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Excerpt: The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan

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Featuring boardroom intrigue, masquerade balls, gondola chases, street gangs, and shapeshifting mages, Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge continues the Fall of the Gods series as Buc and Eld turn from pirates to politics and face the deadliest mystery of their career.

The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many.

Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.

Stymied by boardroom politics and dodging mages at every turn, Buc and Eld find a potential patron in the Doga, ruler of Servenza. The deal: by the night of the Masquerade, unmask whoever has been attempting to assassinate the Doga, thereby earning her support in the halls of power. Blow the deadline and she’ll have them deported to opposite ends of the world.

Armed with Eld’s razor-sharp sword and Buc’s even sharper intellect, the dynamic duo hit the streets just as the shadow religious conflict between the Gods begins to break into open warfare. Those closest to Buc and Eld begin turning up with their throats slit amid rumors that a hidden mastermind is behind everything that’s going wrong in Servenza.

Facing wrathful gods, hostile nobles, and a secret enemy bent on revenge, Buc and Eld will need every trick in their arsenal to survive. Luckily, extra blades aren’t the only things Buc has hidden up her sleeves.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan, on sale 07/13/2021. 


EXCERPT

The steps to the main entrance to the cathedral, two dozen paces away, began to teem with a flood of worshippers. All to the good. Servenza took a dim view of magic in the streets, and if the Doga was in attendance—for today was the start of the increasingly elaborate celebrations that would culminate in a fortnight with the Feast of Masks on Midwinter’s Day—she wouldn’t tolerate a Veneficus attacking citizens. I hope. As if my thoughts were a command, the woman appeared at the head of the steps with half a dozen guards, bright in their crimson-and-gold ceremonial uniforms.

Eld straightened his coat so it aligned with the red vest beneath and looked at me. “How’d you know they poisoned the tea?”

“Oh—that.”

I’m quick on my feet and even quicker in thought. I used to have to smoke kan to keep my thoughts from tumbling into one another and driving me half-mad, but with Sin I was able to harness those thoughts and keep them pulling evenly in their traces. Save when it came to talking about magic. Eld and I had had one almost-but-not-quite-open conversation about what I’d done back on that island, and Eld hadn’t spoken to me for a fortnight after, until I invited him to see my plan for taking over the Company. That plan had gone up in flames and by the time the ashes settled, the opportunity to discuss my magic was little more than ash itself. Eld hated all magic; he’d hate mine, too, despite our friendship. I searched my mind for an answer to his question, but none came, and Sin didn’t help either, the bastard.

“You told me to stay clear of this,” Sin reminded me.

Eld was still looking at me expectantly, his eyes a brilliant blue in the sunshine. For a moment I considered not answering, just staring, but he deserved a reply. I couldn’t give him the truth. . . .

“I, uh, let’s just say a little voice told me?” I said finally. “And it turned out to be right.”

“Oh,” Eld said, then realization bloomed in his eyes. “Oh.” He looked away, his cheeks turning a red that had nothing to do with the sun.

I bit back a curse and turned to look toward the stairs. An unending stream of people parted around the Doga, who seemed to have taken up residence at the top of the steps, her dark hair and skin nearly a match for my own, though I guessed much of her color came from the sun. I had to give it to the woman, she had presence, her gold crown placed within her ochre locks so that it looked a part of her. Thread o’ gold braided in as well made her hair shimmer in the light, and while she eschewed the latest fashion—a flaring jacket over tight trousers—her dress was still in style. The fabric, in a purple soft enough to be lavender, spilled down to her heels and was sewn up at one side to reveal gilded lace.

The crowd, some carrying crutches or heaps of bloody bandages they no longer needed after receiving healing by the Dead Gods, bowed as they passed. Judging from the Doga’s smile, their obeisances were deeper than the ones they’d given to their Gods.

Beyond the Doga, a man and woman were working their way against the crowd, perhaps heading for the next healing service. They were fools to not wait until the cathedral had cleared out. The man was jostled by another and nearly fell, his dark jacket billowing behind him, drawing a few curses from those around him. He pulled his jacket back around him and I saw a short-barreled pistole in his hand. Past him, a score of paces away, strode a woman in a similarly dark jacket, gaze fixated on . . . the Doga.

“They’re going to assassinate her.”

“What?” Eld turned away from the canal; he’d been watching for our gondola to arrive.

“The Doga.” I pointed. “Those two in the brown rags are trying to kill her. Sin, let’s go,” I said, the last spoken only in my mind.

