Forbidden Things: Book Two
by Nikki McCormack
Yiloch stands accused of a terrible crime against her country. Torn between love for him and her close ties with the royal family, Indigo wants nothing more than to prove the accusation false, but the evidence puts blood on his hands.
Trying to protect the Lyran prince from the swift descent of Caithin justice, Indigo uncovers the workings of an enemy willing to do anything to protect his secrets. In desperation, she unleashes magic that strands Yiloch deep in the desert of Kudan.
Indigo goes in search of Yiloch, hoping to find him before Caithin declares war on Lyra, but standing between him and his empire is a lethal new enemy. An army wielding magic unlike anything they have faced before.
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Title: Exile, Forbidden Things Book Two
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Release Date: December 2015
Excerpt from Exile: Forbidden Things Book Two
by Nikki McCormack
Copyright © 2014 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Yiloch sat in his newly won throne, patient and wary, watching the black-skinned man’s approach up the length of the magnificent room. Guards, adepts and creators stood alert along both sides of the room, and even the eyes of the men and women in the subtle etchings along the blue marble walls behind them seemed more attentive than usual. Two lines of three warriors flanked the man, each carrying an ornate spear topped with a slender curved blade. Elaborate etchings down the length of the shafts made them appear more ceremonial than functional, but he knew better than to doubt the effectiveness of those weapons or that of the men bearing them. Kudaness warriors were skilled fighters. In their practiced hands, those delicate looking blades could decapitate a horse with a single strike. Allowing the visitors into the room armed at all was a simple statement of his confidence in the many ascard users present.
Thin sand colored straps across the lead man’s chest exposed a broad, muscular build. A warrior at a glance, but firsthand experience with the Kudaness, coupled with years of political education, gave Yiloch the knowledge to translate the messages written on the man’s skin. An elaborate tattoo on his right cheek marked him as part of the Ithik Ani, the Kudaness priesthood. The black swirling tattoos over his arms, shoulders, and legs declared that he was a suac, a high priest. Another tattoo consisting of three black lines running parallel to the line of his jaw on his left cheek and two black dots beside his left eye declared that he was of the Murak tribe. Long black hair, braided back into countless strands, several woven through with patterns of beads, swung heavy down to his lower back. He wore intimidation like armor, and his copper eyes, discolored by the potion the Ithik Ani used to initiate communion with their gods, gleamed with feral intensity.
Only a month into his reign and Yiloch was hosting a most unusual visitor. The presence of a suac in his halls was either a gesture of respect or a warning. Perhaps both.
“Emperor Yiloch,” the Lyran usher, his pale skin stark white beside the dark Kudaness, offered a deep bow to Yiloch then inclined his head toward the visitors. “I am honored to present Suac Chozai Galal un Murak un Ani.”
The usher’s introduction confirmed everything Yiloch read from the tattoos. This man was very important among his people. Kudaness high priests held more power than their tribal chieftains did. Even among other tribes, this man’s rank made him second only to that tribe’s suac.
Before the throne, the high priest lowered his chin in the slightest intimation of a bow, his odd metallic eyes never leaving Yiloch’s pale silver-blue ones.
This is a man whose power is never challenged.
Such a man would be aggravating to deal with. Yiloch needed to proceed with caution though, especially given the unexpected nature of the visit. Whatever the reason for his unannounced arrival, the suac had the political advantage for the moment.
Yiloch nodded to the suac, offering reserved respect. “Suac Chozai, your visit honors us.”
The suac’s answering smile curled his lips into a predatory snarl and his eyes shimmered as if with some inner amusement.
The irrepressible twitch of a muscle in Yiloch’s jaw was the only visible indication that the response annoyed him. A heightened sense of alert rose in him in reaction to the veiled dislike lurking behind those eerie eyes, but he kept his expression neutral. Kudaness priests had a notorious lack of respect for rank outside of their own culture and, at least in his limited experience. They treated most everyone with a degree of disdain. It made them difficult to deal with in general, but the Kudaness were a powerful people and the border they shared with Lyra boasted a long trade history that was beneficial to both countries. His father’s madness had nearly destroyed that trade and Yiloch wasn’t going to risk its revitalization over such a small measure of insult.
