Chapter 1

The palace was falling apart.

With cracks appearing in the foundation and trailing up the sides of the walls like

creeping vines, it got worse every day.

As she swiftly dodged some falling plaster, Ciardis Weathervane had the thought that life

was only mirroring magic right at this moment. The breaks in the palace structure were a

symptom of both the physical degradation of the foundation and the weakness of the protections

that had been woven into the very fabric of the walls when they were built.

It was disconcerting to watch something that they all relied on every day for protections,

whether or not they realized it, crumble before their very eyes. Which is why although her gaze

was focused on making sure she got through this difficult bit of passage safely, her mind was

engaged on the conversation she remembered having with Sebastian like it was yesterday.

Because it had been.

She wanted to say that they savored the moment that their minds had aligned and they

had agreed on what had to be done. That he needed to take the throne. That he needed to be

Emperor of Algardis in word as well as deed. That the empire needed stability. That this was the

only way to achieve that.

But she had no time to enjoy the rare meeting of minds between herself and the prince

heir. They also needed to kill a goddess and they had less than three days to do so. In order to

accomplish this, they were going to set up a trap of ley lines that could save their entire empire.

Or unleash a backlash of power across the empire we’re trying so hard to save, Ciardis

thought glumly as she nimbly leapt over a fallen pile of plaster and proceeded to the door that

had been her objective from the very beginning.
Ciardis knew that by necessity his coronation had to be a short ceremony, and so it was.

A rushed affair.

She wasn’t even crowned princess consort, let alone empress. They didn’t have time to

wrangle the logistics of what it meant to be the wife of the emperor—not yet anyway. They’d

barely even had time to get the proper protocols in place for a coronation, forget getting the

actual imperial crown out of the master jeweler’s storage. It was Ciardis. It was Sebastian. It was

the representatives of the main provinces of the Algardis Empire and the five heads plus spouses

of the most influential families at court.

That was all.

That was enough.

Enough to make Sebastian a legitimate emperor.

Enough to quell whispers at court that no one had stepped in to formally take on the rule

as emperor. However, it didn’t answer the question of what was a proper handoff from one ruler

to the next of the connection and fidelities to the land.

Ciardis Weathervane stood one step below Sebastian as he rose and took the symbolic

ornaments of power from the magistrate’s hand—she didn’t sense any rush or transference of

power. Nothing to indicate that what needed to be done had been done.

Nothing at all. And that was bad. Because Sebastian had just symbolically sealed his new

rule, but symbolism meant nothing without the power to enforce his rule and his reign behind it.

Power, magical power, meant everything. Because power was why Maradian as Bastien

had siphoned off the prince heir’s inherent powers since he was a child. Emperors of Algardis

were tasked with a very special connection to the land and to rule that vast land you needed the

gift, the gift that allowed you to connect with the land. To command it. To revive it.
Sebastian had had that power for as long as Ciardis could remember.

It had been stolen, but it had been there.

After the revelation of the theft, that stolen stream of magic had reverted back to its

rightful owner.

So as they stood in the chapel, open-air columns above them, she had to wonder, Where

is that gift now?

As Sebastian looked back down at her, panic flashing in his dark-green eyes, she saw the

same sense of confusion and doubt take seed in his mind.

She wanted to reassure him, but she didn’t know what to say.

She wasn’t an expert on imperial transfers of power, after all.

Turns out, though, that she didn’t need to say anything at all.

The magistrate cleared his throat and said in a lofty voice, “Now that the political

transition has been assured, we can move forward with the blood transmission.”

“Blood transmission?” Sebastian asked in a low voice.

Low enough that the assembly of courtiers and officials surrounding them wouldn’t pick

up on the words without some very invasive physical movements on their own parts. So far they

were holding off, though the half-circle gathered around the couple had begun to whisper

animatedly to other guests nearby.

Excited whispers.

But whispers nonetheless. Which meant that, according to the rules of court protocol, she

could ignore it. They could be plotting treason for all that she cared. But because they whispered

between hidden hands, they weren’t ready to act. They weren’t brave enough to force their cause,
and Ciardis Weathervane knew that she could scatter them to the four corners of the room if they

so much as tried.