I leapt into the crowd, letting Sin guide me deeper into the swirling maelstrom of humanity. I kept my eyes on the man. He was past middle age with an unkempt look; bristling hints of a white beard and greasy grey hair jutted out from his ill-fitting tricorne. Even with Sin’s help, it was difficult to move against the crowd. Two steps forward, one up, one back, and another two steps forward wasn’t going to get us there fast enough. Right hand inside left jacket pocket, left hand down to pouch sewn in the belt. Eight paces. The great thing about being able to wear a jacket and pants was that the pockets gave me so many options that I didn’t need to carry a purse unless I needed extra ammunition. Or makeup. Today I needed neither. “Ready?” I felt Sin’s nod and smiled. “Then let’s do this.”

I dropped my left hand inside my jacket and found the smooth handle of my new slingshot, its dark wood reinforced with bands of steel so it could handle the stronger rubber draw I could pull with my Sin-enhanced strength. My other hand went to the small lump hidden on the side of my belt and twisted the pistole ball free. I kept marching forward, Sin guiding my heeled boots. The assassin had no clue I was coming for him—his attention was focused on the Doga—and I couldn’t keep the laughter from my lips as I drew the slingshot up in line with his head.

“Easy,” Sin said as I drew back on the band. “That far and you’ll take his head off and hit another beyond him.” I let slacken the rubber and Sin grunted, “Better.”

My eyes burned with his magic, the rest of my senses disappeared, and everything slowed for a single, crystalizing, perfect moment. The man had the pistole half-raised, preparing his shot. I released the ball and heard its angry whine, followed a breath later by the sound of the assassin’s skull cracking. A spray of blood and bone paired with a plume of smoke and flame as the pistole boomed against the stairs. A woman screamed, followed by a chorus of other voices. People decided bolting was the better part of valor, and suddenly I found myself fighting to remain close to the woman in the brown jacket, who had broken into an awkward run, still trying to reach the Doga.

“Again, Sin,” I muttered, drawing another ball. I felt my eyes burn and movement still, but a lad with a shock of red hair blocked my shot. “Let it go.” Time and sound returned with a fury and everyone began running again. “Now.” This time it was a woman in a ridiculously tall, heavily feathered hat who saved the would-be assassin. “Let it go,” I growled. “We’re going to have to push through the crowd.”

“Can’t,” Sin said.

“Why?”

“Because, the strength required would mean you’d seriously injure, perhaps even kill, at least half a dozen people in getting to the woman. And she’s going to reach the Doga in a dozen paces while you’ve more than thrice that to cover. Wait for the shot, it will come.”

“Aye, or it won’t,” I muttered. I shifted my vision, let myself take in the full scene, and grinned. Of course.

“Eld!”

He was standing above me, near one of the columns that formed the entryway to the cathedral. Where I’d leapt right in, Eld had worked his way to the top of the stairs by moving along the edge. Sin growled and I laughed.

“Eld!” I shouted again, gesturing toward the gilded cistern that stood between him and the Doga’s guard. This was where worshippers cleansed their hands, mouths, eyes, and ears before entering. But it’d do for a distraction as well. Eld leapt over a woman who’d tripped and fallen, and bellowed as he lifted the monstrosity overhead.

The Doga’s guards had drawn blades and circled her protectively. Oblivious to the real threat, they took note of Eld, who jumped down a pair of steps with the cistern held overhead. He teetered on landing, then heaved the massive vessel. Water sluiced out in an arc and the cistern crashed down the steps. I cursed when I realized it would land short.

Most of the water crashed against the guard, but a bit of spray carried on past, hitting the assassin full in the face. She was running toward the Doga, hands reaching for something in her belt. She cried out in surprise when the water hit her, drawing the attention of the Doga’s guards.

Finally.

A moment later the woman’s cry turned to one of pain and something shimmered through the air around her. Smoke? The woman ignited in a hissing, sputtering ball of flame that surged into the air and sent the Doga’s guards scurrying back with cries of their own. The woman fell, collapsing in on herself as she turned into a ball of pure fire. Eld caught up the cistern from where it had come to rest and, with another roar, tossed the remaining water onto the woman. She went out with a smoldering hiss. A breeze carried the perverse scent of spiced meat toward me.

Eld’s grunt was loud in the crackling silence that followed. “Well, that’s new.”

 

#

 

The Doga’s eyes bored into mine, her proud, hooked nose making her look a sea hawk observing its prey. Around us the last few score of worshippers were fleeing in absolute pandemonium and the Doga’s guards were shouting at people to keep back, steel leveled, searching for the next attack. I inclined my head slightly. The Doga’s lips twitched and she returned the gesture. Between us, the woman’s corpse sent wisps of smoke into the air.

