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Keeper of Secrets: Fatal Empire Book One

Keeper of Secrets: Fatal Empire Book One

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Admon’s Bastard. Assassin apprentice. Trained spy.

My mother named me Raziel—‘Hidden Truth’ in the old tongue. Did she know what hidden destiny awaits me in this goddess-forsaken empire of forbidden magic and deadly intrigue?

The secrets of her past remain beyond my reach, shared only by Admon himself. Even then, she never trusted him with everything.

Surely, she must have known. A spy for a mother. An assassin for a guardian...

What else could I possibly become?

Follow Raziel as he starts his journey to become a legend of the empire in this first short novel of the vividly-rendered Fatal Empire series.



My name is Raziel, and I am a spy. 

Actually, my full name is Raziel ben Moriah al-Zamad, though few people know it. I am commonly known as Raziel al-Zamad when among polite society, Admon’s Bastard when I am not, and Razi by those precious few I count as true friends. 

Such is the nature of a name in the Dharakmeni Empire that it must be fluid and adaptable, hiding what it can by omission with some, while making use of misconceived insults with others. Even the countless names of our Thousand-Faced Goddess are cryptonyms, shared only with those sworn into her service.

Perhaps my mother somehow knew when she named me what I was to become. ‘Raziel’ means ‘hidden truth’ in the old tongue—the language spoken by our ancestors before they conquered this land and commingled with its natives. Then again, perhaps she simply thought it a pleasant and respectful sounding name, and chose it for that reason, as most mothers do. 

But knowing the kind of woman my mother was, I do not believe this was the case. I like to think she named me as a proud parent, who hoped one day to have her son follow in her footsteps.

I pray I have not disappointed her. The goddess knows I have done my best.

It should be made clear from the outset that it was my destiny to become a spy. With a spy for a mother, and an assassin as my guardian, what else was I to become?

Chapter One

My mother left me with Admon Zamadi al-Tahlid when I was only three. I have little memory of her, other than the vague impression of blond-streaked hair that smelled of jasmine, and sparkling, hazel eyes. 

I grew up on Admon’s estate, deep in the heart of Tahlidi province, isolated from the company of other children and families. But at an early age, I sensed my home life was different. 

When I was seven, I finally got up the courage to ask Admon about it.

I had been wandering the estate grounds one spring afternoon after my lessons for the day were complete. Although I was only a child, Admon took the responsibility of my education very seriously. He began teaching me himself as soon as he deemed me old enough, beginning with reading, writing, and figures. I soaked up the information like a sponge, eager for knowledge and my master’s approval. 

But now I was walking near the shadow of the Elven Forest, which backed onto Admon’s estate, considering a dream that had been haunting me for the past three nights. One of Admon’s nondescript men was standing a respectful distance away, keeping watch as he had no doubt been instructed. I blocked out my unwanted guardian, trying to recapture the images.

Closing my eyes, I tilted my head back to let the sun shine on my face. The leaves of the nearby trees rustled in the light breeze, sounding like whispered words just beyond my hearing. The lush scent of the gardens wafted towards me, carrying a hint of jasmine. My mother’s face appeared in my mind’s eye. She was smiling, but her hazel eyes—so very like my own—were welling up with tears.

“Razi, my precious Raziel.” 

Her voice was soft and tender as she stroked my brow. 

“I must leave you now. You will be safe with Admon. He is a good man. He will take care of you. I want nothing more in this world than to stay with you, but it is not meant to be. There was something I had to do, and this is the price I must pay. Do you understand?”

I didn’t, but I nodded anyway. She pulled me into a tight embrace.

“I’m so sorry, Razi. You’re such a brave boy. Be good for Admon.” She cupped my face with both hands, pinning me with her anguished gaze. “Always remember that I love you.”

And then she was gone.

Was it only a dream, or was it a memory I had buried? I did not know. Whatever it was, I would wake from it each night with tears on my face and my mother’s name on my lips, only to find myself alone in my room.

I hesitated to tell Admon. He never spoke of my mother, and I sensed she was a subject best left alone with him. But the dreams were so vivid—more so than any memory I had. I had waited three nights now, hoping they would go away, but they persisted. It was time to start asking questions.

I marched back to the manor, filled with purpose. I ignored my silent guardian, passing him along the way. 

The manor rose before me, an airy, single-story construction of varnished wood that sprawled across the well-manicured grounds. I passed water, stone, and flower gardens on the polished stone path. 

The gardeners were hard at work, tending their charges. Although I usually liked to spend time with them, pestering them with questions about plants and herb lore, I could not afford to be distracted. I reached the threshold of the side entrance, pushing the delicate painted screen aside to enter.

The interior of the manor seemed dark after being out in the sun. I took a few moments to allow my eyes to adjust, using the time to remove my sandals and brush the dirt from my linen tunic and trews, making certain the wooden buttons of my collar were fastened. I ran my fingers through my tousled hair, smoothing my dark locks until they fell into a semblance of order around my shoulders. 

It wouldn’t do for me to simply barge in on Admon to demand information looking like a hoyden. The conversation was going to be difficult enough without having the housekeeper up in arms about dirt tracked into the house.

I knew Admon would be in his study, and set straight off to find him. He had left the screen entrance open, which was unusual. 

He was sitting at his desk, poring over some papers. I knocked on the wood of the door frame. He looked up at me with his unusual brown eyes. 

I only say they were unusual because they were the color of a commoner’s, and he was a lord. But his auburn hair, which he always wore in a single, long braid, marked him as having pureblood Tahlidi heritage. 

As isolated as I was, even I marked such things, although I did not know what they meant.

“Come in.” Admon smiled and gestured for me to enter. He pushed away from his desk and stood in a single, fluid motion. “I was just about to take a break for some refreshment. Would you like to join me?”

I nodded. Although I was only seven, Admon never spoke to me as if I were a child—a fact which I appreciated. There are few things worse than having to politely endure adults who insist on speaking to you in baby talk, wanting only for you to tell them what sound a cow makes, or to sing the alphabet for the umpteenth time while they shriek and clap their hands in delight, announcing to everyone nearby what a bright boy you are. 

Fortunately, I had only experienced this pleasure that most adults seem to never tire of the few times Admon took me into the Tahlidi trading village or the Imperial City on business.

I sat across from him on a plump, silk cushion at the low ebony table where a tray of sliced melon and juice was already laid out. Admon poured me a glass of the tangy beverage. I took a long swallow while he took a few bites of melon. As I set the glass on the table, I resisted the urge to play with the tassels on the cushion, and forced myself to meet his calm gaze.

I took a deep breath. “I want to ask you about my mother.”

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