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Authors: Angelique Voisen

Merchandise

 

 

 

Evernight
Publishing ®

 

www.evernightpublishing.com

 

 

 

Copyright©
2015 Angelique
Voisen

 

 

 
ISBN: 978-1-77233-280-3

 

Cover Artist: Jay
Aheer

 

Editor:
Karyn
White

 

 

 

ALL
RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal.
 
No part of
this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are
fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

To my readers, as always, thank you for your support. To
Evernight
Publishing, for giving
Brale
,
Dyos
, and J’s story a home.

 

MERCHANDISE

 

 

Angelique
Voisen

 

Copyright
© 2015

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Past

Before
a young
Hadarian
boy learns to grow addicted to the
taste of a man or woman’s lips and heat and foolishly call it love, he has
already been conditioned to hate.
He learns to detest the centuries-old
enemies of his race, the backstabbing serpentine
Cobrini
,
without fully understanding why. No questions tolerated, only an expectation of
obedience.

Pillaging, raping, and killing
without thought, bound by no oaths and beholden to no one, the
Cobrini
spat on the word “honor”. Seemed like reason enough
for other warriors, but not him.

“Sounds like freedom to me.” The
newly minted
Hadarian
warrior hunkered in the dark
with his brothers, nervously checking the straps of his breastplate plate,
surcoat
, even his newly polished steel-edge boots, before
tightening his grip on sword and shield. Above their heads, the
homeworld’s
twin moons bled to an ominous shade of crimson.

“At least we’re spared of the sight
of the battlefield being painted copper.” Words didn’t mean much, not in the
midst of a battlefield, but they lent him the courage he sorely needed.
Helped him clear the grotesque image of his corpse floating in his
head.
What was the death of one
unblooded
Hadarian
warrior against the rising death toll?

“Did you say something, Storm?”

The lie flowed out of his lips with
ease, while the truth remained buried. “It’s a good night for a surprise siege,
Captain.”
What worth is our honor, if we
sink to the level of our enemies and resort to tricks, not tactics?

The cover of night at their side,
their company snuck through the trees, their footsteps hardly making a sound.
The closer they edged to the
Cobrini
encampment, the
more
Storm
scented the sickening bloodlust rising from
his fellow companions.

They’re
so eager to sink their untested blades into the vulnerable bellies of their
sleeping enemies, without knowing why.
Blindly following
orders without knowing why.
For the longest time, Storm always asked
his gods why he’d been born different from the rest of his race.
Flawed.
 
Faulty.

What did they really fight for?
Honor?
Freedom?
Vengeance?

No. Every
Hadarian
male conscripted to the army after coming of age knew they’d been born in
chains. Years of being taught to hate, of conditioning, made them think they
were freely fighting for their oaths, for the honor of king and planet.

A hard grip tightened on Storm’s
shoulder. Instinct made him unsheathed his blade, but a hand caught his wrist
mid-draw. Only Captain
Theras
, his gray brows
furrowed.

“Easy, Storm. This is your first
battle, but there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Just beyond the last grove of thick
and scarred trees, Storm spotted two rows of tents. Smoke rising from a dead
fire, the twin coiled serpents of the
Cobrini
standard fluttering in the background.

Beside him, some of the men from
his company started a small fire. Archers dipped their arrows in the flickering
flames, notching their bows, while the swordsmen tensed, ready to spring into
action. Peerless and fearless each one of them, wonderful stock for the stories
sung by minstrels. All ready to give their lives for the war, all except Storm.

“Archers, loose!”
Theras
bellowed. Dozens of flaming arrows pierced the sky
before descending on the tents of their unsuspecting foes.
“Nock.
Draw. Loose!”

More arrows
flew,
tents and nearby trees burned, but still no screams. No visible sign of
movement. Worry prickled down Storm’s spine.

“Captain, something’s wrong.”

“Forward,
warriors!”

His voice became lost in the din of
battle cries and blades clanging on shield. The warriors in his company charged
forward with thoughtless regard, almost as if they flew rather than ran.
Storm’s legs refused to move. His arms felt heavy, suddenly unused to the
weight of heavy shield and sword.
 

“Die,
Cobrini
scum!”

“Tonight, you snakes meet your foul
end!”

Storm’s stomach dropped. A black
seething mass poured from trees right behind the encampment, their numbers far
too many to count.
A trap.
They expected a dozen men,
not three times that number.

“By the gods,” Storm breathed. They
hadn’t been ordered here by their superiors to mount a surprise siege. They’d
been sent here to die.

Anger welled inside him, urging his
legs forward, but he only managed a few steps before sinking to his knees. The
gasping and dying cries of his company filled the air.

“No pleading and begging though.
Hadarian
honor demands it.” Storm broke out into hysterical
giggles, unaware his sword and shield clattered on the forest ground.

“Look what I chanced upon.”

At the voice, Storm began fumbling
for his dropped sword. No time for relief as his hands grasped the hilt. He
leaped up to his feet, no easy feat given the weight of his armor, but
self-preservation fortunately won.

Steel kissed, clashed, and made
sparks. Storm hissed through his teeth, seeing his opponent.
Pale
skin,
slitted
serpentine eyes, and the black military
Cobrini
uniform.

Thinking of his lost and silenced
brothers, Storm let rage fill him, strengthen him. The reckless fury of his
thrusts forced his opponent’s back to a tree. The
Cobrini
let out a snarl when Storm disarmed him, nicking a long cut across his sword
arm. The wicked curved scimitar clattered to the ground with a satisfying
sound.

Storm pressed the edge of his blade
against his enemy’s pale throat, his breathing hard and uneven.