“Buc, it’s past time to be gone.” Eld grabbed me firmly but gently, despite all the strength he’d just shown, and turned me around. From the corner of my eye I glimpsed the Doga’s guards doing the same with Her Grace, moving her quickly away. We ran like the few fools still remaining down the steep, marbled steps of the cathedral and onto the stone dock beside the canal, leaping into our waiting gondola.

At Eld’s shouted instructions, Joffers, our gondolier, pulled the tie rope loose and shoved the gondola away from the dock, making it tip from side to side. Eld and I stumbled into each other, more falling than ducking beneath the tented canopy in the center of the boat. For a moment neither of us spoke and I let myself relax into one of the dark crushed-velvet seats. It wasn’t as soft as I’d have liked, but while we had money now, we weren’t made of minted coin and this gondola had come third- or fourth-hand. Still, better than walking or trying to find a carriage for hire at this hour. If only the guild would allow private carriages. My thoughts drifted for a moment until Eld cleared his throat.

“What was that about?” he asked.

I released the breath I’d been holding. He didn’t ask about my magic. Tension lifted from my shoulders. “I’m not sure,” I said. “Someone wants the Doga dead.”

“Clearly,” Eld said dryly.

I made a noise in my throat and closed my eyes. “The man was ill dressed and unkempt—was he disguised or a distraction so the real assassin, the woman, could get close?”

“She seemed the more dangerous of the two.”

“She did that,” I agreed. “Women usually are.” I heard him shift and bared my teeth without opening my eyes. “But I don’t understand how she went up in flames so quickly.”

“An explosive device of some sort?”

“Likely, but if it was then she must have rigged it wrong because she didn’t explode so much as implode.”

“Unless that was the point,” Sin chimed in my ear. “A suicide mission to burn the Doga alive.”

“Perhaps,” I whispered back in my mind. “That would certainly send a message.”

“But to whom?” Sin asked. “For what?”

“Those are the questions.”

“If you allowed me to Possess you, Buc, we could share our knowledge with the Goddess. It has been one hundred and eighty-seven days without her guiding hand. Unlike those undead fools, her knowledge truly is legion. She’d have the answers.”

“Not a fucking chance,” I said, pushing away his mental protestations.

I’d taken Sin from an artifact in a centuries’-old shipwreck, doing it to save Eld from magic that was killing him and to defeat the Ghost Captain who’d used said magic. It had worked, but only just. Sin claimed his powers were at a fraction of their usual strength and that I was cut off from a huge base of knowledge and wisdom because I wouldn’t allow him to Possess me and complete Ciris’s ritual. I couldn’t tell if he was lying or not, but if he was, even the fraction of power currently granted to me was frightening.

“So a coordinated attempt to ensure the Doga was only leaving the scene in pieces,” Eld mused, bringing me out of my head.

“Crispy pieces. That failed when our valiant hero dumped cold water all over her plans,” I added. “Literally.”

I opened my eyes and laughed at the look of consternation on Eld’s face. “I’d only hoped you’d distract her long enough for me to get a clear shot or for those loutish guards to notice her. You continue to impress, Eld.”

“I try,” he said, unable to keep the smile from his lips. Or his eyes.

“It’s been an eventful morning,” I said, settling back against the seat again. “The Board will want to hear of this.”

“Aye.” Eld dug into his vest and pulled out his pocket watch. “And we’re already late, so maybe the exciting news will assuage them.”

“You know it won’t,” I sighed.

“Remind me, why do we care about them again?”

“Because, my dear, simple Eld, I—we—intend to use them to drive the growing wedge deeper between Ciris and the Dead Gods, to force them into open war. But that won’t happen unless we get them dancing to our tune.”

“They don’t seem to like the music we’ve been playing so far.”

“That’s because they’ve no ear for genius,” I growled.

Now it was Eld’s turn to laugh. There was something in that sound that never failed to make my heart leap. It’s a Godsdamned thing, Sambuciña Alhurra, to be in love with a man who sees you like the sister he never had. A sister tainted by magic he hates with every fibre of his being.

“Fuck me,” I whispered, my words lost in Eld’s laughter. Tension settled around me like a cloak pulled so tightly that I could barely manage a breath. It was a weight I’d grown used to over these months and I hated both the tension and its familiarity.

Fuck me.

Copyright © Ryan Van Loan 2021

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