Age of Mycea (Circle Trilogy - Book 1)

 


Age of Mycea (Circle Trilogy - Book 1)
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Excerpt:

The immense, ancient forest shivered as the ground rumbled, releasing a shower of twigs and moss down upon him, peppering his hair and shoulders with the dank stench of evergreen canopy centuries undisturbed. The sky darkened, deepening the damp cold as one of the few remaining empire ships lumbered past overhead.

Sebastian urged his horse forward, gripping tight to his sword. The hilt was slick with blood and sweat, threatening to relieve him of the only weapon capable of delivering him to what was left of his world. If there was indeed anything of importance left at all.

He peered back over his shoulder. He had spent as much time as he could searching through the rubble. Shouting down through every crevice that might have encapsulated his companion. A wet, shallow breath shuddered past his lips. There was no way of knowing for sure if he had managed to escape to safety. Not without heading into the tunnels to search for him.

No time.

Sebastian nudged his horse's side, pivoting his mind as well as his body away from the urge to bolt toward the escape route they had set the colony's civilians on.

Either he has survived, or he hasn't.

Resigned, Sebastian regained his focus and surveyed the battalion of men awaiting his next order. Their squinting, crud-rimmed eyes betrayed an exhaustion they would never admit to. Exhaustion and defeat. It was etched into the weary creases of their stoic faces. Faces the likenesses of which had lined the central courtyard of the once opulent empirical palace.

Sebastian glanced over his shoulder again—one final time. They had been unable to save the empire's capital. Its massive marble columns, elegant domed buildings, and ornate fountains had crumbled, succumbing to the unrelenting barrage of strikes designed to bring the colony down.

He expelled a breath and tightened his reins, his horse dancing, pummeling the wet, rocky ground beneath its hooves. His men. They weren't prone to entertaining the temptress of defeat. Had proven so repeatedly over the years even though she'd visited often—alluring and seductive, enticing them with the promise of restful, mind-numbing peace upon their submission.

They would never succumb. They would lay down their lives for him, without question. Their job now—to ensure there were no additional civilian casualties—that the colony's subject-occupied tunnels weren't overrun by enemy forces. They needed to reach the precipice above.

Sebastian rose, balanced high in his saddle, his sword arm circling over his head, maneuvering to restrain his horse from breaking away. He let the bloodlust build in his gut, heating and hardening his already rigid muscles and coloring his vision.

Then it erupted—released, vengeful, echoing throughout the hills—a howling, guttural promise of death.

Acrid smoke from the fires burning below made it impossible for Meshia to see which direction the Marjar foot soldiers' hordes were moving. He had led his battalion up into the steep hills surrounding the valley. He hoped to ascertain a clearer picture of where the enemy troops were heading, but his efforts were proving futile. The valley floor was almost entirely obscured by drifting smoke—the forest in flames all around them.

Meshia grunted and set his shoulders in defiance, his horse shifting beneath him, impatient and anxious to be on the move again. Off in the distance, immense plumes of orange gas and smoke sprung up, dotting the landscape with surreal volcano-like eruptions. The deafening explosions ripped cavernous holes in the forest floor, tossing trees as though they were nothing more than tinder. He cringed in frustration as the gut-wrenching din of iron twisting and popping continued overhead. His massive fleet of warships was being systematically ripped apart by plasma fire and sent plummeting to the ground in brilliant bursts of ignition and flame.

In the distance, he could see bolts of purple lightning illuminating the smoke. Tobias was exerting his profession's limits to assist them, but the aged wizard was no match for the Marjar fleet. The entire empire and everything it stood for was in jeopardy if the Marjar succeeded in taking the planet of Mycea. As it was, much of the Neter colony, the hub of the empire, containing the governmental headquarters, the homes of the royal court, and Meshia's residence within the empirical palace, had received indeterminate damage.

He strained to see through the smoke, searching for the recognizable gait of the only commander he truly trusted. A man that had come to be in his life through the most unusual of circumstances. A man that ought not to have been there at all.

—And perhaps that would have been preferable.

Meshia grunted again and backed his horse away from the steep edge of the hillside, admonishing himself for allowing his state of mental disquiet. The signal had been sent.

He will arrive here safe—soon.

Meshia turned in his saddle when he heard the familiar exhalation of his wife, Lakeda, as she rode up alongside him.

"This is not looking good," she said as she peered out through the smoke-filled haze. Their once beautiful city was in ruins, and the elegant forest that had surrounded it scorched beyond recognition.

Meshia looked over at his wife, her hair framing her brave face whipping in the wind being generated by the fires below. Her fitted breastplate was tarnished and dented, and she gripped her sword firmly in one hand. Lakeda was a fierce warrior, and she had taken her place at his side on the throne, and the battlefield, from the very first day since they had wed. As the ruling king of the empire, he had chosen well. A queen such as Lakeda, brave, caring, and approachable, had strengthened the civilians' trust in them.

Thankfully, they managed to save many of those civilians by sending them into the tunnel system that ran beneath the colony out into the surrounding hills. They would be safe down there for as long as it took the empire's military to handle things on the surface. It looked as though the tunnels may become the permanent home to many more than already lived there from his current vantage point.

