Authors: Jonathan Moeller
Tags: #Fantasy - Female Assassin
|Jonathan Moeller - The Ghosts 09 - Ghost in the Surge|
|The Ghosts |
|Azure Flame Media, LLC (2013)|
|Tags:||Fantasy - Female Assassin|
Fantasy - Female Assassinttt
GHOST IN THE SURGE
CAINA AMALAS is a nightfighter of the Ghosts, one of the elite agents of the Emperor of Nighmar. She has defeated powerful sorcerers and corrupt lords, freed slaves and overthrown great evils.
But now someone has begun slaughtering the Ghosts of the Imperial capital, and the killer is wearing her face.
And this time, saving the Empire might cost her everything…
ARK is a man of many roles – father and husband, Ghost and veteran, blacksmith and Champion of Marsis.
But when the circlemasters of the Ghosts order him to hunt down the renegade Caina Amalas, Ark must make a choice between his family and the woman who saved his life and children…
THE MOROAICA is the ancient sorceress of legend and terror, and after two thousand years of toil, she is ready. She shall destroy the world and remake it in a better image, ending suffering and pain forever. She will rip open a gate to the heavens, cast down the gods from their thrones, and make them pay for all the suffering of mankind.
Or so she thinks…
Copyright 2014 by Jonathan Moeller.
Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.
Ebook edition published January 2014.
Published by Azure Flame Media, LLC.
All Rights Reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.
Chapter 1 - The Lord Governor’s Ball
Caina had to admit that Nisias Druzen, Lord Governor of Varia Province, knew how to throw a splendid ball.
A pity that she might have to kill him before the night was out.
The ballroom’s marble floor gleamed beneath her boots, reflecting the light from the chandelier overhead. Tall, wide windows framed in bronze offered a splendid view of the town of Mornu and the western sea, the moonlight rippling across the waves. Statues of long-dead Emperors stood in niches between the windows, gazing at the ball with solemn dignity. Musicians played in the corners, and liveried servants circulated among the guests, bearing trays of food and wine. The guests themselves were the chief merchants and magistrates of Mornu, and nobles from the hinterlands of Varia Province. They were powerful and influential men in the province, but not throughout the Empire.
The ball was indeed splendid. Caina would have expected such a display in the Imperial capital, not in a rural province on the Empire’s northwest edge.
She wondered how Lord Nisias had paid for it all.
“Pleasant, isn’t it?” murmured the man standing at Caina’s side.
She looked at him.
Corvalis Aberon stood at her right, clad in the black coat, trousers, boots, and crisp white shirt of a prosperous Nighmarian merchant. Unlike most merchants, he was hard and lean, and the fine clothes did not make him look any less dangerous. He had close-cropped blond hair and eyes like green jade, a sword and a dagger riding in sheaths at his belt. The scabbards were black and adorned with silver, and the weapons themselves looked ornamental.
Yet Caina wondered how many of the guests would see the faint stains of sweat on the leather-wrapped hilts of Corvalis’s weapons, the signs of hard practice and fighting.
“A very nice ball,” said Caina, making sure to keep her Szaldic accent in place. Like Corvalis, she wore a disguise, a rich blue gown with black trim that left more of her chest exposed than she would have preferred. But that was all part of the disguise. Corvalis masqueraded as Anton Kularus, the only coffee merchant of the Imperial capital, and Caina had disguised herself as Sonya Tornesti, Anton’s mistress. Sonya was the sort of woman who would wear inappropriately revealing gowns, too much makeup, and too much jewelry.
The fact that Caina actually did share a bed with Corvalis, of course, only added verisimilitude to the disguise.
Corvalis took a sip from a glass of wine. “It’s very good wine.”
“It is,” said Caina. “All the way from Caer Marist in Caeria Superior. The wine glasses came from Malarae. I think the musicians were hired from Marsis. Those wall hangings are silk, which means they came from Anshan.”
“Which,” said Corvalis, who knew how her mind worked, “makes you wonder how he paid for all of it.”
Caina nodded, watching the guests. Lord Nisias stood on the far side of the ballroom, speaking with some merchants and laughing. He was a short, plump man of Cyrican birth, middle-aged with a fringe of gray hair encircling his brown head. He looked like an amiable man, but Caina had known men who could smile and wink as they killed a foe.
Corvalis was such a man.
“Aye,” said Caina. “House Druzen is not wealthy, and Lord Nisias did not have much money before the Imperial Curia voted him this province.”
“Then he is taking bribes,” said Corvalis, “or he is embezzling from the taxes.”
Caina shook her head. “Varia Province is mostly farmers, fishermen, and miners. Mornu has only ten thousand people, and it is the largest town in the province. Nisias could not embezzle enough to pay for these balls, this new mansion.”
“And that means,” said Corvalis, “he has another source of revenue.”
Caina looked at the Lord Governor as he chatted with the merchants and the magistrates. He looked like a kindly uncle, a trustworthy and diligent man.
“Such as,” said Caina, “trading slaves.”
“Master Basil was right, then,” said Corvalis.
Caina nodded. Gangs of slavers had tormented the Empire’s western coast for years, kidnapping farmers and fishermen and shipping them in chains to the great slave markets of Istarinmul and Anshan. When Naelon Icaraeus had perished below Black Angel Tower, the slavers had been broken, and the Ghosts hoped the menace had ended.
