Angharad dropped to the ground as the shot sounded.
The stranger who’d stood in front of her was not so quick and his face exploded in a shower of gore – Sleeping God, she thought, sickened – as she reached for the long saber at her hip. There were a few screams at the grisly sight, but already the people of the street market were scurrying away into alleys. Angharad grit her teeth. This place was not like her home, like Peredur: there was no honour in Sacromonte, this horrid city of filth and rats. No one would help.
Slowly, so that the sound would not give her away, Angharad unsheathed her saber as she crawled towards the edge of the stall that was her sole cover. She should look now, before her would-be assassin could reload their musket, but Angharad instead kept staring at the corpse of the man she had come here to meet. She found herself avoiding the sight of the gaping red wound made by the ball, gaze shying away, and lingering on the dark skin so much like her own.
The stranger had been Malani, by his accent, not Pereduri like her. Not that the rest of Vesper ever thought of the Duchy of Peredur as anything but a petty province of the Kingdom of Malan – her thoughts were straying, she chided herself. Fear had a way of doing that to her. Angharad mastered herself, breathing in and out slowly the way she had been taught. This was no display duel, no tournament of skill where the violence would end when blood or surrender ensued, but she had learned to kill her fear there and she would kill it today as well.
Her breathing calmed, her hand steady around the grip of her saber, Angharad popped her head out to look and-
(The musket ball went through her skull.)
-and she kept rolling, a shot whizzing above her as a lightning-quick bite of pain tore at her shoulder through the dyed cloth of her jacket. She was bleeding, but she rolled all the way behind another stall even as she heard a man curse in Antigua. Angharad’s lips tightened as she felt disapproval waft out of that deep place within her. The Fisher had drawn on their pact when she had failed to, granting her that glimpse of what lay ahead, but the old spirit approved of neither fear nor recklessness. He would not twice extend his hand this way.
“Come out,” a man’s voice called out from her right. “If you do, I’ll make it quick. Won’t be that kind if you make it hard, girl.”
Angharad ground her teeth. She was a peer of Peredur, even if her title had been struck down, and the last of the House Tredegar. Did the man expect she would simply roll over and die when he asked? She drew on her pact, feeling as if she had touched cold water with the bottom of her feet. In her mind’s eye she saw herself rise, but to her surprise the shot that took her in the chest did not come from the right but the left. There were two assassins, not one, she realized as she released the pact. Both of them with muskets. She hesitated. The odds were uncomfortably steep against her. Attack, her mother had taught her. Defence is delay.
Angharad’s fingers stumbled across a metal goblet, a cheaply made thing of iron, as she groped along the ground. It must have fallen when the peddler owning this stall fled. Closing her eyes, she tossed it to her right. Before it could hit the floor, she drew on her pact again and glimpsed the muzzle of the muskets following the sound. Without hesitation she rose, glimpsing two silhouettes in the dim lamplight aiming their guns at her bait. Shadows filtered through the banners and poles of the street market, hiding her for most of a heartbeat as she began to run. A click, a snap, a shot: a ball went whizzing past her as she ducked under another stall. She drew on the pact again, eyes turned unseeing as she moved, and coldly smiled. It was the nearest assassin that had shot, as she had hoped.
Angharad released the power, leaping over a clutter of pottery and keeping the killer now reloading her long musket between her and the assassin still ready to fire. The man of the pair shouted for his accomplice to move, but he was too late. Angharad kicked a stall of colourful ribbons into the woman’s knees and she rocked back with a shout of pain, dropping the ramrod she’d been using to reload. Angharad met her eyes, grey to brown, and saw the fear there. She did not relish it, did not allow herself to, and swung her saber in a clean stroke.
It ripped through the assassin’s throat.
Angharad drew on her pact, the Fisher’s quiet approval easing the coming of the glimpse. Smoothly the noblewoman caught the shoulder of the dying assassin before she could fall, keeping her body in the path of the panicked shot that followed from the other assassin. It didn’t pierce through, having hit the middle of the back, and Angharad let the body drop as she leapt over the stall before her. The man was a tall and thin Lierganen and his fear spread across his face like ink soiling water. He did not lose his wits, though and kicked the last stall between them towards her. It toppled piles of dyed cloth, but Angharad had been quicker and she was already leaping over it.
