Their world is dying. Wardens hold all the power. The Ruin Star looms over them.
When a boy named Gun meets an oathbreaker and a drunken scholar, he knows his life will never be the same. Driven from his desert town, he finds his place in the city. But a revolution is brewing. The people are restless, and war looms closer every day. What is Gun's place in society? Can he learn to fit in?
Aithen finds himself in a similar situation. When he saves a Warden's life, everything gets better. But is he ready to join the military? Will he ever belong? What choice does he have? One of them will enjoy privilege and station. The other will get everything taken from him. Both will change the world.
PRELUDE TO THE SUN MAKER SAGA
Vidikas | The Ruin
Ruin Star. Dark Star. The Impeder.
When I first learned of him, I, like countless others, was only a child. But unlike most children who feared him above all, I did not.
I despised him.
From Starward Dematrusi's Journal
Seventeenth day of Hasina, 600 Post-Ruin
* * *
The priest of Temperance folded into the Wold system too late. His father's assassin had escaped.
The silence of space deafened him. He could hear the ringing in his ears, the echoes of his own screams not hours before—the ethereal cries of a son to his murdered father.
He leaned forward, glaring through the window at the sea-green planet illuminated by its main-sequence star. At last, the long-avoided tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes. He wiped them away with trembling hands and raked his fingers through his sweaty hair.
A disembodied female voice spoke—as if someone were sitting with him in the cockpit. "Vidikas…My Lord, please…"
It was the Arrow—the Autonomous Replicating Omnidroid—who was now in the form of bloodship.
He pounded the armrest of his seat, sending a shock of pain into his nerves and marrow. He ignored it. "Not another word, machine."
"With all due respect, My Lord, I won't remain silent about this," the Arrow raged. "A'armas is trying to contact you—"
"I don't starring care what he has to say," the priest said, his voice grating every word. "He failed—we all failed! And I'm going to make this right."
The priest's chest heaved. He hadn't had time to shed the sacerdotal robes he wore in the service of the god-emperor, Temperance. It made a twisted kind of sense that he would avenge his father's death in the void-black robes of a priest. He gritted his teeth against the pain he felt deep within his chest. His only response was anger.
No, not anger—wrath. Unmitigated, violent, and all-consuming.
"I know your heart," the Arrow said, interrupting the silence. "I know you. What you plan to do isn't who you are."
The priest remained silent. Though the words gave him pause, he fought to disregard the pretended intimacy in her words, to destroy it. It was a machine, after all.
"You can't blame everyone on that world for the deeds of one murderer," the Arrow said.
The priest's face twisted into a snarl. "And who am I to blame? You? The Guide? No…these people have harbored those zealots for too long. If they'd destroyed the Execrate when my father ordered them to, he wouldn't…"
His voice drifted. His eyes slowly unfocused, and for a moment, he felt lost in his mind, living in the visions of blood and death and hatred. He hadn't chased the murderer this far to give up the chase.
"Don't fall into their trap," the Arrow said. "They want you to hate them."
"No…" The priest tapped at the corner of his screen, shifting the controls to manual. "They will mourn."
He switched off the safeties and armed the weapons systems. Only two types of weapons existed for this advanced class of bloodship. The first was simple laser cannon. The second was a weapon so terrible, few even knew of it. Many named it the Hypersonic. However, the priest knew it by another name: the Swarm.
"My Lord! If you make me do this, I will never forgive you!" The tone in the Arrow's voice mimicked humanity. Her personality seemed so real. They'd built the Arrows to serve and imitate humans, after all.
He selected his target. "I don't want forgiveness, machine," he said. "I want vengeance."
The bloodship trembled as the priest unleashed the Swarm upon an unsuspecting planet. Coldness seeped into his chest and circulated through his body. A multitude of streams of light rained down toward the large ptolis called Milicho. The streams sped down at almost twice the speed of sound.
The Arrow screamed.
As the priest watched and waited, tears streamed from his eyes.
* * *
I've gone too far.
The priest's vision blurred as he picked his way through the desolation he'd wrought upon the world.
His nose wrinkled at the sulfur and dust in the air as he sidestepped rocks and swirling ash mounds. Silence except for the gentle rush of a dry breeze permeated the world—a wasteland created to erase a single offense. The last motes of memories littered an ocean of still, white sand—the crumbs of civilizations.
Days ago, he would have been wading through knee-high grass on a flat, verdant plain untouched by humankind. There had been soft, sweet breezes through the ancient oaks and silver birches, brooks and lakes of crystal, and ice-capped mountains in the distant, blue haze. The world wouldn't be bleeding dust into the void.
The sun was a smear of light behind the clouds of smoke. Heat scorched him through his cloak, which didn't keep him cool. He felt for the flask of hyara attached to his belt by a flaxen cord, knowing he might need it later. His long mantle billowed behind him with the occasional gusts of wind that tasted like smoke and ash, forcing him to return his focus to his steps rather than his exile to this world.
In the distance, fires still burned and rose into the sky like pillars of ancient acropolises. They supported a corpse-gray atmosphere, filled with blistering wind and ghosts that danced in the heat.
He pressed on through sweltering flatlands where dust wouldn't settle for months—perhaps years.
Why do I deserve this hell? I have done nothing wrong.
The truth was more daunting and fearsome than he could bear to admit. He had wrought this—it was his masterwork, built upon a foundation of wrath.
He lifted his eyes, and perhaps a kilometer at most, the priest saw the reason for his coming to this place. Silhouettes huddled, hidden within in a low depression of ground surrounded by a cloud of dust. They moved and swayed, trembled in and out of existence, illuminated only by the weak sunlight above them. He saw movement and heard voices—loud, arguing voices. The priest didn't understand how, but these few had survived.
