Unchained, p.1

Unchained, page 1

 

Unchained
 


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Unchained


  Unchained

  Title Page

  Chapter One : Duke Darkstone’s Bargain

  Chapter Two: Nighttime Dalliances

  Chapter Three: Agreements

  Chapter Four: Darkstone’s Ball

  Chapter Five: The Vale’s Court

  Chapter Six: The Duke’s Present

  Chapter Seven: On the Run

  Chapter Eight: Rebel Rendezvous

  Unchained

  Sarah Hawke

  Copyright © 2015 Sarah Hawke

  Published by Jade Fantasy

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or used fictitiously.

  All rights reserved.

  Smashwords Edition, License Notes

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Content Warning

  This erotic fantasy novel contains adult content. If you are offended by adult language, themes of bondage/submission, or group sex, then you probably shouldn’t read this book. Consider yourself warned!

  A Note to My Readers

  I know some of you have been waiting for part three in this series for some time now, and I greatly apologize for the delay! If you haven’t read Slave to the Empire and/or Unbound recently, you might want to do a quick re-read just to remember what is going on. At the very least, I recommend rereading the last chapter or two of Unbound – it ended on a cliffhanger and Unchained picks up right where it left off.

  Thanks again to everyone for their support!

  Chapter One: Duke Darkstone’s Bargain

  “There is no greater test for our courage—no greater trial for our faith—than the plague of the gray-skinned heretics who dwell beneath our feet. The blood of false gods flows in their veins. The corruption of demons poisons their hearts. The Triad demands their obedience, and one day they shall kneel beneath the glory of Veshar. Only then will they be purified. Only then will they be free.”

  —excerpt from the Levinthian, holy text of the Imperial Covenant, on the nature of the vaeyn

  “Hello again, Larric. We have much to discuss.”

  The female vaeyn emerged from the shadows and slowly descended the palace steps. Even though her features were concealed by the thick cowl of her cloak, long locks of shimmering silver-white hair spilled down across her shoulders. Her form-fitting purple-black armor seemed to absorb the light around her, and the mesh-like scales clung to her lithe frame so tightly it was like she was draped the freshly-flayed skin of a demon.

  She was, without a doubt, the absolute last thing I had expected to see upon arriving in Skyfall, the mountainous capital city of the Imperial province of Korvale. The presence of any vaeyn would have been surprising, even a captured prisoner or slave. But this woman was neither. She was a Shadow Knight, one of the elite warrior-assassins of the vaeyn Matriarch Queen…and just looking upon her tall, athletic figure filled me with equal parts awe and dread.

  “Lady Karethys informed me that the two of you are already acquainted,” Grand Duke Aemond Darkstone said, his voice piercing the awkward silence like a thunderclap shattering the stillness of a quiet night sky. “My hope is that this will allow our negotiations to proceed more smoothly.”

  The armored man standing next to me remained silent. He was Larric Aresi, the guard-captain of Grand Duke Kristoff’s personal army and my stand-in master for the duration of our trip here to Korvale. He had been a domineering presence in my life ever since Kristoff had hired him, but in all that time I don’t think I’d ever seen him speechless before this instant. Not that I could blame him—I still couldn’t bring myself to accept what my eyes were showing me. If Master Kristoff knew that the vaeyn were here…if Emperor Lucian knew that the vaeyn were here. ..

  I swallowed heavily and forced my muscles to stop quivering. A Shadow Knight was the absolute last thing I’d expected to find here at Duke Darkstone’s palace in Skyfall, but her presence didn’t fundamentally change my mission. Master Kristoff had sent me here to persuade Darkstone to join the other Grand Dukes in opposing the Emperor. Together, a united “Quorum” could depose Lucian and put an end to the misbegotten war that had already ravaged our home in Glorinfel. I could still complete my mission whether a vaeyn was here or not.

  “Our encounter in the north seems like a lifetime ago,” Karethys said, coming to a halt a few steps above Larric. Her voice was soft and husky all at once, and her accent was thick but perfectly understandable. “I hope you haven’t completely forgotten.”

  “No,” Larric replied hoarsely. “No, of course not.”

  “Lady Karethys informed me of what really happened,” Duke Darkstone said, smiling in amusement at his guest’s obvious discomfort. “She told me that two of you worked together to destroy a warlock and his demonic servants…and she also told me how the Hierophant herself expelled you for deigning to work with a dark elf in any capacity. I can’t imagine a more stark demonstration of the moral rot infecting the Covenant and the Empire.”