Her landing was off and she wasted a moment steadying her footing, long enough for the man to strike at her with the butt of the musket. Right into her shoulder, she swallowed a groan. That would bruise. She struck his chin in return, the guard of her saber crunching bone satisfyingly as the side of her blade bit into flesh, and with a hiss of pain the assassin dropped his musket. In his eyes Angharad saw the knowledge of his own death as the gun clattered on the floor, but she did not strike. Could not. The edge of her blade rested against the side of his neck.
“Pick up your weapon,” Angharad ordered, her Antigua crisp.
The man went still, eyes flicking to the blade and then back to her. The fear drained, replaced by a smirk.
“It’s true, then, about you Malani nobles,” he said. “All about honour. Won’t strike an unarmed man.”
Angharad did not answer, simply withdrawing her blade and taking half a step back.
“Fucking fools you are,” the man mocked. “Worse than an infanzon. I’ll just leave, and what are you going to-”
The point went through his eye and into his skull, Angharad snapping her wrist to withdraw the blade cleanly. There was some debate among scholars whether a ‘fair chance’ to take up one’s weapon should be considered three or five breaths, so she had waited a full five. She did not like to walk too close to the line in matters of honour.
“I am not Malani,” she coldly informed the corpse as it toppled.
She was of Peredur, and the people of the High Isle had their own ways. She knelt to wipe the blade on his tunic before sheathing it, idly going through his pockets. A few copper coins, powder and shot. She took the coin, as she would need them for the corpse price and it had been won cleanly by blade. The other assassin bore even less coin and a small dagger. The noblewoman returned to the cooling body of the man who had died trying to pass a message to her, the forever nameless Malani, and set the copper coins above his heart in a circle. It was an old custom: the coin was for anyone to take who would be willing to see the body properly burned or buried.
Feeling dirtied for putting her fingers to a corpse she had not made, Angharad forced herself to look through the dead man’s pockets for a message. To her relief, a pocket within his blood-splattered coat contained a folded letter. It was from Uncle Osian, there was no mistaking it: the small red seal keeping the letter closed displayed the two-tailed snake of House Tredegar. Osian, her mother’s youngest brother, had been allowed by her to keep using the family arms even though he had gone into exile to join the Watch. Though they were estranged, Mother had always said it was more by reason of distance than bitterness.
That distance was now why her uncle was the sole surviving member of Angharad’s family, for the Sleeping God moved in mysterious ways. She took the letter, not yet breaking the seal, and tucked it away beneath her coat. She looked around warily, still alone for now. The city guard might be hopelessly – and infamously – corrupt, but even they would not simply ignore killing in the streets of Sacromonte. Best be gone by the time they arrived.
Angharad took to the streets, going back the way she had come. Cortolo District was a maze of slender canals and curved bridges, its stone facades painted in shades of red and yellow that looked vivid in the warm light of the great pillars of palestone. Those relics had been laid down every few blocks back in the days of the Second Empire and she had found them a wondrous sight at first, for her homeland had nothing like them. Only the Lierganen at their height had been able to afford the luxury of letting stone pillars soak in the Glare for decades. She had since shed the wonder: the warm glow of the pillars had weakened over the centuries, and now there were always shadows between their reach.
The glories of the Second Empire were long gone, broken by great wars with the devils of Pandemonium and the even more brutal wars between the powers that had emerged to claim primacy after the fall of Liergan. Another century, Angharad thought as she passed through a grove of orange trees, and the Glare in those pillars would fade entirely. Sacromonte was far fallen from the peerless jewel of the Trebian Sea it had once claimed to be, and it fell a little further every year. The young noblewoman ignored the few street merchants who called out to her as she found the street she had been looking for, recognizing the painted eyes in red and blue on the side of a baker’s shop.
It made her uncomfortable that people – commoners – would call out to her in such a way. And there were so many of them… Angharad had visited many cities in Malan, when she duelled still, but not even the capital of the kingdom was so thick with people as Sacromonte. It made her feel cramped, somehow. The inn she was staying at was one her uncle had directed her to by letter, a small but clean establishment where she was assured of the hostess’ discretion. The middle-aged matron, a stout woman by the name of Luna, welcomed her with a smile as she passed the green-painted threshold.
