierce through to the exotic life hunting and hiding beneath the canopy. The world prior to Ascension. A vital reminder of all the beauty they’d lost.

  At last they stopped before a simple wooden door guarded by a knight armed with a halberd. Liam kept his frown hidden. He’d passed this unassuming door many times but had never seen anyone going in or out. The guard swung the door open for Marius while keeping his eyes straight ahead. The two stepped inside, the door shutting behind them with an echoing thud.

  “We go where few ever go,” Marius said, and Liam felt his heart seize up. The undecorated room was far larger than he’d expected. Four more soldiers stood guard at the end, barring the
way to an ornate lift. The white of its marble and the gold of its decorative writings were a stark contrast to the barren gray of the room. To either side of the lift were large gears with cranks attached.

  “My lord,” Liam said as the guards stepped aside, “where is it we go?”

  “To the heart of Heavenstone,” Marius said, stepping onto the lift and beckoning him to follow. “Hurry. The night is late, and I do not wish to delay.”

  Liam’s meager clothing suddenly felt shameful and disrespectful for where they were headed. He stepped onto the lift while avoiding the gaze of the soldiers, fearful of their judgmental gazes. Once they boarded the lift, two soldiers began cranking, setting chains to rattling and stone to grinding. The lift jolted a moment and then descended down into the stone floor. For a long minute total darkness overwhelmed them, and Liam closed his eyes and meditated on his breathing. He hated darkness. Darkness meant being alone with his thoughts.

  A sudden blast of light washed over them. Liam squinted in an attempt to see but found it hopeless. It was as if he stood within a star.

  The brightness lasted only a moment before it subsided. Liam glanced above his head, and through the colored blotches he saw the dimming light of more than thirty light elements embedded into the wall.

  “A necessary precaution,” Marius said, answering his unspoken question. “The shadowborn can take many forms, but none will survive the holy light of our beloved angels.”

  The lift slowed, revealing their destination. It was a single room, with little space between them and the twelve soldiers bowed low in respect. Filling the entire wall opposite the lift was a massive pair of doors. So great was its size that twelve silver chains, six on either side, were required to open it. Its stone was pure white marble and heavily decorated with gold leaf. Liam felt his knees go weak. There were many names for this place. The holy gate. The heart of Center. The angels’ cathedral. All words for a place Liam never thought he’d lay eyes upon.

  “At ease,” Marius told the twelve. He exited the lift. Liam followed two steps behind.

  The closer he approached the doors, the more Liam was overwhelmed by the sight. He stared at the swirling gold lines, thin and finely carved. They looped and twisted unendingly, patiently spelling out words of worship and praise to the heavens above, unceasing no matter how long one stood before the doors and read. Liam fought an impulse to touch his own tattooed head. His marks were similar, but they were not written with the purity of gold, nor were they words of worship. Their ink was black as sin, and they spoke warnings against open minds, wandering eyes, doubtful tongues, and hesitant hands.

  At Marius’s request the dozen guards took up the silver chains attached to the rungs upon the door. Once braced, they turned their heads aside, as if unworthy of even looking upon the light from within the sealed room. With but a word from Marius, they would open the gates.

  “Shall I wait here?” Liam asked as Marius put a hand on the door.

  “No, Liam,” he said. “You’re coming with me.”

  Liam’s heart seized.

  “But within—” he began, but was quickly cut off.

  “Within is every reason you must succeed in the task I have given you,” Marius said. “This gift is offered to precious few. I pray you cherish it forever.”

  Liam swallowed down a stone in his throat thrice the size of Center.

  “I am unworthy to be in their presence,” he said. “My heart is weak and my mind sinful.”

  “We’re all unworthy,” Marius said. “That’s why it’s a gift. Now hold your head high and step inside.”

  The soldiers pulled their ropes, splitting the doors open with a stomach-trembling grinding of stone and gears. Light flooded out the crack. Bright. Pure. Squinting, Liam choked down his fear and entered the greatest and most secretive cathedral buried deep in the heart of Center.

  Despite all he knew, all he’d read, Liam was still not prepared.

  The cathedral opened out immensely, a tremendous sphere of white marble stretching out hundreds of feet in all directions. Gold and silver ran like rivulets across the walls, winding and dancing like a heavenly spiderweb. An overwhelming beauty, the sight of those walls, but it meant nothing to Liam’s eyes when compared to the otherworldly presence of the three lightborn. They hung beside one another in the center of the vast cathedral, their arms at their sides, gilded manacles clamped about their wrists and ankles. Several more chains looped about their waists, their arms, holding them so that their feet hovered mere inches above the stone floor. It was a vision of imprisonment, but also one of support. Without those chains, the lightborn could never rise at all.

  A new servant comes before us?