And a few weeks later, Andromache of New Kyre and Rezir Shahan of Istarinmul had attacked Marsis. A year after that, Kylon of House Kardamnos had completely destroyed the Empire’s western fleet. Now predators of all sorts prowled the western sea, corsairs and pirates attacking every merchant ship they could catch.
Gangs of slavers preyed anew upon the people of the western coasts.
And it seemed that Lord Nisias was in league with them.
Caina’s left hand curled into a fist, twitching towards the daggers hidden beneath her skirt. She loathed slave traders, and if Nisias was in league with them, Caina would kill him. Halfdan had sent them to investigate the situation, to find out of if Lord Nisias or any of Varia Province’s magistrates were cooperating with the slavers. If Caina found proof, she would kill Nisias Druzen without hesitation.
She regretted some of the men she had killed in the past…but she had never regretted killing a slave trader, and was not about to start now.
Nisias smiled, laughed, and started across the ballroom, greeting his other guests.
“I think it is time,” said Caina, “that we paid our respects to the Lord Governor.”
“Of course,” said Corvalis, offering her his left arm. Caina threaded her right arm through it, and they walked across the ballroom floor. Corvalis exchanged greetings with a few of the other guests. Anton Kularus was well known in Malarae, and rumor of his name had spread to the outer provinces. Caina kept an expression of polite boredom on her face, but she paid close attention to the guests. Perhaps the slave traders had other associates among the nobles and magistrates of Mornu. And it was possible that Nisias himself was innocent, while one of his underlings had conspired with the slave traders.
At last they stood before Lord Nisias, and Corvalis disengaged his arm from Caina’s and made a deep bow, while Caina gripped her skirts and performed a curtsy.
“Ah, there you are,” said Nisias in High Nighmarian. “You must be Master Anton Kularus of Malarae.”
“I am, my lord,” said Corvalis. “It is an honor to meet you. This is my companion,” the polite word for mistress, “Sonya Tornesti.”
“An honor, my lord,” said Caina. “Anton, he meets many fine people, but he has never introduced me to a Lord Governor before.”
Nisias chuckled. “Well, do not let it go to your head, my dear.” He gave her the sort of indulgent smile older men reserved for pretty young women. “I fear the Lord Governor of Varia Province is about equal in honor to serving as the Lord Aedile of sewage in the Imperial capital.”
“My lord, you are unkind to yourself,” said Caina. “Mornu is very orderly. No sewage in the streets at all.”
“You sound and look rather Szaldic, if I may say so,” said Nisias. “Are you from Varia Province?”
“When I was a little girl,” said Caina. “But my father and mother went to Malarae to find work.” She smiled at Corvalis. “And there I met Anton.”
“I must say, Master Anton,” said Nisias, “I am quite pleased to meet you. I had dismissed coffee as a drink for the Istarish and the Anshani. But then a merchant happened to sell a barrel of beans when he stopped in Mornu,” he spread his hands, “and I find that I have developed quite a taste for it. Especially when spiced with cinnamon.”
Corvalis laughed. “An expensive taste, I fear. Shipping coffee to Malarae is expensive, and I can only image what that merchant charged. And cinnamon has grown most costly.”
“Indeed,” said Nisias with a scowl. “This endless war with New Kyre has had dire consequences for commerce.”
“Actually,” said Corvalis, “that is why I came to Mornu.”
Nisias raised his eyebrows. “Indeed? You have piqued my curiosity, sir.”
“The war has driven up the cost of shipping,” said Corvalis. “My coffee is grown mostly upon plantations in Anshan and Istarinmul, and shipped north over the Starfall Straits. The Istarish, as you can imagine, make for most rapacious customs collectors.”
Nisias grunted. “Indeed. The greed of the Istarish emirs is legendary.” He scowled. “Had Rezir Shahan not been so greedy, this miserable war would not have started.”
Caina, who had killed Rezir in a burning warehouse in Marsis, could not disagree. But Nisias Druzen had no need to know that.
“Perhaps the war has created new opportunities,” said Corvalis. “I am considering having my coffee shipped through the Cyrican sea and then delivered to Mornu.”
“The long way around, surely,” said Nisias. A servant passed with a tray of wine, and the Lord Governor took a glass. “Cheaper and quicker to take it to Marsis and have it shipped up the River Marentine.”
“But the Lord Governor of Marsis charges a steep customs rate,” said Corvalis. “If the coffee is shipped to Mornu and carted along the Imperial Highway to Marsis, I can have it loaded upon barges there and then shipped up the River Marentine. The western sea ought to be safe enough, with most of the Kyracian fleet pulled back to defend New Kyre.”
Nisias grunted and gazed at the ceiling for a moment, swirling his wine.
“A bold plan,” said the Lord Governor, “but I cannot recommend it.”
“Oh?” said Corvalis. “Why not? It seems the port of Mornu could use the extra traffic.”
“It could,” said Nisias, “but only if your traffic actually reaches us. The Kyracian fleet has withdrawn to defend New Kyre, yes, but that devil Kylon Shipbreaker destroyed the Emperor’s fleet. Now there is no one to keep order upon the western seas, and pirates and raiders infest the waves. Worse, gangs of slave traders are raiding Varia Province and taking captives to sell in the markets of Istarinmul.”
Caina frowned. “We heard the rumors on our journey here. Dreadful tales.”
“Aye,” said Nisias. “It is just as well you did not take ship to Mornu. You might have found yourself heading to a very different destination.”