“The Murak have seen that the new Emperor of Lyra makes an effort to respect the trade relationship with Kudan,” the priest began, his accent thick enough that Yiloch had to listen close to understand him. It might be easier if he’d chosen to speak his native tongue, but using the Lyran trade dialect was appropriate here and showed some deference to Yiloch’s rank in this setting. “The Murak, the greatest tribe in Kudan, wish to extend our gratitude for your efforts.”
He resisted a smirk. How many of the tribes would lay claim to that status?
“It has long been a beneficial arrangement. Emperor Rylan insulted both of our peoples by disrespecting that relationship. It will not happen under my rule. However, while I appreciate your gratitude, I do not believe you traveled all this way to convey a simple thank you. Why have you come here?”
Tension rippled out from the high priest. His copper eyes glinted in the sunlight shining down through the faceted crystal ceiling. He returned Yiloch’s measuring regard for a long moment, perhaps trying to determine whether the new emperor intended some insult with his abrupt manner.
Perhaps he could have been more tactful, wasting time on niceties, but the mere rarity of a visit from a Kudaness suac was enough to incite interest and unease. He itched to know the reason.
“I am suac to the Murak tribe, chosen by the Gods to bear the burden of their gifts for the benefit of my people.” Suac Chozai’s somber expression and weighted tone communicated the significance of his status. “One of those gifts is the ability to foresee the possible future. The Gods have shown me that our lands and people will soon face a terrible danger. Not only the people of Kudan, but all our people,” he swept a hand out to imply a wider area, “are under threat from a tribe not of Kudan. This tribe is strong. They come in great numbers and control power that none here have ever faced. They ride on the backs of sturdy horses and will decimate all in their path if not dealt with in quick and decisive action. We require the aid of the Blood Prince in defeating this threat.”
Yiloch narrowed his eyes, making no effort to hide his disapproval of the old hated title. He itched to move his hand closer to his sword. Whether use of that title was a mere slip from long habit or an intentional insult, the suac was trying his patience. A careless approach given that he was requesting military assistance.
He waited a moment to see if the suac would apologize for his error. When he didn’t, Yiloch spoke, biting off his words with the effort of keeping them civil. “I would be a fool to extend my resources so soon after taking the throne. My empire is still recovering from its own upheaval. I still have many soldiers and adepts out hunting for the adept Myac, who remains a substantial threat. What benefit is there to Lyra in sending aid to the Murak against an enemy who is, as of yet, mostly unknown even to you?”
The suac’s smile broadened, giving a glimpse of incisors tapered to a subtle point. It enhanced the predatory appearance, but he wasn’t going to intimidate Yiloch with tribal gimmicks. The confidence in that smile, however, was a trifle unsettling.
“You need us, Blood Prince,” Chozai stated, making it clear that the use of the title hadn’t been a slip.
Yiloch scowled, losing the struggle to hide his irritation. Kudan and Lyra held an uneasy peace balanced on benefits they could offer one another and a shaky mutual respect for the extreme differences in their cultures. That balance felt even more precarious at the moment.
This one man is not worth the destruction of that peace, he reminded himself.
“You insult me in my own palace, then expect me to accept on your word that I should extend you aid at a time when I have need of my soldiers here. You had best be able to offer more concrete proof of how this is of benefit to Lyra.” He infused his tone with an edge of warning. He would not continue to suffer disrespect in his own palace.