How many have I killed? How many yet live? What would they do now, at the end of all things?
These questions kept his steps firm as he approached the silhouettes. Just then, a shadowy figure rushed toward him from out of the dust. As it drew closer, the outline slowly revealed a child running toward him—a girl no older than ten years. Her clothes were strips of cloth held together by hope, and her skin burned bright. She stopped a few paces from the priest and stared at him with wide, dark eyes. Her dark, matted hair reeked of sweat, dust, and blood.
Without warning, she dropped to her knees and extended the palms of her hands toward him in supplication. "Please," she said, quivering as tears streamed down her cheeks. "Please…"
The priest understood her language. It reminded him of the proud history of her people and the place they'd once held among his father's empire. He'd brought them lower than any other civilization since the birth of the empire. He wanted to believe they deserved it—for the crime they'd committed. His eyes bored into her. He felt a wrathful snarl on his lips.
"Angel," she said.
The word gave him pause. He tried to remember any other connotation that noun could have in their language or perhaps even in their culture. None that he knew of.
"Angel," she repeated. "Spare us."
"You think I'm an angel?"
She blinked, taken aback now by his question. "We saw you descend from the sky. The elders say that angels descend and are deliverers of either peace or destruction."
The priest grunted. "What is your name?"
"And how many are among you?"
The girl glanced back. "Several scores," she said. "There are sick and dying."
The priest touched at the hyara flask at his waist, and wrath tore into his thoughts. Why do these deserve help?
The question shamed him. The heaviness in his chest increased, and he forced himself to come to terms with the fact this girl had done nothing wrong.
He set his jaw and advanced, taking long strides. He sensed the girl's wide eyes on him as he passed her and heard her fall into line behind.
"I have neither light in me nor wings to fly," he told her over his shoulder. "I'm dressed in black. Do angels dress in black?"
Lalith shut her mouth and lowered her head as if he'd chastised her. The priest stepped toward the other survivors just as the wind carried the dust away and revealed their numbers. The men and women fell to their knees and prostrated themselves before him. He stopped and glared.
"I'm dark and wrathful," he said. "I'm no angel. Stand up!"
At first, there was silence. None of the survivors moved. A woman met his eyes from her position on the ground. Fear filled her eyes as he gazed back.
"Then you're a lightless angel," she said. "We cannot deny it."
The priest stared at her, incredulous. The formal word she'd used was gu'unlysandur. Her dialect had removed second u, changing it gunlysandur. It had a more appealing and straightforward elocution. He remembered that a single word for "dark" didn't exist in their tongue—only the absence of light.
How could he possibly elevate himself to an angel? He couldn't allow it.
Sudden anger flooded his face and brought with it a pang of guilt so profound that his chest filled with ice despite the heat.
"Stand up!" he shouted. "All of you!"
Some flinched at his command as if he'd whipped them. Each one climbed to their feet, their heads and eyes lowered, though none of them dared to meet his smoldering gaze. They wore rags torn and dirtied, stained with blood. Others had almost nothing to cover their frail bodies. A strong enough breeze could have toppled them over, leaving them powerless to rise again.
"What of your wounded?" he shouted. "Why are you not tending to them? Why are you just standing there?"
A few of them pivoted and gazed at a spot that he couldn't see. The priest strode forward, shoving out of his way those that were in his path. He finally reached a place of land and saw several bodies lined up next to each other. None of them was whole. Blood from their wounds soaked into the dead ground beneath them. They were all still.
"They died the moment you arrived," a woman to his right muttered. He shifted his glare to her—she stood about his height with dirty, matted hair and clothes smattered in blood that wasn't her own. She stared back at him with dark eyes as if her eyes had become voids. He softened his glare. Trauma had scarred her beauty. He wondered if, when she looked at him, she couldn't only see the memory of the destruction.
"Are there any more?" he asked.
She blinked for the first time. "Without water, without food…."
The priest tightened his fist. "Stop it," he said. "Just stop." He reversed his direction to where he'd traveled and peered upward. In the distance, a bright light in the distant sky flashed at successive and consistent intervals.
The priest started away, back toward the blinking light. "Stay here," he said. "I'll be back."
He walked perhaps fifty paces from where the survivors stood helpless—probably all waiting on him to decide their fate as if he were some god.
He reached into his robe and brought out a small earpiece, which he then fit inside his ear behind his tragus. "Arrow," he said. "Arrow, are you there?"
At first, silence. Then a woman's weary voice returned to him. "I'm not supposed to speak with you."
"I'm asking you to," he said, peering at the flashing light. "I need your help one last time. After, we may never speak again if you wish."
Silence. Then, "What is it?"
"Direct me to the nearest body of water. That's all. There are people here who need help. You don't have to do it for me—"
"Continue six kilometers southwest from your location," the Arrow snapped. "A small body of water remains. There are also more survivors waiting."
The priest positioned himself in a southwest direction. "Okay," he breathed. "Thank you—and I'm sorry."
The priest took out the earpiece before the Arrow could respond and lobbed it into the haze. He didn't hear it land.
As he gazed back up at the sky, the flashing light move away from him as it fell into geosynchronous orbit. Once it had moved far enough away, the blinking light extinguished against the sky.
He returned and stood before the group of lost survivors. They trembled and stared and gnashed their teeth.
Will I regret this?
"Everyone, follow me," Vidikas shouted, and all eyes fell on him. "I cannot be your angel. However, I can promise you that if you follow me, not one soul among you will die this day. Leave the dead."