“My love, what are we to do about your father?” Gilda asked, her fingers playing along Geron Mordian’s smooth face and chin.

“There isn’t much we can do unless we run away,” Geron answered, rising from the cushions and walking to the window overlooking the city. “And running away isn’t an option. I couldn’t dream of undermining my father’s authority or his position within the Clan. Besides, you know the scouts would find us anyway.” The distant spires of the Consul buildings disturbed the grey of the misty skyline with the red glow of their arcane lights. “As much as I couldn’t dream of being without you, I have to find another way,” he added with a tender look back at the woman who lay among the cushions.

Gilda had rare beauty. Some might say that about all castanic women until they actually set their sights on Gilda Abenderoth. If one could say a woman’s curves were perfectly proportioned with the rest of her body, then that described Gilda. Her heavy-lidded, slanted, green eyes were another rarity among castanic women and most likely a product of her mixed Daeva ancestry. Often those eyes made her appear sleepy and inattentive. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Like many other castanic women, she wore her hair cut short, but the similarities ended there. Her hair shone a breathtaking reddish orange with flecks of black woven in between. When the sun reflected off her hair, it took on the look of glowing embers. Geron disliked being here in Castanica with her for that reason. He never got to see the sun play off her hair inside the ever dark city. He disliked being in Eastern Arun altogether.

He’d been seeing Gilda for three years now, and she’d become completely besotted with him. Not that he didn’t love the woman, but there had to be a limit to the things he would or could do for her considering his father’s temperament and his plans. And considering who she was.

As Spymaster, Gilda ran one of the Valkyon Federation’s most relied upon operations, but she reported as much to them as to the Clan, and even more to Geron himself. The problem with being a Spymaster of late, ironically, was trust. Double agents were common in Castanica. Even though he loved the woman, he still had to keep that in mind. Unmitigated trust signed many a death warrant.

Geron glanced over his shoulder as Gilda stood up from among the pillows, the satin sheets sliding from her naked body. A lump formed in his throat, and warmth raced down his loins as she moved to him, her curves swaying, a smile upon her ripe lips.

She snuggled against his back. “I do think there is a way,” she whispered, the sweet melodies of her voice playing against his skin through the black hair that spilled down his back.

“I’m all ears,” he said, the pointy lobes beneath his horns twitching.

She giggled. “And much more, so much more my love.” She wrapped her arms around his waist before continuing, molding herself against him. “I know you have read the reports of the Island of Dawn.”

He nodded in confirmation.

“Well, they dispatched Prefect Kubel. The inhabitants of the island decimated his expedition.”

Geron’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead. “They defeated a Prefect? Did he have a full cohort with him?”

“Two cohorts, berserkers and all. It made no difference. They were simply outnumbered,” Gilda said, stroking his horns.

“Two?” He repeated in shock. “What could have done that? Surely, some nature spirits or the cultists we heard of couldn’t have done it. I mean . . .” Geron’s mind raced. “What’s their next plan?”

“They’re sending in a Prime cohort and a Legate.”

“Really?” Geron said incredulously, “but then that means…”

“That whatever is on that island is of vital importance to the Federation. My scouts report rumors of a spirit inhabiting the ghilliedhu. They say its name is Vekas.” Her voice chimed softly against his back.

Geron turned in stunned silence, his mouth open. His thoughts sped through every possibility. The ghilliedhu were massive forest spirits in tree form. They’d been but a myth among his people, something whispered about in the dark corners of taverns, and told to children to scare them into good behavior. If they were indeed on the island and with a spirit among them, more power resided on the island than his father suspected. Power that could be harnessed.

Gilda simply looked up at him with a knowing smile on her lips. The woman always seemed to read what went through his head.

“We could use its spirit and crystals to enhance our magic and weapons,” he said. “It could grant us the power needed to sack Azazel’s Labyrinth.”

“That’s not all.” Gilda nuzzled his neck.

Geron waited, expectant. Gilda loved to drag these things out. The feel of such power, such interest in her words always aroused her. Geron could feel her ears spasm and twitch repeatedly against his chin.

“The orcan warlord Acharak has left the Celestial Hills. He is on the Island of Dawn now,” Gilda whispered.


“He has taken his entire Dark Claw clan with him. They protect a Demonstone.” She reached to kiss him before he could utter another word.

Their lips locked and their tongues played across each other but Geron’s mind lay elsewhere. Sure, he could use the artifacts within Azazel’s Labyrinth to win favor with his father among the Clan, and in turn, his father would be convinced to allow him to marry Gilda. The trade value of the artifacts were said to be beyond imagining, but no expedition to the Palace had ever returned.

Still, with all the promise the artifacts held, Acharak and the Demonstone were what consumed him. The stones were said to be used in the Divine War. The demon god Roak was said to have spent his lifetime attempting to obtain one. What mysteries waited to be unlocked?

Gilda stroked his ears, and Geron gave in with a moan. The passion of the kiss and her hands on his ears and horns took him. All of their problems would be solved in one swoop.

A few hours later, Geron Mordian hurried along the dark cobbled streets past the administrative buildings in the Consul district. The red-tinged arcane lights playing along the metal works faded as he entered the back door of his father’s bazaar. He made his way downstairs to the secret meeting room where the man waited. The basement room smelled of musk and candles.

“Father,” he started.

Knoten held up his hand while continuing to write on a parchment before him. He ended with a flourish then stroked the silver stubble on his chin while poring over what he’d just written. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the scroll spinning across the table to Geron. “I take it she suggested a solution just as I said she would?” His gargling voice didn’t match his hard angular face or those piercing blue eyes.

Geron met his father’s eyes without flinching. “Yes, Father. Now we have a means to gain the artifacts. One that the Federation has kept from the Clan.”

“We suspected as much. You know what needs to be done. Take that to the triumvirate,” Knoten said, pointing to the scroll. “They will help you get what you need.”

Geron picked up the parchment and read it. Standing orders allowing him to pick soldiers from among the castanic and poporie legions. Why would they involve the poporie in this endeavor? The little beasts were always scheming and plotting. They should never be trusted. He didn’t get a chance to ask because at the end of the parchment held the name of the leader of their expedition.

Legate Sidrus Tuitis. Geron gasped at the sight of the name. The man had given up his position as High Priest when one of his own had been found to worship Thulsa and had attempted to stir up dissent among the races of Velika. The offender’s head now hung from a spike at Velika’s front gates as a warning.


“Yes, Father,” he mumbled.

“Leave no one alive,” Knoten dismissed him with a wave.

Geron couldn’t have uttered a response even had he wanted to. Instead, he bowed once to his father and hurried outside without so much as a goodbye.

His mind raced as he made his way across the courtyard. Could he effectively use this to his advantage without giving himself away? Could he manage to slay one of the most powerful men in the Federation? Could he gain the Demonstone to help see Roak back to power, once again walking the lands of Tera? Geron shuddered, barely able to contain his excitement at the chance to find out. After all assassinations were what he did best. Killing Sidra would be his crowning achievement, but pleasing the demon god would gain him a place in history.

He continued on, but not to the triumvirate’s Consul building. Informing them could wait. Instead, he drew his cloak about him and stayed to the shadows, weaving his way into the dark heart of Castanica’s stinking slums. He kept a careful eye behind to make sure no one followed.  Stopping at what appeared to be an abandoned home, he waited a few moments to see if anyone else walked the streets at this hour. When no footsteps echoed and no shadows moved, he pushed against a blank wall. A panel slid open, and he strode into the darkness.

A lamp bloomed along a wall to reveal a hooded figure at the top of the stairs.

“Welcome, Brother Geron. The Dark Lord awaits your word.”



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