Like a man struck dead, the suac’s face lost all expression. His eyes clouded over, a translucent whiteness masking the brilliant copper, and his voice took on a deep, rhythmic cadence. “The emperor of Lyra will be thrice betrayed; by ally, by family, and by love. To escape the dark fate of that betrayal, he must send forth his army to the aid of those favored by the gods his people will not see. In return, salvation will come from beyond his borders to mend the rifts created by those betrayals. If such aid is not given, salvation will not come and his empire will fall in a storm of fire and blood to a savage power from beyond the Rhuakine.”
Yiloch glanced at Ian, the strongest—and youngest—creator in his army. The young man shook his head. If the suac was drawing on ascard to effect the changes in his eyes and voice Ian couldn’t detect it.
A chill passed through Yiloch and he noticed his cousin, Lord Terral, shifting his feet near the foot of the dais. Was that from the same unease they all felt at the suac’s dark foretelling, or something more insidious?
Betrayed by ally, by family, and by love.
The Rhuakine was a canyon-scarred desert to the east of Kudan, implying that the savage force the suac spoke of was the same one that threatened the Murak. If so, his words suggested that his own people would fall before this new power first if Lyra didn’t send soldiers to their aid. Under those circumstances, he would have expected a more respectful approach from the man. Was the disdain of foreign royalty so ingrained that he couldn’t overcome it even for the sake of diplomacy?
Yiloch stood. His sword riding comfortable at his hip, he descended the steps until he stood no more than a foot from the high priest. Suac Chozai was taller by several inches, but his eyes, which had regained their normal abnormal color, took on a hint of wariness at the approach. One of Yiloch’s captains and longtime friend, Adran, placed a hand on his sword hilt when the hands of the Murak warriors tightened on their weapons. His bold approach appeared to inspire a touch of respect in the arrogant high priest and his guards after all.
He met those deep copper eyes with a steady gaze. “You’ve intrigued me, Suac Chozai. I do not give much credit to fortunetelling as a rule, but if I discounted all such things completely out of hand, I would not be where I am now. Perhaps we could discuss this in a more casual setting.”
Chozai nodded, agreeing with the unspoken need for more privacy, and two of his warriors moved up closer behind him. Adran and Ian came forward from either side of the dais to flank Yiloch. It was a given that they would attend him, as it was apparently a given for the two lead warriors of Chozai’s retinue to accompany him. Suac Chozai stepped aside to let Yiloch walk ahead of him, more out of a lack of trust, he suspected, than any show of deference to his rank within the realm. The suacs of Kudan were, among their own people, considered above the rule of men. Knowing that, Chozai’s curt manner wasn’t surprising, but it still galled.
Yiloch led them to a door off the side of the main room. The usher hurried ahead of them, opening the doors into a room covered in maps. Maps hung on the walls and covered the surface of every table. Old maps, new maps, maps of places he knew as well as he knew his own bedroom, and maps of places he wasn’t certain even existed. There were few chairs in the room, pushed against walls to give the option of comfort if so desired, but the room served primarily as a place to peruse maps and plan strategies.
Adran and Ian flanked him as he walked around the back of one table with a map of Kudan stretched across it, then they moved off to the side where they could keep watch over him and his visitors and still be close enough to intercept an attack.
The map they stood over was a rare, beautifully detailed piece. Yiloch’s father, the late Emperor Rylan, obtained it from a Kudaness sea captain before Yiloch was born. The tribal borders within Kudan had changed since its creation, as they often did, but it still gave a reasonable approximation of reality and he appreciated the artistry of it.
Suac Chozai approached the opposite side of the table while the usher shut them into the room. He glanced once at the map, his gaze impassive.
Yiloch considered the situation for a long moment. He had noticed Lord Terral’s unease when the suac mentioned betrayal. It might merely be a show of discomfort with the suac’s strange display, but Terral was one of very few left in his empire who could claim to be family. If there were any truth to the suac’s prophecy, Terral would be a prime suspect, a possibility that prompted the move to a more private setting. If there were guilt behind Terral’s unease, then perhaps the desire to know what occurred behind these doors would drive him to carelessness.