  Larric opened his mouth but nothing came out. I couldn’t even begin to fathom how or why he had associated with a vaeyn in the past, and so instead I forced myself to relax and continue studying this woman instead. She was tall and statuesque, and she moved with the same casual, fluid grace I had seen in Master’s other warriors, particularly Larric. Her violet eyes glowed ever-so-faintly beneath the cowl of her cloak, and the long braids of her hair were practically glistening in the sunlight. I had never seen an elf carry herself with such power and confidence before, especially when standing alone in front of so many Imperial nobles…

  In the two and a half years since Master Kristoff had purchased me at auction, I had spent more time pouring through historical records than most Imperial scholars. He had insisted that I become as educated as the men and women I was destined to serve, and I was beyond grateful for the opportunity. Few Imperial slaves were taught to read, let alone given intense tutelage in history, politics, and philosophy. But of all the passages in all the books, I had probably read the ones about the vaeyn a hundred times over. The so-called “dark elves” were exotic and mysterious. My people, the faeyn, had been conquered by the humans centuries ago…but the vaeyn had never yielded to the Empire. They had battered back dozens of incursions by the Imperial Legion, and they even held firm against the Veshari religion spread by the Hierophant and her Covenant. The vaeyn were free, deadly, and fearsome. And yet I had never stood so close to one until this very moment.

  “I know you weren’t expecting to find me here,” Karethys said, her voice tinged with amusement, “but I hope we can rekindle the spirit of cooperation before this war claims any more lives.”

  “So do I,” Larric replied. His jaw was tight and his face remained pale. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed I was looking upon a completely different man. The Larric I knew was stoic and unflappable to a fault.

  “Duke Darkstone has suggested a number of interesting proposals for temporary partnership between our peoples. I hope your master will be amenable.”

  Larric cleared his throat and seemed to center himself. “Duke Kristoff seeks an end to hostilities and the return of his rightful lands. If he can achieve these goals with a peaceful accord, all the better.”

  “Good,” Darkstone said, glancing between the two of them and smiling. He obviously enjoyed tipping Larric off-balance, and even though they’d never met in person I wondered what
rumors Darkstone had heard about the former inquisitor…and about me. “Before we begin, allow me to give you a tour of Skyfall. We can discuss details over dinner this evening.”

  “Of course,” Larric murmured. “Lead the way, Your Excellency.”

  Chuckling softly, Duke Darkstone signaled for his men to escort us the rest of the way up the stairs. I followed as closely as I could to Larric without actually pressing into him, and it was all I could do not to gasp at the size and grandeur of the palace. The enormous, multi-level structure loomed over the city below like a dragon perched atop a mountain. A score of flags and banners fluttered in the wind, and a surprising fanfare of trumpets heralded our approach.

  In some ways, Darkstone’s estate was even more impressive than the Imperial Palace. Skyfall as whole was certainly more authentic than Sanctum. The walls and columns had clearly been carved out of the original mountain rather than hauled halfway across the continent by slaves, and I wondered distantly just how much the Vale had changed over time. Before the rise of the Empire, modern Korvale had consisted of several smaller nations, and Skyfall had once been the capital of the influential kingdom of Tauros. Perhaps the God-Kings of old had ruled from this very throne…

  After providing us with a brief tour of his estate, Duke Darkstone led us into a wide, marble hall with a long conference table. Two young nobles—one male and one female—were waiting inside Judging from their ostentatious style of dress and similar age, I assumed they were Darkstone’s children…or I would have, if Master hadn’t informed me otherwise before the trip. The young woman was actually the duke’s new wife, while the man was his son from a previous marriage. She had just turned twenty, while he was only nineteen. I could only imagine the scandal this situation would have triggered if Darkstone spent any time in Sanctum.

  “Allow me to introduce my lovely wife, Cassandra,” he said as we approached. “I think she’s still upset that Gabriel wasn’t able to attend the wedding.”

  The Duchess stepped forward and smiled warmly. She was short and slender with long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes that were so common among the native Kor.

  “Not upset, just disappointed,” she chuckled lightly. “The Kristoff family has quite the reputation in the Vale. His forefathers have done business here for generations.”

  “My lady,” Larric said, bowing. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

  “You honor me. It’s not every day we receive a former Inquisitor. I’ve heard so much about you.” Her smile widened, and her eyes studied his athletic figure with all the subtlety of a huntress sizing up her prey. If her husband was at all bothered by her shameless leering, however, he didn’t show it.

  “This is my son, Varyl,” Darkstone went on. “He has been debating whether or not to join the Legion, despite my wishes to the contrary.”

  The young man nodded fractionally, though he was barely paying attention to Larric. His eyes had been locked onto me from the first moment I’d entered the room. He had just turned nineteen, according to Master, and I wondered distantly how many avenari his father had already purchased for him…

  “Greetings, Captain,” he said with a forced smile. “Welcome to Skyfall.”

  “He’s the only boy among three sisters,” Darkstone said, “though they have all since married and settled elsewhere in the Vale.” He paused for a moment then gestured back towards the conference table. “In any event, we’ll have plenty of time for pleasantries later. For now, there are many things we need to discuss.”

  “We will see you later, dear,” Duchess Cassandra said, squeezing her husband’s hand even though she continued staring at Larric. “And you too, Captain.”

  The two of them left the room, and I wondered briefly if Larric might order me to wait outside as well. I had seen other faeyn tidying up in the palace, but none of them had been wearing shackles. Had Darkstone actually freed them or was he simply putting on a show for the benefit of Karethys?