Despite the precarious situation he
was in, the
Cobrini
spoke. “Get on with it then.
Aren’t you going to slit my throat, little warrior?”

Storm’s hand shook. Why? Why did he
hesitate, because of his affliction?
Born different.
Born wrong.
If it had been another
Hadarian
warrior, any brother in his company, the foul deed would have already been
done.
 

His enemy, his so-called
dishonorable adversary, looked into the face of death and didn’t flinch. What
could be said for him, who had remained cowering, while his company ran willingly
into a slaughter fest?

The
Cobrini
went on without a care in the world, speaking so casually as if they were boon
companions or just two civilians meeting for the first time on a bloody date.
“If you haven’t decided what exactly you want to do to me, why don’t we
introduce yourselves? I’m Second Lieutenant
Brale
Kevlas
of the
Cobrini
Army’s
fifty-sixth division. Well, I stand corrected. I don’t pull any rank now that
I’ve deserted, so you can just call me
Brale
.”

Furious, Storm pressed the blade further,
drawing a thin line of blood. He snarled. “Your dishonorable tricks would not
work on me,
Cobrini
.
Deserter?
Don’t take me for a fool.”

Brale
sobered up. “From my angle, you’re the smartest of the lot that just walked
into our trap. Besides, I do not think you’re entitled to throw the word
‘honor’ so freely around, eh?”

Shame made his cheeks burn. The
faces of the men he’d trained with,
who’d
lost their
lives for no reason other than fulfilling some ancient
Hadarian
commander’s blind hate, haunted him. Would continue to haunt him for years
after, but he didn’t regret following them to their end.
Dirty truth of the matter, but honest truth
nonetheless.

Looking calmly at
Brale
, it occurred to Storm he no longer saw a faceless
enemy he’d been taught all his life to hate, but just another man. Even worse,
he saw a man whose gaze reflected a soul as confused and haunted as his own.

“I’ll kill you,” Storm whispered,
suddenly spooked.

Brale
and
he stood at opposite ends of the spectrum—
Hadarian
and
Cobrini
, captor and captive.
Enemy.
Soul mate.
Storm wanted to laugh hysterically like a lunatic again, to weep,
to scream at his gods at the absurdity of the situation.

“Why haven’t you?”
Brale
taunted back.

 
Storm loosened his grip.
“Because
we are too frighteningly alike.”

Brale’s
hand lashed out, clamping on his sword arm like a vise, forcing Storm to drop
his steel with a shriek.
Not as alike as
I’d like to think.
Fucking fool.
Did I really think
he’d accord me the same courtesies I did him? Make the same mistakes I did?

“Your name?”
Brale
repeated.

“Do you think I will give the man
who kills me, my name?” Storm sneered.

Brale’s
lofty look of confidence unsettled him. The look shattered the remains of his
pride. His pulse unexpectedly leaped at the surface of his skin. Storm’s heart
miserably fluttered and thudded agonizingly against his chest, like a bird
straining to be free of its cage.

“Before a young
Hadarian
boy learns to grow addicted to the taste of a man or woman’s lips and heat and
foolishly call it love, he’s already been conditioned to hate,” Storm
whispered.

Brale’s
hands snaked around his throat like a noose. Storm didn’t fight, didn’t even
make an effort of it. Why bother fighting when he’d fought all his life?
Yielding to an enemy who understood him more than any other
Hadarian
would, well, not such a bad way to go.

“What did you say?”
Brale
whispered, voice cracking, fingers shaking. “Why the
hell aren’t you fighting me? Don’t you want desperately to live?”

“Freedom and choices are just illusions,
always have been. If none of us can see past the bars of our invisible cage,
then we’re all born wrong.” Storm looked straight into
Brale’s
eyes. “Kill me, set me free.”

“You crazy,
selfish, and miserable bastard.
Give me your name at least, before I
strangle all the life out of you,”
Brale
growled,
fingers on his throat trembling.

Storm’s lips
quirked to a crooked smile, his last attempt at defiance peeling away when
Brale
leaned in close and mashed his lips against his.
Heat mercilessly seared down his throat, and
Brale’s
hands fell away from his throat, tangling into his hair. Pain, sweet and
subtle, ran through his scalp.

“Your name,”
Brale
hissed
,
parting his mouth from Storm’s tormented lips.

Storm couldn’t speak. His head
reeled in confusion.
Brale
reached downwards, past
the leather brigandine he wore under his chest plate, disappearing to his
trousers. His fingers found what it sought. Storm’s cheeks burned, this time
with shame.

“Tell me your name,”
Brale
demanded, beginning to fist his cock.

Up and down, relentlessly,
rhythmically, as if his hand and Storm’s prick were old friends. Each rough
movement stirred and forced back something inside Storm.
Life,
maybe.
Confidence certainly.
Unwavering belief
something else existed beyond the sea of despair they’d both swum in for most
of their lives.

A moan tore out of him. His entire
body trembled, wanting to be rid of his cumbersome armor so flesh could clash
and collide.

Inappropriate.
Abhorrent thoughts.

What about the
Cobrini
company
stationed just a few feet from them? Some part
of Storm, the terrified part of him, wanted to be caught so this illogical
charade would end. The other part of him didn’t care. Let the world condemn
them. Let it see centuries of sown hatred unraveling and disappearing in a
single night.

When
Brale
asked again, he finally answered. “
Dyos
Storm.”


Dyos
, eh.
Good solid
Hadarian
name. Well,
Dyos
.”
Brale
threw a glance over his shoulder. “I think it’s about time we make our escape.”

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