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Dark Humanity
 


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Dark Humanity


  Dark Humanity

  A Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy Boxed Set

  Contents

  Dark Humanity

  Gwynn White and Erin St Pierre

  Queen of Extinction

  Norma Hinkens

  My Soul to Stalk

  Melanie Karsak

  Chasing the Star Garden

  Jamie Thornton

  Germination

  Jeff Guznel

  A Rip in Time

  Monica Corwin

  Painting the Roses Red

  E.E. Isherwood

  Since the Sirens: Sirens of the Zombie Apocalypse

  Christopher D. Morgan

  Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies

  K.N. Lee

  Goddess of War

  Joanne Wadsworth

  Hunter

  Constance Burris

  Chaos: A Short Story

  Kristen Middleton

  Mission to Planet Z

  Aaron Hodges

  The Magicker’s Daughter

  Nirina Stone

  Petra

  Andrea Ring

  Nervous System

  Robyn Wideman

  Soron’s Quest

  Patricia Loofbourrow

  The Alcatraz Coup

  MD Cooper

  Leaving Sol

  Jamie Campbell

  Dark Eyes: Cursed

  Felix R. Savage

  Crapkiller

  Nancy Segovia

  Ellora’s Quest

  Dark Humanity

  The Dark Humanity Boxed Set is a compilation of 21 Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy reads! We’ve spared no great discovery, with inclusion of a diverse mix of existing titles and brand new content!

  The pages inside are packed with everything from faeries, dragons, and mysterious viruses to fantastical quests, frozen cities, fearless knights, ancient foes, and powerful enemies.

  With over a million words of fiction, this is your one stop shop for sword and sorcery, military and AI science fiction, dark fantasy, and mesmerizing space opera adventures from more than twenty Award Winning and New York Times & USA Today bestselling authors!

  This is the stuff legends are made of.

  Queen of Extinction

  Gwynn White and Erin St Pierre

  Queen of Extinction © copyright 2016 Gwynn White & Erin St Pierre

  * * *

  All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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

  Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

  Queen of Extinction

  A magical princess. A kingdom in danger. A fight to the death for the throne.

  Princess Aurora never thought she’d have to rule Ryferia. That was her brother’s job, until his brutal murder at the hands of their uncle. She knows the law. A marriage is her only chance to take the throne. Aurora gambles for her kingdom, invoking the right for a deadly marriage trial.

  As the most gifted--and ruthless--princes and lords battle to the death for her hand, the forces of evil conspire to snatch Aurora’s throne. But the princess has allies, as well as a secret power long outlawed in her kingdom…

  Will Aurora find true love and save Ryferia or will the trial’s winner destroy them all?

  Queen of Extinction is a fresh take on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. If you like magic, steampunk, and romance, then you’ll love the first book in a new trilogy by Gwynn White and Erin St. Pierre.

  Chapter One

  “Lazard, you’re a jackass!” Aurora narrowed her eyes and slapped her hands onto her hips as she faced her brother.

  “‘You’re a jackass, Your Majesty’ is what I think you meant to say.” Even though Lazard’s voice echoed sharply off the gold, blue, and cream mosaic walls and floor of the piazza that led into the palazzo’s banqueting hall, a slight smile tugged at his lips.

  Aurora refused to allow it to deflect her. She was right and he was wrong—and he knew it.

  Or rather, she hoped he did.

  “A walk on the beach,” she said, raising her voice both to make her point and because the evening breeze whipped at the fountain tinkling behind them. “That’s all I’m asking for. And right now, I’m talking to my brother, not my king.”

  “And as your brother and king, I’ve said you can go—with Zandor.”

  Zandor hovered a few feet from her, her best friend and bodyguard, who had not left her side since Mamma had been murdered five years before. Tall, lean, and handsome, he carried a bow and a quiver of arrows instead of a musket. In trials against the Able musketeers who guarded the palazzo, he always emptied his quiver before they could reload their weapons.

  From beneath his tousled chestnut-colored hair, he frowned at her, his disapproval of her request obvious in his half-lidded chocolate-brown gaze.

  She rolled her eyes—at both of them. “Alone. Why does that concept seem so hard for you two knuckleheads to understand?”

  Zandor kept quiet—the bugger was letting Lazard fight this battle for him.

  Lazard’s dark eyebrows knitted together as he studied her.

  She didn’t look strong, what with her skinny, lanky body—at nineteen she was still built like a gangly foal. It always came to that.

  “You’re not strong.” His voice dropped as he glanced into the banqueting hall, where their courtiers and the Intelligentsia who helped rule Ryferia feasted. “They . . . I don’t trust that you will be safe.” A pause. “You know how they hate the Infirm.”

  Which was what she was. What Mamma had been. And why Mamma had been murdered. Her murderer had never been found. And probably never would be, considering he or she could have been any one of the millions in Ryferia who hated the Infirm for no other reason than they were different. Sickly.

