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Abendau's Legacy - sneak preview



CHAPTER ONE

Early morning light filtered through rough-hewn portholes, casting sea-shimmers on the corridors ceiling. Kare stopped at the entrance to the old Queen’s chamber in the Roamer complex and stood, soaking in the warmth of the sun and the sound of waves drumming, ceaseless and rhythmic.
             He touched the rooms force-field, letting it tingle against his hands and play over his skin. Once, he’d thought it was a security measure – now he understood that the chamber was not just a sleeping-room, but the Roamers’ museum of a culture, and the force-field prevented damp air reaching it on days when the sun was clouded and the air cold.
Get on with it. He grimaced, took a deep breath, and pushed his way into the room. 
             The briny air was replaced by the low musk of incense, burned in honour of the dead. The room remained as it had been when hed last visited it, on the memorial day for his grandmother, when hed lit the incense. Memories rushed at him: of the casket containing his grandmothers ashes, due to be released over the great ocean of Syllte; of the Roamers hoping hed accept the room as his own, the final symbol that he was Karlyn, their King, not Kare Varnon, the cast-out; of Kerra, wide-eyed and excited at her new heritage, and Baelan, surly, standing apart from the crowd.
It had struck him, then, how like him and Karia his children were. The future they presented could have been his own if his father had not succeeded in escaping the Empress. The Empress had taken the boy, as she’d wanted to with Kare. She’d touched his young mind and tried to shape it. How did it feel for Baelan to see Kerra, so loved and secure? He and Karia had been thrust into their crazy childhood together, but had been loved by their erratic father equally. Baelan had never had any recognition of who he was. Kare wanted to give his son the chance to discover himself – and his daughter, too, so shaped by the palace and her constrained future.   
             He turned in a slow circle, taking in symbols etched in the stone. Some were the earliest patterns that had come to form the complex decals of the Roamer families, others a lettering he was not familiar with, an interlinking of lines and images that made him feel he should understand their message, and frustrated he could not. The shelves were filled with artifacts that he’d taken the time to explore over the past days. A ship’s control panel, dulled with age, taken from the first of the Roamer ships; a chart marking Syllte and its star; a book, heavy, its cover inscribed with more of the lost language. Inside, it listed the kings and queens of the Roamers. His father – once heir to the Roamers – was not listed, nor would Kare be, unless he formally accepted their kingship, here in this room.
He didnt want the anger within him, he wanted to let it go and be free. He wanted to accept what was offered on Syllte – the peace of the mesh and the power it offered, his place in a community that stood with him, watching from the mesh, collective breath held.
He zoned the Roamers out. This decision was his alone; he didnt need an audience. He wanted to accept, yes, but to do so would be to put aside their betrayal, not just of himself, but his father and sister, too.
            The alcove beside him was thick with dust. He ran his finger through it, leaving a thick line, stopping at a carved wooden box. His breath caught. He hadnt seen one like it since he was seven, when his fingers had been small enough to slip into the carved runs and trace them. Now his adult fingers didnt fit into the grooves, but ran over the top of them instead.
He lifted the box and popped it open. Inside, nestled on dark velvet, was a clear jewel.
A Seers prism. His father had chosen to embrace the Empressprism cell and travel the future, time and again, to find a path to free his children from her. Hed been left unable to Seer again, his mind too fragile, yet one glance at a prism had overcome him. When that had happened, nearly thirty years ago, it had been the true death of his father; his final, shocking moments merely confirmation.
Kare's mouth moistened. He remembered that day with his father, going into his first – and only – vision. He had the power to use the prism. He could discover if the path hed walked, the path that had cost him and everyone he loved so much, had been the right one. He ran his fingers over the hard glass, tracing its angles. Hed never given in to the temptation to Seer, leaving his horror-filled dreams the only forewarning of the future. But his heritage had never shone before him like this.
