Authors: Lindsay Buroker
The Blade’s Memory
(Dragon Blood, Book 5)
by Lindsay Buroker
Copyright © 2015, Lindsay Buroker
Hello, and welcome to the next installment of the Dragon Blood series! I hope you enjoy this new adventure. Before you jump in, please let me thank my beta readers, Cindy Wilkinson and Sarah Engelke, my editor, Shelley Holloway, and the cover designers at Deranged Doctor Design.
As Colonel Ridgewalker Zirkander crouched behind a bush, watching a steam wagon full of soldiers trundle up the road, he felt more like a felon avoiding the law than a military pilot who could claim a distinguished, twenty-year career. All right,
might not be quite the word, considering he had almost as many demerits on his record as he had medals and awards hanging on the wall in his office, but he was a respected officer. He certainly was not someone who skulked in the shrubs of his own homeland, especially when it was raining, and water barely above freezing kept dribbling past the collar of his flight jacket and down his spine.
“I don’t recognize anyone, sir,” Captain Kaika whispered, a spyglass to her eye as she watched the wagon approach. She was skulking with him, while the rest of his squadron, including Tolemek and Sardelle, hunkered in a cherry orchard farther back from the road. “They’re infantry, Lionstrike Brigade.”
Ridge nodded. He’d spotted the pins on their collars when he had taken a look through the spyglass. Unfortunately, he hadn’t recognized the driver or any of the twenty men sitting in the open wagon, either. It wasn’t surprising. The army’s flier battalion did not often work with ground troops.
“Nobody you’ve interacted with on your previous missions, eh?” Ridge had hoped Kaika might know someone in the group. She was a part of the elite forces, a unit attached to the infantry brigade that worked out of the same base near the capital.
“I think I’ve seen that sergeant at the Sensual Sage,” Kaika said, “but he doesn’t meet my standards, so I’ve never approached him.”
“I was talking about
missions, not… extracurricular ones.”
As was the case for most of his travel-weary team, Kaika’s rawboned features were smeared with dirt and decorated with scratches and yellow-blue bruises, but she still managed a sultry smile that hinted of a love for those extracurricular activities. “Oh? I thought you just wanted someone we could trust for information, no questions asked.”
“I’m sure they would recognize
if you stepped out there.”
“Yes, but based on the intel that you and Apex gave me, I’m not sure I want to be recognized, not until we figure out more of what’s going on. If our enemies don’t know we’re around, we can move about more easily. Maybe we can find the king before anyone ever spots us. Assuming he’s still missing.”
It had been nearly a week since Apex and Kaika left Iskandia to come find Ridge and the others, and he had no idea if the situation they had reported had escalated while they had been gone or been resolved. He hoped the king was back in the castle and that General Ort had been discovered, as well. Ridge had been gnashing his teeth while awake and asleep, worrying about that idiot Colonel Therrik being in charge of the flier squadrons. Including
Ridge sank lower as the wagon drew abreast of the bushes, its smokestack spitting black smoke into the dreary late-winter sky. One of the men in the back stood up, using a spyglass to scan the bare, muddy farms lining the road. Ridge looked over his shoulder, worried the bare-branched trees would not hide his people sufficiently.
They won’t see us
, Sardelle said, speaking into his mind.
Because you’re using powerful magics to obscure what they see?
Because we moved behind the cider mill building.
Ah. Even better.
Jaxi says she’s willing to use some powerful magics if it gets us out of the rain
, Sardelle added.
She’s concerned about rust.
I don’t think I need anything melted, lit on fire, or blown up right now, but I’ll keep her offer in mind
, he responded.
, a second voice said. Jaxi.
The flight back across the ocean was boring. Some excitement would not be unappreciated.
Ridge was getting used to the idea that his ladylove walked around with a sentient sword, one that sometimes shared thoughts directly with him, but he still found Jaxi’s presence in his head disconcerting. A few months ago, he hadn’t believed magic existed, and now a sorceress—and her sword—telepathically communicated with him on a daily basis. He could accept it; he just wished the rest of the country could. He hadn’t forgotten that when they left, some secret organization had been trying to blow up Sardelle.
be looking for the king,” Kaika growled, staring through the leaves at the man with the spyglass. The wagon had chugged past them without slowing down. “Nobody seemed to be looking very hard for him when we left. I should have been sent out. I even volunteered.” She drummed agitated fingers on the pistol that hung from her utility belt, along with a dagger, ammo pouches, and a bag of fuses for however many explosives she had in her pack. “Listen, Colonel. I owe him a favor from way back.”
“Yes. You know the elite forces don’t take women. That’s a rule. I was determined to get in anyway, because my brother… well, I had something to prove, that’s all. After being rejected several times, I went to the king for an audience. The line was long, and he wasn’t spending much time with anyone. I was afraid he wouldn’t even see me. I used the cleaning supplies in the closet outside of his audience hall to blow up an ancient urn—this is what passes as a logical move to a nineteen-year-old woman, yes. That made an impression on him. Fortunately, he was more intrigued than horrified, and he’s the one who arranged for me to get orders into the program. I’ve gotten to see the world, make a difference for our country, and sleep with all manner of exotic foreigners under the guise of obtaining mission-critical information.”