He adjusted his sword and stood up in his stirrups to get a better look but could only see a few battalions of Marjar foot soldiers. He sunk back into his saddle.

"We weren't prepared for this—at all," he whispered.

A waft of thick smoke drifted up into his eyes as he squinted toward the sky. It was teeming with Marjar ships, and they were proving to be relentless in their quest to take the planet.

"Where did the Marjar find those ships?" Lakeda said. "They don't have the technology to build ships this advanced. We don't even …"

Meshia briefly chastised himself for failing to see any warning signs leading up to this. Most of the territories under the empire's control were not technologically advanced enough to launch an assault such as this. The empirical military's current range of weapons had always been more than sufficient. Still, as Meshia looked up to the skies, he could see that his slow-moving warships were no match for the destructive capabilities of the smaller and faster Marjar fleet. His ships were falling out of the sky like bugs over a fire.

He had no idea who had assisted the Marjar in acquiring the advanced technology, but it was wiping them out.

"We need to regroup," Meshia said to Lakeda, "and attempt to drive the Marjar foot soldiers deeper into the forest and away from the underground tunnels. I do not want them getting anywhere near the civilian population. Hopefully, we can hold them off long enough for the Supreme Council to send us some reinforcements."

"Your Majesty, the request for assistance was sent over a week ago."

Meshia gazed out at their remaining troops amassing on the hillside. His wife was right. Reinforcements weren't coming.

 He shook his head in disgust. During the last assault, many of the men in both his and Lakeda's battalion had retreated, absconded, heading for the dense forest to the south of the colony. Likely never to be seen again.

Their numbers had been decimated by death and dissension; they were in trouble.

Turning in his saddle, Meshia's eyebrows furrowed with irrepressible concern. The delay was losing them ground.

"Where is Commander Sebastian's battalion?" Meshia asked, pivoting in his saddle to question her further. They hadn't much time.

"I spotted his battalion making its way up the long ravine at the far side of the valley a few hours ago." Lakeda held her sword over her head and stretched out her shoulders.

"We can't wait for him much longer," Meshia replied. "I'm going to bring what's left of my battalion down through those trees over there. I need you to hold your position up at the far end of the valley. I'll try to push the Marjar troops toward you."

He removed his sword from its sheath and swiped a vicious arc through the air. "Be prepared to cut them down once they reach you."

Lakeda bowed her head. "Your Majesty."

An eruption of boisterous laughter broke behind them. Meshia sat up sharp in his saddle and guarded a ripple of relief as Sebastian's form could be seen climbing up the hill's crest through the overgrowth of brambles onto the flat lookout point.

"Where do you want me, High Commander?" Sebastian shouted as he strode toward them, horse in tow, his bare arms and legs covered in a thick layer of battle grime, his leather breastplate and skirt drenched in blood.

Sebastian ran his hand across the top of his head, smoothing a few strands of his sleek, black hair out of his eyes, the bulk of which he had pulled into a knot at the back of his head. He adjusted his saddle and sword and remounted his horse, looking formidable as he approached the pair, the poised undulation of his powerful, war disciplined body matching that of his steed.

"We took out a few thousand of their men down on the flats to the north of the city," Sebastian reported, grinning. "I think I might be wearing some of them." He pounded his chest, further muddying the smears of blood coating his breastplate. It sent both men into a fit of deep, throaty, uproarious laughter that had their massive black warhorses rearing up in excitement.

Lakeda shook her head in apparent exasperation. Both men reveled in the chaos that was war. Not entirely unlike herself—but not like this.

She spun her horse around, kicking up a shower of small stones, and headed for the slope to take up her position.

Meshia clapped his hand into Sebastian's outstretched one.

"We've done it again," he jested, laughing as a complicit smirk lit up Sebastian's face. "Unwittingly chased her off," he added.

"She's funny that way," Sebastian said while admiring the state of Meshia's sword. It had seen some brutal combat this day.

Meshia flipped his blade over, wrinkling his nose, then sneered. "I'm not sure she'll cut through butter after that last battle."

"Then we're in luck," Sebastian replied, edging his horse closer to Meshia’s and lowering his voice. "No butter. Just … men."

Meshia sighed and began to turn his horse away, but Sebastian caught his reins, tugging him close. "Sebastian," he whispered. "Not now."

Sebastian shrugged. "What? I only want to know where you want me." He tipped his head to one side, seemingly measuring Meshia's reaction, then released Meshia's reins.

Meshia's brusque response had Sebastian snorting with amusement and spinning his horse off in the direction he had been ordered to take, his battalion scrambling to keep up with him.

—But there would be no victory today.

The Marjar had learned the exact location of their battalions and circled to the far side of the hill under cover of the smoke, closing in on them from all sides.

Meshia and Sebastian led their men straight into the fray, slashing their way through endless waves of Marjar soldiers. Lakeda tried to hold her position in the forest, cutting a swath through the approaching wall of bodies, only to be swept away by a new onslaught of Marjar intent on gaining the hillside.

The last thing Lakeda remembered was being struck from her horse and the sound of Sebastian charging toward her screaming her name—then everything went black.


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