She wanted to believe that everyone was on the same page now, but that would be

foolish. This was the imperial courts of Sandrin after all. Coercion and deception went hand-in-

hand. They had managed to convince the nobles and the representatives of the need for

compliance, but she never forgot that the courtiers’ willingness to behave only went so far. The

moment the threat from the heavens had passed, they would make Sebastian and Ciardis’s rule a

living hell.

And why shouldn’t they? Thanar asked in a mockingly innocent tone. You give them

nothing better to do.

They’re grown men and women, Ciardis snapped at him internally.

Who are but children in larger bodies, said a voice that Ciardis was surprised to find

belonged to Sebastian. I grew up in these courts. I know how to handle them. We just need to get

through this ceremony first. This one. Then war.

Ciardis couldn’t disagree with that, so she looked over at the magistrate with her own

sense of frustration glimmering in her eyes.

She desperately wanted to get this transference over with; they all did.

“The first step of the transfer of power was really a formality, if you will,” the magistrate

said in a hurried voice. “This one…this is the one you need to make sure that the protection and

spells set in place in the past by the imperial family line recognize their new master. The new

Emperor of Algardis.”

Hurriedly, she asked the magistrate, “And how is that to be done magistrate?”
He cleared his throat and then said, “Well, to instigate the true passing of power from one

ruler to another, we must follow the traditions.”

Ciardis narrowed her eyes as she said suspiciously, “Sebastian’s power has always been

his own. That was proven. He has the connection to the Landwight already.”

The magistrate looked down his beaky nose at her. “That may be so, but that is just one

form of power that the ruler wields. It is the prince heir’s natural instinct to convene with the

land. As emperor he won’t convene, he will mandate.”

Voice firm, Sebastian, now officially if not actively installed as emperor, said, “And how

is that done?”

“Yes, how?” Ciardis said, letting sarcasm drip from her voice.

She wasn’t sure she liked where this was going.

She definitely didn’t like what had been supposed to be a simple ceremony being dragged

out into an uncertain affair. They had plans to lay and a goddess to slay. Ceremonial procedures

were getting in her way. Their way.

The magistrate must not have had a death wish, because he quickly dropped his arrogant

tone and went for a more appeasing expression as he spread his hands and gave them what he

probably thought was a placating look.

To Ciardis he looked like the dog who had peed in the corner and was desperately trying

to look like he had no idea where the “accident” had come from.

Which suited her just fine. She always found out who was responsible for errors in the

end, and that person would pay. Magistrate or not.

Calm down, Ciardis¸ she heard Sebastian say appealingly in her head. He hasn’t actually

done anything wrong.
Yet, she snapped back.

Do I detect a note of anxiety in your voice? Thanar said with no little amusement.

Shut it, Thanar, Sebastian retorted as he quickly as he turned to her. And as for you,

Ciardis—

What? she asked in a tone that was just short of a pout.

He’s a justice of the peace—try not to fry him where he stands, Sebastian asked with a bit

of desperation. He tilted his head to the side to emphasize his remarks.

Ciardis glanced down in the direction of his gaze and saw unfortunate lightning sparks

jumping from clenched fingertip to fingertip on both of her balled hands.

She sighed unhappily and opened her fists to gently smooth her dress out.

A gesture that helped her calm down immensely.

It’s a good thing I took a bit of time to change, she thought placidly. I’d hate to see the

reaction of the lightning to the metal bits on the belt I was wearing.

She didn’t think the interaction would have hurt her, but there was no telling whom the

bits of energy would have hit if they’d been forced to peel off in opposite directions upon contact

with the metal.

When she looked back up from her careful attention to her embroidery, anything to give

her time to let her pent-up magic distribute itself peacefully back into her core and along the

connecting strands of magic back to her bondmates’ cores, her gaze focused with convenient

sharpness on the still-standing magistrate.

He got the message loud and clear.

“As I was saying,” the man said in a harried voice, “we can move on to our second—and

very quick—procedure.”
Murmuring in the circling nobles around them made Ciardis severely side-eye several

suspects, but one brave man still spoke up, “Yes, it’s time to pass the crown.”

Ciardis counted mentally to three in her head and closed her eyes.

She was trying to keep her impatience in check.

It was working. Sort of.

As patiently as she could, she asked, “Yes, why don’t we proceed. It would help if you

explained the necessary accomplishments needed.”