“Exotic foreigners, you say? No wonder you feel indebted to him.”
Kaika’s hand twitched, like she might whack him in the chest, but she seemed to remember that he outranked her. She lowered her hand instead. “Not everybody gets to be a national hero who can crook a finger and get a fantasy bed companion any night of the week. Some of us have to work harder for that. Anyway, that’s not my point. I mean I’ve had the career of my dreams so far and more adventure than any girl could ever crave, and I owe him for that.”
Ridge gripped her shoulder. “We’ll find him.”
“I’m thinking about infiltrating the castle.”
Ridge dropped his hand. “What?”
“We need intel. The queen’s in there somewhere. If she’s not a complete shrub, she might know something. If someone’s controlling her with drugs or blackmail, it would take someone observing from the inside to find out. I can do that.”
“That’s… a more direct approach than I was planning to take.” At least to start with, Ridge had simply planned to question some people at HQ and find General Ort so he could get some accurate information on what had been going on higher up in his chain of command—as in, what in all the cursed realms had someone been thinking in handing the flier squadrons over to that hairy-knuckled ape, Therrik? If anyone knew anything about the king, it ought to be Ort or one of the other generals that was regularly in and out of the castle.
“I’m already AWOL, sir,” Kaika said. “Let me do this. I’ll report back to you, I promise. I heard a rumor that the king was taken somewhere in a flier, so…”
“Ah, so that’s why you came with Apex to get us.”
Kaika shrugged. “Normally, I handle my own problems, but if I can’t
to my problems…”
“Everybody thinks of me as a flying rickshaw service.” Ridge peered through the leaves of the bush. The wagon had gone over a hill and disappeared from sight, only the black cloud in the air marking its passage. It should be safe to rejoin the others. “I want to gather some intel locally before sending people off in different directions. Give me a couple of hours to mull over your request.”
“Yes, isn’t that what you were making? As an officer to a more senior officer? A request to infiltrate the castle? Because I’m sure you wouldn’t be thinking of going anyway, against said senior officer’s wishes, right?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Kaika asked.
“Perhaps not.” Ridge felt like a hypocrite just bringing it up. Hadn’t their mission to Cofahre started with him throwing his mission commander over the side of his flier?
“What local intel?” Kaika asked. “We’re still fifteen miles out from the city.”
Ridge smiled. “My mom.”
• • • • •
Sardelle kept her hood up and her cloak pulled tightly about her, in part to keep the rain off, but also because she worried about being recognized. She had no idea as to the size of the organization that had been hunting her before they left a few weeks earlier, but she did not feel safe back on Iskandian land, even out in this rural area.
But you felt safe in Cofahre?
Those people would happily kill an Iskandian sorceress too.
Yes, but we can happily kill them right back. It’s different when it’s your own people hunting you.
These aren’t our people. The Referatu are long gone.
I know that, but we were born here.
Actually, Sardelle had been born in the mountains, several hundred miles inland, but she had often passed through the capital when she had worked with the army as a mage adviser three centuries earlier, and she knew these lands well. The city had changed a great deal, with its steam-powered machinery and vehicles, but these farms appeared no different than they had in her time, and a twinge of nostalgia came over her. She almost felt that if she went to her parents’ house right now, she would find them there, and her brother and cousins and friends, as well. But logically, she knew that she had spent three hundred years in a stasis chamber and that the only relatives she might find would be generations and generations removed.
Ridge jogged up to her side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Are you doing all right? We’re almost there. See that windmill up on the hill? The little village where my mom lives is right behind that. We can wash and—” he plucked at his rain-sodden shirt, “—
there. She’ll feed us. Might even have pie.”
Ridge was scruffier than she had ever seen him, with the rain plastering his short brown hair to his forehead, mud smearing one cheek, and several days’ worth of beard growth darkening his face, but when he smiled at her, it still made her weak in the knees. With his clean-cut features and strong jaw, he managed to look handsome even when he
scruffy. And that smile—some might call it a boyish grin, even if he was well out of his boyhood years—always had an appealing and kissable quality to it. She made herself smile back, even if the rain and the rest of the situation had her heart heavy. She missed her family and friends, but she had never had anyone like Ridge in her century, and she was starting to think of his pilots, at least the ones they had been working with closely, as new friends.
Even though there wasn’t much comfort to be had from two sodden bodies pressing together, Sardelle slipped her arm around his waist. “Pie, you say? Your mother already sounds more hospitable than your father.”
She hoped that hospitality would extend to her. She was tempted to ask how Ridge would introduce her, since he had fumbled over the introduction when they had met his father, who had not been overly friendly toward her after learning about her aptitude for the arcane.
“She is. She should be happy to see us. Been a while since I had a chance to stop by.”
Sardelle wouldn’t get her hopes up as far as his mother being happy to see
. If she hated magic as much as the rest of the continent these days, she may not be tickled by the idea of a “witch” for her only son. Apparently, wanted posters with Sardelle’s face on them now adorned every other streetlamp in the city, so she couldn’t hope to keep her abilities from anyone for long. Though maybe Ridge’s mother wouldn’t have seen the posters way out here.