“From your words, Suac Chozai, I gather you believe the Murak may fall before this savage power if I refuse to send aid.” Yiloch kept his eyes upon the map to avoid showing too much interest in the answer. The suac expected no more courtesy than he gave when dealing with heathens from outside his lands. Yiloch was inclined to meet his expectations.
“You understand correctly. If our fates were not intertwined, I would not be here.”
Yiloch’s gaze snapped up, boring into the Murak priest. “Then tell me, who will betray me?”
Suac Chozai reached a tattooed arm across the table and touched Yiloch’s chest. One finger, tipped with a thick cracked nail, came to rest upon the ring that lay hidden under Yiloch’s shirt, pressing it against his skin. “Your greatest downfall shall come from here,” he stated with conviction.
Defensive rage, wild and unreasoning, blazed to life in Yiloch. He wanted to tear the man’s hand off. To leap across the table and strike him down. Chozai drew back from him, apparently alarmed by the change in his bearing. The ring, Indigo’s ring, burned against his skin for a few seconds, blazing with the intensity of emotion symbolized by that delicate band. Every second he had spent with her, all of the sacrifices she had made and risks she had taken for him, rushed to the forefront of his mind. His ascard ability flared up, taking on a life of its own so that he had to fight back control.
Ian, with his extreme sensitivity to ascard in others, tensed, his eyes growing wide.
“All this talk of foresight,” Yiloch snarled, fury driving the words past his lips. “I saw that display out there. I thought the Kudaness considered it sacrilege to use ascard.”
He attacked their religion, seeking to repay some of the turmoil that the suac’s accusation caused him. It worked. Suac Chozai’s copper eyes flashed and his two warriors stepped into a wider stance, shifting their weapons out of ceremonial position to something far more threatening. Adran’s hand dropped to his sword hilt and he too moved into a more aggressive posture.
Yiloch felt calm washing over and through him then. He glanced at Ian, whose pale eyes had taken on a certain inward facing intensity. The manipulation was unsolicited and unwanted, but not necessarily unwise.
Chozai followed his gaze, reading something different into the glance. He motioned to his warriors who returned to their prior stance. The suac wasn’t fool enough to pit his men against the power of a creator, and Ian’s exceptional strength with ascard had become well known in the time since Yiloch took the city from his father. Ironically, several of the acts that earned Ian the respect he now held were Indigo’s accomplishments in truth, but allowing Ian to take credit for them increased his influence and allowed her to keep her power hidden. It also made the youth into an effective political asset.
“My visions are not obtained through manipulation of the power of the gods. They are gifted to me,” he turned a sneer on Ian, not so wary of that power that he wasn’t willing too express his disdain, “not stolen.”
The tightness in his tone exposed the depth of his anger. Yiloch felt a hint of satisfaction at accomplishing his goal. If the suac, as representative of the Murak un Ani, had no more respect to offer him, the tenuous relationship between their people was not apt to change anytime soon, certainly not for the better.
“Suac Chozai, I need more to build a military alliance on than prophecy and brash accusations. I have an empire to fortify that Emperor Rylan made a fair effort at destroying the foundations of and a dangerous criminal to bring to justice. There are also some lords who have not yet pledged loyalty and I need my army at hand until they are brought to heel, preferably with as little bloodshed as possible. There is still much to be done to secure my rule. If you can offer me no greater proof of your need, or of my own, if you cannot even offer respect to my rank, then I think we are done here. You are welcome to return and present your case again if these things change. For now, I can offer you refreshment and rest if you so desire, but nothing more.”
Suac Chozai’s expression darkened, growing more and more hostile while he spoke. Yiloch felt a touch of unease at disregarding the man’s foresights and confidence in their accuracy, but, as Emperor, he couldn’t allow any man to disrespect him. Gambling resources on such uncertain information might also make his subjects wonder if he shared the madness that his father suffered from in the end.
Chozai’s lip lifted in an animalistic snarl, exposing one sharpened canine. “You will destroy yourself and your empire with your arrogance,” he stated.
