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Keeper of Wisdom: Fatal Empire Book Two

Keeper of Wisdom: Fatal Empire Book Two

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Some memories, you can never outrun. The blood on my hands, the ringing shouts on the air, the sound of booted feet pelting against the cobblestones somewhere on the twisting streets behind me...

I knew in that moment, my life had changed forever.

But with my one true friend abducted, and nowhere to run, the blood on my hands soon became only the first of my problems...

Reunite with goddess-sworn assassin apprentice Raziel as he navigates a world of treacherous magic and intrigue in this second novel in the Fatal Empire fantasy series.

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Some memories, you can never outrun. Even now, I can still close my eyes and lose myself in those fateful moments that immediately followed the discovery of the body—the victim I had been accused of killing.

The soles of my soft leather boots barely made a sound as they pelted the cobblestones. The city guard was somewhere in the maze of streets behind me. I heard the armored men call out to one another in the distance as they searched, their voices echoing weirdly in the growing darkness. Even though a part of my mind was panicking, my instincts and training had kicked in. My breath came easily as I ran, and that analytical part of me that had been molded and honed by Admon calmly weighed each option as I selected my precarious route through the Imperial City.

Admon.

My foster-father had instructed me to go to the Great Temple of the Keeper of Secrets if things should go badly. They could hardly get any worse. A lump rose in my throat as I remembered making him promise to meet me there. I became painfully aware of the blood stuck between my fingers as they gripped my pack—his blood. Admon wouldn’t be meeting me anywhere ever again.

I pushed my grief aside and turned down a side street. The scent of rotting garbage assaulted my nostrils from somewhere nearby. I breathed through my mouth and forced myself to ignore its rancid tang.

I had to stay ahead of the guards. I also couldn’t risk leading them to the temple. Not only would it place my planned sanctuary in jeopardy, but I could only imagine what kind of disruption it would cause among the nobles.

In the honor-bound society of the Dharakmeni Empire, a temple dedicated to the aspect of the goddess of thieves, spies, and assassins wasn’t supposed to exist. That was what the nobles pretended, at any rate. The public capture of an accused murderer on the temple steps would upset the delicate web of deception they had woven in the generations since the invading nobles had claimed the empire for their own.

Now that Admon was gone, his plan to flee to the temple seemed an unnecessary risk. He could never have imagined I would be set adrift under these circumstances. But there was nowhere else to go. I had no friends in the city who would take me in, and Admon had been the only family I had left since the untimely death of my mother—unless you counted the unknown male courtesan who had sired me. Now Admon was gone, too.

No, the temple was my only option. I would just have to be careful.

I took another turning and nearly ran into a shadowy figure around the corner. I uttered a startled oath, my heart pounding in my ears. My hand darted to my mother’s dagger at my belt.

“Razi?”

I nearly dropped my weapon at the sound of a familiar voice uttering the shortened version of my name—one that was used by exactly three people. Two, now that Admon was gone.

Tashidi?” I spluttered.

The cloaked figure pushed back his hood to reveal the pale face and angular elven features of Admon’s most trusted friend. A wave of relief washed over me. My knees buckled, and I leaned against a nearby wall for support. Tashidi was the last person I had expected to run into. The elf had not accompanied Admon and me to the city. I had assumed he was performing some secret task near Admon’s estate, which was a week’s journey away.

“I almost attacked you,” I said, feeling somewhat giddy.

“And I almost attacked you,” the elf said with a frown. “Razi, what are you doing out on the streets at this hour? Surely Admon has not sent you on an errand.”

I looked into the pale blue eyes of my mentor and struggled to find the words to explain. “I…” I helplessly shook my head. “Tashidi, Admon is dead.”

The words seemed to fall from my lips. My own voice sounded harsh in my ears. Ever since I had found Admon, part of me had hoped it was only a dream. Speaking those words out loud dashed those hopes, like a bucket of icy water.

What?” Tashidi’s fine brows disappeared under the fringed bangs of fiery red hair that gleamed copper in the moonlight.

“I found him in his study.” The words came tumbling out. “He had been stabbed. I think… I think his killer tried to poison him first. There was a wineglass with sediment in the bottom. The entire room had been ripped apart—as if the killer had been searching for something.”

I thought I had already cried myself out when I had discovered Admon’s body, but I felt my eyes start to sting anew as I remembered the scene.

Tashidi passed a hand over his eyes and fell silent for several moments before speaking in a pained voice. “I always feared it might come to this. Admon’s work was dangerous, and he kept so much of it secret—even from me. But Razi, why are you running? You should be back at the manse while the city guard performs their investigation.”

I let out a shuddering breath. “One of the servants saw me with Admon’s body and raised the alarm. They think I did it.”

“Well, that will suit the killer’s needs quite nicely,” Tashidi said with bitter irony. “And it’s not as if the guards will be inclined to be thorough—not with an assassin involved. The nobles will want this hushed up as soon as possible.”

“I was headed for the Great Temple,” I said. “I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t even know you were in the city.”

“I had some business to attend to back at the estate, but Admon asked me to meet him here afterward. I was on my way to the manse when I ran into you.”

I knew better than to pry about the nature of Tashidi’s business. He often performed secret missions on Admon’s behalf. And at the moment, I had more pressing matters on my mind. I heard the voice of one of the guards somewhere nearby, accompanied by the soft jingle of chain mail. They were getting closer. My eyes darted to Tashidi’s in panic. I was painfully aware of Admon’s blood on my hands and tunic.

“Tashidi, what do we do?”

The elf shook his head. “The temple is too dangerous right now. I have a safe house nearby. We will hide there. Follow me.”

Tashidi raised his hood and darted into the darkness, leaving me to stumble after him. Now that I had found my mentor, I felt my senses growing dull with grief. I did my best to fight the numbness as Tashidi led me through a series of turns. But when we arrived at his hideout, I couldn’t even remember how we had gotten there. I allowed him to guide me as I fell into a stupor. I knew he would take care of me.

For the moment, I was safe.

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