  “I’m sure this is all a bit overwhelming, especially after a long trip,” Darkstone said, gesturing for them to take a seat at the table. Several servants—all human—rushed in and filled the table with fresh fruits and drinks before vanishing again. “I’m sure a vaeyn Shadow Knight was the last thing you expected to find here. Especially one you knew personally.”

  “It’s certainly…different,” Larric managed. His eyes flicked over to me as if he couldn’t decide if I should stay or go, but Darkstone merely chuckled and waved a dismissive hand.

  “Your servant is welcome to attend,” he soothed. “Or I can show her to your quarters, if you’d prefer.”

  “Perhaps you should ask her opinion,” Karethys said, pulling back her cowl now that we were out of the bright sun. “Though I suspect you don’t allow her to speak very often.”

  Larric blinked awkwardly, unsure of how to respond. “She is—”

  “You’ll have to forgive our guest,” Darkstone interrupted with a forced smile. “We’ve been negotiating in secret for months now, and while I’ve assured her that Korvale has worked tirelessly to resist the Covenant’s edicts on bondage, the rest of the Empire is not so…enlightened.”

  Karethys’s violet eyes latched onto me for the first time, and if I didn’t know better I would have sworn she was staring directly into my soul. My first temptation was to grab onto Larric’s arm; my second was to beg for forgiveness and ask to be dismissed. But somehow I managed to retain my composure and remain silent.

  “Elara is an avenari,” Larric said eventually, “and a gift to His Excellency on behalf of Duke Kristoff.”

  “As I suspected,” Karethys said, her lip twisting in obvious disgust. “Still, at least you were honest. You know me well enough to realize I no patience for petty deception.”

  “I remember,” Larric murmured. His body language abruptly shifted. I doubted that anyone else was attuned enough to notice, but I could feel his tension-level abruptly drop. Was some kind of secret meaning in her words?

  Karethys glanced back over to me. “Since no one else is likely to ask your opinion: do you want to stay here with your master or retire to your chambers?”

  “I…” I managed, struggling to find my voice. “I would rather stay here with Master Larric.”

  “Then it’s settled,” the vaeyn said. She held her eyes on me for a moment longer before she finally took a seat across the table between her two guards. “There is much to discuss. Where does His Excellency wish to begin?”

  Darkstone settled into the mock throne at the head of the table and sipped from his goblet. “I see no reason to mince words, so I’ll get right to the point: this war is an abomination, and the Emperor who ordered it is a fool.”

  Larric cocked his head in surprise. Even when uttered from the lips of a Grand Duke, such words were treason. Like all Veshari Emperors, Lucian Patravian was the living incarnation of Sanctus Veshar, patron god of the Empire—at least according to the Covenant. The Grand Dukes were given considerable latitude in the rule of their own provinces, but ultimately the Emperor’s word was still law. And speaking so poorly of the Covenant’s chosen in public was an offense punishable by death.

  Not that Master Kristoff and his allies hadn’t done the same many times. But Darkstone didn’t even know Larric, and he had never positioned himself as a direct ally of Master Kristoff, either. He was obviously confident enough not to fear any sort of retribution…

  “The Empire has enough problems without provoking the vaeyn,” Darkstone went on. “Orc and groll tribes gather strength all across the continent, and the Imperial City is racked with rebellion and infighting. The Covenant, clutching to the scraps of its waning influence, can’t even control its laborers in the Infintium…”

  “Master Kristoff has expressed similar concerns,” Larric replied neutrally.

  “No doubt,” Darkstone said. “Gabriel has suffered the most from Lucian’s foolishness, which is precisely why I wished to speak with him. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on everything, but we ar
e now faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We must act.”

  Larric let out a deep breath as one of the servants poured him a glass of wine. He waited until she had disappeared before he spoke. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Quorum has been deliberating on this very question. They have come to a…different decision.”

  “They hate the Emperor, and they could be persuaded to move against him,” Darkstone said. “But they don’t believe this war can be ended so easily, even if Lucian is removed from the throne. Is that about right?”

  “Something like that,” Larric murmured. He was obviously surprised that Darkstone knew anything about this—Master Kristoff’s letter had been rather vague on key points. But all the Grand Dukes deployed spies throughout Sanctum, of course, and Darkstone’s must have been especially competent. “Whatever else you may think about Emperor Lucian, he was cunning enough to secure the loyalty of the Hierophant and the Prelature before invading Sulinor. The Covenant sees this as a holy war—they will not support a truce until vaeyn corpses litter the battlefield.”

  “Then they will die,” Karethys said flatly. “Your ‘religion’ has been the scourge of Calhara for generations, and we will not—”

  “There’s no need to overreact just yet,” Darkstone soothed. “We are merely discussing the situation as it stands.”

  I could feel the vaeyn’s anger rippling through the Aether. I didn’t dare summon my powers openly, not in the presence of three Shadow Knights, but I didn’t need telepathy to sense the obvious. Since the time of Sanctus Veshar, the Covenant had branded all the non-human races as chattel, but the elves’ natural affinity for channeling had always made us their primary nemesis. The conquest of Sorthaal and the subjugation of the faeyn were still considered the faithful’s greatest achievements.

 
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