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Keeper of Desire: A Fatal Empire Short (Bonus Edition)

Keeper of Desire: A Fatal Empire Short (Bonus Edition)

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Can a mere mortal outwit a goddess? Even now, as I wonder how many heartbeats I have left in my body, I do not know.

How much power does a prophecy carry in an empire where deadly politics and intrigue reign supreme, and gods are denied as superstition? The fate of those I love most hinges on such questions.

For good or ill, I have tried my best to make the path set out before me my own...

The choices of Raziel’s mother Moriah continue to weave her son’s destiny in this short story prequel from the vividly rendered Fatal Empire fantasy series.

(This adventure takes place before Keeper of Secrets, the first book in the Fatal Empire series, and is a follow-up to “Keeper of Prophecy.”)

This edition includes a bonus chapter. (Direct exclusive.)

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Can a mere mortal outwit a goddess? Even now, as I wonder how many heartbeats I have left in my body, I do not know. I was once told by a high priest that we are not simply pawns, to be moved around on a board by unseen hands. And yet, that same priest also told me something of the goddess’s plan that would be fulfilled through me. For good or ill, I have tried my best to make the path set out before me my own. As the daughter of Ayla and Kezia, I could do no less. Still, what my long-departed mothers would make of my current situation, I had no idea. Perhaps I would ask them when I joined them at the Keeper of Eternity’s side.

As I left the temple of the Keeper of Secrets—the Veiled Huntress aspect of the goddess devoted to assassins, thieves, and spies—I knew something was wrong. The nighttime streets of the Imperial City were silent. This was to be expected. Even the most drunken noble revelers had retreated either to their beds or someone else’s for the night. Only the patrolling city guards and those of us sworn to the Veiled Huntress were about on our business at that hour.

A sudden wave of disorientation struck me as I moved through the winding, shadowed side-streets on padded feet. The cool evening air suddenly felt stifling. My scalp prickled beneath the hood of my cloak, and for a moment, I stumbled, leaning against the coarse, brick wall of a nearby building. Even though all my finely-honed senses told me I was alone, my heart hammered in my chest. Its drumming filled my ears. I blinked as a wave of nausea twisted my guts, enhancing the ammonia stink from where someone had used the alley to relieve themselves, until it was all I could smell. I swallowed hard as my mouth went dry and forced myself to focus.

Poison. It had to be.

But which one? In the treacherous Dharakmeni Empire, there are many concoctions used to dispatch the rivals of other noble houses and clans. I was neither—an orphaned half-blood, born of a pureblooded Abrieli noble and his common-born concubine. But I was sworn to the Keeper of Secrets. Even among my own kind, trust is rare. Many—if not most—of the Veiled Huntress’s servants are bound by a magical geas to serve the whims of a noble master. I am one of the few who have never been fettered. Even those who were my training partners or allies among the goddess’s acolytes might not have a true will of their own, without anyone else being the wiser.

I knew it didn’t matter who had done the deed. I had more important matters to consider.

Out of long-ingrained habit and training, I checked my fingertips first. While nausea, a racing heart, and disorientation were the symptoms of many poisons—poisons that usually had antidotes—there was one that was always fatal.

I tilted my upturned hands toward the sliver of moonlight that filtered through the clouds overhead. The crescent-shaped scar on my left palm gleamed silver.

My fingertips looked as if they were stained with blood.

For a moment, I almost threw my head back and shouted at the heavens in denial, but the distant thudding of the boots of the patrolling guards against the cobblestones kept me silent. Was this how it was going to end? All my plans, my careful attempts to sidestep the goddess’s prophecy…

I bowed my head and wrapped my palm around the hilt of the dagger at my belt, my eyes stinging with tears. The leather wrappings felt like an old friend, even though the sapphire-tipped dagger had been the gift that had bound me to the goddess’s plan.

I chose this.

I had always known that becoming an acolyte of the Keeper of Secrets would come with a price. None of her followers expects to live to a ripe, old age, and retire. And then there was the matter of the prophecy. When I had accepted the dagger in the far-off reaches of the Shining Kingdom, I had been young. Whatever plan the goddess had in store for me, it had felt far enough away for me to outrun it. It was not that I objected to the final outcome of the goddess’s machinations, only what it would potentially cost those I loved most.

Was this part of the plan?

I supposed it did not matter. Thanks to the poison in my system, my life was measured in hours, not days. And the ending would not be pleasant. But even that did not concern me as I cast my mind about, deciding my next move.

All I could think about was my son.

Raziel—my precious Razi. What would become of him? After all I had done to ensure his freedom from the prophecy that bound me—after all I had done to protect the man I loved… Would any of it even matter?

My crimson-stained fingers tightened around my dagger. I knew I had one last chance to seize the reins of destiny and attempt to make it my own.

Even as I felt the life fleeing my body, I was determined to find a way.

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