“Lady Maraire,” the hostess said. “You’ve returned early. Will you be in want of a meal, then?”
Angharad’s answering smile was stiff. It was not a lie, the name she had given. No peer of Peredur could be recognized in the rolls of the kingdom’s nobility without first taking a Malani name, her own being Anwar Maraire. It had been the compromise honour allowed her between the secrecy Uncle Osian had urged her to and the dishonour inherent in deceiving one whose roof you stayed under. It sat ill with Angharad, for all that she knew it was necessary, and Luna’s graceful manners in referring to her by the name and title were as a twist of the knife every time.
“I do not yet know,” Angharad replied. “I have correspondence to attend to before I can give you answer. Is the solar vacant?”
“It is, my lady,” Luna nodded. “And I tidied it up this morning too. Enter as you please.”
Angharad thanked her hostess and went up the stairs. She slipped into her room, long enough to shed her jacket and grimace at the red staining her pale shirt. The ball had nicked the back of her shoulder, deep enough to bleed her if not to touch muscle. Mother had shown her how to dress a wound when she’d been a girl and still dreamed of her following in her footsteps as a sea captain, so she clumsily cleaned the wound and wrapped a bandage from her trunk around her shoulder. The dark-skinned noblewoman still had two clean shirts and she wasted no time putting one on, but that’d been her last jacket. There was nothing left now but a formal dress and an overcoat, the latter of which she decided on.
The trunk was half-empty, she saw with a pang. She’d been able to bring precious little with her when she had fled Malan, only what friends of the family had been able to salvage from the townhouse in Indawen before it too was seized. Clothes, coin, a few of her father’s jewels and a handful of books. There were fewer of the last than she’d begun with, as she’d had to sell a few for local coinage after docking in the Sanguine Port. Angharad was not so callow as to be unaware that showing she had gold and jewels in a port could get her robbed or worse. She still had all three of Yibanathi’s books of poems, at least, her very favourites in all the world.
The first of them had been a gift from her very first love. Arianwen had been as exacting an opponent on the duelling field as she had been a companion off it, something that had first drawn but ultimately chased away Angharad. Still, the hard words of their parting had since lost their sting and it was now with mostly fondness that the noblewoman ran a finger across the spine of the book. It would have been easy to lose herself in reminiscence, Angharad knew. Easy and dangerous. If she lived in the past, she would be buried with it. She closed the trunk, her haste making the sound harsh, and crisply took her letter before leaving the room.
Down the hall, past the three other bedroom doors of the inn, she found the small solar’s door open and the shutters on its window pulled back. She closed the door behind her, though there was sadly no lock. The chair and writing desk by the window were worn but comfortable and well-tended to, much like the rest of the inn, and Angharad unclasped the sheath at her belt before seating herself. She sighed, leaning back as the scent of lemons and oranges drifted through the window on a subtle breeze. After a long moment, readied, she broke the seal on the letter and opened it.
The looping and elegant calligraphy of her Uncle Osian filled a few paragraphs. Like on every other instance, the older man failed to properly greet her as the Lady of Llanw Hall. Angharad’s fingers tightened, her teeth grit as for a moment she smelled ash on the wind and heard screams in the distance. It took a long moment for her to calm, for her breathing to even out. Her home was gone, her family was gone, everything and everyone she had ever known. And now even here, in this shitheap of a city halfway across Vesper, assassins still hunted her. The rage was familiar by now, a comforting burn, and she embraced it.
Angharad Tredegar would have revenge on the man who had destroyed her family one day. She had sworn it, on that calamitous night where she had lost everything, and the Fisher had heard her oath. The old spirit would see it through at her side, their contract a bond only death could sunder.
Calmed anew, Angharad resumed reading. It was not long before she winced. She had hoped her uncle might come to her here in Sacromonte, but it was not to be: Osian wrote that he had not been allowed to take leave from his work, as it had reached a critical juncture and he was the head of the endeavour. As always, her uncle remained vague on what exactly it was he did for the Watch. He was captain in rank, but Angharad knew that he was not part of one of the many free companies out in the field on contracts.
Her uncle was not much of a fighting man, her mother had always said, but he’d always been clever with his mind and his hands. He’d written of spending much time in the Rookery once, one of the great fortress-islands of the Watch, so Angharad had come to suspect he might be a member of one of the seven Circles – one of the scholarly societies, probably. That meant influence among their ranks, from what little she knew of the workings of the Watch, as though all watchmen were counted as members of the order less than a tenth of them were ever inducted into one of the Circles.