  Since that terrible day, Papà had refused to allow her a moment alone, and after his death, neither had Lazard. Zandor and his bow and arrow trailed her everywhere.

  “Your charming Able courtiers and Intelligentsia are stuffing their faces,” she snapped back. “They won’t even know I’ve gone.”

  Lazard brushed her wild, red curls—they had broken free from their restraint—off her face with a gentle finger. “No. And that’s my final answer.”

  She swatted his hand away. What no one seemed to understand was that their cloying love was killing her just as surely—albeit more slowly—than the poisoned cup that had cut Mamma’s life short.

  But before she could launch a counter-attack, Artemis stepped out of the banqueting hall. Tall, austere, with graying hair and an aquiline nose, he bobbed a bow to Lazard.

  Artemis, Papà’s brother, stood second in line to the throne after Aurora.

  A chill shot down her spine as it always did when she saw him. He was one of the Able, like Lazard and most of the courtiers
and Intelligentsia. But unlike Lazard, Artemis despised her. Hatred laced his every look at her.

  Because I’m Infirm.

  She despised him with the same passion.

  Lazard sighed, and his shoulders sagged. “Artemis. I said I would speak to you over dinner about the olive oil tax,” he said in clipped tones. Face now hard, Lazard dropped a hasty kiss on Aurora’s head. “I will go walking with you later. I promise. And you can go as far ahead of me and Zandor as you like.” He turned to the banqueting hall, paused, and then smiled at her. “Try not to annoy too many people tonight.”

  She narrowed her eyes to mere slits. “Oh, trust me, by midnight they’ll all want to hang me.”

  Another smile from Lazard. “I love you, little sister. Never forget that.”

  And then he was gone. Off to his official duties.

  “The hell you do,” she muttered as she stalked away across the piazza, hoping to put some distance between herself and Zandor.

  He fell into step with her. As if her huffing, puffing steps could outstride Zandor’s long legs.

  “Where are we going?” he asked.

  “I’m going to my room.” To prove the point, she marched through the archway that opened onto the main piazza, around which the gracious, honey-colored stone palazzo had been built. The villa she shared with Lazard was on the opposite side of it.

  A smile from Zandor. “To sulk? That’s not like you.”

  “To plot an escape.” She glared at him. “If you had a decent bone in your body, you would vaporize for a few hours.”

  Zandor’s laughter bubbled up. It always made her smile, and she had to fight hard to keep her face fierce. “Tell you what . . . I’ll drop you off at your door and tell no one where you are.”

  She hit his shoulder. “No great hardship, Zandor, seeing as you will be standing guard outside it.”

  “Precisely. I’m the one who should be getting the pity here.” His eyes creased. “You’re getting in the way of my love life.”

  She snorted—Zandor still managed to keep that part of his life covered—and then focused on negotiating the long walk across the uneven flagstones in the square. By the time she reached the bright-blue double doors of her and Lazard’s villa, she was out of breath and her legs ached.

  Just one of the prices of being born Infirm.

  Zandor swung the door open for her and, as he always did, offered her a hand to help her up the gracious marble stairs. Too cross with him and Lazard, she shrugged his hand away.

  “You do like making life difficult for yourself, don’t you?”

  “No, Zandor,” she wheezed. “Rephrase that—all I want is a life. No matter how hard or easy.”

  Fine lines softened Zandor’s face. “And being with me, Niing, and Keahr isn’t life enough? I get that. I really do. But you’re precious, Aurora. To all of us. And you know the threats better than anyone.”

  She wanted to scream and shout in her fury.

  She didn’t have the energy. It took every ounce of strength she had to drag her sorry excuse for a body to the first landing, where she shared apartments with Zandor and Keahr, her lady-in-waiting and close friend. Lazard’s apartment was on the next floor up. She and Lazard had lived in this villa all their lives, and even when Papà had died and Lazard had become king, they had chosen to continue living together. They were that close.

  Zandor strode ahead of her across the jewel-colored silk carpet to the green door that signaled her private space. He tossed it open. A quick smile. “If you change your mind, I’ll be here. We can always find Keahr. She would love to make trouble with you tonight at the feast.”

  Any other night, she would have grabbed the opportunity to party with her friends. Not tonight.

  She slammed the door on him.

  Peckle, her tabby cat, almost as gangly as she was, looked up from his spot on her pillow with ageless green eyes. Lines of fur, like dark shadows, furrowed his face, giving him a permanent scowl.

  She scowled back, then wobbled across the room and threw herself down on the bed next to him. Cautious fingers stroked the soft hair on his back. Peckle was known for his foul temper and thought nothing of sinking his claws into her if he didn’t want to be touched.