The magistrate said, “Well, once the last ruler passes on their deathbed, the heir is

acknowledged and brought forth for the first ceremony.”

He paused and looked around the fledging group with a disdainful eye and continued,

“Usually with a bit more pomp and circumstance in mind.”

It was clear that he was quite displeased by what had just passed as a coronation before

his very eyes. Ciardis hadn’t been alive for the investiture of power to Sebastian’s father but she

had heard that thousands of citizens had thronged the streets of Sandrin straining to get a glimpse

of the passing prince heir as he paid tribute on his way to claim his throne. Bastien had been that

prince heir. Sebastian was his son and obviously taking his place in the ceremony without nearly

as much fanfare.

Ciardis could care less that the magistrate, who had probably been dreaming his whole

life about conducting such a ceremony, was displeased. They had other priorities in mind. Like

not dying when fighting a deity and shoring up as much of the protections surrounding the

empire as they could. They didn’t need draconic magic leaking into their palace just as they were

setting off to face a goddess in battle. That was like leaving your backdoor open to thieves while

you took care of the aggressors out front.
“It’s hardly a requirement,” Ciardis muttered disdainfully.

The magistrate’s nostrils actually flared as he said, “Well, tradition usually calls for a

route that loops through the city and down to the waters that gave birth to our fair empire along

with the fealty pledges of all the great families—”

“Who are here,” the seneschal managed to interrupt in a gravelly voice.

Ciardis shot him a grateful look; it seemed she wasn’t the only person getting fed up with

the magistrate’s whining. You’d think that man had been robbed of being crowned in an

elaborate ceremony himself the way he was carrying on.

When the magistrate proceeded to whine again, the new emperor had apparently had

enough. Sebastian held up a commanding hand and said, “I understand what tradition dictates

very well, my lord. It dictates continuity of the line. It dictates having a ruler in place with a firm

hand. This assured that. The fact that we had to make some allowances for circumstances cannot

be helped.”

Ciardis also deadpanned, “Right. We were on a tight schedule. So continue on, please.”

The rising frustration in her voice toward the end was unmistakable.

The magistrate grimaced. “The death of the preceding ruler frees up the ancient

obligations to be laid on the next ruler.”

“And how is that done?” Sebastian asked with impatience seeping into even his voice.

Which was fair. They’d only repeated the same question for the thousandth time this

hour.

“By passing from this life into the next,” said the same noble with bloodthirsty eagerness

in his voice.
Ciardis tried to keep calm as her stomach dropped. In fact, she’d say she was downright

congenial when she asked in an icy tone that would do her mother proud, “What, exactly, do you

mean by that?”

Courtiers, who also happened to be conclave members, looked at each other helplessly.

“Well,” said one old fart with disturbingly slow drawl. “It has been required since time

immemorial for not only the reigning ruler to pass into death, but also for the next ruler to briefly

pass between realms as well. To commune with the ancestors. To seek out the answers lost

between generations.”

Ciardis lost all pretense of placidity.

She whirled around and threw up her hands, nearly dislodging the gleaming circlet that

rested atop her head in acknowledgment of her status as future wife in the process.

Practically foaming at the mouth, the lady companion launched into a blistering tirade.

“What is with this court’s obsession with death? Sebastian is not going to die. I won’t let him.

I’ve had enough death.”

Each sentence was emphasized by a thrust of a sparking finger into the oversized doublet

of the courtier who’d opened his big, fat mouth in the first place.

The man was stumbling back as fast as he could and she was striding forward with the

determination of a woman infuriated.

He was lucky she hadn’t fried him on the spot.

As she got angrier, she thought she still might.

Ciardis closed her eyes and prayed to whomever was listening, as long as their name

didn’t happen to be Amani, Heavens help me, I need someone to make sense of this all I need

someone who can force them to take their heads out of their bums before I kill them all. I am not
cut out to coddle these idiots, I can’t. But if I don’t get help this very second, I can’t be

responsible for who lives and dies over something as inane as a parade anymore. Send someone

who can talk sense into them. Send a savior.

She did finish her prayer before putting in one last entreaty, one that she never thought

would have worked.

But desperation as on her side as Ciardis said three final words: Send my mother.

To her everlasting surprise, that was exactly who appeared.

Continue the journey today and grab Sworn To Restoration: Courtlight #11!