Uncle Osian tersely apologized for being unable to come himself but wrote he had meanwhile made arrangements on her behalf and learned of her enemy.
You were followed from Malan, niece, he wrote. Your ship was asked for by name at the Sanguine Port and silver flowed freely for men who had answers about where you had gone. I fear that the enemy pursuing you is no mere peer or izinduna but instead a high noble, perhaps even a member of the High Queen’s court. I am told by my acquaintances that the Guardia was not simply bought; its officers were ordered by one of the great families of Sacromonte to kill you. Avoid the redcloaks at all costs.
Angharad’s lips thinned. It was worse than she had thought, then, and she had not thought it good in the slightest. She had her own suspicions as to the rank of the man who had ordered the end of House Tredegar, and though they were still only suspicions to have it confirmed her enemy was wealthy and powerful only served to strengthen them. If the city guard itself was hunting her, she thought, then she must leave Sacromonte before long. It would be her death otherwise. Hopefully, then, her uncle had not simply written to tell her he was leaving her to her fate.
She carefully read the rest, eyes narrowing when he cautioned her that he could not intervene too blatantly as her situation was a ‘Malani matter’ and the Watch was not meant to intervene in the affairs of nations without invitation. That might be true in principle, she thought, but hardly in practice. Yet her uncle might not have the influence to force such a matter, and if her foe was influential enough Osian’s allies and superiors might not be willing to intervene on his behalf. It was dire news, but she took it as calmly as she could. Angharad had known it would be a possibility. Yet her uncle, it seemed, was not to abandon her.
After trading favours I have secured an opportunity that could place you beyond the reach of your enemy, no matter how powerful, Uncle Osian wrote. Your name has been added to the list of candidates that are to undertake the yearly trials on the island of Vieja Perdida. It would be a perilous undertaking, I will not pretend otherwise. Fewer than one in five survive. Yet to succeed would make you a fully-fledged member of the Watch immediately, robbing your foe of the ability to frustrate attempts at more traditional enrolment.
It would protect you, Angharad. Even great lords do not dare offend the Watch and your oath need not be a lifelong one. I urge you to take shelter among our order until you are fully grown and ready to face your enemy. There is little more I can do, for I have traded what I have to trade and now find myself short on debts owed. The man who handed you this letter is trustworthy and knows how to have coin made available to you should you need it. If you would send me a letter in answer, he can handle the matter for you.
May the Sleeping God dream you kindly.
Captain Osian Tredegar
Below were scribbled directions to the ship that would take her to the trials should she wish to attempt them, as well as a note that the two days to embark were the seventh and the eighth of the Fourth. Today and tomorrow, Angharad realized with a start. She must have been too slow in finding her uncle’s agent. It was a troubling notion that she might have had a part in the man’s death, and not the sole one that Uncle Osian had brought at her door. He wanted her to join the Watch and she could understand why well enough.
He was right that it would afford her a great deal of protection, and that the oath would not take all of her life: watchmen swore in sevens, and after seven years Angharad expected she would be either dead or ready for revenge. It also meant, however, that she would formally be leaving her title as Lady of Llanw Hall behind. Blackcloaks could not hold titles while they served, and often not even after. She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth.
“It is already behind you, fool girl,” she harshly whispered.
The high courts of Malan had struck her title down before she even fled the kingdom. Her mother had been accused of high treason and her father of corruption – something or other about taxes – so the High Queen of Malan had given her assent to the removal of her family from the rolls of nobility. In the eyes of the law, Angharad was no longer a peer of Peredur. The title she claimed was a meaningless one. And yet the thought of surrendering it felt like hot coals in her belly. She thought of ash and screams again, shivering. It felt like a betrayal to abandon the title when she was the sole survivor of that horror.
Could she really spit on the memory of her parents in this way?
No, she decided. Her situation was not yet so dire that she could not attempt to write her uncle again for another solution. She still had coin enough to last a few months and even if Osian’s agent was dead her uncle could still be contacted through the great offices of the Watch in Sacromonte. Folding the letter and tucking it away in her coat, Angharad opened the drawer on the side of the desk and took both paper and ink. She had a quill of her own, in her trunk, and she rose to fetch it. The door opened and Angharad froze: at the top of the stairs, a man in a red cloak was standing with a pistol in hand.