“The same way you will destroy your people if your visions read true,” Yiloch returned. “You have not offered me enough sound information to work with. As I said, come to me with more and I will reconsider my position.”
The suac narrowed his eyes and gave a curt nod. “So it shall be.”
He turned away from Yiloch and his warriors fell in behind him. Yiloch watched Suac Chozai let himself from the room, making no move to follow them. The suac hadn’t stood on ceremony, nor had he behaved in a manner that acknowledged Lyran custom. As such, it seemed appropriate to let him show himself out. The usher would see to him from there.
Yiloch turned to Ian when the door shut again. “The foretelling he did, where did he draw his power from?”
Ian stared at the door, lips pressed in a troubled line. After a few seconds, he looked at Yiloch and shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t sense him connecting to his inner aspect or drawing on ascard around him, and he wasn’t masking anything that I could tell.”
Yiloch nodded and turned to gaze at the closed door. Silence reigned within the room. Several minutes passed before Adran coughed and Yiloch met his worried amber eyes. His slightly darker skin and dusty blond hair betrayed his impure blood, but he was a lifetime friend and advisor. Lineage carried little weight before the value of the trust that existed between them.
“The suac didn’t look pleased,” Adran commented, his tone conveying a suggestion of displeasure with the way Yiloch handled the situation.
Yiloch nodded once, dismissing the underlying message. “I’ve been thinking, Adran,” he began, walking around the table and stepping up to another map. This one depicted the allied kingdom of Caithin across the Gilded Straight. “We need healers in our army. Not borrowed healers, but our own formally trained healers.”
Adran walked to the other side of the table and rested his hands on it. His fingers tapped the surface a few times, the only outward show of his annoyance with the change of subject. “We could ask King Jerrin for an instructor, though it might be of more benefit to see if we could send some of our adepts to train at their academy.”
Yiloch touched the city of Demin with one finger, trying to ignore the ache in his chest at the thought of her there. “Discuss it with Ferin and see what he thinks of sending adepts to Caithin for training. Ask him how many he would send and who, then prepare a missive to King Jerrin and bring it to me.”
“My lord,” Adran inclined his head, the concern in his eyes taking on a more personal nature.
Yiloch looked away. They had been friends and more far too long for him to expect Adran to miss the distress that hid behind his carefully managed expression, well concealed from anyone else, but he had no wish to discuss it until his head was clearer. Besides, there were far more urgent matters to worry about. “Any news of Myac?’
He nodded, hiding the chill of dread that always came with thoughts of the dangerous adept who had almost killed Indigo. “You may both go.”
The two men left him to himself in the map room, Adran lingering in the doorway a few seconds before moving on. When the door shut, Yiloch reached down the collar of his shirt and drew out the ring that hung there. Two clear stones nestled in a delicate band on either side of a large stone the color of her eyes, the color of her name.
“Indigo,” he murmured, letting the name roll off his lips like a caress.
Holding the ring, he closed his eyes and let every touch they had shared, every kiss and intimate moment, play back in his mind. Extraordinary power filled her, hidden beneath a gentle beauty and charming vulnerability. She helped him take the throne from his father, using her uncommonly strong ascard connection to assist him to the point that it had almost cost her life more than once. She offered him her all because she loved him and, even though his motives for using her power had been somewhat selfish in the beginning, he couldn’t help reciprocating her love by the end. Still, she was Caithin, and the exalted pure blood of Lyran royalty was part of its power. He could not ask her to be his bride, not without losing the faith of his people, and she had her own battles to fight, so she returned to Caithin, leaving him with only the ring and a deep aching in his chest.
No. Betrayal couldn’t come from Indigo. How could she turn against him after what they had gone through together? His trust in her made him suspicious of everything the suac said after he implicated her. Still, as he played the ring about in his fingers, a deep disquiet took root in his heart that hadn’t been there before.