  The cat’s taut body stilled, as if he were enduring the unendurable.

  “I hate it,” she said to him. “They treat me like a prisoner. Like I’m the enemy, and not Artemis and the other Able.”

  Peckle’s fur bristled; she had just moments before he struck. She pulled away. “So here I am. With you. Miserable company that you are.” She jumped up and stumbled into the middle of the room. “Wallowing in self-pity.”

  The cat’s ears pricked, and the way his bright green eyes stalked her was unnerving.

  “I swear you understand everything I say,” she muttered.

  A baleful stare.

  It was followed by a hiss as Peckle unfolded himself off the pillow. Graceful as he was ugly, he slid off the bed and sauntered to her.

  If that wasn’t surprising enough, he rubbed his wiry frame against her leg and then looked at her, as if checking that she watched him.

  She was. He always fascinated her, even if he was, largely, an unrewarding pet.

  He loped toward a long, narrow tapestry Mamma had embroidered, a precious memento of her, and raked it with his claws.

  She gasped. “Stop it! You’ve already shredded my drapes and my bedstead. You don’t need to ruin this, too.” She swatted him, but Peckle jumped away before her hand connected.

  Yowling, he wriggled past her and dove under her bed.

  The little troublemaker. He wasn’t getting away with this. She knew she was being stupid, but she crouched down on the carpet to shout at him. Hunched like a gargoyle, he sat too far back for her to reach him. That didn’t stop her trying to yank him out.

  Amid the dust bunnies, her hand brushed an uneven lump under the carpet.

  A loud purr from Peckle.

  She patted it again. Definitely something hidden under her bed. But the only way to discover exactly what it was would be to shift the monstrous four-poster bed. She fell back on her haunches, breathing hard. “What’s there, Peckle?”

  No reply. But the cat didn’t move, either.

  Only one way to find out. She lumbered to her feet and pushed the bed with all her limited strength. It didn’t budge. She could ask Zandor for help . . . but if that lump was what she hoped and prayed it was—a means to escape her room—Zandor would be the last person in the world to help her.

  She struggled on, aware of the squeals and rasps as the bed moved infinitesimally across the carpet. Perhaps it was a guilty conscience, but her eyes kept drifting to the door, expecting Zandor to come bursting in to demand to know what she was doing. Not that he ever did, but her excitement at the possibilities this lump offered was too great to risk failure.

  It gave impetus to her pushes.

  Still, her face was hot, her torso streaming sweat, and her breath mere gasps by the time she shifted the bed enough to roll back the carpet.

  A dusty wooden trap door, with a frayed rope handle, winked up at her in the lamplight.

  She gasped with delight.

  She grabbed a candle off her dresser, lit it, and scrambled back to the trap door. Shaking with excitement, fear, and delicious anticipation, she clasped the rope and tugged.

  The door popped up—and with it, a cloud of dust that had her doubled over with sneezes.

  She brushed the dust away and, holding her candle, peered down into the hole. Through a lattice of spider webs, silken in the golden pool of light, a short flight of stairs beckoned, carved out of rock, and then a passageway. She had no idea where it led, but that didn’t matter. If spiders the size of her hand dwelled down there, she couldn’t have cared less.

  She would finally be alone.

  Truly alone.

  She clambered through the sticky threads and was halfway along a dusty, rubble-strewn passageway before it struck her that anyone
coming into the room would see she had gone.

  It lent haste to her scramble across the uneven ground.

  Keeping low, trying hard not to sneeze in the powdery dust kicked up by her feet, she dodged the low ceiling and its jutting rocks—they were sharp enough to knock her unconscious if she stumbled into one.

  On and on the passage curled. And with it, excitement and hope blossomed in her chest—more than she had experienced for many months.

  It didn’t matter that her back ached from stooping or that her chest burned with the exertion, she had to reach the end before Zandor—anyone—challenged her.

  It helped that she was used to dark, narrow tunnels from all the years she’d spent in the underground burrow where Niing, her tutor, lived. Most of her waking hours were spent underground, away from the smirking sneers of the courtiers and Intelligentsia.

  Her candle had almost guttered when she rounded a bend and caught the gleam of moonlight ahead of her. Almost of their own accord, her legs broke into a shuffling run.

  The closer she got to the tunnel opening, the narrower the passage became. Soon she had to turn sideways to squeeze along.

  She caught a new smell above the dry dust—a whiff of salt.

  Her heart danced with joy.

  The sea. So close she could almost taste it.

  If they came now, nothing would make her go back to her room. She gritted her teeth.

  I’ll go down fighting before I let them take me back to that prison.

  Chapter Two

  The impossibly narrow passageway tumbled Aurora out onto a beach. On the hill behind her loomed the crenellated walls of the palazzo. The sounds of music and laughter from the feast in the banqueting hall faded to nothing.

 
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