Another was coming up the stairs behind him, and a moment of perfect stillness followed as Angharad met the guardsman’s eyes. The pact came easy, telling her she was but a moment away from a shot being fired at her.
“Shit,” the red-cloaked man swore, raising his pistol and his voice. “It’s her.”
Angharad shut the door just in time, the ball tearing into it with a spray of wooden shards. Keeping a foot on the door, she hastily snatched up her sheathed saber as another shot thundered against the wood. She could hear men shouting about breaking down the door. They must have thought it was locked instead of simply being held. Going through the corridor would be suicide, she thought, even if there were only two of them. Which she doubted. That left… Angharad glanced at the window, dipping into her pact. She grimaced. She’d get shot. The timing was slightly off. She released the pact and pulled at it again, trying to find the right moment.
The door was about to be knocked down by two men using a bench, she saw. It was now or never.
Angharad, holding her sheathed saber in hand, hurriedly crawled atop the table and pushed her way through the shutters even as the door was smashed down behind her. She fell through and down into the street even as the guard in the street below hastily snapped a shot at her and missed by a wide margin, ball ricocheting inside the solar. She landed on her feet, crouching down with a shout of pain but gritting her teeth as she forced herself to move. She dipped into the pact and coldly smiled at what she saw.
The red-cloaked woman in front of her had a long cudgel in hand, but she dropped it to unsheathe a short sword. It was a mistake. Darting forward before the cudgel hit the pavement, Angharad smashed the pommel of her saber in the woman’s throat and, as she began choking, slipped behind her. The shot that came from the solar window took the guardswoman in the belly. There were screams and shouts inside the inn, red-cloaked guards forcing their way back out to pursue, but Angharad took off at a run. She might not know the city, but a head start was a head start.
She ran until she was out of breath, across bridges and markets, until she was sure she had lost the men and women of the Guardia. Only then did she allowed herself to hide in a shady nook, near a palestone pillar, and belt her sheath properly again. Gritting her teeth, she found herself leaning her forehead against a brightly painted wall. She’d been found. By now the redcloaks would have confiscated the last of her worldly possessions, leaving her with a wealth of three silver arboles in her pockets and the clothes on her back. That, and her saber, was now the sum of what Angharad Tredegar owned.
She would have wept, were she not so angry at them for the unfairness of it all.
But there was, she remembered, one last thing on her. The same letter she had tucked away, the salvation Uncle Osian had offered. With trembling fingers, Angharad took it out and unfolded it. At the bottom of the letter, scribbled, was the name of the ship awaiting at Fishmonger’s Quay. The Bluebell. The young noblewoman breathed out, found her center, and tucked away the letter once more.
“Bury the past,” Angharad murmured, “or be buried with it.”
It was as simple as that. There was no refuge left to her save for audacity, and she would not meet whatever fate awaited her cowed or trembling.
Angharad straightened her back and strode back into the light.
11 thoughts on “Chapter 2”
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Gooood, glad the new site is established.
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That’s a super cool power. Nice limitations as well
I’m loving the idea of Gods not being public, like in PGtE, but private. A resource like technology or a training regime. Something jealously guarded, but which could be stolen with a sharp eye and a pen.
Can’t wait to get more details on how these Pacts work.
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Looking forward to chapter 3
I love the world building, can’t wait to learn more about the world and magic system. That was one of the best bits of APTE.
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feeling as if she has touched cold water with the bottom of her feet
has > had
Angharad’s fingers stumbled across metal goblet
metal > a metal
Corruption at its finest.
Really liking this start. Hope this fills the void that the Practical Guide left in me after I finished reading it.😢
Thoughts: absolutely in love with the powers/abilities so far, and the way gods seem very common is interesting.
Theory: I remember seeing a bit about empires rising and falling in short periods of time in the summary.
What if the commonness of gods stem from the fact that each empire creates their own (in a ‘all mythologies are real’ way) but the sheer about of beliefs means that over time, all the power gets diluted unless you are being currently worshiped?
Being one of three ancient luck goddesses is very different from being one of three million luck goddesses