  The voice echoed in Liam’s mind, soft, gentle, tinkling like glass. Liam forced his fearful eyes to meet the gazes of the three. They were giants, incredible beings of crystal and marble and all things good and pure. Their humanoid shapes were flawless. Neither the sky nor the ocean could compare to the blue intermixed with flecks of shining gold in their eyes. Beautiful, yet terrifying. With a clenched fist the heavenly figures could crush Liam’s mortal shell.

  “A servant most humble,” Liam said, dropping to his knees.

  The middle of the three leaned closer, her form slenderer, somehow more feminine than the other two. He glimpsed the hundreds of tubes piercing her spine. Pearlescent blood flowed through them, vanishing into a hundred holes in the cathedral walls. It was that blood that kept Center floating above the Endless Ocean. The life-giving blood that spared mankind from extinction.

  The lightborn’s face was perfectly smooth, without mouth or nose, but he heard her voice as if she whispered beside his ear.

  Many men and women are humbled before us, she said. You tell us nothing, so tell us instead your name.

  Liam resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder to see if the Speaker was with him.

  “Liam Skyborn,” he said. “Knight of Center, follower of God, and obedient servant to his angels.”

  “And a fine servant at that,” Marius said, putting a hand on his shoulder. Liam flinched at his touch. “He will be spearheading our retaliation for the outer islands’ blasphemy. I would like you to show him the true threat we all face. I want him to know why we must perform such desperate measures in these trying times.”

  A second lightborn stirred, his chains thunderously rattling as he stretched them to their limits. His voice sounded in Liam’s head, its tone deeper than the other’s, like a different-sized bell.

  It is a risk to give such knowledge. Not all are strong enough to withstand it.

  “I am strong enough,” Liam said, a bit of his sinful pride igniting. “After all I have endured, the truth is the last thing I fear.”

  The middle lightborn narrowed her eyes and her giant hand floated toward him, her forefinger pointing. The chain on her wrist flexed, the heavy bolt securing it to the wall groaning.

  Then endure, she said. See through the eyes of a man just as ignorant, and just as proud.

  The slightest kiss of her finger touched his forehead. Every muscle in his body clenched tight. His vision blanked, and then he was falling, twisting, becoming someone else.

  Lord Commander Alexander Essex stood atop the ramparts of the castle overlooking the sandy coastline. The sun shone bright on his dark skin. He smiled and felt alive. The Oceanic Wall quivered a few miles beyond the edge of the rocky shore, its translucent surface cracking with a thousand silvery spiderwebs.

  “The theotechs estimate the wall will collapse before the week’s end,” First Seraph Kaster said, climbing the stone steps to join him on the rampart. His armor, like Alexander’s, shone a brilliant gold in the sunlight.

  “And what does Y’vah say of this?” Alexander asked.

  “The lightborn says nothing.” Kaster shook his head. “I don’t think he has the strength.”

  A grin pulled at the right half of Alexander’s mouth. He turned and clasped Kaster’s armored shoulder with his hand.

/>   “Let it fall,” he said, and he gestured across the shoreline. “What does it matter when we have such power ready for L’adim’s monsters? They’ll never reach a single stone of this castle.”

  Kaster said nothing. Alexander pulled him closer, pointing him west. The castle was built upon a high cliff overlooking the smooth shore to the east, the waves having won their war against the stone over the centuries. Golden armored men scrambled over the cliff’s edge like ants, and farther inland, tents formed a haphazard city. Five thousand men armed with spears and shields, the finest Europa had ever crafted, but beyond that front line of foot soldiers waited his pride and joy—the dragoons.

  “The shadowborn has never faced the likes of our dragoons,” Alexander said. “Let him come. We shall crush him beneath our heel.”

  Still Kaster did not respond. Alexander sensed an uneasy question lurking within him, and he had no patience for it on this fine day.

  “What bothers you?” he asked. “Spit it out already before it eats a hole in your stomach.”

  “Commander … there are many wondering if we should use the time before the Oceanic Wall collapses to retreat further inland.”

  “Retreat?” Alexander asked, stepping closer. “And where shall we retreat to?”

  “Just a few dozen miles toward Odeon,” Kaster said, refusing to back down. “If we can meet with Commander Torman, and unite Y’vah with Gh’aro, our forces will—”

  “Our forces will hold their ground here, where the terrain is favorable and our supplies plentiful.” Alexander snorted. “Besides, Commander Torman is an idiot, a member of the Appeasers before this war started. How he’s kept his position after that, I don’t know.” He glared at the cracking wall. “We will not appease those monsters and their shadowborn master. We will grind them to ash and crystal and build our world anew with their blood.”

  Kaster bowed low.

  “As you wish,” he said. “Am I dismissed?”

  Alexander waved him off. He had more to worry about than the minor rumblings of fear from the more cowardly soldiers under his command. Arms crossed over his chest, he turned east, his smile growing. The castle had been considered a relic of wartime past, but now its sturdy walls would be of great use. Ten dragoons—magnificent mixtures of man and machine sprung forth from the combined minds of himself and Y’vah’s escort of theotechs—waited atop the ramparts, with twenty more on the beach below.

 
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