Authors: Ashley West
Tags: #A Sci-Fi Invasion Alien Romance
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Prequel One: Remnants
“Another.” A gruff command, barked out, clearly by someone who was used to giving orders and having them followed. The man in question didn’t even look at the person he was speaking to. Just set his glass down on the bar with a hard thunk, fingers gripping the glass for a moment before he let go.
The young woman who tended the bar glared at him, but she was used to this. Everyone was. If a week ever went by when Sorrin Descenta wasn’t in there drinking his way through their stores of spirits, then something would have happened to him. He was there all the time, at least three or four times in a week, sitting at the bar glowering at anyone who dared to speak to him for more than a second.
The bartender was allowed to ask for his drink order when he arrived and then tell him how much he owed at the end of the night. Other than that, Sorrin never wanted to hear from her.
And she’d tried. Making small talk was technically a part of her job. All the standard fare—“How are you tonight?” and “Anything new going on?”—was just met with stony silence and a sharp eyed glare.
She’d been frightened at first, sure that Sorrin was going to cause some kind of trouble or try to hurt her, but the more he came in, the more she saw the truth. He was angry, but not at the world in general. He was more just sad than anything, and even his glares seemed to lack the right heat when she saw them enough times. It was some sort of reflex, as far as she could tell, and it made her feel sorry for him.
He’d been through something terrible, but keeping people at bay wasn’t the way to go about it. All it would do was make sure you never stopped being lonely and sad.
Sorrin didn’t share that opinion, of course.
In his mind, being alone was the only option that made sense. When you let people get too close, you just got hurt. That was the lesson he’d been taught in the most brutal and painful of ways. If it had been possible to erect a large energy shield around himself to keep people at bay, he would have, but it was impossible to get the kind of clearance needed for something like that without there being a battle.
Sorrin was sick to death of battles.
He was also sick of this planet. Dovarah was not his home, but then, as far as he knew, his home had been destroyed. Dovarah was the last place he’d been stationed before everything he knew in the world had collapsed around him, and he’d barely had the energy and wherewithal to eat, let alone move to another place.
At least he had this bar. It was dingy and always crowded, the haze of smoke from pipes filling the air with the sweet, warm scent of spiced tobacco. Music droned on from a box in the corner, but no one danced. It wasn’t that kind of place.
No, it was the kind of place that mothers warned their daughters not to wander into alone and chided their sons for going to. It was the kind of place that fathers went after a long day of being bound to the same woman, when they needed their eyes to wander a bit. It was a place for thugs and the refuse of society, and Sorrin supposed he fit right in at the moment.
In the corner of the bar, there were two men who kept looking at him. Their eyes would slide over his body up to his face and then dart away, as if trying not to be caught at it. Unfortunately for them, Sorrin was a warrior. Or he had been at one point, and even though he no longer considered himself in service to his government in that way, his skills hadn’t diminished, and he was keenly aware of everyone in the bar at that moment.
They knew who he was. He was sure of that. These days there were very few people who didn't know who Sorrin was. A disgraced warrior by his own hands, a failure, a wreck, a shell, a 'poor thing'. People he had never met before spoke of him in the streets, in cantinas and markets, telling his story and either cursing him for the part he played in it or pitying him for the outcome. Sorrin wanted neither their condemnation nor their pity, but he wasn't in any position to say anything. He deserved their condemnation at the very least.
"That's him," one of the two whispered to the other. "Has to be."
"Is not," the other insisted. "What would he be doing here?"
"How should I know? Maybe he fancied a drink and didn't want to be seen?"
"He's doing a bad job of that then, if you recognized him, blind as you are."
"Oh, go hang yourself in a pit, Kithar. That's him, and I'm telling you. Terrible what happened, isn't it? You've heard about it, right? The way the Camadors slaughtered all of The Fair Queen's men?"
Sorrin inhaled sharply, keeping his gaze lowered and on his glass. He'd heard different accounts of what'd happened to him and his fellow warriors, but hearing the name, the common name anyway, of the woman he had served and gone into battle for, the woman he had ultimately failed, was like a kick in the stomach. Sorrin hadn't seen her since the day he'd removed himself from her service.
"Fair Queen?" the other one asked. "Who's that?"
"Well, she's not really a queen. That side of Kalogo hasn't had a queen in forever and an age. Senator, she is, and a high one at that. High enough that her men called her their queen. Pretty as a Schelrian sunrise, too."