He hooked the prism from the box and sat on the edge of the small bed, turning it over and over in his hand. The refracted light merged with the shimmering sea-cast. It would be easy to attach the stone to the thin silver chain hanging from the ceiling, as his ancestors had done, one after the other.
His shoulders tensed but he stayed still and straight, his promise to Karia, made curled with her in their freighters pilots seat, stopping him. Their fathers screams screams from Kares future, ones hed matched and more had echoed through the ship. His twin's fear had radiated to him and back, a macabre dance of shifting thoughts.
His promise that night had a shared strength, carried for her and for him. He closed his hand over the prism, stopping the light. He hadnt kept his final promise – everything hadnt been all right – but hed kept this one for thirty years; he was damned if he was going to break it now. 
A light breeze made him look up. The room was empty, but he could sense the sister whod haunted his youth. She felt very close to him, and it was right that she did: she should be here, a princess of the Roamers, not a ghost-child left only in his mind. He tightened his hand around the prism, his once broken bones aching, until the cut-glass dug into his palm. Let it hurt; at least it was clean.
            Karia
s presence faded back to where she should be, leaving only a deep pain, centred on his heart. He ran his hand through his hair, pushing it back from his sweat-beaded forehead. Gods, hed been right to resist taking this room.
Soft footsteps brought him out of his thoughts. Sonly, standing by the door, gave a hesitant smile. I was told you were here.
He touched his head. My posse?
“Yes.” She sat beside him. Are you all right?
He nodded. He held the prism tight and took a deep, shuddering, breath. The sea-light shimmered, ageless, and he watched until he was calm enough to speak. He didnt need the prism to know his future path; he just needed to find it within himself to take it.
“After I dissolve the empire, Im going back.Icy sweat broke across his shoulders. To Abendau. 
You cant.” Sonlys voice was thin and scared. “I wont let you.
“We cant live like this,he said. My mother is in the palace, plotting against us.Sonly went to interrupt, but he held his hand up. Not just against me and you, but the children. Lichio. She wants all of us.
We have security. She cant get near us without you sensing her. Were safe.”
He gave a tight smile; Sonly didnt believe it any more than he did, or she wouldnt insist on centering the Free Republic in the relatively secure Ferran system, the great gas giant and satellites straddling the middle and outer zone systems. She was no fool; she knew that if the Empress regained her support in the central star systems, nowhere would be safe for him, her, or anyone they loved. She must know, too, that Syllte wasn’t as secure as the Roamers insisted. His mother had a fleet of ships to throw at the planet, if she found it – if she lost some to the storm, she’d absorb it.
We can only fly using Roamer ships,he said. We have personal security teams everywhere we go, and outer perimeter teams. Thats not what I want for you or the children. I want them to know they wont be taken to Abendau and made to face my mother.
Yet, Baelan wanted to return to Abendau – and it was his place to, surely. As ever, things weren’t as simple as they should be. The boy could not be sent back. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. A silence stretched, until he drew in a breath. I need to, for what its worth, end it.
Then send an assassin.Her words were quick, almost desperate.
He took her hand. Shell sense anyone else before they get close.His voice was stronger than hed imagined it would be. Sonly, she has taken so many lives. My father, Karia. Silom and Sam; everyone. I can’t let her take any more.
The quiet stretched, broken only by the beating sea until, slowly, she nodded. He gripped the prism in his free hand and brought Ealyn and Karia to his mind. When – if – he finished this, it wasn’t only for him, but for all of them.
He took a last look around the room. Until his mother was dead and he was free to choose his own path, this room and its legacy could wait. He had to know his decision was for the right reason and not driven by fear, or the need to be different from his mother – a Varnon, not a Pettina. No, more than that – Varnon was another fake name, given to his father for convenience; he needed to know whatever heritage he accepted was his own. The Roamers had cast his father out, theyd left himself and Karia to their fate; he couldnt accept what they asked of him. Not unless he was sure. Until he was, theyd have to wait.

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