Ten years ago, the Kinslayer returned from the darkness. His brutal Yorughan armies issued from the pits of the earth, crushing all resistance, leaving burnt earth and corruption behind. Thrones toppled and cities fell.
And then he died.
Celestaine—one of the heroes that destroyed him—has tasked herself with correcting the worst excesses of the Kinslayer's brief reign, bringing light back to a broken world. With two Yorughan companions, she faces fanatics, war criminals and the Kinslayer's former minions, as the fragile alliances of the War break down into feuding and greed.
The Kinslayer may be gone, but he cast a long shadow: one from which she may never truly escape.
"Tchaikovsky interleaves graphically violent scenes of war with penetrating philosophical insights."– The Guardian
"Great pace, compelling characters, some serious ethical arguments to make, and amazing action scenes. And it's startlingly fun."– Tor.com
"A truly original and compelling story that hits all of the right literary chords."– Out Of This World SFF Reviews
Steeling herself, she ducked under the denuded sockets of Vermarod's jaw and stepped down into the Skull Cup.
A minstrel struck up just as she stood in the doorway and, though all everyone sung these days was rousing songs about won battles and defeated enemies, this was a song of home, an old Forinthi ballad. Come away, come away, love of my eyes. It struck her motionless, a shard of the past suddenly jammed into her from ambush. She remembered Ralas singing it, years ago during the war when everyone had wanted very much to be reminded of hearth and home. Ralas had known everyone's home songs, all the half-secret, half-forgotten childhood songs that gave you strength and brought on the kind of tears that healed you. He could charm the birds out of the trees and the autumn leaves back into them, could Ralas. She'd never known a singer like him.
Dead, dead these three years now. The thought clutched at her heart and her throat. Dead in some torture chamber, after the Kinslayer heard some lampoon of his and promised to make him really sing.
Then the minstrel spotted her, standing there like her own ghost, and the old Forinthi ballad died a death and he was straight into 'The Blade of Castle Mourn,' which was at the top of a fair-sized list of Songs that mention me that I don't like and everyone was turning to look at her.
She wanted to go, then, but she'd told Amkulyah to meet her here, without really thinking it through, and so she was bound by the tyrant Duty once again. She strode in, trying not to scowl too much or knock her sword against people, because the scabbard was decidedly worn now and she didn't want to accidentally dismember one of the patrons.
That thought, and the follow-on that maybe she could rescabbard the damned thing while she was here, got her to beneath the bone dome that was Vermarod's brain case without drowning under the offered drinks and congratulations from all sides, and by then she'd spotted her man. The Skull Cup was crowded, but he was sitting at a balcony table with a lot of clear space around him. The sight of him turned her stomach. She'd thought he'd be bundled up like Nedlam and Heno—though not for the same reasons. Instead, he wore his injuries like banners. His eyes, huge and round, always the dominating feature of any Aethani face, were fixed on her.
She strode up the rickety stairs and made sure she kept her eyes on him, no matter how painful the sight. This was the point. This was a wrong she could try to right. This was Celestaine helping rather than filling her boots or drinking herself into oblivion like every other great war hero seemed to be doing.
There were other winged people in the north, she'd heard, casting shadows over the ice, but wings meant the Aethani to most people. Their kingdom was west of Forinth, where the land started creasing into mountains. She'd been there once when she was young, some scheme of her mother's that hadn't come off. She remembered lots of trees, and the dwellings of the Aethani built above them, impossible for any foreigner to even reach without a ladder. She remembered the locals flurrying back and forth or soaring overhead, effortless and elegant. The sight had stayed with her all through childhood. The Kinslayer's assault on Aethan, his lightning-fast destruction of their towns and temples, had lit a fire in her, sent her to argue with the clan chiefs and the Queen's Council to get Forinth in arms and fighting.
Aethan wasn't green any more, they said, but that was nothing to what the Kinslayer had done to its people.
There were many things the Kinslayer had done that were simply cruel for the sake of being cruel. He had taken joy in torture, of both the body—with whips and blades and hot irons—and the mind. He had revelled in the egregious exercise of his powers. People still talked about Hathel Vale, that might yet burn forever, unconsumed but leaping with flames. There had been a clan of Draedyn—wood spirits— bound to those trees, and if you went near Hathel you could hear them screaming as they ran mad with a pain that would never end. There were the Vathesk, too—the great crab monsters the Kinslayer had conjured from some otherworld to be his suicidal shock troops. Scores of the creatures were left over from the war, big and sad and without any malice in them now their chains had been broken. Except there was nothing in this world they could eat, and nobody who could repatriate them, and so they starved, day to day, and yet never died.
So many wrongs, so little time. And of them all, Celestaine had looked at the Aethani of childhood memory and said, That is where the true spite is. That is something I will fix.