"Makes sense with the same, I guess, then."
The one doing the explaining nodded his head. "Anyway, her warriors, personal band of fighters sworn to defend her and the rest of the people, were some of the best there's ever been. Top marks in all fighting classes. Hand to hand, weapons, long range. Some of 'em were supposed to even have core powers."
Sorrin didn't need to glance over to see the look on the face of the one doing the listening. Core powers were rare enough that hearing someone had them was always a shock. On some planets, they were nothing but a myth, something mocked as a remnant of the days of old when people believed in magic over tech and tried to turn dull metals into precious ones with potions and prayers.
But they were very much real, Sorrin knew that first hand. His second in the warrior band had them, the ability to reach within herself, draw power from her core, and manifest shields around herself or anyone close enough to her. It was always impressive to see, but in the end, even her core powers hadn't been enough to save them. Core powers could be anything. He'd known people who could summon flames or electricity and had heard tales of a man who could freeze things with just a touch. So few were they that the powers were still classified as rare and unknown, and now, thanks to him, many of the people who'd been able to use them were gone.
It always did come back to that, didn't it?
In his spiral of shameful thoughts, he'd missed some of the conversation being had about him. They'd moved on from talk of core powers and moved into discussing the final battle.
"Was the Camadors, of course," the one who seemed to know everything was explaining. "Showed up in one of those floating cities of theirs and started raining down terror. The Fair Queen wasn't about to let that stand, so she sent her best. Only..."
The other one looked on with wide eyes. "Only what?" he asked.
The gossip gestured to Sorrin, who kept his head down. "Well, look at him. If that's who I think it is, he was the best the Queen had to throw at those Camador bastards, and look. What d'you see?"
"A broken man."
He couldn't refute that.
"So they lost?"
The one in the know shook his head. "Saying they lost is like saying a sand worm in your shoe is annoying. They were slaughtered. The Camadors are all pretty faces at first, but they're deadly. Queen's Men never stood a chance. Now he's all that's left."
That wasn't strictly true. There had been others who'd escaped, others who had managed to drag themselves broken and bleeding from the Camadors' clutches back to their homes. Of course, with them defeated, the Camadors had free reign. They didn't destroy the city of Gollen Par, but they came very close to it. Homes were burned, people were killed, and families were torn apart.
He could still remember the glow of flames over the river, the way the air had been alive with screams and embers, heavy with smoke. Every few minutes something else caught fire, sometimes silently, sometimes with a bang crash bang that Sorrin had been able to feel in his bones.
The Senate building had burned the brightest, situated on the hilltop so it overlooked the rest of the city, the large crystal on the top of it cracked and blackened in the night as the fire raged.
That night was the worst Sorrin had ever lived through, and every day he wished that he hadn't lived through it at all. He wished that he'd been able to do something to end his life that night. That he could have perished beside his comrades or his sister and father, or any of the countless others who had suffered for his failure.
In the end, though, he had survived. He'd patched himself up and then fled before he'd even had time to heal. The resulting infection hadn't been enough to kill him either, though he'd hoped.
It stood to reason, then, that there was a reason he was still alive. A purpose he needed to fulfill. Something still left undone.
At this point in his life, scarred and angry as he was, Sorrin liked to think that it was his bitterness keeping him alive. His need for revenge that allowed him to continue to draw breath. Until he saw the Camadors destroyed for what they'd done to his people, his family, his friends, he wouldn't be able to rest.
Sorrin turned his attention away from the two in the corner. Nothing they said had any bearing on him anymore, and he didn't want to hear the rest of their conversation. What he wanted was another drink and then to make his way to the little hovel he was renting in the city so he could sleep.
He was going to feel the drinks from this night in the morning, but that wouldn't keep him down for long. Nothing really did.
Just as he was considering ordering something else, that hair raising feeling of someone standing behind him ran down his back, and he turned quickly, not even the alcohol he'd consumed able to keep his natural instincts from taking over.
Not sure what or who he'd been expecting, Sorrin was surprised to see the two men from the corner standing there, looking like they weren't sure what to say. Maybe they just wanted to see him up close. Maybe they wanted to ask about what had happened. Some kind of bet riding on his responses, more than likely. Sorrin glared. He wasn't in the mood to be a spectacle tonight.